The Essential Alan Watts
A collection of masterpieces. Watts discusses important concepts and he goes pretty deep. Important concepts are time, Universe, God, work, ego and death. There’s no dogmatic bullshit, just a call to try to see things differently.
Sadly, I already knew most of the content from other sources. I wish I could erase my memory and read it as a completely mind-blowing book. Examples of main ideas? Past doesn’t exist. You don’t exist. Washing dishes is really fun. There’s no causality of events.
When some student asks, “Where did you get all this?” Well, you just picked up a thing or two in Turkestan, or “I’m quite a bit older than I look,” or say that “Reincarnation is entirely unlike what people suppose it to be.” Later, let on that you are in some way connected with an extremely select in-group. Don’t brashly claim anything. Your students will soon do that for you, and, when one hits on the fantasy that pleases you most, say, “I see you are just touching stage eighteen.”
There are two schools of thought about asking for money for your services. One is to have fees just like a doctor, because people are embarrassed if they do not know just what is expected of them. The other, used by the real high-powered tricksters, is to do everything free with, however, the understanding that each student has been personally selected for his or her innate capacity for the work (call it that), and thus be careful not to admit anyone without first putting them through some sort of hazing. Monetary contributions will soon be offered. Otherwise, charge rather heavily, making it dear that the work is worth infinitely more to oneself and to others than, say, expensive surgery or a new home. Imply that you give most of it away to mysterious beneficiaries.
As soon as you can afford to wangle it, get hold of a country house as an ashram or spiritual retreat, and put students to work on all the menial tasks. Insist on some special diet, but do not follow it yourself. Indeed, you should cultivate small vices, such as smoking, mild boozing, or, if you are very careful, sleeping with the ladies, to suggest that your stage of evolution is so high that such things do not affect you, or that only by such means can you remain in contact with ordinary mundane consciousness.
Now a trickster guru is certainly an illusionist, but one might ask “What eke is art?” If the universe is nothing but a vast Rorschach blot upon which we project our collective measures and interpretations, and if past and future has no real existence, an illusionist is simply a creative artist who changes the collective interpretation of life, and even improves on it. Reality is mostly what a people or a culture conceives it to be. Money, worthless in itself, depends entirely on collective faith for its value. The past is held against you only because others believe in it, and the future seems important only because we have conned ourselves into the notion that surviving for a long time, with painstaking care, is preferable to surviving for a short time with no responsibility and lots of thrills.
Now I am a surprising person, at least to myself. (Even the great Zen master Bodhidharma. when asked by the Chinese Emperor “Who are you?” answered “I don’t know:’) For if I really knew who I am. through and through. I think I would be bored. To the extent that a future is fully known, it is already past.
Thus. I am not really interested in being a consistent character at all. It is much more amusing (that is. in touch with the Muses) to be paradoxical, or to be coincidence of opposites.
“Now. gentlemen, I realize that you are dealing with one of the toughest and most realistic aspects of life, since it is your duty to defend your country to the bitterest end.
“I will not. therefore, detain you with sentimental considerations or concerns of gentle sensitivity. We will get down to the nitty-gritty. My basis for moral behavior, or any kind of behavior, is a total selfishness. I am out for me, just as you are out for the collective ego of your country. Of course, as a strategian. I’m not unsubtle about it. I’m not going to push people around and state bluntly what I want of them. On the contrary, I use camouflage and come on like I’m a very sociable fellow who has other people’s best interests at heart, and by such deceptive ingratiation wangle others into doing what I want.
“However, in this enterprise I have to consider two things. What do I want, and what is this self which I am out for? These are difficult questions to answer, but they really must be answered. For a person who doesn’t really know what he wants is a source of confusion both to himself and others. This kind of person fulfills desires which, when attained, are not to his liking, or makes promises for which he subsequently loses enthusiasm.
“It is therefore immensely important to clarify our personal desires, and I might add. equally important to clarify our political objectives, as a nation, and thus their implementation through military strategy. (The implication of this was. of course: Do we really want the responsibility and the headache of ruling Southeast Asia. China. India?) “And then when I consider the nature of this self.
I love so much. I find it most difficult to get at. Let us suppose that I love beautiful women, money, caviar, Havana cigars, pate de foiegras. Rolls Royces. and aloes-wood incense. “I could go on compiling such a list forever, but every single item would formally be considered something other than myself. For when I look for myself I can’t find it. How then can I love it?”
The point then is. speaking personally, that I can compile a whole catalog of loves, but I don’t find the lover. I suppose I could also make a catalog of hates, which might include boiled onions. American bread, fundamentalist preachers, winter in England, physical torture (of myself or others), prisons and “mental” hospitals, racism. and bureaucracy. But if I should hate myself, as some are supposed to do. what on earth am I hating?
So. then. I find The Real Alan Watts amazingly elusive. I can be told who I am by parents, parsons, psychologists. and others. But their opinions differ, and they are just opinions. They cannot feel me from the inside, and thus, for my part. I am most hesitant in forming firm opinions of others.
We talk about our egos. We use the word I. I’ve always been tremendously interested in what people mean by the word I because it comes out in curious ways in speech. For instance, we don’t say, “I am a body!’ We say, “I have a body!’ Somehow we don’t seem to identify ourselves with all of ourselves. I say, “my feet,” “my hands,” “my teeth,” as if they were something outside me. And as far as I can make out, most people feel that they are something about half way between the ears, and a little behind the eyes, inside the head, and from this center the rest of them sort of dangles. And the governing principle in there is what you call the ego. Thats me!
But I just can’t get rid of the idea that its a hallucination. Thats not what you are at all. And its a very dangerous hallucination because it gives you the idea that you are a center of consciousness, energy, and responsibility that stands over, against, and in opposition to everything else. You are the principle inside your own body as if your body were an automobile and you the chauffeur. You feel caught in a trap because your body’s something of a mess. It gets sick, tired, hurts, and eventually wears out and dies. You feel caught in the thing because you feel different from it.
Furthermore, you feel the world outside your body is an awful trap, full of stupid people, who are sometimes nice to you but mostly aren’t. They’re all out for themselves, like you are, and therefore there’s one hell of a conflict going on. The rest of it, aside from people, is absolutely dumb — animals, plants, vegetables and rocks. Finally, behind the whole tiling there are blazing centers of radioactivity called stars, and out there there’s no air, there’s no place for a person to live.
