Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lions and Lambs


Prayer and worship has been much on my mind and in my heart lately. This is the first in what is likely to be a series of posts on the question, which is not touched on that often in the Gurdjieff work.

Regular readers may recall that I've written on other occasions about the Lamb of God, speaking of it not as a metaphysical or allegorical concept, but as a material force from a higher level. It's important, I think, to work to come to an understanding that this is an inner action we must seek a relationship with, not merely an idea to mull over.

In the church, it's said that the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world. This material energy- a freely given gift, sacrificed (sent downward, or given up) by the Lord in order to provide a path to salvation, is the higher energy that can free man from the devices of the mind and ego. The Lamb of God brings what the apostle Paul called "the Peace of God that passeth all understanding," exactly because this material force is higher than our mind.

The prayer to the Lamb of God in the Episcopal and Catholic churches runs something along these lines:

"Lord God, Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. (x2) Lord God, Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, receive our prayers."

This powerful esoteric prayer is a call to the forces that can, as Gurdjieff would have put it, "do;" active forces that can purify and cleanse us, rising above the confusion and dissolution of the ego, and leading us directly on a path towards absolution through remorse of conscience. Readers would do well to take note of this, since we're at a moment on the planet when such prayer is both extraordinarily necessary, and carries much more than the usual degree of force.

Remorse of conscience, like the Lamb of God, is only experienced upon the receipt of a certain kind of higher energy- it, too, is not a concept but a material substance- mediated by the presence of what Gurdjieff would have called higher hydrogens. It is not an experience we can "make happen." True remorse of conscience is a gift from above, and is not a single experience but consists of a series of levels, which are consequent upon the successive opening of a sequence of centers, or chakras, including the so-called "secret" chakras, which are rarely referred to even in schools, and cannot be worked on directly. Most particularly, in the Gurdjieff system, this level of work belongs to the second concious shock of intentional suffering, and is entirely contingent upon the opening of the heart, which (at position 5 on the bottom of the enneagram, like the abdominal chakra at 4) serves as the center of gravity for the second triad of centers or chakras on the left side of the diagram.

Astute and experienced Gurdjieffians who give this a bit of thought may finally understand precisely why the second conscious shock is placed in the wrong position on the diagram. It does indeed indicate what kind of work is necessary for the second conscious shock.

In conjunction with the action of remorse, the opening of the heart chakra occurs in stages and levels as well.

Mankind has been told since ancient (pre-Christian) times that the Lord maketh the Lamb to lie down with the lion. This, too, is not an abstraction, allegory, or a mythical proposition; nor is it to be taken literally in any outward sense. This ancient teaching (hearkening back to the tale of Daniel in the lion's den, and of course long before) describes an inner action which we seek. With enough inner work and prayer, eventually the meaning can become clear through an active experience.

In pondering this question, and examining our inner state in order to understand just what lions and Lambs are, it's worh noting the fact that our lion is forever asking the Lamb to lie down with it.

Unfortunately, the lion has a quite different intention than the Lord's, when it comes to Lambs.

May our prayers be heard.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Entanglement


The title of this post is a teaser, since it suggests I'm about to write about the very interesting physics penomenon of entanglement, in which two particles are directly and instantaneously linked in time and space, despite a physical separation. (this "spooky" phenomenon is an active demonstration of the force Gurdjieff called "emanation.")

Alas, physics fans. We are off on a different tangent today.

I've been reading the record of Linji, which, typically of Zen texts, attempts to discard all attempts by the mind-as we ordinarly understand it- to understand anything. Above all, perhaps, the gift that Zen gives us is the gift of disentanglement from the world: a "leaving of home," an abandonment of all that we know and everything that gives saftey and comfort. I could say a number of things here about the potential and perhaps even real deficiencies of Zen- which despite its lofty practice retains distinctive features that, in the case of most masters, imply a partiality of development- but I won't. (Hurrah Zen. You are a good thing.)

Instead, what interests me today is the very real, physical, and substantial entanglement of my own Being with the real and material world. I was examining this question today during my sitting, in the context of the actual, ethereal, yet very real and "soupy" texture of ordinary consciousness and life, as opposed to what is actually necessary in the context of inner work and submission to a higher authority- not chunky beef, but a sweet, fragrant, and transparent broth.

Christ made it quite clear to us that we need to "lay up our treasures in heaven," yet this idea remains entirely intellectual. In reality, reality itself delivers within its own context the compelling and absolute conviction that we need to lay our treasures up right here, where we are. The mind, the body, the emotions- each one is quite literally entangled within its interactions with life.

It is a thickness unto death, this soup.

There is a potential for separation, but it is wholly unrealized. The necessary action of inner relationship, an intimate marriage to a higher principle, is steadfastly confused with the entanglements of this life. All the centers misunderstand this, when not acting in concert.

A close friend of mine on what one might call this "path of revelation" said to me today that the world does not need to be saved- that, in fact, the world is not even meant to be saved. He's exactly right in this: the world that needs a saviour, and that needs saving- the only world that can be saved- is the inner world, the world of relationship to God. No other action is necessary; no other saving is either required or possible; and no other saving is called for.

