This morning I want to talk about space in relation to what is ordinarily is called reincarnation. Because this is one of the most fascinating applications of the sense that space constitutes something significant. Now, the subject of reincarnation is one around which is ringed an incredible amount of hocus pocus, and yet there is something in it. And there seems to be something in it not mainly because there is a lot of alleged evidence for it in the form of stories of children who remember their former lives, and so on. I want to approach the subject much in the way that Erwin Schrödinger, the physicist, does. Because he has a view of this that does not involve any hocus pocus at all. It is perfectly simple, and all the evidence for it is already before us. So it involves no claim to special insight, psychic knowledge, but merely to grasping a principle that is staring us in the face. And this principle is difficult to understand not because there’s any inherent intellectual complexity to it, but simply because it requires getting across something that’s just unfamiliar.


There is obviously some sort of analogy—which I’ve already drawn your attention to—between space and unconsciousness. Between stars there is darkness. Between stars there is not the energy which constitutes a so-called body. In some modern physical theory that is purely hypothetical, not really tested, bodies in space are thought of as points at which space is intensified. But at any rate, there are these gaps, these intervals, and obviously the unconscious state must appear always to the conscious state as a gap or interval. So when we go to sleep at night, we wake up in the morning almost instantly. In other words, there appears to have happened nothing except something quite vague between going to sleep and waking—unless you had dreams. And so you can conceive, or barely conceive, going to sleep but not waking up. Or the reverse of it: waking up without ever having gone to sleep, which appears to be the nearest we can imagine to death and birth, respectively. To go to sleep and never wake up when we die. When we were born, to wake up but not to remember ever having gone to sleep.


And, of course, this bugs our imagination because it’s inconceivable in terms of consciousness. People are afraid—some people are afraid—of the possibility of eternal annihilation. And I suppose one of the most eloquent expressions of that is John Betjeman’s poem Before the Anesthetic, where he would prefer “rather even the dismal hells than that this I should cease to be.” And other people, perhaps of a more rational bent, say, “Well, that’s no problem, because if you simply cease to be there’s nobody to be disturbed by it.” You can’t experience not being there forever. And what most people do is: they project upon the prospect of annihilation the imagination of being shut up in a dark prison—an, as it were, supersensory deprivation chamber—forever. But, of course, the notion of eternal annihilation really has no meaning. It is an attempt to conceive nothingness; non-experience. And, so far as our imaginations are concerned, nature abhors a vacuum. We have to project something into that. Because psychologically, as well as logically, it is a void.


However, you see, just as we’ve been discussing the notion that all creatures whatsoever—not to mention all people—feel themselves in the middle: they feel central to their experience. And being central to experience is the nearest thing I can conceive as a meaning for the word “I.” Not an ego, because that is a social structure, a social institution, which has been kind of implanted upon our psychological behavior—upon, shall we say, experience. Because experience is a thing that we are taught. We are taught what experiences are permissible and what are not. Just in the same way as we are taught what speech is permissible and what is not, and what gestures are permissible, what actions are permissible and what are not. So our experience is trained, and we are trained to experience ourselves as egos. But still, underneath the implantation of the ego experience there is this sensation of centrality. You may feel that your center is isolated, as in the ego thing, or you may feel that your center is simply the center of a being—which is you, which extends to the ultimate limits. But in every case there is the sense of centrality in every being that exists. And therefore, every being is “I” just as you are. And there are always “I”s, in this sense. So long as the planet endures and there are living creatures on it, this is a planet with “I”s. And so long as there is the possibility that anywhere in the galaxies there should be such a planet, or creatures, who focus the centrality-feeling of the universe, there is “I.” And that “I” is always you.


We know that, when people die, other people are born after them. And that is all the evidence we need for the notion of a reincarnation. Or it could be explained in various ways; discussed in various ways and elaborated. But fundamentally, people die and then people are born. And that is only the simplest way of saying it, because people are born while others are living. And the whole collection of “I”-centers can sit around in a ring in this room, and I would explain—according to my feeling—that we are all a cycle of reincarnations sitting ’round here in a circle. Because reincarnation is the reincarnation of “I.” If you wanted to be the reincarnation of a particular “I,” then you will have to do something else altogether, which we shall go on to talk about.