We have come to feel ourselves as centers of very, very tender, sensitive, vulnerable consciousness, confronted with a world that doesn’t give a damn about us. And therefore, we have to pick a fight with this external world and beat it into submission to our wills. We talk about the conquest of nature; we conquer everything. We talk about the conquest of mountains, the conquest of space, the conquest of cancer, etc., etc. We’re at war. And its because we feel ourselves to be lonely ego principles, trapped in, somehow inextricably bound up with, a world that doesn’t go our way unless somehow we can manage to force it to do so.
… feel this sensation of ourselves as an ego is a hallucination. A completely false conception of ourselves as an ego inside a bag of skin. What we really are is, first of all, the whole of our body. Although the body is bounded by a skin (I can differentiate between my outside and my inside) my body cannot exist except in a certain kind of natural environment. Obviously it requires air, and that air must be near a certain temperature; it requires nutrition, it requires that it be on a certain kind of planet near a certain kind of warm star spinning regularly around it in a harmonious and rhythmical way so that life can go on. That arrangement is just as essential to the existence of my body as to its own internal organs — my heart, my brain, my lungs, and so forth.
So there really is no way of separating myself as a physical body from the natural environment in which I live. Now, that means that I as a body go with my natural environment in the same way exactly as bees go with flowers. Bees look very different from flowers. The flower grows out of the ground, colors and perfumes the ait The bee is independent and buzzes around and flies. But where there are bees, there are flowers, and where there are no flowers, there are no bees. They go together and, in that sense, they make up a single system. Substitute for the word system the word organism, a single life form, a single individual, bees and flowers, however different they look. Naturally, my feet look very different from my head. Of course, a string is joining them and therefore we say, “Well, its all one, obviously” They are very different but they’re both me. The feet and the head, though different, are like the bees and the flowers — they go with each other.
How do we get this false sensation of being an ego? Well, it seems to me that it’s made up of two things — and the first thing we have to understand is that, in the course of civilization, we confuse our ideas and words and symbols about the world with the world itself. The General Semantics group, founded by Dr. Alfred Korzybski, have a little song: “Oh, the word is not the thing, the word is not the thing, hi, ho, the derry-o, the word is not the thing.” Obviously you can’t get wet from the word water. The image, the idea, the symbol, the word is not the reality. The ego, what we feel as 7, consists of the image or idea of ourselves as if seen in a mirror, or as if heard played back on a tape recorder or television.
When I was a little boy I remember I had a friend up the street called Peter, and I admired him very much. Sometimes I came home and imitated Peter’s behavior. My mother would say to me, “Alan, that’s not you, that’s Peter.” You see, she was giving me an image of myself. When I did anything terrible she would say, “Alan, its just not like you to do that.” She was busy building in me an image, an idea of the kind of act I was supposed to put on, the kind of person I was supposed to be.
The image that you have of yourself is simply a caricature! A caricature is an excellent example: When we make a caricature of Adolf Hitler, we pull down the hair and put a comb under his nose instead of a mustache. In the same way, our image of ourselves is a caricature of ourselves because it does not include almost all the important things about ourselves; it does not include all the goings-on inside the physical organism. Oh, we get belly-rumbles; occasionally we’re aware of our breathing; occasionally we’re aware that it hurts somewhere. But for the most part we’re totally unconscious of everything going on inside us. We’re unconscious of our brains and how they work. We’re unconscious of our relationships to the external world, many of our relationships to other people are completely unconscious. We depend on telephone operators, electricians supplying our electricity, on all kinds of service that we never even think about. We don’t think about air pressure. We don’t think about the chemical composition of the air we breathe, we don’t think about cosmic rays, gamma rays, X rays, the output of the sun. All these things are absolutely essential to our life but they are not included in the ego image.
If you have a ringing in your ears it means there’s something wrong with your ears. Therefore, if you do feel yourself, there must be something wrong with you.
If s like taking off in a jet plane. You’re going zooming down the runway and you think, ‘This plane has gone too far down the runway and it isn’t up in the air yet," so you start pulling at your seatbelt to help the thing up. It doesn’t have any effect on the plane. And so, in exactly the same way, all these muscular strains we do and have been taught to do all our lives long, to look as if we’re paying attention, to look as if we’re trying, all this is futile.
But the chronic sensation of strain is the sensation to which we are referring as I.
So our ego is what? An illusion married to a futility. If s the image of ourselves, which is incorrect, false, and only a caricature, married to, combined with, a futile muscular effort to will our effectiveness.
“Well,” you ask, “how do I get rid of it?” And my answer to that is, that s the wrong question. How does what get rid of it? You can’t get rid of your hallucination of being an ego by an activity of the ego. Sony, but it can’t be done. You can’t lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. You can’t put out fire with fire. And if you try to get rid of your ego with your ego, you’ll just get into a vicious circle. You’ll be like somebody who worries because they worry, and then worries because they worry because they worry, and you’ll go round and round and get crazier than ever.
The first thing to understand when you say, “What can I do about getting rid of this false ego?” is that the answer is “Nothing,” because you’re asking the wrong question. You’re asking, “How can I, thinking of myself as an ego, get rid of thinking of myself as an ego?” Well, obviously you can’t. Now, you say, “Well then, if s hopeless.” It isn’t hopeless. You haven’t got the message, thats all.
If you find out that your ego feeling, your will and all that jazz, cannot get rid of that hallucination, you’ve found out something very important. In finding out that you can’t do anything about it, you have found out that you don’t exist. That is to say, you as an ego, you don’t exist — so obviously you can’t do anything about it. So you find you can’t really control your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, all the processes going on inside you and outside you that are happenings. There’s nothing you can do about it.
So then, what follows? Well, there’s only one thing that follows: You watch what’s going on. You see, feel, this whole thing happening and then suddenly you find, to your amazement that you can perfectly well get up, walk over to the table, pick up a glass of milk and drink it. There’s nothing standing in your way of doing that. You can still act, you can still move, you can still go on in a rational way, but you’ve suddenly discovered that you’re not what you thought you were. “You’re not this ego, pushing and shoving things inside a bag of skin. You feel yourself now in a new way as the whole world, which includes your body and everything that you experience, going.
