Can You Be In Control?

Alan explores the meaning of personal free will in the context of core tenets in Eastern mythology: how is it possible to control anything when preexisting conditions outside of our influence determine our present situation? It is a realization of the hidden unity behind our apparent diversity and a relinquishing of obsessive control that enables us to unlock a pathway leading out of the conundrum and towards a celebration and reverence of life.


In the West we inherit the idea of law from those ancient conceptions of God, and it is even passed down into science where we discuss laws of nature. But one recognizes more and more in the sciences that what we call laws of nature are simply observed regularities in the way things behave. And in order to observe regularities you must look at things through something regular—that is to say, you must lay a ruler alongside them or compare their behavior with the regular behavior of a clock. But clocks and rulers are human inventions. They are regular measures which we use for comparing the rates of change. Say, a clock is a measure of a rate of change. It’s quite arbitrary. But we very easily compare our regulation-measuring devices with what makes things happen, as if the sun rises because it’s six in the morning. That’s being completely backwards in one’s thinking.


And we get into the same confusion when we imagine, for example, that money is wealth. Here we have fantastic wealth, you know, and we have the technological possibility of making everybody on Earth the enjoyer of an independent income. We can’t do it because people say, “Where’s the money going to come from?” Because they think money makes prosperity. It’s the other way around: it’s physical prosperity which has money as a way of measuring it. But people think money has to come from somewhere, like hydroelectric power or lumber or iron, and it doesn’t. Money is something we invent, like inches. So, you remember the Great Depression; when there was a slump? And what did we have a slump of? Money. There was no less wealth, no less energy, no less raw materials than there were before, but it’s like you came to work on building a house one day and they said, “Sorry, you can’t build this house today. No inches!” “What do you mean, no inches?” “Just inches! We got inches of lumber, yes. We got inches of metal. We’ve even got tape measures. But there’s a slump in inches as such,” you see? And people are that crazy! They can have a depression because they have no inches to go around, or no dollars. That’s all a lot of nonsense!


But, you see, because we get thinking backwards and making the metaphysical tale wag the dog, making the law rule things—whereas it doesn’t, it’s merely a way of measuring what happens. And so, you see, when you get into Buddhistic thought you don’t get that confusion the other way around. So you’re looking at a system where—to go back to the Buddha’s words—“this arises, that becomes,” which is a way of saying: you can’t have this without that. You can’t have “here” without “there.” You wouldn’t know where here was unless you knew where there was. And they come into being together. You don’t get first here and then there, or first there and then here. These arise interdependently. That’s the meaning of interdependent origination. And to grasp the idea of interdependent origination is as important as the idea about seeing how things are related by space and intervals, and seeing, therefore, that you tend to look at life from a myopic point of view and see details; see the trees and not the forest, see yourself as something loosely related to everything else that’s going on and not integral to it. You see the the figure but ignore the background. But the figure and the background arise mutually. They are to each other as this is to that.


And so we really have to rid our brains of the notion of causality. The notion of causality being that present sets of circumstances are the result of past sets of circumstances and that, therefore, certain events (which are called causes) are responsible for following events (called effects). And all this is an enormous piece of mumbo-jumbo, because what is not seen and what is not clear in thinking that way is that, in physical nature, there are no separate events. This is startling to people. But it’s really quite easy to see that there are no events in nature, because you can ask very simply—let’s take something called an event: how do we demark it from other events? At what point, shall we say, were you born? Were you born at parturition? Or when the doctor slapped you on the bottom? Or cut the umbilical cord? Or when you were conceived? Or when your father and mother were first attracted to each other? When was it? When did you begin? There’s no way of deciding except arbitrarily. And for legal purposes we say you were born at parturition. And that’s when the astrologer casts your horoscope—except that other astrologers disagree and want the conception time, and say that’s the real beginning. There isn’t a real beginning. It goes back and back and back in an inseparable continuity. When are you dead? That’s another big argument. And you can get all kinds of ideas about that.


So once you see that an event is a term in an intellectual calculus—calculus being the way of measuring, say, curved formations by reducing them to point-instants and counting it, you see? But actually, the point-instants are imaginary. The curve wiggles along and it doesn’t stutter from point to point. But in calculus you make it do that. So just as there are no point-instants in the curve, so there are no events in nature. Nature is a constantly fluctuating pattern. You can only designate particular wiggles in a pattern arbitrarily. You can count a convex formation as one wiggle or a concave formation as one wiggle. Then you decide if you call it—if you give the convex properties the title of “wiggle,” you have to deny it to the concave properties, and vice versa.


So when you see that what we call separate events don’t exist, it becomes nonsense to speak of one event causing another. What you really mean is that the two events which you speak of as being causally related are simply two parts of the same event. They go with each other in the same way as this with that. The relationship is not causal, it is mutual. And it works two ways in time, because so-called future events are not merely passive to past events. But you could easily see when, for example, any biological process goes on, you can reason just as well from the future to the past as from the past to the future. Why do two mammals have sexual intercourse? Well, it isn’t just that they enjoy it, it’s also that they’re a very complex system which does this because it makes babies. And the prospect of baby works in reverse and creates desire. You can reason that way. It’s silly because the whole process is one. And when we speak humanly and purposively, “I am going downtown to buy groceries,” then your future event could be said to be the cause of why you’re now starting out to get into the car: buying groceries.


