Tao of Philosophy is part of the Essential Lectures Collection. The Tao of Philosophy album began life as the first Essential Lecture series in 1972 after Alan Watts asked his son Mark to compile a collection of core talks. The series looks at issues of identity, our place in nature, and the limits of symbolic thinking.
Originally mastered for cassette, the series was updated and remastered for CD in the mid-90’s, and was also released to public radio as part of the Love is Wisdom program.
Not What Should Be (1-2)
Not What Should Be Transcript Part 1: (jump to Part 2)
I wonder what you mean, when you use the word ‘I?’ I’ve been very interested in this problem for a long long time, and I’ve come to the conclusion, that what most civilized people mean by that word, is a hallucination. That is to say, a false sense of personal identity, that is at complete variance with the facts of nature. And as a result of having a false sense of identity we act in a way that is inappropriate to our natural environment. And when that inappropriate way of action is magnified by a very powerful technology, we swiftly begin to see the results of a profound discord between man and nature. As is well known we are now in the process of destroying our environment, as a result, of an attempt to conquer it and master it. And we have not realized, therefore, that our environment is not something other than ourselves. In assuming that it is we have made a great mistake. And are now paying the price for it.
But most people would agree with the lines of the poet who said “I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made,” because we have the strong sensation that our own being inside our skin is extremely different from the world outside our skin. That while there may be intelligence inside human skins. And while there may be values and loving feelings. Outside the skin is a world of mechanical process which does not give a damn about any individual, and which is basically unintelligent. Being gyrations of blind force, and so far as the merely biological world is concerned gyrations of libido, which is Freud’s word for blind lust. It should be obvious, that the human being goes with the rest of the universe. Even though we say in popular speech “I came into this world.”
Now it is not true that you came into this world. You came out of it. In the same way as a flower comes out of a plant or fruit comes out of a tree. And as an apple tree apples. The solar system in which we live and therefore the galaxy in which we live and therefore the system of galaxies in which we live. That system peoples. And therefore people are an expression of its energy and of its nature. If people are intelligent. And I suppose we have to grant that. If. Then the energy which people express must also be intelligent because one does not gather. Figs from thistles and grapes from thorns. But it does not occur you see to the ordinary civilized person to regard himself or herself. As an expression of the whole universe. It should be obvious that we cannot exist except in an environment of Earth, Air, Water, and solar temperature. That all these things go with us. And are as important to us albeit outside our skins as our internal or organs heart stomach brain and so forth.
Now if then we cannot describe the behavior of organisms without at the same time describing the behavior of their environments we should realize that we have a new entity of description. Not the individual organism alone but what would now be called a field of behavior which we must call rather clumsily the organism environment. You go with your environment in the same way as your head goes with the rest of your body. You do not find in nature faces arriving in the world sui generous. They go with a body that also bodies do not arrive in a world. Which would be for example a plain ball of scrubbed rock floating without an atmosphere far away from a star. That will not grow bodies there is no soil for bodies. There is no complexity of environment which is body producing.
So bodies go with a very complicated natural environment and if the head goes with the body and the body goes with the environment the body is as much an integral part of the environment as the head is part of the body. It is deceptive of course because the human being is not rooted to the ground like a tree. A human being moves about and therefore can shift from one environment to another but the shifts are superficial the basic environment of the planet remains a constant and if the human being leaves the planet he has to take with him and a canned version of the planetary environment. Now we are not really aware of this upon taking thought and due consideration it does occur to us, yes indeed, we do need that environment but in the ordinary way we don’t feel it. That is to say we don’t have a vivid sensation of belonging to our environment in the same way that we have a vivid sensation of being an ego inside a bag of skin located mostly in the skull about halfway between the ears and a little way behind the eyes. And it issues in these disastrous results of the ego which according to one thousand century commonsense feels that it is a fluke in nature. And that if it does not fight nature it will not be able to maintain its status as intelligent fluke.
So the geneticists are now saying and many others are now saying that man must take the course of his evolution into his own hands. He can no longer trust the wiggly random and unintelligible processes of nature to develop him any further but he must interfere with his own intelligence. And through genetic alterations breed the kind of people who will be viable for human society and that sort of thing. Now this I submit is a ghastly era. Because human intelligence has a very serious limitation. That limitation is. That it is a scanning system, of conscious attention, which is linear. That is to say, it examines the world, in lines. Rather as you would pass the beam of a flashlight across a room or a spotlight. That’s why our education takes so long. It takes so long because we have to scan miles of lines of print. And we regard that you see as basic information.
Now the universe does not come at us in lines. It comes at us. In a multidimensional continuum in which everything is happening all together everywhere at once. And it comes at us much too quickly, to be translated into lines of print. Or of other information, however fast they may be scanned. And that is our limitation so far as the intellectual life and the scientific life is concerned. The computer will greatly speed up the linear scanning. But it’s still linear scanning. And so long as we are stuck with that form of wisdom we cannot deal with more than a few variables at once. Now what do I mean by that. What is a variable? A variable is any one linear process let’s take music when you play a bar few. And there are four parts to it you have four variables you have four moving lines and you can take care of that with two hands. An organist using two feet can put into more variables and have six going and you may realize if you’ve ever tried to play the organ that it’s quite difficult to make six independent motions go at once. The average person cannot do that without training the average person cannot deal with more than three variables at once without using a pencil. Now when we study physics we are dealing with processes in which there are millions of variables. This however we handle by statistics in the same way as insurance companies use actuarial tables to predict when most people will die. If the average age of death is sixty five however, this prediction does not apply to any given individual. Any given individual will live to plus or minus sixty five years. And the range of difference may be very wide indeed of course. But this is all right the sixty five guesses all right when you’re doing large scale gambling. And that’s the way the physicist works in predicting the behavior of nuclear wavicles. But the practical problems of human life deal with variables in the hundreds of thousands. Here statistical methods are very poor. And thinking it out by linear consideration is impossible. With that equipment then we are proposing to interfere with our genes. And with that equipment also be it said we are trying to solve our political economic and social problems. And naturally everybody has the sense of total frustration. And the individual feels ‘what what on earth can I do? ‘
We do not seem to know a way of calling upon our brains. Because our brains can handle an enormous number of variables that are not accessible to the process of conscious attention your brain is now handling your total nervous system to be more accurate. Your blood chemistry; the secretions from your glans. The behavior of millions of cells. It is doing all that without thinking about it. That is to say, without translating the processes it is handling into consciously reviewed words, symbols or numbers. Now when I use the word thinking I mean precisely that process: translating. What is going on in nature in two words symbols. Or numbers because both words and numbers are kinds of symbols. Symbols bear the same relation to the real world that money bears to wealth. You cannot quench anybody’s thirst with the word water, just as you cannot eat a dollar bill and derive nutrition from it. But using symbols and using conscious intelligence; scanning, has proved very useful to us. It has given us such technology as we have. But at the same time it has proved too much of a good thing. At the same time, we’ve become so fascinated with it that we confuse the world as it is with the world as it is thought about talked about and figured about. That is to say, with the world as it is described.
And the difference between these two is vast. And when we are not aware of ourselves except in a symbolic way. We are not related to ourselves at all we are like people eating menus instead of dinners. And that’s why we all feel psychologically frustrated. So then we get back to the question of, “What do we mean by I? ” Well first of all obviously we mean our symbol of ourselves. Now ourselves in this case is the whole psycho physical organism conscious and unconscious, plus its environment. That’s your real self. Your real self. In other words, is the universe as centered on your organis. That’s you.
Let me just clarify that a little for one reason. What you do is also a doing of your environment. Your behavior is its behavior as much as it’s behavior is your behavior. It’s mutual. We could say it is transactional. You are not a puppet which your environment pushes around. Nor is the environment a puppet which you push around. They go together they act together. In the same way for example if I have a wheel one side of it going down is the same as the other side of it going up. When you handle the steering wheel of a car, are you pulling it or are you pushing it? No, you’re doing both, aren’t you? When you pull it down the side you are pushing it up that side. It’s all one so there’s a push pull between organism and environment. We are only rarely aware of this as when in curious alterations of consciousness which we call mystical experience, cosmic consciousness, an individual gets the feeling that everything that is happening is his own doing. Or the opposite of that feeling that he isn’t doing anything, but that all his doings his decisions and so forth are happenings of nature. You can feel it either way. You can describe it in these two completely opposite ways but you’re talking about the same experience you’re talking about experiencing your own activity and the activity of nature as one single process. And you can describe it as if you were omnipotent like God or as if it were completely deterministic and you hardly existed at all. But remember both points of view are right. And we’ll see where that gets us.
But we don’t feel that do we, ordinarily? What we feel instead is an identification of ourselves with our idea of ourselves or I would rather say with our image of ourselves? And that’s the person. Or the ego. You play a role, you identify with that role. I play a role, it’s called Alan Watts and I know very well that that’s a big act. I can play some other roles besides Alan Watts, if necessary. But I find this one is better for making a living. But I assure you it’s a mask and I don’t take it seriously. The idea of my being a kind of messiah or guru or savior of the world just breaks me up. Because I know me. You know it’s very difficult to be holy. In the ordinary sense. So I know I’m not that but most of us are taught to think that we are whom we are called. And, when you are a little child and you begin to learn a role and your parents and your peers approve of your be. In that they know who you are. You’re predictable, so you can be controlled. But when you act out of role and you imitate some other child’s behavior everybody points the finger and says you’re not being true to yourself. “Johnny, that’s not you, that’s Peter.” And so you learn to stay Peter. Or to stay Johnny. But of course you’re not either. Because this is just the image of you it’s as much of you as you can get into your conscious attention, which is precious little. Your image of yourself contains no information about how you structure your nervous system. It contains no information about your blood chemistry it contains almost no information about the subtle influences of society upon your behavior. It does not include the basic assumptions of your culture which are all taken for granted and unconscious. And you can’t find them out unless you study other cultures to see how their basic assumptions differ. It includes all kinds of illusions that you’re completely unaware of as for example that time is real.
And that there is such a thing as a past. Which is pure hokum. But there are nevertheless all these things that are unconscious in us and they are not included in our image of ourselves, nor of course included in our image of ourselves is there any information about our inseparable relationships with the whole natural universe. So this is a very impoverished image. When you ask a person “what did you do yesterday? ” They’ll give you a historical account of a certain number of events in which they participated in, the certain number of things which they saw, used or were clubbed by. But realize at once that this history leaves out most of what happened. I in trying to describe what happens to me this evening will never be able to describe because there are so many people here that if I were to talk about everyone whom I’ve seen what they were wearing what color there was what sort of expressions they had on their faces I would have to talk to doomsday. So instead of this rich physical experience, which is very rich indeed I have to attenuate it in memory and description to saying “Oh I met a lot of people in Philadelphia. And they were men and the women a lot of them were young and some of them were old.” You know, it’s an utterly impoverished account of what went on. So therefore in thinking of ourselves in this way what I did yesterday what I did the day before in terms of this stringing mangy account all I have is a caricature of myself. And you know the caricaturist doesn’t draw you all in he just put certain salient features whereby people will recognize you. As sort of a skeleton. So we can see we are as it were conceiving ourselves as a bunch of skeletons and they’ve got no flesh on, just a bunch of bones. And no wonder we all feel inadequate. We’re all looking for something, to the future, to bring us the goodie. We know we ought to have. There’s a golden goodie at the end of the line somewhere there’s a good time coming. Be it ever so way far away that one far off divine event which all creation moves we hope. And therefore we say of something that’s no good it has no future. I would say it has no present. But everybody says it has no future.
Now, here we are, as it were, psychically starved. And always there for looking for looking seeking seeking seeking. And this confused seeking is going on everywhere we don’t know what we want. Nobody knows what they want. We say yes we think we think of what we want in vague terms: pleasure, money, wealth, love. Fulfillment personal development. But we don’t know what we mean by all that. The person really sits down to figure out write out, I say twenty pages, on your idea of heaven. It will be a sorry production. You can see it already in Medieval art whether it’d pictures of heaven and hell. Hell is always much better than Heaven. Although it’s uncomfortable it’s a sadomasochistic orgy. Wowie, you know hell is really a rip roaring, whereas all the saints in heaven are sitting, of the with you know, very very smug and demure like they were in church. And you see also the multitudes of the saved instead of this writhing wormy thing you can see all their heads which the artist is drawn to abbreviate them just the tops of their heads in masses they look like cobblestone street. Flattened out. So what has happened then is this. That I. Is an illusion it’s an image and it is no more ourself than an idol is the god. But we say it can’t be so, because I feel I really exist, it isn’t just an idea in my head, it’s a feeling, I feel me! Well what is it that you feel when you feel I?
What is it that you feel when you feel I? I’ll tell you. What do you do when somebody says “Pay attention!” What is the difference between looking at something and taking a hard look at it? And between hearing something and listening intently? What’s the difference? What’s the difference between waiting while something goes on and enduring it. Why? The difference is this that when you pay attention instead of just looking you screw up your face you frown. And stare that is a muscular activity around here. When you will, you grit your teeth or clench or this when you endure or control yourself you pull yourself together,physically, and therefore you get uptight. You hold your breath, you do all kinds of muscular things to control the functioning of your nervous system and none of them have the slightest effect on the proper operation of the nervous system. If you stare at things, you will rather fuzz the image than see them clearly if you listen intently by concentrating on muscles around the ears you will be so much attending to muscles here that you won’t hear things properly and you may get singing in the ears. If you tighten up with your body to pull yourself together, all you do is constrict yourself. I remember in school I sat next to a boy who had great difficulty in learning to read. And what they always say to children is “try!” If you can do something as tries so the boy tries to muddy done when he’s trying to get out words he grunts and groans as if he were lifting weights. And the teachers impress the boys really trying gives him B for effort. Has nothing to do with it.
Now we all make this muscular strain, with the thought that it’s achieving psychological results. The sort of psychological results it’s intended to achieve and all this amounts to is this like you’re taking off on a jet plane you’ve gone a mile down the runway and the thing is not in the air yet, and you get nervous, so you start pulling at your seatbelt. That’s what it is. Now that is a chronic feeling we have it us all the time and it corresponds to the word I. That’s what you feel when you say I. You feel that chronic tension because when an organ is working properly you don’t feel it. If you see your eye you’ve got cataract. If you hear your ears, you’ve got singing in the areas you know getting in the way of hearing. When you of fully functioning, you are unaware of the organ. When you are thinking clearly your brain isn’t getting in your way. Actually of course you are seeing your eyes in the sense that everything you see out in front of you is a condition in the optic nerves at the back of the skull. That’s where you’re aware of all this, but you’re not aware of the I as the I. I’m talking about the optical eye.
So when we are aware of the ego I we are aware of this chronic tension inside ourselves and that’s not us, it’s a futile tension. So when we get the illusion the image of ourselves married to a futile tension you’ve got an illusion married to a futility. And then you wonder why I can’t do anything. Why I feel in the face of all the problems of the world impotent, and why I somehow cannot manage to transform I? Now here we get to the real problem, because we’re always telling each other that we should be different. I’m not going to tell you that tonight. Why not, because I know you can’t be. Nor can I. That may sound depressing but I’ll show you it isn’t, it’s very heartening. But everybody you see who is at all sensitive, and awake to their own problems and human problems is trying to change himself. We know we can change the world unless we change ourselves if we are all individually selfish we’re going to be collectively selfish. If we don’t really love people and only pretend to, somehow we’ve got to find a way to love. After all it’s said in the Bible that our shalt love the Lord thy God. And your neighbor as yourself. You must love. We all agree sure. But we don’t. In fact one psychologist very smartly asked the patient with whom are you in love against.
And this is particularly becomes appalling when we enter into the realm of higher things by which I mean spiritual development. Everybody these days is interested in spiritual development. And wisely because we want to change our consciousness. Many people are well aware that this egocentric consciousness is a hallucination. And that they presume it’s the function of religion to change it because that’s what the Zen Buddhists and yogis and all these people in the Orient to doing. They’re changing their state of consciousness to get something called Satori, all mystical experience or Nirvana or moksha or what have you and everybody around here has a really enthused about that because you don’t get that in church. I mean that has been Christian mystics but the church has been very quiet about them.
Then the average church all you get is talk. There’s no meditation, no spiritual discipline, they tell God what to do interminably as if he didn’t know. And then they tell the people what to do as if they could or even wanted to. And then they sing religious nursery rhymes. And then to cap it all the Roman Catholic Church, which did at least have an unintelligible service which was… Which was you know it was real mysterious and suggested bad magic was going on there when put the thing into bad English. And they took away incense and they took away they became a bunch of Protestants and there was a terrible So now all these Catholics are at loose ends it’s clear booth loosed put it up to be a pun but she said you know. It’s no longer possible to practise contemplative prayer mats. As you’re being advised, exhausted, edified all the time.
And it becomes a bore. Think of God listening to all those prayers. We do have I mean talking about grieving the Holy Spirit. It’s just awful. People have no consideration for God at all. So. But in pursuing these spiritual disciplines yoga and Zen and so forth and also psychotherapy there comes up a big difficulty. And the big difficulty is this. I want to find a method whereby I can change my consciousness. But the, therefore to improve myself, but then the self that needs to be improved is the one that is doing the improving.
And so I’m rather stuck. I found out the reason that I think I believe say in god, is that I sure hope that somehow God will rescue me. In other words, I want to hang on to my own existence and I feel rather shaky about doing that for myself but I just hope there’s a God who’ll take care of it. Or if I could be loving. I would have a better opinion of myself. I feel better about it I could face myself as people say. If I were more loving so the unloving me somehow by some gimmickry has to turn itself into a loving me and this is just like trying to lift yourself off the ground with your own bootstraps. It can’t be done. And that’s why religion in practice mainly produces hypocrisy. And guilt. Because of the constant failure of these enterprises. People go and study Zen. And they come back and say wow getting rid of your ego is a superhuman task. I assure you it’s going to be very very difficult to get rid of your ego you have to sit for a long time and you’re going to get the sorest legs. It’s hard work and all you wretched kids you think you’re getting rid of your ego on part or something or other and easy yoga you don’t know what you’re in for when it really comes down to the nitty gritty.
