The Nature of Consciousness (Part 2)

Out of Your Mind 2


Alan Watts suggests the sole identity with our egoic thoughts limits our consciousness, and that existence is an interdependent web in which consciousness plays a game of pretending to be separate. We must recognize the fundamental unity of self and world; that consciousness encompasses all experience. He provides various techniques aimed at dissolving illusory boundaries of the ego. Watts maintains that enlightenment requires no striving, since we already live in eternal presence and are manifestations of the divine reality, pretending forgetfulness for the adventure of self-discovery.



Being Aware of Awareness


We are playing a game, and the game runs like this: the only thing you really know is what you can put into words. Let’s suppose I love some girl, rapturously, and somebody says to me, “Do you really love her?” Well, how am I going to prove this? They say, “Write poetry. Tell us all how much you love her. Then we’ll believe you.” So if I’m an artist, and I can put this into words and convince everybody that I’ve written the most ecstatic love letters ever written, they say “All right, okay, we’ll admit it, you really do love her.” But supposing you’re not very articulate. Are we going to tell you you don’t love her? Surely not. You don’t have to be Héloïse and Abélard to be in love.


So the whole game that our culture is playing is that nothing really happens unless it’s in the newspaper. So when we’re at a party, and it’s a great party, somebody says, “It’s too bad there wasn’t a tape recorder.” And so our children begin to feel that they don’t exist authentically unless they get their names in the papers, and the fastest way of getting your name in the papers is to commit a crime. And then you’ll be photographed, then you’ll appear in court, and everybody will notice you. It really happened if it was recorded. In other words, if you shout, and it doesn’t come back and echo, it didn’t happen.


Well that’s a real hangup. It’s true, the fun with echoes; we all like singing in the bathtub, because there’s more resonance there. And when we play a musical instrument, like a violin or a cello, it has a sounding box, because that gives resonance to the sound. And in the same way, the cortex of the human brain enables us—when we’re happy—to know that we’re happy, and that gives a certain resonance to it. If you’re happy, and you don’t know you’re happy, there’s nobody home. But this is the whole problem for us. Several thousand years ago, human beings evolved the system of self-consciousness. And they knew they knew.


There was a young man who said “Though

It seems that I know that I know,

What I would like to see

Is the I that knows me

When I know that I know that I know.”


You see? And this is the human problem: we know that we know. And so there came a point in our evolution when we didn’t guide life by distrusting our instincts, and had to think about it, and had to purposely arrange, and discipline, and push our lives around in accordance with foresight, and words, and systems of symbols, accountancy, calculation, and so on. And then we worry. Once you start thinking about things, you worry as to whether you’ve thought enough. Did you really take all the details into consideration? Was every fact properly reviewed? And by Jove, the more you think about it, the more you realize that you really couldn’t take everything into consideration, because all the variables in any human decision are incalculable. So you get anxiety. And this, though—also—this is the price you pay for knowing that you know. For being able to think about thinking, to feel about feeling. And so you’re in this funny position.


Now then, do you see that this is simultaneously an advantage and a terrible disadvantage? What has happened here is that by having a certain kind of consciousness, a certain kind of reflexive consciousness—being aware of being aware. Being able to represent what goes on fundamentally in terms of a system of symbols, such as words, such as numbers. You put, as it were, two lives together at once, one representing the other. The symbols representing the reality, the money representing the wealth, and if you don’t realize that the symbol is really secondary, it doesn’t have the same value. People go to the supermarket, and they get a whole cartload of goodies, and they drive it through, then the clerk fixes up the counter and this long tape comes out, and he’ll say “Thirty dollars, please,” and everybody feels depressed because they give away thirty dollars’ worth of paper. But they’ve got a cartload of goodies; they don’t think about that. They think they’ve just lost thirty dollars. But you’ve got the real wealth in the cart; all you’ve parted with was the paper. Because the paper—in our system—becomes more valuable than the wealth. It represents power; potentiality. Whereas the wealth—you think “Oh well, that’s just necessary.” You’ve got to eat. I mean, that’s to be really mixed up.


Captivated by the Drama


So then, if you awaken from this illusion and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death—or shall I say, death implies life—you can feel yourself not as a stranger in the world, not as something here on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke, but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental. What you are basically—deep, deep down, far, far in—is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.


