Thursday, July 30, 2015
Yet our inner life is a direct reflection of the outer world — or, one might even say, it is the other way around, but that is a more complex metaphysical question. Let's just say that our inner life displays many characteristics that mirror the environments and ecosystems of the outer world — it's just that they are all hidden, metaphysical entities, metaphysical in the sense that while they all manifest within the physical body, they create this field, or landscape, which we call consciousness.
Consciousness has to be cultivated, just as a wild landscape needs to be tended to in order to organize it, if a person is to interact with it in anything other than the way a wild animal does.
One could argue that the entire process of consciousness is a landscaping process, since the seeds of awareness, both self-awareness and societal awareness, need to be planted in human beings from a young age and then carefully fertilized, cultivated, tended, and pruned to take a particular shape or form. The ideas and knowledge, the understandings, that a child is introduced to are (one hopes!) carefully juxtaposed against one another to produce a desired result (responsibility, maturity, and compassion come to mind); and the way in which unwanted ideas and directions are pruned and trimmed, the way parents either root or uproot concepts in their children, is analogous to the tending of bonsai trees.
There is, in other words, a deep link between the ecosystems and biology of our outer world, and the ecosystems and biology of our inner world. They function in similar manners. No matter how much a parent prunes and tends the child, and no matter how much a gardener prunes and tends his plants, the plant and the child must always ultimately assume responsibility for their own growth and find their own way within the landscape. Parents and gardeners can be no more than guides, although they may be good ones; and the landscape itself is always informed by, and grows through, the light that falls on it and the soil it contains.
This idea of light (incoming impressions) and soil (already existing materials) are closely aligned with Gurdjieff's understanding of the blending of new impressions with what has already been received; the present is built on the work of the past, the action is always highly interactive, growth never stops, and spiritual ideas (conscious effort) can only take place in appropriate environments, just as you can't plant a shade plant in bright sunlight, or vice versa.
If we saw our inner being in its constantly transitional state, understood the organic nature of being which we have already received and dwell within, and the dynamic nature of the new incoming impressions of life, which feed us for further growth in the same way that the sun feeds a plant, we might have a new and more tactile impression of the complexity of our inner life and our outer being.
It's my impression that Zen landscapes were meant to impart such a teaching in the juxtaposition of the Zendo and the garden that surrounds it; and it is to this piece of territory that we will turn in the next post.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Over the last few years, my wife has introduced me to a number of striking, original, and highly unusual landscapes and gardens, which caused me to reevaluate my estimation of gardening and landscaping as an art form.
To be sure, this has been an art form since ancient times; yet while we buy and sell small, often relatively insignificant and drab paintings by very famous artists for staggering sums of money — tens and perhaps even hundreds of millions of dollars, by now — there is no aftermarket for great gardens, nor has the art world managed to wrap its relatively small mind around the achievements in this area, which in many cases stand well above achievements by painters, sculptors, and the like — the former whose works often accidentally (or not) represent such gardens in their measured and crafted approach to landscape painting, and the latter, whose works are so often placed in such landscapes.
The lowly gardener, it seems, is too humble — his hands buried in dirt and tangled in twigs — to be worth all that money. The landscape, in modern times, simply becomes a setting for architectural gems (again, the buildings are perversely perceived as being more important than the landscapes they sit in) or an advertisement of the wealth and power of the landscape owner.
Landscaping, in the meantime, has quietly persisted as an intelligent and extraordinarily aesthetic craft that manages to operate under the radar of the cognoscenti, the movers and shakers that determine what is aesthetically important. One can imagine, on almost any day, an article in CNN or the times extolling the virtue of a van Gogh or a Monet sold at Sotheby's or Christie's for $50 million; but when was the last time you read about a garden, Bonsai tree, or flower arrangement changing hands for a huge sum of money? Not gonna happen.
