Consciousness and Rhythm

This seminar explores consciousness as an intrinsic rhythmic interplay with reality instead of a detached witness. Watts challenges notions of separateness, asserting that individuals and the cosmos are fundamentally unified. He encourages transcending ego and dualistic thinking to harmonize with the underlying patterns and dance that all differentiated experiences, including our own being, arise from. The goal is realizing our inherent interconnectedness with the seamless whole.


Part 1

Rhythms of Reality


Now, this is the first seminar in a series on transformations of consciousness, and this one being devoted to the problem of consciousness and rhythm. Now, to start with, I want to talk about the validity of certain kinds of theory—to wit, metaphysical theory—because the moment we start to talk about consciousness, we are willy-nilly in the realm of metaphysics and epistemology. And these are well-worn, rutted tracks that philosophers have been over for centuries and centuries in an extraordinarily inconclusive way. Partly because of not realizing that simple linguistic discussion of these problems is not enough; that you really, through talking about them, get absolutely nowhere. But there are things to be said that are very interesting, which might take the form of talking about talking about. On the other side, metaphysical matters can be explored in other ways than talking; by various kinds of experimental techniques.


But the trouble is that, although metaphysical matters—matters of the nature of being, the nature of knowing, and all those things—although they don’t yield their secrets to verbal discussion, they remain absolutely unavoidable. Everybody, but everybody, makes certain metaphysical assumptions, even when they try to pretend that they don’t. We’ve seen, for example, in the last few years—that is, since the First World War—the rise of a school of thought which may be generally called scientific empiricism or logical positivism, which has asserted that all metaphysical propositions are meaningless because there is no means of verifying them. Only those propositions are meaningful which can be verified. And by “verification” they mean scientific verification, that is to say: a scientific statement is some kind of prediction, and that prediction can be made and tested. And if it works out right, then they will say that is a valid form of knowledge.


But, you see, that in itself contains a metaphysical assumption. By “metaphysical” I really mean basic. What are the basic ideas upon which you’re operating with respect not only to what you think about knowledge and truth, but also what you think about the good life? That is to say: what is worth doing? And we are very much accustomed to the idea in this day and age that there’s something true about science because it works. But we haven’t sufficiently examined what we mean by works. We don’t really know that science works. It hasn’t been around long enough for us to know whether it does or not. Because, on the other hand, it may be that it doesn’t work at all. Then again, what do you mean by work? There’s a sort of tacit agreement among so many thinkers nowadays that that which works is that which tends to survival under reasonably elegant conditions.


But now, what are these elegant conditions? You could say: well, I like it, so it works for me. I like to survive the way I survive. So the philosophy that I have followed works. Until now. Increasingly, one notices, you see—in the marvels of technology which have come out of the scientific method—that there is a very serious domain in which they don’t work. We’re all aware, I think, of the increasing deterioration of goods and services in our present culture. That, although we have been able to do all sorts of things to cut costs of production and to mechanize production, and thereby make enormous amounts of money, what people don’t stop to consider is: what are you going to buy with the money? The answer is one of two things. A: other people’s cheap products, which aren’t really worth buying, and which they were cutting costs on and cheating. You can have that. Or else you’ve got to go outside the culture—thank you, Jane—and buy Mexican clothes and their beautiful woollens, or Japanese pottery, or all sorts of things from places where there is still craftsmanship and where people still enjoy working.


And they do enjoy working, despite poverty to far greater a degree than we do. They work enormously long hours at a slow pace, and take great pride in a thing being done properly. We, on the other hand, have devoted to the idea that work and play are quite different, and that you work and get it through as quickly as possible, get done with it, and then get money for it—which is all you wanted out of it—and then go and play; have fun. But, you see, how are you going to have fun? Because in order to have fun, you have to have things to have fun with and ways of having fun.


Here in Sausalito, out on the waterfront, there are incredible numbers of pleasure boats. Do you know most of them are never used? Never! Occasionally people have cocktail parties aboard them. But they are status symbols. They took it out for a run and they discovered that there was more to a boat than buying a boat. There was an art to seamanship, which they were all too lazy to learn—because they didn’t have time. Only a sailor really has time for learning how to sail a boat. That is the person who sails for his life. So this is ridiculous. And so, for this reason, the thing isn’t working. It’s a series of disappointments. Everything turns out to be ticky-tacky. And, of course, the same thing is happening in Japan as the industrial culture sweeps over the country. And it’s sweeping very fast.


So how can you say—you really don’t know, you see, whether this works or not. There are signs that it very well might not. We’re not yet absolutely sure, because there might be ways of canalising technological power so that it affords pleasure in work, or work-play, or in simply human activity. But this comes as part of our general focus on the symbolic, on words, on symbols of status rather than true status. In other words, living to such a large extent in a world of symbols that we lose contact with the world of what we call physical reality.


Now, you must be aware of the fact that all metaphysical theories, all conceptions of the good life, have a certain mythological aspect. This has been very interestingly demonstrated by all sorts of depth psychology. Because, you see, the moment you start talking metaphysics to a psychoanalyst, he’ll say: “Tell me about your mother.” In other words, he suspects that all philosophical theories and religious beliefs and so on are symptoms of a certain kind of relationship between the ego and the unconscious, that they are motivated fundamentally by the unconscious—that is to say, by unconscious conditions. And so far a psychoanalysis is concerned, unconscious conditions have to do with man’s canalisation of psychosexual energy, otherwise known as libido. That, of course, is pure metaphysics. When a congress of psychoanalyst was asked by Sidney Hook about the Oedipus complex, he said to them, “What sort of evidence would you accept (if it were presented) which would make it conclusive to you that there is no such thing as the Oedipus complex?” Well, they couldn’t think of any. And, in the same way, you can ask a theologian: “What sort of evidence would conclusively prove to you that Jesus Christ did not rise physically from the dead?” I mean, if you did produce the bones of Jesus, how on earth could they be authenticated as being the veritable bones of Jesus? There’s absolutely no way of thinking of any evidence that would disprove this. And likewise, there is no possible evidence that anybody could imagine that would disprove the existence of God.


But there is imaginable evidence for disproving certain kinds of scientific hypothesis. That is to say, when predictions based on it don’t work, we have the reasons why they don’t work, and that is the evidence for the hypothesis not being true. And so people who argue from that standpoint—which also has its metaphysical basis—will always laugh at people who bring forward ideas such as that you are the only person who exists, and everybody else is your dream, or that the whole universe is really one life or consciousness, and that we are all aspects of it. See, there’s absolutely no way of demonstrating this.


So then, realize that people who adopt various theories of the world are actually mythologizing; that these myths have a certain use, even though we can’t verify them. What they do is to give us a sense of the world making sense. Even if you want to insist that it’s a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing, there’s a certain solace in that. Because when people are very wicked or very miserable, they had just assumed that the world doesn’t make any sense, and that there aren’t really any laws, and that it’s just a bunch of junk rolling around in space which is going to fall apart, and that’ll be the end of it. And also, people who feel bitter against life would put forward that sort of view. On the other hand, people who feel very enthusiastic about life and are thoroughly enjoying it will have mythologies that will speak favorably of the universe. You can do it for various reasons. You can be very happy and thank God for it, and very much believe that there is a God. Also, you can be very miserable and believe that there is a God, but that he’s only going to make things right after you’re dead. You can also want to advertise the fact that you’re a very hard-headed person, and that you always face the facts, and that you don’t indulge in wishful thinking. And therefore you invent a hard-boiled theory of the universe. If you want to think that human beings are the only sensible beings in the universe, then you make a great contrast between man and nature, and you classify nature as being perfectly stupid and automatic, whereas all intelligence resides in man. And therefore, boys, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and fight this system, and make it accord with the human will. Well, all you’ve said by saying that is, “I’m a tough kind of a guy.” That’s really what it comes down to. And: “I’m not pushed over by woolly ideas.” On the other hand, you can look at it from a completely opposite point of view and say, “Well, this whole world is an enormous intelligence. It’s a great conscious being, and I’m one of its operations.” And really, then, I’ve said the other end of the stick. I’ve put everything up.


You see, the people who are tough believe that reality is in the direction of mineral, and the people who are enthusiastic about the universe believe that the more biological (or indeed mental) end of things, is more basic than the geological. You see, you can put geology down here, and say that’s the fundamental thing, and everything else has grown up on it, or you can put consciousness up here, and say, well, everything descended from consciousness into the domain of geology. And it depends sort of on a psychic mood as to which one you prefer, because there is no way of verifying either. Both, you see, are gestures. And in myths—in the sense of myth being an image used to make sense of the world, used to integrate other experiences, and also, I might point out, to select other experiences. According to your myth, so is what you notice as being important.


So then, we today are under the very, very strong domination of the tough guy myth. This became plausible in the nineteenth century, in the early twentieth century, at a time when Western civilization was dominating the rest of the world. And it was one of the motivating forces (there were several) in feeling that we had demonstrable superiority beyond all other people. We had succeeded the most (through our technological skill) in pushing the world around. Therefore, obviously, we were the spearhead and forefront of culture and civilization, and everybody else ought to submit to these benefits. And this is still a basic premise of American politics—or rather a justification of it.


It, of course, is a historical descendant of our former spiritual imperialism: that we had the best religion. Even without knowing anything about other people’s religions, we knew already that we had the true one. And I had the most amusing discussion some time ago with a Jehovah’s Witness who was a radio announcer in Canada. And he said, “Don’t you think, if there were a God, and he really loved and was concerned for the human race, that he would provide us with an infallible textbook in which we would be able to find out the truth and know what was right and wrong?” Implying, of course, that the Bible was this book. I said, “Oh dear me, no, a God who loved the human race would never ruin their minds with any such document.” Because, after all, if you have a document which tells you what to do, you don’t need to use your intelligence. So then he said, you know, “But it’s the Bible, and the Bible is true.” I said, “That’s your opinion.” He said, “My opinion?!”


So this is very, very remarkable, then, when you begin to realize how many different ways you can construe the universe. And it becomes a kind of magical conjuring feat. The human mind can see its position and its total surroundings in many different ways. But this in itself says something. It’s telling us something very important. You most frequently discover that the very important things to be learned are never brought out directly, but are seen after a while as a consequence of a repeated kind of behavior, and very often a kind of behavior which always goes round in a vicious circle. When you are trying to do something which cannot be done, you try it in many different ways without knowing that it’s all the same way. And when you’ve been through that for a long time, there’s this peculiar and little understood phenomenon of the human mind called learning, and it suddenly dawns on you that, my goodness, I see why it won’t work. I’ve just been going round, whereas I thought I was going along.


Now then, the question arises: should I do something else—that is to say, go along somehow—or keep going round, realizing that you might just as well go round as any other way? You see, in Buddhist discipline, especially in Zen, the inner design of the discipline (as I showed in Psychotherapy East and West) is a way of demonstrating to the individual that he is moving in a vicious circle. That is because he is trying to solve a problem which has no solution. The teacher never tells him that directly, because it can’t be told. Nobody will believe it. They are quite sure that somewhere in all these efforts that go round and round there’s an answer. And the problem which is requiring an answer is, of course: can I defeat the universe? Can I, as ego, escape from suffering? Can I, somehow or other, beat the game and not have to take black along with white and darkness along with light?


So when he has been involved in disciplines and attempts—all of which are designed to bring this nonsense goal about—he discovers, empirically, that it can’t be done. He discovers that he has posed himself a problem about which he can’t do anything, and also about which he can’t do nothing. And he arrives at total frustration. And so he asks: what is the meaning of this? What does it mean that I have got into this state? Well, obviously, it dawns at last that the meaning was: he was asking the wrong question. He had construed the whole thing in a way that only went round in a circle. Well, after that—that’s called liberation.


But after that, he is shown how to go back into the circle in a different way. Buddhism describes the world as a wheel of life from which one has to be liberated, or one could be liberated. But after being liberated, you come back into the wheel of life as what’s called a bodhisattva, and you live it in a different style and in a different way, with compassion for all the other trapped beings who think they can get out of it.


So, in the same way, when we look at the history of philosophy—and moreover at the history of civilizations expressing various philosophical and religious myths—we see again the circle: that they are all, as it were, in a prison—the prison being the human situation. We are all organisms of a certain kind, and anything that we do will bear our style. So, in this way, the kind of universe we are aware of is a humanized universe. There’s no way out of that, even if you describe nature as red in tooth and claw, and utterly careless of man. That’s a human poetic way of thinking about things. I’m sure tigers don’t think of themselves as red in tooth and claw. They probably think they’re very genteel pussycats. After all, pussycats eat mice. And from the point of view of a mouse, a cat must seem like a very terrible tiger, even though it curls up on the fire and likes to sit on people’s laps and be stroked. If we had some sufficiently angelic beings, I’m sure they would keep tigers for pets, as some of the great Taoist sages were supposed to have done.


So this point is that the human style is always there to show that this conception of the universe is something, as we would say, anthropomorphic. But it’s important to realize that there are only anthropomorphic ideas. All ideas about the world are translations of what we experience into the patterns of the human brain. And so they all bear the stamp of man. But once you’ve said that, you begin to wonder if you said anything that meant anything. Because, again, you see, you’ve come down to a fundamental proposition. If all ideas are human ideas, has that said anything about ideas? Or has it merely said all ideas are all ideas?


