Ecological Awareness

When Alan Watts talked about the ‘mystical experience’ among scientific circles, he preferred to call it ‘ecological awareness’—referring to a state of mind in which a person ceases to feel separate from the environment in which he or she exists.


Part 1

Unity with Nature


When I talk in academic and scientific circles about mystical experience, I have to be very careful of my terminology. And so I alter the phrase ‘mystical experience’ and call it ‘ecological awareness,’ because it really amounts to the same thing. But the terminology is much more acceptable in the scholarly environment because, after all, mysticism is a dirty word associated with mist and vagueness. On the other hand, there is this difficulty that—in our universities today—ecology has not quite come of age as a science, although its importance is vastly recognized. Ecology—being the science which studies the relationship between organisms and their environments—is a multi-disciplinary science and, therefore, its existence on any campus today runs afoul of departmental politics.


You notice, you see, that all our universities are based on the idea that there are departments of knowledge. And if you trace the history of universities over several centuries, you will see that the classification of departments keeps changing. There was a time in the Middle Ages when, for example, theology was the queen of the sciences and, therefore, had high rank as a department—as today the department of physics or chemistry would have—but now it has almost completely disappeared. There is a department of—yes, maybe—of the history of religions, which occupies an obscure set of rooms in the philosophy building or something like that, which is way off at the edge of the campus. But you cannot keep these departments fixed because, as between, say, biology and physics, we develop a science of biophysics. As between biology and chemistry, we develop a science of biochemistry. As between physics and mathematics, we get mathematical physics. As between physics and astronomy, we get astrophysics. And the formations keep changing, and this has very difficult political consequences for the simple reason that the faculty members and chairmen of departments are jealous of their positions. And they’re always apt to say—when these new hybrid departments start out—that these people are dabblers. In other words, they should get a thorough grounding in biology, zoology, botany, bacteriology, and all those separate departments before they should dare venture into such a thing as ecology, which involves all those different sciences and more.


What is not generally understood, however, is a most peculiar thing, and very difficult to explain. In the academic world—you know how students have to go through prerequisite courses? They’re supposed to take this before they take that. Well, it’s been found out, increasingly, that this is completely unnecessary. That, for some reason, as time goes on, students develop the ability to absorb bodies of knowledge for which it was thought they had no prerequisites. In the same way as—let’s say, in the childhood of anybody now aged roughly fifty—it was very difficult to understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and you always had to have a demonstration on a blackboard, and all sorts of diagrams. But now young people get this idea instantly, they have no difficulty in absorbing it anymore than we had difficulty in absorbing the notion that the Earth was spherical. We were no longer embarrassed. Our common sense was no longer offended by the thought that people living in the Antipodes would be hanging upside down. In this sort of way, common sense, a feeling for knowledge, adjusts itself. And more and more it becomes obvious that there have to be ways of linking together the departments of knowledge. It’s almost as if the established departments—like physics, chemistry, history, anthropology, and so on—were like huge paving stones, and it’s always between the paving stones that the little things begin growing. So the growing edge is in the interstices between the departments.


Now, therefore, ecology becomes of absolutely primary importance in the modern world because, as so many of us have often said, Western man is equipped with technical powers such as have not been seen in known history, and is using those powers to alter his environment, but doing it in a way and in a spirit that may, instead of altering the environment, merely destroy it. What I call “Los Angelization instead of civilization” is taking over, and we are fouling our own nest. And, therefore, I approach this whole matter because of my interest in the Chinese and Japanese philosophy of nature, wherein there is not this sense of hostility between the human organism and its environment, but rather a sense of being one with it and collaborating with it. And thus it’s been my particular interest to see in what way this Far Eastern attitude to nature—based originally on the philosophy of Taoism—is applicable in a technological civilization. Because there is one school of thought that says, “Of course, we’ve got to press technological progress as far as possible,” and we, therefore, get a proliferation of so-called growing communities, which are very evident here in California and remind some of us of the growth of cancer cells rather than the growth of anything of a biologically healthy nature. And this is called progress, and people say you can’t stop progress. Don’t be sentimental! And, on the other hand, there are the people who really do want to stop this. And I find that—to some considerable extent among young people who are, shall I say, digging the drop-out scene—there is a very definite wish to, as it were, join the American Indians, to get rid of concrete, to go back to green grass. As Gary Snyder put it the other day: “When you want to go from Sausalito to Big Sur, don’t take the freeway. Don’t even take the side roads. Find an old trail and walk it. Because the journey will be worth taking then.” And he feels, for example, that all the state park rangers should busy themselves with opening up trails so that more and more young people can walk, and have stations a day’s walk apart where they can rest for the night, or where there are congenial farmers and friendly people with homes who will accommodate them. And so we will set up, as it were, a whole network of communications and culture entirely apart from the freeways and the suburban subtopia that sprawls all over the place. Because, like any good Indian—American Indian, that is—they sit around waiting and watching because they know that one of these days this whole industrial civilization is just going to disappear into gas and will leave them as they were in the beginning. You see, these are two completely extreme points of view. And I want to explore, rather, the possibility that there is a middle way: that technology is not a purely unnatural manifestation, that it is a perfectly proper development of human capacities, but that it has to be used in the right spirit and with the right care in such a way that we do not disturb, irremediably, what are called the balances of nature.


The idea that there are balances of nature, that no species, for example, should get so out of hand as to become top species and really dominate all the others—as human beings are trying to do—goes back, of course, to the fundamental Chinese notion of nature as the balancing of two forces, called the yang and the yin—or, in Japanese, inyo. The whole of the Book of Changes—which is a very, very ancient text fundamental to Chinese ways of thinking and to Chinese logic—is based on an analysis of the processes of nature in terms of the relative balancing of these forces. Perhaps “forces” is not quite the right word. It is—you see—obvious to a Taoist, to Buddhists, to Hindus, that this universe is a single system of energy, but there is no way of defining and putting your finger on that particular one energy. And even energy is not quite the right word to use because energy indicates something in motion, and we do not know or realize motion except in relation to stillness and vice versa. So, whatever energy-stillness is, fundamentally, cannot be thought about, defined, or talked about in any way. It is basic to everything that we both experience and don’t experience. It bears somewhat the same relation to our everyday life as the diaphragm in a loudspeaker bears to all the sounds that you hear on the radio. Every sound—of the human voice, of all kinds of musical instruments, of airplanes, of automobiles, and so on—anything you can hear on the radio is actually the vibration of a diaphragm. But the radio does not proclaim this fact. The announcer does not come on first thing in the morning and say, “All the sounds that you will hereafter hear are vibrations of a diaphragm, including this sound, and not the actual wind in musical instruments and human vocal cords.” No, because wherever any circumstance is constant, we tend—in the course of time—to ignore it. We rule it out of all practical politics because it is basic to everything. It’s as in an equation: when you get two terms that are identical on either side of the equation, you can just cancel them out. They make no difference. But, in a way, this is a very difficult point because, obviously, it is highly important that the diaphragm be there because otherwise there wouldn’t be any voices or music. And yet, the diaphragm as such makes no difference to the distinctions between voices, and musical instruments, and so on. From a logical point of view, it is absolutely meaningless to talk about anything which is common to everything, which is the substratum, or ground, of being.


But the categories of logic do not embrace all knowledge. And it is possible for human beings, once again, to become aware in a certain way of this substratum. Not, however, as an object—not as something you can take out and look at—but nevertheless to be very strongly and almost sensuously aware of it and, in so doing, regain a new sense of one’s own identity, one’s own being: not as one of many things, one little event among many events that are all coming and going and temporary, but a sense of one’s actual self as being this single energy field—which can’t be, however, defined or identified—and, through realizing that, to take away the frantic anxiety that we have to secure ourselves as separate organisms, and to fight with other organisms, and play these elaborate games of one-upmanship, and—above all—to overcome the anxiety which leads us to regard nature itself as our enemy that has to be conquered and subjugated.


I shall, of course, return in later sessions to the nature of this realization, but I only want to say in passing that there’s a very peculiar thing about it, namely, that the realization I’m speaking of is not something like a belief. It is not an idea for the simple reason that the fundamental energy of the universe cannot be embraced in an idea. It cannot be embraced in a concept, in a form of words, in an explanation, because it eludes all classification. Because it is the which than which there is no whicher, and therefore is not in any class. Secondly, if you try to catch hold of it and somehow possess it, you are doing what is called in Zen “putting legs on a snake.” Because there is no need to possess it: you are it, and if you try to possess it you imply that you’re not. So by trying to catch hold of it you—as it were—push it away; although you can’t really push it away because the very pushing is all it, you see?


So there are people who are divided into two schools of thought: those who believe that by exerting their energies to get hold of it they can achieve something, and the opposite people who think that by doing nothing at all one achieves it. But both are wrong because both the attempt to get it and the attempt to try not to get it are actually attempts to get it! And there is no need to. But nevertheless, by going into this—by meditation and so on—it is possible to realize that we are identical with the fundamental energy of the universe, that that is our real self—and although it doesn’t make a difference because all differences are, in a way, made by it, therefore it makes no difference to differences—nevertheless it’s completely basic. You see, it’s as if what has happened to us is: supposing you’re a gambler, and you’ve got involved in a game where you’re playing, actually, for peanuts, and you are immensely wealthy. When you get extremely absorbed in the game, even though you’re only playing for peanuts, you can lose your temper and you can be anxious as to who’s going to win, who’s going to lose, am I going to lose my peanuts, you see? Whereas you really have nothing to worry about at all, but you got so absorbed in the details of this game that you’ve forgotten the larger context in which the game is happening. So, in exactly the same way, every individual is so absorbed—myopically, with his mind—in the details of his birth and death that he’s completely forgotten the context in which birth and death is occurring. And so, just as the chicken—when you put his beak to a chalk line—can’t get off it and is hypnotized, so we have been systematically and progressively hypnotized by our whole upbringing into the sensation that we are only this particular ego in this body. And we believe that and feel it so firmly that the context in which all this has happened is completely repressed.


Now, therefore, I want to propose a few things, first of all, in thinking about this, and I would ask you to listen to what I have to say, temporarily postponing the question “What are the practical consequences? What should we do about it?” I want to start with a consideration of our ancient ideas about the relation of the individual to the world in terms of fate and free will—or determinism and free will—because if we actually were aware of all the information that is coming to us through our senses, we would have a very curious sensation which would bug us because we wouldn’t be able to find words for it. It would be like this: you would first of all realize that if you didn’t be so selective—in other words, if you didn’t pay attention to this detail and that detail, but were just simply aware of it all in general—you would get the funny feeling, in the first place, that you were just a puppet, that you were automatically responding to all kinds of physical and social influences around you, and that you couldn’t help yourself. You might object to that, or you might alternatively enjoy it. You might get a sensation that you were just floating. You didn’t have to do anything, you didn’t have to think about any problems, you didn’t have to worry about what you ought to do, you would just feel yourself responding, and that would be a very pleasant feeling if you liked it. But, on the other hand—depending on your personal constitution—you might feel terribly threatened by it, and you would interpret this sensation as a feeling of un-reality. Have you ever suddenly felt that you were dreaming everyday life, that it wasn’t quite real, and it spooked you? So you say, “Gee, it ought to be happening!” See? And I feel like I’m going around in a dream. Because occasionally, our mind slips. It’s like the tuning dial of a radio: it occasionally wanders off and you get another station. And so, in the same way, our minds occasionally slip into another way of seeing things, and people get accidental illuminations, and psychoses, and all sorts of funny things.


But you would get this as a preliminary sensation, and you would interpret it as feeling that you are a puppet on the end of strings being manipulated by events only because of your previous background, wherein we have—all of us—been conditioned to believe that part of our life is not under our control and part of it is. There is this distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary. The voluntary: what we do; the involuntary: what we have to accept passively. The borderline between them is not at all clear. Breathing, for example, is something we have to go on doing, and yet you can acquire the sensation that you are doing the breathing and controlling it according to your will. It’s a very vague distinction here. But if you took in all the information—see, you can feel yourself making a decision out of the blue. You say, “I’m going to do that!” Like that, you see? And you don’t have any awareness of anything that leads up to it. It just happens, you see? And because that awareness is screened out you interpret this act of making a decision as a different kind of act from breathing or from growing hair. Well, actually, it isn’t different, but we think it’s different because of unawareness. When you make a decision it happens—as the Chinese say, zìrán; shisen—“of itself,” “naturally,” “spontaneously.” But we feel that there are things that happen of themselves in contrast to certain things that I do, and that is because of incomplete awareness.


But then, if that awareness were to change—and you were to realize that everything is happening of itself, including your decisions—because of your background, you would then veer over to the opposite point of view: everything is happening involuntarily and I am left out; I am a puppet, I simply have to obey. You see? But this would be incorrect. The point is, rather, this: we don’t have a system of nature which is either deterministic or voluntaristic. The relationship of the individual to the environment is not one of the individual as some little thing in the environment, which is moved by the environment and responds to the environment passively. Nor, oppositely, do we have a situation in which the individual is a center of activity that, all of its own, to some extent alters and changes the environment. Both of these opinions are based on lack of awareness or ignorance—ignore-ance—that the behavior of the individual and the behavior of the environment are the same process. And you can look at the process from two points of view. You can look at it from the point of view of “It’s all happening to me,” or you can look at it from the point of view “I’m doing it.” These are just two poles of two ways of looking at the same thing.


If, for example, you realize that your neurological organization is creating the external world—in other words, there is no such thing as light, weight, heat, color, shape, except in terms of the human nervous system or some other animal nervous system—then, from that point of view, you can see your nervous system as evoking the whole universe. But you can take an opposite point of view which is equally true, which is that the human nervous system is something in the external world and is entirely dependent on sun, and air, and light, and temperature, and so on and so forth. Both points of view are true, but we have not yet—especially in the West—become aware of a logic which can integrate them. And so, when we first come to experience this thing as being so, we tend to interpret it in terms of our old logics and our old ways of thinking, so that one person may say on feeling this, “I feel as if I’m just floating around, passively responding to the operations of nature,” and another person going to the opposite extreme will interpret this experience as saying, “I suddenly realize I’m God. That I actually govern and control everything that happens.” These are two ways of looking at exactly the same thing. The point being, then, that there is just the one process which is equally the behavior of the organism and the behavior of the environment; that you can look at this process from many points of view, define it in many ways, but you can’t really split it up.


