Games of Simplicity and Complexity

Watts discusses how cultures develop increasingly complex art forms, rituals, manners, and religions, reaching extremes of refinement. Then innovators emerge who return to simplicity, until that too becomes overly refined. The wise person avoids both awe and hostility toward complexity and simplicity, recognizing these cultural developments as elaborate games people play.



So, during the course of these seminars I have been giving you what might be called fundamental pre-educational instruction about various extremely simple things that were left out of our ordinary education. I described last night the thing about space that’s ordinarily left out. I also described in the course of the discussion the game about the in-group and the out-group, the nice people and nasty people, which is also left out of ordinary education. And I have furthermore described the game of black and white—you know, the one where we pretend that black and white don’t go together and that one of them might win. And I’ve also described to you the Zen game, which is taking a person’s false premises to their logical conclusion and seeing what happens. So that a person who is born into the prejudice that one should get somehow one up on this universe suddenly finds himself confronted with an insoluble problem. Only, he doesn’t know that his insoluble problem is based on asking or posing the problem in a meaningless and false way. And so it takes a certain kind of training for this to be found out.


So what we’re really doing—although it’s being done under the cover of studies of the Orient and of Japanese culture and so on—what we’re really doing is going down through these cultural, historical, religious, artistic manifestations to the fundamental games which life is playing. And if you get the hang of these, the comprehension of various culture forms becomes ever so much easier.


You see, whatever you study, to become a master of the subject you need to realize: what are the fundamental principles? And very few teachers of anything ever give them to you because quite often they don’t know them. I remember very well, the only time I’ve been a very serious examiner of candidates for office was when I was an examining chaplain to the Bishop of Chicago and had to examine young men wanting to be ordained to the ministry. And I used to have many questions through which I could find out whether or not they had the least comprehension of the principles of theology. It was only very rarely that any of them did, because they didn’t teach the principles in theological school. They taught all the details, and so you memorized the details and you had to know them, you see, because in an examination they’d ask you about the details. But when an examiner asked you to fit the details together into some sort of sensible pattern, everybody was totally at a loss.


So, you know, in Christian theology there are various doctrines. We have things like the virgin birth: the idea that Jesus was born of a virgin. We have the doctrine of the ascension of Jesus into heaven: the idea that his risen physical body suddenly disappeared into heaven. And we have (for example, in Christianity) the celebration of the mass, the sacrament of Holy Communion. And I used to ask candidates for the ministry what was the relationship between these three doctrines, or these three things: the virgin birth, the ascension, and the Holy Communion? And they were at one total and utter loss. They would say that the Holy Communion service mentioned the other two events in the course of saying the Creed. The idea that these things had any organic relation to each other—as they in fact do—was utterly left out of their instruction. And so it’s in just the same way that all these fundamental games are left out of our education—almost advisedly—because they’re things that you really have to find out yourself, and nobody ought to teach them to you.


But I want to speak this evening about another aspect of these fundamental games. And we play all sorts of games with each other. And one very significant game that we play is the game called “My Game’s More Interesting Than Yours.” This is a very, very important game for developing an elaborate culture. And you remember when I was talking to you about those four great Japanese masters of the seventeenth century—Hakuin and Bankei as Zen teachers, Bashō as a poet, and Sengai, who was also a Zen teacher, but he was chiefly remembered as a painter—and how Bashō went back to the naïve in poetry and Sengai was the greatest master of what’s called zenga. Ga in this sense is painting. See, there is zenga, that is Zen style painting. There is haiga, which is the kind of painting that goes with haiku writing. Haiku: hai means “playful.” “Playful painting,” or so haiku: ku means a “phrase.” So haiku is a “playful phrase.”