Now, do you see what has happened here? Of course, you see, there can’t be any ideas except human ideas, until we could meet and communicate with some being that forms ideas and definitely isn’t human. But it would be—if it could communicate with us at all—it would become humanized, wouldn’t it? We would translate the messages of this non-human creature into human terms. And by that time we would, in a certain way, have humanized this being. We would have digested it, assimilated it, transformed it into ourselves. And so, you see, you come back to yourself as a living organism, and see that the whole world that you know is inseparable from your particular organic structure. You know it all in terms of your body. And in that sort of way, the whole world is inside you. And there is no way of knowing it otherwise. Now, we screen that out of our normal perception, because we screen out all factors that are common. When you have an equation, for example, and there are certain terms on both sides, you can cancel them out. And this is part of the nature of consciousness: that common factors are screened out. But this has certain practical disadvantages. And to these I want to draw your attention very strongly.


When anything grows in a differentiated way out of some center, when there are rays or spokes or porcupine quills, it’s very important; this differentiation of the spokes and the quills. But they must have their center. If they don’t have it, they can’t function harmoniously. So, in the same way, it’s very important that life consists of differentiations, different people, different things, different activities, different processes. And they beguile our attention and lead us to forget any sort of underlying base for the whole thing. The logician will argue, as I have shown, that to consider the underlying base is not important. Because since it underlies everything, so what? That’s true, you see, from a certain point of view. From a certain point of view, it isn’t important. You can forget it. Just like you can forget how you digest your food. It’s just as well not to think about it and let the thing go along. You can forget how you think, but just go on thinking. You don’t need to think about thinking all the time you think. You don’t need to know anything about your brain in order to think. That’s fantastic, isn’t it? But there it is, underneath.


But there is this respect in which it is important to have some kind of awareness of the background, which is that when human beings forget the underlying whatever it is, they tend to go a little insane. They tend to disintegrate. Because they have no factor in their experience, or symbol in their philosophy, corresponding to the ground. They therefore become disgruntled. Without ground. And this is of course the importance of what you might call a mystical or religious point of view: is that it contains a symbol for the ground. And we know, of course, that there are various kinds of symbol of the ground. The Christians and Jews and Mohammedans have a symbol of the ground with which they have a rather odd relation. They are on and in this ground by sufferance and on probation. In other words, the ground isn’t you. God is not man. God is not his creature. And therefore, all these three kinds of religious people tend to feel somewhat nervous in the universe, because they are never quite sure whether God approves or not. The surer they are that God approves of them and that they’re alright with him, the more insufferable they become. Because they cannot have that certainty in this particular mythological arrangement unless there are also people who are not saved. You see, you can’t know that you belong to the group of the saved unless there is also a group of outcasts. And so it’s terribly important to all saved people and to all the elect that there be somebody outside the pale.


And that’s the difficulty of this point of view. It leads to the kind of imperialism I’ve spoken about. And the Jewish religion—as it was, for example, in the three or four centuries before Christ—was insufferably imperialistic. The Islamic religion has likewise been the impulse behind the tremendous spread of Islamic culture in the early Middle Ages. And likewise, the Christian imperialism underlies the spread of Western civilization. “We know we are right, but because we are not at all sure, really, we are going to make sure—by always having lots of unbelievers to convert and to kick around.”


Then, of course, there’s the other Hindu point of view, for which the ground of being is something that you can’t get out of, because it’s really you. But this leads to its own special kind of vice, like the Christian one does. The Hindus are very secure inside. But because they are not at all interested in imperialism and sort of admit that all religions are ways to the truth—with the exception of some few fanatics—the Hindus tend to be an extraordinarily easy-going people, and therefore immensely difficult to get them to get up and go and do something about their dreadful economic system and their frightful poverty. They say, “Oh well, it’s karma. They’ll all die eventually. And anyway, we are in the kali yuga, which is the destructive epoch of the cycle, and nothing could be done about it.” It’s probably true. I don’t know what anybody is ever going to do about India from the standpoint of Protestant Anglo-Saxon mythology that is cleaning the place up. It’s very funny, but at the same time it isn’t. I mean, India stinks. And it’s most appalling suffering of the people. It’s just frightful. Although I sometimes wonder—I’ve told you, I think, that story about (which is a German tale, and it expresses a certain kind of German humor) the fisherman who was sitting on the bank, putting worms on his hook. And somebody came along and said, “You know, that’s terribly cruel, putting those poor little worms on a hook.” He said, “But they’re used to it.” And in a certain way, I suppose, human beings live by what they’re used to.


Although I had recently the other day a talk with a fascinating Canadian who was with the British Army in Indonesia in the Second World War, and he was captured and sent to a Japanese prison camp in Singapore. And he said, “Of course, I went there when it was time for me to go to the university. And I realized that this prison camp”—Changi, or something like that, was the name of it. He said, “That’s my university. And I’m very proud of it. I have no resentment about this. The Japanese did what everybody else does. We had pretty bad food. We had extraordinary conditions.” He said, “But after being through that, I’m not afraid of anything.” He said, “When you get down to those degradations and that depth of life, you become aware what a miracle a drink of water is, and what a gorgeous thing the sky is and the sunlight. All that kind of thing.” He said, “Your senses has become incredibly acute.” And so he’s just—he wrote a novel about it called King Rat. Some of you may know; now a movie in San Francisco.


So perhaps one can console oneself and say that to some extent that is true of the starving millions of India. And certainly, as one watches the peasantry of Japan or Mexico, Japanese are a lot better off, but they do have a kind of something in the way of a positive feeling that you do not find in this country. Here you tend to find more and more, among not only the lower classes, but also the middle and upper, a kind of franticness, a kind of violence, always on the edge and ready to go. But you do not find that—I mean, they get violent, but suddenly, boom, like that, more or less ordinary people are serene and singing and pushing along, and not cursing and swearing. And we don’t seem to get it out of our system that way.


So, you see, I’ve shown two ways in which your philosophy of the ground makes a good deal of difference to how you behave. So what I’m really saying is: if you don’t have a philosophy of the ground—as most people today don’t—you tend to disintegrate and you become victim of anxiety. That is to say: a feeling—let’s suppose a person is in a culture where he’s got to make the grade money-wise, as is true to a certain extent here, despite our welfare agencies. You’ve got to make that grade or you’re out. If you don’t have money, or whatever it is, you’re going to lose all your friends, and nobody’s going to give a hoot in hell about you. And people can come around and sell everything you have, and whoops, out on the street you go. And what are you to do? See? Well, that’s the sense. The sort of emotions that attend that are the emotions that I would call characteristic of disintegration, of a sense of not belonging.


Then there’s the other kind of anxiety, inculcated by the Judeo-Christian Islamic ground: the just and great Lord to whom you belong. But if he doesn’t like you, or really thinks you’ve misbehaved, he can drop you off. Or you can drop yourself off from him. I mean, just by your indigence or whatever it is, sickness, you don’t earn any money, then you’re out. So if, by your sinfulness or whatever, although the Lord still loves you, you’re out. But the Hindu has this curious sense, you see, that there’s no way out from the ground, and that however awful things are, to any imaginable pitch of horror that you can reach, he has this strange sense that there is something underneath it all, which is himself and which is completely unmoved by all this, and which is great.


Now, you can say, again: all these people are doing wishful thinking. And perhaps in a way they are. Because mere belief, you see, the mere idea that there is some sort of a ground underneath everything, doesn’t effectively lead you to it. And very often it’s so superficial that it hinders rather than helps. But again, I say the person who says all this talk about the ground is really retrogressive. It’s nothing but people wanting to get back into the amniotic fluid. But is there anything wrong with that? It isn’t a matter, is it, of getting back. You see, a matrix—a starting point like a womb—is from one point of view a thing you leave, but from another point of view it’s something that’s always there. That is to say, when little seeds leave the mother tree, they carry in them the womb principle, because the trees they become do that again.


So you might say that point of origin remains always there as a matrix. There is, in other words, the kind of person who goes back to the womb in the sense that he withdraws from what we could call the maturation of the ego. It’s the kind of person who, as we say, never grows up or doesn’t ever want to grow up, and is always, therefore, exploiting other people in order to stay in the womb. Although, watch out: practically everybody does that one way or another. You know, the more a person suddenly says, “I’m independent, and I look after myself, damn it! I don’t exploit other people like all these lousy beatniks. I look after myself and earn my own living.” But what he’s doing somewhere or other, he’s grinding the poor’s noses in the dust. He’s grinding someone in the dust. Nobody makes a great deal of money without some chicanery. That’s the true of the status of the individual corporation.


So then, you might say that there is a way of simply refusing to go out and not wanting to be weaned. But then, on the other hand, you can’t be weaned and remain sane unless you remain rooted in the starting point. And that may only mean that you carry with you as you go the marks, or some characteristics, of the place from which you began. But it may mean much more than that. It may mean that there is a matrix in a larger sense, a womb in a larger sense, than your individual biological mother. And so there are many indications in the language of ancient philosophers to use the mother symbol for ocean, for earth, and above all for sky, space. Because the whole firmament of heaven is often felt to be a womb. And in many mythologies, the symbol of the womb of heaven lies behind the generation of all father and hero gods. There is original chaos, the original mother.


And, of course, the word “chaos” has come to us to mean something that we should do away with. Because in our tradition, which is in a way very Oedipal, the son slays the mother. I mean, this is the other way around. The father principle is really against the mother. It’s not Oedipal. This marks, as it were, a sort of transition between the matrist type of society and the patrist, wherein—you notice this so strongly in the generation of everything that has become Western culture—that there is a tremendous anxiety to be manly, to fear the woman as a castrating influence, to get out there and go. And so all the values are the values of the argon—that is the Greek contest. And so the word “agony.” And so, therefore, all tendencies in human life which are in the direction of the mother are looked down upon as being either unmanly, sissy, or downright evil. So we don’t practice contemplation, because, you see, that isn’t manly. It’s too quiet. And also, it can be too pleasant. And that would be a kind of sinking down into a warm bath and bleaah. Everybody’s afraid of bleaah, you see? The fear that everything might fall apart.


But this space, which the mother images fundamentally represent and call chaos—chaos has become a bad word—this space, what is the nature of space? It was apparent to many, many cultures (and it’s not apparent to us) that mind and space are the same. In other words, when you look out with your eyes and see the blue sky, and know of the stars and everything going out beyond and beyond and beyond and beyond, this enormous space is your mind. Now, that’s rather an odd idea, isn’t it, from our point of view. Because we think our minds are in our heads when, even from perfectly physiological point of view, it’s obvious that your head is in the mind. Not in the old sort of idealistic sense. I mean, I’m using idealism in the technical philosophical sense of subjective idealism. Not quite in the sense that your head is something you think about, and therefore it’s in your thoughts. But rather from the sense that your head is inside an enormous network of relationships—social relationships, linguistic communication relationships—and that the total complexity of these relationships constitute the mind. They really do. Your individual head is no use whatsoever without all the others, and without all the relations going on between them. There is no communication that is purely inside one’s own head. Because you have to even say to yourself, “said I to myself said I,” you’ve had to use the English language, which is a social creation.


Now then, we can at least see that the intellectual life, the mental life, of any given organism is simply a node within a huge communication network. We can see that. We can see the network of communication to some extent and figure it out. But we would—in our culture, here and now—we would characteristically ignore this space in which this network was elaborating itself, and say that’s not important. This is just the way certain people do things in Rorschach tests. They make out a story and then the tester says, “Well, what about this?” You see, this element of the blot. Or suppose you take the reverse figure within the blot. There are the reverse figures as well as black or red areas. And they would say, “Well, that’s not important.” I just go, “Huh!” In the same way, our complete ignorance of space. Space is nothing. Be careful! The moment somebody really thinks something is nothing, watch out. He’s missed something. See?


So space being ignored is the reason why we don’t see connections between events and people and things. Which, if we did see them, we would have this reaction: “Oh, well, that makes sense after all.” What do we mean, “makes sense?” We can translate making sense into other phrases, although they may turn out to be nothing more than synonyms for making sense. We can say, “It forms a coherent pattern.” Oh now, come on! What does that mean? Well, a coherent pattern is something—say, in music, what is a coherent pattern? If you notice music where a theme is stated, followed by another theme, followed by quite a different theme, followed by a still different theme, followed by something quite different again, you have the sense that it’s chaotic. It makes no sense. But if in music a theme is stated, and then perhaps repeated, and then begins to change in a way that’s recognizably related to what went before, you say this statement makes sense. Now, isn’t that exactly the same way as when you observe a bush? A bush is variations on a theme, because it all grows out from a central source. Then there’s a stalk and the stalk divides. It varies. Then it divides again. Then out of the end comes something that looks quite different: a leaf. But if you look into the leaf and look at the veins, you’ll see a little image of the bush. Then it goes and goes, and suddenly, fooom, it ends in a flower. That’s a surprise. But the flower has the same radial pattern, see? Center and the differentiation. And you say, “Well, the flower’s pretty. It makes sense.” And that’s because, you see, we are of the same jazz—human beings do this in a more complicated way—but you can see how human beings do the same thing when you draw a family tree. And so we’re doing this all the time, see?


