Intelligent Mindlessness

Alan discusses ways in which Western civilization confuses symbols with reality and introduces meditation and its associated gadgets as tools to get in touch with reality. Then he encourages his audience to cast off their reliance on symbols by guiding them through various mantra in a half-hour demonstration of this intelligent mindlessness.

Part 1

Introduction to Intelligent Mindlessness


Civilization suffers easily from too much of a good thing. And all civilization rests upon language, and ideas constructed of language, and other such signs and symbols of the world as, say, mathematics and musical notation and so forth. Money, for example, is also a symbolic system to facilitate commerce. But too much of a good thing, you see, can lead us to a confusion between symbols and what they represent. The map, as Alfred Korzybski used to point out, represents a territory, but the map is not the territory. Compare, for example, a political globe map and the photographs of the Earth taken by the astronauts. The photographs are of extraordinary beauty, but the political maps of the world are patchy. They have all kinds of very straight lines drawn across what is essentially an extremely wiggly-surfaced globe. Nature is wiggly. You are wiggly. I am wiggly. Rivers are wiggly. Trees are wiggly. Animals are wiggly. Mountains are wiggly. Coastlines are wiggly. Waves are wiggly. But under the hypnotic influence of thought—that is to say, linguistic representation of the world—we’re always trying to straighten things out. Just what sort of a person are you? How much is you? And how much is me? And so we try to decide all this by drawing straight lines. And this is simply a symptom of the fact that we are confusing the description of the world on the one hand with the world itself on the other. And this can lead to the most disastrous results.


Because it makes us unable to see that you really cannot divide one thing from another. And, in fact, there are no things. How much of a wiggle is one wiggle? Where does your head end and your neck begin? Where, precisely? Everything, you see, is interconnected. We cannot partition the atmosphere. There is no way of boxing it off so that there can be privileged people’s air and non-privileged people’s air. You can’t divide up the water. And actually, you can’t divide up the land, because in Sausalito, where I live (which is on the harbor of San Francisco), they’ve recently been dredging out the silt to build a marina, and they thought, “Well, we have a perfect right to do this because it’s on our land.” But all the land owners on the shore are suddenly discovering that earth is really fluid, and it’s beginning slowly to fill in the dredged-out part so that everybody’s shoreland is getting under water at high tide.


Now this, you see, is the problem of civilization. We, for example, don’t like mosquitoes. Sure. And so we say: let’s get rid of mosquitoes. And we take DDT and annihilate them. But we have thought insufficiently carefully, and therefore didn’t realize the terrifying effects this chemical would have, because it became absorbed by fruit and birds and all sorts of things that we eat, and that are essential to us, because we have a fixed notion of the separation between man and nature which is a barbarous superstition. You are not separate from the external world. Your skin does not divide you from what’s outside because your skin is what biologists call an osmotic membrane. In other words, it’s full of holes, porous, through which you breathe. It’s full of nerve ends through which you feel. And it’s therefore an envelope by means of which you communicate with the so-called outside world. Also, don’t forget that you can’t have an inside unless you also have an outside. Just as you can’t have a front without having a back. If that were the case, you’d be like:

The young girl of Lahore,

The same shape behind as before;

And as no one knew where

To offer a chair,

She had to sit down on the floor!


So, you see, if you belong to an in-group of good or saved or elite people, you can only know that you’re in because someone else is out. You can’t live on the right side of the tracks without there being a wrong side of the tracks. So you ought to be grateful to the outside for having the privilege of being on the inside. And so it is in our fundamental relationship to what we call the external world of nature, to the planet, to the solar system, to the galaxy, and to the whole universe: we do not exist without them anymore than our heads exist without our feet, or our front without our back, or our inside without our outside. This, our language patterns and our logic patterns overlook. Although it is implicit in the logic, it isn’t recognized, and therefore we are in extreme danger of trying to have the inside without the outside. And that is the basic reason why we are, at this moment, in danger of wiping all human and other life off the planet by the year 2000.


