Bringing Light to the Darkness

Why be good?  Why seek a greater consciousness, a source of non-egocentric and non-violent thoughts or feelings?  I’ve been pondering this question since I read a statement by a Vatican spokesman on the death of Osama bin Laden: “Osama be Laden, as we all know, had the very grave responsibility of spreading division and hatred amongth the people, causing the death of countless people , and of instrumentalizing religion for this end.  In front of the death of man, a Christian never rejoices but rather reflects on the grave responsibility of each one in front of God and men, and hopes and commits himself so that every moment not be an occasion for hatred to grow but for peace.”

I remember well the shock and terror and grief bin Laden brought to New York.  I know people who lost loved ones.  I remember riding trains and subways and planes feeling hunted.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the news of his shooting by brave U.S. Navy Seals didn’t bring a feeling of completion and relief, a sense that an inevitable karmic justice had been done.  And yet–and who could have predicted this 10 years ago?–I feel it is my “‘grave responsibility” not to rejoice in this death but to resolve not to be like him.

One of my friends on Facebook added this glorious quote by Martin Luther King Jr. (who was paraphrasing Buddha at the end): ‎”I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

What can we find inside to help us find a lager consciousness, a way turn towards non-violent thoughts and feelings?  How can we be responsible?    One thing that can help, strange as it might sound to contemporary people, is the idea that our ancestors live on it us.  This can seem most unwelcome, even in small things.  Sometimes I hear myself talking the way my mother talked and, worse, walking the way she walked.  It’s a funny walk.  People sometimes ask me why I’m limping.  But lately I’ve come to see that the point is to keep walking.  At moments, I even walk consciously.

In  The Forgotten Language of Children (which I reviewed in “Giving and Receiving”), Lillian Firestone asks Henri Tracol, a one-time sculptor and respected leader of the Gurdjieff Work in France,  where were her parents now that they had died. Did they exist in a realm outside her?   Tracol said that he did not know, but he was sure that they lived within:  “’I heard Mr. Gurdjieff say three or four times over the years: ‘You and your father and your grandfather all the way back to Adam are one.  They exist in you.  You have the possibility to free them, or the opposite.  The idea of linear time is a great obstacle.  It is closer to reality to think in cycles:  the day and night, the seasons, heartbeat, breath.  If time can be understood like that, in cycles, then I see that it is simply my turn.  My parents exist through me; only now it is my opportunity to experience for them.  It is my turn to try.’”   Gurdjieff spoke about repairing the past and preparing the future. He taught that it can only be done now, in this moment:  “Do not do as you have always done.”

Isn’t it wild to think that we do not live for our selves alone, but for all our ancestors –and not just our parents and grandparents but all the way back to our common mother in Africa?   Isn’t it awesome to think that ultimately we are all one and what we do has an impact on each other?  We can add light or darkness, elevate or drag each other down. Peoples’ reactions vary.  I tried the concept on a friend on Saturday who pronounced it “creepy” and said she had enough trouble being responsible for herself and two kids.  I find the notion that I am not literally not myself but the green shoot on a tree very grounding, supporting.   As earthy Gurdjieff put it (by way of Tracol and Firestone): “‘ You are not the tail of a donkey.  You have responsibilities, a family.  All your family past and future depend on you…all of your family depend on the way you repair the past.'”

It can feel like stepping across an inner threshold, realizing that we really can live for others, that we are all one in the deepest sense, and that our actions can repair the past.   What does it mean to do not as you have always done?   For me, it means holding the pain, yet not being ruled by it.  It means learning there is a conscious, “empty” way to do what needs to be done.  It means knowing that we we have all come very far to be here—and not just from New York and California but through all kinds of difficulties.  It means that we can stop and do things in a different way, a way that bring a little light instead of more darkness.  In the words of Parabola contributor Mary Oliver: “Tell what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

7 thoughts on “Bringing Light to the Darkness

  1. I taste a deep truth in Gurdjieff’s remarks… too profound for the ordinary part of the mind to absorb.

    Dogen remarked as follows:

    “Remember, the lineage of the Dharma which asserts that in the Buddha-Dharma the essential state of mind universally includes all forms, describes the whole great world of Dharma inclusively, without dividing essence and form, and without discussing appearance and disappearance. There is no state- not even bodhi or nirvana- that is different from the essential state of mind. All dharmas, myriad phenomena, and accumulated things, are totally just the one mind, without exclusion or disunion.” (Shobogenzo, Bendowa.)

    Gurdjieff’s words carry, for me, practical reverberations of this understanding.

