If you were told that you were going to be given half an hour’s interview with God, and you had the privilege of asking one question, I wonder what you would ask. You might be given some preparation, too. Because when you think: what is your ultimate question, you’ll probably do many things before you arrive at it. And I know many people would discover that they had no question to ask. The situation would be altogether too overwhelming. But many people to whom I’ve put this problem say that the question that they would ask is: “Who am I?” And that is something we know very little about, because whatever it is that we call I is too close for inspection. It’s like trying to bite your own teeth or to touch the tip of your finger with the tip of the same finger. And although other people can tell you who you are—and do—they only see you from the outside (as you see them from the outside), and you don’t see from the inside. And so the nature of what it is that we call “I” is extremely puzzling because there is some confusion as to how much of us is “I.”
We talk in ordinary ways about “my body,” “my feet,” and when we go to the dentist to have out teeth fixed we regard him rather as a mechanic. Like, you take your car to the garage, so you take your body to the surgeon (or the dentist or whatever it is) to be fixed; to have the parts changed, or something of that kind. And they’re really getting to work on that now! And so the question is: when somebody has a heart transplant, that sounds very radical because we say, “In my heart of hearts.” But nowadays, most of us seem to feel that whatever it is that “I” is, is located in the head. Somewhere behind the eyes and between the ears is the center, and the rest of us is an appendage, a vehicle, which carries the self around.
Now, popular speech also reflects the sensation that “I” am very different from what we call the “other:” other people, other things. Anything that we can become aware of is sort of other. There is an opposition, apparently, between the knower and the known. And so we talk about “facing” reality. We talk about “coming into” this world—as if somehow we didn’t belong, as if instead of being leaves growing out of a tree we were a lot of birds that had alighted on bare branches. And it has become common sense for most people living in the twentieth century today to adopt the nineteenth-century philosophy of science which interprets the physical universe outside human bodies as being a mechanical contraption which is essentially stupid, unfeeling, automatic, composed of mainly geological elements—rocks, gases, and so forth—and therefore we feel rather alone and left out of this thing in contrast with the ideas of Ptolemaic astronomy. Instead of being at the center of the universe, we are on the outer limits of a minor galaxy revolving around an unimportant star on a small, minute ball of rock. And therefore that astronomical way of looking at things is simply overwhelming. It makes us feel not only of no importance, but also very much left out. And that is the common sense of most people living today.
We did, of course, have a religious view of our nature that we were the children of a loving God who is in charge of this whole operation. But very few people actually believe that anymore. A great many people think they ought to believe it and would like to believe in it, but they don’t. Most ministers that I know don’t believe it, but they feel guilty about this because they feel they ought to. But it became implausible. There never was a serious argument against it. It simply became unthinkable in comparison with the dimensions of the universe as we now see it. So, having lost a way of looking at the world, an image of the world which gave us some sense of meaning, we now have an image of the world which gives us none at all. And so we feel rather inclined to put up a fight against the whole show.
Interestingly enough, when in the nineteenth century we switched our common sense from supernaturalism to naturalism, one would think that a naturalist would be a person who loved nature, just as a materialist ought to be a person who loves material but certainly isn’t, with what is called the philosophy of scientific naturalism. Naturalism is used in a negative way. It has nothing to do with being natural. It has something to do with being not supernatural. Merely natural. And all sorts of phrases were coined in that epoch, which I would call put-down phrases. Freud spoke of the basic psychic energy as libido, which means blind lust. People like Ernst Haeckel spoke of the universe as being a manifestation of blind energy. Think of that put-down word, “blind.” And therefore we also speak of unconscious mental mechanisms. And the very word, “unconscious,” as being the deeper aspect of our psyche is a negative word and a put-down word. So it’s to say: what you are—functioning as a rational ego with values and with a capacity to love—is simply the epiphenomenon of a purely mechanical process. To bad!
So, as a result of this so-called naturalism we began to put up the most whopping fight against nature that was ever engaged in. And that fight is an expression of our fury and of our feeling of being left out. So that the technological experiment which became possible as a result of the mechanical sciences has largely been conducted in a spirit of rage. And the results are evident all around us. Here in Palm Springs you are gradually getting all the smog from Los Angeles. This great cloud of poisonous gas put up by a city which is exemplary in this whole civilized world for fouling its own nest. Perhaps only Calcutta could be a bit worse, or some such terrible slum. But we have done it by technology: by ruthless beating about of nature without consideration for what the scientist would call our ecology. Ecology is that aspect of science which deals with the relationship between organisms and their environments. Ecology is the study of the balance of nature, of the way in which every living being depends upon innumerable other living beings of all species, and also upon inanimate forces—air, water, temperature, gases, vegetation, and all sorts of things.
And this is one of the most important sciences that we can possibly study today, because we are in a position where we realize that we cannot help interfering with the world. To be alive is to interfere. You interfere. You cannot go back and say, “Hands off nature! Let’s leave it all alone.” Because you’re stuck with it. Especially once you’ve started to interfere in a major way. We have so altered our environment that there is no hope for it but to go ahead. But we can, to some extent, change direction. But the only way that I can see of our effectively changing direction is through a transformation of the feeling that we have of our own existence and of what we mean by “I.”
The reason for this is simply that all kinds of intelligent and even powerful people—like, say, Laurance Rockefeller, who are interested in ecology and in conservation of our natural resources—they can scream their heads off, but nobody pays any attention. There is, as yet, no really serious program at the government level to do anything radical about the pollution of water, the waste of water, the pollution of air, and the general ravaging of the United States of America. I’m amazed that congressmen can pass a bill imposing severe penalties on anyone who burns the American flag, whereas they are responsible for burning that for which the flag stands: the United States as a territory, as a people, and as a biological manifestation. That is an example of our perennial confusion of symbols with realities.
Which is, in a way, at the heart of the trouble, because what we think of as “I” is much more a symbol than it is a reality. The living organism, the whole mind-body, is much more than anything we mean by “I.” “I” largely stands for your personality, your role in life. And the very word, “person” (as you probably know) comes from the Latin persona, a word originally used for the mask worn by actors in Greco-Roman drama. “That through which sound comes,” because the mask had a megaphonic mouth to carry the voice in open air theaters. So when you speak of being a real person, it really means being a genuine fake. Because the personality is only the front. What is behind it? Well of course the organism is behind it; the whole organism. And we must be very careful not to confuse the organism with various symbols that we have for it, because those symbols can be extremely misleading. If we say the organism is the body, what we usually mean by the body is an impoverished meaning. When we speak of “my body”—that is to say: my vehicle, my physical automobile—that is an unenriched meaning of the word body. Because what you really are as a body, as a living organism, is not some sort of separate existence coated by a skin which divides you from the rest of the world. Shakespeare has King John saying to Hubert: “Within this wall of flesh there is a soul counts thee her creditor.” “Within this wall of flesh:” the skin considered as a barrier, when actually, from a biological point of view, the human skin and all skins are osmotic membranes. You know, when you get something by osmosis, by sort of soaking it in. So, in the same way, one’s skin is a spongy construction full of holes. Full of communicators; nerve ends. And your skin is simply a vibrating membrane through which the so-called external world flows into you and through you. So that you yourself, actually, are not so much an entity that moves around in an environment, you are much more like a whirlpool in a stream. And, as you know, the whirlpool is constant only in its doing—that is to say, in its whirling. And you could recognize individual whirligigs in a stream. But the water is flowing through them all the time. They are never the same for a second. And so it is also with us.
Or imagine it in another way: supposing you have a rope, and one foot of the rope is made of hemp, one foot of it is made of cotton, one foot of it is made of silk, one foot of it is made of nylon, and so on. Now, tie a simple knot in the rope. Now move the knot along the rope. And one minute it will be hemp, the next cotton, next silk, next nylon, and so on. Same knot. It will be recognizable as a continuing knot; as that knot. The knot in that rope. But the constitution of it will change as it moves. And so our constitution is changing constantly. Imagine, for example, a university: the student body, undergraduate, changes every four years. The faculty changes every so often. The buildings keep changing more and more. What constitutes the University of California? It certainly isn’t the faculty, it isn’t the students, it isn’t the governors, it isn’t the administration, it isn’t the buildings. What is it? Why, a doing! A behavior. A university-ing process of study and experiment and so on. So it is exactly the same with you. You flow. You are a process.
But how do we draw the line about this process and its relationship to all other processes? We find that a very difficult thing to do the more you think about it. If you really felt with your whole organism, instead of just with that part of it called conscious attention, you would become aware of this flowing fact. And you would get a very strange feeling, which at first might frighten you. It is possible, of course, to have this feeling. And the feeling is like this: you would not be quite sure how to interpret it. You might feel that you, yourself, were doing everything else that’s happening. That would be one way of feeling. The other way of feeling it would be that you are doing nothing at all, but that everything else is doing you. And you would feel completely passive, like a puppet on the end of strings. Although, on the other hand, if you got the feeling that you were doing it all, you would feel like God Almighty. It is very easy for our consciousness to slip into this state of sensation. It can happen spontaneously, like measles. It can happen by training, as when someone practices yoga. It can happen chemically, as when certain drugs are taken. And one has to be very careful about this feeling, because it’s enormously easy to misinterpret it—either as being omnipotent (being God in the personal, literal sense), or as being helpless and merely driven.
Now, what should be understood is that both these ways of feeling are right. Only, they must both be taken together. To be simultaneously omnipotent and helpless. These are two poles, opposite poles, of one and the same state. Because the message that is coming through—and that we find difficulty in understanding because it’s contrary to our common sense, contrary to our whole history and conditioning—the message that’s coming through is: you as a living organism and all that is going on in your environment constitute a single process. What in physics we would call a unified field. A single process, like a pattern. But, you know, any pattern has all sorts of subsidiary wiggles in it. Like, the organism itself is a unified pattern, but it’s full of wiggles: all sorts of tubes and organs and bones and nerves and so on, working in this way.
You know the body doesn’t have a boss. We could pitch a big argument: who is really the top dog in your body? Your stomach or your brain? I can argue for both ways. Let’s first argue for the stomach. The stomach is fundamental. That’s what eats, and eating is the fundamental thing of being alive. By putting food into the stomach it digests it, and from there it goes out and energizes everything else. Obviously, the stomach is the most important. The hands, the mouth, the feet all exist to serve the stomach. And naturally, as a final achievement of the stomach, is the brain: evolving later in the evolutionary process as a gadget up there to scavenge around and find stuff for the stomach to eat. That’s the function the brain. But now, let’s take the argument to the side of the brain. The brain says: “Oh no, no, no. Come, now. Just because I arrived late doesn’t mean that I’m unimportant. I was being gotten ready for. Because I am the thing that is the flower at the top of this thing. And this tube with stomachs in it, and things below, was preparing for me, and the stomach is my servant. It is doing all the dirty work, and getting energy to put currents through my wonderful circuits. So that, by the creation of all the goods of the mind, of the arts and sciences, and religion, and philosophy, and so on, I shall be the true head of man.”
Well, both arguments are right. Because you have a relationship between stomach and brain which is a sort of polarity. The one exists for the other. It’s like when you prop up two sticks against each other: they will stand up so long as they lean on each other. Take one away and the other collapses. So chop off the head and the stomach is finished. Take out the stomach and the head is finished. So this is the way all organic life proceeds. It’s different with mechanical life, because the mechanism must invariably have a boss. The man who puts the machine together, the person who constructs the computer, who designs it, who asks it questions, who programs it, he is the boss. But organisms don’t have bosses. They are essentially, I would say, democratic arrangements where—somehow, in a marvelous way—an enormous company of cells are working together. But that isn’t the way. The body wasn’t sort of, one day, a lot of cells all crept to together and said, “We’re a body.” That does sometimes happen in the biological domain, but much rather this: when you watch the gestation of a mammal, you see, first of all, a very simple little organism which swells. And as it swells, it becomes more and more complicated from within. No parts are added, nothing is screwed on, there’s no welding done or anything like that. It bulges. And, of course, it does absorb material, but it transforms it. But all of it works together at once, like the legs of a centipede; like you work altogether at once.
For, you see, when we come down to it: you think you decide things, but you don’t know how you do it. How do you open and close your hand? You can decide, “I will now open my hand” and do it, but you don’t know how it’s done. And yet, in a sense, you do know how it’s done, because I say, “I know how to open my hand.” But you don’t know in words. You can’t explain it. Still less can you explain how you see, still less can you explain how you are conscious. How are you an ego? Well, you don’t know. Because the springs of being conscious, of being an ego, are outside the surveillance of consciousness. They are somehow underneath. And that lets the cat out of the bag at once, because you see that what is “I” is something very, very much deeper than the superficial consciousness. And what you call “I” in the sense of the voluntary willing center, ego, has very little to do with it. You are just a watchman on top of the mast, or a radar on a ship that is scanning the environment by conscious attention, looking out for trouble or looking for food. The real you is much too complicated to think about.
