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Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-1


OUT OF YOUR MIND – by Alan Watts


I find it a little difficult to say what the subject matter of this seminar is going to be, because it’s too fundamental to give it a title. I’m going to talk about what there is. Now, the first thing, though, that we have to do is to get our perspectives with some background about the basic ideas—which as Westerners, living today in the United States—influence our everyday common sense, our fundamental notions about what life is about. And there are historical origins for this which influence us more strongly than most people realize. Ideas of the world which are built into the very nature of the language we use, and of our ideas of logic, and of what makes sense altogether.


And these basic ideas I call myth, not using the word ‘myth’ to mean simply something untrue, but to use the word ‘myth’ in a more powerful sense. A myth is an image in terms of which we try to make sense of the world. And we, at present, are living under the influence of two very powerful images which are—in the present state of scientific knowledge—inadequate, and one of our major problems today is to find an adequate, satisfying image of the world. Well, that’s what I’m going to talk about—and I’m going to go further than that. Not only what image of the world to have, but how we can get our sensations and our feelings in accordance with the most sensible image of the world that we can manage to conceive.


Alright. Now, the two images which we have been working under for two thousand years—and maybe more—are what I would call two models of the universe, and the first is called the ceramic model, and the second the fully automatic model. The ceramic model of the universe is based on the Book of Genesis, from which Judaism, Islam, and Christianity derive their basic picture of the world. And the image of the world in the Book of Genesis is that the world is an artifact. It is made, as a potter takes clay and forms pots out of it, or as a carpenter takes wood and makes tables and chairs out of it. Don’t forget: Jesus is the son of a carpenter. And also the son of God. So the image of God and of the world is based on the idea of God as a technician, potter, carpenter, architect, who has in mind a plan, and who fashions the universe in accordance with that plan.


So, basic to this image of the world is the notion, you see, that the world consists of stuff, basically. Primoridial matter, substance, stuff. As pots are made of clay. And the potter imposes his will on it and makes it become whatever he wants. And so, in the Book of Genesis, the Lord God creates Adam out of the dust of the Earth. In other words, he makes a clay figurine, and then he breathes into it and it becomes alive. Because the clay becomes informed. By itself it is formless; it has no intelligence, and therefore it requires an external intelligence and an external energy to bring it to life, and to put some sense into it. And so, in this way, we inherit a conception of ourselves as being artifacts, as being made, and it is perfectly natural in our culture for a child to ask its mother ‘How was I made?’ or ‘Who made me?’ And this is a very, very powerful idea, but for example, it is not shared by the Chinese, or by the Hindus. A Chinese child would not ask its mother “How was I made?” A Chinese child might ask its mother “How did I grow?”—which is an entirely different procedure from making. You see, when you make something, you put it together; you arrange parts, or you work from the outside to the in, as a sculptor works on stone, or as a potter works on clay. But when you watch something growing, it works in exactly the opposite direction. It works from the inside to the outside. It expands, it burgeons, it blossoms. And it happens all of itself at once. In other words, the original simple form—say of a living cell in the womb—progressively complicates itself, and that’s the growing process, and it’s quite different from the making process.




And so there is for that reason a fundamental difference between the made and the maker. And this image, this ceramic model of the universe, originated in cultures where the form of government was monarchical and where, therefore, the maker of the universe was conceived also at the same time in the image of the king of the universe:

King of kings, lords of lords, the only ruler of princes,

Who dost from thy throne behold all dwellers upon Earth.

I’m quoting the Book of Common Prayer. And so, all those people who are oriented to the universe in that way feel related to basic reality as a subject to a king. And so they are on very, very humble terms in relation to whatever it is that works all this thing. I find it odd—in the United States—that people who are citizens of a republic have a monarchical theory of the universe. Because we are carrying over—from very ancient near-Eastern cultures—the notion that the lord of the universe must be respected in a certain way. Poeple kneel, people bow, people prostrate themselves. And you know what the reason for that is: that nobody is more frightened of everybody else than a tyrant. He sits with his back to the wall, and his guards on either side of him, and he has you face downwards on the ground because you can’t use weapons that way. When you come into his presence, you don’t stand up and face him, because you might attack, and he has reason to fear that you might because he’s ruling you all. And the man who rules you all is the biggest crook in the bunch. Because he’s the one who succeeded in crime. The other people are pushed aside because they—the criminals, the people we lock up in jail—are simply the people who didn’t make it.


So naturally, the real boss sits with his back to the wall and his henchmen on either side of him. And so when you design a church what does it look like? Catholic church, with the altar as it used to be—it’s changing now, because the Catholic religion is changing—but the Catholic church has the altar with its back to the wall at the east end of the church. And the altar is the throne, and the priest is the chief vizier of the court, and he is making abeyance to the throne in front; but there is the throne of God, the altar. And all the people are facing it, and kneeling down. And a great Catholic cathederal is called a basilica, from the Greek basilis, which means ‘king.’ So a basilica is the house of a king, and the ritual of the Catholic church is based on the court rituals of Byzantium.


A Protestant church is a little different, but basically the same. The furniture of a Protestant church is based on a judicial courthouse. The pulpit—the judge in an American court wears a black robe, he wears exactly the same dress as a Protestant minister. And everybody sits in these boxes; like there’s a jury box, there’s a box for the judge, there’s a box for this, a box for that, and those are the pews in an ordinary kind of colonial-type Protestant church. So both these kinds of churches—which have an autocratic view of the nature of the universe—decorate themselves, are architecturally constructed in accordance with politcal images of the universe. One is the king, and the other is the judge. Your honor. There’s sense in this. When in court, you have to refer to the judge as ‘your honor.’ It stops the people engaged in litigation from losing their tempers and getting rude. There’s a certain sense to that.


But when you want to apply that image to the universe itself, to the very nature of life, it has limitations. For one thing, the idea of a difference between matter and spirit. This idea doesn’t work anymore. Long, long ago, physicists stopped asking the question ‘What is matter?’ They began that way. They wanted to know, what is the fundamental substance of the world? And the more they asked that question, the more they realized the couldn’t answer it, because if you’re going to say what matter is, you’ve got to describe it in terms of behavior—that is to say, in terms of form, in terms of pattern. You tell what it does, you describe the smallest shapes of it that you can see. Atoms, electrons, protons, mesons, all sorts of sub-nuclear particles. But you never, never arrive at the basic stuff. Because there isn’t any.


What happens is this: ‘stuff’ is a word for the world as it looks when our eyes are out of focus; fuzzy. Stuff—the idea of stuff is that it’s undifferentiated; some kind of a goo. And when your eyes are not in sharp focus, everything looks fuzzy. When you get your eyes into focus, you see a form, you see a pattern. And so all that we can talk about is patterns. So the picture of the world in the most sophisticated physics of today is not formed stuff—potted clay—but pattern. A self-moving, self-designing pattern; a dance. And we haven’t yet—our common sense as individuals hasn’t yet caught up with this.




Well now, in the course of time—in the evolution of Western thought—the ceramic image of the world ran into trouble. And changed into what I call the fully automatic model, or image, of the world. In other words, Western science was based on the idea that there are laws of nature, and it got that idea from Judaism and Christianity and Islam. That, in other words, the potter—the maker of the world in the beginning of things—laid down the laws and the law of God, which is also the law of nature. It’s called the logos. And in Christianity, the logos is the second person of the trinity, incarnate as Jesus Christ, who thereby is the perfect exemplar of the divine law. So we have tended to think of all natural phenomena as responding to laws as if, in other words, the laws of the world were like the rails on which a streetcar—or a tram, or a train—runs, and these things exist in a certain way, and all events respond to these laws. You know that limerick,


There was a young man who said ‘Damn,
For it certainly seems that I am
A creature that moves
In determinate grooves.
I’m not even a bus, I’m a tram.’(*)

So here’s this idea that there’s a kind of a plan, and everything responds and obeys that plan. Well, in the 18th century, Western intellectuals began to suspect this idea. And what they suspected is whether there is a lawmaker; whether there is an architect of the universe. And they found out—or they reasoned—that you don’t have to suppose that there is. Why? Because the hypothesis of God does not help us to make any predictions. In other words, let’s put it this way: if the business of science is to make predictions about what’s going to happen, science is essentially prophecy. What’s going to happen? By studying the behavior of the past and describing it carefully, we can make predictions about what’s going to happen in the future. That’s really the whole of science. And to do this, and to make successful predictions, you do not need God as a hypothesis. Because it makes no difference to anything. If you say ‘Everything is controlled by God, everything is governed by God,’ that doesn’t make any difference to your prediction of what’s going to happen. And so what they did was simply drop that hypothesis. But they kept the hypothesis of law. Because if you can predict, if you can study the past and describe how things have behaved, and you’ve got some regularities in the behavior of the universe, you call that law. Although it may not be law in the ordinary sense of the word; it’s simply regularity.


And so what they did was: they got rid of the lawmaker and kept the law. And so they conceived the universe in terms of a mechanism. Something, in other words, that is functioning according to regular, clock-like, mechanical principles. Newton’s whole image of the world is based on billiards. The atoms are billiard balls, and they bang each other around. And so your behavior—every individual—is therefore defined as a very, very complex arrangement of billiard balls being banged around by everything else. And so behind the fully automatic model of the universe is the notion that reality itself is—to use the favorite term of 19th century scientists—blind energy. In, say, the metaphysics of Ernst Haeckel, and T.H. Huxley, the world is basically nothing but blind, unintelligent force. And likewise, and parallel to this, in the philosophy of Freud, the basic psychological energy is libido, which is blind lust. And it is only a fluke, it is only as a result of pure chances that, resulting from the exuberance of this energy, there are people. With values, with reason, with languages, with cultures, and with love. Just a fluke. Like, you know, 1,000 monkeys typing on 1,000 typewriters for a million years will eventually type the Encyclopædia Britannica. And of course the moment they stop typing the Encyclopædia Britannica, they will relapse into nonsense.


And so in order that that shall not happen, because you and I are flukes in this cosmos, and we like our way of life—we like being human—if we want to keep it, say these people, we’ve got to fight nature, because it’ll turn us back into nonsense the moment we let it. And so we’ve got to impose our will upon this world as if we were something completely alien to it; from outside. And so we get a culture based on the idea of the war between man and nature. And we talk about the conquest of space. The conquest of Everest. And the great symbols of our culture are the rocket and the bulldozer. The rocket—you know, compensation for the sexually inadequate male. So we’re going to conquer space. You know we’re in space already, way out. If anybody cared to be sensitive and let what’s outside space come to you—you can, if your eyes are clear enough. Aided by telescopes, aided by radio astronomy, aided by all the kind of sensitive instruments we can devise. We’re as far out in space as we’re ever going to get. But, you know, sensitivity isn’t the pitch. Especially in the WASP culture of the United States. We define manliness in terms of agression, you see, because we’re a little bit frightened as to whether we are really men. And so we put on this great show of being a tough guy. It’s completely unneccesary. If you have what it takes, you don’t need to put on that show. And you don’t need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature? Because after all, you are a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, grow out of this physical universe in just exactly the same way that an apple grows off an apple tree.


So let’s say the tree which grows apples is a tree which apples, using ‘apple’ as a verb. And a world in which human beings arrive is a world that peoples. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in. Just as spots on somebody’s skin is symptomatic of chicken pox. But we have been brought up by reason of our two great myths—the ceramic and the fully automatic—not to feel that we belong in the world. So our popular speech reflects it. We say “I came into this world.” You didn’t—you came out of it. You say face facts. We talk about encounters with reality, as if it was a head-on meeting of completely alien agencies. And the average person has the sensation that he is a somewhat that exists inside a bag of skin. The center of consciousness which looks out at this thing, and what the hell’s it going to do to me? You see? “I recognize you, you kind of look like me, and I’ve seen myself in a mirror, and you look like you might be people.” So maybe you’re intelligent, and maybe you can love, too. Perhaps you’re all right; some of you are, anyway. If you’ve got the right color of skin, or you have the right religion, or whatever it is, you’re OK. But there are all those people over in Asia, and Africa—and they may not really be people. When you want to destroy someone, you always define them as unpeople; not really human. Monkeys, maybe. Idiots, maybe. Machines, maybe, but not people. But we have this hostility to the external world because of the superstition—the myth, the absolutely unfounded theory—that you, yourself, exist only inside your skin.




Now I want to propose another idea altogether. There are astronomers that say there was a primoridial explosion, an enormous bang millions of years ago—billions of years ago—which flung all the galaxies into space. Well let’s take that just for the sake of argument and say that was the way it happened. It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spreads; zzwshh! And in the middle it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets are finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, crrrck!, like this, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually—if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning—you’re not something that is a result of the big bang, on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. See, when I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as—Mr. so-and-so, Ms. so-and-so, Mrs. so-and-so—I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.


And so what I would call a kind of a basic problem we’ve got to go through first is to understand that there are no such things as things. That is to say separate things, or separate events. That that is only a way of talking. If you can understand this, you’re going to have no further problems. I once asked a group of high school children “What do you mean by a thing?” And first of all, they gave me all sorts of synonyms. They said “It’s an object,” which is simply another word for a thing; it doesn’t tell you anything about what you mean by a thing. Finally, a very smart girl from Italy, who was in the group, said a thing is a noun. And she was quite right. A noun isn’t a part of nature, it’s a part of speech. There are no nouns in the physical world. There are no separate things in the physical world, either. The physical world is wiggly. Clouds, mountains, trees, people are all wiggly. And only when human beings get working on things—they build buildings in straight lines, and try and make out that the world isn’t really wiggly. But here we—sitting in this room all built on straight lines, but each one of us is as wiggly as all get-out.


Now then, when you want to get control of something that wiggles, it’s pretty difficult, isn’t it? You try and pick up a fish in your hands, and the fish is wiggly and it slips out. What do you do to get hold of the fish? You use a net. And so the net is the basic thing we have for getting hold of the wiggly world. So if you want to get hold of this wiggle, you’ve got to put a net over it. And I can number the holes in a net. So many so holes up, so many holes across. And if I can number these holes, I can count exactly where each wiggle is in terms of a hole in that net. And that’s the beginning of calculus, the art of measuring the world. But in order to do that, I’ve got to break up the wiggle into bits. I’ve got to call this a specific bit, and this the next bit of the wiggle, and this the next bit, and this the next bit of the wiggle. And so these bits are things or events; bits of wiggles, which I mark out in order to talk about the wiggle. In order to measure and therfore, in order to control it. But in nature, in fact, in the physical world, the wiggle isn’t bitted. Like you don’t get a cut-up fryer out of an egg. But you have to cut the chicken up in order to eat it. You bite it. But it doesn’t come bitten.


So the world doesn’t come thinged; it doesn’t come evented. You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean. The ocean waves, and the universe peoples. And, as the wave, I wave at you and say “Yoo-hoo!”—the world is waving at me with you and saying, “Hi, I’m here!” But our consciousness—the way we feel and sense our existence, being based on a myth that we are made, that we are parts, that we are things—our consciousness has been influenced so that each one of us does not feel that. We have been hypnotized—literally hypnotized—by social convention into feeling and sensing that we exist only inside our skins. That we are not the original bang, but just something out on the end of it. And therefore we are scared stiff. Because my wave is going to disappear; I’m going to die! And that would be awful. We’ve got a mythology going now which, as Father Maskell put it, “We are nothing but something that happens between the maternity ward and the crematorium.” And that’s it. And therefore everybody feels unhappy and miserable.


You know, this is what people really believe today. You may go to church, you may say you believe in this, that, and the other. But you don’t. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are the most fundamentalist fundamentalists—they are polite when they come round and knock on the door. But if you really believed in Christianity, you would be screaming in the streets. But nobody does. You would be taking full-page ads in the paper every day. You would have the most terrifying television programs. The churches would be going out of their minds if they really believed what they teach. But they don’t. They think they ought to believe what they teach. They believe they should believe, but they don’t believe it because what we really believe is the fully automatic model. And that is our basic, plausible common sense. You are a fluke. You are a separate event. And you run from the maternity ward to the crematorium, and that’s it, baby. That’s it.




Now why does anybody think that way? There’s no reason to, because it isn’t even scientific. It’s just a myth. And it’s invented by people who wanted to feel a certain way. They want to play a certain game. The game of God got embarrassing. The idea of God as the potter, the architect of the universe, is good and it makes you feel that life is, after all, important. There is someone who cares. It has meaning, it has sense, and you are valuable in the eyes of the Father. But after a while it gets embarrassing, and you realize that everything you do is being watched by God. He knows your tiniest, inmost feelings and thoughts, and you say after a while, “Quit bugging me! I don’t want you around!” So you become an athiest, just to get rid of him. Then, then you feel terrible after that, because you got rid of God, but that means you got rid of yourself. You’re just nothing but a machine. And your idea that you’re a machine is just a machine, too. So if you’re a smart kid, you commit suicide. Camus said there is only really one serious philosophical question, which is whether or not to commit suicide. I think there are four or five serious philosophical questions. The first one is ‘Who started it?’ The second is ‘Are we going to make it?’ The third is ‘Where are we going to put it?’ The fourth is ‘Who’s going to clean up?’ And the fifth, ‘Is it serious?’


But still, should you or not commit suicide? This is a good question. Why go on? And you only go on if the game is worth the candle. Now the universe has been going on for an incredible long time. And so really, a satisfactory theory of the universe has to be one that’s worth betting on. That’s a very—it seems to me—absolutely elementary common sense. If you make a theory of the universe which isn’t worth betting on, why bother? Just commit suicide. But if you want to go on playing the game, you’ve got to have an optimal theory for playing the game. Otherwise there’s no point in it. But the people who coined the fully automatic theory of the universe were playing a very funny game. What they wanted to say was this: “All you people who believe in religion are old ladies and wishful thinkers. You’ve got a big daddy up there, and you want comfort and things, but life is rough. Life is tough, and success goes to the most hard-headed people.” That was a very convenient theory when the European-American world was colonizing the natives everywhere else. They said, “We are the end product of evolution, and we’re tough, see? I’m a big, strong guy because I face facts, and life is just a bunch of junk, and I’m going to impose my will on it and turn it into something else, you see? And I’m real hard.” See, that’s a way of flattering yourself.


And so, it has become academically plausible and fashionable that this is the way the world works. In academic circles no other theory of the world than the fully automatic model is respectable. Because if you’re an academic person, you’ve got to be an intellectually tough person. You’ve got to be prickly. There are basically two kinds of philosophy. One’s called prickles, the other’s called goo. And prickly people are precise, rigorous, logical. They like everything chopped up and clear. Goo people like it vague. For example, in physics, prickly people believe that the ultimate constituents of matter are particles. Goo people believe it’s waves. And in philosophy, prickly people are logical positivists, and goo people are idealists. And they’re always arguing with each other, but what they don’t realize is neither one can take his position without the other person. Because you wouldn’t know you advocated prickles unless there was somebody else advocating goo. You wouldn’t know what a prickle was unless you knew what goo was. Because life is not either (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-1) prickles or goo, it’s gooey prickles and prickly goo. They go together like back and front, male and female. And that’s the answer to philosophy. You see, I’m a philosopher, and I’m not going to argue very much, because if you don’t argue with me, I don’t know what I think. So if we argue, I say “Thank you,” because owing to the courtesy of your taking a different point of view, I understand what I mean. So I can’t get rid of you.


But however, you see, this whole idea that the universe is just nothing at all but unintelligent force playing around and not even enjoying it is a put-down theory of the world. People who had an advantage to make, a game to play by putting it down, and making out that because they put the world down they were a superior kind of people. So that just won’t do. We’ve had it. Because if you seriously go along with this idea of the world, you’re what is technically called alienated. You feel hostile to the world. You feel that the world is a trap. It is a mechanism; it’s electronic and neurological mechanisms into which you somehow got caught. And you poor thing have to put up with being in a body that’s falling apart, and that gets cancer, that gets the Great Siberian Itch, and it’s just terrible. And these mechanics-doctors are trying to help you out, but they really can’t succeed in the end, and you’re just going to fall apart, and it’s a grim business, and it’s too bad. So if you think that that’s the way things are, you may as well commit suicide right now. Unless you say, “Well, I’m damned.” Because there really, after all, there might be eternal damnation in the back of the thing, if I did that. Or I identify with my children, or something, and I think of them going on without me and nobody to support them. Because if I do go on in this frame of mind and continue to support them, I shall merely teach them to be like I am. And they’ll go on, dragging it out to support their children, and they won’t enjoy it, and they’ll be afraid to commit suicide, and so will their children. They all learn the same lesson.




So you see, all I’m trying to say is that the basic common sense about the nature of the world that is influencing most people in the United States today—the fully automatic model—is simply a myth. If you want to say that the idea of God the father with his white beard on the golden throne is a myth, in a bad sense of the word ‘myth,’ so is this other one. It’s just as phony and has just as little to support it as being the true state of affairs. Why? Let’s get this clear. If there is any such thing at all as intelligence, and love, and beauty—well, you’ve found it in other people. In other words, it exists in us as human beings. And as I said, if it is there in us, it is symptomatic of the scheme of things. We are as symptomatic of the scheme of things as the apples are symptomatic of the apple tree, or the rose of the rose bush. The Earth is not a big rock infested with living organisms any more than your skeleton is bones infested with cells. The Earth is geological, yes, but this geological entity grows people. And our existence on the Earth is a symptom of the solar system and its balances as much as the solar system, in turn, is a symptom of our galaxy—and our galaxy, in its turn, is a symptom of the whole company of galaxies. Goodness only knows what that’s in.


But you see, when—as a scientist—you describe the behavior of a living organism, you try to say what a person does. It’s the only way in which you can describe what a person is: describe what they do. Then you find out that in making this description, you cannot confine yourself to what happens inside the skin. In other words, you can’t talk about a person walking unless you start describing the floor. Because when I walk, I don’t just dangle my legs in empty space. I move in relationship to a room. And so in order to describe what I’m doing when I’m walking, I have to describe the room; I have to describe the territory. So in describing my talking at the moment, I can’t describe it as just a thing in itself, because I’m talking to you. And so what I’m doing at the moment is not completely described unless your being here is described also. So if that is necessary—if, in other words, in order to describe my behavior, I have to describe your behavior, and the behavior of the environment, it means that we’ve really got one system of behavior. That what I am involves what you are. I don’t know who I am unless I know who you are. And you don’t know who you are unless you know who I am.


There was a wise rabbi who once said,

If I am I because you are you,
And you are you because I am I,
Then I am not I and you are not you.
In other words, we are not separate. We define each other, we’re all backs and fronts to each other. You know, you can’t—for example—have two sticks; you lean two sticks against each other and they stand up, because they support each other. Take one away and the other falls. They interdepend. And so in exactly that way, we and our environment, and all of us and each other, are interdependent systems. We know who we are in terms of other people. We all lock together. Now this is, again and again, the serious, scientific description of how things happen, and any good scientist knows, therefore, that what you call the “external world” is as much you as your own body. Your skin doesn’t separate you from the world, it’s a bridge through which the external world flows into you and you flow into it.


Just, for example, as a whirlpool in water. You could say because you have a skin you have a definite shape; you have a definite form. All right, here is a flow of water, and suddenly it does a whirlpool, and then it goes on. The whirlpool is a definite form, but no water stays put in it. The whirlpool is something the stream is doing, and in exactly the same way, the whole universe is doing each one of us. And I see you today, and I recognize you tomorrow, just as I would recognize a whirlpool in a stream. I’d say, “Oh yes, I’ve seen that whirlpool before. It’s just near so-and-so’s house on the edge of the river, and it’s always there.” So in the same way, when I meet you tomorrow, I recognize you; you’re the same whirlpool you were yesterday. But you’re moving. The whole world is moving through you. All the cosmic rays, all the food you’re eating—the stream of steaks and milk and eggs and everything—is just flowing right through you. When you’re wiggling the same way, the world is wiggling, the stream is wiggling you.


But the problem is, you see, we haven’t been taught to feel that way. The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe, but only parts of it, only in it, only confronting it; aliens. And we are, I think, quite urgently in need of coming to feel that we are the eternal universe; each one of us. Otherwise we’re going to go out of our heads. We’re going to commit suicide, collectively, courtesy of H-bombs. And—all right, supposing we do—well, that will be that, then there will be life making experiments on other galaxies. Maybe they’ll find a better game.




Well now, I was discussing two of the great myths, or models, of the universe, which lie in the intellectual and psychological background of all of us. The myth of the world as a political, monarchical state in which we are all here on sufferance as subjects of God. In which we are made artifacts, who do not exist in our own right. God alone, in the first myth, exists in his own right, and you exist as a favor, and you ought to be grateful. Like your parents come on and say to you, maybe, “Look at all the things we’ve done for you, all the money we spent to send you to college, and you turn out to be a beatnik. You’re a wretched, ungrateful child.” And you’re supposed to say, “Sorry, I really am.” But you’re definitely in the position of being on probation.


So that idea of the royal god—the king of kings and the lord of lords—which we inherit from the political structures of the Tigris-Euphrates cultures, and from Egypt. The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV is probably, as Freud suggested, the original author of Moses’ monotheism, and certainly the Jewish law code comes from Hammurabi in Chaldea. And these men lived in a culture where the pyramid and the ziggurat—the ziggurat is the Chaldean version of the pyramid—indicate, somehow, a hierarchy of power, from the boss all the way down. And God, in this first myth that we’ve been discussing—the ceramic myth—is the boss, and the idea of God is that the universe is governed from above.


But do you see, this parallels—and goes hand in hand with—the idea that you govern your own body. That the ego, which lies somewhere between the ears and behind the eyes in the brain, is the governor of the body. And so we can’t understand a system of order, a system of life, in which there isn’t a governor. “O Lord, our governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world.”


But supposing, on the contrary, there could be a system which doesn’t have a governor. That’s what we are supposed to have in this society. We are supposed to be a democracy and a republic. And we are supposed to govern ourselves. And yet, as I said, it’s so funny that Americans can be politically republican—I don’t mean republican in the party sense—and yet religiously monarchical. It’s a real strange contradiction.


So what is this universe? Is it a monarchy? Is it a republic? Is it a mechanism or an organism? Becuase, you see, if it’s a mechanism, either it’s a mere mechanism, as in the fully automatic model, or else it’s a mechanism under the control of a driver; a mechanic. If it’s not that, it’s an organism, and an organism is a thing that governs itself. In your body there is no boss. You could argue, for example, that the brain is a gadget evolved by the stomach in order to serve the stomach for the purposes of getting food. Or you can argue that the stomach is a gadget evolved by the brain to feed it and keep it alive. Whose game is this? Is it the brain’s game, or the stomach’s game? Actually, they’re mutual. The brain implies the stomach, the stomach implies the brain, and neither of them is the boss.


You know that story about all the limbs of the body? The hand said, “We do all our work,” the feet said “We do our work,” the mouth said, “We do all the chewing, and here’s this lazy stomach who just gets it all and doesn’t do a thing. He doesn’t do any work, so let’s go on strike.” And the hands refused to carry, the feet refused to walk, the mouth refused to chew, and said “Now we’re on strike against the stomach.” But, after a while, all of them found themselves getting weaker, and weaker, and weaker, and weaker, because they didn’t recognize that the stomach fed them.


So there is the possibility, then, that we are not in the kind of system that these two myths delineate. That we are not living in a world where we, ourselves, in the deepest sense of self, are outside reality, and somehow in a position that we have to bow down to it and say “As a great favor, please preserve us in existence.” Nor are we in a system which is merely mechanical, and in which we are nothing but flukes, trapped in the electrical wiring of a nervous system, which is fundamentally rather inefficiently arranged. What’s the alternative?




Well, we can put the alternative in another image altogether, and I will call this not the ceramic image, not the fully automatic image, but the dramatic image. Consider the world as a drama. What’s the basis of all drama? The basis of all stories, of all plots, of all happenings? It’s the game of hide-and-seek. You get a baby—what’s the fundamental first game you play with a baby? You put a book in front of your face, and you peek at the baby, like this. The baby starts giggling. Because the baby is close to the origins of life; it comes from the womb really knowing what it’s all about, but it can’t put it into words. See, what every child psychologist really wants to know is to get a baby to talk psychological jargon, and explain how it feels. But the baby knows; you do this, and this, this, this, and the baby starts laughing, because the baby is a recent incarnation of God. And the baby knows, therefore, that hide-and-seek is the basic game.


See, before—when we were children, we were taught “1, 2, 3,” and “A, B, C,” but we weren’t sat down on our mothers’ knees and taught the game of black-and-white. That’s the thing that was left out of all our educations: that life is not a conflict between opposites, but a polarity. The difference bewteen a conflict and a polarity is simply: when you say about opposite things, we sometimes use the expression, “These two things are the poles apart.” You say, for example, about someone with whom you totally disagree, “I am the poles apart from this person.” But your very saying that gives the show away: poles. Poles are the opposite ends of one magnet. And if you take a magnet, there’s a north pole and a south pole. Alright, chop off the south pole; move it away. The piece you’ve got left creates a new south pole. You never get rid of the south pole. Things may be the poles apart, but they go together. You can’t have the one without the other. That’s the basic idea of polarity. But what we’re trying to imagine is the encounter of forces that come from absolutely opposed realms that have nothing in common. When we say of two personality types that they’re the poles apart, we are trying to think eccentrically instead of concentrically. And so in this way, we haven’t realized that life and death, black and white, good and evil, being and non-being, come from the same center. They imply each other, so that you wouldn’t know the one without the other.


Now I’m not saying that that’s bad. That’s fun. You’re playing the game that you don’t know that self and other go together, in just the same way as the poles of the magnet. So that, when anybody in our culture slips into the state of consciousness where they suddenly find this to be true, and they come on and say “I’m God,” we say “You’re insane.”


Now, it’s very difficult—you can very easily slip into the state of consciousness where you feel you’re God; it can happen to anyone. Just in the same way as you can get the flu, or measles, or something like that, you can slip into this state of consciousness. And when you get it, it depends upon your background and your training as to how you’re going to interpret it. If you’ve got the idea of God that comes from popular Christianity—God as the governor, the political head of the world—and you think you’re God, then you say to everybody, “Well, you should bow down and worship me.” But if you’re a member of Hindu culture, and you suddenly tell all your friends, “I’m God,” instead of saying, “You’re insane,” they say, “Congratulations! At last, you found out.” Becuase their idea of God is not the autocratic governor. When they make images of Shiva—say, he has ten arms. How would you use ten arms? It’s hard enough to use two. You know, if you play the organ, you’ve got to use your two feet and your two hands, and you play different rhythms with each member. It’s kind of tricky. But actually we’re all masters at this, because how do you grow each hair without having to think about it? Each nerve? How do you beat your heart and digest with your stomach at the same time? You don’t have to think about it. In your very body, you are omnipotent in the true sense of omnipotence, which is that you are able to be omni-potent; you are able to do all these things without having to think about it.


When I was a child, I used to ask my mother—of course—all sorts of ridiculous questions that every child asks, and when she got bored with my questions, she would say, “Darling, there are just some things we’re just not meant to know.” I said, “Will we ever know?” She said “Yes, of course, when we die and go to heaven, God will make everything plain.” So I used to imagine on wet afternoons in heaven, we’d all sit around the throne of grace and say to God, “Well, now, why did you do this, and how did you do that?” And he would explain it to us. “Heavenly father, why are the leaves green?” And he would say, “Because of the chlorophyll,” and we’d say “Oh.”


But in he Hindu universe, you would say to God, “How did you make the mountains?” And he would say: well, I just did it. Because what you’re asking me for—when you ask me how did I make the mountains, you’re asking me to describe in words how I made the mountains, and there are no words which can do this. Words cannot tell you how I made the mountains any more than I can drink the ocean with a fork. A fork may be useful for sticking into a piece of something and eating it, but it’s of no use for imbibing the ocean. It would take millions of years. So it would take millions of years, and you would be bored with my description long before I got through it, if I put it to you in words. Because I didn’t create the mountains with words, I just did it. Like you open and close your hand. You know how to do this, but can you describe in words how you do it? But you do it. You are conscious, aren’t you? Don’t you know how you manage to be conscious? Do you know how you beat your heart? Can you say in words, explain correctly, how this is done? You do it, but you can’t put it into words! Because words are too clumsy, and yet you manage this expertly for as long as you’re able to do it.


















We are playing a game, and the game runs like this: the only thing you really know is what you can put into words. Let’s suppose I love some girl, rapturously, and somebody says to me, “Do you really love her?” Well, how am I going to prove this? They say, “Write poetry. Tell us all how much you love her. Then we’ll believe you.” So if I’m an artist, and I can put this into words and convince everybody that I’ve written the most ecstatic love letters ever written, they say “All right, okay, we’ll admit it, you really do love her.” But supposing you’re not very articulate. Are we going to tell you you don’t love her? Surely not. You don’t have to be Héloïse and Abélard to be in love.


So the whole game that our culture is playing is that nothing really happens unless it’s in the newspaper. So when we’re at a party, and it’s a great party, somebody says, “It’s too bad there wasn’t a tape recorder.” And so our children begin to feel that they don’t exist authentically unless they get their names in the papers, and the fastest way of getting your name in the papers is to commit a crime. And then you’ll be photographed, then you’ll appear in court, and everybody will notice you. It really happened if it was recorded. In other words, if you shout, and it doesn’t come back and echo, it didn’t happen.


Well that’s a real hangup. It’s true, the fun with echoes; we all like singing in the bathtub, because there’s more resonance there. And when we play a musical instrument, like a violin or a cello, it has a sounding box, because that gives resonance to the sound. And in the same way, the cortex of the human brain enables us—when we’re happy—to know that we’re happy, and that gives a certain resonance to it. If you’re happy, and you don’t know you’re happy, there’s nobody home. But this is the whole problem for us. Several thousand years ago, human beings evolved the system of self-consciousness. And they knew they knew.


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.”


You see? And this is the human problem: we know that we know. And so there came a point in our evolution when we didn’t guide life by distrusting our instincts, and had to think about it, and had to purposely arrange, and discipline, and push our lives around in accordance with foresight, and words, and systems of symbols, accountancy, calculation, and so on. And then we worry. Once you start thinking about things, you worry as to whether you’ve thought enough. Did you really take all the details into consideration? Was every fact properly reviewed? And by Jove, the more you think about it, the more you realize that you really couldn’t take everything into consideration, because all the variables in any human decision are incalculable. So you get anxiety. And this, though—also—this is the price you pay for knowing that you know. For being able to think about thinking, to feel about feeling. And so you’re in this funny position.


Now then, do you see that this is simultaneously an advantage and a terrible disadvantage? What has happened here is that by having a certain kind of consciousness, a certain kind of reflexive consciousness—being aware of being aware. Being able to represent what goes on fundamentally in terms of a system of symbols, such as words, such as numbers. You put, as it were, two lives together at once, one representing the other. The symbols representing the reality, the money representing the wealth, and if you don’t realize that the symbol is really secondary, it doesn’t have the same value. People go to the supermarket, and they get a whole cartload of goodies, and they drive it through, then the clerk fixes up the counter and this long tape comes out, and he’ll say “Thirty dollars, please,” and everybody feels depressed because they give away thirty dollars’ worth of paper. But they’ve got a cartload of goodies; they don’t think about that. They think they’ve just lost thirty dollars. But you’ve got the real wealth in the cart; all you’ve parted with was the paper. Because the paper—in our system—becomes more valuable than the wealth. It represents power; potentiality. Whereas the wealth—you think “Oh well, that’s just necessary.” You’ve got to eat. I mean, that’s to be really mixed up.




So then, if you awaken from this illusion and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death—or shall I say, death implies life—you can feel yourself not as a stranger in the world, not as something here on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke, but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental. What you are basically—deep, deep down, far, far in—is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.


So, say in Hindu mythology, they say that the world is the drama of God. God is not something in Hindu mythology with a white beard that sits on a throne, and that has royal prerogatives. God in Indian mythology is the Self, satcitānanda (सच्चितानन्द). Which means sat: ‘that which is;’ chit: ‘that which is consciousness;’ ‘that which is ananda is bliss.’ And, in other words, what exists—reality itself—is gorgeous. It is the plenum, the fullness of total joy. Wowee! And all those stars—if you look out in the sky—is a firework display like you see on the fourth of July, which is a great occasion for celebration. The universe is a celebration. It is a fireworks show to celebrate that existence is. Wowee!


And then they say, however, there’s no point just in sustaining bliss. Let’s suppose that you were able, every night, to dream any dream you wanted to dream. And that you could, for example, have the power within one night to dream 75 years of time, or any length of time you wanted to have. And you would—naturally, as you began on this adventure of dreams—you would fulfill all your wishes. You would have every kind of pleasure you could conceive. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each, you would say “Well, that was pretty great! But now let’s have a surprise. Let’s have a dream which isn’t under control, where something is going to happen to me that I don’t know what it’s going to be.” And you would dig that, and come out of that and say “Wow, that was a close shave, wasn’t it?” And then you would get more and more adventurous, and you would make further and further-out gambles as to what you would dream. And finally, you would dream where you are now. You would dream the dream of living the life that you are actually living today. That would be within the infinite multiplicity of choices you would have. Of playing that you weren’t God. Because the whole nature of the godhead, according to this idea, is to play that he’s not. The first thing that he says to himself is, “Man, get lost,” because he gives himself away. The nature of love is self-abandonment; not clinging to oneself. Throwing yourself out, as in, for example, in basketball; you’re always getting rid of the ball. You say to the other fellow, “Have a ball.” See? And that keeps things moving. That’s the nature of life.


So in this idea, then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality. Not “God” in a politically kingly sense, but “God” in the sense of being the Self, the deep-down basic whatever-there-is. And you’re all that, only you’re pretending you’re not. And it’s perfectly okay to pretend you’re not, to be absolutely convinced, because this is the whole notion of drama. When you come into the theater there is a proscenium arch, and a stage, and down there is the audience. And everybody assumes their seats in the theater, and going to see a comedy, a tragedy, a thriller, or whatever it is, and they all know, as they come in and pay their admissions, that what is going to happen on the stage is not for real. But the actors have a conspiracy against this, because they’re going to try and persuade the audience that what is happening on the stage is for real. They want to get everybody sitting on the edge of their chairs, they want to get you terrified, or crying, or laughing. Absolutely captivated by the drama. And if a skillful human actor can take in an audience and make people cry, think what the cosmic actor can do. Why, he can take himself in completely. He can play so much for real that he really believes it is. Like you sitting in this room, you think you’re really here. Well, you’ve persuaded yourself that way. You’ve acted it so damn well that you know that this is the real world. But you’re playing it. As well as the audience and the actor as one. Because behind the stage is the green room. Off-scene—obscene—where the actors take off their masks.


You know that the word “person” means “mask?” The persona which is the mask worn by actors in Greco-Roman drama, because it has a megaphone-type mouth which throws the sound out in an open-air theater. So per: “through;” sona: “what the sound comes through;” that’s the mask. How to be a real person. How to be a genuine fake. The mask.


So the dramatis personae at the beginning of a play is the list of masks that the actors will wear. And so in the course of forgetting that this life is a drama, the word for the role, the word for the mask, has come to mean who you are genuinely: the person. The proper person. Incidentally, the word parson is derived from the word person. The person of the village. The person around town, the parson. Funny.


So anyway, then, this is a drama. I’m not trying to sell you on this idea in the sense of converting you to it; I want you to play with it. I want you to think of its possibilities. I’m not trying to prove it, I’m just putting it forward as a possibility of life to think about. So then, this means that you’re not victims of a scheme of things—of a mechanical world, or of an autocratic god. The life you’re living is what you have put yourself into. Only you don’t admit it, because you want to play the game that it’s happened to you. In other words, I got mixed up in this world—my parents; I had a father who got hot pants over a girl, and she was my mother. And because he was just a horny old man, and as a result of that, I got born, and I blame him for it and say, “Well that’s your fault; you’ve got to look after me,” and he says, “I don’t see why I should look after you; you’re just a result.”


But let’s suppose we admit that I really wanted to get born, and that I was the ugly gleam in my father’s eye when he approached my mother. That was me. I was desire. And I deliberately got involved in this thing. Look at it that way instead. And that, even if I got myself into an awful mess, and I got born with syphilis, and the Great Siberian Itch, and tuberculosis, and in a Nazi concentration camp—nevertheless this was a game, which was a very far out play. It was a kind of cosmic masochism. But I did it.


Isn’t that an optimal game rule for life? Because if you play life on the supposition that you’re a helpless little puppet that got involved, or if you played on the supposition that it’s a frightful, serious risk, and that we really ought to do something about it, and so on, it’s a drag. There’s no point in going on living unless we make the assumption that the situation of life is optimal. That, really and truly, we’re all in a state of total bliss and delight, but we’re going to pretend we aren’t just for kicks. You play non-bliss in order to be able to experience bliss. And you can go as far out as non-bliss as you want to go. And when you wake up, it’ll be great. You know, you can slam yourself on the head with a hammer because it’s so nice when you stop. And it makes you realize, you see, how great things are when you forget that that’s the way it is. And that’s just like black and white: you don’t know black unless you know white; you don’t know white unless you know black. This is simply fundamental.




So then, here’s the drama. My metaphysics—let me be perfectly frank with you—are that there is the central self—you can call it God, you can call it anything you like—and it’s all of us. It’s playing all the parts of all beings whatsoever everywhere and anywhere. And it’s playing the game of hide-and-seek with itself. It gets lost, it gets involved in the farthest-out adventures, but in the end it always wakes up and comes back to itself. And when you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up. And if you’re not ready you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just “poor little me.”


And since you’re all here and engaged in this sort of inquiry and listening to this sort of lecture, I assume that you’re all on the process of waking up. Or else you’re teasing yourselves with some kind of flirtation with waking up, which you’re not serious about. But I assume—maybe you are not serious, but sincere—that you are ready to wake up.


So then, when you’re in the way of waking up, and finding out who you really are, you meet a character called a guru, as the Hindus say—this word, “the teacher,” “the awakener.” And what is the function of a guru? He’s the man who looks at you in the eye and says, “Oh, come off it! I know who you are.” You know, you come to the guru and say, “Sir, I have a problem. I’m unhappy, and I want to get one-up on the universe, so I want to become enlightened. I want spiritual wisdom.” The guru looks at you and says, “Who are you?”


You know Sri Ramana Maharshi, that great Hindu sage of modern times? People used to come to him and say, “Master, who was I in my last incarnation?”—as if that mattered. And he would say, “Who is asking the question?” And he’d look at you and say, “Basically, go right down to it. You’re looking at me, you’re looking out, and you’re unaware of what’s behind your eyes. Go back in and find out who you are, where the question comes from, why you ask.” And if you’ve looked at a photograph of that man—I have a gorgeous photograph of him; I walk by it every time I go out of the front door—and I look at those eyes, and the humor in them, the lilting laugh that says, “Oh come off it! Shiva, I recognize you. When you come to my door and you say, ‘I’m so-and-so,’ I say, ‘Ha ha, what a funny way God has come on today!’”


There are all sorts of tricks, of course, that gurus play. They say, “Well, we’re going to put you through the mill.” And the reason they do that is, simply, that you won’t wake up until you feel you’ve paid a price for it. In other words, the sense of guilt that one has, or the sense of anxiety, is simply the way one experiences keeping the game of disguise going on. Do you see that? Supposing you say, “I feel guilty.” Christianity makes you feel guilty for existing. That, somehow, the very fact that you exist is an affront. You are a fallen human being. I remember, as a child, when we went to the services of the church on Good Friday: they gave us each a colored postcard with Jesus crucified on it, and it said underneath, “This have I done for thee. What doest thou for me?” You know, you felt awful. You had nailed that man to the cross. Because you eat steak, you have crucified Christ. Because you killed the bull. And, after all, you depend on it.


Mithra. It’s the same mystery. And what are you going to do about that? “This have I done for thee, what doest thou for me?” You feel awful that you exist at all. But that sense, that sense of guilt, is the veil across the sanctuary. Don’t you dare come in! In all mysteries, when you are going to be initiated, there’s somebody saying “Ah-ah-ah-ah! Don’t you come in! You’ve got to fulfill this requirement, and this requirement, and this requirement, and this requirement; then we’ll let you in.” And so you go through the mill.


Why? Because you’re saying to yourself, “I won’t wake up until I feel I deserve it. I won’t wake up until I’ve made it difficult for me to wake up.” So I invent for myself an elaborate sytem of delaying my waking up. I put myself through this test, and that test, and when I feel it’s been sufficiently arduous, then I may at last admit to myself who I really am, and draw aside the veil, and realize that—after all, when all is said and done—I am that I am, which is the name of God. And, when it comes to it, that’s rather funny.


They say in Zen, when you attain satori, nothing is left you at that moment but to have a good laugh. But naturally, all masters—Zen masters, yoga masters, every kind of master—puts up a barrier and says to you… he simply plays your own game. You know, we say anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined. Because you—when you go to a psychiatrist—you define yourself as somebody who ought to have his head examined. Same way, the Zen masters say anybody who studies Zen, or comes to a Zen master, ought to be given thirty blows with a stick, because he was stupid enough to pose the question that he had a problem. But you’re the problem. You put yourself in this situation.


So, it’s a question, fundamentally. Do you define yourself as a victim of the world, or as the world? You can define yourself, you see—if you identify you with what you call the voluntary system of the nerves, and say, “Only that’s me”—and that’s really a rather limited amount of my total performance; what I do voluntarily—then you’ve defined yourself as the victim in the game. And so you are able to feel that life was a trap. Something else—whether it was God, or whether it was fate, or whether it was “the big mechanism,” “the system”—imposed this on you. And you can say, “Poor little me.” But you can equally well, and with just as much justification, define yourself not only as what you do voluntarily, but also what you do involuntarily; that’s you, too. Do you beat your heart, or don’t you? Or does it just happen to you? And if you define yourself as the works, then nobody’s imposing on you. You’re not a victim. You’re doing it. Of course, you can’t explain how you do it in words, because words are too clumsy and it’d take too long to say. You’d get bored with it. But actually, then you can say—with gusto—“I am responsible for this life. Whether comedy or tragedy—I did it.” And it seems to me that that is a basis for behavior and going on which is more fundamentally joyous, and profitable, and great, than defining ourselves as miserable victims, or sinners, or what have you.




I was discussing an alternative myth to the ceramic and fully automatic models of the universe—I’ll call the dramatic myth. The idea that life as we experience it is a big act, and that behind this big act is the player, and the player—or the self, as it’s called in Hindu philosophy, the ātman—is you. Only, you are playing hide-and-seek, since that is the essential game that is going on; it’s the game of games. The basis of all games: hide-and-seek. And so, since you’re playing hide-and-seek, you are deliberately—although you can’t admit this, or won’t admit it—you are deliberately forgetting who you really are, or what you really are. And the knowledge that your essential Self is the foundation of the universe, the ground of being as Tillich calls it, is something you have as what the Germans call a Hintergedanke. A Hintergedanke is a thought way, way, way in the back of your mind; way back here, somewhere. Something that you know deep down but can’t admit. So in a way, then, in order to bring this to the front, in order to know that that is the case, you have to be kidded out of your game.


You see, the problem is this: we identify in our experience a differentiation between what we do and what happens to us. We have a certain number of actions that we define as voluntary, and we feel in control of those. And then over against that, there is all those things that are involuntary. But the dividing line between these two is very arbitrary. Because, for example, when you move your hand, you feel that you decide whether to open it or to close it. But then ask yourself: how do you decide? When you decide to open your hand, do you first decide to decide? You don’t, do you? You just decide. And how do you do that? And if you don’t know how you do it, is it voluntary or involuntary? Let’s consider breathing. You can feel that you breathe deliberately; you can control your breath. But when you don’t think about it, it goes on. Is it voluntary or involuntary?


And so we come to have a very arbitrary definition of Self: that much of my activity which I feel I do. And that, then, doesn’t include breathing most of the time, it doesn’t include the heartbeats, it doesn’t include the activity of the glands, it doesn’t include digestion, it doesn’t include how you shape your bones, circulate your blood. Do you or do you not do these things? Now, if you get with yourself and you find out that you are all of yourself, a very strange thing happens. You find that your body knows that you are one with the universe. In other words, that the so-called “involuntary” circulation of your blood is one continuous process with the stars shining. If you find out that it’s you who circulates your blood, you will at the same moment find out that you are shining the sun. Because your physical organism is one continuous process with everything else that’s going on. Just as the waves are continuous with the ocean, your body is continuous with the total energy system of the cosmos—and it’s all you. Only: you’re playing the game that you’re only this bit of it. But as I tried to explain, there are—in physical reality—no such things as separate events.


So then: remember, also, when I tried to work towards a definition of omnipotence. Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it. You don’t have to translate it into language. Look: supposing when you got up in the morning you had to switch your brain on, and you had to think and do as a deliberate process waking up all the circuits that you need for active life during the day. Why, you would never get done! Because you have to do all those things at once. How can a centipede control a hundred legs at once? Because it doesn’t think about it. And so, in the same way, you are unconsciously performing all the various activities of your organism. Only unconsciously isn’t a good word, because it sounds sort of dead. Superconsciously would be better; give it a plus rather than a minus. Because what a consciousness is, is simply a sort of specialized form of awareness.


When you look around the room, you are conscious of as much as you can notice, and you see an enormous number of things which you don’t notice. If, for example, I look at a girl here and somebody asks me later, “What was she wearing?” I may not know—although I’ve seen—because I didn’t attend. But I was aware, you see? And perhaps if I could, under hypnosis, be asked this question, where I would get my conscious attention out of the way through being in the hypnotic state, I could recall what dress she was wearing. So then, just in the same way as you don’t focus your attention on how you make your thyroid gland function, so in the same way you don’t have any attention focused on how you shine the sun.




So then, let me connect this with the problem of birth and death, which puzzles people enormously, of course. Because, in order to understand what the Self is, you have to remember that it doesn’t need to remember anything—just like you don’t need to know how you work your thyroid gland. So then, when you die, you’re not going to have to put up with everlasting non-existance, because that’s not an experience. A lot of people are afraid that, when they die, they’re going to be locked up in a dark room forever, and sort of undergo that. But one of the most interesting things in the world—this is a yoga, this is a way of realization—try and imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up.


Think about that. Children think about it. It’s one of the great wonders of life. What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, that it will pose a next question to you: what was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born. You see, you can’t have an experience of nothing; nature abhors a vacuum. So after you’re dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience (or the same sort of experience) as when you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after people die, other people are born. And they’re all you, only you can only experience it one at a time. Everybody is I, you all know you’re you, and wheresoever beings exist throughout all galaxies—it doesn’t make any difference—you are all of them. And when they come into being, that’s you coming into being. You know that very well, only you don’t have to remember the past in the same way you don’t have to think about how you work your thyroid gland, or whatever else it is in your organism. You don’t have to know how to shine the sun. You just do it, like you breathe.


Doesn’t it really astonish you that you are this fantastically complex thing, and that you’re doing all of this and you never had any education in how to do it? Never learned, but you’re this miracle? Well, the point is that, from a strictly physical, scientific standpoint, this organism is a continuous energy with everything else that’s going on. And if I am my foot, I am the sun. Only: we’ve got this little partial view; we’ve got the idea that “No, I’m something in this body.” The ego.


That’s a joke. The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention. It’s like a radar on a ship. The radar on a ship is a troubleshooter: “Is there anything in the way?” And conscious attention is a designed function of the brain to scan the environment, like a radar does, and note for any troublemaking changes. But if you identify yourself with your troubleshooter, then naturally you define yourself as being in a perpetual state of anxiety. And the moment we cease to identify with the ego and become aware that we are the whole organism, you realize as the first thing how harmonious it all is. Because your organism is a miracle of harmony. All this thing functioning together. Even those corpuscles and creatures that are fighting each other in the blood stream and eating each other up. If they weren’t doing that, you wouldn’t be healthy.


So what is discord at one level of your being is harmony at a higher level. And you begin to realize that, and you begin to be aware, too, that the discords of your life, and the discords of people’s life—which are a fight at one level—at a higher level of the universe are healthy and harmonious. And you suddenly realize that everything that you are and do is, at that level, as magnificent and as free of any blemish as the patterns in waves. The markings in marble. The way a cat moves. And that this world is really okay. Can’t be anything else, because otherwise it couldn’t exist.