But you know the biggest ego trip going is getting rid of your ego. And the joke of it all is your ego doesn’t exist. There’s nothing to get rid of. It’s an illusion as I tried to explain. But you still want to ask how to stop the illusion. And who’s asking? I mean, do you think in the ordinary sense in which you use the word ‘I’, how can I stop identify myself with the wrong me? But the answer is simply you can’t. The Christians put this in their way when they say that mystical experience is a Gift of Divine Grace. Man as such cannot achieve this experience it is a gift of God and if God doesn’t give it to you there’s no way of getting it. Now that is solidly true. You can’t do anything about it because you don’t exist. Well you say that’s pretty depressing news.
But the whole point is it isn’t depressing news, it is the joyous news! There’s a Zen poem which puts it like this talking about it, it means the mystical experience the Satori, the realisation that you are the eternal energy of the universe like Jesus did. It says like this you cannot catch hold of it nor can you get rid of it. In not being able to get it you get it. When you speak, it is silent, when you are silent it speaks. Now in not being able to get it you get it because this whole feeling what Krishnamurthi is trying to explain to people, for example, when he says why do you ask for a method there is no method all methods are simply gimmicks for strengthening your ego.
So how do we not do that this is you’re still asking for a method there is no method if you really understand what your ‘I’ is you will see there is no method. This is so so sad. But it’s not this is the gospel the good news. Because if you cannot achieve it if you cannot transform yourself. That means that the main obstacle to mystical vision has collapsed. That was you. What happens you can’t do anything about. You’re at your wit’s end. What are you going to do, commit suicide? But supposing you just put that off for a little while. Wait and see what happens. You can’t control your thoughts, you can’t control your feelings. Because there is no control. You are your thoughts and your feelings and they’re running along running along running along to sit and watch them. There they go you’re still breathing aren’t you. Still growing your hair. Still seeing and hearing. Are you doing that? I mean is breathing something that you do? Do you see I mean do you organize the operations of your eyes and know exactly how to work those rods and cones in the retina? Do you do that? It’s a happening. It happens so you can feel all this happening. You are breathing it’s happening, your thinking is happening, you’re feeling is happening you’re hearing you’re seeing the clouds are happening across the sky the sky is happening blue the sun is happening shining.
There it is. All this happening. And may I introduce you, this is yourself. This begins to be a vision of who you really are. And that’s the way you function you function by happening that is to say by spontaneous occurrence. And this is not a state of affairs that you should realise. I cannot possibly preach it to you because the minute you start thinking I should understand that this is the stupid notion again that I should bring it about when there is no you to bring it about so that’s why I’m not preaching you can only preach to egoss.
All I can do is to talk about what is. It amuses me to talk about what it is because it’s wonderful. I love it and therefore I like to talk if I get paid for it. And I make my living and sensible people get paid for doing what they enjoy doing. So this is not an easy this is the whole approach is not to convert you not to make you over not to improve you but for you to discover if you really knew the way you are, things would be would be sane. But you see you can’t do that. You can’t make that discovery because you’re in your own way. So long as you think “I’m I.” So long as that hallucination knocks it. And the hallucination disappears only in the realisation of its own futility. When at last you see you can’t do it. You cannot make yourself over, you cannot really control your own mind. See, when we try to control the mind. A lot of yoga teachers try to get you to control your own mind mainly to prove to you that you can’t do it. There’s nothing, you know a fool who persists in his folly will become wise, so they what they do is they speed up the folly. And so you get concentrating. And you can have a certain amount of superficial and initial success by a process commonly called self-hypnosis. And you can think you’re making progress. And a good teacher will let you go along that way for a while until he really throws you with one. Why are you concentrating?
Buddhism works this way, Buddha said if you suffer you suffer because you desire and your desires are either unattainable or always being disappointed or something. So cut out desire. So those disciples went away and they stamped on desire jumped on desire cut the throat of desire and threw out desire but then they came back and but as said but you are still desiring not to desire. It. I wonder how to get rid of that so when you see that that’s nonsense they are naturally comes over you a quietness. In seeing that you cannot control your mind, you realize there is no control. What you took to be the thinker of thoughts is just one of the thoughts what you took to be the feeler of the feelings which was that chronic muscular strain was just one of the feelings. What you took to be the experience of experience is just part of the experience.
So there isn’t any thinker of thoughts feel or feelings we get into that bind because we have a grammatical rule that verbs have to have subjects. And the funny thing about that is that verbs are processes and subjects and nouns which are supposed to be things how does a noun start a verb. How does the thing put a process into action. Obviously it can’t. But we always insist that there is this subject called the knower. And without a knower there can’t be knowing. Well that’s just a grammatical rule it isn’t the rule of nature. In nature there’s just knowing like you’re feeling it and how to say you are feeling it as if you were somehow different from the feeling when I say I am feeling I what I mean is there is feeling here. When I say you are feeling I mean there is feeling there. I have to say even “There is feeling. What a cumbersome language we have. Chinese is easier you don’t have to put all that in writing that why you can say things twice as fast in Chinese as you can in any other language.
Well anyway. When you come to see that you can do nothing that the play of thought of feeling etc just goes on by itself as a happening. Then you are in a state which we will call meditation. And slowly. Without being pushed your thoughts will come to silence that is to say all the verbal symbolic chatter going on in the skull. Don’t try and get rid of it. Because that will again produce the illusion that there’s a controller. Just, it goes on it goes on it goes on finally it gets tired of itself and bored and stops. And so then there’s a silence. And this is a deeper level of meditation. And in that silence. You suddenly begin to see the world as it is. And you don’t see any past. And you don’t see any future. You don’t see any difference between yourself and the rest of it that’s just an idea you can put your hand on the difference between myself and you. You know you can’t blow it, you can’t bounce it, you can’t pull it. It’s just an idea. You can’t find any material body. Because material body is an idea, so is spiritual body, somebody is philosophical notions see reality isn’t material. That’s an idea reality isn’t spiritual That’s an idea reality is [claps].
So we find, if I’ve got to put it back into words that we live in an eternal now. You’ve got all the time in the world because you’ve got all the time there is which is now. And you are this universe. And you feel this strange feeling when when when ideas don’t define the differences you feel that other people’s doings or your doings. And that makes it very difficult to blame other people. If you’re not sophisticated theologically You may of course run screaming in the streets and say that you’re God.
In a way that’s what happened to Jesus because he wasn’t sophisticated theologically he only had Old Testament Biblical theology behind him. If he’d had Hindu theology he could have put it more subtly. But it was only that rather primitive theology of the Old Testament. And that was a conception of God as a monarchical boss. And you can’t go around sandboxes son. If you’re going to say “I’m God,” you must allow it for everyone else too. But this was a heretical idea from the point of view of Hebrew theology and so what they did with Jesus was they pedestalised him, I mean they kicked him upstairs so that he wouldn’t be able to influence anyone else and only you maybe god. And that stopped the Gospel cold right at the beginning. It couldn’t spread.
Well anyway. This is therefore to say that the transformation of human consciousness through meditation is frustrated so long as we think of it in terms of something that I myself can bring about. By some kind of wangled, by some sort of gimmick. Because you see that leads to endless games of spiritual one upmanship. And of guru competitions, of my guru is more effective than your guru, my yoga faster than your yoga, I’m more aware of myself than you are I’m humbler than you are I’m sorry for my sins than you are I love you more than you love me it is interminable goings on about which people fight and wonder whether they’re a little bit more evolved than somebody else and so on all that can just fall away. And then. We get this strange feeling that we have never had to see in our lives except occasionally by accident some people get a glimpse. That we are no longer. This poor little stranger and afraid in a world it never made. But that you are this universe and you are creating it at every moment because YOU SEE IT STARTS NOW. It didn’t begin in the past there was no past so if the universe began in the past when that happened it was now, see. But it’s still now and the universe is still beginning now and it’s trailing off like the wake of a ship from now in the wake of the ship fades out so does the past. You can look back there to explain things but the explanation disappears, you never find things are not explained by the past or explained by what happens now. That creates the past and it begins here. That’s the birth of responsibility. Because otherwise you can always look over your shoulder and say well I’m the way I am because my mother dropped me and she dropped me because she was neurotic because a mother dropped her, and away we go back to Adam and Eve, to disappearing monkey or something and we never get at iit. But in this way you’re faced with it you’re doing all this. And it’s an extraordinary shock. So. Cheer up. You can’t blame anyone else for the kind of world you’re in. And if you know you see that I, in the sense of the person, the front, the ego really doesn’t exist. Then it won’t go to your head too badly if you wake up and discover that your god.
Sense of Nonsense
Sense of Nonsense Transcript:
It’s very commonly said that the root of most human unhappiness is the sense that one’s life has no meaning. This is, I suppose most frequently said in circles interested in psychotherapy because the feeling of meaninglessness is often equated with the existence of neurosis. And so many activities into which one is encouraged to enter, philosophies one is encouraged to believe and religions one is encouraged to join, are commended on the basis of the fact that they give life a meaning. And, I think it’s very fascinating to think out what this idea itself means, or what it – is intended when it is said that life has to have a purpose. I remember so well as a child listening to sermons in church in which the preacher would constantly refer to God’s purpose “for you and for me.” And, I could never make out what it was because when questioned about this, the reverend gentleman seemed to be evasive: “What is the purpose of God for the world?” We used to sing a hymn too: “God is working His purpose out as the year succeeds the year,” and the nearest clue one got to it was in the (sort of) refrain of the hymn: “Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.” And of course, that raises the question, “What is the glory of God?”
Well, now, it’s pretty obvious, I think, that when we talk about life having or not having a meaning, we are not using quite the ordinary sense of the word “meaning” as the attribute of a sign. We are not saying – are we? – that we expect this natural universe to behave as if it were a collection of words, signifying something other than themselves. It isn’t a point of view which would reduce our lives in the world merely to the status of signs. And, it’s obviously in some different sense than that, that Goethe wrote his famous lines at the end of Faust: “Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis” – forgive my pronunciation of German. “All that is mortal, or all that is perishable, is but a symbol.” And so, a symbol of what? What do we want to feel, what would satisfy us as being the meaning behind this world? It’s so often, you know, that we don’t follow our ideas and our desires through. Most of the things that we want very fervently are things that we have only half-glimpsed. Our ideals are very often suggestions – hints – and we don’t know really exactly what we mean when we think about it. But there is this obscure sense in which we feel that life ought to have significance, and be a symbol in at least that sense if not just so arid a symbol as a mere sign.
Or it also may mean that life is meaningful. An individual feels that his life amounts to something when he belongs and fits in with the execution of some group enterprise; he feels he belongs in a plan. And this too seems to give people a sense of great satisfaction, but we have to pursue that question further too. Why is it that a plan – why is it that fellowship with other people gives the sense of meaning? Does it come down perhaps to another sense of meaning that life is felt to be meaningful when one is fully satisfying one’s biological urges, including the sense of hunger, the sense of love, the sense of self-expression in activity, and so on? But then again, we have to push that inquiry further. What do our biological urges really point towards? Are they just, however, things always projected towards a future? Is biology and its processes nothing but “going on towards going on towards going on”?
Or there’s a fourth and more theological sense of the meaning of life. In all theistic religions at any rate, the meaning of life is God himself. In other words, all this world means a person, it means a heart, it means an intelligence, and the relationship of love between God and man is the meaning of the world. The sight of God is the glory of God, and so on, but again here, there’s something to be further pursued.
What is it that we want in love with a person, and even a person in the sense of the Lord God? What is the content of it? What is it that we are really yearning after? Well, now, if we go back to the first point, taking Goethe’s words that all that is transitory is but a symbol and that we want to feel that all things have significance, it does seem to me that there is a sense in which we often use the word “significance” where the word seems to be chosen quite naturally, and yet at the same time it is not quite the right word. We say, for example, often, of music, that we feel it to be significant, when just at the same time, we don’t mean that it expresses some particular kind of concretely realizable emotion, and certainly it is not imitating the noises of nature. A program music, you know, which simply imitates something else, and it deliberately sets out to express sadness or joy (or whatever) is not the kind of thing I mean. So often when one listens to the beautiful arabesque character of the Baroque composers, Bach or Vivaldi, it is felt to be significant not because it means something other than itself, but because it is so satisfying as it is. And we use, then, this word, “significance,” so often in those moments when our impetuous seeking for fulfillment cools down, and we give ourselves a little space to watch things, as if they were worth watching – ordinary things.
And in those moments when our inner turmoil has really quietened, we find significance in things that we would not expect to find significant at all. I mean, this is, after all, the art of those photographers who have such genius in turning the camera towards such things as peeling paint on an old door, or mud and sand and stones on a dirt road, and showing us there that if we look at it in a certain way those things are significant. But we cannot say significant “of what” so much as significant “of themselves.” Or perhaps significance then is the quality of a state of mind in which we notice that we are overlooking the significance of the world by our constant quest for it later.
All this language is of course quite naturally vague and imprecise because, I think, the wrong word is used. And yet not entirely the wrong word because as I said, it comes so naturally to us.
It was Clive Bell, the great aesthetician, who wanted to say that all the characteristic of art, especially the characteristic of aesthetic success in painting, was the creation of significant form. Again, a very vague, imprecise expression. But it certainly is an attribute not only of those moments in which we are tranquil inside, but also of moments of deep, spiritual experience of what would be called moksha, or “release,” in Hinduism or satori in Zen. In those moments the significance of the world seems to be the world – seems to be what is going on now. And we don’t look any further – the scheme of things seems to justify itself at every moment of its unfoldment. I pointed out that this was particularly a characteristic of music- it’s also a characteristic of dancing, and in the sensation of belonging with one’s fellow man, in the carrying out of some significant pattern of life which I mentioned as a second sense of the world being meaningful. Again, the character of this feeling is again something that is fulfilled in itself: to dance is not to be going anywhere. When we dance in the ballroom, we don’t have a destination – we’re just going around a room. And it’s in doing this – it’s in executing the pattern, in singing the music with other people, that even though this does not point to anything else outside itself we again get the sense of meaning, and this is also obviously the case so often in the satisfaction of the biological urges. Does one live to eat or eat to live? I am not at all sure about this. I’m sure I very often live to eat because, sitting around a table with people – I don’t like eating alone – and enjoying food is absolutely delightful. And we’re not thinking when we do this – at least certainly I’m not – that we have to eat because it is good for us, and that we have to “throw something down the hatch,” as Henry Miller said, and swallow a dozen vitamins just because our system needs nourishment.
I remember, quite recently, there was an article in the Consumer Reports about bread. It seems there had been some correspondence and protest, saying that the bread one bought –the white bread one buys in the stores –is perfectly inedible and lacking in nutrition, and that it was much better to eat peasant-type breads – rough pumpernickel and things of that kind. And the experts replied that our white bread is perfectly full of good nutrients and there is nothing really the matter with it at all. Well, I felt like saying it is not a matter perhaps of the bread being deficient in the essential vitamins. Bread is not medicine, it is food, and one’s complaint against it is that it is bad cookery. It tastes of nothing. And we do tend – don’t we? – to look upon food, so often, for what it will do for us, rather than the delight of eating it. But if the satisfaction of biological urges is to mean anything, surely the point of these urges is not the fatuous one of mere survival. We might say that the point of the individual is simply that he contributes to the welfare of the race, and the point of the race is that it “reproduces itself to reproduce itself to reproduce itself” and keep going. But of course that is not really a point at all; that is just fatuous. Surely the race keeps going because going is great – because it’s fun. If it is not and never will be, then there is no point, obviously, in going, I mean, looking at it from the most hedonistic standpoint. But then when we come to the question, “What is fun?” – “What is the joy of it?” again we come to something that cannot very well be explained in the ordinary language of meaning of leading to something else. And this, I think, becomes preeminently true if we think of it in theological language – that the meaning of life is God. In any of the theistic religions what is God doing? What is the meaning of God? Why does He create the universe? What is the content of the love of God for His creation? Well, there’s the frank answer of the Hindus that the godhead manifests the world because of lila, which is Sanskrit for “play.”
And this is likewise said in the Hebrew scriptures or the Christian Old Testament in the Book of Proverbs where there is a marvelous speech by the divine wisdom, Sophia, which in describing the function of the divine wisdom in the creation of the world – the world, in other words, is a manifestation of the wisdom of God. The wisdom uses the phrase that in producing men and animals and all the creatures of the earth, wisdom is playing, and it was the delight of wisdom to play before the presence of God. And when it is likewise said in the scriptures that the Lord God created the world for His pleasure, this again means, in a sense, for play. And certainly this seems to be what the angels in Heaven are doing according to the traditional symbolic descriptions of Heaven: they are ringed around the presence of the Almighty, calling out “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!” through all eternity. Well, “alleluia” may have meant something originally, but as it is used now it does not mean anything, except, well, in our own slang, “whoopee!” It is an exclamation of nonsensical delight, and it was Dante in The Paradiso who described the song of the angels as the laughter of the universe.
Now this sense of nonsense as the theme of the divine activity comes out also very strongly in the Book of Job. I always think that the Book of Job is the most profound book in the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament. Because here is the problem of the man – the righteous man – who has suffered and all his friends try to rationalize it and say, “Well, you must have suffered because you really had a secret sin after all, and you deserve the punishment of God,” or because… rationalize it somehow. And when they’ve had their say, the Lord God appears on the scene and says, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel with words without knowledge?” and then proceeds to ask Job and his friends a series of absolutely unanswerable conundrums, pointing out all the apparent irrationality and nonsense of His creation. “Why,” for example, He said, “do I send rain upon the desert where no man is?”