  2. Thanks for sending around the Vatican quote, Lee. I believe that Dogen also said that when we sit down to practice, we sit down with the ancient ones, with the Buddhas. When we sit down with the intention to open to Conscious and Love, we sit with the whole of humanity and with God.

    Not that I can do this on a daily basis!

  3. Hi Tracy and Everyone,

    Tracy, I really love these two quotes, they strike a cord in me as I look back at all my relationships, especially within my own family.

    “You are not the tail of a donkey. You have responsibilities, a family. All your family past and future depend on you…all of your family depend on the way you repair the past.”

    “What does it mean to do not as you have always done? For me, it means holding the pain, yet not being ruled by it. It means learning there is a conscious, “empty” way to do what needs to be done. It means knowing that we we have all come very far to be here—”

    Your words bring to my memory the Confession of Sin, found in the Book of Common Prayer.

    “Most merciful God,
    we confess that we have sinned against you
    in thought, word, and deed,
    by what we have done,
    and by what we have left undone.”

    To me, this feels a lot like — ““Do not do as you have always done.”

    It is certainly a call to start thinking outside our small boxes, outside the way we have always thought and reacted, it is a call to break the cycle of thought that causes us to keep repeating old and tired patterns of behavior.

    And I love the thought that when we sit down to pray and meditate, we sit with the whole of humanity and with God. Here are some verses from Romans, that capture this thought in a way, a way of prayer.

    Romans 8:26-27, 38-39 (RSV)

    “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

    “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    For a Christian, in this context the Holy Spirit is without form, the Spirit is beyond all forms, the Spirit is empty of form, the Spirit transcends any form or image that we may be able to imagine; and yet the Spirit is also intimate and personal.

    The Spirit is guide and teacher here, the Spirit is conscious and love.

    1 John 4:16 – “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”



  4. Tracy
    I very much appreciated your quote from the Vatican, and your honest thoughts and feelings as well.
    When I think of the current events of the past few days, I must admit that I’m “conflicted”, and that I get hooked in “shenpa”. But if I weren’t aware of it, then I could do nothing to lessen it.
    If we want peace, I am told that we must be peaceful. I think the St. Francis Prayer exemplifies this goal.
    “Lord, make me an instrument of our peace
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
    Where there is injury, pardon,
    Where there is doubt, faith,
    Where there is darkness, light,
    And where there is despair hope.
    O, Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
    To be understood as to understand,,
    To be loved as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    And it is in dying (to self) that we are born to eternal life.”

    That said, I fall very short of the goal.
    I was struck yesterday by something I read in “In Search of the Miraculous”, Pg. 102”Another question was how to become a Christian…..Christ says: ‘Love your enemies, but how can we love our enemies when we cannot even love our friends?”
    Sounds pretty hopeless. However, I know that this life is a quest to seek the meaning and fulfillment of what or why I was created. I can, when I become aware of this “non love” try to soften my heart.
    If I truly believe in a compassionate God, who loves all people and hates evil, I can kind of wrap my mind around how to feel too. So, in other words, I feel sad to hear the details of Osama’s death . He is a child of my Creator too. How ever, I can, like my Creator, hate the evil deeds that he did.
    And yes, we are all one in the deepest sense, and that includes Osama. (I can see traits of my great-grandmother in myself). This can be of help when I remember it., which is not all the time.
    One last thought on this subject for me is the Chapter that Paul Knitter wrote in his book, “Making Peace and Being Peace”. He ends the chapter with this,” The Law of the Cross saves because it affirms and embodies the “eternal law” that the Dhamapada, in a different context, also realized:’By love alone is hatred dispelled.’ Jesus would add: a love that must be ready to die rather than hate. Out of such love, and out of such death that this love can require, will hatred by dispelled. Hearts will be changed. And so will our world.”…What a challlenge!
    Would that this can happen in our life time!
    Peace and attention,

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I can be discouraging, the way Gurdjieff put it: How can we love our neighbors when we can’t even love our friends? The way I experience such a statement is that it’s an invitation to see how we really are so that we may become capable of a larger aspiration, of real conscious love.

  5. This idea of being one with everything can be easily misunderstood.

    For example there is this famous case of a Buddhist Monk pondering this very question as he was standing by a hot dog stand. The depth of his question compelled to say: “make me one with everything.” Soon a customer brought him Today’s Special: One with eveything.

  6. Yes, Tracy,
    I agree, and that is why it spoke to me. I can see exactly what he means. If I can be “upset, or angry” at someone who is my friend, how can I “Love or tolerate” those I don’t know??? It is indeed a challenge. But seeing this helps me work on it. “The truth will set me free.”, as I keep trying to have that real, conscious love.
    Thank you for your comment.
    Have a wonderful day.

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