So, say in Hindu mythology, they say that the world is the drama of God. God is not something in Hindu mythology with a white beard that sits on a throne, and that has royal prerogatives. God in Indian mythology is the Self, satcitānanda (सच्चितानन्द). Which means sat: “that which is;” chit: “that which is consciousness;” “that which is ananda is bliss.” And, in other words, what exists—reality itself—is gorgeous. It is the plenum, the fullness of total joy. Wowee! And all those stars—if you look out in the sky—is a firework display like you see on the fourth of July, which is a great occasion for celebration. The universe is a celebration. It is a fireworks show to celebrate that existence is. Wowee!


And then they say, however, there’s no point just in sustaining bliss. Let’s suppose that you were able, every night, to dream any dream you wanted to dream. And that you could, for example, have the power within one night to dream 75 years of time, or any length of time you wanted to have. And you would—naturally, as you began on this adventure of dreams—you would fulfill all your wishes. You would have every kind of pleasure you could conceive. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each, you would say “Well, that was pretty great! But now let’s have a surprise. Let’s have a dream which isn’t under control, where something is going to happen to me that I don’t know what it’s going to be.” And you would dig that, and come out of that and say “Wow, that was a close shave, wasn’t it?” And then you would get more and more adventurous, and you would make further and further-out gambles as to what you would dream. And finally, you would dream where you are now. You would dream the dream of living the life that you are actually living today. That would be within the infinite multiplicity of choices you would have. Of playing that you weren’t God. Because the whole nature of the godhead, according to this idea, is to play that he’s not. The first thing that he says to himself is, “Man, get lost,” because he gives himself away. The nature of love is self-abandonment; not clinging to oneself. Throwing yourself out, as in, for example, in basketball; you’re always getting rid of the ball. You say to the other fellow, “Have a ball.” See? And that keeps things moving. That’s the nature of life.


So in this idea, then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality. Not “God” in a politically kingly sense, but “God” in the sense of being the Self, the deep-down basic whatever-there-is. And you’re all that, only you’re pretending you’re not. And it’s perfectly okay to pretend you’re not, to be absolutely convinced, because this is the whole notion of drama. When you come into the theater there is a proscenium arch, and a stage, and down there is the audience. And everybody assumes their seats in the theater, and going to see a comedy, a tragedy, a thriller, or whatever it is, and they all know, as they come in and pay their admissions, that what is going to happen on the stage is not for real. But the actors have a conspiracy against this, because they’re going to try and persuade the audience that what is happening on the stage is for real. They want to get everybody sitting on the edge of their chairs, they want to get you terrified, or crying, or laughing. Absolutely captivated by the drama. And if a skillful human actor can take in an audience and make people cry, think what the cosmic actor can do. Why, he can take himself in completely. He can play so much for real that he really believes it is. Like you sitting in this room, you think you’re really here. Well, you’ve persuaded yourself that way. You’ve acted it so damn well that you know that this is the real world. But you’re playing it. As well as the audience and the actor as one. Because behind the stage is the green room. Off-scene—obscene—where the actors take off their masks.


You know that the word “person” means “mask?” The persona which is the mask worn by actors in Greco-Roman drama, because it has a megaphone-type mouth which throws the sound out in an open-air theater. So per: “through;” sona: “what the sound comes through;” that’s the mask. How to be a real person. How to be a genuine fake. The mask.


So the dramatis personae at the beginning of a play is the list of masks that the actors will wear. And so in the course of forgetting that this life is a drama, the word for the role, the word for the mask, has come to mean who you are genuinely: the person. The proper person. Incidentally, the word parson is derived from the word person. The person of the village. The person around town, the parson. Funny.


So anyway, then, this is a drama. I’m not trying to sell you on this idea in the sense of converting you to it; I want you to play with it. I want you to think of its possibilities. I’m not trying to prove it, I’m just putting it forward as a possibility of life to think about. So then, this means that you’re not victims of a scheme of things—of a mechanical world, or of an autocratic god. The life you’re living is what you have put yourself into. Only you don’t admit it, because you want to play the game that it’s happened to you. In other words, I got mixed up in this world—my parents; I had a father who got hot pants over a girl, and she was my mother. And because he was just a horny old man, and as a result of that, I got born, and I blame him for it and say, “Well that’s your fault; you’ve got to look after me,” and he says, “I don’t see why I should look after you; you’re just a result.”


But let’s suppose we admit that I really wanted to get born, and that I was the ugly gleam in my father’s eye when he approached my mother. That was me. I was desire. And I deliberately got involved in this thing. Look at it that way instead. And that, even if I got myself into an awful mess, and I got born with syphilis, and the Great Siberian Itch, and tuberculosis, and in a Nazi concentration camp—nevertheless this was a game, which was a very far out play. It was a kind of cosmic masochism. But I did it.