Most commentators on the Book of Job end with the remark that, “This poses the problem of suffering and the problem of evil, but doesn’t really answer it.” And yet in the end Job himself seems to be satisfied. He somehow surrenders to the apparent unreasonableness of the Lord God, and this is not, I think, because Job is beaten down and becomes unduly impressed with the royal, monarchical, and paternalistic authority of the deity and does not dare to answer back. He realizes that somehow these very questions are the answer. I think of all the commentators on the Book of Job, the person who came closest to this point was (old) G. K. Chesterton. He once made the glorious remark that it is one thing to look with amazement at a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist, but it is quite another thing to look at a hippopotamus, a creature who does exist, and looks as if he does not. In other words, that all this strange world with its weird forms like hippopotami – and when you look at them from a certain point of view – , stones and trees and water and clouds and stars – when you look at them from a certain point of view and don’t take them for granted – they are as weird as any hippopotamus, or any imagination of fabulous beasts of gorgons and griffins and things like that. They are just plain improbable, and it is in this sense, I think, that they are the “alleluia,” as it were, the nonsense song.
Why do we love nonsense? Why do we love Lewis Carroll with his “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, all mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe. . . .”? Why is it that all those old English songs are full of “Fal-de-riddle-eye-do” and “Hey nonny-nonny” and all those babbling choruses? Why is it that when we get “hep” with jazz we just go “Boody-boody-boop-de-boo” and so on, and enjoy ourselves swinging it? It is this participation in the essential glorious nonsense that is at the heart of the world, that isn’t going anywhere – that is a dance. It seems that only in moments of unusual insight and illumination that we get the point of this, and find that thus the true meaning of life is no meaning, that its purpose is no purpose, and that its sense is non-sense. But still, we want to use about it the word “significant.” Is this significant nonsense? Is this a kind of nonsense that is not just chaos, that is not just blathering balderdash, but that has in it rhythm, fascinating complexity, a kind of artistry? It is in this kind of meaninglessness that we come to the profoundest meaning.
Coincidence of Opposites
Coincidence of Opposites Transcript:
It is really a very unorthodox and unacademic thing to do to start a discussion with a group of psychologists on the subject of metaphysics, but we have to do that because a lot of people say that their approach to life is scientific, as distinct from metaphysical, and that metaphysics is bosh anyway. But everybody, by virtue of being a human being, is willy-nilly a metaphysician. That is to say, everybody starts from certain fundamental assumptions as to what is the good life, what he wants, [or] what are his, shall we say, axioms for living. And I find that psychologists generally tend to be blind to these fundamental assumptions. Maybe it is truer of psychiatrists than of psychologists, but they tend to feel that they are scientists. They’re rather bending over backwards to have a scientific status because that is fashionable in our age. But, you know, it’s so amusing that when, say – let’s take psychoanalysis for example – as pointed out to many philosophers that their philosophical ideas are capable of being shown to have a psychoanalytic reference. For example, John Wisdom wrote a book about the philosophy of Berkeley, in which he attributed a great deal of his point of view to his experiences at toilet training as a child. The philosopher is very grateful to the psychoanalyst for revealing to him his unconscious and its emotional contents, but the psychoanalyst must in turn await a revelation from the philosopher as to his philosophical unconscious and the unexamined assumptions which lie in it.
So if I may start by insulting your intelligence with what is called the most elementary lesson – the thing that we should have learned before we learned “1 – 2 – 3” and “A – B – C,” but somehow was overlooked. Now, this lesson is quite simply this, that any experience that we have through our senses, whether of sound, or of light, or of touch, is a vibration. And a vibration has two aspects: one called “on,” and the other called “off.” Vibration seems to be propagated in waves, and every wave system has crests and it has troughs.
And so life is a system of now you see it, now you don’t, and these two aspects always go together. For example, sound is not pure sound; it is a rapid alternation of sound and silence, and that is simply the way things are. Only, you must remember that the crest and the trough of a wave are inseparable. Nobody ever saw crests without troughs or troughs without crests. Just as you do not encounter in life people with fronts but no backs, just as you do not encounter a coin that has heads but no tails. And although the heads and the tails, the fronts and the backs, the positives and the negatives are different, they are at the same time one. And one has to get used, fundamentally, to the notion that different things can be inseparable, and that what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one. If you forget that, very funny things happen. If therefore we forget, you see, that black and white are inseparable, and that existence is constituted equivalently by being and non-being, then we get scared, and we have to play a game called “Uh-oh, Black Might Win.” And once we get into the fear that black – the negative side – might win, we are compelled to play the game, “But White Must Win,” and from that start all our troubles.
Because, you see, the human awareness is a very odd mechanism. I do not think “mechanism” is quite the right word, but it will do for the moment. That is to say, we have as a species specialized in a certain kind of awareness which we call conscious attention, and by this we have the faculty of examining the details of life very closely. We can restrict our gaze, and it corresponds somewhat to [peripheral field] – the central field of vision in the eyes. We have central vision and we have peripheral vision. Central vision is that which we use for reading and for all sorts of close work, and it’s like using a spotlight. Whereas peripheral vision is more like using a floodlight. Now, civilization and civilized human beings, for maybe 5,000 years, maybe much longer, have learned to specialize in concentrated attention. Even if a person’s attention span is short, he is, as it were, wavering his spotlight over many fields. The price which we pay for specialization in conscious attention is ignorance of everything outside its field. I would rather say “ignore-ance,” than ignorance, because if you concentrate on a figure, you tend to ignore the background and you tend, therefore, to see the world in a disintegrated aspect. You take separate things and events seriously, imagining that these really do exist, when actually they have the same kind of existence as an individual’s interpretation of a Rorschach blot; they are what you make out of it.
In fact our physical world is a system of inseparable differences. Everything exists with everything else, but we contrive not to notice that because what we notice is
what is noteworthy, and we notice it in terms of notations: numbers, words, images. What is notable, noteworthy, notated, and noticed is what appears to us to be significant, and the rest is ignored as insignificant. And as a result of that we select from the total input that goes to our senses only a very small fraction, and this causes us to believe that we are separate beings, isolated by the boundary of the epidermis from the rest of the world. You see, this is also the mechanism involved in not noticing that black and white go together – not noticing that every inside has an outside. That the inside, what’s inside – what goes on inside your skin, is inseparable from what goes on outside your skin. You see that, for example, in the science of ecology one learns that a human being is not an organism in an environment, but is an organism-environment, that is to say, a unified field of behavior. If you describe carefully the behavior of any organism you cannot do so without at the same time describing the behavior of the environment, and by that you know that you’ve got a new entity of study: you are describing the behavior of a unified field. But you must be very careful indeed not to fall into old Newtonian assumptions about the billiard ball nature of the universe. The organism is not the puppet of the environment being pushed around by it, nor on the other hand is the environment the puppet of the organism being pushed around by the organism. The relationship between them is, to use John Dewey’s word, “transactional,” a transaction being a situation like buying and selling in which there is no buying unless somebody sells, and no selling unless somebody buys. So that fundamental relationship between ourselves and the world, which is, in an old-fashioned way, by people such as [B. F.] Skinner, who has not updated his philosophy – interpreted in terms of Newtonian mechanics – he interprets the organism as something determined by the total environment. He doesn’t see that in a more modern way of talking about it we’re simply describing a unified field of behavior, which is nothing more than what any mystic ever said. That’s a dirty word in the modern, academic scientific environment, but if a mystic is one who is sensibly or even sensuously aware of his inseparability as an individual from the total existing universe, he is simply a person who has become sensible – aware through his senses – of the way ecologists see the world. So when I am in academic circles I do not talk about mystical experiences, I talk about ecological awareness. Same thing.
And so the next aspect of our metaphysical introduction must be about games. You know, I think there are really four questions that all philosophers have discussed from the beginning of recorded time. 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 is going to clean up?
When you think these over it poses a fifth question: Is it serious? And that is the one I want to discuss. Is existence serious, like you say, “Doctor,” after he has looked at your X-ray picture, “is it serious?” What does that mean? It means, “Am I in danger of not continuing to survive?” The question is “Ought I to continue to survive?” In other words, “Must I survive?” If life is serious, then of course I must survive. If it is not serious, it really does not matter whether I do or I don’t. Now, in Western culture it is practically a basic assumption that existence is serious, and this is particularly true among people who call themselves existentialists. When they talk about a person who exists authentically they mean that he takes his life seriously and other people’s lives seriously. But the poet and essayist, G. K. Chesterton, once observed that the “angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” And if I may venture into mythology, if the angels take themselves lightly, how much more so the lord of the angels? But you see, we have been brought up in a mythological context where the Lord God definitely does take Himself seriously and is indeed, the serious person. So, that when we go into church, laughter is discouraged in the same way as it is discouraged in court. This is a serious matter and everybody has to have the right expression on their faces because this is the great, great authority figure. This is Grandpa, [imitates old man] and we do not realize that he has a twinkle in his eye. But the basis of it all is this: If we say, “You must survive” or “I must survive,” and “Life is earnest and I have got to go on,” then your life is a drag and not a game.
Now it is my contention and my personal opinion – this is my basic metaphysical axiom, shall we put it that way – that existence – the physical universe – is basically playful.
There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It is not going anywhere; that is to say, it does not have some destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by analogy with music because music as an art form is essentially playful. We say, “You play the piano.” You do not work the piano. Why? Music differs from, say, travel: when you travel you are trying to get somewhere and, of course, we, because of being a compulsive and purposive culture, are busy getting everywhere faster and faster till we eliminate the distance between places. I mean, with modern jet travel you can arrive almost instantaneously, and what happens as a result of that is that the two ends of your journey become the same place. So you eliminate the distance and you eliminate the journey. Because the fun of the journey is to travel, not to obliterate travel. So the, in music, though, one does not make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest, and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crashing chord because that is the end. Say you went dancing – you don’t aim at a particular spot in the room – that’s where you should arrive –the point of dancing is the dance.
Now, but, we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct. We have got a system of schooling which gives it a completely different impression. It’s all graded, and what we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system, with a kind of “Come on, kitty – kitty – kitty.” And you go to kindergarten, and that is a great thing, because when you finish that you will get into first grade; and then “Come on!” First grade leads to second grade, and so on. And then you get out of grade school, you go on to high school, and it’s “revving up,” the thing is coming, and then you go on to college, and by Jove, you get into graduate school, and when you are through with graduate school you go out to join the world. And then you get into some racket where you are selling insurance and they’ve got their quota to make, and you’ve gotta make that. And all the time that thing is coming, it’s coming, it’s coming – that great thing –the success you are working for. Then when you wake up one day, about forty years old, you say, “My God, I have arrived! I am there.” And you do not feel very different from what you always felt, and there is a slight let-down because you feel there’s a hoax. And there was a hoax, a dreadful hoax: they made you miss everything by expectation. Look at the people who live to retire and they put those savings away, and then when they are sixty-five they do not have any energy left, they’re more or less impotent, and they go on and rot in an old people’s – senior citizen’s community.
Because we simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage – which had a serious purpose at the
end. The thing was to get to that end, success, or whatever it is, or maybe Heaven after you are dead, but we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played. But you had to do “that thing” and you did not let it happen. So this is why the human being sometimes becomes an organism for self-frustration. Let’s take – Korzybski called man a “time binder.” That means that he is the animal peculiarly aware of the time sequence. And as a result of this he is able to do some very remarkable things. He can predict: he studies what has happened in the past and he says the chances are so-and-so of that happening again, and so he predicts. Well, it’s very useful, to be able to predict, because that has survival value, but at the same time it creates anxiety. You pay for this increased survivability involved in prediction by knowing that in the end you will not succeed. You’re all going to fall apart by one way or another; it might happen tomorrow, it might happen fifty years from now, but it all comes apart in the end. And people get worried about that – they get anxious, so what they gained on the roundabout, they lost on the swings.
So then, if you see on the other hand, that existence – this is, as I said, my basic metaphysical assumption, which I won’t conceal from you – that existence is musical in nature, that is to say that it is not serious – it is a play of all kinds of patterns and we can look upon different creatures as we look at different games, as we look at chess, checkers, backgammon, tennis. There is the, the tree game, the beetle game, the grass game. Or you can look at them as different styles of music – mazurkas, waltzes, sonata, etc. All down the line there are all these different things doing their stuff. They’re going, “do-do-do-do-do…” in different rhythms. And we’re doing that. If you were in a flying saucer from Mars, or somewhere, and you came and looked, tried to make out what was living on this world from about ten thousand feet late at night, or early morning, you would see these great ganglia with tentacles going out all over the place. And early in the morning you would see little blobs of luminous particles going into the middle of them. Then in the late afternoon or early evening it would spit them all out again. And they’d say, “Well, this thing breathes, and it does it in a special rhythm. It goes in – and – out, in – and – out, and in – and – out, once every twenty – four hours. But then it rests a day and doesn’t spit so much, it just spits in a different way. There is a kind of irregularity, and then it starts spitting all over again the same way. ” They would say, “Well, that is very interesting, but that is just the kind of thing we have. This is something that goes this way, and then goes that way.”
Now, existence, you see is something that is spontaneous. The Chinese word for nature is tzu-jan. It means that which happens of itself. Your hair grows by itself, your heart beats by itself. You breathe –pretty much by itself. Your glands secrete their essences by themselves – you do not have voluntary control over these things, and so we say it happens spontaneously. So, when you go to sleep and you try to go to sleep you interfere with the spontaneous process of going to sleep. If you try to breathe real hard you will find you get balled-up in your breathing. So if you are to – if you gotta be human, you just have to trust yourself to have bowel movements and go to sleep, and digest your food. Of course if something goes seriously wrong and you need a surgeon that is another matter, but by and large the healthy human being does not right from the start of life need surgical interference. And he lets it happen by itself, and so with the whole picture that is fundamental to it. You have to let go and let it happen, because if you don’t, you’re going to be all clutched up.
Then you gotta be constantly trying to do what can happen healthily only if you do not try. And when people – when you think a bit about what people really want to do with their time, what they do when they are not being pushed around and somebody is telling them what to do, they like to go – they like to make rhythms. They listen to music and they dance or they sing, or perhaps they do something of a rhythmic nature like playing cards, bowling, or raising their elbows. Everybody wants to spend their time swinging. That’s the nature of this whole thing we’re in. You see, he likes the swings. That’s why he does it.
Seeing Through the Net (1-2)
Seeing Through The Net Transcript Part 1: (jump to Part 2)
Now, what I want to do is have a mutual brain-picking session and I’m going to start the ball rolling by saying why I, as a philosopher, am interested in many things that you are all probably interested in professionally. Basically, what we are going to talk about I suppose, is the problem of control, as exemplified in the ancient Latin question Quis custodiet custodies ipsos? – “Who guards the guards?”
Now, we know that we are living in an age when there has been an enormous proliferation of techniques for subjecting every kind of natural process outside the human skin, and now increasingly inside the human skin, to some form of rational control. And as we succeed in doing this, it also becomes apparent that we are failing, that the process becomes of such a high degree of complexity that we begin to feel that we are standing in our own way. That everybody complains, the state of affairs in the modern world, in the technological world is so complicated that nobody can understand it, and nobody really knows what to do. That for example, you want to run a small business and you find you run in to such enormous legal hassles that you need so many secretaries to do the paperwork that you can hardly do the business. That you’re trying to run a hospital, but that you have to spend so much time making records and writing things down on paper that you don’t have much time to practice medicine. That you’re trying to run a university and the requirements, the recording, the endless red tape of the registrar’s office in the administration building is such that the actual work of research and teaching is seriously hampered.
So individuals increasingly feel themselves obstructed by their own cautiousness. This is basically what it is. Now, to explain myself first of all, because most of you are strangers to me, I am a philosopher who has for many years been interested in the mutual fructification of Eastern cultures and Western cultures, studying Oriental ideas, not in the spirit of saying to the West, “You ought to be converted to Oriental ideas,” but in the spirit of saying, “You don’t understand the basic assumptions of your own culture if your own culture is the only culture you know.” Everybody operates on certain basic assumptions, but very few people know what they are. You can say, very often encounter the sort of character who is an American businessman, and he says, “Well, I’m a practical businessman. I believe in getting results and getting things done, and all this high-falutin’ logic and nonsense is of no concern to me.” Now I know that the practical basic assumptions, the metaphysics of that man, can be defined as pragmatism, as a school of philosophy. But it’s bad pragmatism because he has never thought it through. And so, it is very difficult, you see, to get down to what are your basic assumptions? What do you mean by the good life? What do you mean by consistency? What do you mean by rationality?The only way of finding out what you mean by these things is by contrasting the way you look at something to the way it is looked at in another culture.
Therefore, we have to find cultures which are in some ways as sophisticated as our own but as different from our own as possible. And of course for this purpose I always thought that the Chinese were optimal, and the Indians, the East Indians and that, by studying the ideas of these people, and by studying their life goals, we could become more aware of our own. It’s the old principle of triangulation, you don’t establish the situation of a particular object unless you observe it from two different points of view, and thereby calculate its actual distance from you.