But one thing seems to me to be perfectly clear: there was a time when your “I” woke up. It emerged from the biological continuum—what de Chardin calls the biosphere of this planet. And you don’t remember having been here before, at least not in the ordinary way. That is as surprising and as inconceivable an event as ceasing to be and without any apparent prospect of being again. But, you see, after this event called life, if you go back to unconsciousness, you go back to where you were before you started. And since there can’t be any experience of non-experience, obviously, any next “I” that comes up—and all, in fact, next “I”s that come up—are you. Only, since “I” is an experience of centrality, you don’t experience yourself as multi-centered. You experience yourself as a particular center. Because the universe—although it is multi-centered, each center is experienced uniquely.


So what you might roughly expect is this: that after you die, the next thing you know is that you are without the slightest memory of whatever happened before. You repeat the same sort of experiences that you had when you were born. Because it’s somebody else being born. There has to be someone around. I’m merely saying that the experience of being “I” goes on—even if there’s an interval of several billion years. It makes no difference whatsoever. Supposing the human race was wiped off the planet and it took that much time for it to reappear—or any living creature. That would make no difference to this phenomenon. So let me repeat: since there is no possibility of a non-experience, there are always experiences coming up. And each one of them is you. Because it’s “I.”


Now, I know there’s a difficulty in this, because it arises from the fact that we identify “I” with the ego, and a part of ego is a memory system. You know who you are in the sense that you remember who you are. You identify yourself with a series of events that you remember, and these are strung out in a line; they’re like a certain tune. And therefore you identify yourself with that tune. So we repeat ourselves, we have consistent characters, just in the same way as a tune is always constructed to repeat itself in a certain way with variations, so that we recognize the tune and the name of the piece by hearing even one part of it. So here is a tune, you see, that is being played. And it is attached to a center called “I.” Only, the “I” is much more than this particular tune, this particular series of memories. Even though we are persuaded and kind of hoaxed into identifying the whole “I” with that series of memories. But, you know, supposing somebody plays a Chopin Étude and then he stops. Then, later on, somebody else plays it. Is it the same tune? Why, in one sense, yes. In another sense, no. So it is possible, isn’t it, that, even though your tune was wiped out because the memory system goes with death, the same sort of tune could be played again with its characteristics themes. And that will be, in another sense, you in a more particular sense than the you of centrality.


In Buddhism there has never been the idea that rebirth or reincarnation involves the transmigration of a specific soul, because all schools of Buddhism are agreed on the idea that the individual self, or soul, is an illusion; a māyā. And they liken the process of rebirth to the motion of a wave across the surface of water. Actually, the motion is illusory. The water simply goes up and down. Now, there is an optical impression of a wave moving out. No wave moves, and yet there is the seeming of movement. So the Buddhist would say: no soul reincarnates, and yet there is the illusion of reincarnation. Buddhists think of reincarnation as an illusion, and yet believe in it. Westerners think of it as something that might be a fact and find it difficult to believe in it. Westerners adopt the idea of reincarnation as a comforting idea. Buddhists are trying to get out of being reincarnated. It’s very funny.


But at any rate, the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation says that what passes problem life to life is karma; is doing, action—that’s what karma means. Process. And that’s something like a wave. Not soul, not entity. That doesn’t pass. You can look at it in another way. There is an institution like the University of California. This university keeps going on and on and on, and yet all the buildings change, certainly all the students change, all the faculty changes, all the administrative offices change as the years go by, and yet it’s still the University of California. What is the University of California? Why, it is a process. It is a doing. It is a pattern of behavior. Your body is in the same situation. There is not one scrap of you that was with you ten years ago. It has all been rebuilt, reorganized, completely repaired and renewed. Then: who are you? You’re a pattern, you see? You’re a process that is identifiable and recognizable. You face in a certain way, you hair in a certain way, you are in a certain way, and you behave in a certain way. So we recognize you. But it’s all in constant—it’s like a whirlpool in water: the water flows through and the whirlpool retains the shape, until it doesn’t. But then, it can always whirlpool again somewhere else.