Well anyway, the point was that, after the extreme refinement of Chinese poetry and (in its wake) Japanese poetry—where you had to be terribly in the know to understand it at all, because the game had become so complicated—there was a genius like Bashō who upstaged everybody, you see, by his utterly disarming simplicity. And the history of cultural developments—the history of art, the history of architecture, of poetry, of music—is always doing this. It proceeds like this, you see. We go back to our fundamental rhythm, which is sound and silence, or on and off. And so you’ve just got [thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump], and the life force says: “That’s not very interesting.” [thump, thump, thump-thump-thump, tsss, thump-thump-thump, tsss, thump-thump-thump, tss]. “Oh, that’s kind of boring.” [rhythmic thumping] See? And so it goes until you get to [fast, elaborate rhythm]. You know, that’s only one bar! And people go: “We’ve gotta keep track of that,” you see? And my, when you get to Hindu music with those tremendous complex phrases—and they know how to count all that, see? They’re not just fooling around. They’ve got it all figured out. Only, they’re counting in such a complicated way that you have to be very, very good indeed at counting to follow.


And so in exactly the same way with poetry, dancing, steps, gestures, all these rhythms. We work them out to marvelous complexity, because what essentially happens is this. Let’s take a group of people who are playing drums. Somebody starts out, you see, who sets a basic kind of simple rhythm. Then the next fellow who joins in goes into the spaces which that fellow is leaving, so that he does a rhythm consistent with his, though, that fills in his spaces. Then a third person joins in, and he may fill in spaces that are still left, or give by coincidence with beats in their rhythm extra emphasis to certain beats, so that they sound louder or softer as the case may be. And so they start vying with each other. In this case they have to vie with each other in a cooperative way, because whenever you get an orchestra going you can’t have one person playing better than all the rest sort of thing, or louder, just as in rowing you can’t say: “Well, the whole team rowed beautifully, and especially the man in the stroke position, who rowed faster than everybody else.” You see?


But they manage—you see, the general rule is that in this kind of game we’re going to cooperate. Because if we don’t, we can’t have the game. But within those limits we are going to compete to see who can be more interesting or create a more interesting pattern, keeping all the time in accord with the [rhythmic thumping] basis, and vie with each other as to who can be more skillful.


So, also, in Indian music very often you have a thing called the drone. There is one instrument which is playing the tonal note which is, as it were, the basis of the chord. And all other notes which are being played by various other instruments relate to this fundamental tone. And so in the symbolism of Hindu music they say the fundamental tone refers to the Brahman—the One—and all the different melodies and harmonies related to that tone are the universe of the many manifested from the one. And the tone always stays through; they call it the drone. But that is extremely fascinating: to listen just to the drone and see how much there is to playing one note. But in relation to the drone they build up the most unbelievably complex harmony. As in relation to a basic rhythm [thumping] they build up a whole pattern of rhythm.


But you see what’s going to happen as this pattern gets progressively complex: it’s going to fill in all the space, so that, gradually, you won’t be able to hear it at all. As the musicians and the drummers vie with each other in making it ever so much more subtle and complex, they are going to approach a point where you cease to be able to hear it. It is as if you were writing on a piece of paper, and somebody did the basic shape, and then other people filled in and mixed up, and going on and on and on, and creating ever more subtle arabesques and designs, until finally there wasn’t any white background left and the whole sheet was a black blob. Well, that’s exactly what happens in the development of an art form or a cultural system. It happens with the development of a religion, because a religion (as it evolves) becomes ever and ever more subtle. There is more theology. There are more refinements of doctrine, refinements of ritual. And so it goes also in manners: how mannered can you be, you see? You can become such a refined aristocrat that—as I said (quoting Ruth Benedict’s experience) of a Japanese girl who went to one of the very, very refined New England ladies’ colleges, and found that she was equipped with a culture that nobody could even begin to understand. And her equipment was useless in that environment. So in the development of a culture you get more and more genteel until you’ve out-genteeled everybody. Also in a religion: you can get more and more profound, or even more and more saintly until you’ve out-sainted everybody. And then nobody can understand you, nobody can follow you. So you’re left all in the little world of your own playing this game.