So, by looking at what we are pleased to call the reality of the physical world from this basic standpoints of different cultures, I think we are in a better position to know where we are than if we only have one single line of sight. Therefore, this has been my interest and my background, and arising out of this there has come a further question which I would call “the problems of human ecology.” How is man to be best related to his environment, especially in circumstances where we are in possession of an extremely powerful technology and have therefore the capacity to change our environment far more than anyone else has ever been able to do so? Are we going to end up not by civilizing the world but by Los-Angelezing it? In other words, are we going to foul our own nest as a result of technology? But all of this gets down to the basic question is, really: “What are you going to do if you are God?” If, in other words, you find yourself in charge of the world through technological powers, and instead of leaving evolution to what we used to call in the nineteenth century “the blind processes of nature” – that was begging the question, to call them blind – but at any rate, we say we are not going to leave evolution anymore to the blind forces of nature. But now we are going to direct it ourselves, because we are increasingly developing, to say, control over genetic systems, control over the nervous system, control over all kinds of systems. Then, simply, “What do you want to do with it?” But most people do not know what they want, and they have never even seriously confronted the question of what they want. You ask a group of students to sit down and write a solid paper of twenty pages on “What is Your Idea of Heaven”, what would you really like to happen, if you could make it happen. And that’s the first thing that starts people really thinking because you soon realize that a lot of the things you think you would want are not things they want at all. Supposing, just for the sake of illustration, you had the power to dream every night any dream you wanted to dream. And you could, of course, arrange for one night of dreams to be seventy-five years of subjective time, or any number of years of subjective time. What would you do? Well, of course you would start out by fulfilling every wish. You would have routs and orgies, and all the most magnificent food and sexual partners and everything you could possibly imagine in that direction. When you got tired of that after several nights, you would switch a bit and you would soon find yourself involved in adventures, and contemplating great works of art, fantastic mathematical conceptions, you would soon be rescuing princesses from a dragons and all sorts of things like that, and now you would say, “Now, tonight what we are going to do is we are going to forget this dream is a dream, and we are going to be really shocked.” And when you woke up from that one you would say, “uuu, wasn’t that an adventure!” Then you would think more and more far of ways to get involved and let go of control, knowing that you would always come back to “center” in the end. But while you were involved in the dream you would not know you were going to come back to center, be in control, and so eventually you would be dreaming a dream in which you found yourselves sitting around in this room listening to me talking or involved with the particular life problems which you have. And maybe that’s what you are doing.
But there is a difficulty, you see, the difficulty of control. Are you wise enough to play at being God? And to understand what that question means. We’ve to go back to metaphysical assumptions underlying Western common sense. And whether you are a Jew, or a Christian, or an agnostic, or an atheist you are not uninfluenced by the whole tradition of Western culture. The models of the universe, which it is employed, which influence our very language, the structure of our thought, the very constitution of logic, which are going into, say computers. The Western model of the universe is political, and engineering or architectural. It’s natural for child to ask his mother “How was I made?” It would be inconceivable for a Chinese child to ask, “How was I made?” It might ask “How was I grown?” or “How did I grow?” but not “How was I made?” as if I were an artifact, something put together, something which is a construct.
But all Western thought is based on the idea that the universe is a construct, and even when we got rid of the idea of the constructor, the personal God we continue to think of the world in terms of a machine, in terms of Newtonian mechanics, and later in terms of what we call quantum mechanics, although I find it rather difficult to understand how quantum theory is in any sense “mechanics.” It is much more like “organics,” which is to me a different concept. However that may be, it is percolated, you see, into the roots of our common sense. That the world is a construct, it is an artifact. And therefore as one understands the operations of a machine by analysis of its parts, by separating them into their original bits, we have “bitted” the cosmos, and see everything going on in terms of bits, bits of information. And I have found that this is an extremely fruitful enabling us to control what is happening. After all, the whole of Western technology is the result of “bitting.” That’s suppose, you know, you want to eat a chicken you cannot eat the whole chicken at once. You have to bite it, you have to reduce it to bits, which you do not get a cut-up fryer out of an egg, it does not come that way. So what is happen is this, that we don’t know the origins of all this, it may be go back a thousands of years. The way we develop the art of thinking, which is essentially calculus is this: the universe as it comes in nature, the physical universe, is something like a Rorschach blot; it’s all wiggles. We who live in cities are not really used to this because we build everything in straight lines, and rectangles, and so on. Wherever you see this sort of things, you know human beings have been around because they are always trying to straighten things out.
But nature itself is clouds, is water, is the outlines of continents, is mountains, is a biological existences, and all of them wiggle. And wiggly things are to human consciousness a little bit of a nuisance because we want to figure them out. And it is as if therefore, some ancient fisherman one day held up his net and looked at the world through the net, he said: “My, just think of that. There I can see the view, and the peak of that mountain is one – two – three – four – five – six holes across, and the base is one – two – three – four – five holes down. I’ve got its number.” See? So the lines of latitude and longitude, lines of celestial and terrestrial, latitude and longitude, the whole idea of a matrix – of looking at things through graph paper printed on cellophane – is the basic idea of measurement. This is the way we calculate. We break down the wiggliness of the world into comprehensible, countable, geometrical units, and thereby figure it and construct it in those terms. And this is so successful up to a point that we can of course come to imagine that this is the way the physical world really is – discreet, discontinuous, full of points, and in fact a mechanism.
But I want to just put into your mind the notion that this may the prejudice of a certain personality type. You see, in the history of philosophy, and poetry, and art we always find the interchanges of two personality types which I call “prickles” and “goo.” The prickly people are advocates of intellectual porcupinism. They want a rigor, they want precise statistics and they have a certain clipped attitude in their voices, and you know, very well known in academic circles where there are the people who are always edgy like that. And they accuse other people of being disgustingly vague, miasmic, and mystical. But the vague, miasmic, and mystical people accuse the prickly people of being mere skeletons with no flesh on their bones. They say, “You just rattle. You are not really a human being. You know the words but you don’t know the music.”So therefore, if you belong to the prickly type, you hope that the ultimate constituent of matter is particles. If you belong to the gooey type you hope it is waves. If you are prickly you are a classicist; and if you are gooey you are a romanticist. Going back into medieval philosophy, if you are prickly you are a nominalist; if you are gooey you are a realist, and so it goes.
But we know very well that this natural universe is neither prickles nor goo exclusively. It is gooey prickles and prickly goo. You see, all depends on your level of magnification. If you have got your magnification on something so that the focus is clear, you have got a prickly point of view, you’ve got structure and shape clearly outlined and sharply defined. You go a little out of focus and it goes blaa, and you’ve got goo. But we are always playing with the two because, it’s like the question is “Is the world basically stuff, like matter, or is it basically structure?” We find out, of course today that in science we don’t consider the idea of matter of being some sort of stuff because, supposing you wanted to describe “stuff”, what terms would you use to describe it? You always have to describe it in terms of structure, something countable, something that can be designated as a pattern. So we never get to any basic stuff. It seems to me that this way of thinking is based on a form of consciousness which we could best call “scanning.” The capacity to divide experiences into bits is somehow related to a physical facility which corresponds to the sweeping of a radar beam, or a spotlight, over the environment. The advantage of the spotlight is it gives you intensely concentrated light on restricted areas. A floodlight, by comparison, has less intensity. But if you examine, say this room were in total darkness, and you used the spotlight with a very thin beam and you scanned the room with it, you would have to retain in memory all the areas over which it passed and then, by an additive process, you would make out the contours of the room.
Now it seems to me that this is something in which civilized man, both in the East and in the West, has specialized. In a method of paying attention to things which we call “noticing,” and therefore it is highly selective. It picks out, features in the environment which we say are noteworthy and which we therefore register with a notation, be it the notation of words, the notation of numbers, or such a notation as algebra or music. We notice those things, only those things, for which we have notation. When very often child will point at something and say to its parents, “What is that?” and they are not clear what the child is pointing, the child has pointed to something which we consider that is not a “thing.” The child has pointed to, say an areas of funny pattern on a dirty wall, and has noticed a figure on it. But the child does not have a word for it and says, “What’s that?” The adult says, “Oh, that’s just a mess,” because that does not count for us as a thing. When you come through this understanding: “What do you mean by a thing?”, it is very fascinating to ask children: “What do you mean by the thing?” and they do not know because it is one of the unexamined suppositions of the culture. “What do you mean by an event?” Well, everybody knows what an event is but nobody can say, because a thing is a “think.” It is a unit of thought, like an inch is a unit of measurement. So we “thing” the world, which is to say that in order to measure a curve you have to reduce it to point instance, and apply the calculus, so in exactly the same way, in order to discuss or talk about the universe you have to reduce it to things. But each thing, or “think,” is, as it were, one grasp of that spotlight, going yeh-yeh-yeh, like this, you see. So, we reduce the infinite wiggliness of the world to grasps, or bits, we are getting back to biting, you see, the idea of teeth, to grasp of thoughts. So we thereby describe the world in terms of things, just as that fisherman could describe his view by the number of net-hole over and through which the view was showing, and this has been the immensely and apparently successful enterprise of all technological culture, superbly emphasized by ourselves.
The Western model of the universe is political, and engineering or architectural. And therefore as one understands the operations of a machine by analysis of its parts, by separating them into their original bits, we have “bitted” the cosmos, and see everything going on in terms of bits, bits of information. And I have found that this is an extremely fruitful enabling us to control what is happening. After all, the whole of Western technology is the result of “bitting.” And so we “thing” the world, that is to say that in order to measure a curve you have to reduce it to point instance, and apply the calculus, so in exactly the same way, in order to discuss or talk about the universe you have to reduce it to things. But each thing, or “think,” is, as it work, one grasp of that spotlight, going (yeh-yeh-yeh) like this, you see. So, we reduce the infinite wiggliness of the world to grasps, or bits, we are getting back to biting, you see, the idea of teeth, to grasp of thoughts. So we thereby describe the world in terms of things, just as that fisherman could describe his view by the number of net-hole over through which the view was showing.
But the problem that arises is this: first of all, very obviously, everybody knows , I hardly need to mention it, go to the science of medicine. You’ve got a specialist who really understands the function of the gallbladder and has studied gallbladders ad infinitum, and he really thinks he knows all about it. But whenever he looks at a human being he sees them in terms of gallbladder. So, if he operates on the gallbladder, he may do so very knowledgeably about that particular area of your organism but he does not foresee the unpredictable effects of this operation in other connected areas, because the human being’s gallbladder is not a “thing” in the same way as a spark plug in a car can be extracted and a new one replaced. Because the system isn’t the same. There is a fundamental difference between a mechanism and an organism, which can be described operationally. A mechanism is assembled; you add this bit to that bit, to that bit, to that bit. But an organism grows, that is to say, when you watch in a microscope a solution in which crystals are forming, you do not see this thing of little bits coming, coming, coming and drawing each other, and finally making up a shape. You see a solution where, it is more like watching a photographic plate developing. Suddenly the whole area which you are watching seems to organize itself, to develop, to make sense, moving from the relatively simple and gooey to the relatively structured and prickly. But not by addition.
So then, if we are trying to control and understand the world through conscious attention which is a scanning system, which takes in everything bit, bit, bit, bit, bit, what we are going to run into is, if that’s the only method we rely on, everything is going to appear increasingly to complicated to manage. So that you get for example, let us take the problem of the electronics industry. The catalogs of products that are being produced over the world by the electronic industry. Who has read all the catalogs? How do you know whether something you are working on is patented or not? Who else has taken out a patent? Has anybody had time to read all the catalogs? Well nobody has, they are just voluminous, and it is exactly the same in almost any other field. There is an information explosion like the population explosion, how on earth are you going to scan all that information? Yes, of course, you can get computers to help you in this direction but by Parkinson’s Law the sooner you become more efficient in doing this, the more the thing is going to develop, so that you will have to have more efficient computers still to assimilate all the information. You may get ahead, but only for a short time.
So you see there’s this problem of the sort of competition of consciousness, of it’s—how fast can you go doo-te-doo doo-te-doo de doo-te-doo de doo-te-doo de doo-te-doo and keep track of it, you see? You say, ‘I’ve got a good memory, I can keep track of that.’ And you say to you, ‘I’ll bet you you can’t, I’ll go more complicated than you.’ Musicians do this, drummers you know? And they get things going, and they start—so long as they can count, and lots of musicians do count, it’s crazy, but they do—and they count count count and they out-complicate each other to the point where, you can’t retain it any longer in memory. So you say, ‘OK, if I can’t retain it we’ve got this gadget here that can, and we’ve got these um marvelous mechanical memories and they’ll retain it. They’ll go much more fancy, they’ll go de doo-te-doo at a colossal speed zwwiiip like that, you see? But it’s the same old problem. Because you’ll get something that can outdo that.
So we end up asking that, yes. But supposing if there were some other way of understanding things. Let us go back from the spotlight to the floodlight, to the extraordinary capacity of the human nervous system to comprehend situations instantaneously without analysis, that is to say without verbal or numerical symbolism of the situation in order to understand it. I hope you understand what I mean. We – we do do that. We have this curious ability of pattern recognition, which the mechanical systems have only in a very primitive way. Xerox have put out a machine which recognizes figures written in almost anyone’s handwriting provided their handwriting is a fairly grade-school and normal. But a computer has a terrible time trying to recognize the letter “A” when it is printed in say, san serif, gothic, longhand, or whatever kind of “A” you may write. The human recognizes instantly this pattern but the computer is at a disadvantage here. It seems to lack a kind of capacity I would call “field organization” because it is all punctive, it’s digital, dut dut dut dut, like a newspaper photograph which, when you look at it under a microscope, is all dots. So the problem is this: in developing technology, are we leaving out of consideration our strongest suit, which is the brain itself. See, we are in a situation where the brain is still not really worked out by even the most competent neurologists. It puzzles them, they cannot give a model of the brain in numerical or verbal language. Now, you are that, you see? You are this thing, you yourself are these things which you yourself cannot figure out. In the same way that I cannot touch the tip of this finger with the tip of this finger, I can’t bite my own teeth. But I who is attempting to touch the tip of this finger with this finger am by the sheer complexity of my structure far more evolved than any system which I can imagine. This is, in a way, slightly akin to the “girdle theorem”, that you cannot have a system of logic, which defines its own axioms. The axioms of any given system must always be defined in terms of a higher system. So you are the most complex thing that has yet been encountered in the cosmos, and you can’t figure you out.
Now let us suppose that we are going to try to do that and become, as it were, completely transparent to ourselves so that we could entirely understand the organization or the mechanics of our own brains. What happens when we do that? Well, you are back in the situation of God, and when you are God what are you going to do? When you’re God, what you’re going to do: you are going to say to yourself, “Man, get lost.” Because what you want is a surprise, and when you have figured everything out there will be no more surprises, you will be completely bored. But on the other hand, a person, I would say, who is really functioning completely is basically a person who trusts his own brains and permits his brain to operate at a more optimal level. In other words, he knows how to think things out but he makes his best discoveries without thinking. In other words, you all know very well the processes of creative invention, you’ve got a problem you think it over but you can’t find any answer to it because the digital system of thinking is too simple, too clumsy to deal with it. It’s more complex, there’re more variables than can be kept in mind at one time, so you say, “I will sleep on it.” Or you go to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, or of Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, where they paying to goof off, which is an excellent idea. And you moon around and you’ve got a blackboard and you look out and pick your nose and so on, and your brain eventually hands you the solution to the problem. And you immediately, because you have the technical knowledge, you recognize that’s a solution. Then naturally you go back and check it and you work it out in the bit-by-bit form of thinking on it and see if does it come out in those terms. And if it does, everybody will agree with you, “Yes, that is the answer.” But if it doesn’t come out in those terms they will not agree with you because you have not subjected it to the socially acceptable traditional form of analyzing knowledge.
But here is the problem. It takes an awfully long time to check these things out, it takes an awfully long time to arrive at the solution which you’ve got, like that, by a purely calculated process. Most of the situations in life are such that they do not wait for us to make up our minds. So an enormous amount of carefully worked-out scientific knowledge is trivial. It is all very well, very finely worked out, but much too late because life presents you, life comes at you from all sides, all over everywhere at once. And the only thing you’ve got to deal with that is the thing inside here, in the skull.
Now, I am not saying this, to put down all this marvelous work of calculation, brought to immense sophistication electronically and so on. No at all, because actually, you people are the first people to understand the limitations of their own kind of knowledge, and you are going to have to tell the politicians about this, they don’t understand. They think that this kind of knowledge is the answer to everything and I think most of us know it is not. Which is not something, I repeat, against technology. I’m only saying, when you walk you put your right foot forward, and that is fine, but then you must put your left foot forward. So that’s say, the great technological enterprise has been putting the right foot forward but you must bring up the left foot, that is to say, bring up revaluation, a new respect for the organic type of organization which is incomprehensible to technological thinking but which always underlies it. That by itself doesn’t work because after you bring the left foot up you have again got to bring up the right foot, the analytic, after goo comes prickles, and after prickles comes goo. We have to keep these things up.
I think our danger at the present time is that we are so heady, so delighted with the results of prickles, that we have to allow a little bit of goo back into the system. Well now, what we have to try and do is, I think, to work out a way of making the brain itself more efficient, and this is the thing that civilized education has neglected. Lynn White, I have to quote him again, used to say that, the academic world today only values three kinds of intelligence: verbal intelligence, mnemonic intelligence, in other words remembering, and computational intelligence. He said it entirely neglects kinesthetic intelligence, social intelligence, and at least seven other kinds of intelligence. But it is the extraordinary capacity of the neural organization say, to engage in pattern recognition and in solving instantly certain complex problems without knowing how it does it. The trouble is, when you do something you do not know how to do, you’ve got a non-repeatable experiment, in a certain sense. In other words, you cannot explain to someone else how to put it together, but you can do it like you can open and close your hand without any knowledge of physiology. You do it every time. Oops, I don’t know how you do it, I just do it, you see? So we have an enormous potential of intelligence, of knowing how to do all sorts of things, which to the extent that we are academically minded people, we will not allow ourselves to do because we cannot explain it. For example, there is a way of cooling a blazing furnace, very simple, but engineers say it is theoretically impossible, it cannot happen, it’s like bees that cannot fly by the laws of aerodynamics but they do. So, the rather practical issue I come to is this: that technology, if it relies exclusively on linear thinking, is going to destroy the environment. It is going to become too complicated to handle, man is going to be like the dinosaur which had to have a brain in its head and a brain in its rump because it was so big. You know, the caveman kept a dinosaur, and when he went to bed at night he’d clump it on the tail with a club, and it would scream at eight o’clock in the morning, wake him up. It seems to me we are getting into that kind of saurian situation with our technology, which it is going to lead us to extinction.