So now, what do we do? If that’s clear so far, what do we do to give any credence at all to the notion that there is some connection between some lives of a peculiar character? That we could take a life lived between the years of 1500 and 1580 and look at that, and then see another life lived between 1700 and 1792 and say, “Ye gods, there’s no getting away from it, but that the latter is a continuation of the former.” Now, how could you do that? Well, very simply. Let us consider that we are looking at an enormous number of biographies, scattered over a very great period of years. But to visualize them we’ve got to think of them as different colored spots. Now, as you look at this great mosaic, you see, of spots of all sorts of different colors, you will very soon begin to pick out patterns in it as you do with a Rorschach blot. And you will see continuities running across. And you will therefore have projected a particular, even personal, reincarnation pattern running between these different biographies. It is highly conceivable that one of these blots may, at a certain point—there may be a stream of blots that you associate as being a stream. And then, at a certain point they divide. And two lines proceed from it. It could very well be, you see, that an individual could reincarnate as two next time. Or any number you want. Amoeba fashion. But you will see these connections in your blots.


Now then, the question arises: is this just your idea or are these connections real? In order to answer that one, all we have to do is to look at some sort of pattern formation that we find, not in the situation that we find a Rorschach blot, but, say, we are examining the structure of a muscle. We’ve sliced the muscle and are looking at it carefully with microscopes and things. What do we find? We find that muscle is an enormous conglomeration of cells, but that these cells have patterns in them—or, at any rate, we notice certain areas of their behavior where they seem to constitute tubes. But what is the difference between the tubes one sees in a cross-section of muscle and the pictures of forms one sees in a Rorschach blot? Just get down to it. What is the difference? You might say that would be a large variation of individual opinion as to the nature of the Rorschach blot patterns and less division of opinion about how one should interpret muscle patterns. But is that alone enough establish a significant difference between the two situations? Especially when you get down to the micro level where, more and more, the molecules or cells or whatever are distant from each other. You say, “Isn’t it really remarkable that, at a certain level of magnification, we see this as a huge distribution of rather formless things?And we can only see what form we make when we go down in magnification, and come back to approaching the normal vision, that we see these vastly scattered blobs and globs and globule, or whatever, take shape. And is this alteration of magnification anything like a psychological projection? It’s very difficult to draw a hard and fast line between making out sensible patterns in the physical world of everyday life on the one hand, and interpretive Rorschach blots on the other: seeing faces in marble, seeing cities in the clouds, and so on.


So then, what might appear as lines of continuity between various lives could be said to be there in the sense that there are veins and nerve lines embedded in the cell structure of muscles. But it’s quite clear to us: there is something about the projections we make of faces into marble that has a kind of illusion to it. Quite so. And what Buddhist philosophy wants to draw our attention to is that the same kind of illusion is existing in our attitude to the physical world. We are projecting. But, of course, creatures of like structure will make the same projections. Just as we look around here and see that we are more or less all the same basic shape, and therefore, probably, have the same sort of brains inside our heads. We are projecting a more or less similar structure upon the external world. And our agreement about that is the same thing as saying, “Well, that’s the way it is.” But, you see how relative that is? It is in relation to having a brain system of this particular kind.


So the Westerner may be anxious that his idea about reincarnation is something more than a fantasy. The Oriental, the Buddhist, or the Hindu very much hopes it is only a fantasy—and in that case it can be overcome. He can be delivered from a cycle of futility. Only, you mustn’t understand—again—you mustn’t understand that too literally. If you want to know what Buddhists really teach on this matter, put it in a very simple way, you get a book by Alexandra David-Néel, called The Secret Oral Teachings. Difficult to get hold of, but somebody in this country is going to publish it soon. It is published in India. But I think Lawrence Ferlinghetti is going to publish it—City Lights San Francisco. That book really goes into this. And I call it the I-told-you-so book because I’ve often been accused of inventing my own unique brand of Buddhism and hoisting it off on the public as being the real thing. I just have to point them to this book and say, “You see?” Alexandra David-Néel, that’s French.


So now, what becomes interesting in this is that you will pick out the lines of continuity between lives upon what basis? Why, just in the same way as you pick out continuity between tones: by the way they interval to each other. In which case the death-interval, the off-interval, becomes the significant connecting factor between the on-intervals. That’s what you do when you look at patterns of blobs on a wall. You could play with Roland Hall’s paintings that way and see all sorts of things in them. And it depends what intervals you find significant that connects what you call the on-pieces. See, you’ve always got off-pieces and on-pieces. You’ve got a kind of mosaic. Look into a press photograph with a magnifying glass and you find a mosaic of black and white dots. And so you can—again, you can make the significant connections. And as you do you come out with somebody’s face.