And then somebody comes into the scene to one-up everybody and says, “Now, look.” Let’s take, for example, cooking—a subject on which I have extremely authoritative prejudices. You can get so way out in refined sauces, and you can get into such incredible arguments about French wines and their comparable merits, and you can become a wine snob to the nth degree, until finally somebody suggests an entirely new approach, which is a very, very far out group of gourmets who are really hung up on water. You know? Water! It’s just the most beautiful substance! And all these people have so ruined their palates with these excessively refined foods, they can’t taste water anymore. And so the real in-school are the people who can taste water, see? They say, “Water is good.” I remember I had an uncle who was terribly sick for a while, and just horribly sick. And when he got—after his operations and so on—he was convalescing, and they gave him a drink of water. He said, “Oh! For the first time in my life I realized what a good thing water is!”


So it’s like when you have had every kind of pleasure, and you’ve been able to own everything you ever wanted, and to go everywhere you ever wanted and so on, you have to come back from all that to the realization of how marvelous it is just to exist. But then the whole thing begins over again, because the people who—all those gourmets who started the Pure Water School—begin to become sensitive about waters from different wells, different localities, and then they bring their friends to a water-drinking ceremony. And somebody says, “Listen, tonight I have a special kind of water from a very, very special well, and there’s really nothing like it.” Now all those guests are put in a very strange position, because they’ve got to decide then and there whether to say to him, “Listen, man, you’re just imagining things. This water is alright. It’s just like any other water.” But that would be awfully discourteous to the host. And if they want to keep the game going, they’ve got to say, “Why yes, there is something a little curiously different about this, isn’t there? Yeah, yeah, I believe. Yeah, there’s a subtle, very small point that, by Jove, we all see it.” And therefore we’re way in.


Now, this really goes back to the fable of the emperor’s new clothes. And this is going on all the time in our various arts and cultures. And it’s peculiarly evident today in a period when social change is so fast and so bewildering that nobody really knows what’s what. Let’s take, in the West, the art world. Well, now, if you study the history of Western art, you will find that it is an extraordinarily instructive thing. You will be led up to the early twentieth century—say, in painting—in a very, very clear logical way. But you watch that, as this historical process goes on, the painters become more and more aware of the fact of a historical progression in art. And they are more and more asking: what is the new thing going to be?


Now you know, for example, that when Beethoven’s symphonies were first played—I’m thinking particularly of the Third Symphony—the reviews in the Vienna newspapers were absolutely terrible. His work was referred to as cacophony, as an absolute insult to the whole art of music, as being dreadful. And so people living now, who are writing music which to many years is dreadful, are saying: “But they said this about Beethoven, what you’re saying about my work.” And it’s very fascinating to hear read one of the contemporary criticisms of Beethoven’s symphony without the reader first telling you what the context is, where he’s taking this from. And you imagine it’s some critic talking about some contemporary composer. And then he says, “Well, that was Baron von So-And-So talking about Beethoven.”


Well, you see, the artist has in our era become aware of the history of art to a degree that was not at all the case in the past. There were no art historians when Bach was alive. And they have no idea, then, that there was a sort of progress in the development of a culture form. They were trying to do certain things which they found important to do. They were playing musical games, or painting games, and finding out things that might indeed be new ways of treating it. But they didn’t have the idea that they ought to be finding more and more and more and more new things. In many cases they were simply trying to penetrate more and more deeply the conceptions of art that they already had. But there wasn’t this feeling of a historical progress.


And so, as this feeling has come upon us today—not only in the history, say, of Western art alone, or the history of Western philosophy, but also the mingling of cultures brought about by modern transportation, in which the Western artists suddenly become aware of enormous artistic traditions from the very ends of the Earth—we suddenly can’t make up our minds and can find no standards as to what is really good. And therefore, every kind of mountebank can challenge our situation and say, “Now, this is the newest thing which nobody has done before, that never was, that challenges you completely.” And he may simply take a whole lot of wire and melt it so that it vaguely flows together, and then bang it about for a while, and then upend it and stick it on an extremely tasteful polished wood pedestal and call it “Opus 35 and a Half.”


