Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The burning bush

 The first of the two prayers in Gurdjieff's system, " I am — I wish to be," is derived from the original Abramic prayer, "I am that I am," the words that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush.

 What the heck, you may ask, is that all about? Why a burning bush? Well, there is a reason. The image was not chosen casually.

The burning bush itself is a symbol of yogic discipline and the purification of karma. One of the traditions when a disciple pledges himself to the authority of a guru is for the student to hand the master a bundle of sticks, symbolizing his karmic burden. This karmic burden is turned over to the master, who presumably has enough spiritual development to be able to carry that burden, relieving the student and allowing him to advance on the path.

God did not choose to appear by some freak accident in our burning bush. The bush symbolizes the selfsame bundle of karmic twigs; and the flame, which (miraculously) did not consume the bush, represents a fire of purification. In the action of appearing thus, God indicated that the ultimate dissolution of karmic burdens lay not in the hands of human beings, but only in His own. Indeed, the tablets that He passed on to Moses represented a set of instructions specifically designed to help humans avoid acquiring more karmic debts.

 Why do we find this peculiar yogic action and imagery at the root source of the Judeo-Christian tradition?

These images and ideas were not presented thoughtlessly; they came, originally, from schools, metaphysical systems that had studied such concepts for generations. The teachings from the Vedas and the original yoga schools, as well as the practical traditions associated with them, have percolated back and forth along the Silk Road trade routes between Asia and the Middle East for many thousands of years, to a certainty before any histories were written or records were kept. The distinct — or apparently distinct — differences between Eastern and middle Eastern religions are not, it turns out, so distinct after all. Not only were all of the religious traditions in ancient times seeking an identical result — reunion with the Divine — they informed one another in ways that aren't immediately apparent today. The division of religion into separate compartments has taken place due to an emphasis on differences. Not just an emphasis, in fact, but, in the case of the dogmatists, an insistence.

 Yet these lost schools of ancient thought were deeply connected; and they influenced one another.  the original teachings may not be apparent, but their traces run like threads through all of the teachings we know today. This Tantric fabric of ancient Eastern disciplines runs deep through all religious practice; and their existence is not a threat to existing religions, but an affirmation of them. In the same way that our genetic code affirms that we are all, for all intents and purposes, related to one another —brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers —this "genetic code" of religion is still present in the DNA of every major traditional world practice.

There is, in other words, something real at the core. In this particular instance, the real consists of a realization that man needs to purify himself; that his soul has been contaminated by contact with the material world, and that a new kind of effort is needed in order to expunge the influences that interfere with his attempts to reunite with the divine.

Couched though they may be in coarse literal terms such as stone tablets and top ten lists, the Commandments represent shocks from a higher level sent to help man cleanse himself of the influences which harm him: conscious labors, efforts directed at the reunification of the Self.

 May your soul be filled with light.

1 comment:

  1. It is always a highlight of my morning to read your blog, and today you really hit the nail on the head, so to speak. Just a few things that this reminded me of:

    Sanskrit for fire is the word Agni, and every Hindu householder is required to keep a flame burning at all times. All cultures have recognized the spiritual impulse as fire; fire of the heart; fire of the will, etc...fire is also known as tapas, which translates as arduous exertion - exactly what Mr. Gurdjieff describes as heat and "super efforts", in the image of baking bread or melting the metallic powders in the alchemical retort of the self.

    Moses was told to "take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground." In the metaphoric alchemical language, the shoes represent the personality, because they are the part of the body that touches "the world" and can become soiled.

    And feet stand for the essence, which is also why Jesus washed the feet and ONLY the feet of his disciples on Holy Thursday.

    Mr. Gurdjieff said at one point, "I have good leather to sell, for those who wish to make shoes". In other words, his teachings and practices could reconstruct a personality that was brand new and unsoiled and which would allow for the education of the essence, which otherwise gets destroyed by "the world", traditionally ruled by Chthonic forces.

    The Yogic equivalent to the Commandments given to Moses are the first two steps of classical Yoga; Yamas (virtues to be practiced) and the Niyamas (cleansing practices).

    Only when an acolyte has shown his virtue in these first 2 of 8 limbs (anga), is he taught asana (meaning seat - this is Hatha yoga as we understand it in the west),

    Then Pranayama (extension and control of the life-force) ;

    The fifth, a withdrawal of the senses from the objects of identification,

    The sixth, honing of attentiveness;

    The seventh meditation;

    The eighth, merging. (dis-identification of the Self from body, mind and emotion) These last three steps are also known as the 'Inner Limbs", or Samyama (lit:together with)

    In the West we skip everything and go right to asana; Hatha Yoga, and we practice breathing exercises (which are only the gross outer breaths) with no mentor to guide us.

    It is said that taming the breath is likened to taming a wild beast like a Tiger or Lion. Improperly done, the beast will turn and rend the practitioner.

    Mr. Gurdjieff began teaching Yoga Asana and Pranayama in Essentuki but stopped when two students fainted. One was a professional wrestler, and the other a school teacher. When he found out that they had been practicing breathing exercises from books, he stopped teaching Yoga or Pranayama, and warned them against learning from books. There are references to this in ISOTM, but they need to be looked for, and one needs to know what to look for.

    Anyway, as always, a tantalizing and to the point post. Thank you Lee, for your diligence.

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