Saturday, August 29, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, part VII: Obedience


Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

The root of the word obey was originally taken from a Latin expression meaning to give an ear to, to listen. So the idea of committing an attention is deeply rooted in the idea of obedience.

Today the word means to submit to the rule or authority of another; to do what is bidden. No doubt, the word means above all to submit to a higher authority; and although we of course take the word to mean an outer authority, it can equally mean an inner one.

I live, without a doubt, in the midst of a great confusion created by the oncoming rush of impressions from outer life. The pace and quantity of information reaching me has only increased over the last few decades; I find myself buried under an avalanche of often contradictory influences and impressions.

There is little consistency; and if I take a close look at the various little cogs and gears and myself that are attuned to react, I find that they don't have much consistency either. The third part of the prayer, I have not delivered myself sufficiently unto thee, is an acknowledgment that I have no anchor, no consistency. There is a consistency to be found in the spiritual salvation of the Lord; and it is an ancient and unerring one. Yet it is mostly forgotten today; it has become old-fashioned to understand that one ought to submit to the Lord. Spiritual traditions are abandoned and even mocked.

So why should I bother obeying? It isn't the fashion now.

A human being can only speak from the deepest parts of themselves on such matters; we all become responsible for what we are, in an inner sense, and of course we constantly betray ourselves. How much more, then, do we betray the Lord and the blessings we have been given? It's a constant thing.

I don't know how to obey. I am on a search for it. I know in my heart what the better principle is; I am aware of the good, even if I don't always embody it. But I need help getting there. I need the higher help of the inflow, without which there is no help. I can't reason my way to obedience; it has to come from the deepest and most convincing wish, a wish that asks for help.

Hosanna.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, Part VI: Honor

 Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

If the three forces are sent from above, what does that leave for us to do?

This is the point of the second part of the form of prayer—Help me to Honor and Obey—which represents mankind’s sacred obligations in regard to God. 

Honor and obedience are reciprocal properties in man which, of themselves, represent direct reflections of Grace and Mercy. There is, of course, no reflection of Glory in mankind because of the high (actually, highest—as intoned in the phrase hosannah in the highest)) place which is occupied by Glory. We are unable to reciprocate in this quality of God, which leaves us in essence incomplete. It’s only by surrender to the Lord that we can compensate for this.

The word honor has so many important meetings in relationship to Christian practice that it's impossible to cover them all in the scope of a single essay. However, it is notable that the Oxford English dictionary includes the following meanings of the Latin root honorem as repute, esteem, official dignitary, honorary gift, ornament, grace, and beauty. Of the list, esteem, grace, and beauty are essential in the understanding of sacred inner action. We esteem the Lord; we receive and appreciate his grace; and we dwell within his beauty. 

So the action of honoring the Lord first includes the high respect, esteem, and reverence in accordance with his exalted worth and rank. (see first definition in the OED.) 

Second, we adhere to standards whereby we have a fine sense of and strict allegiance to what is due or right. This is another quality of honor that is built deeply into the Christian lexicon of prayer; and it embodies the masculine, paternal qualities of loyalty and right action according to authority. 

Thirdly (as with the first two, I take here the definitions in the OED in their appearing order) we take honor  in its embodiment of the essential maternal and female qualities of virtue, chastity, and purity, inner qualities of the highest consideration.

So when we honor the Lord, we esteem the Lord; receive his grace; participate in his beauty; adhere to what is good and right; and remain virtuous, chaste and pure. One can see, in this way, that to honor the Lord embodies all the essential virtues not only of Christianity, but indeed, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and other great world religions. If we understand the word honor in a greater sense of its scope and attempt to taste and savor the meaning of this within our body and our being, organically, we call ourselves to a much greater and deeper appreciation of the sacred nature of both being and consciousness, as well as the natural and spiritual worlds.

To honor is to consciously acknowledge; for it is impossible to honor without full awareness of one’s place, and what one is honoring. Honoring is the act of appreciation. In the same way that God honors and appreciates man first by bestowing Grace upon him, so man honors God in return. This is why I say that honor is a reflection of Grace, the corresponding force on our level which acknowledges Grace and responds. 

Honor must arise in three ways: through an intellectual appreciation, a feeling-appreciation, and a material appreciation. So it is a three centred activity, which makes sense, because it corresponds to conscious labor of God’s part, which is a three-centered activity emanating from the Holy Trinity. Man’s corresponding response must be equally three centered, a mirroring of God’s action, which gives us a clue as to why Gurdjieff so thoroughly emphasized the need for three-centered work. It simply isn’t possible to properly honor the Lord with anything less than three centers: our minds, our emotions and our bodies all have to become involved.  

To honor is to engage in the action of the whole mind, the “fourth mind” described by Gurdjieff in the final chapter of Beelzebub’s Tales; so to honor is in fact an act of intelligence, although it is a refined and sublime intelligence we must bring to this action. To honor mechanically or unconsciously is not enough; to honor must, on our part, reciprocate the same conscious labor that the Lord exercises in bestowing Grace. We come to the Lord and honor Him, in other words, willingly. 

Hosanna.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, part V: Glory, Grace & Mercy and the Enneagram


Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

In order to understand the action of the forces of Glory, Grace & mercy on mankind, one needs to turn to the enneagram and see the place of each force in relationship to the circulation of the entire diagram. They embody the law of three in action, and this belong to the integers 3, 6, and 9, although the numeric relationship is not so important to understand.


Glory occupies the position of do, the absolute; it is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end, of all things and all creation. Creation begins in glory and is emanated from it, which is why all creation is inherently glorious: it takes its original nature from Glory, which is perfect and embodies all aspects of perfection. Because creation is one step removed from this absolute perfection of glory, it accurately reflects that perfection in all of its manifestations, but it cannot attain it.

Grace occupies the position of the shock between mi and fa, that is, the position of the number 3, or conscious labor in Gurdjieff’s system. A little thought on the matter will reveal that of course Grace is the conscious labor of the Lord. This is the outside force that assists the development of the octave in this position. The conscious labor of the Lord consists, in its essence, in the embodiment of being, or “I.” That is to say, when we become persons, individuals, we embody the Lord as reflections of His glory; and in that embodiment (our own incarnation into the material) we take on the role of God; we are, as Ibn Arabi says, His vicegerents, that is, His personal representatives on earth.

The significance of this is that we are personal representatives, that is, our persons represent His person; we take on the burden of Being on this level on behalf of the Lord.

This is a critical point which must be fully appreciated in order to understand the full cycle. Remember that Gurdjieff speaks of the sorrow of His Endlessness; this deeply theological concept, which I have written about many times, takes on a new aspect here. The reason that personhood, embodiment of being, is a burden is because of this universal and all-pervading sorrow; in accepting personhood on behalf of the Lord (being born) we tacitly agree to assume the burden of sorrow which is carried by His Endlessness. This responsibility to suffer is deeply embedded in the act of living itself; and the act of living is furthermore a task, a work and a responsibility specifically because of this. All of this can be discerned by understanding the action and meaning of conscious labor.