Supposing, when you woke up in the morning, you had to switch yourself on. That is to say, you had to—by an act of conscious attention—to go through your brain and turn on all the synapses necessary for wakeful life. It’d take you hours. Supposing you really had to be conscious of all the details involved in walking, or in breathing, or in circulation of the blood. You’d never get around to it! So, you see, when we inspect the physical world with conscious attention, the first thing that strikes us is that the physical world is extraordinarily complicated. How can it possibly be organized? But actually, the physical world is not complicated at all. What is complicated is the task of trying to describe it in words, or of trying to figure it out in numbers. Because that is analogous to the task of, say, removing the water from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic with a beer mug. We can only take one mug at a time. And so we say in popular speech you can only think of one thing at a time. That’s not exactly true, but what it reveals is that thinking, that conscious thought, is a kind of calculus in which we understand things bit by bit. And it leads us into the superstition that things really are bits. Now, when you eat chicken, of course you have to bite it. And you take it in bits. And to make it easier to bite you order from the grocer a cut up fryer. But you don’t get cut up fryers out of eggs. Because, you see, although we can speak of a chicken, an egg, or a body, it is not actually a bit. It hasn’t been bitten off, except for purposes of thinking.
Now, this is beautifully brought out in a passage from Whitehead, which I will read to you. He is discussing the nineteenth century philosophy of science, which I was just discussing, too. And he’s saying in this philosophy:
All our impressions of nature are simply products of our minds. Nature gets credit, which should in truth be reserved for ourselves. The rose for its scent, the nightingale for his song, and the sun for his radiance. The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair. Soundless, scentless, colorless. Merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly. However you disguise it, this is the practical outcome of the characteristic scientific philosophy which closed even the seventeenth century. In the first place, we must note its astounding efficiency as a system of concepts for the organization of scientific research. In this respect, it is fully worthy of the genius of the century which produced it. It has held its own as the guiding principle of scientific studies ever since. It is still raining. Every university in the world organizes itself in accordance with it. No alternative system of organizing the pursuit of scientific truth has been suggested. It is not only reigning, but it is without a rival. And yet it is quite unbelievable. This conception of the universe is surely framed in terms of high abstractions. And the paradox only arises because we have mistaken our abstractions for concrete realities.
He calls that, you see, the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. The attribution, in other words, to our bitty way of thinking to the world which we are biting. That is misplaced concreteness. The separations between things are abstract, they are concepts—in the same way, for example, as lines of latitude and longitude are concepts. Even though a Russian poet has recently made a beautiful poem about the world being like a ball carried in a net bag. But you never expect to trip over the equator when you cross it. And although it is something quite abstract and does not exist in nature, it’s extremely useful for purposes of navigation. So, in the same way, bit-ing and having words to describe particular events or particular wiggles in the universal pattern are very useful. But they are very dangerous when you confuse things with natural events. Because then you get into this sort of trouble; the trouble of the sorcerer.
The surgeon who is too much of a specialist in one organ runs into that organ and alters it and does what he considers a better mechanical job than the Lord did. But then he discovers to his dismay and the even greater dismay of his patient that the operation has unforeseen consequences in some other part of the organism, because he didn’t realize the connection. When, likewise, we object to certain insect pests—oh, we say, get rid of them! DDT. And so whzzzsht, then we found we got rid of something else we didn’t want to get rid of. And worse still, that this insect that we didn’t like was doing a job for us in some manner of which weren’t aware, and we only become aware of it when suddenly we find ourselves covered with another kind of fly altogether, or with some sort of bacteria which this insect kept down. Watch it, watch it, watch it! Because nature does not consist of separate things which you can just pull out like parts from an engine.
Take the case of bees and flowers. Oh, we always use the bees and flowers to explain fundamental things about life. But we’re going to go deeper than sex this time. Fascinating thing about bees and flowers is: they are very different looking things. A flower sits still and blooms and it smells—or stinks, to be correct. The bee moves about and buzzes. But they are all one organism. You don’t find flowers without bees, you don’t find bees without flowers. They are just as much one as your head and your feet, which also look very different. So in that sense, you see, we are one with the incredible complexity of processes and wiggles upon which we depend. Although to say, “upon which we depend” is not quite accurate, because that separates us from it as if I were hanging onto a beam and depending on it. It isn’t like that. You don’t depend on it, because it depends on you. It’s a mutual arrangement. And it isn’t that one bit of this sort of came first—although that sometimes happens—but it’s always there in potentiality; what came later.
But it’s rather in the same way that, when a flower opens, you see all the different petals extending simultaneously. Especially when you watch a fast-motion movie of a flower opening. And so, in the same way, there is a simultaneous arrival, or evolution, of the human organism and the human environment. And thus biologists speak about the evolution of an environment as well as the evolution of an organism in it. In other words, human beings could not have appeared on this planet until its temperature had lowered to a certain degree, until the atmosphere contained certain gases as a result of vegetative development. And then the environment became evolved enough for human beings to appear in it. Evolved enough? I’ll say something further: intelligent enough for the appearance in it of intelligent beings. For your environment is intelligent. Otherwise you couldn’t be. You see, as Jesus said, you don’t gather figs off thistles or grapes from thorns. You won’t get pears off an apple tree. So you won’t find people, except on a people tree! And this planet, this solar system, this galaxy is people-ing in exactly the same way that an apple tree apples.
Put our existence into verb language, as distinct from noun language, and you’re much closer to the point. You see, nouns have the difficulty of designating things. Verbs designate process. Now, everything is a process, really. When we speak of housing for houses, matting for mats, we’re getting there. The Nootka Indians have a language in which there are no nouns. So they say: “it houses,” and then they add an adverb to show whether it houses religiously, homely or marketingly. And so they see the world as the flow. What is it that houses? What is it that rains when we say, “It is raining?” You see, we always have a funny idea that, to get a verb—that is to say, to get action—you have to have an agent. Now, this is the most ridiculous idea conceivable. How can a noun start a verb? How can a thing start an event? Because there’s no action in a thing. Action can only come from action. Energy from energy. You can’t get energy from a concept. Because nouns are all concepts. They’re abstract, really. It’s only verbs that are concrete, because the world is process.
Now, common sense insists that the pattern of the world must be made of something. Because we still think with Aristotle’s common sense—or with the imagery of the Book of Genesis, where God made Adam out of the clay. In other words, he made a clay figurine and breathed breath into it and it became alive. And so we constantly think that we are made of flesh, as if flesh were some sort of stuff like clay out of which you shape bodies, or like you make tables out of wood. Are trees made out of wood? What a ridiculous question. Trees are wood. They’re not made of wood. And it is simply this artifact thing that gives us the idea of the world being made out of something. It isn’t made out of anything! And so when physics tries to investigate what is the stuff of matter, it can’t find any. Because you can never talk about anything except a process. You can describe what a process is doing: you can describe the structure, the nature of the dance, whether it’s doing a waltz or a mazurka or the frog or whatever it is. Then you can describe that melody, shall we say; what it is performing. But there is nothing doing the performing at all. There is no stuff out of which it’s being done, because when you examine stuff you just find more pattern.
See, what you mean by stuff is fuzz. When you look at something with a lens and you’re out of focus, you see fuzz. But when you come into focus you see structure. Right now, the structure is made of all sorts of little lines and things. You can see them and you want to know: what are they made of? So you turn up the magnification. And for a while you get a lot of fuzz. But when you’re clear again you see that those little lines are also made of more little lines, more structure. Big patterns have little patterns upon their backs to bite, and so on. And that’s the way it goes. So suddenly you feel rather insecure, because stuff has disappeared. There’s a famous story about a physicist who understood this so well that he always went about in the most enormous padded shoes because he was afraid of falling through the floor!
Now look what’s happened! Just look and see what has happened to us. If we go through everything that I’ve been saying, we find, first of all, that the thing that we thought was “I” is nothing more than a social institution. Just like the equator, or an inch. And to mistake it—to reify it, as Whitehead would say—is the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. It’s strictly a hallucination. And any certain amount of psychological self-exploration shows this to be the case. But what we are is the organism, and what the organism is is a transactional interchange between the organism and the environment. It’s not quite correct to say you’re doing it and it’s doing you because, you see, Whitehead—in describing the scientific philosophy, saying, for example, that blue is entirely our projection on the sky—he’s half right, you see? Those scientists he’s talking about are half right. But the part of it that is left out of consideration is this: true, you with your optical nerves and eyes, transform the sky into the blue feeling. But without the sky you wouldn’t have any optical nerves. It works both ways, you see? Without the air whose density gives the blue effect. It’s mutual. You do it and it does you. But that’s, as I said, a two-way, a clumsy way, of talking about: it’s all one process; a unified process.
And furthermore, from this process there has disappeared what we thought was solidity, what we thought was common sense, substance, and stuff. It’s just pattern. And at once one feels sort of ghostly, as if you could be easily blown away. And that’s why the Hindus call the universe the māyā, which means “the illusion.” Don’t forget, illusion is related to the Latin word ludere: “to play.” So the play, the big act. It also means “magic,” as in a conjuror’s creation of an illusion. It also means “creative power.” It also means “art.” And finally, it means the “divine power.” The māyā of the Lord. Lord is a bad translation of Bhagavan. Just the Divine One. Lord means “boss” in English, and the Hindus don’t do it that way.
But now, you see—having arranged this general introduction, which I’m afraid will be familiar to some of you who’ve attended my seminars before, but I’ve arranged this general introduction to raise the question: alright, if that’s the way it is, how on Earth are we going to arrange a transformation of man’s consciousness so that he’ll know it? Not just in theory, but something he feels in the same way as you feel what you take to be “I” at the present moment, confronting an external world. How will you transform that sensation? Because if you don’t transform that sensation, you’ll not ever be fit to use technology. We shall continue to use our technology in a hostile spirit towards the external world, and we shall wreck the external world. We’re busy doing it now. There is no necessity to abandon technology. We can’t abandon it. But we can certainly use it in a different spirit.
I’ve just been in the island of Ceylon, which is a garden; a beautiful, beautiful place. But it’s completely undeveloped from a technical point of view. And it’s in very bad economic circumstances because nobody wants to buy natural rubber anymore. It has no foreign exchange. It is very peaceful. But the change has got to come. So I discussed with one of the high members of the government the possibility that we could set up in Ceylon an experimental station which would serve not only India, eventually, and Africa, but us, too: an institute of ecological technology where we could—in that experimental island—work out ways of production, of mechanization, automation, and so on, which would not ruin the island. And you have to do that sort of thing with a certain dedication, because one of the reasons why we make such a mess with technology is that the shareholders in any given corporation want to make a fast buck. Now, there’s nothing wrong, you see, in wanting to be rich. There’s nothing at all wrong in being rich. In fact, I think the world without rich people would be extraordinarily boring. The point is, you have to understand what riches are. And they are not money. Riches are land, clothes, food, housings, intelligence, energy, skill, iron, forests, gardens. Those are riches. But when you’re concentrating, you see, only on making the buck, it doesn’t occur to you that you’re not really getting rich, you’re just impoverishing yourself. It’s like, you know, when you up, up, up, up, up prices, the value of the dollar goes down, down, down, down, down. You’re just on a rat race; on a treadmill. The faster it moves, it doesn’t get anywhere—well it doesn’t even stay in the same place. So it is that kind again—you see, this is another example of confusing the symbol with the reality, of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, as Whitehead calls it. So we shall devote the rest of the seminar to discussing the various ways in which it is proposed that we bring about, or assist the bringing about of, that change in our perception and conception of our own existence so that we can feel ourselves the way we are, as distinct from the way in which we’ve been told to feel ourselves.
So, this morning I was explaining the problem of the relation of the individual to the world, discussing it very largely in the terms of twentieth century science, and showing that there was a wide discrepancy between the organism-environment relationship as described in science and the subjective feeling of what it is to be an individual human being. And that the ordinary sensation we have of being an individual ego confronting an alien and external world is a hallucination—and a dangerous hallucination, because it leads to our using technology in a way that is antagonistic to the outside world and results in our destroying the very features of the world upon which we depend for our lives. We are polluting the world. And so it becomes necessary to find ways in which we can change the basic sensation of existence. And that, therefore, brings in some rather outlandish subjects. Because there is not, within the tradition of Western culture, any well known way of doing this.
What do we have available? Well, we have religion, which is supposed (in some respects) to be capable of this. And we have psychiatry. I don’t know what else. Religion in the West is a peculiarly problematic thing because it’s extremely talkative. It gives us a great deal of advice, many commandments, but it doesn’t really tell us how to do what it tells us to do. It has been carefully worked over, and statisticians have checked it, that if you go through the sermon topics of clergymen throughout the United States, that the vast majority of them are exaltations to goodness. That is to say: they are sermons about moral behavior, usually within a rather restricted sphere of moral behavior. When we say of a certain person that he is living in sin, what do we mean by that? We would very rarely say of a crooked bookie that he is living in sin. You are much more liable to say it of somebody who’s got an irregular sexual relationship. Well, the fact of the matter is that, with some exceptions, the Christian churches and the Jewish synagogues are family and sexual regulation societies, and precious little else.
