When Hindus and Buddhists use the word karma, the basic meaning of it is “action;” from the Sanskrit root kri: “to do.” And therefore there is some error in the common translation of karma as a law of cause and effect, or of cosmic retribution. “As a man sows, so also shall he reap” has a Western flavor which is a little causal. The way the Buddha put it was slightly different: “This arises, that becomes.” Because between this and that there is a polar relationship, and the full explanation of karma in Buddhist philosophy is called pratītyasamutpāda, which means the “interdependent origination of all the forms and phases of life.” Pratītyasamutpāda.
And there are twelve links, shall we say, in the chain of interdependent origination constituting a circle. And the existence of the circle depends on the presence of every one of the links. From one point of view in Buddhism, the chain of interdependent origination is looked upon as a chain—that is to say, as a form of bondage. The constituents, as it were, of the vicious circle in which most people and beings are living, which they call saṃsāra: the “round of birth and death;” the bhavacakra: the wheel of bhava, which is “becoming.” And so, going ’round and ’round and ’round in the endless game of hide-and-seek is, from one point of view, bondage. Bondage to karma.
And if you study the Bhagavad Gita—which is not a Buddhist book, but a Hindu scripture—Krishna, the spokesman of the Gita, explains that the wise man is one who does what is called niṣkāmakarma, meaning “passionless activity” in the sense that he acts without seeking a result, without being motivated by the fruits of action, and therefore is not bound by his own action. You can be bound to saṃsāra—the wheel of birth and death—by iron chains or gold chains. The chains are—I mean, I’m talking more or less in the language of popular Hinduism—that if you do bad deeds in this life you’ll get [a] bad result next time. If you do good deeds in this life you may be reborn as an angel or as a monk, in which you’ll get a better chance of liberation. But still: so long as you’re looking for results—be they good or evil—you’re still bound.
Now, the way in which one becomes, as it were, free of karma involves another Buddhist point of view which is a kind of—a different way of looking at the chain of interdependent origination. It’s the way which the Japanese call jiji muge (事事无碍), that is to say, the “mutual interpenetration of all things and events.” So that you could say that, actually, in fact, the deepest level of reality—this entire cosmos—is a completely harmonious and blissful manifestation of everything in a state of total enlightenment and mutual compassion. And therefore the task of the Buddhist or the Hindu discipline of meditation, the sādhanā—the “way of spiritual development”—is to realize that; for everybody to realize it effectively in his own life, and therefore cease from the illusion that the universe is a fragmented process of conflict.
But first of all, we have to be clear about karma: that it is not to be understood in the Western sense of a law of cause and effect, or of a sort of retribution system, or a law. The word “law” is most unsuitable for concepts in Eastern Indian and Chinese philosophy. The word dharma—sometimes meaning “the Buddhist’s doctrine,” or a certain way of life when you talk about a person’s svadharma—you mean “their own function.” We would translate svadharma as “vocation.” Sva is the same as the Latin sus: “one’s own.” Dharma: “function,” in this case. “Operation,” “way of life,” “style of life,” “profession,” “trade,” “role.” It means all those things. And the one thing that dharma really never means is “law,” although it’s often translated that way.
Because, you see, you don’t get the idea of law until you move to a culture where order is based on the idea of obedience. In the West, you see, the origins of law spring from where? The laws of the Medes and Persians, the Laws of Hammurabi, the Laws of Moses, and later Roman law. The only healthy legal tradition we have in the West is British common law, which proceeds in an entirely different way from code law.
Because, you see, the difference between code law and common law is that code law is laid down by the wisdom of an all-powerful ruler who tells everybody how they must behave, and they must obey him. But common law is evolved by discussion of particular cases rather than referring all the time to abstract principles which are put down in words. And the judge—the good judge—is a wise man, a man with a sense of equity and fair play who arbitrates an issue which is debated in front of him. And from the precedent from which he creates by his decision, common law evolves. You see, that’s a more organic way of producing law. The code law system, which we inherit from our most ancient theological backgrounds, is a tyrannical method of law by imposition.
And so you must understand that—in both Hinduism and Buddhism—there is really no fundamental idea of obedience to a personal ruler. Certainly not in Buddhism. A little bit, sometimes, in Hinduism. But even then we get terribly mixed up because, for example, I was talking of the Bhagavad Gita: this is often translated “The Lord’s Song.” Now, for Bhagavān (or Bhagavāt in Sanskrit) “Lord”—as an English equivalent—is quite inappropriate. Because a lord is one who lords it over you. Bhagavān is a title of reverence and respect and love. “The Song of the Beloved” would be much better, in a way—although it’s not quite correct from a strict point of view. We don’t really have an equivalent for this word, the Bhagavān.
So although, you see, there has been—in India itself—tyrannical rule, and although the Arthaśāstra (as a manual of politics) gives directions to a tyrant as to how to govern by absolute power, going along with this exposition of this very Machiavellian point of view to government is the constant advice of the sage: yes, this is what you have to do in order to fulfill your office as a ruler, but never forget that you’ll never succeed. The more you try to rule things by force, the more you will stir up violence against you. And so you can never hold on to your power and your possessions; it will always flow away from you. So there was one of those great rajas of ancient India who asked a jeweler to make him a ring that would restrain him in prosperity and support him in adversity. And the jeweler wrote on the ring: “It will pass.” But when we come to the deep cosmological and metaphysical ideas, we don’t have law in the Western sense, and therefore nature is not looked upon as something which is an orderly system because it is obeying a commandment.
In the West we inherit the idea of law from those ancient conceptions of God, and it is even passed down into science where we discuss laws of nature. But one recognizes more and more in the sciences that what we call laws of nature are simply observed regularities in the way things behave. And in order to observe regularities you must look at things through something regular—that is to say, you must lay a ruler alongside them or compare their behavior with the regular behavior of a clock. But clocks and rulers are human inventions. They are regular measures which we use for comparing the rates of change. Say, a clock is a measure of a rate of change. It’s quite arbitrary. But we very easily compare our regulation-measuring devices with what makes things happen, as if the sun rises because it’s six in the morning. That’s being completely backwards in one’s thinking.
And we get into the same confusion when we imagine, for example, that money is wealth. Here we have fantastic wealth, you know, and we have the technological possibility of making everybody on Earth the enjoyer of an independent income. We can’t do it because people say, “Where’s the money going to come from?” Because they think money makes prosperity. It’s the other way around: it’s physical prosperity which has money as a way of measuring it. But people think money has to come from somewhere, like hydroelectric power or lumber or iron, and it doesn’t. Money is something we invent, like inches. So, you remember the Great Depression; when there was a slump? And what did we have a slump of? Money. There was no less wealth, no less energy, no less raw materials than there were before, but it’s like you came to work on building a house one day and they said, “Sorry, you can’t build this house today. No inches!” “What do you mean, no inches?” “Just inches! We got inches of lumber, yes. We got inches of metal. We’ve even got tape measures. But there’s a slump in inches as such,” you see? And people are that crazy! They can have a depression because they have no inches to go around, or no dollars. That’s all a lot of nonsense!
But, you see, because we get thinking backwards and making the metaphysical tail wag the dog, making the law rule things—whereas it doesn’t, it’s merely a way of measuring what happens. And so, you see, when you get into Buddhistic thought you don’t get that confusion the other way around. So you’re looking at a system where—to go back to the Buddha’s words—“this arises, that becomes,” which is a way of saying: you can’t have this without that. You can’t have “here” without “there.” You wouldn’t know where here was unless you knew where there was. And they come into being together. You don’t get first here and then there, or first there and then here. These arise interdependently. That’s the meaning of interdependent origination. And to grasp the idea of interdependent origination is as important as the idea about seeing how things are related by space and intervals, and seeing, therefore, that you tend to look at life from a myopic point of view and see details; see the trees and not the forest, see yourself as something loosely related to everything else that’s going on and not integral to it. You see the the figure but ignore the background. But the figure and the background arise mutually. They are to each other as this is to that.
And so we really have to rid our brains of the notion of causality. The notion of causality being that present sets of circumstances are the result of past sets of circumstances and that, therefore, certain events (which are called causes) are responsible for following events (called effects). And all this is an enormous piece of mumbo-jumbo, because what is not seen and what is not clear in thinking that way is that, in physical nature, there are no separate events. This is startling to people. But it’s really quite easy to see that there are no events in nature, because you can ask very simply—let’s take something called an event: how do we demark it from other events? At what point, shall we say, were you born? Were you born at parturition? Or when the doctor slapped you on the bottom? Or cut the umbilical cord? Or when you were conceived? Or when your father and mother were first attracted to each other? When was it? When did you begin? There’s no way of deciding except arbitrarily. And for legal purposes we say you were born at parturition. And that’s when the astrologer casts your horoscope—except that other astrologers disagree and want the conception time, and say that’s the real beginning. There isn’t a real beginning. It goes back and back and back in an inseparable continuity. When are you dead? That’s another big argument. And you can get all kinds of ideas about that.
So once you see that an event is a term in an intellectual calculus—calculus being the way of measuring, say, curved formations by reducing them to point-instants and counting it, you see? But actually, the point-instants are imaginary. The curve wiggles along and it doesn’t stutter from point to point. But in calculus you make it do that. So just as there are no point-instants in the curve, so there are no events in nature. Nature is a constantly fluctuating pattern. You can only designate particular wiggles in a pattern arbitrarily. You can count a convex formation as one wiggle or a concave formation as one wiggle. Then you decide if you call it—if you give the convex properties the title of “wiggle,” you have to deny it to the concave properties, and vice versa.