Mercy occupies the place of the second conscious shock in the enneagram, that is, the shock that ought to be placed between the notes si and do. Of course it is “misplaced” at the number 6, between the notes sol and la. But no matter, for now. The important point is that just as Grace bestows and informs (inwardly forms) Being on the descending (right) side of the octave which represents our struggles in incarnation and the material world, so in just the same way does Mercy purify and inform our spiritual being on the ascending side of the cycle. Mercy relieves us of suffering; that is to say, Mercy, in the end, takes away personhood by returning us to the source from which we came.

 In this sense death is, as I have said before, the culmination of all Grace and all Mercy and actually represents the greatest and most merciful benefit the Lord can bestow upon us. We are relieved of the burden of personhood through death; having done the work of the lord in life, we are rewarded with death, whereupon God takes the burden of sorrow back upon His own shoulders, in exactly the same way that Christ shouldered this burden.   

Our initial agreement to shoulder the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness is involuntary, or unconscious; and indeed every part of creation plays out its part in the commission of joy and suffering whether it wants to or not. What differentiates man from other parts of creation is his ability to consciously accept the burden of suffering through intention; this is the most essential lesson of the Christ, and relates directly to Gurdjieff’s intentional suffering. The aim of existence, in the path laid out around the periphery of the enneagram (it is actually a three-dimensional and inner path, but for purposes here, one simplifies it) is to reach the point of conscious acceptance, which also, by the way, represents alignment with the Will of God, since travel around the circumference of the diagram (or, through the octave) is above all other things a journey towards this higher principle.  


Conscious acceptance is attainable—but its chosen assistants are Glory, Grace, and Mercy, a triumvirate of forces all meant to help lift us upwards towards God. 

In this sense our existence is forever played out within abundance, for these three Holy forces permeate all of creation at every level.

Hosanna.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, part IV: Mercy


Mary, Joseph, and three angels
From the Chapel of the Confraternity of our Lady in s'Hertogenbosch
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Hieronymus Bosch would have been familiar with this touching set of figures.

Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.


The Oxford English dictionary defines Mercy as “forbearance and compassion shown by one person to another who is in his power and has no claim to receive kindness; kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or expected.”

The second part of the first definition is, “God’s pitiful forbearance towards his creatures and forgiveness of their offenses.”

From these two definitions, we see that Mercy is the quality of a person: that is, like all qualities that emanate from the heart of God, it is a quality of personhood. In other words, in addition to its absolutely objective quality which is universal — God’s pitiful forbearance towards his creatures — it is also individual and personal; that is, in the same way that every angel receives the personhood of the Lord and finds himself or herself within it:

 “Angels are in the Lord and he in them; and as the angels are only recipients, the Lord alone is heaven” —Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, 113-118 

Every human being also receives the Lord, in the form of Grace and Mercy, since we are receptacles not only for the inflow of the lower nature of the world and creation, but also for these blessings, which are of a Divine nature. 

Our ability to receive impressions from both of these levels is what makes us the bridge between God and His creation. In exactly the same way that organic life on earth fills a “shock” between earth and the moon in the ray of creation, so is the natural world and creation itself the moon for God, with sentient beings (man and like organic three-brained beings) forming the shock. 

This goes a long way towards explaining why the moon is sensation — the created universe is God's sensation of Himself.

 These questions deserve a great deal more study, but readers can see the essential outline of a Great Thought here, one that belongs rightly to God alone and is revealed throughout all the law and all the prophets.

In any event, let me speak a bit more about this idea that we have no claim to receive kindness. The whole point of self-observation is to understand this: and this is also the point of sensing our own nothingness. We are given everything; and everything, even the greatest pain, the worst plight, flows into us as a blessing — all of it is part of a sacred process that is given to us selflessly as a gift. Now, it is possible to mistake selflessness as a lack of personhood, but nothing of the kind is so. Selflessness merely implies being part of a greater whole; and in the sense of angels being only recipients, we can understand that to be selfless is simply to knowledge one's existence within the personhood of the Lord.

Personhood is, conversely, the act of playing a role, or agency (see the first two definitions in the Oxford English dictionary.) As persons, we all play roles and act as representatives — hence Ibn Arabi’s characterization of mankind as the Vicegerents of God’s action within the material realm. Representatives have no personal claim — they undertake their actions on behalf of their master, a classic idea which is essential to understanding the story of Christ and the Centurion  (Matthew 8:5-10.) Although we have no right to forgiveness and Mercy, it is given anyway. And it is given unstintingly and eternally, because it is Love itself, which is infinitely compassionate. (Remember that compassion is an essential part of Mercy.)

In Islam, the quality of Mercy is the absolute and utmost quality of the Lord; it trumps all the other aspects of God’s Being.

We tend, I find, to frame this conceptually and interpret it in terms of specific worldly events; to objectify it and apply it to specific objects, events, circumstances, and conditions. That is to say, we refer to such-and-such a situation or condition and say, “Lord have Mercy,” hoping for an improvement in that condition—whether it be forgiveness and pardon of a criminal’s sins and transgressions, or remission of disease. We hope, in other words, that by way of Mercy the Lord will remove our obstacles. 

Yet our obstacles are righteous and justified; and they are placed there by God. (In a similar vein, all the souls in Dante's purgatory understand that their punishments are just; the ones in hell don't.) God already has Mercy: there is no condition in which Mercy is not already in full operation. We don’t need to ask for Mercy; it is given by default. What we lack is not Mercy, but trust, which is the offering we ought most rightly to place first and foremost before the Lord our God. 

Yet we don’t; and I see for myself that although trust is always the very best offering, I inevitably find some other thing to put between me and the Lord first. 

I would rather not trust.
   
This objectifying of Mercy, which turns it into a thing of attachments and negotiations—a place which clearly cannot be right for the most exalted property of the highest Being— is deeply mistaken. Mercy can’t be objectified; it exists as an action, not a thing (although it is in a material sense substantial, that is, mediated by divine substance), and emanates directly from the great and most infinite heart of the Divine Love. Things are already Merciful; even the worst manifestation consists of a form of Mercy which cannot be seen and cannot be measured, because the action of Mercy is so absolutely inscrutable. Even the Being of the Devil Himself is a form of Mercy. This doesn’t make wrong things right; but it does give them their place and their due, for they too are necessary. The wrong takes a terrible burden on its shoulders in order to affirm the right.

Readers can see from this discourse, which is brief and wholly inadequate, that the idea of Mercy binds almost everything else in the universe together, acting as it does in its role of agent for Divine Love and Compassion. 

Hence Ibn Arabi's (and Islam's) explanation of Mercy as the most absolute and supreme quality of God.

Hosanna.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, part III: Grace


Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

So I come to the second element of this prayer, which is grace.

