Conduct and observance

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

unity and movement

One of the difficulties that we all have looking at a diagram like the Enneagram is that it is a static diagram. Like all forms, it pins down the universe, which is constantly in movement, onto a cork board where it can be examined like a dead thing.

We cannot examine anything without form, yet the paradox is that form kills movement. This understanding is directly related to the understanding from quantum physics that nothing can ever be observed without being affected by the Observer. We might consider the experience of life itself as being something like a liquid, which is warm and constantly in motion, yet which freezes and becomes solid in every instance of its contact with consciousness. In this way, consciousness never experiences life in its warm, liquid, natural state, where everything is eternally in relationship and constantly changing, but only experiences it as a crystallized object.

I believe that the Zen parable about Baso relates to this question. His teacher came to him one day in his hut after he had been practicing intensive Zazen meditation for 10 years.
"What have you been up to?" he asked.
"I am sitting zazen," replied Baso.
"Why are you sitting zazen?" asked the teacher.
"In order to attain Buddhahood," replied Baso.
The teacher picked up a tile and began to polish it with his robe.
"Why are you polishing that tile?" asked Baso.
"In order to make a mirror," replied the teacher.
"How can you polish a tile to make a mirror?" asked Baso.
"How can you attain Buddhahood by sitting zazen?" replied the teacher.

Dogen has some very interesting things to say about this parable in his Shobogenzo. I will not recapitulate them here; you can go read them for yourself in his chapter on the eternal mirror, should you wish to.

What I would like to focus on today is that the action of polishing is a circular movement. The action of sitting is static.

This is not to dismiss tiles, or mirrors, or sitting. We simply wish to point to the circular movement of the polishing, which is about a relationship between the observer and the observed. The observer and his interaction with what is observed are in movement- the tile is "being polished." Dogen actually points us to the polishing as being a central question in this parable.

When things spring from the participation in relationship itself, they are quite different when they arise from an expectation of a future result. Polishing may make tiles into to mirrors, and sitting zazen may turn men into Buddhas. The potential for everything is there. It is the participation in the activity that is essential.

The Enneagram points to an inner movement of energy that passes from point to point within a human being. Understanding it intellectually or trying to come up with complex formulations about its meaning are all valid activities, up to a point--but this is not a point to get stuck on. One has to take the next step, which is to discover the living meaning of this diagram in the movement of self within the self. The inner nature of what the diagram depicts must be uncovered and understood. The diagram is about relationship and movement, not about analysis and structure.

The analysis and the structure are all there, just as tiles and the mirrors are there. But the point does not lie within knowing that there are tiles or knowing that there are mirrors, or knowing that tiles can become mirrors. The point lies within knowing that we participate -- we polish the tile. In this inner participation, in discovering the inner movement, we discover a new unity that may offer us the opportunity for a warm bath of understanding, instead of being locked in our usual frozen state of knowing.

Dogen's expounding of the eternal mirror in the Shobogenzo is a challenging and complex rendering of what I believe to be an essentially cosmological question. He is attempting to help us penetrate to the root of reality and discover where it arises.

I completed the chapter this morning after working on it for about a week. This complex set of ideas left me with the impression that consciousness itself is a mirror, that there is a reciprocity between the inner and the outer, that everything that arises is reflected by the experience of being, and the experience of being gives rise to everything. We live in a universe of mirrors reflecting mirrors.

Of course this is a distinctly philosophical conundrum. It's eminently cool stuff, but we could think about it all day and all night for the rest of your life, and not really get it.

What interests me more directly at this point is the study of that inner flow of energy which the Enneagram invites us to. That study can lead us to an experience of movement and unity, which is encompassed within each breath, if we seek it.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.



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