Conduct and observance

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

celebrity death match: Buddha vs. the dog

What is our relationship to our lower, animal nature?

The famous Isabel- immersed in her essential dog nature, and loving it- doesn't worry about such things. But those of us with three brains tend to ponder. Most human beings need more than a plain old stick to keep them amused.

There are a number of different ways to understand our two natures relative to the idea of centers, or chakras. All of them have their points. Maybe rlnyc, who occasionally offers comments on this blog, will give us a few of his many insights on this matter. In any event I'm going to sketch out a few of my own ideas about this today. As we continue, please excuse me for embarking on what will be a more theoretical discussion than my ordinary posts on this blog.

We are composed of two stories which reflect our higher and lower natures. The three centers in the lower story are the root center, the sex center, and the solar plexus. Together they form a trinity. In a theoretical sense some esoteric schools associate this lower story with our lower nature.

The upper story also has three centers. Now, a few years ago I would have given you one take on what those centers are and how they are in relationship, but my understanding of it these days is different. Rather than turn back the clock or examine a dozen different systems (there may be more than a dozen) I'm going to offer my latest up-to-the minute understanding of this. Which will probably change.

There are three key centers in the upper story. Two of them represent organs for receiving and containing the energy of what Gurdjieff called the "higher" centers. In his system they are higher intellectual and higher emotional center. I don't think we need to elaborate this idea in further detail. For our current purposes, the names are not so important.

One of the three centers in the upper story is located at the throat, which is actually the back of the neck, more or less the area of the medulla oblongata. This complex includes an area at the top of the brain stem, or base of the brain. The second center is the third eye. The third is the so-called seventh chakra, which is at the top of the head. In some systems, this "upper triad" supposedly represents man's higher or more spiritual nature.

So we have two triads of centers: an upper-story triad- the Buddha, if you will- and a lower-story triad- the dog. (see my blog on man's two natures for more on the Buddha/dog koan.)

There is an inherent danger in the above interpretation. It accidentally presumes that the "higher" nature of man is somehow better than his lower nature. Much tradition draws a picture of man's existence as being a conflict between man's higher and lower natures instead of a confluence. That is, somehow we are supposed to battle and vanquish our lower impulses.

This idea is to me just plain wrong. What man needs to seek instead is unity. In a unified state the higher parts inform the lower parts. They don't control or suppress them, but help them to naturally find their right place in the context of the system.

That brings us to the keystone piece in the "magical maze" of the inner centers.

The last chakra, which I have so far willfully skipped over, is located in the center of the torso. It's the heart chakra, although its physical location is not quite exactly where the heart is.

This is a very vital area. The upper and lower triads are connected by this center, and it is one of the three classic "blockage" points in yoga. (The other two being the top of the head and the base of the spine.) In Kundalini yoga, as I understand (warning: I'm certainly no expert on theory in this area,) the object is to "store" enough energy to allow it to rise from the base of the spine and pierce all three knots.

Man, as the Gurdjieff system teaches, is designed to be a bridge between the two levels. That is, to bring unity to them. So in the life of man both levels are of equal importance and absolutely necessary. Gurdjieff's Enneagram accurately depicts the unity of the whole system and shows us why all the centers, including the lowest ones, are of vital importance in the circulation of man's energy. This diagram conveys many subtle understandings of man's inner work that only years of direct personal study can begin to uncover. Suffice it to say that with work on this we can gradually begin to understand how it is that we must bring the inner centers into relationship.

In man, the chakra or center occupying the "gap" and forming the bridge is the heart. To me the implication is clear: man's rational being may be what separates him from the animals, but it is his emotional being that is meant to do the chief work of forming a bridge between the two levels.

The chief work of religion, in other words, is to open the heart. As Yogananda emphasized, above all we must learn how to do our work through Love. That Love is not the ordinary love proceeding from what we are, as we are, but comes from a higher level that can find its expression through us. Love is what opens the gates separating man from the divine, and that Love is not discriminatory or partial. It flows through the whole system, invests itself in every center, and values all of our inner parts equally.

As Christ said, "Love they neighbor as thyself." Informed, intelligent self-love (which may bear a relationship to what Gurdjieff called "conscious egoism") begins with right valuation of all our parts.

We're blind inside. Our dog can become a seeing eye dog for us-

but not if we beat him.

Sympathy for the Devil

Our cat Max runs around the house smacking things off tables, tipping over flower vases and splashing water about.

He can't help it. He's a cat. Every cat has its idiosyncracies, but all in all their cat nature carries a guarantee. We have to learn to live with that. I get irritated with him but in the end it's for me to see that he's a cat, not for him to see he ought to behave like a human.

Our habitual parts are like that. They are part of the machine and they have their own nature. Inevitably they are going to run about tipping things in life over and making a general mess of things.

Getting angry about these habitual, mechanical parts serves no purpose. Whether we are angry or not, they are what they are. We can't get rid of them- to do so would be the equivalent of killing the cat. We have to learn to include them in what we are, to coexist with them, to accept them. In other words, to have sympathy for this devil of a self we inhabit.

Self-observation teaches me that my habitual manifestations include a lot of irritating, negative, and even some downright disgusting parts. Everyone is like that. There's no way to wipe the slate clean; as I pointed out in my posting about forming an inner solar system, once matter has fallen into our gravity well and ended up on the surface of our inner planet, there's no way to get rid of it. The amount of energy it would take to eject it back into orbit is excessive. Instead, through the practice of acceptance, I need to come to terms with what's there, and through diligence and right attitude make an effort to rearrange the inner state so that what is there doesn't do damage. It's kind of like tying the cargo in a sailing vessel down so that it doesn't roll back and forth below decks smashing into everything.

So as I practice, I try and form new habits that will serve me better. I can try to express negative emotions less- which doesn't mean I don't have them, just that I don't use them as cudgels to club myself and those around me. I can try to love myself- to use the phrase "it's not so bad, really" not just in regard to external events but also to my inner reactions and my bad habits. Only by seeing and accepting can I acquire the opportunity to change anything.

It's true that I am mechanical, insensitive, and helpless. All of mankind lives within this set of conditions. Forming and feeding an inner cult of self-criticism, however, is worthless. It does not amount to right practice. Instead, right self-valuation is paramount.

We all have a devil within us. Hating him won't do us any good. Remember: the one good thing about your enemies is that they can never betray you.

Or, as Gurdjieff said of man, every man has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The devil you can trust.

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