The World As Self (Part 2)

Out of Your Mind 10

The journey of self-realization follows the winding path inward, to the place where you already are. As the egoic illusion falls away, the universe unveils your true face. Trust in the guru’s skillful means, which trick the mind into its own liberation. Embrace each stage of life with sincerity, not forcing but allowing insight to dawn in its own time. Know yourself to be That, the eternal Self of all that is.



The Human World as Self


I started out yesterday to discuss what the Self means in Hindu philosophy; the principle tat tvam asi, “that art thou,” meaning that the Self is the basis of all being. And being is not something into which we come, but out of which we proceed. In popular language we say “I came into this world,” as if you came from somewhere else altogether; from outside. But you don’t. You come out of this world just in the same way as the leaves come from the tree. And so, in that way, you are an expression of it, and the Self—meaning itself, Self meaning identity, Self meaning basis, ground—is what everybody fundamentally is. Then I went on to discuss the world as the Self in the sense of the cosmos as the Self. The great cycles of time in which, according to Hindu philosophy and mythology, the world is manifested and then again withdrawn. And now I want to go on to discuss the human world as the Self.


Well, now, there have—in the known history of mankind—been about three types of culture. We’ll call them ‘hunting cultures,’ ‘agrarian cultures,’ and ‘industrial cultures.’ The hunting culture seems to have been the earliest, and agrarian cultures arose when hunters learned to farm, and therefore had to settle in certain places. And it was then that men built cities. And when we pass from the hunting to the agrarian culture, we notice two very important changes occur.


In the hunting culture, every man is expert in the whole culture. That’s because he spends a good deal of time alone in the forests, or on the hills, and so he has to know how to make clothes, how to cook, how to build, how to fight, ride, and all those things. But as soon as people become settled in cities we get a division of labor, because it’s obviously more practical—when you’re all living together—for some people to specialize in some things and some in others.


The other important difference is the difference of religion between the hunting culture and the agrarian culture. The religious man of the hunting culture is generally known as a shaman. And a shaman is a kind of weird individual, and I mean ‘weird’ in the ancient sense of the word—not ‘queer,’ but ‘weird’ in the sense of magic. Because he is a person of a peculiar type of sensitivity who finds initiation into the shaman role by going off by himself for a long time into the depths of the forests or the heights of the mountains. And in that isolation he comes in touch with a domain of consciousness which is known by all sorts of names: the spirit world, the ancestors, the gods, or whatever. And his knowledge of that world is supposed to give him peculiar powers of healing, of prophecy, of magic in general. The thing that you must note, though, about a shaman is that his initiation is found by himself. He does not receive initiation from an order or a guru.


On the other hand, the religious man of the agrarian community is a priest, and a priest is almost invariably an ordained person. He receives his power from a community of priests or from a guru; in other words, from tradition. Tradition is all-important in the agrarian community. Now then, reasonably enough, the first communities are stockaded enclosures. They are made of palings. And so we speak of people being “within the pale” and “beyond the pale.” And the word ‘paling’ we still use in fencing, and you’ll know that the Spanish for a tree is palo.


So here is a primitive stockaded community, and—as often as not—this community will settle at a crossroads. For obvious reasons: where roads cross, that’s where people meet. And so it’s liable to have four gates and these crossing main streets. And that immediately establishes four divisions of the city. And so, oddly enough—in Hindu society—there are four castes based on the four fundamental divisions of labor. And number one is the caste of priests, and they’re called Brahmin. Number two is the caste of warriors—and also rulers—and they’re called kshatriya. Number three is the caste of merchants and tradesmen, and they’re called vaishya. And number four are laborers, and they are called śūdra.


So those are the four principal roles in the world of settled humanity. It’s interesting; I said people settled in cities because they had to plant, and there are many legends to the effect that what they were mostly concerned with planting were grapes for wine. And they cultivated vineyards. And it’s said of Noah that, after the flood in the Bible, the first thing he did was to plant a vineyard.


Stages of Citizenship in India


Now then, when you enter society you are born into a caste. And this is very understandable in a community where you don’t have a generalized system of education. You don’t go to school, and therefore you learn what to do in life from your parents and your family. So if you grow up as a carpenter’s son, it never occurs to you to do anything else but carpentry. Why would you? You might become a better carpenter than your father—but still, that would be the natural thing to do. It’s only when one is exposed to school, and then the people begin to talk about “well, what do you want to be in life?” The people get the idea that they might be anything. So if this sort of way of life is natural to you, you don’t find it particularly objectionable. Of course, all kinds of weird complications and rituals and prohibitions grow up in the course of time that can make this system very cumbersome, as it has been until quite recently in India.


Then, what happens is this: you go through an evolution in your development in this community, which has—first of all—the stage called brahmacharya: ‘studentship’ or ‘apprenticeship.’ After that, you enter the stage of gr̥hastha, meaning ‘householder.’ And a householder has two duties. One is called artha, and the other kama. Artha means the duties of citizenship; partaking in the political life of the community. Kama means the cultivation of the senses, of aesthetic and sensual beauty, and therefore kama includes the art of love, the arts of beautification, of dress, of cooking, and all that kind of thing. So that the Kāmasūtra is the scripture about love. Kama—in a sense—means ‘passion,’ and is the great Hindu manual of how to behave sexually. It’s a book that every child ought to read on gaining puberty, so that he would get some sense of how to make love without being a mere baboon. Then there is also the arthaśāstra, and that is the scripture about rulers and the way of the kshatria caste.