Now, what are you to do about this? It may be that this work has the same sort of interest that damp stains on the ceiling sometimes have, because they become a Rorschach blot into which we can project many interesting things. So, in the same way, this particular mess of mangled wire may have that sort of merit. But lean on it a little, because you’ll miss something. But everybody is vaguely wondering inside, you know: “Ought I to speak out on this and declare myself therefore as some sort of Philistine? I don’t like this thing. I don’t want a bunch of mangled wire in my house and pay $10,000 for it.” Then, if I do that, somebody very, very adept is going to come along and say: “Well, I’m very sorry, but I understand your prejudices and that you say this sort of thing about this work of art. But there really are things to it which have some merit. And if you understood the history of art a little better, you would see in fact that this person has something to say.” Well, then you feel absolutely awful that you didn’t see it, and that you would somehow miss out on it.


But the fact of the matter is, you see, that all kinds of people are playing this game, and quite sincerely—in the sense that some of them don’t know it’s a game. Because they have, in the course of coming across some extremely bizarre creation, found that it indeed had some merit that perhaps the artist never knew anything about. You know, just in the same way as the artist of the patches of damp on the ceiling, that was presumably an act of God, had no intention to make a representation of what you saw in them. So, in the same way, the person who throws a lot of mangled wire together may occasionally produce something that, to a very perceptive person, will be provocative—not through any merit in the work of art, but through the beauty which was in the eye of the beholder. And so that person, in all sincerity, says, “Well, I did see this remarkable thing here.” And, well, I do think there is something very special about this.


I must tell you a story to illustrate this. We had an experiment, a few friends of ours, who were working on this chemical, LSD. And the experiment consisted in—I mean, stop me if you’ve heard this one—but there were a group of people who were very, very knowledgeable in the field of modern art. Really knowledgeable. The hostess of the group ran one of the most important galleries in New York. There was present an eminent sculptor, who is no mangled-wire man. And one or two other people who really understood, I would say, the whole history of modern art from the Baroque on. And we were all sitting round one painting, which was the first cubist painting ever done by Villon. I think it was painted in about 1905. And they were shown at the Armory Show in New York. And it has great ovoid forms in it, with great detail and apparent overlapping of planes. And we sat around this painting and looked at it. And we were in a state of very, very heightened consciousness. But the whole session was a discussion about this painting. And gradually, all of us developed an idea that is very fantastic. And the idea was that a good artist living at the beginning of the twentieth century, who had really been to school, would be someone who would be competent in any technique that had been evolved in the course of Western painting. In other words, he could perfectly well imitate Giotto if he wanted to. He could imitate Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens. He could imitate the Dutch masters, the Flemings. He could imitate Hieronymus Bosch. He could finally go on and imitate Vato, and Cézanne, Matisse.


And what he did in this painting was that he painted five paintings on top of each other, each one in the style of one of the great Western masters. He overlapped them in such a way that they finally amalgamated together in a new style, which hadn’t yet been seen, which was cubism. And we sat there and we traced out—pointing at the painting and going up and discussing with the other people—the various figures in it, done in the styles of the different painters, until this extraordinary amalgamated technical tour de force emerged. And we had a marvelous evening doing this. But then, when we all (after many, many days went by) thought about it, we realized that of course what we’d been doing was projecting ourselves and our imaginations into this painting. And this might have nothing whatever to do with what Villon had intended. But we were giving him the highest credit of the great artist, you see, for doing this astonishing achievement.