And so, in the world our nerves are very much like the press photograph. When something impinges upon the retinal backdrop of the eye, it impinges on a whole lot of rods and cones that are either on or off. The state of a neuron, you see, is that it fires or it doesn’t fire. So we’ve got this press photograph thing in it. If you work with LSD this becomes very clear. You get a vision, sometimes, of the world which is positively pointillist, like the paintings of Seurat. Somehow it seems as if your nerve ends had been activated individually and you become aware of a grainy quality in everything. This could be dismissed as a pure hallucination, but all hallucinations have some basis in our neural structure, you see? They may not be experiences of what we call the objective world, but in any experiment that turns your consciousness on your consciousness, your senses on your senses, you will get curious things happening. Just as you might get oscillations in electric circuitry.


So it would then be intervals, once again, that could be the significant connecting factors in a developmental pattern of an individual through a series of incarnations. But those intervals are illusions. The connection is illusory—but, in a sense, an illusion to which we Westerners are not really accustomed. Because māyā means illusion in a very complex sense. It means also creative power, art, magic, calculation in the sense of the calculus. This is difficult for us to understand, you see, the notion that the world is māyā. Why is it difficult for us to understand that? What is our feeling about saying, “This is a dream, a projection?” What’s the objection to that idea?


Well, I think that that, historically, at the root of our Western objection to this idea is that it’s discourteous to God. It is if to say God did not really create the world—as it says in the Bible—but that he only seemed to. But you realize that this is an absolute verbal hangup. It’s really also a question of values. If the world is real, then I must take you seriously, and you must take me seriously. If the world is only a dream, then it doesn’t matter. You see, if you say it doesn’t matter, then you are saying it’s purely spiritual. Like, it’s immaterial, baby! And you see how we flip around in our use of words. We say something: “Oh, that’s mere matter.” So, it doesn’t matter. Everybody gets completely confused in the way they think about these things because they’ve never really been thought about clearly, these questions of: is it real or is it not real?


When an Oriental says of something that it’s not real, the first thing he means is: it’s not permanent. And so the quality of change of the smoke-like—and therefore they say the dreamlike, because the dream vanishes, you see—and so they say life is like a dream. As you get older you’re more and more aware of the speed at which things change. With the child it seems to be slow. Children easily get bored. As you get older life is just going zzzzwwhit—especially if you live in California where you can’t keep a steady mailing list for two months, because every two months a quarter of the addresses changed. And, you know, the bulldozers come in and they change the shape of everything, knock down all the old buildings, and up go new ones, and then they get knocked down. Or they’re so jerrybuilt that they fall apart. But there it goes, you see? and so there is this quality. He means dream-like. The thing is in constant flux.


But he also means “illusion” in showing the extent to which what is going on in this flux is a creation of the perceiving organism. So that, by “illusion,” the Oriental also means relative—as in the relationship between the air vibrations and the ear, between the cloud, the sun, and the observer, these things produce, rainbow, sound, and so on. But these are relative realities. And so, when Buddhists use the word “void”—śūnyatā in Sanskrit—as designating the nature of the world, this should rather be translated “relativity” than “nothingness.” The great scholar Shcherbatskoy made this very plain in his book on the Buddhist nirvāṇa. It is relativity that we should think of rather than our ideas of non-being. So, from that point of view—as also from the standpoint of quantum mechanics and modern physics—the illusory nature of the world is very clear. It was so much so that one physicist, who was a little daft, used to go round in the most enormous padded shoes for fear of dropping through the atomic structure of the floor.


So one gets this extraordinary sense, then, of living in this incredibly real-seeming world which, the more you analyze it, consists mostly of space. And you come to feel a—shall I say—diaphanous quality about things: that a mountain is only a faster wave and longer-lasting rainbow. And that, as the poet said, “The hills are shadows and they flow from form to form, and nothing stands.” And if you will experience this kind of creepy feeling you get when you think that this is just you, and everything about you is just a wwwhhshht—here and gone, and swallowed up in space.


