Problems of Meditation

Watts illuminates meditation as a vehicle to transcend the illusion of individuality and realize one’s intrinsic unity with the cosmos. He unveils a symphony of sacred techniques—from breath awareness to primordial sonic mysticism—as potential pathways to the ineffable experience of non-dual consciousness. By surrendering the ego’s compulsive control, one may ultimately arrive at the paradoxical fruition of subject and object coalescing into one unconditioned field of pure witnessing awareness.


Part 1

Leave the Pool Alone


As you know, the subject of this seminar is Problems of Meditation. But the word “meditation” in English is usually associated with thinking things over, and what I’m talking about is not that at all. But we use the word to translate Indian words such as dhyāna—which in Chinese is chán and in Japanese zen—and we use it to translate words like yoga and sādhanā, which means more or less a spiritual discipline. But the function of what we call meditation in the East is a process for changing consciousness: changing the quality of consciousness, changing the way in which you experience your own existence. And, as you know, all over the world (with some exceptions among quite primitive people) we experience our existence in a rather odd way. That is to say: as being isolated individuals, highly disconnected from the external world. We feel that we are almost strangers in the Earth, even though we are just as symptomatic of the Earth as a tree, or a cloud, or the oceans, or a mountain. Only, we move around rather more freely, and our behavior is extremely complicated. Also, we are more responsive to the movements of nature than, say, a mountain is. If you hit a bell, it will just say dong, but if you hit a human being, something much more complicated will happen.


But it’s quite clear that this way in which we experience our existence is a hallucination. It just doesn’t fit the facts. It doesn’t fit the facts of science. Because when scientists describe the behavior of human beings, or the behavior of any other living organism whatsoever, they find they can’t do so unless they describe the behavior of the environment at the same time—that is to say, of the external world. And this forces one to the conclusion that what you are describing is not simply the behavior of an individual, but the behavior of what we would call a physical field. And so in this sense, then, the individual and the field, the environment, are the same process—only it’s a highly complex process, and the difficulty we have in seeing it as a unity is simply that we suffer from a kind of myopia.


You see, if you take—let’s put it in a sort of an abstract way. There are a whole series of bodies, points, and they may be planets, they might be cells in tissue, or they might be a flock of birds. And as you watch them, you see that they’re all moving in the same way. Supposing you saw a vast chessboard with innumerable squares covered with knights, and all the knights were moving through the knight’s move, but in exactly the same pattern, you would then identify this whole performance as a thing. You would say: it is one thing. It is a bevy of knights—or a flock of birds, or a ganglion of cells. Now, the performance of this collective might become a little bit more complicated, as one sees a difference between a surface with an even pattern, with a uniform pattern, and a surface with a complex pattern on it—although a surface with a complex pattern you might call a picture, and a picture is a thing.


So let us suppose that, on our vast chessboard, the knights still kept the essential pattern of a knight’s move, but certain groups of them did it towards the far side of the board, and others did it towards the near side, some did it towards the left, and some did it towards the right. Then you would see a much more complicated process happening—but you would still call it a process. Well, let’s make it a little more complicated, you see? And soon you will see the whole movement of the knights will assume before your eyes what I would call a wiggly performance. It will look like, let’s say, a bucket of worms, where they’re all wiggling in different directions. And the only reason you don’t call it a thing anymore is: it is too complicated to figure out what is the pattern of the whole thing. There are, as we say, in it too many variables. But it still essentially is the same sort of thing it was in the beginning, except that it’s just become more complicated.