Now—so you’ve got these stages now. Brahmacharya, which is studentship. Artha and kama—they go together, and they constitute the duties of gr̥hastha, of the householder. Beyond that there is the duty of dharma, and dharma has many, many meanings in Sanskrit. It can mean something like ‘law’ or ‘justice.’ It could even mean, slightly, ‘righteousness,’ but not as we have come to understand that word in common speech today. Perhaps ‘rightness’ would be better than ‘righteousness.’ But dharma has a primary meaning of ‘method.’ So when we speak of the dharma of the Buddha, the Buddha’s doctrine, it is the Buddha’s method—not law. So, a citizen also has to conform to dharma. And, that is to say, to ritual and ethical and moral game rules for the community.


But now, when, in the course of time, he has established his household, he has taught his oldest son to take over the governorship of the household, the father—or, for that matter, mother—may enter into a new stage of life altogether, which is not gr̥hastha, but is called vanaprastha, and that means ‘forest dweller,’ as distinct from ‘householder.’


Now, you see what’s happened? We’ve gone full cycle. We came out of the forest as a hunter, we settled in a community and indulged in what is called—in Sanskrit—lokasaṃgraha. Saṃgraha means ‘upholding,’ loka ‘the world.’ “Upholding the world-game.” And that is everybody’s dharma, or duty—dharma can also be translated ‘duty.’ And svadharma means ‘your own duty,’—or better, ‘your own function’—which we would translate into English as ‘vocation.’ So everybody’s castework is his svadharma, and of course these castes are subdivided into various other kinds of specializations.


Shedding the Masks


When you have fulfilled your svadharma you go into the vanaprastha stage. Now, anciently, that meant that you actually did go out into the forest and you became—of all things, it’s called a śramaṇa in Sanskrit. And it is thought that that is the word ‘shaman.’ You see, what happens is this, then: that an individual who, all his life long, has played the social game, then says, “Well, now I’ve done that. I’ve assumed this role. I’ve become identified with tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, whatever it was; but now—who am I, really?” In order to find that out I have to go off by myself.


Why? Because you have a role-conception, a mask-conception of yourself, because other people tell you who you are. We are constantly—in every social interchange, in the most common remarks—telling other people who they are. Everything leads up to that. The way I act towards you, the way you act towards me, tells me who I am and tells you who you are. For example, you come and sit here and listen to me talk. You are, by doing that, telling me I’m some kind of a teacher. And you’re telling yourselves that you’re some kind of students. And that’s only one thing, you see? One little incident. In business, everyday, in your housework, and everything you do, everybody around you is telling you what you are and who you are by expecting certain behavior from you, which—if you’re a reasonable and socially inclined person—you perform, because that’s what’s expected of you. So you are told who you are.


So when we come—we’ve had enough of that, you see? This is daft, let’s not listen to this anymore. That’s why the śramaṇa on the vanaprastha—one of the first things he practices is silence. It’s called mauna. And he may take a vow not to speak for a month, or a year. And after about a month of mauna you don’t only stop talking, but you stop thinking in words. And that’s a very curious experience when it happens, because all the senses take on a tremendous intensity. You see things which you’ve never seen before, because you stop codifying and classifying the world by thinking. Sunsets appear incredibly more vivid and flowers are enchanting; the whole world comes alive to the mauni.


The only danger is this: the mauni has to be careful because he loses all moral discrimination. In other words, if the mauni gets involved in a riot he just joins the riot, because that’s just the way things are going, you see? And so he has to be careful, and that’s why, in this state of vanaprastha, the new man in the game will seek out a guru—a teacher—who has been through the whole discipline of yoga, or whatever it is, that is practiced by a vanaprastha, and will help him out and see that he doesn’t get into trouble. That’s why a guru, when he accepts a student, is always said to become responsible for that individual’s karma. Karma, you know, means ‘activity,’ and also the ‘results of activity.’


So you see what’s happened? This man who goes into the vanaprastha stage of life takes off every sign that would identify him as someone. He does away with his name. He does away with the usual clothes he would wear and puts on, usually, a yellow or some kind of a robe, or he may more often than that be really naked; may have a loin cloth, or not even that. And often these people cover themselves with ashes, and their hair is matted, and they don’t take care of themselves that way anymore, because they’re outside the pale. You see, they are ‘out-castes,’ but they are upper outcasts. Below them are the lower outcasts, known as the—today—the harijan, the name that Ghandi gave them—the untouchables. And the untouchables were the aboriginal peoples of India. When the Aryan invasion occurred—at a rather vague date, but shortly after 2,000 B.C.—the Aryans formed these castes, and the people who were originally in the land, like the Indians here, were considered to be outcasts. They were beyond the pale.


The Limits of Self-Awareness


So you have here a marvelous microcosm. You have a political and social analog of the manifestation and withdrawal of the worlds. Of the Lord playing the game—or the Self—playing the game of being all of us, and then, as each individual reaches mokṣa, the Self realizes in terms of an individual life that it is the Self.