And because that is—we’ve hidden our radial nature, you see, because we run about all over the place like madmen instead of staying decorously on our branch. And, you know, in a culture where we have a total disruption of the family system—in other words, you have children, and immediately they go shrieking off and get their own house, and they don’t want anything more to do with you. See? And so the whole family system is broken down because, after all—this is an obiter dictum—most families are only dormitories. They are absolutely unreal institutions because they don’t work together. Sons don’t work with their fathers, and so on. Family means nothing. It’s a symbol.


So space, having been ignored, we don’t see the connection which it provides between events. In the same way, as in listening to radio, we forget that the diverse sounds are all vibrations of the diaphragm in the speaker. So I’m going to develop the theme of space, or consciousness, as being the ground of the world that is also coincidental with what you call your own mind—you—so as to explore what it would mean for us to feel rooted, and therefore no longer in this frantic state of disintegration and disgruntlement.


I was talking the other day to Suzuki Daisetsu, the great Dr. Suzuki, and he was saying, “You know, the Western and Christian world has been too much going up. And we always want to transcend something, to get up there, to go on and on forever to the skies.” He said, “Buddhism is very different. Buddhism is back to earth. Buddhism is to the ground.” And we discussed the difference between Christian and Buddhist church bells. Christian church bells are in towers and they ring out through the sky. Buddhist bells are enormous bronze gongs that hang close to the ground. And they are struck with a swinging tree trunk instead of a metal clapper. Instead of clanging, they boom. And the sound (like the sound of a rich gong), as it were, creeps along the ground, instead of crashing out through the skies. That’s why Buddha figures are always sitting. The point of practicing zazen is to learn to feel rooted to the ground. And so that figure of the sitting Buddha indicates what is felt in that, you see, above all, is peace of being eternally rooted in the ground of the world—with a certain odd smile that some people have very funny feelings about. Some people feel it’s a certain superior snicker. Of: all you poor miserable beings who haven’t attained this immobility of inner peace.


But if you really watch a great Buddha—we’ve just come back from Kamakura, where there’s this so often photographed Daibutsu. But it’s impossible to photograph. It is the most phenomenally beautiful piece of sculpture, for my mind, in the world. And it’s a good forty feet high, and it dwarfs the surroundings. And there may be milling crowds of children on tours and tourists of every kind all around the bottom of that thing, and they are just dwarfed to insignificance. And it stands in a lovely valley letting out to the sea. And it was once inside a temple, which was mercifully destroyed by a tidal wave. Because you could never have seen the image. The way they treat them when they’re inside temples, because they cover them with [???] and curtains. You have to creep up like this to see it at all. But now all that has been knocked away, and here this gorgeous figure sits. And you get up and you see this isn’t—there is a smile, but very, very gentle. Hardly a smile. It’s just breaking into a smile. There’s also a sense of having seen everything. Having understood everything. It’s alright. And yet, very gentle pity for those who don’t understand. But there is nothing about it that is superior. The face is aristocratic in the sense—not that we think of aristocrats sometimes as being people who give themselves airs and graces, but of the great aristocrat who is so assured that he doesn’t need to play it up. He doesn’t need to announce it. He doesn’t need to parade who he is.

Well, let’s take an intermission.

Part 2

Waves of Perception


I was discussing this morning the notion of a unified ground under all the differentiations of experience—which, because it is common to every specific experience, is outside the scope of ordinary consciousness, and also outside the scope of ordinary logic. And I discussed the parallel between our ignoring the ground and our ignoring space. Not all cultures ignore space in the way ours does. Far Eastern culture does not ignore space in the same way. In fact, it makes an extraordinary and astonishing use of empty space as a factor, say, in painting. Very frequently you will see Western style painting which really makes no use of space—as, for example, when you go to a motel and there are on the wall a collection of flower prints consisting of bunches or bouquets of flowers, all of which are set bang in the middle of the rectangle, which is the piece of paper. And so, in that way, the background of the flowers is no more than a background: something against which to do the drawing. But when a Chinese artist uses the rectangle, he will very often, say, paint a stem of bamboo down one side of the rectangle, and then the leaves drifting off of blowing in the wind going out towards the center. And therefore, the empty right side of the painting is immediately vitalized, and you see within it a misty lake—even though nothing is painted. He may sometimes suggest the misty lake by doing the faint outline of a mountain crest going over the other way beyond the bamboo. But immediately all the space below that misty line becomes eloquent.


Likewise, in the famous rock garden of Ryōan-ji in Kyoto there is a vast area of sand raked into wave patterns. And scattered within this, but mostly towards the edges, are five groups of rocks. And although most of the area is left empty, it’s all eloquent. It is all drawn into the same dynamic system as the rocks. And so, likewise, classical Japanese architecture makes a fantastic use of space. Most rooms in a Japanese house are empty of anything except a low table, floor cushions, a tokonoma, or alcove, in which there is usually flowers and one scroll painting. And this imparts the most peculiar sense of room, freedom, in a country where space is the most expensive thing there is, because of its overpopulation and because of the fact that 80% of the country’s surface is mountainous. And so they have learned to create enormous spaces in small areas, and thus have come to appreciate its value very much indeed.


So space, then, for us, is an ignored thing—especially in the United States, where there’s been so much of it. It’s something to get rid of. And our speed in travel, our jet aircraft and so on, our rockets, are devoted to the conquest of space, whereas a Japanese person would not want to conquer space but to have more of it, because he’s been so crowded. But although I said that ignoring space—because of that, space can be used as an example of the ignored unitary background of the world. It’s only an example. Because the unitary background of the world is not exactly space.


But I promised that I would give you what I call the elementary lesson in space. And to do this, I want you first of all to consider a universe in which there is only one ball, and that’s all there is. Now actually, that ball by itself would not constitute quite this whole universe, because there is no possibility of a ball—that is, a sphere—which has nothing outside it. In other words, for the sphere to have an external surface, there must be a beyond to that surface. And so you realize that the existence of a solid ball immediately implies a space beyond the ball. So if the ball implies the space, and there would be no ball without that space—there might be a formless solid which is extremely difficult to imagine—contrariwise, you cannot conceive a universe consisting of space only. This is as meaningless as one with a solid only. It’s only when there is a solid/space relationship that something can happen.


But in this particular universe I’m describing in which there is only one ball—which we will call A—there is no motion, because there is nothing with respect to which this ball can be said to be moving. It constitutes a point. But in that point there is no motion whatsoever. So then, we will now introduce a second ball into our universe which is called B. And it is obvious that these two can draw further apart from each other, or draw nearer, or circle around each other. But here is a very interesting problem. We don’t know which one is moving. Whether ball A retreats or approaches ball B, or whether ball B retreats from or approaches ball A, or whether they both move at the same time. It’s really impossible to say. And also, note that the relative motion between them can be only along a straight line. That is to say, wherever they are with respect to each other, they are always on a straight line.


So you’ve got here a one-dimensional world, and two balls in it, but we can’t say which one is moving, which one is still. And incidentally, when we had one ball only, we could make the assertion neither that it was moving nor that it was still. Because again, to be still you have to be still with respect to something that is moving.


Now we’ll introduce a third ball called C. Well now, various things can happen. First of all, balls A and B can stay the same distance apart and C can move back and forth with respect to them. But here again it is impossible to say whether ball C is still, and balls A and B in cahoots with each other are moving back and forth away from C, or whether both A and B and C are moving away from each other or approaching each other mutually. Can there be a decision at this point? In a way there can, because A and B constitute a majority, and they can say: because we’re in the majority, we are of the opinion that we are moving away from you or that you are moving away from us. But then C can embarrass them completely by staying the same distance from them. That’s to say, if you can’t lick them, join them.


Note also that, with this three-ball universe, movement is always and only within a plane. That is to say, let us say balls A and B are in a straight line with relation to each other which is constant. Wherever C moves, it will always be the tip of a triangle of which the line A and B is the base. You see, it can go anywhere, but it will always describe a relationship which is a flat triangle. And so we have movement in a surface.


Now introduce a fourth ball, D. Here we get a same sort of relational movement problem, but D can move in another dimension. Because you will see it can constitute the point of a tetrahedron with respect to the triangle ABC, and so you’ve got a third dimension. And you might say: here you have a ball which is the umpire. In all disputes between A, B, and C ball D can take an independent point of view by establishing itself within a third dimension. Although, of course, ball C can argue that it is in the third dimension with respect to A, B, and D. And so it goes.


Now then, what is the answer to all this? There are two great points of view. Number one is that the balls are moving with respect to each other. And that’s the point of view. It’s a possible opinion. It’s also possible, however, that the space is stretching between them. And this is the sort of thing astronomers are talking about when they see that all the galaxies are expanding. And since their expansion seems to be more or less uniform, the theory suggests itself that it is the space between them which is expanding. But that view is also an opinion.


A third view is possible. You remember the argument in the sutra of the Sixth Patriarch? There were two monks watching a flag waving. One argued that the wind was waving the flag, and the other that the flag was waving. And the patriarch said, “You are both wrong. It is the mind that’s waving.” Now this mind, of course, as he used it in that context, means a fundamental mind. And this is, as I tried to explain in the last session, a word for what is in common between opposites. So here we have a system where it can be argued that the balls are moving, and it can be argued that the space is moving. But the point is that the whole thing is moving. In other words, the solid space is moving. You see?


But what is solid space? You see, talk about a solid space doesn’t make sense in ordinary logic, because either the thing is solid or it isn’t. And you can’t have solid space. And yet, a Zen master once described to me—he said this idea, śūnyatā—which means “emptiness” in Buddhism; the fundamental emptiness which contains the whole universe—he said, “This is not empty space,” but he picked up a glass of water and said, “It is like this. It’s solid space.”


So the problem that we have in trying to understand astronomical ideas about expanding space, or curved space, or whatever, is that we have to overcome the dualism of the space and the solid. And by showing, when a person argues that the solid is moving, and I would argue instead that the space is moving, I’m only counterbalancing his extreme point of view by positing the other extreme, and suggesting to him that the two extremes really have a polar relationship to each other: that they constitute the terms—by that I mean the terms; that word, “term” means an end, and therefore the opposite limits, like left and right—of a continuum which lies between the terms. And this continuum is space/solid.


Now similarly, you see, there has been a constant argument among scientists as to whether the material world is continuous or discontinuous. There have been those, in other words, who argued that the world consists fundamentally of discontinuous particles. There are those who argue that it consists fundamentally of continuous wave propagation. Now, some experiments show it to be one way and some show it to be the other, and so they’ve invented the word “wavicle” to embrace both. But to the layman “wavicle” seems to be a terminological contradiction.


So, in the same way: if I said that two different things were identically different, that would seem like a contradiction. But, after all, you can see very simply that the two sides of a coin constitute one coin, but are different sides. So in one way they are the same, in the sense that they’re the same coin. An another sense they’re different, because they’re different sides of it. And you can’t have the one side without the other. It is this inseparability of the two sides, or of the two terms, which gives away the fact that they are in a certain sense one.


So when you get, then, to the continuous and the discontinuous, I want to give you some thoughts on the nature of wave rhythms, and show you in what way they are another way of talking about a stream of particles. Because I’ve already shown you a system of particles, which was the four balls. And I pointed then: the whole lesson was that the space between the particles is not separable from the particles, and it joins them so that they constitute a continuity. But this continuity does not consist of one mode—that is to say, when we see waves in water or waves in air, we feel that there is one substance (water or air) which is the continuous link between the various moments in it, which are pulses or wave crests. It’s easy to see there.


And yet, let me give you some other curious examples of space intervals which will serve to show that these are all so many ways of talking about the same kind of thing. First of all, when you have pulsation of any kind—the sort of pulsation you listen to on a drum when you have, shall I say, points of sound and there seems to be a very clear interval of silence between each point, and yet those points of sound are being propagated to you in the form of waves in air. And another continuity between them is your auditory system. You hear them successively, and you wouldn’t know what successively meant unless in some way your auditory system provided a continuity between those points.


So with waves. Remember, will you, that wave motion in water or in air is a very curious phenomenon indeed. If you throw a pebble into the middle of a pool, it is apparent that a series of rings moves out from where the pebble fell in. And it seems that waves are moving across the surface of the water. Well, it’s true. Waves are moving across the surface of the water. But no water is moving that way. Water is only moving up and down, like this. But there is an apparent motion, and that is the motion of the wave, not of the water. Furthermore, it is of the nature of a wave that you cannot have half a wave. Half a wave can’t be propagated. That is to say, a wave which consists only of crest or only of trough. Because obviously there is no crest except in relation to a trough. And so it takes a full wave for there to be any sound. That is to say, sound is not pure sound. Sound is sound/silence.


In other words, when you magnify a sound—I can take, for example, I can record a high note at fifteen inches per second on this tape recorder, and I can play it back to you at three and three-quarter inches per second. And this will have the effect of magnifying the sound. It will be much deeper, and you will hear the pulse in it. The high sound may appear to be continuous. The low sound will come and go, come and go, come and go, come and go. So by magnifying a sound we find out that it is sound/silence. Only, our ear doesn’t distinguish the intervals when a sound is high. Other instruments do.