In other words, it is quite impossible to describe the movement of my arm except in relation to the rest of my body and to the background against which you perceive it. The relations in which you perceive this movement are the absolutely necessary condition for your perceiving at all. More and more, a “field theory” of man’s behavior becomes necessary for the sciences.
Yet this is at complete variance with the way in which we are trained by our culture to experience our own existence. We do not, generally speaking, experience ourselves as the behavior of the field, but rather as a center of energy and consciousness which sometimes manages to control its environment, but at other times feels completely dominated by the environment. Thus there is a somewhat hostile relationship between the human organism and its social and natural environment, which is expressed in such phrases as “man’s conquest of nature,” or “man’s conquest of space,” and other such antagonistic figures of speech.
It would obviously be to the advantage of mankind if the way in which we feel our existence could correspond to the way in which existence is scientifically described. For what we feel has far more influence upon our actions than what we think. Scientists of all kinds are warning us most urgently that we are using our technology disastrously, eating up all the natural resources of the earth, creating incredibly beautiful but wholly non-nutritious vegetables by altering the biochemical balances of the soil, spawning unbelievable amounts of detergent froth which will eventually engulf cities, over- populating ourselves because of the success of medicine, and thus winning our war against nature in such a way as to defeat ourselves completely. All this advice falls on deaf ears, because it falls on the ears of organisms convinced that war against nature is their proper way of life. They have to be unconvinced, and can be, to some extent, by intellectual propaganda, scientific description, and clear thought. But this moves relatively few people to action. Most are moved only if their feelings are profoundly affected. We need to feel this view of our individual identity as including its environment, and this must obviously concern scientists who are trying to find ways of controlling human feelings.
To take a specific example, we all know that in modern medicine nominalism and structuralism hold the field. When you go through a process of examination by specialists working upon you from different points of view, they will treat you as a non-person, from the very moment you enter. You are immediately put in a wheelchair — a symbol of the fact that you are now an object. You will be looked at piecemeal, X rays will be taken of various organs, and special tests will be made of their functioning. If anything is wrong, you will use his equivalents of wrenches, screwdrivers and blowtorches to make certain mechanical alterations in your organism, and it is hoped you will get along fairly well with these repairs!
But the opposite, minority school of medicine will say: “This is all very well, and the services of the surgeon are sometimes greatly welcomed, but man must be considered as a whole. He has complicated metabolic and endocrine balances, and if you interfere with him seriously at one point, you will affect him unpredictably at many others, for man is an organic whole.” Such are accused of being woolly-minded, old- fashioned doctors, mostly from Europe, with a kind of nature- cure background, who will use diet, complicated fasts, and massage. The poor layman doesn’t know whether to deliver himself over to these old-fashioned naturalistic doctors or to Mr. Sawbones with his very up-to-date qualifications.
Fortunately, precise science is coming to the rescue of our man-as-a-whole. More recent studies are showing just how diseases formerly regarded as specific entities, or afflictions of a particular organ or area, are actually brought about by responses of the central nervous system, acting as an integrated whole. We are beginning to see how man, as a complex of organs, is not an addition of parts, like an automobile.
His various organs are not to be treated as if they were assembled together, but by seeing the physical body as a unified or integrated pattern of behavior — which is just what we mean when we talk about an entity or thing. What happens when we have the feeling that we understand something, when we say, “Oh, I see”? If a child asks, “Why are the leaves green?” and you answer, “Because of the chlorophyll,” and the child says, “Oh!,” that is pseudo- understanding. But when the child has a jigsaw puzzle and sees how it all fits together, then the “Oh!” has a different meaning from the “Oh!” following the chlorophyll explanation. To understand anything is to be able to fit various parts into a system which is an integrated whole, so that they “make sense.”
The hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of scientific method to the study of human behavior. The free inner man who is held responsible for the behavior of the external biological organism is only a prescientific substitute for the kinds of causes which are discovered in the course of a scientific analysis.
The hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of scientific method to the study of human behavior. The free inner man who is held responsible for the behavior of the external biological organism is only a prescientific substitute for the kinds of causes which are discovered in the course of a scientific analysis. He is talking, of course, about the chauffeur inside the body, or what Wittgenstein called the little man inside the head: this is for him a prescientific substitute for the kinds of causes for behavior which are discovered in the course of scientific analysis. He continues: All these alternative causes lie outside the individual. The biological substratum itself is determined by prior events in a genetic process. Other important events are found in the scientific environment and in the culture of the individual in the broadest possible sense. These are the things which make* the individual behave as he does. For them he is not responsible and for them it is useless to praise or blame him. It does not matter that the individual may take it upon himself to control the variables of which his own behavior is a function or, in a broader sense, to engage in the design of his own culture. He does this only because he is the product of a culture which generates* self-control or cultural design as a mode of behavior. The environment determines the individual even when he alters the environment.
You will never get to the irreducible explanation of anything because you will never be able to explain why you want to explain, and so on, The system will gobble itself up. The Godel theory has roughly to do with the idea that you cannot have any system which will define its own axioms. An axiom in one system of logic must be defined in terms of another system, etc, etc You never get to something which is completely self-explanatory That of course is the limit of control, and the reason why all systems of control have ultimately to be based on an act of faith.
You will never get to the irreducible explanation of anything because you will never be able to explain why you want to explain, and so on, The system will gobble itself up. The Godel theory has roughly to do with the idea that you cannot have any system which will define its own axioms. An axiom in one system of logic must be defined in terms of another system, etc, etc You never get to something which is completely self-explanatory That of course is the limit of control, and the reason why all systems of control have ultimately to be based on an act of faith.
The problem confronting all sciences of human behavior is that we have the evidence (we are staring at it) to give us an entirely different conception of the individual than that which we ordinarily feel and which influences our common sense: a conception of the individual not, on the one hand, as an ego locked in the skin, nor, on the other, as a mere passive part of the machine, but as a reciprocal interaction between everything inside the skin and everything outside it. neither one being prior to the other, but equals, like the front and back of a coin.