And so, the consequence of this—although I’m not going into this at the moment in any full way—is to learn to act and behave in terms of this vision of the world. Not as your acting upon the world, not as it acting upon you, but as the unfoldment of a process which, as you understand it, you become more intelligent and act more intelligently. Intelligence is a function of the degree to which you realize that your behavior is one with the behavior of the rest of the world. The more you realize that, the more one would say you appear to be better in control—although you’re not actually controlling it. The difficulty—the essential difficulty—that lies in the way of most people seeing this is the fixed notion that the world consists of separate things and separate events. As Teilhard de Chardin put it: “The only real atom is the universe.” The word ‘atom,’ you see, in Greek, is ἄτομος. ;Ἄ: ‘non.’ τομος: ‘cut.’ The uncut. It’s the same idea as in Lao-Tzu: “the uncarved block.” There’s a great symbol of naturalness. What cannot be further divided? And so de Chardin says it is the universe that is the only real atom. Because if you take anything out of the universe and separate it, you will find that it is raveled at all of its edges. It is not, in other words, cleanly divisible.


But this is something which is left out of our ordinary awareness, because in our ordinary awareness we overlook the connections that go between so-called things and so-called events and make them, actually, nothing but aspects of one event. It’s as if we were looking at everything through a sort of Venetian blind where intervals are ignored and cut out. Our senses are, of course—as we know—screening devices. The eye responds to a very narrow spectrum of the various forms of light vibrations. We do not see x-rays or cosmic rays. Likewise, our ear responds only to a rather narrow spectrum of sound. We keep screening out. And, therefore, not only do we screen with our senses—with the organs of sense—we also screen with the thinking systems by which we interpret what we sense. It’s a further act of screening. And so, as a result of this, there are gaps. And these gaps are symbolized by the fact that we ignore space.


We think—as we all sit around here in this room, you see—that the spaces between each of us as we sit here is nothing at all; it’s not important. But actually, it’s tremendously important. The spaces between people—and space as a marvelous thing in itself—is as important as, for example, the intervals between tones in music. It is the intervals and the hearing of the intervals that enables you to hear melody. And so it is the space between everything which, instead of being something that divides, it joins. But we ignore it and don’t see that space—like the diaphragm in the radio—space is that in which everything happens; and without space, no happening. It’s fundamental but ignored. And there are many other things besides. All kinds of mutual influencing constantly going on, but this is ignored because, for one reason—for two reasons. One: we don’t have time to bother with it. We don’t think it’s important. And we don’t think it’s important because we have been trained to regard only certain things as important. And that’s why in the process, say, of mediation as it’s understood by Buddhists and Taoists, you stop valuing and putting a price on all the various things that you could be aware of. You stop thinking and you are simply aware, and it suddenly strikes you then that everything is equally important. And you start being amazed at things that you never were amazed at before; absolutely fascinated. You hear the sound of water, and that’s quite as important as anything I’ve got to say! Only, you don’t translate it, see? The wisest thing I heard in Japan when I was last there, from Morimoto Rōshi: he said, “the sound of the rain needs no translation.” We were talking about translating Buddhist texts into English. He said, “You don’t need to do that. The sound of the rain needs no translation.”


So when you get that perspective and you realize that the divisions of one thing from another are all conceptual: cut out the concepts and see it afresh, and there are no divisions. There are connections. It doesn’t mean that—in the continuum of the physical world—that there are no lines, that there are no solids and spaces, and all this kind of thing. It doesn’t mean, in other words, that if you saw the world correctly it would all become a homogenized mass. A lot of people think that that is nirvāṇa, you know? It doesn’t mean that at all. It stays just exactly as you see it now, but it has a completely different sense to it in which all the wiggles in this world are not separated, but it’s a continuous wiggle.


I’m greatly interested in the philosophy of wiggles because this is a wiggly world. Look at the hills. As you fly—as I’ve just been flying, getting some perspective of nature from an airplane—and it’s clouds and mountains; all wiggles. But just every now and then one sees these little squares and rectangular patterns and things, and you know that’s human beings busy trying to straighten things out.

Linear human patterns imposed on a wiggly world
Figure 1: Linear human patterns imposed on a wiggly world.


They somehow disapprove of wiggles because wiggles are difficult to control, they’re slippery. And you want to put that thing there, and say “Now! Now, come on!” But you see, the trouble with a wiggle is: how do you count wiggles? How do you count the wiggles in a cloud? I mean, formally speaking, is one wiggle a smooth curve—like that, does that constitute a wiggle? Or—supposing it has bumps on it—are those each a subordinate wiggle? And how many wiggles does the bump have? It has lots when you start looking at it in a magnifying glass. It goes on for ever. So: wiggles of the world, unite! You’ve nothing to lose but your names!


So, you see: this great continuous wiggliness—for purposes of being controlled and managed—is broken down into what we call things and events. But these are no other than conventional—that is to say, socially agreed—divisions between the various forms of nature. But nature is really formless in the sense that it’s all one form. Not in the sense that there are—nothing that we could stick the name ‘cloud’ on—but that the name… naming the cloud a cloud does not separate the cloud from the sky, actually. Just as, when you pick up water in a sieve, you don’t succeed in separating the water into strips like you would if it was cheese going through a sieve. So, all our categorizing leaves the world undivided. In fact, it is simply a way of being able to talk about it in order to agree how we are going to control it and what we’re going to do with it.


Now, this is a point that is so fundamental that I do want to be sure that it’s clear. To say you see that there really are no things and no events is, to most people, shocking and startling; it’s an affront to common sense because we feel—you know… damn it, this is a shoe! [Alan slaps his shoe] And it’s a thing! It’s there! You see? And that, actually, this isn’t a shoe at all. You know, a ‘shoe’ is a noise. And if this is a noise at all, it’s this sort of noise, you see? [Alan slaps his shoe again] You can use it for a hat, or it has all sorts of possibilities. But it isn’t the shoe.





Yeah. Yeah, right. So, if you see that the idea of separate things is an abstraction—let’s call it that—then this most of all applies to you as an organism: you are not a separate thing. You are, first of all—you can look at it from two points of view. On the one hand, a living organism is something like a flame. A flame, although it appears on a candle to be constant, is a stream of gas. And a flame is never the same for two microseconds. It’s a constant flowing of energy. Or, take a whirlpool in a stream: it appears to have a constant form, but it’s flowing all the time. So, in exactly the same way, all our bodies appear to have constant form, but we are a flowing of energy. So we keep coming in and out. Also, it isn’t only in this way that we’re the constant flow; that you cannot say “I’m a separate event,” but it’s also because every thing that could be called—could be recognized—as a wiggle or a unit of any kind in this world has its existence only in relation to all the rest of them.


This is the principle that, in Buddhist philosophy, is called jiji muge [事事无碍]: ‘the mutual interpenetration of all things and events.’ This is very important. I’m sure some of you have recently read in, say, the Scientific American, about holograms: a method whereby you can take a small square out of a photographic negative and, by the use of laser beams, reconstruct the whole negative out of which it was taken. Because the little part is nurtured and comes to be in a field of forces in such a way that all the lines of force within the little part imply the lines of force of the total photograph when it was taken. It can be reconstructed. Maybe Wynn can explain this more accurately than I can. But this is essentially the hologram. Because, you see, every part—anything that can be designated as a part of something—implies the whole just as the whole implies the part. Thus, a clever anthropologist can take a jawbone and can reconstruct from the jawbone, through all his anthropological knowledge, the beast or man to which it originally belonged. He’ll say, “A jawbone like this, you see, implies this kind of a skull,” and so on and so forth.


So, every single thing in this world exists only in relation to the whole system, to all the other things, because—the important point to realize here is that existence is relationship. Relationship is another word for existence. There is no yang without the yin. It is the relationship of yang and yin that enables yang to be possible and yin to be possible, solid to be possible and space to be possible, up and down, life and death, being and non-being. It is a relationship. So that, for example, if I have a drum but there is no skin on the drum, it doesn’t matter how hard I hit it, it will make no sound. Because the sound is the relationship of the drum skin and the hand. And you can carry that principle all the way along; that, in other words, if I shout in a completely non-resonating environment, I will make no noise. In other words, if I shout in a vacuum, there is no sound because I have to make waves, you see? And I can’t make waves if there’s no water.


So, existence is relationship all the way along. And fundamentally, then, the relationship of all of us together, of all society, constitutes every one of us. We are—as individuals, as personalities—what we are in terms of a human community and of an interlocking complex of communities. And you may remember when you were children—I remember it very vividly how my personality changed in relation to each community that I went into. In other words, I was one boy at home, I was a completely different boy among my peer group in school, I was another boy altogether when visiting my uncle, and I realized I had all these different personalities in relation to different communities. And eventually, I put them together in some sort of way and integrated. But I feel, still—although I’ve got it more or less together—I like to come on differently in different sets of people and play the joker. Which, instead of playing a fixed role, and you can say, “Well, is that always you? Can we rely upon you always to have this sort of behavior, mannerisms, and reactions?” I say, “No, I’m not going to get fixed up in that. I’m going to play tricks!” But you did notice that, you see, when you were a child, because—you see—you were being defined all the time by the groups you were in. And so you are what you are, as a person—that is to say, as playing a role in life—in relation to the groups with which you move. And that is a little model of the fact that everything is what it is in its place.


Now, for example, it has been a sort of convention of scientific thought hitherto—especially in the kind of science of the nineteenth century—to try to understand anything and say what it is by a process of analysis. You understand it by asking, “What is it made of? How is it composed? How was it put together?” And so you dissect it. You get your microscopes out and you try to dissolve it down to the smallest possible component parts. And that gives a certain explanation of it, you see? But what is equally important is to look in the other direction. What anything is is defined not only in terms of what it’s made of, but of when it is and where it is: its context in time and space. Just as the meaning of a word is dependent on the context of the sentence, or the paragraph, or the book in which it is found. So, likewise, we, with our rather myopic way of looking at things.


Because analysis—the ability to analyze and to think analytically—comes from great skill in dividing wiggles. See, you may think that this is a very, very fine wiggle. You see? But I can make wiggles so little that you can’t keep track of them, because you’re not as sharp as I am, see? I’m going to make wiggles and we’re going to have a little competition: who can make the smallest wiggle and keep track of them? Because that’s a test. If you can keep track of them and you can prove it to someone else. Of course, if you get down so small [that] nobody can keep track of you, then they don’t know whether you’re a charlatan or not. But if you can keep track of the wiggles and prove to other people that you kept track of them—see, this is the whole game of scholarly one-upmanship: if you can keep track of it. It’s the same with certain kinds of music, you see? You can do very complicated rhythms, and they’ll believe you if you can do it again. It’s not enough to do it once, they say, “Do that again! Or was that a fluke?” That shows, you see, that you’re in control and you’ve been able to count out the beats.


So, through the analytical mind—which pays attention to the details—we have got great skill in doing that. But you do that at the expense of neglecting completely the other side of things: in what context does every individual wiggle happen? See? That’s just the other side of it. It’s very important to define the wiggle, but you can’t define the wiggle unless the wiggle has an environment. The outside of the wiggle is just as important as the inside. So, in the same way, everybody has an outside and everybody has an inside. We identify ourselves with what is inside—we say, “That’s me”—and thereby ignore the fact that what is outside you is just as much your outside as what is inside you is your inside. And that’s always overlooked.


And, I mean—when I talk about your outside I don’t mean just the surface of your skin. I mean everything outside your skin, that’s your outside. And if that isn’t functioning in a certain way, the inside doesn’t function either. They go together. It’s like when a snake moves: the snake makes a curl, and so one side of it is convex and the other side is concave. Which side moves first? Why, they both move together. And so, in the same way, the inside world and the outside world are not different—in the sense that they’re not separate. They’re different, yes: one’s inside, the other’s outside. But they’re not separate. They move together. Only, we’re unaware of it—in the ordinary way—through a kind of psychological myopia of fixing on, of being hung up on certain ways of looking at things.


There’s a Buddhist word—kleśa (क्लेश) in Sanskrit, bonnō (煩悩) in Japanese—that we normally translate ‘attachment’ or ‘defiling passion.’ The exact translation of kleśa in modern American is ‘hangup.’ It’s a perfect word for it: to have a hangup. And so, to be hung up on a fixed way of looking at things that the world is only divided in this way, and that way, and the other way is to fail to see what I’ve been describing, then, as the going-togetherness, the inseparability of all insides from all outsides and vice versa, and of all organisms from their environments and vice versa.


You can get this very clearly when you realize that, if you get hung up on the viewpoint of separateness, then even your body is not a unity. You are just a mass of cells. And if, then, you take in physics: you’re not even cells, you’re molecules. Not even molecules, just atoms. Not even atoms! Just subatomic particles; wavicles, or whatever. And you disintegrate everything into that, and you realize that there are vast spaces between all these tiny little wiglets—whatever they are; wavicles—huge spaces. Y’know, if a molecule in your body was magnified to the size of a tennis ball, the nearest one would be quite a way away. Well, what ties all this together, you know? How can you look at that as a unity? Well, it’s tied together by space, fields of force, gravitation.


And so, in exactly the same way, look at us behaving around here from a larger level of magnification, and you could very easily see that we are just as tied together as the molecules in our hands, and that generation after generation—you know—we come and go. You look at the leaves coming on the trees in the spring, and you can say—you can describe this in so many different ways. You can say “These are new leaves. Last year’s leaves fell off and have fallen into the ground, and now a new generation of leaves come which are quite different.” And if a leaf had an ego—you see—it would say, “Wowee! I’ve come into being! I’m new.” But from another point of view you could just say, “The tree is leaf-ing again.” This is something the tree does, like every so often a man gets up in the morning and he shaves: he’s shaving. See? And he stops doing that; the next morning, he’s shaving again. Now, is the shaving as if something that has an ego? And that every day’s shave is a different shave? It is, from one point of view. It is different, but it’s also shaving; it’s the same.


It’s because we’re so fascinated with the individual details of people that, generation after generation, we say they’re quite different. But somebody who really was from Mars and didn’t understand people would say they keep on coming, they’re just the same ones coming back. So every year’s leaves are the same old leaves coming back, see? They die, they are re-absorbed, and they keep coming back. The thing keeps doing it again, but there are these spaces in it, you see? It’s like the troughs between the crests of a wave. And we say—where there are those spaces we don’t see anything—so we say, “That’s finished!” So, when you die you think, “Well, that’s finished. Too bad!” But, you see, what you are—really—is the energy field, and it keeps doing you! It keeps peopleing. And it’s you who keep peopleing. Who else is responsible? Only, of course, we mustn’t admit that we’re responsible for this because the whole game is to pretend you aren’t. See? It’s happening, but it has nothing to do with me; I’m not in control of this.

