Saturday, January 24, 2015

The missing minds, part II: the engagement with sin

So. In the last post, we were talking about the practice of mindfulness, and what is missing from it. (Aside from actual mindfulness, that is.)

The idea of mindfulness flees the outer in favor of the inner; yet the outer is, within the context of life, indelible. The defilements (see the article) which the high-minded territory of mindfulness would have us abandon—i.e., banish—are just as indelible, as many people eventually realize. It leaves a nasty little stain on the white sheets; and no amount of scrubbing seems to take it out.

The difference between Christianity and Buddhism (there are many, but I'll present this as though it were a stand-alone for the sake of drama) is that Christians presume the sheet is forever stained. There is, in other words, an understanding that we can't get rid of the defilements. There is, in what might be considered stark contrast to Buddhist doctrine, no potential cessation of suffering.

We suffer.

Anyone who doubts Gurdjieff's position on this as emphatically Christian needs to revisit his chapter in All and Everything, The Holy Planet Purgatory—and consider how firmly planted in us these defilements are. Buddhism—which does not, in its general outlines, admit the Christian idea of sin per se—presumes an enlightement which rises above and forever purifies these aberrant elements—a very high standard indeed; too high, perhaps, for westerners, and perhaps even for everyone, if we are to believe our old friend Beelzebub, who, after all, knows more than just a bit about the subject.

I think the point is that doctrines and practices which purport to purify are, in the real world, somewhat destined to disappoint (I say somewhat, because there are always those satisfied, if chiefly by means of very low initial expectations); and this is because of the confusion between the corrupted nature of the outer world (per my other old friend, Bosch), the degenerated manifestation of divine force within the material, as opposed to the forever divine influence of the inner world... which exists, so to speak, before the defilement.

This is a subtle point experienced within, and not properly expounded in any doctrines.

Man can, indeed, come into contact with this inexpressible place of unity; yet we are, as Gurdjieff explains, in one way or another forever barred from perfect unity; and if this is certainly so in the (already, but not perfectly) transcendent realm of the (arguably, but not conclusively) disincorporated, spiritualized higher being-bodies of Beelzebub's Purgatory...

...well then, my dear friends, it must be ever more so the case in the fleshy bags of meat and bones we currently inhabit.

The best we can do, in other words, is inhabit what we are; and this is very different than the idea of of escaping our inner defilements by, as it were, inhibiting what we are, which is a quite different thing.

If Gurdjieff were to explain it, he might describe mindfulness not as rising above the defilements, but engaging with them; that is, we must come directly to grips with what we are, which may not lead to less pain and suffering, but, in fact, more of it: which some (very) few Buddhists are in fact willing to come to grips with.

This engagement with sin, which is, in essence, what Gurdjieff—and, for that matter, the entire history of Christian tradition—proposes has a radical nature in that it presumes flaw. That is, flaw is inherent: a vision that as it exists, manifested apart from God, consciousness is insufficient. And indeed, Meister Eckhart presumes and brings home this insufficiency: our own minds are not enough. He does not, in fact, so much propose a purposed mindfulness (and this purposeful nature of mindfulness is inherent in the very idea of the practice) so much as an intentional mindlessness; a mindlessness in which we fully abandon our own mind in order to let the mind of God enter us.

This is a Big Idea; and we cannot wrestle it today. We become entangled here in the contradiction between a mindfulness of our own, and a mindfulness filled by God's presence; of the two, it seems self evident which would be superior... at least from the Christian point of view.

Our purpose here, however, is not to disparage Buddhism, which has brought important insights to mankind. The purpose is to examine this idea of consumerized mindfulness, and where its defects lie.

To that end, I am reminded, a reader asked not so long ago what the relationship between self-remembering and mindfulness was.

In the next essay, I will take that up.



  1. In the Tibetan-influenced circles in which I practice (Reggie Ray's Dharma Ocean and Anam Thubten's Dharmata Foundation), it is precisely in life and within the body that liberation is found, not in some detached and idealized 'nirvana.' So not as rare in Buddhism as you might think.

    1. ...but I understand your perspective and appreciate the insights.


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