Isn’t that an optimal game rule for life? Because if you play life on the supposition that you’re a helpless little puppet that got involved, or if you played on the supposition that it’s a frightful, serious risk, and that we really ought to do something about it, and so on, it’s a drag. There’s no point in going on living unless we make the assumption that the situation of life is optimal. That, really and truly, we’re all in a state of total bliss and delight, but we’re going to pretend we aren’t just for kicks. You play non-bliss in order to be able to experience bliss. And you can go as far out as non-bliss as you want to go. And when you wake up, it’ll be great. You know, you can slam yourself on the head with a hammer because it’s so nice when you stop. And it makes you realize, you see, how great things are when you forget that that’s the way it is. And that’s just like black and white: you don’t know black unless you know white; you don’t know white unless you know black. This is simply fundamental.


The Game of Hide-And-Seek


So then, here’s the drama. My metaphysics—let me be perfectly frank with you—are that there is the central self—you can call it God, you can call it anything you like—and it’s all of us. It’s playing all the parts of all beings whatsoever everywhere and anywhere. And it’s playing the game of hide-and-seek with itself. It gets lost, it gets involved in the farthest-out adventures, but in the end it always wakes up and comes back to itself. And when you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up. And if you’re not ready, you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just “poor little me.”


And since you’re all here and engaged in this sort of inquiry and listening to this sort of lecture, I assume that you’re all on the process of waking up. Or else you’re teasing yourselves with some kind of flirtation with waking up, which you’re not serious about. But I assume—maybe you are not serious, but sincere—that you are ready to wake up.


So then, when you’re in the way of waking up, and finding out who you really are, you meet a character called a guru, as the Hindus say—this word, “the teacher,” “the awakener.” And what is the function of a guru? He’s the man who looks at you in the eye and says, “Oh, come off it! I know who you are.” You know, you come to the guru and say, “Sir, I have a problem. I’m unhappy, and I want to get one-up on the universe, so I want to become enlightened. I want spiritual wisdom.” The guru looks at you and says, “Who are you?”


You know Sri Ramana Maharshi, that great Hindu sage of modern times? People used to come to him and say, “Master, who was I in my last incarnation?”—as if that mattered. And he would say, “Who is asking the question?” And he’d look at you and say, “Basically, go right down to it. You’re looking at me, you’re looking out, and you’re unaware of what’s behind your eyes. Go back in and find out who you are, where the question comes from, why you ask.” And if you’ve looked at a photograph of that man—I have a gorgeous photograph of him; I walk by it every time I go out of the front door—and I look at those eyes, and the humor in them, the lilting laugh that says, “Oh come off it! Shiva, I recognize you. When you come to my door and you say, ‘I’m so-and-so,’ I say, ‘Ha ha, what a funny way God has come on today!’”


There are all sorts of tricks, of course, that gurus play. They say, “Well, we’re going to put you through the mill.” And the reason they do that is, simply, that you won’t wake up until you feel you’ve paid a price for it. In other words, the sense of guilt that one has, or the sense of anxiety, is simply the way one experiences keeping the game of disguise going on. Do you see that? Supposing you say, “I feel guilty.” Christianity makes you feel guilty for existing. That, somehow, the very fact that you exist is an affront. You are a fallen human being. I remember, as a child, when we went to the services of the church on Good Friday: they gave us each a colored postcard with Jesus crucified on it, and it said underneath, “This have I done for thee. What doest thou for me?” You know, you felt awful. You had nailed that man to the cross. Because you eat steak, you have crucified Christ. Because you killed the bull. And, after all, you depend on it.


Mithra. It’s the same mystery. And what are you going to do about that? “This have I done for thee, what doest thou for me?” You feel awful that you exist at all. But that sense, that sense of guilt, is the veil across the sanctuary. Don’t you dare come in! In all mysteries, when you are going to be initiated, there’s somebody saying “Ah-ah-ah-ah! Don’t you come in! You’ve got to fulfill this requirement, and this requirement, and this requirement, and this requirement; then we’ll let you in.” And so you go through the mill.


Why? Because you’re saying to yourself, “I won’t wake up until I feel I deserve it. I won’t wake up until I’ve made it difficult for me to wake up.” So I invent for myself an elaborate sytem of delaying my waking up. I put myself through this test, and that test, and when I feel it’s been sufficiently arduous, then I may at last admit to myself who I really am, and draw aside the veil, and realize that—after all, when all is said and done—I am that I am, which is the name of God. And, when it comes to it, that’s rather funny.