In the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions we think of God not only as a monarch but as the maker of the world, and, as a result of that, we look upon the world as an artifact, a sort of machine, created by a great engineer. There’s a different conception in India, where the world is not seen as an artifact, but as a drama. And therefore God is not the maker and architect of the universe but the actor of it, and is playing all the parts at once, and this connects up with the idea of each one of us as persons, because a person is a mask, from the Latin persona, the mask worn by the actors in Greco- Roman drama. So this is an entirely different conception of the world, and as I think I shall be able to show you, it makes an amazing amount of sense.
So we start with the premise that you are God, and you don’t know how you grow your body, how you make your nervous system work, how you manage to emerge in this environment of nature. All this is unknown to you, the you that is not you, the you that is not the ego. This is God — that is to say, not the cosmic boss, but the fundamental ground of being, the reality that always was, is, and will be, that lies at the basis of reality. Thats you.
Now, lets go into a more mythological kind of imagery. Suppose you’re God. Suppose you have all time, eternity, and all power at your disposal. What would you do? I believe you would say to yourself after awhile, “Man, get lost.” Its like asking another question which amounts to supposing you were given the power to dream any dream you wanted to dream every night. Naturally, you could dream any span of time — you could dream seventy-five years of time in one night, a hundred years of time in one night, a thousand years of time in one night — and it could be anything you wanted — because you make up your mind before you go to sleep, “In night I’m going to dream of so-and-so.” Naturally, you would start out by fulfilling all your wishes. You would have all the pleasures you could imagine, the most marvelous meals, the most entrancing love affairs, the most romantic journeys; you could listen to music such as no mortal has heard, and see landscapes beyond your wildest dreams.
And for several nights, oh, maybe for a whole month of nights, you would go on that way, having a wonderful time. But then, after a while, you would begin to think, “Well, I’ve seen quite a bit, lets spice it up, lets have a little adventure.” And you would dream of yourself being threatened by all sorts of dangers. You would rescue princesses from dragons, you would perhaps engage in notable battles, you would be a hero. And then as time went on, you would dare yourself to do more and more outrageous tilings, and at some point in the game you would say, “In night I am going to dream in such a way that I don’t know that I’m dreaming,” and by so doing you would take the experience of the drama for complete reality. What a shock when you woke up! You could really scare yourself!
And then on successive nights you might dare yourself to experience even more extraordinary things just for the contrast when you woke up. You could, for example, dream yourself in situations of extreme poverty, disease, agony “Sou could, as it were, live the essence of suffering to its most intense point, and then, suddenly, wake up and find it was after all nothing but a dream and everything’s perfectly OK, Well, how do you know that"s not what you’re doing already. You, reading, sitting there with all your problems, with all your whole complicated life situations, it may just be the very dream you decided to get into. If you don’t like it, what fun it’ll be when you wake up!
This is the essence of drama. In drama, all the people who see it know if s only a play. The proscenium arch, the cinema screen tells us, “Well, this is an illusion, it is not for real.” In other words, they are going to act their parts so convincingly that they’re going to have us sitting on the edge of our seats in anxiety, they’re going to make us laugh, they’re going to make us cry, they’re going to make us feel horror And all the time, in the back of our minds we have what Germans call hinteigedanhen which is a thought way, way, way in the back of our minds, that we’re hardly aware of but really know all the time. In the theater, we have a hintergedanken that ifs only a play. But the mastery of the actors is going to almost convince us that ifs real.
And, so, imagine a situation in which you have the best of all possible actors, namely God, and the best of all possible audiences ready to be taken in and convinced that ifs real, namely God, and that you are all many, many masks which the basic consciousness, the basic mind of the universe, is assuming.
It is like the mask of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, a multiple mask which illustrates the fact that the one who looks out of my eyes and out of everyone’s eyes is the same center So, when I look at another human being, and I look straight into their eyes, I don’t like doing that, there’s some thing embarrassing about looking into someone’s eyes too closely. Don’t look at me that closely because I might give myself away! You might find out who I really am! And what do you suppose that would be? Do you suppose that another person who looks deeply into your eyes will read all the things you’re ashamed of, all your faults, all the things you are guilty of? Or is there some deeper secret than that?
The eyes are our most sensitive organ, and when you look and look and look into another person’s eyes you are looking at the most beautiful jewels in the universe. And if you look down beyond that surface beauty, if s the most beautiful jewel in the universe, because that’s the universe looking at you. We are the eyes of the cosmos. So that in a way, when you look deeply into somebody’s eyes, you’re looking deep into yourself, and the other person is looking deeply into the same self, which many-eyed, as the mask of Vishnu is many- faced, is looking out everywhere, one energy playing myriads of different parts. Why?
If s perfectly obvious, because if you were God, and you knew everything and were in control of everything, you would be bored to death. It would be like making love to a plastic woman. Everything would be completely predictable, completely known, completely clear, no mystery, no surprise whatever.
You will notice a curious rhythm to what I have been explaining, and this rhythm corresponds to the Hindu idea of the course of time and the way evolution works, an idea drastically different from ours. First of all. Hindus think of time as circular, as going round — look at your watch, it goes round. But Westerners tend to think of time in a straight line, a one-way street, and we got that idea from Hebrew religion, and from St. Augustine.
There is a time of creation, then a course of history which leads up to final, eschatological catastrophe, the end of the world, and after that, the judgment, in which all things will be put to right, all questions answered, and justice dealt out to everyone according to his merits. And that’ll be that! Thereafter the universe will be, in a way, static-, there will be the eternally saved and the eternally damned.
Now, many people may not believe that today, but that has been a dominating belief throughout the course of Western history, and it has had a tremendously powerful influence on our culture. But the Hindus think half of the world is going round and round for always, in a rhythm. They calculate the rounds in periods that in Sanskrit are called kalpas, and each kalpa lasts for 4,320.000 years. And so a kalpa is the period or manvantaia during which the world as we know it is manifested. And it is followed by a period, also a kalpa long, 4,320,000 years, which is called pzalaya, and this means when the world is not manifested anymore.
