Saturday, August 31, 2013

To know by seeing... the art of inner empiricism

Xenophanes was one of the materialist philosophers (physiologoi) or naturalistic thinkers who spearheaded the rationalist movement away from the spiritualist thinkers (theologoi) of Greek philosophy.

...Or was he?

Reading The Shape of Ancient Thought (Thomas McEvilley) we discover that "Xenophanes' rejection of the supernatural was accompanied by advances in the empirical theory of knowledge."

"And as to truth, there never was nor will there be anyone who knew the truth about the gods and the other things I am speaking of. Even if someone should once by chance say what is actually the case, he would not be sure of this. For only illusory opinion is available to anyone." (p. 329)

McEvilley goes on to say, "in antiquity the second sentence of this passage was interpreted as meaning, "Even if someone should be speaking the truth he would not really know whether he was or not."

However, he goes on a bit later to say, "A second interpretation emphasizes the crucial Greek verb in the sentence, which is cognate with Latin video and like it originally meant "know by seeing."If the word still meant this for Xenophanes, his fr. 34 should mean, "Even if someone should succeed in telling the truth, if he is not speaking from direct personal experience but from conjecture, then his statement is invalid methodologically, regardless of its correspondence or lack of correspondence with the facts."

In this passage we discover some interesting roots of the Gurdjieffian ideal. Gurdjieff, after all, insisted that inner understanding derive from personal verification through experience—a concept Xenophanes' statement seems to anticipate and encompass. In addition, the idea to know by seeing became—and exists as—a vital extension of Gurdjieff's idea of inner work as expounded by Jeanne de Salzmann. The empirical—whatever that is—must be known inwardly and known through experience.

We might perhaps suggest here that Xenophanes' subtleties were lost on his contemporaries, who did not understand just what kind of seeing he was referring to. An inner seeing verifies qualities invisible to the outer world.

The metaphysical bridge to Xenophanes' avowed materialism is provided by Gurdjieff's adage that everything is material. As such, even the noumenal world of the theologoi has a material basis, though it may be one too subtle for us to understand it wholly. Even God, in other words, has substance; yet as Xenophanes rightly recognized, that substance can never be known by us except subjectively—hence Gurdjieff's world of idiots, which rests its laurels on the premise of the absolute subjectivity of being, subsumed by the objectivity of law, to which even God must bow.

If there was a split in Greek philosophy leading to today's divide between the materialist sciences and religion, the Gurdjieffian model seems, in other words, to effectively bridge the gap.

This idea of gnosis—knowing by an inner seeing—roughly corresponds to Gurdjieff's understanding, which, like Xenophanes' seeing, transcends the idea of correspondence with facts. Understanding, as those with some gnostic experience will already know, comes through vibration, not mere thought.

Seeing in this way is not an intellectual experience—although it is a deeply intelligent one. One can presume that some of the ancient Greek schools knew this, even though the point may be lost on modern philosophers.

May your soul be filled with light.



Friday, August 30, 2013

Everyday impressions

Regardless of all the theories and opinions, every day one just tries to get up and face life, as it is. It flows into us, like a river; and we receive it.

This morning, walking along the Hudson River at about 6:30 AM, I was struck by a group of stones — nothing special, just Palisades basalt — lined up on a grassy expanse of grass next to the marsh on the river.

There was no one else around; just myself and the famous dog Isabel. We rarely, if ever, have company along the river at this hour.

The impression of the stones came into me, and I felt a life in them. A kind of life that isn't defined by the narrow constraints of the physical sciences, but rather by the very magnetism and presence of the stones themselves, the gentle softness of their irregularities, the rhythm of their placement, the austerity of their gray color against the rich green of the grass, and their individual shapes: related, yet unique.

It occurred to me that we have never really understood why people built stone circles. We've applied a lot of astronomical, archaeological, and even metaphysical theories to why they existed, but we rarely think about the simple idea of the impression that they made on people. All monumental architecture is, in the end, about an impression — and these particular monuments, primitive though they may be in comparison to something like the Parthenon or the buildings at Uxmal, aimed at the same thing.

Perhaps the impression was more an impression like the one created by Zen gardens, where austerity becomes the vehicle for an inner message. I think this must be the case; the vision of stone against Earth and sky falls into us in a different way when it is intentionally arranged. One can't say how, except that perhaps the arrangement begins — no matter how simple it is — to express the action of law in what would otherwise be a random universe, a theme that I have taken up in a number of posts lately. The fact is that life itself is a random universe that keeps falling into us; our Being, our consciousness, is a polarizing element that receives that apparently random action and organizes it. Although the world may begin without definitions as it enters, it acquires them. And above all, the definitions are created by the action of Being.

 We usually consider these definitions to be intellectual, but they are also emotional and physical; and this is the essence of inner work, that we sense the totality of what definition is, the totality of what impression is. Unless our parts are in relationship and active, little of this takes place; and unless we know and sense the fact that we have an inner life and can and even must live through it, our impressions are relatively dead to us. So much so that we demand loud, obnoxious, intrusive impressions which overstimulate the organism, instead of understanding the more delicate refinements of sensation that come from stillness and a precise inner observation.

It's this stillness and precise inner observation that touched me for a moment in my walk along the river. And it is the constant search for an intimacy with this stillness and precise observation that occupies me. I get up every morning and face life; I organize it and define it; yet this isn't what life is about. Life is about coming into relationship with life. And it's this action that's interesting — not all the mileposts of the job, the commute, current events, and achievement. I always ask myself, at all times, every day, how can I become more intimate with my inner life? It is always calling me, and yet I don't always listen.

I can sense the fact that the emanations of the divine that begin within Being and try to reach me are loving and concerned; I need to discover how to become reciprocal to that, how to stand in an intelligent and intelligible relationship that includes all of my parts

May your soul be filled with light.

A note to readers: part II of everyday impressions will be published on 9/1/13.

A further note to readers: Please read Tracy's post of today, which is related to this one. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Law, cause, and effect

Today I'm pondering the wild fox koan.

The old man who made the original error maintained that a person who practiced with great devotion would "not fall into" cause and effect. To "fall into" is to become identified with. So his error was in believing that a person of serious practice would no longer be subject to this kind of identification.

Cause and effect, in this case, is the action of law. So the non-identification implies freedom from the action of law. Put one way, this allows the presumption of agency: one who is free from law becomes, so to speak, their own agent, and is, conceptually speaking, independent of the dharma. Yet this is, of course, impossible; nothing can become free of the dharma, so the thinking is clearly erroneous. The very presumption already arises from an egoistic belief, i.e., the belief that agency can be attained.

The koan raises the question, in other words, of whether agency arises within the laws, or lies outside the law. If it lies outside the laws it can become free of cause and effect, but if it is both a property and a consequence of the laws, it is impossible to avoid. As Gurdjieff remarked to Ouspensky, "if people were different, everything would be different."

It is impossible to exist outside the Dharma.  Believing otherwise is the essential error.