So when you see that what we call separate events don’t exist, it becomes nonsense to speak of one event causing another. What you really mean is that the two events which you speak of as being causally related are simply two parts of the same event. They go with each other in the same way as this with that. The relationship is not causal, it is mutual. And it works two ways in time, because so-called future events are not merely passive to past events. But you could easily see when, for example, any biological process goes on, you can reason just as well from the future to the past as from the past to the future. Why do two mammals have sexual intercourse? Well, it isn’t just that they enjoy it, it’s also that they’re a very complex system which does this because it makes babies. And the prospect of baby works in reverse and creates desire. You can reason that way. It’s silly because the whole process is one. And when we speak humanly and purposively, “I am going downtown to buy groceries,” then your future event could be said to be the cause of why you’re now starting out to get into the car: buying groceries.
And the the difficulty we have in seeing this to be so is that we think in an either/or way—which is what is called dualism in Hindu Buddhist thought and that liberation is being free from dualism. So when you think in an either/or way you see the figures in the background as moving, and therefore being responsible for their action. But if somebody argues the other way around and says the figures are just following lines of force in a field—gravitational principle, say: we’re all human beings, you see; we’re all concentrated on our fact that we’re individually rushing around and doing this and that. But we don’t see that we’re equally sucked, and that we move around in response to all sorts of stimuli. But neither position is adequate. You have to see that our being sucked by all sorts of stimuli is exactly the same thing as our apparently voluntary and deliberate action. Because what we’re looking at is not this Newtonian game of billiards, where balls roll because they are hit by cues. What we’re involved in is a dance where—for example, watch a snake: when a snake swims, there’s nothing more beautiful than watching a snake swim in water. Lovely motion! But, you see, it wiggles along. And its wiggle is conceivable, you see, as convex—or was it concave? This way and that way and this way and that way. Now, which side of the snake moves first hen it wiggles? See, it’s very easy to see there.
Now, when we interact with the world, what moves first? Who starts it? The objective world or the subjective world? But they are related as this to that. You can’t have an object without a subject or a subject without an object. Can’t have something known without the knower. And that gives the show away. There isn’t any real distinction between the knower and the known. There’s two ways of looking at something, yes; two poles of a single process. But the knower and the known are subsumed as the knowing. And all life is knowing, being, becoming. And it isn’t something, in other words, that works by the idea of “all this happens because someone shoves it.”
Now, you see, the idea “all this happens because someone shoves it” is basic to Western thinking. There is the Lord God who’s the boss, and he sloshes this universe into being and shoves it and sets it going. And you better obey that shove, because he’s introduced into it some recalcitrance by giving to human beings what the Hebrews call the yetzer hara—the wayward spirit—so that they shall be able to play certain games on their own. Because nothing very interesting would happen if everybody obeyed God. The whole world would be like a lifeless thing, you see? So they had to reason that into it in order to save face for God, practically, because otherwise he could be blamed for all the catastrophes that happened instead of our being able to say to each other, “Well, it’s our fault.”
But you see, then: once we are up against this possibility that the distinction between what we do and what happens to us is obliterated, and therefore we would say with Hindus and Buddhists that if I run into a catastrophe, it is my karma. You see? That means far more than that it is a punishment for something I did wrong in the past. That is a legalistic view of karma. But a naturalistic or organic view of karma is, in fact, that what happens to me is what I do. And that, in a certain sense, I want what happens to me. We can use “want”—notice how we use this word—it means “to desire” and it mens “to lack” or “to need.” We say to somebody, “You’re wanting. You’re deficient in something that you need.” So it’s rather alarming, really, when you consider it, that you always get what you want. Invariably. Even though you may think that it’s entirely opposed to your wishes.
But if it’s your karma, everything that happens to you—put it in another way: everything that comes to you is a return to you of what goes out of you. Yes, obviously that’s absurd if you confine the definition of yourself to your voluntary, conscious behavior. That’s a ridiculous definition of one’s self. One’s self, by any stretch of the imagination, must involve far more than the conscious and voluntary aspects of our behavior. And if we see that it involves, intimately and inescapably, the behavior of what we call the “other,” the “not-self,” the “environment,” and see that these two are moving together like the two sides of the snake when it swims, then you get a very curious feeling. And you have to be careful of it if you’ve got a Western background.
Because this is what happens to a lot of people who play around with psychedelic chemicals. There are many, many cases of inflation among these people. That is to say, when you get this sensation that the two sides of the world—the inside and the outside—are moving together, you may think: “I am ruling it!” “I am God” in the Western sense of the word. Therefore, your ego—instead of being, as it were, integrated and transcended with all this process—merely assumes vast dimensions, has megalomania, is blown up by the mystical experience. And so you get the holier-than-thou people going around who seem to think that they’re above all human conventions and have no obligations to anyone or anything: because they’re divine, and they can do as they damn please.
What they haven’t realized is that doing as you will isn’t a new kind of behavior that you suddenly put on and say, “From now on, I’m going to go around doing as I will.” You have to realize first that that’s what you’ve always been doing. And you could look at this from a very simple point of view—it’s not a complete point of view—but you can say: “Well now, what about the people who did good and who did the things that they didn’t want to do?” You know, everybody’s mother said to us, “Darling, sometimes we have to do thing we don’t like.” Well, what about that? Well, you can always say the kid obeyed the mother and did the thing that it didn’t like because that was the better part of wisdom. In other words, if he hadn’t done that, something worse would’ve happened. And we choose the lesser of two evils. And when you find yourself in a situation where you have to choose the lesser of two evils, then you say, “I want out of here!” and you take the easiest way; you take the line of least resistance. So that’s your doing.
Now, you can pursue that more profoundly when you stop thinking about human behavior as something that responds to the compulsion of an environment. And you can get out of that when you see the behavior of the environment as an essential aspect of you. So it isn’t, as it were, the environment starting something, which you are therefore compelled to follow. It’s the whole system moving together. So then, you get—in the state of liberated or mystical consciousness—you very often feel that a hill is lifting you up as you walk up it. The ground seems to heave beneath your feet, and up you go! And you get this strange feeling of lightness, of effortlessness. Walking on air, never a care—you know? This wonderful sense that there are no obstructions anywhere. There’s nothing, as it were, banging you and making you do that. It all flows together. And that’s a very common sense. And you are actually—in that state of consciousness—you are perceiving the goings-on, the Tao, the course of nature, in the way it’s happening.
But in the ordinary way you’ve been conditioned to resist it, to fight it, and to use those sensations of resistance to create a sensory basis for what you describe as the “ego.” The ego, in practice, is a sense of strain. When you are aware of “I,” you are aware of a basic discomfort which is located, basically, between the eyes; somewhere in here. A sort of tightness. Also, it’s in other centers, too. It’s in the solar plexus. And there are various physical centers. In other words, where this constant tension or resistance against it is going on. And that’s what you feel when you talk about “I.” When that tension ceases you discover immediately that the separate ego has disappeared, and that what “I” refers to is simply the total panorama of experience: everything that’s happening. That’s “I.” And obviously, I don’t know all of it because I can’t inspect all of it with my radar; with my conscious attention. That would be a ridiculous undertaking—to know everything in that sense. We know it in a much better way, as we know how to grow hair and open and close our hands.
So this point of view can be understood if we clarify the initial problems we have about it. And I suppose the first problem is: if we accept the notion that everything that happens to us is our own karma, our own doing, then we have to be very careful of, shall we say, the devil of omnipotence, of inflation, of feeling that your ego is what is in control of all this. And the second thing is: if you think, then, that everything that happens to everybody is what they really want to happen, then you can absolve yourself from any qualms about being unkind to someone, because you could say, “Well, the unkindness I did you is what you really wanted, wasn’t it?”
You know that business about the responsibility of the person who gets murdered for getting murdered? There is a curious sense in which a lot of people go around looking for trouble. Freud pointed out quite correctly the psychology of accident-prone individuals. They seem to be attracting trouble like lights attract moths. And we’re all doing that, but we manage to remain unconscious of it so that we can praise and blame and play the game which says, “That’s not my fault, that’s your fault!” And so we go around apportioning faults to everybody. Because if we’re going to apportion praise the good things people do, you can’t make praise mean anything unless you also go around blaming. Praise and blame go together. Supposing everybody was acting in a praiseworthy way and we praised everybody for everything—they’ll get tired of it. They wouldn’t even notice it anymore. So, so long as you’re going to get a kick out of being praised, you’ve got to go around blaming, too. It’s very simple.
But if you see the folly of that—that praising and blaming are just creating each other—then you don’t praise and you don’t blame. You just dig the whole thing. And that’s why, when we encounter very great sages, you never hear them blame people and they very rarely praise anyone. You try to start gossip in the presence of such a person, and you make a derogatory comment about someone, it’s as if you had thrown a rock into a well and heard no splash: a funny feeling, because you get no response, you get no agreement. And if you praise somebody, there’s also likely nothing to be said, except perhaps some remark: “Of course, you’re praising the beloved in all its manifestations.” And this disconcerts some people terribly. I’ve always noticed that real sages never gossip, never criticize persons. Because they understand so well. The French saying tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner—“to understand all is to forgive all”—is so true if you’re experienced in just the ordinary way of dealing with human problems. If you’ve been a counselor, or psychotherapist, or minister, or anything like that, you very soon get to realize how vastly complicated people are, and to see that they really are in the messes they’re in not because of anything, but that’s the way it is. And you stop blaming people. And because you don’t blame people you have open ears, and people come and seek your advice. Because they don’t want to come to someone who’s a counselor who will bawl them out.
It’s like dentists who simply accept the fact that people really don’t take care of their teeth and realize that the job of a dentist is precisely to look after people who can’t be bothered to take care of their teeth. It’s why he’s in business! So a good dentist doesn’t bawl his patients out because they didn’t do this, that, and the other. Just accept it. Same with doctors. They know perfectly well that nobody’s going to live by the rules of health. And they’re very vague as to what they are. And, you know, there’s every kind of theory about how you ought to live and what is healthy, but they change in fashion. And you ought to eat this kind of diet in 1921, but another time it’s 1930, they’ve changed their ideas altogether. And by the time it’s 1960 it’s back again to a mixture between 1921 and 1894. Something like that, you see? It’s always changing. So while the rules are not so—you see, if they were all absurd it would be easy. But they’re not all absurd. There’s some truth in it, always. But nobody’s ever quite sure. So the function of healers and doctors and so on is just to do what can be done to stop the mess getting too messy. And they must accept it as that. That’s their job. If I were healthy, I would say to the doctor, “I wouldn’t need you.” So you’re in business.
