Future of Communications

Part 2

Watts suggests that the essence of communication lies not in its content, but in its style—a joyous dance akin to music. He argues that the seemingly irrelevant and meaningless aspects of life, so cherished by children, may hold the key to true wisdom. By embracing the absurdity and spontaneity of existence, we can rediscover the art of living and find delight in the grand cosmic play.



When we communicate, what are we really communicating about? What is the content of communication? Because, you see, McLuhan has come up with a very strange idea: that the medium itself is the message. Or, putting it in a punny way to make it clearer: the medium is the massage. Not so much, therefore, finally, the content of what is being said is the thing you’re getting over, but what you’re getting over is the way of saying it. So we have to go into what it is, finally, that we are communicating about when we communicate. What do we want to tell our friends, our other people, our other selves?


Now, I had a great deal of trouble really sympathizing with McLuhan’s point of view, especially in what he has to say about television, where he feels that the medium of television is highly participative and that the mosaic technique of bringing the image across onto the television screen is something entirely different, say, from a film or from a painting. He expresses the notion that television is more tactile than visual, and therefore it involves you as the sense of touch involves you, you see, because touch is the fundamental sense. All the five senses are specializations of the sense of touch. So when you see, you’re touching light. When you hear, you’re touching air. And when you taste and smell—especially in smell—you’re touching gas; the quality of gas. And finally, with your fingers you have—in a way, the most primitive sense; the sense that is least acute in its differentiations—but nevertheless, you see, all of them are forms of touch.


And so you could say—as the Buddhists say—there is one sense behind all our senses. They have a sixth sense. For example, they use the word vijñāna, which means “consciousness.” And they have “nose consciousness,” “eye consciousness,” “ear consciousness,” “touch consciousness,” “taste consciousness.” Five. But behind that they have manavijñāna, which means “mind consciousness”—that is to say, the unifying of the senses so that you will put together the sight of fish and the smell of fish and be able to integrate them and say, “Well, this is a single experience. The fish looks so and smells so. Touch is so.” And so, by the integration of the senses all being forms of touch, you can, of course, eventually come to a state of consciousness where you can hear colors and see sounds if you are very, very sensitive indeed.


So you might say, then, that all communication is information. But I want to show you that straight information is not the final thing we’re trying to communicate. You see, we live, now, in a culture where there is great disagreement about the values of life. What do we live for? There is no consensus. Because all the religions—which, you know, where the philosophy is which gave us what life is supposed to be all about—they’re all fragmented. And so, being no common religion, there is no common view as to what life is about. In default of that common view there is—especially in the academic world, where people think out ethical and political problems—a tacit agreement that the highest value we have that we can all agree upon is survival value. And therefore, naturally, when we communicate messages which have to do with survival (i.e. where to find the food, where to avoid the enemy) then one says we are communicating about essentials.


During the war—World War II—a friend of mine was in the office of the president of Northwestern University, and he had a number of watercolors around his office. And he said to this friend of mine, “Well, now that we’re at war”—waving his hand at the paintings— “all this is irrelevant.” We come down to essentials. Is this trip really necessary? Is this trip really necessary? In other words, what do you mean when you say, “Is this trip really necessary?” When you say “essentials,” priority is given to essential industries in war. They are the industries of survival. Because we got it into our common sense—even though we may not have intended to do this—but it is fundamentally established in our common sense that survival is the thing that is good. While there is life there is hope.


And this, of course, is a really asinine point of view, because it is not. Survival—just going on—that we want. Yes, we want survival, but survival in a certain way. That is to say, in a certain style. And you will therefore see that, in the end, that while there is always a survival content in communication (so far as that communication is information), what is finally more valued about communication than this survival value information is the style in which it’s given. It’s just in the same way as lovemaking. Finally, when it comes down to it, what do you want to say to the person? I love you. What are you going to communicate? An engineer would say when you say “I love you” it means that we’re going to do reproduction, and therefore continue the race. But that’s not the point at all! It’s obvious that it’s not. What are children for? Just to continue? No. They’re to be loved. And how do you love things? You stroke them. You give them a massage. If it moves, fondle it!