And so, if you want to keep track of it, the only thing to do—and that really isn’t keeping track of it, but it’s sort of keeping some sort of hold on it—is to focus your attention on one of them. And you follow the path of one worm in the bucket, you see? And you watch that going around, and watch it going around, and you know you get rather fond of it. You begin to take sides with it. And before you know where you are, you’ve identified yourself with that particular worm. You’re on its side. And if other worms should clobber it, you say, “Hey, don’t do that, because it loses my thread!” You see? “My worm! I wanted to keep track of all this.” And if you clobber my worm, I am at the loss. I have to pick up another. You see, every individual is exactly in that situation. We have identified ourselves with a particular organism, and we’re interested in it. We’ve been very carefully brought up to take that point of view; to take one’s own side. And it’s taken many, many millennia to produce that point of view in us, and therefore it isn’t going to be easy to take another point of view altogether. We are myopically, in other words, fixated on what we call our own body.


And a little while ago—I don’t know if I’ve told you the story before—but I was asked by the Weapons Research Laboratory of the U.S. Air Force to go there and consult with them about moral behavior, of all things. They got a panel of four philosophers—or there was at least one theologian—and they wanted to know what was our basis for moral conduct. Well, I said (when it came my turn to tell them): “You gentlemen here, of course, are all very realistic, hard-boiled people, and I’m not going to mess around with you and give you a lot of mawkish sentimentality. I tell you frankly: my basis for moral behavior is total self-interest. Of course, I’m not crude about it. I just don’t go around and bang people on the head and tell them to give me what I want. I do it much more subtly: I’m ingratiating, I give the impression that I’m really very fond of them, and going to be sociable and well-behaved. And so by this setting honey to catch flies, I’ll get what I want. And, naturally, we must observe this basis for moral behavior not only on a personal level, but also on a national level. And it’s your job to conduct the strategy of the United States by such subtle methods as we get what we want. And, of course, you are the rather hard-hitting fellows, and it’s up more to the Secretary of State to put on the cunning.”


“Now,” I said, “the problem about this is: it raises two further questions. The first question it raises is: what do I want? And the second question is: who am I? And this becomes extraordinarily interesting and quite complicated when you really begin to think it through. And it is your job as high strategist to think these things through, and not just take short-sighted goals. Because if you do, you can get into tremendous trouble. I mean, what will you do with Vietnam when you get it? Any conqueror has a terrible time looking after his victory, because there’s more responsibility. And is that what you want? You want all that responsibility? Do you want to be God? Do you want to rule the world?”


Well, of course, nobody does. We don’t, in the first place, want to rule our own bodies—let alone the world. And so we’ve got a marvelous contraption going inside us, whereby most of the things that go on inside our bodies don’t even have to be thought about. And so it goes very well. The only time we have to think about anything is when it goes wrong. We have this homeostatic process going on inside us, which takes care of temperature and all that sort of stuff; digests our food for us without having to think about that. And that’s just great. And another word for that system is democracy. Because we’ve delegated the authority for regulating our bodies to all the organs and cells and so on, and they manage pretty well. Another name for it is anarchy—not in the sense of chaos, but in the sense of anarchy, as it was taught by Prince Kropotkin: a philosophical anarchy, which is, he would say, for example, that if you have a bunch of pebbles in a box and you shake it, they will eventually arrange themselves in an order. And so, in the same way, he said, you can only get human beings to behave themselves properly by trusting them, by letting them—say, in a big business, you have to delegate authority or you go quite mad. A person who tries to govern a large corporation or a political unit of some kind must delegate authority, because if he doesn’t, he’ll have to think of everything that’s going on all the time and he’ll never even get a moment to sleep. Because he’s the perpetual policeman or the big brother. And there he’ll be, sitting in his super office, with hundreds of television screens peeking at what people are doing. Of course, he’ll probably have some subordinate peekers—but he’s got to peek on the peekers and see that they do their jobs. And he just, in other words, he’s tied up. He’s completely in a trap.