Now, what about it, then? We have difficulty in seeing this mutuality of our relationship to the rest of the world because it’s contrary to common sense, contrary to the way we’ve been brought up. And therefore we have what I would call an initial intellectual block to understanding it, quite apart from any emotional blocks or anything of that kind. But obviously we must overcome that intellectual block if we’re going to go any further and actually realize and feel this way of life’s working in this relationship between what you do and what happens to you. Then the question arises: then what do I do? Do I go around saying to myself, “All this that’s happening to you is what I wanted. I am inside and outside. I am the subjective and I am the objective.” I mean, you go out thinking thoughts about this so, as it were, to talk yourself into this way of feeling.
Well, that’s very superficial because this new sense of relationship to nature is something much more than an idea. See, ecologists and physicists have the idea that this is so, but they—mostly, in their private life and in their ordinary human behavior—are just like other people who don’t feel it and who feel themselves in a Newtonian billiards game, even though they’ve gone on to quantum mechanics. So there may be a transition from our ordinary way of feeling how things go on to the new way. We have to do something other than think. Because, actually, thinking is causing the trouble! It is by thinking that we divide the world into separate events and separate things. That is calculus.
And Ananda Coomaraswamy once described the life of the liberated being as a perpetual uncalculated life in the present. And you say, “Wow! I don’t think I could do that.” That saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount about “be not anxious for the morrow.” The uncalculated life. “If God so clothed the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you, faithless ones?” And I’ve never met a preacher yet who would really take that up. They all say, “Well, of course, that’s too hard a saying for most of us. It’s not practical. Everybody has to take thought for the morrow and calculate.”
Well, at this point people can go in two directions. There’s one class of people who will say, “Alright, let’s live the uncalculated life. Let’s not make any plans.” And before you know where they are they’re living in a filthy pad, and scrounging around, and living on petty thievery, and so on. This is the usual thing. This has got into it the wrong way. The first thing to do is just as I said: whether you like it or not and whether you know it or not, the relationship between you and the environment is always one that is harmonious. So, in the same way, you are always living the uncalculated life. And you have to find out, first of all, that you’re always doing it, and that what you call your calculations and the things you did were funny little rationalizations. In other words, your ego has about as much control over what goes on as a child sitting next to its father in a car with a plastic steering wheel that is turning the car the way daddy drives it. Because, as I pointed out, most of the functions, most of the goings-on in you, around you, the circumstances of life, have nothing to do with your ego at all. And you don’t even know why you make up your mind to do certain things. We know superficially; we have a few ideas.
It’s like when you enter into a marriage: you have really no control over its outcome in the ordinary sense of ego control. You’ve taken a colossal gamble in which you’ve involved enormous complexes of patterns. And maybe it’ll come out alright if you don’t interfere with it too much. You know, it’s like Oppenheimer said: it’s perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell, and the only possible way we might stop that happening is not to try to prevent it. You know, all these wars are started out by people who think that they’re helping someone; that it’s going to make things better.
So when you begin from the basis, not of saying, “I should now live the spontaneous and improvident and noncalculating style of life,” but realize you’ve always done that, only you rationalized that you didn’t. You always did what you wanted to do, basically. Only you said sometimes, “It was my duty.” But you preferred a conception of yourself as someone who always does his duty. That flattered you. And so you were still following your own way. Now, the first thing, then, is to see that that’s what’s happening, so that you don’t think, “Well, now there is some special thing I have to do to understand this harmonious relationship between the individual and the world.” Because if you work on it that way, you will start from the presupposition that that relationship doesn’t already exist and has to be brought into being. See? Because it doesn’t have to be brought into being. It’s there.
But now, when you see that that’s so, it obviously starts to make a difference. You do behave in a different way. But the behavior—the new kind of behavior that is the result of a transformation—is not forced behavior. When you try to imitate the way a saint behaves, you have made a forced change. And you know all forced behavior is phony. It’s like someone saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you” when you don’t. You feel you ought to, but you don’t really. And something doesn’t ring true. Just think of the poor Lord, listening to all the prayers of all those people, saying, “I love you, Jesus,” and he knows they don’t. They’re just saying this because they think they ought to. And it can be very trying.
So whenever you do a thing like that, you see, you make a forced change. Now, if the change is to happen in the same way that a seed (at proper season) breaks open and sends up a shoot, see, it comes from the whole force of life itself. Now, when you see that, without your having to do anything—see?—you are living the uncalculated life and you’re only pretending you’re calculating it and arranging it, then—as it were—you will have a grasp of the total situation. And you can allow it to produce changes in action which are not forced. So this is why there is always a trend in every kind of spiritual doctrine which says something about grace. Divine grace. There must come about something in you, a change, which you can’t produce. And if you try to produce it you will be a victim of spiritual pride. But on the other hand, all teachers at universities are saying, “You’ve got to make an effort.” There’s some discipline. There is something you must do. Well, that’s the only way to get it across to people that you, as a separate effort-maker, are a myth, are a phantasm. Because if you really try to control your mind and only think the thoughts that you think are good thoughts to think, you will find that you’re going ’round in a circle. Krishnamurti’s awfully good at pointing this out. When people ask him, “How do you meditate?” he says, “Why do you want to meditate?” “Why are you concentrating?” “Why are you saying prayers?” “Why do you think you should believe in God?” And it always comes up: “Because I’m just a son of a bitch. I’m out for my own good, and this seems to be the way.” So he says, “You see? You don’t have any genuine love at all. It’s all fake!”
And so you have to find, first of all, where the genuine love is. Now, you love you, don’t you? That’s genuine. I won’t argue about that. But then, when you start from this—I gave a talk some time ago to the Air Force; their camp or lab where they make weapons, do all the research. And they got a bunch of us there who were ministers and philosophers, and they had the nerve to ask us: what was our basis for moral behavior; personal moral behavior? Well, I said, “My basis for moral behavior is pure selfishness. And I’m talking, after all, to realistic people here, and I don’t think we need be sentimental and beat about the bush. After all, you’re all warriors and fighters and so on, and you know how rough things are. So I’m going to say to you, frankly: I’m out for me. But, of course, I don’t do it in a tactless way. I don’t go around and hit people over the head and say, ‘Give me this’ and ‘Give me that.’ I’m much more subtle. I say good manners, and ‘please,’ and ‘how nice you all are,’ and so on, and finally people feel massaged, psychologically, into a state where they’ll give.” But then I said after that, “There’s some things that bother me. The first one is: if I love me, what do I want? And furthermore, who am I?”
Because if I’m going to be realistic about getting what I want, I’ve got to be pretty sure what it is that’s me, and what is the state of desire in me. If I am desire, you see, if I am a center of desire, what’s it all for? Well, I think of all the things I want. Well, it so turns out that none of them are me. I might say, “I want dinner.” Doesn’t mean I’m going to eat me up. Any pleasure I can think of is the enjoyment of something that I haven’t thought of defining as myself. Because I like my sensations, I like what happens to my body when I take a fine wine and down it. But then, what’s the difference between my body and the wine? If I say I like the wine, I also mean I like me and the wine together; the mixture. But then I don’t eat you, or a friend, or a lover, in the same way as I drink wine. I live in association and like this. But then I’m loving things that aren’t formally supposed to be me. And as I go into it—in other words, as I investigate what I mean by “me,” I find that I can’t put any limits on it; that I cannot experience “me” without “you,” or without the “other.” They’re inseparable. But you don’t find this out until you investigate it, until you really go into the question: “What do I want?” And that’s the most important investigation anyone can make (which I’m going into in the next session): the question of power. And all these military men, they think they want power. And so I said to them some very subversive and undermining things without anybody knowing it until long after I’d left!
It’s curious that a cardinal feature of the Buddhas doctrine is that craving is the root of suffering. But craving—going further back to another root, which is ignorance; avidyā in Sanskrit means “lack of vision.” Video, in Latin, is “I see,” and that’s related back to the Sanskrit vidyā. Avidyā—unseeing, unconsciousness—lies behind craving, and this in its turn lies behind suffering. And, of course, when we in the West first heard about this, we interpreted the idea in a very crude way, which is this: that all one’s disappointments are the result of frustrated desire.
But it’s a very much more subtle point of view than that. To understand Buddhism in any case, you must realize that it is not something like a teaching as we ordinarily understand the system of teaching. It isn’t simply a way, as we have in our universities, of a teacher imparting you certain authoritative information which, when you’ve heard it, you’ve got the message. It’s a dialogue. It’s a situation in which the teacher doesn’t really have anything to tell you. He’s simply reacting to your own bringing up of problems. And it’s as if people came to the Buddha and said, “Sir, we suffer terribly. And what are we going to do about that?” And he replies, “Is it not true that you suffer because you desire?” They said, “Well, maybe that makes sense.” “Alright,” he said, “see if you can do without desire.” And all those students go away and see if they can calm their desires. They come back and say, “This is pretty difficult, because we’re animal beings and we have all these appetites to begin with. And then, beyond that, we’re in the unfortunate position of being aware of time. Being aware of the future. And although it’s advantageous to know about the future, in the long run it’s depressing. Because we all know that we come to a bad end and that everything fall apart in time.” That would be especially true if you lived under the influence of Indian cosmology, where the world is regarded as a process that begins beautifully, but as it goes on it gets worse and worse until it destroys itself. Then there’s a long period of rest, and it starts out again, beginning beautifully but getting worse and worse all the time. Everything runs down in time according to that cosmology. And so there seems to be a fundamental futility. Desire, desire for whatever it is that you want.