Grace is the path through which all of what the Lord bestows upon His creation reaches it.  If we take glory as the pre-existing quantum state of all energy — its life within the Lord before it manifests — then Grace is the point where the quantum state, or the absolute perfection of God and glory within all aspects of the unknowable, breaks down and takes a direction as either a wave or a particle.

 But this is much too technical a description, even though in the sense of physics, it's accurate. Grace is a path; and it is all of the points on the path, not just the beginning point or the endpoint. The path is composed of all of the points on it; and so grace is both the beginning, the middle, and the end of all of the infinite directions that the emanations of the Lord take on their way from the Lord Himself into His creation.

 In this way, just as glory is the absolute condition of perfection within which all creation arises, so is grace the vehicle whereby that arising takes place. Each and every thing, in other words, arises within and manifests through grace. This may seem terribly confusing to us, because it means that even the worst and most horrible things that we perceive and and counter arise through grace, but there is a truth within this that is too refined and sublime to be appreciated within the context of our own understanding. (See Buddhi and Buddhiyoga in Sri Anrivan's Inner Yoga, an extraordinary analysis by any measure.)

 The important thing to understand here is that grace is just as ubiquitous as glory, mapping the path from glory into Being. When we say that mankind has fallen from grace, we simply mean that his intelligence is separated from the experience of it. Intelligence needs to become opened and re-sensitized to grace, which is already there, in order to appreciate its presence. Swedenborg called the appreciation of grace the inflow; Jeanne de Salzmann referred to it as a higher influence, which actually means exactly the same thing — as it must, since the experience of it is in variable, no matter which word one uses. The words are, in point of fact, quite useless, since the inflow, that is, grace, is a perfection that cannot be grasped with the mind or written about with words in such a way as to impart its actual nature. All we can do here is examined an abstract of the abstract.

So I appeal to the Lord first through glory, which is the absolute manifestation of his perfect being within all of creation (and outside of it as well) and secondly through grace, which is the path into which the Lord's influence flows into all of creation.

Grace is objectively manifested in Christianity through Mary and Christ, because they represent the direct path through which the highest grace, that is, mercy bestowed directly from God upon mankind within creation, reaches human beings. The birth of Christ through Mary and the sacrifice of Christ are not events that took place in the past, but events that take place internally and throughout creation at every level. That is, Christ is — as Gurdjieff explained — a living presence to be taken into us, not an idea. (See Frank Sinclair's   Without Benefit of Clergy.)

Once again, grace is not a theoretical proposition. Grace exists within Being; because only through received Being can grace be made manifest as an existing force. This force reaches its living potential within the receiving of the energy through the path by the individual. That is to say, all inner activity that attempts to open us to a higher influence is an effort to become available to grace, which is the vehicle for God's presence.

 Grace is an essentially transformational force, since the receiving of it immediately moves Being from the unnatural but necessary center of gravity it forms around its own kernel of ego into the sphere of the Lord's influence, where it is able to acknowledge its position correctly. This can happen over a long period of time, but it also happens in only an instant.

Hosanna.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, part II: Glory


Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

Why is this particular set of three prayers formulated so that the response is, in each case, the above phrase? In order to understand this, we need to discuss all five of the elements,  remembering that the sixth element in the phrase is always the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, the Lord, or God, around which all of the other elements are arranged.

There is a way to arrange this progression on the enneagram, but I will leave that, perhaps, for a later explanation. Today we will discuss glory.

The glory of God is a Great Perfection, and (in the abstract) the physical foundation of the universe itself, the absolute condition within which it manifests. Now, the metaphysical aspect of glory is its greatest aspect, consisting as it does of complete perfection within all manifestations that can arise: the perfection of space and time, the perfection of vision, sound, sensation, taste, and all other senses. In fact every sense is a reflection of one aspect of the Great Perfection. When we indulge, through our intelligence and awareness, in any sense, we are being fed by an aspect of the Great Perfection. This takes place whether we are aware of it or not; because no aspect of creation is divorced from being fed by the Great Perfection. Glory, in other words, is not just the absolute nature of God; because we all exist within the absolute nature of God, glory is also the vehicle whereby all of creation itself is born, nourished, grows, matures, and then returns to the source. All the great religions, all of the great musics, great arts, dances, landscapes, and other works within the aesthetic and artistic range of man's (and other sending beings) expression are attempts to objectify that great glory. So when we hear Beethoven's symphonies, or we see a painting by Goya, or we appreciate a sublime Buddhist sculpture or the temples at Angkor Wat, we are seeing a tiny, nearly infinitesimal fraction of that glory distilled and presented in a formal context that attempts to re-create glory itself and remind us that we are products of it.

Glory is like a blue sky that contains the whole world and all emotion in it; it contains all longing, all wish, and everything that has ever happened, along with everything that ever has happens; and that sky looks out over a landscape that is equally rich and perfect, with beings and it who are equally intelligent and sensitive. This may sound idealized — and there are exhaustive idealizations of this understanding laid out in works such as the Flower Ornament Sutra. The work seems impossibly complicated, with one miracle nested inside another for page after page and chapter after chapter, but it is actually just the beginning of an attempt to touch on what glory is. Its existence is analogous to all the notes in a symphony, which are laid out together in an attempt to remind us that the whole is, within every tiny aspect of its being, intimately related with all other aspects not only of itself, but everything else.

I'm aware that this is a mouthful. Perhaps several dozen mouthfuls. Yet we cannot leave ourselves with just the intellectual appreciation of glory. Glory is meant to be drawn into Being through sensation, which is why the first prayer discusses the fact that we are vessels into which the world flows. All of the world is a product of glory; and we are thus like hummingbirds or bees who feed on the nectar of glory as we draw the world into ourselves, so that it can be contained and concentrated within our vessels.

We appeal to the Lord first with acknowledgment of His glory, and an awareness that through His glory— that is, the impressions that enter us — our own response can be born, grow, and move back towards God.

 Religious ecstasy, as described in the ancient texts, is a process whereby glory is imparted directly by God, as a gift whereby the recipient can understand the nature of glory, which is otherwise impossible except in fractions so small that it is dissipated. That understanding draws a soul deeply towards gratitude in contemplation. Yet sentient beings cannot rely upon, demand, or invoke such experiences; right work and right inner attitude require an effort that arises within the world of increment, not one where the doors are opened at all times.

This discussion of glory and a trust in glory is, I know, completely absent from all the Gurdjieff literature; yet it is essentially impossible to understand the work we are about unless one begins, first, from an understanding of glory. That is not just true for people in esoteric, or inner works; it is equally true with the exoteric or outer branches of all religions, which ironically place more superficial emphasis on appreciating this aspect of God, which needs to be taken into the body far more inwardly in order for it to be of any practical use.

Hosanna.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Glory, Grace, and Mercy, part I

Christ Pantocrator

There can't really be any mistake about the way the Presence of the Lord is experienced, and what it is like... how I am... when the Presence is absent.

The Presence is not constant; and no one can go out and get the Presence. The Presence comes to me; I don't go to it.