Now, I’m not here to preach. I’m not here to be a prophet of doom. Because it might be a good idea that we don’t survive. After all, let’s clean the planet and make it a nice, good, scrubbed rock with no corrupt sort of feisty, funky life running around on it. Suppose life is a mess—let’s get rid of it. Scour the whole thing with nuclear energy. Turn it into a star. Could be that’s the way stars begin. That they were all like, you know: a chicken is one egg’s way of turning into others? So a star eventually cools off or throws out some garbage that spins around, becomes planets, and that develops all this corrupt life on it which gets brainy, and thinks up all sorts of things, and finally discovers the secret of nuclear energy and then blows itself up, and it becomes a star.


Well, I have a sort of suggestion, and that is this: that, before we decide either to save the planet or destroy it, we pause for a moment of silence. I don’t mean that kind of grim silence which one observes when somebody says, “Such-and-such a famous person has just died and we’ll observe a moment of silence in his honor.” And everybody frowns and thinks very serious thoughts. That’s not silence at all! I mean real silence in which we stop thinking and experience reality as reality is. Because, after all, if I talk all the time I can’t hear what anyone else has to say, and if I think all the time—and by that I mean specifically talking to yourself subvocally inside your skull—if I think all the time, I have nothing to think about except thoughts. And so I’m never in touch with the real world.


Now, what is the real world? Some people have the theory that the real world is material or physical. They say it’s made of a kind of stuff. Other people have the theory that the real world is spiritual or mental. But I want you to point out that both those theories of the world are concepts. They are constructions of words. And the real world is not an idea, it is not words. Reality is: [GONG] You’ll find, therefore, that if you get with reality, all sorts of illusions disappear. And I will mention several illusions that have not this kind [GONG] of existence.


Let’s begin with some very down-to-earth ones, like money. Money is a very useful method of accounting. It is a measure of wealth in the same way as inches are measures of length and grams measures of weight. You cannot eat money. You could have a fantastic quantity of dollar bills and stock certificates on a desert island, and they would be useless to you. What you would need would be food and animals and companions. Money simply represents wealth in rather the same way that the menu represents the dinner. Only, we are psychologically perverted in such a way that some of us would rather have money than real wealth. But, you know, you cannot drive in five cars at once even though they be Cadillacs. You cannot live simultaneously in six houses, or eat twelve roasts of beef at one meal. There is a limit to what one can consume. So that’s one of the sort of confusions I’m talking about.


Another is that we confuse ourselves, as living organisms, with our idea of ourselves—that is to say, with the conception of myself which is called the personality or ego. That is what we have been told we are. And it’s an extremely crude and limited conception of one’s self of the actual, unique, living organism. And we get unhappy, because we’re thinking of ourselves in this way, because we think, “Well, gee. I’m gonna die!” I once talked to a woman who came to me and said she was afraid of death, and we went into it in a long conversation. I said, “What are you really afraid of?” And she thought it over and thought it over, and said, “Do you know? What I’m going to be afraid of is what other people are going to say. They’re going to say, ‘Poor old Gert. She couldn’t last it through.’” Because, you see, who you think you are is entirely dependent on who people have told you you are. You’re not that.


Then, another thing that bothers us is time. Most people nowadays say, “I have no time.” Of course you don’t. Because you are not aware of the present. You know, the present is represented on your watch by a hairline that is as thin as possible as is consistent with visibility. And so everybody thinks the present is [KNOCK] instead of [GONG]. Now, the present is the only real time. There is no past, and there isn’t a future. And there never will be. We think ordinarily of the present as an infinitesimal point at which the future changes into the past. And we also do a terrible thing. We imagine ourselves to be results of the past. And we’re always passing the buck over our shoulders. Like when God approached Adam in the Garden of Eden and said, “Hast thou eaten of the fruit of the tree whereof I told thee thou shouldst not eat?” And Adam said, “This woman thou gavest me—she tempted me and I did eat.” And God looked at Eve and said, “Hast thou eaten of the fruit of the tree whereof I told thee thou shoudst not eat?” And she said, “The serpent beguiled me and I did eat!” And God, out of the corner of his eye, looked at the serpent. The serpent said nothing.


