Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Shell games


 I've had several exchanges over the past week in which individuals got into lengthy discussions about classifying things as good and bad. It never ceases to amaze me how opinionated and rejecting people who profess to spiritual paths are. They form hard kernels of self that defend themselves against anything that seems foreign; most of them, highly intelligent and in many cases extremely clever individuals, are completely unable to see that they have a shell around them with an opinion of itself that is much too high to fit the actual circumstances.

 We should gently come to each action of being with an attempt to soften and penetrate shells. They are hard things, and not worthy of the love we ought to be offering each other.

In any event, although one must, at this level of reality, inevitably subscribe to the relativistic nature of the world and its "requirements" for good and evil, one must also understand that on a higher level, all of these forces are unified and inseparable. Sri Anirvan does a great job of bringing this point together in his classic inner yoga; and of course my favorite, Ibn Arabi, is a relentless expounder of the doctrine of Tawhid. One might well argue that his work represents what is, so far, the last word on the subject, although few have the patience to study him in enough detail to understand this.

In this sense, good and bad only have existence because they are necessary; all things are necessary, and all things arise from God, just as all things dwell within God. Our arguments about their validity and the relative nature of the need for good and bad are, in a certain sense, immaterial to the Truth of the Dharma. While we are not excused from the struggle, or the need to understand it —Arabi expounds on this, as well, at great length — there is an inner state of comprehension that lies beyond the realm of argument. In this place, we surrender. Hence the doctrine of Islam.

In this context, I offer you the question of gratitude. I often hear people say that they are grateful for their lives, especially if they have a higher experience of Self. There is a wish within inner work to have these experiences of goodness, these experiences of gratitude, that is to say, experiences that are satisfying and pleasurable. The wish for these things is natural; yet it is attached to myself, my ordinary ego, and ultimately, all of these wishes end up being all about me. They arise from desire; and this desire for the good is desire nonetheless. We all have this desire; even those who have desires for the bad think that they are desires for the good, since for them, the bad is pleasurable. (People confused by this line of reasoning need to read Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell for a deep and lengthy explanation of this selfish behavior, which leads one directly into the realm of demons.)

 Desires are selfish. They center around me and what I want. This is the reason Gurdjieff said that a man needed to cultivate his inner being so that the non-desires predominated over the desires. Zen masters don't have a different understanding of this; the wish to attain enlightenment is an obstacle to the path. Everything we desire, in fact, stands in the way of an objective understanding. Desire itself presumes understanding, since it thinks it knows what it should have — when, in fact, nothing of the kind is in the least way possible.

 Understanding this can only be effected through a good deal of inner observation and long contemplation about the nature of desire itself, which consists of an endless series of attachments. We cannot banish this action; but we can observe it, and in observing it, we gain a certain distance from it.

Personality is like a blackboard with a thousand complex mathematical formulas scribbled on it. There's a moment when one needs to walk up to the blackboard with the eraser, wipe everything off the blackboard, and forget about the formulas.

It is in these moments when I can just be here without the attachments to desire—without the assignment and classification of objects, events, circumstances, and conditions to the good or the bad, the desirable or the undesirable—that something new takes place.

Here is that place that Ibn Arabi was describing when he said "the most knowledgeable of the knowers is he who knows that he knows what he knows, and that he does not know what he does not know... Abu Bakr said, "incapacity to attain comprehension is itself comprehension." (Futuhat al Makkiyya IV, 313.22)

 May your soul be filled with light.

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