They say in Zen, when you attain satori, nothing is left you at that moment but to have a good laugh. But naturally, all masters—Zen masters, yoga masters, every kind of master—puts up a barrier and says to you… he simply plays your own game. You know, we say anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined. Because you—when you go to a psychiatrist—you define yourself as somebody who ought to have his head examined. Same way, the Zen masters say anybody who studies Zen, or comes to a Zen master, ought to be given thirty blows with a stick, because he was stupid enough to pose the question that he had a problem. But you’re the problem. You put yourself in this situation.


So, it’s a question, fundamentally. Do you define yourself as a victim of the world, or as the world? You can define yourself, you see—if you identify you with what you call the voluntary system of the nerves, and say, “Only that’s me”—and that’s really a rather limited amount of my total performance; what I do voluntarily—then you’ve defined yourself as the victim in the game. And so you are able to feel that life was a trap. Something else—whether it was God, or whether it was fate, or whether it was “the big mechanism,” “the system”—imposed this on you. And you can say, “Poor little me.” But you can equally well, and with just as much justification, define yourself not only as what you do voluntarily, but also what you do involuntarily; that’s you, too. Do you beat your heart, or don’t you? Or does it just happen to you? And if you define yourself as the works, then nobody’s imposing on you. You’re not a victim. You’re doing it. Of course, you can’t explain how you do it in words, because words are too clumsy and it’d take too long to say. You’d get bored with it. But actually, then you can say—with gusto—“I am responsible for this life. Whether comedy or tragedy—I did it.” And it seems to me that that is a basis for behavior and going on which is more fundamentally joyous, and profitable, and great, than defining ourselves as miserable victims, or sinners, or what have you.


Consciousness Beyond Awareness


I was discussing an alternative myth to the ceramic and fully automatic models of the universe—I’ll call the dramatic myth. The idea that life as we experience it is a big act, and that behind this big act is the player, and the player—or the self, as it’s called in Hindu philosophy, the ātman—is you. Only, you are playing hide-and-seek, since that is the essential game that is going on; it’s the game of games. The basis of all games: hide-and-seek. And so, since you’re playing hide-and-seek, you are deliberately—although you can’t admit this, or won’t admit it—you are deliberately forgetting who you really are, or what you really are. And the knowledge that your essential Self is the foundation of the universe, the ground of being as Tillich calls it, is something you have as what the Germans call a Hintergedanke. A Hintergedanke is a thought way, way, way in the back of your mind; way back here, somewhere. Something that you know deep down but can’t admit. So in a way, then, in order to bring this to the front, in order to know that that is the case, you have to be kidded out of your game.


You see, the problem is this: we identify in our experience a differentiation between what we do and what happens to us. We have a certain number of actions that we define as voluntary, and we feel in control of those. And then over against that, there is all those things that are involuntary. But the dividing line between these two is very arbitrary. Because, for example, when you move your hand, you feel that you decide whether to open it or to close it. But then ask yourself: how do you decide? When you decide to open your hand, do you first decide to decide? You don’t, do you? You just decide. And how do you do that? And if you don’t know how you do it, is it voluntary or involuntary? Let’s consider breathing. You can feel that you breathe deliberately; you can control your breath. But when you don’t think about it, it goes on. Is it voluntary or involuntary?


And so we come to have a very arbitrary definition of Self: that much of my activity which I feel I do. And that, then, doesn’t include breathing most of the time, it doesn’t include the heartbeats, it doesn’t include the activity of the glands, it doesn’t include digestion, it doesn’t include how you shape your bones, circulate your blood. Do you or do you not do these things? Now, if you get with yourself and you find out that you are all of yourself, a very strange thing happens. You find that your body knows that you are one with the universe. In other words, that the so-called “involuntary” circulation of your blood is one continuous process with the stars shining. If you find out that it’s you who circulates your blood, you will at the same moment find out that you are shining the sun. Because your physical organism is one continuous process with everything else that’s going on. Just as the waves are continuous with the ocean, your body is continuous with the total energy system of the cosmos—and it’s all you. Only: you’re playing the game that you’re only this bit of it. But as I tried to explain, there are—in physical reality—no such things as separate events.