So, exactly in this way, the child representing the Self on the way in comes into this world, plays around for a while, there are four castes just as there are four yugas to the kalpa cycle—you remember?—and then out it goes, back to the forest. We would say back to nature. But, you see, the outgoing stage of vanaprastha is a much higher state in the course of evolution than the hunting society person, who is primitive. He isn’t simply going back to where he came from; he’s spiraled, he’s come round to an equivalent position, but at a higher level. And what he has gained in the interim is Self-awareness.


I mean that, too, in the ordinary sense, when we speak of self-consciousness. See, it’s not much fun to be happy and not know it. We need a certain resonance; self-consciousness is an echo in our heads, an echo of what we do, but wouldn’t be aware of doing it if there wasn’t an echo. When you see yourself in a mirror, that mirror is a visual echo of your face. And that’s why, in a room such as this, it’s a very comfortable room for me to talk in because it has resonance. And so, self-consciousness is neurological resonance.


Now, you know how troublesome resonance can get if it’s not properly worked out. You can get echoes that just won’t stop, so you go into a great cave somewhere and you say, “Hi!” And it goes, “Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!” all off in the distance, see? That’s very confusing. That’s the sort of snarl that self-consciousness can get into, and we call it anxiety. When I keep, keep, keep thinking. “Did I do the right thing?” In the course of some performance, if I’m constantly aware of myself in a kind of anxious, critical way, my resonance becomes too high. And so I get confused and jittery.


But if you learn that self-consciousness has limits, that self-awareness cannot possibly enable you to be free of making mistakes, you can learn to be spontaneous in spite of being self-aware, and enjoy the echo. So what happens—that, having developed self-consciousness through education, through work with other people, having developed all the disciplines of the culture, the vanaprastha then becomes again as a child. But then, you see, he has what Freud says the child has from the beginning; Freud called it the oceanic feeling. And the oceanic feeling is the sensation of being one with the universe. The vanaprastha gets that back, but it’s not a child’s oceanic feeling, it’s an adult’s oceanic feeling—something which the psychoanalysts don’t discuss, because, according to them, all oceanic feelings are aggressive. But there is a mature oceanic feeling, as contrasted with the immature oceanic feeling of the child, which is as different as the oak is from the acorn. And so you can have this sensation, you see, of total unity with the cosmos, of the—shall I call it expansion to infinity, or contraction to infinity?—of your identity without forgetting society’s game rules with regard to you. In other words, it doesn’t mean that you forget your address, telephone number, social security number, and the name you were given. You remember all that, and you can play that game when necessary, but you know it’s a game.


So there is no way, as a matter of fact, of escaping from playing these games. And the only thing is that when you find out, you see, that you are thoroughly selfish, you inquire, “What is it—what is the self that I love? What is this thing that I’m so interested in advancing and in protecting?” And you look very closely into what you feel when you think you feel yourself. And you know what you find out? That your self is everything that you thought was someone else, or something else. You have no knowledge of yourself, you see, except in relation to others. Self and other are as inseparable as back and front. There is no knowledge of self without the knowledge of otherness, there is no knowledge of the voluntary without the knowledge of the involuntary, of can without can’t. So they go together, and that going together of self and other is non-duality, that’s Advaita, that is the Self.

So through Self one finds deliverance from self.


The Role of the Trickster


And so finally we come to the last consideration, which is the question: in what way and by what means can an individual—who is under the impression that he is a separate individual, limited by and enclosed in his bag of skin—how can such a person effectively realize that he is, deep down, the universal Self; the Brahman? This, of course, is a curious question. It proposes a journey to the place where you already are.


Now, it’s true that you may not know that you are there, but you are. And if you take a journey to the place where you are, you will visit many other places than the place where you are, and perhaps when you find, through some long experience, that all the places you go to are not the place you wanted to find, it may occur to you that you were already there in the beginning. And that is the dharma—or method, as I translated that word—which all gurus—teachers of spiritual development—use fundamentally. They are—all of them—tricksters, but in the most beneficent sense of the word trickster.


Why trickster? Because… do you know it’s terribly difficult—in fact, it’s impossible—to surprise yourself on purpose? And yet, to be surprised is a great thing. But you can’t plan a surprise for yourself. Somebody else can do it for you. And that is why so often a guru or teacher is necessary in this process. But let me say right from the start that a guru—there are many kinds of gurus. First of all, among human gurus, there are square gurus and there are beat gurus. There are gurus like—well, let’s say a great Zen master today—let’s take Oda Rōshi at Daitoku-ji, who is a square guru, and a very good one. But you go through regular channels. Then there is a guru like Mr. Gurdjieff, who is a rascal guru. Who leads you in by means that are very, very strange indeed. Then there are gurus that are not people. The gurus may be situations, a certain kind of problem or encounter, even a book can, to some extent, be a guru. A friend can be a guru.