But behind the intention of studying desire, seeing whether one can discipline desire, whether one can curb it, is a deeper question altogether, which is: what do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like? Let’s suppose—I do this often in vocational guidance of students. They come to me and say, “Well, we’re getting out of college and we haven’t the faintest idea what we want to do!” So I always ask the question: what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Well, it’s so amazing—as a result of our kind of educational system, crowds of students say, “Well, we’d like to be painters. We’d like to be poets. We’d like to be writers. But as everybody knows, you can’t earn any money that way.” Another person says, “I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses.” I said, “You want to teach in a riding school?” Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do? And when we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, “You do that, and forget the money.” Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living; that is, to go on living doing things you don’t like doing—which is stupid! Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way. And, after all, if you do really like what you’re doing—it doesn’t matter what it is—you can eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something: to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much. Somebody’s interested in everything. And anything you can be interested in, you’ll find others who are. But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on doing things you don’t like, and to teach your children to follow in the same track. See, what we’re doing is: we’re bringing up children and educating them to live the same sort of lives we’re living, in order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to do the same thing. So it’s all retch and no vomit: it never gets there!
And so, therefore, it’s so important to consider this question: what do I desire? Well, when we answer that question in a naïve way, we figure out that what we want is to control everything: to create girls that don’t grow old, apples that don’t rot, clothes that never wear out, conveyances that get from one place to another instantly so we don’t have to wait, power available to do anything that you could conceive and do it just instantly; like that. To get this funny technological omnipotence. But if you take time out to think about that, and really go into it with your full strength of imagination and find out whether that’s where you want to be, you will soon see: that’s not what you want. Because the moment you have a situation where you are really in control of things—that is to say, in which the future is almost completely predictable—you will see, as I said last night, that a completely predictable future is already the past. You’ve had it. And that’s not what you wanted. You want a surprise. You don’t know what that’s going to be because, obviously, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you did. You want a pleasant surprise.
Like, you say, “What sort of a surprise would be pleasant?” And you can’t really answer that. Because you know if there are to be such things as pleasant surprises, there must also be unpleasant surprises. There must be rude shocks. So you’re like somebody taking one of those wishing-well tubs, you know, where you fish in and you bring out a package. And you don’t know whether you’ve got a dead rat in it or a new camera. And that’s the way. That seems to be the thing that really excites people. But quite certainly there comes out of this inquiry a feeling of real disillusionment with the ideal of power. To be in power, to be in control, is not something that any sensible person wants.
Imagine the situation of Big Brother: Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, Heinrich Himmler. To be glued, day and night, to a highly defended office with telephones, television screens, watching, peeking, spying on everyone and anything. Getting all this information together. Why, you could never leave the office! I mean, a character, I suppose, like J. Edgar Hoover goes home in the evening. But when he’s back home, you know, there are guards sitting outside the door, there’s that hotline telephone going to something. He’s always having to be in control. And he can’t take any time off, he can’t go for a walk in the park with a friend, or go innocently to the movies, or sit down and just relax and have an undistracted party in the baths at Big Sur. What a pauper this guy is! Completely deprived! Because he wants to be in control, because he wants power. People are frustrated in love; if you’re jilted. There’s a natural tendency in a human being to seek power as a substitute. And that’s a very negative thing. It’s like having a bad temper, to seek power after you’re frustrated in love. You should try and get back on the love beam. Because nobody wants power!
Now, you may say that’s shirking responsibility; that if you were a really responsible person you would go out for power and try to use power to the best possible advantage, for the benefit of all. Alright, what would be the benefit of all? Ask them. What do you want me to do with this power? I’m dictator—what would you like me to do? Well, nobody knows because they haven’t thought it through. They think of all sorts of short-range things, and they are largely conflicting and confusing because they’re not well thought-out. But again, when it finally comes down to it, nobody wants to be God.
Now then, when Oriental philosophy and religion was first introduced to the Western world, it was introduced under the auspices of people who were fascinated with power. It was introduced in the latter part of the 19th century, when we had heard all about evolution and how the human race was going on to ever greater heights, and we would eventually develop superman according to Nietzsche or G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells. Remember all that early fantasy of where evolution would lead through the development of technology. And so, at this time, people like H. P. Blavatsky were talking about the mysterious wisdom of the East, and they phrased it, they commended it to us, in a technological spirit: that there was psychic technology, that there was something, that you could go way beyond anything that could be done through the physical sciences. You could cause your physical body to disintegrate to another level of vibration, and then transmit it and reassemble it somewhere else. You could live as long as you like because you control the fundamental processes. You could determine, if you decided to die, where you would be reborn, exactly. You would be a complete master of life. And so there are still innumerable books being sold which present Oriental philosophy and religion in this light. That charlatan, Lobsang Rampa, who writes about Tibetan mastery—people read that because they think that there may be a way of beating the game.
So, therefore, the wise men of Asia were represented through this kind of propaganda as masters of life; as, for example, people whose emotions didn’t bother them, who could put up with any amount of pain by simply turning off their feelings, who could foretell the future, who could read your thoughts, and who were above all kinds of ordinary human frailty. Well, when I first met Buddhist priests, Zen masters, swamis, all these wise men from the East, one of the first things that impressed itself upon me was that they were perfectly ordinary human beings. They had bad tempers, they were fussy about certain things, they just acted as I would expect human beings to act. And so, at first, I was very disappointed. I thought they had feet of clay, but they didn’t come up to these promises of psycho-technology.
But after a while I got to realize why not: that they had already thought all that through. They had thought through what might be done if one had all these powers, and had decided that wasn’t what they wanted. The powers of this kind, in Sanskrit, are called siddhi. But there is hardly one decent scripture or text on yoga that does not say, again and again: if you get siddhi, ignore them. Go on to something else. These are only the foothills. These are, furthermore, not only foothills, but they are seductive, blind alleys. Won’t take you anywhere at all.
Now, I think that this is the greatest possible lesson for the Western world to learn, because we are so hung up on the idea of power, of control, of being able to make everything go the right way, and we’ve never thought it through. When you get control of it, what are you going to do with it? Supposing I’m an alchemist and I have a whole secret closet full of love filters; very potent ones. And if I see a desirable woman, all I have to do is to offer her a cigarette or give her a glass of wine with one of my secret potions in it, and instantly I’m her master. Now, when I think that through, what would I do with a situation like that? Because all I’ve got, again, is that plastic doll that, when I push it, it does what I tell it to and doesn’t have any comeback. What you always are looking for in things is where the surprise is there, where there’s a comeback. And you say, “My god, this thing is alive! It has a will of its own. It is not in my control. And I would like to have a relationship with something like that, because it would never be dull.” And also, you would feel true affection. After all, you can make love to yourself in a mirror. You can have one of those Dutch wives; you buy them in a place in Kobe, where you get these rubber girls that you fill with hot water. And sailors take them on long voyages. But what an awful thing, you know, when you realize that this thing has no surprise in it, no thing that it does on its own, you see?
And so, when you think things through like that, you understand: you do not want power, you don’t want to control everything. And therefore, these Zen Buddhist masters that I met and others were not super occultists, and very many Westerners who visited Japan expecting to get a satori—as a result of which they would know everything and control everything—were grievously disappointed and said there’s not much in this after all. So, therefore, from the standpoint of Buddhism, the fact that the power game is not the game is expressed by saying, “A Buddha is one who has gone beyond the gods.” Because the gods have power.
Buddhism imagines all kinds of levels of heaven-worlds inhabited by all kinds of gods, and the supreme of all the gods is called Īśvara. But it is said that all those gods in their paradisal worlds are in saṃsāra: they’re in the round of birth and death. And what goes up must come down. They’re immensely successful. They’re at the peak of power; spiritual power. But they’re not delivered yet because they still don’t know what they want. And therefore, in the exploration of what you want, you get to the point of having all pleasures at your command—and they pall. And you think of new sources of pleasure. And eventually you get like the ancient Romans, who had all these mad crowds of barbarians who had to go every Saturday to the Colosseum for a show that really had to surpass everything. Because they had public baths, they had prostitutes, they had every kind of luxury. But when they went to see one of the big shows that people like Nero put on, they would have, for example, floats circling the Colosseum, all full of slave girls from distant parts of the Mediterranean garlanded with flowers and waving at the crowd and going innocently around. And the next minute they would release wild lions into the arena to eat up all the slave girls. And they got a big sadistic kick out of it.
Because, you see, pursuing pleasure beyond a certain place takes you into what the Buddhists call the naraka world; that is to say, to hells. When you have explored pleasure to its ultimate limit, the only thing you can get a kick out of is pain. So naturally, you descend from the deva world at the top of the wheel to the naraka world at the bottom, where it shows all these beings in states of torture. Now, of course, the priests say—when they’re bringing up children—if you do bad things you will end up in the hell world. But this is a very inadequate way of showing how one gets to the hell world. You get to the hell world as a result of not knowing what you want, as a result of thoughtless pursuit of pleasure which ends you, eventually, in the pursuit of pain. So if you’re in the hell world, that’s where you want to be!
So then, the question is—to clarify once more—what do we want? If you understand, first of all, that you don’t want absolute power, you don’t want absolute control. You want, yes, some control. You see, we always love controlling something that’s not really under our control. Remember, I gave you the illustration right in the beginning of holding a gyroscopic top, and feeling sometimes you’re with it, but sometimes it’s alive under your hand. And this sensation, too, you often get, say, in driving a car, or something like that. It’s more or less under your control—but on the other hand, it isn’t. And that’s the beautiful thing. Because when something is partly under your control but isn’t, then you have the same sort of relationship with it that you have when you have someone you love; some other person. They’re partially under your control because they’ve agreed to live with you and go along with you, and so on, but also they’re not. And the measure to which they’re not is the measure to which they seem really alive to you.