So, you see, we’re always passing the buck and don’t realize that the past is caused by the present as the wake of a ship flows back from the prow. The wake doesn’t drive the ship any more than the tail wags the dog. But we’ve all got excuses. “My mother had a fit while she was carrying me in the womb.” “They didn’t bring me up right.” And then they go to the mother and say, “How is it that you could’ve been so irresponsible with your children?” and she says, “Well, it was my parents who didn’t bring me up right,” you know? And so everybody passes the buck.


But the truth of the matter is: it all begins here! This is where the creation begins! And you’re doing it and won’t admit it. Because, of course, you’re all God in disguise. Jesus found that out and they crucified him for saying so. Because the Jewish people had a sense of God as the cosmic king, the boss. It was modeled on Pharaoh, on Cyrus of Persia. The king of kings and the lord of lords was Cyrus’s title. Kyrie eleison means: “Cyrus, have mercy on us.” But you don’t have to think of God in that image. When modern Protestant theologians of the sort of liberal type are saying God is dead, they mean that not literally, they mean a certain image of God is dead, outworn. Because it was, after all, an idol. And when it says, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image,” it doesn’t mean merely images of wood and stone (which nobody took seriously anyway), it means above all images made of imagination: images made of concepts. And that one had feet of clay. But it doesn’t mean that God is dead, that life is nothing more than a trip from the maternity ward to the crematorium. It’s much more spooky than that! Much more wonderful. But, you see, you can’t conceive reality. We could say God is reality. But if I call this the sound of a gong, it isn’t the same as this [GONG], you see? “The sound of a gong” is a different sound from that sound. “The sound of a gong.” “The sound of a gong.” “The sound of a gong.” “The sound of a gong” is not [GONG]!


So then, there is practiced throughout the world—rather more in Asia than here, although always by a minority of people—a discipline called meditation, which is to get in touch with reality. The word “meditation,” in English, doesn’t have quite the same meaning. Because when we talk of someone meditating, we think of deeply pondering about something. When Orientals are asked, “What do you meditate on?” they look slightly puzzled. We don’t meditate on anything, we just meditate. In Sanskrit it is called dhyāna, in Chinese it is called chán, in Japanese it is called zen. And it means very simply: to stop thinking—temporarily. Not, again, that thinking is something bad, but you have to stop thinking at certain times.


Once you get the knack of that, you can do it even while you’re thinking. So you can be a scholar and practice meditation. This is not an anti-intellectual point of view. I imagine that most of you here are either in college or college educated. And the foundation of the intellectual life—good scholarship requires that you meditate. But in saying that, I have got myself into a linguistic trap. Because, you see, I seem to be pitching it to you as if it were something good for you, as if it would give you a better future, as if it would improve you. Now, so long as such motivations and considerations exist, you’re not meditating. We talk sometimes about the practice of meditation as if it were like practicing the piano; preparing for a concert. It’s much more like the practice of medicine, as when you say: “I practice medicine.” It means you do it every day. It’s your way of life.


So this is a very odd thing for Westerners to understand, and particularly for Americans, because we are so fixated on the future. When we want to put something down we say it has no future. Well, do you? Much better to have a present. Because if you don’t, it’s useless to make plans. Because when they work out, you won’t be there to enjoy them. You’ll be thinking of something else. So this is one activity which is curiously different from all others. It has no purpose. It’s rather like music or dancing in that respect. Why do you listen to music? Supposing there would be a culture with no music, would you consider that a high culture? But why do you do it? Well, some people say, “We go to the concert to improve our minds.” Well, if you do that, you’re not listening. Because, you see, music is peculiar, in that it is a marvelous pattern of sounds that doesn’t mean anything. There is some inferior music that means something; what we call program music, like the Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, or some of Debussy’s perpetrations such as the Engloutie Cathedral, where it’s creating visual pictures or imitating natural noises: the beat of horse’s hooves or rollings of military drums and the sound of the waves, et cetera. Just imitation.


