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Alan Watts


“So therefore, if you understand perfectly clearly that you can’t do anything to find that very, very important thing—God, Enlightenment, Nirvāṇa, whatever—then what? Well, I find—you know—it’s so stupid, because even if I tell myself, “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Why did I say that? You see? why did I say that? Why did I go out of my way to tell myself there’s nothing I can do about it? Because in the back of my mind there’s a funny little feeling that if I did tell myself that, something different would happen. See?

Alright, so even that doesn’t work. Nothing works. Now, when absolutely nothing works, where are you? Well, here we are—I mean, there’s a feeling of something going on. The world doesn’t stop dead when there’s nothing you can do. There’s something happening. Now, just there: that’s what I’m talking about. There’s the happening. When you are not doing anything about it, you’re not not doing anything about it; you just can’t help it, it goes on despite anything you think or worry about, or whatever. Now there is the point. Right there.

And remember, although you will think at first that this is a kind of determinism, there are two reasons why it isn’t. One, there is nobody being determined. Now, other people think of determinism as the direction of what happens by the past; the causation of what happens by the past. Now, if you will use your senses you will see that that is a hallucination. The present does not come from the past.

If you listen—and only listen; close your eyes—where do the sounds come from, according to your ears? You hear them coming out of silence. The sounds come, and then they fade off. They go like echoes. Or echoes in the labyrinths of your brain, which we call memories. The sounds don’t come from the past, they come out of now and trail off. You can do that later with your eyes. You can see—like when you are watching television—there’s a vibration coming out from the screen to your eyes. And it starts from there, somehow.

Because we see the hands and then they move, we think that the movement is caused by the hands—and that the hands were there before, and so can move later. We don’t see that our memory of the hands is an echo of there always being now. They never were, they never will be. They’re always now. So is the motion. And that that is recollected is the trailing off echo like the wake of a ship. And so, just as the wake doesn’t move the ship, the past does not move the present. Unless you insist that it does.

And if you say, “Well, naturally, I’m always moved by the past,” that’s an alibi, and it completely fails to explain how you ever learn anything new. That’s why all the psychologists who are mostly behaviorists are completely bogged down in trying to find a theory of learning. Because, according to the theory of learning that we have, everything new that you assimilate is really only learned when translated into terms of what you already know. So in that sense, learning becomes like a library which increases only by the addition of books about books already in it. A lot of libraries are indeed like that. So that’s what we call scholasticism.

So then, you become aware that this happening isn’t happening to you, because you are the happening. The only you there is is what’s going on. Feel it. And disregard the stupid distinctions that you’ve been taught—I mean stupid relatively speaking—and feel it genuinely. When you feel it genuinely—you get down to rock bottom—all that isn’t there. That’s a game that’s been erected on it. And it isn’t determined. In other words, you get this odd feeling of a synthesis between doing and happening, in which doing is as much happening as happening, and happening is as much doing as doing. And if you’re not very careful at that point, you’ll proclaim yourself God Almighty in the Hebrew Christian sense. Like Freud alleges babies feel that they’re omnipotent. And in a way they are. I am omnipotent in so far as I am the universe, but I’m not omnipotent in the role of Alan Watts. Only cunning.”


“So we must abandon, completely, the notion of blaming the past for any kind of situation we’re in, and reverse our thinking and see that the past always flows back from the present; that now is the creative point of life.”

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