Why do you say swallowed up? You see? People, poets, people who talk. Swallowed by the grave, swallowed into space. Disappeared into nothing. Gone, vanished into thin, thin air. Why is there an objection to this? Well, one’s been taught to object. Because you’ve been taught to identify with a solid side of the picture and to dis-identify with the empty side of the picture. But you’ve been hoaxed and fooled. Because you, when you die, are not, as it were, gulped out by thin air. You’re just as much the thin air as anything else. It’s all of a piece. It isn’t a fight going on. But everything is represented as a fight; a contest between this side and that.


But this is really the whole thing about illusion. Where the ordinary person sees a battle, the enlightened person sees a cooperation between two sides. Have you ever tried to play chess with yourself and honestly take each side as you play its move against the other one? Or to get two—you know, those swords they have in bars; they stick into olives and martinis—you get two of these swords and fence with yourself, and see if you really can stick it into one of your hands and have the other one defend it. This is the most fascinating game. And this is the game God is playing, sitting there; two hands, you know, is good, is evil. Here is Jesus Christ and here is Lucifer. And he just got everyone involved in this fight, you see? When he finds out that, if he makes the right hand win all the time, there’s no point in the game. He also has to get in the left hand. But in order for there to be a real fight, he mustn’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, and vice versa, you see? He explains all this stuff in the Bible!


But really, you see, underneath, the two hands, they join back here like a kind of a horseshoe or like the snake ouroboros, which is always after its own tail. And an aspect of that—not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing—is the way we identify ourselves with what’s inside the skin and not with what’s outside it. We identify ourselves as reality with the solid things that we can see, and all the rest is space, and that’s nothing, you see? We characteristically take sides in a situation where both sides are aspects of the situation. Who would take this side? Will you have this or that? Choose. But the sage doesn’t choose, because he says, “Well, there’s no choice here.” He might choose for the sake of going along. You know, like, somebody says, “Well, what would you like to do today? We can go into town and do some marketing or we can stay out here and go swimming.” You don’t care which you do, so you just say one in order to satisfy your host.


So then, behind the explicit battle there is the implicit agreement. Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle. We agree to differ—if we want to have a sane social order. So cheer up! You may well be so conditioned to feel the fear of the unknown, even though you know much better. If you have come through in life to a point where, say, you have bad teeth through aging, or hardening eyeballs—when you get awakened and you get satori or anything, it won’t make any difference to your teeth or your eyeballs. I’ve never heard of a case of spiritual healing of somebody’s teeth.


So, in rather a similar way, there will be certain emotional habits that you have that will be practically unchangeable. And they settle in as you get older, and you’ll have to live with them, just like you have to live with the color of your hair, or whether you’ve got a funny shaped mouth, or something like that. It all goes along. It’s part of the pattern that you’re in for the time being and will live out. But a lot of people go around judging other people and say, “Well, they think they’ve had some wonderful experience, but they are still sick in some way”—as if that was reprehensible. Or they still lose their tempers a bit. One expects all these things to change. Emotional habits—poof, like that. One must get rid of that kind of the Beaver Protestantism.


But, you know, what does happen is, although you have fears—anxiety, basically—in the face of life and death, nevertheless you can get to a point where it’s like having a deep center which isn’t anxious and, above all, isn’t anxious about being anxious. You say, “Okay, so I anxious.” And somehow you can tolerate it, you can stand the tension. It’s one of the most fascinating things to learn: to hold tension and not go, when you get a problem, not go rushing off to solve it immediately. Because most problems, when solved in a rush, are solved in the wrong way. Especially emotional problems between people. You have to stand, for example, not being liked, which is a terribly difficult thing for Americans.


But what I’ve said here, I think, about space and about rebirth, and so on—you will notice one thing about it all. Nothing that I’ve said, or understanding anything that I’ve said, doesn’t require any, kind of, what I would call special knowledge. It’s all out in front of you. It doesn’t require—actually, it doesn’t require meditation exercises, or LSD, or anything. It’s all out in the open. And the only really essential meditation exercise is stopping thinking and being able to perceive without conceptualizing what you’re looking at. And that’s the interior silence without which there is really nothing to think about or talk about except thinking and talking.

So, let’s have an intermission.

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