And the the difficulty we have in seeing this to be so is that we think in an either/or way—which is what is called dualism in Hindu Buddhist thought and that liberation is being free from dualism. So when you think in an either/or way you see the figures in the background as moving, and therefore being responsible for their action. But if somebody argues the other way around and says the figures are just following lines of force in a field—gravitational principle, say: we’re all human beings, you see; we’re all concentrated on our fact that we’re individually rushing around and doing this and that. But we don’t see that we’re equally sucked, and that we move around in response to all sorts of stimuli. But neither position is adequate. You have to see that our being sucked by all sorts of stimuli is exactly the same thing as our apparently voluntary and deliberate action. Because what we’re looking at is not this Newtonian game of billiards, where balls roll because they are hit by cues. What we’re involved in is a dance where—for example, watch a snake: when a snake swims, there’s nothing more beautiful than watching a snake swim in water. Lovely motion! But, you see, it wiggles along. And its wiggle is conceivable, you see, as convex—or was it concave? This way and that way and this way and that way. Now, which side of the snake moves first hen it wiggles? See, it’s very easy to see there.


Now, when we interact with the world, what moves first? Who starts it? The objective world or the subjective world? But they are related as this to that. You can’t have an object without a subject or a subject without an object. Can’t have something known without the knower. And that gives the show away. There isn’t any real distinction between the knower and the known. There’s two ways of looking at something, yes; two poles of a single process. But the knower and the known are subsumed as the knowing. And all life is knowing, being, becoming. And it isn’t something, in other words, that works by the idea of “all this happens because someone shoves it.”


Now, you see, the idea “all this happens because someone shoves it” is basic to Western thinking. There is the Lord God who’s the boss, and he sloshes this universe into being and shoves it and sets it going. And you better obey that shove, because he’s introduced into it some recalcitrance by giving to human beings what the Hebrews call the yetzer hara—the wayward spirit—so that they shall be able to play certain games on their own. Because nothing very interesting would happen if everybody obeyed God. The whole world would be like a lifeless thing, you see? So they had to reason that into it in order to save face for God, practically, because otherwise he could be blamed for all the catastrophes that happened instead of our being able to say to each other, “Well, it’s our fault.”


But then, you see, you do the flip. Bllwp! In giving away the control, you got it. You’ve got the kind of control you wanted. That’s to say, where you had a loving relationship to the world but you didn’t have to make up your mind what it should do. You let it decide. Now, do you see: that’s how your bodies work. You don’t have to make up your mind what your nerve cells are going to do. You’ve delegated all that authority. If the president the United States has to lie awake at nights thinking what every official under his command is going to do, he can’t be president. He’s got to make an act of trust in all those subordinates to be responsible and carry on their things in just the same way as you make an act of trust to all your subordinate organs to carry on their functions without you having to tell them what to do. And this is the secret of what we will call organic power, as distinct from political power. Lao Tzu puts it in this way:

The great Tao flows everywhere,

both to the left and to the right.

It loves and nourishes all things

but does not lord it over them.

And when merits are accomplished

it lays no claim to them.


The more, therefore, you relinquish power—trust others—the more powerful you become. But in such a way that, instead of having to lie awake nights controlling everything, you do it beautifully by trusting the job to everyone else, and they carry it on for you. So you can go to sleep at night and trust your nervous system to wake you up in the morning. You can even tell it: “I want to wake up at six o’clock,” and it will wake you up just like an alarm clock. This seems a sort of paradox to say this, but the principle of unity—of coming to a sense of oneness with the whole of the rest of the universe—is not to try to obtain power over the rest of the universe. That will only disturb it and antagonize it and make it seem less one with you than ever. The way to become one with the universe is to trust it as an other—as you would another—and say, “Let’s see what you’re going to do.” But in doing that, you see—in saying that to everything else (that you have been taught to think is not you), you are also saying it to yourself.


Because, finally—as I pointed out—you do not know where your decisions come from. They pop up like hiccups. And when you make a decision, people have a great deal of anxiety about making decisions. See, there’s this guy, a farmer, who ordered a helping man to come in and found that he was an extraordinarily efficient worker. For the first day he put him on sawing logs. And he sawed more logs than anybody had ever sawed. It was fantastic. They were all done in one day. So the next day he put him on to mending fences. And there were all kinds of broken fences around the farm. And in one day he had the whole thing done. So he thought, “What am I gonna do with this guy?” So he took him down into a basement and said, “Look, here are all the potatoes that have come in from this harvest. And I want you to sort them into three groups: those that we sell, those that we use for seeding, and those that we throw away.” So he left him at that. At the end of the day the laborer came back and said, “Well that’s enough, mister. I quit.” “No!” he said, “You can’t quit! I’ve never had such an excellent worker. I’ll raise your salary. I’ll do anything to keep you around here.” “Eh,” he said. “No. It’s alright mending fences and chopping wood, but this potato business is decision after decision after decision after decision!”


So when we decide, we’re always worrying. Did I think this over long enough? Did I take enough data into consideration? And if you think it through you find you never could take enough data into consideration. The data for a decision in any given situation is infinite. So what you do is: you go through the motions of thinking out what you will do about this. And then, when the time comes to act, you make a snap judgment. I mean, I’m speaking a little extremely, making some fun of it, and so on—because, after all, we do occasionally get the vague outlines of things and make a right decision on rational grounds. But we fortunately forget the variables that could have interfered with this coming out right.


It’s amazing how often it works. But warriors are people who think of all the variables beyond their control and what might happen. So then, when you make a decision and it works out all right, I think very little of it has much to do with your conscious intent and control. But somehow or other you are able to decide and control things more harmoniously if you delegate authority. It’s why very great businessmen are those who can delegate authority; trust others to work for them. Because those are people developing businesses on the same basic structure that is fundamental to a living organism: delegation of authority. “It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.”


