Into the Fire

June 18, 2011 § 29 Comments

I’m packing to go away again, this time to a camp on a lake in the woods in the foothills of the Catskills.  This time I was invited not by Buddhists but by friends in the Gurdjieff Work in New York.  And this time, I am volunteering to be a co-leader of the kitchen (this is way out my comfort zone since I have long regarded myself to be at best an “assembler” of very simple dishes, preferrably involving one big pot).   As if this isn’t enough, I also accepted the challenge of joining someone in giving a little talk about the work of the English author Peter Kingsley, who was interviewed in the “Beauty” issue of Parabola.  When she first called me with the proposition, I immediately thought of a cartoon I saw in the New Yorker recently: two people are driving in a car and the driver says to the passenger (I’m paraphrasing), “We agree we’re lost but the important thing is to keep the focus on who is to blame.”

At first glance, since Kingsley’s work rests on deep scholarship, on a knowledge of ancient Greek and presocratic philosophy, it seems there may as well be two dogs sitting  in the front of the room, barking as the pair of us.  Yet on further reflection,  after I reread A Story Waiting to Pierce You,  Kingsley’s brief poetic account of a mysterious shaman who emerges from “Hyperborea,” a word the Greeks of 2500 years ago used for “the beyond of the beyond,” a few questions and reflections are bubbling up in this ordinary, unlettered barking dog that do seem worth asking.  In his latest book, Kingsley describes a shaman from Mongolia who delivered an arrow of very special knowledge to the early Greeks–literally handing the arrow to Pythagorus.  Very consciously, yet in a special ecstatic trance, this Mongolian shaman brought a way to experience reality to the cradle of Western Civilization–as other “skywalkers” brought it to Tibet, and ultimately the New World.  To make a captivating story ultra short, we forgot this knowledge.   According to Kingsley some ancient philosophers, particularly Parmenides and Empedocles, practiced a kind of mysticism that drew on the whole being as a way to approach reality.  Overall, however, people began to rely on thinking.   Not so surprisingly, Kingsley’s reading of presocratic philosophy–and with the latest book, the history of Buddhism–is at odds with the experts in those fields.   Yet Kingsley maintains that many readings of esoteric and philosophical works are misreadings–that we must approach them with the whole of our beings, the whole of our lived experience.

Here are some questions that arise:  some friends in the Gurdjieff Work seek the source of Gurdjieff’s teachings and Kingsley’s work seem to point to a source.  But isn’t there always a deeper source, a “beyond of the beyond” ?  Last time, I blogged about a temple unearthed that was built about 11,000 B.C.–long before this Mongolian “Skywalker” sky walked to Greece 2500 years ago.  And lately I’ve been thinking again about the ancient cave painters, who lived many thousands of years before the temple builders.  And so on, back to God, as they say.   Is it possible to leave the divine with the Divine?

Also, Kingsley speaks of the Mongolian shaman being in a state of ecstasy, and a state of one-pointed focus.  In the Buddhist tradition, not just Tibetan but Theravada, ecstasy is not the highest state.  Equanimity–and the clear seeing beyond all forms, all states of being–is.  Here also, is it possible to just stay open, to seek what is beyond even ecstasy?

Also, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the wild shaman who showed the saintly Padmasambava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet, that there is a state beyond what he thought was awakening happened to be a woman.  Her name was Yeshe Togyal, and they called her the “arrow maker” and the “one who flies on arrows.”  She showed him that there is a higher state of unity. Kingsley accuses other historians and philosophers of glossing over facts they don’t quite know what to do with.  Perhaps he does that with female shamans?

The great gift of Kingsley’s work is to show us that there is a radically different way to hold facts–not to grasp them with the mind to explore them with our whole being, with our whole lived experience.   For me, this includes a kind of faith the Buddhists call “keeping the heart open in the darkness of the unknown.”

I’ll let you know how the cooking and the barking goes.

§ 29 Responses to Into the Fire

  • artxulan says:

    The source of Gurdjieff’s knowledge is so obvious that I really do not understand why it keepsw being brought up. Obviously he obtained knowledge from many sources including directly from the worlds and intelligences above us; including the Source of Everything.

    The problem with reviewing a book or anything else is that before we know it the mind has become entangled in some nonsense or the other and we lose awareness of ourselves. Is it possible to speak in a way that is helpful and not have it be just another presentation – as fascinating as that may be but nonetheless just another flight of fancy indulgence?