The master who makes the error is punished by being reincarnated in the body of a wild fox. He appears, however, in the body of a man; and this makes it clear that the "fox body" is an allegorical body representing actions—causes, not substance—effects. The man's body, his corporal existence, is the reality, the effect, and it is still absolutely present. The monks and Baizhang have, after all, been seeing an old man come to the hall day after day—not a fox.

So for the trapped monk, it's his inner state, the state of causes, that is repeating in an endless series of corporeal habits, symbolized by the concept of reincarnation. The fox is the inner man: not the one who outwardly professes spirituality, but the one who inwardly lives the life of the sensual; and he does not live this life just once; he lives it "500 lifetimes," or, always.

So rather than buying into any supernatural literalism here, let's examine the symbolic implications.

 Foxes, in Chinese mythology, represent female spirits rich in yin. They are essentially immortal, and in folklore feed on yang (male essence) in order to prolong their life. The fox furthermore symbolizes sex energy, sexuality. These rich associations cannot have been casual; the choice of animal as the vehicle of reincarnation was deliberate.

So we can infer here that the symbolic consequence of a failure to understand the fact that one cannot become free of the laws of cause and effect is an endless immersion in fecund sensuality. This is, in and of itself, symbolic of the material nature of life and sexuality. Immersion it it is representative of identification with life itself, that is, an inability to distinguish between one's conscious nature and the nature of the sensual life one is surrounded by. The fox, furthermore, is an agent of essentially selfish action, since it takes male yang energy in order to prolong its life and serve its own interests. Of course the fox enjoyed his five hundred lives... they were corporeal pleasures, because their essential nature was sensual and sexual. In life, the sheer pleasure of selfish action—belief in one's own agency— erects its own prison.

Put in other terms, the failure to understand man's inexorable submission to the rule of law and the dharma results in a deeper and deeper identification, which results from believing one is not identified. Perhaps readers will agree that we are treading into familiar territory here; it's a classic tale of what is called "falling asleep in one's inner work."

Awakening to the reality of law ("don't ignore cause and effect") is necessary. The "great realization" that takes place as a result of Baizhang's words is an awakening from this belief in one's own agency (from which the path of selfishness and parasitism naturally flows) into an awareness of the higher. Of course the immediate result is death; it's the spiritual death of the ego, which believes it serves itself.

Significantly, when the monks gather for the burial of the protagonist, they don't recognize the dead being as a man. The corpse is a fox; and thus the residue of the matter represents the ultimate worthlessness of a devotion to the sensual life. Their bafflement over the action of burying the fox indicates their inability to discriminate in an inner sense. The fox doesn't look like a monk; they are unable to see the fox in themselves, so its significance is lost on them.

Overall, the allegory is one of becoming aware of law, rather than being asleep to it. It is in essence a reflection of the idea of knowing one's place. The fox is an animal, without the capacity to know itself; the man has that capacity, but must use it. In doing so he must acknowledge his position, subject to laws; there is no escape from the dharma. No falling in or out of the law is possible, because the essence of the matter is the law.

In the coda to the koan, Huangbo plays the wag. "What if he hadn't given a wrong answer?" he says. Note he doesn't imply that a right answer be given; no answer is an equally valid option in this exchange. Baizhang, meeting a tease with a tease, entices him closer to collect an answer; but Huangbo slaps him, decisively eliminating the temptation to further define the moment for both of them. Neither one of them can identify with the tease, because a shock has intervened. It's actually a physical — as opposed to philosophical — illustration of the statement, "don't ignore cause and effect;" and it is what Gurdjieff would have called a stop.

This physical shock eliminates the tension of intellectual and emotional attachment and brings freedom; symbolized by Baizhang's laughter. He's delightfully reminded of the "bearded barbarian," Bodhidharma.

 May your soul be filled with light.







Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Within the good



The entire aim of inner work is to know the good. Put in another way, to know the good is to know the wholeness of God's Grace and Mercy, which resides in every rose,  in every bee and flower, in the clouds that bring rain.

There is nothing romantic about this, in the sense of sentiment. There is a Truth in goodness that is much larger than man's Being; yet man's Being exists to receive this Truth, and without it, it couldn't find its expression. So Being carries a responsibility to sense this goodness that cannot be known with the ordinary parts.

Goodness flows into us through the active sensing of life... and its inherent mystery. Life may look explicable, in one sense of another, from the perspective of the flat landscape which conceptual thought presents (and no matter how vast a universe conceptual thought presents us with, it is still flat); but the instant that the inner life unfolds, and the inward flow of energy aligns, life is not explicable, and it is in this sweet mystery, this immediate sensing of the unknown, that we discover how magnificent life really is. It may sound strange to say that we know by not-knowing; but this is not a not-knowing of the mind; it is a not-knowing of the entire Being, in which what we are as we are now encompasses all of the questions that can ever be asked, in one instant. If you're interested in Zen koans and why they are so strange, this is why.

Emily Dickinson (I was reading her this morning) continually captured the essence of this unknown in her poetry, so much so that even those of us who have never had such an experience may well sense that there is something remarkable going on behind the words. Her poems are like fine preserves, or a wine of particularly exceptional vintage put up against a cold winter month, to be sipped when the thought of grapes seems to be no more than a dream, and we need to be reminded of their presence. So a vibrant echo of sensing the good comes down to us through her poems.

Every good poem is an excursion into this good unknown, this good night which we live forward into. Poetry only succeeds to the extent that it creates a frame through which we gaze into the unknown. It has to be so transparent that we do not know it is even there, but fall gently fall into the void that it creates.

We need to live within this good, which is also called Grace; and we are only close to God, insofar as it manifests. To be separated from it is to be dead to life and to living; to live within the good is to know what life is—and this is the paradox, it is within the not knowing of what life is that the knowing comes. To not know is a sweetness beyond wine, because it invites us not to believe, or to think, but to live.

And to live is to do much more than to think or to believe. It is to surrender ourselves into a helplessness, an offertory.

We inhabit ourselves within the sweetness of the flower... this nectar of life-impressions... the intimacy of the bee... the delicate acuity of all its myriad parts... and the way that our sensation and our attention are so precisely designed to fit this flower of Truth.

May your soul be filled with light.










Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Law and the Dharma

We live in a universe of laws. When I move my body, and I feel the sensation of my flesh, it is the culmination of the action of many different physical, chemical, electrical, and magnetic laws. All of these different laws intersect; moreover, they are intersecting in trillions of trillions of individual quantum level interactions at the same time.  This is happening innumerable times all over the universe at every instant. So the action of the Dharma is the action of law.

When we look at particle physics, and we realize that we have to split the atom into smaller or smaller parts, each one of which is subject to a set of laws of its own, we realize that this ubiquity of law penetrates down so far that it goes beyond the perception of both humans and instrumentation, into realms that can only be tested theoretically, or with gross evidence of particles whose behavior must then be assumed using mathematical models.

 One rarely considers this. We get up out of bed in the morning and experience our lives, admitting that we are subject to certain grossly perceived laws, and nothing more. Yet the question remains — why are there laws at all? Physics can't answer this, and philosophers have been stymied by the question as well.