And, you see, then what is happening is this: the more you let go of it and trust it as if it were quite other than you, the more you realize the inseparable identity of self and other. To go back: if you try to find the identity of self and other by subjecting other to self, no go. If, on the other hand, you find it through giving self (that is, control) over to other and trusting that—you may make a mistake, you may make a bad gamble, but in the long run you’re acting on a principle which has the backing of evolution. This is the way biological evolution goes on: constant delegation of authority. That’s why, obviously, the democracy is superior to the monarchy. Mr. Tocqueville, who said that democracy is always right but for the wrong reasons. Because there is operating in a democracy the principle that Buckminster Fuller calls synergy. And synergy is the intelligence of a highly complex system, the nature of which is always unknown to the individual members.


Because that goes back again to this point that we’re always entering a new environment. We don’t ever know fully what the new environment is because the only environments we know are the past ones. There is always, then—operating in the development of cellular life on any level—a new way of organization, higher than any existing form. And we’re not aware of it until after it’s happened. If you ever saw, for example, the film Kon-Tiki, this man figured out a few things as to how to make a balsa wood raft to sail from South America to the Pacific Islands. But once he had set this in motion he discovered that all sorts of unexpected factors cooperated with him. That, when the wood got wet, it expanded so that the ties bit into it and held it completely secure. He’d never expected that. And he found that, as he sailed along, a flying fish would simply alight flat on the deck every morning for breakfast. That all kinds of natural factors—he had touched a key where he was flowing with the course of nature and everything cooperated with him. Because he had touched the key, he had made the act of faith. And he was just picking up, in other words, a practice which had been hundreds and hundreds of years ago had been followed by others who had worked it out by their great ecological awareness.


So we do come out of this way of thinking to something which has, I would say, the most enormously creative and revolutionary social consequences. That it has become not virtuous, not self-sacrificing—not anything like that. It has become the hardest practical politics to let go [of] control to others, to give up trying to dominate the scene. Also, in a parallel way, it has become at this time in our history very much hard practical politics to learn how to enjoy ourselves. You can go to the Protestant people with their Protestant ethic, who are against this kind of thing, and now say to them with great glee, “It is your solemn duty to learn how to enjoy yourself.” Why? Because in an age of leisure people have really got to know how to enjoy themselves. Because if they don’t, they’ll smash the whole future of the human race.


So a utopia has become not some sort of a dream, but an urgent necessity. We can’t do without it! Because if we try to do without it, what’s gonna happen is that we are going to terminate our race in a mutual massacre of scapegoats. And so the present paranoia in the United States that is going on, where everybody is thinking up a new scapegoat and how great it will be to demolish them or get them out of power—all this kind of bickering, and right and left politics has become irrelevant. Because we now have the opportunity of trusting our own intelligence, our own technology, to take the risk of doing what we want. Which will work—to the extent that we realize that what I want, basically, what I really want, is what you want. And I don’t know what you want. Surprise me!


But that’s the kinship between I and thou. So when I ask, I go right down to the question which we started with: what do I want? The answer is: I don’t know. When Bodhidharma was asked, “Who are you?”—which is another form of the same question—he said, “I don’t know. Planting flowers to which the butterflies come, Bodhidharma says, ‘I know not.’” I don’t know what I want. Well, when you don’t know what you want, you’ve really reached the state of desirelessness. When you really don’t know.


You see, there’s a there’s a beginning stage of not knowing and there’s an ending stage of not knowing. In the beginning stage you don’t know what you want because you haven’t thought about it, or you’ve only thought superficially. And then when somebody forces you to think about it and go through and say, “Yeah, I think I like this, I think I like that, I think I’d like the other,” that’s the middle stage. Then you get beyond that and say, “Is that what I really want?” In the end you say, “No, I don’t think that’s it. I might be satisfied with it for a while and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it, but it’s not really what I want.” Why don’t you really know what you want?


Two reasons that you don’t really know what you want. Number one: you have it. Number two: you don’t know yourself, because you never can. The Godhead is never an object of its own knowledge, just as a knife doesn’t cut itself, fire doesn’t burn itself, light doesn’t illumine itself. It’s always an endless mystery to itself. I don’t know. And this “I don’t know” uttered in the infinite interior of the spirit, this “I don’t know” is the same thing as “I love,” “I let go,” “I don’t try to force or control.” It’s the same thing as humility. And so the Upanishads say if you think that you understand Brahman, you do not understand and you have yet to be instructed further. If you know that you do not understand, then you truly understand. For the Brahman is unknown to those who know it and known to those who know it not.


And the principle is that, anytime you, as it were, voluntarily let up control—in other words, cease to cling to yourself—you have an excess of power. Because you’re wasting energy all the time in self-defense, trying to manage things, trying to force things to conform to your will. The moment you stop doing that, that wasted energy is available. And therefore, you are—in that sense, having that energy available—you are one with the divine principle. You have the energy. When you’re trying, however, to act as if you were God—that is to say, you don’t trust anybody, and you’re the dictator, and you have to keep everybody in line—you lose the divine energy, because what you’re doing is simply defending yourself.


So then, the principle is: the more you give it away, the more it comes back. Now, you see, I don’t have the courage to give it away. I’m afraid. And you can only overcome that by realizing you better give it away, because there’s no way of holding onto it. The meaning of the fact, you see, that everything is dissolving constantly, that we’re all falling apart, and we’re all in a process of constant death, and that,

The worldly hope men set their hearts upon turns ashes—or it prospers. And like snow upon the desert’s dusty face lighting a little hour or two—is gone.