Having spent my entire life immersed in the arts, I come to the realization that landscaping is a high art very late in the ballgame — yet realization it is. No one can visit the mannerist Gardens in Italy or the Zen gardens in Kyoto without beginning to understand that man's interaction with his landscape ranks among the highest of all arts, even though we take it for granted. There could be a great deal more attention paid to this art; yet in most Western countries, it is an afterthought for all those except the small percentage addicted to the understanding of plants and their propagation. The Japanese clearly have a much greater understanding of this sensibility and art form; and their landscape reflects it. This isn't to say that the Japanese have been unflagging and attentive stewards of their environment—far from it. But they do craft better living environments and landscapes than we do.
Our landscape has the potential to be invested with an enormous amount of aesthetic and symbolic value, always in movement. Some ancient cultures understood their entire way of being through this mode of potential, growth, and change. (On the matter of the perception of life as a process of becoming, see my friend Stephen Houston's extraordinarily fine and interesting book, The Life Within—Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence.) Only when we encounter mannerist landscapes as original as the Parco dei Mostri do we begin to understand the potential for landscape and gardening to inform the subliminal; and only when we encounter formal gardens such as the Villa Lante can we begin to understand the potential for formal gardens to express the aesthetic of inner perfection from a Western point of view.
The gardens and landscapes of Zen temples are another matter entirely, so it would seem; and yet the heart and soul of Zen gardening practice springs from the same hearts that beat in the same breasts as those of Western men and women. There is a deep and unspoken kinship between gardeners, the world around; it is a universal language. It remains forever unspoken except in the souls of those who walk the paths and taking the impressions; yet everyone understands it.
I'm not sure why we don't value this very high art form more; so much could be done to change that, yet it seems unlikely. Nonetheless, my musings on landscape and gardening led me to a group of insights and ideas about Zen gardening practice which I will continue to discuss in the next few posts.
One last note before I close out this post. Readers interested in a more in-depth treatment of the question of human beings in the relationship to landscape ought to read Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory, an utterly fascinating book.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Some additional musings on this subject.
This is, furthermore, a degree of perfection of Being, not the ultimate perfection of being. Perfection, in other words, is not perfection. To be perfect is to be in a state such as to allow no further improvement, to adhere to an ideal. In this case, we can clearly infer that perfection is hierarchical... that is, that a degree of perfection can be such that there are still other perfections possible, that there are, in other words, still imperfections within this degree of perfection.
It is, in other words, an awakening into what I am; not what I wish to be. This though relates to my recent post about the same subject.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Bamboo forest, Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto
This particular striving would, of itself, seem to resist inner interpretations. It seems so outwardly directed, doesn't it?
This striving represents the fifth note, or sol, of the progression.
That is the heart-note; it is the moment of passage into true Being, which confers not only a new freedom, but a capacity for selfless and compassionate action. It is, in other words, a transitional stage, a change in state, representing the potential for movement from inner towards outer. Only when real inner Being is established can change in outer Being be affected. This is where we encounter the heart-meaning of the practice; the deeply emotional territory which Gurdjieff's progressive inner work intends to help us encounter.
The striving echoes the Bodhisattva vow to assist all sentient Beings; and this isn’t possible until one has assumed a different level of inner responsibility, as outlined in the first four strivings.
Each striving requires an inner effort; this one, too, requires something of me from within. The implication is that even with a well developed inner attitude, and meaningful payment for, so to speak, one’s sins, I am still not enough inclined to help others; else, no striving would be needed. Indeed all the strivings represent an inner wish, an inner impulse towards the good; although this isn’t explicitly stated, we can understand each striving as a striving towards the good by default. They culminate in a striving towards the ultimate good; and that ultimate good is an inner wish for the sacred development of all Beings, not just myself. That development should be “most rapid;” an interesting remark, written as it is by a man who warned his pupils not to be in a hurry.
And what of this “degree of Self-individuality?” The organic sensation of Being, we may recall, creates one’s individuality; by individuality, we understand, furthermore, a self which is undivided. This undivided self arises through an inhabitation of Being through sensation. The fifth striving, in other words, confers a sense of circularity on the process, since it refers back to the awareness one seeks within the first striving.