And so it is, finally—what you are communicating to someone you love is a rhythm. Whether it’s the rhythm of sexual intercourse or whether it’s the rhythm of dancing or whether it’s the rhythm of verbal play—as in telling a story or in singing a song—what you’re communicating is a sort of caressing rhythm which says to you, “I’m so glad you’re here and that you can receive my communication.” Which is about nothing. Only to say, “In this way of a dancing with you, I love you.” And that’s really what it’s all about.


So then, you see, the Buddhists call that factor of communication “suchness.” For example, when we talk, you understand my words because each word that I use has a meaning. And so the words that I use refer to something other than themselves. So I use these symbols and you get what I’m talking about. Now listen carefully. What does that mean? That I communicate meaning to you by words is a situation. Now, what’s the meaning of that situation? And you meditate a little bit on that and you discover that it has no meaning at all. A cloud has no meaning because it isn’t a symbol. It’s what we call the thing. The word “cloud,” the sound “c-l-o-u-d” means that. But what does that mean? You see, it’s not a word. So it doesn’t mean anything. A cloud is jazz. It’s part of the dance of the universe. And so, likewise, when I make sense to you and you say it makes sense to me, we have a kind of interlocking that would correspond, perhaps, to a spider’s web where various rings of thread are joined to rings of thread inside rings of thread. It’s joined together. So we join together by talking, see? We play together by talking. But what that all means is: some kind of jazz. And that’s suchness.


In the practice of meditation the most important thing is to get down to suchness in everything that goes on. A great Japanese Zen master, when he was about to die, wrote a poem which said “From the bathtub to the bathtub I have uttered stuff and nonsense.” In other words, the bathtub in which the baby is washed at birth and the bathtub in which the corpse is washed before burial. Alpha to omega, maternity ward to crematorium. “All this time,” he said, “I’ve talked only nonsense.”


And this is part of the whole thing of Zen: to be able to hear all voices, all communications, all gestures, all shapes, all sensations whatsoever in their fundamental form as lalling. When the baby starts to talk in the beginning, it speaks what [???] called the natural language. And he says that man, at his fall—talking about the fall of Adam—lost the natural language. And the natural language is understood by birds and beasts, because they speak it. Because a lot of what birds say is not communicative in our ordinary sense of delivering information. Some of it delivers information, but a great deal of what they say doesn’t deliver any communication, it is just playing with sound. And a great deal of what we do is playing with sound.


I’m particularly aware of this as a philosopher, because a lot of people will be very critical of what I say and say, “You don’t really make any sense at all. You sound as if you do, but you beguile and hoodwink the public into thinking that you have got something important to say, and all you’re doing is making noises!” And I say, “Granted, that’s absolutely true. But if I make interesting noises and manage to make a play of ideas that is in some way musical, see? Fascinating. People say, ‘Well…’.” It’s the same sort of thing that we enjoy out of looking at a mountain or watching waves or the flight of birds. Because it’s this dance.


You may remember that, this morning, I described the situation as follows: I’m talking to you, and you understand what my words mean. Situation A. Situation B is: taking situation A as a whole—my talking to you and you understanding what I mean—what does that situation mean? And we find it doesn’t mean anything. This could be a way—when we say something is meaningless it’s a way of putting it down. But on the other hand, when you consider a mountain or a cloud or a tree and ask, “What does it mean?” and you realize it’s not a word, it’s simply an authentic existence in its own right. It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s great. And so, in this way, the nearest thing in that kind of achievement that nature does all the time in human activities is music.


Once, when Gustav Holst was giving a lecture on music, he started out this way: he said, “Music is a natural and universal language.” He took a step backwards and said, “That’s so important I’m going to say it again. Music is a natural and universal language.” But nobody knows what it’s about.