This morning, for example, I was driving into Manhattan. Suddenly the Presence came, localized as it often is in a specific physical place—but immediately having a feeling impact, an emotional influence, over the entire Being, through the body.

I've been working for the last week to put myself more honestly under the influence of God, if that is even possible; that work has consisted of a new approach to the three principal prayers.  I'll outline that approach:

We are vessels into which the world flows.

Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

There is no I, there is only truth. The way to the truth is through the heart. 

Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

I called to the from the depths of my iniquity. I have not delivered myself sufficiently onto the; I know not how. 

Lord Jesus Christ, through your glory, grace, and mercy, help me to honor and obey.

We recently received into our household a religious icon on loan from our friend Chantal Heinegg,  an image of Christ Pantocrator (see above.) 

This particular icon has had a strong influence on my prayer practice starting immediately, and was the source of inspiration for this prayer, which is a reorganization of an older set of prayers I was taught by Mary and Her various assistants a number of years ago. 

Together, the practice seems to be refocusing around this question of there Presence of Christ, which I suppose has always been necessary, but for which the timing was not right until now.

I'd like to better remember the influence of Christ in my daily life, with his generous gifts which constantly flow; and I would like to better remember that I am a vessel for receiving, as well as understanding that my ego is tiny and useless, and that my sins are many and insurmountable without help.


That, in a nutshell, is the whole of the practice; and I'm still trying to learn it after all these years.

Hosanna.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Spiritual Convergence, part IV

Lintel, Bonampak

In The Life Within by Stephen Houston, he says: "In the best of circumstances, entering ancient minds is an elusive task. To a full extent, it may be an impossible one." (p. 58.)

 I think Stephen is wrong here. Ancient minds are fully penetrable; and I maintain this because from what I can see the mind of man has changed very little over the past five or more thousand years of human history.

The external trappings have changed, to be sure; mythologies have permutated, Gods have come and gone, and—above all—technologies have flourished, allowing man to fully transform his relationship with the natural world.

But these are external matters. Man's behavior has, I would say, improved not a whit over the entire length of his sojourn as a "civilized" being; what has improved, above all, is his ability to manipulate materials and kill others. We mistake progress in technology for superiority over earlier cultures and minds; yet real progress, if there ever were any, would consist of improvement in man's spiritual and ethical behavior, not his technologies. The consistent record of escalating environmental destruction—which is emphatically not a sign of intelligence, but rather the opposite— and the longstanding track record of rape, torture, murder and their institutionalized versions, collectively called war, demonstrate a remarkable and entirely distressing consistency that argues powerfully for a psychological and spiritual consistency that runs as a powerful thread throughout man's history, regardless of the colors of its outer wrappings.

Given the convergent nature of man's biology and his psychology, we can rely, more or less, on the idea that what ancient men were thinking, after we tear off the outer layers of the onion, is much like what man thinks today. We can, therefore, intuit thought forms and patterns which underlie and inwardly form all of the outer activities which may seem, again on the surface of things, to be very different and (if ancient and undocumented, as with for example the Indus River Valley Civilizations)  inscrutable.

We assume ancient cultures to be inscrutable, whereas I would argue they are very scrutable indeed; ancient people, despite their lack of apparent technology (much of which was actually very sophisticated indeed, but based on natural and perishable materials) thought and acted very much the same as we do today, and we can draw many conclusions about them simply by mirroring our own ideas in the remains of their art, mythology, and technologies.

So we can, I would say, enter the minds of ancient peoples; and they are our own minds, which we fail, now as then, to sufficiently scrutinize. Mankind lives in a collective state of denial in which today's—and yesterday's—actions are allowed to go unexamined on the deeper levels, which is where the examination ought to begin if we want to understand anything properly. We are a collective race of beings; Carl Jung's proposition—a collective unconscious—is at best misunderstood and more often (worse) forgotten. People like to give emphasis to the word collective when thinking about Jung's idea; and this is because the idea of a great collective that binds all Beings together into a single, secret whole is so appealing and touchy-feely, in a new-age kind of way. "We are all one," we'd like to say; as if this magical talisman could somehow trump ten thousand years of warfare and create the kumbayah moment where we finally, for once, actually like (or even love) one another.

Yet it is mankind's unconscious that forms the center of gravity around Jung's idea; and it is this very unconscious property of man's awareness and Being that forms him, more than anything else. It is, in a nutshell, Gurdjieff's sleep, that property whereby both individuals and collectives stumble drunk from one lamppost to another, congratulating each other on their progress.

In any event, when we romanticize ancient peoples, their cultures, and their beliefs, we subtly remove them from ourselves. The proposition that their mindsets and mental processes are alien to our own is a subconscious way of asserting our superiority; an imperialism not of location, if you will, but time, whereby today's humanity supposedly represents a better version of humanity than what was had some few thousand years ago. Viewing historical humanity through this distorted lens also tends to make ancient people more exciting; it's the otherness of people that appeals to us, the perception that they were—or are, in the present case— different than we are. This delusional belief in some fundamental difference, which is imposed almost exclusively by externally imparted cultural values, belies the fact that human beings are, both biologically and psychologically (the two cannot actually be separated, since our psychology is a part of our biology) very nearly identical across the spectrum. Cultural filters such as caste systems or religions create differences which are for the most part arbitrary and superficial, despite their apparently compelling features. Mankind keeps coming back, over and over, to a very similar set of values that are somehow essential to our psychology: that there is an inherent good, and that we can strive for it, for example.

One might hope that, in a convergent environment, there is both a steady urge and a reliable evolution towards the good; these features have been a persistent enough thing throughout cultures across time to be considered as such. 

Are the destructive forces that so equally seem to drive mankind equally convergent? They, too, appear over and over. It's a question. 

Nonetheless, we ought, I think, to hope and pray for more goodness than we have; else what is prayer for in the first place?

Hosanna.




Thursday, August 13, 2015

Spiritual Convergence, Part III

Ginkaku-Ji, Kyoto

Mankind's various religions share common features because they arise from a common root; and that root, if we understand it as a strongly convergent principle, indicates that religion isn't an accident or an artifact, a relic of primitive beliefs; it is a consequence and a necessity, a conscious awareness and a force produced, like everything else, by the strict conditions imposed by physics and chemistry. We can't, in other words, be different than what we are; and no matter how many differences we want to invent and impose upon our  many and varied religious practices, ultimately, they keep defaulting back towards like sets of principles and ideas.

Everything, in other words, serves a higher and unseen purpose; world religions are convergent in the same way that biological structures are convergent, and for much the same reasons. This strongly resembles both Swedenborg's world of  correspondences and Gurdjieff's world of laws; signs and symbols are not only imaginative and interactive, creative and mutable, they are also universal and consistent. We thus find no surprise when we see similar ideas, similar artworks, similar rituals, practices, and traditions arising around the world: they are manifestations of a lawful condition that must be the way it is, not a random set of choices which man can adopt or discard at his discretion.