    As to cooking. What’s wrong with one big pot? I find that ‘work’ meals tend to be overly concerned with ‘right’ to the point that everything is wrong. When there is a level of attention which is not ordinary in preparing the food that is what makes a real difference. For lack of a better way to describe it the food then is ‘sweet’. Carla Needleman once was in charge of preparing the food for a work week in San Francisco. As I recall it was her idea to have old fashioned family style food and lots of it. It was way too much food. So quantity, too, makes a difference. I’m, by the way, not a cook, just an eater.

    Tracy:
    “The great gift of Kingsley’s work is to show us that there is a radically different way to hold facts–not to grasp them with the mind to explore them with our whole being, with our whole lived experience. For me, this includes a kind of faith the Buddhists call “keeping the heart open in the darkness of the unknown.”

    If you know anyone who has the level of Being who can actually do this or you have ‘the way to it’ please name them or say how; otherwise just another bunch of pretty words.

  • Ron Starbuck says:

    And so we have, it seems, the source of these other words of wisdom, that tie into what you offer her today Tracy.

    Emptiness is Empty of Emptiness

    Leaving God for God, or leaving the Divine for the Divine

    Even leaving our-selves for the Divine, but beyond that even, beyond the beyond as you say.

    It all points to an identity that is beyond our self, above our self, an identity of the self that we may not recognize for now, but that is still true, truer than true.

    Isn’t it all a process of letting go of the self, of transformation?

  • Ah, “faith, hope and love, but greatest of these is Love”! And that statement always leads me to think of the great mystery, Love . I agree with artxlun, I can’t understand all that is the goal of Kingsley, this heightenend state of Being. But I walk in the faith, try to be as aware as I can, and when I find I’m drifting, to try and “come back”. I think it is progress, not perfection.
    I wish you the best trip, Tracy,, and I think it is brilliant that you will be a cook! That will help to stimulate your creativity and “open you to new levels”!
    Peace and attention,
    e

  • Donald Olson says:

    Re: “Just another bunch of pretty words” from artxulan earlier today, the following may need to be taken into account:

    1. I do know several people who are at the very least on the way toward this “radically different way to hold facts – not to grasp them with the mind to explore them……….”

    2. But one’s parts need to be informed by what Gurdjieff brought to our level of existence at this period in human history from “worlds and intelligences above us; including the Source of Everything.”

    The Movements/Sacred Dances likely come from much higher in the Ray of Creation and inform our moving centers. The Piano Music composed with Thomas DeHartmann informs the feeling center if I pay close attention to it. All and Everything informs, per Gurdjieff at the beginning of the Series, the mind and feelings of the reader.

    The Harmonium Music, and the Group Meetings and every other aspect of the current Gurdjieff program practiced in 63 centers in the US and 9 centers in Canada, all affiliated with the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York on 63rd Street supports these efforts 24/7 and every day of every year, including today.

  • artxulan says:

    Don, I’ve been a Gurdjieffien for many years. Your sermon is a waste.

    • Donald Olson says:

      What does it mean to be a Gurdjieffian? Are you a member of a Foundation where the work is actually practiced? Are you aware of the Stillness? Which aspect of the I Am are you working on? Are you taking Movements these days? Have you heard the Music recently played by a skilled player of this type of music? Do you attend a Gurdjieff Group?

  • artxulan says:

    Yep member of a foundation for forty years. Was with Lord Pentland for ten uintil he died. Knew Michel, Madame de Salzmann, Madame de Dampierre to name a few. And I even know about you even though we have not met.

  • artxulan says:

    As to music how aboout Gail Needleman, linda Spitz, Mitch Brzynski, Mrs. Adie,

    • Donald Olson says:

      Interested in a cup of tea sometime before the end of June? I’m in NYC several days a week. I’ll buy.

      What about Eat Here Now?

  • artxulan says:

    And of course Larry Roenthal.

  • artxulan says:

    Love to have tea but do not live in NY.
    As to Ordahl, I have not heard him play live. Although I love the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music the ideas are my first and ongoing love.

    • Donald Olson says:

      Artxulan,

      Where DO you hang your hat these days? I think I would really like to hear about your experiences with the NY group in the Pentland days. I began in the Work in Chicago in 1970, after I had been reading In Search for 8 years prior to that time. Came east in 1992 for job reasons.

      Currently live in Wethersfield, CT, outside Hartford.

      Don

  • artxulan says:

    Will contact you later. It was my great fortune to have been under Lord Pentland’s guidance.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Art. You wrote:

    The source of Gurdjieff’s knowledge is so obvious that I really do not understand why it keeps being brought up. Obviously he obtained knowledge from many sources including directly from the worlds and intelligences above us; including the Source of Everything.
    *************************************
    Are you referring to Gurdjieff’s knowledge or perspective?