Now, great music—as composed by Bach or Mozart or the Hindu music or some of the great contemporary composers—doesn’t mean anything except itself. It isn’t going anywhere. Otherwise, the fastest orchestras would be considered the best. So we, in music, become centered. We come into the present. Not a hairline present, mind you. It’s an expanded present. Because if you had a hairline present you wouldn’t be able to hear one note after another. You wouldn’t know what note you’d heard before. So you couldn’t hear melody. But in this you are released into reality. That’s why it is said that the angels in heaven have harps, and why they circle the throne of God and sing alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Which, although does mean “Hail to the Lord,” doesn’t really mean anything. When you really get swinging with an alleluia, it’s just… alleluia!


You don’t think of the meaning of it, you see, because you can’t think of the meaning of God. What does God mean? What is God useful for? And so in the same way you can ask: what does a tree mean? What does a cloud mean? What does a fern mean? What’s it all about? Well, we’ve got all kinds of weird theories that ferns exist in a certain way in order to propagate themselves. Like, birds do all this thing in order to lay eggs, so that more birds come out. And the whole point of that is that there shall be more birds still. It is a purely engineering approach to life which is completely senseless. Things don’t mean anything. Birds don’t mean anything. Trees don’t mean anything. Words mean something, yes—because they point to something beyond themselves. They are signs. But if you take words too seriously, you’re like a person who climbs a signpost instead of going where it points. And so if you suddenly say, “But my life has no meaning!” you’re identifying yourself with a word. That’s what we do. If I were to identify myself with “Alan Watts,” that would be identifying myself with a concept, with words—a rather complicated mess of words, to be sure, but still I would have made that mistake.


So then, it has to be understood about meditation that it’s not an exercise. It’s not a gymnastic. It’s not the ordinary sort of self-improvement procedure. And one does it not to be good for you, but just because you dig it. Because at last you find yourself in the center, the eternal now, in which past and future drop away, in which divisions created by words drop away. Can you point to the division between my five fingers? Can you, in other words, touch the difference between them? Can’t be done. Because the difference is conceptual. True, they can all move independently—but only because they’re one with the body, and the body is one with its environment. You cannot separate those. It’s like bees and flowers: where there are no flowers, there are no bees; where there are no bees, there are no flowers. They look very different, but they are essentially one organism. The head and the feet look very different, but they are parts of one organism. Not really parts—“parts” is a mechanical word. Like: “Got any spare parts?” The organism doesn’t have parts, it has features.

Part 2

Q & A Session


Now, there’s not very much point in merely talking about this. You can understand it only by doing it. And I’m sorry that our facilities do not allow you to sit on the floor and to get sort of in the right relaxed, awake position. But before we go into that, I just want to know if there are any questions; if I’ve made myself clear, and if there are any of you who find me utterly unintelligible? So if you wave a hand at me, I’ll recognize you.




You must be careful about that. You cannot smooth rough water with a flatiron. So don’t try not to think. You just allow your thoughts to do whatever they want to do, but you listen to them like you listen to birds chattering outside the window.





It would be—the question is: it sounds like brainwashing. Like when, in Vietnam, they put prisoners of war in front of blank walls. And of course that would be brainwashing to a person who didn’t know how to meditate. And they recognize perfectly well that we don’t. And therefore forced—you see, it’s forced meditation which would be the horrors. The form of torture that’s like people who don’t like silence, so they have the radio on or something, you see? All the time. Have a radio in your car. And everywhere. All this chatter, chatter, chatter. We don’t like silence, and therefore they know it’s a torture for us. It is for them, for that matter, too, because not many of them are experienced meditators. If they were, they wouldn’t be involved in this mess.