My entanglement with the outer world is an insoluable problem, an intentionally presented difficulty, an impossible task put in front of me solely in the hope that I may someday recognize that it IS insoluble, impossible: a koan, if you will, that Linji himself might have appreciated. His outright rejection of conceptual approachs leads us down a path toward this understanding, although the intentional obscurity of Zen texts leaves us, as always, a few steps short of the compassion needed to sniff out any potential destination.

This entanglement of mine is my own mistake; I dwell within it actively, perpetually, insistently, because I'm unable and even unwilling to understand how insuffcient it is. Surely sex, money, power, and food will sooner or later, in one way or another, be sufficient, I think to myself. I even actively deny the higher forces acting within me in favor of these chimeras. This is a daily, even a momentary, action: a thousand times a day I can come back to myself and see my abandonment of the sacred, which despite my inner blindness is perpetually present, and perpetually offered.

It's the highlight of my fallen nature, which I remain stubbornly not-present to. As Christ or Paul might have said, my belief in the world, rather than a knowing of God, is at the root of the nature of my sin. When I say I do not attend, it is exactly this that I do not attend to: the gifts of the Lord, freely given.

And how to seek? When I seek attention, to seek the attention of insistence, of "demand," of the pointed finger and the focused eye, is not enough. Even here, in the midst of great effort, I have mistaken what attention is.

There is only one attention to seek, only one attention that CAN be sought, and it is not turned in any of these directions.

It isn't turned in ANY direction: it simply exists in all directions, and it calls me to participate in, not to create, attention.

This is in the nature of true worship.

May our prayers be heard.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Search, and Error

Back from China–the jet lag has been worse than usual this time, I have taken over a week now and I am not quite back on US time yet.

Yesterday, the question of inner search and error was in the air. Living, as I do, in a community with a wide variety of seekers, pursuing a bewildering variety of paths, one wonders whether it is possible that all paths are “correct.”

Religions have a distressing way of insisting that their path is the only one, and that every other path is in error. Not all of them are rigid about this, but almost all of them share this characteristic in common. On the other hand, New Age spirituality has fostered what one might call an equally reactionary openness, an attitude in which everything is right and everything is somehow equal to the next thing.

I'm reminded of what Gurdjieff told Ouspensky in regard to the idea that people encounter what he called “influences C”–that is, truth that actually comes from a higher level, objective truth–and confuse it with influences “A” and “B”–that is, things that are actually less true, in a relative sense. They end up thinking they have the same value. This is an example of human beings presuming that everything is somehow equal--even though we can directly see from what even ordinary life presents us with that this simply isn't the case. For example, listening to Gregorian chant is not the same as watching a Yankees game.

Given that all things are not equal, evidently there must be paths that are, in one way or another, in error. No matter how generous we want to be, for example, I doubt we will extend the benefit of the doubt to religious practices that feel it is all right to kill those who don't share in the practice. No expansion of the Dharma can inflate the balloon large enough to conflate such an idea with the idea of right action.

It's true that the Dharma–universal truth–encompasses everything, but it doesn't mean that everything is equally good. And to presume that there is no good or evil–no polarity–is equally mistaken. Polarities are necessary in order for energy to flow, and so good and evil are both real and necessary aspects of reality that exist in a reciprocal relationship, creating the need for conscious beings to make choices. Gurdjieff used this premise as one of the foundational conditions for Beelezebubs' Tales To His Grandson–Beelzebub was banished to our solar system because he made mistakes–he was in error, he chose the wrong path.

Although tolerance is paramount, those who work seriously need to avoid getting sucked into a touchy–feeley attitude where discrimination is abandoned and all practices are equally wonderful and equally good. All the great masters seem to have clearly stated that not all practices are equally wonderful and equally good, and we ignore this understanding at our peril. Dogen, for example, repeatedly warned against the dangers of adulterating Buddhism with understandings from other practices (particularly Taoism.)

All of this brings us to the question of what one should do, in an age of spiritual smorgasbord, where the commercial pork sausage and the wild smoked salmon are next to each other as though there was no difference between the two. There is the temptation to experiment, to run in every direction; there is the inevitable inner reaction in which one becomes defensive about one's own practice; there is a consequent dilution of focus and forces.

I find it helpful to remind myself that all of these conditions are inevitable, a direct consequence of the requirement of living within a world of form, and a broadening of my perspective. I don't have to carry this confusion into my inner work. There is a point at which the competition, the inquiry, my inability to fully understand, can all be abandoned.

I am attempting to become open to influences higher than myself, and those influences are both tangible, practical, and active. Letting go of my own error–my entanglement with the world of ideas and premises–can be a relief, insofar as I am able to go that deep.