It is not putting too fine a point on it to mention that this question of inner sensation of Being, along with the sense of personal intimacy it confers, is the fulcrum on which the entire premise of inner work is leveraged. It penetrates the substrate of the question, forming a structure that supports all other Being. The understanding that this foundational impulse steadily expands outward from its core, blossoming in the end into a compassionate inclusion of all other Beings, is a magnificent one; it forms both a whole work and a whole understanding where meaning centers around an organic compassion and an organic goodness, different from and superior to our intellectual conceptions of the matter.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
The digestion of this substance of sorrow nourishes God; we are able to participate in this mystery, but we cannot be said to understand it. It draws each person who encounters such work into a deeply emotive relationship with the divine; this relationship is highly personal, and its depth and scope of action are highly dependent upon individual circumstance.
Monday, July 20, 2015
This examination of the matter helps, perhaps, to highlight how much difference there is between the inner and outer understanding of these strivings.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Screen, Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto
In order to do this, I need to become a dowser instead of a plumber; there is more good witchery to any instinct than there is chemistry. The chemistry may come, but its not the chemistry of textbooks; it’s a rich blend of herbs, simmered slowly over a low fire. This implies attention; and that attention ought to be constant and unflagging in a deeply inner sense, not in the sense of an outward attention whose courage is screwed, so to speak, to the sticking point. (The witches know the inner state, whereas Macbeth only knows his outer one.)
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Zen painting, Tenryu-ji, Kyoto
"The first striving: to have in one's ordinary being-existence everything satisfying and really necessary for the planetary body."
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Koi, Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto, Japan
Reading a thoughtful and well- constructed essay on developing a practical relationship to the five obligolnian strivings, I was drawn to a consideration of the inner meaning of these five strivings... that is to say, a series of questions and ponderings regarding the mystical implications of the teaching.
With all of this in mind... and attempting to at the same time open the mind to admit something far greater and more tactile... over the next few posts, I'll be taking a look at the five strivings from an inner point of view.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Temple Bell, Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto
Is it in fact acceptable to pray to God for my needs?
I don't think so.
He doesn’t need reminding.
I encounter this practically in the simplest of ways; for example, one night, I itch terribly. To me this is undesirable and ought to be taken away from me; yet—mysteriously—it’s what is necessary. I can see this sometimes if I gain enough perspective on what takes place in life. This is a simple trial, yet I resist it, even with the example of Christ before me, whose trials were far more terrible and far more necessary.
Religions need supplicants; God does not.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
One thing that becomes more and more noticable to me, visiting various religious sites, is how domesticated forms make a practice. Practice ought to be more like a wild animal, unattached to a single place and time, able to penetrate the nooks and crannies of life in all its manifestations and varieties; yet form limits and tames it. As soon as there is a place to practice—no matter how beautiful or appropriate it is—practice somehow gets glued down, groomed and turned out so that it looks its best. It’s true at Chartres; it’s true at Tenryu-ji and Ginkaku-ji.
We can love and marvel at these places as we visit them; and they can instruct—yes, they can. Yet they are shadowed by the perpetual danger of becoming spiritual versions of Disneyland. They are tamed places; and as we domesticate our practices, they may give milk, but they loose their teeth. The wild hairs of life can’t be clipped off and stuffed in ornate jars; they have to be allowed to let the wind blow through them.
The Zen temples I visited were a little too perfect, too manicured, too ordered; it was only when I got to the relatively remote, quiet, and somewhat ramshackle temple of Gio-ji, where the moss grows bullfrog-green in profusion, that I began to sense some of that unfathomable contemplative wildness that every temple ought, I think, to cultivate. The trees gave up deep shadows here; the building was tiny, even humble, its low-slung thatched roof a thing of subtle inner witchery. You could taste the mystery; and this was precisely what was missing from the polished perfections of its greater and more famous cousins.
That mystery is preserved and accentuated by the demand; a healthy hike up hillsides and through deep bamboo forest, which imparts antcipation if one gets there early in the morning, before the crowds do (rest assured, they’re there for the bamboo, not these unassuming little temples.) One enters through a narrow, darkened set of small steps; and nothing here smacks of grooming, even when one encounters two acerbic, briskly practical old ladies crouched over the moss, straw brooms crisply whisking off the errant leaf or two.