Sometimes we say music represents emotions. But a great deal of music, although it has a very strong feeling quality, does not represent specific emotions. Inferior music copies natural noises: the sound of water, the thunder of the hooves of horses, or (in that dreadful composition, the 1812 Overture of Tchaikovsky) you hear Napoleon’s armies retreating from Moscow. Or in some of the bad work of Debussy. Like La Cathédrale engloutie makes noises like bells tolling from under the water. But our very great musicians of the West—Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, and so on—they don’t do anything with the music except create elaborate patterns of sound. Bach is very mathematical and yet, curiously, despite his tremendously developed intellect, the music has a very strong feeling quality; joyous and exuberant. But it’s all pure play with sound.


And therefore, one might say the communication that you make with music is, in a curious way, the most important kind of communication you can make—even though you’re saying nothing. The music delivers no information. But what a form of communication! And so it is also with dancing with somebody: all you are saying with dancing is, “I love you”—if you’re delivering any message at all. “I want to play with you.” “All I really want to do is, baby, be friends with you!” What does it mean? What is the content of friendship? You can’t say. What is the content of love? I want to screw you? That’s sort of part of it. It’s incidental. It’s a way of saying very strongly, “Yes, I do want to be with you.”


But basically, love is something we can’t put our finger on at all. We use such words as warmth, tenderness. All these things—they don’t really get to the point. When you are loving somebody, you are simply delighting in that person as such. As if another human organism—in its mental and its physical aspects—were a piece of music or a work of art or a glorious morning; that you were just enjoying every inch of it. And you go over another person’s physical form, and look at it from every possible point of view, and play with it and tickle it. And that’s what it’s about. It’s the adoration of the form of a human being. And you do that adoring in terms of physical contacts that are, say, dancing with your fingers across the skin, or whatever it may be. But this is the nitty-gritty, the nub, of love. It is not that I, here and now, solemnly undertake to support you for the rest of your life. That’s a delusion of the West. You think you don’t really love me unless you’ll sign on the dotted line here give me this contract, and then I know I can rely on you always. What did you want it for? Why did you want the contract? Just to be fed indefinitely? Just to be supported indefinitely? What a bore! One wants something much more than that. You want to be played with indefinitely. That’s more like it. To have this vibrancy going through you.


And this, then, is why music—of all the arts—is the most meaningless art. After all, music is a major industry in the United States. The money invested in orchestras, in operas, in the recording business is fantastic. It’s—horse racing is a very great industry, but music, I think, probably absorbs more millions than horse racing. And you could make a case that this was a complete dissipation. It solves no useful purpose, it doesn’t help anyone to survive, it is a noise; meaningless noise, endless meaningless noise going down the drain. And all these energies of orchestras, or all the power of electronics that delivers this, is total waste! And people get hooked on it. They get the thing called chorditis, which is addiction to harmonics. And they have to have this repeated day after day. Some people get up in the morning and they can’t function until they’ve had cup of coffee. But many more people get up in the morning and can’t function until they turned on the radio and got some music.


And what would you say, then, of a culture which took this standpoint: music not allowed. Music is a diversion from reality. You know, that kind of awful, utilitarian attitude—but really, one of the basic things, you see, that we live for. What makes it worth surviving and going on is there can be such a thing as music, there can be dancing. In other words, that we can do things that are absolutely irrelevant so far as mere survival is concerned. Now, we have the proverb that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Dull for work. And people who play—justifying their play by making it a means to that end—those people never play. Because you don’t really play until you get so absorbed in the music—or the dancing, or the whatever you’re making; the part of doing, the calligraphy—until you get so absorbed in that there is no reason for it other than what you’re doing. The sheer delight of that. Then—because you are absorbed in something for which there is no ulterior motive, and which is pure play—this, by way of a byproduct, produces sanity. In other words, if you play in order to be healthy, in order to be sane, you’re not playing. But if you play just to play, then, as a byproduct, as something you couldn’t aim at directly, you are sane.