What seems to be clear is that before the Big Bang, there were no laws — at least, not as we know it. So the instant of the Big Bang, in which the universe was (presumably) created, the advent of law took place. Lawful interactions between elements in the energy plasma were imposed upon its existence from the instant that it began to expand. Why? Was this necessary? Is it inevitable that law follows an event like this, or should it also be possible that absolutely random and chaotic action ensues? No one knows the answer to that.

The fact that we inhabit a universe so absolutely dominated by law, and that that universe is fractal, and that the laws reflect themselves in increasing degrees of complexity and interaction throughout the existence of the material, suggests that there are conceptual forces at work which lie beyond the ability of the mind to comprehend.

 Yet the mind, itself, seems designed to do just that — to comprehend. Above all, the mind can perceive laws. And without consciousness, without a mind, law is an unknown. Jellyfish, for example, obey law, but they are not conscious of it. One might argue that dogs are a little more conscious of law than jellyfish, because they obey the law of the pack; nonetheless, law as an overarching philosophical, mathematical, physical, or chemical concept is beyond their ability to conceive of. They participate in the action of law; they have a sophisticated ability to sense chemical law to in the form of odors, but they don't know this. So it is possible to inhabit law without knowing that law exists at all. There are, in other words, demonstrable levels within the context of law; levels, that is, of awareness.

All of these questions occurred to me when I got out of the shower this morning and felt the jiggling of a little excess fat on my middle aged waist as I rubbed myself dry with a towel. It seemed quite extraordinary that this ordinary action of drying myself with a towel was the instantaneous expression of so many laws; laws, moreover, that had existed for billions of years, and that were perpetually expressing themselves.

 Dogen's questions about the inexorable relationship between cause and effect, and its implications in regard to an awareness of the Dharma, all stem from these questions. Law is inevitable; we cannot escape it.

Yet why is there law at all in the first place?

 May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Drawn towards the good

People sometimes discuss the quality of feeling in inner work; Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann drew a distinction between this quality and our ordinary emotional state.

The quality of feeling is, as Paul Reynard once described it to my wife, an organ of perception. That is to say, when we develop our inner sensitivity, a quality of vibration becomes available to our sensory Being which is not available under ordinary circumstances. We won't in any sense call this an extrasensory perception, because the sense it belongs to is a real one, not a supernatural one; it is just atrophied in people.

 But why can we have this quality of feeling? And why should we have it; that is, what is it for, what good does it do?

The answer to this is quite simple. The quality of feeling is there in order to perceive the good and draw us toward it.

The good, as Socrates and Plato realized, is an objective Truth; yet it can't be arrived at intellectually, as they attempted through philosophy. Anyone who sees the struggle within modern civilization, with all of its technology and information, to settle the matter of what the good is will realize this. All the philosophical systems in the world may be able to define the good from an abstract point of view, but the good cannot be made manifest unless it is perceived using this sensory tool of feeling. Attempts to manifest it through the tools of intellect and the body — which is the method of the atomistic materialist point of view – are absolutely worthless, lies, even.

 We are not cognizant of the good, as conscious beings, unless a feeling quality leads us to it. God has made this feeling quality possible for us in order to draw us towards the good, which can only be sensed with the entry of higher energy, a higher vibration. Without that knowing, that gnosis, the good remains an unknown.

We must know the good within our hearts, by being drawn to it through feeling. Not sentiment; not emotion. Feeling. One of the reasons that the Gurdjieff method—and de Salzmann's teaching in particular— emphasizes sensation so much is that it forms the foundational element for feeling. Feeling can't arise unless sensation is present. So the method of self remembering maps out a path: the mind makes an effort at attention — the body arrives in the moment of attention with sensation — and then the emotions enter, allowing feeling to become a sensory tool. At this point, one can know what the good is; before this, it is impossible, because the good is interpreted in a partial way.

The greatest wish that God has for man is that he be drawn towards the good. All of the good that there is resides in God, in the higher level—a point Meister Eckhart made abundantly clear. We have no good in us, an ancient understanding touched on in both the Catholic and Episcopalian liturgy, and passed on in the understanding of original sin within Christianity, and the concept of karma in Hinduism and Buddhism. We don't have any good in us; but we can develop the capacity for sensing the good, which is a quality belonging to the Divine, if our feeling capacity is awakened.

This is a fairly specific and even scientific understanding of the nature of relationship, but it's rarely mapped out in plain language. It's important to understand why you are making an effort to develop the capacity for feeling. If you don't know that this is the only force that can draw you towards good and draw you towards God, you need to understand that. Otherwise you will spend a great deal of your life thinking that you can make those decisions, which is in fact impossible. You can only open to the energy which will help draw you towards the good. Once you stand under that force, you will develop a better understanding.

Heaven touches hell; and man stands in the place where that happens. They are not far apart, and as much as we aspire to enter heaven, even more so, we are in perpetual danger of falling into hell.

God's Mercy and Grace position themselves between heaven and hell, in the precise place where we are located, and come up under us to support us and lift us towards the good, if we participate in the effort that God has put in front of us.

May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Inner secrets, part III

The series of photographs accompanying these posts on secrecy are all a night blooming Cereus plant which graces our household with its blossoms on an annual basis. These photographs are from the recent flowering of Aug 11-12.

The question of inner secrets must above all be approached from the point of view of understanding the inner.

We have a deep, sacred and hidden part which must become awakened in order for us to grow from within. Generally speaking this part in man is not awakened and does not grow. It is a latent possibility, sensed and intuited in the general flow of life, but rarely active enough for an individual to organically sense its presence and action.

It is, in every sense of the word, a manifestation of the divine, and can thus act in any number of ways within Being—its action cannot be restricted by our concepts of it, although there are common elements to much of its work.

Without an awakening of this divine spark, which fundamentally transforms perception and sensation, placing one's efforts in an entirely new context, the only influences that direct the flow of life are external ones. These can be powerful and laudable, but by themselves they can never carry the power of inner transformation, which is always a secret and intimate one—never, never an outward and material one.

In point of fact an outer poverty is more likely to result, since the impulse of inner development is always away from the material. The spiritual draws one towards a value of life, not things; and in the case of inner development, what appears to be deprivation or sacrifice from the point of view of outer life is in fact a movement into a richness of inner experience which far surpasses any wealth of objects in and of themselves.

The direction of life according to influences—the inward flow of divine energy—is a sublime event which gradually and inexorably draws a man or woman away from self-interest and selfishness and towards a spirit of generosity which permeates every cell of the body. This generosity becomes a generosity of spirit in which love predominates in every personal transaction.

Because it's entirely possible to emulate the awakening of inner consciousness, and conscience, with outer parts that perfectly imitate the language, appearances, and even perhaps attitudes of the inner, one gets an endless series of supposed "masters" who masterfully pretend to qualities they have not, in fact, ever developed. One can see these things quite clearly if one knows the difference— as Jesus said, "beware of false prophets." (Matthew 7:15-20.) And this is precisely what Jesus meant.