Part 2

Get in Touch


In this morning’s session I was emphasizing primarily the theoretical aspects of ecological awareness, showing how our differentiation between separate things and events is an abstraction and that the whole world is an inseparable unity. Not of separate parts, but of the kind of system in which everything that might be called a part—when we talk about it—everything that might be called a part is, in fact, an expression or function of the whole thing. And that—if we came to our senses—we would be aware of ourselves not as only on the inside of our skins, but we would be aware that the outside is us, too. That there is a relationship between the organism and the environment, the subject and the object, and the individual and the world such that the two presuppose each other. And I did get around to the point of mentioning—towards the end—the reason how and why this can become apparent if our minds are not constantly obsessed with verbiage. If, in other words, we can come to contemplating, seeing, feeling the actual world without putting names and labels on it—in other words, to see it directly rather than thinking about it—for, as I said, these separations are conceptual.


Now, I want to take this into a more practical dimension this afternoon. And that is to say that, hand in hand with this whole question of overcoming the hallucination of separateness, there goes also the formation of a new style of relationship to the material present. It’s very important, you see—first of all—to realize that all reality is present, that the present moment is where you have always lived and where you will always live. There is no other time than now. Time past and time future are also abstractions. But in our culture, in particular, we have a very bad relationship to the material present, and not only to the present but also to that aspect of the same thing which is material. And this comes out so strongly in the way in which we educate our children: we do not—in our schools—really have anything very much which relates people to the material present, and thus our achievements in regard to the handling of the material present are extremely shoddy.


School prepares people for a kind of Brahmin’s existence, that is to say, for literary, verbal operations. It educates us to be bureaucrats, insurance salesmen, banker’s clerks, accountants, and lawyers, maybe doctors, and so on. And a person who is going on—say, in high school, and is thought not fit for college—is encouraged to take reluctantly offered courses in trades and manual skills. And in England—where the state of affairs is much worse that it is here, even—they always make jokes about American universities where you can get a B. A. degree in basket-weaving. Because that’s in for a dig; that is loss of face in an academic community: that there should be basket-weaving courses. Bad enough to have a degree in physical education. But the point of the matter is that we are so obsessed with the life of abstractions, with problems of status, with problems of the world as symbolized rather than the world to be symbolized, that most of us don’t relate to physical existence at all.


Now, I remember—and I mentioned this in one of those leaflets I sent out—but I remember very well in 1936, in London, at the World Congress of Faiths, when Suzuki Daisetsu was present—he’s the one who’s written all the essays on Zen Buddhism; the great scholar—and he had made a very, very significant contribution to the congress; various lectures and discussions he had held. And at the final meeting of the congress they took over the Queen’s Hall—great big auditorium—and they set as the subject matter for the evening: “The Supreme Spiritual Ideal,” upon which representatives of all the great religious traditions got up and delivered themselves of volumes of hot air. Finally, Suzuki was the last speaker. And he got up and he said, approximately, “I am feeling very confused tonight. I am simple countryman from a faraway place, and I find myself in this assembly of so many people. I am asked to talk about supreme spiritual ideal. Seems to me, I do not know what supreme spiritual ideal is, so I look up ‘spiritual’ in dictionary. I cannot understand.” He said, “You have, around here, very big city, and I walk along street, and very prosperous. But it’s not right. You have spiritual over here, you have material world over here. And both are unreal.” And then he went on to give a description of his house and garden in Japan. And at the end of it, he had a standing ovation, for—somehow—he was real; he came across as somebody who’s lovable, intelligible and human, as distinct from a mere preacher.


And he made this intensely important point that if you understand the spiritual correctly, it is not different from the material. The material is the spiritual. But in order to see why that is so, one first has to make a clear difference between the material and the abstract and to understand that the abstract doesn’t mean the same thing as the spiritual. The abstract world is a world of symbols, a world of words, a world of concepts which has the same relation to the physical universe as the menu to the dinner, or as money to wealth—I mean money in the sense of bookkeeping entries in a bank or dollar bills. One must be very careful, therefore, not to confuse the spiritual and the abstract. If by the spiritual we designate the domain of ultimate reality—the unified or, more strictly, non-dual energy of the universe that I was talking about this morning—that has nothing whatsoever, really, to do with abstractions. What we call physical reality—the material world—is much closer to what would be meant by “spiritual” than anything abstract is. But the thing is that when we form in our minds—the average person who talks about the physical world, he has a concept of the physical world which is what really should be referred to as “materiality” when one uses that word in a put-down way.


If, for example, we talk about—I could even say this to theologians and they would eventually understand me—if we talk about the evils of the flesh, the word “the flesh” doesn’t mean the body in the sense of this [Alan (presumably) indicates at his own body]. The flesh, as something evil, represents a conception of the body as something to be exploited in order to satisfy one’s spiritual emptiness. And thus, too, when we speak of materialism: we aren’t really talking about materialism, we’re talking about an abstract conception of the value of the material world. Real materialism would, of course, be the love of material, which is something quite different from materialism as one sees it in practice. So it’s very important to realize that when we say “the physical world” and we talk about matter as something which is antithetical to the spiritual, you are not talking about this [Alan indicates at his body] because all this doesn’t have those kind of qualities that we would call materiality as against the spiritual. If you really get in touch with your senses, with the so-called physical world, you’re in for many surprises.


First of all—if you go back to the point I made that there really is only the present—you will see that what we call this physical world is not something expanded in time, stretched out over time, and it is not material also in the sense of being composed of stuff. You see, one of our problems in the West is we think about the relationship of the spiritual to the physical by analogy with form and matter, or rather, with clay as matter and the form as the pot made out of the clay. And therefore, we’ve never been able to put the two together because our conception of matter as something essentially like clay—a sort of primordial stuff—this has no intelligence, nor does it possess energy. Therefore, when you think of the world as a sort of cooperation—or a mixture of form and matter—you have, therefore, to invoke an external agency to inform matter and to bring it into shape, to order it, and to produce art.


But this dualism of form and matter is really rather meaningless. Nobody ever saw an immaterial form or a formless material. There really is no such thing as “stuff” out of which the universe is made. “Stuff” is actually a word for looking at the world with bad focus. When your focus on something is not clear, it is fuzzy. And this fuzziness, or indistinctness, is “stuff.” When your focus on the world is clear, you see pattern, you see details, you see structure. Now, as you look more deeply into any structure it starts to get fuzzy again, and therefore you ask, “Of what stuff is this structure made?” “Stuff” meaning “fuzz.” But then again, when you turn up the level of magnification and it once again becomes bright and clear, you see within the great structures and the great patterns smaller ones.


So, you always encounter the world as patterning, never as stuff. And so, our physical world that surrounds us is, in a way, immaterial. It is a fantastic pulsation of vibrations which give an illusion of solidity in just the same way as if I take a lighted cigarette in the dark and rapidly revolve it, you get the illusion of a continuous circle of fire. So, the apparent motion of the present moment from the past to the future gives an illusion of continuity as if there were something extended in time. And in exactly the same way, the table—because it is vibrating with such tremendous energy—gives the illusion of solidity in exactly the same way as the blades of a propeller or an electric fan when they’re in rotation. And in the same way as you’ll come to trouble if you try to put your finger through the fan, the only reason you can’t get your finger through the table: it’s going even faster than a fan, and it bounces your finger off. When you feel hardness your finger is being bounced off because of this tremendous energy that lies in and as the table. Likewise, it’s also in your finger.


So, what we’re actually confronted with, what is here and now—nowever—is certainly not a material world as we ordinarily conceive it, but is something intensely magical and strange. And the more—Spinoza once said, “The more you know of particular things, the more you know of God.” And then, put it in another way: if you want to find out what is the spiritual, what is Buddha-nature, what is Brahman, what is Tao, the best way is to go directly to the physical world and find out: the physical world as you are it, and as everything around you is it; the immediate experience.


Now, to go back. This, as I said, is something which our culture—which WASP culture in particular—neglects, because we are obsessed with abstract attainments. And this goes back to some curious factors in our history. To introduce this matter I have to refresh your minds about caste, strangely enough. In ancient Hindu society, there are four castes, respectively: brahmins, who are priests, theologians, philosophers, and intellectuals; kṣatriya, who are warriors and rulers, politicians; vaishya, who are merchants; and shudra, who are laborers, blue-collar workers. These castes have something peculiar about them in the fact that they are eternal—let me say perennial. They still exist, even though we don’t admit it. There are kṣatria people around and they are very different from brahmins. The typical fraternity American with his crew cut and his—uses alcohol, is agressive, likes football, and so on—he’s a kṣatria type. The professorial, quiet fellow is a brahmin. The businessman is a vaishya, and our blue-collar people are shudras. They’re still there. And they’re all necessary to each other; they balance each other in a very fascinating way. The brahmin cannot get on by himself, he needs the kṣatria, the vaishya, and the shudra. And likewise, every one of them needs the others.


But there was a curious revolution in Europe at the time we call the Reformation. When the vaishyas got the upper hand of the brahmins and the kṣatrias, the feudal aristocracy began to lose power in the face of, say, the great merchant bankers of Italy and the burghers of central Europe. The brahmins, who were the priests of the Roman Catholic church, began to lose power because their doctrine was criticized and fell under suspicion. For, you must see that the Protestant religion was the creation of the burgher cities of Europe, of places like Geneva, Frankfurt, and—one must add—London, Edinburgh. And immediately, money values began to dominate Christian theology. For example, the number of holy days was very strictly cut down by on Protestant sects because those were holidays and the merchants didn’t want their apprentices taking all these holidays off an not busying themselves. And so, always connected with the Protestant ethic are the virtues of frugality, saving money, saving up for the future, and in such things are vaishya ideals running a bit wild. And thus, you see, the common-sense ethic—that is to say, the basic conception of the good life as it is held in the United States—is very largely a creation of bourgeois Protestantism. We have a very bad relation to the material present. Because that’s one thing that the vaishya can’t maintain by himself anymore than the brahmin or the kṣatria or the shudra could maintain it by himself.


We have a whole world based on these two things: save up, there’s a good time coming—so, put your money aside, invest it—secondly, which is somewhat contradictory: happiness consists in the possession of things. A lot of people, when they feel inadequate, bored, unfulfilled, try to get rid of this sensation by going shopping. A lot of people spend all their daytime shopping. That’s the thing to do. You go out and shop. There are women galore who go into San Francisco every day just to shop and come back loaded with all kinds of things. But these things are not true material possessions—for at least two reasons. Number one: most of them aren’t well-made. Number two: you can’t use that many things. You can store them, you can put them away, you can show your friends that you’ve got this and that, but you can’t live in six houses at once, you can’t ride more than two horses at a time—unless you’re doing some sort of a circus act, you know? You can’t drive more than one car at a time. So we tend to become absolutely overloaded with possessions and have the greatest difficulty, therefore, in moving ourselves around. Because every time we move, we have to carry all the stuff with us.


Let’s take the comparison between a Japanese living room and a British, American, or German living room. You see, the Japanese living room: you have a table, and some cushions, and the floor. And you don’t have any beds because you sleep in a futon, in a quilt, and that’s delightful. You don’t, therefore, have to haul beds around, you don’t have overstuffed chairs which stand in most rooms like gun emplacements—you know, these huge things, vast things that have to be pushed around, very heavy. We, in other words, are absolutely cluttered with enormously heavy objects. And it doesn’t redound to our true material comfort because we’re always using our muscles to lug them around. They have to be taken care of, they have to be cleaned, the moths have to be kept out of them. They’re a perfect pest! So we don’t really understand furniture.


Now, I would think furniture, and a house, and a shelter over you is one of the most important things in life. Shelter is fundamental. But when you see what shelter most people in the United States have provided for themselves, you’re aghast. Clapboard boxes—miles and miles and miles of them—that you wouldn’t want a dog to live in. Have you ever looked at the furniture in Dagwood’s home? The absolutely uninspired junk. It has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. It isn’t good design, it isn’t fun, it’s just nowhere.


What’s something else of material importance that, really, after all, we ought to know something about? Clothes. Well, by and large, we are shockingly clothed as compared with many other people. Men go around looking like funeral directors in the most uncomfortable survivals of military uniforms. Women wear frocks and dresses, and things to cover up amazing systems of pulleys and blocks and tackles. And, you know, it’s sleazy and they have no real joyous color. Occasionally—I mean, we all know exceptions—but I’m talking about the generality of the culture. The clothes don’t look as if anybody really enjoyed wearing them. They’re worn because one has to be dressed and covered up, and decent. And therefore, they’re worn rather apologetically. To get, furthermore, they wear out in nothing flat. And to buy good clothes you have to go outside the country. There are, of course—if you want to dress in a rather traditional way, you go and get British tweeds from the Hebrides. But if you want to dress colorfully and beautifully you have to go to Mexico and get gorgeous materials. Or to India, and get silk for saris. Or to Java, and get batiks for sarongs. And these things will last forever. They are beautifully made by people who had a real enthusiasm about making them.


Because in the life of the people who make such things, they don’t make a differentiation between working and playing. But in a culture where you work, and play is different—you work in order to make money to play—this is insane! Because you spend most of the time working, and then if all you carry… if you don’t really value the work—I mean, you’re lucky if you’ve got work that you really enjoy doing—but if you don’t really value the work, all you get out of it is money. Then you come home with that and you’re supposed to play. Well, you’re pretty tired, to begin with, and we just don’t play. That’s all there is to it. You might play Saturday, or something, when there’s a day off. But in the evening very few people actually play. They sit and passively watch television. And they got all the money in the world—I mean, compared with Hindus and African and so on, we live like princes. But we don’t enjoy it. Not really. There’s no gusto for it. You would think that people would come home and have orgies, and banquets, and… with all that money, and they don’t! It’s just a—sort of—constant disappointment.


Well, going back to clothes: I can illustrate another way in which our clothes are made without regard for material values. Most clothes are made of cloth, and when you weave cloth, cloth has a certain nature. It comes out in a long, wide strip which is rectangular. We take this material, woven this way, and we try to fit it to the contours of the body by shaping it, by doing things with rectangular material that rectangular material just doesn’t want to do. To fit the sleeves of a man’s jacket—it doesn’t want to do that. And therefore, our jackets don’t fold up properly. Whenever you take them out of a suitcase they have to go to the dry cleaner’s to be pressed, or your wife has to iron it. Our shirts—a man’s shirt is the most ridiculous construction. It will not fold unless you’re an expert laundress. There’s nothing you can do about it. And it always comes out of a suitcase ruffled. And it requires all kinds of care to get the thing ready to be wearable. And it’s white and gets filthy, and nothing flat. There’s no rationale to it whatsoever. Nor to the necktie, which has to be worn with it; sort of noose to strangle you with.