But the reality underneath physical existence, or which really is physical existence—because in my philosophy there’s no difference between the physical and the spiritual; these are absolutely out-of-date categories—it’s all process. It isn’t stuff on the one hand and form on the other. It’s just—it is pattern; life is pattern. It is a dance of energy. So I will never invoke spooky knowledge. That is to say: that I’ve had a private revelation, or that I have sensory vibrations going on a plane which you don’t have. Everything is standing right out in the open, it’s just a question of how you look at it. So you do discover, when you realize this, the most extraordinary thing, to me, that I never cease to be flabbergasted at whenever it happens to me.




Some people will use a symbolism of the relationship of God to the universe, wherein God is, say, brilliant light—only somehow veiled, hiding underneath all these forms that you see as you look around you. So far, so good. But the truth is funnier than that. It is that you are looking right at the brilliant light now. That the experience you are having—which you call “ordinary everyday consciousness;” pretending you’re not it—that experience is exactly the same thing as it. There’s no difference at all. And when you find that out, you laugh yourself silly. That’s the great discovery.


In other words, when you really start to see things, and you look at an old paper cup, and you go into the nature of what it is to see what vision is, or what smell is, or what touch is, you realize that that vision of the paper cup is the brilliant light of the cosmos. Nothing could be brighter. Ten thousand suns couldn’t be brighter. Only: they’re hidden in the sense that all the points of the infinite light are so tiny, when you see them in the cup, they don’t blow your eyes out. But it is acutally—see, the source of all light is in the eye. If there were no eyes in this world, the sun would not be light. You evoke light out of the universe, in the same way you—by virtue of having a soft skin—evoke hardness out of wood. Wood is only hard in relation to a soft skin. It’s your eardrum that evokes noise out of the air. You, by being this organism, call into being the whole universe of light and color and hardness and heaviness and everything, you see?


But in the mythology that we’ve sold ourselves on during the end of the nineteenth century—when people discovered how big the universe was, and that we live on a little planet in a solar system on the edge of a galaxy, which is a minor galaxy—everybody thought, “Ugh! We’re really unimportant after all. God isn’t there and doesn’t love us, and nature doesn’t give a damn.” And we put ourselves down, see? But actually, it’s this little funny microbe—tiny thing, crawling on this little planet that’s way out somewhere—who has the ingenuity, by nature of this magnificent organic structure, to evoke the whole universe out of what would otherwise be mere quanta. There’s jazz going on. But, you see, this little ingenious organism is not merely some stranger in this. This little organism, on this little planet, is what the whole show is growing there, and so realizing its own presence.


Well now, here’s the problem: if this is the state of affairs which is so, and if the consciousness state you’re in at this moment is the same thing as what we might call the Divine State—if you do anything to make it different, it shows you don’t understand that it’s so. So the moment you start practicing yoga, or praying, or meditating, or indulging in some sort of spiritual cultivation, you are getting in your own way. The Buddha said, “We suffer because we desire. If you can give up desire, you won’t suffer.” But he didn’t say that as the last word; he said that as the opening step of a dialogue. Because if you say that to someone, they’re going to come back after a while and say, “Yes, but I’m now desiring not to desire.” And so the Buddha will answer, “Well! At last! You’re beginning to understand the point!” Because you can’t give up desire; why would you try to do that? It’s already desire. So in the same way you say, “You ought to be unselfish,” or to “give up your ego.” “Let go.” “Relax.” Why do you want to do that? Just because it’s another way of beating the game, isn’t it? The moment, you see, you hypothesize that you are different from the universe, you want to get one-up on it. But if you try to get one-up on the universe, and you’re in competition with it, it means you don’t understand you are it. You think there’s a real difference between self and other. But self—what you call yourself, and what you call other are mutually necessary to each other like back and front. They’re really one. But just as a magnet polarizes itself at north and south, but it’s all one magnet, so experience polarizes itself as self and other, but it’s all one. So if you try to make the north pole get the mastery of it, or the south pole get the mastery over the north pole, you show you don’t know what’s going on.


A guru (or teacher) who wants to get this across to somebody, because he knows it himself—and when you know it, you know, you’d like others to see it, too. So what he does is: he gets you into being ridiculous—harder and more assiduously than usual. In other words, if you are in a contest with the universe, he’s going to stir up that contest until it becomes ridiculous. And so he sets you such tasks as saying, “Now, of course, in order to be a true person, you must give up yourself. Be unselfish.” So the Lord steps down out of heaven and says, “The first and great commandment is: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” You must love me. Well, that’s a double-bind. You can’t love on purpose. You can’t be sincere purposely. It’s like trying not to think of a green elephant while taking medicine.


But if a person really tries to do it—so, you know, this is the way Christianity is rigged—you should be very sorry for your sins. And though everybody knows they’re not, but they think they ought to be; so they go around trying to be penitent, or trying to be humble. And they know the more assiduously they practice it, the phonier and phonier the whole thing gets. And so, in this way, it’s called the technique of reductio ad absurdum. If you think you have a problem, you see, and that you’re an ego, and that you’re in difficulty, the answer that the Zen master makes to you is, “Show me your ego. I want to see this thing that has a problem.” When Bodhidharma—the legendary founder of Zen—came to China, a disciple came to him and said, “I have no peace of mind. Please pacify my mind.” And Bodhidharma said, “Bring out your mind here before me and I’ll pacify it.” “Well,” he said, “when I look for it, I can’t find it.” So Bodhidharma said, “There, it’s pacified.” See, because when you look for your own mind—that is to say, your own particularized center of being, which is separate from everything else—you won’t be able to find it. But the only way you’ll know it isn’t there is if you look for it hard enough to find out that it isn’t there. And so everybody says, “Alright, know yourself, look within, find out who you are.” Because the harder you look, you won’t be able to find it, and then you’ll realize that it isn’t there at all. There isn’t a separate you. Your mind is what there is; everything. But the only way to find that out is to persist in the state of delusion as hard as possible. That’s one way—I haven’t said the only way, but it is one way.


And so almost all spiritual disciplines—meditations, prayers, et cetera, et cetera—are ways of persisting in folly. Doing resolutely and consistently what you’re doing already. So if a person believes that the Earth is flat, you can’t talk him out of that. He knows it’s flat; look out the window and see! It’s—obviously, it looks flat. So the only way to convince him it isn’t is to say “Well, let’s go and find the edge.” And in order to find the edge, you’ve got to be very careful not to walk in circles; you’ll never find it that way. So we’ve got to go consistently in a straight line due west along the same line of latitude, and eventually, when we get back to where we started from, you’ve convinced the guy that the Earth is round. That’s the only way that’ll teach him. Because people can’t be talked out of illusions.




There is another possibility, however. But this is more difficult to describe. Let’s say we take as the basic supposition—which is the thing that one sees in the experience of satori, or awakening, or whatever you want to call it—that this now-moment in which I’m talking and you’re listening is eternity. That—although we have somehow conned ourselves into the notion that this moment is rather ordinary, and that we may not feel very well, and that we’re sort (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-2) of vaguely frustrated, and worried, and so on, and that it ought to be changed—this is it. So you don’t need to do anything at all. But the difficulty about explaining that is that you mustn’t try not to do anything, because that’s doing something. And how to explain that? Because there’s nothing to explain—it is the way it is now, you see? And if you understand that, it will automatically wake you up.


That’s why Zen teachers use shock treatment: to sometimes—why they hit people, or shout at them, or create a sudden surprise—because it is that jolt that suddenly brings you here. See, there’s no road to here, because you’re already there. And if you ask me, “How am I going to get here?” it will be like the famous story of the American tourist in England, who asked some yokel the way to Upper Tuttenham—a little village—and the yokel scratched his head and he said, “Well, sir, I don’t know where it is, but if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.”


So you see, when you ask, “How to I attain the knowledge of God? How do I attain nirvāṇa; liberation?” All I can say is: it’s the wrong question. Why do you want to attain it? Because the very fact that you’re wanting to attain it is the only thing that prevents you from getting there. You already have it. But of course, it’s up to you; it’s your privilege to pretend that you don’t. That’s your game; that’s your life game—that’s what makes you think you’re an ego. And when you want to wake up, you will—just like that. If you’re not awake, it shows you don’t want to. You’re still playing the hide part of the game. You’re still, as it were, the Self pretending it’s not the Self. And that’s what you want to do. So you see, in that way, too, you’re already there.


When you understand this, a funny thing happens—and some people misinterpret it. You’ll discover, as this happens, that the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior disappears. You will realize that what you describe as things under your own will feel exactly the same as things going on outside you. You watch other people moving, and you know you’re doing that, just like you’re breathing, or circulating your blood. And if you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re liable to get crazy at this point, and to feel that you are God in the Jehovah-sense. To say that you actually have power over other people, so that you could alter what they’re doing. And that you are omnipotent in a very crude, literal kind of Bible-sense, you see? And a lot of people feel that and they go crazy. They have to put them away. They think they’re Jesus Christ and that everybody ought to fall down and worship them. That’s only—they got their wires crossed. This experience happened to them, but they don’t know how to interpret it. So be careful of that. Jung calls it inflation. People who get the Holy Man syndrome, that I suddenly discover that I am the Lord, and that I am above good and evil, and so on, and therefore I start giving myself airs and graces. But the point is: everybody else is, too. If you discover that you are that, then you ought to know that everybody else is.


Well, for example, let’s see how—in other ways—you might realize this. Most people think—when they open their eyes and look around—that what they’re seeing is outside. It seems, doesn’t it, that you are behind your eyes, and that behind the eyes there is a blank which you can’t see at all. You turn around and you see something else in front of you. But behind the eyes there seems to be something that has no color. It isn’t dark, is isn’t light. It is there from a tactile standpoint; you can feel it with your fingers, although you don’t get inside it. But what is that, behind your eyes, you see? Well actually, when you look out there and see all these people and things sitting around, that’s how it feels inside your head. The color of this room is back here, in the nervous system, where the optical nerves are at the back of the head. It’s in there. It’s what you’re experiencing. What you see out here is a neurological experience. Now if that hits you, and you feel—sensuously—that that’s so, you may think that then, therefore, the external world is all inside my skull. But you’ve got to correct that, with the thought that your skull is also in the external world. So you suddenly begin to feel, “Well, wow! What kind of situation is this? It’s inside me, and I’m inside it, and it’s inside me, and I’m inside it.” But that’s the way it is.


This is the—what you could call transaction, rather than interaction—between the individual and the world. Just like, for example, in buying and selling. There cannot be an act of buying unless there’s simultaneously an act of selling, and vice versa. So the relationship between the organism and the environment is transactional. The environment grows the organism, and in turn the organism creates the environment. The organism turns the sun into light, but it requires there to be an environment containing a sun for there to be an organism at all. And the answer to it simply: they’re all one process. And it isn’t that organisms by chance came into this world. To put it, rather: that this world is the sort of environment which grows organisms. It was that way from the beginning. Just in the same way—I mean; the organisms may, in time, have arrived in the scene, or out of the scene, later than the beginning of the scene, but from the moment it went bang in the beginning—if that’s the way it started—organisms like us are sitting here. We’re involved in it.


You see, look here: let’s take the propagation of an electric current. I can have an electric current running through a wire that goes all the way around the Earth. And here we have a power source, and here we have a switch. Alright, here’s the positive pole, here’s the negative pole. Now, before that switch closes, the current doesn’t exactly behave like water in a pipe. There isn’t current here, waiting to jump the gap as soon as the switch is closed. The current doesn’t even start until the switch is closed, from the positive pole. It never starts unless the point of arrival is there. Now, it’ll take an interval for that current to get going, and circuit, if it’s going all the way around the Earth. It’s a long run. But the finishing point has to be closed before it will even start from the beginning. In a similar way, although in the development of any physical system there may by billions of years between the creation of the most primitive form of energy and then the arrival of intelligent life, that billions of years is just the same thing as the trip of that current around the wire. Takes a bit of time. But it’s already implied; it takes time for an acorn to turn into an oak, but the oak is already implied in the acorn. And so in any lump of rock floating about in space, there is implicit human intelligence. Sometime, somehow, somewhere. They all go together. So don’t differentiate yourself and stand off against this and say, “I am a living organism in a world made of a lot of dead junk, rocks, and stuff.” It all goes together. Those rocks are just as much you as your fingernails. You need rocks. What are you going to stand on?




What I think awakening really involves is a reexamination of our common sense. We’ve got all sorts of ideas built into us which seem unquestioned; obvious. And our speech reflects them in the commonest phrases: “Face the facts”—as if they were outside you, as if life were something you simply encountered as a foreigner. Face the facts.


Our common sense has been rigged, you see, so that we feel strangers and aliens in this world. And this is terribly plausible simply because it’s what we are used to. That’s the only reason. But when you really start questioning this; say “Is that the way I have to assume life is? I know everybody does, but does that make it true?” It doesn’t necessarily. It ain’t necessarily so. And so, then, as you question this basic assumption that underlies our culture, you find you get a new kind of common sense; it becomes absolutely obvious to you that you are continuous with the universe.


For example, people used to believe that the people who lived in the Antiquities would fall off [the edge of the Earth], and that was scary. But then, when somebody sailed around the world, and we all got used to it, and now we travel around in jet planes and everything, we have no problem about feeling that the Earth is globular. None whatever. We got used to it. So, in the same way, Einstein’s relativity theories—the curvature of the propogation of light—that began to bother people when Einstein started talking like that. But now we’re all used to it.


Well, in a few years, it will be a matter of common sense to very many people that they are one with the universe. It’ll be so simple! And then—maybe, if that happens—we shall be in a position to handle our technology with more sense; with love instead of with hate for our environment.


(Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-3)




















The web of life. Let me try, from the first, to indicate the point that we’re aiming at. The point is this: that human consciousness is—at the same time as being a form of awareness, and sensitivity, and understanding—it’s also a form of ignorance. The ordinary everyday consciousness that we have leaves out more than it takes in. And because of this, it leaves out things that are terribly important. It leaves out things that would—if we did know them—allay our anxieties, and fears, and horrors, and if we could extend our awareness, you see, to include those things that we leave out, we would have a deep interior peace. Because we would all know the one thing that you mustn’t know. You know, according to the rules of our particular social game, the one thing you mustn’t know; that’s really not allowed, that is the lowdown on life—and that the lowdown, on the one hand, means the real dirt on things. But the lowdown is also what is profound, what is mysterious, what is in the depths. And the something left out. And our everyday consciousness screens this out in the same way that, when you say you have weaving, you have—say, on this rug here in front of us—when the black finishes here, the black threads will go underneath, and then appear again over here, then they’ll go underneath the white and they’ll appear again over here, you know? So that the back will be the obverse pattern of the front.


Now—the world is like that. Our sense organs are selective. They pick out certain things; they are receptive. For example, we have a small, small band of what you might call a spectrum of light, of sound, of tactile sensation, and so on, to which the human organism is sensitive. But we know that outside that small band there is a huge range of vibrations to which we have built instruments that are sensitive—things like cosmic rays, ultraviolet rays, gamma rays, hard x-rays, and so on—they’re all outside the band of our spectrum. And obviously, there are things that are outside the range of our instruments. We may build new instruments someday, which will evoke—bring into our consciousness—other orders of vibration altogether, that, as yet, we don’t know about them.


So you could imagine, you see, the universe as a vast, vast system of vibrations; and has infinite possibilities. All these vibrations, you know, are like the strings on a harp. And the harps that the angels are supposed to play in heaven are really this huge possibility. See, when you play the harp you select strings. You don’t play all the strings; it’s stupid to just run your finger along the whole edge of the harp back and forth, back and forth, and go “blrrbllrrblllbrrbllrrblllbrr.” What you do is, you pick out with your fingers—select, just like on the piano—you don’t go “brrrrrrmmmp”—you pick out certain notes, and these make the patterns. But at the same time as you pick out, you reject what you don’t pick out. But it’s all there, constituting a fundamental continuity; the kind of continuity of the thread as they go up to the back of the woven material, and make up the obverse of the pattern that’s on the front.


Now, the question that is absolutely basic for all human beings is, “What have you left out?” You see? You are focused on certain things that constitute what you call ‘everyday reality.’ Look: you single out people, and you see them sitting, sitting, sitting, all around, and you know they are things that are really there. And then, behind the people, are the houses—or whatever we live in—and the Earth, and behind all that the sky, and so on. But we see the world as a collection of rather disjointed events and things. And I might say to you, as you came in here today, “Now, my goodness! You all forgot something. What did you forget?” And you think, “My goodness, did I put my pants on? Did I wear a sweater? Did I—got my glasses, and my hair on, or my wig, or whatever?” And—no, no, it’s none of that. Something you’ve forgotten, you see? Everybody has forgotten something. You left it out; just missed it. See, see? And so I can bring this out—what you’ve forgotten—if I ask you, “Who are you?” Well, you say, “I’m Paul Jones,” or whatever your name happens to be. I say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, don’t give me that stuff. Who are you really?” And you think, “Well, of course I’m just—I’m just me.” “No! Don’t give me that! I don’t want to hear all that nonsense. You’re playing a trick on me. Really, deep down, who are you?” “I don’t know!” Well, that’s the thing to find out. That’s the thing that’s been forgotten, see? That’s the underside of the tapestry; the thing that’s been left out.


Because what we are carefully taught to ignore is that every one of us—fundamentally; deep, deep inside—let’s put it that way—is an act of, a function of, a performance of, a manifestation of, the works. The whole blinkin’ cosmos with all its galaxies, and forever, and ever, and ever, whatever it is beyond that; what you might call God in the Western tradition, or Brahman in Hindu philosophy, or Tao in Chinese. Every one of us is really that, but we are pretending we aren’t. And we’re pretending with tremendous skill and deception.




Now, what I would call a really swinging human being is a person who lives on two levels at once. He’s able to live on the level of being his ordinary ego, his everyday personality, and play his role in life, and to observe all the rules, and so on, that go with that. But if he is only on that level—if he’s only playing that kind of thing—and thinks that’s all there is, it becomes a drag. He starts being the kind of person who feels that he’s just got to go on surviving, see? It’s terribly important to go on surviving; to live. And he works at that. And his children learn the same attitude from him. And they—he says, “Well, I’ve got to survive because I’ve got all these children I have to support,” and so on, and so forth, and then they take the same attitude, and they breed up children, and they feel compulsive about supporting them, because they’ve got to go on. And so nobody really has any fun. It’s just… “Ungh! Ungh! Ungh! Ungh!” You’ve got to make this thing! You see? And you don’t have to!


See, whenever I get somebody who comes to me and says, “I really can’t go on. I have to commit suicide,” I say, “Well, that’s entirely your right. There’s really no reason why you should go on, and if you want to commit suicide, do it.” You can check out. Of course, this reduces anxiety; when they feel free to commit suicide they don’t really have to commit suicide so much. You know, you can commit partial suicide. So the sense that you just have to go on living, see? That life is a ‘must.’ When you say to anything spontaneous—see, life is spontaneous. It happens—in the words of the Taoists—zìrán, which means “of itself so”—that’s the Chinese expression for nature, what happens by itself. What isn’t pushed, but it just pops up, you see?


Like—gee, I’ll never forget—there was a great Zen master I knew once, in New York. He was giving a lecture one evening, and he was dressed in his gold ceremonial robes, and he was sitting in front of an altar like this sort of thing—but he had a table in front of him with very formal candles on it and a sūtra scripture on a little desk—and he was lecturing on the sūtra. And he said, “Fundamental principle in Buddhism is: no purpose. Purposelessness. When you drop fart, you don’t say, ‘At nine o’clock, I drop fart.’ It happen of itself.” You know? And all these pious Western devotees, you know, kind of put their handkerchiefs in their mouths and tried not to laugh.


So—but, that’s the meaning of “something that happens of itself,” like “drop fart,” or “have hiccups,” or—just—you came into being, you know? It happens in a kind of a plop! way, like that—see? Now, you can’t tell that process, “You ought to happen! You must happen!” Because that puts a bind on it in the same way as when you have little child, and all the relatives have come to a party on Thanksgiving, and you put the child in the middle of all the relatives and say, “Now, dear, play!” See? It absolutely bugs the child to do it like that. And so this is the problem for every artist. Because an artist is a man who makes his living by playing. Whether he’s dancing, or painting, or playing music, or whatever it is, and he has to overcome this problem. He has to know how to play in public at a given time on an appointment, see? And that’s not an easy thing to learn. But when you catch on to the trick of it, you can do it—to play on demand. That’s the hardest lesson of life: to contrive—what is called by my Japanese artist friend Saburo Hasegawa—a controlled accident.




The thing is that we have been educated to use our minds in a certain way. A way that ignores, or screens out, the fact that every one of us is an aperture through which the whole cosmos looks out. You see, it’s as if you had a light covered with a black ball, and in this ball were pinholes, and each pinhole is an aperture through which the light comes out. So in that way, every one of us is, actually, a pinhole through which the fundamental light—that is, existence itself—looks out. Only, the game we’re playing is not to know this. To be only that little hole, which we call “me,” “my ego,” my specific “John Jones,” or whatever.


If, however—you see—we can maintain, at the same time, the sense of being this specific John Jones with his role in life, or whatever, and know also, underneath this, that we are the whole works, you get a very marvelous and agreeable arrangement. This is a most remarkable harmoniousness—I mean, it gives one’s life a great sense of joy and exuberance—if you can carry on these two things at once. If you—in other words—you know that all the serious predicaments of life are a game.


Now, I want to put it two ways. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, something to be condemned, to take your own individual life seriously, in dead earnest, and to have all the problems that go with that. Do you understand that being that way—that being a real mixed-up human being—is a manifestation of nature that is something just like the patterns on the waves out here, or like a seashell? You know, we pick up shells—I always keep one around, as sort of an example for many things—and say, “My goodness, isn’t that gorgeous!” There’s not an aesthetic fault in it anywhere. It’s absolutely perfect. Now, I wonder. I wonder if these fish look at each other’s shells and say, “Don’t you think she’s kind of fat?” “Oh my, those markings aren’t really very well spaced.” Because that’s what we do.


See, we don’t realize that all of us—in our various goings-on, and behavior, and so on—are more marvelous, much more complicated, much more interesting. All these gorgeous faces that I’m looking at. You know, every one of them! Some of them are supposedly pretty, some of them are supposedly not so pretty, but they’re all absolutely gorgeous. And everybody’s eyes is a piece of jewelry beyond compare. Beautiful!


But we have specialized in a certain kind of awareness that makes us neglectful of that. You see, we specialize in more or less briefly concentrated pinpoint attention. We look at this and we look at that, and we select—from all the things we might possibly be aware of—only certain things. And as a result of that we leave out of our everyday consciousness, generally speaking, two dimensions of experience. One: amazing beauty of experience that we never see at all, and on the other hand—the very deep thing—the sense of our basic identity, unity with, oneness with, the total process of being.


See, because we are staring, as it were, at certain features of the landscape, we don’t see the background. And because we get fascinated with—you know, I could go into details of this shell, as I said, and put myself in the mind of a conch—or whatever it is that lives in this thing—and say, “Hm, that’s not so hot, that one.” Like that, see? And so I wouldn’t see the whole thing. But when I look at it like this, when anybody looks at it like that, we say, “Oh my God, isn’t that gorgeous!”




Another way of talking about the web is that there are different levels of magnification. For example, supposing you take a piece of embroidery. And here it is, obviously, in front of you; an ordered and beautiful object. And then you take out a microscope, and you look at the individual threads. At a certain point, as you turn up the microscope, you’ll get a hopeless tangle which doesn’t make any sense at all. The wrapped fiber that constitutes the thread is a mess. Hasn’t been organized, nobody did anything about it. But at the level of magnification at which you actually see it with the naked eye, it’s all been organized.


Alright, now keep turning up that microscope. Take one of those individual threads in the fiber that seems to be so chaotic, and go into the constitution of that. And again, you’ll find fantastic order. You’ll find the most gorgeous designs of molecules. Then, keep turning it up. And again, at a certain level you’ll find chaos again. Alright, keep going. And at another level you’ll find there’s marvelous order.


Now, you see, order and randomness constitute—in other words—the warp and the woof. Where everything is—in order, everything’s under control; in randomness, it’s all over—it’s a mess. But we wouldn’t know what order was unless we had messes. It’s the contrast of order and messes that order itself depends upon. And so in exactly the same way, it is the contrast of on and off, there and not there—in other words, life and death, being and non-being—that constitutes existence. Only, we pretend that the random side of things, the disorderly side of things, could possibly win in the game of competition—or, I would rather call it collaboration—between the two.


When you lose sight of the fact that the order-principle and the random-principle go together, that’s exactly the same predicament as losing sight of the fact that all individually delineated things and beings are connected underneath. You know, just like mountains stick out of the Earth and there’s a fundamental Earth underneath them, so all of us, as different things, we stick out of reality and there’s a continuity underneath—but you ignore that, you see? That’s the thing that’s left out.


See? I’m just giving you many examples of the same principle. But really, deep down, we are—each one of us—everything that there is. Doing it this way, and then again that way, and then again another way, and that’s what it keeps up doing for ever, and ever. Only, it has holidays which are called deaths. You know, in the story of the creation of the world, in the Bible, God works for seven days and rests the seventh. It’s necessary to have a holiday. Holiday is holy day. And the Sabbath for the Jews is Saturday, for the Christians it’s Sunday, because Saturday is the last day of the week, but Sunday is the first day of the week. And it’s a slight difference of alteration between the Jewish temperament and a Christian temperament. Some people like to take the holiday and then do the work, other people like to do the work and then take the holiday. And since the Jews do the work first and then take the holiday, they’re always a little up on the Christians in business!


But the point is that a holiday—this pause between something going on—is of the essence of the idea of a web. For example, there’s a famous Irishman who is supposed to have described a net as “a lot of holes tied together with string.” So the holes are very, very important. And these are the holy days, you see? The holes. It all goes together.


So there must be that interval, and it exists on all kinds of levels. It isn’t simply that there is—for example, a sound that is sounded is a vibration, and the sound goes on and off. Everything that we call sound is sound-silence. There is no such thing as pure sound; you couldn’t hear it. What you hear is that tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap against the eardrum, But it happens very fast so that you get more of an impression of sound than you do of silence. But between every little undulation of sound there is also an interval. When you listen to music you hear a melody. But what you hear, actually, that makes the melody significant, are the steps between the tones; what we call the intervals. And a person who doesn’t hear intervals is tone-deaf. He only hears noises, he doesn’t hear the steps.


So that interval between whatever happens is as important as what happens. So we’ll call these two things the sound and the silence, the life and the death, somewhat analogous in weaving to the warp and the woof. Now look at the marvelous way in which the warp and woof go together. A piece of cloth is an extraordinary thing when you consider it’s made of a line of string. There’s something that always struck me as a child; fabulous, that string—just thread—could turn into cloth. Why should it hang together? How improbable.




My mother was a very great artist in embroidery; did absolutely fabulous work. And she could do everything with thread: sewing, knitting, embroidery, make tapestries, repair tapestries—oh, just fabulous work. So I’ve grown up in a background where thread is of enormous importance. She made a living this way, for a while. So I was always amazed at the way—say you take a ball of wool, and with knitting needles, and suddenly it turns into a sweater. Fantastic! But I found out, you see, the secret of this, which is that it will do this—it will hold together—by this combination of warp and woof. By this process where one thread goes under the other, omits the next, goes under the other, and then the next thing does the same thing, but in the opposite way.


Connect that. And they hold each other up. For example, you can put two sticks of wood, and lean them against each other, and they’ll stand up. We know the Chinese character for man (人) looks more or less like that. And although this is simply the brush form, the brush abbreviation, of what were originally the legs of a little human stick figure, there’s a story that Japanese children sometimes learn from their mothers: that the reason this is the character for man is that two sticks, leaned together as I described, will keep each other up. And the one depends on the other; it’s mutual. And so in the same way, the existence of human beings depends on our supporting each other. Without that, no one of us can exist. But that, which may seem a little trite—a little, sort of, moralistic and so on—but it is absolutely fundamental. That (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-3) anything that there is, whenever we can say that something exists—existence is a function of relationship.


Motion itself is a function of relationship. For example—forgive me if some of you have heard this one before, but it’s a very important basic lesson—if there is only one object, one small ball in the middle of endless space, nobody knows whether it’s moving. Because you can’t tell whether it’s approaching anything, or whether it’s going away from anything, because there’s nothing else. So in that state of affairs, no motion exists. But if we introduce a second ball into the picture, and the two either come towards each other or go away from each other, then we can say that both of them or either of them is in motion. We can’t decide which is the one that’s doing the moving, because it could be one, it could be the other. Now we’ll put three balls into space, and we find two of them staying together and the other one going away. Now, it’s up to the two of them to decide whether the other one is going away from them or they’re going away from the other, because two is a majority in this case, and the vote, of course, always goes to the majority; the universe being, basically, a democratic organization. And so it goes.


And now, once you’ve got that, you can see that motion is a form of relationship. Or, let me put it in another way: energy is a form of relationship. If the universe is basically a play of energy, then you can say energy and relationship go together. Now, what is this saying? This is saying that being—existence itself—is relationship. Let’s look at it in several other ways.


You know the old question, “If a tree crashes in a forest and there is nobody around to hear it, is there a noise?” This question has been discussed in many futile ways, but noise—basically—is a state of affairs that requires an eardrum and an audio nervous system behind the eardrum. When the tree falls, if there is—anywhere around—and ear with the appropriate nervous system, there will be a noise. Because noise is a relationship between motion in the air and ears. If there is not any ear around, there won’t be any noise—although there will be vibration in the air. And if there is some instrument around, such as a microphone attached to a tape recorder (which is a mechanical copy of a human ear) then, according to that, there will be noise; there will be a vibration.


In the same way, let’s suppose the sun sends out light into space. Now, the space surrounding the sun will be black darkness as if there were no light in it, unless a planet happens to float by. When a planet floats by, there will be light. In the darkness. But if there isn’t anything to relate to the sun in that way, then comes no light.


Now this goes right down to the root and ground of everything. It goes down to the essence of your nerves, of your whole being: that it’s all an interdependence. And that’s why one of the basic symbols of the universe is the Chinese yin-yang symbol, which, you know, is a circle with an S-curve in the center. One side of the S is black, the other is white. So it makes, as it were, two commas, or two fishes. And the eye of the fish is the opposite color; the white fish has a black eye, the black fish has a white eye. And these things are going like this, see? Curling in on each other. Now, this thing is called a helix, and that is the fundamental form of the galaxies; the great nebulae we see out in space are doing this. Curves. And this is, basically, too, the position of sexual intercourse. This is lovemaking. And this is, you know, when you hold hands, and so on. This is it. But there are two involved, and the two are secretly one.




Now, this is what I really want you to understand: to get into the unitive world underneath, underlying, and supporting the everyday practical world, there have to be certain alterations in one’s common sense. There are certain ideas—and beyond these ideas, certain feelings—that are difficult to get across not because they’re intellectually complicated—not at all because of that—but because they’re unfamiliar. They’re strange. We haven’t been brought up to accommodate them.


In exactly the same way that, in past times, people knew that the planets were supported in the sky because they were embedded in spheres of crystal. And if they weren’t embedded in spheres of crystal—and, of course, you could see them, because you could see through them—they would fall down on the Earth. And now, when astronomers finally suggested that there were no crystal spheres, people felt unbelievably insecure. See? They had a terrible time assimilating this idea. Now, do you see what it involves to assimilate a really new idea? You have to do quite a flip.


For example, there are some people whose number systems only account four quantities: one, two, three, many. So they don’t have any concept of four corners to a table—see, a table has many corners. And a pile of pebbles is, in that sense, equivalent in many-ness to the four corners of the table. Now, they have difficulty, you see, in beginning to assimilate the idea of counting through, and numbering all those corners or all those pebbles. But we’ve done that, so—to us—that is perfectly simple. But imagine the kind of mentality, the kind of person, to whom that is not simple at all.


Now, in exactly the same way, there is, here—what I’m trying to explain—a new idea that most people don’t assimilate, and that is the idea of the total interdependence of everything in the world. The Buddhists in Japan call it jiji muge. Jiji muge: “Between thing and thing, between event and event, there is no block.” And they represent this, imagistically, as a network.


Imagine a multidimensional spiderweb covered in dew in the morning, and every single drop of dew on this web contains in it the reflections of all the other drops of dew. And, of course, in turn, in every drop of dew that one drop reflects, there is the reflection of all the others again. And they use this image to represent the interdependence of everything in the world.


In other words, if we give this dewdrop-image—if we put it into a linguistic analogy, we would say this: “Words have meaning only in context.” The meaning of any word depends upon the sentence, or upon the paragraph in which it’s found. So that, if I say, “This tree has no bark,” that’s one thing. And if I say, “This dog has no bark,” that’s another thing. So, you see—always—the meaning of the word is in relation to the context.


Now, in exactly the same way, the meaning—as well as the existence—of an individual person, an organism, is in relation to the context. You are what you are, sitting here at this moment, in your particular kind of clothes, and with the particular colors of your faces, and your particular personalities, your family involvements, your business involvements, your neuroses, and your everything—you are that precisely in relation to an extremely complex environment.


So much so that, if—let’s take, for example, this piece of wood that forms a support to the beam out here. Now, believe me, this is true: you can see that has little nubbles on it, and so on. If it were not the way it is, you would not be the way you are. The line of connection between what it is and what you are is very, very complicated. Also, we could say if a given star that we observe didn’t exist, you would be different from what you are now. I don’t say you wouldn’t exist, but you would exist differently. But you might say the connection is very faint, is something you don’t ordinarily have to think about, it’s not important. But basically, it is important, only you say, “I don’t have to think about it, because it’s there all the time.”


See, for example, the floor is underneath you all the time. Some sort of floor, some sort of earth, and you really don’t have to think about it—it’s just always there; it’s always around. If you become insensitive you stop thinking about it. But there it is. And so, in the same way, our subtle interdependence with—mind you, it’s not just our plain existence, it’s the kind of existence we have—is dependent upon all these things. Also our plain existence, but that gets way down. But the fundamental thing is: existence is relationship.


In other words, if my finger, up here, is all alone, and the wind doesn’t move, and nothing touches it, it stops knowing that it’s there. But if something comes along and does tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch; immediately, it’s aware that it’s there. So, you see, it takes two. We could have so much fun, but it takes more than one, and she don’t wanna! But in this way, you see, what we call duality—you can see, can’t you, how duality is fundamental. It takes two.




But duality is always—secretly—unity. Take the contrast between the words we use: explicit and implicit. They’re very valuable words. What is explicit, what’s on the outside, that’s, say, how we come on publically—explicitly we are thus and so. We have a fight. We’re in competition, say, in business, explicitly. But implicitly, we’ve worked this out: that we’ve agreed, in a secret way that nobody knows about, that this competition is extremely valuable to both of us.


Take it politically, for example: let’s take the situation of Russia versus the United States. Explicitly, in public, this has to be a big fight. These two ways of life, these two ideologies, are opposed. They say, “Brrrrrraaaagh,” you know? But behind the scenes it’s all been carefully worked out. You bet it has. That this opposition has to happen because our economy depends on it, and their economy depends on it, and everybody knows this who’s got a little smart. But there are a lot of people who get taken in by the propaganda, and they should be taken in, because that makes the thing work. It’s crazy, but that’s the way it goes.


And everything works this way. There is, for example—when swans start to mate, they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do, and they begin to fight. I had a long talk about this with C. G. Jung. He lived on the edge of Lake Zürich, and he had a little summer house right on the water’s edge, and there were many swans there. And I was getting up after the end of a conversation with him, and we were beginning to walk back to the main house, and I said, “Isn’t it true that swans are monogamous?” And he said, “Yes, they are.” He said, “Do you know, I have had most interesting relationships between these swans and many of my female patients who thought they were homosexual.” I mean, Jung wasn’t a sexual snob—I mean, he understood all the legitimacy of all kinds of sexual variations—but he said, “It has been a point of departure for our discussions.” And he said, “It’s a very funny thing that, when they begin to mate, they start fighting. And they don’t know what it’s all about, and then, suddenly, the fight turns into lovemaking.”


So that’s what I mean. Underneath opposition there is love. Underneath duality there’s unity. That Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle. So you see, here’s that weaving principle. That things hold together by over-under, under-over, over-under, under-over, over-under, under-over, and that creates a stuff, it creates a fabric, it creates clothing, it creates shelter, it creates what we call matter. Matter. Mater. Mother. And also, the same word, māyā, “illusion.” See? The world as a marvelous illusion.


Now, we’ve got to go into this. Look at another form of the thing: you can play it not only by two as one, but you can play it by three as one. You know the trademark for Ballantine’s Ale, which is three interlocked rings. Now, the way these rings are interlocked is such that they are joined only if the three of them are present. If you take one away, the other two fall apart. This is a very interesting phenomenon, but it can be created physically, with steel rings. Their cohesion depends on all three of them being present.




Now, we have tried, scientifically, to understand the world and explain its mysteries by analyzing the smallest, smallest particles of things that exist. Inquiring down, down, down: what is this thing we call flesh, or call steel, or stone—what is it made of? Go down into the midst of it. And that’s given us a certain understanding. But only half of the understanding. Equally important is not what is the tiniest particle, but in what context is the tiniest particle? You see? In relation to what is it?


Just as the word “bark,” as I showed you, has different meanings in different sentences, so cells, molecules, atoms have different properties in different contexts. So what the scientist equally needs to study is not, simply, what is anything when very, very minutely analyzed, but where is it? When is it? That makes all the difference.


So, do you see that a lot of people who get anxious when they hear that everything is relative have no need to get that anxious? Relativity isn’t some kind of slippery morass in which all standards and all directions get lost. Relativity is really the soundest situation that there is. See? It’s the one supporting the other. It’s this thing.


Do you know this? This is wonderful. X marks the spot. Imagine this going on and on. Supposing my finger were indefinitely long—both fingers—and they were doing this. See, they’re just crossing each other. Now, on one side of it it’s a pair of scissors, and it cuts. What is it on the other side? Why, it’s opening female legs saying, “Please, come in.” Utter softness, utter receptiveness; on the other side it’s “Krrrrck!” But on this side it’s, “Please, please, please, please! Yes! Welcome!” And everything’s based on that. See? It’s “Krrrck” this way; sharpness, teeth, biting, spines, crab shells, all that kind of thing, you know? On the other side it’s the melting softness of life, see? They go together, just like that. “Shhhhhwwwt.” And goodness knows what it is on these outer two sides. I haven’t thought about that yet!


So if you see that, if you get that principle, you can feel yourself not sort of just rattling around in the world—as kind of a, you know, somebody’s been stuck down there—but you can feel yourself going on in absolutely exact relationship with everything around you. And this is very beautiful. It isn’t just that you are here looking at what’s out there—like you might be photographing it with your eyes—it’s that if that, there, wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be here. The outside thing that you see, and the inside thing that you are, are poles of the same magnet. Or back and front of the same coin. And without one there isn’t the other.


That means, of course, then, that we are living in the midst of a world of animals, vegetables, minerals, atmospheres, astronomical bodies that’s highly intelligent. It’s intelligence concentrated, crystallized, in our brains. That’s where it comes out, you see? In any field, let’s say—let’s take any field of forces. Take a chemical solution, and at certain critical points in this chemical solution, the crystals start to form. And so, in the same way, the total intelligence of this whole universe crystallizes in human brains. Also in other kinds of brains. But that’s where it really comes out. But it’s the total intelligence of the whole field that does this.


So we go with the whole thing; interdepend with it. We don’t live in an environment which is just rock, just air, just atmosphere, and so on. The environment’s only like that when we think about it analytically and try to explain it. But when we think of, “It isn’t just rock and air,” see, but “those things go together.” When you see the interconnectedness, when you see, in the simplest way, how flowers go with bees and other insects; they don’t live without them. Humans go with cattle, they don’t exist without them. Plants, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When you see the intervals, the significance of the relationships between these things—it’s only then, when you see that, that you are aware of the melody.


Go back to the illustration I gave of the person who can’t hear melody, who is tone-deaf. He only hears a succession of sounds, because he’s not aware of the intervals. Now, most people are brought up to be tone-deaf in respect to their own existence and the rest of the universe. They don’t see the relationships. They’re not aware of the unity. And so, once you spot that, you spot how everything goes with the thing, but you are one end and that, out there, is the other end. And they really go together. Then you may be said to be living a harmonious life.


(Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-4)


















In exploring the theme of The Web of Life, I have thus far discussed two principal topics. First, the web considered as selectivity. Experience considered as what we pay attention to, on the one hand, and what we ignore on the other. And I showed how the way in which we pay attention to the world creates isolates—I’m using that as a noun—isolates that we call particular things, events, and persons, and they seem to be disconnected, and to be alone, because we ignore the connections between them. And I used the analogy of weaving, where the threads go underneath and join on the back in a way that is not seen on the front. So you might say, in the unconscious—although I don’t particularly like that word, because it makes it seem as if it were something rather dead—but, on the unconscious side of life, as on the back of the weaving, or the back of the embroidery, there are connections which are not published.


Now, in the second part of the theme was the web as mutuality. When I discussed the way the existence of a web, the existence of cloth, or anything like that, depends on a mutual support of the warp and the woof. And this miraculous thing occurs that, when these things support each other, being comes into being. Cloth comes into being. And so, in exactly the same way, our world is a manifestation of relativity. And this requires a balance, a combination, a relationship of opposites in every domain of life. And although these opposites are explicitly different, and even antagonistic, they are implicitly one—and that’s the secret. See, there are these two secrets that we went into. The connection between what are supposed to be separate things and events, and the mutual unity between what are manifestly—that is to say, openly, for purposes of publication—opposites.


Now, this afternoon I’m going to take two other aspects of the web. The web is a trap, like the spider’s web is a trap for flies. Also, the lovely embroideries are worn by women as traps for men—from a certain point of view. And I want to consider the web as something playful. You see, there are so many ways of looking at it, and you will find that all these ways are right, but what we need is the fullness of the view.


There are people, for example, who can see the web as a trap and get stuck with that. There are people to whom existence is simply hateful. They see it as nothing but a ghastly mistake. The Lord really erred when he created this world, because he arranged it in such a way that everything lives by eating something else. And what I’m doing is, I’m describing a certain point of view, you see? I’m not exactly philosophizing, I’m describing a point of view. You can look at life in such a way that the whole thing is this ghastly mistake. For example, there is no such thing as genuine kindness or love. Everybody is really pretending that they are loving other people in order to get some advantage from them.


And indeed, there is a point of view which occurs in certain forms of paranoia, where people don’t seem to be real. They are mechanisms, and you can think that out quite intensely with a good deal of intelligence. After all, if you start from a good old Darwinian or Freudian basis, and see that man is a material machine, and that the consciousness of man is simply a very involved and complicated form of chemistry, and that’s what it is, you see? Well, then these awful mechanical things, these Frankensteins that everybody is, they come around and they say, “Well, I’m alive. I’m a human being. I have a heart, I love, I hate, I have problems, I feel.” And you feel like saying, “Come off it! You’re just a monster, and you put on this civilized act because, really, you’re just a set of teeth on the end of a tube, and got a ganglion behind those teeth which you call your brain or your alleged mind.”


And this thing is really, basically, there for two purposes: one, to be cunning enough to get something to eat, to put down the tube, and the other—you know what—Mr. Freud’s libido. And everything else, you see, can be construed as an elaborate, subtle way of pretending that that’s not really what you want to do. But you do, but you put on a great show. Now some people, according to this view, get mixed up. They so repress that what they really want to do is to eat and to screw, that they get involved in higher things that are the masks for these activities, and think that that’s the real purpose of life. And then they become what’s called neurotic, because they get involved in being pure camouflage. So that’s what’s called escaping from the facts: not looking at life, not looking at reality correctly.


Now, this is a very strange thing, you see, that it is partly true that the universe, so far as its biological aspect is concerned, is this weird system that lives by everybody eating everybody else. Only, what we do to maintain what is called order and civilization, is that various species make agreements, as it were, that they won’t eat each other. They’ll cooperate, and so be an enormous gang which can beat down the others. So the human being is the most successful, so far, of this gangster arrangement. We are the most predatory monsters on Earth, and we have cooperated to assault the fish, and the vegetables, and the chickens, and the cows, and everything, you see? Only, we do it by not letting our left hand know what our right hand doeth. In other words, ladies and gentlemen—unless gentlemen happen to be prone to going hunting as a sport—they don’t see their food killed. They don’t see the slaughterhouse. And so, what you get [from] the butcher in the market is steak, you know? It’s a thing in its own right; it has nothing to do with a cow. Steak is a thing shaped thus and so, and it looks as if it might be like a banana, or something like that, you know? And nobody worries. And when a fish is served up, it does indeed look like a fish, but it’s not the squiggly, squirmy fish that comes out at the end of the fisherman’s line. You know, when you really fish, you realize that the fish doesn’t like it very much.


Now, there is that absolutely extraordinary side of things that is really terrifying. And so, let me repeat the illustration I used of the cross in the net, where one side of it is scissors that cut and eat, teeth that chew and get this thing in, and the opening side of it is like James Joyce’s—in Ulysses, the girl who says, “Yes,” and I said, “Yes, yes, yes, she wants to be absolutely ravaged by her man,” you see? So it’s open, open, open!


But now comes the—if we take the dark view of things, the horrible view—excuse me if I go into some rather grizzly details, but have you ever heard of a vagina dentata? That is the idea that, in the sexual organ of the woman, there are teeth. And a lot of men have this fantasy, and so are rendered impotent. They daren’t make love, because they feel that the price of this blessed experience, this creative experience, this loving experience, is you’re going to get trapped. You’re going to get emasculated, and you’re going to lose your precious member. And this is a very ancient fantasy. It appears throughout all known history, because this is simply the woman’s come-on, where she attracts, but she’s out, really, to get you. She is basically a spider mother, you see, who is selfish and doesn’t really love you—not really—but says she does. And, of course, there are, on the other side, all the tricks of the men, which we can go without mentioning.


So this is a view of the world as a system of mutual exploitation and of maximal selfishness. Now, it’s a very profitable view to explore.




Everybody should do—in their lifetime, sometime—two things. One is to consider death: to observe skulls and skeletons, and to wonder what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Never. That is a very gloomy thing for contemplation, but it’s like manure. Just as manure fertilizes the plants and so on, so the contemplation of death, and the acceptance of death, is very highly generative of creative life. You get wonderful things out of that. And the other thing to contemplate is to follow the possibility of the idea that you are totally selfish. That you don’t have a good thing to be said for you at all. You’re a complete, utter rascal.


Now, the Christians have avoided this, because although they say, in their Episcopalian form of confession, that “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, and we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.” Too much, you know? “We have offended against thy holy laws. We’ve left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.” But! It ought to be different. And we are going to do our best to amend, with the help of God’s grace. And that is a real con act, because if you equate health with genuine love and perfect unselfishness, then, in that sense, there is no health in us when we look at ourselves from this point of view.


Now, when you go deeply into the nature of selfishness, what do you discover? You say, “I love myself. I seek my own advantage.” Now, what is the self that I love? What do I want? And that becomes an increasingly, ever-deepening puzzle. Now, I’ve often referred to this. When you say to somebody else, “I love you,” it’s always rather disconcerting to the person to whom you say that. If you imply that you love them with a pure, disinterested, and holy love, they automatically suspect it as being a little bit phony. But if you say, “I love you so much I could eat you,” that’s an expression—it’s a way of saying to a person, “You attract me so much that I can’t help it. I’m absolutely bowled over by you. I’m gone.” And people like that. Then they feel they’re really being loved, that it’s absolutely genuine.


But now, “I love you so much I could eat you.” Now what the devil do I want? I certainly don’t want to eat the girl in the sense of literally devouring her, because then she’d disappear. Hmm. But I love myself. What is me? How do—in what way do I know me? Well, it suddenly occurs to me that I know me only in terms of you.


See, when I think of anything I know and that I like, then it’s always something that can be viewed as other than me. I can never get to look at me—real me. It’s always behind, it’s always hidden. And I really don’t know it well enough to know whether I love it or not. Maybe I don’t. Maybe it’s an appalling mess. But certainly, the things that I do love, and that I want from a selfish point of view, when I really think about them, they’re all something else that’s, in a way, outside me.


Now, we saw that there is a reciprocity. A total, mutual interdependence between what we call the self and what we call the other. That’s the warp and the woof. And so, if you’re perfectly honest about loving yourself (and you don’t pull any punches, you don’t pretend that you’re anything other than exactly what you are), you suddenly come to discover that the self you love—if you really go into it—is the universe. You don’t like all of it, you’re selective about it—as we saw in the beginning, perception is selection—but on the whole, you love yourself in terms of what is other, because it’s only in terms of what is other that you have a self at all.


So then, I feel that one of the very great things that C. G. Jung contributed to mankind’s understanding was the concept of the shadow. That everybody has a shadow, and that the main task of the psychotherapist is to do what he called, “to integrate the evil,” to, as it were, put the devil in us in its proper function. Because, you see, it’s always the devil, the unacknowledged one, the outcast, the scapegoat, the bastard, the bad guy, you see, the black sheep of the family. It’s always from that point that—which we could call the fly in the ointment, you see—that generation comes.


In other words, in the same way as in the drama: to have the play it’s necessary to introduce a villain, it’s necessary to introduce a certain element of trouble. So, in the whole scheme of life, there has to be the shadow, because without the shadow there can’t be the substance.


So this is why there is a very strange association between crime and all naughty things, and holyness. You see, holyness is way beyond being good. Good people aren’t necessarily holy people. A holy person is one who is whole; who has, as it were, reconciled his opposites. And so there’s always something slightly scary about holy people. And other people react to them in very strange ways; they can’t make up their minds whether they’re saints or devils. And so holy people have, throughout history, always created a great deal of trouble, along with their creative results.


Let’s take Jesus, for example. The trouble that Jesus created is absolutely incalculable. Think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the—heaven only knows what’s gone on in the name of Jesus. Very remarkable. Freud’s a big troublemaker, as well as a great healer, you see? It all goes together.


So, the holy person is scary because he is like the earthquakes—or better, still—he’s like the ocean. See, the ocean, on a lovely sunny day, you can say, “Oh, isn’t that gorgeous?” You can go into it, and relax, and float around. But boy, when the storm comes does that thing get mad. Terrifying! So there is, in us, the ocean, you see? And Jung felt that the whole point was to bring the two together, and—by a kind of fantastic honesty—to penetrate one’s own motivations to the depths.




Jung had a tremendous humor. And he knew that nobody can be completely honest. That you will try, and you’ll have a great deal of success in exploring your motivations and your dark, unconscious depths, but there will be a certain point at which you will say, “Well, I’ve had enough of that!” You know? And, do you see how, in a strange way, there’s a certain sanity in that? When a person indulges in a certain kind of duplicity, of deception, there is something—you all laughed when I said that—there’s something humorous about it.


And this humor is [a] very funny thing. Basically, humor is an attitude of laughter about one’s self. There is malicious humor, which is laughing at other people. But real, deep humor is laughter at one’s self. Now why, fundamentally, do you laugh about yourself? What makes you laugh about yourself? Isn’t it because you know that there is a big difference between what goes on the outside and what goes on the inside? That if I hint, you see, that your inside is the opposite of your outside, it makes people laugh—if I don’t do it unkindly. If I get up in the attitude of a preacher and say, “You’re a bunch of miserable sinners and you ought to be different,” nobody laughs. But if I say, “Well, after all, boys will be boys, girls will be girls,” we all know; then, people laugh.


Now, you see, what’s happening when we do that? I passed you around a lot of embroidery to look at before we started. And I’m perfectly sure that you got the point that there’s a big difference between the front and the back. In some forms of embroidery the back is very different from the front because people take shortcuts. In the front everything is orderly, and it is supposed to be kind of messy on the backside. See? Which side will you wear? You’ve got to be sure you get the front in the front and the back in the back. And the back has all the little tricks in it, all the shortcuts, all the lowdown that people don’t acknowledge, see?


And it’s exactly the same with the way we live. You know, like sweeping the dust under the carpet in a hurry, just before the guests come. I mean, we do ever so many things like that. And if you don’t do it, if you don’t think you do it, and you think, “Well, really, my embroidery is the same on both sides.” See? Well, you’re deceiving yourself, because what you’re doing is you’re taking the shortcuts in another dimension, which you’re keeping out of consciousness. Everybody takes the shortcuts, everybody plays tricks, everybody has in himself an element of duplicity, of deception.


Because, you see, from this point of view that I’m discussing, where the web is the trap, to be is to deceive. Think of camouflage. The chameleon who changes its color. Think of the butterfly pretending it has eyes. Think of the flower saying to the bee, “Like my honey?” The bee says, “Wow!” But then that means that the bee has to be, and it has to go on living, and all the trouble it takes to go around collecting honey, and raising other bees, and organizing itself, and doing that dance which tells the other bees where there’s more honey—all that stuff to do, because the flower was deceptive.