I have often thought of writing a story about a man who is some sort of a guru-seeker and potential yogi, who goes, one day, into an automat and sits down at a table where there is another fellow, and he sort of thinks that this man looks wise. And he projects onto him the idea that he is a guru. And he says, “I feel that there’s something special about you.” And the man says, “Oh really? Actually, there’s nothing special about me. I happen to be an insurance salesman.” And this other fellow says, “Isn’t that fascinating! How modest he is.” And then I want to develop this story step by step. They keep meeting each other because they both eat at the same automat regularly for lunch. And although the fellow really is an insurance salesman and doesn’t know a thing about these things, it—in the end—results in the enlightenment of the person who projected this image upon him.

So there are, as I say, many kinds of guru. But the problem of the guru is to show the inquirer in some effective way that he already has what he’s looking for.


The Journey to Where You Already Are


Now, in Hindu traditions, the realization of who you really are is called, basically, sādhana. And sādhana means ‘the discipline,’ the way of life that is necessary to follow in order to escape from the illusion that you are merely a skin-encapsulated ego. And sādhana comprises yoga, from the root yuk, which means ‘to join.’ And so—from that, in Latin—we get iungere; ‘to join.’ And in English, ‘junction,’ and also ‘yoke.’ And junction is also the word ‘union,’ you see? All this derives from this Sanskrit root yuk. A yoke is also a discipline. When you yoke oxen, that is a kind of discipline.


Now, strictly speaking, in the very strictest sense, yoga means ‘the state of union,’ the state in which the individual self—what is called the Jivatman; Jivatman is approximately translatable as ‘ego’—Jivatman finds that it is ultimately Ātman, which equals Brahman, the supreme Self.


So yoga is the state—the strictest meaning of yoga is the state—of union, and a yogi means one who has realized that union. But we find that the word is not normally used in that way, in that strict sense. Yoga, in the normal way of use, means the practice of meditation whereby one comes into the state of union, and the yogi means one who is a traveler, a seeker who is on the way to that point. But, again, strictly speaking, there is no method to arrive at the place where you are, and no amount of searching will uncover the Self because all searching implies the absence of the Self—the big Self—so that to seek it is to thrust it away, and to practice a discipline to attain it is to postpone realizing.


There is a famous Zen story told of a monk who was sitting in meditation, and the master came along and said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m meditating to become a Buddha.” Whereupon the master picked up a brick that was lying nearby and started polishing it, rubbing it. And the monk said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I am rubbing this brick to make it a mirror.” He said, “By no amount of rubbing could you ever make a brick into a mirror.” The master replied, “By no amount of zazen could you become a Buddha.” Zazen means sitting meditation. They react very badly to this story in modern-day Japan.


Fear of Enlightenment


Anyway, what is important, you see—quite radically here—supposing that I say to you, “Each one of you is really the great Self”—you know, the Brahman?—and you say, “Well, all you’ve said up until now makes me fairly sympathetic to this intellectually. But I don’t really feel it. What must I do to feel it really?” My answer to you is this: “You ask me that question because you don’t want to feel it, really. You’re frightened of it.” And therefore, what you’re going to do is: you’re going to get a method of practice so that you can put it off. So that I can say, “Well, I can be a long time on the way getting this thing, and then, maybe, I’ll be worthy of it. After I have suffered enough.”


See? Because we are brought up in a social scheme whereby we have to deserve what we get. And the price that one pays for all good things is suffering. But all of that is precisely postponement, because one is afraid, here and now, to see it. If you have the nerve—you know, real nerve—you would see it right away. Only that would be—when one feels—you shouldn’t have nerve like that. Why, that would be awful, that would be—that wouldn’t do at all! Because, after all, I’m supposed to be poor little me. And I’m not really much of a muchness, and I’m playing the role of being poor little me. And therefore—in order to be something great like a Buddha, or a Jivanmukta; one liberated in this life—I ought to suffer for it. So you can suffer for it.


There are all kinds of ways invented for you to do this. And you can discipline yourself, and you can gain control of your mind, and you can do all sorts of extraordinary things. I mean, you can drink water in through your rectum and do the most fantastic things. But that’s just like being able to run the hundred yards in nine seconds, or push a peanut up Mount Tamalpais with your nose, or any other kind of accomplishment you want to engage in. This has absolutely nothing to do with the realization of the Self.


The realization of the Self fundamentally depends on coming off it. You know this sort of—when we say to people who put on some kind of an act, we say, “Oh, come off it!” And some people can come off it. They laugh and say they suddenly realize, you know, they were making fools of themselves, and they laugh at themselves, and they come off it. So in exactly the same way, the guru—the teacher—is trying to make you come off it. Now, if he finds he can’t make you come off it, he’s going to put you through all these exercises so that you—at the last time, when you got enough discipline, and enough suffering, and enough frustration—you’ll give it all up and realize you were there for the beginning, and there was nothing to realize.


But the guru is very clever. He says, “Alright, if this is the way you have to go, this is the way you have to go. You asked for it! You came to me; I didn’t invite you.” You see? The guru says, “You came to me and said, ‘I want to learn yoga.’” Well, he said, “Yoga is union. You’re tat tvam asi, you know? You’re that.” “Well, no,” you say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand that because I only get it intellectually; I don’t feel it.” “Oh,” he says, “you’re one of those. So… I see. I’ve got to satisfy you. The customer is always right.” You know? “I’ve got to give you all this work to do, because you can’t see directly that this is so.” But he’s looking at you in a funny way, you see? The guru is always saying to you, you know, “What are you doing? What’s your game?”