We used to have, when I was school, a preacher who came—I don’t know who he was or where he came from—but he came once a year. And he always preached a sermon which had in it the refrain: “Drink, gambling and immorality!” And immorality only meant one thing. But the point is that the emphasis of preaching—and Protestants, you see, when they go to church, mostly go to a preaching session. Catholics receive sacraments (Protestants do occasionally), but Catholics, when you get through the sacrament and you listen to what the priest has to say, he’s usually raising money. And, you know, or saying something like: “This year it’ll be a mortal sin not to send your child to church school.” Things of this kind. So everybody knows that they ought to be good and unselfish and so on. We all recognize that as a highly reasonable idea, but nobody feels like it. Because if you feel that you are a separate ego, it must necessarily follow that your conduct is egocentric and egotistic. There’s no other way about it. If you feel that you don’t love someone, then no amount of pretense can make you love them. You cannot possibly love anyone out of a sense of duty. And if you do, watch out! You will start hating them and they’ll start hating you in a secret and concealed way.
The relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children are absolutely haunted with fake love. It stirs up resentment and it leads people to expect things of you which you’re never going to come through with. If I say, out of feeling, that I really have a solemn duty to love so-and-so, and therefore, in the attempt to trap myself into the fulfillment of this duty, I make rash promises, I’m not going to fulfill them and the person is going to be terribly let down when I don’t. So if anything is a sin, it is emotional dishonesty. Saying I love you when I don’t. Well, of course, your mother always told you we all have to do certain things we don’t feel like doing. Maybe. But let’s make no bones about it. When somebody says to me, “Would you like to go out to the market and bring it back so-and-so?” I will answer, “No, I wouldn’t. But I will.” And we need that sort of exchange between each other. Because we put children in awful positions with faking up their feelings for them by telling a child who’s simply enraged and mad that he’s tired. or by saying, you know, “What nice boy would like to clean the blackboard?” All this sort of thing, you see, leads to emotional dishonesty.
So the problem, then, is this: that, when people preach moral behavior, and then—out of a sense of guilt or out of a sense of fear—people try to be good (that is to say, to do those things that are preached), all it does is it turns them into hypocrites. Preaching is a hypocrisy-creating institution in that sense, because it does not transform the consciousness of the individual. If, by any chance, consciousness could be so transformed that one is no longer felt as a separate ego, then you would not have to be so egotistic. If there is a way, in other words, of generating love within human beings as a kind of constant attitude to the environment, that is going to be far more effective in bringing about unselfish behavior than anything else. Well, that’s our problem, you see? To do just that. And no amount of talk is going to do it. Because it depends on something more happening than merely understanding words, or even seeing the theoretical reasonableness of certain lines of conduct. We need a bomb under us, rather than intellectual persuasion.
But church religion as we know it in the West doesn’t provide the bomb. It’s very demure, decorous—except in [black] revivals or Pentecostal outbursts—but no person of education and taste would attend such things. Bishop Pike was telling me the other day a very funny story, which was that he’s run into an awful lot of trouble with the trustees when he was bishop of California because he espoused some rather controversial causes. And they began cutting down their contributions to the cathedral. But then they started to realize that if they did that, they’d have nowhere for their daughters to be married. Because they couldn’t possibly go to the Methodist Church or the Pentecostal church. Because that was unbelievably low-class. See, he has to go to the Episcopal or the Presbyterian Church. Or you might be a Roman Catholic, which is the sort of a different thing; it’s sort of an Italian church. Or they go to the synagogue.
But the problem, you see, is therefore that our churches are awfully nice and demure, but they’re talking shops. So much so that, when in any ordinary church service there’s a moment of silence, it’s invariably an awkward silence—unless it’s a Quaker meeting. And so what happens is organists have a technique of what they call inkling: they improvise on the theme of the last hymn that was sung while there’s a silence in which the minister has forgotten his notes, or there was some hitch in the ritual. And also, you see, when you look at the design of a church, it’s perfectly clear that a Protestant church is a courtroom. It has in it boxes that are like witness boxes and jury boxes, pews, and the minister wears the same robe as a judge; exactly the same robe. And everybody goes there, and they look at the back of each other’s necks, and they smell of mothballs. Well, that’s no scene for anything to happen. You know, we’re just not with it.
So it is as a result of this sort of spiritual starvation that enormous numbers of people—and now phenomenal numbers of young people—have become interested in having a religious expression of some completely different kind. But why is it that things that we have had that were in their own way exuberant—like holy rollers and moral rearmament, foursquare gospel, Salvation Army hymn sings—all that seems awfully irrelevant, especially to the young of today. Why is it that, if you go to most people who have had a college education and say to them: “Have you made Jesus Christ your personal savior?” that they cringe. That that’s somehow like making an indecent remark. It has the same sort of ill effect. Why is it that such phrases as “our heavenly Father,, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” “our very dear Lord,” all these expressions give people the heebie-jeebies? Why does that happen? What does it do? I’m an experienced one, I know all about it. I was a university chaplain. And I know all the problems in trying to communicate with intelligent college people. And more and more of us are just that. We can’t face it. The universities are turning out thousands and thousands and thousands of children. It’s getting worse all the time.
Well, go to Japan. And you’ll find that the young Japanese have just the same feelings about Buddhism. You ask a young Japanese today, “What’s your religion?” and he will say: “My parents are Buddhists.” Or even, “My parents are Christian.” He has none. Because to him, the activity of religion is completely meaningless and he knows nothing about it at all. The average young Japanese today knows less about Buddhism than a young American knows about Christianity. To them it’s just mumbo jumbo. It’s an old fuddy-duddy priest whom their parents get together with under the superstition that, if they pay the priest to recite a sūtra, something nice will happen to a dead ancestor. And the priest goes nyoo-huuh nyoo-swuuh zhuu-huuh uuh-uuuh yooo-yo-ooo ooos-oooh, and nobody knows what it means, and that’s it so far as the young are concerned. They see no glamor in it such as we see. Because to us, mysterious priests chanting in incense-filled temples with dimly lit idols and things glimmering there, and all their robes, and the smell of the incense suggests magic and mystery and something way, way out.
Well now, a lot of people would say, “Well, that’s a lot of nonsense. That’s just romanticism. That’s just being beguiled by a dream about another culture that doesn’t exist.” But that’s not altogether true, because different cultures have always borrowed from each other. Always. There is no such thing as a sort of a simon-pure culture unless a people lived in total geographical isolation for several centuries. The Chinese borrowed from the Indians. The Japanese borrowed from the Chinese. The French borrowed from the Romans. The British and the Russians and everybody else borrowed from the French. And so it goes all the way around, because we’re always fascinated by the exotic. And the reason is that the exotic way of doing something shows us another approach to it than we had hitherto imagined. Just as, in reverse, when we see Christianity as a Hindu sees it, or as a Japanese like Kagawa sees it, we get rather a shock. There’s a new way of looking at it. To locate the position of any object you triangulate it: you look at it from two positions. And therefore, this triangulation in religion is a very good idea, because the unfamiliarity of the other point of view will somehow revive things you never saw on your own.
But there’s another thing to this that’s tremendously important, but rather difficult to explain. One of the things that is oppressive about our own standard brand religions is their lack of humor. And also, I would say, their lack of a kind of glee. And glee and humor have to go together. Because you can get religious glee in a big hymn sing, you know, but it’s often without humor. To understand a religion really well, you must be able to make jokes about it. And this is a kind of criterion which distinguishes the men from the boys. If you cannot joke about your own religion, you’re very insecure in it. But what religions joke about themselves? Occasionally, a Catholic like G. K. Chesterton will be very funny indeed about Catholicism, but this is quite rare. Hindus very rarely joke about Hinduism. The people who do joke about their religion are from China, and they are Taoists and Zen Buddhists.
If you want to get the original joke book on religion, it is by a certain man by the name of Zhuang Zhou, who wrote probably about 350 A.D. in the tradition of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. Zhuang Zhou elaborated the doctrine, but his whole work is full of the most marvelous anecdotes, in which one of his pedagogical devices is to make caricatures of his own point of view. For example, he has a great deal to say about the value of the useless: that everybody who is aspiring to be useful will probably get eaten up. Because, after all, it’s the healthy pigs that we take for food. So he has a parable about an exceedingly deformed hunchback, and he says this man was really skillful in his life because whenever the conscript officers came around they rejected him immediately, but whenever the social service workers came around he was the first to get a handout of food. And he describes a colossal tree that some travelers came across on a journey. And they said, “That must be the most remarkable tree!” And they went up to it and they found that its wood was all full of pith, and that the branches wouldn’t even do as bean poles because they were all scraggly, that the leaves were rough and inedible, and that the fruit was exceedingly bitter. So nobody wanted to eat this tree, as a result of which it grew to enormous size. And then he gave such illustrations as this: when a drunken man falls out of a cart, though he may suffer, he does not die. Because his spirit is in a condition of security and he does not suffer from contact with objective existences. If such security may be obtained from wine, how much more from the Tao—from being, you know, with it? He means this kind of relaxed, going-along with the course of nature. But, you see, he exaggerates all the time. He makes these impossible illustrations. And there is always a very gentle humor in this.
Now, you see, Zen comes from China and it is the result of a fusion of Buddhism without Taoism. Indian Buddhism arriving in China in this kind of style—oh, a little after 400 A.D.—and then picking up a Taoist atmosphere. So humor, of course, is essentially laughter at oneself. Humor is really not taking yourself seriously. And therefore, naturally, as your religion is something very close to your heart, you mustn’t take your religion seriously, either. And so the Zen masters have invariably depicted themselves in a humorous way. When you look at the drawings they did of themselves, and even of Buddha, they’re all oafs and clowns and baboons. You know that marvelous character, Hotei, who is the fat Buddha? He’s not exactly—he shouldn’t be called the fat Buddha. He’s really a Zen tramp with this terrific belly. And he carries around a big bag, and that bag is full of trash. It’s all odds and ends which nobody else thought were important. But Hotei is like a child: he has no prejudice about things and anything might be important. And so he picks up old rags, bottles, bottle tops, discarded notebooks, all kinds of fascinating things. Don’t you remember, as a child, how fascinating they were? And he puts them in this bag and then gives them away to children. And he is regarded with great respect in Zen. But he’s not taken seriously.
Now, what do I mean? There is a difference between being serious and being sincere. And. G. K. Chesterton, to go back to him, once said that:
In frivolity there is a lightness which can rise,
But in seriousness there is a gravity that falls like a stone.
And thus the angels fly—
Because they take themselves lightly.
So this is true of the of the Zen people. They take themselves lightly. They say, for example, of the teachings of Buddha: all the troubles in this world started when Old Golden Face stuck out is three inches of iron. That means his tongue. “Old Golden Face” is Buddha. And, of course, when you see Buddhist images of Buddha, they’re gold. So: Old Golden Face. And if he has a tongue, it’s an iron tongue, as if to say Buddhism—the doctrine, this method—isn’t serious.
As a matter of fact, why do the troubles begin when the teaching begins? Why, for the simple reason that, when you attempt to get yourself out of the difficulties caused by your own ego, you’re on the wrong track. As we say: anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined. And you see the many levels of meaning in that statement. So they would say that the study of Zen is like putting legs on a snake, or a beard on a eunuch. It is somehow—well, our metaphor is “gilding the lily:” doing something unnecessary, and by doing it making a mess of everything. Because, you know, lilies are not very happy when gilded. Snakes find legs inconvenient. So this is the the humor in the whole thing: that, when you catch yourself doing something such as looking all over the house for the spectacles you’re wearing, there’s nothing when you find out what you’ve done but to laugh. And so, in the same way, when you are trying to get yourself liberated from an ego which never existed in the first place, when you discover that that’s the case, there’s nothing for you to do but laugh at yourself. And the whole of Zen is based on this.
Zen, you see, traps you, cunningly enough, into going through a great discipline. And boy, it’s not the case of somebody coming out and telling you, “You come here and this discipline is good for you, and you better crowd in around here and all take it.” No, if you apply for admission to Zen school, you get thrown out immediately. They don’t want you. So you have to force your way in. You really have to lay your head on the block and say, “I am in trouble. I firmly desire, I sincerely intend, I will curse and swear that I do indeed want to become a Buddha before anything else in the world.” And unless you make that much fuss about it, they will not let you in. And then what they do is: they fix you up with the funniest problems. There are two that I might illustrate this with.
