Ecological Awareness (Part 4)


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.

References:
00:00

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.

02:07

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.

03:21

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

04:44

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?

05:19

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.

06:33

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.

07:46

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.

09:05

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.

10:46

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.

12:43

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.

13:53

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.

14:57

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.

16:51

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?

18:32

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.

20:24

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.

22:13

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.

23:43

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.

24:34

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.

25:41

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 do you mean by ‘work?’

26:46

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.

28:36

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?”

31:00

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—”

32:25

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.

34:22

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 seem to lack.

35:49

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.

36:59

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?

38:17

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.”

39:46

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.

40:58

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.

42:38

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.

45:07

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 [???] to 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.

46:19

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.

47:47

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.

49:26

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.”

50:52

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.

52:44

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.

53:52

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.

54:46

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.

56:13

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!”

57:35

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!”

58:22

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.

59:41

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 on itself.

1:01:07

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.

1:02:36

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.

1:04:24

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.



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