    • artxulan says:

      Depends on which definitions of those words you are asking about.

      I used the word knowledge because that is what I meant. By knowledge I mean knowledge in all of its many relativities and forms.

  • Nick_A says:

    Art, I know the laws of chess as well as Kasparov. Our knowledge is the same in that regard. Yet he will beat me every time because of his chess perspective.

    My recent experiences lead me to believe that the value of the essence of Gurdjieff’s perspective is being lost both to techniques and/or lovliness.

    Loss of perspective I believe, leads both to bad chess and the loss of the essence of the Work for those who value it.

  • artxulan says:

    Sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about. In my opinion it is an affront and a mistake to speak about what Gurdjieff was and means tok each of us. It is far too subtle and personal to speak about.

    • Donald Olson says:

      Art,

      I have some very interesting material from Gail Neeldeman (speaking of Gail Needleman) which I received at the program at the NY Open Center in May on Gurdjieff and the Crisis of Our World. Gail played some pieces at this program. I can scan it and send it to your email address if you will send it to me. I’m at dolson@vericlaiminc.com.

      Thx.

      Don Olson
      June 19, 2011, 6:45 pm EDT

    • Nick_A says:

      We are referring to different concepts. I am speaking of perspective and you are equating it with opinions. They aren’t the same. There are the differing opinions of those in Plato’s cave. Taken together they are facets of a cave perspective

      Then there are those like Gurdjieff who have left the cave and acquired a conscious human perspective. There task is to further recognition of the reality of the human condition to those like us within Plato’s cave and expressing our own cave perspective and its opinions. We cannot understand them but we can appreicate that they have acquired a conscious human perspective which we lack.

  • Elizabeth says:

    A question opens the gate. Or maybe a question is the gateless gate. The New York TImes recently had an article on how logic developed to provide the individual an advantage in proving his point rather than as a way to discover new ideas. Indeed often we are only gathering facts to confirm our beliefs, to confirm our biases. But when we use questions, logic, and intellectual freedom to go beyond what we already believe, we may allow ourselves to discover something entirely new, something we may have missed. Of course, questions take us into unfamiliar territory and can be disorienting and even terrifying. For if we do not hold on to what we know and leap off the precipice into the unknown, there is no way of knowing where we will land or if we will be safe when we do land. But isn’t that the purpose of the quest?

    Copernicus once believed that if God was perfect than the math had to add up and as such, abandoned the geocentric model of the universe in favor of the heliocentric model. He was willing to take that leap and modern science as we know it emerged. The scientific mind is a mind where questions are the start of the journey. But sometimes in the spiritual world, questions are only valid for the Siddharthas and not the followers of the way. Yet perhaps in true spirituality, all practitioners must follow a radical questioning path. As Buddha said, “Be a light onto yourself.” But maybe we need to be more than that. Maybe we need to be the student who has one more question, one more reason to raise his hand.

    As a secondary school teacher with many years of experience, it is the question that makes the teacher and not the teacher that makes the question. Standing before the room and welcoming the question forces the teacher to really teach and not merely parrot the facts of the day. Recently, I finished the new biography on Gandhi. It was at times shocking and at other times disorienting. The Gandhi in the biography was not the Gandhi of Richard Attenborough’s film. And yet in this different version of Gandhi, there was perhaps an even greater Gandhi. For an Achilles without a heel is a god and a god is not capable of the spiritual journey. And a spiritual journey without a question is not a journey at all. Thank you for your questions and may like a recalcitrant dog unwilling to be leashed you ask more questions and open the gate for us all.

  • Nick_A says:

    Hi Tracy

    I’m looking forward to your description as to how it goes. I was reading up on Peter Kingsley. His descriptions of Greek thought lead me to believe he has a bit of Simone in him.
    ***********************
    Here are some questions that arise: some friends in the Gurdjieff Work seek the source of Gurdjieff’s teachings and Kingsley’s work seem to point to a source. But isn’t there always a deeper source, a “beyond of the beyond” ? Last time, I blogged about a temple unearthed that was built about 11,000 B.C.–long before this Mongolian “Skywalker” sky walked to Greece 2500 years ago. And lately I’ve been thinking again about the ancient cave painters, who lived many thousands of years before the temple builders. And so on, back to God, as they say. Is it possible to leave the divine with the Divine?