One is that you have to show the teacher who you really are—not who you’ve been brought up to be, but who you are originally, before your father and mother conceived you. That is to say, you must perform a completely sincere and spontaneous act. Or they will ask you to hear the sound of one hand. You know, there’s a Chinese proverb which says one hand doesn’t make a clap. So what is the sound of one hand? Whew! You know, those rascals, what they get away with! But they get away with it, you see, just so long as there’s someone ready to be fooled. Just so long as you will allow yourself to be put down into pretending that you’re just “poor little me,” and that you’re this little separate ego, has all these problems, and is disconnected, and it isn’t, after all, the whole universe. And as long as you feel in that way, some smart old master can put you down and can trap you up by persuading you in some way or other that you haven’t made it. And you’ve got to make it. You’ve got to attain that thing, you see? That’s your egotism.
So they go through all this, and it’s just like someone being put in a squirrel cage or set to chasing his own tail or trying to catch his own shadow, but under the supervision of a teacher who knows just exactly what’s going on. The teacher himself has been through it. And he’s not like the other kind of teacher, who is still a student and who is urging his students to keep on the rat race because he’s still on it. Finally, it dawns. You see, when you when you persistently do something absurd, eventually you will have to see it. As Blake says: a fool who persists in his folly will become wise. But if you’re really consistent about it, if you really go for that foolishness, then you will suddenly realize that you have made yourself absolutely absurd. Then there is nothing to do but laugh. And as for the teacher who traps you into this—you’re very, very grateful to him, but you see that, after all, he is a big hoax! Because here he is in his robes and in his dignity, and he is just an old ricebag who tricked you into this. As Rinzai himself put it—one of the great Chinese Zen masters—it is like using a closed fist to deceive a child. His method of teaching is like that. As, you know, when you got a child and you got a closed fist, and you say: “What have I got here?” And the child’s full of excitement; says, “Show me!” And you say, “Uh-uh, you gotta guess. What have I got here?” It says, “Show me!” The child tries to pry your hand open, and you hide it in every way. And the child gets more and more fascinated. And finally in the end: phhwwwt! Nothing. Well, it’s all like that.
Because, you see, taken another way: what are you holding on to? What are you protecting? What are you anxious about? What is it that you don’t want to lose? And you discover, eventually, that all you’re defending is defensiveness. You know, you started defending something, you build up a wall, and then you got worried about whether the wall would stand up, so you build another wall around it. You build another one around that. And, really, it’s a sort of onion system in which there’s no center. So we are defending our defenses. And when that is exposed, and that’s, you see, all you’re doing, and there wasn’t anything to defend in the first place, nor was there anything to be attained that you didn’t already have. But you can’t find this out by being told, because you wouldn’t believe it. You can only find it out by carrying your supposed predicament to its logical conclusion.
So then, we take the ego. Now, how on earth are we to show that the ego is an abstraction to someone who firmly believes that that’s himself? Well, the only thing to do is to challenge it. So when the problem is put before a Zen novice—“Be sincere!” “Show me your true self!”—he works like anything at it. But the circumstances under which this occurs are such as to make it practically impossible for him to do it. If you understand this—supposing you go and confront the teacher, and you go through a certain kind of formal salutation, sort of like a ritual, and then at a certain minute you have to do something completely spontaneous and unpremeditated. How can you do that? Because here is the teacher, sitting, looking at you like this, waiting for you to do it. Show me “you.” And he’s looking right at you. And you think, “Uh-oh, he sees right through me.” And any kind of little guilt you have, or any kind of thing like that, you feel that he’s looking right at it. And just like a very skillful swordsman, if you think before you thrust, he’s caught you—because he’s caught you thinking. You have to thrust before you think. Then you’ll surprise it. But the moment there is a little waver of intention before the act, it’s too late. He’s read it; read your mind. So you mustn’t have any thoughts, and then he won’t read your mind. It’s like when you want to go on a wagon: for goodness sake, don’t make a resolution. “I’m going on the wagon this year.” Because then you published to the devil your intention. Never let him know. See? The same way, when Lao Tzu—this is a story that Zhuang Zhou invented and has a certain typical humor to it—Lao Tzu is supposed to have had a discussion with Confucius on the nature of love and benevolence. And when Confucius has given forth several pomposities as about this, Lao Tzu is alleged to have said to him: “What stuff! Surely, your getting rid of self is a positive manifestation of self. You are like people beating drums in search of a fugitive.” Or we would say: the police driving off to raid a nightclub with their sirens on. That announces that they’re coming, you see? So in order to surprise yourself, you mustn’t know what you’re going to do. Now, how can you do that? That’s the paradox which the Hindus express by saying, “If you think of a monkey while you’re taking medicine the medicine won’t work. Therefore, try not to think of a monkey while taking medicine.”
So, how are you going to surprise yourself? See, we got back to that thing we were talking about this morning—that button with the word “Surprise” on it. And if you’re God, you know what the surprise is. How can you not? The problem for God, as well as for us: how do you surprise yourself? Because that’s what you’ve got to do. If you’re going to be spontaneous, you see, your action has to be a surprise to you, like having hiccups. But how are you going to arrange for yourself to do something surprising? So you really work at that. And you work and you work and you work, and the teacher rejects all your efforts. Even some of your fairly good efforts get rejected. Because he’s building up with you a fabulous frustration. He’s making you feel that this task is like looking for a needle in a haystack—to discourage you in every possible way—and yet, at the same time, lead you on by saying, “Well, you’ve got to work at it. In the past there were all those famous students who went before and they sweat blood to find this out. They were ready to give their lives to hear the sound of one hand. You can’t expect to get anywhere near them unless you redouble your efforts!” You see, this is the come-on; the sales pitch.
Though, finally, you get to a point where you understand and see perfectly clearly that there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing at all! But there, where are you? Because if there’s nothing you can do about it, then nothing’s going to happen. You mean you’re going to sit around and wait for the grace of God? Maybe it will get you one day and you say, “Well, I’ll just go along and do my daily work. There’s nothing I can do.” And if you indicate to the teacher that that is your attitude, he’s got another curve to throw at you, which is that this giving up is still a contrivance. You’re still doing something. So there’s nothing in it—so far as the transformation of the ego is concerned—there is nothing you can do about it. Also, there’s nothing you cannot do about it. You find you cannot abandon this quest once it’s excited you, and just go off and be an ordinary philistine type person. Because if you do that, that too will be phony. So you’re left in this frantic dilemma. There’s nothing I can do and there’s nothing I cannot do.
But, you see, you eventually get to the meaning of that situation. What does it mean that I’m in this situation? It means that the “I” (which I thought I was), since it can neither do anything nor not do anything, then it doesn’t exist. You realize it for the abstraction that it is. That’s the practical experiment. It’s very frustrating. And why is it frustrating? You made it frustrating by swallowing the teacher’s advice, which he knew you’d fall for. And you were trying to do what the preachers tell you: to make yourself unselfish by either an active course or a passive course. And neither of them work because they’re both redundant. There is no real self, no real ego. And then, of course, when that’s found out, everybody has a good laugh. So that is a kind of a spirit in spirituality and religion which is really rather rare.
So I think this is the feature of Zen which is attractive to most Westerners. On the one hand, it’s extreme directness. And on the other, it’s human. So it’s very difficult, although a few people have achieved it, to be Zen and to be stuffy. Because it is essentially an un-stuffing process; a way of getting rid of—I think we have in our contemporary American slang some very wonderful words, such as “hang-up.” Almost exact translation of what Buddhists mean by a kleśa, or “worldly attachment.” See, when you talk about worldly attachments to Christians, they think it means enjoying your food and liking sex and having a beautiful car, or something like that. That’s what they call worldly attachments. Now, in Buddhism all those things could be worldly attachments, or kleśa, but aren’t necessarily so. It depends if you’re hung-up on it. And to be hung-up means to be in a dither; in a state where you hesitate, not knowing should I go this way or that way. See, that’s a hang up.
And so, the tactics of a Zen teacher are to put all his students, constantly, into hang-up situations—to challenge them by such a procedure as this: you’re in a conversation, you’ve just been introduced to the teacher, and he says, “How do you do? Where have you come from?” “Oh, I came from Tokyo.” “And where did you go to school?” “Well, I was at the University of Tokyo for a while.” “Why is my hand so much like the Buddha’s hand?” Dead silence. See, he suddenly slips into this question which nonpluses the student. So the art of nonplussing is part of the whole technique of the teacher. And your problem is to get out of being nonplussed. And to be able to do that, you have to be able to act without ego. That is to say, without choice, without deliberation. How to act without deliberation is to all right-thinking people a very foolish thing to do. We say “look before you leap,” but we also say “he who hesitates is lost.”
Now, you see, what we’re getting down to here, really seriously, is that the Zen method is a way of teaching people to get with themselves in the larger sense of self and the ego. That is, shall I say, to have faith in yourself in that larger sense. If your brain and your nervous system is a most fabulous computer, which you had no hand whatever in constructing (from the standpoint of the conscious ego), but it is you, you should certainly learn to trust it. But we were all brought up not to trust yourself. And therefore, for us, brought up in that way, it’s a very dangerous thing to trust yourself too rashly. And therefore, to learn how to do it, we have to learn in protected circumstances. So the Zen school provides protected circumstances in which we can behave in unexpected ways, or we can try out spontaneous behavior. Everybody around there understands that some very odd things may happen, but just because this is understood, there’s no problem about them.
So all those Zen stories that we read and laugh over because they seems so idiotic are stories is in which the teacher hangs-up the student and the student does or doesn’t get out of the hang-up. If he can come on with that sort of instant but not hurried response to the challenge, that means his psychic energy is flowing unobstructedly. The whirlpool is just working beautifully and the energy is flowing right through it. But on the other hand, if he’s hung-up, it means he’s in a state of insecurity. He’s afraid that if he doesn’t choose the right response to the situation he may be in serious danger. Danger, maybe, of disapproval by the teacher or of actually risking his life in some way, or, you know as we say, “saying the wrong thing.” But the secret is, of course, to respond instantly in some way. If he says, “Why is my hand so much like the Buddha’s hand?” you might slap it, or you might just shake hands with it, or you might put a penny in this palm, or you might spit on it, or you might kiss it. But immediately—that’s the answer.
Now, sometimes he will feel that you’re not really skillful at this; that your spontaneous answer is inappropriate, or that it’s a contrived spontaneous answer. You get to the point where you can detect the spirit in which it’s done very easily. All sorts of cues give it to you. And therefore he rejects it; says, “Try again.” Because you cannot give that sort of answer until you come to the point that you get to when you learn to ride a bicycle. You remember when you try to learn to ride a bicycle: you get to the point where you know that you’re going to be the one damn stupid child who will never learn to ride a bicycle! And at that minute, suddenly, you find: it’s doing it. It was the same with learning to swim. All those knacks are just like the study of Zen. So you will, in the study of Zen, get to the point where you know you’re going to be the one eternally stupid student who never, never will get through that kōan—that’s a Zen problem, in Japanese; the word kōan. Like: “What is the sound of one hand?” That’s a kōan. And out of that intense frustration there occurs the transforming experience, because it is that intense frustration that reveals to you in an undeniable, immediate, sensuous way the frustration of discovering that what you thought you were all along isn’t really there at all.
Do you remember that I described this state in which you discover that your actions are the actions of the environment? And what the environment’s doing is what you are doing? And that both of these are true because it’s all one process? And when you’re so used to thinking about it the other way, you get into a feeling of it being that way—it’s frustrating. It’s like the experience of talking into a microphone and then hearing your own voice a split second later. And you start doing this, and this thing starts talking, and then suddenly you find yourself waiting for it to go on. Very frustrating. But of course, it’s you who’s got to go on talking. It won’t work without you doing it, although it sounds like it’s coming from somewhere else. Well, it’s just like that, this feeling I’m describing. So you think—this is why a lot of people get into trouble with psychedelic chemicals. They get into this state. And when they suddenly find that it’s all one process, they begin to worry: now, who’s responsible? Am I responsible for my acts? But I’m not doing them. Is It responsible, so that I can say, “Well, it wasn’t my fault.” And then you suddenly see that you can’t divide “it” from “you.” But since you don’t feel in the ordinary old way, you feel that, “Well, now, how do I know that I’ll still speak the English language or will remember how to do it ten seconds from now?” Because if it all depends on something that’s not under my control, I don’t know that it will remember English. Or might I commit a murder? Supposing I suddenly commit a murder. How can I trust myself not to commit a murder? Because there’s no one in charge.
But you find that it’s really perfectly easy to go ahead and remember what English is and to act in an absolutely to civilized way. But when people don’t see that they get panicky, and panic in this state just builds up and builds up and builds up and builds up into the most appalling vicious circles. But, on the other hand, if you get into this new situation and just go ahead, you find it works beautifully. And this is why the Zen poet speaks of drawing water and carrying fuel as a miraculous activity.
I walk on foot and yet I’m riding on the back of an Ox. Empty-handed, and yet a spade is in my hand. When I cross the bridge, the bridge flows and the water is still.