They’re part of the landscape, the life of the place; and one senses an eternal nature to their presence. I’ve never thought of sweeping off moss; yet here, what could be more entirely natural? It’s this soft ground floor of life itself that creates the magic here; the building, the women, we ourselves- perhaps unnecessary. Interlopers, like the random thoughts that so persistently distract me from my own inherent presence.
Domesticated in ten thousand ways, I still want my inner life untamed; and something in me years for that outwardly as well, in a place just one—perhaps two—steps past all these forms I have no choice but to submit to.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
An observation I made in Japan last weekend.
I think most of us on spiritual paths share a secret conceit that we are going to become better.
In the course of our journey, we think we’re going to become nicer... more compassionate, more serene... more thruthful, sincere and virtuous. The process of spiritual awakening will guide us into a new and improved Being in which we act honestly and treat others better.
There is, in other words, an expectation of enrichment.
Such expectations are confounded by ideas of spiritual impoverishment, the stripping away of things: the via negativa in which we are enriched by not having, rather than by having. A dialectic arises; either way, I am subject to change, searching for it. Either I start from where I am and gain new goodness, or I begin from the same place and lose old badness.
What I dont see is that I always and forever awaken to myself from inside myself, from where I am; there is no other place I can Be.
This awakening within myself and living within myself as I am now, without any changes, requires an objectivity. It isn’t an acceptance; acceptance would imply I can choose to be myself or not be myself. This idea of acceptance of self is a pervasive element of understanding-practice; yet let’s forget about accepting myself for a moment and just see that awakening requires me to unconditionally live within myself, regardless of such attitudes. Attitudes come after Being, not before it. It’s true, attitudes are inevitable; yet to awaken within myself is a living action that begins without attitude. Attitude is one of the things I awaken to; it is not a reaction to awakening.
I awaken to myself as I am.
This isn’t an action of ease or comfort. There is no escape from here to the green, green grass of self improvement. What I am now is as sharp as a steel blade; and this experience cuts to the quick. I am not going to get better from here, because there is nowhere to go. So I can forget about improvements, forget about impoverishments.
This is it.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. —Matthew 6:6
Religion and prayer are so often outward things. Yet the sacred ought to be set apart; set apart inwardly, so that it is not touched by what is of the world.
There's a paradox here, because so much of religion is outward form. We tend to externalize any and all religious activity... so much so that both asceticism and baroque splendor become a part of that action. Perhaps this is necessary—can any information about a "secret" inner activity be conveyed without any outward signs?
That is to say, if transmission is necessary, doesn't it of necessity have to be outward?
Well, yes. But even all of the necessary outward signs must in the end be separated from the inward act of prayer.
This is what "go into your room, close the door" means to me: there needs to be a segregated inner space that is more than symbolic.
My wife and I were speaking of this yesterday and she asked me, if I felt this way, how I felt about, for example, prayer at meals. I confessed that I'm uncomfortable with it, as I am all outward religious activities that fall outside the scope of formal, organized religious service. I always have been, as though this personal "showing" of prayer and devotion were revealing something that ought to be secretly and strictly between a human being and God.
The passage in Matthew deals with this question; and if what is secret is indeed secret, then it cannot be shown to others. If we reveal even the least part of it outwardly it is already compromised.
In my own experience this secret place ought to be very private indeed; and it ought to be a place in which great inner suffering takes place. This suffering is part of that unseen mystery which I confront in my relationship with God; and it always pivots around my inner lack. A lack of relationship, a lack of appreciation, a lack of gratitude. It's in the moments where a real feeling quality imparts this understanding that my wish arises in a new way.
In the outer world, I craft my own sorrows; yet there are sorrows God crafts for me, if I dare to move closer inwardly.
It's in those sorrows, which must be kept as a secret inner treasure, that I receive a different influence than what the outer brings me.
Sunday, July 5, 2015
Friday, July 3, 2015
All things are known; they fall into the category of what is created. Yet when I seek God I must transcend the created; this takes place not directly, through appreciation of what is, but in the perception of how I am not.