So then, we ask the question: if the motivation of power-gaining disappears—you've seen through it and you know that's not what you want—what other motivation takes its place as the origin of actions? And it seems to me that the answer here is compassion. Simply because, when you want to relate to another living being, what you really are asking of them is that they be in the same situation that you are. You want to meet and encounter someone else who has your problems, your fears, and your delights. You don't want a doll, you want another “you,” another “self,” because that would be at least as surprising to you as you are. And so, then, at once, when you see that that is the case, and that the most interesting thing in the world is the relationship with these others, and you can see at once yourself in the situation of all the other people, and then you think: no, I don't want to control these people. I would like them—yes—to be controlled in the sense that they were happy to do the things I would like them to do. But obviously, I can't force that. Because if I forced it, they wouldn't be happy.
See, when you marry someone, when you have a family, you want your children, you want your relatives, you want your wife, et cetera, to be happy to do the things for you that they do. And so we say to each other, “Would you like to bring the washing in?” And very often the answer is, “No, but I will.” Because, you see, we put it that way because we always hope that the things that we do for each other will be pleasurable to both sides. So a school teacher will get up in class and says, “What nice boy will clean the blackboard for me?” All these ways we use of trying to get voluntary cooperation. Willingly given help: that's what we look for.
But there is, despite a lot of foolishness that goes on this, is a sound thing, you see? That there really is no greater satisfaction that you can imagine than that kind of personal relationship wherein you can trust a being who is other than you and not under your control to do for you what you want—because they like it. As you, on your side, would want to do something for them in that way, and so as to give pleasure to the other person. Just take, in sexuality, where you get a kind of a critical example of this: the biggest fun in sexual relationships is giving orgasm to women. And if that doesn't happen, many men feel disappointed. Because a thing that they really wanted to do was to give pleasure and get their own pleasure out of giving it.
Now that's compassion in the real sense of the word: feeling with and through someone else, where the whole trick is that you lose control for a while of the situation, and say, “I throw the ball to you. Now it's yours.” Now, I may seem, therefore—as a result of talking in this way—to be talking like a Jewish or a Christian theologian. Because that's what they say about God: that God did something called kénōsis in the beginning of all time—kénōsis is a Greek word meaning “self-emptying,” “self-sacrifice,” “giving up”—and thereby conferred freedom of will and the power to love on angels and human beings. And therefore took a terrific risk by trusting the other, by trusting a principle called “other” that's not under your control. With God, of course, it is ultimately under his control, but he sits back and smokes a cigar sometimes and lets it go; see what the children will do. Like the Lord in green pastures with a big cigar.
So you see, it's really, in a way, the same idea as the Hindu idea. When the Christian speaks of God giving the creature freedom of will, the Hindu says: no, God gets lost in that person and gives up power. And it's really the same thing. It's the idea that the all-powerful surrenders power. So that the more you give the power away, what you're really doing is you're “othering” yourself. Now, the more you “other” yourself by giving power away, the more of a “self” you are. Because “self” and “other” are reciprocal. So you find that people who, through a sādhanā (a yoga-discipline), have overcome their ego, have transcended the ego, are tremendously strong personalities. You would think, theoretically, they would all be non-entities and to lack entirely what psychologists call ego-strength. But actually, they're nothing of the kind. They are—every one of them—unique. They're all quite different from each other. And they are very, very (what I would call) strong characters. Because the more they have given it up, the more they get it.
So, in this way of thinking—let's put it in another dimension for a moment. Let's suppose we're thinking of a relationship that is not just of people. People are very obviously other and independent of one's ego. But give it to everything. Say to everything—which, of course, is going to include as much of yourself as you can objectify. In other words, your stomach, your intestines, your everything, you see? Say to it all: “Now it's your turn. Let's see what you're going to do.” Let it happen. You know? You do this complete let-off of control. And you find that you—I have to put it in a provisional way first—you get the sensation that everything else is living you. It lives you. That you've given away control, you see, to everything else. It's a lovely irresponsible state to be in.
But then, you see, you do the flip. Bllwp!In giving away the control, you got it. You’ve got the kind of control you wanted. That’s to say, where you had a loving relationship to the world but you didn’t have to make up your mind what it should do. You let it decide. Now, do you see: that’s how your bodies work. You don’t have to make up your mind what your nerve cells are going to do. You’ve delegated all that authority. If the president the United States has to lie awake at nights thinking what every official under his command is going to do, he can’t be president. He’s got to make an act of trust in all those subordinates to be responsible and carry on their things in just the same way as you make an act of trust to all your subordinate organs to carry on their functions without you having to tell them what to do. And this is the secret of what we will call organic power, as distinct from political power.Lao Tzu puts it in this way:
The more, therefore, you relinquish power—trust others—the more powerful you become. But in such a way that, instead of having to lie awake nights controlling everything, you do it beautifully by trusting the job to everyone else, and they carry it on for you. So you can go to sleep at night and trust your nervous system to wake you up in the morning. You can even tell it: “I want to wake up at six o’clock,” and it will wake you up just like an alarm clock. This seems a sort of paradox to say this, but the principle of unity—of coming to a sense of oneness with the whole of the rest of the universe—is not to try to obtain power over the rest of the universe. That will only disturb it and antagonize it and make it seem less one with you than ever. The way to become one with the universe is to trust it as an other—as you would another—and say, “Let’s see what you’re going to do.” But in doing that, you see—in saying that to everything else (that you have been taught to think is not you), you are also saying it to yourself.
Because, finally—as I pointed out—you do not know where your decisions come from. They pop up like hiccups. And when you make a decision, people have a great deal of anxiety about making decisions. See, there’s this guy, a farmer, who ordered a helping man to come in and found that he was an extraordinarily efficient worker. For the first day he put him on sawing logs. And he sawed more logs than anybody had ever sawed. It was fantastic. They were all done in one day. So the next day he put him on to mending fences. And there were all kinds of broken fences around the farm. And in one day he had the whole thing done. So he thought, “What am I gonna do with this guy?” So he took him down into a basement and said, “Look, here are all the potatoes that have come in from this harvest. And I want you to sort them into three groups: those that we sell, those that we use for seeding, and those that we throw away.” So he left him at that. At the end of the day the laborer came back and said, “Well that’s enough, mister. I quit.” “No!” he said, “You can’t quit! I’ve never had such an excellent worker. I’ll raise your salary. I’ll do anything to keep you around here.” “Eh,” he said. “No. It’s alright mending fences and chopping wood, but this potato business is decision after decision after decision after decision!”
So when we decide, we’re always worrying. Did I think this over long enough? Did I take enough data into consideration? And if you think it through you find you never could take enough data into consideration. The data for a decision in any given situation is infinite. So what you do is: you go through the motions of thinking out what you will do about this. And then, when the time comes to act, you make a snap judgment. I mean, I’m speaking a little extremely, making some fun of it, and so on—because, after all, we do occasionally get the vague outlines of things and make a right decision on rational grounds. But we fortunately forget the variables that could have interfered with this coming out right.
It’s amazing how often it works. But warriors are people who think of all the variables beyond their control and what might happen. So then, when you make a decision and it works out all right, I think very little of it has much to do with your conscious intent and control. But somehow or other you are able to decide and control things more harmoniously if you delegate authority. It’s why very great businessmen are those who can delegate authority; trust others to work for them. Because those are people developing businesses on the same basic structure that is fundamental to a living organism: delegation of authority. “It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.”
And, you see, then what is happening is this: the more you let go of it and trust it as if it were quite other than you, the more you realize the inseparable identity of self and other. To go back: if you try to find the identity of self and other by subjecting other to self, no go. If, on the other hand, you find it through giving self (that is, control) over to other and trusting that—you may make a mistake, you may make a bad gamble, but in the long run you’re acting on a principle which has the backing of evolution. This is the way biological evolution goes on: constant delegation of authority. That’s why, obviously, the democracy is superior to the monarchy. Mr. Tocqueville, who said that democracy is always right but for the wrong reasons. Because there is operating in a democracy the principle that Buckminster Fuller calls synergy. And synergy is the intelligence of a highly complex system, the nature of which is always unknown to the individual members.
Because that goes back again to this point that we’re always entering a new environment. We don’t ever know fully what the new environment is because the only environments we know are the past ones. There is always, then—operating in the development of cellular life on any level—a new way of organization, higher than any existing form. And we’re not aware of it until after it’s happened. If you ever saw, for example, the film Kon-Tiki, this man figured out a few things as to how to make a balsa wood raft to sail from South America to the Pacific Islands. But once he had set this in motion he discovered that all sorts of unexpected factors cooperated with him. That, when the wood got wet, it expanded so that the ties bit into it and held it completely secure. He’d never expected that. And he found that, as he sailed along, a flying fish would simply alight flat on the deck every morning for breakfast. That all kinds of natural factors—he had touched a key where he was flowing with the course of nature and everything cooperated with him. Because he had touched the key, he had made the act of faith. And he was just picking up, in other words, a practice which had been hundreds and hundreds of years ago had been followed by others who had worked it out by their great ecological awareness.
So we do come out of this way of thinking to something which has, I would say, the most enormously creative and revolutionary social consequences. That it has become not virtuous, not self-sacrificing—not anything like that. It has become the hardest practical politics to let go [of] control to others, to give up trying to dominate the scene. Also, in a parallel way, it has become at this time in our history very much hard practical politics to learn how to enjoy ourselves. You can go to the Protestant people with their Protestant ethic, who are against this kind of thing, and now say to them with great glee, “It is your solemn duty to learn how to enjoy yourself.” Why? Because in an age of leisure people have really got to know how to enjoy themselves. Because if they don’t, they’ll smash the whole future of the human race.
So a utopia has become not some sort of a dream, but an urgent necessity. We can’t do without it! Because if we try to do without it, what’s gonna happen is that we are going to terminate our race in a mutual massacre of scapegoats. And so the present paranoia in the United States that is going on, where everybody is thinking up a new scapegoat and how great it will be to demolish them or get them out of power—all this kind of bickering and right and left politics has become irrelevant. Because we now have the opportunity of trusting our own intelligence, our own technology, to take the risk of doing what we want. Which will work—to the extent that we realize that what I want, basically, what I really want, is what you want. And I don’t know what you want. Surprise me!