And these are the days and nights of Brahma, the godhead. During the manvantara when the world is manifested, Brahma is asleep, dreaming that he is all of us and everything that’s going on, and during the pzalaya, which is his day, he’s awake, and knows himself, or itself (because ifs beyond sex), for who and what he/she/it is. And then, once again, presses the button — surprise! As in the course of our dreaming, we would very naturally dream the most pleasant and rapturous dreams first and then get more adventurous, and experience and explore the more venturesome dimensions of experience, in the same way, the Hindus think of a kalpa of the manifested universe manvantara as divided into four periods. These four periods are of different lengths. The first is the longest, and the last is the shortest. They are named in accordance with the throws in the Hindu game of dice. There are four throws and the throw of four is always the best throw, like the six in our game, the throw of one, the worst throw. Now. therefore, the first throw is called krita and the epoch, the long, long period for which this throw lasts, is called a yuga. So we will translate yuga as an “epoch,” and we will translate kalpa as an “eon.” Now the word krita means “done,” as when we say, “well done,” and that is a period of the world’s existence that we call the Golden Age when every thing is perfect, done to perfection. When it comes to an end, we get treta-yuga that means “the throw of three,” and in this period of manifestation there’s an element of the uncertain, an element of insecurity, an element of adventure in things. Ifs like a three-legged stool is not as secure as a four-legged one — you’re a little more liable to be thrown off balance.
That lasts for a very long time, too, but then we get next what is called dvapara-yuga. In this period, the good and the bad, the pleasurable and the painful, are equally balanced. But, finally, there comes kali-yuga. Kali means “the worst throw,” and this lasts for the shortest time. This is the period of manifestation in which the unpleasurable, painful, diabolical principle finally takes over — but it has the shortest innings.
And at the end of the kali-yuga, the great destroyer of the worlds, God manifested as the destructive principle Shiva, does a dance called the tandava, and he appears, blue-bodied with ten arms, with lightning and fire appearing from every pore in his skin, and does a dance in which the universe is finally destroyed. The moment of cosmic death is the waking up of Brahma, the creator, for as Shiva turns round and walks off the stage, seen from behind, he is Brahma, the creator, the beginning of it all again. And Vishnu is the preserver, that is to say, the going on of it all, the whole state of the godhead being manifested as many, many faces. So, you see, this is a philosophy of the role of evil in life which is rational and merciful.
Curiously enough, there is something parallel to this in Christianity. There’s a passage in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians in which he says a very curious thing: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not think identity with God a thing to be dung to, but humbled himself and made himself of no reputation, and was found in fashion as a man and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.” Here you have exactly the same idea, the idea of God becoming human, suffering all that human beings can suffer, even death. And St. Paul is saying, “Let this mind be in you,” that is to say, let the same kind of consciousness be in you that was in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ knew he was God.
Wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy or you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in the nut house (which is the same thing). But if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations. “My goodness. I’ve just discovered that I’m God.” they’ll laugh and say. “Oh, congratulations, at last you found out”.
But I really don’t agree with that idea because nature has mercifully arranged the principle of forgettery as well as the principle of memory. If you always and always remembered everything, you would be like a piece of paper which has been painted over and over until there was no space left and you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between one thing and another Or like a bunch of people screaming and making more and more noise until you can hear nobody. And in the same way one’s memories become screams. Nature mercifully arranges for the whole thing to be erased so you can begin again.
Now think about these for awhile, these three fantasies which all have a cyclic quality. And to them I want to add a note about biological reproduction. When I think back to my grandfather whom I knew fairly well, when I was a little boy, he was something extraordinarily impressive. He looked like King Edward VII. He was a very, very elegant man with a little goatee beard. He didn’t have sideburns as I do, and he had shorter hair — a very elegant fellow, dressed beautifully. And I thought he was the very image of God, Here I am the same age as he was when I first knew him, and I have five grandchildren, and I am no longer impressed by grandfathers! I’m one of them too! And this is the same idea of the cycle that we are almost perpetually in the same place as the French proverb says, Plus ca change, plus c’estla meme chose — The more it changes, the more it’s the same.
British novelist Arnold Bennett said, “I feel somehow that everything is absolutely wrong.” And so the possibility, even the imagination, that there could be such an experience in die back of our heads is the background which gives intensity to the sense that we call feeling good, feeling that it’s all right.
So if you understand that you are, really and truly, always in the same place, just as every creature thinks it’s a human being and just as every being turns out to be a reproduction by some interesting technology, whether it’s electronic or biological makes very little difference, then you understand the nature of life. And just as planets may be stars’ ways of becoming other stars, you’re always in the same place. And what is that place? You can ask yourself very, very — I won’t say seriously because it really isn’t serious, it’s sincere — ask yourself very sincerely, if that is so, if the place in which you are now is the place where everything and everybody else really is.
Only there’s an arrangement to pretend that you ought to be somewhere else, so the place where you are is the place where you are always pretending you ought to be somewhere else. This is the nature of life, this is the pulse. 7 ought to be somewhere else. If you discover that that’s the trick you’re playing on yourself, you become serene and you don’t entirely give up the game because you’ve seen through it.
I happen to like archery — not for killing things, but as a sport. What I like most of all is to set an arrow free like a bird. It climbs high into the sky, then suddenly turns and drops.
What is it that fascinates us about that? We are delighted by it because ifs not useful. It doesn’t really achieve anything that we would call purposive work. It is simply what we call play. But in our culture we make an extremely rigid division between work and play, You are supposed to work in order to earn enough money to give you sufficient leisure time for something entirely different called having fun or play. This is a most ridiculous division. Everything that we da however tough it is, however strenuous, can be turned into the same kind of play as shooting an arrow into the sky or spinning a prayer wheel. Lets, for example, take the situation that I ran into a little while ago: I was in the New York subway at 59th Street near Columbus Circle, and I wanted to get my shoes shined, (Actually, I don’t wear shoes except on the East Coast, There one dresses respectably. On the West Coast I wear Indian moccasins because it’s the only comfortable shoe I can wear.) I found a place to get my shoes shined and there was a man who was making shoe-shining a real art. He used his doth to beat out a rhythm. He had just the same fascination in shining shoes as one has in spinning a prayer wheel or shooting an arrow. Imagine if you were a bus driver. A bus driver is ordinarily considered a totally harassed person. He’s got to watch out for all the laws, all the competing traffic, the people coming on board giving their fares, and he has to make change. And if he has it in his head that this is work, it will be hell. But lets suppose he has a different thing in his head. Suppose he has the idea that moving this enormous conveyance through complicated traffic is a very, very subtle game; he has the very same feeling about it that you might have if you were playing the guitar or dancing. And so he goes through that traffic avoiding this and avoiding that and taking fares, and he makes a music of the whole thing. Well, he’s not going to be tired out at the end of the day. He’s going to be full of energy when he gets through with his job.