But if I may point out: a Japanese kimono is quite different. It follows the nature of cloth. The rectangular forms of the cloth, if you stretch it out like that, it hangs in a rectangle right here from your sleeve, and it falls over you. It hasn’t been forced to fit you, and therefore, it fits you comfortably. The cloth conforms itself to you by its nature, and therefore, gives you a certain dignity. I once a saw a Tibetan woolen garment. It was a cloak. And it was prepared by their method, which is: they have a method of pounding wool rather than weaving it. And they make it into a great big—again, it’s a rectangle. And it’s a double rectangle: the front one and the back one. The front one is split down the center, and at the sides there’s a place for the sleeves to go through, and beyond that, it’s stitched. So you just got this sort of—if you put it out like that, it’s like a sort of sandwich board. But we had this one evening, and we got every man in the room to put it on—and there were about five men—and it turned all of them into kings. They looked absolutely regal in this thing; it was so dignified and so exquisitely beautiful.


I have a Japanese friend who told me he always wore Western clothes in Japan, and I asked him why. I said it’s absurd. I said, “You have the most comfortable clothes anybody ever invented. What on Earth do you go around in a Western business suit for?” “Oh,” he said, “I wouldn’t be seen dead in Kyoto in a kimono. You can’t run for a bus in a kimono.” It’s true. But what a degradation, you see, of the human being: you’ve got to be someone who’s got to run for a bus now, you see? Whereas if you put on a kimono, you’re very comfortable but you have to be leisurely. You have to stroll rather than rush, and that slows you down. Because, you see, all people who are in a rush are not related to the material present.


Supposing—let’s take—you’re in a rush to get coffee when you get up in the morning. What do you do? You take instant coffee. And that’s a punishment for being in a hurry. It doesn’t taste of coffee; not really. So, because you forced it—it’s like forcing the growth of tomatoes: they don’t taste of tomatoes anymore. Forced apples: they’re called “delicious”—they’re nothing but wet pith. So this is very important. This is showing that we aren’t here. We’re insane: we’re not all there, as they say. But trying to get to something—the result, the thing we thought we wanted, the thing that we thought would be what would make us happy; you’ve got to get something.


Now, it’s true: in order to not be hungry, you have to eat. And therefore, when you eat there’s a certain satisfaction. You feel alright. But then, when you begin to consider that life is going to wear out, and there are all sorts of problems—disease, change, and misfortune—and you get depressed. And then, in order to feel happy, you eat when you don’t need to eat. Then you begin to get obesity and indigestion, and wonder why the possession of all this great food isn’t doing anything for you—it’s supposed to! And so, in the same way with property of all kinds: when it is used to get the thing that you look forward to in the future and don’t seem to have now, it becomes a complete delusion. And you can’t understand, because you think that the possession of these things ought to make you happy. The admen have persuaded you that if you could get this kind of car, this kind of yacht, this kind of house, this kind of scene—whatever it may be—that’s the thing in life; that’s what’s important. And it doesn’t make people happy at all. And then they wonder why it doesn’t, and feel cheated, and they have to go to psychoanalysts and churches and things like that to be persuaded that it’s coming sometime, somehow; the thing that always seems to be missing. And there’s nothing missing at all! Except—I mean, supposing you’re absolutely starved and you just don’t have the normal flow of energy through your organism, then, of course, you need food. Or, if you’re freezing, you need shelter. But in the ordinary way, when you are fed and sheltered, there isn’t anything missing. It’s all here, but nobody is here to see it; everybody is wandering off to something else in the distance.


And, of course, this is preeminently true with two other aspects of life. I’ve discussed housing, furniture, and clothing. But, more specifically, food in the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture is unbelievably bad when you consider it by and large. The reason being that we eat food because it’s good for us. And that’s a dreadful thing to do because it means that you look at the food from the point of view of abstract dietetics rather than concrete taste. And wherever dietitians get interfering with cooking, it is utterly destroyed. In every university from coast to coast, where you would think would be centers of culture, the institutional food is unbelievably abominable, and the scholars are ashamed to come out about it and protest and lay down the law because they’re supposed to be devoted to higher things. And, after all, what you eat—just so long as it’s got the right chemicals in it—isn’t very important.


But what this is—you see, the trouble with that is two things: to eat in order to live—sort of, that it’s good for you—is… what do you mean, “good for you?” It means that it helps you to go on into the future. But what is the point of going on into the future when all the meals ahead of you are these unappetizing things that are just going to enable you to go on into the future? And the second thing is that eating in this spirit is very disrespectful to all the creatures you have killed in order to eat. It’s even disrespectful to an onion to eat it improperly. Onions are living creatures, and if you cut up an onion for dinner you should reverence the onion, you should respect it. Because if you don’t have a feeling of love for the onion, for the fish, for whatever you eat, you won’t cook it properly and you won’t enjoy it. Cooking is a process of loving. And it is a paying of respect to these marvelous beings which we ingest in order to go on living. So this entirely futuristic, dietetic attitude to food is—again, you see—a question of purely quantitative thinking, of lack of relation to the material world.


I may make out: one other rather important aspect of life is lovemaking. Here, again, is a subject entirely neglected in our education—from any practical point of view. I mean, [there are] a lot of theoretical works, some of which are fantastic and grotesque. But as a fine art, when you compare what goes on in most bedrooms with the things that are suggested in the Kama Sutra, the difference is amazing. That there could be a real great art as between lovers—husbands and wives, and so on—is something, again, that we don’t consider because—once again—although sex is fun, we go about it not really because we enjoy it—we can’t admit that—but it’s good for us, it’s a healthy outlet. And also, it’s necessary—of course—for having children, and that’s also something for the future, you see?


And, likewise, when it gets to children: we don’t relate to children in the material present very well. This is especially true of what one calls child-centered families. Here is a frustrated mama and papa who feel guilty for some reason or other. Either they didn’t really make it in life the way they wanted to make it, and they hope their children will. And they feel that, anyway, the reason why I am earning a living and you are a housewife is that it’s for the sake of our children. We live as husband and wife in order to bring up children. Now, this is completely backwards. If a husband and wife have a vocation in life—that is to say, they are deeply interested in and devoted to living—supposing the husband is a doctor and he is fascinated with healing people, and that’s really what he’s about, the children—if permitted to do so—will catch his fascination. If the wife loves working in the kitchen, the children actually want to help. But we don’t allow them to because what we do is: in an industrial society you can’t possibly have children around the factory or the office. In more primitive agricultural societies you can have children around the farm, around the shop, and so on, and in countries like Mexico—and it used to be so in Japan before they shrilled them all off to school—the children worked along with their parents and learned their crafts.


But now we, first of all, say no, no! We’re going to do something. We’re going to propitiate you with toys. And these are fake plastic replicas of things that adults play with, like guns and dolls, and they’re always frustrating. They never quite come up to expectations. The children, therefore, break them, and it reduces them to fury, and at the end of the day every household I know—in good, nice, American homes where there are children—they are strewn from end to end with disintegrated plastic. Papa is coming home from the office with a mysterious commodity called money—which is… you’ve got to bring it, but nobody’s really interested—and so the house has to be tidy for him to get back. Therefore, there’s a screaming, knock-down, drag-out battle with Mama trying to get all the children to clean up and throw this stuff away. And he comes home from a job in which nobody is interested because they have no part in it. The wife knows nothing about it except in a theoretical way, the children know nothing about it because it’s something he does off there. And then, all his interests—if he has any interest in his job at all, off there, with the community of people with whom he works in that situation—he comes back, and with people to whom he now has absolutely no real relationship whatever he’s supposed to be a good pal and nice, kind husband. And that is why, in all our comic magazines, the father of the family is portrayed as a clown. Invariably. All the jokes are on poor old dad. Whew!


But again, you see: this is abstractionism. It’s a result, for example, that the whole family set-up in our culture is an institution hanging over from agrarian civilization, which just doesn’t work in an urban-industrial civilization. And we keep it up because that’s the way things are supposed to be, and we’ve never re-thought human relationships in immediate relation to this new kind of situation in which we’re living. So those families that thrive and get on reasonably well with each other are fortunate flukes—of which there will always be a certain number.


I could go on endlessly with this discussion of our lack of relation. I mean, let’s just take our notions of feminine beauty: they’re entirely fabricated by some curious creeps who edit Vogue magazine and Harper’s Bazaar to make stuffed dummies who, when actually encountered, are about as comfortable as falling into the middle of a bicycle. And, you know, poor women: they’re always having to live up to the image of some movie star, or somebody, who is the great type of the day. They feel their husbands will be disappointed if they don’t look like that. And that’s because we set up these ideal external surface forms of beings, having no sensitivity to the substance, to the weight, to the volume, to the temperature, and—above all—to the smell.


It is, indeed, the sense of smell—among all matters of the material present—is the most repressed in this culture. And therefore, interestingly enough, it is one of the main channels of unconscious communication. Whatever is repressed is, as Jung would say, put into the unconscious and thereby activated in a special way. So a great deal of ESP—or telepathic communication: intuitive likes and dislikes we form for other people—are the result of the sense of smell which we don’t recognize consciously because we are not attending to it. And the word “smell” means bad smell: it smells. You know the story about Dr. Johnson—who never bathed, you know?—and he was traveling in a coach, and a very dignified lady got in, sat down, and said to him, “You smell.” He said, “Madam, on the contrary: you smell. I stink!” But, you see, smell is essentially bad smell.


In English, there are only three adjectives peculiarly used for qualities of smell: fragrant, acrid, pungent. All other adjectives used for smell are borrowed from taste or some other sense. It’s repressed, you see? We’re not really aware of smell. And so, we want the human body to smell of disinfectants and things like that, rather than its own natural, interesting flavors. And so, everybody is scrubbed, and over-cleaned, and squirted with alcohol or something, so that they shan’t smell. But, actually, they do smell, only they smell of a kind of a lab instead of people.


So you can see in these many, many ways that we’re not here, and we’re not present to materiality because of the strange notion, you see, that the material present is a hoax. You say:

Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth,

Where moth and rust doth corrupt,

But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.

Well, the way we’ve interpreted that saying is: lay up treasure in the future. Take out your eternal life insurance policy, you see? So: it’s coming.


Actually, “treasure in heaven” is now. But we think that the real now-world, you see, is disintegrating, crumbling, and therefore is bad. But that’s not the reason. The fact that—yes—the real-world now is always unseizable. It’s changing. You can’t grasp it; there’s nothing to hold on to. But that’s why it’s spiritual. When you lean on it, it collapses. But don’t lean on it. Live in it, but don’t lean on it; don’t try to hold it. Because in just the same way as when you embrace someone and you try to hold too hard—you squeeze the breath out of them and therefore you strangle them—so, in the same way, you don’t grab hold of the world. You can’t sense it that way. I cannot feel whatever this is by [Alan hits the object] doing this, you see? I can’t get the maximum taste out of beef by grinding it to pieces with my teeth and forcing my tongue against it. Because what I do is I dull the nerve ends. It’s a kind of a light touch; you let it flow through your fingers.


And so, by letting life slip—and it’s always slipping; it’s nowever changing. The more it runs, the more it stays. The more it stays, the more it runs. That’s the way it is. And if you don’t hold on to it, it’s always here. If you do hold on to it, it’s always running away. So you suddenly discover that (this is the most shocking thing, you see) that the physical world—right here and now, this absolutely concrete moment—is everything that you could ever have imagined the beatific vision to be. This is quite startling that it’s so if you are really wide awake.


I have thought of a sort of fantasy, and I’ll try and describe it. When you read about the beatific vision in the Paradiso of Dante, you get this fantastic description of the sort of rainbow-rose: at the center, vivid white light which you can’t look at, y’know? Just dazzling white light. And then, as it goes out from that, you get all the colors of the spectrum going out into violet and then going out into black. But it’s black so transparent, like obsidian, that it’s not… it’s luminous black. And then, again, suddenly, vivid white in a great arc comes around the black, and it does the trick again. And now, that’s not all it can do. The rays start waving, see? And the whole thing starts shimmering like waves. And then it says, “Now, that’s not all we can do.” Then they do curlicues. Every conceivable kind of complexity. Then they start making angles. All the light starts dancing, you see? Ka-doo de-da, che-doo de-dah, che-doo de-dah, cha-cha-cha! And you see—you could imagine those Buddhist mandalas where there are radiances full of myriads of Buddhas, all dancing, all rattling bells and thunderbolts and swords, and the whole thing is going ka-cha ka-cha ka-cha, and suddenly it goes into another dimension, see? There’s more of it. And then it starts getting sound dimensions going with all this color, and smell dimensions going with the sound. And the sound gets so deep, and so bass, and so vibrant that it becomes solid, and you can touch it. And the thing gets more and more complicated. And suddenly, before you know where you are, here it is. We’re just that thing, [which has] reached this degree of complexity. See? Just like that. But it’s never somewhere else, you see? You don’t get it anywhere but here.


Now, if you try to find it here, and say, “Now, golly! Let’s do this right now! I’ve really gotta pay attention to Now.” See? And you try to look at that, you see, and bring Now into focus and really look at it: you’re still pushing it away. It has to come to you by—you can’t seek Now, because the moment you seek it, you’re not looking at the real Now, you’re looking at one just ahead. See? So in some, this necessity of relating to the material present is one of the cardinal components of a good ecological attitude. Because greed—which is, essentially, discontent with the present (admittedly, some people living on the edge of poverty have an inadequate material present from a physical point of view)—but it is the greed of the well taken care of that is so terrifying: people who have enough to eat, and wear, and’re clothed, and are still greedy, and therefore go out to exploit this Earth and drag every last ounce of wealth out of it—which is immediately turned into rubbish and poisoned gas—because they can’t be alive here at the moment.

So, let’s take an intermission.

Part 3

The World as One Body


In yesterday’s session—two sessions—I covered first the ecological conception of an organism’s relationship to its environment—and thus, of course, of the individual’s relationship to the universe—and I was trying to show you that this is not a question of two systems that are separate, acting upon each other or interacting. It is a question, rather, of a single system of energy expressed with great complexity which is one process, one activity. It is possible to become aware that this is so, not simply theoretically, but as a matter of sensation. And when one becomes aware of it in that way, the feeling is at first curious and is apt to be misinterpreted. It can be felt either as if you were sort of floating—that is, completely passive: not doing anything, not making any exertion of will, but as if all your behavior was simply happening. That is one way of feeling it. Another way of feeling it is the sensation that you are God and making everything happen. These are the polar opposite ways of feeling the same thing. And when people, for one reason or another, slip into this kind of sensation—and it can happen by accident—they may jump to very strange conclusions depending on their background, their religious upbringing—because it is that background which gives them a language in which to express to others and to themselves how they feel. But you must be very clear about this and understand it theoretically thoroughly—just in case this ever happens to you—so that you won’t be accused of being crazy.