And so a culture which allows for this, which allows for this sort of goofing, is a healthy culture. This is not the culture that we live in, because it is extremely anxious about play. Everybody, when they play, they have to find an excuse for it. They say, “Well, this is culture.” You try and persuade the city of San Francisco to support its opera. What sort of propaganda do you have to use? You can’t say, “We should have a good opera house because we just like going to be opera.” You say, “This improves the city’s image.” After all, they have it in New York.


And that is because we do not allow ourselves the idea that life is not serious. Because somehow we feel if you aren’t engaged in something serious you’re a loafer. You’re not contributing to the social welfare. And so, in this way, the artist has a peculiar role in this society. Very, very interesting. Because the artist is a very deceptive fellow. He appears to be the supreme luxury, the irrelevant fellow. You can afford an artist, you can afford to buy paintings, if you have surplus money. That’s a luxury. So you can support an artist, and we call it “fine arts.” The completely useless person who makes paintings—which are sort of big labels or posters that you stick on your utilitarian walls to decorate them.


But on the other hand, the artist is the man who shows you the future long before everybody else sees it. The artist is the eye opener. Just because the artist is distinct in role from the preacher and the philosopher, the artist can get away with all sorts of things. For example, in our culture, if you’re a university professor, a doctor, or a minister—these three professions: teacher, doctor, minister—you have to be very careful about your private life. Because the moment you have any alliances that are not quite regular, people’s tongues begin to wag. And why do they wag? Because they say, “The way you behave is inconsistent with your profession, with what you profess. You are teaching people the good life, the healthy life. And you live in this disreputable way. You have a mistress. You have something or other going on.” But the moment an artist should take a mistress, this is what is expected of him. Everybody says, “Oh, he’s an artist.” In other words: he doesn’t matter. He’s irrelevant. He is an entertainer; some sort of clown. But on the other hand, if you belong to a high culture, you patronize artists. See?


So the role of the artist is very fascinating. Because he appears to be the clown, the jester, the absolutely unimportant and irrelevant person. And yet, it’s actually through the artist that we learn how to live. Not through the preacher, not through the philosopher, not through the professor. It is the artist who teaches us, whether he does it visually with painting or sculpture, tactually, or whether, above all, in music.


So a man like Mozart, who could well claim to be the greatest man in European history, was a kind of a gay, happy-go-lucky fellow. With problems—money, illness, et cetera. But what a songbird, what a nightingale! And so, then, to this day, listening to Mozart—as, in England, the Glyndebourne opera—this is about the farthest-out fashionable aristocratic thing you can do, to go to this lovely country house in Sussex and hear the Mozart operas. It’s as much a matter of status as going to church. Almost more so.


You should read—if you can get hold of it—an interview with George Harrison, one of the Beatles, in a recent issue of the East Village Other where he explains the deep philosophy of music that they understand and follow. How the the very nature of sound reveals the meaning of the world and why, because of this, he regards himself as a Hindu. In Hinduism, the fundamental source of life is called vāḍ. Vāḍ, in Sanskrit, means the word “to speak,” but not so much the word that communicates—as the sound, the utterance, the flow of tone. So you have, in India, the use of mantra, the use of chanted words, as one of the very basic forms of yoga—understanding the mystery of the world. The Hindus use the word ohm, which would be spelled out a-u-m. Because the letter A—“ah”—is in the back of the throat. You push it through the vowel to “aummm,” and “m” is at the lips. So the word “ohm” comprehends the whole range of sound. It’s called the praṇava. And ohm simply means—well, it is the sound. All sounds are basically the sound ohm, but varied. The word that not only signifies but also is what there is. Everything is ohm. Ohm sweet ohm! The whole universe is this ohm.