Imagine, for example, a father confessor. And you feel terribly guilty that you’ve committed murders, and robberies, and adulteries, and fornications, and all kinds of arson and injury to people, and financial shenanigans. And you go to this man and say, “I am a terrible sinner.”

He says, “Really?”

He says, “I have murdered somebody.”

He says, “How many times?”

And you think, “Oh, good Lord! This man doesn’t realize how awful I am.” And you recite all these things. He’s perfectly calm. And then you say to him, “Well, you don’t seem to be very shocked.”

He said, “You haven’t confessed any serious sins.”

He said, “What do you mean by serious sin?”

“Well,” he said, “what do you think?”

“Well, I don’t know! I... I just feel wrong! I just feel there’s something in the basis of me that feels, that tells me, that I am not what I ought to be. Could it be that I am spiritually proud? That I am egocentric?”

He says, “No, that’s very usual. This is quite ordinary sin.” But he says, “You are guilty of something. Something really terrible.”

And what could that be? “Well, I have no idea.”

“Now,” he says, “come on! Come on! Go deeper. What is the real sin you committed?”

And you think, “What, me? I, little me, could do something worse than murder? Worse than spiritual pride? Just little me? I mean, I’m a reasonably well-intentioned person. What could that be?”

And he looks at you in a funny way. “You know.”


You know; gets kind of a Kafka-esque situation where you’re accused of a crime that’s not specified, and yet the accuser says you jolly well know what you’ve done. Of course, we can’t mention it because, you know, it’s like those laws that are on the books in the state of California and several other states, where people are accused of the abominable crime against nature and nobody knows what it—I mean… it can’t be mentioned, it’s too dreadful to be talked about. This guy does the same thing, but it’s in a different dimension. You’ve done it. Now what did you do?


See, the real crime is that you won’t admit you’re God. That’s false modesty. So the guru challenges you, you see? He challenges you. If you raise the question. He doesn’t go out and preach in the streets and say, “Come on, everybody. You ought to be converted.” He sits down under a tree and waits. And people start coming around and they offer him propositions. He answers back. And he challenges you in any way that he thinks is appropriate to your situation.


Now, if you’ve got a thin shell and your mask is easily dispatched with, he simply uses what we might call an easy method. He says, “Listen, Shiva, come off it! Don’t pretend you’re this guy here! I know who you are.” And the guy sort of twinkles a bit and says, “Well, I guess you’re right.” But people aren’t like that. They have very thick shells, and so he has to invent ways of cracking them.

So here is how it goes.


The Yoga Sūtra


To understand yoga you need to get hold of a good translation of Patañjali, the yoga sutra. I don’t know which is the best translation; there are so many of them. It says it starts out “now yoga is explained”; first verse. And the commentators say now has a special meaning because it follows from something else that you’re supposed to know beforehand. That you’re supposed to be, in other words, a civilized human being before you start out on yoga. We don’t teach yoga to baboons, and so you’re supposed to have been disciplined in artha, kama, and dharma—in politics, sensuality, and dharma; justice. And then you can start yoga.


Then the next verse is, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha,” which means yoga is the cessation of revolutions of the mind. In other words, you can interpret that at many levels. Chitta meaning ‘consciousness,’ like a pool, like water, like a reflecting pool. If there are waves on that it doesn’t reflect, it breaks up all the reflections. So stop the waves on the mind and it will reflect reality clearly. ‘Get a perfectly calm mind;’ that’s one meaning of it. Or, another meaning of it is ‘stop thinking.’ Eliminate all contents from the mind; all thoughts, all feelings, all sensations—everything.


How will you do that? Well, it goes on to say you do it by certain steps. First of all, pranayama, which means the control of the breath; pratyahara, which means preliminary concentration; dhāraṇā, a more intense form of concentration; jhāna, which is the same—dhyāna is Sanskrit for ‘Zen’—and that means profound union between subject and object; and finally samadhi, which is way out.


Now, what’s happening here? Control your mind. First of all, by breathing. Breathing is a very strange thing, because breathing can be viewed both as an involuntary and as a voluntary action. You can feel ‘I breathe,’ and yet you can feel ‘it breathes me.’ And they have all sorts of fancy breathing ways in yoga. They are very amusing to practice, because you can get very high on them. So they set you on these tricks. And, of course, if you are bright, you may begin to realize some things at that point. If you’re not very bright, then you’ll have to go on.


And so, next, they really get to work on concentration. Concentrate the mind on one point. Now this can be an absolutely fascinating undertaking. I suggest that you try it this way, if you want to make experiments: select a highlight on some bright—some polished surface; copper, or glass, or something—where there’s a little, tiny reflection, say, of a candle or an electric light bulb. Look at it and put your eyes out of focus so that the bright spot appears to be fuzzy; a fuzzy circle. Now look very carefully at the design in the fuzzy circle, and see if you can make it out. There is a definite pattern of blur, and you can have a wonderful time looking at that. Then go back, get your eyes into focus, and look at intense light. And you can go into it, and into it, and into it, like, you know, you are falling down a funnel, and at the end of that funnel is this intense light. And go down, go in, in, in, in, in, in—it’s a most thrilling experience.