Now, in the same way, I’ve often said life is a drama, and a drama is a deception. It’s a big act. When you peel an onion, and you don’t really understand the nature of an onion, you might look for the pit in the center, like any ordinary fruit has. But the onion doesn’t have a center. It’s all skins. And so, when you get right down, there’s nothing but a bunch of skins. You say, “Well, that was kind of disappointing.” But, of course, you have to understand that the skins were the part that you eat.


Well, in rather the same way, you see, you find—when you explore yourself, and your motivations, and you go through and through—and you try to find out that thing which is really genuine. That’s why, in Zen discipline, they give you kōans which require a perfectly genuine act. An act of total and absolute sincerety. And people knock themselves out trying to do this thing, but they always know that the master is going to catch them, because he reads their thought. Do you know that story of von Kleist, about the man who had a fight with a bear? And the bear could read his thoughts, so that the only way of hitting the bear was to do so not on purpose—because the bear would know in advance. So it’s the same in working with a Zen master. You have to do the genuine act not on purpose. But since you’re put in a situation where it’s rather formal, and you’re supposed to do it on purpose, you’re stuck, you see? So you explore the onion, and you go in, and in, and in, and then you find—well, it’s all a deception!


Now then, the question arises: who’s deceiving who? Who’s fooling who? I’m fooling me? What is fooling? Fooling is playing like you’re there when you’re not. You know, getting somebody else to answer your name in the roll call. So we’re all—you see, this is the metaphysical basis of it, this is what the Hindus mean by māyā: the world-illusion. The world is playing it’s there when it isn’t. And it’s a trap. And it sucks you in. And you can’t get out of it. And it’s a thorough, big trap, too.


But always, when you get an idea like this, or a feeling like this, follow it to its extreme. Don’t back out from it. If you find you’re selfish, go to the extreme of what selfishness means. Confusion largely results from not following feelings or ideas to their depth. You know, people think they want to be immortal, they’d like to live forever. Do you really want to do that? Think about it. Really go into it, what it would be like. People say they want this, that, and the other; they want this kind of car, they want this kind of dress, or so on, and this much money, and so on—it’s always a good idea to think it right through. What it would involve to be in that situation, to have those desires fulfilled? Also, when you form a relationship to another person, think it through, too. You see? How inconvenient would they be, however attractive? And always turn the embroidery around and look at the underside, but don’t get caught doing it. See, that’s something one does on the side, in secret. Because otherwise you play the game that everything is as it’s supposed to be on the front. But that makes you humorous, and that makes you human.




Now, summing up, we’ve discussed the web from three points of view. As an analogy of the selective operation of our senses and mind, whereby certain things in the world are picked out as significant according to certain game rules. The game that we are playing, mostly, is the survival game. That is to say, the game ought to go on. Only, the way we play the survival game has a kind of element in it (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-4) which makes it difficult, because we tend to say, “The first rule of this game is that it’s serious,” and that messes the whole thing up. So you have to watch out, in other words—when you play—for contradictory game rules. Self-contradictory game rules. Because if you get mixed up into them, the game ceases to be worth the candle. You start straining at doing something when it just isn’t worth it.


Then, the second thing that we observed was the web as an analogy of mutual interdependence. We could call it the idea that all existence is relative, that all existence is transactional. The transaction being typically exemplified by, say, the operation of buying and selling, in which there can be no buying without somebody selling, and there can be no selling without somebody else buying. That kind of interdependence of the inside going together with the outside, what is in you going together with what is outside you, is absolutely fundamental to existence. It is existence. Existence is relativity.


Then we explored the web as a trap. The spider’s web: “Won’t you come into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly. And we saw what happens if you look at all of life from the point of view that it is original selfishness and original hunger. And we found that if you take that point of view to its ultimate extreme, it dissolves. And it isn’t so bad after all. There’s a famous comment that R. H. Blyth made on the passage in Macbeth, where Shakespeare says, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” And Blyth says, “When it’s put that way it doesn’t seem so bad after all.”


I remember that I had a Zen master friend who wrote a letter to a friend of mine, which was passed on to me, saying that the greatest writers—this friend of mine was aspiring to be a writer, and he was trying to write novels that would put across Buddhism to people. You know, sugar the pill. And my Zen master friend didn’t approve of this at all. He said, “Don’t write any story to people. Write it to the great sky.” Because all the real masters of literature, especially novelists and storytellers, are great masters of nonsense. Think of Lewis Carroll. You can use Lewis Carroll—and he did use Alice in Wonderland—as a Zen textbook: because “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” And that’s Zen.


I had a discussion with a great master in Japan, on the last visit there, and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English. And he said that’s a waste of time. “If you really understand Zen,” he said, “you can use any book.” You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary. “Because,” he said, “the sound of the rain needs no translation.” So what does the rain say? Evening rain. It is the banana leaf that speaks of it first. You see, that’s the point. And all the talk in the world doesn’t get it unless you listen to the talk in a new way. “The sound of the rain needs no translation.”


So, you see, there’s something going on. This web may be looked at as pattern. And the world is basically patterning. What else do you do, when you come to think of it? When you eat you are turning food into the pattern of your skeleton, your muscles, and your nervous system. That’s a pattern. And you say, you see—basically—“Hooray for that pattern! That’s great! It’s terribly interesting!” But then you want other patterns. You like to look through a microscope and see the patterns that exist in the small world. You like to look through a kaleidoscope, or a telidoscope, and see the patterns. You like to have paintings around and see the patterns. You like to watch the water play. You want to watch the birds go, and the clouds, and all that. Fascinating patterns. And that really does—doesn’t it?—seem to be the point.


I mean, what do you do when you’re very rich and you want—let’s take some rascal from ancient times who became very rich by all sorts of skullduggery, and warfare, and so on: he got himself a suit of armor, a beautiful sword. And he had the armorer make the most intricate patters, arabesques of inlaid gold, on the steel. Why? Because it’s, as they say among the Pennsylvania Dutch, it’s “f’nice.” It’s a great thing to have all that jazz, and that’s what we go for.




What do people do most of the time when they—what would they like to do, really? What’s your idea of heaven? When people are unoccupied, as far as I can make out, they get together and they sing and dance. Or else watch somebody else do it. Nowadays we live in a non-participative culture and we don’t do very much singing and dancing. We are lugubrious. But we watch other people do it on television. What we really are interested in is to be able to spend all the time going, “gohooda-bada-doo boom-di-di-boo-ba, bee-boo doodie-boodie doo-doo tchi-ko boom-boom-boom,” you know, something like this. And that’s what our heart’s doing, that’s what our lungs are doing, it’s what our eyeballs are doing, and it’s what all these fantastic capillaries of the veins are doing. They’re just going, “joo-di-boo-di, huppa-bubba, umpa-buba jee-dee-dee-dee,” you see? And that’s the point.


Now, the thing is: ought this to be allowed? You know? Dare we admit it? Because we’ve been brought up, you see, in a cultural context in which the universe is presided over by somebody serious. And it’s only very, very occasional obscure references in the Jewish and Christian scriptures to the idea that God dances. Of course, in Hindus—they know Shiva dances, and all the Gods dance, and they are represented in the dance.


But in our way of looking at things—no. Back, deep down in, there is something that you must respect with a very, very—you mustn’t laugh in church, especially if you got in front of the throne of heaven. Everybody would be dead silent. Wow! You see, I mean, that’s really serious. Here is the Father Almighty, world without end, and you watch out! Don’t you laugh! Why not? Because Father Almighty, world without end, is a very insecure fellow. And if anybody laughed he might feel uneasy, you know? Like something wrong going on; someone challenged his power. So he is a funny fellow, you see, as we’ve mythologized ultimate reality in the form of this cosmic grandpapa, who is also a king and is demanding—above all things—reverence and respect.


So it’s difficult for us—because of that cultural heritage—to accept, to accommodate our common sense, to the idea that the web might basically be playful. That it might be like somebody saying, “Won’t you come and play with me?” A child. And the other child has some little hesitation. “I don’t know whether I ought to play with you. You come from the wrong side of the tracks.” Or, “I don’t feel like playing today; I feel serious. I don’t think play is important. We ought to do something real, like wash the dishes for mother.” Who, incidentally, has forgotten that the whole point of washing the dishes is playful. You know, you don’t wash the dishes for a serious reason. You like the table to look nice, you know? You don’t want to serve up the dishes with dinner with all the leavings of breakfast still lying on them. So why do you want the table to look nice? Well again, it’s “f’nice,” you see? You like the pattern of it that way.


People get terribly compulsive about doing these things, and they think that going on arranging the patterns of life is something that’s a duty. That means a debt that you owe it to yourself, or to your family, or to someone or other. You’re in debt. See, that’s the trouble. When a child comes into the world, the parents play an awful game on it. Instead of being honest, they say, “We’ve made such great sacrifices for you. Here we are, we’ve supported you, we’ve paid for your education, and you’re an ungrateful little bastard.” And the child feels terribly guilty because what we do is we build into every human being the idea that existence is guilt. The existentialists make a big deal out of this, and you watch out for them because they’re hoaxers, and they say that guilt is ontological. If you’re not feeling guilty you’re not human. And that was because papa and mama said, “Look at all the trouble you’ve caused us. You shouldn’t dare to exist. You have no rights, but maybe we’ll give you some out of the generosity of our hearts, so that you’ll be permanently indebted to us.”


And so everybody goes around with that sort of thing in their background, unless they had different kinds of papas and mamas who didn’t play that trick on them. But so many papas and mamas do do that. And if they don’t do it, somebody else does it. Aunty comes around and says, “You don’t realize what your father and mother have done for you. You think,” you know, “you can just stay around here and goof off! But they’ve sweat blood to give you your clothes, and food, and so on, and you ought to be grateful for it.” But that’s not the way to make people grateful. They won’t be grateful that way; they’ll imitate gratefulness. They’ll go and put on a big show and say, “Oh thank you so much! I feel so indebted to you!” And so on, and so forth, and they’ll make it look good. But it isn’t real. Because, actually, one’s father and mother had a great deal of fun bringing you into being—or we hope they did. And they wanted to do that the worst way. They have no reason to complain about all these things, and try and make the children feel guilty.


But, you see, it’s an amazing thing in our culture that everyone is afflicted with ontological guilt. For example, if a policeman comes to the door, everybody is instantly frightened; you wonder, “What on Earth have I done?” And there are certain clergy who are absolute experts in making you feel guilty. They’re really marvelous. And there are clergy of all kinds, for all classes, and for all levels of intelligence, and they can make you feel real guilty! Only, you have to watch—always—what games people are playing.


Now, you see, the thing is—that really is a puzzle—is that they don’t admit they are playing games. And when a person is playing games, and doesn’t admit that they are playing games, then you have some kind of a trickster who isn’t really being fair to you. Now, of course, the game that this game is not a game has a certain kind of a fascinating quality to it. How mixed up can we all get? Let’s try. See? There’s a certain possibility in that. I would like to go insane, and be as insane as anybody has ever been, and be the far-est out crazy nut in the world. See? That’s a game. But it’s not a good game. It’s a game being played by a person who didn’t really understand that everyday life was a game, too. And I think the most important thing is to admit this.




All really humane people admit that they’re rascals. That’s, you see, on the side of the not respectable, the selfish. But so, also, all humane people should admit that they’re jokers; that they are playing games and playing tricks. That I am doing it on you; I am most ready to admit this. I hoaxed you all into coming here to tell you—what? It was a trap, you see? But I’m going to make it an entertaining trap so that you won’t feel so badly about it.


Now, this is philosophy, but I think philosophy is like music. You go to a concert and you listen to somebody play Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven, and what’s all that about? You know, it isn’t about anything except “dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee, dee-dee diddly-dee”, you know? That’s what it’s about. And so, in the same way, as I conceive my work as a philosopher, I am simply pointing out that existence is the same kind of a thing as a Bach invention. It’s going this way, and that way, and hills, and water is going “tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch” all out there, and the fish are going around in it, breeding, and the ducks are going this, that, and the other, and that’s the same thing as “dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee, dee diddly-dee,” see?


So, if you can admit that—that that’s what it’s all about—you have a little problem. Because there’s not only the threat that it really might be serious, and that you shouldn’t be laughing about this, but there’s also a kind of opposite. Then are you saying it’s merely just fiddling around? I mean, are you saying that it’s only a game? Is that all there is to it? What do you think? You see, this, again, is a question that everybody has to think things through. What did you want? Didn’t you want a game? Did you want it to be serious in the end? Think about the question. What kind of a thing would you like God to be? What would you like to do for eternity? Really?


Here is Jan van Eyck, who paints the eschatological picture of the Last Judgement. What a strange man he must have been. Here is heaven above, and hell below. And in heaven, here’s God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, all that together, and the virgin Mary, and the Apostles, and they are all sitting in committee, and they have an aisle—you know, just like in church—and there they are, facing each other, and they’re all sitting there very solemnly.


Now, I don’t know what it’s about. But below, right at the end of the aisle, you see, where all these Apostles are sitting, is Saint Michael: a rather gorgeous figure in beautiful armor with wings. And underneath him is a batwinged skull. And beneath those batwings all horrors is let loose. Michael is about to slosh that skull, you see, with his sword. But below; whoo! There are nude bodies—some of them pretty comely—and they’re all squirming in there, and they’re being eaten by worms, and they are eating the worms, and it’s a kind of a mush. It’s like the sort of situation you find when you turn up a big rock and there’s all that going on underneath. Now, there’s no question whatever that van Eyck, the painter, had more fun painting that part of the picture, than he did painting the top part.


So, in the same way with Hieronymus Bosch, and with Bruegel: they painted every kind of weird, surrealistic deviltry going on, and they really loved it. But they couldn’t admit it. Now, the only time when the holy people had a ball was when, for example, the Islamic artists made arabesques, and the Celtic artists made fantastically intricate lattices to decorate the margins of their gospels and missals. They are unbelievably beautiful. Or take stained glass, or something like that.


But what are they doing? What’s it all about? So you asked the question, then what will you do in heaven? And the thing you wanna do, of course, is to get mixed up in this “tshhhh twtwtwtwtwt.” See it’s like the musician: he likes to take a melody, and he likes to put another melody that fits in with it, and another one that fits in with both, and then a fourth one, and arrange them together, and then invents an instrument like an organ that he plays with two hands, then he adds foot pedals so he can play with his two feet. And he’d get this hand doing one rhythm, this is doing another, this is doing another, and this doing another. See, that makes it complicated.


And so, when drummers get together and play, somebody starts out with a certain rhythm, and then that rhythm has holes in it. In other words, it has certain silences. And the next drummer fills those silences in an interesting way. He comes and picks out a pattern. And what do you imagine DNA is? The basic form of biological existence. Now, DNA is like a necklace—like Charlotte’s wearing—with different kinds of beads in it. And according to the order, and the way those beads are arranged, so you get genes, and so you get the particular form of life that emerges from those genes.


So what we are doing—basic down, way down—is saying, “She loves me, she don’t, she have me, she won’t, she would if she could, but she can’t.” You see? Or, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief.” This is the way life is going on. And as a result comes all this, you see?


The question is then, you see—in you heart of hearts—you can take the attitude that all this is terrible, or that it’s dreadfully serious. You see, you can play comedies, you can play tragedies, farces, histories and romances, and all that kind of thing, and you can take these various attitudes to it. But if you are awakened, and, as it were, you’ve been let in to the secret—which is what we’ve been talking about, see? Because the web is also the curtain, you know? The veil. The veil which hides the face of God from the angels, you see? There’s always this veil.


That’s why we like a strip tease: because there’s an implication that this—you should never give the show completely away; always should be a little bit of a veil left, you see? There always is. Because even if you find the strip tease artist gets completely naked, there’s really something hidden. What’s the motivation? What sort of a person is she? Would I really like to embrace her? Or will she have bad breath? You know? Or something. And you never really know. You never really get to the bottom. That’s why everybody—all men poets say that women are basically mysterious. And they ought to be. So are men basically mysterious, from women’s point of view—although they play that they’re not. See, this is the way it goes: men are supposed to be very open, and they say, “Well,” of a certain situation, “this is the way it is. After all, it’s perfectly rational; a matter of practical affairs.” And women say, “Well, I’m not quite as articulate as you are, but I know there’s something you’ve left out, but I can’t explain it.” And by this means everything is kept going.




So, what I’m saying is, I think, this: I’m trying to share with you a certain style of life, and an attitude to life, and an insight. I’ve taken you to one side and said, “Listen, kids, things aren’t what they seem. Don’t be fooled. There’s a big deception going on, and you’re involved in it, but I just thought you ought to know it and enjoy it.” See? I’m terribly puzzled about the way people go out of their way to dis-enjoy themselves. It takes so much trouble about it.


Did you ever read H. L. Mencken’s essay called The Libido for the Ugly? And it describes a Pennsylvania mining town which isn’t exactly totally impoverished. I mean, they can build things, and they have enough money to do this, that, and the other. But they—he describes how they made a church out of yellow stone that’s so awful that it looks like a Presbyterian with a grin. And all around you have only to look and you see this perfect passion for making the world look grizzly. And it isn’t only job builders and garage owners who do this kind of thing, it’s also people who profess to be painters. They’re actually using excrements for painting in Paris today, on the theory that the world is shot to pieces.


And since the artist is a representative of his times, he ought to show the times as they really are, as a social critic. And so he makes the most weird—I mean, he paints Campbell’s soup can, and then he makes music that shrieks and screams, and the most—he just goes out of his way to make it sound as ugly as he possibly can manage. And the ingenuity about that is endless. Because that is the times. He’s the critic, you see? Instead of being somebody who reveals.


Now, you see, let’s take the sort of the character of the Pied Piper: the person who brings you an invitation to dance. I would say, then, you see, “There is going to be a dance this evening, and I would like you all to come.” You know? That’s the spirit in which I invite you to a seminar. I am not inviting you in the spirit of saying “No, we’re going to have to discuss some very grave matters, and you ought to be awake to all these things and arouse your social conscience,” and so on, and so forth. Because when you get through with all that, then what? When you get through with feeding the hungry and clothing the naked—and we are making great strides with automation, and technology, and abolishing poverty totally—then what are we going to do? Well, you see, if you got all these people clothed, and fed, and so on, and then they say, “Well, now, what next?” And if you got a kind of a Quakerish state of mind you don’t know what to do. Well, feed and clothe somebody else, you see? Get busy. But then, where is that leading?


So, you see, to spread joy you have to have it. To impart delight you have to be, more or less, delightful. And to be delightful is not some factor of trying to make yourself look delightful. It is to do things that are delightful to you. You become, thereby, delightful to others. That’s to say, people who are interesting are people who are interested. Any person, for example, who is always constantly thinking about all sorts of other things, and other people, and so on—because they are fascinating—becomes a fascinating person. But a person who doesn’t think about anybody else, and who’s got very little going on inside their skull, is boring. So, in other words, your engagement with the external world—the more you are involved, the more your personality is enriched. But if you try to enrich your personality by taking a course on how to win friends and how to influence people, or how to be a real person, you become just a washout. Because you’ll be—in a small circle—you’ll be, as it were, you’ll be like somebody trying to get a good nutrition by biting his nails. And then the fingers next, you know? And then half an arm gone, and so on, and you’re entirely nourishing yourself with yourself.


Now, of course, on a vast scale the universe does that: it eats itself up. That’s why the symbol of the snake swallowing its tail is a very fundamental, archaic symbol of life. But the way it’s done is that the snake has, in some part of the ring, a place where it’s not sensitive. It’s called the unconscious. Where it doesn’t know that what comes to it in the form of food is actually what left it in the form of excrement. That thing is—don’t mention it. After all, as the Lord said, “In the beginning of the universe you must draw the line somewhere.”


And so, as a result of there always being a kind of gap—that’s the gap, you know, like where the electric spark jumps—that’s the thing behind your head, behind your eyes, that you can never get to look at. It’s the gap. And because of that little gap the circle doesn’t just revolve in a dull way, just going round, and round, and round like a boring thing. It has rhythm. See, if I say, “Yoeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee;” no rhythm, see? It’s just one long sound. After a while you’ll say, “Oh, cut it out!” Or we just become insensitive to it.


But what we want to hear is a break in it, you see? And we want to hear it go on and off, and vanish and come back again, and so on. And it sets up a rhythm; that becomes interesting. That’s putting gaps between, you see? We need those gaps. So: now you see it, now you don’t, now you see it, now you don’t. Well, that’s pretty dull. So what we are going to do is this: we’re going to have you see it three times, and then with a regular not see it between them, then there are gonna be a longer not see it after that one, and then I’m going to do something very complicated after that, so that you don’t really know when it’s going to come next. So it’s going to be a surprise. You know how we all do that?


And interesting people are those who do this in very involved ways. Dull people—sort of, people who put their hats on absolutely straight—are the kind of people, for example, who have the same meal every day. Exactly the same thing, always. See? Have no inventiveness. They have the same routine, they go to the same office, they answer the same kind of letters, and that’s that. See? But then, if they want to start up a more interesting kind of business and make more money, then they have to figure out—take the people who make clothes. They figure out fashion. There’s going to be a new thing for ladies; a new style this fall. We’re going to make them do long skirts instead of the short skirts and the middle skirts. And they skirts go “wi-tchi-tchi tchi-tchi tchi-tchi,” like this. Then, finally, they thought about having topless women, and they are going to play around with that and have an absolutely scandalous ball. But that’s the whole thing, you see? It’s this thing of rhythm.


And yes, you ask, “Well, I see that. What is doing this rhythm? Who, after all, am I?” And as you explore deeper, and deeper, and deeper into the nature of yourself, you find that you are a rhythm doing a rhythm. And behind that there is another rhythm doing a rhythm. You’re vibrations; and once again you meet our friend, the onion. And who, who is doing all this? Why, he disappeared. He came around, there it was, and we were looking for him, and he vanished. And then, just when we weren’t looking for him again, there he is. But every time we try to see, he isn’t there. Now do you see that? That that situation is what’s called life.


(Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-5)


























This seminar is about a very sticky problem. The problem to which the Buddha primarily addressed himself, which is that of agony; suffering. But before we get into that, we have to be clear about certain basics. And these basics have to do not so much with concepts and ideas, as they do with the state of mind. You can call it also a state of feeling, a state of sensation, a state of consciousness. And we need to understand that—even be in that—before we can really go very far. And this is an extraordinarily difficult state of mind to talk about, even though in its nature it’s extremely simple. Because it is, in a way, like we were when we were babies. When we haven’t been told anything and didn’t know anything other than what we felt, and we had no names for it. Now, of course, as we grow older, we learn to differentiate one thing from another, one event from another, and above all, ourselves from everything else. Well and good, provided you don’t lose the foundations.


Just as mountains are differentiated, but they’re all based on the Earth, so the multiple things of this world are differentiated, but they have, as it were, a basis. There is no word for that basis—not really—because words are only for distinctions. And so there can’t really be a word, not even an idea, of the non-distinction. We can feel it, but we can’t think it. But we don’t feel it like an object. You feel you’re alive, you feel you are conscious, but you don’t know what consciousness is because consciousness is present in every conceivable kind of experience. It’s like the space in which we live, which is everywhere. It’s like a fish being in water, and presumably a fish doesn’t know it’s in the water because it never goes out. A bird presumably knows nothing of the air. And we really know nothing of consciousness, and we pretend space isn’t there.


So, however, when you grow up and become fascinated—which is really the right word; spellbound, enchanted—by all the things that adults wave at you, you forget the background. And you come to think that all the distinctions which you’ve been learning are the supremely important things to be concerned with. You become hypnotized, just in the same way as when the beak of a chicken is put to a chalk line, it gets stuck on that line. And so when we are told to pay attention to what matters, we get stuck with it. And that’s what, in Buddhism, is called attachment.


Attachment doesn’t mean that you enjoy your dinner, or that you enjoy sleeping, or beauty. Those are responses of our organism in its environment as natural as feeling hot near a fire or cold near ice. So are certain responses of fear, or of sorrow. They are not attachment. Attachment is exactly translated by the modern slang term hang-up. It’s a kind of stickiness, or what in psychology would be called blocking. When you are in a state of wobbly hesitation, not knowing how to flow on, that’s attachment; what is meant by the Sanskrit word kleśa.


So when the chicken has its beak put to the chalk line, it’s got a hang-up; it’s stuck on that line. And so, in the same way, we get a hang-up on all the various things we are told as we grow up: by our parents, our aunts and uncles, our teachers, and above all, by our peer group. And the first thing that everybody wants to tell us is the difference between ourselves and the rest of the world. And between those actions which are voluntary and those which are involuntary; what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other. And this is, of course, immensely confusing to a small child, because it’s told to do all sorts of things that are really supposed to happen, like going to sleep, like having bowel movements, like loving people, like not blushing, stopping being anxious, and all sorts of things like that.


So what happens is this: the child is told, in sum, that we—your parents, elders, and betters—command you to do what will please us only if you do it spontaneously. And no wonder everybody is completely confused! We go through life with that burden on us.




We therefore develop this curious thing: we develop a thing which is called an ego. Now, I’ve got to be very clear to you what I mean by an ego. An ego is not the same thing as a particular living organism. For my philosophy, the particular living organism, which is inseparable from a particular environment—that is to say, from the universe centered here and now—there’s something real; it isn’t a thing. I call it a feature of the universe. But what we call our ego is something abstract, which is to say it has the same order and kind of reality as an hour, or an inch, or a pound, or a line of longitude. It is for purposes of discussion, it is for convenience. In other words, it is a social convention that we have what is called an ego.


But the fallacy that all of us make is that we treat it as if it were a physical organ. As if it were real in that sense, when in fact it is composed, on the one hand, of our image of ourselves—that is, our idea of ourselves as when we say to somebody, “You must improve your image.” Now, this image of ourselves is obviously not ourselves anymore than an idea of a tree is a tree, anymore than you can get wet in the word ‘water.’ And to go on with our image of ourselves is extremely inaccurate and incomplete. With some God the gift he gave us to see ourselves the way others see us; we don’t. So my image of me is not at all your image of me. And my image of me is extremely incomplete, in that it does not include any information, to speak of, about the functioning of my nervous system, my circulation, my metabolism, my subtle relationships with the entire surrounding human and non-human universe.


So the image I have of myself is a caricature. It is arrived at through, mainly, my interaction with other people who tell me who I am, in various ways, either directly or indirectly. And I play about with what their picture is of me, and they play something back to me, so we set up this conception. And this started very, very early in life. And I was told, you see, and you were told, that we must have a consistent image. You must be you, you have to find your identity in terms of image. And this is an awful red herring.


A lot of the current quest for identity among younger people is a search for an acceptable image. What role can I play? Who am I in the sense of what am I going to do in life, and so on. Now, while that has a certain importance, if it’s not backed up by deeper matters it’s extraordinarily misleading. So therefore, on the one hand, there is this image which is intellectual, emotional, imaginative, and so forth. Now, we would say I don’t feel that I am only an image. I feel there’s something more real than that because I feel. I mean, I have a sense of there being a particular sort of—how do we say—a center of something. Some sort of sensitive core inside this skin. And that corresponds to the word “I.”


Let’s take a look at this. Because the thing that we feel as being myself is certainly not the whole body, because a lot of the body can be seen as an object. In other words, if you stand—stretch yourself out, lie on the floor, and turn your head and look at yourself, you know—you can see your feet, and your legs, and all this up to here, and finally it all vanishes and there this sort of a vague nose in front. And you assume you have a head because everyone else does, and you’ve looked in a mirror and that told you you had a head, but you could never see it, just like you can’t see your back.


So you tend to put your ego on the side of the unseen part of the body. The part you can’t get at. Because that seems to be where it all comes from, and you feel it. But what is it that we feel? Because if I see clearly, and my eyes are in functioning order, the eyes certainly are not conscious of themselves. There are no spots in front of them, no defects—in other words, in the lens, or in the retina, or in the optic nerves that give hallucinations. So also, therefore, if my ego—my consciousness—is working properly, I ought not to be aware of it. As something sort of there, being a nuisance in a way, in the middle of things because your ego is awfully hard to take care of. Well what is it then that we feel?


Well, I think I’ve discovered what it is: it’s a chronic, habitual sense of muscular strain, which we were taught in the whole process of doing spontaneous things to order. When you’re taking off in a jet plane, and the thing has gone rather further down the runway than you think it should have without getting up in the air, you start pulling at your seat belt. Get this thing off the ground. Perfectly useless! So, in the same way, when our community tells us, “Look carefully. Now listen, pay attention,” we start using muscular strains around our eyes, ears, jaws, hands, to try to use our muscles to make our nerves work—which is, of course, futile. And, in fact, it gets in the way of the functioning of the nerves.


Try to concentrate. And then, when we try to control our emotions, we hold our breath, pull our stomachs in, or tighten our rectal muscles to hold ourselves together. “Now pull yourself together!” And immediately, what are you to do? What does a child understand by that? He does it muscularly; pulls himself together. This is useless! So everybody chronically pulls themself together, so that—it’s so funny—if you get a person to just lie on the floor and relax—there’s the floor under you, as firm as can be, holding you up—nevertheless, you will detect that the person is making all sorts of tensions, lest he should suddenly turn into a nasty jello on the floor.


So that chronic tension—which in Sanskrit is called saṅkoca, which means contraction—is the root of what we call the feeling of the ego. So that, in other words, this feeling of tightness is the physical referent for the psychological image of ourselves. So that we get the ego as the marriage of an illusion to a futility. Even though the idea of an “I” with a name, with a being, is naturally useful for social communication, provided we know what we are doing and take it for what it is. But we are so hung up on this concept that it confuses us, even in the proposition that it might be possible for us to feel otherwise. Because we ask the question—if we hear about people who have transcended the ego—well, we ask, “How do you do that?” Well, I say, “What do you mean, ‘you?’ How do ‘you’ do that?” Because the you you’re talking about doesn’t exist! So you can’t do anything about it anymore than you can cut a cheese with a line of longitude. Now, that sounds very discouraging, doesn’t it?




Let’s suppose, now, you are babies again. You don’t know anything. Now, don’t be frightened, because anything you know you can get back later. But, for the time being, here is our awareness. And let’s suppose you have no information about this at all, and no words for it, and that my talking to you is just a noise. Now, don’t try to do anything about this. Don’t make any effort. Because, naturally, by force of habit, certain tensions remain inside you, and certain ideas and words drift all the time through your mind. Just like the wind blows, or clouds move across the sky. Don’t bother with them at all, don’t try to get rid of them. Just be aware of what’s going on in your head, like it was clouds in the sky, or the crackling of the fire. There’s no problem to this. All you have to do, really, is look and listen without naming. And if you are naming, nevermind; just listen to that.


Now, you can’t force anything here; that you can’t willfully stop thinking and stop naming. It’s only telling you that the separate “you” doesn’t exist. It isn’t a mark of defeat, it isn’t a sign of your lack of practice in meditation. That it runs on all by itself simply means that the individual, separate you is a figment of your imagination. So you are aware, at this point of, a happening. Remember, you don’t know anything about the difference between you and it; you haven’t been told that. You’ve no words for the difference between inside and outside, between here and there, and nobody has taught you that what you see out in front of you is either near or far from your eyes. Watch a baby put out a finger to touch the Moon. You don’t know about that. Just—therefore—here it is. We’ll just call it “this.”


And if you will feel it—the going on, which includes absolutely everything you feel—well, whatever that is, it’s what the Chinese call Tao, or what the Buddhists call ‘suchness,’ or tathātā. And it’s a happening. It doesn’t happen to you, because where is that? You—what you call you—is part of the happening, or an aspect of it. It has no parts; it’s not like machine. And it’s a little scary because you feel, “Who’s in control around here?” Why should there be anyone? It’s a very weird notion we have that processes require something outside them to control them. It never occurred to us that processes could be self-controlling. Even though we say to someone, “Control yourself!” We always, in order to think about self-control, we split a person in two. So that there is a you separate from the self that’s supposed to be controlled. Well, how can that achieve anything? How can a noun start a verb? Yet, it’s a fundamental superstition that that can be done.




So you have this process—which is quite spontaneous—going on. We call it life. It’s controlling itself! It’s aware of itself. It’s aware of itself through you. You are an aperture through which the universe looks at itself. And because it’s the universe looking at itself through you, there’s always an aspect of itself that it can’t see. So it’s just like that snake, you see, that is pursuing its tail. Because the snake can’t see its head, like you can’t. We always find—as we investigate the universe, make the microscope bigger and bigger—and we will find ever more minute things. Make the telescope bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and the universe expands because it’s running away from itself. It won’t do that if you don’t chase it.


So it’s a game of hide-and-seek. Really, when you ask the question, “Who is doing the chasing?” you are still working under the assumption that every verb has to have a subject. That when there is an action there has to be a doer. That’s what I would call a grammatical convention, leading to what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Like the famous it in “It is raining.” So when you say, “There cannot be knowing without a knower,” this is merely saying no more than, “There can’t be a verb without a subject,” and that’s a grammatical rule, and not a law of nature.


Anything you can think of as a thing, as a noun, can be described by a verb. And there are languages which do that. It sounds awkward in English, but face it: when you look for doers as distinct from deeds, you can’t find them. Just as when you look for stuff underlying the patterns of nature: you can’t find any stuff. You just find more and more patterns. There never was any stuff; it’s a ghost. What we call stuff is simply pattern seen out of focus. It’s fuzzy, so we call it stuff. Like kapok!


So we have these words—energy, matter, being, reality, even Tao—and we can never find them. They always elude us entirely. Although we do have the very strong intuition that all this that we see is connected or related. So we speak of a universe, although that word really means one turn. It’s your turn now. Or, like, you make one turn to (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-5) look at yourself, but you can’t make two turns and see what’s looking. So it’s very simple, therefore. You only have to understand that you can’t do anything about it. And as they say in Zen:

You cannot take hold of it, but you can’t get rid of it.

And in not being able to get it, you get it.


So all these trials that gurus put their students through have, as their ultimate object, convincing you that you can’t do anything. Only, it’s convincing you very thoroughly. It’s convincing you in more than a theoretical way. Now, perhaps I shouldn’t tell you that—but you see, I’m not a guru in that I don’t give individual spiritual direction to people. And I give away the guru’s tricks. That may not be very good, but on the other hand, those tricks are only necessary in the sense that I would say to someone, “It’s necessary for you to go see a psychiatrist if you think you must.” And if you’re not going to be satisfied without going to Japan and studying Zen Buddhism from a Rōshi—okay, you better go. It isn’t necessary unless you say it is. If that’s the only thing that’ll satisfy you, and you feel that deep down inside you. If you got that yearn, then you’ve got that yearn. But if, on the other hand, you haven’t, you haven’t. And I’m not going to put you down on that account, you see?


The point is, what do you want to do? What is it in you to do? But there it is: that you can struggle, and struggle, and struggle, and indeed will do so as long as you have the feeling inside you that you are missing something. And people—your friends, all sorts of people—will do their utmost to persuade you that you’re missing something. Because they are missing something, and they think they are getting it through a certain way—and therefore, to assure themselves, they’d like you to do it, too. So there is this thing. And, you see, a clever guru beguiles his students by letting them have the feeling of success and accomplishment in certain directions.


A guru gives people exercises; A: that are difficult but can be accomplished, and B: that are impossible. You’ll always be hung-up on the impossible ones, but the possible ones, you will get the feeling of making progress, so that you will double your efforts to solve the impossible exercises. And then they range things in many, many ranks and levels through which you can advance. This state of consciousness, that stage of consciousness, or think of the degrees of masonry, or so on. Ranks, and learning things, the different belts in jūdō, and all that kind of jazz. You can do that, and it gives people this sense of competing with themselves, or even with others. Because of the feeling, inside, that there is just something I’m missing.


And, of course, if you are learning any sort of skill and you haven’t perfected the skill, there is indeed something you are missing. But in this thing that we are talking about that isn’t true. Because you, as the Buddhists say, “are Buddhas from the very beginning.” And all that searching is like looking for your own head, which you can’t see and therefore might conceivably imagine that you are lost. So that, indeed, is the point: that we don’t see what looks, and therefore we think we’ve lost it. And so we are in search of the Self, the ātman. Well, that’s the one thing we can’t find because we have it; we are it! But we confuse it with all these images.




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 now, then, this sensation of the happening is basic to all we want to explore. With that in mind, we can go on, now, to the question of pain and our so-called reactions to it. And once again, you will see that the problem, as posed, immediately sets up the duality of the pain and the one who suffers it; the one who offers resistance. And therefore, reasoning from that, you can quite easily see that a great deal of the energy of pain is derived from the resistance offered to it. And that resistance takes very many forms, not only of attempts to get away from a pain which is present.


Let’s suppose you try to run away from a migraine headache. As you carry it with you you can’t get away from it, and it seems to be absolutely in the middle of everything that you are. So that, however much you thresh and resist, the pain goes with the threshing. Other forms of pain are problematic, to a large extent, because of our prior anxiety about them, and because of the valuations that we put on them. And we may as well start from that point. And what we very largely dislike about people in pain is the noise they make.


When I challenged R. H. Blyth and said, “You’re a vegetarian, but don’t you realize that plants have feelings?” He said, “Yes, I do, but they don’t scream so loudly.” And so, say, in a hospital or any place like that, it is taboo to scream. Because you must understand that hospitals—and any institution of that kind—is run for the convenience of the staff. All institutions are. And so everything is done in such a way as to interiorize—localize—pain. Of course, in a way, that makes it worse.


So we have a big, big social problem. Fundamental, right from the beginning, about our reaction to anything painful. And these are very odd things. Let’s take, for example, when a child has eaten something that doesn’t agree with it and it vomits. Now, you well know that, when you’ve got a bad stomach, that vomiting is a very pleasant release from that. But because when mama sees the vomit—or somebody else does—they say, “Ugh!” You are taught that doing it is socially unacceptable, and therefore people suppress vomiting, and learn from their parents that it’s nasty—just as they learn that excrement is nasty, and just as they learn to worry about disease and death.




Now, there really isn’t anything radically wrong with being sick or with dying. Who said you’re supposed to survive? Who gave you the idea that it’s a gas to go on and on and on? And we can’t say that it’s a good thing for everything to go on living from the very simple demonstration that, if we enable everyone to go on living, we overcrowd ourselves. That we are like an unpruned tree. And so, therefore, one person who dies—in a way—is honorable, because he is making room for others. And the panic that all life, everywhere, must be saved—although each one of us, individually, will naturally appreciate it when anybody saves our life—if we apply that case, you see, all around, we can see that it is not workable.


We can also look further into it, and see that if our death could be indefinitely postponed we would not actually go on postponing it indefinitely. Because after a certain point we would realize that that isn’t the way in which we wanted to survive. Why else would we have children? Because children arrange for us to survive in another way. By, as it were, passing on a torch so that you don’t have to carry it all the time. There comes a point where you can give it up and say, “Now you work.”


It’s a far more amusing arrangement for nature to continue the process of life through different individuals, than it is always with the same individual. Because as each new individual approaches life, life is renewed. And one remembers how fascinating the most ordinary everyday things are to a child. Because they see them all as marvelous, because they see them all in a way that is not related to survival and profit. When we get to thinking of everything in terms of survival and profit value—as we do—then the shapes of scratches on the floor cease to have magic. And most things, in fact, cease to have magic. So therefore, in the course of nature, once we have ceased to see magic in the world anymore, we’re no longer fulfilling nature’s game of being aware of itself. There’s no point in it anymore, and so we die. And so something else comes to birth, which gets an entirely new view. And so, nature’s self-awareness is a game worth the candle.


It is not, therefore, natural for us to wish to prolong life indefinitely. But we live in a culture where it has been rubbed into us, in every conceivable way, that to die is a terrible thing. And that is a tremendous disease from which our culture, in particular, suffers. And we notice it, firstly, in the way in which death is swept under the carpet. This is one of the major problems in hospital work.


When a family conspires with a doctor to keep from grandmother the knowledge that she is dying. Grandmother suspects that she is dying, but probably doesn’t really want to know for sure, and her family talk with her in such a way as to say, “Well, you’ll probably be getting alright in a few weeks. Wouldn’t it be nice to do this, that, and the other?” Because they have this funny feeling that it’s important to build up courage and hope. And so they become liars. And a mutual mistrust develops, because once you are playing the game on that level, you tend to play the mistrust on other levels.


And so the person is left to die alone, suddenly, unprepared, and doped up to the point where death hardly happens. And there is no derivation from it—of the peculiar spiritual experience that can come with death.




Back in 1958 I was in Zürich, and there met a most extraordinary man by the name of Karlfried von Dürckheim. He was a former German diplomat who had studied Zen in Japan, and when he came back after the war, he opened a meditation school and retreat in the Black Forest. And he said, “Well, I tell you what, a lot of my work has to do with people who went through spiritual crises during the war.” And he said, “You know, we all know when a person’s in an absolutely extreme situation, and they accept it, there is a possibility of a natural satori.” And that’s what I mean when I was explaining that, when one gets to an extreme—that is to say, to the point where you realize there is nothing you can do about life, nothing you can not do about life—then you’re the mosquito biting the iron bull. Well, so in the same way, he said, “Look, you heard a bomb coming at you—you could hear it whistle, and you knew it was right above you and headed straight at you, and that you were finished—and you accepted it. And suddenly, there was a strange feeling that everything is absolutely clear. You suddenly see that there isn’t a grain of dust in the whole universe that’s in the wrong place. That you understand completely—absolutely, totally—what it’s all about!” You can’t say what it is. But he said, “In so many cases, the bomb was a dud and they lived to tell the tale.”


Or, he said you were in a concentration camp; you’ve been there so long that you gave up all hope whatsoever of ever getting out—you were just going through this miserable, boring, degrading grind, week after week, after week. Nobody paid the slightest attention to you, as an individual. You knew you would never get out and you accepted it. And suddenly, something changed. This extraordinary feeling. Freedom. Or he said you were a displaced refugee. You had lost your family, you didn’t know whether they even existed; you were miles from your home, you didn’t know whether it existed. You had lost your job, your very identity. You were absolutely nowhere. And you accepted it. And suddenly you were as light as a feather and free as the air.


Now, he said, “So many people have had those experiences, and they talk about them to their families and friends, and they say, ‘Oh well, you were under terrific pressure, you probably had some hallucination,’ you know?” Well, he said, “I am showing those people that, so far from having a hallucination, those were the few, few occasions in which they woke up.”


So, you see, this is always the opportunity presented by death: that if one can go into death with eyes opened and have somebody help you, if necessary, to give up before you die, this extraordinary thing can happen to you. So that, from your standpoint in that position at that time, you would say, “I wouldn’t miss that opportunity for the world! Now I understand why we die! The reason we die is to give us the opportunity to understand what life is all about; by letting go.” Because then we come to a situation that the ego can’t deal with.


When we are no longer hypnotized by that, then our natural consciousness can see clearly what all this universe is for. So, therefore, we have missed this golden opportunity by institutionalizing death out of the way instead of having a socially understood acceptance of death, and rejoicing in death. Now, I can imagine that one person would want to rejoice in death in an entirely different way from another. Like, say, a wedding. It’s a rite of passage. There are certainly some forms of celebrating a wedding which I would find a total bore and quite offensive. Other ways would be very good; I would enjoy it.


So everybody—in other words, I’m not saying that you’ve got to get mixed up with a lot of people coming, laughing around you, and bringing you presents, and cards, and everything because you’re going to die. But I’m only indicating a general thing. That the doctor, the ministers, the psychiatrists—and, above all, us—really owe it to our friends to work out an entirely new approach to death. Because what has happened, you see—from earliest childhood, the child learned that great uncle was dying, and saw the family put on long faces and say, “Aaaawh, that’s too bad.” Even Christians, who think they’re going to go to heaven, you know? They get absolutely morbid—more so than anybody else—about death, because heaven, as they all know, is a very boring place. And so this frightful thing: “Oh! He’s dead.” You know?


No one understands that, for the living to lose someone you love—or even for a dying person—to worry about what on earth my wife, my children, my whatever are going to do without me? One can understand a certain worry in that. But nobody is indispensable, and there comes a point when you have to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m completely going to abandon responsibility for anything. Because there is no further way I can do it.” This is another way of that surrender. And then the curious thing that occurs is: the moment all that is dropped, suddenly, it dawns on you that—to be important—existence does not have to go on any longer than a moment. Quantitative continuity is of no value. How long can you hold your breath? Who cares!


So it follows from that, you see, that if any one of us—without being shocked into it by being bombed, or put in a concentration camp—could, at this moment, be as one about to die, genuinely and honestly, we would understand the mystery of life. Because death is the—in a certain sense—the source of life. Just as we see in nature when the leaves fall from the trees, they mold and rot, and this supplies humus from which more plants can grow. It’s a cycle like that.


But in every way—symbolic and otherwise—human beings try to stop that cycle. Unamuno said, “Human beings are the only species that hoard their dead.” And therefore, with the ghastly art of the mortician, we try to make the body unpalatable to the worms, and so to stop life. As if to be eaten, in due course, were an indignity to the human being. Whereas we eat everything else and we give nothing back. So that is a kind of a social symptom of our profound disorientation with respect to death.


We think death is unnatural—and furthermore, in our culture—we think birth is a disease, and send the mama to the hospital for the most unnatural and weird kind of parturition. In other words, more and more, one regards the healthy and inevitable and natural transformations of the body as pathological. I can imagine, you know, people having sexual intercourse on an operating table to be sure that the whole thing is hygienic. You know, everything about us, like that, is becoming over-interfered with by specialists, and less and less the province of our own preferences. It’s very, very hard, indeed, to die in your own way without some blasted bunch of relatives come fussing around and insisting that you go to a hospital, that you get fixed with the tortures of being fed through tubes, and things to keep you alive indefinitely, and waste the family’s savings. It’s even a crime to commit suicide. That’s simply nonsense. It’s this perfect panic to survive at all costs.




Now, let’s get practical. You say, “Okay, I understand what you are saying theoretically, but I know that I would be terrified if there’s somebody who is going to tell me that I was going to die. And that I would look frantically around for some doctor, some sort of something.” That this panic to live is in us in an uncontrollable way, and this is part of the reason why we say we have an instinct to survive. The instinct is this panic. So let’s take another step, now, in the same way as I showed you steps about realizing that you don’t have an ego.


You say to yourself, in the ordinary way, when you feel that panic, you feel a bit ashamed of it. Even though you’ve been taught that you should do everything possible to survive. See what a bind you are in here? So one feels, “Oh goodness, I must face this thing calmly and bravely, and not be in this panic.” But the point of the fact is, you are in a panic, and you can’t stop it! Now, that’s very important because this is another way of showing you the same thing that death is showing you: that you can’t do anything about it. Just as when you finally realize you can’t do anything about the death, you could’ve solved all that before, by understanding you couldn’t do anything about the panic.


But if you think all the time “I’m supposed to stop this panic,” then all that happens is you’re at cross-purposes with yourself again. The panic is, of course, put off in the ordinary way. We all know we are going to die. But it’s sufficiently far off so that we can put it out of our minds. And anybody who does put it in our minds in the ordinary way is taken to be a skeleton at the banquet—a Cassandra, and gloomy.


So that the old-fashioned preacher of bygone days who preached about death, and those monks who kept skulls on their desks—and all that sort of thing—is regarded today as very morbid. Why, in the Baroque times, it was a fashion, for a while, of making tombstones with marvelous sculptures of skeletons and bones all over them. And on the Via Veneto in Rome there is a Capuchin church where, down in the crypt, there are chapels where the altar furnishings and everything are made entirely from the bones of departed monks. Then we have, among Tibetans and Buddhists, graveyard meditations. And they have trumpets in Tibetan Buddhism made of human thigh bones. And they have cups—ritual cups—made of the domes of human skulls, richly worked in silver and turquoise. And we say all that is very morbid.


So, from this point of view you can see—first of all, theoretically—how death can solve its own problem. Now if you say, “I can only see it theoretically, and I can’t go the whole way with you,” then I will ask you, “What is blocking you?” Well, you say, “It gives me the heebie-jeebies and the horrors.” I say, “Alright, so death is not the problem. The heebie-jeebies is the problem.” So let’s deal with the heebie-jeebies in the same way as with death. You cannot stop the heebie-jeebies. You think you should. I say don’t! The heebie-jeebies are very valuable. Not that they will stop you from dying, but becuase from them you will learn the same thing as you would learn from dying.


But the social pressure on you to resist the heebie-jeebies is terrific. Now, why must you do that? Why is everybody saying these heebie-jeebies, these fears, et cetera, are not permissible? You wonder about that, and the reasoning behind all that is not very clear, because it seems to be saying, “Well, if you have all these fears and things like that, you won’t be a very good soldier. You won’t be able to act competently in a crisis; you’ll get the heebie-jeebies instead, and you won’t know what to do.” Well, nobody has ever really proved that. Because actually, people who we would call ‘very courageous,’ are, in fact, often quite frightened. And courageous action is not necessarily a consequence of having no fear. Sometimes it might be, but it isn’t always so. The real reason why the heebie-jeebies are suppressed has more to do with its orgiastic aspects.




Wherever the human organism gets into a certain kind of extreme, it starts an oscillating process going. Just as it does in sexual orgasm. And that oscillating process will inspire in others an emotion which they cannot identify, either as disgust or as lust. They don’t know quite what it is. All those extreme situations—terror, and as we shall see more, response to pain—have an orgiastic quality. And they are, therefore, embarrassing because they conflict with our image of ourselves as in control, composed, deported—that’s in the sense of deportment.


But it would be shameful, in a way—you might not want to look at your own face in a state of complete sexual rapture. As a matter of fact, if you saw a photograph of your face, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether you were in pleasure or in pain. It might be either. Because then, you see, what has happened is that a tide, a vibration, a pulsation, has taken over the whole being, so that you are, as it were, in the possession of a God. And that’s something taboo.


So we begin, here, to move into a very difficult area. Because a lot of people will beginn to say this conversation is getting out of line, because we are moving into what are normally called ‘perverse experiences.’ And the two critical forms of perverse experience are sadism and masochism, where there is the association of pain and ecstasy. In sadism, the confusion of another person’s suffering with that person’s sexual orgasm. In masochism, the identification—or if you want to say confusion—of your own suffering with sexual orgasm. Now, we say “Well, that’s pathological, that’s absurd!” But it exists! People do it all the time—both ways, and sometimes both together. And although this is generally put under the heading of pathology, the fact remains that we can still learn something from it. There’s an important principle in there. Somehow, somewhere. And perhaps, in people who are sadists and masochists, the phenomenon is somehow out of hand because they don’t understand the principle.


Now, do you realize many sadists want nothing more than that their victim should enjoy the pain? The combination sadist and masochist is perfect. And many sadists would be quite reluctant if the victim really didn’t like participating in this at all. And so there’s the joke of the masochist asking the sadist to beat him and he says, “I won’t.” But what happens here is that pain, and the attendant convulsive behavior of the organism, is associated with the erotic. A different value is given to the same symptoms as, say, it is common in France to get a young woman really aroused, you know? And she will say, “Tue-moi! Tue-moi!”—“Kill me! Kill me!” As if, you know, to go as far as you can in throwing yourself away to somebody else, you know? Do anything you want to. And in that abandon, you see, there is the possibility that this—an undulation of feeling, which is total orgiastic feeling—may take over. And in that feeling, you see, you are one with what is happening; completely. And that’s what everybody, as it were, finally aspires to.


So therefore—the masochist, in particular—is a person who has learned throughout life to defend himself against pain by eroticizing pain. Now, do you understand how, therefore, different valuations can be put on one and the same vibration?




We see, don’t we, all that we experience is understandable as a spectrum of vibrations. There are different kinds of spectra. There’s a spectrum of light, there’s the spectrum of sound. We can also think of spectra of smells, of tactile feelings, of emotions, and so on, all down the line. We are, as it were, living in the midst of a woven tapestry of many dimensions, in which the warps of and woofs are all these different spectra of various kinds of vibrations. And as, on the loom, the warp crosses the woof, and if you didn’t have one you wouldn’t have the other, it takes two to reveal the pattern. So see yourselves as patterns in a weaving system. You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the interlocking of all these different spectra of dimensions.


