Conduct and observance

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dogen and Gurdjieff, on work and schools

Those of you familiar with this blog will know that I frequently refer to Dogen, since I am currently engaged in reading most of his major works.

Today we're going to discuss something that is in a sense a bit theoretical. However I found it so interesting that I believe you will forgive this deviation from my usual efforts to write specifically about my own practice.

Many of you will be familiar with Gurdjieff's discussions about esoteric schools. Gurdjieff maintained that religions and religious practice are divided into three kinds of schools: exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric. He also referred to four Ways: the way of the Fakir, the way of the Monk, the way of the Yogi, and the Fourth Way. Those of you who are interested in more about what Gurdjieff had to say about this would do well to go refer to his literature.

Today I am going to offer you down a quote from Dogen's Sansuigo, or, Sutra of Mountains and Water. As always, the translation is taken from the Nishijima and Cross 1994 edition as released by Dogen Sangha.

"Again, since the ancient past, there have been from time to time sages and saints who lived by the water. When they live by the water, there are those who fish fishes, those who fish human beings, and those who fish the state of truth."

This appears to me to be a clear reference to the three types of schools: exoteric, mesoteric, and esoteric. Those who fish fishes are in exoteric schools. They may have a real wish, but they find themselves in ordinary life, taking ordinary food.

Those who fish human beings are in mesoteric schools, that is, they are feeding themselves on the question of what a human being is, in schools under what Gurdjieff would call influences B, which have come from influences C.

And those who fish the state of truth have finally found themselves in true esoteric schools.

Coincidence? Perhaps. You might argue that I am reading too much into this brief paragraph. However, let's take a look at what Dogen says next, which is the icing on the proverbial cake:

"Each of these is in the traditional stream of those who are in the water. Going further, there may be those who fish themselves, those who fish fishing, those who are fished by fishing, and those who are fished by the state of truth."

Here we have a description of the four ways.

Fakirs are those who fish themselves: they work on the body to find truth.

The yogis are those who fish fishing; they work on theory and philosophy in order to achieve perfection by means of the intellect.

Those who are fished by fishing are the Bhakti yogis, the monks, that is, those who seek to become open to God's love, which actively seeks us.

And finally we have those who are fished by the state of truth, that is, they are in the Fourth Way, where all other ways are combined.

I doubt that this is coincidence. The interpretations seem too reasonable, the juxtapositions too refined.

A daring thought: I believe that Dogen may have come from a branch of the same school that Gurdjieff found and worked in. According to him, such schools can remain in existence for hundreds or even thousands of years.

When we find links like this in Masters whose work is separated by centuries, we can pause in wonder. To me, it seems to underscore and verify everything Gurdjieff said about lines of Work and Schools: entities that lie hidden beneath the surface of life and traverse vast spans of time essentially intact, while mankind's societies destroy everything of value around themselves, over and over.

It is noble; it is majestic; it is mysterious. Here, together, we take up a dangling thread from this immense tapestry that has been woven by so many people over so many generations,

and as we hold it,

perhaps we can be touched by a bit of humility, and the taste of awe.

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