In seeking a person who is more human, in the inner sense of the word, look to the spirit of an inner generosity, and a humility: a gentleness. Where these things are found, there is an inner action taking place; and these are always born of secret things, things that would become corrupted if they were touched by the outside world. Kindness, patience, understanding: these are worthy qualities. Only to the extent that they are present are we present. And they are only ever present to the extent that we keep a covenant with the inner kernel of divinity that lights the way through life.

To be more human is to be more divine, because humanity is made—in the inner sense— in the image of the Lord.  The issue with us is that we are not human; we need to rediscover our humanity.

May your soul be filled with light.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

The movement of the inward flow

 The inward flow of energy resists definitions.

 It can't be forced; and this isn't something one can think about or invoke. In fact, being told about it or given exercises to direct it may be quite useless. It arrives when it arrives; it is either there, or it isn't. One can come into relationship with it, but one can't tell it what to do. To force it is destructive; to submit to it is creative.

An opening to the inward flow of the divine source is under the law of a higher level. So seeking to come into relationship with it from the laws of this level is a mistake. One arrives within one's Being, from this level; one observes. Either the inward flow is present or it isn't. Sitting for three hours won't change anything if it's not present; what takes place takes place in one instant, or not at all.

This is a kind of food for Being, regulated by exactly what is necessary, as determined from a higher level. There is no need — and no use — to interfere with it. One simply need acknowledge and be present. Going deeper into this relationship may help; certainly, an attentiveness opens the inner Being to what is possible; but even then, the energy is what determines the possibilities, not me.

Eventually, the inward flow determines the alignment of life in every direction. It grows roots into all of the aspects of being, drawing them together into a single relationship. In this process, many things can be seen; one discovers many aspects of Being, not all of them — by any means — sacred or wonderful. One must experience and tolerate all of the aspects of Being in order to Be. This tolerance must, above all, be loving, which also means that it must be objective, or, unattached and basically free of the influences that are contained within the various parts.

The fluidity of this movement is apparent when one is within it; and when one isn't, one can only wait for its arrival. The impatience of the intellect and desire are evident in the wish to push towards this relationship, rather than allowing it to come and to enter.

One of the consequences of the movement of the inward flow is the arousal of many different kinds of vibrations. The temptation to categorize these or label them is always present; yet participating in their presence and mystery without doing that is possible. In fact, I don't need to categorize or label, and I don't need to manipulate; the participation alone is enough, and every instance of vibration is a reminder of the presence of God.

Life really doesn't mean anything else; it begins here. Everything else flows outward from it, and the reciprocal inward flow from outer life is simply the corresponding action, which becomes more natural as it acquires a greater relationship to the inner flow.

May your soul be filled with light.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Inner secrets, part II


The series of photographs accompanying these posts on secrecy are all a night blooming Cereus plant which graces our household with its blossoms on an annual basis. These photographs are from the recent flowering of Aug 11-12.

Some folks wish to believe that certain inner exercises are secret, and this is to some extent the case, in the sense that some learn special exercises from masters and then dole them out to their own students. Gurdjieff's pupils learned a number of classic tantric exercises from him which they jealously guarded for many years, right up until the "old guard" realized that they were dying off one by one and hadn't passed much of the material on. (The exercises are, by the way, recognizably yogic exercises, and thus not at all unique to Gurdjieff's teaching.)

But inner exercises are actually like objects or things, and are infected with the perpetual danger of becoming fixed objects which produce a particular result—beyond which one cannot go without giving up the exercise. Exercises thus become inner attachments; and only an unfettered and dynamic inner environment which is capable of constantly responding to the inner condition as it presently exists can ultimately lead me where I wish to go. So this isn't to say I don't do exercises; but rather that I must know what the limits of exercises are.

It's important to understand this question of exercises because all of the exercises that can be taught by others are only preparatory. The nature of esoteric secrets is such that when real exercises arrive, they are sent by God and entirely unique to the individual, so much so that to show them or teach them to anyone else might actually do harm; because each truly esoteric exercise, or inner manifestation of God (for that is what all real exercises express) is meant only for that particular individual in communion with God. Each is idiotic, in the sense that it is intended for that particular instance of communion with that particular individual. As such, attempting to repeat exercises that one receives is often not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.

While there can be commonality in the overall thrust and nature of inner exercises—this is self-evident from the vast number of tantric and yogic practices that have been externalized and codified over the centuries—what's necessary for a particular adept is always so unique, in a certain sense, that even a master can only bring them up to the threshold of real inner practice and release them there, hoping that they will be able to open their inner eye and take the next step on their own. Even then, so much is up to God that nothing is certain. But what is certain is that all the great teachers have never taught anyone anything except, in this selfsame manner, how to teach themselves. This involves opening the heart to God so that the Lord becomes the teacher; in other words, it is always, ultimately, a practice of Islam, or submission.

I have friends who have mastered complex and extraordinary yogic exercises, only to say to themselves "so what?"

I think they're right about that; to the point, developing magical powers of various kinds is in a certain sense just one more temporal attachment of ego to achievement of one kind or another. In the same sense, devoting inner energy to the healing of the body (a very popular pastime nowadays, it would seem) is possible; but inner energy is there, first, foremost, and always, to heal the soul, and healing the body is essentially meaningless in relationship to this inner healing of the psychic being. Remember Gurdjieff's old aphorism from Beelzebub: "hope of body is disease." (p.361.)

The attachment to the development and exploitation of powers (siddhis)—whether for good, evil, or benign purposes—is demonstrably a function of the right-hand side of the enneagram, most specifically the note Fa, representing the acquisition of power. It's an important point of work, but it actually belongs to the material, as opposed to spiritual, part of the path, and should not be mistaken for or mixed with the higher levels of inner Being, which are to be strictly devoted to the inner shearing-off of such adornments.

May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Inner secrets, part I


The series of photographs accompanying these posts on secrecy are all a night blooming Cereus plant which graces our household with its blossoms on an annual basis. These photographs are from the recent flowering of Aug 11-12.

There are actual secret practices, and practices that purport to be secret.

The outer practice is never secret. Every single thing I can encounter in "real" life, that is, external life, is always a translation of the inner. Anything that arrives as an expression in the outer world and is revealed by one to another, no matter how "esoteric" and "secret" it may claim to be, is actually not a secret. This is obvious for a number of reasons, the most tangible being that anything which has been revealed no longer has the character of secrecy. It is already shared; and the only actual secrets that can exist are inner secrets which are never revealed. The moment they are revealed to another, they lose both their character and their efficacy.

By never revealed, I mean, secrets that emerge from within as a shared covenant between an individual and God, which must never under any circumstances be leaked to the outside world. One of the tests of inner initiation is whether or not one has the ability to discriminate between that which can be revealed and that which cannot. Swedenborg did; this is why so much was vouchsafed to him, and why he said, on his deathbed, that he could have said much more about what God showed him if it had been permitted.

A man or woman must know in their innermost heart of hearts what is permitted and what isn't. This ability is very much lacking in today's world, because everything is measured by the outward. Don't be fooled. There are real secrets; but they are all inner, and you must come to them yourself.