This idea, in fact, that we can adopt or discard anything we want to at our discretion is a distinctly modern one. Our sciences have infused us with an arrogance of circumstance that presumes to divorce us from everything that has come before; in abandoning tradition and abandoning the deep need of the inner psyche to address religious tradition and sacred impulses, we abandon what makes us human; we abandon the ecosystem, we abandon our relationship to nature, and we allow ourselves a latitude for destruction which can only destroy us, in the end, because we really have no right to abandon the tradition that is so essential to our biology and our nature.

One of the reasons for my long-standing editorial association with Parabola Magazine is not just that I am a writer interested in spiritual matters; it stems from my conviction that the magazine's mission is absolutely essential in a world that is steadily abandoning this line of inquiry in favor of a technological disaster.

 Taken from the perspective I am developing here, our spiritual traditions are not an option; they are an imperative, an imperative that is getting lost in the noise we create. Knitting the convergence of spiritual and artistic tradition back together, into a more comprehensible whole, is an essential task in front of the human species today, because within this action lies the potential for us to learn how to respect and love each other in a new and more expansive way.

Understanding the deeply biological and spiritual nature of this impulse towards the sacred in both organisms and ancient societies forms a bridge to discovering it in our modern ones; and so, when we encounter the Mayans, who seem on the surface to be so different than what we are, but were in the end so identical, we look into a mirror that provides us with a window on a commonality of practice.

Just as creatures are organisms, our individual psyches are organisms, and cultures and civilizations are, equally, organisms. All of them are subject to similar rules in terms of their complexity, their inner and outer organization, their evolution, and their dependence on other organisms for their very existence. It's easy for us to measure, using scientific instruments and statistics, the physical and outward interaction of biological organisms, but we seem to have failed to learn the lesson of how our inwardly formed ideas, consciousness itself, is subject to the same rules and laws as biological organisms. People grow, evolve, and dies; cultures grow, evolve, and die. We all have death in common; Gurdjieff felt that recognizing this had the potential to bring us to a new respect for others; yet we all also have life in common, and if we discover the common threads within our consciousness of the sacred and our respect for it, perhaps we can find new ways to live together — which we are not so good at — as opposed to new ways to die together, a practice which we have been developing a distressing expertise in.

Hosanna.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Spiritual Convergence, Part II

Wooden Temple Bell, Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto

 One can argue, as some have, that arts across the world share, especially in their "primitive" forms, commonality of appearance due to the limited range of geometric forms available in any visual repertoire.  This is not enough, however, to explain the remarkable convergence of both styles and imagery across a wide range of religious art; not only is our impulse to do art deeply rooted in our biology, it is deeply rooted in our spirituality. This, of course, raises the question of whether our spirituality arises from our biology; the accidentalists would have it that everything is a consequence of physics, chemistry, and nature, and that no higher meaning exists or can be ascribed.

Swedenborg, a consummate scientist of his time in his own right, carefully explained that such ideas are an aberration that fail to understand that the material is dependent upon the spiritual, not the other way around.

This understanding is a worldview common to most so-called "primitive" societies, many of which are actually extraordinarily sophisticated. All manifestations in the material world are a consequence  of pre-existing energetic conditions in the spiritual one; Swedenborg called this the idea of correspondences, whereby everything in the material world is a sign or correlation for something spiritual. The Mayans saw material things this way, so much so that they saw them more in terms of their potentialities than their actualities; they lived in a world of transferred meaning, in which one substance referred to another, and all substances referred to what they could or would become as much as what they were in a particular moment. This is a concept of transformation; and the idea of transformation is deeply embedded in all religious practice. The world, in other words, is in a process of becoming something else, something new, different, and potentially wonderful; and if this is not an evolutionary worldview, I don't know what is.

The difference between the Darwinian evolutionists, the accidentalists and atheists, and spiritualists is that in the world of spiritual development, the evolution and transformation of meaning, both psychological and material, is directional, that is, it has a purpose, and aim, and meaning. Atheism and Darwinian evolution strip all purpose, aim, and meaning from life and allow it to be a stupid, unthinking, and random entity — a world, in fact, that is so far removed from what we actually see that it is baffling to see how such conclusions can be reached. Triumphantly reached, in fact; and the delight that atheists and reductionist scientists take in expanding their views ought to be taken suspiciously, revealing an unseemly hubris that has nothing to do with the scientific method.

In any event, this world of transferred and transformed meaning is, in its essence, the spiritual world; the spiritual world imprints itself upon the material, which is a reflection of the existence of higher ideas and energies. This sense of a transcendental world, a world that lies beyond creation, as Meister Eckhart would have put it, is a ubiquitous and persistent feature of human consciousness and civilization; it is so fundamental to the average human worldview that we cannot divorce it from the biological and physiological imperatives that caused us to arise and exist as the beings we are.

 Evolutionists have attempted to explain this in terms of its survival value; but if Simon Conway Morris is correct in his estimation of evolution as a highly directed process that does not permit the so-called "accidents" which produce a nearly endless series of remarkable convergences, then our worldview is not accidental at all, but, like everything else we see around us, an inevitable product of the way things are at the root. Matter itself is, after all, ultimately consequent to quantum phenomena and fluctuations; everything that arises from it arises inevitably from the way things are arranged at the baseline, so if bats and cetaceans share a similar echolocation system, in the end, the source of that system lies at the quantum level — as does the source of man's belief in God, and the consistent belief in religion across a wide range of cultures.

More in the next post.

Hosanna.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Spiritual Convergence, Part I

Mayan Mural, Bonampak
Photograph by the Author

I've been reading two recent books of note, on what appear to be widely different subjects, which are provoking some thoughts on our nature, both biological and spiritual.

The first of the two books is The Runes of Evolution, by Simon Conway Morris. Morris' book is a wide ranging examination of convergence of evolution; his argument, which is IMO very nearly irrefutable, is that convergence is the norm, and that evolution is a highly directed process.  Far from being an accident, which is the prevailing view among Darwinian biologist today, it is a strictly circumscribed and limited process that is inexorably directed by the constraints of physics and chemistry to a set of predictable results which appear over and over again both in the fossil record and modern organisms. These results not only appear in overall physiological form, as in the nearly identical morphology between dolphins and ichthyosaurs, creatures separated by over 200 million years and two entirely different clades ( mammals and reptiles); convergent results appear over and over again on a microscopic scale in physical structures such as ears, eyes, noses, and so on; and convergence extends strongly into the molecular realm, with similar genes and substances being recruited over and over again to perform nearly identical functions.

While Morris' writing is hardly the best, his ideas are superlative; and the degree of convergence in the biological world is so striking that it seems impossible to argue evolution is a random process.

The second book I've been reading is Stephen Houston's The Life Within, a book on the art of the Mayans. Stephen's book, which ought to be of great interest to anyone in the spiritual community, is an extraordinarily fine (and very well written) piece of work examining the nature of the Mayan worldview, their art, and the commonality of concept, imagery, and substance we find in their art, which evolved entirely independent of old world civilizations. 