It is not, you see, that your own individual organism is the puppet of everything else, responding to it as a billiard ball responds to being hit by a cue. It is not also that you, as an individual, are an independent source of energy which pushes the world around. Both these views are based on a false assumption that the individual organism is really separate from the world; that’s the false assumption. And we think about this situation by analogy with billiards because Newton thought that way, Descartes thought that way. And Newton and Descartes have molded the common sense of the average person living in the twentieth century, even though our science has abandoned the mechanics of Newton—it certainly has in physics, it certainly has in biology. Although I find that, in psychology, people still talk and think in a Newtonian way. That, for example, Freud structured the organism of psychology, of the human psyche, by analogy with hydraulics. So you must call Freudianism a form of psycho-hydraulics: the unconscious is the deeps, sexual energy is represented like the flow of a river which can be dammed up, repressed, it has to be provided with outlets—these are all hydraulic terms. And hydraulics is a form of Newton’s mechanics. Because, you see, in Newtonian mechanics—which is based, really, on billiards—the balls are standing for atoms, and they bang each other around. And so everything is explained, the movement of ball A, is explained by the behavior of balls B, C, D, E, and so on insofar as they impinge against it. And you have to go back, and back, and back, trying to figure out how it all started. Who pushed it first? And who pushed him? You see?


Well, this model won’t do anymore. Things just don’t behave that way because they are not separate from each other in the first place. This is the point I wanted to make clear in this first round of discussion that we had yesterday: that the differentiation of the world is not separation anymore than when you see many waves on the ocean, they are different waves but it’s all the one ocean waving. And you can’t have half a wave, for example: a wave that is crest without trough. That’s—half-waves are just not found in nature. And so, in the same way, you can’t find solids except in space, and you won’t find space except where there are solids because they are aspects of each other in rather the same way as in magnetism: the positive and negative, or north and south poles, are always found together. You can’t have a purely north-poled magnet. And in order to have a current—an electric current—flowing, it must be polarized. It will not flow until both poles are hitched. So, in the same way, there is a polar relationship between the individual and the world. They are both aspects of a single energy. And so, there is no question of things being controlled, and moved, and pushed by other things as billiard balls are, or billiard balls appear to be from a certain superficial point of view. We’ve just got this huge being—although “being” is not quite the right word because existence is composed of being and non-being, corresponding to solid and space, crest and trough of wave. Because, fundamentally, the energy of the world is vibratory. It’s on and off, and there is no off without on, no on without off. To be or not to be is not the question, because to be implies not to be as much as not to be implies to be. So in the Taoist Chinese philosophy it is said that being and non-being arise mutually. It’s like the egg and the hen: you don’t find eggs without hens, nor do you find hens without eggs. A hen is, as a matter of fact, one egg’s way of becoming other eggs. It all goes together.


But we don’t see this for the simple reason that we are primarily involved in using a method of perception which is analytic, which spotlights various features of the world and does so with the aid of naming, or giving symbols to, those features of the world which we consider significant and, therefore, ignoring features of the world which we don’t consider significant and for which, therefore, we don’t have names. Haven’t you noticed how often children point at something and say, “What is that?” And you can’t make out exactly what it is they’re pointing at. They are pointing out something they’ve noticed but which adults don’t consider important, and they want a name for it. We don’t have a special word for dry space. We don’t have a special word for the inside surface of a tube. But American Indian languages have such words. Eskimos recognize five different kinds of snow, but the Aztec language has one word for snow, rain, hail, and ice. You can see the geographical reasons for that. So, according to what you consider important, you have names. And according to naming, you identify separate things. But they’re only separate in a purely theoretical way. They’re not materially separate, not physically separate.


And so it’s immensely important that we become aware of this fact, because if we’re not aware of it we do the most stupid things. We try to solve problems by altering what are only the symptoms of problems. We try, for example, unilaterally to abolish mosquitoes, forgetting that mosquitoes go with a certain kind of environment and play a very important part in it—not to mention other insects which are killed when we kill the mosquitoes. And so, in this way, we are doing things without recognizing that they’re going to have unpredictable results in unexpected places. Same way if you put certain drugs or certain operations in the human organism: you’ve got to be very careful of what you’re doing and you have to study the organism very carefully in order to know what consequences this will have. If you farm in a certain way without due respect for the ecology of the whole area in which you’re working you can get the most appalling results. And, characteristically, our technological civilization is much too heedless of these ecological connections.


Therefore, in order to overcome our characteristic sense of hostility to the external world—and to stop conquering nature with bulldozers, or conquering space with rockets—we have to realize that the external universe is just as much ourself as our own body. That we have—each one of us—an inside and an outside. And if the inside of your skin is your inside, what is outside your skin is your outside. And the two are inseparable, they are polar. Because you can’t have an inside without an outside or an outside without an inside—except [if] you construct something like a Klein bottle that is a sort of freak. Maybe the universe, as such, is a Klein bottle; who knows.


However, the second point I was making, which arises directly from this—and this was the burden of the second session—was that this ignorance (or ignore-ance) of the inseparability of all different things goes hand in hand with a bad relationship, or an inadequate relationship, to the material present. I was showing that the material present is the only time there is. Other times—past times, future times—are abstractions; there never is anything but the present. But you mustn’t, of course, think of the present as a split second. That’s an abstract view of the present. You tend to think of the present as a split second because you’re used to looking at a watch, and the watch is marked out with hairlines, and the idea of watchmakers is to make those lines as thin as possible consistent with visibility. And therefore, as the hand sweeps across the hairline, you’ve hardly time to say “now.” And we begin to think that the present is that. Well, of course it isn’t. Present time is rather like the field of vision where you’ve got, as it were, a fairly clear center: the field of vision is an oval and you can run your fingers ’round it just at the point where they start to become invisible. And you realize that the edge of the field is fuzzy. And so, in the same way, we have a vision of movement in time as having fuzzy edges. Just as when you are listening to music: you don’t hear music a single note at a time, you hear it in phrases. You anticipate what’s coming and you remember what has been played. And so you have a kind of wide but fuzzy-edged view of what is called the present.


But it’s what is always there, you see? And if—in a culture—we are brought up not to see this, we start to living for the future. And we live for the future mainly because our present is inadequate. And it’s inadequate because we are not seeing it fully; we’re seeing it in terms of abstractions. And if your present is inadequate and is, matter of fact, only an abstract version of life, you’re like a person with a non-nutritive diet. You always, therefore, feel hungry, and you keep eating because you want more! So, in the same way: “More life, please!” “More time, please!” More! More! More! More! Because sometime or other, it’s gotta be alright; the thing I’ve been looking for must happen—I hope! But, of course, it never does. Not if you live that way. Because when all your goals in life are attained and you are at the top of your profession, or you’ve got beautiful children, or you—whatever it was you wanted—you feel the same as you always felt. You’re still looking for something in the future. And there isn’t any future! Not really. Therefore, I often say that only people who live in a proper relationship to the material present have any use for making any plans at all. Because then the plans work out; then they’re capable of enjoying them. The other people aren’t.


So people, then—who aren’t here, fully, but whose minds are off somewhere else all the time—are always starved and always rushing to get there. And there’s nowhere to go—except here. But I qualify this word “material present” because of the fact that the word “material” is a very much misunderstood word. It’s a word you can use in a lot of different ways. As generally used, we say the body, the earth, the rocks, the trees, the animals, and all that are material. And we set over, against that, the spiritual (or the mental) as if that were some kind of vaguely gaseous world permeating the material world. Or perhaps not gaseous, but rather abstract: a world of ideas, a world of principles. But it’s so curious that, when people do that, they debase both the material and the spiritual domains of life because these domains of life have vitality only when they’re together. When you see the material as the spiritual and the spiritual as the material. And then both of these concepts tend to vanish because what we call the material world in this put-down sense of the word “material” is only a concept. If you want to conceive the world as material then that means, really, people who do conceive it as material (in that sense of the word “material”) haven’t got a good relationship to it. But if you have an immediate relationship, if you really are aware of the present, then your vision of the material world is transformed and you see that it isn’t material, it isn’t spiritual, it’s indefinable. It’s what there is. And there is no way of saying what that is because you can’t put it into a particular category. And you can only define what you can classify.


Now, I know that is perhaps a little bit of a difficult idea to master because of our confusions of language. We could—if I might try to put it in one more way: I would say, probably, that the correct use of the word “material” is to mean something like “metered,” “measured.” When we say something is immaterial, we can mean both that it doesn’t matter—that is to say, it doesn’t measure up to anything, it doesn’t meter—or that it’s spiritual, non-material, immaterial. So I would say the correct use of the word “material” is: “the world as measured:” the world as represented in pounds, miles, decibels, photons, or whatever. And that, of course, is abstract. Because when you measure the world you don’t really make any difference to it, just as the equator does not cut the world in two pieces.


So what is the world that is existing upon which our measures are imposed? What is it that underlies the network? The network of measurements, of classifications, of quantification? Well, you can’t say. You can point to it, but you can’t really say what it is. It’s not a what. But that is what’s here, I mean, that’s the world we’re actually living in, you see? What Korzybski called the unspeakable world. And so when I said the “material present,” I was using the word “material” in an incorrect sense. Not the measured present, but the physical present of actual nonverbal being. And people, therefore, who do not relate well to this become incompetent in the practical arts of life. They become bad cooks, bad lovers, bad architects, bad potters, bad clothiers, because they really have no love for anything except abstractions: money, quantities, status, symbols. And people become absolutely bamboozled by symbols, and so want the symbol rather than what is signified by the symbol. But, you see, however, if you want what is signified by the symbol, then you’ve got the universe by the tail because every thing that is symbolized by a symbol is inseparable from the whole universe. When you, in other words, you catch a fish, it’s not just a thing called a “fish” that you’ve got, you are being fed by all oceans when you catch a fish. You are being sustained by this colossal life. And everything, of course, that goes with the oceans. It’s as if the ocean reached out and fed you. And that’s why the real reason for giving thanksgiving at meals that… of course, in the West people thank God, but it’s a more concrete expression to thank the fish. But then, of course, you’re thanking the ocean, and so on.


So this attitude, now, of a new vision of nature: not as something chopped up into bits so that we could look upon the universe as an assemblage of things, as if somehow or other there’s all this collection of galaxies and stuff floating around—where would they come from? Well, they’ve sort of been washed up like flotsam and jetsam, and have come together by some sort of gravity, and here they are, spinning around. As if it was a collection in the sense of something gathered, that formerly hadn’t been gathered. Of course, astronomically, this isn’t taken seriously. People think, rather, that it all blew up, that all the galaxies expanded from a center and are still going. It’s far more likely. Maybe they’ll come back together again and then blow up once more. Who knows? Maybe they’ll all fade out. But then, things will be where they were before it all started. And what happened once can always happen again. Pulsation, you see, is the very nature of life. Big pulses and tiny pulses. Pulses within pulses, forever and ever.


So, this point of view is one which has flourished in the Far East, where the relationship of man to the physical world has been very different from our idea. And this raises some curious problems because the great civilizations of the Far East, particularly the Chinese and the Japanese, did not—until coming into contact with Europe and the United States—did not evolve a technology. And because they didn’t evolve a technology, they had all kinds of problems for which we say that made them backward. They had problems of disease, and famine, and poverty. And we say, “Well, the poor benighted Chinese! We have nothing to learn from them because their civilization didn’t do the things we’ve done!” But what we don’t realize so readily is that this technology which we’ve produced is very recent. It was only in the middle of the nineteenth century that we really got going with this. And note that, before that date, we permitted as perfectly ordinary procedures judicial torture, slavery, child labor, filth of unspeakable proportions, and plagues, and all that sort of thing was just the way it was anywhere else in the world, in Europe. But we’ve forgotten it; we have short memories. We could sing in church:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

And ordered their estate.


Now that verse is, today, eliminated from the hymn. Because it’s saying, you see, that the stations of life—fortune and misfortune, riches and poverty—are God-given and nothing can be done about it. And people tend to accept states of affairs about which nothing can be done. And nothing could be done about it until the industrial revolution. And then, of course, the minute that starts everybody wants it. The Chinese want it, the Indians want it, the Japanese want it, and so on.


But the Chinese—for some reason or other, you see—did not develop technology. Now, why didn’t they? And why did we? There isn’t any simple answer to that question, but one thing that we should note: there are various geographical reasons, and this is not the only reason, but when you look at the map of Europe you will notice that it’s very wiggly. It’s full of inlets, harbors, and all like this, see? China, by contrast, is a great solid landmass. So is India. The Europeans were preeminently sailors, and it is highly possible—to begin with—that all the great early technical discoveries were the work of seafaring people. This is one of Buckminster Fuller’s theories. That, in quite ancient times, there were rather independent seagoing people who had their own culture, who knew that the world was round, who had great navigators, and from then we learned such things as the hoist cranes, that the first real houses were overturned boats, and that trade and the cross-fertilization of different civilizations and different cultures was a work of sea travel. With the machinery necessary for sea travel. You’re not depending on a horse, you’re depending upon something a human being has made, and upon a very high form of technology. Because sailing is a direct exemplification of man and nature in cooperation. Rowing is different. Rowing is a rather unintelligent way of propelling a boat because it requires a great deal of effort. But sailing is so skillful because you are simply using the energy of nature to move the boat. You are flowing through nature, effortlessly, by using the forces around you in a clever way. When you want to go against the wind you tack, you get the wind to blow you into it.


And this is what is called in Chinese wu wei, meaning literally “non-interference” or “non-agression.” Sometimes translated “non-action,” but that isn’t quite correct. Wu wei is acting in accordance with the field of forces in which you find yourself. Therefore, in splitting wood, you split with the grain because that is the way, the course of things, the Tao, is arranged. So any skillful person will therefore always inquire: “What is the nature of the field of forces in which I find myself?” The Chinese would ask, what is its ? And the word means: what is the organic pattern of this situation? And then: act in accordance with it. Don’t ever force it. Suppose, then, you are sawing: you will find that if you push the saw you will make a jagged cut. And you get impatient. When any people saw wood impatiently they always make a mess of it. But the saw has its own weight, and if you get the sensation that the saw is doing the work, you see—that’s not quite true; your muscles are involved—but you get the sensation of the saw doing the work, then you will make a good cut. See that the saw is sharp and let it do the job for you. You will find in all crafts that the same kind of thing happens when anybody develops consummate skill. When you sing well, you get the sensation that the song is singing itself. When you drive well, somehow, the car and the road are carrying you along, but in a very skillful way. This is this thing I was remarking on at first, this new feeling of a relationship to the world. And what you’re doing when you do anything skillfully, you see: you are expressing the total power of the field of forces which is expressing itself in the form of skillful action through the agency of you as a human organism. But it requires intelligence to do this.