Part of the action of sin is that it co-exists within, in the innermost part of a man, as a hidden secret which he does not share with the world; this is one of the most essential esoteric understandings of Gurdjieff's ideas about inner lying and what it means, also covered at length by Swedenborg when he revealed that these same inner lies are what determine a man or woman's eligibility to enter heaven after death.

The overarching reason for the practice of self-observation is to learn how to see these inner lies, and to live in perpetual close contact with one's own sin. This is what it means to know one's self; to know how one actually is, to see how the inner lies contaminate the sacred places in which the inner covenant with God is created and grows. I cannot understand who I am, how I am, and what all of this means unless I understand the idea of secrets in general, and inner secrets in particular.

It may seem old fashioned to go on about sin; after all, we're so modern these days, especially in the various groovy newfangled esoteric practices, that we somehow want to pretend that it doesn't exist. Yet there is, as Gurdjieff pointed out in his allegory of Purgatory, a contamination in the root and at the heart of Being that cannot be expunged. This isn't just an allegory; it is a fact that can be sensually, organically experienced, and one must be willing to come into depressingly close contact with it over an extended period of time just to see its extent.

This practice is in itself dangerous, because getting close enough to see sin personally and with awareness also puts one directly in harm's way, since any closer contact makes both its nature and its power more evident. This is why tantric practices like Tibetan Buddhism have so many fiercely protective power-beings who symbolically preside over inner actions. One needs to invoke supernatural protection in order to get close enough to truly see one's sin, because it is a deeply intimate action.

Once one gets close enough to sin to truly see it, you can be sure, it wants to have you. It, too, is a living thing; but it is a force from the underworld, an involutionary element.

A great deal more could be said about sin here, but the essential thrust of this essay is to expound on the nature of inner secrecy. The nature of a man's inner struggle for purification cannot ever be conducted outwardly, and to the extent that a person's inner practice is revealed to others, it dissipates.

This means that an adept must create an inner firewall of sorts, beyond which any passage of one's own secret practice into the outside world is forbidden. Temptation comes in many guises, and one of them is the temptation to breach this wall, which is exactly what the involutionary force hopes for.

Think carefully on this.

May your soul be filled with light.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Worthy aspirations

 The subject of prayer can be confusing. There are an endless variety of prayers; and human beings seem inclined to pray for just about anything they want, not seeing that their own desires are all going in the wrong direction.

There are a few — a very few — desires which go in the right direction. Maybe just two. But both of them are away from the self, and towards God. (One can know whether one's self is rightly sensed, and whether one's self-remembering is properly centered, by knowing whether one is interested in one's self or in God.)

The two prayers that are worthy in terms of a right inner direction are prayer for Presence and prayer for the strength to serve. The first prayer, a prayer to know God's Presence, is a prayer of opening the inner Being to the divine inflow of a heavenly presence. We should want to know God's Presence always and ever more within ourselves, and to submit to that Presence as the flower within us grows. This has nothing to do with our ordinary self, who we are, or how we are, but, rather, involves the growth of a higher entity within us, one that knows much better than we do what is necessary for life.

The second prayer, a prayer for the strength to serve, is a prayer aimed at being given the capacity to serve all others (vis a vis the fifth obligolnian striving.) We are born, first and foremost, not to serve our lives, but to act as vicegerents, that is, agents of a godly and divine Presence, in serving and supporting others.

This idea is confusing, because almost all of our outer life continually insists to us that we ought to be serving ourselves and our own interests. We don't see that the only real interest we can actually have is an interest in receiving God's Presence; and that all other interests must of necessity flow from this. And we don't see that the service of others is the essential point of our lives, even though it ought to be glaringly obvious.

Service does not by default consist of material service to others, that is, service to things, but of service to Being. This is another point those of exclusively worldly inclinations are woefully confused about. Giving people money or helping them fix external things can be done, of course; and there are instances where it should or even must be done. But above all, what we need to do is manifest our small — inevitably small — portion of the Presence of God, in so far as we may be Graced to receive it, and offer a support to others that supports their inner life, a positive affirmation of their Being.

 So many destructive forces are flowing into mankind right now that individuals are confused and don't know what a positive affirmation of their own Being might be. So what is perhaps most important for individuals is to be supported so that they can gently come to a sense of themselves in which they lovingly value themselves — not selfishly, but in the context of bringing themselves into the Presence of God through their own inner action ( not having it inflicted by some imaginary set of laws or commands) — in such a way that they can help affirm others around them without being damaged themselves.

 It is, after all, in this gentle and loving affirmation of others, in which our own interests are almost immaterial, that we discover a real meaning in life. In this context, material things become relatively unimportant; instead, it is the Presence of Being and its manifestation between each other that becomes the force that is most valued.

 More on this later.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Esoteric symbolism in the tablet of Shamash


The Tablet of Shamash,  a Babylonian document dating from the mid-early 800s BC, gives us another example of a complex spiritual cosmology in what appears to be a fairly simple image supposedly depicting the supreme power of a particular king. The inscriptions specifically say that that's what the image is; yet there is much more going on in this image than just a reiteration of the king's power. The king was a symbolic representative of sacred forces which were universally believed to be in operation in these societies; and every one of his actions, successes, and achievements had to be cast in the light of the inner, or spiritual, significance of man's nature and his existence on the planet.

The inner and outer aspects of Being and society were, in other words, nowhere near as separated in ancient times as they are today; and, as in the classic example of the much later temple decorations at Angkor Wat, public imagery served a dual purpose; first of all, it depicted external events, and second of all, a stylized iconography communicating well known and long-standing inner truths, which are still available to us today, although our own societies and iconography have largely forgotten them.

 I'm bringing this particular example to the attention of readers because there is so much information in this apparently simple bas-relief. Let's begin with the three figures on the left:


These three figures represent the three centers, in order, from left to right, moving center (movement of the hands), emotional center (devotional prayer) and intellectual center (technical tools in the right-hand.) The figure of intellectual center is grasping the base of the altar that holds the solar disk, indicating that the intelligence, along with the other two centers, seeks union with a higher principle. That union has not yet been achieved, because the base of the altar is significantly empty.


 To the right of the three men — ensconced in a unique space representing a higher level — sits a much larger figure, representing Being, or real "I."


 Above the altar, we see a circle representing the solar disk — the influence of a higher energy, which is necessary in order to unify the three centers and bridge the gap between them and a higher level of being.


 The disc represents the law of octaves, and its relationship to Gurdjieffs' enneagram is apparent.


 The disc itself is dangled by angelic forces from above.


An interesting detail is introduced with the tree that reaches from earth to heaven, separating the King, or master, from the three centers. The column has the same base that the solar disk rests on at both the top and the bottom, effectively showing the transmission of energy from higher to lower levels. Both are pointed in the same direction, upwards, indicating that they receive energy from above and transmit it to a lower element which also receives it.



 This represents the descent of a higher energy onto the earth from the level above it. It's important to note that the angelic figures supervising the dissent of this higher energy are holding emblematic representations of chakra energy familiar from other esoteric babylonian art.