So, in the same way that sound is sound/silence, so also light is a pulsation, and light is light/darkness. And so, just as you can’t have the crest without the trough—if we call the crest of the wave the sound, then the trough between the pulses of sound will be the silence. And these things go together. You can argue that the pulse of sound is the main thing, just as you can argue that the solids are the main thing and it’s the balls that move. But it can be shown equally that it is dependent on the other. Neither of them are before or after, but they come into being together.


This is called in Taoist philosophy the mutual arising of to be and not to be, of long and short, high and low, beauty and ugliness, and so forth, coming into being together. And this principle—which is a form of what Jung calls synchronicity—is increasingly finding its way into modern Western thought, particularly in biology, in the study of group relationships, where it’s seen that, for example (to go back to the old, old problem of bees and flowers), that where bees are, there flowers must be, and where flowers are, there bees must be. And therefore, that bee/flower is itself a unified form of life. Which came the first—bee or flower? You see? Which came the first—egg or hen? A chicken is one egg’s way of becoming other eggs. You can look at it that way.


Now we have, in other words, a hint here about the nature of time—namely, that our conception of time is much too simple. The West has been obsessed with the idea of linear time, and has always tried to explain the relationship between events in a string way, so that you account for any set of events that occurs at a point of time called “now” by going back to a previous point in time, and saying the way things were explains how they later become. But this is a very, very clumsy way of thinking. And it is a result of our fixation of our minds, of our intellects, on a linear mode of thought. We think—don’t we, mostly—in language. Or we think in terms of mathematical expressions. And the nature of our thinking tools—of speech, of writing—compels us to move along in a line, and so we get the notion that time is linear.


But I want you to consider an entirely different approach: that time is not necessarily a linear phenomenon, but that time as a linear phenomenon is a particular way of looking at time. So in considering causality, or the causal relationships between events, don’t be hooked on the old kind of causality, which looks for past causes to explain present events. Always explaining, in other words, things in terms of a past. Because you can very quickly ask yourself the question: what do I mean, what is the meaning of, events? What do I mean by the idea of an event? Well, how do I distinguish one event which I’ve called an effect from another event which I’ve called a cause? You see, events, again, are a form of particle theory: that there is a thing called an event which goes boom, and that somehow sends a lot of influences out and causes something else to go boom, which is the next event.


But actually, it doesn’t happen that way. Because the more you think about it carefully, the more you think about any event, the harder it becomes authoritatively, definitively, to separate it from another event—especially if that other event is in some way close to it in spacetime, and seems to be in some sort of effective relationship with it. That is to say: we are very busy in talking about human relationships as to who is responsible for what, and we play a tremendously involved game which is cops and robbers, or doer and done to. And we ascribe and say: you, as a certain self-contained event, caused this and therefore are responsible for what you did. We praise you if it was good and blame you if it was bad. And we look at human beings in that way because we have divisive minds.


But actually, you see, what happens is that we invented a puzzle about how events are related to each other, because we’ve forgotten that it was we ourselves who created the puzzle by separating what was going on into separate events. We separated them. In nature events are not separated. They are all one event. Teilhard de Chardin says that the only real atom is the universe. Atom means—atomos, what in Greek means “non-divisible,” “non-choppable.” And so he says you cannot extract any element of the universe from the rest without seeing that it is ravelled at all its edges—that is to say, nothing comes out with clean lines. There are all sorts of little strings attached which show that, as we pull it out, it really is infinitely connected with everything else. So separate events, pieces of behavior, bits of process, are like separate wave crests. They are impossible to have. All wave crests are pulses joined by troughs. All troughs are down-pulses joined by crests.


So, in the same way, you will see, then, that what we call causality is a clumsy way of trying to reassemble pieces of life that we ourselves originally cut apart by the convention of language, which assigns names and symbols to parts and bits of life. You see, the fundamental thing about this world is that it is very, very wiggly. And you find non-wiggly things like straight walls and rectangular buildings and streets and things like that mostly in the human world. There are a few straight lines in the crystal world, but by and large all nature wiggles. Now, that’s very inconvenient if you want to control nature. When we talk about controlling things we mean straightening things out, you see? Straightening out tangled string, making sense of something. We make sense of the stars by joining them with straight lines and calling them constellations, like the Big Dipper.


So straightening things out becomes our problem. And so, in order to make sense of wiggles—the difficulty is that they don’t stay still. It’s like saying: alright, a wave will be decided upon. We will make a chop through the center of each trough. Now, what lies between these two centers going up from the bottom of the trough to the top, that will be the crest. Where does the crest begin? We could say the crest is just a little point and that everything else is trough. See? You do it any way you like, chop it any way you want. But if you want to talk about it with somebody else, you’ve got to have the same theory. Let’s all agree to chop through the bottom of the trough—then we know what a wave is. So in this way we all have to agree about how wiggles are to be divided from each other, and we come to that agreement through common languages, and common conventions of mathematics, and notation of various kinds. But actually, the thing in itself remains unchopped.


Now, when you go beyond the linguistic state of consciousness into deeper states, you can very readily see that. It becomes quite apparent to you that everything and every event simply goes together, that all events in the world, shall I say, imply each other. Only, they do it in a very complicated way, so that when you return to linguistic consciousness you forget how you saw that everything goes together.


So when you come to this point of view, you can begin, then, also to get a new view of time: if the world is not what I’ll call a linear sequence of cause and effect, but rather a network in which all events and all things are interdependent. Now, look what happens: with respect to any present you may say the past has gone. It’s no longer there. And yet, there wouldn’t be that present just that way without the past having been the way it was. The present is therefore dependent on the past. But reactively, what the past was becomes dependent on the present. That’s hard for us to understand, because our thoughts habitually run in one line. But you can see very clearly in both speech and music that this is so, although we overlook it. In any given sequence of notes you will notice, as you listen, a certain expectation of those notes that are to follow. But very often the following note is not quite what you would expect, and it completely changes the character of the phrase that went before it. In other words, I don’t know whether a certain sequence of notes is in a major or a minor key until I hear what follows. Now, according to whether it’s in a major or a minor key, the whole mood of the thing changes.


So, in the same way, in sentences. When I was a little boy and first studied Latin, I couldn’t understand the sense in Latin of the verb coming at the end of the sentence. I felt that this was very odd. How could they possibly know what the sentence meant if they had to wait till they got to the end? I always felt that, as the sentence went along, you understood it developmentally. But it isn’t true. I felt, you see, if I say, “I kissed her,” that there was I standing over here, who then moved and kissed her, you see. And that was the logical way of saying it. But the Latin says, “I her kissed,” because the Latin sees the boy and the girl, and then they come into relationship and kiss. Well, that’s perfectly logical. But you will see that, in this stream of events which is language, which is a sentence, that what former words mean depend on later words. That, in that sense, then, past events in the stream of language are dependent for their meaning on future events. And that the shock, as it were, of influence kicks backwards through the stream as well as forwards.


We all know, too, that individual words don’t mean anything except in context. A dictionary, in other words, is a manual of context because it defines words in terms of other words. So Benjamin Whorf was quite correct when he said the foundation unit of language is not the word, but the sentence. Because a sentence is a relationship of words. And in order for there to be a language—that is to say, an expression of meaning—there has to be relationship, just as there can be no movement unless there are, first of all, two walls in space in relationship. Then you have motion. So also with words: you have no meaning until words are working with each other.


And the way they do this is in a network fashion in which the influence—or it isn’t really an influence; is one of these terrible words. It’s like we had a disease that we just couldn’t understand, because it didn’t seem to be any germs causing it. So it was called influenza, because a mysterious influence was abroad, a kind of miasma in the air, that nobody could work out because it was all too small: the viruses. But then it was discovered, you see, that there were viruses. So, in this way, that one event influences another, this is really very bad language. And we should say rather that what we mean by an influence is that the events that are alleged to influence each other are significant aspects of one event. That is to say, they go with each other just as the bees go with the flowers.


So every push in life—we say a push is a very strong gesture of influence. “I pushed him away.” So I act and he moves over. But every push is also a pull. The person I pushed away very often pulls the push out of me. Now then, we get into an argument: wWho was responsible? Was this person sufficiently offensive as to justify your pushing him away, or was he really quite harmless and you thought he was dreadful, and in a moderate way pushed him away? And this is an insoluble question. And the more lawyers and moralists talk about it, the more impossible it becomes to decide.


Now there has been, in law over the past many years, very complex discussion of this in which the tendency has been to think about it a great deal and very carefully, and therefore to be more and more undecided as to who really did what. Well, this fouls up the courts. Because the courts are confronted with an enormous number of disputes, and they have to reach a decision in the time available. They can’t go into all that, and so they have to work on arbitrary rules. And there are a lot of hard-boiled people who say, “Oh, to hell with these criminals. You shouldn’t go into the question of sociological influences upon them and all that kind of thing.” Like Lucius Bebe wrote in the paper the other day: “Oh, just kill him off. Why not? After all, don’t be soft-hearted. We’ve got to get on with this thing,” you see?


And so the person who has and likes to advertise his practical temperament, and who wants to be a little hard-boiled will always say, “Oh, cut out all that stuff! Black is black and white is white, and let’s not argue about it.” But he’s always getting into trouble, you see, because he doesn’t pay attention to subtle things. And a person who doesn’t pay attention to subtle things stirs up enemies. And eventually people—whoever tries to rule the world with an iron hand will inspire a revolution, and he will be overthrown. That’s the whole principle of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in giving advice to emperors: that when anybody takes up the club and tries to beat the world into submission, there’s just going to be trouble.


So in this whole question now of who’s responsible, we get another question coming up: are we again, in human behavior, going to settle for free will or for determinism? I mean, are you responsible for what you do or aren’t you? And we think that there’s a choice here; that we can decide one way or the other. But it so turns out that we have here exactly the same situation as space and solid, and this particle and wave. From one point of view you can look at the situation and say: oh yes, people obviously don’t really do anything, because the ego as an agent or as a source of action is fictitious. Yet, on the other hand, it seems quite apparent that people do do things. And from a certain point of view you have the perfectly clear sensation of making a choice one way or the other when you perform an action.


It isn’t that this sensation is simply an illusion. It’s more complex than that. It is, you see, that you live in a world which is determined/free, just like space/solid. And this is only thinkable and soluble if you come to a still deeper understanding that the reason why you have the simultaneous sensation of acting freely and being determined is a result of your having made a distinction long ago between yourself and your environment. And then you wonder how the devil to put them together again. Is it you that influences the environment. Or is it the environment that influences you. You have forgotten, you see, that you and the environment are one. And that is a sensation, you see, completely absent from most of us, only regained in moments of deep inspiration. So that, in a way, all your behavior is free if you define “you” as the totality of the situation. On the other hand, all your behavior is determined if you define “you” as some separate unit within this total situation.


So we might say at a very deep level (deeper than the ego): you are responsible for all that happens. Whereas, at a superficial level of definition of the ego, you are hardly responsible at all. Now, we’ve got these two feelings mixed up. And what we are doing in practice is this: we are confusing the deep feeling of being responsible with the superficial sensation of being an ego. And from this you get a phenomenon called guilt—which we don’t know what to do about. We can see in a way that people ought to feel guilty. And yet at the same time we realize that this is one of the most senseless emotions there is. Because it is crying over spilled milk, and is usually very obstructive to corrective action. A person who makes restitution out of guilt can very easily offend the person to whom he makes the restitution. People sometimes resent nice things that are done to them out of a sense of guilt or duty. If, for example, a husband and wife stay together simply out of a sense of duty, or a daughter stays with her mother out of a sense of duty, the partners begin to hate each other because they realize that the other one doesn’t really like what they’re doing and is only doing it because.


So, you see, we’ve got these two levels of our being confused, because we have lost the knowledge that you are the works. You are, each of you, what there is. Only, this “you” consists of the ground and a particular, shall I say, ray or a spine or wiggle coming out of the ground or subsisting in the ground. Again, because one tends to ignore the ground, you become convinced that you’re only the wiggle, or only the particular ray. You get distracted, you see. It’s like a stage magician who catches your attention on some little thing he’s doing up here, while getting away with murder with the other hand.


And so, in the same way, we’re all fascinated by this organism. As little children we sometimes were aware of what is in the adult world called other things before we were really aware of our own organism. That outside world seemed to be us. And it’s true: it is. But we are—you see, we’ve become fascinated by the details we’ve identified with certain details in the totality of what we’re experiencing, which have been socially defined by everybody else as us. And then, when that’s happened, we have become unaware of the substratum, and so are scared out of our wits concerning the fate of the detail, and think that that is the important thing. Well, you see, nothing could be more disruptive, more disgruntling.


So in this way we can begin an entirely new approach to moral problems. But, you see, it is an approach that is dependent on something quite other than saying to people: “You ought to be unselfish.” Because to say “you ought to be unselfish” is to say… it’s really essentially sentimental. You can’t make a person who knows that he is a separate ego unselfish. All you can do is to turn him into a hypocrite and make him pretend to unselfish actions. A person can only be unselfish when he has thoroughly transcended the egotistic point of view, and then proceeds to do what he feels like. Because then he can act in consonance with the sensation of social and cosmic unity.


