Sunday, December 1, 2013

Not this

Inner and Outer landscapes
Painting by William Adie

I've written before about abandoning our present state; about leaving behind what we know in order to become open to a new sense of Presence.

Certainly these are terms Jeanne de Salzmann used; and they have an echo of buddhism's "leavers of home" in them. Home is where we're comfortable; what we know. Yet the wayfarer on any spiritual path has to set out into unknown territory. It isn't the unknown of the outer world, where so many of us direct our search; it's the unknown of the inner world. And those who, like de Sazlmann or Dogen, serve as guides on the journey exhort us to abandon the known: not of the outer world, which is where the known arises, but the inner world where it is measured.

Yet the known and the unknown aren't incompatible; and abandoning the known doesn't mean giving up or banishing the known. When we leave something, it's still there; we're just not in the same location as it is. It remains, in a real sense, proximate.

The known and the unknown need one another; they are mutually dependent. One cannot know one without the other, and no abandonment of the known is possible if it ceases to exist. It's the action of going away from it that defines the inner need, not the act of being located elsewhere. To be located elsewhere is actually just another fixed thing, like being in Rome instead of Paris. We're not trying to be in Rome instead of Paris; we might instead suggest we want to be forever on our way from Rome to Paris, standing between them, and acknowledge the act of journeying—which is an analogy for the action of inner seeing, a task which de Salzmann assigns an overarching importance in inner work.

In a certain sense, it's quite impossible to explain what de Salzmann (or the Buddhist masters) mean by having freedom of attention, freedom from the known, because you can't get there from here. Every attempt to define this state of mind in words cannot do so. It defines itself from within itself, and it is not a temporary or fleeting thing, the way so many seekers usually experience or describe it. It is very durable indeed; invulnerable, even. Keep in mind I don't present this as a hypothesis, but a fact; and one must come to know this, not speculate about it. All speculation derives from the very mind de Salzmann presents as the chief obstacle; yet we continue to speculate. The irony is both apparent and inherent. Consider it carefully, instead of speculating. If you taste the contradiction, perhaps an inkling of why inner silence ought not be talked about may dawn in you.

It is thus perhaps more useful to try and understand this question of inner freedom in terms of action than state; because it is an action, not a state, even though it becomes an experience of state in its encounter with ordinary being, which is not banished by its presence. In The Reality of BeingDe Salzmann actually does a quite a good job of describing the state, given the objectively impossible task of doing so; yet still, we don't and can't understand what she points towards unless we begin to intuit the inner action that's necessary.

In pondering this difficulty yesterday (Nov. 23, as the clock ticks) it occurred to me that there's an interesting way to approach the question, embodied in not this.

In inner seeing, we must cultivate not this; and that statement must become a perpetual and non-reactive inner observation. Inevitably, this type of inner work may be reactive; but there must be a rigorous inner training that firmly states not this as every inner arising comes about.

Not is the infant state of the via negativa; and we must apply ourselves in forever birthing this inner child as an action, in which we deny, through continually active presence, our assumption that the inner actions connected with our reactions and associations represent reality.

This is where we are, and everything we know. We experience it; it is real, it is true, it cannot be denied. And yet we walk away from it, walk past it, denying it; for what we know is of us, and what we seek—or, rather, what seeks us—is emphatically not of us.

So with each object, event, circumstance, and condition, we apply the inner action of not this; and we do so without prejudice, that is, we do not criticize, argue, or otherwise involve ourselves with this and not this. This is how we are; and not this is non-identification, or, the act of seeing. So in a real sense seeing is not this, because as we see we differentiate in abandonment; and yet all along we still inhabit  objects, events, circumstances, and conditions.

Not this assigns all objects, events, circumstances, and conditions to God—to the unknown—which is actually the right evaluation, since everything ultimately belongs to the ineffable and inexpressible mystery of eternal arising. It acknowledges our inability; what de Salzmann calls our lack. And it is an action that serves us in every situation, preserving the known, but establishing a new relationship to it that makes no special plans.

More on this in the next post.


note to readers: there is a new post today at the microbial octave.

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