Monday, November 5, 2012

Prayer and Right Action

There is often confusion about the aim of inner work, and what all this energy is supposed to "do" in us.

 I bring this up because a friend of mine who I know, objectively, has a deep and active practice, asked this question yesterday.

Dogen advises:

Know that there is a disease for fame and gain among practitioners of the way. Among beginners as well as long-time practitioners, some have the opportunity to receive the teaching, while others don't. Some long for the ancient way, but there are also demons who slander the teaching. Do not be attached or upset in either case. When you remember how few realize the three poisons as the three poisons, you no longer have resentment. 

(Shobogenzo, Shambhala publications, 2010, page 91.)

 Readers seeking a greater depth of coverage on the question of inner morality would be well advised to read Dogen's Shoaku-Makusa, "Not Doing Wrongs," also found in the Shobogenzo. (This chapter, incidentally, has a good deal to do with what Gurdjieff says in his Prologue to the Third Series.)

 In any event, the demons that slander the teaching are within us. And we will always have those within us who don't receive the teaching. The ancient way is a way inside, not something inherited from earlier times.

It's the way that begins in us before what we call ourselves takes place.

There is only one aim for inner work, for energy, and it is connected to the question of prayer and right action. And in fact, there is no right action; there is only prayer, and everything that consists of prayer is already right action.

Dogen attempts to explain this from multiple points of view in "Not Doing Wrongs." it is not an easy read, because he attempts to defeat our mental construction of this idea and reformulate it as an organic one.

 Human beings consistently mistake the action of organizations and societies, and their place in them, as the aim of their inner work. They think that energy in them should be used for this thing or that thing. But the only purpose of inner development is to go deeper and deeper into a practice of prayer. This practice should become quieter and quieter until it is more and more silent. Inner work is most active in those in which it is nearly invisible.

Those who are loud, or outward, or presume to teach or to know, or want to run things, should be politely avoided. You can tell how a man or woman works just by how quiet they are when they eat their food. You can tell by how much pleasure and joy they take in the smallest things, and how little they crave grand forms of stimulation.

Do you recognize this? If you are not surrounded by people like this, they are not people who are working. That is fine, but don't make mistakes about it. And keep your eyes on yourself. Our work is for God; not for showing to others.

People are for the greater part well-meaning. But few understand what prayer is. Prayer is talked about; and it is engaged in with lots of words. But this isn't prayer. Prayer is a sacred relationship that forms in a man or a woman from within, and brings itself gently to the edge of life, where it automatically, by itself, forms right action. Those who do not understand this must deepen the practice. All the energy one develops will be useless, unless one learns this lesson.

Gurdjieff finally understood this when he wrote, in the Third Series,

"The development of the power of my thoughts had been brought to such a level that by only a few hours of self preparation I could from a distance of tens of miles kill a yak: or, in 24 hours, could accumulate life forces of such compactness that I could in five minutes put to sleep an elephant."

He recognized that such powers were ultimately useless. By this time, he had achieved recognition as an acknowledged master, and developed enormous powers as an adept; yet he discovered that, in the end, only his relationship to God mattered.

In his success, to his astonishment, he had failed.

 We needn't engage in a debate about Gurdjieff's philosophical conclusions as a result of this insight, which— because of the self-confessed conundrum he finds himself in— fall well short of infallibility.
(To be fair, I think he was well aware of this.)

The point is that our energy is developed only in order to increase our capacity for prayer. And one doesn't ever pray for results.

One prays for Mercy.

 One can glue ten thousand aims to one's work, but without this one, in the end, there is no work.

 As one goes forward in one's work, one keeps a close eye on one's self from within, because every step off the path in a direction other than this is a mistaken one. All of them will be enormously attractive. Every one of them will carry with it its own wish to be a whole thing. And here lie all the temptations of the Devil.

 Prayer will teach one that every outward action, no matter how small, that starts from an intention of harm is wrong. That is what our energy is for; to know this and know it truthfully, organically, without any compromise. There we find the real measurement of inner work.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.




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