So then, here they go, and these things are vibrating. Now, when it reaches a certain point, you say, “Oh, that’s too much!” When it reaches another point, you say, “It’s not enough! Why, there’s nothing here! I don’t feel a thing!” You know? “I’m going to go to sleep.” But on the other end, you say, “No, no! No, no, you’re going far enough! If you go any further it is going to tear things apart! I can’t withhold this tension!” See? Now, so, some people will say, “Alright, now. Now, relax, relax, relax. Take it easy, take it easy.” But often, you see, the point is you can’t do that. So then, what I would say to the person who cannot relax—I will stress his tension; go the other way. In other words, go with the line of least resistance. Say, “Okay, you’re tense about all this. Now let’s get really tense! Let’s scream! No! No! No! No! No!” See, you get violent inside! This is not to happen, see? But so that, one way or the other, you see—it doesn’t matter which you go—you begin to get into this thing, which is what is happening when the boat of life begins really to rock. Get rocking with it by whatever way is open. But you are not going to force the issue here.


Instead of saying to you, “You should be doing it in another way that you’re doing it,” I will say, “Now find out the way you must do it, and go that way.” Now, this is a general principle of an art, and we will find there is a kind of a—there are limits to this art, and how it can be used, and so forth. But once the general principles are clear, there aren’t many serious problems left.


That if you begin to look at it in that way, you will begin to realize that ecstasy, by one road or another, is inevitable. That, indeed, ecstasy is, in a way, the nature of existence. There is a universe for the simple reason that it’s ecstatic. What else is all this fireworks about? It is just like music in this ecstatic thing going off. And you have to be, certainly, careful—in a little way here—that any initiation into a deep wisdom is apt, at first, to demotivate you. You think, “What the hell am I doing? All these projects, building this up, and that up, and doing something to save the world, and so on and so forth. Why, the whole thing is nonsense!” Yes!


If you stick there, that’s what they call, in Mahayana Buddhism, the pratyekabuddha. That means the ‘private Buddha,’ as distinct from Bodhisattva, who comes back into everyday life, as they say, for the liberation of all other sentient beings. Because when you know that all this is alright anyway, and that the situation is inevitable ecstasy—I mean, you’re going to get it one way or another—you say, “Well, what was all the fuss about?” you know?


The fact remains: there are a lot of people who just don’t know that and are really hating life, not knowing how to handle hate. And if you are at a certain point you know those other people are you. They’re like—you had an extended body, and all these were nerve ends on the end of it, you see? However, you know also that you can’t really show them anything that they don’t already know, and won’t be able to show them anything else until they know it. But then, the question “What shall I do?” has now disappeared. It should have disappeared in the beginning. Because there wasn’t any real I, there was just the happening. And so that question brings us back again to the experience itself, see? That’s the only way that you can answer the question: is from the experience. You would say, “what would happen if?” The answer is only: “You must feel it. Then you’ll know.”


And the people who hear about this and say, “Wouldn’t that—wouldn’t everybody become totally callous and impassive? How can you assure me that that wouldn’t happen?” I say, “I can’t. But you must get into this state, then you’ll find out.” There’s just no you to get into it anyway.


(Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-6)






















I was making a basic comparison between the state of consciousness of a baby and that of a so-called mature adult. Respectively, what we would call undifferentiated and differentiated. The adult consciousness being highly selective, and the baby consciousness being very open and hardly selective at all, and therefore unable to distinguish what adults consider to be the important things, which have to do with the conventions and rules that the positive aspects—whether they be called good, or pleasant, or life-giving, and so on—must prevail over the negative aspects. And I went on to show that this contrast between the two views of the world has another marked characteristic: that, in the case of the baby who hasn’t been trained or told about the difference between himself and all that is defined as ‘other’ than himself, doesn’t distinguish between voluntary behavior and involuntary occurrence.


And, of course, we think this is a very fundamental defect. But if we go back, you see, to a principle that underlies the whole universe with a kind of mathematical exactitude, we see that if we reduce things to a situation of primal simplicity, and we have a primordial ‘self’ and ‘other’ situation—that is to say, two balls in space—there is absolutely no way of telling, when they move, which one of them is moving or which one is still. They must necessarily appear to move mutually. There’s no point of reference—except each other—to determine which is moving and which is still.


Now, everything that goes on in the universe is simply a complication of that principle. Because the same thing holds true if you multiply the number of balls. You’ll see that that primordial principle—that all movement is mutual—still applies. And therefore, the baby’s failure to distinguish between the voluntary and the involuntary—the ‘I’ and the ‘other’—is, in a way, correct. Psychologists—psychoanalysts in particular—make a great deal of this contrast and consider that the baby’s view is inferior to the adult’s. And if an adult should acquire that view, in psychoanalysis this would be called ‘regression.’


The point that is missed is that the two ways of looking at things need each other to balance out. And that one needs the baby’s view as a basis for the adult view, because if you don’t have it you take the adult view too seriously; get completely carried away by it. And that would be analogous to a person who, in playing poker, loses his nerve because he doesn’t realize it’s only a game. So he becomes a very bad player.


In exactly the same way, we, in life, are only playing a game. But because we didn’t keep the baby view, we can’t see it. So what we would call a ‘Buddha-view’ is one that knows both, and therefore is not taken in by the adult games—although perfectly capable of playing them—but in so far as they are not regarded as finally and absolutely serious. He’s not captivated by them.




Now, therefore, one asks the question, “That sounds very interesting, but how do I recapture the baby point of view?” And I showed that that was the wrong question, because it arises entirely and exclusively out of the adult point of view. Because the adult point of view involves the fiction that ‘I’ exist as an agent independently of everything else that’s going on. And so ask, “How can I do this?” And the important thing is to realize that the feeling of there being this isolated ‘I’ is part of the game, and it has no fundamental reality—except as a convention. And so long as that isn’t clear, we’re confused.


I reiterated the point that, when we ask, “To whom must it become clear?” or “To whom is it not clear?” that this, too, was all part of the illusion of the world that the adult presents to the child. So the only way in which the child’s vision can come again is in the realization that the ‘I’ can’t do anything about it at all, and can’t even do nothing about it. All possibilities of vision for what we call “I, myself” are out. And this in, of course, is the same meaning—as the Christian or the Islamic mystics would say—that the mystical experience is the gift of God. And there’s nothing you can do to get it. That’s a clumsy way, really, of saying the same thing. Because so long as you are trying—or not trying—you are aggravating the sensation of the separate ego.


Now that, in itself, you see, as I talk about it, presents a certain difficulty. Or one thinks it’s difficult. There would be a second difficulty if we were to go on and say, “It isn’t only the illusion of the ego, but the whole valuation system that we put on the complexity of vibrations we call ‘awareness of life’.” All the various valuations that are put on this by the social game are māyā! That is to say, they are illusory—basically. Because it is only in play, as it were, that we say this is good and this is bad, this is advantageous, this is disadvantageous. And so we would go on to say, after this, “But I cannot imagine anything more difficult than overcoming that hypnosis. I am so enchanted by this system that the idea of treating it as not really very serious seems to me unthinkable.” Of course you have to think that. It’s like a hypnotist working on somebody and saying, “You are not going to remember any of this conversation after you come to.” And so he’s put the suggestion into you that you forget the whole thing. So, in the same way, the suggestion has been put into all of us that these rules that we have learned are sacrosanct. And that we—they don’t say that you will not be able to think otherwise, they say they are true! They are the truth, you see? And that is the same function as the hypnotic suggestion put into us ever since we were receptive children.


So, naturally, it’s all part of the conspiracy which we are playing on ourselves. We can’t blame our parents for this, because their parents played it on them, and they bought it. And don’t forget that time goes backwards. You see? You can’t blame this on the past because now, in the present, you are creating the values of the past, and you are buying them all along, you see? So there is no out on this. You see, in a way, psychoanalytically, one is given an out by saying, “Well, the parents didn’t bring up their children properly.” And American people are consumed with guilt about the way they bring up their children. 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.


And so, you see, it’s like the idea of forgiving somebody. You change the meaning of the past by doing that. It’s like, also, when you watch the flow of music: the melody, as it is expressed, is changed by notes that come later. Just as the meaning of a sentence—especially, say, take German or Latin, where there’s the convention of placing a verb at the end of a sentence. You wait, in other words, till later to find out what the sentence means. According to our way of feeling it. So it is also, in our language, if I say, “I love you,” you don’t know when I said “I” what ‘I’ is doing. I could say, “I hate you.” So we don’t know until later. So, in other words, the word ‘love’ or the word ‘hate’ changes the function of the word ‘I.’ And then I was going to say, “I love flowers. No, but I love you.” You see? And so the word later changes the meaning of those that go before. The present is always changing the past.


So when you get the idea in your mind that the point of view that I am talking about is very difficult indeed to acquire—that idea is one you are putting there to stop yourself seeing the other point of view. And above all, you must not take that seriously. It is simply a method of postponing seeing the point now. So you have to see it now or never. Because there is only now. If you say, “Well, tomorrow. The next day. Maybe in another dozen lifetimes, I’ll be ready.” That means, simply and solely, “I don’t want to be bothered with it now, I’m even not interested in it now, so I’ve got an excuse for putting it off.” Which is fine; that’s perfectly okay. You can put it off. There is no reason, there is no compulsion, why you should come out of this illusion.


That’s why Oriental people do not tend—in the same way as Westerners—to be missionaries, and saying it’s very urgent that you be saved. It isn’t—unless you say so. I mean, unless you are so disturbed by the suffering, and the problem of suffering, that you’ve go to find some sort of escape. But if you don’t want to, you can stay there. It’s okay, there’s lots of time. And maybe you’ll see through it when you die. At least in the moment of death you’ll see that it was all fake. So don’t be scared about the idea of the difficulty of it. That’s a red-herring. And it’s quite irrelevant, and I don’t think that teachers should talk quite so much about this as they do, and saying, “Oh, this is going to take a long, long time, and a lot of practice, and many years.” Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But that’s beside the point, because it distracts. It’s like telling somebody that, “This is a very difficult book to read and it requires immense powers of concentration.” Well, that immediately kills your interest in it. Instead, if I were to say, “Well now, this is a most extraordinary book. It’s just so fascinating. I’ve been working on it for years! And every time I just get so involved, I can’t drop the thing.” You know? I mean, that’s a far more encouraging attitude to a student than “Well, this is going to be very difficult.” Except to very, very self-hating students who somehow, perversely, enjoy suffering through it. Now, I suppose that is, of course, a way, too.




Alright, now: if we can see the first part, which is that the ego is purely fictitious—that it is a symbol or image of oneself plus a sensation of muscular strain occasioned by trying to make the symbol an effective agent—to control emotion, to concentrate, to direct the nervous operations of the organism. Then, immediately, it is clear that what we have called ourselves, what we have thought of ourselves, isn’t able to do anything at all. There follows this kind of silence in which there is nothing to do except watch what happens. But what is happening is watching itself; there is nobody apart from it, watching it. And so we (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-6) get into the state of meditation—or, as I prefer to call it, contemplation.


So then, the next problem that arises is: well, what about all the other illusions? Although they are somehow integrated and centered upon the illusion of ego, nevertheless the whole value system—of what is important, what is not important, what is good, what is bad, what is pleasant, what is painful—has to be called into question. Not in order to destroy the whole value system, but in order to see it for what it is. And that’s where we will object and say, “Well, surely that’s a colossally difficult task, because we are so long habituated to it. And we have been taught to believe that the longer we have been habituated to something, the more difficult it is to change it.” And that is true if you believe it. And if you don’t, it isn’t.


That’s why it’s always emphasized—at any rate, in Zen—that when anything is to be done, it should be done immediately, without thinking it over in advance. Act at once. And you find that characteristic of people trained in Zen; they always act immediately. They don’t say, “Well, oh, uhmm… hmmm, well… mmm, when should we do this sort of thing?” They just do it. Because that doesn’t build up. It gives no time for the building up of all this reflection of, “Well, I’ve done this way for a long time, and I really feel kind of draggy about doing it another way.” It’s like some people eat the same thing every day, and the idea of suddenly eating something else seems absolutely weird.


I remember when I used to have lunch in London—in the city of London—I used to go to a rather fancy sandwich bar. And there was a very square young man in a derby hat, who ordered exactly the same lunch every day. Fantastic. And so it came that the man who served the bar—the moment he saw him coming in at the door, he had it there. And he would’ve had a real qualm if somebody had suggested that instead of having a beef sandwich he should have the smoked salmon one.


Now then, we get to this: what we are aware of is a complex of vibrations. And we have been conditioned to call them, graduatedly, ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘pleasant,’ ‘painful.’ Whereas, as a matter of fact, they are nothing but vibrations. And if you look at any one of them, by itself, you won’t know where it is. That is to say, if you only know ‘red,’ you can’t see that it’s red; you can only know that this is red by contrast with yellow and green and blue and violet. So you don’t know that a sound is loud unless you know soft sounds, or you don’t know that it’s soft unless you know loud. And it is that comparison which gives us the feeling of the spectrum as being varied. Otherwise we wouldn’t know.


For example, when you watch television you are actually seeing a single moving point moving over the screen. But it goes so fast that you see it in all these different places having different values of light. But let us—supposing there was someone whose retina was not retentive in this way, he would look at the screen and see the moving point of light, and say to human beings, “I don’t see what you see in this.”


Now can we, therefore, get back not only to the situation where we see that the ego is a mere construct, but also where we see that all the values we put on the vibrations are arbitrary. And that we get to a position where we see the vibrations simply as the vibrations. And we would say, then, “Well, surely, all this is nonsense.” Which is correct. The universe, I mean, is a kind of a “Ba-doo-di-da, ba-doo-di-da, ba-doo-di-da, ba-doo-di-da, ba-doo-di-da,” and going on in this fantastic way.


This is why music can be used as a meditative technique. Because a lot of music is nonsense; it doesn’t mean anything. But it can be very interesting. So, can you get back again to recollecting, from childhood, your pleasure in events that—from your present point of view—you would call entirely meaningless? That you could listen to a sound like twanging metal, and it goes boing, boing, boing, boing, and that’s fascinating. Boing. It’s just boing. And that’s all it is, see? Now, if you can really get with boing, you see, you can see the whole universe in boing. Really! Because every vibration that’s possible implies all the others. And so, likewise, with a candle flame, with a reflection, with grain in wood, anything can—from this child point of view—be completely fascinating. Not because it means anything, but just for what it is that it is shaped so.




There was a joke-in-punch some time ago—many years ago, I remember—of an Army doctor interviewing a private, and the private says, “Every time I shake my leg like this it hurts!” He said, “Goddamnit, don’t shake it!” But, you know, when one has something that hurts, there’s a subtle temptation to keep worrying it. Like if you have a filling out of a tooth, your tongue plays with the empty hole. And children will experiment with pain in this way; it’s like a dare. Children are always playing the game of daring each other to do something forbidden. Because the risk of disapproval involved—the calamity that may follow from it—it makes it so exciting.


And why on Earth do people challenge disaster the way they do? Doing all sorts of wildly adventurous things? Because, obviously, that gives a taste of quality to a vibration that is extremely interesting. Why the craving for speed? And it’s only if you look very carefully at a vibration that you can see this point.


That’s why meditative exercises often involve a repetition process. Oṃ, or saying a phrase, or doing an act like a mudra over and over and over again. After a while it becomes meaningless. You can say your own name like the Sufis do, and go on and on and on and on and on, and finally it doesn’t mean anything at all; it’s just a noise. But it isn’t just a noise, you see? The attitude of saying that something is just a noise, or just a wiggle, is an adult attitude. No wiggle, to the child, is just a wiggle. To the child, the elemental thing going on is, “Bwwlllaaaaaaaah,” you know? I mean, it’s just fantastic!


Now do you see why this is what mystics call ineffable? That is to say, you can’t really talk about it. When I try to explain what I mean by digging a sound, I suddenly realize that I’m not really saying anything. And yet there are states of consciousness in which you can listen to sound and realize that that is the whole point of being alive. Just to go with this particular energy manifestation that is happening right at this moment. To be it.


The whole world is the energy playing at doing all this, you see? Like a kaleidoscope jazzing. So if you watch that, and watch it that way, you will be accused, of course—by those who are guardians of the game—of doing something very dangerous. You’re going completely crazy. I mean, the number of theological texts I’ve read which express, in one way or another, this horror of everything becoming meaningless—the meaningless life, tale told by an idiot full of sound and furies signifying nothing. Those people, you see, have not dared to look at it.


Now, there’s another way of looking at it, of course, where—in states of acute depression—people see it all as meaningless, but not really meaningless; they see it all as a conspiracy of horror. Let’s imagine that everything is mechanical. There are no living beings at all. There are a lot of beings that are such good computers that you can’t tell the difference between them and what you thought were people. But everything going on is simply clockwork, and there’s nobody home—although it puts on a convincing show that there is. So you get the feeling that the entire world is enameled tin or patent leather or plastic, and tasteless, hollow, vulgar; like a Wurlitzer jukebox. That’s a very common feeling of people who get into acute depression.


But, you see, there is still, here, a valuation: you are associating the world with the mechanical as distinct from the organic. And we have a tendency, you see, to put down the mechanical because, obviously, a plastic flower doesn’t have the scent, it doesn’t have the soft feeling, of a living flower. There will be perfume plastic flowers soon, but you know what it’ll do: it’ll smell vaguely like soap, and it won’t smell like a flower. So it’ll be plastic smell. Now, we know that, you see, and so we contrast it with the organic.




In what we are doing now, we are getting to a feel of the world that is neither organic nor mechanical; simply what it is. We don’t—again—we don’t know the contrast, just as we don’t know the contrast voluntary/involuntary, we don’t know the contrast organic/mechanical. Neither. So we get to what the Buddhists call tathātā: ‘suchness.’ Tathātā, based on the word tat, ‘that,’ ‘da.’ Fundamentally da-da, see? Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da. That’s what’s going on.


Well, now, this is what happens, you see, in the meditative state. As you are in that you see everything as ‘da.’ Da. And you are not saying anymore, “Well, that doesn’t amount to anything,” because you’ve learned that when people do take you to the place that does amount to something, eventually it all collapses. The price of being taken to the place seriously, you see—where it really does amount to something—this, at last, is the real thing. The price you paid for that, you see, is the horrors about its opposite. And to the degree you take that seriously, okay, you pay the price of the horrors. Now, that’s not a matter of fact at all. So I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take it seriously—I mean, to be specific: you are tremendously in love with someone, and you plan and plan and plan how possibly you can get this person to return your love. And they do. And this is the great event, this is fantastic! But in the background of your mind is the thought that, “What if this person should be killed, or some terrible thing happened?” That always lurks behind the triumph of getting it so; of this intense, gorgeous feeling.


Now, if you know that this is—in a way—an illusion, you can allow yourself to take it quite seriously, but always having a Hintergedanke; a reservation, a thought, way back. This is the game. And having that—as a matter of fact, you can take it seriously—you can allow yourself to get involved in life to the most ridiculous degree because you know it’s alright. You know, it’s just these vibrations, and so… wowee! Let’s really get into it.


That is why a person who might be enlightened—a Bodhisattva— does not always present a kind of detached and indifferent attitude, but is perfectly free to allow emotions, attachments. Why, R. H. Blyth, who was a great Zen man, wrote to me once and said, “How are you these days? As for me, I have abandoned satori altogether and I’m trying to become as deeply attached as I can to as many people and things as possible.”


So what I’m pointing out to you is this basic seeing that it’s all da-da-da provides a possibility for you to become involved in it much more incautiously than you normally are: to express feeling, to love, to throw yourself at the mercy of the goings-on completely, you see? So that this very perception of the illusion makes it possible to live up the illusion! And so if someone, therefore, is always—in his attitude to life—detached and reserved, it indicates, you see, that there’s still a primordial fear of getting involved. And I must say that, you see, I can’t understand that very well. I don’t understand what people expect that a so-called ‘enlightened’ person should not need this, that, and the other. It might be beautiful surroundings, it might be the love of the opposite sex, it might be… I don’t know what. But you shouldn’t need that, in other words, you should scrub everything down to basic, basic. And the end of that is, you know, “Let’s scrub the planet! Let’s get all this disease called life off it and have a nice, clean rock!”


I believe in color, I believe in—if you are going to do anything in the way of the illusory dance, let’s live it up! Let’s really do it! And let’s not take ourselves so damn seriously that we have to be scrubbed all the time of any kind of ornamentation or frivolity. Oh, hooray! But you see what all this is dependent on: all this is dependent upon being able to get back to the point where it’s da-da-da-da-da-da-da. Now, that’s what comes in meditation.


Now, don’t misunderstand me if I say ‘practicing’ meditation. Don’t be in a state of expectation, working day after day to ‘improve’ your meditation. Meditation isn’t like that. You just do it. But it is true that, as time goes on and you are in that state of silence, you will see this quality of the world. Now, the most difficult pains and problems to deal with are those that are monotonous. Whereas you can see the possibility of a kind of ecstatic self-abandonment in a catastrophic agony. What really gets people down are those ones that drag on day after day after day after day, like having to lie with bed sores in a very uncomfortable situation; in traction, or something of that kind. Or just a perennial difficultly that drips, drips, drips, drips like a water torture everyday.


Now, this is the kind of situation in which meditation shows its value. That you are increasingly in a state of consciousness where the world is babbling. Every one of us has something, you know, that we say we don’t like to do: washing dishes, doing accounts. But when you get into the meditation consciousness, you see that nothing is more important than anything else—or less important. There is no way of wasting time, because what is time for except to be wasted? And, it would be—furthermore, you’re accustomed, now, to sitting and doing nothing. I mean, meditation itself is the perfect waste of time.




Now, I want to get down to the simplest possible nitty-gritty of what we’ve been talking about in a very easy way, to ask ourselves the question, “Quite fundamentally, what’s all the trouble about?” In other words, what is your state of mind when you contemplate the possibility of everything becoming nothing? Alright, so the universe is a transitory system—like a bubble, like smoke, like foam on the water—and so, how easy! Just go along with it; dissolve.


So what’s the problem? Why don’t we want to give up? What do we think we are going to get by holding on, and by resisting the dissolution? Now, I’m not saying, at the moment, that I’m a sort of preacher advocating giving up. What I’m interested in for you to feel is: what do you really feel like inside at the prospect of there being nothing; of this whole thing being a bubble that dissolves?


You see—about death, the reality of approaching death—people are apt to feel chilly, cold, lonely, scared, because it’s an unknown. The most frightening thing about death is there might be something beyond it and you don’t know what it is. You remember, facing the world as a child—or at any time—the world is full of threats. Mostly from other people. And there are monsters. There are all sorts of things which scare you, but beyond every monster is death. Dissolution is the end of it all. And by and large, the art of government is to fill that void beyond death with threats of a rather unspecified nature so that we can rule people by saying, “If you don’t do as I tell you, I’ll kill you. Or you’ll kill yourself.” And so long as we can be scared of that, and so long as we can be made to think of death as a bad thing, then we can be ruled.


That is why no government likes mystics. Because if we define the mystic as the person who is no longer scared of death—because the mystic is, in the simplest possible language, the person who understands that you have to have nothing to have something. So you can’t fundamentally scare the mystic with death because, say, well, what end can it all come to? What’s all the trouble about? The most it can come to is nothing. I mean, there may be some troubles on the way of resisting this; basically resisting it. I mean, as you might say, the cells in your body resist their dissolution. And so in this resistance there’s an experience called pain, which we’ve been discussing. But beyond pain is annihilation—or so it seems, anyway.


What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? Nobody can think about it. But what is that state when you are teased out of thought? See, get with it: going to sleep and never waking up. This is not—as you would fantasize it—a state of being in the dark forever. It is not like being buried alive, because then there is an experience of darkness. Now, I remember a little while ago having at one of my seminars a girl who was born blind, and I had the most interesting discussion with her because she doesn’t know what darkness is. The word is absolutely meaningless to her because she’s never seen light.


Now so, when you really think about nothingness, it becomes like—what I’ve often referred to—is how your head looks to your eyes. And behind the eyes you don’t see darkness, do you? Right now. You’re not aware of a contrast of light here and black there. Behind the visual field, this way, you can’t see darkness; there is simply nothing conceivable at all. Neither darkness nor light, see? Alright, so: might one venture to say, almost, that that area of blankness we call ‘death’ is what lies behind the eyes? In other words, it is what we can’t think about that’s what’s watching.


In other words, the farthest we can go in thinking about nothing, you see—we get to the root of the matter. Let me put this in another way. The world is form. Now, you cannot look for the origin of form in form, because what you would get then would be a universe where you couldn’t make out any form at all because there was so much of it. It would be like writing a letter on top of a newspaper, and then putting a picture over that, and then doing something else until there wasn’t a single square millimeter of paper left of blank paper. Nobody could read anything. But one can read, one can see form, one can see the world, simply because there’s always emptiness behind it.


So you see, in this way, emptiness being the mother of form. And you can always say yes, only the form is there; that’s all that’s real. But that is only saying it is all that is figure. What about background? It always has to be there.




So let’s go on, then, into our visualization; our imagination. Use your imagination for all its worth to think yourself into the fact that this whole sense of importance of vitality, of aliveness, of being, is simply a sudden experience which was nothing before it started, and will be nothing after it’s over. That is the simplest possible thing you could believe in. It requires no intellectual effort. Nothing. Supposing that’s the way it is.


Now, I repeat, what’s your inside feeling about that? Supposing—let’s say you feel sorry. For whom is this sorrow? Who, when it’s all over, will there be to feel sorry? You may say, “I regret now that this thing is going to come to an end.” But when it’s come to an end nobody would either regret or be happy about it. That will be that. So, in a way, you can say, “Well, this feeling of sorrow that I have—that is going to come to an end—is really rather irrelevant, because let me look at the thing from the other direction. Supposing it would never come to an end. In other words, here is this alternation of joy and sorrow, and however happy I am today, I’m always going to feel miserable later on. And then maybe happy again, but then, after that, miserable. And this is never, never going to stop; I just can’t get rid of the damn thing!” Well, that’s pretty depressing isn’t it? I mean, when you think it through.


So you say, “Well, let’s make a compromise between these two possibilities.” One is that this compromise is, in other words, that it will disappear altogether, but then it’ll start again. Of course, when it starts again it will feel like it does now, which is that it never happened before. So you are always in the same place, just like you feel now.


Let’s suppose that the Hindus are right, that the universe lasts for 4,320,000 years, and then it vanishes, and then it starts and it runs for another 4,320,000 years, and then it vanishes, and it does it again. And it does it, and does it, and does it, and does it, and there is no end to this! But fortunately, because of the forgettery every 4,320,000 years, it doesn’t become a totally insufferable bore. There is this blank space, this trough, between the crests of the waves, you see? Now, the Hindus thought about that, and they got tired. And they thought about the possibility of mokṣa, ‘liberation,’ or nirvāṇa, from the everlasting cycle of appearing and disappearing.


But then, when they thought that through—the Buddhists for example, having really said, “Now we’ve got the trick.” As the Buddha said after his enlightenment, “Now I found you out, you who build the house. I’m going to take the house apart. The roof beam is brought down. Desire is the builder of the house. See, I found you. Never again shall you build it.” And the Buddhists thought that one over. “That’s crazy, we found a way out of saṃsāra, the wheel of birth and death.” And somebody one day said, “But isn’t that rather selfish? You get yourself out; what about all the other people? Don’t you have any feeling of compassion?” “Oh yes,” they said, “of course; we forgot that, didn’t we? Let’s come back again and help all these people out!” Then they got very sophisticated about it, and they said, “Look, if nirvāṇa is release from birth and death, then they are opposed. And so, nirvāṇa and birth & death go together, and they will have to imply one another.” So you are only really released if you see that; if you see that nirvāṇa and birth & death are the same thing.


Now, I’ve got to pull a fast one on you. So, every time an incarnation occurs it feels like this one. See? It might be quite different; we might be reincarnated in another universe as beings with an altogether different shape, see? Not at all like human beings. But because we were used to it, we would feel that that was the human shape. We would say, “Well, that’s natural, obviously. Obviously, that’s the way things are.” So naturally, if you appeared in the form of a spider, you would look around at other spiders and say, “Well yes, of course, this is a natural place to be in. This is the human shape.” Something that’s not us looks at us and thinks we look perfectly terrible. I mean, imagine how you look to a fish: clumsy, cumbersome, stupid looking thing, whereas a fish is so elegant and graceful and can slide through the water so beautifully. The human beings can’t even swim properly!


So, don’t you see that in every world that comes into being—or could come into being—it seems just like it seems now. And every species that you could belong to would seem like this one. It would have its up-end of what is highly intelligent and its low-end of what is not so intelligent. You would be aware of superior forces and inferior forces. Otherwise you wouldn’t have the idea of mastering a situation unless there were situations you couldn’t master. Now, we are not aware of species, of beings, above us—unless you cultivate those forms of psychic awareness where you think you’re in touch with angels, or something of that sort. But the things that appear to be above us are great natural processes. And we think that they’re rather stupid. Only very tough. Too strong for us. Earthquakes, the elements. Also some little ones, see? The virus is a very troublesome being. And this is where the human being really finds himself at his wits’ end in dealing with molecular biology.


So, you know, if the monsters don’t get you, the ministers will. The insects, you see? But at any rate, whatever level you’re on, it always appears to be the same one. Now, we—therefore, naturally, don’t we—we feel we’re in the middle. We feel—for example, with the telescope—that there is a world greater than us that is infinitely greater. We feel—with the microscope—there’s a world below us that’s infinitely smaller, and we seem to stand in the middle. Of course you seem to stand in the middle. Every creature stands in the middle. Because if you stand on a boat in the middle of the ocean and you turn around through an angle of 360 degrees, you will see the same distance in every direction. That’s because you see. And your sensitivity to sight, or the intensity of light, is the same in every direction. So you’re in the middle. You’re always in the middle. Where else would you be? In other words, anything that perceives, anywhere, is always in the middle. Anything that grows anywhere is always in the middle. It’s betwixt and between. And the middle always has, therefore, extremes. It has extremes in space: as far west and as far east as you can think; as far on and as far back. And there’s always a beginning, and there’s always an end. Just as there is a left and a right. Or a top and a bottom.




So, also, if you are aware of a state which you call “is,”—or “reality,” or “life”—this implies another state called “isn’t,” or “illusion,” or “unreality,” or “nothingness,” or “death.” There it is. You can’t know one without the other. And so as to make life poignant it’s always going to come to an end. That is exactly—don’t you see—what makes it lively. Liveliness is change; is motion. And motion is going nnnnneeeeooooowww, like this, see? You’ve got to fall out and be gone. So you see, you’re always at the place where you always are. Only it keeps appearing to change. And you think, “Wowee! A little further on we will get that thing! I hope we don’t go further down so that we lose what we already have.” But that is built into every creature’s situation; no matter how high, no matter how low.


So, in this sense, all places are the same place. And the only time you ever notice any difference is in the moment of transition. When you go up a bit, you gain. When you go down a bit, you feel disappointed, gloomy, lost. You can go all the way down to death. Somehow there seems to be a difficulty in getting all the way up. Death seems so final. Nothingness seems so very, very irrevocable and permanent. But then, if it is, what about the nothingness that was before you started?


So, don’t you see, what we’ve left out of our logic—and this is part of the game rule of the game that we are playing—the way we hoodwink ourselves is by attributing powerlessness to nothingness. We don’t realize that is a complete logical fallacy. On the contrary. It takes nothing to have something, because you wouldn’t know what something was without nothing. You wouldn’t know what the form is without the background space. You wouldn’t be able to see anything unless there were nothing behind your eyes.


Now imagine yourself with a spherical eye. You see all around. Now, what’s in the middle? See? Even if I have all this behind me in view, suddenly I will find that there is something in the middle of it all. There’s a hole in the middle of reality. Like now—there seems to be not so much a hole but a wall. But any animal which had eyes in the back of its head would have the sensation I’m describing. Now, you may say to me, “Well, all that’s wishful thinking. Because when you’re dead, you’re dead! See?” Now, wait a minute, what’s that state of consciousness that talks in that way? This is somebody saying something—who wants to make a point. Now, what point does that sort of person want to make? Like “When you’re dead, you’re dead! See?” Why, that’s one of the people who want to rule the world; to frighten you about death. “Death is real, see? Don’t indulge in wishful thinking. All you people who dream of an afterlife and heavens and Gods and mystical experiences and eternity—oh, you are just wishy-washy people. You don’t face the facts.”


What facts? How can I face the fact of ‘nothing,’ which is, by definition, not a fact. You see? All this is toddle from whichever way you look at it. So if you really go the whole way, and see how you feel of the prospect of vanishing forever—of all your efforts, and all your achievements, and all your attainments turning into dust and nothingness—what is the feeling? What happens to you?


It’s a curious thing that, in the world’s poetry, this is a very common theme:

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon

Turns Ashes—or it prospers; and anon,

Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face

Lighting a little Hour or two—is gone.

—Omar Khayyám: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
All kinds of poetry emphasizes the theme of transience. And there’s a kind of nostalgic beauty to it:

The banquet hall deserted

after the revelry, all the guests have left and gone their ways.

The table with overturned glasses, crumpled napkins, bread crumbs and dirty knives and forks lies empty

and the laughter echoes only in one’s mind.

And then the echo goes, the memory, the traces are all gone.

That’s the end you see.


Do you see, in a way, how that is saying, “the most real state is the state of nothing?” That’s what it’s all going to come to. Or these physicists, who think of the energy of the universe running down, dissipating in radiation gradually, gradually, gradually, gradually, until there’s nothing at all left. And for some reason or other, we are supposed to find this depressing. But if somebody is going to argue that the basic reality is nothingness, where does all this come from? Obviously from nothingness. Once again, you get how it looks behind your eyes, see?


So cheer up! You see? This is what is meant, in Buddhist philosophy, by saying, “We are all basically nothing.” When the 6th Patriarch says, “The essence of your mind”—that’s how it is behind your eyes—“is intrinsically pure.” The ‘pure’ doesn’t mean a non-dirty story state of mind, as it is apt to mean in the word ‘puritan.’ ‘Pure’ means clear; void. So you know the story, when the 6th Patriarch was given his office as successor—because he was truly enlightened, there was a poetry contest. And the losing one wrote the idea that the mind—the consciousness—was like a mirror which had to be polished. And constantly, one—“I have to polish my mirror, I have to purify my mind!” See? “So that I’m detached, and calm, and clearheaded,” you know, Buddha.


But the one who won the contest said, “There is no mirror. And the nature of the mind is intrinsically void, so where is there anywhere for dust to collect?” See? So in this way, by seeing that ‘nothingness’ is the fundamental reality—and you see that it’s your reality—then how can anything contaminate you? All the idea of you being scared, or put out, and worried and so on is just nothing; it’s a dream, because you are really nothing. But this is the most incredible nothing. And the 6th Patriarch, likewise, went on to contrast ‘emptiness of indifference’ which is sort of blank emptiness, see? If you think of this nothingness as mere blankness, and you hold on to the idea of blankness—and kind of grizzly about it—you haven’t understood it. He said, “Nothingness is really like the nothingness of space, which contains the whole universe.” All the suns and the stars, and the mountains and rivers, and the good men and the bad men, and the animals and the insects—the whole bit—all are contained in void.

So out of this void comes everything, and you’re it. What else could you be?




So what I’m showing you is that all this hocus-pocus about the fear of nothingness is that, truly speaking, ‘nothingness’ is what we want to talk about when we talk about the spiritual. Only, it’s all been ignored! It’s all been put down! You say, “Oh, nothingness, blegh! Heaven preserve us from that!” But that’s where the secret lies! And obviously the secret always lies in a place you never think of looking for it.


In mythology this comes again and again. Okay—this is Christmas—where is the Christ born? In a palace? No. Where no one would think of looking: in pigsty. Although, I have a Japanese friend who once said to me—he said, “You know, the real difference between Christianity and Buddhism is that Christ was the son of a carpenter and Buddha the son of a prince.” (I thought that was rather funny.) Well, we don’t know who the prince is without the carpenter, do we?


Now, it’s in that sense, really, that I could suggest to you that you meditate on nothingness. I know you can’t think about it. But yet, when it becomes perfectly clear to you that that’s what you are, and what you were before you were born, where can anybody stick a knife into you? Fundamentally, you see? Alright. Get it? Because this is really the secret to the whole thing. If you see that—now, we want to go on and be able to answer all the people who will come bug us about it, because whether you say anything about it to other people or not, people are going to bug you about this and say, “Oh, no, no, no, no. Here—you really are something. You know, you—you’ll know it. Wowee! Life isn’t the way you think. La la la la la. It’s gonna be awful, see, I mean real! Woo!” And they’ll say, “Okay, where in such a philosophy as this is there any basis for the love of one’s fellow man? For joy in children? For cultivating gardens, for doing this and that and the other?” See? “There is no basis in it!” That’s the same way there is no basis in emptiness for form; or so it seems. But only precisely to the degree that you have discovered the nothingness that you are, you find that you are suddenly full of energy. That is energy. It’s the source and origin of energy. So that when, you know, when there’s sort of nothing in your way, then you can do exactly what I was describing as having this glee for going into doing this, that, and the other thing, and being thoroughly creative.


But you can’t be creative out of just plain somethingness. You need nothingness to be creative. And that’s what we are. And this, too, is real nothingness; it’s not darkness, it’s not like being buried alive forever, it’s not like rest. Even when the Catholics sing:

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord.
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
This isn’t rest, because it isn’t motion. Neither motion nor rest. What is it? Nobody can imagine. And it’s at that point, you see, where the imagination completely runs out and stops. there we’ve hit the thing. See, there you are, right at the fundamental mystical reality. Now, what this is we are talking about, is what mystics have quite often discussed. This isn’t read very much. It’s a state called agnosia, which means ‘unknowing.’


There’s a book called the Cloud of Unknowing, written by an English monk in the 14th Century. But it’s based on another book called Theologia Mystica, which was written in the 6th Century by an unknown Syrian monk who used the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. Absolutely fascinating, very short little book—which I translated long ago, back in 1943, and I’m about to reissue it. But this book ends up with a description of God which is all in negatives. Not any kind of anything you can imagine at all. Not light, not power, not spirit, not fathershood, not sonship, not this, that, and the other—all the way down the line. Everything that anybody’s ever said or thought about God is denied. Because God is infinite, and therefore beyond the reach of any conception at all. So he says that anybody who—having a vision—thought he saw God, would not have seen God but some creature that God has made who is less than God.


So again, you approach—in a Christian context, said in such a way that even Saint Thomas Aquinas bought it—that you can’t impute heresy to it. Because everybody’s got to agree that God is the which in which there is no whicher, and this guy spells it out. So, in the same way, you get Nagarjuna saying that the ultimate reality is śūnyatā, voidness.


So Shankara gets at it when he says, “That which is the knower or the knowing in everything can never itself be an object of its own knowledge; for fire doesn’t burn itself,” although it burns other things. So we never know what the Brahman is, just like the eyes don’t ever see the head. If you put something there, you are stopping short of nothing and you don’t get the whole benefit of it, that’s all. If you insist that there is something there, that there is the Loving Father at the end of the line, or the Paradise Garden, you are really cheating yourself. Because it’s only when you have thorough emptiness and real downright nothingness at the end of the line, that you get the full impact. No holds. Look, mama, no hands! See?


Now, I really think that’s the simplest thing I can possibly tell you. I really don’t know what else there is to be said about this whole Zen project, or mysticism, Vedānta, what have you. It comes down to that, and there are infinitely many ways of evading. But what I’m trying to point out to you, you see, is the way in which you see the point [is] by taking the line of least resistance. By facing the facts. By not super-adding to truth something you contribute to it; your own business that you put up. But saying, “If I follow what I can see, or can see with my senses, to be reality as far as we can look, it seems that this is sort of the inevitable conclusion.” Which everybody has spent endless effort in arguing about and resisting. Not realizing that—if they went the whole way—how splendid it would be. And that’s all you have to do.























A lecture on Zen is always something in the nature of a hoax, because it really does deal with a domain of experience that can’t be talked about. But one must remember, at the same time, that there’s really nothing at all that can be talked about adequately. And the whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said. So every poet—every artist—feels, when he gets to the end of his work, that there’s something absolutely essential that was left out. So Zen has always described itself as a “finger pointing at the moon.”


In the Sanskrit saying tat tvam asi, ‘that art thou,’ Zen is concerned with ‘that.’ ‘That,’ of course, is the word which is used for ‘Brahman,’ the absolute reality in Hindu philosophy. And you’re it—only in disguise, and disguised so well that you’ve forgotten it. But unfortunately, ideas like the Ultimate Ground of Being, the Self, Brahman, Ultimate Reality, the Great Void—all that is very, very abstract talk, and Zen is concerned with a much more direct way of coming to an understanding of ‘that.’ Or ‘thatness,’ as it’s called; tathātā in Sanskrit.


So Zen has been summed up in four statements:

a direct transmission outside scriptures and apart from tradition,
no dependence on words and letters,
direct pointing to the human mind,
and seeing into one’s own nature and becoming Buddha, that is, becoming enlightened—awakened—from the normal hypnosis under which almost all of us go ’round like somnambules.
It’s extraordinary how much interest has existed in Zen in the United States, especially in the years since the war with Japan. And, naturally, I’ve often meditated on the reasons for this interest. I think, first of all, the appeal of Zen lies in its unusual quality of humor. Religions aren’t, as a rule, humorous in any way. Religions are serious. And when one looks at Zen art and reads Zen stories it is quite apparent that something is going on here which isn’t serious in the ordinary sense, however sincere it may be.


The next thing I think that has appealed to Westerners is that Zen has no doctrines. There is nothing you have to believe, and it doesn’t moralize at you very much. It’s not particularly concerned with morals at all. It’s a field of inquiry rather like physics. And you don’t expect a physicist to discuss authoritatively about morals even though, as a human being, he has moral interests and problems. But as a physicist he is not a moral authority. Or, if you go to an oculist, or ophthalmologist, to have your eyes adjusted—that is so you can see clearly. And Zen is spiritual ophthalmology.


Another thing that appeals very much to Western students about Zen is that they read their Zen from Suzuki, and from some of my writings, and from R. H. Blyth, and these people present a rather different kind of Zen from that which you will find today in Japan. They present what is essentially early Chinese Zen from the old writings, ranging from about shortly before 700 A.D. to 1000 A.D. And that Zen has a very different flavor from modern Japanese Zen, and so, of course, many of the people who go to study Zen in Japan disapprove of Dr. Suzuki thoroughly. And also, naturally, of my exposition of Zen, because we don’t make a great fetish of studying Zen by sitting.


In Japan, today, they sit and they sit and they sit. R. H. Blyth asked a Zen master, “What would you do if you had only one half hour left to live?” And he [the Zen master] said, “I would do zazen,” which means he would sit like a Buddha, here, and practice meditation. And Blyth had given him several choices: “Would you like to listen to your favorite music? Would you have a dinner? Would you get drunk? Would you like the company of a beautiful woman? Would you take a walk? What would you do? Or would you just go on with your daily business as if nothing was going to happen?” In other words, would you wind up your watch? So he [Blyth] was very disappointed in this answer. And he said, “You know, sitting is only one way of doing Zen.”


Buddhism speaks of the four dignities of man: walking, standing, sitting, and lying. And so zazen is simply the Japanese word for ‘sitting Zen.’ There must also be walking Zen, standing Zen, and lying Zen. You should know, for example, how to sleep in a Zen way: that means to sleep thoroughly. Zen has been described as, “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.” And when the student got that description he said, “Well, doesn’t everybody do that?” And the master said, “They don’t. When hungry, they don’t just eat but think of 10,000 things. When tired, they don’t just sleep but dream innumerable dreams.”


So, in a sense, this sounds like the old Western truism whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. But that’s not the same thing as Zen. A lot of people like to see if they could sum up Zen in that way. In the Latin motto of the school I used to go to in England: age dum agis, ‘act when you act,’ or while you act.


There’s a famous story which beautifully illustrates the current relationships between East and West. Paul Reps, who wrote—or rather, drew—a lovely book called Zen Telegrams, once asked a Zen master to sum up Buddhism in one phrase. And he said, “Don’t act, but act.” So Reps was simply delighted because he thought the master had said, “Don’t act but act.” And that, of course, would be the Taoist principle of wú wéi (無爲), of action in the spirit of not being separate from the world. Realizing so fully that you are the universe, too—that your action on it is not an interference, but an expression of the totality. But the master’s English was very bad indeed, and Paul Reps had misunderstood him. He had said, “Don’t act bad act.” And, you know, that is the sort of attitude that all clergy develop over the centuries. You know how it is when you go to church—if you do—so often the sermon boils down to, “My dear people, you ought to be good.” And everybody knows that—but hardly anybody knows how, or even what, ‘good’ is.




The fascination of Zen, to the West, is that it promises a sudden insight into something that is always supposed to take years and years and years. The psychoanalysts—if you’re mixed up—they tell you the troubles you’ve got yourself into over all these years can’t be undone in a day, and therefore it will take many, many sessions—maybe twice a week for several years—for you to get straightened out.


The Christians say that if you embark on a path of spiritual discipline, you get yourself a spiritual director and submit yourself to the will of God, but you may not get into the high states of contemplative prayer for very many years. The Hindus, the Vedanta society people, the Buddhists also say it’ll require many long years of meditation, very hard concentration, very difficult practice, and stern discipline. Then, maybe, you’ll make enough progress in this life to become a monk in your next life, and then you’ll make enough progress to enter some of the preliminary stages leading to Buddhahood, but it’s all likely to take you many, many incarnations.


But when this artist, Hasegawa, was asked, “How does one see into Zen?” he said: “It may take you three seconds, it may take you thirty years. I mean that.” And so, you see, there is always the possibility that it may take only three seconds. Zen literature aboudns with stories, you see, in which there’s a dialogue—or what is called in Japanese mondō, which means ‘question-answer’—between a Zen teacher and his student, and these dialogues are fascinatingly incomprehensible. But it always seems to be that [at] the end of this swift interchange, the student gets the point. Sometimes he doesn’t.


I gave a book of these dialogues, once, to a friend of mine who was deeply interested in Eastern philosophy. He said, “I haven’t understood a word of it, but it has cheered me up enormously.” So this book—called the Mumonkan, which means ‘the barrier with no gate,’ or ‘the gateless gate’—contains such stories as the student—I say student rather than monk, because Zen students are not monks in our sense of the word ‘monk.’ Our monks take life vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and to make the grade you’re expected to spend your whole life in the monastic state. But I call the Zen monk a student because he’s more like a student in a theological seminary. He may stay much longer than the usual three years; he may stay thirty years or so, but it’s always possible for him to leave with dignity, and to graduate, and to go into lay life, or to become a regular priest who keeps charge of a temple, can get married and have a family, and only very few graduates of a Zen monastery become rōshi. Rōshi simply means ‘old teacher’—that is, the man in charge of the spiritual development of the students.


So one of these students in the book says to the master Jōshū, “I have been here in this monastery for some time, and I’ve had no instruction from you.” The master said, “Have you had breakfast?” “Yes.” “Then go wash your bowl.” And the monk was awakened. Now, you may think that the moral of the story is, “do the work that’s nearest though it’s dull at whiles, helping, when you meet them, lame dogs over stiles” [Charles Kingsley].


Or that the bowl might be a symbol of the great void, the all-containing universe, and that—probably—the monk had washed it already, because they immediately—after eating in Japan and China, in a monastery—they take tea and pour it into the bowl and swill it around, wash it and wipe it out. So maybe he had already washed the bowl. And in that case you might think that the master was saying, “Don’t gild the lily.” Don’t—to use a real nice Zen phrase—don’t put legs on a snake. Or a beard on a eunuch. No, the point of that story is so clear that that’s what’s difficult about it.


And all these stories resemble jokes in this sense. A joke is told to make you laugh. When you get the point of the joke, you laugh spontaneously. But if the point has to be explained to you, you don’t laugh so well; you force a laugh. There is some kind of sudden impact between the punchline and the laugh, and so in exactly the same way with these stories, there is expected to be something else than laughter, which is sudden insight into the nature of being. ‘Nature of being;’ that sounds—again—very abstract, but it was “go wash your bowl.”


So, another story in this book concerns a master who said, “When a cow walks out of the enclosure—the corral—the horns and head, the four legs, and the body all get through, but not the tail. How is it that the tail can’t get through?” And nobody could answer this.


Another story tells of a certain master called Bǎizhàng, who was so good that he had hundreds of students, and they couldn’t all be housed in one monastery. So he had to find one of the students who could also be a master. And so he arranged a test. He put down a pitcher in front of them all and said, “Without making an assertion, or without making a denial, tell me what is this?” And the senior monk said, “It couldn’t be called a piece of wood.” And the teacher didn’t accept this answer. But the monastery cook came forward and kicked the pitcher over and walked away, and he got the job. And the commentator remarks, “Maybe he wasn’t so smart after all, for he gave up an easy job for a difficult one.”




When an inquirer about Zen came to a master, often—you know—they approach a Zen master with a kind of key question. “What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?” Or, “Why did the bearded barbarian come from the West?” Because Zen is supposed to have been brought into China by a Hindu named Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma is always represented as having a huge bushy beard and very fierce eyes. Now, Bodhidharma always insisted that he had nothing to teach. And so, why did he come? That’s one of the fundamental questions.


You might say to me—I’ve often said when I’m giving a lecture—I’m not trying to improve you, I’m not trying to persuade you to a certain point of view; that is to say like a preacher would convert somebody. In fact, I have nothing to tell you at all. Because were I to presume that I had something to tell you, I would be like a person who picked your pocket and sold you your own watch. So you might say, then, why do I talk? You might ask the sky, “Why are you blue?” The clouds, “Why do you float around?” Birds, “Why do you sing?” And we’ve been busy trying to invent explanations for all this. And so there’s this great Zen saying; one of the old masters said, “When I was a young man and knew nothing of Buddhism, mountains were mountains and waters were waters. But when I began to understand a little Buddhism, mountains were no longer mountains and waters no longer waters.” In other words, when one starts scientific and philosophical inquiries, everything gets explained away in terms of its causes or other things that go with it. Or one sees that all the things in the world—what we think are separate things—are, as ‘things,’ illusions; there is nothing separate. So—but he said at the end, “But when I had thoroughly understood, mountains are mountains and waters are waters.” So this is what’s called direct pointing.


A Zen master was once talking with me, and he said, “When water goes out of the wash basin down the drain, does it go clockwise or anti-clockwise?” And this was all phrased in the middle of a very ordinary conversation and, you know, it just seemed like a speculative question. And I said, “Oh, it might go either.” He said, “NO! Like this!” Now he said, “Which came first, egg or hen?” I said, “Bwock bwock bwock bwock bwkeeeeeeek!” “Yeah,” he said, “that’s the point.”


Now, it is saying too much—I warn you—to say that Zen is trying to point to the physical universe so that you could look at it without forming ideas about it. That is saying too much, but it is the general idea. It’s in the direction of being the right idea. Zen people speak of the virtue of what they call mushin, which means ‘no mind,’ or munen, ‘no thought.’ That red lantern says munen on it. No thought. This is not an anti-intellectual attitude. The ordinary simple person is just as bamboozled by thinking as a university professor. You can think intellectually in a ‘no think’ way; that’s the art. It doesn’t mean not to have any thoughts at all, it means not to be fooled by thoughts; not to be hypnotized by the forms of speech and images that we have for the world. Not to be hypnotized by them into thinking that that is the way the world really is. So, if I say, “This is a fan,” it isn’t. To begin with, ‘fan’ is a noise, and this doesn’t make the noise ‘fan,’ but just ‘whoosh.’ But it can be many other things than a fan. It can be a back scratcher, very well. All sorts of things. Don’t let words limit the possibilities of life. Actually, this fan has an inscription on it, written by a Zen Master who is 100 years old, and it says, “I don’t understand, I don’t know anything about it.”


So that goes back to the story of Bodhidharma: that, when he first came to China sometime a little before 500 A.D., he was interviewed by the Emperor Wu, of Liang. The emperor was a great patron of Buddhism and said, “We have caused many monasteries to be built, monks and nuns to be ordained, and the scriptures to be translated into Chinese. What is the merit of this?” And Bodhidharma said, “No merit whatever.” Well, that really set the emperor back, because the popular understanding of Buddhism is that you do good things like that—religious things—and you acquire merit, and this leads you to better and better lives in the future so that you will eventually become liberated.


And so he was completely set back, so he said, “What is the first principle of the Holy Doctrine?” And Bodhidharma said, “Vast emptiness and nothing holy.” Or, “In vast emptiness there is nothing holy.” So the emperor said, “Who is it, then, that stands before us?” The implication being: aren’t you supposed to be a holy man? And Bodhidharma said, “I don’t know.”