So you see to what an extent the beholder enters into a work of art; how he contributes things which the artist may never have seen. And if this happens in the world of art, it happens to exactly the same degree in, say, the world of religion. How, for century after century, intelligent people who have become more and more sophisticated have read more and more meanings into the Bible, and have made this originally rather crude piece of Bronze-Age literature into a very, very sophisticated document. So that somebody can say to you, “You mean you don’t dig the Bible?” Well, now what kind of person is likely to say this to you? And if some kind of fundamentalist comes along who believes that everything in the Bible is literally true, you can dismiss him rather easily. (Thank you very much.) But when some great subtle theologian—say a Paul Tillich, or, say, representing a very different point of view, a Catholic theologian like Jacques Maritain comes along and says, “Now wait a minute, you can’t dismiss this as a lot of Bronze-Age literature. Let’s consider a few things. Let’s really go into it.” As soon as that starts, you see, what is happening is that the highly evolved and sophisticated mind of a modern biblical scholar or theologian is weaving his own marvelous interpretation back into the text. And what you’re getting is not Isaiah or Jesus Christ, you’re getting Tillich for Maritain with all the historical experience and wisdom that they have through knowing the course and the history of Western scholarship and theology. They feed it all back. They feed the future back into the past, and recreate the past with their own imaginations.


And which is fun. That’s creation, after all, isn’t it? That’s taking the scaffolding—or rather, it’s taking the steel beams or the bones—and it’s putting flesh on it. It is variations on a theme. Beautiful! But please don’t be bewildered by this kind of thing. Don’t be befuddled and led to undervalue your own honest feelings about religion, about art, about anything. Because anybody who involves you in this game is really—I mean, I’m saying he may be doing this unconsciously. He may not be actually deliberately playing games with you. But let’s put it in this way. You begin to believe about someone that the way they are living is sick. This may or may not be true. But let’s suppose it isn’t. But nevertheless, because you think that person is behaving in a sick way, you meet them one morning and say, “Hi. Say, are you feeling alright?” “Why, yes. What makes you ask?” “I just wonder.” Then, the next time you meet: “How are you doing? You better today?” “Better? What do you mean better? I was fine.” “Oh, I see. Well yes, maybe. I just thought the other day you weren’t quite up to scratch and you said something about feeling a little off.” And so later on, say, it comes up. “Well, I suppose you are feeling alright. I mean there are so many things about us that we’re unconscious of.”


It’s difficult, you know. Certain diseases like cancer aren’t detected in their early stages because we’re not aware of them. And of course, with all psychological disorders—I mean, it’s of the essence of them that they’re unconscious and that you don’t know what it is. And you should be in a group of Jungians and be a naïve person who ventures to tell a dream. And you had a dream about something, you know, that was rather impressive. And they shake their heads and say, “Ah, with a dream like that you’d better be careful. You need to see an analyst in a hurry.” “Well, you mean, is it that bad?”


So when you get to, among any group of devotees—I don’t care what kind of devotee they are. Doesn’t make any difference—but they give on the outside of the subtle feeling that yes, you’re alright. But, I mean, there is this thing we have that is very, very important, and if you don’t see it the way we do, somehow you’re not quite human. So you wonder. You see, this immediately throws you into a self-questioning. It implants a doubt in your mind. And if you know you are really a genuine person, you have no problem with this. Because you don’t react by saying, “Oh my, isn’t that impressive! Maybe I better find out what all this is.” You don’t do that on the one hand. And on the other hand, you don’t react in a hostile way and say, “Oh, shut up! Leave me alone. You’re just playing games.” I mean, there might be something interesting to find out here. If so—I mean, you’re bright and perky-eared and bushy-tailed. And is there something here they’ve got? Well, maybe there is. But if you see that really what it is is that it is essential to these people to be the profoundest people there are, and they’ve got to have you convinced of this in order to carry the conviction in themselves, then they’re playing games with you.