So this is a very good word, because you can use it instead of “God.” God has all sorts of nasty associations attached to it—the political boss of the world, the preacher, the prig, the nosy Parker in charge of everything, the rotten grandfather, and all that; the sentimental mother of the world, or whatever it is. And the word “God,” therefore, is a distasteful word, now, to most Westerners. But ohm has no associations with it. I mean, you might have encountered it in a Vedanta society and associated it with swamis in yellow robes, or something. But, on the whole, ohm has no association, and so it is a clean word and it has no meaning. Except it is the very pulse of life.


So I’m spreading a rumor. In Buddhism, you know, there is a mantram: Aum mani padme hum. And “Aum” means nothing, except everything. “Mani” means: a jewel. “Padme” is a Lotus. “Hum” is hooray. You know? So: “the jewel in the lotus.” In other words, imagine a mandala—you see, which is a lotus flower—with all those petals spreading out from it, and right bang in the middle of that there is a little crystal ball or a diamond. And you look into that, and it contains the reflection of everything in it, you see? You go way, way, way into that thing, and down, down, down, down, you know? And that’s the ultimate turn-on.


So “ohm,” and at the end, “hum.” Or H-U-M. You can say “hum” in English. Hum. You hum. There’s a new religion existing called “hum.” And this religion has no hierarchy, no organization, no doctrines whatsoever. No words. Only music and ritual. And we will find, in a little while, that “hum” is really what most people belong to. But you can’t pin it down. There is no address to write to, there’s nothing to join. It’s just something that people do. Like, they shave, and brush their teeth, and eat breakfast. So they hum.


Well now, it’s very, very fascinating for purposes of understanding music as communication. To look, for a moment, at different fundamental differences between Western and Oriental music. I know a very, very great musicologist who thoroughly understands the world of Bach and Beethoven and is one of the greatest scholars of music I’ve ever run into. But to his ear, Hindu music is childish and he sees no subtlety in it. He’s quite deaf. But when it comes to Chinese and Japanese music, most Westerners are flabbergasted. They can’t make any sense of it at all, because it sounds as if somebody were making the most ridiculous noises. So, you know, there’s a Japanese—no drama—singer comes on. [Japanese singing] We think he’s sounding as if he’s being strangled! But he’s giving sounds of passionate love. See? But to our ears that’s deplorable. You know, when we want to give examples of love: [Western singing], et cetera. You know? We have really said we’re in love.


Well, now, here is the thing: in Western music—when we study music—the first thing we learn is notation. Most people begin with a piano—or, at any rate, some instrument— where the important thing is to be able to read the music and then do the stuff from the the written paper. Now, this limits you in a curious way because our notation, first of all, is based on the chromatic scale. And secondly, it has fixed rhythmic intervals. You have your whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note. And you can change the value of the dotting them to give them half their value. And you tend to write in bars: four-four time, three-eight, or whatever it may be. And when an Oriental listens to our music, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a love song or a grandiose paean of praise, or whatever. All of it sounds like a military march, because it’s that one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four. Or one-two-three-four-five-six, one-two-three-four-five-six, one-two-three-four-five-six. Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, all the time. And he hears a mechanism in it. You see? He hears this absolute regularity.


Now, in Indian music you’ll have bars. Very long measure. You can count twenty to the bar, sometimes more. And when you learn music from a Hindu teacher, you don’t learn notation. You learn directly from the teacher. In other words, he takes the instrument and plays it, and you copy him. with the same instrument, sitting in front of him. And they think, you see, that notation could never record music. They do use a notation. They use a notation to remember, simply, themes. There is a certain rag, a certain theme, and they can write that down. But they don’t play from it. What they do is: according to certain traditional procedures, they improvise on the basic forms. And you, therefor, play the instrument, and what you’re trying to do is to make it as completely as possible responsive to the subtle motions of which a human organism is capable. In other words, just as in in moving your hand, there’s an infinity of waves you can put it through.