Now, what is intelligence? Well, I’m going to reserve that question. I just want to go back a bit to the Chinese. Why didn’t they evolve technology? Well, they knew an awful lot of things. Joseph Needham is writing a seven-volume history of science and civilization in China. Telling us all about their mathematics, their astronomy, their physics, their husbandry ideas, everything in the way of techniques that the Chinese evolved. But there were two reasons why they didn’t go on to technology as we have it. One of them the bad reason—I think—and the other a good reason.


Confucian thought is not interested in nature. It is humanistic—interested in human relations—but very scholastic because it’s based on a literature. In other words, the great Confucian classics exercised a rigidifying effect upon Chinese culture even though they were a great principle of order, of social order. But just in the same way as when you get any scripture—the Bible, the Koran, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, anything like that—and people say that that’s the authority, then you’re stuck. And then you get the situation of the theologians who said to Galileo, “We won’t look through your telescope because it already says in the Book how the universe is working, and the book can’t be wrong. We know!” And people who get stuck on books always think they know. And it’s happening today. When somebody advances an absolutely outrageous proposition for science, lots of scientists are so blind they say, “Well, that’s impossible. It couldn’t be.” Because many scientists aren’t true scientists. They are rigidly defending a conception of the universe which requires that everything be as dull as possible. That the universe be absolutely boring, and stupid above all. And therefore, anything that reveals something that science can’t account for—all events that science can’t account for are simply ignored. And Charles Fort was a man who devoted his life to collecting records of events and occurrences for which there is no reasonable scientific explanation as yet. And the trouble is: all these events are rather unusual because science only studies the usual. And you have to have an event happen several times in order to study it scientifically. [You can] say, “Well, it happened. And we all saw it.” And then the scientist comes in. It’s like, you know, when you get sick and you call in the doctor, and all the symptoms vanish. And so—or your car goes wrong, and you take it to the mechanic and nobody can make it make that funny noise it was making, and so on. So, in the same way, a scientist comes around and says, “Well, you say you saw this thing happen. Well, I’ll observe it.” Well, it won’t happen!


So this is the problem, you see: the Confucians got too hung up on books—that is to say, on a theoretical system—in just the same way that we are hung up on our abstract concept of nature, and are operating in terms of an abstract concept of nature which is taught to us in school, and which we are brought up so much so that we are absolutely hypnotized by it, and we can’t experience things which our conceptual system doesn’t provide for. When the concept system stops working because it no longer fits the constantly changing pattern of reality, we’re in trouble. Well that, of course, was the trouble for the Chinese. Their Confucian concept system had very serious limitations.


Now, that was the bad reason. There was another reason why they didn’t evolve a technology, which was Taoist. The Taoists were really interested in nature. If you read their writings—in Lao-Tzu and Zhuang Zhou—they are full of natural illustrations. The behavior of water, of insects, of the elements are all used as illustrations of the art of life. Now, the Confucians—in contrast [to] the Taoists—were lexicographers. They believed in what’s called the rectification of names. The language, in other words, mustn’t get out of hand; there must be very clear and rigid definitions so that we use words the right way. Now, the Taoists had a critique of this. They said, “With what words will you define the words? And with what words will you define the words that you used the ones to define with?” Obviously, this situation is circular. Every dictionary is really a vicious circle because it’s words defined in terms of other words. And they’re all the words in the dictionary. So that, say, you take a dictionary that has no pictures in it: to someone who doesn’t know the language it’s absolutely a closed system that you can’t penetrate.


I once thought, as a little boy, I was going to write a fundamental book which would contain the necessary fundamentals for knowledge. And the first thing I naturally did, therefore, was to write down the alphabet. Then I wanted to write down how it was pronounced. And I saw that I couldn’t possibly write down how it was pronounced. I needed to know from the living world how to sound “A, B, C, D.” And that could never be written down. So I was stuck at the start. I abandoned the project at once.


So the Taoists laughed at the Confucians on that account. But also, they felt that nature was organic. They saw, so vividly, that it was a single living organism of immense complexity. And thus, they never thought of it as consisting of separate parts. Just as the head goes with the feet, and as a stomach goes with a brain, they arise mutually; together. They are different but not separate. And therefore, they were very cautious about interfering with anything.


Furthermore, their theory of politics was quite different from the Confucian. Confucian politics is based on the idea of rulership. There is the emperor. There is the family, which is strictly hierarchical structure of authority from above which must be followed and obeyed by those below. But the Taoists, when they—the first book, the Tao Te Ching, is a manual of advice to the emperor, among other things. And what it says to the emperor is: “Don’t rule.” Because:

The great Tao flows everywhere,

both to the right and to the left.

It loves and nourishes all things,

but does not lord it over them.

And when merits are accomplished

it makes no claim to them.

Therefore, the emperor is to be retiring, to disappear, to be rather more like—in our own local government—the sanitary engineer than the mayor. To have a kind of anonymous quality of being underground, and of being the one who allows a democracy. Because the Taoist feeling is that you get cooperation-people from people best by letting them cooperate rather than compelling them to.


Now then, contrast this with a Western theory in which the world is seen not as an organism, but as a mechanism. Now, what’s the difference? A mechanism has replaceable parts. It is fundamentally an assemblage of parts. An organism isn’t. Furthermore, a mechanism has a governor. And an organism apparently doesn’t. It may have a network of governors, all working together in a kind of reticulate pattern. But take, for example: does the brain run the body, or does the stomach? Which is the more important? Well, there are two schools of thought (of course). The stomach people say, “Well, stomachs are really fundamental. They were what was there at first. Because an organism… really, eating is the important thing. But the brain helps the stomach find food. That’s what it’s really doing. It evolved in order to develop eyes and ears to sneak around and find out things to swallow.” So that’s the stomach theory. Then, the brain theory is that it’s true that the brain is perhaps a later development than the stomach. That means that the stomach was just the forerunner for the really important character to arrive on the scene. And all the stomach does is it gives fuel to the brain. And the operations of the brain, in terms of culture and all that sort of thing, are what life is really all about. Now, actually, both theories are right and both are wrong. The arrangement between the head and the stomach is mutual. They arise together.


Now, in a system which has a boss it’s different. When you’ve got the mechanism, and the chauffeur or the engineer who puts it together and operates it, then you have a government. You have a monarchical world order. And when you have government, and things can be viewed as happening in a mechanical order, you can say, “Change it! I order you to behave differently. Do it this way instead.” And how do we do that? Why, we apply mechanical techniques: chop off heads, or force people to do this, that, and the other; I mean, just separate these things up and rearrange them. So then, because—in the West—we went through the phase of Newtonian mechanics, which arises out of the theory that the physical world is an artifact, that it was made by an architect or a super-cosmic engineer, and governed from above by law, we thought up the idea of explaining the behavior of things by mechanical causality. And this led to technology. To steam engines. To automobiles. To hydraulic systems. Everything. Electricity.


But when we reached a certain point in that development we started wondering. We started discovering all kinds of processes for which the mechanical analogy was not adequate. It did us well up to a point, but now, in quantum theory and in biology—in these two things in particular—an organic way of looking at things is clearer, is nearer, to the way they’re operating than a mechanical way. And therefore, say, the philosophy of Whitehead—he’s probably the greatest organicist in the West—reads just like the philosophy of Zhuang Zhou. It’s the same view of the world. So that, somehow, just at this moment of the development of technology—when we suddenly see it’s a lot more complicated than we thought it was, and that our project to change the universe is not going to be as easy as even H. G. Wells imagined—it’s just at this moment that this Chinese wisdom becomes available to the West. And we can understand it because it’s now talking our language. It’s talking of the language of relativity. The whole Zhuangzi book starts out with an absolutely marvelous chapter on relativity: relativity of the opposites, the interdependence, the mutual interpenetration of everything that happens. And we’ve discovered it.


So, there is [the possibility], then—isn’t there, at this point in history?—of civilizing technology. Let’s put it that way. You could almost say naturalizing technology. Technology came in as a barbarian. A very competent barbarian: all steely, all glittering with force of arms. And technology is busy transforming the face of the Earth into its own image, which is the image of a machine. Covering the Earth with concrete. But technologists know that these freeways will be obsolete in the not too distant future. Grass will grow up through the cracks and they will vanish. Because we shall take to the air like insects. And all our wires and cables; all that terrible stuff will vanish because we shall be able to transmit electric power without using them. We shall abandon telephones. Suddenly, as it were, the whole mechanical structure will vanish because it was only a step; what de Chardin calls a peduncle—that is, you know, when you’ve got an amoeba separating, it goes apart and there’s a thin little—like an hourglass—a neck joining them, and then they separate, and so there are still two little pear-shaped tops facing each other, and gradually withdraw and they’re balls once again. And that little neck, and the two projecting pieces, those are peduncles. And the peduncle disappears in the course of evolution. Like an umbilical cord is a peduncle. And so all this contraption that we’ve devised, technologically, is a peduncle. And it will vanish because, as we really go about it, we’re going to get so that we don’t need houses, practically. We’re going to find ways of, you know, just altering the temperature in the air and living in a grass hut, or an invisible plastic dome. And spread it all so that we don’t concentrate in cities; don’t have to, because you can just sit and you can dial any book in the Library of Congress and read it on a screen in front of you. All sorts of things like that to be done. So that this, also—Toynbee, in the Study of History, pointed out that we will become increasingly independent of tracks, roads, wires, and so on, so that the civilization becomes airborne. Maybe it’ll even go so far—and here I’m getting into science fiction—as abandoning the electronic method of communication; we may get a telepathic one instead. Who knows? Be a funny world, wont it, when there’s no private thoughts. Everybody’s completely transparent to everybody else. Sure have to get along! Although, as a matter of fact, this distribution will facilitate privacy. Because the thing that really militates against privacy is the city. And the controls of huge traffics of human beings going about their business; this is a real problem. This is invasion.


So then, this, however—this technical type of development, in order to go along those lines, requires that people who are responsible for technical development be well-imbued with an ecological philosophy and see the direction of things so they will not keep perpetuating anachronisms. If—for example, the automobile is a hopeless anachronism with a gasoline engine. But it’s going to be very difficult to get rid of it because people want to sell oil. Or because machine tools would have to be completely made over. It would be terribly difficult for the industry to change. Therefore, we get anachronisms which blind us to ingenuity and ability to see what could be done instead. You may think that sounds communistic. It isn’t at all, because nothing is more of an anachronism than a bureaucracy. A collectivist state, in other words, is the most hopeless thing to change because nobody has any responsibility. It is not organic, it’s a monolithic machine. That’s the pattern that we see in so-called communist countries. And they have just as tough a time producing an innovation as we do. We have to think of new political ideas altogether; ideas that’ve never been heard of. But the way of thinking about politics, as of thinking about technics, is by an organic model instead of the mechanical model. The world as one body. But a body, you see, is a highly diversified system with all kinds of division of function, and yet, all one. It is not like an anthill. It’s much more differentiated. And that is the human image as distinct from, say, the insect image or the machine image.

Part 4



The problem I was discussing this morning was really the relationship of ecology to technology, but I was discussing it in a historical way: raising the problem of why technology originated in the West and not, for example, in China, and showing—first of all—that those people in China who did make some progress in the study of nature—the Taoists—thought about the world in accordance with a different model than people in the West. A model that did not immediately permit a technological development. The West thought about nature by analogy with mechanics, with machines. The Chinese thought about nature by analogy with organisms. A machine is something which can be taken apart and reordered, something which is the product of an act of engineering, and is therefore an organization with a governor. An organism is not made piecemeal, it grows and doesn’t have a governor. All the parts in an organism are in an orderly anarchy—that is to say, they govern themselves. And the Chinese word for nature, zìrán, means “that which is so of itself.” Therefore, that which functions without being pushed around by some external force. It is automatic, but not as we mean the word automatic. We mean a self-governing machine, and there’s a certain difference here.


So, the problem then is: if the Chinese—viewing the world as an organism—felt on the whole that it was wiser to restrain one’s interference with things—that is to say, there are certain situations in which the human being should simply lay hands off, there are other situations in which the human being collaborates with nature—but he does so by virtue of having great awareness of the field of forces in which he is situated. This takes us back, of course, to the point that I made right at the beginning: that you really are the field of forces in which your organism is situated. Self-realization is, in fact, realizing—as a sensuous experience—that you are that field of forces; that you are both your outside and your inside. Which, of course, leads us to something that we can experience but cannot define.


And we can’t define it for two reasons. One is: it’s too complicated. And another reason is—even deeper than that—it leads us to the root and ground of reality, that is to say, (I’m only speaking in analogical terms) the continuum in which all things exist which can’t be thought about as an object because it can’t be classified. You can’t say anything really meaningful about it at all. But it’s tremendously important to know that you’re it. That’s the real you. Because if you don’t know that you go crazy. You become dementedly absorbed in details, identifying yourself with a purely temporal—and, indeed, in some respects arbitrary—role which you’re playing, and you forget that even if you do lose your shirt in this game, it doesn’t matter in this round. Because at that level, there’s no winner and no loser.


So, the question we come to now is: well, how do you go about knowing the field of forces in which you live? How do you know which way the wind is blowing so that you can sail properly? When it isn’t as simple a matter as wetting your finger and holding it up, and see which side gets cold first—that’s where the wind’s coming from. Or is it as simple as that?


We know—or think we know—that nature is extraordinarily complicated, and so, very difficult to understand. And if you can’t understand a very complicated situation it’s immensely difficult to make decisions about it. But there is a point of view from which nature is not complicated. And that, to an educated Westerner, may sound quite astonishing. When Buddhists speak in their philosophy about the world of form and the world that is formless, these two categories correspond roughly to the world as complicated and the world as simple. What makes the world complicated is not its actual physical structure, but an attempt to understand it in a certain way.