So the question is: are we going to foul things up by insisting on using linear input, information and controlling it, as the dominant tool of controlling the world? Or can we master all that as we have done and still use the linear input and analysis but with a fundamental trust in our power to assimilate multiple inputs, although we really do not know how we do it? My point is that you cannot find an absolute which you can pin down, you see, so there always remains in any human operation the basic central thing which you cannot pin down because it is you, just as teeth cannot bite themselves. Now, the assumption of Judeo-Christian culture is that man in his nature is sinful, and therefore cannot be trusted. The assumption of at least ancient Chinese culture is that man in his essential nature is good, and therefore has to be trusted. Because they say to us, “If you cannot trust your own basic nature you cannot really rely on the idea that you are untrustworthy, therefore you are hopelessly fouled up.” So this has an amazing political and other consequences, this different assumption. If we say, “No, we human beings are fallible, and basically selfish, and really, really fundamentally evil, therefore we need law and order and a control system to put us in order.” We thereby project these control systems onto the church or the police, or onto somebody who is really ourselves disguised. They are like daylight saving time. Everybody could simply get up an hour earlier, but instead of doing that we alter the clock because a clock is a kind of authority, and we say “Well, the clock says it is time for you to get up.” The Indians, the Amer Indians laugh at the “palefaces” because they say, “The paleface, he doesn’t know when he is hungry until he looks at his watch.” So in this way we become clock-dominated, and the abstract system takes over from the physical, organic situation. And this is my big pitch, if I’m gonna make a big pitch, is that we run into a cultural situation where we have confused the symbol with the physical reality, the money with the wealth, and the menu with the dinner, and we are starving on eating menus.
Myth of Myself (1-2)
I believe that if we are honest with ourselves, that the most fascinating problem in the world is “Who am I?” What do you mean, what do you feel when you say the word “I”, “I, Myself”? I do not think there can be any more fascinating preoccupation than that because it is so mysterious, it’s so elusive. Because what you are in your inmost being escapes your examination in rather the same way that you can not look directly into your own eyes without using a mirror, you can’t bite your own teeth, you can’t taste your own tongue and you can’t touch the tip of this finger with the tip of this finger. And that is why there is always an element of profound mystery in the problem of who we are. This problem has fascinated me for many years and I have made many enquiries “What do you mean by the word I?” And there is a certain consensus about this, a certain agreement, especially among people who live in Western civilization.
Most of us feel “I” – ego, myself, my source of consciousness – to be a center of awareness and of a source of action that resides in the middle of a bag of skin and so we have what I have called the conception of ourselves as a skin-encapsulated ego. It is very funny how we use the word “I”, if we just refer to common speech, we are not accustomed to say, “I am a body.” We rather say, “I have a body.” We do not say, “I beat my heart” in the same way as we say, “I walk, I think, I talk.” We feel that our heart beats itself, and that has nothing very much to do with “I.” In other words, we do not regard “I, myself” as identical with our whole physical organism. We regard it as something inside it, and most Western people locate their ego inside their heads. You are somewhere between your eyes and between your ears, and the rest of you dangles from that point of reference. It is not so in other cultures. When a Chinese or Japanese person wants to locate the center of himself, he points (here, not here, here) to what Japanese call the kokoro or the Chinese call shin, the heart-mind. Some people also locate themselves in the solar plexus, but by and large we locate ourselves behind the eyes and somewhere between the ears. As if within the dome of the skull there was some sort of arrangement such as there is at the SAC (Air Force) headquarters in Denver where there are men in great rooms surrounded with radar screens and all sorts of things, and earphones on, watching all the movements of planes all over the world. So, in the same way, we have really the idea of ourselves as a little men inside our heads who has earphones on which bring messages from the ears, and who has a television set in front of him which brings messages from the eyes, and all sorts of electrode things all over his body giving him signals from the hands, and so on. He has a panel in front of him with buttons and dials and things, and so he more or less controls the body. But he is not the same as the body because “I” am in charge of what are called the voluntary actions, and what are called the involuntary actions of the body they happen to me. I am pushed around by them, but to some extent also I can push my body around. This, I have concluded, is the ordinary, average conception of what is one’s self.
Look at the way children, influenced by our cultural environment, ask questions. “Mommy, who would I have been if my father had been someone else?” You see, the child gets the idea from our culture that the father and mother gave him a body into which he was popped at some moment; whether it was conception or whether it was parturition is a little bit vague, but there is in our whole way of thinking the idea that we are a soul, a spiritual essence of some kind, imprisoned inside a body. And that we look out upon a world that is foreign to us, in the words of the poet Housman: “I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.” So therefore we speak of confronting reality, facing the facts. We speak of coming into this world, and this whole sensation that we are brought up to have of being an island of consciousness locked up in a bag of skin, facing outside us, a world that is profoundly alien to us in the sense that what is outside “me” is not me, this sets up a fundamental sensation of hostility and estrangement between ourselves and the so-called external world. Therefore we go on to talk about the conquest of nature, the conquest of space, and view ourselves in a kind of battle array towards the world outside us. I shall have much more to say about that in the second lecture, but in the first now I want to examine the strange feeling of being an isolated self.
Now actually it is absolutely absurd to say that we came into this world. We did not: we came out of it! What do you think you are? Supposing this world is a tree. Are you leaves on its branches or are you a bunch of birds that settled on a dead old tree from somewhere else? Surely everything that we know about living organisms – from the standpoint of the sciences – shows us that we grow out of this world, that we, each one of us, are what you might call a symptoms of the state of the universe as a whole. But you see, that is not part of our common sense.
Western man has, for many centuries, been under the influence of two great myths. When I use the word “myth” I don’t necessarily mean falsehood. To me the word myth signifies a great idea in terms of which man tries to make sense with the world; it may be an idea, it may be an image. Now the two images which have most profoundly influenced Western man are: number one – the image of the world as an artifact, like a carpenter’s table or a jar made by a potter. Indeed, in the Book of Genesis there comes the idea that man was originally a clay figurine made out of the Earth by the Lord God who then breathed into this clay figurine and gave it life. The whole of Western thought is profoundly influenced through and through by the idea that all things – all events, all people, all mountains, all stars, all flowers, all grasshoppers, all worms, everything – are artifacts; they have been made. And it is therefore natural for a Western child to say to its mother, “How was I made?” That would be quite an unnatural question for a Chinese child, because the Chinese do not think of nature as something made. They look upon it as something that grows, and the two processes are quite different. When you make something you put it together: you assemble parts, or you carve an image out of wood or stone, working from the outside to the inside. But when you watch something grow, it works in an entirely different way. It doesn’t assemble parts. It expands from within and gradually complicates itself, expanding outwards, like a bud blossoming, like a seed turning into a plant.
But behind our whole thought in the West is the idea that the world is an artifact, that it is put together by a celestial architect, carpenter, and artist, who therefore knows how it was done. When I was a little boy and I asked many questions which my mother could not answer, she used to resort in desperation to saying, “My dear, there are some things that we are not meant to know,” and I would say, “Well, will we ever find out?” And she said, “Yes, when we die and we go to Heaven it will all be made clear.” And I used to think that on wet afternoons in Heaven we would all sit around the throne of grace and say to the Lord God, “Now, just why did you do it this way, and how did you manage at that?” and He would explain it and make it all very clear. All questions would be answered because, as we have in popular theology understood the Lord God, He is the mastermind who knows everything. And if you ask the Lord God exactly how high is Mount Whitney to the nearest millimeter, He would know exactly like that, and would tell you. Any question, because He is like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Unfortunately, this particular image, or myth, became too much for Western man because it was oppressive to feel that you are known through and through, and watched all the time by an infinitely just judge.
I have a friend, a very enlightened woman, she is a Catholic convert, but very enlightened Catholic, and in her bathroom she has on the pipe that connects the tank with the toilet seat a little framed picture of an eye. And underneath in Gothic letters is written “Thou God seest me.” Everywhere is this eye – watching, watching, watching – watching and judging you, so that you always feel you are never really by yourself. The old gentleman is observing you and writing notes in his black book, and this became too much for the West, became oppressive. They had to get rid of it, and so instead we got another myth, the myth of the purely mechanical universe. This was invented at the end of the eighteenth century, became increasingly fashionable throughout the course of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, so that today it is common sense. Very few people today really believe in God in the old sense. They say they do, but they really hope there is a God, they don’t really have faith in God. They fervently wish that there was one, and feel that they ought to believe that there is, but the idea of the universe being ruled by that marvelous old gentleman is no longer plausible. It isn’t that anybody has disproved it, but it just somehow does not go with the vast infinitude of galaxies and of the immense light-year distances between them, and so on.
Instead, it has become fashionable, and it is nothing more than a fashion, to believe that the universe is dumb, stupid, that intelligence, values, love, and fine feelings reside only within the bag of the human epidermis, and outside that it is simply a kind of a chaotic, stupid interaction of blind forces. Courtesy of Dr. Freud, for example, biological life is based on something called “libido,” which was a very, very loaded word. Blind, ruthless, uncomprehending lust, that’s the foundation of the human unconscious, and similarly to thinkers of the nineteenth century like Ernst Hegel, even Darwin, and T.H. Huxley and so on, there was this notion that at the root of being is an energy, and this energy is blind. This energy is just energy, and it is utterly and totally stupid, and our intelligence is an unfortunate accident. By some weird freak of evolution we came to be these feeling and rational beings, more or less rational, and this is a ghastly mistake because here we are in a universe that has nothing in common with us. It does not share our feelings, has no real interest in us, we are just a sort of cosmic fluke.
And therefore, the only hope for mankind is to beat this irrational universe into submission, and conquer it, master it. Now all of this is perfectly idiotic. If you would think that the idea of the universe has been the creation of a benevolent old gentleman, although He is not so benevolent, He takes sort of “this hurts me more than it is going to hurt you”, sort of attitude to things. You can have that on the one hand, and if that becomes uncomfortable you can exchange it for its opposite, the idea that the ultimate reality does not have any intelligence at all, at least that would get rid of the old bogey in the sky in exchange for a picture of the world that is completely stupid.
Now, these ideas don’t make any sense, especially the last one, because you cannot get an intelligent organism, such as a human being, out of an unintelligent universe. The same in the New Testament, that figs do not grow on thistles nor grapes on thorns – applies equally to the world. You do not find an intelligent organism living in an unintelligent environment. Look, here is a tree in the garden, and every summer it produces apples; and we call it an apple tree because the tree “apples” – that’s what it does. All right? Now, here is a solar system inside a galaxy, and one of the peculiarities of this solar system is that, at least on the planet earth, it “peoples” in just the same way that an apple tree “apples.” Now, maybe two million years ago, somebody came from another galaxy in a flying saucer and had a look at this solar system, and they looked it over and shrugged their shoulders and said, “Just a bunch of rocks,” and they went away. Later on, maybe two million years later, they came around and they looked at it again and they said, “Excuse me, we thought it was a bunch of rocks but it is peopling, and it is alive after all; it has done something intelligent.” Because you see, we grow out of this world in exactly the same way that the apples grow on the apple tree. If evolution means anything, it means that. But you see, we curiously twist it. We say, “Well, first of all in the beginning there was nothing but gas and rock. And then intelligence happened to arise in it like a sort of fungus or slime on the top of the whole thing.” And we are thinking in a way that disconnects the intelligence from the rocks. Where there are rocks, watch out, watch out! because the rocks are going eventually to come alive and they are going to have people crawling over them. It is only a matter of time, just in the same way as the seed, the acorn is eventually going to turn into the oak because it has the potentiality of that within it. Rocks are not dead.
You see, it depends on what kind of attitude you want to take to the world. If you want to put the world down, you say, “Oh well, fundamentally it is only just a lot of geology, it’s a stupidity, and it so happens that a kind of a freak comes up in it which we call consciousness.” That is an attitude that you take when you want to prove to people that you are a tough guy, that you are realistic, that you face facts, and that you don’t indulge in wishful thinking. It’s just a matter of role-playing, and you must be aware of these things; they’re fashions in the intellectual world. On the other hand, if you feel warmhearted towards the universe, you put it up, instead of putting it down, and you say about rocks, “They are really conscious, but a very primitive form of consciousness.” Because, after all, when I take even this crystal here, which is glass, and go (I tap on it), well it makes a noise. And that response, that resonance is an extremely primitive form of consciousness. Our consciousness is much more subtle than that, but when you hit a bell and it rings, you touch a crystal and it responds, inside itself it has a very simple reaction. It goes “jangle” inside, whereas we go “jangle” with all sorts of colors and lights and intelligence, ideas, and thoughts, it is more complicated. But both are equally conscious, but conscious in different degrees. That is a perfectly acceptable idea. It’s just the opposite of the idea, you see, all I am saying is that minerals are a rudimentary form of consciousness, whereas the other people are saying that consciousness is a complicated form of minerals. You see? What they want to do is to say everything is kind of bleh, whereas what I want to say is “Hooray! Let’s a life is a good show!”
As we study man or any other living organism and try to describe him accurately and scientifically, we find that our normal sensation of ourselves as isolated egos inside a bag of skin is a hallucination. It really is it’s absolutely nutty, because when you describe human behavior, or the behavior of a mouse or a rat or a chicken or anything you want to describe, you find that as you try to describe its behavior accurately, you must also describe the behavior of its environment. Supposing I walk and you want to describe the action of walking, you cannot talk about my walking without also describing the floor, because if you do not describe the floor and the space in which I am moving all you will be describing is somebody swinging his legs in empty space. So as to describe my walking, you must describe the space in which you find me. You know, you couldn’t see me unless you could also see my background, what stands behind me. See, if I myself, if the boundaries of my skin were coterminous with your whole field of vision you would not see me at all. You would see my bright, red vest instead. That’s why put it on this evening and to demonstrate this point. And that would be the thing that filled your field of vision, that was the thing standing there, you would not see me, because in order to see me you have to see not only what is inside the boundary of my skin, but you have to see what is outside it too.
Now, that is terribly important. Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery – the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets – is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together. There is, in other words, a secret conspiracy between all insides and all outsides, and the conspiracy is this: to look as different as possible, and yet underneath to be identical. Because you do not find one without the other. Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle. Note that – agreed. So there is a secret: what is esoteric, what is profound, and what is deep is what we will call the “implicit.” What is obvious and in the open is what we will call the “explicit.” And I and my environment, you and your environment are explicitly as different as different could be, but implicitly you go together. And this is discovered by the scientist, when he tries, with the whole art of sciences describe what happens exactly, when he describe exactly what you do, he finds out that you, your behavior, is not something that can be separated from the behavior of the world around you. He realizes then that you are something that the whole world is doing, just as when the sea has waves on it, all right, you see is the ocean is waving. So each one of us is a “waving” of the whole cosmos, the entire works, all there is, and with each one of us it is waving and saying, “Yoo-hoo! Here I am!”, only does it differently each time, because variety is the spice of life.
But you see, the funny thing is we have not been brought up to feel that way. Instead of feeling that we, each one of us, are something that the whole realm of being is doing, we feel that we are something that has come into the whole realm of being as a stranger. When we were born we do not really know where we came from because we do not remember, and we think when we die that is just going to be that. Some people console themselves with the idea that they are going to Heaven, or that they are going to be reincarnated, summer land or something you know, but people don’t really believe that. For most people it is implausible, and the real thing that haunts them is that when they die they will go to sleep and are never going to wake up. They are going to be locked up in the safe deposit box of darkness forever. But that all depends, you see, upon a false notion of what is one’s self. Now, the reason why we have this false notion of ourselves is, as far as I can understand it, that we have specialized in one particular kind of consciousness. Being very general, rough, we have two kinds of consciousness. One I will call the “spotlight,” and the other the “floodlight.” The spotlight is what we call conscious attention, and that is trained into us from childhood as the most valuable form of consciousness. When the teacher in class says, “Pay attention!” everybody stares, and looks right at the teacher (like that). That is spotlight consciousness; fixing your mind on one thing at a time. Concentrate, and even though you may not be able to have a very long attention span, nevertheless you concentrate, you use your spotlight: one thing after another, one thing after another, flip, flip, flip, flip, flip, like that. But we also have another kind of consciousness which I call the floodlight. For example, you can drive your car for several miles with a friend sitting next to you, and your spotlight consciousness will be completely absorbed in talking to your friend. Nevertheless, your floodlight consciousness will manage the driving of the car, will notice all the stoplights, the other idiots on the road, and so on, and you will get there safely without even thinking about it.
But our culture has taught us to specialize in spotlight consciousness, and to identify ourselves with that form of consciousness alone. “I am my spotlight consciousness, my conscious attention; that is my ego; that is me.” And very largely we ignore the floodlight. The floodlight consciousness is working all the time, every nerve end that we have is its instrument. You know, you can go out to a luncheon or something, and you sit next to Mrs. So-and-So, and you go home and your wife says to you,
“Was Mrs. So-and-So there?”
“Yes, I sat next to her.”
“Well, what was she wearing?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
You saw, but you did not notice. Now, because we have been brought up to identify ourselves with the spotlight consciousness, and the floodlight consciousness is undervalued, we have the sensation of ourselves as being just the spotlight, just the ego that looks and attends to this and that and the other. And so we ignore and are unaware of the vast, vast extent of our being. People, who by various methods become fully aware of their floodlight consciousness, have what is called “a mystical experience” or a cosmic consciousness or what the Buddhists call bodhi, awakening. The Hindus call it moksha, liberation, because they discover that the real deep, deep self, that which you really are, fundamentally and forever, is the whole of being – all that there is, the works, that is you. Only that universal self that is you has a capacity to focus itself at ever so many different here-and-nows. So, when you use the word “I”, as William James said “is really a word of position like ‘this,’ or ‘here’.” Just as a sun or star has many rays, so the whole cosmos expresses itself in you and you and you, in all the different variations. It plays games: it plays the John Doe game, the Mary Smith game. It plays the beetle game, the butterfly game, the bird game, the pigeon game, the fish game, the star game. Just like these are games that differ from each other just like backgammon, whist, bridge, poker, pinochle; or like the waltz, mazurka, minuet, and so on. It dances with infinite variety, but every single dance that it does, that is to say – you – is what the whole thing is doing. But you see, we forget it, we do not know. We are brought up in a special way so that we are unaware of the connection, unaware that each one of us is the works, playing it this way for a while. So we have been taught to treat death as if that were the end of the show, that won’t happen any more. And therefore to be afraid of all the things that might bring about death: pain, sickness, suffering. And if you don’t know this, if you are not really vividly aware of the fact that you are basically “the works,” you have no real joy in life, you are just a bundle of anxiety mixed up with guilt, because, you see, when we bring children into the world, we play awful games with them.