Despite this distinctly separate line of evolution, it produced a number of remarkably similar and convergent results, many of which are recognizable to us. Their art is, furthermore, one of the great arts of any time—drastically underexamined and undervalued by Western artists and art historians, due to its appearance in what seems to be isolation from the so-called  "valuable" or "meaningful" cultures of the old world.

The connection between these two books is that taken together they point out deep convergences not only in biological evolution, but also the evolution of the psyche, the soul, world concepts, arts, and the religions of mankind. The Mayans were not an alien culture; geographic separation did not separate them from the roots of the human community or the natural tendency of human beings to create both great arts and great spiritual understandings.

These spiritual understandings were, furthermore, not at all dissonant and foreign when viewed in the light of old world spiritual practices; the world tree, for example, is a concept deeply rooted in both Mayan and the old world. As I have pointed out in my own essay, there are striking evidences that suggest Mayans "stumbled" on yogic and kundalini spiritual practices, furthermore illustrating them with the same kinds of serpentine imagery that are found in temples in Southeast Asia. 

The relationships aren't coincidental, in my opinion; they arise not because of influences that somehow "leaked" between the cultures, spurious contacts between peoples and priesthoods, but because there is a convergence of understanding not only in the physical, but also the spiritual world.

We'll explore this idea further in the next few posts.

Hosanna.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Inner and outer meaning in Zen Gardens, part IV—Christian analogies

Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto

The connection between the expression of the inner and the outer in Zen gardens and Christian practice is perhaps far from obvious, until one understands perspectives on body and emotion in the two practices.

As was suggested in earlier posts, in Zen practice the Dharma Hall and the garden are construed to represent body and feeling, two elements missing from mind — which is what dominates us. Zen practice itself is an effort to cause the ordinary intellect — mind — to become what is missing, so as to make room for body and feeling. There is, in other words, an effort to transcend the intellectual interpretation of the world so that body and emotion can assist in the three-centered understanding of being.

Christian practice of communion is a reminder of the same problem; and Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart would have well understood the juxtaposition and the aim created by Zen gardens and Dharma halls. Christian monasteries, after all, created comparable Spartan interior environments with equally exuberant, if quite different, grounds and gardens. But the point of the practice was not the analogy, but rather the higher influence of the Holy Spirit, which enters through Christ's body and blood. 

In the case of Christian practice, the wafer represents the body — a necessary and vital physical connection with God — and the blood represents the emotions, Christ's passion, that is, a feeling connection to one's being. So one might say that Holy Communion recognizes—as does Zen—that what is lacking in human beings is a physical and a feeling understanding of the world. These are considered to be divine qualities in Christianity; and although Zen and Buddhism eschew divine references, the understanding for the need of balanced experience, which they refer to as enlightenment, are not in essence different from the Christian understanding. 

In Christianity, the fact that one reaches towards assistance from Christ in the receiving of the body and blood is an acknowledgment of our helplessness. The idea is that a new impression can enter us to help; and Zen gardens are constructed to present a similar possibility (the emptying of the mind is, in its own way, an acknowledgment of helplessness) in order to balance Being.

There are, of course, significant differences, in that Christianity presumes a material mediation through the administration of the sacrament. This presents a concrete vehicle for transformation and an opening to new impressions; whereas Buddhism does not, at least on the surface, contain a precisely analogous ritual. Yet both of them present us with the esoteric idea that an awakening of the body and an awakening of the feeling become possible through an emptying of the mind; the Zen garden is an exemplary external representation of this concept, written in a subtle underlying symbolism that is easy to miss in our rush to enjoy the beauty. 

There is an irony in this, of course; in our rush to discover a new way of feeling, we fall into a reactionary and habitual type of feeling when we see the garden. 

The same pitfall awaits the Christian who attaches themselves to the form of the religion — the ritual elegance and artistic expression accompanying the practice. The lesson is the same for both practices: form begins as a path towards balanced being, and ends as a distraction from it. Only the physical anchor of the monastery and the Dharma Hall can pull us back from this habitual reaction into a contemplative mode, where we recognize the need for emptiness. 

This prepares us to receive the very mystical and remarkable message conveyed by an openness to feeling, uncontaminated by the habits and opinions of our ordinary selves.

Hosanna.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Inner and outer meaning in Zen Gardens, part III—Karensansui

Ryoan-Ji, Kyoto

Karensansui—Dry landscaping in Zen gardens

The presentation of inner and outer life as reflected in the Dharma and the garden is a brilliant one; yet how to bring these two disparate entities together? They seem so very different from one another.

Intriguingly — and in an unexpectedly ingenious way — Zen tradition has inserted a conceptual bridge between the Dharma Hall and the exuberance of nature itself. That bridge consists of the raked gardens with individual stones placed in an otherwise empty gravel landscape. 

The emptiness of the Dharma Hall extends itself into the emptiness of the raked gravel — and yet this is not an emptiness, because it consists of a ground floor that supports the entry of impressions — the stones sitting on small islands of moss. While it's true that there is an intentionally representational nature to these gardens, they also contain an esoteric or inner message about the relationship between inner emptiness and outer impressions. The emptiness (the gravel bed) isn’t really empty — it consists of waves, raked lines that move in concentric circles and parallel paths through and around the environment. These “waves” represent not only ordinary waves (a commonplace, but entirely superficial, interpretation), but  vibrations— elements of movement through a subtle atmosphere, the atmosphere of being, as impressions travel in and out of Being itself. 

They are carefully ordered because there is an essential lawful structure to reality, an underlying order that we do not and cannot sense in our ordinary selves. When we look at the raked gravel, we may be tempted to use these ordinary outer associations of waves in an ocean to interpret it, but we should remember instead that the raked gravel is an esoteric reference to an inner condition within human beings and their nature.

The gravel itself is absolutely not an arbitrary medium; it is carefully chosen to represent the fact that there is a granular nature to reality itself, that reality has a microcosmic texture to it. While we already know that this is true from quantum exploration of the standard model universe, it is not just intuited through Zen practice — there is a practical experience of that granular nature of reality, which a certain range of vibration within human beings can encounter without any technological assistance. This is a subtle and mystical experience, not subject to reductive thinking; it brings us very close to the nature of reality itself, a place of perception that allows us to participate in an intimate understanding of how the world arises and manifests. 

The gravel and to the raked lines, in other words, form the support of reality — and at the same time represent an extremely high level of understanding about the nature of the cosmos… while also managing to be nothing more than sand and gravel. Levels are at play here; levels of both manifestation, understanding, and even Being itself; and what better way to indicate levels than with rocks both lying flat and docile against the sand, and also thrusting up out of it like powerful mountains?