When you ask, “How does it work? Why does it do it?” then you start analyzing a flower, a body, a geological structure, and you are asking the question, really, “How can I reproduce—in words or numbers—what is going on here?” in such a way that I can predict what it will do next. Now, the trouble with words and numbers is that they have some peculiar limitations. It takes time to read. It takes longer, still, to listen to a tape recording. And to scan a mathematical expression—again, it is something strung out in a line, and you have to think carefully to understand the various steps which have been taken.


So these are methods of breaking down the phenomena of nature into a code. These codes can be handled by computers with astonishing speed. But the part of the human mind which we are mainly concerned with, which is the conscious mind, can only handle them very slowly because the conscious mind has to work in terms of symbols—verbal and mathematical—which are really very clumsy. So that by the time we have really thought about something, it’s usually too late to do anything about it. The circumstances have changed. The crisis about which we had to make a decision has already happened, and therefore we have to act without the kind of preparation we think we ought to have and without the kind of knowledge we think we ought to have. Because we cannot comprehend the world in verbal patterns.


As a result of that we always feel frustrated. We think we’re supposed to comprehend the world that way, and manage it that way, and a lot of people are not satisfied until you’ve given them an explanation. But it should be obvious that there never will be an explanation—in those terms, in the terms of words—because you can talk about the simplest object in the world forever and not fully describe its attributes. Words have a use, but they only have that use when they are operating in subordination to a kind of understanding that doesn’t depend on words at all. Words are like claws on the end of an arm, and the claws are no good unless subordinate to the more subtle organization of the arm and the rest of the body. So words are the claws in which we tear life to pieces and arrange it in certain ways, just as you have to bite—and therefore separate—the bits of a piece of meat in order to digest them. So, to make the world digestible in a certain way, you need to claw it apart.


But actually, we do all kinds of acts of understanding along with words which are not contained in the words. A person, to get your point, does many, many nonverbal operations. For example, to read a book requires that I be able to see. And seeing is a nonverbal operation. When you try to put it into words you come up against barriers of all kinds. It is a very difficult thing to describe. But that’s only because you are trying to describe it in a difficult way. It’s the same problem if you want to unload the bathtub because the drain is stopped, and you take out the water with a fork—it will take forever. But if you bring in a pail it’ll be a lot faster. And there is something in trying to describe the world in words that is rather like trying to move water with a fork. It is efficient, in other words, for some purposes. But words—again, I point out: they communicate only to those who already know what you mean. “To him that hath shall be given.” And for that reason they’re convenient: because then we can remind each other, in common by words, of things that we already know.


But “water,” as a word, means nothing to people who haven’t experienced water. Once they have experienced it, the word is useful because it’s like using money instead of barter. I can discuss water with you without having to bring some into the room and show it to you. So words provide this kind of a shorthand. And very much, in so many ways, they have the advantages and disadvantages of money. Money helps us to transfer wealth, words help us to organize experience and communicate about it with each other. But beyond that, when we try to put our experience into words and—in terms of words—comprehend experience, then we run into insuperable difficulties.


Not so long ago, a professor at Harvard—in discussing the heresy of certain members of the faculty who were conducting experiments in terms of changed states of consciousness—said that no knowledge is academically respectable knowledge which cannot be put into words. I don’t know what became of the department of physical education at that point, but—or, not to mention, fine arts, and things like that, and music—but still, this is what he said. That’s what lots of people feel, people who are in the scientific and technological world—but obviously is a type of intelligence that is not verbal or computational intelligence.


The eye, the brain, the organization of a plant are obviously intelligent. What do I mean, “intelligent?” I say they’re obviously intelligent because anyone can see it. I would even go so far as to say they’re not products of intelligence—as if some intelligent fellow had been around and left this as a kind of track of his competence—the growth of a plant is intelligence itself. And intelligence is naturally something that, in words, would always escape definition in the same way as the nervous system, upon which intelligence depends, is incomprehensible even to the neurologist. We know intelligence when we see it because we say, “It’s fascinating. My, isn’t that tricky! How ingenious. What a wonderful organization. How beautiful!” And we recognize in patterns of nature that this has happened. So when you see a human being, and you say, “What a piece of work is man! This is extraordinary! The beauty of the eyes, the marvelous organization and coordination of the limbs.” But then you realize that this is you. But you don’t know how you work it—and you do work it.


So, what it comes to is this: that in your total organization and nervous system you are expressing a kind of intelligence that is—when looked at from the point of view of conscious analysis—unthinkably complex. And yet, from its own point of view, it’s perfectly simple because you don’t have to make an effort to see. You just see. You don’t have to make an effort to hear, the ear does it for you. You don’t have to make an effort to hold yourself together, the body holds you together. You do have to make an effort to get food, sometimes to keep warm, sometimes to defend yourself. So, some effort is always involved. And in a certain way, the heart, for example—which we don’t think about—it does work and it consumes energy, but you don’t have the sensation of making a decision every time your heart beats. Some, you see, people who are studying music, probably the wrong way, have to make a decision every time they play a note so as to stay on time and to play the right note. And then they get absolutely worn out because it’s decision after decision after decision, and there’s nothing more wearing than that. Because with every decision goes anxiety: was it the right decision?


There’s no way of avoiding that because if you’re going to decide—with the ordinary, responsible way of making decisions that we’re supposed to do—you never know whether you made a right decision or not until the event about which you’ve decided is past. Because you never know how much information you need to collect to make the right decision, whether you did indeed collect enough, and whether the information you collected was relevant. And also, you realize that every possible decision can be radically affected by unforeseeable variables such that you’ve completed a contract with a business corporation and everything is in order, but you had no means of knowing that the president of that corporation upon whom you depended was going to slip on a banana skin and have a serious accident. There would be no way whatsoever of foreseeing that eventuality. Should you have taken an insurance policy on him? How comprehensive can an insurance policy be? Is it worth taking out an insurance policy? What are the chances of unforeseeing events occurring of such significance and in such number that this sort of insurance policy is worthwhile and you’re not just wasting money on paying the premiums? In the long run—in the long run—all insurance is a swindle. You should read Ambrose Bierce’s book The Devil’s Dictionary: he has the most subtle and extremely logical demolition of insurance. But in the short run, in a kind of chance-y way, you see, it sometimes pays off.


But, you see, this is the problem—the anxiety with which we are faced—in trying to conduct our lives by the exercise of conscious will and control: we realize that it is really beyond our comprehension. We don’t understand. We cannot foresee all eventualities. And therefore, this sense of frustration through trying to control things gives us a feeling of existence which, for thousands of years, men have called The Fall. And the idea that there has been a fall, that something has been lost, is universal and very ancient. In the Taoist literature of China there are constant references to a sort of Golden Age. Lao-Tzu says, “When the great Tao lost”—in other words, when things did not always and automatically go in accordance with the course of nature—“there arose duty to man and right conduct. When the six family relationships fell apart, there was talk of filial sons and daughters, and faithful wives. When ministers became corrupt, then only did one hear of loyal ministers and wise councilors.


Now, therefore, when things have fallen apart, somebody gets up and starts preaching. And if there is one thing quite clear from history, it is that preaching does no one any good. It makes only hypocrites. Because if I tell you that you ought to be concerned, and you ought to be unselfish, and you ought to cooperate, and you ought to be responsible—and because I imply to you that you’re not—you will, in the first place, be resentful that I’ve had to tell you that, and you will feel guilty. But now you are under the impression that you really (and indeed, are) a separate self with the power to perform all these virtues, and you then go through the motions of doing what you were told to do in the sermon. You are—in this case, then—an egocentric and selfish person pretending that you aren’t. And the truth will always out because, in the long run, you will let down the people who are relying on you to be what you’re not. And we have the most subtle ways of letting people down while apparently going through the motions of doing exactly what they expect of us.


Yes: we can be so pure, but so cruel. So loving, but so demanding. So wise, but so dull. So that we take it out on others when we feel that we are forced into doing things for them that are against our own nature. And we do that invariably, but we do our very best not to be conscious of the way in which we do it, because that would puncture the whole balloon and show it up for a farce. And we can’t afford that.


So there is, then, this feeling of nostalgia for the Golden Age when we have the feeling that, once upon a time, at some point—and this may refer back to childhood, it may refer back to life in the womb, it may refer back to primitive conditions before the invention of language and writing and numbers—but somehow, there is a feeling that we get, especially from contemplating animals. They don’t worry very much. They seem to follow their nature. They don’t seem to go through a decision-making process, just as you don’t go through a decision-making process when you sneeze, or when you breathe, or when you blink. It just happens. And it’s just as well that it does.


So the thought occurs to us: would it not be possible to conduct our life in that way always? And instead of making these pathetic decisions on the basis of utterly incomplete information, wouldn’t there be some way in which we could manage to do the right thing—that is to say, to respond appropriately within the field of forces in which we are living and which we are—without these clumsy attempts to do so by force and by will? That, of course, is what Taoist philosophy is considering all the time. And it is trying to point out that there is, in fact, a way of living like that. Only: nobody will believe it because they’re scared out of their wits that it won’t work. And, of course, you have to ask all sorts of questions as to what you mean by “work.”


But surely it should be obvious that if you are organically intelligent enough to be able to see, isn’t there just the faint possibility that the kind of intelligence which enables you to perform the incomprehensible operation of seeing might also be of use if it could be canalized and invoked in solving other problems as well? Isn’t there a possibility, in other words, that the human brain is not a muscle, but a fantastic electronic contrivance—like a computer—which does not think in words, but thinks in terms of neurological operations which are never conscious? That is to say, they are never attended to in detail—that’s what consciousness is. In other words, that thinking is not… basically—only a small part of thinking is a verbal process. The greater part of thinking is a physical process. But it’s a highly organized process and, when thought about inwards, is a very, very complicated one. But we do it, and it’s the simplest thing in the world to do it because you don’t have to decide. That’s what you mean by simple. You don’t have to enter into the complexities.


Now, the proposition that this might be so—I have caused a professor to go completely blue in the face with rage at such a suggestion. That it seemed so—to him—anti-intellectual, undermining the whole nature and dignity of the academic professions, and so forth. But, really and truly, if human beings are to adapt themselves to the increasingly troublesome environment which they are creating, isn’t it possible that we are not really trusting ourselves or using ourselves to the full to come to an understanding of our problems? You say—a lot of people say, “Oh, well that sounds like the people who simply say, ‘Oh, ask God to help you and he’ll do it. He’ll think it out. He knows.’” But that’s not the case, you see? The case is: it’s asking you to do it. But if you have started out with a definition of yourself which really has very little to do with you at all—which is this kind of joke that you are an ego, and that you are some sort of being inside a bag, and that you’re in control, and that you’re the boss of this bag (or at least, supposed to be) in the same way as the chauffeur in charge of the car or the engineer who makes the machine. You might possibly be that if you knew how the whole thing was constructed. But the whole point is: you don’t. But if you could revise your view of yourself—who you are—and realize that you are the field of forces with their patterning and with their incredible intelligence, and you trust yourself to decide. To respond, in other words, spontaneously to a situation instead of going through this whole thing of “what is the right thing to do?”


But, you see, if you have been brought up in a civilization inured to the doctrine of Original Sin, you cannot possibly trust yourself. In fact, you see, what happens is this: we know that an airline pilot is a fallible being. And when he’s driving a jet things are happening much too fast for him to make up his mind if he has to make a decision. And therefore, increasingly, we put in all sorts of automated decision-making machines on a jet plane. Eventually, the pilot loses his confidence in himself more and more, because he doesn’t know how the damn thing works—he’s just sitting there. And the famous story about the time when we have supersonic rockets, and you get on board, and a tape recorder says, “You are now taking off for London, where we will be arriving in half an hour. All facilities on this aircraft are fully automated. There is no chance of human error and, therefore, no need to worry—to worry—to worry—to worry—to worry—”


But, you see, we can do a rather good job in eliminating error by use of the computer in rather limited circumstances. Why? Because the computer, as it develops, is more like a nervous system than it is like a linguistic system. In other words, it is able to deal with ever so many operations at once, and to synthesize them. And words can’t do that. Words have to go along a single track. Now then, if the brain is still far more sophisticated than any computer we can yet construct, what is the limitation on human skill is that a human being isn’t using his brain in the right way. He’s not really using it to the full at all, except in some peculiar beings whom we call geniuses. And the funny thing about geniuses is they cannot explain why they are geniuses. They can’t teach it. Here is a case in Zhuang Zhou’s book of a wheelwright: he makes the most beautiful wheels, and the trick of a wheel is to get it to fit the axle. It mustn’t be so loose that it wobbles, and it mustn’t be so tight that it sticks. It has to have just the right thing. And he says, “Here I have been doing this for years, but I do not know how I do it. So I can’t teach my son, and so I’m still working when I’m 75 years old.” And this is an eternal problem of all fine craftsmen and skilled people. They cannot explain how it is done.


This was my problem as a small boy in school. Because, when I started out in school—around when I was seven, eight, nine years old—I was considered stupid. Because I always failed in examinations and got terrible marks. But at the same time I was absolutely fascinated with the bookish process. I collected books, I loved books, I loved the smell of books, I liked the look of them. But nobody really got across what you were supposed to do with them. I mean, I could read them. I used to think, well—they used to say, “You don’t work!” You know, like saying, “This watch doesn’t work!” I said to the teachers, “I want to work very badly, but how do you do it?” They had no explanation. So I used to look at exemplars of intelligence, some of the teachers whom I admired, and I thought maybe I can find out how to do it by imitating the way they do their handwriting, or by wearing clothes the way they wear them, or by making the same sort of gestures, or by speaking in that sort of way. That, by some sort of sympathetic magic, I would acquire the mysterious power which I seemed to lack.


In the same way, I remember from childhood, again, that our nurses in a hospital, sanitariums, or homes had a very, very peculiar anxiety about constipation. In fact, that was about the criterion of health; was that you were not constipated. Therefore, you had to do your duty—as they called it—every day. And if you didn’t, there was a graduated series of punishments. It started with a concoction called California Syrup of Figs. It went next to a thing called senna tea. It went next to cascara. And finally, to castor oil, which is disgusting stuff. The trouble is that, if they resort to that, you get back in a vicious circle because the whole muscular system is upset, and so you begin all over again.


Now, the mistake that they all made was to issue a commandment to the conscious mind to achieve a result which the conscious mind is perfectly incapable of producing. The conscious mind has nothing to do with whether you’re constipated or not. That has to do with the unconscious. Or, I prefer to call it the superconscious, because it’s a lot more clever than the conscious mind is—and, indeed, a great deal more trustworthy. Only, we don’t believe that because we believe in original sin. And therefore, the unconscious can’t be trusted, and if it wants to take a day off or so from going to the bathroom, we think it’s sinful; there’s something wrong with it. And that attitude, you see, that was reflected in this rather trivial little illustration, ran through everything. You must love us! You must be free! You must make the right decision! It’s up to you. You’ve gotta do it. See?