 Compare these chakra elements to those found on the bas relief at the temple of Ashurnasirpal in Nimrud, which dates from about the same period:



 The figure on the right side of the diagram, representing a developed master, or a higher level of being, sits on a throne which is occupied by two heraldic elements. Typically, the heraldic beasts in a mural show a man between these two beasts with the beasts facing him; this represents a man who is still struggling to situate himself between two levels. In this case, the beasts are beneath the man and turned away from one another, clearly symbolizing that he has mastered the art of standing between two levels.



 The master holds two instruments, a measuring rod and a coil of rope. Both of these instruments represent mastery and an ability to discriminate. They are the direct precursors of the crook and the flail held by Egyptian kings; I'll cover that subject in a future post. In all of the iconographic appearances, holding these tools represents a higher level of responsibility and understanding, one that confers upon the holder the sacred duty of caring for those beneath him.


 The entire scene has a river flowing under it, represented by rippling water. This has multiple meanings, among others, the unconscious or subconscious forces in man.


 This also represents the underworld, a lower level.  Man stands between two levels; this represents the lower one, which is usually the case with water, and a higher level is represented by the angelic forces.


 The inclusion of tiny representations of the solar disk in this confluence of water at the lower level is a representation of the fractal nature of the cosmos, an iteration of the teaching, "as above, so below."

 You'll taken note that the master has the same water engraved as a pattern on his garment. The water is flowing both upwards and downwards, representing  and exchange of energies between the two levels, mediated by the master.


 Another detail worth mentioning is that of the three planets represented in the room with the master: the moon, the sun, and Venus.

 This indicates that even the master is under planetary influences, those from a lower level (the moon), those from a higher level (the sun), and those from the planetary or astral level (Venus.) We can thus infer that the master is a master of the astral level: a man who has formed his astral body.

 We can see from this analysis that fairly simple, ordinary looking pieces of artwork from this culture actually embody a great deal of sacred teaching, all of which would have been familiar to the priesthood and esoteric societies of that civilization. Again, like the Hindus at Angkor Wat, esoteric spiritual practice was so deeply interwoven with ordinary cultural understandings that depicting it publicly in murals and other art was considered to be routine.

Modern archaeologists and art historians have little or no understanding of the esoteric teachings that came out of these ancient societies, so they are generally unable to understand the specific significance of images as interpreted above; yet the images faithfully and exactly depict esoteric spiritual practices and understandings that have managed to survive throughout thousands of years of civilization. 

It's only in the last thousand years or so—mostly since the Renaissance began—that the extinction of esoteric meaning in art began, an extinction that has accelerated and very nearly completed itself in the last two centuries. We can, however, see that artwork of this kind was undoubtedly an example of what Gurdjieff called "objective" art, since it codifies and specifically conveys universal truths about the nature of man and his place in the universe.

May your soul be filled with light.













Saturday, August 17, 2013

you never know

 I never know what's going to happen.

This morning, I got up at 4 AM or so, awakened by the obnoxious whining of our small black cat Merwin, whose main missions in life are to wake us up at ungodly hours, and to perch himself on my keyboard while I'm trying to work on the computer,  in that order.  Merwin has consequently typed the numbers 582 in this post,  which I am passing on to you just in case they have any esoteric significance.

After my usual coffee and a sitting, I was out the door with the famous dog Isabel before the sun came up. (Truth in advertising disclaimer: the photo on this post is yesterday's sunrise...  the one that came with the birds flying out of the marsh. Today, it was cloudy.) A bat greeted me in the skies above the driveway; a rare sight, the first one this year — so many of them have died of white-nose syndrome.

 A little further down towards the river, two screech owls traded calls. It was still dark; I climbed to the top of the Palisades in barely enough light to see the stones under my feet. All of this interests me; when I was a child, I was afraid of the dark, but this is one fear that doesn't seem worth much anymore. Even the thought of the cryptic black panthers that have been seen on a few occasions in the past few years stalking our end of Tallman State Park (probably escapees from some rich person's exotic menagerie in Sneden's Landing) didn't bother me too much.

In the darkness I was swallowing, I found myself contemplating fraud. Not the kind of fraud that we understand outwardly; no, the fraud that we make within ourselves.

 Every human being is, I think, ultimately held to account for the nature of their own fraud; and for the lucky ones, this takes place before we die. If there is any reason to conduct an inner journey, it is to see this; on a journey to discover the truth in us, what we need to discover is actually the falsehood. Our inner fraud is in our very bones; and if our education lies in our sin, then fraud is our professor.

I often come up against my own fraud and see it in relationship to the world; to outer things, fraudulent representations, pretending to be one way when I'm actually another. As this impression deepens, however, as I penetrate further and further into the kernel of Being, I ultimately see that the fraud I commit is always fraud against myself, first. I can't, after all, get square with God unless I get square with myself; never mind the lies I tell all the other people. They do enough damage on their own; but the lies I tell myself go further. They do an inner damage. And, let's face it, lying to myself is so habitual I don't even notice it anymore. It's only if I wake up a little bit that I see it going on.

 I'll leave that thought there, because it's as far as I got with it this morning, and I don't want to recycle it to push it any further.

 Later today, the concept of fraud was not the front of my awareness. That sublime gravity that erases the flat landscape of my ordinary concerns arrived; and the world seems to stand still in these afternoons. Things are just as they are; life becomes still. It is as still, perhaps, as the morning in darkness, where the only thing that stirs is a single bat against the dark sky. There isn't any fraud here; there is just what is, and although one could argue that it is in fact completely empty, that emptiness is filled. Exactly what it is filled with, I couldn't say; life, perhaps, or something sent by God to keep company while I wait for the next flower to bloom.

It's the time of year when the katydids are active; every one of them a symphony unto themselves, a reminder of perfection. Their sound sinks into me in ways I don't understand; I become a vessel that receives it, and I'm grateful, even though I don't know why.

May your soul be filled with light.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Flexibility and tradition

Redwing Blackbirds leaving Piermont Marsh on the Hudson River at dawn. This is a daily event, year round, that takes place just as the sun rises over the eastern bank of the river.

There's a rule of thumb about flexibility in inner work. 

Works that present themselves as outwardly flexible may often, if properly understood, turn out to be inwardly rigid. Works that appear to be outwardly rigid will, if properly understood, often turn out to be inwardly flexible. 

This is an inverse relationship, so the more wonderfully flexible a practice appears to be from its outer aspects, the more constricting it ultimately is in terms of inner growth.

The reasons for this are complex, but in a nutshell it boils down to people being unable to understand what the inward, or the inner, is.

It takes at least 30 or more years of deep work in a single discipline to even begin to understand what the inner consists of. One can't possibly, ever, think of what it is. One has to become organically aware of what it is. Very few living works one might encounter in today's world are capable of producing this understanding, although many will claim they can—if they even know the difference.

Until then, a person thinks they understand what the inner is... and most people spend their whole lives thinking very, very sincerely indeed that they understand this question, whereas they don't at all. No one makes the commitment that's needed; people want to follow their own egoistic options and opinions rather than submit to a very long-term, serious discipline. 