That’s the feeling. See? “Empty handed I go, and yet a spade is in my hand.” How would you know your hand was empty unless you’d seen it with a spade in it? If you’d always seen a spade in a hand, you would think the spade was an extension of the hand, like a finger. So in order to know what empty-handedness is, you must know what full-handedness is. Therefore, the spade in the hand makes possible the realization of an empty hand, and vice versa. So in the same way, the realization of something other makes possible the realization of what you call “you.” So you can’t know what you mean by “you” unless there is the experience of the other.
Then you suddenly see, therefore, self and other, and all that that implies—what you will and what you don’t will, what you want and what you don’t want—these are all going together. Like this. So it’s like when you’re driving a car: when you move the steering wheel, are you pushing it or pulling it? Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth. You are, of course, pull-pushing it. So the same thing happens in this state of consciousness. What you ordinarily felt was pushing the world around was it pulling you. What you ordinary felt as the world pushing you around is you pulling it. Only, you always suppress one side of the awareness. So Zen practice leads to bringing about that awareness of polarity between the organism in the environment, but getting around the false problem of, “How do I get rid of myself?” “How do I transform myself?” When the “I” which I believe myself to be has no power to transform anything, because it’s a social convention and an abstraction.
Let me start by a little bit of backtracking and revision, which I shall do with the help of A. N. Whitehead. I’ve been talking about the situation of man (of the individual) in the world of nature, and the complexity introduced into this by technology, and further troubled by the way in which individuals generally experience themselves as confronting an alien universe—a form of experiencing our existence which is in flat contradiction to the scientific description of man as an organism-environment rather than an organism in an environment. Whitehead puts it in this way:
The doctrine which I am maintaining is that the whole concept of materialism only applies to very abstract entities, the products of logical discernment. The concrete, enduring entities are organisms. So that the plan of the whole influences the very characters of the various subordinate organisms which enter into it. In the case of an animal, the mental states enter into the plan of the total organism and thus modify the plans of the successive subordinate organisms until the ultimate smallest organisms, such as electrons, are reached. Thus an electron within a living body is different from an electron outside it by reason of the plan of the body. The electron blindly runs either within or without the body. But it runs within the body in accordance with its character within the body. That is to say, in accordance with the general plan of the body, and this plan includes the mental state. But the principle of modification is perfectly general throughout nature and represents no property peculiar to living bodies. In subsequent lectures it will be explained that this doctrine involves the abandonment of the traditional scientific materialism and the substitution of an alternative doctrine of organism.
[from Science and the Modern World, 1926]
In this passage he is stating in another way what he calls the fallacy of misplaced concretion—that is to say, of attributing physical reality to the abstractions in terms of which we describe the natural world, such as: things which are, as I showed you, units of thought (thinks), as inches, for example, are units of measurement. And through the confusion of (as Korzybski would have said) the map with the territory, (or as Wittgenstein would have said) the network with the world which we try to catch with the network. You see, in a certain sense we throw networks over everything—just as we throw the lines of latitude and longitude over the surface of the globe in imagination, just as we have celestial latitude and longitude, an imaginary net which we cast over the stars—and discuss all the features of the physical world in terms of their positions within the network, which are easily measurable as if we had, for example, graph paper printed on cellophane. So, in doing this we tend, increasingly, to confuse the structure of the net with the structure of the world that the net is used to measure. And it is as a result of that that we are, as it were, hypnotized by the abstract sense of individuality, or rather the abstract definition of individuality, and are less and less aware of what it is to be an individual concretely.
And so, in this sense, he says:
My own criticism of our traditional educational methods is that they are far too much occupied with intellectual analysis and with the acquirement of formularised information. What I mean is that we neglect to strengthen the habits of concrete appreciation of the individual facts and their full interplay of emergent values, and that we merely emphasise abstract formulations which ignore this aspect of the interplay of diverse values. We are too exclusively bookish in our scholastic routine. The general training should aim at eliciting our concrete apprehensions and should satisfy the itch of youth to be doing something. There should be some analysis even here, but only just enough to illustrate the ways of thinking in diverse spheres. In the Garden of Eden, Adam saw the animals before he named them. In the traditional educational system, children named the animals before they saw them. But when you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the Earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset. There is no substitute for the direct perception of the concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality. We want concrete fact with a highlight thrown on what is relevant to its preciousness.
[from Science and the Modern World, 1926]
I don’t always approve of Whitehead’s style of English. I think it’s a little pompous. But it’s very well said here. He is a saying in a kind of pedantic and academic way what the Zen Buddhists demonstrate. For one of their principles is that, when you ask a question about the abstract—that is to say, about philosophy or religion—you get an answer in the concrete. And when you ask a question about the concrete, you get an answer in terms of the abstract. So then, when those old Chinese masters were asked, “What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?” they would say something like, “Three pounds of flax.” And when working in the fields they were pruning tea bushes and the monk said to the Master, “Will you give me the knife?” the master hands him the knife blade first. He says, “Please give me the other end.” Question is, what would you do with the other end? And the conversation, as it were, switches in that way. But when he says, in answer to “What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?” “Three pounds of flax,” one is not to suppose (as one might if habituated to ordinary philosophical or religious ways of thinking) one must not suppose that this is some kind of symbolism, as if three referred to the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, the three treasures of Buddhism, or to the three bodies of Buddha, or anything like that. Three pounds of flax is just three pounds of flax. And even that is saying too much.
It’s very difficult to point, you see, to reality itself. When you try to get a dog to go and look at something by pointing at it, the dog will come to your finger and will not understand the meaning of pointing. So it is with humans. And if we consider that various kinds of religion—the teachings of religion, the rites, or the sacraments of religion—are fingers pointing, human beings all too readily suck those fingers for comfort instead of following or looking in the direction of the pointing. So such strange answers as “three pounds of flax,” or whatever it may be, try to jolt us out of our excessive thinking. As Whitehead says, our education is too bookish to come into direct contact with physical, material reality. But, of course, when I say these words—physical and material—they’re abstract. And this isn’t abstract. Nor, in that sense, is it material, insofar as material is an abstract idea; it’s a concept. This is not a concept.
So to wake people up to look at that requires, among other things, interior silence. Now, I’ve said some of this to you before, or said it to some of you before, but it cannot be stressed too often: the Chinese sage who was a Taoist, Zhuang Zhou, said once: “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing. It refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.” And this attitude in Zen Buddhism is called mushin, which in Japanese means “no mind.” We would say “mindlessness” or “thoughtlessness,” except that those words in our cultural context have a pejorative sense. To say that someone is thoughtless is to say that he’s inconsiderate or moronic. But in the Chinese sense of the term “thoughtless,” it means having a mirror-like mind. There’s a verse which says, “The wild geese do not intend to cast their image. The water has no mind to retain their reflection.” The same is sometimes said of the relationship of the moon to the water.
Now, this “no mind” means, really, “mental silence” in the sense that the mind is highly alert, highly aware, but without talking to itself. When it hears [Alan whistles], it doesn’t think “bird,” it doesn’t think “song,” it doesn’t think “music,” it just thinks, [Alan whistles again]. And so that means the absence of chattering to yourself constantly inside your head. Whether you’re doing it in words, whether you’re doing it in numbers, or whether you’re doing it in abstract images of some other kind. To become still and to reflect the world as a clear pool reflects the sky. Well, why is that important? Well, I can give at least two reasons.
One is that, if I am to talk all the time, I will not have anything to talk about except my own verbiage. Because I won’t listen to what anybody else has to say. In exactly the same way, if I think all the time, I won’t have anything to think about except thoughts. So just as I have to stop talking occasionally to hear what others have to say, so I have to stop thinking occasionally to have something to think about. Otherwise I’m sort of like a bookworm: a person who never gets out of the library, who reads and reads and reads, but has no contact with the life that books are about. Now, it’s very difficult, you see, to have a silent mind, because we are creatures of habit and we think incessantly.
Now, the second reason is that we are very bothered by our thoughts. One reason why Americans in particular don’t like to be alone, and like—even if they are alone, they turn on the radio or the television or read a magazine—is that they’re disturbed by their thoughts. I’m left alone with my thoughts and I start worrying. Why? Because you live according to a world of conceptions. For example, what do we worry about? We worry about the future or we regret things we’ve done in the past. But the future is not here and the past has disappeared. The future and the past, as it were, do not belong to the physical world. They are abstractions. And what we remember of the past is a very attenuated image of it, and what we predict for the future is never quite like what happens. In fact, it’s very unlike it. If I say to someone, “What did you do yesterday?” they say, “Oh, well, I got up in the morning. I had some coffee. I went for a stroll. Then I had breakfast and I dressed and brush my teeth, and I went out to the office, and I saw Mr. So-and-So,” and so on, you know? But this is, you see—you’re thinking of your past day in terms of abstractions which are like the bones of events and have none of the flesh on them. When you draw an abstract picture of a human body in stick figures—you know, you draw a round blob for the head, and then arms and legs—everybody knows at once that’s a human being, or meant to be, or represents a human being. But it’s not really very like one. It has none of the color, none of the flesh, none of the beautiful texture of a human organism.
So in thinking of our past as these rather attenuated, dried out memories, we always seem to have had a life of deprived richness. And therefore, the more we identify the succession of our days with these abstractions, the more we feel that there’s something we’re missing, as if you were to make a diet of dollar bills: you would suffer from malnutrition. And if you were stubbornly convinced that what you needed was more, you would have not only have malnutrition, but serious indigestion. And so, in the same way, if you think that what you need is more time, then you panic about the future. You want more future. And you say of something which is no good, “It has no future.” But what you should say: “It has no present.” Because when, you see, you have a silent mind, you’re not thinking about the future and you’re not thinking about the past. You are experiencing the present in a very complete way. You are not stopping to analyze each detail. You couldn’t possibly ever do that. But you are getting all the details without focusing on certain details which exclude your apprehension of the whole. And so you are beginning to live a rich life and a real life that is completely here and now.
Now, neither Whitehead, certainly, nor I—I’m taking in this an anti-intellectual position—we are saying that if you do not know completely how to live in the present, you have no use for plans for the future. Because you will never be able to enjoy those plans when they mature, because you won’t be there. You’ll be thinking about some other future. So what’s the point? And in the same way, there is no purpose in the intellectual life unless you are fully aware of that which the intellectual life is about, that is to say: present, vivid, real life. The intellectual life is a commentary on that, is a way of measuring it. And as all measurements are useful for prediction and for control, that’s fine. But don’t get so involved in prediction and control that all you’re doing is controlling, controlling. You know, like: is the meaning of life just to find out what the meaning of life is? But that’s what happens.
And one of the things that is explored in the meditations and the disciplines of Zen people and other types of Eastern philosophy is the exploration of power. We’ve been into this a little. Would you really like to control everything, supposing you could? And every wise person of course comes to the conclusion that that’s not what they want. Because if you controlled everything there would be no surprises. But we are at present, you see, dangerously living into an era of our civilization in which we are over-controlled. In which, for example, the laws cannot operate because there is too much law. In which you cannot do the simplest thing in the way of an enterprise or of business or of anything without having a battery of lawyers to tell you whether you may do it, and how you may do it. And the paperwork that goes with everything you do is absolutely intolerable. Academic paperwork is overwhelming. And you will notice that the records in a registrar’s office are kept in safes, they are so precious—but the books in the library are easily stolen. That the recording of what is done is more important than what is done. It’s like some people who don’t believe anything happens unless they’ve got a picture of it, and who obsessively take pictures of everything. We’re having a lovely time and somebody comes in beautifully dressed and so on and we say, “Oh, what a pity no one brought a camera!”
And I know the Japanese are obsessed with this because they, you see—they’re reacting. They’re copying all the terrible features of Western culture. When they go to a great monument, they photograph incessantly. They don’t see a thing, except through the viewfinder of the camera. And this little box is going, grab, grab, grab, grab, grab. And instead of enjoying the gorgeous presence of this temple, this garden, this mountain landscape, they’re waiting till they get home and go through these measly little reproductions of it, see? I sometimes wonder about this thing. I myself never, never listen to it, but I know other people like to have recordings of these things so that, if they they miss some point, they can catch up with it again. But I don’t know. I sometimes have nightmares about a world of echoes in which there are only echoes, and echoes of echoes, and echoes of echoes of echoes, reverberating forever down the empty corridors of my mind.