Then, suddenly, the guru wakes you up and says, “What are you doing that for?”

“Well, because I want realization.”


“Because we live in a world—if we identify ourselves with ego we get into trouble, we suffer, we’re in a mess.”

He says, “You afraid of that?”


“So then, all that you’re doing to practice yoga is based on fear. You’re just escaping, you’re running away. How do you think you can get realization through fear?” Now there’s one to think about.

So you think, “Well, now, I’ve got to go on with my yoga practice, my concentrations, my exercises, but not for a fearful motive.”


And, you know, that guru—you know, he’s watching you, and he’s a very, very sensitive man, and he knows when you’re doing—always knows what your motive is. So he puts you onto the kick of getting a pure motive. And that means very deep control of the emotions: I mustn’t have impure thoughts. Alright, so you go along and you manage to repress as many impure thoughts as possible, and then, one day, he asks you, “Why are you repressing these thoughts? What’s your motive to try and to have a pure mind?”


And you find out that you had an impure motive for trying to have a pure mind. That you did it for the same old reason you started out the thing in the beginning: because you were afraid. Because you wanted to play get-one-up-on-the-universe. And so, eventually, you find out, you see, that your mind is what is called in Sanskrit mudh, mudha, which means ‘crazy.’ Because it can only go in vicious circles. Everything it does to get out of a trap puts it more securely in the trap. Every step in the direction of liberation is a new tie-up. So that you started, you know, with molasses in one hand and feathers in the other. That was the original situation of man. The guru made you put them together, see, like that. And so, now, pick the feathers off. And the more it is, the more of a mess the whole thing gets. So get involved, and involved, and involved by this process. And he, in the meantime, you see, has been telling you, “Yes, you made a little attainment today, but it was only the eighth stage and there are 64 altogether.” And you’ve got to get that 64th stage. And he knows how to spin it out and drag it all out, because you are ever-hopeful that you’ll get that thing, just as you might win a prize, or win a special job, or a great distinction, and be somebody.


That’s the motivation all along, only it’s very spiritual here. It’s not for worldly recognition, you want to be recognized by the gods and the angels. But it’s the same story on a higher level. So he keeps holding out these baits. And as long as the pupil falls for them, he holds out more baits. Until, after a while, the pupil gets the realization that what he’s doing is running faster and faster in a squirrel cage. That he’s making an enormous amount of progress in getting nowhere, like in Alice Through The Looking-Glass, when the queen says, “Here you have to run faster and faster to stay where you are.” And so he impresses this upon you by these methods very thoroughly.


And at last you find out that you—as an ego, as what you ordinarily call your mind—are a myth, that you just can’t do this thing. You can’t do it by any of the means that have been held out to you. You can concentrate, yes—you’ve acquired a considerable power of concentration by doing all this—but you find you’re been doing it for the wrong reason. And there’s no way of doing it for the right reason.


How Not to Use the Mind


See, Krishnamurti does this. He’s a very, very clever guru. Krishnamurti says to people, “Now, look: there is nothing you can do to be liberated, because all your efforts in the direction of liberation are phony. They are based on your desire to boost and continue your ego, and that will never lead to liberation. All you can do,” he says, “is to be aware of yourself as you are without judgement. See what is. But then, if you can do that, you have no further problem. But if you try to do it, you’re in the same mess all over again.”


Gurdjieff played the same game, in a different way. He said, “The most important thing is self-remembering. Always, at every moment, be aware of what you’re doing. Watch yourself, constantly, and never, never be absent-minded.” So, all day, you know, when you pick up the piece of paper, you realize, “I am picking up this piece of paper, and I’m opening it inside,” and so on. And I know I’m doing it this way, so I’m not asleep. Ordinary people, you know, pick up a piece of paper and… [laughter]. In this way, we’re really picking up the piece of paper. So all these people are doing this, you know, watching all the time. Now, where do they land up?


I’ve told this story millions of times, really. Excuse me, but it’s very important. When they teach you—in Japanese Zen—how to use a sword, the first thing that the teacher says to the student is, “Now, if you’re going to be a good soldier, you’ve got to be alert, constantly, because you never know where the attack’s going to come from.” Now, you know what happens when you try to be on the alert. You think about being alert, and then you’re a hopeless prey to the enemy because you’re not alert. You’re thinking about being alert. You must be simply awake and relaxed, and then all your nerve ends are working. And wherever the attack comes from, you’re ready.


They likened this to a barrel of water. The water is just sittin’ there in the barrel. But the minute you make a hole in the barrel, the water immediately is ready to come out of that hole. So, in the same way, the mind, when it is in a proper state, is ready to respond in any direction from which the attack may come. So this man is no longer alert in the sense of taut and anxious: “Which way is it going to come?” See? He’s just sitting there, like a cat sits there. And the minute anything happens—geeow—it’s right there, because it didn’t have to overcome any set in a direction opposite to that from which the attack comes. If you’re set for the attack to come from there, and it comes from here, you have to pull back from there and go there, but that’s too late. So you sit in the middle, and you don’t expect the attack from any particular direction.