Even then—even then!—his activity will not be what we call spontaneous in the sense of capricious. Because even the universe considered as a cosmic whole, or the individual considered as one with this whole, has a structure. And the structure needs to be figured out and understood. Because socially constructive behavior means acting in accordance with a structure. And we have to know what that structure is in order to act in accordance with it. Just as you have to know about physiology in order to know what is the best things to eat. You have some sense—you know, intuitively—what is the best thing to eat, but it isn’t always reliable. Just as, if somebody chops your stomach open in a fight, you as a result feel extremely thirsty. But to drink water at that point is completely fatal.


So finding out the structure, and then learning how to accord with the structure—that is to say, to act in accordance with the grain; what the Taoists call wu wei: not to assert oneself against the grain, but to act in accordance with the grain or with the pattern of events—is wisdom. So I’m not saying that the element of structure in life, where there are, as it were, boundaries and divisions and railings and things of that kind is bad. I’m merely saying that it is completely confusing, restricting, and baffling without concomitant realization that behind all these differentiations, and especially behind that particular differentiation which you call your particular self, there is really underneath it all one self, which is you. In other words, the curious intuition that everybody has deep, deep in that I am very, very ancient, and that somehow. in a way that our ordinary cultural patterns of thought, our ordinary literature, our ordinary institutions don’t provide for it all or don’t recognize it all. The self is not something that’s simply a stranger in the world, but the self is one with the entire system.

Well, let’s stop here for refreshments.

Part 3

Echoes of the Self


Let me just start by summarizing very briefly the ground that was covered yesterday. We’re discussing transformations of consciousness, and this particular seminar is devoted to the subject of consciousness and rhythm. I started out to discuss the problem of knowledge, where knowledge concerns metaphysical questions—in particular the question of consciousness, which is a question of what’s called technically epistemology. And in the history of Western thought at least, this has been a tangle of words going round and round and round without the slightest conclusiveness because it’s always been sort of a dog chasing its own tail. You can’t really get at knowledge to say anything objective about it. And so philosophers have, by and large, thrown up their hands and abandoned the problem.


But I went on to suggest that man always formulates myths about the universe and his place in it, defining “myth” as an image in terms of which we make sense of the world. And, in a way, the human mind is a sense-making organism. And it sort of has to make sense, some sort of sense. And we find that, throughout the history of mankind, with almost no exceptions, there is the concept of a universe as distinct from a mere multiverse—indeed, in the most apparently polytheistic primitive religions.


Let’s take the religion of the Navajo. If you get a standard book on the Navajo, such as Reichard’s Religion of the Navajo, it will seem to be an absolutely disorganized polytheism. But that’s because she went into the field as a stuffy anthropologist and never got admitted into the inner teachings. And the Navajos, like almost all Amerindian peoples, if you dig down, they have some myth of the ground of the world, of the big something or other, in which all things inhere.


I said then that the myths that we have and work by are to a certain extent the projection of attitudes and roles that people want to play—whether they feel disgruntled about life, or whether they feel all for it. And I use the word “disgruntled” advisedly to make a kind of play on words: to be without a Grund—that is to say in German: a ground. To be un-grounded or dis-grounded. Because although we can’t make any logical propositions about a ground of the world in the same way that writing on the paper does not really express the paper. Things in a mirror don’t express the mirror. For example, the mirror has no color, except what it reflects. The radio doesn’t normally tell you anything about the fact that all the multiplicity of sounds that you hear on it are the vibrations of a diaphragm. The radio does not go on to explain its own inner workings. Because all that remains, as it were, in the radionic unconscious.


So, nevertheless, people get disintegrated. They feel a sense of confusion, unless they have something that either is an intuition of or a symbol of a unified ground underlying all multiplicity. I pointed out the different conceptions of a ground. The Judeo-Christian, in which the ground is very different from all the figures or creatures in it. And then the orthodox Christian conception of the ground, as distinct from the modern liberal, as exemplified, say, by the theology of Paul Tillich. The Christian and the Jew habitually feel slightly uncomfortable in the ground because it’s a judging heavenly father. Whereas, on the other hand, the Hindu—whose conception of the ground is different—feels quite at home in it, because the ground is everybody’s real self. And all the figures in the ground ,all the manifestations of life with their joys and sorrows, are a play that the ground is manifesting; the drama. Outwardly a tragedy, inwardly a comedy—in the Dante sense of the Divina Comedia.


We then went on to consider the problem of space—that is to say, the problem of intervals. And I gave a little demonstration of moving balls to show that we can equally say that when bodies move in space that the bodies are moving, or that the space is moving. And from this we come to understand that we’ve got a wrong conception. We’ve divided two concepts: solid or body on the one hand, space on the other. And then a puzzle is how to put them together. But the truth of the matter is that what we’ve overlooked is that we are dealing with one… don’t know what to say—with one that is something called space/solid. And that they expand or contract together. And that you could—they are different, yes. But at the same time inseparable.


And so I went on to discuss inseparable differences, and to show that, although we might have used space as an image of the ground of the world simply because it is the neglected pole of reality—we think space is nothing and not important—and therefore I go to the neglected or unconscious pole to raise something up that we’ve ignored. But this is not the final position. Space itself is not the ground of the world. But what you might call the polarity between space and solid, that is the ground.


And language and thought find it enormously difficult to cope with this, because words are classifiers, and therefore they classify—they are terms, that is to say—and so they talk about poles, different poles, but have great difficulty in talking about what lies between poles. Language isolates differences. It is preoccupied with differentiation, and therefore has an extraordinarily difficult time in talking about unity.


In Hindu logic the ground of the world is not strictly termed unity. It’s termed nonduality. And the reason for that is that, in Hindu logic, one and many are opposites, and therefore poles. So that which lies between one and many, which both transcends and really is one and many, they call nondual. This, of course, is a convention. It is still a dualistic term. It is the opposite of dual. But by tacit agreement this particular word is used to indicate another dimension of reality. In just the same way, in drawing, we draw everything on a flat surface, a two-dimensional surface, and that’s kind of dualistic. Now, to introduce a third dimension, we use a convention called perspective. And certain slanting lines in a painting which point towards a vanishing point are understood to represent the third dimension—although it’s all on a two-dimensional surface. And in exactly the same way, Hindu philosophy uses the word nondual to indicate a third dimension, which is that dimension which unifies the opposites, or in which the opposites are unified. And so that dimension of things is tacit, just as the convention of perspective is tacit. We all eventually, once we’ve learned it, we don’t question it anymore. It’s obvious. So you might say, then, that the differentiation of the opposites is something explicit, their common unity is implicit. Their differentiation is exoteric, their inner unity is esoteric.


So I also had a good deal to say about the value of a myth of the ground, in that people become a prey to anxiety and guilt when they feel no common ground with everything else. They feel cast off, not belonging. And so a certain sanity is imparted to people by a sense of common ground. Even, as Voltaire said, God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. The question, of course, that preoccupies us so much is: is it true? Is there a ground of the world? Or is this all mythology, which may be useful, but I then went on to point out that we really can’t formulate any fixed idea of what we mean by “useful.” You can only say in retrospect that, thus far, something has been useful for me. But you don’t know whether it will continue to be.


Is there any way out of this trap, this epistemological trap? Well, before we seriously ask whether there’s any way out of the epistemological trap, I want to go further into the nature of consciousness and rhythm, and start by examining certain common ways of talking about consciousness. One of the most ancient analogues of consciousness is the mirror. It’s used very much throughout the world, especially in the Far East. There are many, many expressions in Buddhism using the image of a mirror, and they use a term, “mirror-like wisdom,” following the notion of the philosopher Zhuang Zhou, the Taoist, that the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror: it grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.


The image of the mirror is also alike to the image of water, which reflects. The idea of having one’s mind to be like a clear pool. And a poem about the state of mind which in Zen is called mushin (or “no mind”), or munen (“no thought”), describes a mind expressed as follows:

The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection.

The water has no mind to receive their image.


And there is a whole school, as it were—it is not a school, but a sort of a level of Zen—which is described by the phrase “the moon and the water.” And we shall have occasion to return to that to solve a rather curious problem about reflection. Now, when the moon is reflected in the water and the water starts waving, the moon is broken up into thousands of pieces. And in that sense this is an image of the idea of the sense of unity being lost in multiplicity.


And yet another poem says:

The tree displays the bodily power of the wind.

The water displays the spiritual nature of the moon.

You see, if the tree wasn’t there, no one would know that the wind was blowing. And so the tree displays the power of the wind, and shows that it’s bodily, that it is really something there. And the water, by waving, shows the amazing capacity of the moon to break itself into thousands of pieces, and yet remain one moon. The moon uses the water to become manifold.


Now here, you see, you’ve got a great image—using the mirror or using the surface of the water—of reflection. And so we use the word reflect to mean to think, to be aware. We also say of something of which we are aware: it makes an impression on the senses, it makes an impression on the mind. We speak of the impact of something on thought. We speak of memory traces, tracks. We speak of—thank you—something being a smashing sensation. And, you see, all these are images which look upon the mind as some sort of tablet.


It was, I think, the philosopher Locke who described the mind of a child as a tabula rasa—that is to say, a wiped tablet or an erased tablet with no impressions on it. And so we have, then, the sensation of ourselves, very frequently, of being a kind of constantly moving photographic plate which receives impressions which seem at the same time to dissolve on it, but at some other or deeper layer of the plate to leave permanent impressions which we call memory. So this notion of consciousness as being something upon which something makes an impact is extraordinarily widespread and ancient.


It, of course, arises basically from the whole notion of resonance. Resonance is a fundamental idea of Chinese thought. Once, when a certain sage was asked to demonstrate the Tao, he took two Chinese lutes and tuned them with each other. And then, when he played a certain note on one of them, the same note sounded on the other. And resonance is a basic concept of the I Ching, or the Book of Changes. The resonance between the trigrams or the hexagrams of the Book of Changes and the situations in which those hexagrams are cast. And this, in turn, is connected with the Chinese philosophy of relationship, which Jung called synchronicity. A resonance relationship—in other words, the two strings sound together.


Now then, when you have a fundamental pulse of sound—I was discussing pulses yesterday, you remember, and showing that sound was not just sound, but sound/silence. But what about the pulse itself? What about—you know, when when you’re going to make a sound, we think something has to hit something. It takes two to make a sound. What is the sound of one hand? See? It takes two. And in exactly the same way, as it takes two to make sound, we saw it takes two to make motion. There had to be two bodies in space in order for there to be any motion at all. So here. See?


Now, just as we went on playing with more bodies in space, and showing that we could get a richer type of motion, so in just the same way with sound: we can get just one sound, and that really doesn’t tell us anything. I mean, so what? Although, if you listen very carefully, as I pointed out, that one sound is actually many sounds. It’s a whole multiplicity of vibrations. Because this piece of wood against this thing, it doesn’t just go clop. That’s only what it does to an untrained ear. The whole piece of wood shakes. It vibrates all the way through.


So as, then, you complicate sounds and making more of them, then you say, “Well, what about this?” And then, you see, you can begin to go on filling in the interstices and elaborating the pattern. Elaborating and elaborating and elaborating. And what is happening all the time is—although I’m doing it simply this way—we’re setting up a whole series of bouncings. You see, we’ll call each one a bounce. But actually, within every one bounce there are innumerable little bounces. And as you set this going, the little bounces become more and more complex. Echoes within echoes within echoes within echoes. And, you see, what we begin to set up here is a complexity of, shall I say, resonances or responses or echoes which, as they become complicated, begin to constitute a sort of world, a life process, a pulse.


Now do that, you see, with the dimension of sound. Do it with the dimension of light. Do it with the dimension of touch, feeling. Because that is something that is a resonance in its own way. And then introduce a system where the whole system of echoes bounces against something else so as to echo the whole complexity. As if—I mean, you put many fingers down (which is a kind of complex system) on the keyboard of a piano, and then this thing in its own terms suddenly responds to the pattern of your fingers in a most unlikely way. Why should fingers, spread just just like that, produce suddenly, when struck on a piano, there comes out the strange sound called the common chord of C. Responding to this position of the fingers. Because two systems of impacts and resonances, both of which are of extraordinary complexity, have met each other.


Now, what I’m saying is that you can take the fantastic complexity of your own nervous system—not by going through the whole process, but by simply realizing that that is the principle of it—you can see that you are an extraordinarily amazing complex of bounces, of rhythms, that have reached this point by learning in the same way, rather, as a drummer by long practice learns to make the most astounding rhythms. But that drummer, in himself, who was so capable of making these astounding rhythms, is himself within a system of pulses and rhythms of little things responding, and this going this way and this going that way, diggedy-dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig. See?


So here it is. And we are used to thinking about this as a system of active and passive elements in which the stick is active, but the—this is called a mokugyo—is passive. Now, of course, there is a question involved here: does the stick hit the mokugyo, or does the mokugyo hit the stick? Obviously we say the first way, because you saw its connection with me, and that my right hand moved and my left hand remained still. But you’ve often noticed, probably out on the water, that an anchored craft which you are approaching can jolly well appear to be moving. And you’re not sure at all. There is a line in a Chinese poem which says:

Raise the sail, and you think the cliffs are on the run.