Well, of course, as a result of that, one of two things happens. Most people simply lose their nerve. They realize: “I’ve got to make the right decision, but I can’t!” Therefore, they drop out; they become the sort of people who just say, “The whole thing is just too much. It’s absurd.” And they become low-grade intelligences, or so we think. Then there’s another kind of people who grit their teeth, they pull themselves together, and they resolutely smash into this way of existence, and they get rewarded accordingly—that is to say, they get more and more power. They succeeded in this game of being God, and so society rewards them, you see, by saying, “Well, you be president. You be this. You be that. You be the other thing.” Looks fine. Looks great. Everything’s going beautifully. But we’ve only seen the beginning of it. As it goes on, they say, “Well, hmmm. You’ve got to control this. Got to control that. You didn’t think of that one before, did you? You know, we can avoid a mistake if we get that under control.” We get this one fixed, then say, “Now, wait a minute. I can’t think about all that. We’re going to hand all that problem to this computer which we’ve got here. We’ll keep an eye on that one corner and we’ll get that deciding about this.”


And so, all these aids to intelligence come along, but at the center of it all is a guy who thinks he’s in charge with his conscious intellect. And so, soon, he begins to feel more and more responsible. And because he’s making a mess anyhow—I mean, just imagine being the president of the United States! You don’t know where you’re going, you’ve got all these decisions to make, you haven’t got any private life at all because there’s a telephone here and a Secret Service man there and a secretary there, and a this, and a that. And here it goes. But whatever you do, it doesn’t make the slightest difference. Everybody’s objecting; everybody’s saying, “You mustn’t do it that way! You forgot this! You are a so-and-so!” And they call you names and everything. The only way of insulating yourself to that is to plug your ears. But then you can’t get any information at all. Cut off the phone, you know? But then you’re stuck.


Because, you see, this is the fate that comes to anybody who tries to be God in the wrong way. Everybody is God, actually, so there’s no need to try to be. But the moment somebody tries to be, that means he wants to be God from the standpoint of the very limited faculty of conscious thinking and deciding, which is a very clumsy agency for controlling what happens in the world. You’re never going to be God that way. Because if God—just figure it out—if God had to think about every motion that a gnat made with its wings in order to see that it happened, boy would he be tired! What a nervous breakdown that would be. Well, you can say, “Only God can do it,” but it’s a way of saying the whole conception is nonsense. Things like that aren’t handled that way. Things like that are handled the way you and your body handle things: which is that they organize themselves without thinking about it. That is to say, they have an intelligence, but it’s not verbal intelligence, it’s not linear intelligence. It’s multi-dimensional, multi-variable intelligence wherein everything altogether everywhere is happening all at once. And if we don’t reacquaint ourselves, shall I say, with that kind of intelligence, we’re going to be in trouble.


Now, you see, the point is: we have it. It’s all there. But we don’t give it a chance. Let’s take in social intercourse, see? We’re very, very controlled. When somebody—you see, conversation goes on in a linear pattern. And it’s a game. Somebody suddenly changes the subject. Now, that creates a small social crisis because they say, “Wait a minute, we weren’t talking about that. You interrupted.” So, in order to protect ourselves against that you, say, you wait for a slight pause and say “Ahem, excuse me for changing the subject, but…” And that indicates that you know—that they are not to take you for a madman who thinks associatively instead of logically, in a linear development. Now, what happens if you change the rules and you put a group of people together for conversation and say, “Say anything comes into your head.” Well, that sounds like free association in psychoanalysis, doesn’t it? And what about saying to somebody, “free associate?” It blocks them, because they suddenly go blank. Which is a warning: don’t move because you can’t trust yourself. Don’t move. Go blank. So, to help you along, the analyst says, “Did you dream anything last night?” Oh, that’s alright. “Yes, I did have a dream.” I tell the story of my dream, which is a way of kidding yourself. You are making a statement through a dream for which you’re not held responsible—because it was only a dream. You can, through that, say something about yourself without admitting that you’re saying anything about yourself. And without your—you did the free associating in the dream, you see? The dream was an associative process of thinking rather than a logical one, and you can describe it because it’s safely passed; it’s not happening now.


Then he can, perhaps, draw you out a little further and say, “Now, what do you think about that dream?” Well, if the analyst is a Freudian, you know what to think about the dream. All long things are one thing, and all round things are another, and it’s as simple as that. If you’re a Jungian it’s not so easy; if the analyst is a Jungian it’s much more complicated. But he’d help you out, saying, “Well, it’s up to you. I don’t know what these things mean in your dream. But when you think of a particular image that occurred in the dream—which was a certain friend of yours, say—what does that fellow mean to you?” And he tries to get you to see that the person you dreamed about actually represents an aspect of yourself. You didn’t have a dream about that actual, objective person out there, but he stands for something in you which you associate with him. So, gradually, associative thinking is drawn out from you.


Then, another thing to do is draw pictures. That’s pretty safe. Just draw anything. Well, you draw a lot of meaningless stuff, you know, and bloo-loo-loo-loo-loo for a while, and then gradually use it as a Rorschach blot. And things begin to come out. But all this is coaxing people, you see? But in a situation where you are directly verbalizing spontaneously, it’s very embarrassing because words are tremendously powerful in a social scene. People can be blown to pieces with words in just nothing flat. Say the wrong word and everybody blushes, just like that. I’ve produced a complete neurological-physiological reaction with nothing but words! So it’s dangerous to get away from the order of words and communicate with people in an unstructured way. Because that’s, to some extent, what happens in tea groups where—or things like the Synanon game—where people are somehow encouraged to say anything they like. But it would get way out indeed if, instead of saying to somebody, “After all, when I look at you, you really annoy me. Something about the expression in your face which I can’t stand.” You know? That can become a stereotype; you can go on with that kind of argument. Kind of mutually embarrassing game until it merely becomes a ritual.


But let’s suppose that, instead of that, we just started talking nonsense. Or anything goes. It might suddenly stop being nonsense, or at any minute change into nonsense. So that we would immediately withdraw, you see? Say, “Oh, that can’t go on.” But, on the other hand, if we don’t withdraw, we say “Well, all this is going to be words anyway, and there’s nothing much that they can do to us. So let’s see what happens.” Then, if we don’t withdraw, people begin to feel at ease. That, after all, I can trust myself to behave in a non-egocentric way without harming others, without creating murder and mayhem and bloodshed, without stealing people’s things. And suddenly, when a group discovers that it can have that kind of lalling, pentecostal, glossolalia bit with each other, there’s some possibility they might love each other. That’s why this has been done in certain spiritual circles for a long time.


And this is why, in Zen Buddhism, there is this game of challenge and response, where you are put in a situation where, if you stop to think what to do, you’ve lost and you’re out. And you have to try again. But you never really know what the situation you’re going to have to respond to is going to be. So, once upon a time, there was a master who posed a kōan to one of his students. And a student gave a certain answer, and the master accepted it. The master’s assistant, after this student had left, said to the master, “I’m doubtful about whether he really understood the point there.” The master said, “Oh, really?” He said, “Why don’t you try him again?” The master said, “Yes, I will.” So the student came back the following day and he put the same problem to him. And the student responded the same way. The master said, “No, no! That’s wrong.” But the student said, “But you said yesterday that it was right.” He said, “I know. Yesterday it’s right, today it’s wrong.”


Because, you see, every situation is different. It’s always changing. And the point is to respond in a way that is appropriate to the field of forces as it is now. And you cannot tell intellectually, you can’t tell by analysis, you can’t tell by a process of conscious criticism what the structure of the field of forces is. Your body knows, your brain can find out. But not through conscious attention and formulation in words. But if you don’t trust your brain to be able to find out, you will fumble and you will do silly things. And since you have been habitually brought up not to trust your brain to find out, to get into a pattern of trying to behave spontaneously is, of course, to run the danger of making a great fool of yourself. And that, of course, is indeed what happens in a great many experiments in the arts where people think they’re going to paint spontaneously, they’re going to make spontaneous noises with a musical instrument, they’re going to dance spontaneously, they’re going to have non-plays on the stage—or happenings—where anything goes. By and large, these things are colossal failures and are completely boring. And it’s perfectly understandable why: that, namely, they’re being done by people who don’t really trust themselves and who are doing this in a background of self-mistrust. And who have never, in other words, cultivated—because it is a kind of a discipline to trust yourself and let it happen.


But, you see, when you get a great comedian working, you can’t really train to be a great comedian. I mean, how would you go about it? Would you read all available jokes and memorize them? Would you study the great comedians of the past? Remember all their gags, gestures, expressions? The point is: if you did that, everybody would think you were corny. They would say, “Oh, that’s just Mark Twain again.” Or whatever. W. C. Fields; it’s his gag. The whole point of a comedian is the element of surprise, the unforeseen joke that nobody expected. The thing that really has people laughing is what they just didn’t quite expect.


Now, the ability to put this over is something that you either—apparently, you either have it or you don’t. And you—also—you have to do it in a situation where you don’t know what’s coming up yourself. You could be a comedian, in the terms that you’ve got a script and you’ve learned your lines, and the script was written by a genius, and you’re a good actor and it’s very funny. But if you’re in a real comedian situation where people in the audience are interacting with you and, in other words, the situation is unstructured, the real genius is the one who can pull the gags just like that, as if, indeed, they are ad-libbed. That man has got his genuine intelligence working for him.


But so, we come back to the point, then, that the genius is unable to say how he manages to do it. He can say, “Oh, well, yes. I do a lot of hard work.” All geniuses do. But that’s not the cause of it. It goes along with it; it’s a kind of necessary accompaniment of the art rather than the cause of the art. Because one uses work to polish something which was a gem in the first place, you see? When you write poetry, it’s a lot of work to get it; exact melody and beauty of words takes hours. But you had to have something there in the first place that wasn’t simply the polishing, it was the gem. So that the coming forth of such gems, in the same way as a cure for constipation, is something that requires trust in one’s own inherent and original intelligence.


This was what the Zen master Bankei calls your unborn mind. That is a way of saying the mind that you have, that is not individualized, that is not personalized, that is not the ego. And he would say to people, “When you hear something go caw, you know immediately it’s a crow. When you hear something go ding, you know at once it is a bell.” And when he was once heckled by one of those Nichiren priests—you know, they are very fanatical Buddhists; they run the Sōka Gakkai movement—this priest said (standing right at the back of the audience) he said, “I don’t understand a word you’re saying.” And Bankei said, “Come closer and I’ll explain it to you.” And he moved in. And he said, “Closer, still. Still, closer.” The man came forward. And he got right up to the platform. Bankei said, “How well you understand me!”


So, in the same way, once a military man was with a Zen master and he said to the master, “I’ve heard this story that there was a man who kept a goose in a bottle, and it grew so large that he couldn’t get it out. Now, he didn’t want to hurt the goose and he didn’t want to break the bottle, so how does he get it out?” And the Zen master changed the subject. So, finally, the military man—the officer—got up to leave. And just as he got his hand on the screen to go out, the master said, “Oh, officer?” And he turned and said, “Yes?” The master: “There! It’s out!”


Of course, if I say to you, “Hello!” or “I say!” you say, “Yes, what is it?” See? You don’t stop, you don’t hesitate. You don’t think, “What mischief is up here? What could he be planning?” You just respond. And the response is, in this case, perfectly appropriate. Now, you could say this is just habit. True, there is habit. And there are responses that are conditioned, fed into people. But we saw that that doesn’t work for the comedian. He needs something more than habit. And you’ve often had the experience of finding yourself in a crisis where you somehow managed to act intelligently though there was no time to decide. Driving a car, or something, you know? Suddenly, your own being comes to your aid. Well, that—of course—is the whole thing.


But the basis of it is to realize not that this is something sort of rather heroic, which one really ought to try to do—as if there were some other possibility, as if it would be safer not to do that, as if we could sit back here and say, “Oh, now, let’s not get mixed up with that adventure! Let’s be safe and rational, and believe in original sin and mistrust ourselves.” If we do that, we are finished. We go straight—by that method, with the kind of technology we have—we go straight into the totalitarian state and all that goes with it. The total police state: everything’s gotta be controlled. Somebody’s going to win at the God-game. And the end of that—of course, as everybody knows—is: every great totalitarian state destroys itself because it becomes too rigid, and it consumes itself with its own fury and frustration; it has to take itself, it’s hostility, out upon itself.


So, actually, it isn’t a question that this is something that we really ought to do, or that to have faith in one’s self is virtuous, or something—you know—like psychologically integrated, and you hope you can be more psychologically integrated than the other people you know. It isn’t like that at all. It’s something that you really cannot avoid. That you, actually—although one, you know, sort of doesn’t believe it—you do do it all the time. Only, when it comes to your attention, then you think you should. But when it doesn’t come to your attention you are functioning intelligently without thinking. When it does come to your attention you say, “I’d better not do that.” It’s like, you know, we work for certain bosses. And, you know, one thing you mustn’t do, if you could possibly get away with it, is never ask their advice. Go ahead and do your job. But if you take it to them and say, “Should I do it this way or that?” then, suddenly, everything is held up while they think about it. And then they can’t make up their minds. They go this way and they go that way, and they say, “No.” Don’t ask. Just go ahead and do it. And it’ll save the boss so much time, and it’ll stop him worrying, and prevent him from having ulcers.


So, in the same way, there are a certain kind of people want to know whether something’s legal. And the best advice is usually: don’t ask. Because there’s a saying in Zen: “Officially, not even a needle is permitted to pass. Unofficially, a carriage and six horses can get through.” So if the law is not challenged and asked to make a decision on this—forget it! You can probably get away with it. So, in the same way, again, if you realize that trusting in your own organic skill and intelligence is something you can’t really avoid. You can try to avoid it and get mixed up. You can get so mixed up that, if you cannot—if you say, if you think you can’t trust yourself, then it follows that that idea itself is untrustworthy because it’s one of your ideas. If you think you can’t trust your brain, how can you trust the logic which your brain makes possible? And this logic is so simple and, therefore, so clumsy in dealing with the subtle complexity of our world and of the field of forces in which we live.


So, you cannot let go, you know? You say, “Now I’m going to let go,” see? “Today I’m going to let go,” see? Don’t do it that way. You remember that you can’t hold on. That’s the only way to let go. You can’t hold on; there’s nothing to hold on to, no one to hold it. It’s all one system, one energy.

Alan Watts

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