Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mere Bones



"Since, therefore, the prophets derive their knowledge only from a particular divine revelation, their Hearts are simple from the intellectual point of view, knowing as they do the deficiency of the intellect, in its discursive aspect, when it comes to the understanding of things as they really are [essentially]. Similarly, [verbal] communication is also deficient in conveying what is only accessible to direct experience. Thus, perfect knowledge is to be had only through a divine Self-revelation or when God draws back the veils from Hearts and eyes so that they might perceive things, eternal and ephemeral, non existent and existent, impossible, necessary, or permissible, as they are in their eternal reality and essentiality."

The Bezels of Wisdom, Ibn’ Al Arabi, P. 166, translation by R.W.J Austin, 1980, Paulist press
  From our point of view on this side of gnosis, the standard of knowing the “eternal reality and essentiality” of any object, event, circumstance, or condition seems impossibly high. Yet this is exactly what gnosis is; a transcendental knowing, what is called "the look from above" by Jeanne de Salzmann. It's of a different order; yet we constantly try to understand it from our existence within this order, and manipulate our understanding of it using the intellectual abilities arising from this order. It's a report from a distant shore we have never seen, yet we presume to know what the animals look like, in the same way that Albrecht Dürer engraved a rhinoceros which he had never actually seen.

Immediately, the polarities inherent to our lack of understanding arise. On the one hand, some of us insist the situation is unknowable, and that it is pointless to use words to try and go at it; yet in a supreme irony, we use words to say even this. It's as excruciating as listening to people talk about the silence.

On the other hand, others insist that words are necessary, and do everything they can to worry at this bone with the intellect. Perhaps this is part of what Gurdjieff was alluding to when, in regard to his allegory and Beelzebub, he said, “bury bone deeper.”

 A bone is still a bone, no matter how deep you bury it. The meat is gone, used up, and the life is out of it. Even the marrow is now useless, because it's been buried for some time. It remains an indicator of a living thing, not a living thing itself. So even when we penetrate the allegory, what we are left with is a talisman, not the thing itself. Gurdjieff knew the whole animal; but he left us the bones. The bones, like Albrecht Dürer's rhinoceros, are certainly better than nothing, and they give us an outline, but it's a far cry from any true knowing.

What every path ultimately calls us to is this direct experience of truth. It's pointless to worry about whether or not verbal communication does or doesn't work; getting caught up in this distinction serves nothing. It's like arguing which colors you like more on two different maps of China, when one could go there, and find out that the colors on the map actually mean nothing whatsoever relative to being in China.

This is probably of small comfort to those who have never experienced any Divine revelation. It's said of Ouspensky that he ended his life deeply depressed that he never had a divine inspiration of the kind he sought; I can't say if that's true or not, but a man who ends his life in his cups, as Ouspensky apparently did, clearly strayed off the path somewhere.

 Yet divine inspiration, though it can take the form of a powerful experience, need not be understood in this way alone. Divine inspiration may be parceled out one rather humble little impression at a time; and it may be as simple as the next breath. Not everyone is going to have the gates of Heaven open and experience manna flowing down into them; yet every man who works and is sincere within himself has the opportunity to partake, in one measure or another, of God's grace.

Cynics might bring up the case of mother Theresa, who apparently had a moment of Divine inspiration at the age of 36 and then spent the rest of her life working as best she knew how, without ever re-attaining that Grace. Any of us who encounter a true moment of higher inspiration and then find that it doesn't last, that life still goes on, may (as she apparently did) feel bereft and abandoned by God; yet this can never be the case. Al Arabi, Eckhart, and other Masters assure us that we receive exactly what we need from God.

If we receive nothing, we need nothing.

In fact, since everything is already exactly as it is, preordained, and arranged according to destiny and the Will of God, if we feel we lack, the deficiency must belong to us, and not to God. When Al Arabi speaks of the eternal reality and essentiality of things, He makes it quite clear—as he must—that reality and essentiality are qualities without prejudice.

Since everything arises from God, nothing, in and of itself, can be deficient—even our feelings of deficiency constitute sacred truths, which must be inhabited. We forever wish to inhabit them conditionally—conditional, that is, upon our like or dislike—yet this choice is not actually ours to make.


Islam, submission, is the simple fact of unconditional inhabitation.

 As Zen Master Dogen said, one who understands this,  through experience, has attained the flesh, blood, bones, and marrow.

Mere bones are not enough.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.




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