But that’s the kinship between I and thou. So when I ask, I go right down to the question which we started with: what do I want? The answer is: I don’t know. When Bodhidharma was asked, “Who are you?”—which is another form of the same question—he said, “I don’t know. Planting flowers to which the butterflies come, Bodhidharma says, ‘I know not.’” I don’t know what I want. Well, when you don’t know what you want, you’ve really reached the state of desirelessness. When you really don’t know.
But, you see, there’s a there’s a beginning stage of not knowing and there’s an ending stage of not knowing. In the beginning stage you don’t know what you want because you haven’t thought about it, or you’ve only thought superficially. And then when somebody forces you to think about it and go through and say, “Yeah, I think I like this, I think I like that, I think I’d like the other,” that’s the middle stage. Then you get beyond that and say, “Is that what I really want?” In the end you say, “No, I don’t think that’s it. I might be satisfied with it for a while and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it, but it’s not really what I want.” Why don’t you really know what you want?
Two reasons that you don’t really know what you want. Number one: you have it. Number two: you don’t know yourself, because you never can. The Godhead is never an object of its own knowledge, just as a knife doesn’t cut itself, fire doesn’t burn itself, light doesn’t illumine itself. It’s always an endless mystery to itself. I don’t know. And this “I don’t know” uttered in the infinite interior of the spirit, this “I don’t know” is the same thing as “I love,” “I let go,” “I don’t try to force or control.” It’s the same thing as humility. And so the Upanishads say if you think that you understand Brahman, you do not understand and you have yet to be instructed further. If you know that you do not understand, then you truly understand. For the Brahman is unknown to those who know it and known to those who know it not.
And the principle is that anytime you (as it were) voluntarily let up control—in other words, cease to cling to yourself—you have an excess of power. Because you’re wasting energy all the time in self-defense, trying to manage things, trying to force things to conform to your will. The moment you stop doing that, that wasted energy is available. And therefore, you are—in that sense, having that energy available—you are one with the divine principle. You have the energy. When you’re trying, however, to act as if you were God—that is to say, you don’t trust anybody, and you’re the dictator, and you have to keep everybody in line—you lose the divine energy, because what you’re doing is simply defending yourself.
So then, the principle is: the more you give it away, the more it comes back. Now, you see, I don’t have the courage to give it away. I’m afraid. And you can only overcome that by realizing you better give it away, because there’s no way of holding onto it. The meaning of the fact, you see, that everything is dissolving constantly, that we’re all falling apart, and we’re all in a process of constant death, and that,
The worldly hope men set their hearts upon turns ashes—or it prospers. And like snow upon the desert’s dusty face lighting a little hour or two—is gone.
You know? All that Omar Khayyám jazz. You know,
All falling apart. Everything is. That’s the great assistance to you. See, that fact—that everything is in decay—is your helper. That is allowing you that you don’t have to let go because there’s nothing to hold on to. It’s achieved for you, in other words, by the process of nature. So once you see that you just don’t have a prayer, and it’s all washed up, and that you will vanish and leave not a rack behind—and you really get with that—suddenly you find you have the power; this enormous access of energy. But it’s not power that came to you because you grabbed it. It came in entirely the opposite way. And power that comes to you in that opposite way is power with which you can be trusted.
Of course, what we’ve been talking about is not so much a set of ideas as an experience, or shall we say, experiencing. And this kind of seminar (in comparison with encounter groups, or workshops of various kinds, or experiments in sensory awareness) is now being called a conceptual seminar—although I’m not talking about concepts. But the crucial question arises that an understanding—a real feeling-understanding—of the polar relationship between the individual and the world is something that operates (as we say) in your bones, and isn’t just a view that you hold or a belief that you hold.
It’s so curious that the emphasis of the Western tradition in religion is primarily upon right belief—do you believe in the right dogmas and the right doctrines?—and only secondarily upon right action. Because what you believe is (in Christianity, at any rate) far more important than what you do, because one is saved through faith, not by works. And early in its history the Christian church rejected the movement in the church which had been known as Gnosticism. From the Greek gnôsis, which means “knowledge.” And, in a way, there were some sound reasons for doing so, because the Gnostics were what I would call anti-materialists. They divided human beings into three classes that were called, respectively: pneumatic, psychic, and hylic—the last one being H-Y-L-I-C, from the Greek hū́lē, or they would call it now xýlo, meaning “wood.” So the people were spiritual, psychological, and wooden. And that is to say the wooden people were those most absorbed in materiality and most closely identified with their bodies.
And orthodox Christianity rejected this sort of distinction because of the perfectly correct idea that material existence is not inconsistent with spirituality. This is something which most Christians have forgotten. But they do believe as the central principle of Christianity in what’s called the incarnation. That, in Jesus of Nazareth, almighty God did in fact become material, become human, and by this process initiated a transformation of the cosmos. In the words of Saint Athanasius: God became man that man might become God. Now, you don’t hear that from the pulpit very often!
The Christian church therefore emphasized pistis (or faith) as against gnosis (or knowledge), because they said you can never know God. God could never become an object of knowledge. And in this funny roundabout way the Christian theologians were saying exactly the same thing as the Hindus. Only the Hindus do call this knowledge of God through faith—they call it jnana, which is the same as the Greed word gnosis. But just to give you a little side light on how words get mixed up in their meanings: we now have a class of person called an agnostic. And an agnostic generally means a person who doesn’t commit himself to any beliefs about the ultimate nature of things. He just says he doesn’t know. But the original word, agnosia in Greek, meant a special kind of knowledge. It was called the dark knowledge of God: the knowledge of God in the cloud of unknowing, to use the title of a mystical treatise written by an anonymous 14th century English monk. This monk derived his ideas from a very mysterious figure who wrote under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite. Dionysius was a 5th or 6th century Syrian monk who had learned his mysticism from Porphyry, who got it from Plotinus, who was a Neoplatonist, and who probably got a great deal of stimulation from the intellectual world of Alexandria. And Alexandria, in the early years of the Christian era, was a tremendous exchange place between East and West. Buddhist monks visited Alexandria. It was one of the great centers of trade between Rome and India. And as you may know, all Rome’s gold went to India for the purchase of pepper. And as a result of this, the Roman economy collapsed: they bought too much luxury from India. India, in exchange, got Roman architecture. And you see a lot of Roman architecture in Indian temples. But Alexandria was the great center for the Gnostics and for Christian theology, and some of the greatest theologians—Clement, Origen, Athanasius, St. Cyril—all worked out of Alexandria.
Well now, going back to this strange monk, Dionysius: it was he who first put around the idea in Christian circles that there was such a thing as the knowledge of God by faith—by agnosia, really: by unknowing. And he, in a book which he wrote—a very short book called the Theologia Mystica—he wrote a treatise on the higher knowledge of God which might be quoted directly from the Upanishads in certain parts of it. The last section of it reads like the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad because it’s a series of negations: it says what Got is not. And he goes very far, because he says that God is not one. He says our idea of unity falls far short of what God is. So does our idea of trinity. So does our idea of spirit, our idea of mind, of justice, of love. All these things are not really God. And he says in another place: if anybody, having seen God, understood what he had see, what he would have seen would not have been God but some creature of God, less than God, some sort of angel or something like that.
It’s perfectly amazing to consider the influence that this man had. For writing under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite he became identified, you see, with St. Paul’s first convert in Athens. And legend has it that he was the first bishop of Athens and was martyred in Gaul, now where he’s know as St. Denis. But St. Thomas Aquinas looked upon the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite as having the highest authority. And you could—if all the texts of Dionysius’ work had been lost—you could restore most of it from quotations in St. Thomas.
He wrote, really, two very important books. One was the one I said, the Theolgia Mystica. The other was called The Divine Names. And these two books presented the two phases of his theology. The book called The Divine Names was a discussion on the nature of God in terms of what God is like by analogy. And this kind of knowledge of God he called cataphatic. From the Greek léne, “to speak” or “say;” cata, meaning to say according to—that is to say, to speak by analogy. Where he used, though, entirely negative language about God, this sort of discourse was called apophatic. And the word apo meaning “away from.” To talk away from—just as a sculptor, when he makes an image, reveals the image by removing stone. And so Dionysius explained that one attains the knowledge of God by discarding concepts. Which is exactly what the Hindus mean when they say: of God one can only say neti neti, “not this, not this.” Not any conception. As in Hindu philosophy, the highest state of consciousness in samādhi is called nirvikalpa samādhi, which means, literally, “non-conceptual.” Vikalpa means “a concept.” Nir is a negation. So, the non-conceptual knowledge.
Now, people have greatly misunderstood this. They have imagined that unknowing, the state of the highest contemplation, was the apposition of a blank mind from which you first discarded thought, you went on to discard perception, you went on to discard any kind of sensory content in awareness until you were, so far as anyone could say, aware of nothing. And they supposed that this kind of catatonic state was mystical consciousness. This is often believed in India. If you go to the Vedanta society and ask, “What do you mean by nirvikalpa samādhi?” they will tell you that one in that state has no consciousness whatsoever of the sensory world, that he is completely absorbed—as you sometimes see Hindu holy men sitting in a state where they are blind and deaf to everything going on around them.
The founder of Chinese Zen, known as Huìnéng, described people like that as no better than pieces of rock and lumps of wood. He said it’s a very serious mistake indeed to confuse śūnyatā—the Sanskrit word for the great void which is both the ultimate reality and the consciousness thereof—said it’s a great mistake to confuse it with nothingness. It is rather to be thought of as space, or like space. Because space is not empty, it contains the whole universe. And so in the same way, the state of mind of a person who’s truly enlightened is not empty. It contains everything. But like space, it is not stained by what it contains. And it’s often said in Zen imagery: you can’t hammer a nail into space. You can’t spit on the sky and soil it. If you try, the spit will just return and hit your own face. So they go on to say the consciousness in all of us, your basic mind, is like space. It is completely pure. But, of course, by “purity” they don’t mean unsexual—which is, of course, what purity generally means in the Western world. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” A person who’s pure in heart is generally understood as one who never has any naughty thoughts. You know what “naughty” means? It means “vain,” “negative,” “empty.” A naughty person, therefore, is one who doesn’t amount to anything; is just nothing. That’s the real meaning.