You know? All that Omar Khayyám jazz. You know,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

[The solemn temples,] the great globe itself—

Aye, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,

And like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.


All falling apart. Everything is. That’s the great assistance to you. See, that fact—that everything is in decay—is your helper. That is allowing you that you don’t have to let go because there’s nothing to hold on to. It’s achieved for you, in other words, by the process of nature. So once you see that you just don’t have a prayer, and it’s all washed up, and that you will vanish and leave not a rack behind—and you really get with that—suddenly you find you have the power; this enormous access of energy. But it’s not power that came to you because you grabbed it. It came in entirely the opposite way. And power that comes to you in that opposite way is power with which you can be trusted.


Of course, what we’ve been talking about is not so much a set of ideas as an experience, or shall we say, experiencing. And this kind of seminar (in comparison with encounter groups, or workshops of various kinds, or experiments in sensory awareness) is now being called a conceptual seminar—although I’m not talking about concepts. But the crucial question arises that an understanding—a real feeling-understanding—of the polar relationship between the individual and the world is something that operates (as we say) in your bones, and isn’t just a view that you hold or a belief that you hold.


It’s so curious that the emphasis of the Western tradition in religion is primarily upon right belief—do you believe in the right dogmas and the right doctrines?—and only secondarily upon right action. Because what you believe is (in Christianity, at any rate) far more important than what you do, because one is saved through faith, not by works. And early in its history the Christian church rejected the movement in the church which had been known as Gnosticism. From the Greek gnôsis, which means “knowledge.” And, in a way, there were some sound reasons for doing so, because the Gnostics were what I would call anti-materialists. They divided human beings into three classes that were called, respectively: pneumatic, psychic, and hylic—the last one being H-Y-L-I-C, from the Greek hū́lē, or they would call it now xýlo, meaning “wood.” So the people were spiritual, psychological, and wooden. And that is to say the wooden people were those most absorbed in materiality and most closely identified with their bodies.


And orthodox Christianity rejected this sort of distinction because of the perfectly correct idea that material existence is not inconsistent with spirituality. This is something which most Christians have forgotten. But they do believe as the central principle of Christianity in what’s called the incarnation. That, in Jesus of Nazareth, almighty God did in fact become material, become human, and by this process initiated a transformation of the cosmos. In the words of Saint Athanasius: God became man that man might become God. Now, you don’t hear that from the pulpit very often!


The Christian church therefore emphasized pistis (or faith) as against gnosis (or knowledge), because they said you can never know God. God could never become an object of knowledge. And in this funny roundabout way the Christian theologians were saying exactly the same thing as the Hindus. Only the Hindus do call this knowledge of God through faith—they call it jnana, which is the same as the Greed word gnosis. But just to give you a little side light on how words get mixed up in their meanings: we now have a class of person called an agnostic. And an agnostic generally means a person who doesn’t commit himself to any beliefs about the ultimate nature of things. He just says he doesn’t know. But the original word, agnosia in Greek, meant a special kind of knowledge. It was called the dark knowledge of God: the knowledge of God in the cloud of unknowing, to use the title of a mystical treatise written by an anonymous 14th century English monk. This monk derived his ideas from a very mysterious figure who wrote under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. Dionysius was a 5th or 6th century Syrian monk who had learned his mysticism from Porphyry, who got it from Plotinus, who was a Neoplatonist, and who probably got a great deal of stimulation from the intellectual world of Alexandria. And Alexandria, in the early years of the Christian era, was a tremendous exchange place between East and West. Buddhist monks visited Alexandria. It was one of the great centers of trade between Rome and India. And as you may know, all Rome’s gold went to India for the purchase of pepper. And as a result of this, the Roman economy collapsed: they bought too much luxury from India. India, in exchange, got Roman architecture. And you see a lot of Roman architecture in Indian temples. But Alexandria was the great center for the Gnostics and for Christian theology, and some of the greatest theologians—Clement, Origen, Athanasius, St. Cyril—all worked out of Alexandria.


Well, now, going back to this strange monk, Dionysius: it was he who first put around the idea in Christian circles that there was such a thing as the knowledge of God by faith—by agnosia, really: by unknowing. And he, in a book which he wrote—a very short book called the Theologia Mystica—he wrote a treatise on the higher knowledge of God which might be quoted directly from the Upanishads in certain parts of it. The last section of it reads like the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad because it’s a series of negations: it says what Got is not. And he goes very far, because he says that God is not one. He says our idea of unity falls far short of what God is. So does our idea of trinity. So does our idea of spirit, our idea of mind, of justice, of love. All these things are not really God. And he says in another place: if anybody, having seen God, understood what he had see, what he would have seen would not have been God but some creature of God, less than God, some sort of angel or something like that.


It’s perfectly amazing to consider the influence that this man had. For writing under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite he became identified, you see, with St. Paul’s first convert in Athens. And legend has it that he was the first bishop of Athens and was martyred in Gaul, now where he’s know as St. Denis. But St. Thomas Aquinas looked upon the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite as having the highest authority. And you could—if all the texts of Dionysius’ work had been lost—you could restore most of it from quotations in St. Thomas.