So the problem is to create the person who, by a fundamental honesty within himself, a fundamental sincerity, is not going to be pushed around in these games. And so this is the test which is set by a great teacher in any sphere, whether it’s religion or whether it’s painting or whatever: do you, as a student, feel the need to justify yourself? Lao Tzu said in a marvelous line: “Those who justify themselves do not convince.”


Now there is, as I said, on the one hand, the student who is over-awed—and always a prey, therefore, to any charlatan who comes along with a big line. And so the teacher will often play the role of charlatan. Watch out for this. This was the great point of Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff went out of his way to play at being a charlatan. He did the most elaborate acts of charlatanry that one ever heard of. You all know who Gurdjieff was? Gurdjieff was a remarkable Russian, a countryman of Stalin, from Georgia. Not Georgia (USA), but Georgia in the Caucasus. And he established a school for a harmonious development of Man in Paris. And it flourished from the early 1930s—or right through the 1930s, I would say. That was its heyday—and on into the 1940s until he died. And nobody could make up their minds whether this man was the greatest master since Jesus Christ, or whether he was an errant rascal.


He wrote a book called All and Everything, which is Beelzebub’s tale to his son, and an incredibly funny book. But Gurdjieff had an apartment in Paris. And all the meetings were secret. You could only get there by invitation. And when you arrived, you know, at this apartment, there would be some obscure little Russian woman sitting at a table at the entrance, checking you out as to whether you were really the person who had the invitation. And immediately an atmosphere of mystery had been spread around. And then you went through a passageway which was piled all along one side with trunks—as if, you know, he had just arrived. And on top of these trunks there were various objects of art and stuff. And finally you were shown into a room where everybody was sitting around in dead silence, looking as if they had swallowed canaries. And then, after a while, somebody would open a manuscript and begin to read some of Mr. Gurdjieff’s incomprehensible writings. Everybody would sit and listen and try to make out whether this was the real revelation. And as you sat there, you would become aware in a funny way of being watched. And you would look around, and suddenly notice that, through the crack of a door, there was a very impressive eye staring right at you. Mr. Gurdjieff was around the corner of the door, peeking on his pupils, you know, and seeing who was reacting in the right way. Who had the—do you really, you see, have the interior knowledge about this? And there’s the eye of the master watching you.


And when this got over, he would invite everybody to lunch. And suddenly more rooms would be revealed in the background, and there was huge tables spread, absolutely jammed with caviar and borscht and shashlyck and piroshki and vodka. And little women in babushkas, scurrying around, serving all this. And suddenly Mr. Gurdjieff would order everybody to drink a toast. One knuckle of vodka. And everybody, even teetotalists, had to drink or they couldn’t be his guests. And he would toast the left hand upper corner of the room. All sorts of fantastic toasts would be drunk. And nothing could put Mr. Gurdjieff under the table. Nothing! People would get busy and would get—they would feel: well, the teacher is testing us because he wants to see how we are in our cups; in vino veritas. And then suddenly everything would be cleared, and the meal would be over, and he would divide the group into two. One would stay home to wash up. One would go out for a ride. But everybody who went out for a ride must bring back a present for the people who stayed home to wash up. So this would happen—but it was on Sunday or something, or a holiday, and all the stores were closed. So they couldn’t find any presents, and they were a little bit too lazy to anyway. And so he would humiliate them all by going back into his inner office and bringing out presents for all those people who stayed home. Because his inner office—which you would think a great master would have would be a library—this man’s office was a delicatessen’s. It consisted shelf upon shelf of cheeses, of pâté de foie gras, of caviar, of candies. And where he sat in his chair, over his head, there hung on a thread a chocolate fish covered in silver paper which slowly revolved in the breezes. Then he had an ashram at Fontainebleau, where everybody was given work assignments, and they dug for many hours working in the garden. And then suddenly, when they couldn’t stand it any longer and the rigors of it all were too much, he would suddenly change everything and they would have a feast, or he would teach them dances in which all the limbs moved at different rhythms—you know how hard it is to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time, you know? And he would make them do all kinds of things like that.