Instead of saying, “How do you do? Welcome to the human race. Now my dear, we are playing some very complicated games, and these are the rules of the game we are playing. I want you to understand them, and when you learn them when you get a little bit older you might be able to think up some better rules.” Instead of being quite direct with our children, we say, “You are here on probation, and you must understand that. Maybe when you grow up a bit you will be acceptable, but until then you should be seen and not heard. You are a mess, and you have to be educated and schooled and whipped until you are human.” So these attitudes which are inculcated into us from infancy go on into old age, the way you start out is liable to be the way you finish. So people are going around feeling fundamentally that they do not belong because their parents said to them in the first place, “Look, you don’t really belong here, you are here on sufferance. You are on probation. You are not a human being yet.” And people feel this right on into old age and so they figure that the universe is presided over by this kind of awful God-the-Father parent who has our best interest at heart, he’s loving, but “Who spares the rod, spoils the child. Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” So, where is it going to hit next? You do not feel that you belong, and so we get this ghastly, what I call, “Christian ego,” and a little bit Jewish, too, who really feels that he is homeless, that he is orphan. Even the Christians say we are sons of God by adoption, grace; not real sons but only by adoption, grace, and sufferance. So there comes a sensation so characteristic of Western man and, indeed, of all highly civilized people, of being a stranger on the earth, a momentary flash of consciousness between two eternal blacknesses.
And so therefore we speak of confronting reality, facing the facts. We speak of coming into this world, and this whole sensation that we are brought up to have of being an island of consciousness locked up in a bag of skin, facing outside us, a world that is profoundly alien to us in the sense that what is outside “me” is not me, this sets up a fundamental sensation of hostility and estrangement between ourselves and the so-called external world.
So, my main point last night was then, that we need a new kind of consciousness in which every individual becomes aware that his real self is not just his conscious ego. You know, let’s take a headlight of a car. The headlight shines on the road in front, the headline does not shine on the wire which connects it with its own battery. So, in a way, the headlight is unaware of how it shines, and in the same way we are unaware of the sources of our consciousness. We do not know how we know. There was a young man who said, “Though it seems that I know that I know, what I would like to see is the I that knows me, when I know that I know that I know.” And so, we are ignorant of, we ignore, it does not come within the scope of our attention how it is that we manage to be conscious, how it is that we manage to grow our hair, to shape our bones, to beat our heart, and to secrete all the necessary fluids that we need from our glands. We do it, but we do not know how we do it. Because you see, underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really “us” than “I.” And if you become aware of the unknown self – the more you become aware of it – the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that there is. That you are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and that farther more this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies. And that vast thing that you see far off, far off with great telescopes, and you look and look, and one day you are going to wake up and say, “Why, that is me!” and in knowing that you know that you’ll never die. You are the eternal thing that comes and goes, that appears now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown; and so it goes, forever and ever and ever.
Most of us are brought up to feel that what we see out in front of us is something that is, that lies beyond our eyes out here. That the colors and the shapes that you see in this room, are out there. Now, in fact that is not so, in fact all that you see is a stated affairs inside your head. All these colors, all these lights are conditions of the optical nervous system. There are outside the eyes quanta, electronic phenomenon, vibrations but these things are not light, there are not color until there are translated into states of the human nervous system. So if you want to know how the inside of your head feels, open your eyes and look, that is how the inside of your head feels. But we are normally unaware of that and project it out.
Man and Nature (1-2)
In my talk last night I was discussing the disparity between the way in which most human beings experience their own existence, and the way man’s being and nature is described in the sciences. I was pointing out that in such sciences as ecology and biology, ecology for example describes and studies the relationship between all organisms and their environments. The way in which they describe human, animal, and insect behavior is in flat contradiction with the way in which most of us experience our thinking, our action, and our existence. We have been brought up to experience ourselves as isolated centers of awareness and action, placed in a world that is not us, that is foreign, alien, other, which we confront. Whereas, in fact, the way an ecologist describes human behavior is as an action. What you do is what the whole universe is doing at the place you call “here and now”. You are something the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing.
This is not what you might call a fatalistic or deterministic idea. You see, you might be a fatalist if you think that you are a sort of puppet which life pushes around. You are separate from life, but life dominates you. That’s fatalism. But in the point of view I am expressing, the real you is not a puppet which life pushes around. The real deep down you is the whole universe, and it is doing your living organism and all of its behavior, it’s expressing it as a singer sings a song. We have been hoodwinked into the feeling that we exist only inside our skins, and I was showing last night that that is a hallucination. It is just as nutty as anybody could be, like a fruitcake, you know, who thinks he is Napoleon or something another, thinks he is a poached egg and goes around finding a piece of toast to sit on. It is just like that, a hallucination. And I was showing how we need to experience ourselves in such a way that we could say that our real body is not just what is inside the skin but our whole total external environment. Because, if we do not experience ourselves that way, we mistreat our environment. We treat it as an enemy. We try to beat it into submission, and if we do that, comes disaster. We exploit the world we live in, we do not treat it with love and gentleness and respect. We cut down millions of acres of forests to turn it into newspaper, of all things. Lovely trees turned into information about nothing, and we do not replace them properly. We kick the world around in revenge for feeling that really we are puppets which the world kicks around.
So, my main point last night was then that we need a new kind of consciousness in which every individual becomes aware that his real self is not just his conscious ego. You know, let’s take a headlight of a car. The headlight shines on the road in front, the headline does not shine on the wire which connects it with its own battery. So, in a way, the headlight is unaware of how it shines, and in the same way we are unaware of the sources of our consciousness. We do not know how we know. There was a young man who said, “Though it seems that I know that I know, what I would like to see is the I that knows me, when I know that I know that I know.” And so, we are ignorant of, we ignore, it does not come within the scope of our attention how it is that we manage to be conscious, how it is that we manage to grow our hair, to shape our bones, to beat our heart, and to secrete all the necessary fluids that we need from our glands. We do it, but we do not know how we do it. Because you see, underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really “us” than “I.” And if you become aware of that unknown self – the more you become aware of it – the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that there is. That you are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and that furthermore this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies. And that vast thing that you see far off, far off with telescopes, and you look and look, one day you are going to wake up and say, “Why, that’s me!” and in knowing that you know, you see, that you never die. You are the eternal thing that comes and goes, that appears now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown; so it goes, forever and ever and ever.
Now then, why I made this point as an introduction to what I want to say tonight is the problem of the relationship of man and nature. You know, in the history of philosophy there are really three theories of nature. Incidentally, what do you mean when you use the word “nature”? What is nature study, natural history, the Museum of Natural History, what do you expect to find there? Well, for many people nature means the birds, the bees, and the flowers. It means everything that is not artificial. People think, for example, a building like this is not natural; it is artificial. The natural state of the human being is to be naked, but we wear clothes, and that’s artificial. We build houses. Is there any difference between a human house and a wasp’s nest or a bird’s nest? Not really, but we do have in our minds, you see, the idea that nature is somehow outside us. We have got some nature in us, and we say there is a thing called human nature, that’s mostly bad. Human nature, according to Dr. Freud, is motivated by the libido, and you know what that is and you cannot trust it. In the old days they used to beat it with whips, but Freud said, “Don’t do it that way! You have to treat it as a good horse trainer trains a horse by giving it a lump of sugar every now and then, and get it control that way. Be kind to it and respect it, even though it is really very, very disrespectable.”
Well now, there are, as I said, in the history of the mankind, three theories of nature. The first theory is the Western theory, which is that nature is a machine, or an artifact. We inherit this from the Hebrews who believed that nature was made by God in somewhat the same way as a potter makes a pot out of clay or a carpenter makes a table out of wood. It is not insignificant that Jesus is the son of a carpenter. Our tradition has been to look upon the world as a construct and somebody knows how it was put together. Somebody understands and that is the constructor, the architect, the Lord God. But it so happens that in the eighteenth century Western thought began to change. They became increasingly doubtful as to whether there was a maker – whether there was a God – but they continued to look upon the creation as an artifact, as a machine. And by the time of Newton, people were explaining the world in terms of mechanism and we are still under the influence of that idea because after all, things like life magazines and so on, when they give you an article on human physiology, they usually make drawings which show the human being as a kind of mechanism, as a sort of factory. And they show how the peristaltic action carries the food in and how it is processed by this organ and that organ, as just as if a certain product is fed into a factory, a cow at one end and comes out canned corned beef at the other. Just in such a way the human is illustrated and so in some kinds of rather degraded medicine, that is now practiced, when you go to the hospital for a medical examination, you are treated as a machine, they process you. You are not a person, you are putted in a wheelchair immediately even if you are perfectly healthy and can walk, nevertheless they have to have you in this wheelchair. And they put you through a process and the heart specialist looks only at your heart, because he can’t understand anything else. The otorhinolaryngologist, which means an ear, nose, and throat man, looks at that section of you, and he does not know about anything else. Then maybe a psychiatrist takes a look at you and goodness knows what happens there; and so on, and so on. Everybody looks at you from their specialized point of view as if they were a bunch of mechanics examining your automobile. Because as I said last night, we just ask for this because most of us consider ourselves as chauffeurs inside our bodies, which we own in the same way as we own a car. And when it goes wrong we take it to the mechanic to fix it. You don’t really identify with our body, just as we do not really identify with your car. So here is this whole theory of nature which has grown up in the West, as an artifact, something made.
Now let me take a second theory of nature. This is an Indian theory, East Indian. Nature not as an artifact but as drama. Basic to all Hindu thought is the idea that the world is Maya. That is a Sanskrit word which means many things. It means magic, illusion, art, play. All the world is a stage, and in the Hindu idea of nature there is, the ultimate reality of the universe is the self which they call brahman, or atman. That is what there is; the Self – universal, eternal, boundless, indescribable – and everything that happens, happens on the Self, like you say “It’s on me, the drinks tonight are on me,” or like we say when you hear the radio, “It’s on the speaker.” You see, everything you hear on the radio, flutes, drums, human voices, traffic noises, any imaginable sound, all thou sounds are vibrations of the diaphragm in the speaker. But the radio does not tell you that. The announcer does not come on and say every morning “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is KQED. The following sounds that you are going to hear are vibrations of the diaphragm in your speaker, and they are not really human voices or musical instruments, but just that.” They never let you in on that, and in exactly the same way, the universe does not let you in on the truth that all sense experiences are vibrations of the self; not just your self, but the Self, and all of us share this Self in common because it is pretending to be all of us. Brahman, the ultimate principle, plays hide and seek eternally, and he does it for unspeakably long periods of time. The Hindus measure time in what is called a kalpa; K A L P A, that is 4,320,000 years. Don’t take this seriously, this not meant to be taken literally, but just for an unspeakably long time. The brahman, the self, pretends that it is lost, and is us. And all of our adventures and all our troubles, and all our agonies, tragedies, it gets mixed up in. Then, after the period of 4,320,000 years has elapsed, there is a catastrophe. The universe is destroyed in fire, and after that the Brahman wakes up and says, “Well, good, crazy! What an adventure that was!” He wipes the sweat off his brow and says, “Shwooo, let’s rest a while.” So, for another 4,320,000 years the Divine Self rests, and knows who It is. It’s me. Then It says, “Well, this is rather boring. Let’s get going again; let’s get mixed up.” And it does this in a very strange way because the way the Hindus time it, the first period of getting mixed up, getting lost is beautiful. That is the longest period. Everything is right, just life is glorious. Then there is the next period in which things get a little wonky. Something is vaguely out of order, that doesn’t last so long. Then the next period, the third, is when good and evil are equally balanced, and that is still not so long. Finally comes the shortest period when everything bad triumphs, and the whole thing blows up and we begin all over again. We are supposed to be living in that now. It is called the Kali Yuga, the Age of Darkness, and it began on Friday, February the 23rd, 3123 B.C., and it has 5,000 years to run. But as it goes on, time gets faster, so do not worry. So you see, that’s the theory of nature as a drama, it’s a play.
Now, there is a third theory of nature which is Chinese, and this is very interesting. The Chinese word for nature they call tzu-jan, and this expression means “of itself, so”, what happens of itself. Or we might say “spontaneity,” it almost means “automatic,” because automatic is what is self-moving, only we associate the word “automatic” with machinery. But tzu-jan, what-is-so-of-itself, is associated in the Chinese mind not with machinery but with biology. Your hair grows by itself; you do not have to think how to grow it. Your heart beats by itself; you do not have to make up your mind how to beat it. This is what they mean by nature. A poem says, “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows of itself.” So there are principle of nature called the Tao, T A O, pronounced “dow” in the Mandarin dialect, “tow” in the Shanghai dialect, “toe” in the Cantonese dialect, take your choice.
Tao means the course of nature, and Lao-tzu, who was a philosopher who lived a little later than 400 B.C., wrote a book about the Tao. And he said, “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” You cannot describe it. He said the principle of the Tao is spontaneity, he said “the Great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. It accomplishes merits and lays no claim to them.” So there is a very great difference between the Chinese idea of Tao, as the informing principle of nature, and the Judeo-Christian idea of God as nature’s lord and master, because the Tao does not act as a boss. In the Chinese philosophy of nature, nature has no boss. There is no principle that forces things to behave the way they do, it is a completely democratic theory of nature. Correspondingly you see, most Westerners, whether they be Christians or non-Christians, do not trust nature. Of all things nature is the thing least to be trusted. You must manage it. You must watch out for it, it will always go wrong if you do not watch out, you know the goblins will get you if you do not watch out. So, we are always feeling that you can’t trust it. See, we are absolutely instilled with the idea of original sin. You cannot trust nature because it comes out with weeds and insects, and above all, you cannot trust human nature, because if you don’t hold a club over yourself, you go out and rape you grandmother.
Now, the Chinese would say, “If you cannot trust yourself you cannot trust anything, because if you cannot trust yourself can you trust your mistrust of yourself? Is that well-founded?” You see? If you can’t trust yourself, you are totally mixed up. You haven’t a leg to stand on, and you have no point of departure for anything. And in this respect, the Taoist philosophy and the Confucian philosophy are in agreement. In Confucius philosophy, the fundamental virtue of a human being is called jen, spelled J E N, for reasons best know to Chinese scholars. I don’t know what they are, but is pronounced jen. It is a Chinese character that Confucius placed as the highest of all virtues, higher than righteousness, higher than benevolence, and it means approximately human-heartedness. Now, Confucius once said that “goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue.” Virtue in Chinese is teh, we Romanize it as T E H, and it means virtue not in the sense of moral propriety, but virtue in the sense of magic, as when we speak of the healing virtues of a certain plant. A man of true virtue is therefore a human-hearted man, and the meaning of this is that one should, above all, trust human nature in the full recognition that it is both good and bad, that it’s both loving and selfish.
Now, let me give an illustration of the wisdom of this. When people fight wars, I trust them. If the reason for which they fight a war is to expropriate somebody else’s possessions and women, because they will fight a merciful war they will not destroy the possessions and the women that they want to capture. They want to enjoy them. And that’s a war based on simple, ordinary, everyday human greed. The most awful wars that are waged, are the wars waged for moral principles. You are a lousy communist, you have a philosophy that is destructive to religion and to everything that we love, and value, and reverence, and therefore we will exterminate you to the last man unless you surrender unconditionally. Such wars are ruthless beyond belief. We can blow up whole cities, wipe people out because we are not greedy, we are righteous. That is why the goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue. If you are going to do something evil, do it for a play, honest selfish motive. Don’t do it in the name of God. Because if you do, it turns you into a monster who is no longer human. A sadist, a pure destroyer. So an inflexibly righteous person is not human. And that is why in Chinese ideas of justice a good judge is not somebody who abides by the book. Their idea of justice is for God’s sake keep the case out of court. Let us have a concentration behind the scenes. And let’s arrange a compromise. Because we know our opponent is a rascal, I know I am a rascal, and therefore, there can be a mutual arrangement between thieves. So we talk about it, we call the judge in, in an unofficial capacity. And the judge hums and haws and if he is a good judge, he has a sense of what is called Li. I’m going to talk you about another meaning of the word pronounced li later on, but it’s quite a different word.
Li is justice, but you cannot write it down. There is another word for justice, or law, in Chinese tzu. And this word represents, in its Chinese character form, a cauldron for cooking sacrifices and a knife. In the high and far-off times of Chinese history there was an emperor who, when the people brought their sacrifices of meat and so on to be put in the cauldrons, he also scratched with a knife on the side of the cauldrons the laws of the state so all the people could read them and understand what they were. But the sages who advised this emperor said that was a very bad thing to do because the moment people see the law written down, they develop a litigious spirit. That is to say, they think out ways of wangling around it, and that’s what we do all the time, don’t we? The moment Congress passes a law, a tax law especially, all the lawyers get together and they fill it full of holes. They say, “Well, it did not define this and it did not say that.” And some of those Confucians wanted to put the language in order and to make all the words mean just so. But the Taoists laughed at them and said, “If you define the words, with what words are you going to define the words that define the words?” So they said, therefore, that the emperor should not have written the laws down because a sense of justice is not something you can put in words. It is what our lawyers call “equity,” and if you talk to any lawyer and in discussing various judges around town he will say, “Well, Judge so-and-so is pretty much a stickler for the letter of the law, but on the other hand Judge so-and-so has a sense of equity. He knows when the law, the letter of the law just doesn’t apply to this particular case. And he just has an innate sense of fair play, that is the man to be trusted as a judge.” This is what the Chinese mean by a judge who has the sense of li, of real justice. It cannot be written down, it cannot be explained because every case is individual. But what such a man has fundamentally in his heart, he trusts the good and bad of human nature.