He wrote, really, two very important books. One was the one I said, the Theolgia Mystica. The other was called The Divine Names. And these two books presented the two phases of his theology. The book called The Divine Names was a discussion on the nature of God in terms of what God is like by analogy. And this kind of knowledge of God he called cataphatic. From the Greek léne, “to speak” or “say;” cata, meaning to say according to—that is to say, to speak by analogy. Where he used, though, entirely negative language about God, this sort of discourse was called apophatic. And the word apo meaning “away from.” To talk away from—just as a sculptor, when he makes an image, reveals the image by removing stone. And so Dionysius explained that one attains the knowledge of God by discarding concepts. Which is exactly what the Hindus mean when they say: of God one can only say neti neti, “not this, not this.” Not any conception. As in Hindu philosophy, the highest state of consciousness in samādhi is called nirvikalpa samādhi, which means, literally, “non-conceptual.” Vikalpa means “a concept.” Nir is a negation. So, the non-conceptual knowledge.


Now, people have greatly misunderstood this. They have imagined that unknowing, the state of the highest contemplation, was the apposition of a blank mind from which you first discarded thought, you went on to discard perception, you went on to discard any kind of sensory content in awareness until you were, so far as anyone could say, aware of nothing. And they supposed that this kind of catatonic state was mystical consciousness. This is often believed in India. If you go to the Vedanta society and ask, “What do you mean by nirvikalpa samādhi?” they will tell you that one in that state has no consciousness whatsoever of the sensory world, that he is completely absorbed—as you sometimes see Hindu holy men sitting in a state where they are blind and deaf to everything going on around them.


The founder of Chinese Zen, known as Huìnéng, described people like that as no better than pieces of rock and lumps of wood. He said it’s a very serious mistake indeed to confuse śūnyatā—the Sanskrit word for the great void which is both the ultimate reality and the consciousness thereof—said it’s a great mistake to confuse it with nothingness. It is rather to be thought of as space, or like space. Because space is not empty, it contains the whole universe. And so in the same way, the state of mind of a person who’s truly enlightened is not empty. It contains everything. But like space, it is not stained by what it contains. And it’s often said in Zen imagery: you can’t hammer a nail into space. You can’t spit on the sky and soil it. If you try, the spit will just return and hit your own face. So they go on to say the consciousness in all of us, your basic mind, is like space. It is completely pure. But, of course, by “purity” they don’t mean unsexual—which is, of course, what purity generally means in the Western world. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” A person who’s pure in heart is generally understood as one who never has any naughty thoughts. You know what “naughty” means? It means “vain,” “negative,” “empty.” A naughty person, therefore, is one who doesn’t amount to anything; is just nothing. That’s the real meaning.


But this misunderstanding of the nature of contemplation existed not only in India (from which it was transmitted to China), but also in the West. You read many treaties on Western mysticism and there’s still the feeling that getting into a deep, deep trance, sometimes called rapture—again, the word “rapture” has undergone some transformations. We talk about rapture as people being beside themselves with pleasure. But to be rapped means to be taken away from the body. So, also, “ecstasy:” we now interpret as meaning in a state of high pleasure, but it means to be outside yourself, to stand outside yourself. Your soul has left you. It is with God. As Arabs say of all crazy people, “Be kind to them. They are not here. Their soul is with God.”


But actually, if it can be true (as Buddhists say) that nirvāṇa and saṃsāra are one, and if it can be true (as Christians say) that the spirit can be made flesh, the word can be made flesh, then obviously the highest form of man is not sitting in a trance like a lump on a log with a perfectly blank mind. Because if that were the highest state of consciousness it would be an exclusive state of mind; a state of mind that shuts out life. And in that sense it could not qualify for being what the Hindus call nondualistic. They always speak of the highest reality as being not “one,” because “one” excludes “many,” not “nothing,” because “nothing” excludes “something,” not “being,” because “being” excludes “non-being,” and vice versa. And so they use this word “nondual” to mean that which doesn’t exclude anything. Which, as it were, has no outside. As we say, space has no outside. You can only have outsides inside space. You can’t have any outsides outside space; there is no outside-space, even though space may be curved and finite.


So if you want to think, incidentally, of that curved space, go and take a look at a photograph in the Life book on mathematics, where there’s a picture of a Klein bottle, which is a three-dimensional Möbius strip. A Möbius strip, you know, is a piece of paper that is twisted once and then joined, and it has only one side and only one edge. Now, a Klein bottle is a three-dimensional Möbius strip, and it only has one inside. It has no outside. You can say it has an inside and no outside or it has an outside and no inside. It’s a fabulous little trick. But something like that would be the nature of space as that which does indeed transcend the opposites. Ummm… not quite. No, we’d have to do one extra move on a serpent to make it into a Klein bottle. You’d have to tuck its head through the side of its skin and make the aperture through the mouth continuous with the inside of the serpent towards the tail, you see? That’s more or less what a Klein bottle is.


So what I’m getting to—I’m giving you something out of the general history of religions. To show that what has been meant by the mystical state—the state of samādhi, or awakening—in certain traditions is not this state of trance but a state of consciousness in which you can perfectly well carry on your daily affairs. And, of course, what is meant by a bodhisattva as the ideal type of Buddhist person is that he is not rapped, that he is actively engaged in the life of the world. Because he has gone beyond the illusion that nirvāṇa is to be found away from everyday life.


So what is, then, the point of meditation? Why meditate? Why do you have to crawl up into a hole or go to a Zen monastery or retire and be quiet, when this is only a withdrawal? Is there anything to be said for it? Meditation is, in that sense—as a practice, as a discipline—is a very curious problem. Because from one point of view it’s a help and from another point of view a hindrance. And I think we have to understand, first of all, that meditation exercises are medicinal rather than dietary. The same could be said of LSD: a medicine, not a diet. Something that is described in Zen as: when you want to open a door, or summon someone to open the door for you, you pick up a brick and you knock on the door, but you don’t carry the brick into the house. When you need a raft for crossing a stream, you cross the stream on the raft but you leave the raft on the bank at the other side. You don’t go carrying it around. But a lot of people, when they get into meditation, or they get into religion, or into any kind of exploration of this sort, turn the door into a revolving door, and keep on going ’round and ’round and ’round and never get through. They say, “What a gas it is to be in this revolving door!” A good definition of a parasite is a person who goes through a revolving door on someone else’s push.