And this is exactly what newly invented, blended, and subjectively created spiritual disciplines offer. Their outer forms are very appealing; they attract people with imaginary ideas about how warm, fuzzy, and wonderful everything can be (or is.) They cater to the desires of our personality and all the petty vanities we unconsciously cultivate, while we think we're being conscious. These elements gradually and secretly exterminate the inner flexibility we might otherwise develop, simply because they revolve around ego. Putting the outer tendencies under a rule, on the other hand, may—just may, there are no guarantees—give the inner a chance to become a bit more alive.

There are countless feel-good, mixed-up, revisionist, and diluted cults arising today; most of them subtle enough that they don't look like cults at all. After all, the word "cult" is reserved for organizations like the one the reverend Jim Jones formed; whacko practices that end in disaster of one kind or another. Warm, gentle ideologies that lull people into a false sense of themselves aren't seen that way; after all, we like our false sense of ourselves, so if a newfangled religious or "spiritual" practice plays to those weaknesses, we not only enthusiastically adopt it, we defend it. 

This tendency is growing worse on the planet; and the traditions are not helping, because fundamentalists have damaged them, too. 

However, the reason the great traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam/Sufism, Judaeochristianity) are important is that their core teachings have never forgotten the inner. The traditions, to the last one of them, call us to a much deeper and more ruthless examination of who we are and what we do; they ask the tough questions, the ones we can't avoid if we're really being honest with ourselves. The more they grind up our egoism, the more real we become... and this is never pleasant, no. It requires a good hard look at the bad stuff, over a long number of years.

But we live in an age where everyone wants quick results. 

The ersatz versions of the traditions are, well, ersatz. It takes thousands of years for a tradition to become real; it takes about five minutes to ruin it.

May your soul be filled with light.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Anointment



Anointment is a sacred action with an ancient tradition, originally meaning to  touch in one way or another. Often, the touching was accompanied by a symbolic substance, typically oil, which indicated the transmission of a sacred property from one individual to another. Another meaning of the word is to elevate, nominate, or make another person special. In particular, in religious venues, anointment is important in baptism and  the anointment of the sick, and in secular ones, the appointing of kings and nobles.

The meaning of anointment in a religious sense is actually quite specific. If one is touched by a higher or sacred power, the anointment is not intended to elevate. It is intended to open; and this is a very different thing than being elevated, because the last thing that one needs is any sense of elevation.

To be anointed is to be opened to the actual sight of one's sin. That is to say, if one is touched by God, what takes place is a material opening to the nature of one's own iniquity, or sin. Now, sin may be an old-fashioned idea for most of us; but there is nothing outdated at all about it, because it is constantly active in even the best of us. Perhaps we flatter ourselves with modern ideas that suggest we are free of this property; but that in itself is a sin. We are, in fact, deeply immersed in sin throughout our entire lives, and that sin consists primarily in our self-love, or selfishness. Our society has in fact arranged everything to encourage this kind of behavior in every sense possible.

To be anointed is to be given the opportunity — it is not a default proposition — to open our eyes to our own selfishness and see what we are. This is essentially the same thing as seeing our own lack, which is what Mme. de Salzmann stressed as so vitally important in inner work. That seeing can and must become an organic property of work, not an intellectual one; and anointment is an action meant to bring us down to our knees, that is, to open us to how unholy and unsacred we are. So if we are touched by an Angel, or by another heavenly force, it is always to bring us downwards with our eyes open, so that we can see ourselves more clearly — never to lift us up into the heavens. Let us take note that even Christ had to be prepared in this manner; and, of course he did, because in becoming fully human, he had to go through the full range of human experience, in order to understand it for himself. So in his trials we see reflected what is necessary for ourselves. He sets the example.

We must immerse ourselves consciously in what we are and see it in order to understand how far away we are from God. The meaning of the German folk character Till Eulenspiegel, "owl mirror," literally translated, is that the wise man sees himself in the mirror. He knows what he is. And the man who is truly wise, who sees himself in the mirror, knows his sin.

To be anointed is to be offered the possibility to see that much more clearly; so from the point of view of earthly life, it is not a good thing. It is, on the contrary, a destructive force that gives us the possibility of melting the ego, an action we vigorously resist even if we are helped with it.

To anoint a child in baptism when they are an infant is a hopeful moment, because we are symbolically stating that we hope this child will, from the beginning of its life, have this opportunity open to it.

Yet of course life takes over; we don't trust, and the rest is, so to speak, history.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Trust and love

Last night, we got into a discussion about how to handle younger teenage children.

The ins and outs of life in general bring these questions; yet the question is not necessarily how to handle the child, but how to handle oneself. One can't control life; yet it is the conceit of every parent that somehow they can control both life and the child. Having parented four children, I have some sense of this by now. There is a dogged belief in every parent that somehow, if they do things correctly, things will turn out a certain way, that is, the way they want them to.

If only it were true. Life brings what it brings; the illusion that we control anything is foolishness. We can, however, bring an attention, a mindfulness, an awareness to ourselves, and see how we are in relationship to other things.

This is quite difficult; most of what we are is arranged in opposition to it.

In any event, what came up last night was the idea that one should trust first, love second. If one doesn't trust the other person first, love is useless. Love is not always trusting; but trust is always loving. And so we can trust in trust, if we discover it, more than we can trust in love.

Perhaps this is why the prayers say, not love the Lord, but trust in the Lord. Trust is the higher principle; if I truly surrender myself to trust — which again is a terribly difficult thing, because it automatically implies a nakedness and vulnerability that I absolutely don't feel comfortable with, when seen from my ordinary state — then I leave an opening in which love can arrive. But if I try to put love first, already, I see how clumsy and unknowing I am about love — and how I always lack what is absolutely necessary in love, instead getting caught up in the relative nature of earthly loves of one kind or another, all of which are subjective, and fall short.

This reminds me of something that Peggy Flinsch said many years ago in regard to working with others; to wit, that trust was primary in forming a real relationship in inner work.

This idea of putting trust first is interesting to me, because it implies a different relationship than trying to put the idea of compassion or love first. If I examine my own interaction first, my impatience, the fact that I am actually not kind and loving enough, I see that it begins with a distrust.

I think it might be a good idea to take a careful look at that.

May your soul be filled with light.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Religious art and the fraction of divinity

 In my last post, I explained how the higher world, or level, touches the lower one. it seems worthwhile to explain this in a bit more detail.

It is true that the two worlds intersect in the material, and that the material on this level, which is an exquisite expression of the utmost beauty that can be appreciated from the molecular or biochemical level all the way up through its expression in organic life and its interactions, is an expression of a much higher principle that is even more glorious.

Science and religion alike marvel at the complexity and extraordinary beauty and perfection of the interaction expressed by the material world. The fact that they argue about its origin is unimportant; the recognition of its extraordinary quality and nature is universal. Even ordinary people unable to appreciate scientific principles will, if they have any sensitivity at all, be staggered by the beauty of the world around them.