Well, the point is that he dug in with this a cosmology which was out-Blavatskied Blavatsky in being as absurd as it could possibly be. And so here was this man who, for my judgment, was a great man, and a very, very enlightened man, but he was playing the role of a charlatan. And by doing this he was testing out these students, waiting for the person who would say to him, “Now really, Mr. Gurdjieff, come off it! What’s all this about?” See? But unfortunately, as is always the way, the teacher suffers from good students—like Ouspensky—who swallowed it all hook, line, and sinker, and began to promulgate it as a system when the whole point of the system was lost. So when you get a man like that, he is challenging you.


Now, some people got violent and they couldn’t stand him, and they said he’s an immoral bastard. He’s a charlatan. He’s a pervert. He’s everything. He’s a drunk. Everything’s wrong with him. And they said: “Down with you!” The other people said, “Oh, master, master! Oh, dear master,” you know? And all this kind of thing. It’s sickening. And they didn’t make out either. But the people who graduated were the people of the middle way, who didn’t have to be aggressive on the one hand, and didn’t have to be impressed on the other. See? That’s the middle way. That’s getting the point.


But, you see, how are you going to do that without trying to be natural? See? You approach the teacher: am I really being natural with this guy? You see? And you’re lost right there. Because he is in the advantageous position in the game, because he has nothing to lose. You’ve defined him as the teacher, so he sits back and relaxes. He can do anything and not lose face. It’s like Suzuki, who can take forever to answer a question, or be fast asleep and be mistaken for being in deep samadhi. Because, after all, he doesn’t have to prove anything. He’s not concerned as to whether he is or isn’t a good Zen student. He’s just natural. But he’s not natural in a forced way. That is, say, he’s not going around trying to be natural and therefore being a phony.


So then, in this whole evolution of what you might call competitive games as to which of you is the wisest—watch out! What is the test going to be in the end? Which of you is the wisest? Who can be banged about enough without screaming? Is that the test? That’s often the way it’s put. How much suffering can you take? See? Alright, we’ve settled for that, you see. And then we can all sit on a pin and see how long we can do it. Or all sit like this and see how long we can take it without changing position. Then who’s going to win? See? Crazy.


Now then, somebody’s going to come up and say: “Yeah, but that’s all very well.” But the point comes when you can suffer without screaming so much that nobody is quite sure whether you were dead or not already. After all, if you whip a dead horse, nothing happens. And you put pins into a dead man and he won’t scream. So maybe your yogi’s self-control and your discipline has reached such a point that it’s made you effectively dead. You can’t be moved. See, that was that thing about that lecture on zazen we had: that when there was a reaction to somebody that went pop, some people’s systems went ooh, ooh, uugh, ooh, all over the place when there was a little pop. But the adept in zazen, they went pop!, like this—you know, the click test—and nothing happened. Well, you say, was he very, very calm and collected and he didn’t really mind it? Or was it that he used just got his feelings atrophied? Which is it? You see?


Well, this is a game. And we can play in all sorts of ways. But if you compete too hard, you see, to be the great self-disciplined one, to be always in possession of yourself, to be always immovable, you will eventually reach the point where you will lose the game, because someone will outplay you by accusing you of being a dummy and say, “But, after all, isn’t it great to have emotions?” And, “Look what you’re missing! You’re a calm Buddha in nirvana and you have no emotions. That’s a wretched kind of a world to get mixed up in. I like to feel very strongly one way or the other. I’d be terribly happy and terribly miserable.” One’s the price of the other, pretty much. And so you can say to that stone Buddha sitting: “You’ve got no guts. You won’t let yourself get caught. You won’t let yourself fall in love because you’re afraid. And so you’ve said to it all sour grapes. You shouldn’t fall in love. You shouldn’t become attached to the world. You’re afraid of it.” So it goes.

Alan Watts

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