So there are all sorts of people in the religious racket who are going through revolving doors. And they’re very bitter about people who walk right through and leave the door behind, because they say, “You haven’t paid enough respect.” You must really understand religious oneupmanship. It’s a tremendously important thing. And don’t be caught out by this, because what happens is: there’s a little game going on, which I’m going to initiate you into. And it’s played in Zen, which is… it works like this: if you go to a teacher and ask for spiritual instruction, or even if you come to a seminar like this, you are—by doing that—confusing yourself, because you are looking for what you are asking for outside; as if someone else could give it to you, as if you didn’t have it. So the teacher knows that, as long as you do that, you haven’t understood. But he doesn’t just tell you to go away. Or he may, sometimes, just say, “Go away, I’m too busy. And in any case, I can’t tell you anything.” Well, people won’t take that for an answer. They won’t take no for an answer. And furthermore, if he just said, “Go away,” they would just find some other teacher who would exploit them, and maybe keep them as followers for years and acquire a great deal of money by so doing.


What he does is another thing. He tries to give them the putdown, as if to say, “You have a great, long distance to go yet. Your attainment is not at all perfect.” And they’re always talking about other sects and other schools, and saying, “Well, they haven’t really got the point,” see? So that you keep losing faith in yourself and feeling, “My goodness, I haven’t yet attained this thing.” And that keeps you working. But all the time you’re being talked out. It’s like someone who’s a pickpocket, and he’s stolen your own watch and is selling it to you. But just so long as you can be talked out of yourself, you deserve to be!


Now, you become very aware of this if you ever do, momentarily, slip into some sort of a mystical experience. You become aware of this tremendous gamesmanship going on. And you see it as sort of continuous with all sorts of cosmic games that are going on: of creatures eating other creatures up, and the creatures that get eaten, of course, transform themselves into the creatures that eat them, and then in turn eat other creatures. And you see the whole hide-and-seek game going on, and then you realize very clearly that the state of development that you are in, now, is no better and no worse than anybody else’s state. Because it’s like space again. Which star is in the best position? Well, it’s all equal. They’re all in the middle. Any one can be considered as the center one. Any point on a sphere is the center of the surface of the sphere. So, in the same way, everybody—in all his behavior, whatever he’s doing—whether we call him from a certain point of view sick or whether we call him healthy, whether we call him good or bad, neurotic, normal, psychotic, sane—all the manifestations are just like the leaves on the trees, and in each being in a unique way is (as Christians would say) manifesting the will of God.


So there really—from that point of view, you see—there is nothing to do to attain Buddhahood. Nothing at all. But, you see, that’s very difficult to understand because a lot of people, when they hear that there’s nothing to do, try to do nothing! And you can’t! Because you are karma, and karma means “action.” You can’t do nothing. But the thing you’re looking for (or think you’re looking for) is what you’re doing, is what’s called you. Only, of course, as we all know, we’ve got ourselves into the idea that oneself is so difficult to see. Because it’s like, as I’ve often said, trying to bite your own teeth or look into your own eyes, and you can’t find it. It’s always behind. It’s like your head is, from the optical point of view, a blank space. Neither light nor dark. It’s right in the middle of everything.


And so one of the great tricks of gurus is to set people looking for their heads. There’s a famous story of a king in India in ancient times called Yajñadatta. And one morning he woke up and reached out for his mirror and brought it over—no head! He was looking at the wrong side of the mirror. You know, he was kind of bleary-eyed and had a hangover. So he summoned servants and said, “Ye gods, I’ve lost my head! Find it!” And they said, “But your majesty, it’s there on your shoulders.” He said, “It is not! I can’t see it in the mirror. Nobody can show me my head.” So they were rushing all over the place looking for the head.


Now, the trick to that is, of course, that you are perfectly well aware of your head, only not in a form in which you expect to be aware of it. You expect to be aware of your own head in the same way as you’re aware of other people’s heads. But that wouldn’t be true of you because you’ve got an inside view on your head. You have an outside view of other people’s heads, because, of course, you’re taking an inside point of view. But the way in which you are aware of your head is in terms of what you are seeing and hearing. Because all sights and all sounds are what the nerves inside your head are doing. That’s how to be aware of one’s head. You are aware, therefore, of yourself, the mysterious self that you have, in terms of experience. Because there isn’t really any difference. But that always escapes people, you see?


So, perpetually, so long as you don’t understand that, you can be talked into going on to all kinds of weird excursions. And just so long as you believe it, you’re a sucker. You’re hooked. And it takes a tremendous inner confidence and nerve finally to say, “Oh, don’t pull that stunt on me anymore. I see through your game.” Because gurus are very clever at putting you down. But they’re just trying to see how strong you are; testing you out, see if they can hoodwink you. So long as they can, you see, they’re going to go on doing it, because they’ve got to get you to the point where they can’t do it to you anymore. Then you’re a graduate.