Human beings are complex, we don’t know ourselves at all, really. Consider your nervous system. Neurologists haven’t even begun to figure it out, and yet all of your conscious decisions are based on this thing that you do not understand. You are unbelievably more wise in your nature than you ever will be in your conscious thoughts, because behind your conscious thoughts lies your nervous system. And if you say, “Well, my nervous system is unreliable. It is just a bunch of strange, weird, biological chances that have become mixed up somehow,” then this very opinion that you are expressing, you see, is a function of that nervous system. So you are saying that you are a total hoax, you cannot trust yourself at all. So that is a set of game rules that don’t lead anywhere. It’s totally self-frustrating.
So you see, what the Chinese have developed here is a theory of nature, I said there are three theories – the western mechanical theory, nature as an artifact; the Hindu dramatic theory and the Chinese organic theory. Nature, human nature included, is an organism; and an organism is a system of orderly anarchy. There is no boss in it but it gets along by being left alone and being allowed to do its stuff. That is what the Chinese Taoist philosophy calls wu-wei, which means not doing nothing but not interfering with the course of events, not acting against the grain.
Now this is the time to introduce the second word li in Chinese. The first li meant justice, the second li is a character which had the original meaning of the markings in jade, the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle. And it’s usually translated ‘reason’ or the ‘principle of things’, these are not very good translations. The best translation of li is organic pattern. Now look here. When you look at the clouds they aren’t symmetrical. They do not form fours and they do not come along in cubes, but you know at once that they are not a mess. A dirty old ashtray full of junk may be a mess but clouds do not look like that. When you look at the patterns of foam on water they never make an artistic mistake and they are not a mess. They are wiggly but in a way, orderly, and it is difficult for us to describe that kind of order.
Now, take a look at yourselves. You are all wiggly. We think that we are pretty ordinary because there are a lot of us who look approximately the same. So when we see a human being we think, “Well, that is pretty much in order” and regular, and it’s okay, we don’t realize how wiggly we are. We are just like clouds, rocks, and stars. Look at the way the stars are arranged. Do you criticize the way the stars are arranged? Would you like them to form fours? Would you like them to be sort of set out like needlepoint on the canvas of the skies? There were somebody in the eighteenth century, in the days when they built formal gardens of clipped hedges and made all the tulips stand together like soldiers, who criticized the stars for being irregularly arranged, but today we don’t feel that way. We love the way the stars are scattered, and they never make a mistake in their arrangement. What about mountain ranges? Do you criticize the valleys for being low, and praise the peaks for being high? You just say, “It is great, it’s the way it is.” Now, that kind of order the artist pays a tribute by painting a landscape. In every national park there is a place called “Inspiration Point,” and people go there and say, “Oh! It’s just like a picture!” And nobody knew this four hundred years ago. It took the artists to paint landscapes and then people realized how beautiful it is. Nowadays artists are painting pictures of damp, stained walls and floors where people have dropped a lot of paint. One day people will walk into a room where there is a lot of paint scattered on the floor and they will say, “My goodness, it is just like a Jackson Pollock. Isn’t it just like a picture?” You see? It always takes the artist to show us the vision, but of course in the meantime, it is difficult. You go to an exhibition of contemporary, nonobjective painting, and a kind of square fellow walks in there and says, “That’s not what I call a picture”, because it is against his prejudices. But I say to people, “Now, excuse me, wait a minute. Take a look at that again. I’m going to tell you something. That painting is a colored photograph…of guess what?” Then they look at it in astonishment with entirely new eyes. What could that be a photograph of? They begins to see that it might be a photograph from a microscope, of globules of germs floating in liquid. It might be anything, very easy it suddenly comes over them. Goodness knows whether that was what the artist intended, but that’s a method of giving people a shock, of seeing things in a new way.
You know, a GI visited Picasso in Paris during the war and said, “I cannot understand your paintings. They are absurd. Life does not look like that.” Picasso said, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He said, “Yes.” “Have you a picture?” He said, “Yes.” “Show it to me.” So he drew out his billfold, and there was a little colored photograph of his girlfriend, and Picasso looked at it and said, “Is she so small as that?”
Now then, the idea of li, the idea of natural order, is like this patterns on foam, patterns in jade, the shapes of the clouds, the shapes of trees and mountains. They are orderly, but we cannot put our finger on the order. We know it is orderly but we do not know why. And we know it’s completely different from a mess. The order of nature is in that way indefinable. When Saint Augustine was asked, “What is time?” he said, “I know what it is, but when you ask me I don’t.” So in the same way the Chinese would say, “We know what the order of nature is, but if you ask us, we don’t.” The poet says, “Picking chrysanthemums along the eastern fence, gazing in silence at the southern hills, the birds fly home through the soft mountain air of dusk.” In all these things there is a deep meaning, but when we are about to express it, we suddenly forget the words. That’s li. Nature as a self-ordering principle, but it does not really know how it does it. Another poem says, “If you want to know where the flowers come from even the God of Spring doesn’t know.” This is a very remarkable attitude to nature. Politically you see, if you translate this into politics it is high philosophical anarchy, and there is a lot to be said for this as a political point of view. That in other words, government is always a mess because the state opposes itself to the people. We live under a constitution where we are supposed to be governed by ourselves, somebody once said, “Down with democracy, when we get it.” Because the state, the government always creates itself as a business in competition with all the other businesses, and it wins because it is the biggest one of the bunch. The Taoists said of the state that it should be as anonymous and as unobtrusive as possible. That is to say that the emperor instead of going around in processions and being heralded with waving flags, should be as unobtrusive as the head of the sanitation department. You know, he’s a man, a guy who goes around in a plain ordinary suit and really attends to his job. The head of sanitation of the city of Dallas goes around, you don’t have a police escort and sirens blowing and flags waving. He simply does his job. And the feeling of Lao-tzu is that the president or the emperor should have the same kind of attitude. That he should simply help the people and retire, and not claim any merits for it, always withdraw himself, always be behind the scenes. Not striving for power, but simply to help things along. “Govern a great state,” he said “as you would cook a small fish.” Now, you know, when you have a small fish in the frying pan do not keep tossing it around and fidgeting with a spatula, otherwise it will fall apart. Do it gently, softly, softly, catchee monkey.
So then, here is a conception of nature as something you must trust; outside nature – the birds, the bees, the flowers, the mountains, the clouds, and inside nature, human nature. Now nature isn’t trustworthy, completely. It will sometimes let you down with a wallop, but that’s the risk you take, that’s the risk of life. What is the alternative? “I do not trust nature at all. It has got to be watched.” You know what that leads to? It leads to 1984 and Big Brother, it leads to the totalitarian state where everybody is his brother’s policeman, where everybody is watching everybody else to report them to the authorities. Where you can’t trust your own motivations, where you have to have a psychoanalyst in charge of you all the time to think, to be sure that you do not think dangerous thoughts or peculiar thoughts. And you report all peculiar thoughts to your analyst and your analyst would keep a record of them and report them to the government. And everybody is busy in keeping records of everything. It’s much more important to record what happens than what happens. This is already eating us up, it’s much more important that you have your books right than that you conduct your business in a good way. In universities it is much more important that the registrar’s records be in order than the library be well-stocked. After all, you know, your grades are all locked up in safes, and protected from thievery and pilfering, and they are the most valuable property that the university has; the library can go hang.
Then further more, the main functioning of a university is, as a sensible person would imagine, to teach students and to do research. So the faculty should be the most important thing in the university, on the contrary, the administration is the most important thing. The people who keep the records, who make the game rules up. So the faculty are always being obstructed by the administration and forced into irrelevant meetings, and to do everything but scholarship. Do you know what scholarship means, or what a school means? The original meaning of schola is leisure. We talk of a “scholar and a gentleman” because a gentleman was a person who had a private income and he could afford to be a scholar. He did not have to earn a living and therefore he could study the classics and poetry and things like that. Today nothing is more busy than a school. They make you work, work, work because you have to get through on schedule. There are expedited courses, and you go to school so as to get a union card, to get a Ph.D. or something you could earn on living. So, on the whole, it’s a contradiction of scholarship. Scholarship is to study everything that is unimportant, not necessary for survival, all the charming irrelevancies of life. So you see, the thing is this, if you do not have room in your life for the playful, life is not worth living. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but if the only reason for which Jack plays is that he can work better afterwards, he is not really playing. He is playing because it is good for him, he is not playing at all. You have to be able to be a true scholars, you have to cultivate an attitude to life in which you are not trying to get anything out of it.
You pick up a pebble on the beach: look at it, beautiful, don’t try to get a sermon out of it. Sermons-in-stones and God-in-everything be damned – just enjoy it! Do not feel that you have got to salve your conscience by saying that this is for the advancement of your aesthetic understanding. Enjoy the pebble. If you do that, you become healthy. You become able to be a loving, helpful human being. But if you can’t do that, if you can only do things because they’re somehow, you are going to get something out of it, you are a vulture.
So, we have to learn, you don’t have, you know, you don’t have to do anything, but it is a great idea, it is a great thing if you can learn what the Chinese call “purposelessness.” They think nature is purposeless. When we say something is purposeless, it is a put-down. There is no future in it, it is a washout. When they hear the word purposeless they think that’s just great. It is like the waves washing against the shore, going on and on, forever, with no meaning. A great Zen master said, as his death poem, just before he died, “From the bathtub, to the bathtub, I have uttered stuff and nonsense.” The bathtub in which the baby is washed at birth, the bathtub in which the corpse is washed before burial, all this time I have said many nonsenses. Like the birds in the trees go twee, twee, twee. What is it all about? Everybody tries to say, “Ah, yes, it is a mating call – purposeful. They are trying to get their mates, you know, by attracting them with a song.” That’s why they have colors, and why butterflies have eye-like designs on them for self-protection, an engineering view of the universe. Why do we do that? We say, “Well, it is because they need to survive.” But why survive? What is that for? Well, to survive. See, human beings really are a lot of tubes, and all living creatures are just tubes. These tubes have to put things in one end and let them go out at the other. Then they get clever about it and they develop nerve ganglia on one end of the tube – the eating end called a head. And that has got eyes and ears, and it has little organs and antennae, thing like this, and that help you define things to put in one end so that you can let them out the other. Well, while you are doing this, you see, the stuff going through wears the tube out and so, the show can go on, the tubes have complicated ways of making other tubes which will go on doing the same thing, in at one end, out the other. And they say, “Well, that is terribly serious. That is awfully important. We have got to keep on doing this.”
Then when the Chinese say nature is purposeless this is a compliment. It is like the idea of the Japanese word yugen. They describe yugen as watching wild geese fly and be hidden in the clouds; as watching a ship vanish behind the distant island; as wandering on and on in a great forest with no thought of return. Haven’t you done this? Haven’t you gone on a walk with no particular purpose in mind? You carry a stick with you and you occasionally hit it at old stumps, wander along and sometimes twiddle your thumbs. It is at that moment that you are a perfectly rational human being; you have learned purposelessness. All music is purposeless. Is music getting somewhere? If it were, I mean, if the aim of music or the symphony were to get to the final bar, the best conductor would be the one who got there fastest. See, dancing, when you dance do you aim to arrive at a particular place on the floor? Is that the idea of dancing? The aim of dancing is to dance. Is the present. This is exactly the same in our life. We think life has a purpose. I remember the preachers who used to say, when I was a small boy, I’ve always heard it, we must follow the God’s purpose, his purpose for you and his purpose for me. When I asked these cats what the purpose was, they never knew! They never knew what it was, they had a hymn “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year. God is working his purpose out and the time is drawing near. The time on the earth should be full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” What’s the glory of God? Well, they weren’t quite sure. I’ll tell you what it is. In heaven all those angels are gathered around the glory of God. That is to say the which than which there’s no whicher. Catholics call it the beatific vision, the Jews call it the shekhinah. There all are angels standing around and saying hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. It means nothing. They’re just having a ball. See, that’s what happened in the beginning. When the God created the universe it was created like all star, all planets, all galaxies, they are vaguely spherical. He created this and said have a ball. But before he said that, he said you must draw the line somewhere. That was the real thing he said first, before ‘let there be light’ that came later. First thing was you must draw the line somewhere. Otherwise nothing would happen. You’ve got to have the good guys, the bad guys, you’ve got to have this, you’ve got to have that, the black and white, light and darkness. You must draw the line somewhere.
Now, here is the choice. Are you going to trust it or not? If you do trust it you may get let down, and this it is yourself, your own nature and all nature around you. There are going to be mistakes, but if you don’t trust it at all, you are going to strangle yourself. You are going to fence yourself around with rules and regulations and laws and prescriptions and policemen and guards – and who’s going to guard the guards. And who’s going to look after Big Brother to be sure he doesn’t do something stupid. No-go. Supposing I get annoyed with somebody in the audience and I’m going to throw this ashtray at them but I don’t want to hit my friend sitting next to that person. I want to be absolutely sure this ashtray hits that individual. And so I don’t trust myself to throw it. I have to carry it along and be sure I hit that person on a head. See, I don’t throw it because I can’t let go of it. To throw it I must let go of it. To live I must have faith. I must trust myself to the totally unknown, I must trust myself, to a nature which does not have a boss. Because a boss is a system of mistrust. That is why Lao-tzu’s Tao loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
Limits of Language (1-2)
Tonight at any rate we’ve got to go through some theoretical material so we’re on a head-trip. I don’t know where the trip will end up, it depends on you. But in order to lay the foundation for this, we have to examine ideas that are basic to our common sense. Ideas are very powerful. It is not only emotions that are powerful in human life. Psychoanalysis has, of course, examined the emotional bases of human opinions and beliefs, but one should also examine the intellectual bases of psychological principles, theories, or therapies. Because everybody who speaks any language at all has, has underneath the surface of the language or the figuring that he uses, certain basic assumptions which are usually unexamined, and these unexamined systems of belief are extremely powerful in their influence over our lives.
We will begin with one very common idea that is built into our common sense, which is that the physical world consists of two aspects: respectively, form and matter. This was foisted on us by Aristotle and also by the Bible. Because it is said that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and as it were made a figurine in His own image, and then breathed the breath of life into its nostrils so that this form of clay became a living being. So, underneath that lies the notion that everything material is made of some sort of basic stuff, like clay is the basis of pots. For centuries, scientists, philosophers wanted to know, “What is that stuff? What are we made of?” Now look here, a carpenter makes tables out of wood, and a potter makes pots out of clay, but I ask you: is a tree made of wood? Obviously not. A tree is wood, it is not made of it. Is a mountain made of rock? Obviously not, it is rock. See, our language contains innumerable ghosts. Supposing I say, “The lightning flashes.” Surely the flashing is the same as the lightning. There is not one thing called “lightning” and another called “flashing.” The lightning is the flashing. It is raining. What is this it that is raining? The raining. I can make a noun out of a verb anytime by turning it into a gerund. So, we populate the world with ghosts which arise out of the structure of our language, and thus therefore of the structure of our thinking because we think in language, or in figuring, and numbers. So it is intensely fascinating investigation to find out what are the hidden assumptions that underlie language and figuring, in other words language and mathematics, and here is this basic assumption, you see, that almost all of us have, that, and it comes again and again into our everyday speech, that form, pattern, organization, organisms are made of something. As if there were some inert primordial and, of course, stupid stuff which had to be put into shape by an energy and an intelligence other than the stuff like the intelligence of the potter shapes the clay.
So therefore we have a basic picture of the world in which everything is being pushed around. There’s a boss, there is somebody in charge who is different from what that somebody is in charge of, and puts everything into shape, because our common sense does not allow that things shape themselves. Very odd. In Chinese the word for nature is tzy-jan which is that which is so of itself, the spontaneous. The Chinese have no difficulty in thinking about nature as self-shaping. A Chinese child would not ask its mother ‘how was I made?’ It would ask its mother ‘how did I grow?’ which would be quite different, you see? So to be made is to be commanded and therefore every good being obeys, whether you obey god or whether you obey the laws of nature, you obey. And in an analog therefore of the world that has been putted into our common sense is one of military command, note that. Because the image of god, I would go further and say the idolatrous image of god, which has been handed down to us, is one of the beneficent tyrant – the boss, big papa.
So then, when our physicists started to find out what stuff was, they went into it and into it, and examined it with ever more minute instruments. First they started cutting up things with knives, and they cut them into smaller and smaller and smaller until the particle that they wanted to dissect was exactly the same width as the edge of the knife, and so they got the atom. And that word in Greek atomas means the “non-cuttable.” A: non; tomas: cuttable. Thus, the basic atom, what you cannot cut anymore because you have come down to the end. Well, they were not satisfied with that, so they got an atomas – in other words a particle of something or other that was just the same width as the blade of the knife edge – and they looked at it under a microscope. They saw that it seemed to be composed of more small particles, so they found out means of working those out, and then they found extraordinary means of investigating the properties of matter, then they reached a point where they couldn’t decide whether was particles or weather was waves, so they called them “wavicles”, they thought they had come to certain ultimate wavicles called electrons. But then, unfortunately, everything fell apart, and they found protons, mesons, and many other extraordinary things. Because of course, what they did not realize was that as you make more and more powerful microscopic instruments, the universe has to get smaller and smaller in order to escape the investigation. Just as, when the telescopes become more and more powerful the galaxies have to recede in order to get away from the telescopes because what is happening in all these investigations is, through us and through our eyes and senses, the universe is looking at itself. And when you try to turn around to see your own head, what happens? You see? It runs away! You will never get at it. You cannot bite your own teeth, you can’t touch the tip of this finger with the tip of this finger. This is the principle. Shankara explained this beautifully in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad where he says, “That which is the knower – the ground of all knowledge – is never itself an object of knowledge, just as fire does not burn itself.” So there is always that profound mystery that you are never going to be in absolute control of what goes on, because if you were, to be like making love to a plastic woman. Who wants that? There’s always the mystery. The thing we don’t know, as Van der Leeuw put it, “The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” If there were not that, you see, there would be no life.