So then: remember, also, when I tried to work towards a definition of omnipotence. Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it. You don’t have to translate it into language. Look: supposing when you got up in the morning you had to switch your brain on, and you had to think and do as a deliberate process waking up all the circuits that you need for active life during the day. Why, you would never get done! Because you have to do all those things at once. How can a centipede control a hundred legs at once? Because it doesn’t think about it. And so, in the same way, you are unconsciously performing all the various activities of your organism. Only unconsciously isn’t a good word, because it sounds sort of dead. Superconsciously would be better; give it a plus rather than a minus. Because what a consciousness is, is simply a sort of specialized form of awareness.


When you look around the room, you are conscious of as much as you can notice, and you see an enormous number of things which you don’t notice. If, for example, I look at a girl here and somebody asks me later, “What was she wearing?” I may not know—although I’ve seen—because I didn’t attend. But I was aware, you see? And perhaps if I could, under hypnosis, be asked this question, where I would get my conscious attention out of the way through being in the hypnotic state, I could recall what dress she was wearing. So then, just in the same way as you don’t focus your attention on how you make your thyroid gland function, so in the same way you don’t have any attention focused on how you shine the sun.


How Do We Define Ourselves?


So then, let me connect this with the problem of birth and death, which puzzles people enormously, of course. Because, in order to understand what the Self is, you have to remember that it doesn’t need to remember anything—just like you don’t need to know how you work your thyroid gland. So then, when you die, you’re not going to have to put up with everlasting non-existance, because that’s not an experience. A lot of people are afraid that, when they die, they’re going to be locked up in a dark room forever, and sort of undergo that. But one of the most interesting things in the world—this is a yoga, this is a way of realization—try and imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up.


Think about that. Children think about it. It’s one of the great wonders of life. What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, that it will pose a next question to you: what was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born. You see, you can’t have an experience of nothing; nature abhors a vacuum. So after you’re dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience (or the same sort of experience) as when you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after people die, other people are born. And they’re all you, only you can only experience it one at a time. Everybody is I, you all know you’re you, and wheresoever beings exist throughout all galaxies—it doesn’t make any difference—you are all of them. And when they come into being, that’s you coming into being. You know that very well, only you don’t have to remember the past in the same way you don’t have to think about how you work your thyroid gland, or whatever else it is in your organism. You don’t have to know how to shine the sun. You just do it, like you breathe.


Doesn’t it really astonish you that you are this fantastically complex thing, and that you’re doing all of this and you never had any education in how to do it? Never learned, but you’re this miracle? Well, the point is that, from a strictly physical, scientific standpoint, this organism is a continuous energy with everything else that’s going on. And if I am my foot, I am the sun. Only: we’ve got this little partial view; we’ve got the idea that “No, I’m something in this body.” The ego.


That’s a joke. The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention. It’s like a radar on a ship. The radar on a ship is a troubleshooter: “Is there anything in the way?” And conscious attention is a designed function of the brain to scan the environment, like a radar does, and note for any troublemaking changes. But if you identify yourself with your troubleshooter, then naturally you define yourself as being in a perpetual state of anxiety. And the moment we cease to identify with the ego and become aware that we are the whole organism, you realize as the first thing how harmonious it all is. Because your organism is a miracle of harmony. All this thing functioning together. Even those corpuscles and creatures that are fighting each other in the blood stream and eating each other up. If they weren’t doing that, you wouldn’t be healthy.


So what is discord at one level of your being is harmony at a higher level. And you begin to realize that, and you begin to be aware, too, that the discords of your life, and the discords of people’s life—which are a fight at one level—at a higher level of the universe are healthy and harmonious. And you suddenly realize that everything that you are and do is, at that level, as magnificent and as free of any blemish as the patterns in waves. The markings in marble. The way a cat moves. And that this world is really okay. Can’t be anything else, because otherwise it couldn’t exist.


But the reality underneath physical existence, or which really is physical existence—because in my philosophy there’s no difference between the physical and the spiritual; these are absolutely out-of-date categories—it’s all process. It isn’t stuff on the one hand and form on the other. It’s just—it is pattern; life is pattern. It is a dance of energy. So I will never invoke spooky knowledge. That is to say: that I’ve had a private revelation, or that I have sensory vibrations going on a plane which you don’t have. Everything is standing right out in the open, it’s just a question of how you look at it. So you do discover, when you realize this, the most extraordinary thing, to me, that I never cease to be flabbergasted at whenever it happens to me.