    Also, Kingsley speaks of the Mongolian shaman being in a state of ecstasy, and a state of one-pointed focus. In the Buddhist tradition, not just Tibetan but Theravada, ecstasy is not the highest state. Equanimity–and the clear seeing beyond all forms, all states of being–is. Here also, is it possible to just stay open, to seek what is beyond even ecstasy?
    *************************

    Does equanimity come from denying the Pole Star or opening to its inner direction? Now that is a juicy one for me.

  • Lewis says:

    The earlier tangent of this discourse was concerning – departing from the initial topic of finding proper ways to experience the ascending layers of reality, in favor of a circular discourse on Gurdjieffien esoterica – could this be an example of the failure of Job? His suffering ONLY begins after he and his friends egos over-intellectualize, taking the false path of hubris and wretchedness rather than the true path of compassion and humility. Gurdjieff may well have been an avatar among many on the never-ending path of spiritual progress, as his writings on the ability of everyday man to experience a benevolent God may or may not indicate, but he was NOT God, as defined, to be discovered in reams of data. Like all of the rest of us mortals, he was a man – subject to all the foibles of man, as defined: a fact that we should not drift away from through a miasma of information.
    This leads to a parallel concern. In a previous set of responses, ego seems to have been given leave to feel threatened and thus respond rudely in defense of it’s beliefs. When I see this – usually accompanied by prideful declarations that it”s philosophy is SO refined that it cannot be shared with those who lack, or haven’t developed the stratospheric talents required for understanding, I generally suspect that a hole exists somewhere in said philosophy. If compassion for one’s fellow man leads into the web of community where we can aid each other in mounting a spiritual path, do the esoteric philosophies help, or more often lead to the same old class-systems that turn back to support them in the first place – long after the original avatar and his original inner contextual understanding has “passed”? It seems to me that the most valid belief systems are the ones that improve the lot of the greatest number while giving them the tools to reduce their suffering – how much better are simple profundities such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, rather than judgements from the aging high balcony of acolytes like Stadtler and Waldorf on all of assembled muppetdom below.

  • Donald Olson says:

    Lewis. Yes I was taken aback by being blasted by Artxulan earlier this week but I’m a big boy now and recovered pretty well from his shots. No scars. On the Gurdjieff practice and community in the world in general, it’s fair to say that it is NOT a philosophy in any sense of the word. It is a practice or method of working on oneself in the manner suggested by George Gurdjieff and carried on by Jeanne DeSalzmann and now others. Madame deSalzmann suggested that if we don’t work on ourselves according to what Gurdjieff showed, “the world will go down”. Did she mean the world will go down the chute, down the tubes? I really don’t know, to tell you the truth. But the work program is so appealing and fulfilling to me at this time, that I will continue to be a student until it’s not appealing and fulfilling. It is healthy food for my inner life.

    As far as aiding each other on the ascending path, the Work is it. And there are now 10,000 or more people in all or most of the Western world supporting this effort. But this does not interest everyone, I’m sure.

    Does the Work improve the lot of the greatest number of people? Hard to say. What else do you know of that improves the lot of the greatest number? Are you talking about a particular church or Zen or Buddhism or New Age stuff or Yoga or political activism? Not sure where you are coming from on this question.

    Jacob Needleman stated in a seminar about Gurdjieff in late May in NYC that he thought the world was now at a tipping point. The old ways are falling away. More of the same is not getting us anywhere. He said the G Work hits the nail on the head (paraphrasing) at this particular moment in history (June 23, 2011, 7 pm EDT). It informs all three centers, the mind, the feelings, and the body

    Those are my two cents.

  • Lewis says:

    Donald, Thank you so much for responding. I admit to knowing next to nothing about Gurdjieff, Madame deSaltzman, ect. – I don’t believe I have a problem with anything that THEY have said. I do think, however, that my long-held conclusions of some esoteric philosophies holds just as well for some practices or methods that seek to help one work on oneself, and by extension the community. How often has a Will Durant shown us individuals in history who allow their egos to intercede AGAINST their own behalf, creating philosophies or practices that morph into intellectual “star-chambers” – high caves in the clouds that energize the minority that make up their adherents into thinking that they alone have the true vision of reality – thus justifying any treatment of the assembled muppetude below? Would the God that created such an glorious, intricately cascading artwork of reality suddenly condone such a classless treatment of his creations by His most highly-developed creations? That seems like a rather health-less food. Perhaps the fault lies not in the stars….
    As for aiding the greatest number, I would say that compassion is probably the most universal of tonics. I seem to remember from college that Huston Smith spoke of a “primordial tradition”, acting as a conceptual spine for all the world religions – and that they all pay homage to compassion on some primary level. Contrary to what a certain foolish U.S. Senator said a few weeks ago, man is NOT a commodity, like corn or oil. Man is a being invested with a soul, created by whatever Creator exists with that component in mind. Man thus deserves to be both respected and loved – to give and receive compassion.
    Would be interested in more information about the Needleman seminar, if possible. I agree, in a hazy and imprecise fashion, that we seem to be at a tipping point, but you may remember Arnold Toynbee’s fine-tuning of Will Durant’s Theory of the Paradigm Shift – that you can’t really understand the nature of the shift your in because your part of it.
    Have a great weekend!
    Lewis