Well, now, you see, you’ve got to realize that we think of the world largely in terms of Newtonian mechanics. And that goes back to Greek philosophy and all their ideas of nature. And, by and large, these people were always thinking about nature by analogy with the game of billiards. And so when a ball moves, it was hit by a cue, and we say the ball moves because it was hit by the cue. So when you do something, people ask: what hit you? What was your motivation that caused you to behave in this way? But you must understand that cause and effect is a defective way of describing nature. What happened was this: that when we separated events into separate bits, you see, we forgot that we had done that in order to talk about the event. It’s like when you separate a wiggle and you give names to different, say, bays or capes or mountains on a territory: that naming doesn’t actually separate them. So when you get motion—time is only a measure of motion—we begin to think about bits of motion and we forget we did that. Then we suddenly ask the question, “But how did this bit get there?” And then we say, “Oh, it was because of that bit that came before it.” We don’t see that it’s all one! After all, when a cat walks along, its head comes first and its tail follows. Now, is the head the cause of the tail, or is the tail the cause of the head? Well, it’s all one cat: the whole cat moves. When a snake moves, which side moves first? The left or the right? See, it all goes together. But if you want to define yourself as a billiard ball, then you will play life like the past was responsible for you. And if you believe it hard enough, you’ll feel it. And that’s what’s happened to practically all of us. So we don’t realize that we’re living out of now and throwing the past behind us.

Yes? In the back.


I wanted to ask if drug-induced euphoria [???] marijuana [???]


I’m leery of answering such a question because I seem to be living in an area where there is incomplete freedom of speech.



[???]The Joyous Cosmology[???]


Yes, sure. I’ve made a pretty clear and, I think, sober statement of the powers and dangers of these things in that book.



In the prison in Vietnam, in talking about the present and the past, the two prisoners, one experienced in meditation and one not experienced in meditation, their experience of presence is going to be entirely different. Is not that difference [???] because of past training or experience? And why would it not be [???]


No, it is due to the fact that the meditator meditates and has liberated himself from his past, which was an idea in his head.


Is that like saying, “It is so because…”?


It’s a little bit like that, but language is so structured that I cannot talk without this implication. We can practice, we can enter into meditation state, and see why that would be so—but we would see it directly from that state, not from any explanation.

Yes, sir?


How can I meditate [???]


That’s merely an illusion of grammar. It’s because certain languages have the rule that all verbs have to have subjects. Like in the sentence: “It is raining.” What is this “it?” So how on Earth can one get a verb out of a noun? A process out of a thing? See, you just can’t do it. It’s the old problem, too, of spirit and matter: how can you get a spirit to influence matter? All good ghosts walk straight through brick walls without disturbing the bricks, so how can a ghost in your body lift an arm? But I’m not saying that there is no ghost. I’m also saying—well, if I’m saying there is no ghost, I’m also saying there is no body. It’s just process. Or call it pattern: moving pattern. Patterns of motion. Patternings of motions. Patternings of motionings. So we are always—you see, language keeps creating ghosts. Like “The lightning flashed.” Well, obviously the flashing was the same as the lightning. So we divided a single process into two pieces: something called “lightning,” which does something called “flashing.”

Yes, the gentleman in the white shirt.


[???] is it possible to by itself [???]


Yes, it is of course possible to meditate without intending to do so. But it’s also possible in retrospect to realize that you were meditating. You don’t lose the faculty of discursive thought, you don’t get your mind permanently wiped out, in that sense. You still remember your name, address, and telephone number, your social security number, and who you’re supposed to be, and what role you’re supposed to be playing. But you know that’s a big act. That’s the difference between a crazy person and an enlightened person. A crazy person might get by accident into some of these states, and get so lost that he wouldn’t know how to come back to the world of ordinary normal conventions. But when meditation is properly practiced you can also operate in the conventional world.

Yes, the red arm I see over there.




Does the concept of will fit in? Not really, no. I will try to show you, practically, why it is an unnecessary concept; how you can have far more energy without using your will than you can with using it. See, the will implies a separation of man and nature, and therefore we ask the question, “Do we have free will?” or, “Are we determined?” That means: are you a bus or a tram? And both concepts are off the point, because both of them presuppose a fundamental separation of the individual from the universe. Does it kick you around or do you kick it around? And if you think in that way, you lose energy. Just as my finger would lose energy if I separated it from the hand.

Well, now, look: we’re going to take an intermission for five minutes in case any of you have to leave, or are tired, or bored. And then we’ll come back to the real business of this gathering within that time.