What It Is To See


Some people will use a symbolism of the relationship of God to the universe, wherein God is, say, brilliant light—only somehow veiled, hiding underneath all these forms that you see as you look around you. So far, so good. But the truth is funnier than that. It is that you are looking right at the brilliant light now. That the experience you are having—which you call “ordinary everyday consciousness;” pretending you’re not it—that experience is exactly the same thing as it. There’s no difference at all. And when you find that out, you laugh yourself silly. That’s the great discovery.


In other words, when you really start to see things, and you look at an old paper cup, and you go into the nature of what it is to see what vision is, or what smell is, or what touch is, you realize that that vision of the paper cup is the brilliant light of the cosmos. Nothing could be brighter. Ten thousand suns couldn’t be brighter. Only: they’re hidden in the sense that all the points of the infinite light are so tiny, when you see them in the cup, they don’t blow your eyes out. But it is acutally—see, the source of all light is in the eye. If there were no eyes in this world, the sun would not be light. You evoke light out of the universe, in the same way you—by virtue of having a soft skin—evoke hardness out of wood. Wood is only hard in relation to a soft skin. It’s your eardrum that evokes noise out of the air. You, by being this organism, call into being the whole universe of light and color and hardness and heaviness and everything, you see?


But in the mythology that we’ve sold ourselves on during the end of the nineteenth century—when people discovered how big the universe was, and that we live on a little planet in a solar system on the edge of a galaxy, which is a minor galaxy—everybody thought, “Ugh! We’re really unimportant after all. God isn’t there and doesn’t love us, and nature doesn’t give a damn.” And we put ourselves down, see? But actually, it’s this little funny microbe—tiny thing, crawling on this little planet that’s way out somewhere—who has the ingenuity, by nature of this magnificent organic structure, to evoke the whole universe out of what would otherwise be mere quanta. There’s jazz going on. But, you see, this little ingenious organism is not merely some stranger in this. This little organism, on this little planet, is what the whole show is growing there, and so realizing its own presence.


Well now, here’s the problem: if this is the state of affairs which is so, and if the consciousness state you’re in at this moment is the same thing as what we might call the Divine State—if you do anything to make it different, it shows you don’t understand that it’s so. So the moment you start practicing yoga, or praying, or meditating, or indulging in some sort of spiritual cultivation, you are getting in your own way. The Buddha said, “We suffer because we desire. If you can give up desire, you won’t suffer.” But he didn’t say that as the last word; he said that as the opening step of a dialogue. Because if you say that to someone, they’re going to come back after a while and say, “Yes, but I’m now desiring not to desire.” And so the Buddha will answer, “Well! At last! You’re beginning to understand the point!” Because you can’t give up desire; why would you try to do that? It’s already desire. So in the same way you say, “You ought to be unselfish,” or to “give up your ego.” “Let go.” “Relax.” Why do you want to do that? Just because it’s another way of beating the game, isn’t it? The moment, you see, you hypothesize that you are different from the universe, you want to get one-up on it. But if you try to get one-up on the universe, and you’re in competition with it, it means you don’t understand you are it. You think there’s a real difference between self and other. But self—what you call yourself, and what you call other are mutually necessary to each other like back and front. They’re really one. But just as a magnet polarizes itself at north and south, but it’s all one magnet, so experience polarizes itself as self and other, but it’s all one. So if you try to make the north pole get the mastery of it, or the south pole get the mastery over the north pole, you show you don’t know what’s going on.


A guru (or teacher) who wants to get this across to somebody, because he knows it himself—and when you know it, you know, you’d like others to see it, too. So what he does is: he gets you into being ridiculous—harder and more assiduously than usual. In other words, if you are in a contest with the universe, he’s going to stir up that contest until it becomes ridiculous. And so he sets you such tasks as saying, “Now, of course, in order to be a true person, you must give up yourself. Be unselfish.” So the Lord steps down out of heaven and says, “The first and great commandment is: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” You must love me. Well, that’s a double-bind. You can’t love on purpose. You can’t be sincere purposely. It’s like trying not to think of a green elephant while taking medicine.