Now, here comes a problem though: how do you make your mind still? The method in Zen is a method of exasperation. They of course advocate various technical aids to making your mind still, such as the practice of zazen—which is sitting, usually cross-legged, on cushions in a long hall and counting your breath so as to eliminate from consciousness any other thought than that of the counting of the breath. And this eventually results in a state of stillness. Only, that’s not enough. Because the skillful teacher feels that this kind of stillness is not yet true stillness. It’s forced. And he’s trying to get you to a point where it will never be necessary for you to force your mind to be still, but where it can be so quite naturally. And he can only do that by tricks which are called upāya in Sanskrit, hōben in Japanese, which means “skillful means.” In pedagogy, upāya means the tricks of the teachers’ trade: how he gets attention, how he helps you to understand something. In politics, upāya means “cunning,” “deceit.” Has a sort of a bad meaning in politics. And so the Zen teacher uses all sorts of tricks to get you away from the fallacy of trying to make your mind still by force, which is like trying to smooth rough water with a flat iron. All you do is stir it up. I’m thinking that I’m trying not to think. I’m annoyed with myself because I’m not successful. Et cetera, et cetera. I should be successful. All these are disturbances; all these considerations. They’re off the point.
But how to get people off them? You have to reach a point, in other words, where you learn to leave your mind alone as you leave rough water alone, so that it becomes smooth of itself. But while you conceive your waiting for this to happen, you’re still stirring it up. You therefore have to get rid of the sensation that there is you, the thinker, watching the thoughts; you, the feeler, separate from and trying to control the feelings. Because so long as that separation exists, you will have trouble. And therefore, the function of the kōans—the problems like “What is the sound of one hand?”—is to lead you to the natural seeing-through of, debunking of, the concept of the separate thinker and the separate experiencer. So that, when you find out that the thinker and the thoughts are not different, then you will have less and less trouble in allowing the thoughts to become quiet. It’s difficult for us to understand this simply because of our language. When we say “knowing” or “thinking,” we always feel that this is a function or activity of someone who thinks and knows. That’s because we are tied up with this subject-verb-predicate language structure.
Now, the same problem is approached from a somewhat different point of view and with a different style, but essentially the same principles are being used, in the philosophy of Krishnamurti. Only, it comes in a very different way. Because although Krishnamurti is an Indian—and thus we would say, in the United States, a Hindu—he doesn’t present himself as affiliated with any kind of religious or philosophical organization. He comes on simply as Mr. Krishnamurti. And he doesn’t present any gimmicks, any obvious techniques. Because, according to his view, all these special practices are hindrances. In other words, supposing a group of people take up Zen Buddhism. Before you know where you are, they have become a club, a special in-group, and they’re the Zen people, and they’re gonna sell this thing. They’re going to say, “You should try our Zen,” you know? You may be a Christian scientist, you may be a Catholic, you may be a Seventh Day Adventist, you may be a Theosophist, and all these ways have something to be said for them, but the real thing is our Zazen! And then, of course, they all start sitting in meditation posture, and they put up hanging scrolls, and burn incense, and have Buddhas and gongs and so on. And all that can be used as a sort of social or cultural one-upmanship. And this is a very serious obstacle.
Now then, Krishnamurti comes on without any bells or robes. He addresses his audience wearing gray flannel pants and a wide open shirt. That’s it. And he talks without any spiritual technicalities or even philosophical technicalities. Absolutely dispenses with them. All he really does is ask questions. And therefore, he seems to many people as a total debunker who has nothing positive to offer. His approach is invariably one of this: You propose the question. In other words, you asked him to come here. Why? What is it you’re looking for? And you ask a question, for example—because actually, many of his original followers came out of a Theosophical background. They perpetually asked the question like, “Is there such a thing as reincarnation?” “Did I have a past life?” “Will I have a future life?” And instead of either saying yes or no, he comes back with, “Why do you ask?” “Is there a god?” “Why do you ask?” Go into it, go into the state of mind you have when you voice that question. Why are you voicing it?
Well, people will defend themselves for a long time when faced with that. They’ll say, “Well, I’m curious,” or, “Isn’t it one’s purpose in life to find out these things?”
He said, “What makes you think it’s your purpose in life? Does someone tell you so and you believed it? Why do you think that’s your purpose in life?”
And you have to back off a little bit. Say, “Well, I suppose the real reason why I want to know whether there’s going to be a future life is that I’m afraid of death.”
“Why are you afraid of death?”
“Well, I don’t want to lose my continuity.”
“A-ha! So that’s the reason, is it? You are clinging to yourself.”
“Well,” he would say, “how can you possibly understand God or anything of a spiritual nature while you’re clinging to yourself? Aren’t these two activities mutually exclusive? If you want to know what truth is, you must be open to truth, whatever it is. But if you say only that truth will be acceptable to me which supports my conception of my ego, then you’re not open.”
And you say, “Yes, I see.” But then you say, “How can I be open?”
He says, “Why do you want to be?”
See, you’re just doing the same old thing again. You ask me how to be unselfish. But what is your reason for wanting to be unselfish? You don’t want to be unselfish at all! You want to find a new way of getting around it all!
Now, in this manner he absolutely exasperates people. Because he’ll never agree with anything anybody says. If they formulate it and say, “Mr. Krishnamurti, is that what you mean?” he says, “No, no, no, no! No, no. No, no. No. No, no. Now, look. Go into it again. Don’t make a formulation,” he says. “Don’t come to a conclusion. Don’t want to have a resolution of this. Just be, if you can, open to to what is, to what you actually feel, now. Don’t judge it, don’t say it should be, it shouldn’t be. What is?” Say, when you’re in a state of grief. What is grief? No, don’t say a word. Don’t try to pin it down. Don’t give a definition. Just experience whatever you have labeled as grief. I often ask people when they say they’re anxious or something, “Where are you anxious?” And they say, “All over.” “Well,” I say, “come now. How do you know you are anxious? What symptoms are there going on in you that tell you you’re anxious?” Then they begin to notice things in their stomach, and headachey things, or whatever it may be. And then they come to a more concrete apprehension of the state of affairs that they have labeled anxiety. And in this way—which is really very like Zen, because it’s frustrating—people come to see there’s absolutely nothing they can do at all to stop being selfish.
So they see, after a while, that trying to stop being selfish is the same thing as selfishness. Trying to get rid of grief is grief. And so, when you see that, there comes a point which we could best call giving up; surrender. William James pointed this out likewise in his study of The Varieties of Religious Experience and the psychology of conversion. There’s the point of absolute frustration, followed by surrender. And then, in that moment of surrender when you see you just can’t do anything about it, you suddenly have a quiet mind. There is no further effort, you see, to say the thinker and the thoughts are one—that’s a formulation. The experiencer and the experience are one experiencing—you don’t need to say that, because that’s not the point. The formulation of it is not the point. It is the actual experiencing itself that is the point. But you can’t come to that while you are going over in your mind all this chatter about “I should accept my experience,” “I should not accept my experience,” et cetera. As a matter of fact, when psychologists sometimes say, “You should accept yourself,” a lot of people just don’t, you know? They’re always fighting with themselves, clubbing themselves, and allegedly disciplining themselves. And then they get into tremendous clutch-ups inside, and the psychologist says, “Now come, you’re human, you should accept yourself. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you get angry. It’s very natural to get angry. Accept yourself.” So people try to accept themselves.
But then they come across the fact that there are certain things they do not and cannot accept, and they have to accept the fact that they can’t accept them! Accept that you don’t accept. And then that’s the same bind as Buddha put people in when he said, “In order not to suffer you must get rid of desire.” But then people find out that they desire to get rid of desire. So, you see, that saying, “Accept yourself,” is a gimmick. It’s an upāya, and the object of it is to bring you to the state where you see that the self which does the accepting is the one you need to accept. And in this state where you’re confronted with the necessity of licking your own tongue, you suddenly see that what you thought was to be accepted and what was to do the accepting are all one. It’s a very awkward feeling at this moment. R. H. Blyth described it beautifully: you were about to swat a fly, but the fly jumped up and sat on the swatter. You were about to punch the world in the nose, and the nose became the same as the fist. And, of course, in that moment one feels awkward, just as I described in the first talk: the situation of feeling that you and the environment are all one process. At first that is non-plussing. You’re just not used to feeling it that way. Because if the stream of thought, or the stream of experience, is the same as the experiencer, who’s in control? Well, it controls itself. It’s what the Chinese call zìrán, “of itself so,” Which is their word for nature. And in their organic theory of nature there is no one in control who stands outside and above the organic system itself. The organic system controls itself. It’s full of the same sort of balances that any organic system has. Because if it didn’t have that, it wouldn’t be organic, it’d be merely chaotic.
So we get back, you see, to what is fundamental in Chinese, Far Eastern psychology: that any ongoing system must trust itself. And therefore, the attitude of these people to human nature is rather different from ours. They would say human nature is basically to be trusted. Not that there’s anyone outside it to trust or mistrust it. But they would say if you don’t trust your own nature, how can you trust your mistrust? How can you know that even that’s reliable? Because that’s all part of you. Now, they will say, yes, in human nature there are passions. There is greed. There is anger. There is an aggressive tendency. But what is good about human nature is: it’s good and bad. Confucius once said the goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue. And he exalted above mere goodness (in the sense of following a legal righteousness) something called in Chinese rén, which means “human-heartedness;” being a complete human. Now, a complete human is always a little bit of a rascal—not too much of a rascal! The point is that you have a little rascality in you like you put salt in the stew. Now, you certainly don’t want the stew to be all salt. But when it’s without salt it’s sort of… flat. And don’t you feel that with very good people? They’re awfully dull? You know, where there’s a certain kind of oppressive goodness about people of a certain kind—I won’t make any labels—but when you come into that there’s something about it that… again, you know, you’re sitting on the edge of your chair. Jung once said that he met a man in whom he could find no human failings whatsoever. And he was terribly disturbed, because he thought, really, if that’s possible, I should put my own life in order. But he said, “Never again will I be deceived. A few days later I met his wife.” Now, it wasn’t that his wife sad “Ha! You think my husband is good? You should see him when no one else is around except me.” Oh no, it wasn’t that at all. It was a wife who was living in her husband’s shadow. She was living out in her life all the things that he repressed in his. And that can easily happen in a very close human association. She, in other words, was the incarnation of his shadow. We all cast a shadow. And it’s better to carry your own than to stick it on someone else.
So in talking to a great Zen master, he once said, “I really have no other ideal than to be a complete human being.” And so that means not only flowers on the top, but manure around the roots. The totality. True humility is, after all, the recognition of this situation. And it’s only when we get to be proud of our humility, you see, that we are in difficulty. So I sometimes wonder a little bit with Krishnamurti; whether he may not be sometimes too earnest. But I realize that that is his public façade, because of the tremendous earnestness with which he is trying to get his listeners to be fully here and now. And when they escape from the moment—either by comments, attempting to get definitions, or even by laughing—he keeps pulling them back to the absolutely immediate experience. And therefore, he’s really at his best in rather intimate sessions with people, where he likes to sit around in a ring with people and instead of giving a lecture conduct this dialogue. Back and forth the questions come, and then he throws the question back to the questioner. “Why did you ask?” “Look at it.” “Are you really listening?” He said most people don’t listen. They wait for the speaker to express their own opinion. And when he doesn’t, they don’t listen. They try to make sense out of the words, and I was saying to you earlier on: sometimes it’s very important to listen to the sound of the speaker’s voice rather than trying to follow the meaning of the words. American Indians very often do that. if they want to know what a man really is like and what his true character is, they listen to the sound of his voice, no matter what he has to say. You can be awfully distracted by what a person has to say, and not see what kind of a villain is coming up against you.
So in both these cases—in the case of Zen and in the case of the work of Krishnamurti—we have two examples of (we could say) methods, in a certain sense, or methods of non-method, by which we can do something to correct and overcome the divorce of the mind—the human mind—from the physical world. But let me repeat: by saying “the physical world,” I’m using a word for want of anything better. Korzybski called it the “unspeakable world.” It is really rather funny. That is to say: the non-verbal world, which is, of course, in a profound sense the spiritual world, because it’s immaterial. That is to say, immaterial in the sense of unmeasured. So these are studies, practices, disciplines (or whatever you want to call them), that are of very great and special value to a culture as powerful as ours, which is seriously suffering from alienation, splitness, divorce of consciousness from reality.
Well now, the general trend of this seminar has been from the theoretical to the practical. That is to say, I started in the first session talking to you in a very theoretical way about the relation of the individual to the world, and showing how our apprehension of our own existence is (when compared with the scientific description of our relation to nature) really a hallucination. And then the problem is the practical overcoming of this hallucination. And so I’ve discussed with you two approaches—which are very like each other—to that objective. One, the essential principles of the method of Zen. And the other, the essential principles of the method, or the non-method, of Krishnamurti. Because coming to the Blaisdell Institute are these people—Zen people and Krishnamurti, we hope. So that—you know, don’t bruit it around too much, but that’s what you’re in for. But, of course, the work there has a particular relevance for students; for young people. And both these approaches, Krishnamurti’s approach and the Zen approach, are very proper and appropriate for young people today.
