Conduct and observance

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dogen and Gurdjieff: More planetary allegories

This morning, as my wife Neal and I were walking the famous dog Isabel, we came across this spider web, suspended in mist and sunrise on the banks of the pond in Sparkill.

The mist was thick with sunshine; the water and light softened the iron girders of the bridge over the river, until the structure completely surrendered the impression of permanence. In that moment, the bridge became no more substantial than spider silk:

two structures made by animals...

both temporary.

Yesterday we touched on some of what Dogen covers in the Shobogenzo-- Book 2, chapter 28, --"Butsu Kojo No Ji"- "The Matter of the Ascendant State of Buddha."

Let's return to that text today to discuss another excerpt:

"Zen master Koso of Chimon-zan mountain on one occasion is asked by a monk, "What is the matter of the ascendant state of Buddha?" The Master says, "the head of the staff hoists up the sun and the moon."

To comment: "The staff being inextricably bound to the sun and the moon is the matter of the ascendant state of Buddha. When we learn the sun and moon in practice as a staff, the whole cosmos fades away: this is the matter of the ascendant state of Buddha. It is not that the sun and moon are a staff. The [concreteness of the] head of the staff is the whole staff." (Shobogenzo, Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha press, Book 2, P.97.)

Is all of this chapter just an excursion into theory? Or might this be a reference to a more specific kind of inner work, regarding the formation of an inner solar system?

Let's take a look at that in the context of the diagram that relates the centers to the ray of creation.

If you click on the link and refer to the diagram, you will see that the moon represents the root chakra, or, position one on the enneagram. This is the location at the base of the spine in man- note "re."

The Sun corresponds to the heart, or position five in the enneagram -- the note "sol." In the physical arrangement of man's organism, that point lies in the center of the spine. This point is the esoteric heart.

The top of the spine--located approximately in the area of the medulla oblongata-- corresponds to the note la, or the throat chakra. These are the three centers which are specifically located within the spine-1, 5, 7 on the enneagram- all the odd numbers of the multiplications.

If we choose to view it from Dogen's perspective, this last center is the "head of the staff." It hoists up the sun and the moon- that is, the top of the spine connects the sun and the moon to the position of what would be called "all suns" in the ray of creation.

So--perhaps Dogen is intimating a work of connecting top, bottom, and center of the spine with each other. Is he furthermore suggesting that the action of air, a material that enters at that position of throat, is the critical factor that binds the action together?

In my opinion, we can be reasonably certain Dogen is speaking of the actual practice of forming a connection within the spine here. First of all, he says it is a practice, and second of all, using the staff as a symbol leads us almost inevitably to the possibility that he is speaking of the spine. In fact, if you read Dogen with this in mind, you will see that there is a great deal said about staffs in his exposition of Buddhism. Much of it invites inferences of this kind if one is willing to begin from the presumption that he is not talking about a set of theoretical dogmas, or a walking stick.

"The concreteness of the head of the staff is the whole staff." Let's pause to digest that, and consider the possibility that it is a careful, intentional attention to breathing- the deliberate ingestion of prana--that helps form a more whole connection within the centers aligned along the spine. Measure this, if you will, in relationship to Gurdjieff's explanation of the role of air in the chemical factory.

Once again, we discover potentially intimate connections between Gurdjieff's teachings of men as creatures engaged in the act of creating an inner solar system, the yoga practices of working with energy in the spine--which are a largely unpublished, but definite, aspect of the Gurdjieff work-- and Dogen's discussions of suns and planets, staffs, and practice.

I'll be the first to confess, there's a lot going on here. There are those who would argue one can read anything one wants to into texts as complex as the Shobogenzo or Gurdjieff's "Beelzebub."

It is in the multiple points of contact, however, that a dog begins to sniff the bone, and we may begin to discern a weave that does more than just woof.

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

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