So the poem says:

Plucking flowers to which the butterflies come,

Bodhidharma says ‘I don’t know.’

And another poem like it:

If you want to know where the flowers come from,

even the God of Spring doesn’t know.

So anybody who says that he knows what Zen is, is a fraud. Nobody knows. Just like you don’t know who you are. All this business about your name, and your accomplishments, your certificates, what your friends say about you—you know very well that’s not you. But the problem to know who you are is the problem of smelling your own nose.


When the great Japanese master Dōgen came back from China in about the year 1,200 A.D. to bring his school of Zen into Japan, they asked him, “What did you learn in China?” He said, “The eyes are horizontal, the nose is perpendicular.” This man went on to write a tremendous book about Zen. They are so contradictory, these people. Don’t expect consistency out of a Zen master. Big, big book called the Shōbōgenzō. I talked with a Zen master about this book—in Japan—and he said, “Oooh, that’s a terrible book! It explains everything so clearly!” It gives the show away. He said, “You don’t need any book for Zen.”


So, you see, it is this kind of way of going about things, this method of Zen, that has so fascinated the West. And everybody who reads about Zen wonders if somehow, you see, this understanding is right under your nose. You know how it is: sometimes, you get a crowd of people to come into a room, and you put something in the room that’s absurd—like, suppose there was a balloon floating on the ceiling—people could come in and not notice it at all. Or, you know, somebody puts on something weird—some kind of a funny necktie, or something—and you say to a person, “Well, haven’t you noticed? A woman in a new dress.” You know? “Haven’t you noticed?” You say, “Well, no. Wh—what is it?” You know? It’s right under your nose. It’s staring you in the face, but you don’t see it. And Zen is exactly like that.


It is very obvious. The master Bokuju was asked, “We have to dress and eat every day, and how do we escape from all that?” In other words, how do we get out of routine? And he said, “We dress, we eat.” He said, “I don’t understand.” Bokuju said, “If you don’t understand, put on your clothes and eat your food.”


Another Zen master, in quite recent times, was interviewing a student—you see, all these stories I’m telling you are connected, and what I want you to do is to grasp, intuitively, the connection—was interviewing a student—Western student—and he said, “Get up and walk across the room.” He got up and walked and came back. He said, “Where are your footprints?”


Another monk asked Jōshū, “What is the Way?” Tao, in Chinese. “The Tao.” He said, “Your everyday mind is the way.” “How do you get in accord with it?” He said, “When you try to accord, you deviate.”




So here is this extraordinary phenomenon. Now, let me say—having presented you with all these fireworks—let me say a few sober things about Zen as a historical phenomenon. Zen is a subdivision of Mahāyāna Buddhism. And, as you know, that is the school of Buddhism which is concerned with realizing Buddha-nature in this world; not necessarily by going off to the mountains, or by renouncing family life, everyday life, et cetera, et cetera—as if that were an entanglement—but realizing, in the midst of life, the possibility of becoming a Buddha.


And so, the great ideal personality of Mahāyāna Buddhism is the Bodhisattva—a word now applied to somebody who has attained Nirvāṇa, but instead of disappearing, comes back in many, many guises. There’s a famous painting of one of the Bodhisattvas in the form of a prostitute. And Bodhisattvas in Zen art are often represented as bums. There’s the beautiful one over there, painted by Sengai, of the bum Hotei—or Bùdài in Chinese—who is always immensely fat. And he’s saying, “Buddha is dead. Maitreya”—who is supposed to be the next Buddha—“hasn’t come yet. I had a wonderful sleep and didn’t even dream about Confucius.” And he’s just stretching and yawning as he wakes up.


So Zen is Mahāyāna—Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism—translated into Chinese, and therefore deeply influenced by Taoism and Confucianism. Zen monks brought Confucian ideas to Japan. And the origins of Zen lie actually around the year 414 A.D., at which time a great Hindu scholar by the name of Kumārajīva was translating—with a group of assistants—the Buddha sūtras into Chinese. One of his students taught that all beings whatsoever have the capacity to become Buddha, to become enlightened—even rocks and stones—and that even heretics and evil-doers have the Buddha-nature, or Buddha potentiality, in them. And everybody said he was a dreadful (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-7) heretic. But then a text called the Nirvāṇa Sūtra came from India, which said precisely that. So everybody had to admit that this man was right. He also began to teach that awakening must be instantaneous; it’s a kind of all-or-nothing state. I don’t mean that there aren’t degrees of its intensity—but once you see the pinciple, you see the whole thing. As they say: when the bottom falls out of the bucket, all the water goes together. Those men, then, promulgated the way of sudden awakening. Bodhidharma came later, and he is supposed—in legend—to have been followed by a line of six patriarchs, of which he was the first.


The second was named Eka—I’m using the Japanese pronunciation—who was formerly a general of the army. Then the third was Sōsan, who wrote the Xìnxīn Míng, which is the most marvelous little summary of Buddhism in verse. And so on, until they came to Enō, the sixth patriarch. You know—perhaps, more familiarly—his Chinese name, Huìnéng. He died in 715 A.D. He’s the real founder of Chinese Zen; the man who synthesized the whole thing, and was the—at least, his collected discourses are contained in what is called the Platform Sūtra. And any student of Zen should read the Platform Sūtra.


But Enō really fused Zen with the Chinese way of doing things, and he emphasized very thoroughly: “Do not think you are going to attain Buddhahood by sitting down all day and keeping your mind blank.” Because a lot of those students who practice Dhyāna—which is Sanskrit for Chán, which is Chinese for Zen, which is, in turn, Japanese—it means ‘meditation’—or ‘contemplation,’ perhaps, would be a better translation in English. And everybody thought that the proper way to contemplate was to be as still as possible. But, according to Zen, that is to be a stone Buddha instead of a living Buddha.


Now, I can knock a stone Buddha on the head, clunk, and it has no feelings, and so it’s a stone Buddha. There was a famous Zen master called Tanka, who went to a little lonely temple on a freezing cold night. And he took the Buddha image—one of the Buddha images—off the altar, split it up, and made a fire. And when the attendant of the temple came in the morning—horrified! Broke the image, and Tanka took his stick, started raking in the ashes. And the temple priest said, “What are you looking for?” He said, “I’m looking for the śarīra,” that is to say, the jewels that are supposed to be found in the body of a genuine Buddha when he’s cremated. So the priest said, “You couldn’t expect to find śarīra from a wooden Buddha.” “In that case,” said Tanka, “let me have that other Buddha for my fire.”


That’s, you see, the difference between living Buddha and stone Buddha. But a person who thinks that, in order to be awakened, you have to be heartless—to have no emotions, no feelings, that you couldn’t possibly lose your temper, or get angry, or feel annoyed, or depressed—those people haven’t got the right idea at all. “If that’s your ideal,” said Enō, “you might just as well be a block of wood or a piece of stone.” What he wanted you to understand is that your real mind—while all those emotions are going on—is imperturbable. Just like when you move your hand through the sky you don’t leave a track. The birds don’t stain the blue when they pass by. And when the water reflects the image of the geese, the reflection doesn’t stick there.


So, to be pure-minded, in the Zen way—or clear-minded is a better way of translating it—is not to have no thoughts; it’s not a question of not thinking about dirty things. One great master of the Tang dynasty, when asked, “What is Buddha?” believe it or not, answered, “A dried turd.” So it’s not that kind of purity. It is purity, clarity, in the sense that your mind isn’t sticky. You don’t harbor grievances. You don’t be attached to the past. You go with it, with life. Life is flowing all the time. That is the Tao: the flow of life. You are going along with it whether you want to or not. You’re like people in a stream. You can swim against the stream, but you’ll still be moved along by it and all you’ll do is wear yourself out in futility. But if you swim with the stream, the whole strength of the stream is yours. Of course, the difficulty that so many of us have is finding out which way the stream is going. But certainly, as it goes, all the past vanishes. The future has not yet arrived. And there is only one place to be, which is here and now. And there is no way of being anywhere else. None whatever. If you understand that thoroughly, your task is finished. You then become instantaneous and also momentous.




So this was Enō’s principle. As I said, he died in 715 A.D., and he left five very great disciples who taught, substantially, the same sort of thing. But as things go, then, these disciples had disciples, and those disciples had disciples, and there’s a genealogy. And Zen broke into what are called Five Houses. And these—some of them didn’t go on. Zen went on in two main forms: one is called, by the Japanese, Rinzai Zen, after the great master Rinzai, who lived towards the end of the 9th century, and the Sōtō School comes from another line, and they have a slightly different emphasis. Sōtō is more serene in its approach; Rinzai more gutsy. Rinzai people use the kōan method in Zen studies. Sōtō people don’t—at least not in the same way.


But this period between the death of the sixth Patriarch, Enō, and about the year 1,000 A.D., is the golden age of Zen. These were the really formative years. And after that, Zen began to decline in China. It became mixed up with other forms of Buddhism, and it suffered the fate of many, many forms of meditation-type, or Yoga-type, discipline. It got a little bit sidetracked into occult and psychic matters; what are called, in Buddhism, siddhi, or the development of supernormal powers. For Zen, this is completely beside the point. But it got involved with Chinese alchemy, with Taoistic alchemy, and all sorts of foolishness in that direction.


But a very strong strain of Zen went to Japan. The first being in about 1,130 A.D., the monk Eisai, and then about 1,200 A.D., the monk I told you about, Dōgen, who founded the great, beautiful, gorgeous, galluptuous monastery at Eihei-ji—which exists to this day. Now, in this golden age of Chinese Zen, the main method of study was walking Zen rather than sitting Zen. All monks were great travelers, and they walked for miles and miles through fields and mountains, visiting temples to see if they could find a master who would cause their spark to flash. To get what is called in Mandarin wú—or in Japanese, satori, or in Cantonese, ng.


This always rather fascinates me; the way this character is written. The word ‘I,’ in Chinese, is sometimes represented by this right-hand side of the character alone: five mouths, five senses. This one means your mind or heart, the heart-mind, xīn. Now, when we say something very surprising happened, “My heart came into my mouth.” Here it comes into all five. So this character means ‘awakening’—it’s the same, in a way, as the Sanskrit bodhi—awakening from the illusion of being a separate ego locked up in a bag of skin; discovering that you are the whole universe. And, of course, if you do discover that, and you see into it all of a sudden, it’s a shock—because your whole common sense is turned directly inside out. Everything is the same as you’ve always seen it, but completely different. Because you know who you are; you know that—what the devil were you worrying about? What was all that fuss? What was all that to do? Well, you see, it was part of the game. Everything, from one point of view, is fuss and to do. To do, to do, what is there to do?


But when you wake up, you see, and discover that all this ‘to do’ wasn’t you—what you thought was you—but was the entire works, which we can just call ‘it.’ That you’re ‘it,’ and that ‘it’ is it, and everything is ‘it,’ and ‘it’ does all things that are done—then that is a great surprise. But it sounds tasteless. It sounds empty, it sounds void, because if I say “Well, you’re all ‘it,’” that is a statement without the slightest logical sense—because we don’t know what is ‘it’ unless there’s something that isn’t ‘it’. But if it’s both all is’s and all isn’t’s, then we can’t think about it. Nevertheless, it is highly possible to see that that’s so in a way that’s so vivid it brings your heart into all of your five mouths.




In this morning’s talk I was going into some of the fundamental features of Zen, and today I want to concentrate on that aspect of Zen practice which is called in Chinese yìzhí zǒu, or ‘going straight ahead.’


A master who was once asked, “What is the Tao—the Way?” replied, “Walk on.” Actually, “Go!” As we say, “Go, man! Go!” Go, go. And it is this aspect of Zen which is what is truly understood by ‘detachment,’ or having a mind that isn’t ‘sticky’ and that isn’t stopped at any point in its whole working. To be stopped at a certain point is what is called ‘having a doubt,’ as when one fumbles, or wobbles, or hesitates about something—trying to find the right solution for the circumstances by thinking it out in a situation where there really is no time to think it out. So that when a Zen teacher asks his disciple a question, he expects an immediate answer, as it were, without thought or premeditation.


They speak in Zen—they use a phrase to “have a mind of no deliberation.” And they also speak of a kind of person, a man who doesn’t depend on anything—that is to say, on a formula, on a theory, on a belief—to govern his action. And this person who doesn’t stick anywhere is like Dante’s image at the end of the Paradiso, where he says—in the presence of the vision of God—“But my volition now and my desires were moved as a wheel revolving evenly by love that moves the sun and other stars.” And the image of the wheel which is not too tight on its axle, and not too loose—that is really with the axle—is the Zen principle of ‘not being attached;’ ‘not being sticky.’


It’s very difficult for us to function in that way because we’ve been brought up to believe that there are two sides to ourselves. One, the animal side, and the other, the human and civilized side. And these are expressed in what Freud calls the Pleasure Principle, which he classifies with the animal side—with the Id—and the other the Reality Principle, which he puts on the side of society and the super-ego. And man is so split, that he is in a constant fight between these two. Theosophists sometimes speak of our having two selves: the higher self, which is spiritual, and the lower self, which is merely psychic; the Ego. And therefore, the problem of life is to make the ‘oneself,’ the ‘higher one,’ take charge of the lower, as a rider takes charge of a horse.


But the problem that constantly arises is: how do you know that what you think is your higher self isn’t really your lower self in disguise? When a thief is robbing a house and the police enter on the ground floor, the thief goes up to the second floor, and when the police follow up the stairs he goes higher and higher until, at last, he gets out to the rooftop. And in the same way, when one really feels oneself to be the lower self, that is to say, to be a separate Ego, and then the moralists come along—they are, of course, the police—and say, “You ought not to be selfish!” then the Ego dissembles and tries to pretend that he’s a good person after all.


And therefore, one of the ways of doing this is for the Ego to say, “I believe I have a higher self.”

And I would say, “Why do you believe that? Do you know the higher self?”

“No. If I knew it I would behave differently. But I’m trying to get there.”

“Well, why are you trying to get there?”

“Well, then the police wouldn’t come around. Then the moralists wouldn’t preach at me. Then I could feel that I was doing my duty, behaving as a proper member of society.”


But all this is a great phony front. If you don’t know that there is a higher self and you believe that there is one, on whose authority do you believe this? You say, “Oh, such and such a teacher—Buddha, Jesus, Śaṅkara, the Upanishads—said that we have a higher self, and I believe it.” Catholics sometimes say they believe their religion because they’re told to, and they have to be obedient. The catechism starts out—I mean the Baltimore catechism—it starts out, “We are bound to believe that there is but one God, the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth,” et cetera. And they make jokes about Protestants and say, “They don’t have real authority in Protestant church because everybody interprets the Bible according to his own opinion. But we have an authoritative interpretation of the Bible.” But this always screens out the fact that it is fundamentally a matter of your own opinion, that you accept the authority of the Church to interpret the Bible.


You cannot escape, in all matters of belief, from opinion. In other words, it must become clear to you that you, yourself, create all the authorities you accept. And if you create them in order to dissimilate, in order to pretend that your motivations and your character are different, that you would like them to be different—this is the same old principle of the separate self trying to improve itself so that it will live longer, or survive in the spiritual world, or attain the riches and the progress of enlightenment. And the whole thing is phony.




So, in Zen, a duality between higher self and lower self is not made. Because if you believe in the higher self, this is a simple trick of the lower self. If you believe that there is no really lower self—that there is only the higher self, but that somehow or other the higher self has to shine through—the very fact that you think that it has to try to shine through still gives validity to the existence of a lower self. If you think you have a lower self—or an ego—to get rid of, and then you fight against it, nothing strengthens the delusion that it exists more than that.


So this tremendous schizophrenia in human beings—of thinking that they are rider and horse, soul in command of body, or will in command of passions, wrestling with them—all that kind of split thinking simply aggravates the problem, and we get more and more split. And so we have all sorts of people engaged in an interior conflict, which they will never, never resolve. Because the true self—either you know it or you don’t. If you do know it, then you know it’s the only one; and the other, so-called lower self, just ceases to be a problem. It becomes something like a mirage. And you don’t go around hitting at mirages with a stick, or trying to put reigns on them. You just know that they are mirages and walk straight through them.


But if you were brought up to believe yourself split—I remember my mother used to say to me, when I did naughty things, she said “Alan, that’s not like you.” So I had, you know, some conception of what was like me in my better moments—that is to say, in the moments when I remembered what my mother would like me to do. And so that split is implanted in us all. And because of our being split-minded we are always dithering. “Is the choice that I’m about to make of the higher self or of the lower self? Is it of the spirit, or is it of the flesh? Is the word that I received of the Lord, or is it of the Devil?” And nobody can decide. Because if you knew how to choose, you wouldn’t have to.


In the so-called Moral Re-Armament movement—which is a very significant title—you test your messages that you get from God in your quiet time by comparing them with standards of absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute love, and so on. But, of course, if you knew what those things were, you wouldn’t have to test. You would know immediately. And do you know what those things are? The more one thinks about the question, “What would absolute love be?”—supposing I could set myself the ideal of being absolutely loving to everybody, what would that imply in terms of conduct? Well, you can think about that until all is blue, because you could never get to the answer.


The problems of life are so subtle that to try to solve them with vague principles, as if those vague principles were specific instructions, is completely impossible. So it is important to overcome split-mindedness. But what is the way? Where can you start from if you’re already split? A Taoist saying is that “when the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.” So what are you to do? How can you get off it and get moving? Fundamentally, of course, you have to be surprised into it.


Winthrop Sargeant not so long ago interviewed a great Zen priest in Kyōto, who posed to him, “Who are you?”

And he said, “Well, I’m Winthrop Sargeant.”

And the priest laughed. “No,” he said, “I don’t mean that. I mean who are you really?”

Well, then he went into all sorts of abstractions about his being a particular human being, and so on, who is a journalist, and so on, and the priest just laughed and said, “No.”

Then the priest just tossed off the conversation, and a little later made a joke, and Sargeant laughed. And he said, “There you are!”


There was an army officer who once came to a Zen master and said, “I have heard a story about a man who kept a goose in a bottle, and it was growing very rapidly, and he didn’t want to break the bottle and he didn’t want to hurt the goose. So how would he get it out?” The Zen master didn’t answer the question at all, but simply changed the subject. Finally, the officer got up to leave and he went over to the door, and suddenly the Zen master called out, “Oh, officer?” And he turned around and said, “Yes?” The master said, “There! It’s out!”


So, in the same way, if I say to you, “Good morning,” you say, “Good morning. Nice day isn’t it?” “Yes.” Or if I hit you—you know, boom!—you say, “Ouch!” And you don’t stop to hesitate to give these answers or responses. You don’t think about it when I say “Good morning,” unless you’re a psychiatrist. What could I be meaning? So you respond. So, in exactly the same way, that kind of response, which doesn’t have to be a deliberate response, a response of a no-deliberating mind, is a response of a Buddha-Mind or an Unattached-Mind. But you must not imagine that this is necessarily a quick response. Because if you get hung up on the idea of responding quickly, the idea of quickness will be, itself, a form of obstruction.


Very often, when Dr. Suzuki is asked a question—very complicated question by some philosophy major from Columbia, when he’s giving lectures there—he’s silent for a full minute, and then says, “Yes.” And this is exactly as spontaneous a response as it would be if he had answered immediately. Because during the period of silence, he’s not fishing around to think of something to say. He is not at all embarrassed of being silent, or at not knowing the answer. So if you don’t know the answer, you can be silent. If nobody asks a question, you can be silent. There’s no need to be embarrassed about it or to be stuck on it. But you cannot overcome being stuck if you think that, somehow, you would be guilty if you were stuck.




When you are perfectly free to feel stuck or not stuck, then you’re unstuck. Because actually, nothing can stick on the real mind, and you will find this out if you watch the flow of your thoughts. There is an expression in Chinese which means ‘the flow of thoughts,’ or what we call in literary criticism ‘stream of consciousness.’ And they put the character for thought (念) three times: niàn, niàn, niàn. And so you will notice that thought follows thought follows thought when you are just ruminating.


And those thoughts arise and go like waves on the water; all the time, they come and go. And when they go, they are as if they had never been here. So, actually, this shows your mind doesn’t stick. Really. You can get the illusion of it sticking by, for example, cycling the same succession of thoughts over and over again. And that gives a sense of permanence in the same way as when you revolve a cigarette butt in the dark, you get the illusion of there being a solid circle although there is only the single point of fire. And it is from this connecting of thoughts that we get the sensation that behind our thoughts there is a thinker who controls them and experiences them. Although, the notion that there is a thinker is just one member in the stream of thoughts.


For example, if you get a certain kind of rhythm that goes ‘diggy diggy diggy diggy boop diggy diggy diggy diggy boop diggy diggy diggy diggy boop diggy diggy diggy diggy boop,’ the ‘boop’ is part of the rhythm. But it can be used as a cue. So you get—in relation to ‘diggy diggy diggy diggy boop’—you get ‘thought thought thought thought thinker thought thought thought thought thinker.’ And if this happens regularly enough and long enough, you get the illusion of there being someone who thinks apart from the stream of thoughts that come and go; the stream of experiences. And we use such absurd phrases not only as ‘thinking our thoughts,’ but ‘feeling our feelings,’ ‘seeing sights,’ and ‘hearing sounds.’ But you must understand: it is perfectly obvious that seeing a sight is seeing; hearing a sound is hearing; feeling a feeling is feeling. So, in the same way, thinking a thought is thinking.


But you get split-minded, you see, and so you get ‘I’ and ‘me,’ and the ‘I’ who ought to—or must—control ‘me’ as a sensation of some real entity that stands aside from thoughts and chooses among them, controls them, regulates them, and so on.


Actually, this is a way to have one’s thoughts not controlled. The more there is this duality of the separate ‘thinker’ standing aside from the thoughts—the separate ‘feeler’ watching or feeling the feelings—the more the stream of feelings is coaxed into self-protective activity; into getting more and more like a stuck record, the purposes of which are to protect and to aggrandize and enlarge the status of the supposed ‘thinker.’


When Jōshū, who was a Tang dynasty Zen master, was asked—he had made some reference to the enlightened mind being like the mind of a child—and they said, “Well, what is the mind of a child?”

And he said, “A ball in a mountain stream.”


“Thought follows thought instantaneously without interruption.”

So the saying: “Walk or sit as you will. But whatever you do, don’t wobble.”


Now, we can see this very clearly from confusions we can get into in activity. I have just said, “We can see this very clearly from confusions we get into in activity.” What kind of a statement is that? When I raised the question—what kind of a statement was it that I just made—I’m beginning to talk about talking. And one can do that, provided you don’t try to do it while you are making the original statement.


If I want to say something about what I’ve just said, then I must do it later, mustn’t I? But not at the same time. I cannot say “You are a fool,” and at the same time say “I’m giving you an insult” in so many words. I cannot say—or, in mathematics—I cannot write down a certain equation, and as I’m writing in down, simultaneously, state what kind of an equation this is. Unless, of course, I invent an exceedingly complex language which talks about itself as it goes along. But in the ordinary way, people get completely mixed up by that. In the middle of being about to say to somebody anything, you start to think about whether this is the right thing to say. And you start wobbling. You get, in other words, too much feedback. And too much feedback makes any mechanism go crazy.


So, in the same way, when you are very, very aware of the difference between the deeds and the doer, and the doer—while doing the deeds—is always sort of commenting on them; the doer really never gets with it! In other words, you are about to strike a nail and you wonder—as you are about to hit it—“Is this the right place to put it?” And so you’ve probably hit your thumbnail instead of the nail, because you don’t go right through with hitting that nail. This is not saying—let me mark this again—it is not saying that there should be no criticism of thought. But if you criticize thought while thinking, as if there were a critic thinker standing aside from the stream of thought, then you get all balled up. And that is exactly what happens in the process of attachment, or what are called in Buddhist kleśa, which mean ‘disturbing confusions of the mind.’


And, you see, this kind of confusion is something to which the human organism is peculiarly liable, because the human organism has language, has—you see, thinking is silent language, and I mean ‘language’ in the most inclusive sense of the word: not only words, but also images and numbers; notation. Just because, then, we can talk about anything. We can talk about talking, we can talk about thinking, we can talk about ourselves, as if we could stand aside and say, “‘Said I to myself’ said I.” All we are actually doing is making a second thought, or thought stream, which comments on the one that went before, and then pretending that the second stream is a different stream than the first. That’s because there are built into our minds all kinds of phony images about memory.


We think, for example, of memory by analogy with engraving. In order to remember something we write it down. And so we have a flat and stable piece of paper, and we make marks on it with a pencil, and they stay there. So we begin to think, “Isn’t mental memory something of the same kind?” Is there something stable, upon which the passage of thoughts makes an impression? We say, “He impressed me very much; this was a lasting impression on my mind,” as if we were tablets. Indeed, the philosopher Locke used the expression tabula rasa, or ‘clean slate,’ to describe the mind of a child. This is a mind which has not yet collected any memories, as if there were some sort of surface which accumulated these things and preserved them, and that’s me.


But, you see, this superstition is related to a much more ancient superstition that the world consists of two elements, one of which is ‘stuff,’ and the other of which is ‘form.’ This is a myth based on a model of the world which is fundamentally ceramic. God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground. And so there is a ‘stuff,’ and so there are ‘forms’ engraved in it, or imposed on it, or stamped on it like a seal is stamped on wax.




What is stuff like apart from form? What is form like apart from stuff? All those problems—which have bothered people for centuries—are based on asking the question in the wrong way; on having used the wrong image for the process. Actually, since nobody ever saw a piece of shapeless stuff, and nobody ever saw a piece of stuff-less shape, the whole thing really is saying that they are the same. And there isn’t any necessity even to think of a difference between them. Even the contrasting words, ‘form’ and ‘substance,’ or ‘form’ and ‘matter,’ are a nuisance.


There is process. There is the flow of thought. The flow of thought doesn’t have to happen to anyone. Experience does not have to beat upon an experiencer. There is, all the time, simply the one stream going on, and we are convinced that we stand aside from it and observe it, because we’ve been brought up that way. But, you know, in your stream of thought and experience, “I am an object,” and a very fleeting and passing one. And also, in my stream of experience you, also, are people who come and go. We are all, you see, living in the same world. We think there is me, and there is an external world around me, but I am in you external world and you are in my external world, and if you think about that you see that we are all in one world going along together. There isn’t really the ‘internal’ and the ‘external,’ there is simply the process.


It’s very important to get rid of that illusion of duality between the thinker and the thought, so find out: who is the thinker behind the thoughts? Who is the real, genuine you? And so, one of the methods that is used is shouting. The Zen master would say to a student, “Now, I want to hear you. I want to hear you say the word ‘moo,’ and really mean it! Because I want to hear not just the sound, but the person who says it. Now, produce—for me—that.”

He goes, “Moo!”

And the Zen teacher says, “No, no! Not yet.”


And he says, “It’s only coming from your throat. I want to hear your belly,” you know?


And always, you see, it’ll never come while the person is trying to make a differentiation between a ‘true’ moo and a ‘false’ moo. To act with confidence, you just do it. But since people are not used to that, it is necessary to set up protected situations in which it can be done.


If we just—in the ordinary way of social intercourse—acted without deliberation, we would get into amazing confusions, as when people say, “Always speak the truth. Never tell a white lie.” And they say exactly what is true and what they think about other people. Well, they can raise a great deal of trouble. But the experience of Zen has been that there should be a kind of enclosure in which this kind of behavior can be done until the people are expert in it and know how to apply it in all situations.





















The function of a Zen teacher is to put his students in all kinds of situations where, in the normal course of social relations, they would get stuck. By asking nonsensical questions, by making absurd remarks, by always unhinging things, and above all, keeping them stirred up with impossible demands: to hear the sound of one hand, to—without moving—stop a ship sailing out on the water, or to stop the sound of a train whistle in the distance. Magic. To touch the ceiling without getting up from one’s chair, to take the four divisions of Tokyo out of your sleeve, to take Mount Fuji out of a pillbox. All these impossible questions are asked. And in the ordinary way of interpreting these questions we think, “Well, now—gee, how could we do that?” See? That’s a very difficult question that’s been asked. And you have to think, “What would I do to do that?”


Because we are caught up in a certain way of discourse which the language-game that we play—and the social games, the production games, and the survival games that we play—are good games. But we take them so seriously that we think that that is the only important thing. And this is to unstick us from that notion and realize that it would be just as good a game to drop dead now as to go on living.


Is a lightning flash ‘bad’ because it lives for a second, as compared with the sun that goes on for billions of years? You can’t make that sort of comparison, because a world of lighting goes also with a world where there’s a sun—and vice versa. So, long-lived creatures and short-lived go together; that’s the meaning of that saying: “Flowering branches grow naturally. Some short, some long.”


So this, then, is a scene in a Zen community where spontaneous behavior is encouraged within certain limits. And as the student becomes more and more used to it, those limits are expanded. Until, eventually, he can be trusted to go out on the street and behave like a true Zen character, and get by perfectly well. You know what occasionally happens on the street when two people are walking down the sidewalk straight at each other, and they both decide to move to the right together and then to the left together, and they somehow get stuck and they can’t pass each other. Zen teachers will pull just exactly that sort of stunt, when going down a path, and meet one of their students—to see if they can get him in a tangle, and can he escape from it?


And you will find, in everyday life, that there is a very clear distinction between people who always seem to be self-possessed, and people who are dithering and nervous and don’t quite know how to react in any given situation; always getting embarrassed because they have their life too strongly programmed. “You said”—I mean, this is a common marriage argument—“You said you would do such-and-such a thing at such-and-such a time! And now you’ve changed your plans!” Not that the change of plans really caused any inconvenience, but just the feeling that when you say you will do something at a certain time, you ought to do it at that time come hell or high water! Well, that’s being very unadaptable. That’s being a stone—kind of sticky—thing. If it, after all, doesn’t matter when we do it and somebody is offended because the time has been changed, that’s simply because they are attached to punctuality as a fetish.


And this is one of the great problems. This causes many automobile accidents. Men rushing home to be on time for dinner, when they stayed late either working, or they had to stop for a drink at some bar, or when a girl feels that she has a fussy husband and she feels she has to have the dinner ready at exactly a certain moment, she ruins the cooking. He’d rather have a faithful wife and a bad cook. I hope I’m not treading on any toes.


So, you see, we spend an awful lot of energy trying to make our lives fit images of what life is or should be which they could never possibly fit. So Zen practice is in getting rid of these images. But it’s so explosive, socially, to do that, and it so worries people, they get vertigo, they get dizzy, they don’t know which end is up. And this happens, you know, if you’ve ever been in one of those Blab-Lab sessions, where they call them ‘tea groups’—I think, or something like that—where people gather together without any clear idea of what this gathering is about. They know it’s somehow self-exploration, but just how do you begin on that? And so, somebody starts to push his idea, and then somebody else says, “Well, why are you trying to push your idea on us?” And then they all get into an argument about the argument, and the most amazing confusions come about—but sometimes they all see what idiots they’re being, and then they learn to live together in a really open and spontaneous way.


There was a very interesting dinner party once where a Zen master was present, and there was a geisha girl who served so beautifully and had such style that he suspected she must have some Zen training. And after a while, when she pours to fill his sake cup, he bowed to her and said, “I’d like to give you a present.” And she said, “I would be most honored.” And he took the iron chopsticks that are used for the hibachi—the charcol brazier; moving the charcoal around—he picked up a piece of red-hot charcoal and gave it to her. Well, she instantly—she had very long sleeves on her kimono—she whirled the sleeves around her hands and took the hot charcoal, withdrew to the kitchen, dumped it, and changed her kimono because it was burnt through. Then she came back into the room, and after a suitable interval she stopped before the Zen master and bowed to him and said, “I would like to give you, sir, a present.” And he said, “I would be very much honored.” Of course, he was wearing a kimono, something like this. And so she picked up a piece of coal and offered it to him. He immediately produced a cigarette and said, “Thank you, that’s just what I needed.”


Now, you know, in the same way that we have this in our culture: certain people who are comedians, who know how to make jokes and gags in a completely unprepared situation. Face them with anything and they somehow come through. So that is exactly the same thing in a special domain as Zen. Only, a master of Zen does this in every life situation. But the important thing is to be able to do this—this is the secret—you must remember: you can’t make a mistake.


Now, that’s a very difficult thing to do, because from childhood up we have had to conform to a certain social game. And if you are going to conform to this game you can make mistakes or not make mistakes. And so this thing has gone into us all the time. “You must do the right thing! There’s certain conduct appropriate here. There’s certain conduct appropriate there.” And that sticks in us and gives us a double-self all our lives long, because we never grow up.


Do you realize that the whole of life plays a game, which is a childhood game? There are three kinds of people: top people, middle people, and bottom people. And there can’t be any middle people unless there are bottom people and top people. And there can’t be any top people unless there are middle and bottom people, and so it goes. And everybody is trying to be in a top set. Well, if they are going to be there there’s gotta be people in the bottom set. And there are people who do the ‘right’ thing and people who do the ‘wrong’ thing. Here in Sausalito—we have this very, very plainly—there are the ‘right’ people, the nice people who live up on the hill. Then there are the ‘nasty’ people who live down here on the waterfront, and they grow beards and they wear blue jeans and they smoke marijuana. And whereas the other people on the top of the hill drive Cadillacs, and have wall-to-wall carpeting, and nicely mowed lawns, and their particular kind of poison is alcohol. Now, the people who live on the top of the hill know that they are nice people, but they wouldn’t know they were nice people unless they had some nasty people to compare themselves with.


Every in-group requires an out-group. Whereas the nasty people think they are the real far out people—whereas those people, those hillbillies, are squares. And they wouldn’t be able to feel far out unless there were squares. See? These things simply go together. But when that is not seen we play the games of ‘getting on top of things’ all the time, and so we are in a constant state of competition. As to—if it’s not “I’m stronger than you,” it’s “I’m wiser than you,” “I’m more loving than you,” “I’m more tolerant than you,” “I’m more sophisticated than you.” It doesn’t matter what it is, but this constant competition is going on. In terms of that competition we can, of course, lose place and—in that sense—make mistakes.


But what a Zen student is, is a person who is not involved in the status game. That’s the real meaning of a monk. He is not ‘keeping up with the Jones.’ And to be a master, he must get to the point where he’s not trying to be a master. The whole idea of your being better than anybody else simply doesn’t make any sense at all; it is totally meaningless. Because you see everybody manifesting the marvel of the universe in the same way as the stars do, and the water, and the winds, and the animals. And you see them all as being in their right places and not being able, really, to make mistakes—although they may think they are making mistakes or not making mistakes, and playing all these competitive games. But that’s their game!


Now, I only say if that game begins to bore you, and it begins to trouble you and give you ulcers and all kinds of things, then you raise the problem of getting out of it, and therefore you start to become interested in things like Zen. That is simply a symptom of your growing in a certain direction where you are tired of playing a certain kind of game. You are as naturally flowing in another direction as if a tree were putting out a new branch. So because you say, “Oh well, we people are interested in higher things”—you see, that depends, still, on the differentiation of rank between the superior and the inferior people. But when you begin to see through that and grow out of that, you don’t think any more of this ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ classification. You don’t think, “We are spiritual people who attend to higher things as distinct from these morons who are only interested in beer and television.” This is simply our particular form of life. Like there are crabs, and there are spiders, and there are sharks, and there are sparrows, and so on.




The trouble with the human being is like the trouble with certain animals. Like the dinosaur, who evolved to the point where he was so big that he’d have to have two brains—a higher self in the head and a lower self in the rump. And the difficulty was to get these two brains coordinated. But we have exactly the same trouble, and we are suffering from a kind of ‘jitters’ that comes from being two-brained. Now, you see, I’m not saying that that jitters is bad—it’s a potential step in evolution and an opportunity of growth. But remember, in the process of growth, the oak is not better than the acorn; because what does it do? It produces acorns.


Or you could say—just like I sometimes love to say—that a chicken is one egg’s way of becoming others. So an oak is an acorn’s way of becoming other acorns. Where is the point of superiority? The first verse of the poem I just quoted—“The flowering branches grow naturally. Some short, some long”—the first verse is,

In the landscape of spring

there is nothing superior

and nothing inferior.

The flowering branches are naturally

some short some long.


So that’s the point of view of being an outcast, in the sense of being outside the taking seriously of being involved in the social game, and therefore being threatened by making mistakes, of doing the wrong thing—that is to say, of carrying into adult life one’s childhood conditioning where somebody is constantly yammering at you to play the game.


So therefore, the preachers and the teachers take the same attitude towards their adult congregations that parents take to children, and lecture them and tell them what they should do. And judges in courts feel also entitled to give people lectures because they say those criminal-types haven’t grown up—but neither have the judges. It takes two to make a quarrel. So one can begin to think in a new way—in polarity-thinking. Instead of being stuck with the competitive thinking of the good guys and the bad guys, the cops and robbers, the capitalists and the communists, all these things which are simply childishness.


Now, of course, you recognize that the moment I say that it’s like talking in English in order to show that the English language has limitations. And I am talking in a language that seems competitive to show that the competitive game has limitations. As if I were saying to all you cats here, “Look, I have something to tell you. And if you get this, you will be in a better position than you were before you heard it.” But I cannot speak to this group—or to society, or this language-speaking culture—without using the language, the gestures, the customs, et cetera, that you have.


The Zen masters try to get around this by doing things—suddenly—that people just don’t get. Well, what is this? Therefore, that is the reason why—this is the real reason why—Zen cannot be explained. You have to make, as it were, a jump from the valuation game of ‘better people’ and ‘worse people,’ ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups,’ and you can only make it by seeing that they all are mutually interdependent. So if we take this situation—let’s say I would be talking to you and saying, “Look, I have some very special thing that you’ve got to take notice of.” Therefore I am the in-group, and I’m the teacher and you are the out-group. I know perfectly well that I cannot be the teacher unless you come here, and so that my status and my position is totally dependent on you. It isn’t something, you see, therefore I have first and then you get. These things arise mutually. So if you wouldn’t come, I wouldn’t talk. I wouldn’t know what to say, because I borrowed your language. So that is the insight: that things go together. Then, when you see that—and aren’t in competition—then you don’t make a mistake. Because you don’t dither.


When I first learned the piano and played these wretched scales, the teacher beside me had a pencil in her hand and she hit my fingers every time I made a wrong note. The consequence was, I never learned to read music because I hesitated too long to play the note on time. Because I was always, “Is this pencil going to land?” See? And that gets built into your psyche. And so, people are always—although they are adults, and nobody is clubbing them around and screaming at them any longer—they hear the echoes of that screaming mama—or that bombinating papa—in the back of their heads all their life long. And so they adopt the same attitudes to their own children, and the farce continues.


Because there is no—I mean, I don’t say that you shouldn’t lay down the law to children if you want them to play the social game. But if you lay down the law to your children, you must make provisions later in life for them to be ‘liberated.’ To go through a process of curing them from the bad effects of education. But you can’t do that unless you, too, grow up, you see? As we grow up. Says I, including myself.


So that is the thing. Now, therefore, in the Zen scene, you would think that the master as we know him and we read about him is an extremely authoritarian figure. That’s the way he deliberately comes on at the beginning. He puts up a terrific show of being an awful dragon. And this screens out all sorts of people who don’t have, somehow, the nerve to get into the work. But once you are in, a very strange change takes place: the master becomes the brother; he becomes the affectionate helper of all those students, and they love him as they would a brother, rather than respect him as they would a father. And therefore, the students and masters, they make jokes about each other; they have a very curious kind of social relationship which has all of the outward trappings of authoritarian, but everybody knows on the inside that that’s a joke.


Liberated people have to be very cool. Otherwise, in a society which doesn’t believe in equality and cannot possibly practice it, they would be considered extremely subversive. And therefore, great Zen masters wear purple and gold and carry scepters and sit in thrones, and all this is carried on to cool it. The outside world knows, “They’re alright, they have discipline, they have order, they are perfectly fine.”




Having discussed basic principles of what Zen is about, I’m passing on to the more practical side of it. A Zen monastery is not a monastery in the Christian sense. It’s more like a theological seminary, except that it practices more than it teaches. A typical institution consists of a campus, and on the campus there are many buildings. First of all, around the edges, you will invariably find independent temples that were founded in times past by noble families, because one of the things that Buddhists did when they came to the Far East was they exploited ancestor worship.


This was very clever of them: this being the great religion of China, the Buddhist priests performed services like [?] masses for the repose of the souls, or for good incarnation—reincarnations—for one’s ancestors, and they made quite a thing out of that. And so they have memorial services for the departed, and that’s one of the principal functions of temples in Japan. People don’t go to temple in the same way as Westerners go to church. They make pilgrimages to temples and—say, at a great temple like Eihei-ji—you will find, on a Sunday morning—or practically any morning—a swarm of about 500 people attending the 4 a.m. service of chanting. Chanting the Buddhist scriptures. But they are, kind of, in and out of their temples. They have special services, they have memorial services, weddings, funerals, or everything like that, but they don’t have a parish kind of church community as we find it in the West.


Although, when Buddhism—through the Japanese immigrants—exports itself to the United States, they immediately copy the Protestant church institution and sing, “Buddha loves me, this I know, for the sūtra tells me so.” It’s terrible. And all the young men—nisei, who have never been in Japan—the one thing they can’t stand is sūtra chanting, because they don’t know what it means, and the priests don’t know what it means a lot of the time. And so—but it’s beautiful to listen to, and they haven’t got an educated Western ear yet to appreciate that kind of oriental music.


Well, now, aside from these many temples, each of which is in charge of a priest with his family—and some of them are having a hard time making a go of it these days, so they become restaurants for very elegant food, or museums, and all sorts of things.


Now, the central—the guts of the Zen temple is what’s called the sōdō. Sō, in Japanse, is the saṅgha, the order of followers of the Buddha; dō simply means ‘hall.’ So the ‘saṅgha hall,’ or sōdō, is the center. And this consists of a number of rooms, but the main one—the actual sōdō itself—is a large, long, spacious room, with platforms on either side and a wide passage down the center. The platforms are six feet wide and each contains a number of tatami mats, which are measured six by three, and every monk is assigned to a mat. And on a shelf behind the mat, against the wall, he has all his posessions, which are very simple. And so the mat is his sleeping place and his meditation place. There is an image of the bodhisattva Manjushri in the hall, more or less in the center of the passage between the platforms. Manjushri is a bodhisattva—they call him monju in Japan—who holds in his hand a sword, and this sword is the sword of wisdom, or prajñā, which cuts asunder all illusions. That is the dwelling place and the meditation place of the monks, and then they have, of course, kitchens, and a library, and they have special temples that the monks use for various services.


Then, aside from that, there are the quarters of the kansho, who is the abbot, or administrative head, of the temple, and then the quarters of the rōshi, who is the spiritual teacher. There isn’t, in the Zen—not in the Rinzai Zen School, at any rate—exactly a hierarchy. Every temple is independent. There’s no Pope, no Archbishop, but there is a fraternal relationship between all the temples of the Rinzai sect. The Sōtō sect have a little bit of a hierarchy, but still, on the whole, the kansho—or administrative head of the temple—is the big boss. The rōshi is the respected boss, the man everybody’s terrified of—at least on the outside, at any rate.


Now, if you want to get into one of these institutions and study, they make it difficult. It’s so different from the welcome attitude you get when you go into a Christian church. Here, they repel you. Westerners, of course, are treated with a certain amount of courtesy that is not ordinarily accorded to Japanese—but even then it’s made difficult, because they realize that a Westerner who’s taken the trouble to learn Japanese, and to get himself over the oceans, and to live under unfamiliar conditions is certainly pretty serious about it. And there are a number of Western Zen monks. So funny—there’s one at Taihei-ji, who comes from San Francisco, and he’s tremendously tall, and to see him with all the others is quite amusing.


Anyway, the formal approach is that you arrive in your traveling gear at the gate, and the Zen monk’s traveling gear is most picturesque: he wears a great mushroom on his head; enormous straw hat, about so wide, and then he has a black robe—shorter than a kimono—and he has long white tabi socks underneath, and geta, which are the wooden sandals with bridges on them to keep you high up a bit. Or he may wear just plain waraji, which are straw sandals. Then he carries, on the front, his little box in which are his eating bowls, his razor, his toothbrush, and such necessities of life.


When he arrives he’s told that the monastery is very poor and they can’t afford to take on any more students, and that the teacher is getting old and it might tax his strength, and things like that. So he has to sit on the steps, and he puts his traveling box in front of him, he takes off his big hat, and he lays his head on the box—his forehead—and waits there all day. But he is invited in for meals to a special little guest house, because no traveling monk can be refused hospitality. And he is admitted at night into this special place, but he’s expected not to sleep, but to spend all night in meditation. In olden times this went on for at least a week or ten days to test this fellow out. Then, finally, the assistant to the rōshi comes and tells him that the rōshi maybe will have a talk with him.




So, you must remember the aspect of a rōshi to this young monk: he’s a formidable fellow; usually an older man who has about him something that is difficult to put your finger on. There’s a certain fierceness coupled with a kind of tremendous directness, a sense of somebody who sees right through you. And so he really poses to this young fellow, “What do you want? Why did you come here?”


But he said, “I came to be instructed in Zen.”

And the teacher says, “Well, we don’t teach anything here. There isn’t anything in Zen to study.”

Well, the student knows—or thinks he knows—that this ‘not anything,’ which is studied in Zen, is the real thing; that’s—of course, as a Buddhist, he knows—that what isn’t anything is the universe, the great void, the śūnyatā. And so he isn’t phased by that.

He says, “Well, nevertheless, you do have people who are working here and meditating under your instruction, and I’d like to join them.”

“Well, maybe. But strictly on probation.”

And then, of course, all the details are taken and he pays a ridiculously small fee—in modern Japan, at any rate—to be able to stay in the monastery. It’s very, very inexpensive.

Now the teacher comes back and says, “Now, you want to study Zen. Why?”

“Well, because I’m oppressed by the rounds of birth and death—in other words, by the vicious circles of life in which I find myself—by suffering, by pain, and so on, and I want to be emancipated.”

The teacher says, “Who is it that wants to be emancipated?”

That’s a stopper.


There was a good old story about one of these preliminary interviews. The master asks, first of all, very casual questions. “Where is your hometown? What’s your name? What did your father do?And where did you go to college? Why is my hand so much like the Buddha’s hand?” And suddenly, you know, in mid-stream of an ordinary conversation—clunk!—the student is blocked. And so there is devised the kōan—in Chinese: gōng’àn—and this means, literally, the word ‘kōan’ means a ‘case,’ in exactly the same sense as we talk about a case in law which functions as a precedent for future cases. ‘Kōan’ should be translated ‘case.’ The kōans are based on stories, mondō, of the conversations between the old masters and their students.


But you can make a kōan immediately by such a question, “Why is my hand so much like the Buddha’s hand?” Or, “Who are you that asked this question?” If the student tries to verbalize on that and say, “Well, I am so-and-so,” he asks, “Who knows that you are so-and-so? How do you know that you know? Who knows that you know? Find out!” In other words, the basic kōan is always “Who are you? Who is it that wants to escape from birth and death? And I won’t take words for an answer. I want to see you! And all you’re showing me at the moment is your mask.”


So, then the student is sent back to the monk’s quarters, the sōdō, and the chief of the sōdō is—called the jikijitsu—is then put in charge of him, and he teaches him how to behave, what the rules are, how to eat, and how to meditate. In the Zen sect they sit on [a] padded cushion about the thickness of the San Francisco telephone directory—which is an admirable substitute. And then, with crossed legs in the lotus posture—with the feet resting on the thighs, like you always see a Buddha—they sit for half-hour periods. That’s supposed to be the length of time it takes for a stick of incense to burn.


And then, when wooden clappers are knocked together, they all get up and they walk round and round the room—quite fast, at a kind of bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam pace—and this keeps you awake. Then, at a given signal, they go back and meditate again.


And, constantly, there is a monk, one on each side, carries a long, flat stick shaped almost like this fan—in the sense that it’s thin at one end and rounded at the other—and if this guy sees a monk who’s slouching, or sleeping, or goofing off in some way he very respectfully bows before him. And the monk rests his head on his knees, and this fellow takes the stick and hits him vigorously on the shoulders, here, like this. Now, most apologists for Zen say this is not punishment, it’s simply to keep you awake. Don’t you believe it. I’ve investigated this, and it’s the same as the British boys’ school—only it doesn’t have the erotic qualities that the British floggings do. Zen people are cool about it. But it is a kind of a fierce thing.


Anyway, the point of the meditation, the zazen, is that—perhaps at the beginning—one does nothing more than count your breathing—so many breaths in, counting in tens—just to allow your thoughts to become still. Zen people do not close their eyes when they meditate, nor do they close their ears. They keep their eyes on the floor in front of them, and they don’t try to force away any sounds that are going on, or any smell, or any sensation whatever. Only, they don’t think about it. And this can become an extraordinarily pleasant occupation. All the little sounds of distant traffic, of birds, of somebody carpentering somewhere and the hammer going, dog barking, or—especially—rain on the roof; gorgeous. They don’t block that out.


But as time goes on, instead of counting breathing they devote themself to the kōan problem which the rōshi has assigned. “What is the sound of one hand? Who were you before your father and mother conceived you?” When Jōshū was asked, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” he replied, “No.” What is the meaning of ‘no,’ or mu? All sorts of these problems.




And so, as time goes on, everyday the student goes to the teacher for what is called sanzen. ‘Sanzen’ means ‘studying Zen.’ And he has to present a satisfactory answer to the kōan. Now, sanzen is the moment in the monastery when no holds are barred, although there’s a very formal approach to it. The monk has to stop outside the master’s quarters and make this mokugyo. He does that three times. And at a signal from the master, which is ringing a bell in reply, he goes in and sits down in front of the master, and bows right down to the floor, and then sits up, and he repeats the kōan that he’s been given. And he’s supposed to answer it.


Now, the master, if he’s not satisfied with the answer, may simply ring his bell, which means: interview over, nothing doing. Or, if he’s still not satisfied, he may try to do something to hint the student as to which way to go, or puzzle him further; some sort of comment. But what happens is this—do you see what kind of a situation has been set up here?—the student is really being asked to be absolutely genuine. If I said to you, “Now, don’t be self-conscious. I want you to be perfectly sincere. And, as a matter of fact, I’m a mindreader, and I know whether you’re being sincere or not. I can see right down to that last little wiggly guzzle in the back of your mind.” And if you think I can, you see, I’m putting you in a double bind. I’m commanding you to be genuine. How can you possibly do that on command? Especially when the person you’re confronted with is a father figure, an authority figure. And in Japan, the sensei—the teacher—is even a more authoritative figure than one’s father, which is saying a lot. But you are being asked, in the presence of this tiger, to be completely spontaneous.


Or—it isn’t put in that way, you see, though. I mean, I’m describing this from the standpoint of a psychologist observing what’s going on here. No, the thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to hear the sound of one hand. And as your answers become more and more rejected, you get more and more desperate. And there is built up the state that is called the ‘great doubt.’ The students do everything, you know? They read all the old Zen stories, and they come in with pieces of rock and wood, and they try and hit the teacher, they do everything—and nothing, nothing will do.


I remember I had a friend studying in Kyōto, and on the way to the master’s quarters you pass through a lovely garden with a pool. And he saw a bullfrog in the garden. And he grabbed this bullfrog—they’re very tame in Japan—put it in his sleeve in his kimono, and when he got in to give an answer to his kōan he produced the bullfrog. And the master shook his head and said, “Nu-uh. Too intellectual.” Of course, he meant not so much what we mean by ‘intellectual,’ but ‘too contrived,’ ‘too pre-meditated.’ You know, you’re just copying other people’s Zen antics, and that’s something you just can’t get away with.


Well, there does come a critical point of total desperation. And when the student reaches that point the teacher really starts encouraging him. He says, “Now, come on. You’re getting warm. But you must be ready to die for this. You must”—students have even been put into the position that if they don’t get it in so many days, they’re going to commit suicide. And they have to stimulate this intense period—a thing called sesshin. Don’t confuse the word ‘sesshin’ with the English ‘session.’ ‘Sesshin’ means ‘studying’ or ‘observation of the xīn’—the heart, the mind. The heart-mind.


And this time they only sleep four hours a night. And they meditate solidly all through the day. They go for the sanzen interview twice a day—every one of them—and it’s a tremendous workout, and will last about five days. Five or six days. And in that period the pressure is really on. Everybody is worked into a pitch of, kind of, psychic fury; they have to get this thing answered.


There’s a man in Japan today who has a five-day Zen system, and he practically guarantees that you have satori in his five days. I just got a book about it, written by a British—I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.