And so, in the same way, we think that the sun is moving around the Earth, because that’s the way it seems to be. And the illusion in a railroad station we’re all familiar with when the train next you starts: you actually feel in your stomach the sense of motion for a moment. That seems terribly real. It would seem absurd, wouldn’t it, to say in this situation that this thing is hitting this, as if I were doing this.


But perhaps it isn’t so absurd after all. The situation of hitting this thing is one which has become exceedingly involved, and therefore is harder to think about than simpler examples of the same thing. That, in other words, before I will start to do this, this must be here. I mean, I might sit here doing this. But were that so, my intention would not be to make a noise. I would just be exercising this thing. If I’m to have the intention of making a noise, this must be here. So, in a way, I have attracted the stick by producing this. This calls for the stick to hit it. And in this sense it has hit the stick. So, in space, the Earth should collide with a comet, would we say that the comet had struck the Earth or the earth had struck the comet? It would be a very, very difficult calculation to work that out precisely. And both answers would really do. So what do we see here? That between that which brings the impact and that which receives the impact, there is the same sort of conspiracy as between a front and a back who are obviously different, and yet they are (inside) one.


Now take it in another way. When light is propagated into space by the sun, there will be no visible light in space whatsoever until something reflects it. Then there is light. As you know, when the sun shines into a room, you don’t see any sunbeams unless there is dust in the air. And so there wouldn’t be any light in space without something to reflect it, or some instrument put there which would record that there is light there in space. Now, are we getting to some troubled philosophical problem about: is there really light there when there isn’t anything to reflect it? This is not really a—this is a sort of semantic problem, but it has a very great importance.


Let me suggest you this situation. We have the phenomenon of a rainbow. Now, three things are required for the presence of a rainbow. One is moisture in the atmosphere. Two: the sun at a certain angle of declination. And three: an observer. If these three are not in a certain angular relationship, there will not be seen a rainbow. Also, every observer standing within that triangular relationship will see the rainbow in a different place, but they will all agree that there is a rainbow there. Now, take away the observer, and obviously nobody sees a rainbow. Alright, put the observer back and take away the moisture: there will be no rainbow. Move the sun, and there will be no rainbow.


Now, notice this: every one of them has an equal contribution to the situation. And yet, we in our common sense are inclined to say: oh the observer isn’t so important to the reality of the rainbow as the sun and the moisture. So that if the observer goes away, the rainbow is still there. But you see what we’re doing? We’ve inserted a prejudice. We have wanted to say: oh yes, we observers, there really is a real world outside that has nothing to do with us. It goes on. And if we’re there, we see it. We have, as it were, put ourselves down and said: oh no, we don’t really contribute to this world at all. We’re just objective observers of what happens. And we don’t realize, you see, that we are as (if you want to say) causal a factor in the production of a rainbow as either the sun or the moisture in the atmosphere. And it’s surely a kind of prejudice that pretends that we weren’t involved. And, you see, that’s a fashion of thinking about knowledge, which has been prevalent for so long: the fashion (or the myth) of the objective observer who can look at things without altering them.


So then, for there to be this phenomenon rainbow, three factors must come into simultaneous relationship. The rainbow doesn’t sort of bounce around. How shall I put it? The sun, the observer, and the rainbow arise simultaneously. Or rather, I’d say the sun, the moisture in the atmosphere, and the observer, simultaneously arriving at the same triangulation, there arises rainbow. And so, in the same way, they say when the moon rises, all ponds contain its reflection. The ponds don’t hesitate and deliberate as to whether they shall or shall not reflect the moon. It’s simply there. And so this meaning is that—just as the water displays the spiritual power of the moon, and the wind exhibits the bodily force of the tree—that the passive element, the resonator, is as much involved in the production of the sound as the active element which hits. And that you can transfer the positions and find a point of view from which the active one is passive and the passive one is active. The gong hits the mallet.


So the Zen poem:

Empty-handed I go,

And yet a spade is in my hand.

I walk on foot,

And yet I’m riding the back of an ox.

And when I walk over the bridge,

The bridge flows and the water remains still.


Let’s see the same principle in still another sense. Consider—like the propagation of light from the sun, which isn’t light until something reflects it—the electric current. You can have a wire encircling the Earth, and a powerful generator at one end. But until you connect the two terminals, the positive and negative terminals, of this generator, there will be no current at all in that wire. So the current doesn’t proceed from the generator, along the wire, and wait at one end, sitting there until it shall flow through. It doesn’t flow at all until a circuit is established. In other words, without the point of arrival, the energy doesn’t start. Back to the elementary first lesson of the balls in space: there is no motion whatsoever until there are two balls. So it is the same with the knocker and the knocked.


But, you see, our view of this has been obscured by our preoccupation and the invasion of our common sense by Cartesian Newtonian mechanics: this conception of the universe as assisting the billiard balls in which some push the others around. And this then gives us—as conscious beings, as reflectors—the sense that we are always being pushed around. We don’t feel that our awareness of anything is in any way responsible for what we’re aware of. Because we have isolated it into the position of a passive mirror, which receives imprints and then maybe sends messages to the muscles, you know, which are considered something sort of separate, another department somewhere down there. And the mirror reflects things, and then somehow sends messages to the muscles so that they do something about it. But the basic sense of awareness in Western man is a sense of passivity. Stand aside and watch.


You will find this also in the Sāṃkhya philosophy in India, which is the basis of Patanjali’s yoga system. There are two elements called puruṣa and prakṛti. Puruṣa is the self, or perhaps the soul. Prakṛti is nature. And this is likened to a man looking down into water. The man is the puruṣa, the water is the prakṛti. And the puruṣa observes, but doesn’t (because the water is troubled) observe himself. He sees only the multiplicity of broken forms of his reflection. But by yoga he calms the water. The phrase that starts out the Yoga Sutrayogas citta vritti nirodha—says yoga is the stilling or elimination of mind waves. So by the practice of yoga, by breathing exercises and so on, one makes the mind still. And so, in the still pool one is supposed to be able to see the reflection of the puruṣa.


It’s a similar notion, because prakṛti is active. Puruṣa does nothing. Same way there’s the image in the Upanishads of two birds in a tree. One bird sits there watching, the other bird picks the fruit. And this has its analog in Hindu society as in the relation between husband and wife. The husband corresponds to the puruṣa, the wife to the prakṛti. She does the work, therefore. He observes.


And so, in a certain interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, where you—I hope all of you know the situation of the Gita, which is, if I may briefly mention it, is: there is a warrior, called Arjuna, about to go into battle, and he is the fighter. But he has a charioteer who drives him, and this is the God Krishna. Krishna being the earthly manifestation of Vishnu, who in turn is one of the three aspects of Brahman, the ground of being. So Krishna is passive in the chariot. He’s just the charioteer. Arjuna is active. He is the soldier. And he is loath to go into battle for sentimental reasons. And Krishna explains that his true self is the witness. “You must not think that you do anything,” he says. “Your senses move among the objects of senses. Your body—which you are not, it is merely your vesture—does all these activities. And you yourself, in the midst, you remain calm and merely the observer of all that goes on, because you don’t do it.” And so again, you see, it is the idea that the witness in us—that which is the self essentially—simply observes. But, as a matter of fact—as I have demonstrated in the matter of the rainbow, and can be demonstrated in innumerable other ways—the observer does not merely observe. The observer creates the world that he observes. Only, remains supremely unconscious of it. It all seems to be happening to me.


Now, of course, you do not create the world that you observe by any process that you consciously intend. The world that you observe is created by you because of your peculiar unconscious organic structure. It is by virtue of your brain being the way it is, and of the fantastic complexity and multiplicity of cells and molecules and so on that you are, that you create this world. You evoke this world. And presumably, if human beings could in some way modify the interior arrangement of their nervous system, they would modify the world at the same time. But that is a secret. You see, it’s a real secret that you create the world. Although simply research in neurophysiology begins to show that this is true. But it’s repressed in the ordinary way, because it’s a dangerous kind of information in our culture, because we confuse ourselves in that sense with our superficial ego.


I spoke yesterday of the confusion of various levels of our being, and what sort of trouble that led to, morally speaking. But, you see, at the same time, failure to realize this denotes an extraordinary degree of alienation within ourselves and from ourselves. We have simply, as it were, lost contact with our physical organism. And we practically disown it in feeling that all that stuff that’s going on in the brain is all very wonderful, and perhaps it was created by God and given to me, and perhaps it was the product of a process of evolution which I had nothing to do with it all. And therefore I feel that I, as a person, as an ego, am the mere inheritor of this thing. And so I have nothing to do with it. See, once again, put yourself in a completely passive position.


Now, if you can restore to yourself the sense of being all of you—and we’ll only talk for the first step—at least surely it can be admissible theoretically that you are all of your own physical body, and you’re not just something in it. And so if you get restored to yourself, the feeling that you are all your physical body, what immediately ensues is that your physical body thereupon explains to you that you, as physical body, are inseparable from this universe, and that you are creating it as much as it is creating you. You are evoking it or manifesting it as much as it is manifesting you.


Now, you see, both sides are true. Go back to the rainbow. You can’t avoid it. And I might mention that this table here, which is supposed to be solid—and everybody, all philosophers, damn it, sit in lecture rooms and give tables as examples of things. And tables are solid, and they hit the table like Dr. Johnson kicked the big stone to try and refute Bishop Berkeley. But the situation of this is no different than the situation of seeing a rainbow. Note that, for every observer, the table is in a different position. And that, were there no observers around—I mean, this is a ridiculous thing. Of course, when we come back here, the table is there again and so on. And so, in the same way, the rainbow is there when the sun and the moisture in the air recur. Like, the table is here as long as the boat is here. See? And so if somebody comes into the room, they will, from this purely quantum situation here, which is here in fact, they will evoke a thing called a table. Without a human organism around, this is merely an extraordinary quantum system, which is certainly nothing like a table. So everything is in the same situation.


But now, you see, once again I’ve taken two sides of a position. One is that the individual can be seen and described as an effect of, or a manifestation of, everything else. The other side is that everything else can be taken as a manifestation of the individual organism. So the truth about this has to comprise both statements and come to the astonishing realization that you create what creates you, and what creates you creates you, and gets created by you, and in turn creates you. You see? So that there’s something funny going on here.


So you seem to oscillate between being at one—you know how your mind finds it difficult to synthesize two images, as in some of those Gestalt tests where you look at a picture, which one moment is a beautiful girl, in the next minute an old crone. And it seems to be terribly difficult to see them together. And so, in this way, we can look at ourselves at one moment as evoking the whole universe, then at the next minute of being nothing but a little passive thing that gets pushed around. And it’s very difficult to synthesize these images and bring them together in one.


But, you see, what you’ve got here in this oscillation of feeling is what the Hindus have always been saying. That, as it were, in one rhythm the Supreme Self is the Supreme Self. In the next moment of the rhythm, he’s lost as all of us. See? Well now, that isn’t something you’ve got to seek out in terms of literal periods of 4,320,000 years, you know, and wait till the end of the kali yuga to watch it happening. It’s happening every moment, you see, in your conscious interaction with the world. When you realize that you evoke the universe, that is the period of realizing the Supreme Self. When suddenly you feel a little passive thing, and that the whole universe is knocking on you, that’s the moment of plunging into manifestation. But after a while you realize that these things are simultaneous. That to feel like an ordinary ego, sort of generally pushed around by life and disgruntled and frustrated, is not to lose the divine state. In other words, the greatest lesson you can learn from ecstasy is that ordinary everyday consciousness is it, too. This comes out very strongly in Zen, and I have discussed this problem with people who both are far advanced in Zen and have practiced ecstasy courtesy of psychedelics. The thing that comes out very, very clearly in Zen is that everyday consciousness is it, too. So that—well, ecstasy is fine, but ecstasy itself is not the goal.


But the difficulty in understanding this, you see, is that it has been drummed into you—through all education and through everyday phrases and common speech—that the observer is passive, and is not responsible, and withdraws, withdraws, withdraws, and sees everything outside himself as something in an alien world which is happening; a great fantastic energetic bustling thundering thing coming at him. And you’ve got to deal with that! You see? Boy, if I want to understand that, I’d better be objective. You know, I’m going to stand away and look at it. Yes, true—but don’t forget that you’re looking at yourself, not at your ego. Not your ego, but yourself in the sense of this fantastic organism that you are, which is a sort of—I could describe it as an exquisite instrument without which the fingers of the harpist are useless.


So, you see—now, of course, we think of the musical instrument again as something passive. It merely responds to the fingers of the player. But if you look at it correctly, the musical instrument is itself an extension of the fingers of the player. It is a single process. The ingenuity of the artist comes and expresses it through the musical instrument, just as he expresses himself through and as his fingers, and as his brain. See, the brain is growing outside us. Did you know that? People used to think that the next step in man’s evolution was that he would get a bigger brain. And so in early science fiction books men of the future were drawn with enormous heads, like this. It’s not going to go that way. It so often doesn’t. We never guess it. What we’ve done is: we are creating a brain outside our heads. We are setting up a vast electronic brain with all sorts of interconnections which will span the whole surface of the Earth. And nobody expected that it would go that way. But that’s how it’s going. You see? And it’s really a much more convenient way than bulging our heads. But this thing is a new brain.