Suppose you’re condemned to be a housewife, which is the most lowly of all occupations, and you have to dean up. There are only four fundamental philosophical questions. The first is “Who started it?” The second is “Are we going to make it?” The third is “Where are we going to put it?” And the fourth is “Who’s going to dean up?” And this, the deaning up, is the lowliest of all occupations, the housewife who washes the dishes and the garbage collector who takes away the stuff.
Supposing the housewife about to dean up approaches washing dishes in an entirely different spirit. And don’t think I’m some sort of male chauvinist who’s trying to talk women into the idea of staying in their place. I’m perfectly willing to wash dishes too, because the art of washing dishes is that you only have to wash one at a time. If you’re doing it day after day you have in your mind’s eye an enormous stack of filthy dishes which you have washed in years past and an enormous stack of filthy dishes which you will wash in future years. But if you bring your mind to the state of reality which is only now, this is where we are, you only have to wash one dish. Its the only dish you’ll ever have to wash. You ignore all the rest, because in reality there is no past and there is no future. There is just now. So you wash this one. And instead of thinking “Have I got it really dean as my mother taught?” you turn the deaning movement into a dance, you swing that plate around, you let the rinsing water run over it, and you put it in the rack — you get a rhythm going.
But before we get further involved in this, I want to draw your attention to a fallacy in the very commonsense idea of causality - events are caused by previous events from which they flow or necessarily result. To understand the fallacy of that idea, we have to begin by asking, “What do you mean by an event?” Lets take the event of a human being coming into the world. Now when does that event begin? Does it occur at the moment of parturition when the baby actually comes out of its mother? Or does the baby begin at the moment of conception? Or does a baby begin when it is a gleam in its father’s eye? Or does a baby begin when the spermatozoa are generated in the father or the ova in the mother? Or could you say a baby begins when its father is born or when its mother is born? All these things can be thought of as beginnings, but we decide for purposes of legal registration that a life begins at the moment of parturition. And mat is a purely arbitrary decision-, it has validity only because we all agree about it.
Let me show you the same phenomenon in the dimension of space instead of the dimension of time. Lets ask, “How big is the sun?” Are we going to define the sun as limited by the extent of its fire? That’s one possible definition. But we could equally well define the sphere of the sun by the extent of its light. And each of these would be reasonable choices. We have arbitrarily agreed to define the sun by the limit of its visible fire. But you see in these analogies that how big a thing is or how long an event is, is simply a matter of definition.
Therefore, when by the simple definition for purposes of discussion we have divided events into certain periods — the First World War began in 1914 and it ended in 1918 (actually, all those things which led up to the First World War started long before 1914, and the repercussions of that war continued long after 1918) - we sort of forget we do it. We have a puzzle, “How do events lead to each other?”
In reality there are no separate events. Life moves along like water, ifs all connected as the source of the river is connected to the mouth and the ocean. All the events or things going on are like whirlpools in a stream. Today you see a whirlpool and tomorrow you see a whirlpool in the same place, but it isn’t the same whirlpool because the water is changing every second.
What is happening is not really what we should call a whirlpool, but rather a whirlpooling. It is an activity, not a thing. And indeed every so-called thing can be called an event We can call a house, housing, a mat, matting, and we could equally call a cat. a catting. So we could say, “The catting sat on the matting.’ And we could thereby have a world in which there were no tilings but only events, lb give another illustration: A flame is something we say, “There is a flame on the candle.” But it would be more correct to say. ‘There is a flaming on the candle,” because a flame is a stream of hot gas. Lets take another amusing example. Fist is a noun and fist looks like a tiling, but what happens to the fist when I open my hand. I was fisting, now I’m handing, handing it to you. So every kind of so-called tiling can be spoken of as an event and because events flow into each other, the fisting flows into the handing, we cannot say exactly where one ends and the other begins.
So, therefore, we do not need the idea of causality to explain how a prior event influences the following event. Consider it this way: Suppose I’m looking through a narrow slit in a fence, and a snake goes by. I’ve never seen a snake before, so it is mysterious. Through the fence I see first the snake’s head, then I see a long trailing body, and then finally the tail. Then the snake turns around and goes back. Then I see first the head, and then after an interval the tail. Now if I call the head one event and the tail another, it will seem to me that the event head is the cause of the event tail. And the tail is the effect. But if I look at the whole snake I will see a head- tail snake and it would be simply absurd to say that the head of the snake is the cause of the tail, as if the snake came into being as a head first and then a tail. The snake comes into being out of its egg as a head-tail snake. And in exactly the same way all events are really one event.
So the course of time is really very much like the course of a ship in the ocean. The ship leaves a wake behind it, and the wake fades out and tells us where the ship has been in just the same way as the past and our memory of the past tell us what we have done. But as we go back into the past. 101and we go back and back to prehistory and we use all kinds of instruments and scientific methods for detecting what happened, we eventually reach a point where all record of the past fades away in just the same way as the wake of a ship.
Now the important thing to remember in this illustration is that the wake doesn’t drive the ship anymore than the tail wags the dog. The power, the source of die wake, is always in the ship itself, which represents the present. You can’t insist that the wake drives the ship. You can plot the course of the ship on graph paper and calculate a trend by seeing over what number of squares the ship has been doing its wiggling, and make predictions as to where it will go next. This would give you a trend as to where the ship is going and you might say, “Because we can plot the trend from the pattern which the ship has followed, we can tell where it is going and, therefore, we are inclined to think that where it has been will determine where it will go.” But that is not actually the case. Where it has been is determined not by where it will go but where it is going. To put that more accurately, where it has been does not determine where it is going; where it is going determines where it has been.