But if a person really tries to do it—so, you know, this is the way Christianity is rigged—you should be very sorry for your sins. And though everybody knows they’re not, but they think they ought to be; so they go around trying to be penitent, or trying to be humble. And they know the more assiduously they practice it, the phonier and phonier the whole thing gets. And so, in this way, it’s called the technique of reductio ad absurdum. If you think you have a problem, you see, and that you’re an ego, and that you’re in difficulty, the answer that the Zen master makes to you is, “Show me your ego. I want to see this thing that has a problem.” When Bodhidharma—the legendary founder of Zen—came to China, a disciple came to him and said, “I have no peace of mind. Please pacify my mind.” And Bodhidharma said, “Bring out your mind here before me and I’ll pacify it.” “Well,” he said, “when I look for it, I can’t find it.” So Bodhidharma said, “There, it’s pacified.” See, because when you look for your own mind—that is to say, your own particularized center of being, which is separate from everything else—you won’t be able to find it. But the only way you’ll know it isn’t there is if you look for it hard enough to find out that it isn’t there. And so everybody says, “Alright, know yourself, look within, find out who you are.” Because the harder you look, you won’t be able to find it, and then you’ll realize that it isn’t there at all. There isn’t a separate you. Your mind is what there is; everything. But the only way to find that out is to persist in the state of delusion as hard as possible. That’s one way—I haven’t said the only way, but it is one way.


And so almost all spiritual disciplines—meditations, prayers, et cetera, et cetera—are ways of persisting in folly. Doing resolutely and consistently what you’re doing already. So if a person believes that the Earth is flat, you can’t talk him out of that. He knows it’s flat; look out the window and see! It’s—obviously, it looks flat. So the only way to convince him it isn’t is to say “Well, let’s go and find the edge.” And in order to find the edge, you’ve got to be very careful not to walk in circles; you’ll never find it that way. So we’ve got to go consistently in a straight line due west along the same line of latitude, and eventually, when we get back to where we started from, you’ve convinced the guy that the Earth is round. That’s the only way that’ll teach him. Because people can’t be talked out of illusions.


The Road To Here


There is another possibility, however. But this is more difficult to describe. Let’s say we take as the basic supposition—which is the thing that one sees in the experience of satori, or awakening, or whatever you want to call it—that this now-moment in which I’m talking and you’re listening is eternity. That—although we have somehow conned ourselves into the notion that this moment is rather ordinary, and that we may not feel very well, and that we’re sort of vaguely frustrated, and worried, and so on, and that it ought to be changed—this is it. So you don’t need to do anything at all. But the difficulty about explaining that is that you mustn’t try not to do anything, because that’s doing something. And how to explain that? Because there’s nothing to explain—it is the way it is now, you see? And if you understand that, it will automatically wake you up.


That’s why Zen teachers use shock treatment: to sometimes—why they hit people, or shout at them, or create a sudden surprise—because it is that jolt that suddenly brings you here. See, there’s no road to here, because you’re already there. And if you ask me, “How am I going to get here?” it will be like the famous story of the American tourist in England, who asked some yokel the way to Upper Tuttenham—a little village—and the yokel scratched his head and he said, “Well, sir, I don’t know where it is, but if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.”


So you see, when you ask, “How to I attain the knowledge of God? How do I attain nirvāṇa; liberation?” All I can say is: it’s the wrong question. Why do you want to attain it? Because the very fact that you’re wanting to attain it is the only thing that prevents you from getting there. You already have it. But of course, it’s up to you; it’s your privilege to pretend that you don’t. That’s your game; that’s your life game—that’s what makes you think you’re an ego. And when you want to wake up, you will—just like that. If you’re not awake, it shows you don’t want to. You’re still playing the hide part of the game. You’re still, as it were, the Self pretending it’s not the Self. And that’s what you want to do. So you see, in that way, too, you’re already there.


When you understand this, a funny thing happens—and some people misinterpret it. You’ll discover, as this happens, that the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior disappears. You will realize that what you describe as things under your own will feel exactly the same as things going on outside you. You watch other people moving, and you know you’re doing that, just like you’re breathing, or circulating your blood. And if you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re liable to get crazy at this point, and to feel that you are God in the Jehovah-sense. To say that you actually have power over other people, so that you could alter what they’re doing. And that you are omnipotent in a very crude, literal kind of Bible-sense, you see? And a lot of people feel that and they go crazy. They have to put them away. They think they’re Jesus Christ and that everybody ought to fall down and worship them. That’s only—they got their wires crossed. This experience happened to them, but they don’t know how to interpret it. So be careful of that. Jung calls it inflation. People who get the Holy Man syndrome, that I suddenly discover that I am the Lord, and that I am above good and evil, and so on, and therefore I start giving myself airs and graces. But the point is: everybody else is, too. If you discover that you are that, then you ought to know that everybody else is.