And so, in exactly the same way, the musical instrument was an extension of the brain in exactly the same way that an electronic computer was an extension of the brain. But in its turn, you see, the extension of the brain in the musical instrument echoes back what’s in the brain. The brain cannot, in other words, realize itself without the instrument. And this in turn feeds back into the brain system, or whatever the mind is, and produces new possibilities. See, by studying a musical instrument, you can find out new possibilities of sound and of technique which you never would have known without the instrument.


So there’s this constant circulation between the role of the doer, who is active, and the role of the done-to, which is passive. And it’s not a fixed relationship at all. It oscillates. And so it gets to the point, too, when sometimes you could swear that the instrument was playing you. Or when you practice Chinese painting or calligraphy, there comes a point where the brush is doing it. And this is not just an illusion. It represents a realization of harmony between the nature of the brush, and the nature of paper, and the nature of the outside world of trees and things, and you. It’s all in a circuit at this point.


Well now, I have discussed what is really a very difficult problem, because it is so alien to our common sense and our conditioning. But once you can get this straight—theoretically, only theoretically—you’ve gone a long way towards getting it intuitively. These ideas are strange to us in just the same way that it seemed inconceivable to our ancestors that the Earth was spherical. I mean, they felt very, very uncomfortable. Because, after all, if it is spherical, who is up? And obviously, people couldn’t live below us, because they would fall off. See? They felt that very strongly. They felt it here. And so, when they got accustomed to the idea, they could accept it. And now, today, it is no problem at all that the Earth is round. Well, so, in a few years, the idea I’m talking about will to all intelligent people be a matter of course. It’ll be the simplest thing to see—and may have some surprising consequences.

Part 4

The Eternal Pulse


Now, if we say that there is a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the cosmos, and that cosmos as we know it doesn’t arise at all unless there is an individual organism, is this tantamount to saying that before there were any living beings there was no cosmos? That cosmos and beings came into existence simultaneously at what we would call the same temporal instant? This is perhaps a possible notion, but it’s slightly reminiscent of a theological argument that is rather disreputable, which is that the biblical account of creation is literally true. And at the time when God created the world, he created it complete with fossils and evidences of things of colossal antiquity, although they were created ancient right at the moment of creation in the year 4000 BC. And so there is a certain air of implausibility to the notion that universe and beings, living beings, come into existence simultaneously—though a fair argument might be made for it.


But I think we should look at it in another way which makes a good deal more sense, or rather has more plausibility: an argument which does not in any way diminish the fact that the totality of the cosmos is dependent upon the life of every single individual. Each one! And this simply requires that we see that an individual organism has limits both spatial and temporal. A person who was immortal would be as improbable, and indeed as inconceivable, as a person who was infinitely long or fat. It is of the essence of an organism, of a being, that it be (from one point of view) finite—in space and in time. But remember always that, from another point of view, separate things don’t exist. A separate organism, a separate individual human being, is separate only by definition.


Now, let me draw your attention to the fact that the idea of separateness is used in different ways. We can speak of a separate wave in the ocean, and yet the wave is not separate from the ocean—even though it is from a certain point of observation a distinct wave. Things, in other words, can be distinct and different without being separate. And here I would be using the word “separate” in the sense of cut off, isolated, in a very strong sense of the word. Whereas if I say something is distinct or different, it is a weaker sense of separation.


So remember that we see ourselves as individuals because of a certain focus of attention. We are interested in differences between us. We value them so highly that, when these distinct features disappear or die, we are sad, but when they appear or are born, we are generally speaking happy. But we could alter our focus and see that human beings—in their separate characteristics, in their differentiation from each other—are perhaps not as interesting as human beings in their similarities, in their unities with each other, in their membership in groups and societies, and indeed of all living beings considered in terms of their membership in species, and species in their multiplicity considered in terms as vast dances or performances of a single life. But where your focus is, there your heart is, there your emotions are awakened. So, from one point of view, there isn’t a separate individual and it’s only, shall I say, a social convention. That means an agreed way of regarding things that not only separates out different people, but also separates out different things in the total panorama of human experience.


Bearing that in mind, then, it is possible to see that a process that is very, very vastly extended in time can be related and be interdependent with a process that has a very short span in time and a very small area in space. Brevity of things in time and smallness of things in space make very little difference to their importance. One should not have ideas of importance that are so crudely quantitative, depending on bigness and littleness in such crude measures as the measures we use for space and time. But you could say this: that the entirety of all beings—that is to say, the cosmos—depends on (and will not, indeed, come into being at all) if, at some future time, it is not going to come forth with you. Just in the same way we saw that the electric current will not proceed from its starting point until its terminal point has been secured.


Now, on a very, very long circuit of 186,000 miles, it will take the current one second to arrive. That is no different in principle from the notion that, if the current—in this case the impulse of all cosmic history—it may be an interval of billions and billions of years before it arrives at a given terminal called you. But that terminal has, in a sense, to be there before it will start. So the beginning of it and the ending of it is dependent upon every conceivable short interval and small process lying between. This is easy to see if you keep the figure of the current in mind, and if you keep in mind also the fact that any individual process, short process, is separable from the whole only conventionally. So that you might say: all the symptoms of the whole universe are in every event that is in it.


It is as unmistakably, you see, a product of this world as the work of a certain artist is unmistakably the product of his style and of his personality—but in the sense that we use the word “product” in the ordinary way, we mean something that somebody puts out, as an artist puts out a work of art or as a mother puts out a baby. But this putting out is not actually a disconnective process, not a process of shoving away into some sort of isolation, although it looks like that. The act of putting out, of (as it were) creating a space between one organism and another—as when a child is born—is something without which, you see, there can’t be any manifestation of form. It’s simply the introduction of a space. And the space—remember, going back to first principles—the space between the organisms does not separate organisms, it connects them. As you will remember from the Nazi concept of Lebensraum (although that’s got bad connotations attached to it): “room for living.” This thing, in other words, that we call life requires space, air, earth, ground, and all that sort of thing. And so we are joined by the space between us. But this is ordinarily ignored, just in the same way as our interest does not focus upon the inseparability of every conceivable thing.


So, you see, if you go down into any so-called thing—you take, for example, a sound and you begin to listen to it carefully, you will hear the pulse overtones, pulses within pulses, and you will begin (as you concentrate on it) to realize that the sound, it may be a sound you’re making with your own voice, is infinitely complicated, and contains, as it were, within it worlds and worlds, universes and universes. And then, as you watch it, will call to mind the fact that the sound is inseparable from your particular vocal tube. And this, in turn, involves a vast multiplicity of so-called things going on that you can notice and that begin to come into your focus. And, as you do that, you become more and more of the interconnectedness. Just as the sound is interconnected with your vocal tube and your breath, you see that your breath is a way of playing with the air, and that the air isn’t just being played with passively, it invites being played with. And so you get that state of mind in which you see all things that are happening as something going together.


But then you usually get interrupted in this meditation by a form of the same problem which I raised right now at the beginning: but I am impermanent. And I’m somehow, as an organism, I’m so frail, so soft, so weak, that I’m just sort of like an ocean spray. It’s very beautiful and complex, but it throws up, lasts a moment, and vanishes. And so we are faced with the great problem of unconsciousness, you see? This is the thing that bugs us, because clearly there is such a thing as unconsciousness. We sleep every night. And we can batter our imaginations with trying to think about what it might be like to go to sleep and never wake up.


But again, notice that consciousness and unconsciousness are again a polarity. If consciousness, as it were, corresponds to the pulse in sound, unconsciousness corresponds to the intervening silences. And as every successive pulse—if you really listen—is in some sense different from the one before it, so all the pulses that we are are different from each other. And in the succession of human beings and other organisms that come into this world, generation after generation, they are all slightly different—just as every wave in the ocean is different.


But the fact that pulses exist at all does, at the same time, depend—I’m talking of pulses that we call consciousness. Consciousness is, in turn, consciousness/unconsciousness, just as the sound is sound/silence. And you cannot therefore recognize the cruising crest of the wave, which is the individual organism, unless there is the trough. The wave dies away and others follow. And between lie the troughs. Because we have fixated ourselves upon the value of consciousness, and similarly have centered ourselves upon the value of solids, and have neglected the value of space. So, in exactly the same way, we have neglected the value of unconsciousness, and above all of death.


Now, we are terribly mixed up about this, and notably in our current American culture. Death is a very important event, and yet it is invariably swept under the carpets and regarded as a disease. Death may indeed be a consequence of disease, but death in itself is not a disease. It is the natural term of an individual organism. And therefore, properly handled—and this is something that we really got to do something about sociologically—death should be a great event. But what in fact happens is: when a person is about to die, everything possible is done to evade this. Friends and relations come to the hospital bed and say, “Oh man, you’ll be alright in a couple of weeks. Don’t worry, you’ll be out again sitting on the beach, or maybe in a convalescent home, or back at your office, and things will be going on just as before.” And the patient very well recognizes there’s something hollow about all this. And that makes it much worse. Whereas if, instead of that, we said: “Now, it’s apparent that you’re going to die, and therefore a celebration is in order. Because this is a very great moment for you.” Here is an unprecedented chance of being able to let go of your separate individuality, and therefore attain instant enlightenment.


And so everything possible should be done to encourage the individual at that moment to abandon his personality. And you will be amazed to the extent to which social cooperation makes this possible. Because it is through social pressure that we believe an enormous number of things. See, social pressure created our idea of separate individuality. You see, what happens when a child is born, that child is certainly not separate from the cosmos. But yet is not in a position to argue with his elders and betters. Now they tell him: “You are separate, and you are responsible for what you do. All on your own. You are a distinct agent.” Now, you see the child, as I say, can’t resist that. But he doesn’t realize that he is being defined as a free and separate agent as the consequence of an irresistible commandment. And you can see that there is a lulu of a contradiction. You had better be free! You see? And so he is unable to resist that. And it really becomes a colossal hallucination. So this is the power of the group.


Now, of course, if the group did this knowingly, with the understanding that eventually they would relieve the child of this illusion at a proper moment in education, that would be one thing. But I would say that an enlightened social group, if it is able—through its officers such as physicians, gynecologists and whatnot—to help women through difficult childbirth by re-explaining what’s going on, and calling the pangs of birth tensions instead of pangs, so in the same way, the social support of a dying individual could be extraordinarily effective—especially if everybody really said, “Now, this is the great thing.”


There was a theologian by the name of William Law, who wrote a book called Holy Dying. To the modern temperament that sounds unbelievably depressing. It sounds as if, you know—imagine a holy death, with religious books bound in black with gold edges, and clergymen coming around with sepulchral voices, and confession of sins, and all that gloomy business. Everybody gets an awful feeling about holy dying. But holy dying—the word “holy” really means complete, perfect, total. And total dying would be self-abandonment. And you can do that in various ways at the moment of death according to your taste. If you want to be surrounded with priests and candles and things, that’s fine. If you want to have a champagne party for all your friends, that’s also fine. Provided—or if you want to, you know, get together with a small group of people on a sunny beach, like a seagull somebody told me about that was dying on the beach, that turned its head to the sun and kind of sort of went into the sun and died. Extraordinary experience.


But we don’t do this because we’ve excluded one side of the picture: the unconscious side, the darkness side, the side in which the wave stops and we get a sudden sense of complete deprivation, of being totally deprived and paralyzed of all power, getting colder and colder and colder until… nothing. And then we are afraid, you see, that the unconscious side of things is more powerful than the conscious, that the nothingness is more powerful than the energy, and that, therefore, in the game of life, the nothing side will ultimately win. Because naturally, energy requires effort. And we always feel when we make efforts that there’s a limit to effort: that effort can blossom for a while and then fall, but that the apparent nothingness in which effort arises is therefore going to swallow the whole thing up.


But of course we neglect the fact that there is no nothingness without effort. I mean, the thought that some people have of dying and of being annihilated forever and ever and ever is the most baseless kind of imagination. It is the most totally meaningless concept you could conceive. So think, rather, of the unconscious related to the conscious as the trough to the wave, and that the unconscious interval is that which gives significance to the conscious crests or moments in just the same way that the interval between tones is what makes possible melody. If you don’t hear the interval between the tones in music, you don’t hear the melody. You hear nothing but a succession of noises. So, in the same way, if you don’t hear the interval—that is to say, that aspect of life which is unconscious, that which is death, and so on—if you don’t see the importance of that, you become deaf and insensitive to the music of the spheres—that is to say, to the sense of life.


Now, so long as we use this wave-and-ocean analogy, we’ve got to be careful of it, because we’re always going to be apt to slipping back into funny dualisms. Behind the crest and the trough of the wave, as the substratum corresponding to what I call the ground of life, there is the ocean. And so you’ve got waves of the ocean as the image, here, with their ups and downs. And since a wave is a form, and according to our old notions, the ocean is the substance of the wave, we seem to have got ourselves stuck back with some sort of silly dualism here that will be similar to the old duality of form and matter, or even spirit and body.