So then, you know, we got into this kind of thing, and: what do you want? And they began to have their minds expanded, because nobody really knows what he wants. It’s perfectly fantastic to talk (as I have for many years) with young people, when I’ve been in college situations, and the thing that one talks about most in the long run is what is generally called vocational guidance: what do you want to do? Well, some people say they just want to paint or write poetry. Others say they’d like to ride horses. Others say they want to make money. And they laugh at the people who want to paint and ride horses, because they say you never make any money that way. But I always said in this kind of counseling: do what you really want to do, and to hell with the money. Because you will find out that, if you think that what you want is money, that that’s not what you want at all—unless you are merely fascinated in the mathematics of making money, which of course has a certain interest to it, because it’s like playing poker. But if you think you want money and that will make you happy, it won’t do anything of the kind. Because all the extraordinarily rich people I know are, for the most part, miserable. They have no idea how to enjoy themselves. They are either so absorbed in making and keeping the money, and defending it against other people and against the government, that they worry about it day and night. Or, if they don’t worry about it, they worry instead about their health, or their family relationships. There’s always something to worry about. It doesn’t matter how secure you are, how well off you are, there’s always something to keep you awake at night if you’re the worrying type.


And the people who think that what they want is money, they say, “Well, I’d like to be rich.” Well, I would say: be specific. What sort of wealth do you want? You know, you can’t drive six cars at once. You can’t live in ten homes at once, nor eat twelve roast beefs at one meal. So, in concrete terms, please! Please make it as concrete as possible—or I say as material as possible—what do you want? And who do you want to marry? Be specific. Don’t just say I want a beautiful and intelligent woman. Because there is no such thing in the abstract. There is only this particular beautiful and intelligent woman, or that one.


And so you have to get very specific in thinking this question through, and soon you discover—let’s just take the question of marriage as an example. This may seem to be a little bit off the subject, but it really leads directly into it. Let’s take the question of marriage. Now, you say: “Yes I want this, I want that, I want the other.” Alright, let’s go along now. Would you like a woman who always does exactly what you want her to do? That she fulfills your wishes even before you’ve expressed them? That she is completely responsive to you? You think that over for a while. And some people would jump at it and say: “Yes, that’s exactly what I want!” But now I say: think about it just a little bit more, will you? And they go on thinking a while, and they suddenly realize that what they would have would be a plastic doll. Very highly mechanized one, but a very complicated one. But that’s what it would be. Because she would never be able to surprise you. And so it would be like a plastic doll, because when you push a plastic doll it yields. And then, when you take your finger away, it goes back to its ordinary position.


Well, when you push that and it behaves that way, you say that’s not alive, that’s just a doll. But what you like about a real live woman is that, if you push her a little bit, you don’t know what she’s going to do next. And so she comes back at you, and you realize that she is a center of life just like you are. See? Or she’s another one. And that’s interesting. Now this moral is, in other words, applicable to everything. If you want to control everything, all you will have will be a doll. But we want it to bounce back in an unpredictable way—but not too unpredictable. But there’s something else we want, you see? We want a relationship with a real living being. And that means you’ve got to let things get out of control so that you can be surprised.


Now notice—and we’re going to come back to this—notice, notice, notice: that’s the state of affairs we’re in. However much we may complain about it, we are in this state of affairs where we’re always being surprised, and where things are only very vaguely predictable. We can push technology and we can push science, maybe, in the coming centuries, to extraordinary degrees where we can predict all kinds of things. But I’m quite sure that, as we approach that goal, there will be an increasing anti-scientific revolution. We can see it already among the hippies that there is a tendency to want to abandon very, very high technology because it is, as they say (and this is a sort of symbolic expression), covering the Earth with concrete. Taking away the thing that we call—and we really don’t know what we mean—we call it nature. It’s somehow against nature. And when we say “nature,” we mean the smell of the earth, we mean the wind and the trees, we mean vegetation, grass, clouds, water, all sorts of funky things. And there’s something in us, you see, that yearns for that always.


And yet, we have a battle inside ourselves. When it gets too funky, we say it stinks and we want to clean it up. And we’re always trying to straighten things out. Nature is all wiggly, all over the place. But whenever you see anything straight, like a house or highway or factories, you know people have been around, because they always make things straight. They’re bothered by wiggly things, even though we’re all very wiggly. So we’re always straightening it out. And so, yet at the same time, when we get it too straight, we don’t like it. But what do we want?