But this misunderstanding of the nature of contemplation existed not only in India (from which it was transmitted to China), but also in the West. You read many treaties on Western mysticism and there’s still the feeling that getting into a deep, deep trance, sometimes called rapture—again, the word “rapture” has undergone some transformations. We talk about rapture as people being beside themselves with pleasure. But to be rapped means to be taken away from the body. So, also, “ecstasy:” we now interpret as meaning in a state of high pleasure, but it means to be outside yourself, to stand outside yourself. Your soul has left you. It is with God. As Arabs say of all crazy people, “Be kind to them. They are not here. Their soul is with God.”
But actually, if it can be true (as Buddhists say) that nirvāṇa and saṃsāra are one, and if it can be true (as Christians say) that the spirit can be made flesh, the word can be made flesh, then obviously the highest form of man is not sitting in a trance like a lump on a log with a perfectly blank mind. Because if that were the highest state of consciousness it would be an exclusive state of mind; a state of mind that shuts out life. And in that sense it could not qualify for being what the Hindus call nondualistic. They always speak of the highest reality as being not “one,” because “one” excludes “many,” not “nothing,” because “nothing” excludes “something,” not “being,” because “being” excludes “non-being,” and vice versa. And so they use this word “nondual” to mean that which doesn’t exclude anything. Which, as it were, has no outside. As we say, space has no outside. You can only have outsides inside space. You can’t have any outsides outside space; there is no outside-space, even though space may be curved and finite.
So if you want to think, incidentally, of that curved space, go and take a look at a photograph in the Life book on mathematics, where there’s a picture of a Klein bottle, which is a three-dimensional Möbius strip. A Möbius strip, you know, is a piece of paper that is twisted once and then joined, and it has only one side and only one edge. Now, a Klein bottle is a three-dimensional Möbius strip, and it only has one inside. It has no outside. You can say it has an inside and no outside or it has an outside and no inside. It’s a fabulous little trick. But something like that would be the nature of space as that which does indeed transcend the opposites. Ummm… not quite. No, we’d have to do one extra move on a serpent to make it into a Klein bottle. You’d have to tuck its head through the side of its skin and make the aperture through the mouth continuous with the inside of the serpent towards the tail, you see? That’s more or less what a Klein bottle is.
So what I’m getting to—I’m giving you something out of the general history of religions. To show that what has been meant by the mystical state—the state of samādhi, or awakening—in certain traditions is not this state of trance but a state of consciousness in which you can perfectly well carry on your daily affairs. And, of course, what is meant by a bodhisattva as the ideal type of Buddhist person is that he is not rapped, that he is actively engaged in the life of the world. Because he has gone beyond the illusion that nirvāṇa is to be found away from everyday life.
So what is, then, the point of meditation? Why meditate? Why do you have to crawl up into a hole or go to a Zen monastery or retire and be quiet, when this is only a withdrawal? Is there anything to be said for it? Meditation is, in that sense—as a practice, as a discipline—is a very curious problem. Because from one point of view it’s a help and from another point of view a hindrance. And I think we have to understand, first of all, that meditation exercises are medicinal rather than dietary. The same could be said of LSD: a medicine, not a diet. Something that is described in Zen as: when you want to open a door, or summon someone to open the door for you, you pick up a brick and you knock on the door, but you don’t carry the brick into the house. When you need a raft for crossing a stream, you cross the stream on the raft but you leave the raft on the bank at the other side. You don’t go carrying it around. But a lot of people, when they get into meditation, or they get into religion, or into any kind of exploration of this sort, turn the door into a revolving door, and keep on going ’round and ’round and ’round and never get through. They say, “What a gas it is to be in this revolving door!” A good definition of a parasite is a person who goes through a revolving door on someone else’s push.
So there are all sorts of people in the religious racket who are going through revolving doors. And they’re very bitter about people who walk right through and leave the door behind, because they say, “You haven’t paid enough respect.” You must really understand religious oneupmanship. It’s a tremendously important thing. And don’t be caught out by this, because what happens is: there’s a little game going on, which I’m going to initiate you into. And it’s played in Zen, which is… it works like this: if you go to a teacher and ask for spiritual instruction, or even if you come to a seminar like this, you are—by doing that—confusing yourself, because you are looking for what you are asking for outside; as if someone else could give it to you, as if you didn’t have it. So the teacher knows that, as long as you do that, you haven’t understood. But he doesn’t just tell you to go away. Or he may, sometimes, just say, “Go away, I’m too busy. And in any case, I can’t tell you anything.” Well, people won’t take that for an answer. They won’t take no for an answer. And furthermore, if he just said, “Go away,” they would just find some other teacher who would exploit them, and maybe keep them as followers for years and acquire a great deal of money by so doing.
What he does is another thing. He tries to give them the putdown, as if to say, “You have a great, long distance to go yet. Your attainment is not at all perfect.” And they’re always talking about other sects and other schools, and saying, “Well, they haven’t really got the point,” see? So that you keep losing faith in yourself and feeling, “My goodness, I haven’t yet attained this thing.” And that keeps you working. But all the time you’re being talked out. It’s like someone who’s a pickpocket, and he’s stolen your own watch and is selling it to you. But just so long as you can be talked out of yourself, you deserve to be!
Now, you become very aware of this if you ever do, momentarily, slip into some sort of a mystical experience. You become aware of this tremendous gamesmanship going on. And you see it as sort of continuous with all sorts of cosmic games that are going on: of creatures eating other creatures up, and the creatures that get eaten, of course, transform themselves into the creatures that eat them, and then in turn eat other creatures. And you see the whole hide-and-seek game going on, and then you realize very clearly that the state of development that you are in, now, is no better and no worse than anybody else’s state. Because it’s like space again. Which star is in the best position? Well, it’s all equal. They’re all in the middle. Any one can be considered as the center one. Any point on a sphere is the center of the surface of the sphere. So, in the same way, everybody—in all his behavior, whatever he’s doing—whether we call him from a certain point of view sick or whether we call him healthy, whether we call him good or bad, neurotic, normal, psychotic, sane—all the manifestations are just like the leaves on the trees, and in each being in a unique way is (as Christians would say) manifesting the will of God.
So there really—from that point of view, you see—there is nothing to do to attain Buddhahood. Nothing at all. But, you see, that’s very difficult to understand because a lot of people, when they hear that there’s nothing to do, try to do nothing! And you can’t! Because you are karma, and karma means “action.” You can’t do nothing. But the thing you’re looking for (or think you’re looking for) is what you’re doing, is what’s called you. Only, of course, as we all know, we’ve got ourselves into the idea that oneself is so difficult to see. Because it’s like, as I’ve often said, trying to bite your own teeth or look into your own eyes, and you can’t find it. It’s always behind. It’s like your head is, from the optical point of view, a blank space. Neither light nor dark. It’s right in the middle of everything.
And so one of the great tricks of gurus is to set people looking for their heads. There’s a famous story of a king in India in ancient times called Yajñadatta. And one morning he woke up and reached out for his mirror and brought it over—no head! He was looking at the wrong side of the mirror. You know, he was kind of bleary-eyed and had a hangover. So he summoned servants and said, “Ye gods, I’ve lost my head! Find it!” And they said, “But your majesty, it’s there on your shoulders.” He said, “It is not! I can’t see it in the mirror. Nobody can show me my head.” So they were rushing all over the place looking for the head.
Now, the trick to that is, of course, that you are perfectly well aware of your head, only not in a form in which you expect to be aware of it. You expect to be aware of your own head in the same way as you’re aware of other people’s heads. But that wouldn’t be true of you because you’ve got an inside view on your head. You have an outside view of other people’s heads, because, of course, you’re taking an inside point of view. But the way in which you are aware of your head is in terms of what you are seeing and hearing. Because all sights and all sounds are what the nerves inside your head are doing. That’s how to be aware of one’s head. You are aware, therefore, of yourself, the mysterious self that you have, in terms of experience. Because there isn’t really any difference. But that always escapes people, you see?
So, perpetually, so long as you don’t understand that, you can be talked into going on to all kinds of weird excursions. And just so long as you believe it, you’re a sucker. You’re hooked. And it takes a tremendous inner confidence and nerve finally to say, “Oh, don’t pull that stunt on me anymore. I see through your game.” Because gurus are very clever at putting you down. But they’re just trying to see how strong you are; testing you out, see if they can hoodwink you. So long as they can, you see, they’re going to go on doing it, because they’ve got to get you to the point where they can’t do it to you anymore. Then you’re a graduate.
And so, one of Rinzai’s students, after he saw through it, said, “Well, there wasn’t much in Rinzai’s Buddhism after all.” Of course there wasn’t. He said boldly and straight out, “My teaching is just like using an empty fist to deceive a child.” You know, when you play games with a child and pretend you’ve got something here? And the child goes into all kinds of a tizzy to get you to open your hand and show what it is, and then there’s nothing. Fooled! So you can be fooled as long as you can be fooled! When you can’t be fooled you don’t ask the question anymore, because it’s all become clear. It’s all become clear that there is no puzzle about this universe. What makes you think there are puzzles about this universe? Very simple reason: you’re trying to explain it. And when you explain things—what do you mean by “explanation?” There are several meanings of explanation. There’s really one basic meaning, but, first of all, to be able to translate what is happening into terms of words or numbers. In other words, to describe. But a real explanation is not just a description, it’s a description which enables us to control what we’re describing. But didn’t we see, in the last session, that to control the world is not really what we want to do? So that if all explanations have as their function enabling us to control things, then maybe an explanation isn’t what we wanted.
