Conduct and observance



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Sunday, November 26, 2006

esoteric practice



It's sometimes argued, in exoteric practice (for example, the Christian church) that esotericism is unworthy. Unnecessary. Folded in upon itself. In some cases it is even scorned as opposite to proper Christian practice. The active wants life to point outwards. Everyone ought to be out there saving the world, not sitting in a passive meditative mode, treading water.

In today's world, exoteric institutions cultivate an aggressive outwardness that is distasteful to esotericists in the same way. For the contemplative, everything points inwards. Not for us, the crass commercialism of contemporary religious culture! We're more organic. Those outward folks are missing the whole point.

The two sides of the question spend much energy objecting to each other. Such disagreement misses the point; what is forgotten is that a balanced work requires three types of "directional practice": exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric. We could call them outward, convergent, and inward if we wish.

Left to itself, any one of these paths becomes a dead end. It's the exchange and dynamic between them that creates a living structure. Monasteries can't get membership without churches and congregations. Churches can't attract potential monks unless their practice is informed by a vital esoteric core. In the middle stands the congregation- the community. At any one moment one or the other of these forms of directional practice may need to be the chief center of gravity.

Our own inner lives are no different. We need our esoteric, our deeply inner, practice. We also need an attention to our mesoteric practice, that is, the place where inner and outer intersect (the place where our many "I"'s congregate.) Then we need the exoteric practice, when we live and work outwardly. The blending of the three elements creates a whole that informs itself by the inward flow of the outer towards the inner, and the reverse process, whereby what is formed inwardly reciprocates by informing the mesoteric self in its response to the outer ("wisdom.")

So my inner work (centered around essence) needs to discover its right relationship within an effective mesoteric and exoteric side. This isn't too easy. My exoteric side (personality) is very dominant.



In this very daily life, inhabiting this organism, I want to be come more sensitive to what third force might mean in relationship to this question of the esoteric and exoteric- of essence and personality.

Dogen's extensive record


Today's picture is the andromeda galaxy. see the APOD web site for terrific daily photos of the universe.

I've been reading Dogen's Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku) translated by Leighton & Okumura for most of the year. Can't say enough good things about this book!

Much of what Dogen has to say can appear, at times, to be impenetrable. As is the case with many teachings, his words arrive from a thousand years and an entire world away.

Nonetheless, I continue to sense that they speak of matters that are directly next to me in this very moment.

The following passage is from p. 594, "All going together:"

"Wearing hair and sprouting horns, go together with others


In the boundless kalpa-ending fire, do not turn your head
Even withered ash and dead trees are scorched completely,
What face do you have that begrudges these conditions?"

"Wearing hair and sprouting horns" relates to the Zen practices of attending to the energies at the middle, right and left at the top of the head. In doing this, we attend to the inner relationships between our parts ("going together with others.") We attempt to form a new inward relationship. This relationship, if cultivated, acquires a sustaining force which can carry our being.

No matter what happens- in the endless and eternal moments that we meet, in which everything arises and is instantly is consumed by the fires of time- we must remain resolute in practice, never turning our heads.

"Even withered trees and dead ash are scorched completely." Nothing is excepted from this process- even death itself is consumed by time.

What face do we have that begrudges these conditions? Indeed. we have no choice but to accept-- to accept completely, to accept unconditionally-- every arising, every condition we encounter, including this absolute condition of transience.

I continue to make efforts to found practice on an acceptance of conditions. In doing so I see more and more how conditional I am. I find it's only through participation in an informed inner relationship that I can inhabit my conditions, instead of trying to control them.


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