And in this we are greatly helped and illuminated by a Chinese philosopher who wrote—he was a great master of what is known as the Huáyán School of Buddhism—who wrote a little treatise called The Golden Lion. It’s very short and I want to read it to you. He’s talking about such a lion as you might find at the entrance of a Buddhist temple in China or Japan. They are guardian lions, sometimes called Buddha dogs, and this one is simply a lion which has been fashioned from gold.


Gold has no self-nature, but as modeled by the artist assumes the form of a lion.

When he says gold has no self-nature, nobody has ever seen gold with no shape. Gold, as gold, never exists apart from some form of gold. Now in his metaphor here, gold corresponds to what you might call the universal. And the lion corresponds to what you might call the particular. So he goes on:


Gold has no self-nature, but as modeled by the artist assumes the form of a lion. Likewise, the universal has no form of its own, taking any form the conditions may ascribe to it. The lion as such has no reality, it’s all of gold. The lion is unreal, but the gold is not without reality.


So the formlessness of the universal is not a definite object of discrimination, as I say, which you can see, but manifests itself in all forms which are nominal—that is what I mean by conventional and apparitional.


When the gold takes in the lion in its totality, there will be no lion left to be a separate entity.


In other words, the lion’s all gold. For this reason we say that the lion has no form of its own. That the lion has come to exist at all is due entirely to the existence of the gold. Without the gold there would be nothing whatever. The lion is subject to birth and death, but the gold itself suffers no change. Hence we speak of it as representing no birth, or the unborn condition.


To think that the lion, depending for its existence on the maturing of various conditions and subject to constant changes as regards its form, has really no substance of his own, this is the view held by ordinary people. To think that all things have their existence only conditionally and have no self-nature and are therefore thoroughly empty, this is the view held by the second stage people. To think that while things are thoroughly empty, this emptiness does not prevent their existing as if they were real, which permits both the lion’s conditional or dependent existence and the gold assume a temporary form, this is the view held by those of the last stage.


That really is a misleading translation. It should be the first stage Mahayana followed by second stage. I’m not going to go through with all of this, because some of it is highly technical and would require a long time to make it perfectly clear. But what we see here is: he’s trying to show you that you cannot really separate gold and lion. He’s overcoming a duality of form and substance. Even where we use substance in a different sense from mere stuff—let’s say that the ground of the world, as we’ve used the phrase, is its substance. What the word literally means: “that which stands underneath.” So: the ground. And so all these waves or manifestations of the ground appear as its forms. Now, although the forms come and go, he’s saying: do not make a dualism between the coming and going forms and the substance which lies beneath it. Because they are never found without each other.


What appears to be the disappearance of forms—now get this!—what appears to be the disappearance of the forms is part and parcel of the form itself, because the trough is part of the crest. You can’t have the crest without the trough. The fact, then, that appearing and disappearing forms, their appearance and their disappearance, are all of a piece, they’re inseparable. That’s what the gold is. The gold here, you see, represents the inseparability and continuity of the forms, the coming and going of forms.


So you can think, then—if you think of the forms fully, and you think of them as including their appearance and disappearance, you don’t need to think of the gold as something separate from them. Which is a way of saying that the absolute world is what you’re looking at now. You mistake all those people—sitting around and looking separate and having their problems and all this clutter and boats and mountains and birds and everything—you mistake this for a lot of separate forms all changing, and somehow get bugged by it. But actually, what you’re looking at is no different from the ground of the world. The ground of the world is something you’ll never find as a kind of amorphous bludge all by itself.


A lot of people think, you see, that when you attain the highest state, you will find pure amorphous bludge. You may temporarily have an experience that appears to be pure amorphous bludge, but that is one of those cases where your emotions use a symbol to represent something they can’t quite grasp, and the symbol projects itself as a physical feeling. For example, when you understand something you say, “Ah, I see the light!” And you may actually, if your sudden understanding of something is tremendously vivid, it may appear that a great flash of light occurred, or that suddenly everything is luminous. You mustn’t take this sort of thing literally, as if that were an insight into what it’s all about. Light is simply here the symbol of clarity and understanding.


So if you do see a light, please don’t imagine that a light with no distinct edges is what God actually looks like. You could say God looks like all this, only understood from a kind of—when our focus is all on the separateness, you can’t see the unity. When the focus is on the unity, you sometimes can’t see the separateness, or the differentiation. So what you have to understand is that the unity and the separation go together. And this is why I said this morning that ecstasy is fine, but that the term, the final fulfillment of, say, Zen discipline is to come back to ordinary life and see that ordinary life is it. That It (with a capital I) is in Japanese, buji. That means “nothing special.”


But it depends, you see, on understanding the function of the unconscious interval; of seeing that the unconscious world—let’s say that rocks and stones and so on belong to the unconscious world, and all the stars maybe belong in some sense to an unconscious world, which all comes into being. When you’re conscious, there it all is, you see. When you’re unconscious it vanishes. But that world is unconscious not because it’s a kind of nothing, but because it is more truly in some ways yourself than what is conscious.


After all, you are not aware of most of your inner processes. You might feel that you’ve missed something by this. That, “Damnit, I gotta find those things out! I gotta know everything about me and become conscious of it!” See? But you realize that forever and ever you’d be in a wild chase. But so, just as you are not aware of how you think and how you breathe and circulate your blood and so on and so forth, all that is unconscious. So in the unconsciousness that we call death or sleep or any kind of unconsciousness, there is “you” still there—although people who’ve died and been revived by surgeons don’t remember anything as a rule. That doesn’t make any difference. You don’t remember what happened during deep sleep. But the central you is unconscious for the same reason that the inner workings of your brain are unconscious. In other words, it’s all too close to you to be seen. So it appears unconscious. But, of course, I repeat again: you, in that sense, has billions of egos, not just one. And all of you sitting around are all of your other egos, you see.


But the difficulty of the whole situation is the fear of unconsciousness. Where there’s a sense involved in death of, say, losing control; of the dissolution of something you’ve taken a great deal of trouble to build up, namely your personality, your career, and all that. But clearly, if we were to try and solve this problem by an indefinite prolongation of life for everybody, we should be solving it in the wrong way. By that I mean: the prolongation of individual life is as stupid a way of going on as increasing the human brain by making it into a colossal head like this. In other words, it’s a much more sensible way to extend the brain outside the head and not crowd up the skull with more brain. So likewise, when you build cities: watch the growing absurdity of Manhattan where they’re trying to stretch the city by making the buildings taller and taller and taller, and putting things up like the Pan Am Building bang on top of Grand Central Station, which is the height of asininity. Because all that’s happening is that the system is fouling itself up.


Well, exactly the same thing would happen by the stretching of individual lives to an inordinate length. You would reach a point of no return, where the longer you live the more boring it would become, because you’d seen everything. You would recognize that you would keep getting again and again that haven’t-we-been-here-before feeling. So one is missing, you see, the value of the interval. I mean, an indefinitely long life is like an indefinitely prolonged note. And away with it! You see? Because why consciousness is bored with that: because consciousness is consciousness/unconsciousness, just as light is light/darkness. And where there isn’t a breather where this thing can’t just be dissolved, the whole thing becomes a bore. Because we don’t see that, we say, “Oh, don’t dissolve it! Because this is all there is.” You see? After this—nothing.


Well, we know jolly well—don’t we?—that after any individual that we know dies, there isn’t nothing, everything goes on. But if we define him as only what’s inside that bag of skin, then we hypnotize him. We brainwash him into the feeling that that’s all he is, and that therefore death is going to be terrible. But all this is a result of social brainwashing. You can watch this in different attitudes to death. For example, there are people who are totally non-religious, who have never, never bothered their heads about the awful possibilities of hell in the afterlife, or never bothered with metaphysical speculations. And for them death can be a very matter-of-fact affair. You know: well, it’s just one of those things that happen in life. And maybe really something to be desired, because the process of dying was uncomfortable; very uncomfortable. And people who get used to handling death—doctors and hospital people—begin to take a rather matter-of-fact attitude towards it. They’re so used to it that they’re less bugged by it when their turn comes.


But society has built up a tremendous emotional palaver about it, just in the same way that mothers build up all sorts of fantastic feelings in their children which needn’t be there at all. If a child throws up, it may be very necessary for the child to throw up because it’s eating something that doesn’t agree with it. But every time it does, its mother said “Bleagh!” or something you know. And the poor kid gets bugged and thinks that being sick is terrible, and a thing you shouldn’t do—because mother said “Bleagh!” And so with all sorts of things. We learn what attitude we should have toward them from a socially unconventional attitude, where it isn’t necessary to have that attitude at all.


So in particular this terrible fear that, when the wave enters its descent, that this is the end. Alright, let go! If it’s the end, let go and drop into unconsciousness. Because dropping into unconsciousness is the only way of bouncing back. Letting go completely. Like, you know, do you sometimes get dreams or images of falling through a tunnel? Going down, down, down, down, down? Well, this is a very effective way of introducing a meditative state of falling down through a tunnel. And just letting go, and going on dropping and dropping and dropping forever and ever and ever and ever and ever as far as you can possibly drop. Crazy! But it gives many people the heebie-jeebies. Ooh, what’s going to be at the end of that? You know? Are there going to be teeth that go clunk! like that, you know? And imagine—I travel in planes, and sometimes I think what would happen if this thing crashed into a mountain. And there’s a certain feeling of: well, there would be an awful kind of spasmodic tension. A fantastic pulling all the strings of pain. And you could go through that, you know? You could just go fwoosh! and the whole thing would disappear, and you’d be absolutely vanished, you see?


Now, don’t stop there, see? The vanished state, the empty state, is extremely creative—like space is. And the more you dwell on, shall I say—this is a sort of form of meditation—the more you dwell on being vanished, you find the more vitality you have, the more you are able to take existence. But it’s important, you see, to die first. That’s why all initiation symbolisms throughout the world involves symbolic death. “When living, be a dead man—thoroughly dead. And then whatever you do, just as you will, will be right.” This is a Chinese poet.


And that’s why, of course, those Japanese soldiers who were kamikaze pilots—and this goes back to an ancient samurai tradition. Before going into battle they celebrated their own funerals. So celebrate your own funeral. You know, if you’re not (as most Americans aren’t) ritualistic, and like to actually have a funeral ceremony, you can go down into this pit and really go. Go, go, go, go, go right down to the end of it. And be willing to be swallowed up and to be completely abolished. When the wave turns over and breaks, and you watch it coming sliding down, what a glorious rush that is! Foom! It’s scattered all over the place, see? To get with that.


I mean, every kind of propaganda is used against us to make us recoil. Look how a journalist can play on somebody’s brains being smashed, and say, “Eugh! Look at that! Ugh!” And everybody reads about this… “Oh! My brains are going to be smashed one day! Or eaten up by worms or cancer or something. And oh, that’s just terrible!” But, you see, we’re being conditioned into thinking that way. Because this is part of the function of writers and journalists and imagination-provokers of all kinds. They know people love being horrified. And so they invent all kinds of imaginary horrors, which they can write about the frightful scandals and awful things going on, and they blow them up into being much worse than they are. And they play on all the emotions connected with them, and everybody says “ooh” and “aah” and “how awful,” you see. And then, that’s fine when you look at it over there. You can read about all that. But then, when it comes to home, you think all this ghastly thing is going to go on around me! And the worst part about it is thinking about it. And thinking, “Well, what’s going to happen later? Where’s this all going to lead to? Is it going to lead to that awful awful that’s supposed to live down the end of the tunnel?” You know how Edgar Allan Poe was a master at this. That story, The Pit and the Pendulum, when the heated walls close in and he’s on the brink of a pit. And he says, “There, down there, I saw something too terrible to describe.” Wow! What do you suppose that was? Ugh!


So always become acquainted with your visions of the monstrous. Find out what it is that you consider most terrible of all—the most disagreeable the most ghastly encounter, the ultimate chewing dragon, or whatever it is—and keep moving into that. Even in fantasy, you see. Then, later on, when you have worked on these fantasies—which Jung calls active imagination—you can see how in life you are encompassed with all sorts of weird threats which are keeping you terrified because of the noises they make.

Now, this is the thing in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. When at a certain point the departed being is supposed to encounter all the wrathful deities—and this is not necessarily to be taken literally. But it is in the Book of the Dead successive steps in a meditation process. And there is a point where all the horrors can come up. And these are represented in Buddhist iconography as black buddhas with necklaces of skulls, and enormous fangs, and nails, and hundreds of heads, and snakes writhing around their limbs all hissing. And this thing comes at you making a frightful noise. Like warriors put masks on in ancient times for battle, and beat drums, and made a tremendous sound. The Book of the Dead says: recognize our nobly born, that all these are the products of your own mind. Fear not. Go straight at it, you see?


So the art of staying in illusion, you see, is entirely dependent upon ignoring, or evading, or fighting against, any one or any side of the fundamental pairs of opposites. As soon as you really see that yang goes with yin, and that they imply each other, the spell with which you are bound is broken. And so the whole secret of liberation comes down to this very little simple matter of seeing that black implies white and white implies black.

Alan Watts

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