May our prayers be heard.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


It's early morning, and I am looking out over People's Park in Shanghai, towards the Shanghai Museum. (Just for the record, the above photo is of the Bund in Shanghai, not the Shanghai Museum.) The city is appealingly shrouded in mist this morning, which softens the hard lines of concrete and steel that characterize almost everything man sees fit to build these days. As is often the case, I'm trying to sort out how to write about what I'm currently pondering without sounding didactic... perhaps an impossible task, but there you have it.

I found myself mulling over the question of predestination this morning... an interesting question that relates to Gurdjieff's statement to Ouspensky that "for one thing to be different, everything would have to be different." I've written several other essays in this space about the possibility of a completely deterministic universe, in which only our attitude towards events has the potential for change. (The idea is far from new... it was a matter of debate in the early Christian church, and in modern times, it touches on questions raised by quantum physics.)

It's a fascinating question, but it's theoretical... for some reason, this morning, that aspect bothers me... and that leads to another line of questions.

This blog has always struck a balance–admittedly uneven–between discussions about theory and observations drawn from practice, since both seem quite necessary in any inner work. It's nearly impossible to claim that one is superior to the other; and after all, both arise within us on this level, and act on this level. They both inevitably fall short of truly grasping the influence of the level above us, although both are supposedly aimed at doing so.

Here's the problem: when genuine influences from a higher level arrive, theory goes out the window–though it may be informed by such influence–and practice is transformed into something that does not belong to us, but rather emanates from principles we are at best dimly aware of under any ordinary circumstances.

We are left, by and large, with books that constitute records of one kind or another. The most recent books of any significant content within the Gurdjieff canon are, of course, “The Reality of Being” and “Notes From The Next Attention.” Both of these fine works purport to be about practice, but because they are books, as their ideas enter us, they are already theoretical. As they express themselves within us, the premises they contain have inevitably entered the realm of thought (whether by verbal association or association by form) not actual manifestation, and the realm of thought is like quicksand.

The realm of actual manifestation is not only fluid and in constant movement, it is unique to each individual, and the records that one individual leaves behind may well prove misleading or even useless to others.

This was a point made by the “other” Krishnamurti, U.G. Krishnamurti, who, although he languishes in relative obscurity in the esoteric world compared to Jiddu Krishnamurti, offered fascinating and challenging points of view on the matter.

One might conceivably point out that the realm of thought is actually one aspect of the realm of actual manifestation, and this is indeed true, but it is a fragmentary aspect. The realm of actual manifestation, which can only be sensed if the organic sense of Being is active, is of a fundamentally different material quality.

This essay itself, like all other writings, also emanates from the realm of thought, which is not the realm of God. The realm of God extends well beyond thought and cannot be packed into its valise... when it arrives, this becomes apparent. One wonders how one could have been so foolish as to believe any such thing in the first place. In any event, the body itself, which after all is quite ordinary and is merely a machine existing on this level, already transcends thought quite neatly within both its moving center and its emotional center, so it ought to be apparent within the immediate context of three centered being that thought is far from transcendent.

Nonetheless, this irrevocable fact escapes us on a moment to moment basis, doesn't it? We believe quite firmly in the power of our thought. Even when we know better.

Like theory, or thought, practice also locates itself and emanates from within this body. The body, which is an exquisite machine for the sending and receiving of vibrations, is still fundamentally limited in its abilities, because its manifestations are once again irrevocably constrained to this level. In attempting to think of an analogy that will explain this, it occurs to me that although a three-dimensional figure contains two-dimensional aspects, which are also expressed in it, one can never pack the third dimension back down into two dimensions. It doesn't work that way. Dimensions are an emergent property. In the same way, one might say that because of the properties of consciousness, a man can become aware of himself as existing within a “fourth dimension” which has properties related to divinity, but he will always still be a man inhabiting this three-dimensional location.

Ultimately, the presumption that we can grasp anything other than ourselves and where we are is a form of arrogance. In the same way, a petition of prayer is a form of arrogance. Our efforts are a form of arrogance.

Why is that? It's because everything that we do emanates from the fundamental fact that we believe in ourselves first, and then–if it is convenient for us–we believe in God. Do we see that? Even those who claim they believe in God first do not understand what it means to know in God, because belief in God does not constitute knowing in God–it is a belief, not an understanding, so already it emanates from thought.

Understanding does not emanate from thought. Until we understand, which is a process that can only take place with assistance from a higher level, everything emanates from thought. Generally speaking, even our practice emanates from thought. Zen Buddhism more or less recognizes this dilemma–and even though it has an elaborate and very formalized practice, it might be said Zen has the aim of destroying the practice itself through practice.

The point about practice is that although it presumes to trump theory, it also begins with the belief that we can "build a bridge," a belief that arises from thought.

Everything that begins with belief is mistaken and does not emanate from the will of God. If we believe in God, already, we have denied God, because the belief is not God's belief, it is our belief. Everything within us that emanates from our own will needs to be extinguished in order to leave room for the will of God. This is a principle that Meister Eckhart expounded on at length in his sermons and essays.

The principle is an important one to examine, since the premise is hardly foreign to the aim of the Gurdjieff work.

May our prayers be heard.