Well, you can always say we want something betwixt and between. We want a certain amount of control, yes. But we also want a certain amount of randomness. We like things to be tidy. We like things to be simple. We like things to be comprehensible. And yet, we don’t really. Now, what we want is a kind of orderly randomness, and a random orderliness. That’s what Buddha called the Middle Way. But the maintenance of the middle way is very difficult. It’s like walking a tightrope. And when you walk a tightrope, you’re always swaying a little bit from side to side. You’re counterbalancing yourself. And so, to keep the Middle Way is a matter of constant counterbalancing, and that’s difficult. And so we say, “Well, no, I did want the Middle Way, but it’s awfully difficult to keep it.” And that’s rather a bore, too.


So we really don’t know what we want—and yet, in a way, we want what we’ve got. Because profoundly, looking at it from the most profound point of view, we wouldn’t have what we’ve got if we didn’t want it. That’s what the Buddhists and the Hindus call karma. The doctrine that what comes to you is a return to you of what goes out of you. Karma—when you say “it is your karma that it has happened,” it means very strictly: it is your doing that it has happened. Because the word karma means “doing” or “action.”


But, of course, because we are constantly complaining and say, “I didn’t want this, and I didn’t want that,” and “Somebody else is to blame,” and “You did it,” or “The universe did it,” or something like that, or “God did it,” we are constantly unaware of the fact that we get what we want. And we are unaware of what we want, also, because we want a lot of things that we don’t admit we want. And we don’t admit it to ourselves. You know that time and time again where somebody wishes their mother was dead, but can’t possibly admit that. And finally they go to psychoanalysis, and when it comes out, they really do wish their mother were out of the way. And, you know, that’s a great revelation.


So, in the same way, you will find we have all kinds of concealed wishes that we won’t admit. And if we really went into it, I think we would find that we are, on the whole, living the way we want to live. That would be embarrassing to find out for very many reasons, not only because we would discover all sorts of villainy within ourselves, but also because we would discover a great deal of power within ourselves. And that’s dangerous, because you might begin to think you were God.


And this, then, raises the second problem. The moment you really get into it when you ask, “What do you want?” it raises the second problem: “Who are you?” “What are you?” And we haven’t thought that over by a long shot. Because let’s just consider a very simple problem in perception. You cannot identify, visually, a figure without a background. You cannot identify a sound unless it can be heard against relative silence, or in combination with a limited range of other sounds, again against silence—as in listening, say, to four part music. Now, if you can’t have the sound without the silence, if you can’t have the figure without the background, it doesn’t occur to you (if you think about it) that the sound and the silence are all part of the same process?


One of the most curious problems of human consciousness is what I will call ignorance—or ignore-ance—of space, of background, of the field in which any given event happens or in which any so-called thing exists. Space is ordinarily understood to be nothing. So we ignore space. There are all kinds of space. We can talk about intergalactic space, interstellar space, space between people, space in a room, space to stretch in. And only physicists and architects and painters really begin to be aware of space as something that’s there.


And so when astronomers talk about curved space or properties of space, the average person says: “They’re talking total nonsense! You can’t have curved nothing.” You can’t have properties of pure emptiness. And so they feel just the same way as people used to feel long ago when it was suggested that the Earth was spherical. Well, they said: “You can’t have a spherical Earth because the people on the opposite side would fall off.” Because they thought of gravity as one-directional through space. They couldn’t see it as some force that was centripetal. So when we say, for example, “We should go on to higher things,” well, whose higher? Because every one of us being, as it were, having our feet pointing to the center of the Earth, must have our heads—which are up—pointing to regions of space which are vastly differentiated. So which way is up? You’re up or am I up?