No one really suspects that all of this is the expression of a much more complex and even more beautiful level of reality — Ibn Arabi called it The Reality, to distinguish it from the reality we believe is real — which represents the energy and Will of the Absolute. Swedenborg described it as Heaven with its angelic kingdom; and this is as good a word as we are going to get for it. The point is that all mystics have, to one extent or another, recognized this Truth. This kind of thing is talked about ad infinitum in religious literature; but there is no point in talking. The only real point is in receiving the inflow of the Lord's divine blessing, thus preparing ourselves to be touched by this higher level.

 The expression of this higher level within the material on our own level could not be perceived without the arising of consciousness. Consciousness is what causes the appreciation and understanding of levels to exist. Man occupies a unique piece of territory in this exchange, because he is here specifically to receive the impressions of the expression of divinity. As I explained in the last post, generally speaking, we receive only the lowest level of those impressions, but it is possible to change that through inner work.

 Religious art in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and other disciplines always attempts to express the relationship between the higher and the lower by organizing impressions so that this ineffable and inexpressible beauty, this perfection of The Reality, can in some way be captured and at least pointed at, indicated, if not fully conveyed. And indeed, the most magnificent stained-glass window or Buddhist Thangka can only begin to hint at the kind of impression we take in a far perception is deepened enough. These, after all, are objects; and the impression we are meant to take in, a true expression of the divine, is infused with a higher energy and is an experience that it is utterly impossible to communicate in art. All art can do is imitate the experience and provide an indication, or roadmap, of the direction in which perception out to be going.

 One of the wonderful features of Hieronymus Bosch's painting the Garden of Earthly Delights is that it so carefully and lovingly depicts the interaction of these two levels. The results that are obtained are, in the end, distressing; yet in our attraction to the right-hand side of the painting, we should never forget that the glory and beauty of the left hand side and the center panel are, in fact, the Truth. The right-hand side of the panel represents where we are now, in a fallen state; and remember, in its own way, no matter how perversely, even this fallen state still expresses all the same beauty and wonder.

 The unfolding of the divine within Being ought to be the sacred duty of every individual; but this is not given with ease. God expects work to be done; and the work is in turning our face towards Him, through choice.

 May your soul be filled with light.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A small fraction

 When we see the world around us, we see a world that we describe as being in three dimensions. Yet, these three dimensions are, to us, actually flat.

Perhaps that sense peculiar or difficult to explain, but under the ordinary conditions in which we taken impressions, our perception of the world is a flat one. There is a depth within the world that cannot be perceived without the inflow of the Lord, and spiritual insight, and we do not live in that condition.

In fact, what we see is a small fraction of what is real. The most incredible beauty, the most stunning landscape, a superlative flower— no matter how wonderful or fantastic anything we see is, it does not begin to approach the glory of the Lord. Our perception, as it happens, of the world we see around it is a pale reflection of God. So no matter how wonderful we think anything is, do we do not see it in its true wonder unless there is a spiritual light within us that helps us to receive it.

The authors who wrote the flower ornament Sutra were aware of this and had had a vision of it, but the only way to try and describe it was to use a nearly endless — and, unfortunately, repetitive and ultimately boring — series of words to describe the infinite unfolding of Glory that belongs to reality when revealed through inner light. The Glory of Heaven, in other words, represents a kind of perfection which is only reflected in the material world.

Inner work is designed to, after many years, slowly bring individuals to the threshold of this perception. It's true that you can cheat, game the system by taking chemical drugs to achieve such insight, but what is gained in that way can never be durable without damaging the organism and its relationship to this higher level. The objective is to open slowly, so that every taste of the true can be appreciated and savored on the path towards inner consciousness.

Gurdjieff gave his own unique description of this in the chapter The Holy Planet Purgatory. He showed remarkable restraint in his description.

The influence of the higher enters this world through the expression of the material; and so the expression of the material is actually the bottom side, so to speak, of a much higher level. When we see the material world, we see the underbelly of a whole creature, a living creation, which only touches us at its lowest part. We are unable to perceive the much higher organism it belongs to, we see it only as a flat, essentially two-dimensional entity, even though our impoverished state causes us to experience it as a three-dimensional thing.

Through grace, perhaps we can gain an inkling of this; and this is where praise of the Lord begins.

May your soul be filled with light.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Making the form whole



It's often said that there isn't a form; and from the transcendent point of view, from the point of view of God, essentially, it’s true: there isn't one.

But to take this point of view is a copout; because we aren't God. For us, there is a form, and to aspire to formlessness is, in a very real way, to abandon the responsibility we are given to act as Vicegerents of God during our lives. We incarnate on this planet in order to embody form, which is lawful on to this level. Trying to escape it is an abrogation of the task we were sent to accomplish.

We believe, based on our sensory experience, that the form is an external one, but it isn't. We are here to create and experience an inner form; and that inner form is exactly the same whole piece of cloth, the Tantric experience, that I spoke about in an earlier post. Each human being is responsible for their own highly individual —Gurdjieff would have called it idiotic — form. That is to say, every life must become itself, be itself, sense itself, and know itself. We have to take charge of understanding who and what we are in a context that comes from within.

To be sure, this isn't how life is understood. From the very beginning, everything is propped up around us and held up as an example of how things ought to be — outwardly. Few parents are insightful or experienced enough to teach their children, from the beginning, to understand that the child must have an inner sense of themselves. The sense of self is always attached to religions, jobs, cultural practices, superstitions, and traditions. The idea that it begins from within and comes into relationship with the outward is forgotten. Everyone thinks that we attach ourselves to the outward, like a limpet hangs onto a rock, and that that will explain everything.

You would think by now, with the deterioration of the planet and societies, that people might realize the outward is not where the answers lie. Instead, we argue about politics and laws, and then we shoot each other.

The process begins neither by espousing formlessness, nor by adopting some proffered outward form, but by asking myself, from within, what is my form

Clearly, I have a form — and I have an inner form, or I wouldn't even exist – but I don't know what that form is. Arguments to the contrary are sophistry. Only by becoming sensitive to my form — intimate with it, as I like to say — can I begin to know that inward form. It most definitely isn't anything like I think it is — and if I'm fortunate, that is, if enough serious misfortune befalls me — maybe I will begin to see a few glimpses of how I actually am. How unkind, for example, I am towards others. This would be an excellent place to start, because so many examples of how I actually am begin with the way I manifest unkindness in one way or another. Not sentimental or mechanical unkindness, mind you, but the kind of unkindness that is personal and emotional and exists in the moment between two people. 

Mindfulness, the expression the Buddhists use, actually means kindness. To be mindful is to be kind towards the other. We are almost universally bad at this.

Asking this question of what my form is over and over is, in its essence, the kernel of self-remembering. The form is an evolving entity, so I can only know it by active participation. It is new every time I encounter it; and it continually delivers me to the unexpected both within myself, and in my relationship to outer life. So the form is actually a living thing, an entity, not a fixture. It takes place in movement; and by studying inner movement, I can begin to see what's necessary.

May your soul be filled with light.