Part 3

Practicing Intelligent Mindlessness


I want, first of all, to explain to you the gadgetry of meditation in case any Protestant-minded people should be frightened by a certain ritualistic atmosphere. To begin with, the clothes I am wearing are not those of a Buddhist priest, they are those of, say, a Japanese literary gentleman (which would correspond to the sort of person that I am), and they’re worn for the simple reason that they’re convenient and comfortable. Men should never wear pants, they’re for ladies of shapely figure. And in this way one is unrestricted, and one has voluminous pockets in which all sorts of things can be put if necessary.


This object is a juzu, in Japanese. It is a sort of Buddhist rosary. But it’s not for praying, it’s for counting your breath without numbers. And at a certain rhythm of breath, one side of this rosary will occupy forty minutes of clock time. And that is an average comfortable period for meditation. It has 108 beads altogether. It is also—there’s another method of using it which is for counting seconds. You can do that by a certain rolling rhythm. Or it is sometimes used for mantra, which I will explain later.


This is called a mokugyo, and it’s a sort of wooden drum which, as you heard, makes an extremely effective noise that can be heard for a very long way. And its purpose is either for summoning people to come to something, like church bells, or for keeping a rhythm in certain chants.


This is the sawn-off end of an oxygen cylinder, which serves very admirably as a gong. It says: “Non-shatterable. 3000 pounds per square inch.” And I now can hit this thing real hard! And the purpose of the gong is very subtle, and I can only show it, and I can’t quite explain it.


But therefore, we have to begin. Now, what I suggest you do is this: have yourself seated with your backs as straight as possible, but not stiff. And close your eyes. And simply become aware of all sounds that are going on without making any special attempt to name them, or identify them. Let the vibrations in the air play with your eardrums. Don’t be uptight about coughing or shifting your position or sneezing. We are not very particular about what sounds, but just listen to the whole natural flow of sound as you would listen to music.

[ Meditation ]


And if you find that you can’t help thinking about it, putting names on it, or supposing you can’t stop vagrant thoughts about what you’re supposed to do tomorrow or what somebody said to somebody, and so on—don’t resist the flow of thought, just let it join with the random sounds that you hear and regard it as a kind of interior noise. Don’t bother about what it means. It helps to keep your tongues relaxed—floating easily in the lower jaw—and also to stop frowning. Be easy and relaxed in the space in the center of the forehead.

[ Meditation ]


And if I should say anything, attend rather to the sound of my voice than to the meaning of my words. Your brain will take care of understanding what I’m saying and you don’t need to worry about it. The brain is smarter than the mind. See, let go of your mind. Let it think whatever it likes. Let go of your ears, let them hear whatever they like. And also, there’s another way in which you’re playing with the air: lungs. Let them breathe as they feel like breathing. Don’t force anything. As the song says: I’m not sleepy and there’s no place I’m going to. Where’s your hurry?

[ Meditation ]


So the function of the gong. The gong is a compelling sound, which might be said to be a unitive principle, and all these other sounds you now hear might be said to represent multiplicity. One and many. And you can, by listening to the gong, really fade out: see how one turns into many.

[ Gong ]


Most people breathe in a completely shallow way because they never really empty their lungs. And most people, when they do breathing exercises, don’t accomplish much because they make too much effort. Effective energy—like, say, the energy of the ocean—always takes the path of least resistance. It follows gravity. So, very gently, would you try the experiment of allowing your breath to fall out. Let it go out in the same way as you would nestle yourself down into an extremely comfortable bed, where you sink in and in and in, and you let it flow out through your lips, so that you will know by the feel of air on your lips that you are really breathing and not just straining your muscles. And at the point where the out-breath runs into any kind of discomfort, stop it. And let the in-breath return—don’t pull it back, but let it come back as a reflex.

[ Meditation ]


Or you could imagine that inside your neck is a big ball of lead, and you let that drop through your body, pushing the breath out as it goes until it reaches the floor, at which point you let it fall to the center of the Earth. Let the in-breath return and take another lead ball, and drop that one. None of this breathing is supposed to have any symbolism or meaning, we are just breathing. In fact, we are just… shhhhhhh….