The individual stones within this medium represent arising and manifestation. They are surrounded with the exuberance and freedom of life, as expressed by the moss islands they rest on; yet each one is a solid and immovable expression of Being that arises, unique and unyielding, in the midst of this fluid movement. Among other things, the stones represent the many different aspects of personality and being expressed within a single individual; on another level, collectively, they represent all beings; and at the highest level, taken together with the raked gravel, the garden represents Being itself, which is composed of an infinite number of individual manifestations, which become a whole and single thing (the garden itself.)


The invitation the raked garden issues is to enter and participate in this environment, which is a bridge to the greater freedom of the unraked garden with its paths, flowers, and plants. The garden is furthermore structured to allow a fluid movement through all of the environments, emphasizing the potential for a great deal of independence within the many different types of manifestation expressed by the physical structures.

Hosanna.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Inner and outer meaning in Zen Gardens, part II

Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto


It's useful to see the Zendo as representing the inner quality of a human being. This inner part needs to become quite empty so that it can receive impressions of the outer world objectively. Instead of being filled with assumptions and associations, it is filled with nothingness — and this prepares it for relationship with feeling that is quite different than the one dominated by assumption and association.

The Zen garden represents the outer quality of life— and it retains both its beauty and its exuberance, which are in extraordinary contrast to the absolute emptiness of inner being represented by the Dharma Hall. There is an intention behind the juxtaposition of these two realms: taken together, they are complementary and necessary. We can't live without inner life; and we can't live without an outer one. Yet both of them need to be rediscovered in a new way, made sacred together, in order for the intellect to function in a balanced manner.

The Zen garden is meant to remind us that we are designed to receive impressions. Impressions are, essentially, a feeling-based activity; as we receive them, it is our emotional part that manifests the greatest sensitivity towards experience. It tastes and encounter the outer world in a way quite different than the intellect or the body, acting as a unique translator. The intention is that once we have emptied ourselves of our ordinary associations in the silent, limitless emptiness of the meditation hall, we will be prepared for a new influx of deeply emotive feeling-experience as we walk through the garden.

This feeling-quality represents a new kind of freedom. Now, it might seem paradoxical to speak of the structured, obsessively tended Zen garden as an environment that bestows freedom; yet we need to understand it from the point of view of the Dharma Hall that sits at the heart of this exuberance. There could be no greater contrast; yet it's created with the simplest of relationships: an interior, and an exterior. This is an analogy for our lives; and this simple yet subtle lesson conveys an inevitability, once we see it.

The idea here is that an emptiness of Being which is prepared to receive these feeling-impressions of the garden in a new way has a reciprocal action on the garden itself: it creates an order of understanding within the nature of freedom. All of the actions within the garden are a reflection of this. Inner emptiness paradoxically begets an outer order that has an extraordinarily beautiful flexibility contained within an intelligent structure. There is more than a whiff of the sacred in all of this; and indeed, there are connections between this inner and outer juxtaposition in Zen, and the action of Holy Communion as it's understood in Christianity. 

More on that later.

Hosanna.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Inner and outer meaning in Zen Gardens, part I

Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto

Although the aesthetic of a Zen garden, in its outward appearance, can be imitated and translated in any intelligent gardening environment, the esoteric, or inner, meaning of a Zen garden can't be understood unless firmly placed in the context of the monastery and Dharma Hall which it surrounds. I think it’s very difficult to understand this without personally visiting a classic zen monastery; certainly, my own recent visit to Tenryu-Ji was what triggered this impression. 

The reasons for this are subtle; a Zen garden contains only half a teaching, which is wholly revealed in the relationship between the Zendo, the Dharma Hall—the sitting area where the monks meditate—and the garden itself. The two of them must be taken together, not separately, in order to understand the sublime message conveyed by the juxtaposition of the two environments.

The Dharma Hall is an empty hall, covered by tatami mats. There may be a few paintings decorating the hall, but otherwise, it is simplicity in its essence: a great emptiness which is filled only with the bodies of meditating monks. 

The hall itself, along with the structure that houses it, represents the human body, the structural nature of flesh, blood, bones, and marrow — which are, as it happens, the four principle stages of understanding in Zen practice. The Dharma Hall is empty because it is necessary to empty being — that is, the one’s physical being and all it represents — completely in order for something new to enter. 

This takes a certain kind of activity; but the activity consists (perversely) of not doing anything—that is, sitting zazen. The ideal is a perfect emptiness undisturbed by the intellect, the mind, conceptual thought, and everything else that fills our body (under ordinary circumstances) with a tangible or visualized materiality.

Taken as such, the Dharma Hall ultimately represents physical being, as opposed to the intellect (which it houses) — and the emptiness of the hall symbolizes the emptying of intellect and thought into a nothingness that prepares a person for receiving a new force of Being.

The Zen garden is an opposing, but intimately related, entity. The garden represents nature, life, in all its extraordinary variety; even though it is carefully groomed and manicured, it still contains the unpredictable exuberance of life itself. It is, in a word, beautiful; and the experience of beauty is an emotional, not rational, thing.

In other words, the garden evokes feeling — it represents an emotional quality that contains a quality quite different than that imparted by our intellectual capacities. 

In Zen meditation and other Buddhist practices, meditating on emptiness in the Dharma Hall is juxtaposed by meditative strolls through the garden environment. So there is an implicit reciprocity between the emptiness of the hall and the fullness of the garden.


This representation of feeling-quality represents the third force of Being. Mankind has three minds or intellects which make up Being; they are intellectual being, physical being, and emotional being. Intellectual being is well-developed and man, and generally dominates human existence and interaction. It is the other two forms of being—physical being and emotional being—that generally go begging. The balance between the Dharma Hall and the Zen garden represent these two essential elements of Being which are, in a general sense, neglected: the body and the emotions. Emptying the body of mind and then moving into the emotional territory of the garden — which is an objective external invocation of beauty — provides the kind of food that is needed for the development of a balanced Being arising from all three parts.

Hosanna.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The inner landscape

 When we talk about spiritual work, we rarely encounter the idea of our inner being as a landscape — that is, an environment populated by an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, all growing things in constant movement and interaction with each other.

Yet our inner life is a direct reflection of the outer world — or, one might even say, it is the other way around, but that is a more complex metaphysical question. Let's just say that our inner life displays many characteristics that mirror the environments and ecosystems of the outer world — it's just that they are all hidden, metaphysical entities, metaphysical in the sense that while they all manifest within the physical body, they create this field, or landscape, which we call consciousness.

Consciousness has to be cultivated, just as a wild landscape needs to be tended to in order to organize it, if a person is to interact with it in anything other than the way a wild animal does.

One could argue that the entire process of consciousness is a landscaping process, since the seeds of awareness, both self-awareness and societal awareness, need to be planted in human beings from a young age and then carefully fertilized, cultivated, tended, and pruned to take a particular shape or form. The ideas and knowledge, the understandings, that a child is introduced to are (one hopes!) carefully juxtaposed against one another to produce a desired result (responsibility, maturity, and compassion come to mind); and the way in which unwanted ideas and directions are pruned and trimmed, the way parents either root or uproot concepts in their children, is analogous to the tending of bonsai trees.