Well, for example, let’s see how—in other ways—you might realize this. Most people think—when they open their eyes and look around—that what they’re seeing is outside. It seems, doesn’t it, that you are behind your eyes, and that behind the eyes there is a blank which you can’t see at all. You turn around and you see something else in front of you. But behind the eyes there seems to be something that has no color. It isn’t dark, is isn’t light. It is there from a tactile standpoint; you can feel it with your fingers, although you don’t get inside it. But what is that, behind your eyes, you see? Well actually, when you look out there and see all these people and things sitting around, that’s how it feels inside your head. The color of this room is back here, in the nervous system, where the optical nerves are at the back of the head. It’s in there. It’s what you’re experiencing. What you see out here is a neurological experience. Now if that hits you, and you feel—sensuously—that that’s so, you may think that then, therefore, the external world is all inside my skull. But you’ve got to correct that, with the thought that your skull is also in the external world. So you suddenly begin to feel, “Well, wow! What kind of situation is this? It’s inside me, and I’m inside it, and it’s inside me, and I’m inside it.” But that’s the way it is.


This is the—what you could call transaction, rather than interaction—between the individual and the world. Just like, for example, in buying and selling. There cannot be an act of buying unless there’s simultaneously an act of selling, and vice versa. So the relationship between the organism and the environment is transactional. The environment grows the organism, and in turn the organism creates the environment. The organism turns the sun into light, but it requires there to be an environment containing a sun for there to be an organism at all. And the answer to it simply: they’re all one process. And it isn’t that organisms by chance came into this world. To put it, rather: that this world is the sort of environment which grows organisms. It was that way from the beginning. Just in the same way—I mean; the organisms may, in time, have arrived in the scene, or out of the scene, later than the beginning of the scene, but from the moment it went bang in the beginning—if that’s the way it started—organisms like us are sitting here. We’re involved in it.


You see, look here: let’s take the propagation of an electric current. I can have an electric current running through a wire that goes all the way around the Earth. And here we have a power source, and here we have a switch. Alright, here’s the positive pole, here’s the negative pole. Now, before that switch closes, the current doesn’t exactly behave like water in a pipe. There isn’t current here, waiting to jump the gap as soon as the switch is closed. The current doesn’t even start until the switch is closed, from the positive pole. It never starts unless the point of arrival is there. Now, it’ll take an interval for that current to get going, and circuit, if it’s going all the way around the Earth. It’s a long run. But the finishing point has to be closed before it will even start from the beginning. In a similar way, although in the development of any physical system there may by billions of years between the creation of the most primitive form of energy and then the arrival of intelligent life, that billions of years is just the same thing as the trip of that current around the wire. Takes a bit of time. But it’s already implied; it takes time for an acorn to turn into an oak, but the oak is already implied in the acorn. And so in any lump of rock floating about in space, there is implicit human intelligence. Sometime, somehow, somewhere. They all go together. So don’t differentiate yourself and stand off against this and say, “I am a living organism in a world made of a lot of dead junk, rocks, and stuff.” It all goes together. Those rocks are just as much you as your fingernails. You need rocks. What are you going to stand on?


A Reexamination Of Common Sense


What I think awakening really involves is a reexamination of our common sense. We’ve got all sorts of ideas built into us which seem unquestioned; obvious. And our speech reflects them in the commonest phrases: “Face the facts”—as if they were outside you, as if life were something you simply encountered as a foreigner. Face the facts.


Our common sense has been rigged, you see, so that we feel strangers and aliens in this world. And this is terribly plausible simply because it’s what we are used to. That’s the only reason. But when you really start questioning this; say “Is that the way I have to assume life is? I know everybody does, but does that make it true?” It doesn’t necessarily. It ain’t necessarily so. And so, then, as you question this basic assumption that underlies our culture, you find you get a new kind of common sense; it becomes absolutely obvious to you that you are continuous with the universe.


For example, people used to believe that the people who lived in the Antiquities would fall off [the edge of the Earth], and that was scary. But then, when somebody sailed around the world, and we all got used to it, and now we travel around in jet planes and everything, we have no problem about feeling that the Earth is globular. None whatever. We got used to it. So, in the same way, Einstein’s relativity theories—the curvature of the propogation of light—that began to bother people when Einstein started talking like that. But now we’re all used to it.


Well, in a few years, it will be a matter of common sense to very many people that they are one with the universe. It’ll be so simple! And then—maybe, if that happens—we shall be in a position to handle our technology with more sense; with love instead of with hate for our environment.

The Nature of Consciousness (Part 2)

Alan Watts

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