Thursday, July 5, 2007
The present moment seems to have collided with a set of more theoretical essays.
I was heartened while reading the Shobogenzo this morning to discover that Dogen emphasizes the need to understand the theoretical structure of Buddhist teachings in order to fulfill their practice. This is certainly consistent with Gurdjieff's ideas. Keeping that in mind, we'll proceed under the assumption that not all theory is bad, and that not all badness is theoretical.
In this life, experiencing consciousness through the vehicle of the body, we tend to form strong relationships to substances.
When I use the word substances, I mean material things. We perceive our environment as being composed of substances which evolve in causal relationships to each other. Most of mankind's civilization, and all of his technology, consists of manipulating substances and their relationships to one another. Most of the pursuits in life are about "getting the stuff" or "holding on to the stuff." Spiritual practice itself falls victim to this habit.
Substances are, however, not causal. In order to understand this we need to reach into the nether regions of physics, where we discover that everything is formed of energies, and that the arising of what we call physical reality begins at a point where momentum and location, fundamental properties of what we call matter, cannot be clearly distinguished from one another. In fact, it is only through the intervention of an observer that either property can become determinate.
Substance, in other words, arises from and is entirely dependent on movement and relationship. Physics calls locations where where movement and relationship collapse black holes. Such locations become irrevocably separated from reality as it is commonly defined. (To be a bit more accurate, perhaps the separation isn't irrevocable- Hawking claims that black holes which cease to accrete matter may eventually lose their mass through evaporation.)
Because we live in and experience a material world, we create fixed-point references for our experience, much like the fixed point ethical systems discussed in an earlier entry. That is to say, our understandings are immediately derived from the apparent material realities we perceive, and we draw all our assumptions about the nature of life and the universe from these quite specific reference points--never mind Plato's contention that all of what we perceive is just the projected shadow of its actual nature.
It might be reasonable to contend that nothing more is possible--is any other legitimate reference point available?
In fact, we can infer that other reference points are available. Known altered states of perception offer different "versions" of reality. This includes both chemically altered states and the altered perceptions of individuals with physical deficiencies (blindness, deafness etc.) which cause them to develop hyperacuity and synesthetic abilities in other senses (See, for example, the movie "Touch the Sound" about Evelyn Glennie, the clinically deaf percussionist.)
Perhaps the most extraordinary example of the potential for "extrasensory" perception (not to be taken in the psychic context) is the fact that sea urchins have, in their feet, which are their primary sensory organs, a specific protein molecule that in all other organisms with sight (which sea urchins utterly lack) is found in the eyes. The molecule itself obviously has perceptual usages which we do not fully understand. Even when this molecule isn't being used in the specific organ we usually find it in (the eye) it still fulfills a yet unknown role in the acqusition of perception.
So we do know that more can certainly be known-- perceptually--than what we know.
What we do not seem to know is that knowing and not knowing are of equal weight and value.
Any system of knowledge, that is, an organized accumulation of facts, consists of a fixed point reference system that limits the ability of the user to understand. A classic example of this is Alfred Wegener's discovery of plate tectonics, which explained that the surface of the planet itself was born of, and subject to, movement and relationship.
This theory lay outside the fixed-point accumulation of facts his peers subscribed to, and was vehemently rejected by just about every one of his contemporaries. The fact that he was correct didn't enter into it. His peers, you see, had subscribed to a fixed-point belief system. They labeled it "science," implying objectivity, but in hindsight we can see it was nothing of the sort. They knew a very great deal, but they did not understand what they knew.
It's often like that with scientists.
It is the distinction between knowledge and understanding that Gurdjieff stressed. Understanding may be construed as a dynamic approach to comprehension, arising from movement and relationship.
Indeed, we find that this is congruent with Dogen's approach in the Shobogenzo. Knowing and not knowing are fixed point states. Again and again, Zen emphasizes that fixed point states- dualities- are not at the heart of comprehension, or understanding. This point is driven home with monotonous regularity in Zen teachings.
"Knowing" and "not knowing" are fixed point comprehension: always unable to evolve dynamically in relationship to external conditions, which are constantly in movement. In Zen, responses to koans are inherently unpredictable not because they are trying to express some ineffable mystery, but because they are born of the moment in relationship. They fundamentally acknowledge movement and relationship as the root of causal reality; material existence must be seen, in a certain sense, as an ephemeral phenomenon.
In every instance what arises is merely an expression of the process of arising, which is where the heart of the understanding must be sought.
Consciousness has the innate ability to inhabit the movement and relationship. This is a different experience of life than to invest within the materiality.
Gurdjieff's movements, like sitting zazen, are efforts to bring the practitioner to the moment where materiality is stripped away and understanding returns to its root source, which is dynamic rather than fixed.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.