Conduct and observance

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Reading sutras

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I frequently discuss the following two things:

First of all, that all of our work essentially consists of taking in impressions through the body, and that developing a new and deeper connection with the body is vital to this work. This was a central tenet of Gurdjieff’s teaching, and perhaps the most vital information contained in it. If one encounters the Gurdjieff work and manages to understand – I mean, to truly understand – only the single fact that all impressions are food, this one understanding comprises almost everything one needs to know in order to truly work. If one understands this-- when I use the word understanding, I refer to an understanding that cannot be born within the intellect, and cannot be achieved through analysis-- everything else will eventually follow.

Secondly, that we can find everything we need to know and understand about the nature of life and consciousness within the study and experience of nature itself.

In Dogen’s Shobogenzo, there is a chapter entitled “Kankin,” or, reading sutras. Sutras, for those of you not versed in the language of Buddhism, are texts which contain teachings.

Dogen well understood that the temptation in Buddhism is to attempt to understand it through the reading, analysis, and recitation of sutras. This type of intellectualism is endemic in most intelligent spiritual works.

However, Dogen was a master of what we would call the Gurdjieff work. He well understood that the taking in of impressions was the essential heart of our work.

All the quotes that follow are taken from page 226 of the 1994 translation of the Shobogenzo by Nishijima and Cross, published by Dogen Sangha press.

In the very beginning of this chapter, Dogen says the following:

“At this time the reality of hearing sutras, retaining sutras, receiving sutras, preaching sutras, and so on exists in the ears, eyes, tongue, nose, and organs of body and mind, and in the places where we go, hear, and speak.”

And there you have it. The practice of working with sutras is the practice of taking in impressions, achieved through the connection of the body and the mind.

Immediately afterwards, he says the following: “The sort who because they seek fame, preach non-Buddhist doctrines, cannot practice the Buddhist sutras.”

Seeking fame by preaching non-Buddhist doctrines is, I believe, an allegorical reference to becoming trapped in the intellect. The translators of this text mention in the footnotes at the source of this quotation from a sutra has not been located. It may be that this particular reference was an original from Dogen himself.

The next line says, “The reason is that the sutras are transmitted and retained on trees and rocks, are spread through fields and through villages, are expounded by lands of dust, and are lectured by space.”

Here, Dogen is specifically telling us that all of the sutras that we need to learn from, all of the teachings we seek to understand, exist within and arise through nature itself. The teaching lies within everything,--it lies within every fragment of everything-- because, as I have pointed out in the essay on the Enneagram, the nature of the universe is fractal, that is, every level contains a complete replica of all the levels within itself. If you download the essay, you will see a visual diagram that depicts the nature of this fractal relationship.

Everything is connected to everything else. In a real sense, if one truly and fully understands one thing, everything can be understood.

That of course, would be a very big thing. As tiny creatures, we just do our best to understand one part of one thing.

May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water.

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