For it is what I am not, as seen through a three-centered experience of that notness—a physical, intellectual and feeling perception of my own lack—that leads me in the direction of a feeling perception (which is the finest and most intimate kind of perception) of God, which arises as I see—not God, but my own separation.
Directly proximate to this experience, arising just outside it as a tangible Presence, is a new understanding: an irrevocable immersion in the fact of what I am, and my own inadequacy.
Within this unknown goodness, which announces itself so clearly through my own lack, is a new impression of compassion; not my own compassion, but a much greater compassion that isn’t constrained by the material world. It is an immaterial compassion; and in its immateriality it is transparent, so that it penetrates all of the materiality it encounters.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
One of the signature ideas behind the concept of the multiverse, as it exists today, is the idea that different universes would have different laws. The coincident multiverse proposes a potentially infinite number of different universes that have the same laws; which is, I believe, a departure from what we might call the current "standard model" of the multiverse.
I propose this simply because law is law; in biology, we know that convergent evolution produces the same morphological types over and over again, simply because that is what works. In the same way, chemistry produces similar substances to perform specific functions in biological organisms, which are often surprisingly similar – or even nearly identical — in a wide range of different creatures, simply because chemistry has laws, and what works in one case is what will work in another.
The idea of the coincident multiverse is a somewhat more powerful one, because it argues that the particles we have in this universe — which "appear" and "disappear" in a baffling and seemingly impossible manner — are the same in all the universes, and that they serve the same function in all those universes. They are an ethereal fabric upon which all of the universes that arise as a result of them are based. The idea of the coincident multiverse is, in other words, a consonant multiverse, one in which an essentially identical quantum fabric is shared across a range of individual space-times. When one thinks about it, the proposition is in fact quite logical.
Much has been made in modern physics of the fact that if the physical laws of this universe were even a tiny bit different, the universe could not exist. I have yet to read a physicist who has asked the question, what if the laws cannot be different? That is to say, what if the idea of the consonant/coincident multiverse is correct, and that universes can only exist one way, that is, by the exact and singular manifestation of the laws we perceive? This is reminiscent of Gurdjieff's statement that for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different. Physics imagines multiple universes where the alteration of law puts them beyond the reach of each other; but in putting them in such a region, we also put them beyond the reach of reality as we know it.
I think this is the essential problem with claiming that quantum particles appear and disappear — nothing that we know of appears and disappears by some invoked magic that allows it to exist in this universe, cease existing, and then exist again on a scale of time so tiny that it is nearly immeasurable. The quantum particles — the energy packets that appear and disappear — do not cease to exist in these instants — they simply relocate from one position in one universe to a consonant position in another nearly identical universe, which shares identity through law, although not necessarily the exact progression of circumstance. That is, although their specific role will vary from universe to universe, their power, their action, the mechanistic nature of their manifestation, does not vary. A gluon in this universe does the same thing that it does in all the other universes it transits in a single second.
This proposition preserves the information in atoms and subatomic particles, as well as the logic behind their existence — the alternate universes they arise in also benefit from their information package, just as ours does. The mechanism does not require quantum particles to perform magical feats of death and reincarnation — it logically explains their departure and arrival from measurable existence through a mechanism of location alone.
Our consciousness and awareness of ourselves may perform quite similar functions, and pondering this could be of considerable interest. It may be that consciousness and awareness which we experience is shared on levels that we are unaware of, which bear a direct relationship to the consonant or coincident universe theory.
Human beings have a habit of inventing fantasies that lie beyond any possible reality; yet any scientist would tell you that, generally speaking, reality as we see it makes a good predictor for what will come next. This proves true over long stretches of historical time in biology, physics, chemistry, and even in societies and philosophies. There is, in other words, a consistency that only fantasy (in the sense of imagining what could only be unreal) can transcend. Swedenborg, among others, insisted that the entire natural world as we see it is a correspondence to a higher spiritual level; that is, his own model of earth and heaven rested on the idea that the identity was significantly shared. To the point, he said earth and heaven are so alike that many souls who die are not aware they are dead unless it is clearly explained to them.
The metaphysical implications of these ideas are too large for me to digest in a few brief days; I suspect I'll be pondering them for some time.