If you insist that your present is the result of your past, you are like a person driving your car looking always in the rearview mirror. You are not, as it were, open to the future, you are always looking back over your shoulder to find out what you ought to do. And this is something absolutely characteristic of us and this is why human beings find it difficult to learn and difficult to adapt themselves to new situations. Because we are always looking for precedents, for authority from the past for what we are supposed to do now. that gives us the impression the past is all-important and is the determinative factor in our.
Now of course we have a method of passing the buck in all matters of responsibility by saying. “Well, the past is responsible for me.” For instance, when dealing with a difficult child, we are apt to say, “Well, bang him about, beat him up. and maybe he’ll change.” But then we say. “No. that’s not fair to the child to beat him up. because it was his parents' fault; they didn’t bring him up properly:” And so then we say. “Well, punish the parents.” But the parents say, “Well, excuse me, but our parents were neurotic, too, and they brought us up badly so we couldn’t help what we did.” And since the grandparents are dead we can’t get at them, and if we could we would pass the whole blame back to Adam and Eve. We would say. “No. the serpent tempted me and I did eat.” Then it was the serpents fault!
When God asked Eve. “Didn’t thou eat the fruit of the tree whereof I told thee thou shouldst not eat?” she said. “Oh. but the serpent tempted me and I did eat.” And God looked at the serpent, and the serpent didn’t make any excuse. He probably winked — because the serpent, being an angel, was wise to know where the present begins.
And so, in this way, when we write history we find that writing history is really an art. The historian keeps putting a fresh interpretation on past events and in that sense he is changing it. He is changing their meaning just like we were changing the meaning of a former word by a later word by saying, ‘They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell."
In this way you can experience a curious liberation from what the Hindus and the Buddhists call karma. The word karma in Sanskrit actually means doing, action. Karma comes from the root kri which simply means to do. When something happens to me, an accident or an illness, a Buddhist or a Hindu will say. “Well, it was your karma.” In other words, you had done something in the past and you reap the unfortunate consequence in a later time. Now thats not the real meaning of karma. Karma does not mean cause and effect. It simply means doing. In other words, you are doing what is happening to you. And that, of course, depends upon how you define the word you. For example, consider breathing; am I doing it or is it happening to me? I am growing my hair; am I doing it or is it happening to me? Tibu can look at it either way. I am being sick, or I am being destroyed in an accident — ill define myself as the whole field of events, the organism- environment field which is the real me, then all the tilings that happen to me may be called my doing. And that is the real sense of karma.
But when we speak about freedom from karma, freedom from being the puppet of the past, that simply involves a change in our thinking. It involves getting rid of the habit of thought whereby we define ourselves as the result of what has gone before. We instead get into the more plausible, more reasonable habit of thought in which we don’t define ourselves in terms of what we’ve done before but in terms of what we’re doing now. And that is liberation from the ridiculous situation of being a dog wagged by its tail.
We must begin by showing the difference between Western and Eastern ideas of omniscience and omnipotence. A Chinese Buddhist poem says:
You may wish to ask where the Bowers come from,
But even the God of Spring doesn’t know.
A Westerner would expect that, of all people, the God of Spring would know exactly how flowers are made. But if he doesn’t know, how can he possibly make them? A Buddhist would answer that the question itself is misleading since flowers are grown, not made. Things which are made are either assemblages of formerly separate parts (like houses) or constructed by cutting and shaping from without inwards (like pots of clay or images). But things which are grown formulate their own structure and differentiate their own parts from within outwards.
Thus it would be absurd, in a Buddhist’s view, to ask, “Who made the world?” because the world as a whole is not considered as an artifact, a structure made by putting formerly distinct pieces together — pieces which were originally shaped by an external agency from some kind of material. No analogy is felt to exist between natural growth and human manufacture.
If, then, the God of Spring does not make the flowers, how does he produce them? The answer is that he does so in the same way that you and I grow our hair, beat our hearts, structure our bones and nerves, and move our limbs. To us, this seems a very odd statement because we do not ordinarily think of ourselves as actively growing our hair in the same way that we move our limbs. But the difference vanishes when we ask ourselves just how we raise a hand, or just how we make a mental decision to raise a hand. For we do not know — or, more correctly, we do know but we cannot describe how it is done in words.
To be more exact: the process is so innate and so simple that it cannot be conveyed by anything so complicated and cumbersome as human language, which has to describe everything.
We are looking at the basic models underlying the practice of psychotherapy. There are exceptions to this and you must always understand that I’m going to make exaggerations and outrageous generalizations for purposes of discussion rather than laying down the law. Our practice is based on the world view of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism, which has as its fundamental assumption that the energy which we express is basically stupid — blind energy, libido — and if s called the unconscious. The assumption of this philosophy of nature was that the psychobiology of human nature was a stupid mechanism, a fluke that had arisen in a mechanical universe, and that if we were to maintain this fluke and its values, it would be necessary for us to enter into a serious fight with nature. Scientific naturalism was in fact against nature, believing nature to be foolish and blind, and therefore in need of being dominated by our intelligence which, paradoxically enough, was the product of this foolishness. But the fluke had happened.
Let’s go back into the history of this idea. Western man, whether he was a Jew, a Moslem or a Christian, had always considered the natural universe to be an artifact, something made, and a child in this culture very naturally seems to ask its parents, How was I made? To make something is to create an artifact; you make a table out of wood or a sculpture out of stone. This is the basic mythology underlying our common sense. We are mostly unconscious of the basic images in which we think. That is why I say that we have an intellectual unconscious. We are mostly unconscious of the basic belief systems within which we think and behave. So here is this basic belief system — we are all made. It would be unnatural for a Chinese child to ask, How was I made? He might instead ask, How did I grow? The idea of our being manufactured objects is basic to almost all Western thought. In the course of history, when we got rid of the idea of God as the maker, we were stuck with the idea of the universe as a mechanism.
People today who believe in God don’t really believe in God; they believe that they ought to believe in God, and therefore are somewhat fanatical about it because of their doubt. The strong believer always profoundly doubts what he believes and therefore wants to compel other people to believe, to bolster up his own courage. A person who truly believes in God would never try and thrust the idea on anyone else, just as when you understand mathematics, you are not a fanatical proponent of the idea that two and two are four.