So, likewise, in using your voice, there is an infinity of sound that you can produce. In the same way you can, with a stringed instrument, in moving your finger—where there are no rigid stops as there would be on a piano—so on the continuum of a violin you can move your finger and produce an infinity of subtle sound. And what they do is, they delight in the infinite possibility of making sound with the human organism. And they like instruments which are very easily and directly related to the organism. So the flute, the vīṇā, the drums. See, these are direct human contact with an instrument. With a piano you’ve got something interspersed. You’ve got a hammer mechanism and a rigidly tuned string. With a harpsichord the same way: the pluck. and went Wonderland Moscow— marvelous as she is—plays the harpsichord, you get a hurdy-gurdy effect: clicketty-clicketty-click, clop, clop, clop, clop, clicketty-click, clop, clop, chicketty-chick, chick, chick, clop, clop, click, click, click, click, click. Get this going on all the time. With a clavichord there’s a difference because the clavichord doesn’t have a mechanical relationship between the finger and the string. So that every variation of touch you make on the clavichord is represented in the sound. In other words, the piano and the harpsichord are like electric typewriters which have a uniform touch, whereas the clavichord is more like an old-fashioned typewriter where, however hard you hit, it has some effect on the print.


So in Oriental music, then, while there is an incredibly subtle discipline—and the Hindu drummer can do the most astounding things; and you can count it out, he counts it out in these very, very elaborate patterns—but at the same time there is a an attitude about it that’s just fascinating. We attended a concert of the de Young Museum a few weeks ago where there was Ali Akbar Khan’s orchestra. And there was a drummer in this it was just out of this world! The wonderful thing about it was that, as he was playing with the rest of the orchestra, they were all talking to each other with their instruments. And they made eye contact while they were playing. And this guy was just in sheer delight. He was laughing as he was playing, and all the other musicians were just loving it, so that he wasn’t this dead-earnest person looking at his music, you know, and reading that and doing it. He was joining in with everybody, dancing with them. His fingers were like butterflies—bummingbirds, better to say—just vibrating in the most extraordinary way. Because it takes years and years and years to learn this. But he was really enjoying it. But what was he saying?


They have a language for the drums and they can speak a drum rhythm by using syllables like dit-dee, dit-dah. Dit-dee, dit-dah. Or din—meaning one kind of a hit—din and thin. Din-thin, din-thin, din-thin. Dit-dee, dit-dah, dit-dee, dit-dah. Dah-da-da, dah-da-da, dah-da-da, dah-da-da. You know? And they explain a rhythm like this sometimes. First they say it, and then they play it. But what it’s all about is, dit-dah. Dit-dah.


I suppose some of you have read a book of mine called The Joyous Cosmology, in which I referred to, once, a very curious experience I had with Hindu music. I happened to have acquired from Timothy Leary some of this extraordinary Mexican mushroom. And I was feeling awful. I’d come back from a trip to the East and was tired, and had a sore throat, and was just lousy. So I took this thing. And at first it just felt terrible. And everything turned into mud. You know what you expect of mushrooms, the fungus, everything fungoid, and kind of bland and ghastly. Well, after a while it all changed, and I found myself listening to this Hindu music. I didn’t know what it was, because my host, whose house I was at, didn’t explain anything. And I thought when I listened to this, “What kind of idiocy is going on?” I thought—you see, my friend with whom I was spending the day is a pretty wild kind of fellow. And I thought he’d put on a tape recording of his and his friends antics. Because they weren’t doing anything that anybody is supposed to do. It was like children making faces. You know how they go like this. Children love to make these awful faces and make weird noises. I thought this is just something absolutely absurd going on.


And then came this dit-dah business in the middle of it. So I said, “Roger? Hey, let me see the album.” I got the case. And here it’s says: Classical Music of India. Edited by Alain Daniélou—who is the most scholarly, respectable pundit on the subject of Hindu music. I said, “Somebody is pulling my leg!” No, not at all. Here were these babbling sounds. Not only with the dit-dah business, but they also could use their voices like oboes. You know how they… [makes noise]. Like you’ve got a clothespin on your nose and do an oboe sound. And it sounded like this, and it was just this whole kind of business of children just going out of their heads.