And furthermore, you can very simply see that what makes things complicated is explaining them! When somebody explains to you how a flower works, and he’s a great botanist and analyzes all the innards of a flower, and shows the channels, the fibers, the processes of reproduction and so on that go on in it, everybody stands fascinated, saying, “How complicated that is! How clever God must’ve been to create that flower! To have all that complexity going!” It isn’t complicated at all. It’s only complicated when you start thinking about it. Because the vehicle of words is a very clumsy one. And when you try to talk about the processes of nature, what is complicated is no the processes of nature but trying to put them into words. That’s as complicated as trying to drink up the ocean with a fork. Takes forever! And so this intense complexity that we see in everything is created by our attempt to analyze it all.
And so what we do is, you see, when we analyze we use our eyes and ears as scalpels. And we dissect everything. And we have to put a label on every piece we chop off. And so we scalpelize, and we get it right down to atoms, getting finer and finer. And we suddenly thought we’ve got to the end of it, because the word “atom” means what is not cuttable; atomos. But then they found we could cut the atom. And lo and behold, big fleas had little fleas upon their backs to bite them. And it goes on forever. There is no end to the minuteness which you can unveil through physical investigation. For the simple reason that the investigation itself is what is chopping things into pieces. And the sharper you can sharpen your knife, the finer you can cut it. And the knife of the intellect is very sharp indeed. And the sophisticated instruments that we can now make—well, there’s probably no limit to it.
But in a way, all that is vain knowledge. In a way. Because, you see, what it does is: it gives you the illusion that you’ve solved your problems. When you have control of certain things and you have solved certain practical problems, you say, “Fine. More of that, please. Let’s go on solving problems.” And then you do. And you create a world of people, as we are today, far more comfortable than people who lived in the 19th century. Just remember the troubles of going to a dentist when you were children—or some of you, when you were children. Of medicine. Of badly heated homes. Of all sorts of things that we don’t put up with anymore. But the problem is: we keep running into this thing that all constant stimulations of consciousness become unconscious. And when we take it as a matter of course to have certain comforts, then we switch the level on which we worry. When you solve a whole set of problems, people find new ones to worry about. And after a while you begin to get that haven’t-we-been-here-before? feeling. Aren’t we just going ’round on a cycle and doing this same old thing over and over and over again, because we don’t realize that we’re chasing our own tails by an eternally recurrent process of not knowing who you are? That is the hide-and-seek. That is the nature of what the Hindus call the manvantara and the pralaya: the period of the manvantara in which the worlds are manifested, and the period of the pralaya in which the worlds are withdrawn from manifestation. In and out. In and out. “Evermore came out by the same door as in I went.”
And the thing is to get to the point where you can see that you are doing that in every moment of your existence with every tiny little atom of your body. You—now, at this minute, you see—are the whole system of inning and outing. In other words, you often think, perhaps, “Maybe a long, long time ahead I shall reach the point where I wake up from manifestation and overcome the world-illusion, and discover that I am the supreme reality behind all this diversification.” My friends, there is no diversification! In other words, what you call diversification is your game in the same way as you chop the thing and then you say it is made of pieces. But you forget that you’ve cut it. And so when you see the world as complicated and that there are life problems, and that you might one day succeed—see, hundreds and hundreds of people are running like mad after something that is success, and they have no idea what it is! So, in exactly the same way, the guru is keeping you running and running after spiritual attainment. You don’t know what you want!
See, [that’s] where Krishnamurti is so clever—because he says, “If you ask me for enlightenment, how can you ask me for enlightenment? If you don’t know what it is, how do you know you want it?” Any concept that you have of it will be simply a way of trying to perpetuate the situation you’re already in. If you think you know what you’re going out for, all you’re doing is you’re seeking the past, what you already know, what you’ve already experienced. Therefore, that’s not it, is it? Because you say you’re looking for something quite new. But what do you mean, “new?” What’s your conception of something new? “Well,” you figure, “I can only think about it in terms of something old. Something I once had.” So he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t indicate anything positively. Everybody says, “Why are you so negative? Why don’t you give us something to hang on to?” Well, the simple answer is: it would be spurious. You don’t need anything to hang on to. You’re it. You don’t need a religion.
But then you say, “Well, what is all this religious stuff about, then? Why don’t we just forget it?” You can try. By all means, just go away. Don’t go to gurus. Don’t go to church. Don’t enter philosophical discussions. Forget it! But then you’ll realize that, by having consented to forget it, you’re still seeking. What a trap! What can you do? See? If you stay here and listen to me, or to anyone else who comes around here, you’re fooling yourself. But if you go away you’re fooling yourself, too! Because you still think that’s going to improve your situation. It won’t. And therefore, when you discover that it doesn’t, you’ll think, “Well, maybe it was a mistake to go away,” and you’ll come back to the guru. And he looks at you and says, “Uh-uh-uh-uh. You are very undisciplined. Very inferior student. You need to apply yourself.”
Well, I explained what he’s doing, but it comes down in a way to a sort of contest with the guru, you see? Will you call his bluff? You’re afraid to because you might discover that, if you do call his bluff, he’s no better than you are. Well, that’s what you’re supposed to find out—but without being cynical about it. He’s as divine as you are. But you’ve got to call the bluff. There’s going to be a showdown. And it’s a double-bind. The whole situation’s a double-bind because it doesn’t do you any good to stay here and it doesn’t do you any good to go away. Either to do something about it or to do nothing about it.
Now then, there’s something else. When you understand that and when you realize that there’s nothing to realize—that it’s all here—then what are you going to do? Well, of course, this is the sense of a Zen poem:
You know? Do whatever one does as a human being. But there’s a little element of philistinism in that. It’s like when a child is pestering father or mother with all sorts of questions. They finally get down to the deepest metaphysical problems, they say, “Oh, shut up and eat your donut!”
And I wouldn’t say that, you see, at this point. Because life—as one looks at it, you see—is in fact a celebration of itself. When you look out at night at the stars and you really wonder, “Good god, what is all that about?” Well, it’s a firework display and it’s celebrating high holy day. It’s “Whoopie!” And the whole world is “Whoopie!” It’s a kind of exuberance. And therefore, the proper function of religion is digging this. It’s not seeking. It’s not seeking anything, but is in a way thanks-giving. That’s why, of course, the Christians were right in calling the mass the Eucharist—the thanks-giving. Only, they had such a complicated way of thinking about it that nobody could understand it. So in religion, all religious exercises—whether they are meditative or whether they are ritualistic—are “Whoopie!” They are not something you do in order to attain anything. They are like art forms, like dancing: they are expressive of attainment—of the attain-less attainment.
So here’s another hangup for you: when you go to Mr. Suzuki, who runs the Zen Center, he’s a good disciple of Dōgen, who brought Zen (a certain school of Zen) to Japan in the 13th century. Dōgen said, “You can’t sit and meditate unless you’re already a Buddha—in which case, why meditate?” Well, meditation is just the way a Buddha sits. And he called this “sitting just to sit.” Not to attain enlightenment. The minute you do that, you see, you’re not meditating.
So you only become a good meditator if you’re not looking for anything. And therefore, you realize what a great thing it is to be able to sit, and what a great thing it is not to dissect the world with your analytical intellect, to be able to look out at the water or the trees or at the floor and the light on it in front of you without calling it “light” or “floor” or “trees,” or thinking that it has parts, or thinking that it’s complicated. It isn’t. So when you can sit without thinking—not with an empty mind, mind you (I’m going back to that point); not with an empty mind, but just a non-analytic mind, a non-probing mind where you’re not creating problems all the time by trying to control it, by trying to control your mind, by trying to control your experience, what you see and hear—you then just simply discover that there is no way of controlling what you’re experiencing because what you’re experiencing is you. And to try and really fundamentally control that—that’s just going around in a circle.
So if I would say to you, “Now, what you have to learn is to let it happen,” that’s wrong, too. There’s no one to let it happen. If I say to you, “Accept your experience. Be calm and open to things,” that, again, perpetuates the illusion that you’re something different from it. And so we go ’round and ’round. But if there are some people who want to get together—ike we would get together to play poker, or to have a walk, go fishing, or sail a boat—if there are some people who want to get together to meditate and to have rituals and to chant, great! It’s an art form. And you can only use it and make it a good art form if you’re not using it to get something.
And this is what really is the bane of temples all over the world. You go into Buddhist temples where they theoretically don’t believe in any god. But there are the people praying. And they are all doing it in order that we get a male child next time around, or that the horse recover from a disease, or that mama gets cured of the dropsy. And all these petitions are going on and on and on: people always coming to the temple to ask for something. Lowbrow people for lowbrow things, highbrow people for highbrow things. And then all the vendors sit outside and sell souvenirs and magic and charms, and all the people go in and do this, and all these serious priests sitting there really having to keep up face, and say, “Yes sir, we can provide these services!” On the other hand, if you go into one of these temples along with all the faithful followers and have a ball—buy a bead, buy a candle, buy a this, buy a that, buy some incense. Go in and dig this great thing going on! Salute the Buddhas, or the altars, or the crucifixes, or what you will—but don’t take it seriously!
And this is one of the great important transformations of today, in our consciousness: is that a great many people are finding out that religion is not supposed to be taken seriously. This is a shocking thing to many people. There used to be an old saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh across the altars. That’s true in one sense. When the priests know that they’ve got a racket going they don’t believe one word of it and they are laughing across the altar because of all these suckers around doing it, then it’s true: the religion is dead. But when the priests laugh at the altar because they’re having such fun, because this whole scene is so beautiful—well, it’s the difference between some stuffy old Buddhist priest humming a sūtra and Allen Ginsberg chanting a sūtra. That’s the thing to hear. Because these priests are going, “Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh”—you know, they go off interminably. “Bwugh, bwugh”—it’s a bore! They’re sick of it, but they get paid for it. This is magical. But when Allen Ginsberg chants a sūtra, everybody gets in a circle, and he gets these little bells, and they get going. It’s just like a jam session where everybody is absolutely delighted. Well, that’s the way to do it! And if you can’t do it that way, forget it!