And people have great difficulty, you see, in getting new ideas of this kind. And this is the difference that is so often brought up by people who discuss Oriental philosophy or mysticism. They say: “I understand what you say in theory, but I don’t actually feel it. I don’t realize it.” So, in the same way, somebody hundreds of years ago might have said to a geographer: “Yes, I understand your theory of the Earth being spherical, but I don’t feel it. I feel I’m living on a flat thing.” I suppose a lot of people living today feel they’re living on a flat thing. But if you’ve done a great deal of travel by air, and certainly if you’ve been in orbit as an astronaut, you jolly well know it isn’t flat. You’ve realized it.


So, in a similar way, I think that, in the course of history, we have realized colors. There’s evidence to show that only quite recently have people really been able to differentiate blue from green. In Chinese there is one word meaning blue and green, and it means the color of nature. In Homer there is a reference to the wine-dark sea. And we wonder whether those early Greeks were aware of the differentiation of blue from the dark red of wine. See, the dark red of wine is beginning to approach purple. You see that the spectrum—we always look at, in books, when we study physics, and in certain physical experiments—we see the spectrum as a band, as when we look at the rainbow, we look at a section of the rainbow. And we see a band with red at one side and purple at the other. What we don’t realize is that the spectrum should be drawn as a circle in which the different colors radiate from the center. And we would see that, when you’ve gone through red, orange, yellow, et cetera, round to purple, you go again to red. Because, after all, what is purple except the mixture of red with blue?


So everything goes round like that. Everything in the world, as a matter of fact, is a crisscrossing or interlocking of many dimensions of spectra. You take the spectrum of sound. If anybody thought to do it, they could make up a spectrum of smells. You could make a spectrum of emotions. You could make a spectrum of tactile vibrations. You could make a spectrum of textures. And when you put all these things together, as you say, “It is blue and hard,” that’s where you’ve crossed two spectra. We don’t usually think of something that is blue and noisy. But it would really be quite easy to conceive something that was. We don’t ordinarily hear colors, but you can. You can take LSD and hear colors, or see the color of sounds, and realize that your senses are fundamentally one sense, differentiated. Is very tender and sensitive in the eyes, because it can, by being so sensitive, respond to the extremely subtle vibrations of light. With the ears it’s a little less tender, but the ears respond to the subtle vibrations of sound, vibrations in the air. And then the nerves on the epidermis, they are a little cruder. They respond to the vibrations of so-called hard objects, or to vibrations on the same spectrum as light; we call it heat.


And then when you begin to think about these spectra, you or just begin to feel about them, you find there are some places in this interlocking mesh of spectra that you’d rather be than others. You don’t want to be where it’s too hot. You don’t want to be where the light’s too bright, or where there isn’t any light. You don’t want to be on the spectrum of touch, where the sense of touch is excruciating, sharp. You always try to move away from that. But, you see, there are so many spectra interlocking with each other that, when you move away from one point that you don’t like, you’re very liable to bump into another that you don’t like on a different level.


And so eventually you realize that, just as you can’t have the red end without the purple, you can’t have the pleasure end of the tactile sensation without there being also the pain end. Because if you weren’t responsive to the pain end, you couldn’t respond to the pleasure end. You must have the whole spectrum to have any of it. And the longer you go into that, the more you think it over, the more you realize that—you say something that mystics often say, but which ordinary people just can’t understand, when they say that everything is harmonious. It’s absolutely absurd, but everything is really harmonious in the end. And all of it is somehow just as it should be. And the ordinary person says, “Well, that’s absurd!”


Let’s take the problem, say, that we’re all faced with: the atomic age. There’s a real possibility we can blow up the planet. And we might do just that. Because when—I mean, I’m involved in the situation. If I were going to bet on it, and there was somewhere to place my bet—which there isn’t—I would bet that human beings will blow up the planet. Taking a hard realistic point of view, because I think human beings are going to do the most stupid things they can do. Like, anytime I voted in an election, my candidate never won. So I tend not to vote. But I realize at the same time I’m involved in this scene. I can’t get out of it. There’s nowhere to place my bet. Therefore, I have to do something to make things come out the way I think I want them to come out.