One of the most balancing factors in San Francisco life at this time is the existence of a very strong movement for the practice of Zen alongside the whole wide open world of hippiedom. And many, many young people who are, what you might call in the general hippie direction and classification, as a matter of fact, being beguiled by Suzuki Rōshi with the Zen Center in San Francisco to go out to Tassajara springs at the end of the Carmel Valley and practice Zen meditation. Now, this is a very extraordinary thing, because the sessions in Zen meditation out at the end of the valley are tough. And Mr. Suzuki stands no nonsense. This is a very, very—I don’t quite want to say serious; that’s the wrong word, because Zen isn’t serious. Let’s say a very sincere application, which requires a great deal of work because you don’t only meditate, you have to be responsible for the maintenance of the grounds and the buildings and everything. So it’s a wonderful training school for young people. But they will go for this in a way that they wouldn’t go for discipline under other and more traditional auspices. This is something new. This has a new flavor. But this man, Suzuki, is doing wonders for young people in San Francisco.
The difficulty, you see, is with people who get their introduction to mysticism—through LSD, or marijuana and other chemicals—is that they get suddenly flipped into very high states of consciousness with no background, no way to comprehend it, no way to deal with it, no way to bring it down to earth. And therefore, since there are operating (in the same area where these things are happening) experienced people who have long, long training in knowing how to connect the mystical with the practical, this is a very good influence. And in the same way I would think Krishnamurti has a comparable influence, although he doesn’t act as the leader of an ongoing community as Suzuki does. This is a more or less touch and go thing: a few meetings, a few encounters, and that’s the end of it. It’s up to you after that. But both these directions of presenting the problem of self-realization are certainly not frivolous, and certainly require a great deal of self-examination.
And this is a great problem which faces us now among young people who are in revolt against all sorts of things that, in the lives of their fathers and mothers, they feel to be false. They’re in revolt against what Buddhists call saṃsāra. Saṃsāra means “the wheel of birth and death,” but saṃsāra really is the same thing as a squirrel cage, a rat race, where you are working and working and working for you really know not what. A process of gaining money, or status, or whatever it is—not really to be enjoyed, because one feels a little bit too guilty to enjoy it. But to bring up children, to give them expensive and glorious college educations, so that they can bring up their children to do the same thing, you see? And it just goes on, and on, and on, and on, like this. And so, against this rat race, against the absorption—say, of the executive in paperwork and abstractions, against the complete dissolution of the family by reason of husband’s absorption in business, wife’s absorption in womens’ clubs, children’s absorptions in a school where they’re not cared for by their parents—the revolt against all that sort of thing is going on.
But it’s just not enough to revolt. It’s just not enough to take various drugs which open your mind to new dimensions. It’s not enough to challenge everybody’s standards in clothing, in housing, in family arrangements, and so on. Behind and beyond all that there must be some way of bringing it all to earth; grounding it. As I’ve intimated already, the fascination of young people today for the mystical, and for chemical mysticism, is very dangerous—like every worthwhile enterprise is dangerous. If they weren’t doing that, they’d be driving hot rods and perhaps skydiving. Anyway, something dangerous. The young always have to be involved in something dangerous. This adventure of exploration of the inner world is of peculiar danger simply because it goes into that aspect of our being about which we know least: our own inner life, our minds. But it is of the utmost importance that those adventures be accompanied with some kind of discipline.
Now, discipline is a dirty word today among young people. When you say “discipline” it means “AAGH!” You know? “Don’t do it!” And so I substitute for the word “discipline” the word “skill,” because there is no pleasure in this world without skill. And skill is an attractive word; discipline is a push-away word, you see? And you—all of you, as I look around to estimate the ages of people in this room—you’re all involved with young people. And you must be very conscious, as you all are very conscious, of the strife, the discord, the gap between generations. And so I, myself, regard my function to be a bridge-person. I’ve worked all my life to be a bridge between East and West, and now it’s thrown in my lap the job of being a bridge between the young and the old. And so now I’m talking to a relatively older group, and I want to say some very serious things to you about how to handle what is happening among young people, especially since this is under the auspices of the Blaisdell Institute, which is concerned with the university and, therefore, with the education of young people—in relation to everything I’ve been talking about.
Because the young are interested—deeply and seriously interested—in the transformation of consciousness, in breaking out from the narrow situation of the alienated individual against the world. But in doing this, they are showing the usual excesses and imbalances of things that young people always do. They’re not experienced, they’re not mature. Therefore, just for the very reason that they’re not mature, they have the guts—or the foolhardiness, if you want to call it that—to go out on these expeditions. But it was always so. In the year 6000 B.C., an Egyptian priest was complaining of the decadence and irresponsibility and indiscipline of the young. So what to do under these circumstances?
You must not give up your own ground—in the sense that there is, as I said, a very definite need for a discipline, for something that will act in the same way as in radio the ground wire acts to the antenna. It’s not enough to have a way-out experience and come back and say to your friends, “Man, it was a gas!” Because it is immemorial wisdom that everybody who takes a heroic journey must bring something back—because if he doesn’t, nobody knows he’s taken it. He may have lied, he may just have said that he went to the land of the demons and fought with the dragons, and then crossed the perilous bridge and came into the fairy palace. Bring back a fairy’s feather! Prove it! This is not merely to prove it, this is also to do another thing, which is the whole work of art.
What is art? Art is what Christians call the process of incarnation. The making of the divine word into the flesh; the expression—in a material form—of vision. And to do that is very difficult. On a hundred micrograms of LSD you may very well have seen the vision of God in a dirty old ashtray. Can you imagine that that’s possible? But it is, because: what is an ashtray? Ashes. The decay. The falling apart, the burning away. The turning of more or less alive, or at least moist, leaves of tobacco into dust. And as you begin to think about that from a certain point of view, it becomes a parable of the process of existence. What is this turning of everything into dust? At first sight it looks as if it were a kind of doom. Everything is just going into dust, dust, dust, dust, and blowing away. And you realize that’s what you’re doing. And by smoking these cigarettes, you’re slowly committing suicide. Giving yourself lung cancer or something. Then you may remember the words of C. G. Jung: that life is an incurable disease with a very bad prognosis, which lingers on for years and invariably ends with death. Everything you do is bad for you! Like the little boy, four years old, who’d got sunburn and his skin was peeling, and he looked in the mirror and said, “So young, and wearing out already….” You know? All energy wears you out. Everything is going into dust.
But as I was suggesting this morning, when you understand that your birth was being kicked off a precipice and that you’re going to ashes—remember this ceremony in the Catholic church on Ash Wednesday, and everybody kneels before the altar, and the priest puts cigarette ash (or rather, the burnt palm leaves from previous Palm Sunday) on their foreheads and said, “Remember, old man, that dust thou art and unto dust shalt return.” Do you remember the poem of G. K. Chesterton about dust?
“What of vile dust?” the preacher said.
Methought the whole world woke.
And he goes on and he talks about everything being a kind of trembling dust, and he ends up by talking about that final day—no, not the final day, the first day—when God was with the angels:
When God to all his paladins
By his own splendour swore
To make a fairer face than heaven,
Of dust and nothing more.
So it is to the extent, you see—there’s a kind of a paradox in all this: to the extent that you completely accept the dissolution of everything into dust—that, by doing that, you let go of that clinging (to permanence, to yourself, to security) which releases all the energies of life. The formula, then, is: to the degree that you are willing to become dust, to that degree you are alive. And that’s how a person could see the vision of God in an ashtray.
Now, I’ve spent a few minutes taking some trouble with words to explain the ashtray as a vehicle of the vision of God. Now, if you’re a painter, it’s not just enough to take a pedes—I mean, let’s say you’re a sculptor, you’re a person who presents objects of art: you can’t just get away with putting up a nice walnut cube, beautifully polished, filthy ashtray on it, enclose it in a glass case, put a label on it, and say “Beatific Vision.” That’ll shock people a little bit. That might give them pause. But if you’re really skillful, you will understand how to paint an old ashtray (or photograph it) in such a way that people’s hearts will stop. They’ll say, “Look at that!” And then—but to do that it will be necessary for you to show all the individual little pepper-and-salt patterns in ash as a collection of tiny jewels. Which is how you can see them. But you’ll have to represent that, and carry it out, and bring it through. Just in the same way as the people who painted Persian miniatures—which are painted jewelry—would look at trees and grasses and rocks, and suddenly show them as full of interior light, enchanted, divine, by a very skillful technique. But you have to have that technique to bring it through. Some possession, some complete mastery of an artistic technique is necessary for the bringing through of the vision.
So then, our young people have stumbled on a key to the vision: psychedelic chemicals and such things. But they will not be able to bring it through unless they also have the skills. And therefore, the attitude of the older generation in this situation will naturally be one of great concern and worry as to what this kind of easy mysticism—too easy mysticism, shall we say—is going to bring about. All this has become terribly popular for the simple reason that human beings need religion, are starved for it, and the churches have not delivered. They have not delivered the experience; therefore, alternatives are being explored. It’s quite natural. But you—I repeat—you are rightly and properly concerned as to what will be the outcome. And the only way to make a good job of it is, instead of saying, “Suppress the whole thing”—which never works anyway—is to emphasize the point: “Alright, alright. You’ve done this. This is what you’ve seen. You’ve had these experiences, but there is a great deal more to it than that.”
In my own study of these kind of experiences I could not have really enjoyed them unless I had, before that time, been trained in all sorts of ways—not only to understand the doctrines and the symbolism of religions, mythologies, but also simply to speak and write. Because unless you know the art of language, or you know the art of numbers—or whatever it is, whatever is the vehicle through which you express yourself—you can’t bring it forth. See, one of the great puzzles of life is: consider people who’ve had a great love affair; Dante and Beatrice. Everybody knows about that love affair because Dante could express it so gorgeously. But supposing there’s some people who’ve had a love affair, and all the guy could ever say to the girl was, “Ugh! Mmmh! Aaah! Ooogh!” This is a real puzzle, because: is that guy any less in love with the girl than Dante was with Beatrice? Perhaps it was the same degree of love. But obviously, the effect for mankind of Dante’s love was far greater than the guy who can only say, “Oogh!” See? They both go into the paradise. They both go into the beatific vision. But one brings it back and shares it.
And this is the distinction which is made in Buddhism between two kinds of Buddhas. There’s the Buddha who attains nirvāṇa for himself: he’s called a pratyekabuddha. And there is the Buddha who crosses and sees nirvāṇa and comes back to share it with the whole universe, with everybody, with all sentient beings: he’s called a bodhisattva. And it so turns out that, in the literature of Mahayana Buddhism, pratyekabuddha is almost a term of abuse, whereas a bodhisattva is the ideal form of man. Because the bodhisattva realizes that he does not have the vision, really, if—well, let me put it this way: I don’t have it if you don’t have it. Because I have it only to the extent that I can give it away; that I can give it up and to—I’m quoting Gary Snyder—up and to all others.
But in order that people may master these disciplines—and this is a responsibility of the older generations—it must be understood that working on the disciplines is fun. And this is the task of all good teachers. All good, really gifted, and great teachers are people who never have to resort, in their classes, to artificial methods of imposing discipline. They need no proctors. They need no punishments. They need no bribes. Because the good teacher is the person who makes the work of learning the discipline so completely fascinating that the student is embroiled. The reason being that learning a discipline is not a matter of forcing yourself. And here, the English language leaves a little bit to be desired. We have a paucity of words for “effort,” for “application,” for “concentration.” We can talk about—when we’re talking with children—“you must apply yourself.” Now, it’s perfectly true: nothing in the way of a skill will be achieved without practice. But if practice is strained, still nothing will be achieved by it—except resentment. Many a little boy learns to hate the violin or the piano because it was drummed into him, “This is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to apply yourself to it.” Za-cha-cha-cha-cha, driving it home. But on the other hand, if there is a way of fascinating a child with the discipline of any musical instrument, or what have you, then they can apply themselves day after day after day after day, and be fascinated with the discipline. So this is the skill of the teacher. This is upāya—I used this Sanskrit word this morning; “skillful means”—to get the student to love the art. Because—remember this principle—if your student does not learn to love the discipline, he will never be any good at what you’re teaching him.
Now, you may know that certain kinds of scholars do work that most of us would think very tedious. They are, let’s supposing—I talk a field about which I know a few smatterings, which is the study of Chinese. Chinese scholarship is very difficult. You have an enormous amount of characters to study, and you have to look up things in dictionaries, and consult volumes of this, and volumes of that. But the true scholar is a person who just loves doing that. He’ll spend a whole afternoon going after one character, through all sorts of things, sifting this reference and that reference. And he will be having more fun than someone at a bowling alley, doing just that. And from the standpoint of an external observer who has no particular interest in this, they’ll say, “Oh, how hard he’s working!”