So, in the same way, all this applies to yoga. You can be watchful. You can be concentrated. You can be alert. But all that will ever teach you is what not to do. How not to use the mind. Because it will get you into deeper and deeper and deeper binds. You have to let it happen just like you have to let yourself go to sleep. You can’t try to go to sleep. You have to let yourself digest your food. You can’t try to digest it. And, so, in the same way, you have to let yourself wake up; become liberated.


And when you find out, you see, that there isn’t any way of forcing it—that, for most people, is the only way of getting them to stop forcing it. Because they won’t believe, when you tell them in the first instance, “You’ve got to do this without forcing it,” they’ll say, “Well, it won’t work. It won’t happen because I’m very unevolved. I’m just an ordinary human being. I’m just poor little me. And, if I don’t force it, nothing will happen.” Like people who think that if they don’t struggle and strain they won’t have a bowel movement, or whatever it is. They think they’ve got to do that work in order to make it happen.


In other words, all that is based on lack of faith, not trusting life. And to get people to trust life who don’t trust it, you have to trick them. They won’t jump into the water, so you have to throw them in. And if they are very unwilling to be thrown in, they’re going to take diving lessons, you see, in which they’re going to read books about diving, they’re going to do all the preliminary exercises for diving, and they’re going to stand on the edge of the diving board and inquire whether this is the right posture until somebody comes up the side and kicks them in the butt, and they’re in the water. And it’s also with this; it really is.


Gamesmanship in Spiritual Practice


So now, the most amazing gamesmanship goes on in the whole domain of yoga and spiritual practice; you would be astounded. One of the games in all this is to find a little flaw in you, see? Everybody has a place where they can be jiggled a bit; something they’re a bit ashamed of, and so they think, “Does this person really know my secret? He’s not saying anything because he’s polite, but does he really see through me and know that somewhere are the awful awfuls, and that I’m a little bit upsettable.”


This is all part of religious competition. If you go to the Roman Catholics, and you’ve been psychoanalyzed—you see?— they’ll say, “Well that’s fine, but,” of course, “it’s not nearly enough. I mean, that’s all very well so far as it goes, but…” Or, if you’re a Roman Catholic and you go to a Buddhist outfit on a missionary basis, they’ll say, “Yes, of course, through your Catholicism you’ve learned some of the basic virtues, but, of course, Catholicism doesn’t go anywhere near the heart of things because Catholicism doesn’t have an elaborate system of meditation like we have.” Then you go over to a Hindu school and they say, “Yes, the Buddhists go to a certain point; they do obtain a very, very high stage of realization, but there is nevertheless something higher than that, which they don’t quite get.”


And you’ll find this all ’round the world. Everybody claiming to have that little special extra essence which the others don’t have. Now, why are they doing that? Are they all frauds? Are they all out to get you into their society? Sometimes, yes. But sometimes they are trying to see whether you fall for this; testing you out. This is upāya, the “skillful method.” And if you become falling for that little extra special thing that’s just supposed to be around the corner, then they’ve got you. Or rather, you’ve got yourself in a mix. And you have to work at that, and work at that, and work at that, until you find out that you were being made a monkey of. But you were being made a monkey of because you could be made a monkey of. You hadn’t really arrived where you are. You didn’t have the nerve to be you. That is to say, to be the Self.


And so you had, always, to feel that there was something beyond that; there’s a stage higher, see? So that’s why, for example, masonry is such a success; it has 33 degrees. And, you know, you can go up that ladder and get higher and higher status. The more degrees the merrier. There have been things that invented hundreds of degrees, and they are an immense success. Because you can postpone it longer and longer, like Achilles overtaking the tortoise. He doesn’t overtake it in the problem because we keep dividing and dividing the space between Achilles and the tortoise as he approaches the tortoise. What delays Achilles overtaking the tortoise is not Achilles, but our calculations about how he approaches it. We make the calculations more and more complicated as he gets nearer and nearer to the tortoise. It’s only the calculations that put it off. Achilles, in fact, runs right by. So in the same way, you can calculate yourself out of liberation. You can put it off idefinitely by inventing new degrees and new stages. But actually, when you get it, you don’t get it. You suddenly see it; it happens instantly. It happens instantly whether you put in thirty years’ practice, or whether you put in three minutes. It’s the same. Suddenly it dawns on you that that’s the way things are. Tat tvam asi.


A Place for the Hermit


Medieval society in the West, comparable to Hindu society, allowed people to check out of the game. It revered and encouraged hermits, monks, nuns of various types of discipline. There’s this difference, you see, for the West and India: you couldn’t join the Brahmana caste, the priest caste, from some other caste. But in the European caste system, by becoming a priest, or a cleric of any kind—you see, a cleric means, simply, a literate person—you could familiarize with any other caste once you’re in that one. And so it was a wonderful way of rising in society. You could, from being a serf, go to being a priest, to being an archbishop and consort with the nobility. It was the only way open to cross castes, you see? And because they were the literate people, it was through literacy, and through universities founded by clerics, that our caste system began to break and we got the idea of choosing your own vocation, and not simply following what your parents did.