Well, I had a—someone I knew of—who was over, studying Zen on a fulbright grant, and the grant was winding up and he still hadn’t got the sound of one hand. He said to the master, “Look, my grant’s running out and I can’t stay here, and I’ve just got to get this thing.” So, just a day before he left, he suddenly realized that there was nothing to realize. And that was it. You know, here he had spent his whole life thinking that there’s something deficient in me. See? There’s something wrong. Something I ought to find out to get this problem of life cleaned up.


Well, you know what you do. Rinzai, the old Chinese master, said, “Zen teaching is like using an empty fist to deceive a child.” Or like trying to stop a child crying by giving it a yellow leaf. See, the child wants gold, and so you give it an autumn leaf and say, “Here, darling. There’s some gold. Be alright.” Or, with your closed fist you say, “What have I got here?” The child comes and tries to see and pull your fingers open. Then you hide it behind your back, and under your leg, and behind the chair; child gets absolutely fascinated. The longer you keep this up, the more the child is sure there is some real goodie inside the hand, and then at the end—pst—nothing. And that’s Zen.




So there comes a time, you see, when the student can go in front of the master and not give a damn. Because he sees—he’s seen the point. There wasn’t a problem. He made up the problem himself. He came and projected it on this master, who knew how to handle that kind of person by making him much more stupid than he was before—until he sees the essential stupidity of the human situation where we are playing a game of one-upmanship on other people and on the universe.


How to get the better of life? Well, what makes you think you’re separate from life so that you can get the better of it? How can you beat the game? What game? Or, who will beat it? This illusion of beating the game, of finding the thing out, of catching it by the tail, is therefore dissipated by the technique of the kōan. It’s called—working on a kōan is like a mosquito biting an iron bull. It’s the nature of the mosquito to bite. It’s the nature of an iron bull to be unbitten. Or they say it’s like swallowing a ball of molten lead. You can’t swallow it down, you can’t cough it up; you can’t get rid of this thing. That’s the great doubt, you see? But this is an exaggerated form of what everybody is ordinarily trying to do: to beat the game.


So, at that moment the student has heard the sound of one hand, or discovered who he was before father and mother conceived him, or what ‘no’ means. So the teacher says, “Good. Now you have found the frontier gate to Zen. You’ve put your foot in at the door and you’re across the threshold. But there’s a long way to go! And now you have found this priceless thing out, you must redouble your efforts.” So he gives him another kōan.


Now, the student may be able to answer that one instantly, because it’s simply a test kōan. See, there are five classes of kōans. The first class is what you call the hīnayāna kōans, and the other four are the mahāyāna kōans. Hīnayāna is to reach Nirvāṇa. Mahāyāna is to come back and bring Nirvāṇa into the world as a bodhisattva.


So once you get the Great Void, you see there’s nothing to catch on to—you are the universe, it doesn’t matter whether you live or die. That’s Nirvāṇa. All clinging to life—everything like that—you see, then, that it’s hopeless and you give it up. Not because you think you ought to give it up; because you know there is no way of catching it. There’s nothing to catch hold of. There’s no safety in the cosmos. So you just have to give up.


Then, the next class of kōans are such things as asking for miracles. In that class comes, “Take the four divisions of Tokyo out of your sleeve.” Or, “Stop the booming of a distant bell.” “Blow out a candle in Timbuktu.” But as they go on in various ways they are concerned with all kinds of problems, and how Zen understanding deals with those problems. Until we get, in the end, to the study of morality and rules of social and monastic life. That’s the last thing, and the Zen way of understanding it.


Now, this may—this takes very, very differing periods of time. Some people get through in as little as ten years; the whole thing. There is a very brilliant Westerner by the name of Walter Nowick, who has just about completed the whole thing. And he’s a musician and pianist, and he’ll come back to this country as the first accredited Zen master of the West. And he’ll set up his little sōdō on a farm, and wait and see what happens.


The day of graduation comes, and then everybody turns out, and there’s a great hullabaloo, and they salute the departing monk, and he goes out. He may just become a layman, as I said, or become a temple priest, or he may be, himself, a rōshi.




Well, now, the essential of this whole system, as you see, is to use a hair of the dog that bit you for the cure of the bite. It’s homeopathic. When people are under delusion they cannot be talked out of the delusion. No amount of talk could persuade anybody that his ego is an illusion, because he knows it’s there. He knows “I am I,” and simply won’t believe you if you tell him that this is nothing but posthypnotic suggestion.


So the only way to convince a fool of his folly is to make him persist in it. As Blake says, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” Why, some psychiatrists I know—I know when they get a person who over-eats and is tremendously fat, the first thing they do is they make them put on fifteen more pounds. And get an alcoholic terribly drunk, oh, and sick, and just as awful as can be, you see? Really make him go at it, see? That’s a method that’s used. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t; it’s a rather desperate method, rather dangerous method. Zen is dangerous, too. People could easily go crazy under this sort of strain without a good advisor.


Well, it is clear, of course, that this method of Zen training is most unsuited to the modern age. And this is witnessed, too, by the fact that the temples are relatively empty. Myōshin-ji, the biggest one in Kyōto, is built to house 600 monks. There are only 80. And you might think that was quite a crowd, but it isn’t—compared with the old days.


To young people in Japan today this is all incomprehensible. They see no point in it. A few—a few, yes, but they are mostly clergy’s sons carrying out the family (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-8) tradition. And that’s very bad indeed. To be sent to a monastery, virtually. The only possible success can come for someone who goes because he feels that nothing else in the world will satisfy him. He just has to do it.


And so the traditions, as in all these ancient organizations, have become very fixed. A lot of it is meaningless. It is certainly not going to last; not in that form. It’s falling apart right under our eyes. It’s old and it’s set in its ways.


Also, since the time of Hakuin, the kōans have been given fixed answers. That is to say, there is a sort of prescribed way in which to answer, and you’ve got to hit on the right one. And then, after you’ve answered it, you have to find a poem from a little book called the Zenrin-kushū, which means ‘the Zen Forest Anthology.’ And there are little couplets, and you’ve got to find one which represents the meaning of your kōan. I mean, you know, “Take the four divisions of Tokyo out of your sleeve,” nothing could be simpler. But some monk has recently threatened to publish all the answers to the kōans, so that the masters would have to get on their toes and invent new ones.


I know a rōshi who invents new ones, and the moment they open their mouths he stops them, “No! No, no, nope! Too late!” You know, he says—you could ask Christians, “What’s the first word in the Bible?” And things like that. It becomes much more lively, you see, when there is this quick interchange of the teacher and the students. But—in modern idiom—who the devil wants to know about Joshu’s mu anymore, or some ancient fellow’s questions? Couched in language, incidentally—this is part of the problems they have—the language of these kōans is very archaic. I mean, “What is the sound of one hand?” Well, there’s a Chinese proverb which says, “One hand won’t make a clap.” So if you don’t know that proverb—if that’s a proverb that’s in everyday use and I say to you, “What is the sound of one hand?” then it has some sense.


But there are all kinds of, shall I say, references—allusions—in the old stories, and they therefore don’t necessarily fit our world, or the Japanese world of date. You have to take the kōans out of everyday life; things that are going on now, you see? It’s like asking—what’s that man who advertises Schweppes, commander… Whitehead—“Why has commander Whitehead no beard?”




There was, though—you see—there was a division in the history of Zen. There was a critical point in the 17th century when there were two very great masters: Hakuin and Bankei. Now, the 17th century is tremendously important in Japanese history because that was a time of what you might call the democratization of culture. Bashō invented haiku poetry so that everyone could be a poet. Not necessarily for publication, but for one’s own fun. People didn’t write poems for publication, necessarily—they wrote poems for parties. And he invented the 17-syllable haiku as a result of his Zen feeling for nature so that he could put this within the reach of everybody.


What had happened to poetry before that time was that it had become so obscure, and so effete, and so sophisticated that only great literati could do it at all. This happened to Chinese poetry; there were so many references to other poems it was like reading T. S. Eliot. You know, the Four Quartets. You could get an annotated Four Quartets showing you the sources of all the phrases he’s borrowed, and sometimes you have to know the source in order to see what he means by it.

All shall be well, and all shall be well

All manner of thing shall be well.


Alright, that’s straight from the Revelations of Divine Love by the dame Julian of Norwich, but whoever would know that? You have to understand the scene she was digging in order to know, really, what Eliot’s getting at in that “All shall be well.” And he’s full of that. He quotes the Bhagavad Gita, he quotes everybody. So, if we all had to write that way, nobody could be a poet unless he was a great scholar.


So Bashō popularized the haiku, and the haiku are originally based on the Zenrin poems. They take their flavor from that. There is one, you see: “Those bird calls, mountain changes to be more mysterious.” The first line of that says, “The wind drops, but the flowers keep on falling. The bird calls, and the mountain becomes more mysterious.” And so haiku developed from that kind of short insight, that glimpse of nature.


Now, while Bashō was taking poetry to the peasants, Bankei was taking Zen to them as well—to the farmers. And he ran his Zen on an entirely different system. He talked, mainly, about what he called fushō. Fushō is the unborn; that which has not yet arisen and which, as a matter of fact, never does arise. And so he said there is in you the unborn mind which was given to you by your parents. Let me just read you a few quotations from him to show you what sort of a person he was.


[from Zen: Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews]

The mind, begotten by and given to each of us by our parents, is none other than the Buddha-mind. Birthless and immaculate, sufficient to manage all that life throws upon us. A proof: suppose at this very instant, while you face me listening, a crow caws and a sparrow twitters somewhere behind you. Without any intention on your part to distinguish between these sounds, you hear each distinctly. In doing so you are hearing with the birthless mind, which is yours for all eternity.

Well, we are to be in this mind from now on, and our sect will be known as the Buddha-mind sect. To consider my example of a moment ago, once again, if any of you feel you heard the crow and the sparrow intentionally, you are deluding yourselves, for you are listening to me, not to what goes on behind you. In spite of this there are moments when you hear such sounds distinctly, when you hear with the Buddha-mind of non-birth. Nobody here can deny this. All of you are living Buddhas, because the birthless mind which each possesses is the beginning and the basis of all.

Now, if the Buddha-mind is birthless, it is necessarily immortal, for how can what has never been born perish? You’ve all encountered the phrase “birthless and imperishable” in the sūtras—not born, not dying—but hitherto you’ve not had the slightest proof of its truth. Indeed I suppose like most people you’ve memorized this phrase while being ignorant of the fact of birthlessness.

When I was twenty-five I realized that non-birth is all-sufficient to life, and since then, for forty years, I’ve been proving it to people just like you. I was the first to preach this greatest truth of life. I ask, have any of you priests heard anybody else teach this truth before me? Of course not.

—Verse 3


A priest said to him, “Once in the Buddha-mind, I am absent-minded.”

Bankei says, “Well, suppose you are absent-minded as you say. If someone pricked you in the back with a gimlet, would you feel the pain?”


“Then you are not absent-minded. Feeling the pain, your mind would show itself to be alert.”

—Verse 7


A layman says, “Though I undertake Zen discipline, I often find myself lazy, weary of the whole thing, unable to advance.”

And he replies, “Once in the Buddha-mind there’s no need to advance, nor is it possible to recede. Once in birthlessness, to attempt to advance is to have receded from the state of non-birth. A man secure in that state need not bother himself with such things: he’s above them.”

—Verse 9


The Buddha-mind in each of you is immaculate. All you’ve done is reflected in it, but if you bother about one such reflection, you’re certain to go astray. Your thoughts don’t lie deep enough—they rise from the shallows of your mind.

Remember that all you see and hear is reflected in the Buddha-mind and influenced by what was previously seen and heard. Needless to say, thoughts aren’t entities. So if you permit them to rise, reflect themselves, or cease altogether as they’re prone to do, and if you don’t worry about them, you’ll never go astray. In this way let one hundred, nay, one thousand thoughts arise, and it’s as if not one has arisen. You will remain undisturbed.

—Verse 13


The only thing I tell my people is to stay in the Buddha-mind. There are no regulations, no formal discipline. Nevertheless they have agreed among themselves to sit in Zen for a period of two incense sticks daily. All right, let them. But they should well understand that the birthless Buddha-mind has absolutely nothing to do with sitting with an incense stick burning in front of you. If one keeps in the Buddha-mind without straying, there’s no further satori to seek. Whether awake or asleep, one is a living Buddha. Zazen means only one thing—sitting tranquilly in the Buddha-mind. But really, you know, one’s everyday life, in its entirety, should be thought of as a kind of sitting in Zen.

Even during one’s formal sitting, one may leave one’s seat to attend to something. In my temple, at least, such things are allowed. Indeed it’s sometimes advisable to walk in Zen for one incense stick’s burning, and sit in Zen for the other. A natural thing, after all. One can’t sleep all day, so one rises. One can’t talk all day, so one sits in Zen. There are no binding rules here.

—Verse 16


And so that’s what happened, you see? Bankei was the abbot of Myōshin-ji—the rōshi—and he stopped the monks from using the kaiseki stick to hit them when they weren’t meditating or sleeping in meditation, because he said, “Even a sleeping man is still a Buddha, and you shouldn’t be disrespectful.” And he attempted a Zen of no methods. You can meditate if you want to, that’s fine. But that’s like polishing a brick to make a mirror. And he used to say, too, that trying to purify your mind is like trying to wash off blood with blood.


But Bankei’s Zen was elusive. Hakuin had 80 successors, Bankei had none. And some people think that that was the most admirable thing about him.





















The basis of all Indian philosophy—particularly the teaching of those books called the Upanishads, which are really the distilled essence of Hindu thought—the basis is called the Self. And this word, in Sanskrit, is Ātman, and that means ‘Self’ in the vastest possible sense, and the most inclusive sense of the word. It means ‘yourself,’ and it means also ‘self as such,’ ‘existence as such,’ the ‘totality of all being.’ And, of course, this is something that one cannot talk about in the sense of talking about it logically. You can’t talk about it. A poet can talk about anything, and the Upanishads are, very largely, poetry.


Of course, everything in the world—knives and forks, tables and chairs, trees and stones—are indescribable. Korzybski referred to the physical world as the ‘unspeakable world,’ which was really rather a funny name because it has two edges. It’s, of course, something you can’t say anything about—that is to say, it is ineffable—but it’s unspeakable also in the sense of the word meaning something taboo. And we shall see, as we go on, wherein that taboo consists.


But from the standpoint of logic we can’t say anything about everything, because in order to say something about something, and state it logically, you have to be able to put it in a class. Now, classes are intellectual boxes. When you play games like Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? you’ve got there three boxes. And when you come to think of it, you don’t know any one without another, because in order to have a box there must be what’s inside the box and what’s outside the box. And then, by this method of contrast, we can make a logical discussion about things. All words, therefore, are labels on intellectual pigeonholes.


But then, when you come to what fundamentally is, then you’re without a box and you can’t talk logically. Of course, you can distinguish ‘is’ from ‘is not,’ but only in a very limited way—as I can say, “I have a pen in my left hand. I do not have a pen in my right hand.” And from this we abstract the idea of ‘to be’ and ‘not to be,’ ‘is’ and ‘isn’t.’


But when we consider Being—with a capital ‘B’—this includes not only such ‘is’es as celestial bodies, but also such ‘isn’t’s as the space that encompasses them. And these two go together, as we shall see in more detail as the time goes on.


But now, a perfectly logical person would therefore say that the notion of the Self—the Ātman, as the fundamental reality in which everything else exists—is meaningless. And, of course, from a logical point of view it is. But at the same time, just because something cannot be put into a logical category does not indicate that it isn’t real. The Self, you see, bears somewhat the same relationship to the world as the diaphragm of the speaker in this radio bears to the music you’ve just been hearing. None of the music was about the diaphragm and nobody said anything about there being a diaphragm. The diaphragm, as such, didn’t come into the picture, and yet it was everything in the picture. All those different noises were vibrations of this thin film of metal. So, also, with your eardrum. So, also, with the apparatus of your eyes.


So one might ask, then—just as you say, “Well, what is it on? What is the music on? Is it on tape, is it on a speaker, is it on a drum?” Whatever the variations may be, we can ask the question, “What are you all on? What is all this on?” And the Hindus answer, “It’s on the Self”—like we say, “This one’s on me.” It isn’t that there’s only one Self in the sense that is taught in a philosophy called solipsism. Solipsism is the idea that you are the only person who exists and everybody else is your dream. Nobody can prove that this isn’t so, except I’d like to see a congress of solipsists arguing as to which one of them is really there.


It isn’t that; it’s more complex than that. It’s saying that the Self in each one of you is really, at root, one. Just in the same way that you have, all over your body, millions of nerve ends: each one of those nerve ends is, as it were, a little eye—because all the senses are, fundamentally, one sense; they are various forms of touch. And the most delicate of the forms of touch is, of course, the human eye. Then the ear, and so on, down the list of the senses. Now imagine, then, every little nerve end is a little eye. And it gets its impression of the world, but it sends it all back into the central brain. Well, in a somewhat similar way, every person, every animal, every (what the Hindus call) sentient being—and even rocks are regarded as sentient beings in a very, very primitive form, right down to the lowest—so all those forms that we see may be looked upon as the eyes that look out of one central Self.


Only, of course, in the body—in the human body—we can see the connections between the nerve ends and the brain. It’s much more difficult to see the connection between one individual and another. If they’re married that’s a little bit closer. But just all us human beings rattling around, we’re not even rooted to the ground like trees. And therefore, it’s very easy for us to form the impression that I am only what is inside my bag of skin, and that my Self is a different Self from your Self. And we’re all, therefore, fundamentally disconnected. And so your apparent disconnection—the fact that you are not tied to other people with umbilical cords, or some kind of wiring that gives you one mind—nevertheless, we do have one mind. In the sense that, for example, all of us turn out to be approximately the same shape. Two eyes, two nostrils, a mouth, two hands, two legs, and so on.


A haiku poem—Japanese haiku—says, “A hundred gourds from the mind of one vine.” And so it is with people, and so it is with everything in the world. That’s just from a purely physical point of view. But going yet deeper, we find that it’s somehow a necessity of thought that there be some sort of a something which is the common ground of all these universes, all these galaxies, and that ground is the Self—as Hindus understand it, the Ātman.


Now, that’s quite [a] startling point of view, because what it’s saying is, you see, that you are basically the works.




Now, the Hindus do say that the Self—the great Self—is consciousness. But of course, that does not mean consciousness in the sense of our ordinary everyday consciousness. Ordinary everyday consciousness is indeed a form of this kind of consciousness—shall we say, a manifestation of it?—but then there’s also consciousness which doesn’t notice, but nevertheless is highly responsive. The way your heart beats, the way you breathe, the way you grow your hair: you’re doing it, but you don’t know how it’s done.


So therefore, just in the same way that conscious attention is not aware of all the other operations of the body, so in just that way we are not aware of our connection—indeed, our identity—with the fundamental Self. When the leaves die and fall off the trees, or the fruit drops—next year: (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-9) more leaves, more fruit. So, in the same way, when you and I die: more babies later. If the whole human race dies, you bet your life there are all kinds of things that feel that they’re human scattered throughout the multiplicity of galaxies. Because this universe is a peopling universe, just as an apple tree apples. But because we are unconscious of the intervals we are not aware of the Self with our conscious attention when conscious attention isn’t operating. But still, just as you don’t notice what your pineal gland, say, is doing at the moment, so in the same way you don’t notice the connections which tie us all together—not only here and now, but forever and ever and ever and ever.


The difficulty, the basic reason why we don’t notice the Self, is that the Self doesn’t need to look at itself. A knife doesn’t need to cut itself. Fire doesn’t need to burn itself. Water doesn’t need to quench itself, and a light doesn’t need to shine on itself. So this is the fundamental problem of having some sort of awareness of the self. Nevertheless, it is the whole contention of Indian philosophy, especially what we call Vedānta, that it is possible—in a certain way—to become aware of oneself in this deepest sense; to know that you are the totality.


And this experience is the real substance of Indian philosophy as a whole, both Hindu and Buddhist. It is called mokṣa, which roughly means ‘liberation.’ Liberation from the hallucination that you are just “poor little me.” To wake up from that kind of hypnosis and discover that you are simply something—your organism, your physical body, your conscious attention (which is your ego)—that you are something being done by this vast, indescribable Self, which is out of time, which has no beginning, no end, it neither continues nor discontinues. It’s beyond all categorization whatsoever, and so the Upanishads say, “all we can say of it positively is the negative.” Neti neti; ‘it is not this, not that.’ Anything, therefore, you can formulate—imagine, picture—will not be the Self.


So when you are trying to know the Self you have to get rid of every idea in your head. It doesn’t mean, as some people seem to think, that you have to get rid of every sense-impression. It isn’t as if you had to go into a catatonic state of total absorption. Of course that can be done, but the full mokṣa—the full liberation—is when you come back out of absorption and see this everyday world just as it looks now, but see as clearly as clearly can be that it is all the Self. You can become aware of this tremendous interconnectedness of everything, and that is what somebody who is mokṣa—who is liberated—sees. He sees, shall we say, that everything goes together.


And that is, in a way, what we mean by ‘relativity.’ Because relativity means ‘relatedness,’ just as fronts go with backs and tops with bottoms, insides with outsides, solids with spaces. So everything that there is goes together. And it makes no difference whether it lasts a long time or whether it lasts a short time. A galaxy goes together with all the universe just as much as a mosquito, which has a very short life. From the standpoint of the Self, time is completely relative. You can have, if you scale it down, as much time between two of those very rapid drumbeats as you can in eons and eons and eons. It’s all a question of point of view. Or—to use a scientific expression—level of magnification.


Change your magnification and you see molecules. And we know by other methods of observation that it can get smaller and smaller and smaller, and that the spaces between these minute units are so vast that they’re comparable to the distances between the sun and the planets, in scale. So, also, with time. So, in this sense, there could be vast, vast universes full of empires, and battleships, and palaces, and brothels, and restaurants, and orchestras in the tip of your fingernail. And, on the other hand, we could be all going on in the tip of somebody else’s fingernail.


It’s very important to understand not only the relativity of size and of time, but also of what there is. Now, as you know, the human senses respond only to a very small band of the known spectrum of vibrations. We know, through instruments, of quite a vast spectrum, but we—as I say, with our senses—see only a little of it. If our senses were in some way altered we would see a rather different looking world We can do this, of course—we can put on special lenses to enable us to see heat, and then we see all the heat radiations coming out of people. And we say, “Well, I never noticed that about you before!” But so, in the same way, you see, there are infinitely many possibilities of vibration, and of organs sensitive to those vibrations, so that there could be world within worlds within worlds, spaces within spaces, just like the many, many wavelengths of radio and television going on forever and ever in all directions. The possibilities are infinite.


But having senses and noticing is a selective process. It picks out only certain ones, just as when you play the piano. You don’t take both arms and slam down all keys at once, you select. And so perception is a kind of piano-playing; it is picking out certain things as significant—that is to say, as constituting patterns. And the whole universe seems to be a process of playing with different patterns. But whatever it does, whatever it plays, in whatever dimension, on whatever scale of time or space, it’s all on the Self.




The Self is also known in Sanskrit as Brahman. This is a neuter word. Brahman is from the root brh, which means ‘to expand,’ ‘to grow.’ It isn’t quite clear exactly why this word was chosen. Sometimes there’s a still better word for the Self—which I like—is the word tat; almost like ‘tit for tat.’ Tat means ‘that.’ We get our word ‘that’ from the sanskrit tat. And so, when a baby comes into being first of all, the first thing it says is, “Da! Da.” The baby’s pointing, “Da, da, da!” And it’s saying, “That! Look, isn’t that marvelous?” That, you see?


So that is the which in which there is no whicher, and so you get the formula in this Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: tat tvam asi, which means: tat: ‘that;’ tvam: ‘that in,’ you know, ‘you;’ asi: ‘are.’ ‘You are that,’ or ‘that thou art;’ ‘that art thou.’


So in this sense, then, every self is modeled on—and is an expression of—the one Self, because you all feel, individually, that you’re the center of the world. And everything else is seen in circles, circling out, sphering out from where you are. And that’s, as it were—they called them ‘microcosm,’ the little cosmos. But then, in the same way, the macrocosm as a central self, although this is not central in the way we talk about centers in space. Do you see that? A center of a circle is in the middle of the circle and the circumference is away from it. But you could say—you could use a phrase that the Christian theologians have used of God—that circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.


You could speak of Brahman that way. It isn’t in the middle of the universe, spacially speaking. You might ask the question, “Where is the universe?” Ever thought of that one? Where is it? Well, you can’t say where because everywhere has to be in relation to something. There would have to be another universe to say where this one is. But then, since those two together would constitute ‘the universe,’ we wouldn’t—still—be able to say where it was. It isn’t anywhere.


And so, in that sense, the center isn’t anywhere in space, locally—and furthermore, the kind of space we are dealing with is only one possible kind of space. It’s the kind of space our physical organisms are attuned to. We are, you see, like the radio: we pick up what wavelengths we’re on.


So, then, when inquirers used to come to that great modern Hindu saint Sri Ramana Maharshi, and they’d ask him all sorts of silly questions like, “Who was I in my last incarnation? What will I be in my next one?” he would always reply, “Who is asking the question? Who are you? Find out, because that’s the thing you need to know.” As it were, dig down into the depths of your being and say, “What is this that I call ‘I’?” That’s one of the very fascinating questions. It’s also—it teases us out of thought; to think about death in the sense of going to sleep and never waking up. Imagine that. And you find you can’t—and yet, it’s a thought that, although you can’t get to grips with it, it remains fascinating.


Also, the question, “How is it that suddenly you awakened into this world? Where were you before?” In Zen Buddhism they have the meditation problem, the kōan: “Before your father and mother conceived you, what is your original nature?” And that’s the same sort of weird question as what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up. What was it like to wake up having not previously gone to sleep? It’s very mysterious.


But as you go on and plumb this question you begin to develop the feeling that your existence is exceedingly odd. In many ways odd. Odd because it is here and it so easily might not have been. After all, if your father hadn’t met your mother, would you be here? Of course, somebody would be here, because he might have met somebody else. Would that be you? Of course it would. Don’t you see? You can only be you by being someone. But every someone is you. Every someone is ‘I.’ That’s your name. You say, “It’s me. I am here.” And everybody feels that I in the same way. It’s the same feeling, just like blue everywhere is the same color.


So I-ness being, as it were, the most fundamental thing in man is also fundamental to the universe. It, too, is ‘I.’ And our ‘I’ is a special case of it. Coming out from the ‘central eye,’ like so many tits from the belly of a sow, or so many spines from a sea urchin, so many legs from a spider. And that is, of course, why the images of the Hindu gods are shown with many arms or many faces: because it is saying that all arms are the arms of the divinity, all faces are its masks.


So, you see, there’s really nothing to worry about because the important you is perfectly indestructible. It’s what there is. Our comings and goings, our fortunes and misfortunes are a sort of mirage. The more we know about them, the more we know about the world, the more diaphanous it seems. And therefore everything in the world has the characteristics of smoke—you know, when you blow a cigarette, or pipe, or something, and a cloud of smoke, and you see it in a sunbeam and it’s full of whorls and designs and all kinds of marvelous things going on, and then, slowly, it disappears. Well, everything’s just like that.


Now, there are two attitudes you can take to that state of affairs. You can say sour grapes, it’s all a lousy, wretched trap. And here I am, I’m given all these feelings of love and attachment and joy of life, and then I fall apart. My teeth drop out, my eyes become feeble, I get cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, or something, and then it all falls apart, and it’s too bad! Therefore, therefore, don’t become attached to things. Don’t enjoy life. Treat it, holding it off—like that—just like a very, very firm person who’s been jilted and says, “Never again will I get mixed up with love, because love hurts.”


But on the other hand, a weaving of smoke can be very beautiful, provided you don’t lean on it. Provided you don’t try to preserve it. Catch hold of it—then you destroy it. So, exactly the same way: there’s nothing in the way of form that you can lean on, that you can grasp. And if you see that, then the world of form is very beautiful. If you let it go.


To love people—you see, if you are husband and wife you must let each other go, otherwise the marriage is either going to break up or it’s going to be hell. If you love a person you say to that person, “Look, I love you—whatever that may be. I’ve seen quite a bit of it, and I know there’s lots I haven’t seen. But still, it’s you, and I want you to be what you want to be. And I won’t be happy if I’ve got you in a cage. You’d be a bird without song.” And they’re likely to go on loving each other. But if they wrap each other up with all sorts of ties and chains and documents and things, then they’re not on a very safe basis. The very firm words of those documents belie the situation, because nobody curses, and swears, and kisses the Bible, and all sorts of things like that if he means ‘yes.’ If there’s some doubt that he means yes, then he’s asked to make all these rituals of cursing and swearing, signing on dotted lines, and see and some—indicates doubt right at once. It’s just a fly in the ointment from the beginning.




So when the Hindu and Buddhist philosophers speak of detachment from all this apparent world of separate beings—detachment means ‘going with’ this whole thing and not resisting its change. And you can afford to go with it, you can afford to get mixed up in life, and to fall in love, and to get involved with all sorts of things. You can afford it if you know that it’s an illusion. But this is not illusion in a bad sense of the word.


Here’s this Hindu word—crucial—the world is called māyā. This word, māyā—yes, it means ‘illusion,’ it means ‘magic,’ it means ‘art,’ it means ‘delineation,’ or ‘measurement’—and so from matr we get ‘meter,’ and we also get ‘matter,’ ‘material.’ Isn’t it funny that the way we say ‘material’—today, we mean something very real, but the root of the word is ‘illusion.’ So, you see—I mean, measurement is kind of an illusion. You don’t find inches lying around; you can’t pick up an inch. So, in the same way that hours and inches and pounds and dollars and so on are actually imaginary—they’re elaborate systems of cosmic bookkeeping with their little scratches on paper, little hairlines on dials—so in exactly that way the distinction between things is māyā, is imaginary. But what an imagination! In a way, to say that the world is māyā is at the same time to say that what lies behind māyā is immaterial. Look at the reversal of the word. Oh, it’s immaterial, it doesn’t matter. What matters is all this.


But that gets us to a deeper point yet. The Self—the real Self—doesn’t matter, which is another way of saying it doesn’t exist for any purpose. It doesn’t need to exist for any purpose. What purpose would it exist for, when it’s what there is! It won’t find anything in the future, has nothing in the past that it has to go back and remember. It’s now. An eternal now. And so, in that way it doesn’t matter. But therefore, the most important thing in the universe is the one thing that doesn’t matter. The one thing that’s totally and completely useless, and that nobody can find anything for.


Once, a Zen master was asked, “What is the most valuable thing in the world?”

And he answered, “The head of a dead cat.”


“Because no one can put a price on it.”


So this Self, the Brahman, is like the head of a dead cat. But you see, if, then, you say, “Mmm, I really ought to get that dead cat’s head because… something spiritual about it and it’d be very good for me. After all, if I knew the Self I might be a better person. People might like me more. I’d be more constructive in society. I would do this, that, and the other.” You see, that’s putting the cart before the horse. That’s trying to make the tail wag the dog.


The knowledge of Brahman—the Self—never does anybody any good if they’re trying to make it do them some good. Only when they are not concerned with whether it does them any good or not does it do them any good. It’s like when you relax and you go out and play. Americans, in particular, don’t know how to do this because they always justify it. They always say, “It’s good for me. It’s exercise. It’s just a change from work, and that’ll be able to make me work better.” See? Everything they do is done for some serious reasons. It’s the Protestant conscience. And so we never play, except very exceptionally. Because play is that which is done just for itself—for fun.


So the Self—the Ātman, the Brahman—exists for fun. See, there is no reason to exist; it’s completely useless. And it is—therefore, māyā is linked with the word līlā, and that means ‘play.’ Also, of course, the word ‘illusion,’ in English, is derived from the Latin ludere, ‘to play.’


So the nature, you might say, of the Self is that it does no work, it only plays. Work is something serious, you now, that you do for a purpose because you believe that you’ve got to go on living! You work to survive, because you think you have to survive. That was one of the things they told you as a little child. You’ve got to go on, man!


You don’t have to. This thing doesn’t have to go on—that’s why it does. I know that sounds paradoxical, but there’s so many things in life that are like that. If I’m trying to impress people I usually don’t. If you try too hard with anything you usually make a mess of it. And so this basic thing, then, is that the Self—the Brahman behind the world—is engaged in play. It is in this sense that the Hindu philosophers say, “Brahman does not actually become the world.” The meaning of that is: he’s playing at being it—or it’s playing at being it—as distinct from working at it.


And so, in certain Oriental countries, when one refers to noble people of high birth it is often said, “Lord So-and-so has died.” The Japanese would say he’s played at dying. Or will he play at taking a journey to Tokyo? Also, remember this: although I have constantly used in this talk the word ‘one’ to apply to the Self—and ‘central’—the Hindus don’t use this word except speaking poetically and loosely. The Self is not one. The Self is called ‘non-dual’—because, you see, the idea of one has an opposite. The opposite of one is many—or none. But the which then which there is no whicher has no opposite; there’s nothing outside it, so you can’t call it ‘one.’ Because ‘one’ is an exclusive idea, it excludes ‘two.’ So they call it, instead of ‘one,’ they call it ‘non-dual,’ which is advaita. This is from the word, you see—dva is the root meaning ‘two;’ the ‘v’ becomes ‘u,’ so we get ‘dual;’ and ‘a’ is the meaning—in Sanskrit, often—‘non.’ Non-dual, advaita.


And so it doesn’t exclude anything. ‘One’ is an exclusive word. Advaita is meant to be a totally inclusive kind of unity. Now, of course, this word itself—when you look at it from a logical standpoint—is a dualistic word, just like ‘one.’ It’s the opposite of dvaita. Dvaita and advaita. But the idea here, in Indian philosophy, is to use this word in a certain way. Now, you know that on a flat surface you can’t draw three dimensions. Anything you draw will be in two dimensions. But why do we see three dimensions? Because of an artistic convention called one-point perspective, which will give you the illusion of a third dimension.


Now, in other words, a two-dimensional line is being used to imply a third dimension which can never be expressed on a flat surface. So, in exactly the same way, advaita is a word used specially to designate what lies beyond all logical categories.




So you must remember, of course, that the word ‘play’ and the word ‘game’ have many levels of meaning. We are accustomed to use the word ‘play’ in opposition to ‘work’ and to regard play as trivial and work as serious. Very largely, a game or a play is something associated in our minds with triviality. “You’re only playing with me,” says a girl to a suitor, “you’re not serious.” How serious do you have to be? When does one get serious in a flirtation? When do we say this is getting serious? When you’re holding hands? Playing footsies under the table? Do you see? Petting? Sleeping together? Married and babies? Maybe that’s serious.


But we also use the word ‘play’ in a non-trivial sense. I went to hear Heifetz play the violin. Was that a trivial matter? On the contrary—the very highest kind of artform. Still: ‘play.’ I say, too—when I do philosophy, like I’m doing with you—this is entertainment, but in the sense—perhaps, I hope—of your listening to someone play a musical classic. I’m not being serious, but I am being sincere.


The difference, you see, between seriousness and sincerity is that seriousness is someone speaking in the context of the possibility of tragedy; that there is a situation where things might go absolutely wrong, and then I put on the expression which is serious. That’s why soldiers on parade are always serious. They don’t laugh. And when they salute the flag they put on a stern expression. That’s why, in courts of law and in churches, people normally don’t laugh—because all that we deal with here is very important, a matter of life and death.


But the fundamental question must be brought forth: is God serious? And obviously the answer is no, because there’s nothing to be serious about. I said, also, that the Self—as conceived, the supreme Self—was quite useless, that it was immaterial. Doesn’t matter. Because it transcends all values of what is better or worse, what is upwards or downwards, what is good and bad. It so weaves the world that the good or the bad play together like the black and white pieces in the game of chess.


So play is—deeply—the sort of thing children like to do with deep absorption and fascination. To drop pebbles into the water and watch the concentric circles of waves. Or mathematicians. Mathematicians, you know—especially what we call higher mathematicians—are entirely lacking in seriousness. They couldn’t give a hoot in hell as to whether what they’re doing has any practical application. They are working entirely on interesting puzzles and working out what they call elegant and beautiful solutions to these puzzles. And they can go on and on like that in absorbed meditation, spend their whole lives doing it. Or consider the musician: practicing, working out interpretations; what is he doing? He’s making series of interesting noises on instruments.


Now, what do people like to do when they don’t have to do anything? Well, as far as I can make out as you look all over the world, they like to get together and do something rhythmic. They may dance, they may sing, they may even play games—because, say, in playing dice there’s a certain wonderful rhythm to shaking the cup and rolling the dice out on the table. Or dealing cards: “Tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu Wwrrrrrrtt! Crrrck!” You know? All the things that people like to do and think about: these rhythms. Or some people like to knit, and this is a rhythmic thing, you see? Others just like to breathe. There are all sorts of ways in which we love to do this.


Now you see, our very existence is a rhythm of waking and sleeping, eating, and moving—and that’s all we’re doing. Just consider what we do every day. What’s it all about? Does it really mean anything? Does it go anywhere? It’s just because we want to keep on doing this kind of a hoop-dee-dah. So you can get a certain vision of life where everything is seen to be a complex pattern of rhythm. Dances. The human dance, the flower dance, the bee dance, the giraffe dance. And these are also comparable to various games: poker, bridge, backgammon, chess, checkers, et cetera, or to various musical forms: sonata, fugue, partita, concerto, symphony, or whatever.


And that’s what this all is: it’s jazz, you see? This is a big jazz, this world. And what it’s trying to do is to see how jazzed up it can get, how far out this play of rhythm can go. Because that what we all come down to, you see? We’re going this “di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-DI-di-di-di-di” in every conceivable way. So then that is why, you see, this fundamental view that the world is play.

Now, let’s examine the rules of this game.




The basic form of the cosmic game according to the Hindu view is the game of hide-and-seek—or you might call it the game of lost-and-found. Or, again, now you see it, now you don’t. In examining the nature of vibration we find a very peculiar thing. If you represent vibration as a wave motion you will notice that there is no such manifestation as half a wave. We do not find in nature crests without troughs or troughs without crests. No sound is produced unless there is both. Both the beat, as it were, and the interval between.


Now, this wave phenomenon is happening on ever so many scales. There is the very, very fast wave of light, the slower wave of sound, then there are all sorts of other wave processes—the beat of the heart, the rhythm of the breath, waking and sleeping, the peak of human life from birth to maturity and down again to death. And the slower the wave goes the more difficult it is to see that the crest and the trough are inseparable, so that we become persuaded in the game of hide-and-seek that it is possible for the trough to go down and down and down for ever and never rise again into a crest; forgetting that trough implies crest just as crest implies trough. There is no such thing, you see, as pure sound. Sound is sound-silence. Light is light-darkness. Light is pulsation, and between every light pulse there’s the dark pulse. And so the Hindu image is that the Self eternally plays a game of hide-and-seek with itself.


Hindus calculate time in kalpa units, and the kalpa is 4,320,000 years. And so they say that for a period of a kalpa the worlds are manifested—or any particular universe, not all universes, but let’s say any particular galaxy or whatever it may be; world order of some kind. Don’t take this too literally; don’t take these figures as being some sort of divine revelation as to making predicitons and prophecies. They’re symbolic figures. So for one kalpa the world is manifested, and that period is called in Sanskrit a Manvantara. And during that time the Brahman plays ‘hide,’ and he hides—it hides—in all of us, pretending that it’s us. And then, at the end of the kalpa, there comes the period called Pralaya, and that is also a kalpa long. And in that period the Brahman, as it were, comes out of the act and returns to itself in peace and bliss.


This is a very logical idea. What would you do if you were God? Isn’t the whole fun of things, as every child knows, to go on adventures? To make believe, to create illusions—that is to say, patterns. And so, for some ways of talking in Hindu thought, this world is the dream of the godhead. The godhead is, of course, represented as—in a way—two-faced. With one face he dreams and is absorbed in the dream world. With the other face he is liberated. In other words, what you have to understand correctly is that from the standpoint of the Self—the supreme Self—the Pralaya and the Manvantara are simultaneous.


But put into mythological form for human consumption they are represented as being in sequence, following each other. But they really happen at the same time, so that one doesn’t realize union with the Self after death; later than a certain time. All references to the hereafter should correctly be understood as the herein, as a domain deeper than egocentric consciousness—that is to say, when you get down to the bottom of the egocentric consciousness you get to its limit, which is, figuratively, its death. Then you go on, inwards—the Self deeper than the conscious attention. And in that way you go inwards to eternity, you don’t go onwards to eternity. To go onwards is to find only time, and time, and time, and more time, and more time, in which things go round and round and round for ever. But to go in is to go to eternity.


But in the ordinary way, when we are talking about this graphically and vividly in imagistic terms, we can talk about the everlasting game of hide-and-seek, which the Self plays with itself. It forgets who it is and then creeps up behind itself and says, “Boo!” And that’s a great thrill. It pretends that things are getting serious, just as a great actor on the stage—although the audience know that what they’re seeing is only a play—the skill of the actor is to take the audience in and have them all sitting in anxiety on the edges of their seats, or to be weeping or laughing, or utterly involved in what they really know is only a play. So you would imagine that if there were a very great actor with absolutely superb technique he would take himself in. And he, you see, would feel that the play was real.


Well, that’s their idea of what we’re doing here and now. We are all the Brahman, acting our own parts, being human, playing the human game—so beautifully that he is enchanted! You see what enchanted means? Under the influence of a chant. Hypnotized. Spellbound. Fascinated. And that fascination is māyā.




Now then, this works on a little plan. Let us consider the breakdown of a single kalpa. It consists of four yugas. Yuga: that means an “epoch.” Number one is called krita, or sometimes satya. And these names are based on the Hindu game of dice. There are four throws in their game, and krita means the perfect throw; the throw of four. Number two is treta, the throw of three. Number three is dwapara, the throw of two, and number four is kali—that’s the worst throw, the throw of value one.


Now, you will see that these yugas divide up a period of 4,320,000 years. (I never remember numbers too well.) So the first yuga is 1,780,000 years long. The second is 1,296,000 years. The third—the dwapara—is 864,000, and the kali yuga is 432,000.


Now, you see what’s happening here? When the manifestation starts it’s as good as possible; everything is just glorious. Because you know well that if you were dreaming anything you wanted to dream you would start out by having the most luscious dreams imaginable. Now, when we get, you see, to the treta yuga, something is a little bit wrong. Krita is “four square”—everything’s perfect, like the symbol of the square is an ancient symbol of perfection. Treta is the triangle—something’s missing; there’s a little bit of uncertainty, and danger now enters. By the time we get to dwapara, the forces of light and darkness are equal—duality, the pair. But when we get to kali, the force of darkness overcomes.


But now, you see, what happens is: if you take one third of the treta yuga as being on the bad side, half of the dwapara yuga as being on the bad side, and all of the kali yuga, and you add those figures up, you will get the bad side occupying only one third of the total time. So what’s going on here? It is not quite a situation, you see—it is not a view of the cosmos in which good and evil are so evenly balanced that nothing happens. ‘Evil’ is just troublesome enough to give ‘good’ a run for its money. It’s as if the game that is being played here is playing order against chaos, but you gotta have some chaos in order to play the game of order against it. But if order wins there’s no further game. If chaos wins there’s no further game. If they’re equally balanced it’s a stalemate. So what happens is this: chaos is always losing, but is never defeated. It’s the good loser. And that is a game that is worth the candle.


Let’s take playing chess. If you get an opponent who can always defeat you, you stop playing with him. If you get an opponent whom you can always defeat, you stop playing with him. But so long as there is a certain uncertainty of outcome and you win some of the time, then it’s a good game. And this is simply a number symbolism—as I said, again, not to be taken literally—of the way this thing works.


So the mythology says that we are now in the kali yuga, which started a little before 3,000 B.C.—so we’ve got a long way to go to the end of it, if you’re going to take this literally. But of course, people have a way of always being in the kali yuga. We can go back to Egyptian inscriptions from 6,000 B.C., which say that the world is going hopelessly to the dogs. That’s always been the complaint. But according to this mythology there are—you have to realize the Lord, the Brahman, in three aspects. One is Brahma, the creative principle; two is Vishnu, the preserving principle; and three is Shiva, the destroying principle.


And Shiva is very important here. Shiva is always represented in Hindu imagery as a yogi. He is the destroyer in the sense of being the liberator, the cracker of shells so that chickens can come forth. The breaker-up of mothers so that their children can be un-smothered. The liberative destruction. The bonfire. That’s why devotees of Shiva like to do their meditations along the banks of the Ganges where they burn dead bodies—because through destruction, life is constantly renewed.


Shiva has a paramour, and her name is Kālī, but that is a different word than this kali (yuga); you mustn’t confuse the two. And Kālī is much worse than Shiva. She’s black, and she has a long, long tongue, and her teeth are like fangs—but she’s very beautiful… otherwise; has a lovely figure, but she’s black. And in one hand—her right hand—she carries a scimitar, and in her left she carries a severed head hanging by the hair.


And Kālī, who is Shiva’s—you see, Shiva is normally considered wedded; all the gods have their paramours, and they’re all examples of the one central Self—she’s called Pārvatī. But that’s her bright aspect. But her dark aspect is Kālī. And Kālī is the awful awfuls. The thing about all that men most dread. Kālī is outer darkness, Kālī is the end. She may be represented as a blood-sucking octopus, as a spider-mother that eats its spouse. And Kālī is the principle of total night. And yet, there are those in India like Sri Ramakrishna, for whom Kālī is the supreme mother goddess. Because she is two-faced. She is playful and terrifying, loving and devouring, destroyer and savior. And the cult of Kālī has as its importance helping one to see the light principle in the very depth of darkness.


I have some suggestions for meditation on Kālī, which you can all practice very easily. You go to the aquarium and you find out there the monsters of the deep that make you feel most uncomfortable, and you study them. So in this way, Kālī is studied by her devotees. And if you meditate on those, this will be like putting manure on the soil. And out of all this apparently morbid and dismal thinking, bright things will begin to arise—because you will realize that what Kālī is is the most far out act that the supreme Self can put on. The symbol of complete alienation from itself.


So what happens, you see, is this: in the process of the game of hide-and-seek the supreme Self tries to see how far out it can get. Just like children like to sit around and have a competition as to who can make the most hideous face. And so this gets worse and worse as the time cycle goes on, until—at the end of the kali yuga—Shiva puts in an appearance, and he’s all black and has ten arms, and he dances a dance called the Tāṇḍava. And in dancing the Tāṇḍava the whole universe is destroyed in fire. But, of course, as Shiva—having done this wreckage—turns around to leave the stage, you find that on the back of his head is the face of Brahma, the creator. And it starts again.




Well now, you see, this involves certain ideas that are quite alien to the West. One, the idea of the world as play. Our Lord God in the West tends to be over-serious, and no great Christian artist has ever painted a laughing Christ, or a smiling Christ. Nothing that I’ve seen of any of the great masters. Always, this figure is tragic and has that sort of look in the eye which says, “One of these days you and I have got to get together for a very serious talk.” So, you see, there is some difficulty about the notion of the world as a dramatic play; for us.


There’s another difficult notion here, and that is cyclic time. See, most of us live in linear time. This originated with Saint Augustine and his interpretation of the Bible. Now, I don’t know how true this really is, but it’s certainly a big fashion in modern scholarship to say that it was Judaism that gave us the idea of history. Hindus have no interest in history whatsoever—or, not until recent times—to the total exasperation of historians. There is no way of finding textual evidence of the age of most of the Hindu scriptures—because they aren’t interested in history as such, they are only interested in human events as archetypal occurrences, as repetitions of the great mythological themes, over and over again. So if a document started out that a certain adventure happened to king so-and-so—whom everybody knew at the time—in the next generation they had changed the name of that king to the current king, because the story was typical anyway. They just wanted to say a king that everybody knew. They altered things in that way, and so they know no kind of chronology. And if you ask even quite intelligent Asians about this, they have difficulty in understanding what kind of a question you’re asking. What is this history thing?


Whereas, on the other hand—according to our scholars—the Jews were historically minded, because they remembered the story of their descent from Adam and Abraham, the great event of the liberation from Egypt, and then the triumphant reign of King David, and then things go sliding downhill as other political forces become stronger and stronger. And so they get a fix on the idea that one day is going to be the day of the Lord, and the Messiah will come and put an end to history. And there will be the restoration of Paradise.


But this is linear. They don’t think of the world having been created many, many times before, and come to an end many, many times before. It’s one clear ascent from start to finish, from alpha to omega.


Well, when Saint Augustine was thinking about this, he thought, “If time is cyclic, Jesus would have to be crucified for the salvation of the world once in every cycle.” But for some reason he had it firmly fixed into his head that there was only one historical crucifixion in time—what they call the one, full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Once is enough.


Now, of course, he got his hierarchies confused. It’s true—there is one sacrifice, but that’s on the plane of eternity. On the plane of time, eternal things can be repeated again and again and again. But so, as a result of that, we are handed down not a Greek—the Greeks also had cyclic time, like the Hindus—but we have been handed down linear time, and therefore we’re always thinking of a progression that will take us steadily, steadily, steadily, faster and faster to a more and more perfect world. And it will get better and better and better and better all the way along—if we keep our heads.


Now, this shows—I think—a rather naïve view of human nature. Human beings tend to smash what they create and say, “Let’s do it again!” There is that in man which is also in the child. Rub it out—what fun! And so it isn’t really too realistic to suppose that human beings will simply get better and better and better and better and better, because they’ll soon get tired of it. They’ll say, “Let’s be as awful as possible.” See, there was that element in Nazism: how awful can you get? How brutal can you be? How destructive? And that—it isn’t just Germans, you know, who have that. See? We are converting all the living world around us into excrement and pretending it doesn’t happen that way. And we are the most marvelous vortices in this stream of food which whirls around as us and then disappears into excrements, which again fertilize the soil—and we keep on at it.


So you see, there is that thing in us—which is represented by Shiva-Kālī—and it’s always there. But the Hindu looks at the world with very, very hard-boiled realism in this way and sees terror and magnificence, love and fury; those two faces of the same thing. And you could say, “Well, is there any peace possible?” after you’ve looked at this picture for a long, long time, and you’ve conceived the endless, endless cycles because this thing goes on always and always and always. Per omnia secula seculorum: world without end.


And the Hindu sometimes feels, “Oh, Braham, don’t you ever get tired of it?” No. Because Brahma doesn’t have to remember anything—and you only get tired of things you remember. That’s why, from the standpoint of Brahma, there’s no time—only an eternal now. So the secret of waking up from the drama, the endless cycles, is the realization that the only time that there is is the present. And when you become awake to that, boredom is at an end and you are delivered from the cycles. Not in the sense that they disappear; that you no longer go through them. You do go through them, but you know—you realize—that they’re not going anywhere.


Now then, supposing you liken the rhythm of these cycles to music—why, surely, you don’t hurry it up. You don’t say, “Let’s get to the end faster.” You know how to listen to music only when you slow down time, and sit back, and let that be. And so, in the same way, you can see every little detail of life in a new way. You say, “Oh my! Look at that!” And so one’s eyes are opened in astonishment by being, living—totally—here and now.



























I started out yesterday to discuss what the Self means in Hindu philosophy; the principle tat tvam asi, “that art thou,” meaning that the Self is the basis of all being. And being is not something into which we come, but out of which we proceed. In popular language we say “I came into this world,” as if you came from somewhere else altogether; from outside. But you don’t. You come out of this world just in the same way as the leaves come from the tree. And so, in that way, you are an expression of it, and the Self—meaning itself, Self meaning identity, Self meaning basis, ground—is what everybody fundamentally is. Then I went on to discuss the world as the Self in the sense of the cosmos as the Self. The great cycles of time in which, according to Hindu philosophy and mythology, the world is manifested and then again withdrawn. And now I want to go on to discuss the human world as the Self.


Well, now, there have—in the known history of mankind—been about three types of culture. We’ll call them ‘hunting cultures,’ ‘agrarian cultures,’ and ‘industrial cultures.’ The hunting culture seems to have been the earliest, and agrarian cultures arose when hunters learned to farm, and therefore had to settle in certain places. And it was then that men built cities. And when we pass from the hunting to the agrarian culture, we notice two very important changes occur.


In the hunting culture, every man is expert in the whole culture. That’s because he spends a good deal of time alone in the forests, or on the hills, and so he has to know how to make clothes, how to cook, how to build, how to fight, ride, and all those things. But as soon as people become settled in cities we get a division of labor, because it’s obviously more practical—when you’re all living together—for some people to specialize in some things and some in others.


