Friday, November 30, 2012

Not an animal; not an angel

A question struck me very forcefully the other night when I was  pondering our circumstances. 

I had a very distinct impression of a higher energy, and how it takes us to a place that is completely unknown, informed, with an enormous amount of clarity, but also consists of what one might call "the void." 

I was infused by the contradiction between that and all of my efforts to understand. Why is there, on the one hand, a formless void, and on the other hand, a distinctive cosmology constructed, unambiguously, of countless forms? Here's the question. Is this blissful void where we are supposed to "go?" 

Intimations in Zen, and the cloud of unknowing, suggest that's "the goal." And the practices aimed at transcendent bliss are looking for "perpetual habitation" of a realm like this. Yet Gurdjieff proposes something, I think, quite different; a solid inhabitation of the conditions we are in. And I find it of great interest that al 'Arabi— who was certainly one of the progenitors of some of Gurdjieff's traditions — firmly insisted that that realm of transcendence is not where we belong, that the action of it, although available, is not appropriate to us where we are. 

Mme. de Salzmann insists we ought to strive to stand between. This is the action of consciousness, locating itself between this transcendent realm, which is formless, and the material realm (al 'Arabi's immanent) which decidedly has a form. If one looks at the enneagram, one may see that at every note (which represents the manifestation of the material in its lawful and inevitable separation from the transcendent) the agent that affects the note and increases its rate of vibration, no matter which note it is, no matter what influence it represents, is always consciousness; which, as a force, has a certain objective element to it. It has the ability to sense both cause and effect. (Both the transcendent and the immanent.) I suspect this is rather important to many Buddhist understandings, but they don't conceive of it this way, so perhaps they miss that question. Dogen, however, definitely understood that, I think. He insisted on cause and effect. He just said we should not be fooled by it. 

So the elephant in the room on the diagram is consciousness. One can't actually see it there; yet the whole diagram requires it everywhere. Conceptually, it's located exactly where Mme. would tell you it is: between the transcendent (the absolute) and all of the material notes, which need its action in order to evolve. 

In a certain sense, the conscious actions of labor and suffering are ubiquitous, rather than localized at the point of the shocks. All of us are compelled to inhabit the material realm, and transmit all of our efforts to connect with the transcendent using material properties. The contradiction is evident; yet somehow there is a belief that we should escape from the material realm, even though our point is to join it with the transcendent. 

There's a lot to think about here, but my suspicion and instincts, as well as my experience, lead me to strongly believe that the transcendent is so attractive that it tempts people to fail to do the work we are supposed to do here. All this talk of abandonment of form is only half the question. We don't just need to abandon all forms; we equally need to inhabit all forms. Abandonment of form is an abrogation, if pursued on its own, as insincere and incomplete as any equally exclusive inhabitation of form. Either one by itself leaves a man without his work and his purpose.

We are supposed to be a bridge; an Isthmus, a barzakh, as Ibn 'Arabi would put it. 

May your soul be filled with light.

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