One of my great friends is Karl Pribram, who is a professor of neuropsychiatry at Stanford. He has a marvelous understanding of the brain, but he is the first person to admit that he doesn’t really understand it at all. He’s fascinated, and he shows us most amazing things — how the brain creates the world which it sees. If you want a simple explanation of this, read J.Z. Young’s book, Doubt and Certainty in Science. He begins with the brains of octopuses, which are very simple brains and fairly easy to understand, and then he goes on to the human brain and shows how we are what we are by creating the kind of world that we think we live in. The brain, the nervous system, evokes the world, but is also something in the world. What an egg-and-hen situation that is!
The world is complicated, not only in its biology, in its geology, in its astronomy, but also in its politics, its economics. Actually the world isn’t complicated at all. What is complicated is the attempt to translate the world into linear symbols.
What I’m developing is the idea that what we are physically is far more intelligent than what we are intellectually. Behind our minds and our books and our schedules and our laws and our mathematics, there is something far more intelligent than anything we can record.
The basis of what we’re going into is what I have called the intellectual unconscious. Nowadays it’s customary, especially in psychological circles, to put down intellectual considerations. Such words are used as being “over-cerebral.” as being on a “head trip.” as dismissing it all as “a lot of talk.” but the fact remains that those comments on intellectualization are an expression of a philosophy — and at that, an unexamined one. “Sou will often come across a type who says, Tm just a practical businessman. I don’t give a shit about philosophy. I’ve got to get things done.” And so that fellow is advertising himself as a member of a particular philosophical school called pragmatism. He doesn’t know this, and because he doesn’t know it, he’s a bad pragmatist. He says. “I want to get things done.” Or, he’s the sort of person who says, “You can’t stop progress.” But what is being practical? This is a very, very undecided question, and for a lot of people, their only idea of what is practical is what enables them to survive. Well, this can be thoroughly called into question.
Hanging onto oneself is self-strangulation. It’s like smother- love. When a mother hangs on to her child too long and doesn’t let it be independent because of her concern, or alleged love, the child becomes warped. Well if s the same, you can smother-love yourself. You can hang on. You can be full of anxiety. I know and you know, for many people this is a regular program. They’re anxious because they don’t have enough money, and they think. If only I could double my income, everything would be okay. And they succeed. They do it. So they have plenty of money. Then the next thing they worry about is their health. They go to a doctor and they get a complete medical examination, and the doctor says, “As far as I can see. you’re all right.” Well, they mink there’s something probably wrong, because this person is a born worrier and maybe should go to a psychiatrist. So he looks you over and says. “I can’t see anything wrong.” Well, then you worry about politics. Is the revolution coming? Are the tax people going to take away all your money? Will you be robbed? I mean, there are endless contingencies you can worry about.
And finally, death. Am I going to die? Of course. How soon? Does that matter? What are you waiting for? There’s a song, you know, which used to go.. .‘There’s a good time coming, be it ever so far away." and everybody thinks there is one far off divine event to which all creation moves, and maybe that’ll turn up between now and your death.. .or even perhaps after death. Everybody’s looking for that thing somewhere else than now. But if you accept death, a funny thing happens — you discover how good now is, and thats really where you’re supposed to be. Very often people may get into these states when they’re threatened by death, when they’ve given themselves up for dead, or sometimes, too, in convalescing from a long illness. In those transformed states of consciousness in which we see this, there’s sudden enlightenment about now.
When you see that the whole point of life is this moment, most other people seem objects of pity. You’re rather sorry for them. Because they are rushing around, madly intent on something. They look insane on the streets. Going somewhere. Wow. its important to get there. And their noses seem to be longer than usual, sort of prodding into the future, and their eyes staring. They rush about in cars. Looking out of the window I see all these cars streaming down Lake Shore Drive into Chicago.
They’re intent on something. What? Well, we have to go to work. Why? Well, to make money. Why? Well. I mean one must live. You must? If you say to any spontaneous process — and life is a spontaneous process — “You must happen.” its like saying to someone, “You must love me.” But we all do that to our children. The basic rule for bringing up a child — which every child learns — is. “You are required and commanded to do that which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily^’ This is known as the double-bind. So we say to our spouses. “You must love me,” and if I don’t feel like loving my spouse anymore, I’m made to feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, I feel I have to make an effort to be loving — but nobody wants to be loved on purpose. I don’t want to be loved out of somebody’s sense of duty. I want them to love me because they can’t help loving me. Then I feel its okay.
Ever so many people are thoroughly confused by being commanded to do that which is only any good if its natural — and living is such a thing. If I say to myself. “I must live.” then life is a drag. Or I say, “I must live because I have children and I’m responsible.” But then all I do is teach my children to have the same feeling, and they will teach their children to have the same feeling, and life will continue to be a drag for everybody concerned. So life can only not be a drag when you understand its gravy. That is to say. it happens unnecessarily, not under orders, but for kicks. Then you are free from the oppressive duty to go on living.
There is nothing which causes more trouble to people man helping them. There’s a famous saying, “Kindly let me help you or you’ll drown,” said the monkey, putting die fish safely up a tree. The moment you take mis attitude of, “You are sick,” people learn to eat pity, and thrive on it, and play sick as a profitable role for getting attention, sympathy, care, and to indulge in the masochism of gaining a sense of identity through being in peril, in misfortune. It’s like the phrase, “nursing a grievance.” I once had a woman come to me who had had a very serious tragedy. Her husband had died of a heart attack and a year later her son was struck by lightning and killed. She was beside herself with grief. Understandably. Well, at the time, I was a clergyman. And I took a look at this woman and I thought, I’m not going to give her any bullshit, she’s too intelligent. So I asked her to explore grief. What is it to grieve? Where do you feel grief? What part of your body is it in? What sort of a feeling is it? What images are connected with it? In every way we explored grief. And by God, she got over it. Because eventually, concentrating on it as a sensation, she stopped talking to herself and saying, “Poor little me, I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my husband,” and repeating all these words over and over which hypnotize you and perpetuate the feeling of being important because you’re in a state of grief. And she became an extremely creative and active person.