    • Donald Olson says:

      Lewis, Spent the last 24 hours or so thinking about our exchange and have several thoughts on your thoughtful response. In the meantime, since I’m running out of time for today, here’s what the ad from the NY Center on 30th Street in Manhattan said for the “Gurdjieff and the Crisis of Our World” program in May as you mentioned:

      G. I. Gurdjieff, 1913: “I wished to create around myself conditions in which a man would be continually reminded of the sense and aim of his existence by an unavoidable friction between his conscience and the automatic manifestations of his nature.”

      Jacob Needleman, 2011, “Who can deny that the world has always been in crisis? The infinite horror of war, crime, and oppression; Great Nature herself groaning under humanity’s inhumanity. And who can deny the yearning of our inmost heart to sow the Good within our threatened life on earth? Throughout history great teachers have arisen, working to guide humanity toward conscious love and intelligence. And surely our own modern world cries out for such a path. In this unique event, we will search for where the thread of realistic hope may yet be found. We will call on ideas and practices discovered in the teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff, a teaching astonishingly prophetic when it was brought to the West a century ago – and inescapably relevant today.”

      Ravi Ravindra, 2011, “The Gurdjieff teaching is a science of being describing the laws and methods of the evolution of consciousness, offering a practice leading to the arousing of real conscience by which human beings can become more and more aware of our place in the cosmos and our responsibilities to ourselves, to each other and to the earth. The Work is concerned with discovering the dynamic balance between the inner and outer worlds, the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West. Children as we are of both Heaven and earth, the call of the Work is to live with integrity and wholeness, honoring our double parentage.

      Roger Lipsey, 2011, “Teachings are cast into the world by transcendently gifted individuals. Pure and powerful at origin, the teaching soon reaches a risky threshold: it can be diluted and distorted – or it can become an enduring source of life and wisdom that keeps pace with the culture of it’s time. The Gurdjieff teaching has now been transmitted through several generations. What are its underlying principles? Where does it fit in the emerging global multi-culture? What real hope does it offer to humanity fearful that it is on the point of extinguishing itself?”

  • Lewis says:

    Tracy- just a quick thought to bring us back to the original topic. I have to admit I have not read any of Kingsley, but I am intrigued by the imagery of the arrow. The ancient Bronze-Age archers found for themselves a very special word in Attic, with both litteral and figurative meaning– hamartia, or to miss the mark (a failure, fault, sin; Aesch.) which is related etymologicaly to hamartinoos (erring in mind, distraught; Hes.).* Now assuming that man not only invents for artistic merit but also functionality, it follows that the purpose of an arrow is to hit it’s mark – in this case reality. But as you said, “Overall, however, people began to rely on thinking” and “We forgot this knowledge.” Might this be because the overly-intellectualized ego generates such a massively negative magnegic field (for lack of a better term) that it ends up deflecting the very arrow that it needs for enlightenment?

    Peace and love,
    Lewis

    *Somewhat simplified renditions of the definitions from Liddel and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, 1992 impression of the 1889 First Edition, Oxford University Press, pg. 41

  • […] wrote, IMO, a great bit which Parabola tweeted as, “A kind of faith the Buddhists call ‘keeping the heart open in the darkness of the unknown.“ Nuff said there, you read it, comment, etc. I enjoyed […]

  • joseluisoler says:

    interesting how bliss (one of the faces of the Absolute is dismissed again and again…why…?

    Whatever we try to say about the universe, this experience of the pure Existent (Sat), Consciousness (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda) is the ultimate real and enduring truth. We may regard the forms as transitory and illusory, but behind the forms is the immensity of the silent brooding existence that upholds and informs all manifestation. We may regard our human intelligence as limited and fallible, but behind this lies the infinite Consciousness that creates the stars, the atoms, and all of life. We may wish to escape the wheel of suffering and the links of the chain that bind us to a life of pain and disillusionment, but behind this is the Eternal Bliss that accepts all energy and manifestation with an equal and transcendent joy.

    Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 6, Man in the Universe

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