The other important difference is the difference of religion between the hunting culture and the agrarian culture. The religious man of the hunting culture is generally known as a shaman. And a shaman is a kind of weird individual, and I mean ‘weird’ in the ancient sense of the word—not ‘queer,’ but ‘weird’ in the sense of magic. Because he is a person of a peculiar type of sensitivity who finds initiation into the shaman role by going off by himself for a long time into the depths of the forests or the heights of the mountains. And in that isolation he comes in touch with a domain of consciousness which is known by all sorts of names: the spirit world, the ancestors, the gods, or whatever. And his knowledge of that world is supposed to give him peculiar powers of healing, of prophecy, of magic in general. The thing that you must note, though, about a shaman is that his initiation is found by himself. He does not receive initiation from an order or a guru.


On the other hand, the religious man of the agrarian community is a priest, and a priest is almost invariably an ordained person. He receives his power from a community of priests or from a guru; in other words, from tradition. Tradition is all-important in the agrarian community. Now then, reasonably enough, the first communities are stockaded enclosures. They are made of palings. And so we speak of people being “within the pale” and “beyond the pale.” And the word ‘paling’ we still use in fencing, and you’ll know that the Spanish for a tree is palo.


So here is a primitive stockaded community, and—as often as not—this community will settle at a crossroads. For obvious reasons: where roads cross, that’s where people meet. And so it’s liable to have four gates and these crossing main streets. And (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-10) that immediately establishes four divisions of the city. And so, oddly enough—in Hindu society—there are four castes based on the four fundamental divisions of labor. And number one is the caste of priests, and they’re called Brahmin. Number two is the caste of warriors—and also rulers—and they’re called kshatriya. Number three is the caste of merchants and tradesmen, and they’re called vaishya. And number four are laborers, and they are called śūdra.


So those are the four principal roles in the world of settled humanity. It’s interesting; I said people settled in cities because they had to plant, and there are many legends to the effect that what they were mostly concerned with planting were grapes for wine. And they cultivated vineyards. And it’s said of Noah that, after the flood in the Bible, the first thing he did was to plant a vineyard.



Now then, when you enter society you are born into a caste. And this is very understandable in a community where you don’t have a generalized system of education. You don’t go to school, and therefore you learn what to do in life from your parents and your family. So if you grow up as a carpenter’s son, it never occurs to you to do anything else but carpentry. Why would you? You might become a better carpenter than your father—but still, that would be the natural thing to do. It’s only when one is exposed to school, and then the people begin to talk about “well, what do you want to be in life?” The people get the idea that they might be anything. So if this sort of way of life is natural to you, you don’t find it particularly objectionable. Of course, all kinds of weird complications and rituals and prohibitions grow up in the course of time that can make this system very cumbersome, as it has been until quite recently in India.


Then, what happens is this: you go through an evolution in your development in this community, which has—first of all—the stage called brahmacharya: ‘studentship’ or ‘apprenticeship.’ After that, you enter the stage of gr̥hastha, meaning ‘householder.’ And a householder has two duties. One is called artha, and the other kama. Artha means the duties of citizenship; partaking in the political life of the community. Kama means the cultivation of the senses, of aesthetic and sensual beauty, and therefore kama includes the art of love, the arts of beautification, of dress, of cooking, and all that kind of thing. So that the Kāmasūtra is the scripture about love. Kama—in a sense—means ‘passion,’ and is the great Hindu manual of how to behave sexually. It’s a book that every child ought to read on gaining puberty, so that he would get some sense of how to make love without being a mere baboon. Then there is also the arthaśāstra, and that is the scripture about rulers and the way of the kshatria caste.


Now—so you’ve got these stages now. Brahmacharya, which is studentship. Artha and kama—they go together, and they constitute the duties of gr̥hastha, of the householder. Beyond that there is the duty of dharma, and dharma has many, many meanings in Sanskrit. It can mean something like ‘law’ or ‘justice.’ It could even mean, slightly, ‘righteousness,’ but not as we have come to understand that word in common speech today. Perhaps ‘rightness’ would be better than ‘righteousness.’ But dharma has a primary meaning of ‘method.’ So when we speak of the dharma of the Buddha, the Buddha’s doctrine, it is the Buddha’s method—not law. So, a citizen also has to conform to dharma. And, that is to say, to ritual and ethical and moral game rules for the community.


But now, when, in the course of time, he has established his household, he has taught his oldest son to take over the governorship of the household, the father—or, for that matter, mother—may enter into a new stage of life altogether, which is not gr̥hastha, but is called vanaprastha, and that means ‘forest dweller,’ as distinct from ‘householder.’


Now, you see what’s happened? We’ve gone full cycle. We came out of the forest as a hunter, we settled in a community and indulged in what is called—in Sanskrit—lokasaṃgraha. Saṃgraha means ‘upholding,’ loka ‘the world.’ “Upholding the world-game.” And that is everybody’s dharma, or duty—dharma can also be translated ‘duty.’ And svadharma means ‘your own duty,’—or better, ‘your own function’—which we would translate into English as ‘vocation.’ So everybody’s castework is his svadharma, and of course these castes are subdivided into various other kinds of specializations.




When you have fulfilled your svadharma you go into the vanaprastha stage. Now, anciently, that meant that you actually did go out into the forest and you became—of all things, it’s called a śramaṇa in Sanskrit. And it is thought that that is the word ‘shaman.’ You see, what happens is this, then: that an individual who, all his life long, has played the social game, then says, “Well, now I’ve done that. I’ve assumed this role. I’ve become identified with tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, whatever it was; but now—who am I, really?” In order to find that out I have to go off by myself.


Why? Because you have a role-conception, a mask-conception of yourself, because other people tell you who you are. We are constantly—in every social interchange, in the most common remarks—telling other people who they are. Everything leads up to that. The way I act towards you, the way you act towards me, tells me who I am and tells you who you are. For example, you come and sit here and listen to me talk. You are, by doing that, telling me I’m some kind of a teacher. And you’re telling yourselves that you’re some kind of students. And that’s only one thing, you see? One little incident. In business, everyday, in your housework, and everything you do, everybody around you is telling you what you are and who you are by expecting certain behavior from you, which—if you’re a reasonable and socially inclined person—you perform, because that’s what’s expected of you. So you are told who you are.


So when we come—we’ve had enough of that, you see? This is daft, let’s not listen to this anymore. That’s why the śramaṇa on the vanaprastha—one of the first things he practices is silence. It’s called mauna. And he may take a vow not to speak for a month, or a year. And after about a month of mauna you don’t only stop talking, but you stop thinking in words. And that’s a very curious experience when it happens, because all the senses take on a tremendous intensity. You see things which you’ve never seen before, because you stop codifying and classifying the world by thinking. Sunsets appear incredibly more vivid and flowers are enchanting; the whole world comes alive to the mauni.


The only danger is this: the mauni has to be careful because he loses all moral discrimination. In other words, if the mauni gets involved in a riot he just joins the riot, because that’s just the way things are going, you see? And so he has to be careful, and that’s why, in this state of vanaprastha, the new man in the game will seek out a guru—a teacher—who has been through the whole discipline of yoga, or whatever it is, that is practiced by a vanaprastha, and will help him out and see that he doesn’t get into trouble. That’s why a guru, when he accepts a student, is always said to become responsible for that individual’s karma. Karma, you know, means ‘activity,’ and also the ‘results of activity.’


So you see what’s happened? This man who goes into the vanaprastha stage of life takes off every sign that would identify him as someone. He does away with his name. He does away with the usual clothes he would wear and puts on, usually, a yellow or some kind of a robe, or he may more often than that be really naked; may have a loin cloth, or not even that. And often these people cover themselves with ashes, and their hair is matted, and they don’t take care of themselves that way anymore, because they’re outside the pale. You see, they are ‘out-castes,’ but they are upper outcasts. Below them are the lower outcasts, known as the—today—the harijan, the name that Ghandi gave them—the untouchables. And the untouchables were the aboriginal peoples of India. When the Aryan invasion occurred—at a rather vague date, but shortly after 2,000 B.C.—the Aryans formed these castes, and the people who were originally in the land, like the Indians here, were considered to be outcasts. They were beyond the pale.




So you have here a marvelous microcosm. You have a political and social analog of the manifestation and withdrawal of the worlds. Of the Lord playing the game—or the Self—playing the game of being all of us, and then, as each individual reaches mokṣa, the Self realizes in terms of an individual life that it is the Self.


So, exactly in this way, the child representing the Self on the way in comes into this world, plays around for a while, there are four castes just as there are four yugas to the kalpa cycle—you remember?—and then out it goes, back to the forest. We would say back to nature. But, you see, the outgoing stage of vanaprastha is a much higher state in the course of evolution than the hunting society person, who is primitive. He isn’t simply going back to where he came from; he’s spiraled, he’s come round to an equivalent position, but at a higher level. And what he has gained in the interim is Self-awareness.


I mean that, too, in the ordinary sense, when we speak of self-consciousness. See, it’s not much fun to be happy and not know it. We need a certain resonance; self-consciousness is an echo in our heads, an echo of what we do, but wouldn’t be aware of doing it if there wasn’t an echo. When you see yourself in a mirror, that mirror is a visual echo of your face. And that’s why, in a room such as this, it’s a very comfortable room for me to talk in because it has resonance. And so, self-consciousness is neurological resonance.


Now, you know how troublesome resonance can get if it’s not properly worked out. You can get echoes that just won’t stop, so you go into a great cave somewhere and you say, “Hi!” And it goes, “Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!” all off in the distance, see? That’s very confusing. That’s the sort of snarl that self-consciousness can get into, and we call it anxiety. When I keep, keep, keep thinking. “Did I do the right thing?” In the course of some performance, if I’m constantly aware of myself in a kind of anxious, critical way, my resonance becomes too high. And so I get confused and jittery.


But if you learn that self-consciousness has limits, that self-awareness cannot possibly enable you to be free of making mistakes, you can learn to be spontaneous in spite of being self-aware, and enjoy the echo. So what happens—that, having developed self-consciousness through education, through work with other people, having developed all the disciplines of the culture, the vanaprastha then becomes again as a child. But then, you see, he has what Freud says the child has from the beginning; Freud called it the oceanic feeling. And the oceanic feeling is the sensation of being one with the universe. The vanaprastha gets that back, but it’s not a child’s oceanic feeling, it’s an adult’s oceanic feeling—something which the psychoanalysts don’t discuss, because, according to them, all oceanic feelings are aggressive. But there is a mature oceanic feeling, as contrasted with the immature oceanic feeling of the child, which is as different as the oak is from the acorn. And so you can have this sensation, you see, of total unity with the cosmos, of the—shall I call it expansion to infinity, or contraction to infinity?—of your identity without forgetting society’s game rules with regard to you. In other words, it doesn’t mean that you forget your address, telephone number, social security number, and the name you were given. You remember all that, and you can play that game when necessary, but you know it’s a game.


So there is no way, as a matter of fact, of escaping from playing these games. And the only thing is that when you find out, you see, that you are thoroughly selfish, you inquire, “What is it—what is the self that I love? What is this thing that I’m so interested in advancing and in protecting?” And you look very closely into what you feel when you think you feel yourself. And you know what you find out? That your self is everything that you thought was someone else, or something else. You have no knowledge of yourself, you see, except in relation to others. Self and other are as inseparable as back and front. There is no knowledge of self without the knowledge of otherness, there is no knowledge of the voluntary without the knowledge of the involuntary, of can without can’t. So they go together, and that going together of self and other is non-duality, that’s Advaita, that is the Self.

So through Self one finds deliverance from self.




And so finally we come to the last consideration, which is the question: in what way and by what means can an individual—who is under the impression that he is a separate individual, limited by and enclosed in his bag of skin—how can such a person effectively realize that he is, deep down, the universal Self; the Brahman? This, of course, is a curious question. It proposes a journey to the place where you already are.


Now, it’s true that you may not know that you are there, but you are. And if you take a journey to the place where you are, you will visit many other places than the place where you are, and perhaps when you find, through some long experience, that all the places you go to are not the place you wanted to find, it may occur to you that you were already there in the beginning. And that is the dharma—or method, as I translated that word—which all gurus—teachers of spiritual development—use fundamentally. They are—all of them—tricksters, but in the most beneficent sense of the word trickster.


Why trickster? Because… do you know it’s terribly difficult—in fact, it’s impossible—to surprise yourself on purpose? And yet, to be surprised is a great thing. But you can’t plan a surprise for yourself. Somebody else can do it for you. And that is why so often a guru or teacher is necessary in this process. But let me say right from the start that a guru—there are many kinds of gurus. First of all, among human gurus, there are square gurus and there are beat gurus. There are gurus like—well, let’s say a great Zen master today—let’s take Oda Rōshi at Daitoku-ji, who is a square guru, and a very good one. But you go through regular channels. Then there is a guru like Mr. Gurdjieff, who is a rascal guru. Who leads you in by means that are very, very strange indeed. Then there are gurus that are not people. The gurus may be situations, a certain kind of problem or encounter, even a book can, to some extent, be a guru. A friend can be a guru.


I have often thought of writing a story about a man who is some sort of a guru-seeker and potential yogi, who goes, one day, into an automat and sits down at a table where there is another fellow, and he sort of thinks that this man looks wise. And he projects onto him the idea that he is a guru. And he says, “I feel that there’s something special about you.” And the man says, “Oh really? Actually, there’s nothing special about me. I happen to be an insurance salesman.” And this other fellow says, “Isn’t that fascinating! How modest he is.” And then I want to develop this story step by step. They keep meeting each other because they both eat at the same automat regularly for lunch. And although the fellow really is an insurance salesman and doesn’t know a thing about these things, it—in the end—results in the enlightenment of the person who projected this image upon him.

So there are, as I say, many kinds of guru. But the problem of the guru is to show the inquirer in some effective way that he already has what he’s looking for.




Now, in Hindu traditions, the realization of who you really are is called, basically, sādhana. And sādhana means ‘the discipline,’ the way of life that is necessary to follow in order to escape from the illusion that you are merely a skin-encapsulated ego. And sādhana comprises yoga, from the root yuk, which means ‘to join.’ And so—from that, in Latin—we get iungere; ‘to join.’ And in English, ‘junction,’ and also ‘yoke.’ And junction is also the word ‘union,’ you see? All this derives from this Sanskrit root yuk. A yoke is also a discipline. When you yoke oxen, that is a kind of discipline.


Now, strictly speaking, in the very strictest sense, yoga means ‘the state of union,’ the state in which the individual self—what is called the Jivatman; Jivatman is approximately translatable as ‘ego’—Jivatman finds that it is ultimately Ātman, which equals Brahman, the supreme Self.


So yoga is the state—the strictest meaning of yoga is the state—of union, and a yogi means one who has realized that union. But we find that the word is not normally used in that way, in that strict sense. Yoga, in the normal way of use, means the practice of meditation whereby one comes into the state of union, and the yogi means one who is a traveler, a seeker who is on the way to that point. But, again, strictly speaking, there is no method to arrive at the place where you are, and no amount of searching will uncover the Self because all searching implies the absence of the Self—the big Self—so that to seek it is to thrust it away, and to practice a discipline to attain it is to postpone realizing.


There is a famous Zen story told of a monk who was sitting in meditation, and the master came along and said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m meditating to become a Buddha.” Whereupon the master picked up a brick that was lying nearby and started polishing it, rubbing it. And the monk said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I am rubbing this brick to make it a mirror.” He said, “By no amount of rubbing could you ever make a brick into a mirror.” The master replied, “By no amount of zazen could you become a Buddha.” Zazen means sitting meditation. They react very badly to this story in modern-day Japan.




Anyway, what is important, you see—quite radically here—supposing that I say to you, “Each one of you is really the great Self”—you know, the Brahman?—and you say, “Well, all you’ve said up until now makes me fairly sympathetic to this intellectually. But I don’t really feel it. What must I do to feel it really?” My answer to you is this: “You ask me that question because you don’t want to feel it, really. You’re frightened of it.” And therefore, what you’re going to do is: you’re going to get a method of practice so that you can put it off. So that I can say, “Well, I can be a long time on the way getting this thing, and then, maybe, I’ll be worthy of it. After I have suffered enough.”


See? Because we are brought up in a social scheme whereby we have to deserve what we get. And the price that one pays for all good things is suffering. But all of that is precisely postponement, because one is afraid, here and now, to see it. If you have the nerve—you know, real nerve—you would see it right away. Only that would be—when one feels—you shouldn’t have nerve like that. Why, that would be awful, that would be—that wouldn’t do at all! Because, after all, I’m supposed to be poor little me. And I’m not really much of a muchness, and I’m playing the role of being poor little me. And therefore—in order to be something great like a Buddha, or a Jivanmukta; one liberated in this life—I ought to suffer for it. So you can suffer for it.


There are all kinds of ways invented for you to do this. And you can discipline yourself, and you can gain control of your mind, and you can do all sorts of extraordinary things. I mean, you can drink water in through your rectum and do the most fantastic things. But that’s just like being able to run the hundred yards in nine seconds, or push a peanut up Mount Tamalpais with your nose, or any other kind of accomplishment you want to engage in. This has absolutely nothing to do with the realization of the Self.


The realization of the Self fundamentally depends on coming off it. You know this sort of—when we say to people who put on some kind of an act, we say, “Oh, come off it!” And some people can come off it. They laugh and say they suddenly realize, you know, they were making fools of themselves, and they laugh at themselves, and they come off it. So in exactly the same way, the guru—the teacher—is trying to make you come off it. Now, if he finds he can’t make you come off it, he’s going to put you through all these exercises so that you—at the last time, when you got enough discipline, and enough suffering, and enough frustration—you’ll give it all up and realize you were there for the beginning, and there was nothing to realize.


But the guru is very clever. He says, “Alright, if this is the way you have to go, this is the way you have to go. You asked for it! You came to me; I didn’t invite you.” You see? The guru says, “You came to me and said, ‘I want to learn yoga.’” Well, he said, “Yoga is union. You’re tat tvam asi, you know? You’re that.” “Well, no,” you say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand that because I only get it intellectually; I don’t feel it.” “Oh,” he says, “you’re one of those. So… I see. I’ve got to satisfy you. The customer is always right.” You know? “I’ve got to give you all this work to do, because you can’t see directly that this is so.” But he’s looking at you in a funny way, you see? The guru is always saying to you, you know, “What are you doing? What’s your game?”


Imagine, for example, a father confessor. And you feel terribly guilty that you’ve committed murders, and robberies, and adulteries, and fornications, and all kinds of arson and injury to people, and financial shenanigans. And you go to this man and say, “I am a terrible sinner.”

He says, “Really?”

He says, “I have murdered somebody.”

He says, “How many times?”

And you think, “Oh, good Lord! This man doesn’t realize how awful I am.” And you recite all these things. He’s perfectly calm. And then you say to him, “Well, you don’t seem to be very shocked.”

He said, “You haven’t confessed any serious sins.”

He said, “What do you mean by serious sin?”

“Well,” he said, “what do you think?”

“Well, I don’t know! I… I just feel wrong! I just feel there’s something in the basis of me that feels, that tells me, that I am not what I ought to be. Could it be that I am spiritually proud? That I am egocentric?”

He says, “No, that’s very usual. This is quite ordinary sin.” But he says, “You are guilty of something. Something really terrible.”

And what could that be? “Well, I have no idea.”

“Now,” he says, “come on! Come on! Go deeper. What is the real sin you committed?”

And you think, “What, me? I, little me, could do something worse than murder? Worse than spiritual pride? Just little me? I mean, I’m a reasonably well-intentioned person. What could that be?”

And he looks at you in a funny way. “You know.”


You know; gets kind of a Kafka-esque situation where you’re accused of a crime that’s not specified, and yet the accuser says you jolly well know what you’ve done. Of course, we can’t mention it because, you know, it’s like those laws that are on the books in the state of California and several other states, where people are accused of the abominable crime against nature and nobody knows what it—I mean… it can’t be mentioned, it’s too dreadful to be talked about. This guy does the same thing, but it’s in a different dimension. You’ve done it. Now what did you do?


See, the real crime is that you won’t admit you’re God. That’s false modesty. So the guru challenges you, you see? He challenges you. If you raise the question. He doesn’t go out and preach in the streets and say, “Come on, everybody. You ought to be converted.” He sits down under a tree and waits. And people start coming around and they offer him propositions. He answers back. And he challenges you in any way that he thinks is appropriate to your situation.


Now, if you’ve got a thin shell and your mask is easily dispatched with, he simply uses what we might call an easy method. He says, “Listen, Shiva, come off it! Don’t pretend you’re this guy here! I know who you are.” And the guy sort of twinkles a bit and says, “Well, I guess you’re right.” But people aren’t like that. They have very thick shells, and so he has to invent ways of cracking them.

So here is how it goes.




To understand yoga you need to get hold of a good translation of Patañjali, the yoga sutra. I don’t know which is the best translation; there are so many of them. It says it starts out “now yoga is explained”; first verse. And the commentators say now has a special meaning because it follows from something else that you’re supposed to know beforehand. That you’re supposed to be, in other words, a civilized human being before you start out on yoga. We don’t teach yoga to baboons, and so you’re supposed to have been disciplined in artha, kama, and dharma—in politics, sensuality, and dharma; justice. And then you can start yoga.


Then the next verse is, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha,” which means yoga is the cessation of revolutions of the mind. In other words, you can interpret that at many levels. Chitta meaning ‘consciousness,’ like a pool, like water, like a reflecting pool. If there are waves on that it doesn’t reflect, it breaks up all the reflections. So stop the waves on the mind and it will reflect reality clearly. ‘Get a perfectly calm mind;’ that’s one meaning of it. Or, another meaning of it is ‘stop thinking.’ Eliminate all contents from the mind; all thoughts, all feelings, all sensations—everything.


How will you do that? Well, it goes on to say you do it by certain steps. First of all, pranayama, which means the control of the breath; pratyahara, which means preliminary concentration; dhāraṇā, a more intense form of concentration; jhāna, which is the same—dhyāna is Sanskrit for ‘Zen’—and that means profound union between subject and object; and finally samadhi, which is way out.


Now, what’s happening here? Control your mind. First of all, by breathing. Breathing is a very strange thing, because breathing can be viewed both as an involuntary and as a voluntary action. You can feel ‘I breathe,’ and yet you can feel ‘it breathes me.’ And they have all sorts of fancy breathing ways in yoga. They are very amusing to practice, because you can get very high on them. So they set you on these tricks. And, of course, if you are bright, you may begin to realize some things at that point. If you’re not very bright, then you’ll have to go on.


And so, next, they really get to work on concentration. Concentrate the mind on one point. Now this can be an absolutely fascinating undertaking. I suggest that you try it this way, if you want to make experiments: select a highlight on some bright—some polished surface; copper, or glass, or something—where there’s a little, tiny reflection, say, of a candle or an electric light bulb. Look at it and put your eyes out of focus so that the bright spot appears to be fuzzy; a fuzzy circle. Now look very carefully at the design in the fuzzy circle, and see if you can make it out. There is a definite pattern of blur, and you can have a wonderful time looking at that. Then go back, get your eyes into focus, and look at intense light. And you can go into it, and into it, and into it, like, you know, you are falling down a funnel, and at the end of that funnel is this intense light. And go down, go in, in, in, in, in, in—it’s a most thrilling experience.


Then, suddenly, the guru wakes you up and says, “What are you doing that for?”

“Well, because I want realization.”


“Because we live in a world—if we identify ourselves with ego we get into trouble, we suffer, we’re in a mess.”

He says, “You afraid of that?”


“So then, all that you’re doing to practice yoga is based on fear. You’re just escaping, you’re running away. How do you think you can get realization through fear?” Now there’s one to think about.

So you think, “Well, now, I’ve got to go on with my yoga practice, my concentrations, my exercises, but not for a fearful motive.”


And, you know, that guru—you know, he’s watching you, and he’s a very, very sensitive man, and he knows when you’re doing—always knows what your motive is. So he puts you onto the kick of getting a pure motive. And that means very deep control of the emotions: I mustn’t have impure thoughts. Alright, so you go along and you manage to repress as many impure thoughts as possible, and then, one day, he asks you, “Why are you repressing these thoughts? What’s your motive to try and to have a pure mind?”


And you find out that you had an impure motive for trying to have a pure mind. That you did it for the same old reason you started out the thing in the beginning: because you were afraid. Because you wanted to play get-one-up-on-the-universe. And so, eventually, you find out, you see, that your mind is what is called in Sanskrit mudh, mudha, which means ‘crazy.’ Because it can only go in vicious circles. Everything it does to get out of a trap puts it more securely in the trap. Every step in the direction of liberation is a new tie-up. So that you started, you know, with molasses in one hand and feathers in the other. That was the original situation of man. The guru made you put them together, see, like that. And so, now, pick the feathers off. And the more it is, the more of a mess the whole thing gets. So get involved, and involved, and involved by this process. And he, in the meantime, you see, has been telling you, “Yes, you made a little attainment today, but it was only the eighth stage and there are 64 altogether.” And you’ve got to get that 64th stage. And he knows how to spin it out and drag it all out, because you are ever-hopeful that you’ll get that thing, just as you might win a prize, or win a special job, or a great distinction, and be somebody.


That’s the motivation all along, only it’s very spiritual here. It’s not for worldly recognition, you want to be recognized by the gods and the angels. But it’s the same story on a higher level. So he keeps holding out these baits. And as long as the pupil falls for them, he holds out more baits. Until, after a while, the pupil gets the realization that what he’s doing is running faster and faster in a squirrel cage. That he’s making an enormous amount of progress in getting nowhere, like in Alice Through The Looking-Glass, when the queen says, “Here you have to run faster and faster to stay where you are.” And so he impresses this upon you by these methods very thoroughly.


And at last you find out that you—as an ego, as what you ordinarily call your mind—are a myth, that you just can’t do this thing. You can’t do it by any of the means that have been held out to you. You can concentrate, yes—you’ve acquired a considerable power of concentration by doing all this—but you find you’re been doing it for the wrong reason. And there’s no way of doing it for the right reason.




See, Krishnamurti does this. He’s a very, very clever guru. Krishnamurti says to people, “Now, look: there is nothing you can do to be liberated, because all your efforts in the direction of liberation are phony. They are based on your desire to boost and continue your ego, and that will never lead to liberation. All you can do,” he says, “is to be aware of yourself as you are without judgement. See what is. But then, if you can do that, you have no further problem. But if you try to do it, you’re in the same mess all over again.”


Gurdjieff played the same game, in a different way. He said, “The most important thing is self-remembering. Always, at every moment, be aware of what you’re doing. Watch yourself, constantly, and never, never be absent-minded.” So, all day, you know, when you pick up the piece of paper, you realize, “I am picking up this piece of paper, and I’m opening it inside,” and so on. And I know I’m doing it this way, so I’m not asleep. Ordinary people, you know, pick up a piece of paper and… [laughter]. In this way, we’re really picking up the piece of paper. So all these people are doing this, you know, watching all the time. Now, where do they land up?


I’ve told this story millions of times, really. Excuse me, but it’s very important. When they teach you—in Japanese Zen—how to use a sword, the first thing that the teacher says to the student is, “Now, if you’re going to be a good soldier, you’ve got to be alert, constantly, because you never know where the attack’s going to come from.” Now, you know what happens when you try to be on the alert. You think about being alert, and then you’re a hopeless prey to the enemy because you’re not alert. You’re thinking about being alert. You must be simply awake and relaxed, and then all your nerve ends are working. And wherever the attack comes from, you’re ready.


They likened this to a barrel of water. The water is just sittin’ there in the barrel. But the minute you make a hole in the barrel, the water immediately is ready to come out of that hole. So, in the same way, the mind, when it is in a proper state, is ready to respond in any direction from which the attack may come. So this man is no longer alert in the sense of taut and anxious: “Which way is it going to come?” See? He’s just sitting there, like a cat sits there. And the minute anything happens—geeow—it’s right there, because it didn’t have to overcome any set in a direction opposite to that from which the attack comes. If you’re set for the attack to come from there, and it comes from here, you have to pull back from there and go there, but that’s too late. So you sit in the middle, and you don’t expect the attack from any particular direction.


So, in the same way, all this applies to yoga. You can be watchful. You can be concentrated. You can be alert. But all that will ever teach you is what not to do. How not to use the mind. Because it will get you into deeper and deeper and deeper binds. You have to let it happen just like you have to let yourself go to sleep. You can’t try to go to sleep. You have to let yourself digest your food. You can’t try to digest it. And, so, in the same way, you have to let yourself wake up; become liberated.


And when you find out, you see, that there isn’t any way of forcing it—that, for most people, is the only way of getting them to stop forcing it. Because they won’t believe, when you tell them in the first instance, “You’ve got to do this without forcing it,” they’ll say, “Well, it won’t work. It won’t happen because I’m very unevolved. I’m just an ordinary human being. I’m just poor little me. And, if I don’t force it, nothing will happen.” Like people who think that if they don’t struggle and strain they won’t have a bowel movement, or whatever it is. They think they’ve got to do that work in order to make it happen.


In other words, all that is based on lack of faith, not trusting life. And to get people to trust life who don’t trust it, you have to trick them. They won’t jump into the water, so you have to throw them in. And if they are very unwilling to be thrown in, they’re going to take diving lessons, you see, in which they’re going to read books about diving, they’re going to do all the preliminary exercises for diving, and they’re going to stand on the edge of the diving board and inquire whether this is the right posture until somebody comes up the side and kicks them in the butt, and they’re in the water. And it’s also with this; it really is.




So now, the most amazing gamesmanship goes on in the whole domain of yoga and spiritual practice; you would be astounded. One of the games in all this is to find a little flaw in you, see? Everybody has a place where they can be jiggled a bit; something they’re a bit ashamed of, and so they think, “Does this person really know my secret? He’s not saying anything because he’s polite, but does he really see through me and know that somewhere are the awful awfuls, and that I’m a little bit upsettable.”


This is all part of religious competition. If you go to the Roman Catholics, and you’ve been psychoanalyzed—you see?— they’ll say, “Well that’s fine, but,” of course, “it’s not nearly enough. I mean, that’s all very well so far as it goes, but…” Or, if you’re a Roman Catholic and you go to a Buddhist outfit on a missionary basis, they’ll say, “Yes, of course, through your Catholicism you’ve learned some of the basic virtues, but, of course, Catholicism doesn’t go anywhere near the heart of things because Catholicism doesn’t have an elaborate system of meditation like we have.” Then you go over to a Hindu school and they say, “Yes, the Buddhists go to a certain point; they do obtain a very, very high stage of realization, but there is nevertheless something higher than that, which they don’t quite get.”


And you’ll find this all ’round the world. Everybody claiming to have that little special extra essence which the others don’t have. Now, why are they doing that? Are they all frauds? Are they all out to get you into their society? Sometimes, yes. But sometimes they are trying to see whether you fall for this; testing you out. This is upāya, the ‘skillful method.’ And if you become falling for that little extra special thing that’s just supposed to be around the corner, then they’ve got you. Or rather, you’ve got yourself in a mix. And you have to work at that, and work at that, and work at that, until you find out that you were being made a monkey of. But you were being made a monkey of because you could be made a monkey of. You hadn’t really arrived where you are. You didn’t have the nerve to be you. That is to say, to be the Self.


And so you had, always, to feel that there was something beyond that; there’s a stage higher, see? So that’s why, for example, masonry is such a success; it has 33 degrees. And, you know, you can go up that ladder and get higher and higher status. The more degrees the merrier. There have been things that invented hundreds of degrees, and they are an immense success. Because you can postpone it longer and longer, like Achilles overtaking the tortoise. He doesn’t overtake it in the problem because we keep dividing and dividing the space between Achilles and the tortoise as he approaches the tortoise. What delays Achilles overtaking the tortoise is not Achilles, but our calculations about how he approaches it. We make the calculations more and more complicated as he gets nearer and nearer to the tortoise. It’s only the calculations that put it off. Achilles, in fact, runs right by. So in the same way, you can calculate yourself out of liberation. You can put it off idefinitely by inventing new degrees and new stages. But actually, when you get it, you don’t get it. You suddenly see it; it happens instantly. It happens instantly whether you put in thirty years’ practice, or whether you put in three minutes. It’s the same. Suddenly it dawns on you that that’s the way things are. Tat tvam asi.




Medieval society in the West, comparable to Hindu society, allowed people to check out of the game. It revered and encouraged hermits, monks, nuns of various types of discipline. There’s this difference, you see, for the West and India: you couldn’t join the Brahmana caste, the priest caste, from some other caste. But in the European caste system, by becoming a priest, or a cleric of any kind—you see, a cleric means, simply, a literate person—you could familiarize with any other caste once you’re in that one. And so it was a wonderful way of rising in society. You could, from being a serf, go to being a priest, to being an archbishop and consort with the nobility. It was the only way open to cross castes, you see? And because they were the literate people, it was through literacy, and through universities founded by clerics, that our caste system began to break and we got the idea of choosing your own vocation, and not simply following what your parents did.


Now, I want to make an observation, here, about checking out of the game. This is not encouraged in contemporary society, because the Catholic church and the, say, the Episcopalian church, are very powerful minorities; they can still support monasteries and even hermits. But you can’t be one on your own without great difficulty.


Firstly, because you’re a poor consumer. See, around here, we have a number of hermits. There’s a guy out there building that boat, and he’s essentially a nonjoiner, a poor consumer, and the community—they live a lot a along here, and they’re mostly—they’re not working-class people, they are people who dropped out of college because they saw it was stupid. And they’re that sort of people. We would call them, perhaps, beatniks. But, you see, the city doesn’t like it because they aren’t owning the right sort of cars, and therefore the local car salesman isn’t doing business through them. They don’t have lawns, and so nobody can sell them lawn mowers. They hardly use dishwashers, appliances of that kind; they don’t need them. And, also, they wear blue jeans and things like that, and so the local dress shops feel a bit put out having these people around. And they live very simply. Well, you mustn’t do that. You’ve got to live in a complicated way. You’ve got to have the kind of car, you know, that identifies you as a person of substance, and status, and all that.


So there’s a great problem here in our society. Now, why is there this problem? There’s always a very inconsiderable minority of these nonjoiners, or people who check out of the game. But you will find that insecure societies are the most intolerant of those who are nonjoiners. They are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say, “Everyone must play.” Now, that’s a double-bind. You can’t say to a person, “You must play,” because what you’re saying is, “You are required to do something which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily,” you see?


So ‘everyone must play’ is the rule in the United States. And it’s the rule in almost all republican governments. I mean republican in the sense of democratic. Because they’re very uneasy. Because everybody’s responsible. You mean—you may try not to be, and avoid it and say, “Oh, let the senators take care of it, or the president.” But theoretically, everyone’s responsible. Now that’s terrifying. See, it’s alright when you know what’s right. There is an aristocracy, there is the clergy, and they know what should be done, and they’re used to ruling you, you see. But now it’s in your hands. You say, “What are we going to do?” “Well, I think this way, and you think that way, and he thinks the other way.” And so we’re all unsettled, and therefore we become more and more conformist. Individualism—rugged individualism—always leads to conformism, because people get scared and so they herd together, and, compounded with industrial society—mass production, et cetera—they all wear the same clothes, and they’re sensible clothes that don’t show the dirt too much, and we get duller and drabber, and—with the exception of the Californian revolution.


So, the reason for this is, in a way, that democracy—as we have tried it—started out on the wrong foot. You see, in the scriptures—Christian scriptures—it says everybody is equal in the sight of God. Now, that’s a mystical utterance. That means that, from the standpoint of God, all people are divine and are playing their true function. And that is something that is true on a certain plane of consciousness. But come down a step and try to apply the mystical insight in the practical affairs of everyday life, and what do you get? You get a parody of mysticism. You get the idea, not that everybody is equal in the sight of God, but that all people are equally inferior. And that’s why all bureaucracies are rude, why the police are rude, and why you’re made to wait in lines, and there are obstreperous income tax individuals, and all that sort of person—because everybody’s a crook, everybody’s equally inferior. See, that becomes the parody in democracy. And that kind of society—watch out for it—it turns in a quick click into fascism, because of its terror of the outsider.


Now, a free and easy society loves outsiders. In fact, it’s a little bad for the outsider’s integrity because he becomes a holy man, see? And people make salaams, and give him food, and all that; they really take care of the outsider, because they know that man is doing—for us—what we haven’t got the guts to do. That outsider, who lives up there, in the mountain, is at the highest peak of human evolution. His consciousness is one with the divine. And great! Just—there is someone like that around! It makes you feel a little better. He has realized; he knows what it’s all about. And so we need a number of those people. Even though they don’t join our game, they tell us, you see, “What you’re doing is only a game. It’s okay, I’m not going to condemn you. But it is only a game, and we—up on that mountaintop—are watching you. We love you, we have compassion for you, but excuse us, please. We aren’t going to join.” So that gives the community great strength, because it tells the government, in no uncertain terms, that there’s something more than government. That’s why wise kings kept not only priests, but court fools. The court fool is much more effective than the priest to remind the king that, after all, he’s human, and, you know how—in Richard II, where the fool is called the antic—the king says:


Within the hollow crown,

That rounds the mortal temples of the king,

Keeps Death his watch, and there the antic sits,

Scoffing at his state and grinning at his pomp

Allowing him a little time

To monarchize be fear’d and kill with looks.

And then at last comes death, and with a pin

Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!


See? Always this reminder of the priest—or of the antic—to the royalty, to the government. You are going to die, you are mortal. Don’t give yourself heirs and graces as if you were a god. As king, you are only a representative of God, and there is a force, there are domains way, way beyond yours and way, way higher. But it’s very difficult for a republican government to realize that, because it’s insecure. And therefore, in our present world, you cannot abandon nationality without the greatest difficulty. People who try to abandon nationality get constantly deported from one place to another. You must belong to this thing. As Thoreau put it: “However far into the forests you may go, men will pursue you and compel you to belong to their desperate company of oddfellows.”

























This particular weekend seminar is devoted to Buddhism, and it should be said first that there is a sense in which Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export. Last week, when I discussed Hinduism, I discussed many things to do with the organization of Hindu society. Because Hinduism is not merely what we call a religion; it’s a whole culture. It’s a legal system, it’s a social system, it’s a system of etiquette, and it includes everything. It includes housing, it includes food, it includes art. Because the Hindus—and many other ancient peoples—do not make, as we do, a division between religion and everything else. Religion is not a department of life, it is something that enters into the whole of it. But, you see, when a religion and a culture are inseparable, it’s very difficult to export a culture because it comes into conflict with the established traditions, manners, and customs of other people.


So the question arises: what are the essentials of Hinduism that could be exported? And when you answer that, approximately, you get Buddhism. As I explained: the essential of Hinduism—the real, deep root—isn’t any kind of doctrine. It isn’t really any special kind of discipline—although, of course, disciplines are involved. The center of Hinduism is an experience called mokṣa—‘liberation’—in which, through the dissipation of the illusion that each man and each woman is a separate thing in a world consisting of nothing but a collection of separate things, you discover that you are, on one level, an illusion, but on another level, you are what they call the Self, the one Self, which is all that there is. The universe is the game of the Self, which plays hide and seek forever and ever. When it plays ‘hide,’ it plays it so well, hides so cleverly, that it pretends to be all of us, and all things whatsoever. And we don’t know it because it’s playing ‘hide.’ But when it plays ‘seek,’ it enters onto a path of yoga, and—through following this path—it wakes up, and the scales fall from one’s eyes.


Now, in just the same way, the center of Buddhism—the only really important thing about Buddhism—is the experience which they call ‘awakening.’ Buddha is a title and not a proper name. It comes from a Sanskrit root budh, and that sometimes means ‘to know,’ but better, ‘waking.’ And so you get from this root bodhi; that is the state of being awakened. And so buddha, ‘the awakened one,’ ‘the awakened person.’


And so there can, of course—in Buddhist ideas—be very many buddhas. The person called the Buddha is only one of myriads. Because they, like the Hindus, are quite sure that our world is only one among billions, and that buddhas come and go in all the worlds. But sometimes, you see, there comes into the world what you might call a big buddha; a very important one. And such a one is said to have been Gautama, the son of a prince living in northern India, in the part of the world we now call Nepal, living shortly after 600 BC. All dates in Indian history are vague, and so I never try to get you to remember any precise date—like 564, which some people think it was—but just after 600 BC is probably right.


Most of you, I’m sure, know the story of his life. But the point is that when, in India, a man was called a buddha—or the Buddha—this is a title of a very exalted nature. It is, first of all, necessary for a buddha to be human. He can’t be any other kind of being, whether—in the Hindu scale of beings—he’s above the human state or below it. He is superior to all gods, because according to Indian ideas, gods and angels—or, angels would probably a better name for them than gods—all those exalted beings are still in the wheel of becoming, still in the chains of karma; that is, action which requires the need for more action to complete it, and goes on requiring the need for more action. They’re still, according to popular ideas, going ‘round the wheel from life, after life, after life, after life, because they still have the thirst for existence. Or, to put it in a Hindu way: in them, the Self is still playing the game of not being itself.


But the Buddha’s doctrine, based on his own experience of awakening, which occurred after seven years of attempts to study with the various yogis of the time, all of whom used the method of extreme asceticism; fasting, doing all sorts of exercises, lying on beds of nails, sleeping on broken rocks, any kind of thing to break down egocentricity, to become unselfish, to become detached, to exterminate desire for life. But Buddha found that all that was futile; that was not the Way. And one day he broke his ascetic discipline and accepted a bowl of some kind of milk soup from a girl who was looking after cattle. And suddenly, in this tremendous relaxation, he went and sat down under a tree, and the burden lifted. He saw, completely, that what he had been doing was on the wrong track. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. And no amount of effort will make a person who believes himself to be an ego be really unselfish. So long as you think and feel that you are a somewhat contained in your bag of skin, and that’s all, there is no way, whatsoever, of your behaving unselfishly. Oh yes, you can imitate unselfishness. You can go through all sorts of highly refined forms of selfishness, but you’re still tied to the wheel of becoming by the golden chains of your good deeds, as the obviously bad people are tied to it by the iron chains of their misbehaviors.




You know how people are when they get spiritually proud? They belong to some kind of a church group, or an occult group, and say, “We are the ones who have, of course, the right teaching. We’re the in-group, we are the elect, and everybody else outside is really off the track.” But then comes along someone who one-ups them by saying, “Well, in our circles, we’re very tolerant. And we accept all religions and all ways as leading to The One.” But what they’re doing is, they’re playing the game called ‘We’re More Tolerant Than You Are.’ You see? And in this way, the egocentric being is always in his own trap.


So Buddha saw that all his yoga exercises and ascetic disciplines had just been ways of trying to get himself out of the trap in order to save his own skin, in order to find peace for himself. And he realized that that is an impossible thing to do, because the motivation ruins the project. He found out, then, you see, that there was no trap to get out of except himself. Trap and trapped are one, and when you understand that, there isn’t any trap left. I’m going to explain that, of course, more carefully.


So, as a result of this experience, he formulated what is called the dharma, that is the Sanskrit word for ‘method.’ You will get a certain confusion when you read books on Buddhism because they switch between Sanskrit and Pali words. The earliest Buddhist scriptures that we know of are written in the Pali language, and Pali is a softened form of Sanskrit. So that, for example, whereas the doctrine of the Buddha is called in Sanskrit the dharma, but in Pali—and in many books in Buddhism—you’ll find that the Buddha’s doctrine described as the dhamma. And so, in the same way, karma in Sanskrit, becomes in Pali, kamma. Buddha remains the same. The dharma, then, is the method.


Now, the method of Buddhism—and this is absolutely important to remember—is dialectic. That is to say, it doesn’t teach a doctrine. You cannot find anywhere what Buddhism teaches, as you can find out what Christianity or Judaism or Islam teaches. Because all Buddhism is a discourse, and what most people suppose to be its teachings are only the opening stages of the dialogue.


So the concern of Buddha as a young man—the problem he wanted to solve—was the problem of human suffering. And so he formulated his teaching in a very easy way to remember. All those Buddhist scriptures are full of what you might call mnemonic tricks; numbering things in such a way that they’re easy to remember. And so he summed up his teaching in the form of what are called the Four Noble Truths. And the first one, because it was his main concern, was the truth about dukkha. Dukkha: suffering, pain, frustration, chronic dis-ease. It is the opposite of sukha, which means sweet, pleasure, et cetera.


So, insofar as the problem posed in Buddhism is dukkha, “I don’t want to suffer, and I want to find someone or something that can cure me of suffering.” That’s the problem. Now then, if there’s a person who solves the problem—a buddha—people come to him and say, “Master, how do we get out of this problem?” So what he does is to propose certain things to them.


First of all, he points out that with dukkha go two other things. These are respectively called anitya and anātman. Anitya means—‘nitya’ means ‘permanent,’ so impermanence, flux, change, is characteristic of everything whatsoever. There isn’t anything at all in the whole world—in the material world, in the psychic world, in the spiritual world—there is nothing you can catch hold of and hang on to for safety. Nothin’. Not only is there nothing you can hang on to, but by the teaching of anātman, there is no ‘you’ to hang on to it. In other words, all clinging to life is an illusory hand grasping at smoke. If you can get that into your head and see that that is so, nobody needs to tell you that you ought not to grasp. Because you see you can’t.


See, Buddhism is not essentially moralistic. The moralist is the person who tells people that they ought to be unselfish when they still feel like egos, and his efforts are always and invariably futile. Because what happens is he simply sweeps the dust under the carpet, and it comes back again somehow. But in this case, it involves a complete realization that this is the case. So that’s what the teacher puts across, to begin with.




The next thing that comes up—the second of the noble truths—is about the cause of suffering, and this, in Sanskrit, is called tṛṣṇā. Tṛṣṇā is related to our word ‘thirst.’ It’s very often translated ‘desire;’ that will do. Better, perhaps, is ‘craving,’ ‘clinging,’ ‘grasping,’ or even, to use our modern psychological word, ‘blocking.’ When, for example, somebody is blocked, and dithers and hesitates, and doesn’t know what to do, he is in the strictest Buddhist sense attached; he’s stuck. But a buddha can’t be stuck. He cannot be phased. He always flows, just as water always flows, even if you dam it; the river just keeps on getting higher and higher and higher, until it flows over the dam. It’s unstoppable.


Now, Buddha said, then, dukkha comes from tṛṣṇā. You all suffer because you cling to the world, and you don’t recognize that the world is anitya and anātman. So then, try, if you can, not to grasp. Well, do you see that that immediately poses a problem? Because the student who has started off this dialogue with the buddha then makes various efforts to give up desire. Upon which he very rapidly discovers that he is desiring not to desire, and he takes that back to the teacher, who says, “Well, well, well.” He said, “Of course. You are desiring not to desire, and that’s, of course, excessive. All I want you to do is to give up desiring as much as you can. Don’t want to go beyond the point of which you’re capable.” And for this reason, Buddhism is called the Middle Way. Not only is it the middle way between the extremes of ascetic discipline and pleasure-seeking, but it’s also the middle way in a very subtle sense. Yes, don’t desire to give up more desire than you can. And if you find that a problem, don’t desire to be successful in giving up more desire than you can. You see what’s happening? At every time he’s returned to the middle way; he’s moved out of an extreme situation.


Now then, we’ll go on. We’ll cut out what happens in the pursuit of that method until a little later. The next truth in the list is concerned with the nature of release from dukkha. And so number three is nirvāṇa. Nirvāṇa is the goal of Buddhism; it’s the state of liberation corresponding to what the Hindus call mokṣa. The word means ‘blow out,’ and it comes from the root nivṛtti. Now, some people think that what it means is ‘blowing out the flame of desire.’ I don’t believe this. I believe that it means ‘breathe out,’ rather than ‘blow out,’ because if you try to hold your breath—and in Indian thought prāṇa, breath, is the life principle—if you try to hold on to life, you lose it. You can’t hold your breath and stay alive; it becomes extremely uncomfortable to hold on to your breath. And so, in exactly the same way, it becomes extremely uncomfortable to spend all your time holding on to life. What the devil is the point of surviving—going on living—when it’s a drag?


But you see, that’s what people do. They spend enormous efforts on maintaining a certain standard of living, which is a great deal of trouble. You know, you get a nice house in the suburbs, and the first thing you do is you plant a lawn. You’ve gotta get out and mow the damn thing all the time. And you buy expensive this-that, and soon you’re all involved in mortgages, and instead of being able to walk out in the garden and enjoy it, you sit at your desk looking at all the books and filling out this, that, and the other, and paying bills, and answering letters. What a lot of rot! But, you see, that is holding on to life. So, translated into colloquial American, nirvāṇa is ‘whew!’ Because if you let your breath go, it’ll come back. So nirvāṇa is not annihilation. It’s not disappearance into a sort of undifferentiated void. Nirvāṇa is the state of being let go. It is a state of consciousness, and a state of—you might call it—being, here and now in this life.




We now come to the most complicated of all. Number four, mārga. Mārg, in Sanskrit, means ‘path,’ and the Buddha taught an eightfold path for the realization of nirvāṇa. This always reminds me of a story about Dr. Suzuki, who is a very, very great Buddhist scholar, and many years ago he was giving a fundamental lecture on Buddhism at the University of Hawaii. And he’d been going through these four truths, and he said:

Ah, fourth Noble Truth is called Noble Eightfold Path. First step of Noble Eightfold Path called shōken. Shōken in Japanese means “right view.” For Buddhism, fundamentally, is right view. Right way of viewing this world. Second step of Noble Eightfold Path is—oh, I forget second step, you look it up in the book.

Well, I’m going to do rather the same thing. What is important is this: the eightfold path has really got three divisions in it. The first are concerned with understanding, the second division is concerned with conduct, and the third division is concerned with meditation. And every step in the path is preceded with the Sanskrit word samyak, in which sam is the keyword. In Pali: samma. And so, the first step, samyak drishti, which means—drishti means a ‘view,’ ‘a way of looking at things,’ a ‘vision,’ an ‘attitude,’ something like that. But this word samyak is in ordinary texts on Buddhism almost invariably translated ‘right.’ This is a very bad translation. The word is used in certain contexts in Sanskrit to mean ‘right,’ ‘correct,’ but it has other and wider meanings. Sam means—like our word ‘sum,’ which is derived from it—‘complete,’ ‘total,’ ‘all-embracing.’ It also has the meaning of ‘middle wade,’ representing, as it were, the fulcrum, the center, the point of balance in a totality. Middle wade way of looking at things. Middle wade way of understanding the dharma. Middle wade way of speech, of conduct, of livelihood, and so on. Now, this is particularly cogent when it comes to Buddhist ideas of behavior.




Every Buddhist in all the world, practically, as a layman—if he’s not a monk—undertakes what are called pañcaśīlā, the Five Good Conducts. Sīla is sometimes translated ‘precept.’ But it’s not a precept because it’s not a commandment. The formula when Buddhist—you know, these priests, they chant the precepts, you know?—panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. And that means: panatipata; pana is, in Pali, this thing, prana—life; tipata, taking away; ‘I promise to abstain from.’ So the first is that one undertakes not to destroy life. Second, not to take what is not given. Third—this is usually translated ‘not to commit adultery.’ It doesn’t say anything of the kind. In Sanskrit: kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami; kamesu micchacara means: ‘I undertake the precept to abstain from exploiting my passions.’ Buddhism has no doctrine about adultery; you may have as many wives as you like.


But the point is this: when you’re feeling blue and bored, it’s not a good idea to have a drink, because you may become dependent on alcohol whenever you feel unhappy. So, in the same way, when you’re feeling blue and bored, it’s not a good idea to say “Let’s go out and get some chicks and have some sex-fun.” That’s exploiting the passions. But it’s not exploiting the passions, you see, when drinking, say, expresses the conviviality and friendship of the group sitting around the dinner table, or when sex expresses the spontaneous delight of two people in each other.


Then, the fourth precept, musāvāda: ‘to abstain from false speech.’ This doesn’t simply mean lying. It means abusing people. It means using speech in a phony way, like saying ‘all niggers are thus and so.’ Or ‘the attitude of America to this situation is thus and thus.‘ See, that’s phony kind of talking. Anybody who studies general semantics will be helped in avoiding musāvāda; false speech.