And so, one of Rinzai’s students, after he saw through it, said, “Well, there wasn’t much in Rinzai’s Buddhism after all.” Of course there wasn’t. He said boldly and straight out, “My teaching is just like using an empty fist to deceive a child.” You know, when you play games with a child and pretend you’ve got something here? And the child goes into all kinds of a tizzy to get you to open your hand and show what it is, and then there’s nothing. Fooled! So you can be fooled as long as you can be fooled! When you can’t be fooled you don’t ask the question anymore, because it’s all become clear. It’s all become clear that there is no puzzle about this universe. What makes you think there are puzzles about this universe? Very simple reason: you’re trying to explain it. And when you explain things—what do you mean by “explanation?” There are several meanings of explanation. There’s really one basic meaning, but, first of all, to be able to translate what is happening into terms of words or numbers. In other words, to describe. But a real explanation is not just a description, it’s a description which enables us to control what we’re describing. But didn’t we see, in the last session, that to control the world is not really what we want to do? So that if all explanations have as their function enabling us to control things, then maybe an explanation isn’t what we wanted.


And furthermore, you can very simply see that what makes things complicated is explaining them! When somebody explains to you how a flower works, and he’s a great botanist and analyzes all the innards of a flower, and shows the channels, the fibers, the processes of reproduction and so on that go on in it, everybody stands fascinated, saying, “How complicated that is! How clever God must’ve been to create that flower! To have all that complexity going!” It isn’t complicated at all. It’s only complicated when you start thinking about it. Because the vehicle of words is a very clumsy one. And when you try to talk about the processes of nature, what is complicated is no the processes of nature but trying to put them into words. That’s as complicated as trying to drink up the ocean with a fork. Takes forever! And so this intense complexity that we see in everything is created by our attempt to analyze it all.


And so what we do is, you see, when we analyze we use our eyes and ears as scalpels. And we dissect everything. And we have to put a label on every piece we chop off. And so we scalpelize, and we get it right down to atoms, getting finer and finer. And we suddenly thought we’ve got to the end of it, because the word “atom” means what is not cuttable. Atomos. But then they found we could cut the atom. And lo and behold, big fleas had little fleas upon their backs to bite them. And it goes on forever. There is no end to the minuteness which you can unveil through physical investigation. For the simple reason that the investigation itself is what is chopping things into pieces. And the sharper you can sharpen your knife, the finer you can cut it. And the knife of the intellect is very sharp indeed. And the sophisticated instruments that we can now make—well, there’s probably no limit to it.


But in a way, all that is vain knowledge. In a way. Because, you see, what it does is: it gives you the illusion that you’ve solved your problems. When you have control of certain things and you have solved certain practical problems, you say, “Fine. More of that, please. Let’s go on solving problems.” And then you do. And you create a world of people, as we are today, far more comfortable than people who lived in the 19th century. Just remember the troubles of going to a dentist when you were children—or some of you, when you were children. Of medicine. Of badly heated homes. Of all sorts of things that we don’t put up with anymore. But the problem is: we keep running into this thing that all constant stimulations of consciousness become unconscious. And when we take it as a matter of course to have certain comforts, then we switch the level on which we worry. When you solve a whole set of problems, people find new ones to worry about. And after a while you begin to get that haven’t-we-been-here-before? feeling. Aren’t we just going ’round on a cycle and doing this same old thing over and over and over again, because we don’t realize that we’re chasing our own tails by an eternally recurrent process of not knowing who you are? That is the hide-and-seek. That is the nature of what the Hindus call the manvantara and the pralaya: the period of the manvantara in which the worlds are manifested, and the period of the pralaya in which the worlds are withdrawn from manifestation. In and out. In and out. “Evermore came out by the same door as in I went.”


The thing is to get to the point where you can see that you are doing that in every moment of your existence with every tiny little atom of your body. You—now, at this minute, you see—are the whole system of inning and outing. In other words, you often think, perhaps, “Maybe a long, long time ahead I shall reach the point where I wake up from manifestation and overcome the world-illusion, and discover that I am the supreme reality behind all this diversification.” My friends, there is no diversification! In other words, what you call diversification is your game in the same way as you chop the thing and then you say it is made of pieces. But you forget that you’ve cut it. And so when you see the world as complicated and that there are life problems, and that you might one day succeed—see, hundreds and hundreds of people are running like mad after something that is success, and they have no idea what it is! So, in exactly the same way, the guru is keeping you running and running after spiritual attainment. You don’t know what you want!


See, where Krishnamurti is so clever—because he says, “If you ask me for enlightenment, how can you ask me for enlightenment? If you don’t know what it is, how do you know you want it?” Any concept that you have of it will be simply a way of trying to perpetuate the situation you’re already in. If you think you know what you’re going out for, all you’re doing is you’re seeking the past, what you already know, what you’ve already experienced. Therefore, that’s not it, is it? Because you say you’re looking for something quite new. But what do you mean, “new?” What’s your conception of something new? “Well,” you figure, “I can only think about it in terms of something old. Something I once had.” So he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t indicate anything positively. Everybody says, “Why are you so negative? Why don’t you give us something to hang on to?” Well, the simple answer is: it would be spurious. You don’t need anything to hang on to. You’re it. You don’t need a religion.


But then you say, “Well, what is all this religious stuff about, then? Why don’t we just forget it?” You can try. By all means, just go away. Don’t go to gurus. Don’t go to church. Don’t enter philosophical discussions. Forget it! But then you’ll realize that, by having consented to forget it, you’re still seeking. What a trap! What can you do? See? If you stay here and listen to me, or to anyone else who comes around here, you’re fooling yourself. But if you go away you’re fooling yourself, too! Because you still think that’s going to improve your situation. It won’t. And therefore, when you discover that it doesn’t, you’ll think, “Well, maybe it was a mistake to go away,” and you’ll come back to the guru. And he looks at you and says, “Uh-uh-uh-uh. You are very undisciplined. Very inferior student. You need to apply yourself.”