[ Meditation ]


Of course, in this short space I’m showing you things that might normally go on for a considerably longer time. But we can only sample tonight. We use another gimmick in this meditation like we are doing now, where there’s a certain emphasis on the sense of sound. It’s called mantra. This is a really untranslatable Sanskrit word which refers to the use of sound for its sound rather than its meaning, the use of certain syllables or phrases, on the principle of: one is cured by the hair of the dog that bit you. Like cures like homeopathy. So to be disenchanted or to break the spell of words, one uses certain words. Like if you say over and over again the word “yes.” Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. You begin to wonder why we use such a funny sound to represent an affirmative attitude. Yes. So, in the same way, in India and Tibet and Buddhist countries in general you will find that they use the syllables “om,” “ah,” “hung” for purposes of meditating on sound. And it’s especially useful if you don’t happen to have a gong.


Actually, the word “om” is spelled out in Sanskrit a-u-m, and thus comprises the whole range of sound from the back of the throat to the lips. It is therefore called the praṇava, meaning the sound which represents the total energy of the universe, the which than which there is no whicher. But it isn’t its meaning, it’s its sound that is here important. Now, you can very easily pick this up and do it with me, floating these sounds on your easy-falling out-breath. And it’s like this:

[ Gong ]


[ Gong ]


[ Gong ]


Why don’t you all do it together.

[ Gong ]


[ Gong ]


[ Gong ]


And again.

[ Gong ]


[ Gong ]


[ Gong ]



It’s important to let the sound sing itself and not have the feeling that you are making it happen. It’s as if you were a flute and the breath is making a note through you. And you will find that the more you have that feeling, the greater will be the energy of the sound.

The use of mantra is not always on slow, prolonged sound. It also uses a kind of repeated melody. Most of you may be, or many of you may be, familiar with this one—which you can pick up, again, very quickly. It goes like this:

Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare. Hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hareeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.


And now see how you feel. Don’t put words on it. Just feel. But again, if you can’t help words running in your head, don’t interfere with it.

[ Meditation ]


The form of mantram is also used in the West, or at least in the more traditional form of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian practice, as it’s found in eastern Europe and the Levant. There’s a school of Muslim mystics called Sufi, and they are a sort of Muslim equivalent of Indian Vedanta, practicing the realization of union with God. Of course, their Arabic word for God is Allah. And they do a rather surprising mantram which is like this—which you can very easily do—and it has the function of all these mantra. To quote Keats: “They tease us out of thought as doth eternity.” And it’s like this:

Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah! Allaaaaaah!

And again: listen. Without idea, without comment. Just be.

[ Meditation ]


Well, since we live in a more or less Christian tradition, there’s also Christian mantra. Could equally be Jewish. But it is in the form of what is called the Byzantine tradition of chanting. This, in common with Hindu music, preserves the notion of what is called the drone. That is to say, a constant sound, as of the tampura in the Hindu orchestra, over which the melody floats. So in the Byzantine chant, where the Eastern churches, they don’t use musical instruments. So the tonic is a hum. Over that the melody is laid.

And what I suggest we do is this: first of all, we’ll do a certain variation on it which is rather interesting. I want everybody silently to imagine a sound, a note, which seems to be convenient and comfortable to you. Then, after a while, when we feel we’ve got it, we’ll hum it out loud. I will then drop the melody of the chant over that. Some of you will find it possible to harmonize a melodic theme that fits the basic melody. Others of you will prefer to stay on the drone, the tonic. But the important thing, I repeat, about this kind of chant is that it’s quite different from the ordinary religious exercise that, say, we have in our churches, where we are interminably talking and thinking, and we never get to contemplation. We’re always advising God what to do as if he didn’t know, or listening to exaltations, or singing hymns. And so all that discursiveness prevents us from getting into the heart of the vibration which is sound, and which is, of course, the real meaning. The opening of the Gospel of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word.” It doesn’t mean in the beginning was chatter.

So feel your sound first, quite silently. Just let it flow. Don’t push it.

[ Meditation ]

Now hum it out loud.

[ Humming ]

Louder! Let it fall out.

[ Humming ]

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. Aaaaaaaaah.

[ Meditation ]

May peace be with you!

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