Well, I listened to this and I suddenly realized that that’s what life’s all about. And, you know, it was the most fantastic sudden recognition: that everything in this world is gloriously meaningless. And it’s curlicues like on ferns. We get mixed up about it, because sometimes we think that, the play that is going on—when you see a fern it has, first of all, the main branch. Then it has sub-branches. And out of these subbranches come sub-sub-branches. And out of the sub-sub-branches come sub-sub-sub-branches. And so you get a fern. So now, you could number each of these levels on which things are happening. And you say “Well, this is a number 1 level, this is a number 42 level, this is number 65 level. And you judge events and say it’s good, it’s bad, it’s proper, it’s improper. But what you don’t recognize is that you say something is improper because you thought it was a 63 level whereas, really, it was 112. And you didn’t know. You didn’t realize the level the thing was on.


So actually, in the whole play of human life—with all its joys and sorrows, its tragedies, its evils, its good—is just something like a fern. It has tumors on it. That means, just simply, another clan is making its life there. See? A clan of bugs of some kind are living there, too. And they’re doing their stuff. They’re living off the fern, the fern’s living off something else. We’re all leaning on each other in one way or another. And I saw the whole thing as this fantastic play.


So, can you get into that state, you see? You get into it by listening to sound. That’s one way in. There are lots of ways in. But one of the easiest ways in is through concentration on a tone. Because, you see, this is the easiest way to stop thinking for most people. If you just concentrate on a single sound—it’s very easy to do it, and this stops your thoughts. In other words, it stops you talking to yourself inside your head; verbalizing. And the important thing is, if you want of the vision of the world as it really is, you have to stop talking. At least temporarily. It doesn’t mean that talking is a bad thing, it means it’s too much of a good thing. So that if you silence talking, and you experience yourself just in the same way as you experience you nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah—that’s what’s going on. And it may be going on, you know, in a kind of a way that you call nice, which is aaaah, or it’s AAAAGH! You know? It may be going on that way. But so what? Finally, it is that. That’s what’s happening.


And we’re all taught by our mothers—and fathers—to put a value on it. See, when it goes a certain way… the rhythm of life goes in a certain way when we say “Eugh! Watch out, watch out, watch out, watch out! Because that may be the end!” What will the end be? CLUNK! What’s wrong with that? Things that start have to stop. Things that go on have to go off. And things that go off have to go on. But, you see, we get involved by putting a value on it all. Alright, now I could say that’s bad, you should do it. But at the same time, getting involved and putting values on it is all part of the game, too. Getting hung up. Getting hooked. So you don’t get unhooked by saying to yourself, “I shouldn’t be attached. I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t do that.” All you do is you see that getting hooked on is simply another form of it. More nonsense. More jazz—but deeper jazz.


So, like, you feel you have an ego: that’s an illusion. But it’s a very weird illusion, you see? It’s a very far out scene. A person who you might call a square, who’s thoroughly committed to the illusions of standard life, is a very far out person because he doesn’t know where he started. He’s completely lost. But you could say it’s a great show to get that far out. To get that involved in seriousness. So when you look at a square who has this kind of determined, set, inflexible attitude, you have to say—secretly, you laugh and say “My! You’re doing a wonderful job!” How far out could you get? You can learn, in this way, to love squares. And this is the only way that will ever change anything. You must never condemn the squares with harsh language. Because they’re very far out people, but they don’t know it—involved, in other words, in the ultimate curlicues.


It’s like a labyrinth, you see? All life is a labyrinth. It’s a system of tubes. And there are tubes within tubes within tubes. And out far on the very, very great fringes of this labyrinth you get all kinds of hothouse growths; very complicated games. So complicated that the people involved in them are lost. But that’s simply a function of being a long way from the center. When a fern or any form of plant expands from its center, what is happening is this: inside the stems and the stalks and the tubes which constitute this organism, there are all these little creatures. And they’re going, traveling along. And they’re getting out there. They want to go out. Of course, there’s always somebody along with them who says, “Now, be careful! Don’t you get too far out. Because if you get too far out, you spoil the form.” Instead of keeping inside the bounds of the fern, you will just go off into gas. And that would be awful, you see, because you’re a fern! You’re not gas!