You know, in my private life—I must confess to you—I’ve had a terrible time with this because I love my work. And people who had absolutely, say, no comprehension or interest in what I’m doing would wonder how do I keep up the pace? How can I possibly do this, that, and the other? I love it. But then there are other people who say, “You never do a lick of work in your life! You’re playing all the time. Just goofing off. It’s too easy for you”—see?—“because you love it.” But that’s the only way to get it done, and done well! Because if you have something that is, say, a good marriage: a good marriage is not the result of forcing yourself into that marriage. Are you seriously supposing that if you say to your husband or wife, “Darling, do you really love me?” and the partner answers, “I’m trying my best to do so.” This is simply not a satisfactory marriage. We are not going to get beautiful work by mere effort against the grain. You can tell of a cook instantly, by tasting one mouthful of a dish, whether it was cooked out of a sense of duty or cooked out of love. A person, say, who cooks out of true love would, of course, encounter days on which it is difficult. But somehow, the overall love of the art will manage to get him through those days when it’s difficult. And so with marriage, and so with the mastery of any other art. But it is on the end of the older people—it is up to the teachers, the parents—to present the disciplines of life as something that’s not just what you ought to know, but as something that is beautiful to understand.
Now, let’s look at the cold question from quite another point of view. One certain way of approach is appropriate for the young, but what what way of approach is appropriate for the older, so that they should be able to take this approach to the young? Many of us who are older inherit teachings of discipline which were all forced on us, and we’ve learned to grow up dull and rigid. And so I could say things to this audience that I would not possibly say in an audience of students. It’s up to you to loosen up and to become a little mad. There’s no point saying that to a younger audience, because they’re going to do that anyway. But a great problem for the generation of parents and grandparents is psychic rigidity, because we have been indoctrinated for a long time in not being able to trust ourselves. And this morning I was discussing, you know, Chinese ideas about trusting human nature, about spontaneity, the disciplines of spontaneity, and so on and so forth. Now, this becomes a peculiar importance to people who have passed the threshold of the middle of life. Because in the first half of life—if you’ve lived your life properly—you are supposed to set up yourself in the world, have established your business, your profession, or whatever it was. Then you go on to the second half of life: you’ve got to get ready to die. Now, are you ready to die, right now? Supposing, I mean, we were going to be annihilated by an atomic bomb in, say, five minutes. Supposing we’re going to be annihilated by an atomic bomb in five minutes: what would you think you ought to do between now and then? R. H. Blyth asked this question to a Zen master: “What would you do?” He said, “I would practice Zazen.” Meditation. Blyth was disappointed in this answer. Because he had put it: would you like to listen to your favorite music? Would you like to make love to a beautiful woman? Or would you just go on, sort of, with everyday life as if nothing had happened, like somebody winding up his watch on his way to execution. He once asked a Zen mistress (there are such great ladies; old nun, you know, who was a great Zen teacher), “Where do you think you’re going to go when you die?” She said, “I don’t think I’m going to go anywhere.” He said, “In that case I’ll go with you.” She said, “Oh, that’s so nice. That’s the first time a man is ever wanted to go anywhere with me.”
But, you see, it is traditional. All cultures have understood this in some way or other, that when you enter the second half of life, the business of that part of life is to get ready to die. That sounds to us terrible: to prepare for death. It suggests preachers coming around and saying, “Are you ready to meet your maker?” You know, ugh! And so, as a result of that, in our culture death is a thing that is completely swept under the carpet. You go to hospital and they don’t tell you you’re going to die. They pretend it’s going to be all right. U-huh! Don’t worry. And all your friends and relatives come around when you’re lying in bed with cancer, on the end of a lot of tubes. And with a kind of weak smiles on their face they say, “Well, won’t it be nice, two weeks from now when you’re feeling better, we’ll go down to the beach.” And this, that, and the other. And you know very well, deep down, even if you won’t admit it, that things are pretty rough. Especially when they start talking like that.
We seriously need an entirely new approach to death. We need entirely new hospitals. We need sanitaria for the dying, where dying is made into a work of art and a real achievement. Where, when you’re going to die, and it becomes fairly certain this is the end—I’m talking about this specifically because, if you understand the last minute, then you can kick it back into that whole of the second half of life, which is a preparation for the last minute. But the thing is to understand the last minute first. Let’s say we take an entirely different attitude to death. Say, “Now, look,”—quite different. The way we say to the young, “Build up your strengths and your skills so that you can take on responsibilities. But death is where you’re going to be absolved of all responsibilities. There’ll be no need for you anymore.” Quite a different scene—but a very liberating one if you can learn to enjoy it.
Now, a man, a British obstetrician like Grantly Dick-Read has taught women how to have children without resisting it. So that they don’t talk about the pangs of childbirth, but they talk about the tensions, about really learning a kind of masochistic ecstasy from having a baby. Now, some new physician has got to come onto the scene now and tell us exactly the same thing about the pains of death. Death is not a disease. Death is very healthy, just as childbirth is. Everybody has to die. You can’t possibly call it a disease. You may die as a result of a disease, or of an accident, or anything, but death itself is not a disease. It is simply the other end of life, opposite birth. And instead of regarding it as something to be put off and simply really disregarded, death is something for which one should train oneself as a very valuable experience, because death is the automatic taking away of all your attempts to cling onto life. All that frightened clutch is simply going to be broken. Well, it’s pretty rough to have it broken. Why don’t you let go first? So in that case, then, when somebody is about to die, instead of the friends and relations coming around and consoling him and saying, “You’re going to be alright,” they come around instead and say “Wowee! This is the great moment for you,” you know? Here is the colossal opportunity for you to realize who you really are. Because all that you thought you were is going to disappear. What do you suppose is going to be left? So you can have your choice—in my ideal sanitarium for the dying—in the way you want to die: whether you want to die in a religious way with candles and priests and chants and meditations, or whether you want to die with an enormous and glorious champagne party. The principle is pretty much the same. Do you really let yourself go? Do you cooperate with what nature is doing in you? Nature is giving you, by death, the opportunity to let go of all this nonsense.
Now, when you’ve passed the middle point of life you can see it coming. You begin to read the obituaries, and this friend and that friend has disappeared. And you know it’s on the way. Now, instead of avoiding this, what about it? Because nature is in this fact assisting you to let go of yourself. Making it easy what is very difficult for the young. It’s hard for the young to face death, because they feel there is a timeliness about death. I’m too young to die. Cut off so soon, and there is so much promise, so much potentiality. It’s very tough. But as we get older, nature helps us. We realize that, well, we’ve had it. Past the middle of life every day is gravy. But you are being helped, you see, to this act of release. So as one of the Zen poets who said, “While living, be a dead man. Thoroughly dead. And then whatever you do, just as you will, will be right.” So there’s a kind of higher zombieism: those who are dead while alive, those who have given themselves up to death, and will therefore look forward to death as the great enlightenment, the great awakening. And this requires no hocus-pocus, no beliefs in immortality that you can’t really be convinced about. It’s simply that it’s even better for you if you have no beliefs in an afterlife. If you’re willing to let the future go completely, and abandon any future. Anything that you could want to grasp for yourself or to preserve yourself—recognize that you’re being forced to let it go. There is no promise of any future beyond the grave, see? I’m not saying that there isn’t. I’m saying that the psychological state of not expecting anything, of facing death as if it were really—crrrck!—the end, and you don’t resist this. You end. You have the ability to end. This is central in Krishnamurti’s thought. You find that, if you do that, something flips inside you, as a result of which you have no further questions. You will say to yourself, “Well, now, for the first time I realize what life is, what it’s all about. Because I’m not looking to the future to answer my question. I know there is no future.” I end up clunck, like that, and all future is cut off. So if you do that, you see, you then can let go of yourself.
Now then, if you can let go of yourself—especially in the second half of life, in that way—you cease to be to be rigid. What young people don’t like about old people is that they’re rigid. They’re stuffy. It’s like Ogden Nash wrote: “The trouble with a kitten is that, eventually, it becomes a cat.” And one understands this to some extent. It’s very hard for, let’s say, a woman who was once very pretty and is now afflicted with rheumatism and what have you, pains all the time, to put up with a great deal of noise and dance and stuff going on when it just racks through your head all the time. And therefore, you put on an expression that makes you look stuffy. You can’t help it. It’s very rough. But if you’re not racked with pain all the time, you’re enjoying a reasonably healthy old age: don’t be on the defensive.
So, to this part of life one must say it is important to be a little mad. When a bridge built of steel doesn’t swing in the wind, it’s going to crash. It has no give. And so, likewise, people who don’t have any give are in danger of being insane. In order to be sane you must have—just as I said the stew has to have a little salt in it—the good human being has to have a little rascality in him. So the sane person, especially the mature person, must have a little craziness. And just as it says in the Book of Genesis that God ordered that every seventh day should be a holiday, one seventh of your life should be madness. Otherwise you’ll be crazy, because too rigid. And therefore it’s important for all of us who are set in our ways (who are habituated to certain patterns of life, and we cling to these) to get off it—not all the time, but about a seventh of the time—and learn to swing.
And that means that the art of meditation, shall we say, for the older people is not necessarily what the art of meditation is for the younger people. It’s the older people who need to be present at a happening. Where you don’t know what’s going to happen. Where anything might happen. Where you simply allow what it is in you to do whatever it likes. A Chinese, Liezi, an old gentleman, said, “I let my mouth say whatever it wanted to say. I let my ears hear whatever they wanted to hear. I let my eyes see whatever they wanted to see. I let my feet go wherever they wanted to go. And then I didn’t know whether the wind was riding on me or whether I was riding on the wind.” After all, you are all practiced people, mature people, who can be trusted upon to behave themselves and not like the monk of Siberia who burst in the cell and devoured the father superior. You’re all mature, and therefore you can trust yourselves to let go a bit and to be a little mad. And so I’ve just written a book, published a book, called Nonsense, and it consists of a lot of ditties that are unashamedly absurd. I was saying that these are great ditties for people to use while driving cars and shaving and washing dishes and so on. And you can invent your own just like mine. But don’t do it within the hearing of a psychiatrist.
Now, I’m just giving a sort of trivial illustration of the principle that, in order to release your creative energy, you have first of all to get something going. And it doesn’t matter what you do, provided you get it going in the first place. In other words: break up the crystallization, get the water flowing again. Then you can canalize it after that, and do specific an intentional things with it. But the first thing that is necessary is to have some psychic freedom. Because culture and age and habitude to certain ways of life give you one terrific hang-up, one terrific block. And you work on a certain pattern of behavior, and the stream simply isn’t going through you. And this will—as a matter of fact, if you do let it out, you live much longer.
Maybe they should just make marijuana illegal for the young, and LSD illegal for the young, and let—
Well, I won’t argue that rather technical point at the moment. But all I’m saying is that, whatever the relation of chemicals is to the scene, quite aside from that, it is more important for the older than for the younger to have disciplined craziness. Disciplined craziness. There is a group of people, for example, who are called Subud. I don’t belong to Subud, I hold no advocacy for them, but they have a wonderful idea. They have gatherings for what they call the Latihan, and they last for half an hour. And during that time, somebody who is what is called a helper says, “Begin.” And from that moment on, for half an hour, you do anything you feel like doing—except with one reservation: you don’t touch anyone else. But otherwise, you make any noise you feel like making, you do any gestures, do any movements, and everybody rolls around on the floor and chants and bellows and squeals and dances, and some people just curl up in the corner and groan. And then, at the end of half an hour, the helper says, “Finish.” And everybody immediately assumes their ordinary social role. Well, things like that are excellent! Because what they do is this: they release in us again the stream of spontaneous life. Become again as a child. And children do things like that.
And once you’ve got it going, once you’ve got it released and moving, you can canalize it. But if it isn’t going, there’s nothing to canalize. So I’m simply saying that—this is all extracurricular, what I’m saying in this fourth meeting. You see, this is the last session. So it’s strictly extracurricular. Everything that I said before this, in the first three meetings, has to do with the university and with Blaisdell, and all that kind of thing. But this has to do with you who have come here, and we are all quietly here together. That, if you don’t have that safety valve, that outlet—which is not just a safety valve in the sense that it’s blowing off something that’s accumulated, that’s too much. It’s a safety valve in an entirely different sense: it’s a way of revivifying again and having something going to canalize and to express in a creative way. And it goes along, all that kind of thing, you see—that non-programmed, spontaneous activity, which is pure nonsense—goes along with everything that I’ve said heretofore about nonverbal experience and the importance of re-establishing contact with the spontaneous world, the non-verbal world, the supra-rational world not merely as something to contemplate while sitting quietly in meditation, but something with which to participate actively. You can, you see, have thoughtless awareness. But you can also have thoughtless gestures. You can make thoughtless or meaningless noises. Whatever. Now, I know that such a proposal goes ill with many older people’s images of themselves. As responsible citizens, mature people, so on and so forth. But you’ve always got to have that little secret part of your life. You don’t have do it out in front of God and everybody! You see? That’s asking too much. But you must have that secret corner in your life where you can be the skeleton in your own closet and be crazy. Otherwise you won’t be sane.