The final precept is a very complicated one, and nobody’s quite sure exactly what it means. It mentions three kinds of drugs and drinks: sura, meraya, majja, pamadatthana. We don’t know what they are, but at any rate, it’s generally classed as narcotics and liquors. Now, there are two ways of translating this precept. One says to abstain from narcotics and liquors. The other, liberal, translation favored by the great scholar Dr. Malalasekera is, “I abstain from being intoxicated by these things.” So if you drink and don’t get intoxicated, it’s okay, you see? You don’t have to be a teetotaler to be a Buddhist. This is especially true in Japan and China—my goodness, how they throw it down! Once, a scholarly Chinese said to me, “You know, before you start meditating, just have a couple of martinis, because it increases your progress by about six months.” Well…


Now you see, these are—as I say—they are not commandments. They are vows. Buddhism has in it no idea of there being a moral law laid down by some kind of cosmic lawgiver. And the reason why these precepts are undertaken is not for a sentimental reason. It is not that they’re going to make you into a good person. It is that, for anybody interested in the experiments necessary for liberation, these ways of life are expedient. First of all, if you go around killing, you’re going to make enemies, and you’re going to have to spend a lot of time defending yourself, which will distract you from your yoga. If you go around stealing, likewise, you’re going to acquire a heap of stuff, and you’re going to, again, make enemies. If you exploit your passions, you’re going to get a big thrill, but it doesn’t last. When you begin to get older, you realize “Well that was fun while we had it, but I haven’t really learned very much from it, and now what?” Same with speech. Nothing is more confusing to the mind than taking words too seriously. We’ve seen so many examples of that. And finally, to get intoxicated or narcotized—a narcotic is anything like alcohol or opium which makes you sleepy. The word narcosis, in Greek, means—narc is ‘sleep.’ So if you want to pass your life seeing things through a dim haze, this is not exactly awakening.


So then… so much for the ‘conduct’ side of Buddhism.




We come, then, to the final parts of the eightfold path. There are two concluding steps which are called—I explained the word samadhi, but I’ll write it here again—smṛti; samyak-smṛti and samyak-samadhi. Smṛti means recollection, memory, present-mindedness. Seems rather funny that the same word can mean ‘recollection,’ or ‘memory’ and ‘present-mindedness.’ But smṛti is exactly what that wonderful old rascal Gurdjieff meant by ‘self-awareness,’ or ‘self-remembering.’ Smṛti is to have complete presence of mind.


There is a wonderful meditation called The House that Jack Built meditation—at least that’s what I call it—that the Southern Buddhists practice. He walks, and he says to himself, “There is the lifting of the foot. There is the lifting of the foot.” The next thing he says is, “There is a perception of the lifting of the foot.” And the next, he says, “There is a tendency towards the perception of the feeling of the lifting of the foot.” Then, finally, he says, “There is a consciousness of the tendency of the perception of the feeling of the lifting of the foot.” And so, with everything that he does, he knows that he does it. He is self-aware.


This is tricky. Of course, it’s not easy to do. But as you practice this—I’m going to let the cat out of the bag, which I suppose I shouldn’t do—but you will find that there are so many things to be aware of, at any given moment in what you’re doing, that, at best, you only ever pick out one or two of them. That’s the first thing you’ll find out. Ordinary conscious awareness is seeing the world with blinkers on. As we say, you can think only of one thing at a time. That’s because ordinary consciousness is narrowed consciousness. That’s being narrow-minded in the true sense of the word; looking at things that way. Then you find out that—as, in the course of going around, being aware of what you’re doing all of the time—what are you doing when you remember? Or when you think about the future? I am aware that I am remembering? I am aware that I am thinking about the future?


But, you see, what eventually happens is that you discover that there isn’t any way of being absent-minded. All thoughts are in the present and of the present. And when you discover that, you approach samadhi. Samadhi is the complete state; the fulfilled state of mind. And you will find many, many different ideas among the sects of Buddhists and Hindus as to what samadhi is. Some people call it a trance, some people call it a state of consciousness without anything in it; knowing with no object of knowledge. Some people say that it is the unification of the knower and the known. All these are varying opinions.


I had a friend who was a Zen master, and he used to talk about samadhi, and he said a very fine example of samadhi is a fine horserider. When you watch a good cowboy, he is one being with the horse. So an excellent driver in a car makes the car his own body, and he absolutely is with it. So also a fine pair of dancers. They don’t have to shove each other to get one to do what the other wants him or her to do. They have a way of understanding each other, of moving together, as if they were Siamese twins. That’s samadhi on the physical, ordinary, everyday level. The samadhi of which Buddha speaks is the state which is, as it were, the gateway to nirvāṇa, the state in which the illusion of the ego as a separate thing disintegrates.


Now, when we get to that point in Buddhism, Buddhists do a funny thing, which is going to occupy our attention for a good deal of this seminar. They don’t fall down and worship. They don’t really have any name for what it is that is, really and basically. The idea of anātman, of non-self, is applied in Buddhism not only to the individual ego, but also to the notion that there is a Self of the universe, a kind of impersonal or personal god, and so it is generally supposed that Buddhism is atheistic. It’s true, depending on what you mean by atheism. Common or garden atheism is a form of belief, namely that I believe there is no god. The atheist positively denies the existence of any god. All right. Now, there is such an atheist—if you put dash between the ‘a’ and ‘theist,’ or speak about something called ‘atheos’—theos, in Greek, means ‘god’—but what is a non-god? A non-god is an inconceivable something or other.


I love the story about a debate in the Houses of Parliament in England—where, as you know, the Church of England is established and, therefore, under the control of the government—and the high ecclesiastics had petitioned Parliament to let them have a new prayerbook. And somebody got up and said, “It’s perfectly ridiculous that Parliment should decide upon this, because, as we well know, there are quite a number of atheists in these benches.” And somebody got up and said “Oh, I don’t think there are really any atheists here. We all believe in some sort of a something somewhere.” Now again, of course, it isn’t that Buddhism believes in some sort of a something, somewhere—and that is to say, in vagueness.




Here is the point: if you believe, if you have certain propositions that you want to assert about the ultimate reality—or what Paul Tillich calls ‘the ultimate ground of being’—you are talking nonsense. Because you can’t say something specific about everything.


You see, supposing you wanted to say, “God has a shape.” But if God is all that there is, then God doesn’t have any outside, so he can’t have a shape. You have to have an outside, and space outside it, to have a shape. So that’s why the Hebrews, too, are against people making images of God. But nonetheless, Jews and Christians persistently make images of God, not necessarily in pictures and statues, but they make images in their minds. And those are much more insidious images.


Buddhism is not saying that the Self—the great Ātman, or whatnot—it isn’t denying that the experience which corresponds to these words is realizable. What it is saying is that if you make conceptions and doctrines about these things, you’re liable to become attached to them. You’re liable to start believing instead of knowing.


So they say in Zen Buddhism, “The doctrine of Buddhism is a finger pointing at the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.” Or so we might say in the West, the idea of God is a finger pointing at God, but what most people do is, instead of following the finger, they suck it for comfort. And so Buddha chopped off the finger and undermined all metaphysical beliefs. There are many, many dialogues in the Pali scriptures where people try to corner the Buddha into a metaphysical position. “Is the world eternal?” The Buddha says nothing. “Is the world not eternal?” And he answers nothin’. “Is the world both eternal and not eternal?” And he don’t say nothin’. “Is the world neither eternal nor not eternal?” And still, he don’t say nothin’. He maintains what is called the noble silence. Sometimes, later, called the thunderous silence—because this silence, this metaphysical silence, is not a void. It is very powerful. This silence is the open window through which you can see not concepts, not ideas, not beliefs, but the very goods. But if you say what it is that you see, you erect an image and an idol, and you misdirect people. It’s better to destroy people’s beliefs than to give them beliefs. I know it hurts, but it is The Way. That is what cracks the eggshell and lets out the chick. Of course, if you want to stay in the eggshell, you can. But you’ll get addled.


This, then, you see, is why Buddhism is in dialogue form: the truth cannot be told. It can be suggested, it can be indicated, and a method of interchange between teacher and student can be arranged whereby the teacher constantly pricks the student’s bubbles. And that’s what it’s all about. And because that’s the way it is, we find that, in the course of history, Buddhism keeps changing. It develops, it grows. As people make all these explorations that the original Buddha suggested, they find out all kinds of new things, they explore the mind, they find out all the tricks of the mind, they—oh, they find out ever so many things, and they begin to teach these things; talk about them.


And some people, influenced by—in modern Asia—influenced by Protestantism, say, “Let’s go back to the simple, original teachings of the Buddha!” See, like people say, “Let’s get back to the simple teachings of Jesus.” Well, the simple teachings of Jesus are as lost as lost can get. Nobody can read the New Testament with a clean mind today, because, whenever you look at the Bible, don’t you hear some preacher’s voice in your childhood, reading those words? Hasn’t your culture taught you to interpret these words in certain ways? You can’t get back. And nobody can get back to Buddha. You can only go on to Buddha. So that’s why, in Zen, they just burn the books up. I mean, occasionally. Because to burn up books, you’ve got to have some books to burn up.


But when, you know, you can say, “The teaching of the founder is the thing.” This is terrible. It’s like the oak suddenly saying one day, “Hey, we oughtn’t have all these leaves around here. We ought to be just that simple little acorn.” No, a living tradition grows. And what it does is this: as it grows—say, it grew from a seed; an acorn—it keeps dropping off new acorns. You don’t go back to the old acorn, you get a new one. And that becomes a new seed for another tree. This is fine.


Now, let me just warn you: the scholarly study of Buddhism is a magnum opus beyond belief. There are two collections of Buddhist canonical scriptures. One is in Pali, the other was originally in Sanskrit, but we don’t have a complete collection of it in Sanskrit. We have these collections in Tibetan and Chinese. Bigger than the Encyclopædia Britannica, as a matter of fact. So it’s a formidable enterprise to get into the Buddhist scriptures, and what’s more, most of them are unbelievably boring. They were written by monks with plenty of time to pass on wet afternoons during the monsoon, and they repeat, and they elaborate, and they are full of kind of preparatory—you know how, in the silly trick in radio they have, in giving a fanfare to introduce the program—so in the same way, these scriptures have fanfares in which all sorts of buddhas are introduced, and beings, and they’re all described, and where they were assembled, and how many of them there were, and where they were sitting, and what kind of bows they made, and all this jazz. And then, finally, a few pearls of wisdom are dropped by the Buddha—or else, they sometimes go on for pages, and pages of—actually—very, very subtle and very profound discourse that is not dull if you have a penchant for that kind of thing. But I warn you: don’t try too hard to read the Buddhist scriptures. It’s alright to read the Dhammapada, which are sayings of the Buddha. It’s alright to read the Diamond Sūtra. It’s alright, even, to read the Śūraṅgama Sūtra or the Laṅkāvatāra, but when you get mixed up with the larger Prajñāpāramitā, and all those things, you’re in deep water.


So you see, from time to time, Buddhists get tired of the scriptures. Actually, they keep them in a revolving bookcase in some monasteries. A thing about so high, so wide; it revolves. And instead of reading all this stuff, you’re supposed to be able to acquire as much merit as you would from reading it all by twirling the bookcase around once. In Zen monasteries, they have an annual ceremony for reading the scriptures. But they are printed like an accordion. In other words, the pages are connected to each other zig-zag. And then they have board on the back and the front, so that you can pick one up and go, “Whrrrrrrrrrrrrr,” like that, you know? Like a slinky moves. And so, each monk is assigned a pile of the volumes—this happens once a year—and they all chant sections of the scripture. But very often, each monk chants a different one. And while they’re doing this they pick up a volume and go “Whrrrrrrrrrrrrr, click,” and put it down on the other side. Pick up the next one, “Whrrrrrrrrrrr, click.” And this is the annual reading of the scriptures. There’s a wonderful picture of this being done in Suzuki’s book The Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk.


So, you see, Buddhists are funny about scriptures. They don’t treat them the way Christians treat the Bible. They respect them, they occasionally read them, but they feel that the writing, the written word, is purely incidental. It is not the point. And, indeed, it can be a very serious obstacle. Zhuang Zhou, a Taoist sage, once said, “Just as a dog is not considered a good dog just for being a good barker, a man is not considered a good man just for being a good talker.” So we have to watch out for the traps of words.




You must understand, as one of the fundamental points of Buddhism, the idea of the world as being in flux. I gave you the Sanskrit word anitya as one of the characteristics of being, emphasized by the Buddha along with anātman, the unreality of a permanent self, and dukkha, the sense of frustration. Dukkha really arises from a person’s failure to accept the other two characteristics: lack of permanent self and change.


You see, in Buddhism, the feeling that we have of an enduring organism—I meet you today and I see you, and then tomorrow I meet you again, and you look pretty much as you looked yesterday, and so I consider that you’re the same person—but you aren’t. Not really.


When I watch a whirlpool in a stream—here’s the stream flowing along, and there’s always a whirlpool like the one at Niagra. But that whirlpool never, never really holds any water. The water is all the time rushing through it. In the same way, a university—the University of California—what is it? The students change at least every four years, the faculty changes at a somewhat slower rate, the buildings change—they knock them down and put up new ones—the administration changes. So what is the University of California? It’s a pattern. A doing of a particular kind. And so in just precisely that way, every one of us is a whirlpool in the tide of existence, and wherein every cell in our body, every molecule, every atom is in constant flux, and nothing can be pinned down.


You know, you can put bands on pigeons, or migrating birds, and identify them and follow them, and find out where they go. But you can’t tag atoms; much less electrons. They have a curious way of appearing and disappearing, and one of the great puzzles is, in physics, ‘what are electrons doing when we’re not looking at them?’ Because our observation of them has to modify their behavior. We can’t see an electron without putting it in an experimental situation where our examination of it in some way changes it. What we would like to know is what it’s doing when we’re not looking at it. Does the light in the refrigerator really go off when we close the door?


But this is fundamental, you see, to Buddhistic philosophy. The philosophy of change. From one point of view, change is just too bad. Everything flows away, and there’s a kind of sadness in that, a kind of nostalgia, and there may be even a rage. “Go not gently into that good night, but rage, rage, at the dying of the light.”


But there’s something curious. There can be a very fundamental change in one’s attitude to the question of the world as fading. On the one hand, resentment, and on the other, delight. If you resist change—of course, you must to some extent. When you meet another person, you don’t want to be thoroughly rejected, but you love to feel a little resistance. Don’t you, you know? You have a beautiful girl, and you touch her. You don’t want her to go, “Bleugh!” But so round, so firm, so fully packed! A little bit of resistance, you see, is great. So there must always be resistance in change; otherwise, there couldn’t be even change. There’d just be a “Pffft.” The world would go, “Pffft,” and that’d be the end of it.


But because there’s always some resistance to change, there is a wonderful manifestation of form; there is a dance of life. But the human mind, as distinct from most animal minds, is terribly aware of time. And so we think a great deal about the future, and we know that every visible form is going to disappear and be replaced by so-called others. Are these others, others? Or are they the same forms returning? Of course, that’s a great puzzle. Are next year’s leaves that come from a tree going to be the same as this year’s leaves? What do you mean by the same? They’ll be the same shape, they’ll have the same botanical characteristics. But you’ll be able to pick up a shriveled leaf from last autumn and say, “Look at the difference. This is last year’s leaf. This is this year’s leaf.” And in that sense, they’re not the same.


What happens when any great musician plays a certain piece of music? He plays it today, and then he plays it again tomorrow. Is it the same piece of music, or is it another? In the Pali language, they say nacha so nacha añño, which means ‘not the same, and yet not another.’ So, in this way, the Buddhist is able to speak of reincarnation of beings, without having to believe in some kind of soul-entity that is reincarnated. Some kind of Ātman—some kind of fixed self, ego-principle, soul-principle—that moves from one life to another. And this is as true in our lives as they go on now, from moment to moment, as it would be (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-11) true of our lives as they appear and reappear again over millions of years. It doesn’t make the slightest difference, except that there are long intervals and short intervals, high vibrations and low vibrations. When you hear a high sound, high note in the musical scale, you can’t see any holes in it—it’s going too fast—and it sounds completely continuous. But when you get the lowest audible notes that one can hear on an organ, you feel the shaking. You feel the vibration, you hear that music going “dhun-dhun-dhun-dhun-dhun-dhun-dhun-dhun-dhun”, on and off.


So in the same way as we live now, from day to day, we experience ourselves living at a high rate of vibration, and we appear to be continuous—although there is the rhythm of waking and sleeping. But the rhythm that runs from generation to generation and from life to life is much slower, and so we notice the gaps. We don’t notice the gaps when the rhythm is fast.




So we are living, as it were, on many, many levels of rhythm. This is the nature of change. If you resist it you have dukkha; you have frustration and suffering. But, on the other hand, if you understand change, you don’t cling to it, and you let it flow, then it’s no problem. It becomes positively beautiful, which is why—in poetry—the theme of the evanescence of the world is beautiful. When Shelley says,

The one remains, the many change and pass,

Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly.

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,

Stains the white radiance of eternity

Until death shatters it to fragments.(Adonaïs)


Now, what’s beautiful in that? Is it heaven’s light that shines forever? Or is it rather the dome of many-colored glass that shatters? See, it’s always the image of change that really makes the poem.


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps on life’s petty pace from day to day.


Somehow, you know, the poet has got the intuition. The fact that things are always running out, that things are always disappearing, has some hidden marvel in it. The Japanese have a word, yūgen, which has no English equivalent whatsoever. Yūgen is, in a way, digging change. It’s described poetically: you have the feeling of yūgen when you see out in the distant water some ships hidden behind a far-off island. You have the feeling of yūgen when you watch wild geese suddenly seen and then lost in the clouds. You have the feeling of yūgen when you look across Mount Tamalpais, and you’ve never been to the other side, and you see the sky beyond. You don’t go over there to look and see what’s on the other side, that wouldn’t be yūgen. You let the other side be the other side—and it invokes something in your imagination, but you don’t attempt to define it to pin it down. Yūgen.


So in the same way, the coming and going of things in the world is marvelous. They go. Where do they go? Don’t answer, because that would spoil the mystery. They vanish into the mystery. But if you try to pursue them, you’ve destroyed yūgen. That’s a very curious thing, but that idea of yūgen—which, in Chinese characters, means, as it were, kind of ‘the deep mystery of the valley.’ There’s a poem in Chinese which says, “The wind drops, but the petals keep falling. The bird calls and the mountain becomes more mysterious.” Isn’t that strange? There’s no wind anymore, and yet petals are dropping. And a bird in the canyon cries, and that one sound in the mountains brings out the silence with a wallop.


I remember when I was almost a child in the Pyrenees in the southwest of France. We went way up in this gorgeous silence of the mountains, but in the distance we could hear the bells on the cows clanking. And somehow those tiny sounds brought out the silence. And so, in the same way, slight permanences bring out change. And they give you this very strange sense. Yūgen: the mystery of change.


You know, in Eliot’s poem, The Four Quartets, where he says, “The dark, dark, dark. They all go into the dark. Distinguished families, members of the book of the director of directors—everybody—they all go into the dark.” Life is life, you see, because—just because—it’s always disappearing. Supposing, suddenly, by some kind of diabolical magic, I could say, “Zzzzhip!” and every one of you would stay the same age forever. You’d be like Madame Tussauds waxworks. You’d be awful. In a thousand years from now, what beautiful hags you would be.




So the trouble is that we have one-sided minds. And we notice the wave of life when it is at its peak or crest. We don’t notice it when it’s at the trough; not in the ordinary way. It’s the peaks that count. Take a buzzsaw: what seems important to us is the tips of the teeth. They seem to do the cutting, not the valleys between the teeth. But do you see? You couldn’t have tips of teeth without valleys between them. Therefore, the saw wouldn’t cut without both tips and V-shaped valleys. But we ignore that. We don’t notice the valleys, so much as we notice the mountains. Valleys point down. Mountains point up. And we prefer things that point up because up is good and down is bad.


But seriously, we don’t praise the peaks for being high and blame the valleys for being low. But it is so, you see, that we ignore the ‘valley’ aspect of things, and so all wisdom begins by emphasizing the valley aspect as distinct from the peak aspect. We pay plenty of attention to the peak aspect. That’s what captures our attention, but we somehow screen out the valley aspect. But that makes us very uncomfortable. It seems that we want and get pleasure from looking at the peaks, but actually, this denies our pleasure because secretly we know that every peak is followed by a valley. The valley of the shadow of death.


And we’re always afraid because we’re not used to looking at valleys; because we’re not used to living with them. They represent to us the strange and threatening unknown. Maybe we’re afraid the principle of the valley will conquer, and the peaks will be overwhelmed. Maybe death is stronger than life because life always seems to require an effort; death is something into which you slide effortlessly. Maybe nothing will overcome something in the end. Wouldn’t that be awful? And so we resist change, ignorant of the fact that change is life, and that ‘nothing’ is invariably the obverse face of ‘something.’


Most people are afraid of space. They ignore it, and they think space is nothing. Space and solid are two ways of talking about the same thing. Space-solid. You don’t find space without solid, you don’t find solids without space. If I say, “There is a universe in which there isn’t anything but space,” you must say, “Space between what?” Space is relationship, and it always goes together with solid, like back goes with front. But the divisive mind ignores space. And it thinks that it’s the solids that do the whole job; that they’re the only thing that’s real. That is, to put it in other words, conscious attention ignores intervals because it thinks they’re unimportant.


Let’s consider music. When you hear music, what you really hear when you hear melody is the interval between one tone and another. The steps, as it were, on the scale. It’s the interval that is the important thing. So, in the same way, in the intervals between this year’s leaves, last year’s leaves; this generation of people and that generation; the interval is in some ways just as important—in some ways, more important—than what it’s between. Actually, they go together, but I say the interval is sometimes more important because we underemphasize it, so I’m going to overemphasize it as a correction. So space, night, death, darkness, not being there is an essential component of being there. You don’t have the one without the other, just as your buzzsaw has no teeth without having valleys between the tips of them. That’s the way being is made up.





















In Buddhism, change is emphasized, first, to unsettle people who think that they can achieve permanance by hanging on to life. And it seems that the preacher is wagging his finger at them and saying—you know, like the Scotch preacher, one day saying to Sunday congregation,

Preaching on the text, vanity of vanities, all is vanity. And what about the rich food you put into your mouths? ’Tis vanity. And the fine raiment you put on your backs? ’Tis vanity. And all your playing around, going to golf instead of coming to the kirke or the sabbath? ’Tis vanity. And you be spendin’ all your lives devoted to vanity, and the last day will come—the day of your death. And because you’ve devoted your life to vanity, you go down to the burning fiery brimstone pits of hell. And there, you look up, and say unto the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, I did not know it! Oh Lord, I wouldn’t’ve devoted my life to vanity if I had known it! Oh Lord!’ And the Lord, he looked down, and he’ll say unto you, out of his infinite mercy, ‘Well, ye know it now.’

So all the preachers, together, say, “Don’t cling to those things.” So then, as a result of that—and I’m going to speak in strictly Buddhist terms—the follower of the way of Buddha seeks deliverance from attachment to the world of change. He seeks nirvāṇa, the state beyond change—which the Buddha called the unborn, the unoriginated, the uncreated, and the unformed. But then, you see, what he finds out is that, in seeking a state beyond change, seeking nirvāṇa as something away from saṃsāra—which is the name for the wheel—he is still seeking something permanent.


And so, as Buddhism went on, they thought about this a great deal. And this very point was the point of division between the two great schools of Buddhism—which, in the south, were Theravada, the doctrine of the Thera, the elders, sometimes known, disrespectfully, as the Hīnayāna. “Yana” means a vehicle, a conveyance, a diligance, or a ferryboat. This is a yana, and I live on a ferryboat because that’s my job. Then there is the other school of Buddhism, called the Mahāyāna. “Maha” means “great,” “hina” “little.” The great vehicle and the little vehicle. Now, what is this?


The Mahāyānas say, “Your little vehicle just gets a few people who are very, very tough ascetics, and takes them across the other shore to nirvāṇa. But the great vehicle shows people that nirvāṇa is not different from ordinary life.” So that, when you have reached nirvāṇa, if you think, “Now I have attained it. Now I have succeeded. Now I have caught the secret of the universe, and I am at peace,” you have only a false peace; you have become a stone buddha. You have a new illusion of the changeless. So it is said that such a person is a pratyekabuddha. That means private buddha: “I’ve got it all for myself.” And in contrast with this kind of pratyekabuddha, who gains nirvāṇa and stays there, the Mahāyānists use the word bodhisattva. ‘Sattva’ means essential principle; ‘bodhi,’ awakening. A person whose essential being is awakened. The word used to mean ‘junior buddha,’ someone on the way to becoming a buddha. But in the course of time, it came to mean someone who had attained buddhahood, who had reached nirvāṇa, but who returns into everyday life to deliver all other beings. This is the popular idea of a bodhisattva: a savior.


And so, in the popular Buddhism of Tibet and China and Japan, people worship the bodhisattvas—the great bodhisattvas—as saviors. Say, the hermaphroditic Guanyin. People loved Guanyin because she—he/she, she/he—could be a buddha, but has come back into the world to save all beings. The Japanese call he/she Kannon, and they have, in Kyoto, an image of Kannon with one thousand arms radiating like a great aureole all around this great golden figure. And these one thousand arms are one thousand different ways of rescuing beings from ignorance. Kannon is [a] funny thing. I remember one night when I suddenly realized that Kannon was incarnate in the whole city of Kyoto; that this whole city was Kannon. That the police department, the taxi drivers, the fire department, the mayor and corporation, the shopkeepers—insofar as this whole city was a collaborate effort to sustain human life, however bumbling, however inefficient, however corrupt—it was still a manifestation of Kannon with its thousand arms. All working independently, and yet one. So they revere those bodhisattvas as the saviors who’ve come back into the world to deliver all beings.


But there is a more esoteric interpretation of this. The bodhisattva returns into the world. That means he has discovered that you don’t have to go anywhere to find nirvāṇa. Nirvāṇa is where you are, provided you don’t object to it.




Change—and everything is change; nothing can be held on to—to the degree that you go with a stream, you see, you are are still, you are flowing with it. But to the degree you resist the stream, then you notice that the current is rushing past you and fighting with you. So swim with it, go with it, and you’re there. You’re at rest. And this is, of course, particularly true when it comes to those moments when life really seems to be going to take us away, and the stream of change is going to swallow us completely. The moment of death. And we think, “Oh-oh, this is it. This is the end.” And so at death we withdraw. Say, “No, no, no, not that. Not yet, please!”


But actually, the whole problem is that there really is no other problem for human beings than to go over that waterfall when it comes. Just as you go over any other waterfall, just as you go on from day to day, just as you go to sleep at night. Be absolutely willing to die. Now, I’m not preaching. I’m not saying you ought to be willing to die, and that you should muscle up your courage and somehow put on a good front when the terrible thing comes. That’s not the idea at all. The point is that you can only die well if you understand this system of waves. If you understand that your disappearance as the form in which you think you are you—your disappearance as this particular organism—is simply seasonal. That you are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life. These are just two sides of you, because you is the total wave. You see, we can’t have half a wave. Nobody ever saw waves which just had crests and no troughs. So you can’t have half a human being, who is born but doesn’t die; half a thing. That would be only half a thing. But the propogation of vibrations—and life is vibration—it simply goes on an on, but its cycles are long cycles and short cycles.


Space, you see, is not just nothing. If I could magnify my hand to an enormous degree so that you could see all the molocules in it—I don’t know how far apart they would be, but it seems to me they would be something like tennis balls in a very, very large space—and you’d look when I move my hand like this, and say, “For God’s sake, look at all those tennis balls! They’re all going together. Crazy! And there are no strings tying them together. Isn’t that queer?” No, but there’s space going with them. And space is a function of—or it’s an inseparable aspect of—whatever solids are in the space. That is the clue, probably, to what we mean by gravity. We don’t know yet. So, in the same way, when those marvelous sandpipers come around here—the little ones—while they’re in the air, flying, they have one mind; they move all together. When they alight on the mud, they become individuals and they go pecking around for worms, or something. But one click of the fingers and all those things are going “Zzzhup!” into the air. They don’t seem to have a leader, because they don’t follow when they turn, they all turn together and go off in another direction. Amazing. But they’re like the molocules in my hand.


So then, you see, here’s the principle: when you don’t resist change—I mean over-resist; I don’t mean being flabby—when you don’t resist change, you see that the changing world, which disappears like smoke, is no different from the nirvāṇa world. Nirvāṇa, as I said, means breathe out, let go of the breath. So, in the same way, don’t resist change; it’s all the same principle.


So the bodhisattva saves all beings—not by preaching sermons to them, but by showing them that they are delivered, they are liberated, by the very fact of not being able to stop changing. You can’t hang on to yourself. You don’t have to try not to hang on to yourself. It can’t be done. And that is salvation. Memento mori: be mindful of death. Gurdjieff says in one of his books that the most important thing for anyone to realize is that you and every person you see will soon be dead. See, it sounds so gloomy to us because we have devised a culture fundamentally resisting death.




I love the story of a conversation at an English country house at a dinner party, where the hostess started up the question of death and asked the various guests what they thought was going to happen to them when they die. And some thought about reincarnation, and others thought about different planes of being, and others thought they were going to be annihilated. But none of the guests had answered except Sir Roderick, who was a kind of a military type, but a very devout pillar of the Church of England. He was the church warden, chief, of the vestry in the local country parish. And the lady said, “Sir Roderick, you haven’t said a word. What do you think is going to happen to you when you die?” “Oh,” he said, “I’m perfectly certain I shall go to heaven and enjoy everlasting bliss. But I wish you wouldn’t indulge in such a depressing conversation.”


It’s true, isn’t it? Death, in the Western world, is a real problem. We hush it up. We pretend it hasn’t happened. Our morticians, who are very smart commercial operators, know exactly what’s expected of them. And they make death just awful by pretending it doesn’t happen. See, what happens—you go to a hospital, and you’re at the end; you’ve got terminal cancer. And all your friends come around, and they wear false smiles and they say, “Cheer up, you’ll be alright. In a few days from now you’ll be back home, and we’ll go out for a picnic again.” The doctors have their bedside manners. See, a doctor is absolutely helpless with a terminal case. Because a doctor is, by social definition, a healer. He’s not allowed to help you die. He’s out of role, even though—I mean—he may sneak behind the rules and do it. But he’s got to heal you, so he’s got to keep you, indefinitely, on the end of tubes and all kinds of things, while there’s a certain grave demeanor to all this, and all the nurses are so pleasant and so totally distant, because they know this is death. And they may be frank with you, that’s why they feel distant. It’s not that they’re not concerned. It’s not that they are heartless people. But that they just don’t know how to be frank. Like lots of people, when they meet a drunk, they don’t know what to do with a drunk. Because he’s not behaving right. So when you’re dying you’re not behaving right! You’re supposed to live! See?


So we don’t know what to do with a dying person. We don’t get around that person and say, “Listen. Now, listen, man. Listen, I got the news for you! You’re gonna die. And this is going to be great! Look! No more responsibilities! Don’t have to pay those bills anymore! Don’t have to worry about anything! You’re going to just die! And let’s go out with a bang! Let’s have a party! See? We’ll put some of that morphine in you so you won’t hurt too much. We’re going to prop you up in bed and we’re going to bring all our friends around, and we’re going to have champagne, and you’re going to die at the end of it, see? And it’s going to be just marvelous! Just like being born!”


See, when we have birth problems—see, all women used to think that birth had to be painful; it was good for them. It was one of those things you had to suffer, because you’d been screwing around with people, and therefore, you had to have a child, and it’s going to hurt. And then the doctors got together and they scratched their heads, and a man called [Grante DeGreed [?]] said, “No, birth doesn’t hurt. It’s natural. All you’ve got to do is talk these women into the idea that it doesn’t hurt, and these so-called pains are just tensions, and that birth is great. It’s not a disease, it’s not really something you ought to go to the hospital for.” Because you associate hospitals with diseases and sickness. Birth isn’t sickness.


Alright, now let’s do some new thinking. What about death? Is death sickness? Or is it a healthy natural event, like being born? Of course it is. So a little change in social attitude about this will fortify everybody else. If I’m alone and all my relatives are moaning and pretending it’s going to be hard for me, I’ve got to challenge the whole bunch of them. Get my dander up and say, “Listen, damn you, I don’t want all this thing around here. You’ve got to take a different attitude about my death.” Well, that’s hard. But if everybody helps me, and we do—we’re all one body—they all come around and say, “Congratulations, you’re going to die!” Liberation! Liberation now, you see?


Because, just before you die—look, I know very well a skillful priest, handling a person dying, can do this for them. But he has to talk very, very, very straight. And he has to say, “Listen, these doctors—don’t you pay any attention to them. They’re trying to amuse you and deceive you. You’re going to die. This isn’t terrible, but it’s just going to be the end of you, as a system of memories. And so you’ve got a great chance—right now, before it happens—to let go of everything. Because you know it’s going to go, and this is going to help you. It’s going to help you let go of everything. So if you have any possessions left, give them away. Give everything away. And if you have anything to say that you felt you ought to say before you die—that you are kind of hanging on to and it’s bothering you—say it.”


I don’t mean, necessarily, a last confession. But say—it’s said that Adlai Stevenson, shortly before he died, said that he’d been making a monkey of himself because he didn’t agree with the government’s policy about something or other. You know? He had to get that off his chest, because he had a little thought in the back of his mind that things were catching up with him. You see? So the moment comes when this thing called death has to be taken completely. Not as some ghastly accident. Something that—oh, your friends are going to stay away because you’re awful. I mean, sometimes, people—when they die—are in a very unpleasant physical condition. They don’t smell good, they don’t look good, and so on. But an enormous amount can be done with scientific methods to make things reasonably tidy from a purely sensory point of view.


But the main thing is the attitude that death is as positive as birth, and should be a matter for rejoicing, because death is (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/document/out-of-your-mind-12) the symbol of the liberation. There is a wonderful saying that Ananda Coomaraswamy used to quote: “I pray that death will not come and find me still unannihilated.” In other words, that man dies happy if there is no one to die. In other words, if the ego has disappeared before death caught up with it. But, you see, the knowledge of death helps the ego to disappear because it tells you you can’t hang on.


So what we need—if we’re going to have a good religion around, that’s one of the places where it can start. Having, I don’t know—nowadays, I suppose, they’d call it the Institution for Creative Dying. But something like that. You can have one department where you can have [a] champagne cocktail party to die with, another department where you can have glorious religious rituals, and priests, and things like that; another department where you can have psychedelic drugs, another department where you can have special kinds of music. Anything, you know? All these arrangements will be provided for in a hospital for delightful dying. But that’s the thing: to go out with a bang instead of a whimper.




I was talking a great deal yesterday afternoon about the Buddhist attitutde to change, to death, to the transience of the world, and was showing that preachers of all kinds stir people up in the beginning by alarming them about change. That’s like somebody, you know, actually raising an alarm, just in the same way as if I want to pay you a visit I ring the doorbell, and then we can come in and I don’t need to raise an alarm anymore. So in the same way, it sounds terrible, you see, that everything is going to die and pass away, and here you are, thinking that happiness, sanity, and security consist in clinging on to things which can’t be clung to, and in any case there isn’t anybody to cling to them. The whole thing is a weaving of smoke.


So that’s the initial standpoint. But as soon as you really discover this, and you stop clinging to change, then everything is quite different. It becomes amazing. Not only do all your senses become more wide awake, not only do you feel almost that you’re walking on air, but you see, finally, that there is no duality; no difference between the ordinary world and the nirvāṇa world. They’re the same world, but what makes the difference is the point of view. And, of course, if you keep identifying yourself with some sort of stable entity that sits and watches the world go by, you don’t acknowledge your union, your inseparatability, from everything else that there is. You go by with all the rest of the things. But if you insist on trying to take a permanant stand, on trying to be a permanant witness of the flux, then it grates against you, and you feel very uncomfortable.


But it is a fundamental feeling in most of us that we are such witnesses. We feel that, behind the stream of our thoughts, of our feelings, and our experiences, there is something which is the thinker, the feeler, and the experiencer. Not recognizing that that is itself a thought, feeling, or experiece, and it belongs within and not outside the changing panorama of experience. It’s what you call a cue signal. In other words, when you telephone, and your telephone conversation is being tape recorded, it’s the law that there shall be a beep every so many seconds. And that beep cues you in to the fact that this conversation is recorded. So, in a very similar way, in our everyday experience there’s a beep which tells us this is a continuous experience which is mine. Beep!


In the same way, for example, it is a cue signal when a composer arranges some music, and he keeps in it a recurrent theme, but he makes many variations on it. Or, more subtle still, he keeps within it a consistent style, so you know that it’s Mozart all the way along, because that sounds like Mozart. But there isn’t, as it were, a constant noise going all the way through to tell you it’s continuous—although, in Hindu music, they do have something called the drone. There is, behind all the drums and every kind of singing, something that goes “Nnnneeeeeeoooooooiiiinnggg,” and it always sounds the note which is the tonic of the scale being used. But in Hindu music, that drone represents the eternal Self, the Brahman, behind all the changing forms of nature. But that’s only a symbol. And to find out what is eternal you can’t make an image of it; you can’t hold on to it. And so it’s psychologically more condusive to liberation to remember that the thinker—or the feeler, or the experiencer—and the experiences are all together. They’re all one. But if, out of anxiety, you try to stabilize—keep permanent—the separate observer, you are in for conflict.




Of course, the separate observer—the thinker of the thoughts—is an abstraction which we create out of memory. We think of the self—the ego, rather—as a repository of memories; a kind of safety deposit box, or record, or filing cabinet place, where all our experiences are stored. Now, that’s not a very good idea. It’s more that memory is a dynamic system, not a storage system. It’s a repitition of rhythms, and these rhythms are all part and parcel of the ongoing flow of present experience. In other words, first of all, how do you distinguish between something known now, and a memory? Actually, you don’t know anything at all until you remember it. Because if something happens that is purely instantaneous—if a light flashes, or, to be more accurate, if there is a flash, lasting only one millionth of a second, you probably wouldn’t experience it, because it wouldn’t give you enough time to remember it.


We say in customary speech, “Well, it has to make an impression.” So, in a way, all present knowledge is memory, because you look at something, and for a while the rods and cones in your retina respond to that, and they do their stuff—jiggle, jiggle, jiggle; it’s all vibration—and so as you look at things, they set up a series of echoes in your brain. And these echoes keep reverberating, because the brain is very complicated. First of all, everything you know is remembered, but there is a way in which we distinguish between seeing somebody here now, and the memory of having seen somebody else who’s not here now, but whom you did see in the past, and you know perfectly well, when you remember that other person’s face, it’s not an experience of the person being here. How is this? Because memory signals have a different cue attached to them than present-time signals. They come on a different kind of vibration. Sometimes, however, the wiring gets mixed up, and present experiences come to us with a memory cue attached to them, and then we have what is called a déjà vu experience: we’re quite sure we’ve experienced this thing before.


But the problem that we don’t see—don’t ordinarily recognize—is that, although memory is a series of signals with a special kind of cue attached to them so that we don’t confuse them with present experience, they are actually all part of the same thing as present experience; they are all part of this constantly flowing life process, and there is no separate witness standing aside from the process, watching it go by. You’re all involved in it. Now, accepting that, you see—going with that; although, at first, it sounds like the knell of doom—is, if you don’t clutch it anymore, splended. That’s why I said that death should be occasion for great celebration. That people should say “Happy death!” to you, and always surround death with joyous rites, because this is the opportunity for the greatest of all experiences, when you can finally let go because you know there’s nothing else to do.


There was a kamikaze pilot who escaped because his plane—that he was flying at an American aircraft carrier—went wrong, and he landed in the water instead of hitting the plane, so he survived. But he said afterwards that he had the most extraordinary state of exaltation. It wasn’t a kind of patriotic ecstasy. But the very thought that, in a moment, he would cease to exist—he would just be gone—for some mysterious reason that he couldn’t understand, made him feel absolutely like a god.


Well then, in Buddhist philosophy this sort of annihilation of oneself, this acceptance of change, is the doctrine of the world as the void. This doctrine did not emerge very clearly, very prominently, in Buddhism until quite a while after Gautama the Buddha had lived. We begin to find this, though, becoming prominent about the year 100 B.C., and by 200 A.D. it had reached its peak. And it was developed by the Mahāyāna Buddhists, and it is the doctrine of a whole class of literature which goes by this complex name: Prajñāpāramitā. Now, ‘prajna’ means wisdom. ‘Paramita,’ a crossing over, or going beyond. There is a small Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, a big Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, and then there’s a little short summary of the whole thing called the hṛdaya, or Heart Sutra, and that is recited by Buddhists all over Northern Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan, and it contains the saying, “That which is void is precisely the world of form, that which is form is precisely the void.” Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, and so on, and it elaborates on this theme. It’s very short, but it’s always chanted at important Buddhist ceremonies. And so it is supposed—by scholars of all kinds who have a missionary background—that the Buddhists are nihilists; that they teach that the world is really nothing, there isn’t anything, and that there seems to be something is purely an illusion. But, of course, this philosophy is much more subtle than that.


The main person who was responsible for developing and maturing this philosophy was Nagarjuna, and he lived about 200 A.D.—one of the most astonishing minds that the human race has ever produced. And the name of Nagarjuna’s school of thought is Madhyamaka, which means, really, the Doctrine of the Middle Way. But it’s sometimes also called the Doctrine of Emptiness, or Śūnyavāda, from the basic word śūnya, or sometimes śūnya has -ta added on the end, and that -ta means ‘-ness’—‘emptiness.’




Well, then, emptiness means, essentially, transience. That’s the first thing it means. Nothing to grasp, nothing permanent, nothing to hold on to. But it means this with special reference to ideas of reality, ideas of God, ideas of the Self, the Brahman, anything you like. What it means is that reality escapes all concepts. If you say there is a God, that’s a concept; if you say there is no God, that’s a concept. And Nagarjuna is saying that, always, your concepts will prove to be attempts to catch water in a sieve, or wrap it up in a parcel. So he invented a method of teaching Buddhism which was an extension of the dialectic method that the Buddha himself first used. And this became the great way of studying, especially at the University of Nalanda—which has been reestablished in modern times, but, of course, it was destroyed by the Muslims when they invaded India—the University of Nalanda, where the dialectic method of enlightenment was taught.


The dialectic method is perfectly simple. It can be done with an individual student and a teacher, or with a group of students and a teacher. And you would be amazed how effective it is when it involves precious little more than discussion. Some of you, no doubt, have attended tea groups, blab-labs, in which people are there, and they don’t know quite why they’re there, and there’s some sort of a so-called resource person to disturb them. And after a while they get the most incredible emotions, and somebody tries to dominate the discussion of the group, say, and then the group kind of goes into the question of why he’s trying to dominate it, and so on and so forth. Well, these were the original blab-labs, and they have been repeated in modern times with the most startling effects. That is to say, the teacher gradually elicits from his participant students what are their basic premises of life. What is your metaphysic, in the sense—I’m not using metaphysic in a kind of a spiritual sense, but what are your basic assumptions? What real ideas do you operate on as to what is right and what is wrong, what is the good life and what is not? What arguments are you going to argue strongest? Where do you take your stand? The teacher soon finds this out, for each individual concerned, and then he demolishes it. He absolutely takes away that person’s compass. And so they start getting very frightened, and say to the teacher, “All right, I see now. Of course I can’t depend on this, but what should I depend on?” And unfortunately, the teacher doesn’t offer any alternative suggestions, but simply goes on to examine the question, “Why do you think you have to have something to depend on?” Now, this is kept up over quite a period, and the only thing that keeps the students from going insane is the presence of a teacher who seems to be perfectly happy, but is not proposing any ideas. He’s only demolishing them.


So we get, finally—not quite finally—to the void; the śūnya. And what then? When you get to the void there is an enormous and unbelievable sense of relief. That’s nirvāṇa. “Whew,” as I gave a proper English translation of nirvāṇa. “Aaaah. Great.” So they are liberated, and yet they can’t quite say why or what it is that they found out, so they call it the void. But Nagarjuna went on to say, “You mustn’t cling to the void.” You have to void the void. And so the void of nonvoid is the great state, as it were, of Nagarjuna’s Buddhism. But you must remember that all that has been voided, all that has been denied, are those concepts in which one has hitherto attempted to pin down what is real.


In Zen Buddhist texts they say, “You cannot nail a peg into the sky.” And so, to be a man of the sky, a man of the void, is also called ‘a man not depending on anything.’ And when you’re not hung on anything you are the only thing that isn’t hung on anything—which is the universe. Which doesn’t hang, you see. Where would it hang? It has no place to fall on, even though it may be dropping; there will never be the crash of it landing on a concrete floor somewhere. But the reason for that is that it won’t crash below because it doesn’t hang above. And so there is a poem, in Chinese, which speaks of such a person as having above, not a tile to cover the head; below, not an inch of ground on which to stand.


And, you see, this—which, to people like us, who are accustomed to rich imageries of the divine; the loving father in heaven, who has laid down the eternal laws. Oh word of God incarnate, oh wisdom from above, oh truth unchanged unchanging, oh light of life and love. The wisdom from which the hallowed page, a lantern for our footsteps, shines out from age to age. See, so that’s very nice. We feel we know where we are, and that it’s all been written down, and that, in heaven, the Lord God is resplendant with glory, with all the colors of the rainbow, with all the saints and angels around, and everything like that. So we feel that it’s positive, that we’ve got a real rip-roaring gutsy religion full of color and so on. But it doesn’t work that way.




The more clear your image of God, the less powerful it is, because you’re clinging to it; the more it’s an idol. But voiding it completely isn’t going to turn it into what you think of as void. What would you think of as void? Being lost in a fog, so that it’s white all around, and you can’t see in any direction. Being in the darkness. Or the color of your head as perceived by your eyes. That’s probably the best illustration that we would think of as a void; because it isn’t black, it isn’t white, it isn’t anything. But that’s still not the void. Take the lesson from the head. How does your head look to your eyes? Well, I tell you: it looks like what you see out in front of you, because all that you see out in front of you is how you feel inside your head. So it’s the same with this.


And so, for this reason, the great sixth patriarch, Huineng, in China, said it was a great mistake for those who are practicing Buddhist meditation to try to make their minds empty. And a lot of people tried to do that. They sat down and tried to have no thoughts whatever in their minds. Not only no thoughts, but no sense experiences, so they’d close their eyes, they’d plug up their ears, and generally go in for sensory deprivation. Well, sensory deprivation, if you know how to handle it, can be quite interesting. It’ll have the same sort of results as taking LSD, or something like that, and there are special labs made nowdays where you can be sensorily deprived to an amazing degree.


But if you’re a good yogi this doesn’t bother you at all. Sends some people crazy. But if you dig this world, you can have a marvelous time in a sensory deprivation scene. Also, especially, if they get you into a condition of weightlessness. Skin divers, going down below a certain number of feet—I don’t know exactly how far it is—get a sense of weightlessness, and at the same time this deprives them of every sense of responsibility. They become alarmingly happy, and they have been known to simply take off their masks and offer them to a fish. And of course they then drown. So if you skin dive, you have to keep your eye on the time. You have to have a water watch or a friend who’s got a string attached to you. If you go down that far, and at a certain specific time you know you have got to get back, however happy you feel, and however much inclined to say, “Survival? Survival? What the hell’s the point of that?” And this is happening to the men who go out into space. They increasingly find that they have to have automatic controls to bring them back. Quite aside that they can’t change in any way from the spaceship. Now isn’t that interesting?


Can you become weightless here? I said a little while ago that the person who really accepts transience begins to feel weightless. When Suzuki was asked, “What is it like to have experienced satori?”— enlightenment—he said, “It’s just like ordinary everyday experience, but about two inches off the ground.” Zhuang Zhou, the Taoist, said, “It is easy enough to stand still, the difficulty is to walk without touching the ground.” Now why do you feel so heavy? It isn’t just a matter of gravitation and weight. It is that you feel that you are carrying your body around. So there is a kōan in Zen Buddhism: “Who is it that carries this corpse around?” Common speech expresses this all of the time: life is a drag. I feel like I’m just dragging myself around. My body is a burden to me. To whom? To whom? That’s the question, you see? And when there is nobody left for whom the body can be a burden, the body isn’t a burden. But so long as you fight it, it is.


So then, when there is nobody left to resist the thing that we call change—which is simply another word for life—and when we dispel the illusion that we think our thoughts, instead of being just a stream of thoughts, and that we feel our feelings, instead of being just feelings; it’s like saying, you know, to feel the feelings is a redundant expression. It’s like saying, “Actually, I hear sounds,” for there are no sounds which are not heard. Hearing is sound. Seeing is sight. You don’t see sights. Sight-seeing is a ridiculous word! You could say just either ‘sighting,’ or ‘seeing,’ one or the other, but sightseeing is nonsense!


So we keep doubling our words, and this doubling is comparable to oscillation in an electrical system where there’s too much feedback. Where, you remember, in the old-fashioned telephone—where the receiver was separate from the mouthpiece, the transmitter—if you wanted to annoy someone who was abusing you on the telephone, you could make them listen to themselves by putting the receiver to the mouthpiece. But it actually didn’t have that effect; it set up oscillation. It started a howl that could be very, very hard on the ears. Same way if you turn a television camera at the monitor—that is to say, the television set in the studio—the whole thing will start to jiggle. The visual picture will be of oscillation. And the same thing happens here. When you get to think that you think your thoughts, the ‘you’ standing aside the thoughts has the same sort of consequence as seeing double, and then you think, “Can I observe the thinker thinking the thoughts?” Or, “I am worried, and I ought not to worry. But because I can’t stop worrying, I’m worried because I worry.” And you see where that could lead to. It leads to exactly the same situation that happens in the telephone, and that is what we call anxiety; trembling.


But his discipline that we’re talking about, of Nagarjuna’s, abolishes anxiety because you discover that no amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that’s going to happen. In other words, from the first standpoint, the worst is going to happen: you’re all going to die. And don’t just put it off in the back of your mind and say, “I’ll consider that later.” It’s the most important thing to consider now, because it is the mercy of nature, because it’s going to enable you to let go and not defend yourself all the time; waste all energies in self-defense.




So this doctrine of the void is really the basis of the whole Mahāyāna movement in Buddhism. It’s marvelous. The void is, of course, in Buddhist imagery, symbolized by a mirror, because a mirror has no color and yet reflects all colors. When this man I talked of, Huineng, said that you shouldn’t just try to cultivate a blank mind, what he said was this: the void—śūnyatā—is like space. Now, space contains everything—the mountains, the oceans, the stars, the good people and the bad people, the plants, the animals, everything. The mind in us—the true mind—is like that. You will find that when Buddhists use the word ‘mind’—they’ve several words for ‘mind,’ but I’m not going into the technicality at the moment—they mean ‘space.’ See, space is your mind. It’s very difficult for us to see that because we think we’re in space, and look out at it. There are various kinds of space. There’s visual space: distance. There is audible space: silence. There is temporal space: as we say, between times. There is musical space: so-called distance between intervals, or the intervals between tones, rather; quite a different kind of space than temporal or visual space. There’s tangible space. But all these spaces, you see, are the mind. They’re the dimensions of consciousness.


And so, this great space which every one of us apprehends from a slightly different point of view—in which the universe moves—this is the mind. So it’s represented by a mirror, because although the mirror has no color, it is for that reason able to receive all the different colors. Meister Eckhart said, “In order to see color, my eye has to be free from color.” So, in the same way, in order not only to see, but also to hear, to think, to feel, you have to have an empty head. And the reason why you are not aware of your brain cells—you’re only aware of your brain cells if you get a tumor or something in the brain, when it gets sick—but in the ordinary way, you are totally unconscious of your brain cells; they’re void. And for that reason you see everything else.


So that’s the central principle of the Mahāyāna. And it works in such a way, you see, that it releases people from the notion that Buddhism is clinging to the void. This was very important when Buddhism went into China. The Chinese really dug this, because Chinese are a very practical people, and when they found these Hindu Buddhist monks trying to empty their minds and to sit perfectly still and not to engage in any family activities—they were celibates—Chinese thought they were crazy. Why do that? And so the Chinese reformed Buddhism, and they allowed Buddhist priests to marry. And in fact, what they especially enjoyed was a sūtra that came from India, in which a layman—who was a wealthy merchant called Vimalakīrti—out-argued all the other disciples of Buddha. And of course—you know, these are these dialectic arguments that are very, very intense things—if you win the argument, everybody else has to be your disciple. So Vimalakīrti, the layman, won the debate, even with Mañjuśrī, who is the bodhisattva of supreme wisdom. They all had, you see, a contest to define the void, and all of them gave their definitions. Finally, Mañjuśrī gave his, and Vimalakīrti was asked, then, for his definition, and he said nothing, and so he won the whole argument. The thunderous silence.