There is, in other words, a deep link between the ecosystems and biology of our outer world, and the ecosystems and biology of our inner world. They function in similar manners. No matter how much a parent prunes and tends the child, and no matter how much a gardener prunes and tends his plants, the plant and the child must always ultimately assume responsibility for their own growth and find their own way within the landscape. Parents and gardeners can be no more than guides, although they may be good ones; and the landscape itself is always informed by, and grows through, the light that falls on it and the soil it contains.

This idea of light (incoming impressions) and soil (already existing materials) are closely aligned with Gurdjieff's understanding of the blending of new impressions with what has already been received; the present is built on the work of the past, the action is always highly interactive, growth never stops, and spiritual ideas (conscious effort) can only take place in appropriate environments, just as you can't plant a shade plant in bright sunlight, or vice versa.

If we saw our inner being in its constantly transitional state, understood the organic nature of being which we have already received and dwell within, and the dynamic nature of the new incoming impressions of life, which feed us for further growth in the same way that the sun feeds a plant, we might have a new and more tactile impression of the complexity of our inner life and our outer being.

It's my impression that Zen landscapes were meant to impart such a teaching in the juxtaposition of the Zendo and the garden that surrounds it; and it is to this piece of territory that we will turn in the next post.

Hosanna.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Landscape and memory

Flower arrangement
Daikaku-Ji, Kyoto

Over the last few years, my wife has introduced me to a number of striking, original, and highly unusual landscapes and gardens, which caused me to reevaluate my estimation of gardening and landscaping as an art form.

To be sure, this has been an art form since ancient times; yet while we buy and sell small, often relatively insignificant and drab paintings by very famous artists for staggering sums of money — tens and perhaps even hundreds of millions of dollars, by now — there is no aftermarket for great gardens, nor has the art world managed to wrap its relatively small mind around the achievements in this area, which in many cases stand well above achievements by painters, sculptors, and the like — the former whose works often accidentally (or not) represent such gardens in their measured and crafted approach to landscape painting, and the latter, whose works are so often placed in such landscapes.

The lowly gardener, it seems, is too humble — his hands buried in dirt and tangled in twigs — to be worth all that money. The landscape, in modern times, simply becomes a setting for architectural gems (again, the buildings are perversely perceived as being more important than the landscapes they sit in) or an advertisement of the wealth and power of the landscape owner.

 Landscaping, in the meantime, has quietly persisted as an intelligent and extraordinarily aesthetic craft that manages to operate under the radar of the cognoscenti, the movers and shakers that determine what is aesthetically important. One can imagine, on almost any day, an article in CNN or the times extolling the virtue of a van Gogh or a Monet sold at Sotheby's or Christie's for $50 million; but when was the last time you read about a garden, Bonsai tree, or flower arrangement changing hands for a huge sum of money? Not gonna happen.

Having spent my entire life immersed in the arts, I come to the realization that landscaping is a high art very late in the ballgame — yet realization it is. No one can visit the mannerist Gardens in Italy or the Zen gardens in Kyoto without beginning to understand that man's interaction with his landscape ranks among the highest of all arts, even though we take it for granted. There could be a great deal more attention paid to this art; yet in most Western countries, it is an afterthought for all those except the small percentage addicted to the understanding of plants and their propagation. The Japanese clearly have a much greater understanding of this sensibility and art form; and their landscape reflects it. This isn't to say that the Japanese have been unflagging and attentive stewards of their environment—far from it. But they do craft better living environments and landscapes than we do.

Our landscape has the potential to be invested with an enormous amount of aesthetic and symbolic value, always in movement. Some ancient cultures understood their entire way of being through this mode of potential, growth, and change. (On the matter of the perception of life as a process of becoming, see my friend Stephen Houston's extraordinarily fine and interesting book, The Life Within—Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence.)  Only when we encounter mannerist landscapes as original as the Parco dei Mostri do we begin to understand the potential for landscape and gardening to inform the subliminal; and only when we encounter formal gardens such as the Villa Lante can we begin to understand the potential for formal gardens to express the aesthetic of inner perfection from a Western point of view.

The gardens and landscapes of Zen temples are another matter entirely, so it would seem; and yet the heart and soul of Zen gardening practice springs from the same hearts that beat in the same breasts as those of Western men and women. There is a deep and unspoken kinship between gardeners, the world around; it is a universal language. It remains forever unspoken except in the souls of those who walk the paths and taking the impressions; yet everyone understands it.

I'm not sure why we don't value this very high art form more; so much could be done to change that, yet it seems unlikely. Nonetheless, my musings on landscape and gardening led me to a group of insights and ideas about Zen gardening practice which I will continue to discuss in the next few posts.

One last note before I close out this post. Readers interested in a more in-depth treatment of the question of human beings in the relationship to landscape ought to read Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory,  an utterly fascinating book.

Hosanna.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What is self-individuality?

Tenryu-Ji, Kyoto


Some additional musings on this subject.

Gurdjieff used the term self-individuality  term to describe what he called a “perfection of Being.” 

This is, furthermore, a degree of perfection of Being, not the ultimate perfection of being. Perfection, in other words, is not perfection. To be perfect is to be in a state such as to allow no further improvement, to adhere to an ideal. In this case, we can clearly infer that perfection is hierarchical... that is, that a degree of perfection can be such that there are still other perfections possible, that there are, in other words, still imperfections within this degree of perfection.

We can liken this to a single note within an octave, which can be tonally pure and perfect within itself, refelcting an exact and conforming rate of vibration, yet allowing that other notes of higher rates of vibration exist. 

While we can be sure it’s a higher than ordinary degree of being,Self-individuality thus contains imperfections. One can come to the inner realization of self-individuality without being perfect.

My thought on it, based on some pondering—in conjunction with a number of years of experience in such matters—is that a state of self-individuality is such that one is able to realize one’s imperfections

It is, in other words, an awakening into what I am; not what I wish to be. This though relates to my recent post about the same subject.

I think, as I experience and analyze myself through the thinking mind, that I am seeing something about how I am; yet its only and ever through this sensing of what I am through sensation that I really gain any traction on the question of my actual being, as opposed to my theoretical being. Everything od the mind is of a theoretical being; only through the living medium of experiential sensation can the theory be tested. 

It is this testing of the theory of what and who I am that’s truly interesting; this takes place not within the mind but within the organism. The mind reveals itself to be a rather untethered creature, wandering here and there; tied to the body, its attention deficit begins to find a compensatory mechanism. 

I'm not what I want, or wish, to be; through sensation (not thought) I begin to see my insufficiencies. This is a form of trial, because it appears that I have to go through this life, which is a quite difficult task now, seeing more clearly. 

There is a long distance to go within this experience, and there are no guarantees. Attainment of responsibility does not confer a guarantee of honor.

Hosanna.