The reason why certain people turned to philosophy, well I became a philosopher was that ever since I was a little boy I always felt that existence, as such, was weird. I mean here we are, and isn’t that odd? Of course it is odd, but what do you mean by odd? Well, it is what is different from even, and what is odd stands out. What is even lies flat, but you cannot see the outstanding without the flat background. Is the thing standing out? It’s odd. Each one of you is odd: strange, unique, particular, different. How do we know what we mean by that, except against the background of something even that is not differentiated, like space? So, you get this philosophical itch, you begin to scratch your head and think about why is that so. Well after awhile you may realize that “Why?” is a meaningless question, and so you may ask: “How is it so?” Well, that leads you into science and other investigations. So you want to know, “What is it?” I mean, what is this happening, this thing called existence, “what is it”? You ask that question long enough, and it suddenly hits you that if you could answer it, you would not know what terms to put the answer in. I mean, when we investigate the properties of nature, and we do get some answers, all the answers are in terms of particular structures, forms, patterns. And these can be measured, and their behavior can be predicted. But when I want to ask the question “What are the forms made of?”, I mean “What is it really?”, we cannot think of any way in which we could answer the question, because we would have to have a class of all classes.
When you ask the question “What?” it is like saying: “Is you is or is you ain’t?” Is you animal, is you vegetable, is you mineral? Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you male or female? Are you a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu, or a what have you? We classify, always, to give an answer to the question “What is it?” And when you classify you distinguish an inside group from an outside group. So what we want to know is what is the group of all groups. But we can’t imagine what the outside would be. So we can’t answer the question, “what is it”?
So, the physicists finally abandoned the quest for stuff, and they gave us a description of the universe entirely in terms of form: the pattern, not the stuff. People ask, “What is the work?”, but you can’t do that! “What is the pattern made of? Surely, there must be an answer to that?” See, what happens is, when you turn up the microscope all stuff turns into form, it becomes articulate. You know, the carpet looks like some sort of stuff, but when you look at it under a microscope you will see the crystalline structure of the nylon, or whatever it is made of. See? Then they want to know, “What are the crystals made of?” All right? Turn up the volume and you will find molecules. Turn up the volume, you will find wavicles. Then, “But the wavicles must be of something!” Of course they are not, we find substance, or stuff, totally vanishes, and we are left with form. Sanskrit does not really have a word for “matter.” It has nama-rupa which means “named form,” it’s the form that matters. Or let us put it in another way: everything is a matter of form, and let’s go into this, it’s fascinating.
You see, “Does it matter? What does that mean? Does it matter? Is it important?” In other words, does it measure up to anything? Now let’s go back to the Indo-European roots of the language, matter comes from a Sanskrit root matra, which means “to measure”. Lay out the foundation, you say, for a building. So from this root matra if we go on into Sanskrit, we get the word maya, and maya is generally translated as illusion, although it also means magic, creative power. The word illusion comes from the Latin ludere, to play. “Let us pretend that we matter.” Also from the root matra we have “meter,” and that is also “to measure;” metere in Greek, mater in Latin, which means “mama”, “mother.” The mother of Buddha was called Maya, and Mary, ma again, is the mother of Jesus – ma, ma, ma, ma, ma. But ma, you see, is a matter of form, pattern. The Chinese call the basic principle of nature li, and the character for li means the markings in jade, the fiber in muscle, the grain in wood. So Joseph Needham translates it “organic pattern”. That’s what’s going on. There isn’t any stuff involved. What stuff is, is a pattern seen out of focus, where it becomes fuzzy, like kapok you see? We say, kapok is the stuffing of the cushion. And that’s stuff. You see, some kind of goop. But when we examine the kapok closely, we find structure. That’s what you will find, and there will be anything else. Crazy. Because it completely flouts our common sense. We say …but surely, philosophers beat tables that are in front of them and you know, they say, “It is there, because …bang!, you know. There must be something that is stuff, that is substantial.” But the only reason why you cannot pass your hand through a table is the table is moving too fast. It is like trying to put your finger through an electric fan, only it is going much faster than an electric fan. Anything solid is going so fast that there is no way to get this through it, that’s all. So you say, “What is it that is going so fast?”
Well, that question is based on a grammatical illusion. The grammatical illusion is that all verbs have to have subjects, can you imagine anything more weird than the idea that a verb, or action, or event must be set into motion by a noun? That is to say, a non-event or thing. Now what is the difference between a thing and an event? I can’t, for the life of me, tell. We say, “This is a fist,” that’s a noun. Now, what happens to it when I open my hand? This thing has unaccountably disappeared, so I should have called this a “fisting,” and this is a “handing.” It may also be a “pointing.” So, we could devise a language such as that of the Nootka Indians, where there are no nouns and there are only verbs. Chinese is very close to that, I think the superimposition of the idea of noun and verb on the Chinese language is a Western invention. I can’t think of any Chinese word for a noun. But all those languages of Indo-European origin have nouns and verbs in them; they have agents and operations. That’s one of the basic snags: when we divide the world into operations and agents, doings and doers, then we ask such silly questions as, “Who knows?” “Who does it?” “What does it?” When the “what” that is supposed to do it is the same as “the doing,” you could very easily see that the whole process of the universe may be understood as “process.” Nobody is doing it. Because when you go back to doing it, you go back to the military analogy, the chain of command, the boss who goes bang! and the object obeys. That’s a very crude idea, very unsophisticated.
So, if you can bear it, we have suddenly eliminated a “spook,” and the spook was called “stuff.” So, we are now more at ease with ourselves in a world of form, nama-rupa, named forms. We can, of course, get rid of the names. We can now go further and try the experiment with not calling the forms by any names, but just observing the forms, although when we have got rid of the names we cannot even call them “forms,” because that is a name. And, there is the bizazz going on, which Buddhists called tathata, and that means “suchness” or “thusness.” Actually tathata is “da – da – da,” because when a baby first talks it says “da”: “Da, da, da, da.” And fathers flatter themselves thinking that it is saying “dada”, “daddy,” it isn’t, it is saying “da.” So the Upanishads say, Tat vam asi: you are it. The basic “da” does not mean anything. Da is like everything else, you see, the world is a musical phenomenon, good music never refers to anything except the music itself. You do not ask Mr. Bach, Mr. Ravi Shankar, “What do you mean by this music? What is it intended to express?” Bad music always expresses something other than itself, like the 1812 Overture or the Sunken Cathedral. Good music never talks about anything other than the music. If you ask Bach, “What is your meaning?” he say “Listen! That is the meaning.” Giraffes are giraffing, trees are treeing, stars are starring, clouds are clouding, rain is raining. And if you don’t understand, look at it again. And people are peopling. Wow.
We notice that all these suchnesses appear and disappear; they keep changing, they come and they go. But if you get hung up on your particular form, I’ll have to alter the language a little bit, because you see, your form makes a duality, whereas you are your form, you’re what you’re doing. Now, you think, “Hmm, for some strange reason I must make that go on as long as possible,” and therefore you think you have an instinct to survive. So the only thing anybody can agree about today, so far as the discussion of ethical and moral problems are concerned, is that we ought to survive. Therefore certain forms of conduct have survival value and certain forms do not. But when you say to yourself, “You must go on living,” you put yourself in a double bind because you’ve said [yes] to a process which is essentially spontaneous and it must happen. The basic form of the double bind which is imposed upon all children is you are required to do that which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily. So, when we say to ourselves, “You must go on,” the reason is, you see, that we are not living in the eternal now, where the reality is. We are always thinking that the satisfaction of life will be coming later. “There’s a good time coming be it ever so far away, that one far off divinely sent to which all creation moves.” Don’t kid yourself. As the Hindus have taught us, in the course of time everything gets worse and eventually falls apart, comes the Kali-Yuga and Shiva at the end, which is to say, only suckers put hope in the future.
You see? I tell you, there are three classes of people in the Western world: the aristocracy, the proletariat, and the bourgeoisie. The aristocrats live on the past because they come of noble family, and they are like potatoes, because the best part is underground. The proletarians live in the present because they have nothing else. And the poor bourgeoisie live for the future, they are the eternal suckers, they can always open to a con game. So when they find out that there really isn’t much of a future, you are going to die, they transpose the future into a spiritual dimension. They figure, “This material world is not the real world, but the spiritual world is the real world; and there will be somewhere, somehow, an eternal life for me.” “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify, a never-dying soul to save and fit it for the sky.” So whey they say, “What are you going to do there?” Well, they do not have the faintest idea. You know that? If you ask theologians about what they think is going to happen in Heaven, they just dry up. “Why, we are going to play harps!” I mean this is a symbolic meaning of that which I could go into, but the average person’s idea of Heaven is an absolute bore, I mean it’s like being in church forever. Children see this immediately, when they hear a hymn like “Weary of earth and laden with my sin I look to Heaven and long to enter in,” they, “Oh, God! Heaven is to be in church for always.” And they think “Hell is preferable”, at least some excitement is going on. You see it in medieval art, if you go to the Metropolitan Museum in New York you can see Jan Van Eyck’s painting of The Last Judgment, Heaven on top and Hell below. In Heaven everybody is looking like the cat that swallowed the canary, sitting in rows and very smug. God the Father is president and, oh dear, beneath this there is a winged skull like a bat and squirming bodies, all nude, all being eaten by snakes. There is fantastic thing going on; but you see, Van Eyck had a ball painting that, because in medieval way, it was the only way you could get away with painting nudes and sexy scenes, sadomasochistic. So that’s naturally why hell became much more interesting than Heaven.
So therefore, this hope for the future is a hoax, it’s a perfect hoax. That maybe we will make spiritual progress, everybody puts it off. “Maybe if I work at yoga for ten years, twenty years and do this thing, I will eventually make it to moksha to nirvana”, whatever. That is nothing more than a postponement, it’s this business off, because if you are not fully alive now, you think maybe someday you will be. Look, supposing I ask you, “What did you do yesterday?” No, “What did I do yesterday? In fact, I have forgotten.” But mostly we say, “Well, let me see now; let me get out my notebook. I got up at 7:30 and I brushed my teeth, and I read the newspaper over a cup of coffee, and then I looked at the clock and dressed, and got in the car and drove downtown. I did this and that in the office and so on.” You go on and on and suddenly you discover that what you have described has absolutely nothing to do with what happened. You have described a scraggly, skeletal, fleshless list of abstractions whereas, if you were actually aware of what went on, you could never describe it. Because nature is multidimensional, language is linear, language is scrawny. And therefore, if you identify the world as it is with the way the world is described, it is as if you were trying to eat dollar bills and expect a nutritious diet. Or eat numbers. A lot of people eat numbers. People play the stock market and they are doing nothing but eating numbers. They are always unhappy, absolutely miserable, because they never get anything. So therefore, they always hope more is coming because they believe that if they eat enough dollar bills eventually something satisfactory will happen. So eating the abstractions all the time we want more and more and more time.
Confucius very wisely said, “A man who understands the Tao in the morning may die with content in the evening.” Because when you understand, you do not put your hope in time, time will not solve a thing. So when we enter into the practice of meditation, of yoga, we are doing something radically unlike other human activities. Of course, the way yoga is sold in the United States, like everything else, is that it is supposed to be good for you. It is not. It has nothing to do with anything that is good for you. It is the one activity which you do for its own sake and not because it’s good for you, not because it will lead anywhere, because you cannot go to the place where you are now. Obviously. The Yoga is to be completely here and now. Why the word yoke means “join,” to get with it, to be completely here and now. This is the real meaning of concentration, to be in your center. And the Christian word for “sinning” in Greek is amatanene, which means “to miss the point.” And the point is eternal life which is here and now. Come to your senses.
So yoga is defined in Sanskrit in the Yoga Sutra: yoga chitra briti derota. Difficult to translate, but roughly yoga is the stopping of…, briti is turning like a wheel, and chitra is consciousness: “turnings in consciousness.” It is the attempt of the mind to catch hold of itself, which is what we call thinking, worrying, so you could say loosely: yoga is the cessation of thinking. It is not the cessation of awareness, but of symbolizing, trying to catch, clutch reality in terms of thoughts, symbols, descriptions, definitions. Give it up. It’s not easy because we do it habitually. But until there is silence of the mind, it is almost impossible to understand eternal life, that is to say, eternal now. If you could, come to the place where you suspend conceptions. Conceptions in Sanskrit are called vikalpa. And so the stage is called nirvikalpa, “not conceptual.” And this will be basic to everything I’m going to talk about. To understand nonverbal reality, non-conceived reality, what I call “suchness”, ta ta ta, it is really very easy, it’s too easy, that’s why it is difficult. But then when you are fully aware and not thinking, you will notice some amazing absences: there is no past. Can you hear anything past incidentally? Can you hear anything future? They are just not there to the plain sense of one’s ears, ears are easiest to begin with. Can you hear anyone listening to something else other than sound? Can you hear the listener? No, well then presumably it’s not there. Then you become again as a child and simply forget all that you were ever told and contemplate on what is. All these ghosts go away. Weird, but they just go. And then you enter into the eternal state where there is no problem. When you’ll go back and you collect your opinions again, you think: “Well, that will not do. How can I be practical and be in that sort of state?”
Well, I remember in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus said a lot of things about this. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” “And if God so clothed the grass or the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you faceless ones? Wow. So do not worry about tomorrow saying, ‘What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Or how shall we clothe ourselves?’ All the rabble seek after these things, sufficient to the day is the worry of it.” Nobody ever preaches a sermon on that text, never. I have heard lots of sermons but never one on that, because people say, “Look, that’s all very well because Jesus was the boss’s son, and he knew that he was really in charge of the universe and had nothing to worry about. But we have to be practical.” Ooo, what do you suppose the Gospel was? The good news, but it never got out? You, too, are the boss’s son: that was the gospel.
If Jesus had lived in India they would not have put him to death, because everybody in India knows that we are all God in disguise. So if he had said, “I and the Father are one,” in India they would have said, “Hooray!”, you know? Lots of people in India know that perfectly well, but here? Uh! uh! That is a no – no! “Who do you think you are? You own the place? You keep your position! You are just a creature, a critter.” It’s in the family system, it’s in everything. Because they have their own way of doing it in India, because they have a delayed action on it. When you get to be a certain age, and after you have studied long enough with a certain guru, then and only then may you realize this. But until then it is still a no – no. But if you have put in the time they finally let you in. Here you have to wait, until you are dead.
Well, the only place to begin is now, because here is where we are. So why put it off? A lot of people say, “Well, I am not ready.” What do you mean you are not ready? What do you have to do to be ready? Well, “I am not good enough because I am neurotic, I am perhaps not old enough, not mature enough for such knowledge. I am still frightened of pain, and of course I would have to overcome that. I am still dependent on material things. I have to eat a lot, drink a lot, have sex around, and all that kind of thing, and I think I had better get all that under control first.” Oh? You mean you have a case of spiritual pride. You want to be able to congratulate yourself for having gone through the discipline which is rewarded with realization. That is trying to quench fire with fire. Another words: “Wouldn’t it be great to be a mystic?” Look at it this way, I mean c-razy, to have no fear, no attachments, no hang-ups, to be as free as the air so that you could just wander out in the streets, give away all your clothes to the beggars, and let go of the whole thing, let it all hang-up. Wouldn’t it be crazy to have that courage? But if you look into yourself honestly you will find that inside you are actually a quaking mess of sensitivity. This desire to be the great mystic is nothing more than a symptom of your quaking mess; it is self-defense.
You may think, “Wow! We will do yoga and get real tough.” That only means you are going to be increasingly insensitive, running away from the quaking mess, escaping. You never can, you are stuck with it. There is nothing you can actually do to transform your own nature into unattached selflessness because you have a selfish reason for wanting to do it. Well, that is pretty depressing, isn’t it? “You mean to tell me that the only people who really get enlightened and liberated are those whom the grace of God somehow hits in an arbitrary way? And all I can do is sit around and wait?” Well, let us begin with that supposition. Let us suppose there is nothing we can do to change ourselves. No psychotherapy, religion all of this is absolutely in vain; there is nothing, nothing, nothing you can do about it. It is like trying, I said, to bite your own teeth, or to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. Incidentally it struck me as funny, a lot of people are using that phrase in the wrong way. They say when something very difficult has to be done “we have to lift ourselves up by your own bootstraps”. You can’t! It’s impossible.
Now one might say, “That is terribly depressing. You mean, Alan Watts, you come here simply to tell us that there is nothing we can do? I mean, here we are all presumably assembled in a cultural milieu, spiritual milieu, psychotherapeutic milieu where we are supposed to get better.” And I tell you there is nothing you can do about it. Well, give us our money back! Go to somebody else who will be more encouraging! But; what does it mean that you cannot do anything about it? It is singing loud and clear: The reason you cannot do anything about it is that you do not exist, that is, as an ego, as a soul, as a separate will. It just is not there. When you understand that, you are liberated. As they say in Zen, “You cannot take hold of it nor can you get rid of it. In not being able to get it, you get it. When you are silent it speaks. When you speak it is silent.” But do not misunderstand me, this is not any kind of fatalism when I say “you” as you conceive yourself to be, that is your ego, your image of yourself is not there, it does not exist. It is an abstraction. It is like “three.” Did you ever see three? Just plain, ordinary three? No, nobody ever saw it. So it is a concept, it’s a vilkalpa.
So in the same way is oneself. There is the happening, the suchness, but it is not pushing you around because there is no you to be pushed around, like a billiard ball stuck on the end of the cue. There is the cue, and it goes this way and goes that way. They call a Buddha a tathagata, one who comes or goes thus, this way and that way. So this illusion of the persecuted ego who is pushed around by fate has altogether disappeared, and likewise the illusion of the ego who pushes fate around has also disappeared. There is a happening. So in this do you see what has happened? By dying to yourself, by having become completely incompetent and finding that you do not exist, you are reborn, you become everything. In the words of Sir Edwin Arnold, “Forgoing self, the universe grows I.”