Well, I explained what he’s doing, but it comes down in a way to a sort of contest with the guru, you see? Will you call his bluff? You’re afraid to because you might discover that, if you do call his bluff, he’s no better than you are. Well, that’s what you’re supposed to find out—but without being cynical about it. He’s as divine as you are. But you’ve got to call the bluff. There’s going to be a showdown. And it’s a double-bind. The whole situation’s a double-bind because it doesn’t do you any good to stay here and it doesn’t do you any good to go away. Either to do something about it or to do nothing about it.


Now, then, there’s something else. When you understand that and when you realize that there’s nothing to realize—that it’s all here—then what are you going to do? Well, of course, this is the sense of a Zen poem:

Supernatural activity and marvelous power,

Drawing water, carrying fuel.

You know? Do whatever one does as a human being. But there’s a little element of philistinism in that. It’s like when a child is pestering father or mother with all sorts of questions. They finally get down to the deepest metaphysical problems, they say, “Oh, shut up and eat your donut!”


And I wouldn’t say that, you see, at this point. Because life—as one looks at it, you see—is in fact a celebration of itself. When you look out at night at the stars and you really wonder, “Good god, what is all that about?” Well, it’s a firework display and it’s celebrating high holy day. It’s “Whoopie!” And the whole world is “Whoopie!” It’s a kind of exuberance. And therefore, the proper function of religion is digging this. It’s not seeking. It’s not seeking anything, but is in a way thanks-giving. That’s why, of course, the Christians were right in calling the mass the Eucharist—the thanks-giving. Only, they had such a complicated way of thinking about it that nobody could understand it. So in religion, all religious exercises—whether they are meditative or whether they are ritualistic—are “Whoopie!” They are not something you do in order to attain anything. They are like art forms, like dancing: they are expressive of attainment—of the attain-less attainment.


So here’s another hangup for you: when you go to Mr. Suzuki, who runs the Zen Center, he’s a good disciple of Dōgen, who brought Zen (a certain school of Zen) to Japan in the 13th century. Dōgen said, “You can’t sit and meditate unless you’re already a Buddha—in which case, why meditate?” Well, meditation is just the way a Buddha sits. And he called this “sitting just to sit.” Not to attain enlightenment. The minute you do that, you see, you’re not meditating.


So you only become a good meditator if you’re not looking for anything. And therefore, you realize what a great thing it is to be able to sit, and what a great thing it is not to dissect the world with your analytical intellect, to be able to look out at the water or the trees or at the floor and the light on it in front of you without calling it “light” or “floor” or “trees,” or thinking that it has parts, or thinking that it’s complicated. It isn’t. So when you can sit without thinking—not with an empty mind, mind you (I’m going back to that point); not with an empty mind, but just a non-analytic mind, a non-probing mind where you’re not creating problems all the time by trying to control it, by trying to control your mind, by trying to control your experience, what you see and hear—you then just simply discover that there is no way of controlling what you’re experiencing because what you’re experiencing is you. And to try and really fundamentally control that—that’s just going around in a circle.


So if I would say to you, “Now, what you have to learn is to let it happen,” that’s wrong, too. There’s no one to let it happen. If I say to you, “Accept your experience. Be calm and open to things,” that, again, perpetuates the illusion that you’re something different from it. And so we go ’round and ’round. But if there are some people who want to get together—ike we would get together to play poker, or to have a walk, go fishing, or sail a boat—if there are some people who want to get together to meditate and to have rituals and to chant, great! It’s an art form. And you can only use it and make it a good art form if you’re not using it to get something.


And this is what really is the bane of temples all over the world. You go into Buddhist temples where they theoretically don’t believe in any god. But there are the people praying. And they are all doing it in order that we get a male child next time around, or that the horse recover from a disease, or that mama gets cured of the dropsy. And all these petitions are going on and on and on: people always coming to the temple to ask for something. Lowbrow people for lowbrow things, highbrow people for highbrow things. And then all the vendors sit outside and sell souvenirs and magic and charms, and all the people go in and do this, and all these serious priests sitting there really having to keep up face, and say, “Yes sir, we can provide these services!” On the other hand, if you go into one of these temples along with all the faithful followers and have a ball—buy a bead, buy a candle, buy a this, buy a that, buy some incense. Go in and dig this great thing going on! Salute the Buddhas, or the altars, or the crucifixes, or what you will—but don’t take it seriously!


And this is one of the great important transformations of today, in our consciousness: is that a great many people are finding out that religion is not supposed to be taken seriously. This is a shocking thing to many people. There used to be an old saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh across the altars. That’s true in one sense. When the priests know that they’ve got a racket going they don’t believe one word of it and they are laughing across the altar because of all these suckers around doing it, then it’s true: the religion is dead. But when the priests laugh at the altar because they’re having such fun, because this whole scene is so beautiful, well, it’s the difference between some stuffy old Buddhist priest humming a sūtra and Allen Ginsberg chanting a sūtra. That’s the thing to hear. Because these priests are going, “Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh”—you know, they go off interminably. “Bwugh, bwugh”—it’s a bore! They’re sick of it, but they get paid for it. This is magical. But when Allen Ginsberg chants a sūtra, everybody gets in a circle, and gets these little bells, and they get going. It’s just like a jam session where everybody is absolutely delighted. Well, that’s the way to do it! And if you can’t do it that way, forget it!

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