But those little creatures out on the end say, “Man, we’d like a gas.” You know? So that they want to get way off. But it is a result of the tension between those little fellows that want to go way up—see?—and the people who want to stay in. [That’s how] you get the outline, the clear form of a leaf. They’re working against each other. But they are working even though the one thinks it’s right and the other thinks it’s right—they’re both right and they’re both wrong. They’re both right and wrong, but by being both in a counter-position, like this, they create what we call existence. What we call the shape of the leaf, the form of the fern.


So you will find, of course, that some of them are, in fact, escaping. And some of them are going off into gas. And some of them are not—some of them are staying put. And if there weren’t some of them going off into gas, there would be no energy in the thing. You see, all energy has a quality of follow-through. When you hit a golf ball you mustn’t stop the hit at the ball. You have to go zhhhhhp, like that, see? Right through. So all energies of life have in them a possibility of an excess; of going too far.


When you bring up your children, and you tell your children your various far out ideas and the children suddenly believe in them! I’m horrified! You know? All kinds of philosophy I’ve talked about is being believed by children. And they’re taking it literally. Oh my God, what will they do next? But everybody feels that way in regard to the strength of a younger generation is coming on. Because it’s younger generations that have zhhhhroom—energy. See, we think about young people. We have terrible ideas. We think that we know what life is, and that they have to be told, and that they will learn it from us and be like us. We don’t take that attitude when we see the new vegetables come up in the spring. We don’t say the vegetables have to be educated to be vegetables. We say hooray! At last, young vegetables with all the life and energy in them! New meals for everything. So, when we see young people come up, say, “Good gracious, isn’t this great to see the human race is still doing its stuff! I wonder what they’ll have to teach us.”


Because wisdom doesn’t come from above down, it comes from below up. That’s where the wisdom is. Surging into us. The old people, they have a function bu, in order to fulfill that function, they have to understand first that they can learn from the young sources. If they understand that, then they can be wise and be teachers. If they don’t understand that, they never can. To be wise—that’s the meaning of the saying that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to become again as a child. And finally, to get back to my point, to become as a child means that you do things which adults consider unimportant.


There is a wonderful Buddhist character. His name is Hotei in Japanese, Putai in Chinese. And he carries around a bag—enormous—in which he collects rubbish, every kind of inconsequential rubbish, And gives it away to children. Because children understand the meaning and significance of rubbish. Something which—my father, when I was a small boy, once said “You are a picker-upper of unconsidered trifles.” Because the rubbish is the most wonderful thing in the world from the point of view of a child.


So, once a Zen master was asked, “What is the most valuable thing in the world?” and he answered, “The head of a dead cat.” why? Because no one can put a price on it. So in this man, you see, who is wandering around picking up rubbish, all the trivialities of life, who sees leaves floating down the wind and laughs at them. This is becoming again as the child. In other words, from the child’s point of view, the things which the adult considers irrelevant to survival are perfectly important. And so children collect pebbles and colored glass and all sorts of trivia which they consider as precious as diamonds. The adults say, “Oh, frippery.” But they really have the secret, you see?


Now the child, as child, doesn’t know how to play the adults’ game—which is a power game—and so has to be educated to learn the values of the power game to learn what’s what and what is important. But when he has mastered that game, he realizes it has no rewards. That all the things that the adults thought they were gaining by their power game are, after all, not worth having. That’s why you can be rich and miserable. So that, having learned and having seen through the adult power game, you come back to the point of the child. And so you say… bla-bweee-bll-deee-blll-deblblblblb-bleep!

Well, let’s have a brief intermission. We’ll serve refreshments after the seminar.

Future of Communications

Alan Watts


Document Options
Find out more