Now, I want to make an observation, here, about checking out of the game. This is not encouraged in contemporary society, because the Catholic church and the, say, the Episcopalian church, are very powerful minorities; they can still support monasteries and even hermits. But you can’t be one on your own without great difficulty.


Firstly, because you’re a poor consumer. See, around here, we have a number of hermits. There’s a guy out there building that boat, and he’s essentially a nonjoiner, a poor consumer, and the community—they live a lot a along here, and they’re mostly—they’re not working-class people, they are people who dropped out of college because they saw it was stupid. And they’re that sort of people. We would call them, perhaps, beatniks. But, you see, the city doesn’t like it because they aren’t owning the right sort of cars, and therefore the local car salesman isn’t doing business through them. They don’t have lawns, and so nobody can sell them lawn mowers. They hardly use dishwashers, appliances of that kind; they don’t need them. And, also, they wear blue jeans and things like that, and so the local dress shops feel a bit put out having these people around. And they live very simply. Well, you mustn’t do that. You’ve got to live in a complicated way. You’ve got to have the kind of car, you know, that identifies you as a person of substance, and status, and all that.


So there’s a great problem here in our society. Now, why is there this problem? There’s always a very inconsiderable minority of these nonjoiners, or people who check out of the game. But you will find that insecure societies are the most intolerant of those who are nonjoiners. They are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say, “Everyone must play.” Now, that’s a double-bind. You can’t say to a person, “You must play,” because what you’re saying is, “You are required to do something which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily,” you see?


So ‘everyone must play’ is the rule in the United States. And it’s the rule in almost all republican governments. I mean republican in the sense of democratic. Because they’re very uneasy. Because everybody’s responsible. You mean—you may try not to be, and avoid it and say, “Oh, let the senators take care of it, or the president.” But theoretically, everyone’s responsible. Now that’s terrifying. See, it’s alright when you know what’s right. There is an aristocracy, there is the clergy, and they know what should be done, and they’re used to ruling you, you see. But now it’s in your hands. You say, “What are we going to do?” “Well, I think this way, and you think that way, and he thinks the other way.” And so we’re all unsettled, and therefore we become more and more conformist. Individualism—rugged individualism—always leads to conformism, because people get scared and so they herd together, and, compounded with industrial society—mass production, et cetera—they all wear the same clothes, and they’re sensible clothes that don’t show the dirt too much, and we get duller and drabber, and—with the exception of the Californian revolution.


So, the reason for this is, in a way, that democracy—as we have tried it—started out on the wrong foot. You see, in the scriptures—Christian scriptures—it says everybody is equal in the sight of God. Now, that’s a mystical utterance. That means that, from the standpoint of God, all people are divine and are playing their true function. And that is something that is true on a certain plane of consciousness. But come down a step and try to apply the mystical insight in the practical affairs of everyday life, and what do you get? You get a parody of mysticism. You get the idea, not that everybody is equal in the sight of God, but that all people are equally inferior. And that’s why all bureaucracies are rude, why the police are rude, and why you’re made to wait in lines, and there are obstreperous income tax individuals, and all that sort of person—because everybody’s a crook, everybody’s equally inferior. See, that becomes the parody in democracy. And that kind of society—watch out for it—it turns in a quick click into fascism, because of its terror of the outsider.


Now, a free and easy society loves outsiders. In fact, it’s a little bad for the outsider’s integrity because he becomes a holy man, see? And people make salaams, and give him food, and all that; they really take care of the outsider, because they know that man is doing—for us—what we haven’t got the guts to do. That outsider, who lives up there, in the mountain, is at the highest peak of human evolution. His consciousness is one with the divine. And great! Just—there is someone like that around! It makes you feel a little better. He has realized; he knows what it’s all about. And so we need a number of those people. Even though they don’t join our game, they tell us, you see, “What you’re doing is only a game. It’s okay, I’m not going to condemn you. But it is only a game, and we—up on that mountaintop—are watching you. We love you, we have compassion for you, but excuse us, please. We aren’t going to join.” So that gives the community great strength, because it tells the government, in no uncertain terms, that there’s something more than government. That’s why wise kings kept not only priests, but court fools. The court fool is much more effective than the priest to remind the king that, after all, he’s human, and, you know how—in Richard II, where the fool is called the antic—the king says:


Within the hollow crown,

That rounds the mortal temples of the king,

Keeps Death his watch, and there the antic sits,

Scoffing at his state and grinning at his pomp

Allowing him a little time

To monarchize be fear’d and kill with looks.

And then at last comes death, and with a pin

Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!


See? Always this reminder of the priest—or of the antic—to the royalty, to the government. You are going to die, you are mortal. Don’t give yourself heirs and graces as if you were a god. As king, you are only a representative of God, and there is a force, there are domains way, way beyond yours and way, way higher. But it’s very difficult for a republican government to realize that, because it’s insecure. And therefore, in our present world, you cannot abandon nationality without the greatest difficulty. People who try to abandon nationality get constantly deported from one place to another. You must belong to this thing. As Thoreau put it: “However far into the forests you may go, men will pursue you and compel you to belong to their desperate company of oddfellows.”

The World As Self (Part 2)

Alan Watts

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