But let’s suppose they do blow up the planet. Well, this is just a fantasy, but supposing they turn it into a star. Maybe that’s the way all stars started. Maybe there’s a sort of a process which works like this: that here’s a star, and as it blows up it scatters all sorts of fragments out, and these become planets. And then, every so often, some star has a planet that starts generating life. And life gets more and more intelligent. It starts working around and fiddling, and then it starts asking questions. What is all this? What is matter? They investigate it, they prod it, and they electrify it, and do this, that, and the other. And finally, pammmm! the whole thing goes off again. So that you could say, in this way, in the evolution of the universe, all stars mean that there were once people around, and so on. You see? Then you could construct a vision of things where it was all perfectly alright; that you have to have bad people as well as good people, just as you have to have the slugs in the garden, and weeds, and all sorts of things you don’t approve of, in order to have something that you can approve of.


You see, this is what the mystic feels. He suddenly gets it, you see, that it’s all okay. And, of course, the average person thinks that’s a very dangerous thought. There are several reasons for thinking it’s a very dangerous thought. One is that it seems to give justification for any kind of behavior, and therefore to overrule all the ordinary reasons for being moral and cooperative—although it neglects the fact that you might then discover quite other reasons for being moral. I mean, you might be so happy as a result of finding this out that your happiness would become infectious. After all, if I’m suddenly going to be given a million dollars, I’m not going to suddenly run out of doors and shoot everybody. I’m much more liable, as a gregarious sort of fellow, to invite people in for a party.


So, also, people would say if somebody realized that: well, that’s subversive, that’s awful, because that’s bringing democracy into the kingdom of heaven. Which is a point which I won’t go into right now, but it’s enormously interesting what that implies. Or other people would say: it’s just the opposite of bringing democracy into the kingdom of heaven. It’s that you feel you’re God, and that from your point of view everything’s alright. God’s in his heavens, all’s right with the world. Or else they say: well, it’s sentimental. A lot of people say this. I’ve run into this type particularly in the academic world. They say the truth of life is fundamentally—if you’re a realist, and if you’re really sensitive and aware—life is tragedy. And this ennobles it. They feel that if they face the fact that the world is basically tragic, that human existence in particular is tragic—because it’s full of hope and love and joy and so on, but it’s doomed to come to a bad end—that’s tragic. But to face tragedy and so on is to be very noble.


Well, I sort of disagree with this. I say you’re just strutting on the stage and saying how noble you are, because that’s the only resort you’ve got. And wouldn’t it, I mean, be better—wouldn’t you really enjoy your life much more if you could see that there was, behind it all, the possibility that it wasn’t tragic, and that it was a tremendous celebration? Only that, on the way to realizing that it is, there are all kinds of things that go bang, and those nasty shocks and horrible surprises and difficult problems, because you would be bored if there weren’t. You have to wiggle yourself through all these mazes because that’s what there is. That’s the way we do it. Otherwise we get bored.


But, you know, when the wiggling through the mazes and the shocks and the bangs and everything get too much, some people say, “Well, isn’t it time to wake up?” Isn’t it time to stop this myopia of imagining that there is a right place in the spectrum where you can be comfortable? And I’m talking about the multidimensional spectrum of all the different levels on which we live. Can’t we see that the whole thing is necessary and that, as a matter of fact, you are the whole thing? Only, the whole thing has a very fascinating capacity, which is to be able to concentrate its attention in various places—and we call these places people—and therefore to surprise itself with another person. You see?


In the Upanishads, there’s one Upanishad which says that in the beginning was the self, and it said, “I am.” And thus it is that, when anyone is asked who is there, he says, “It is I,” and after that gives whatever particular name he may have. And when it realized that it was alone, the self was afraid. But then it said, “Of what should I be afraid? For I am all that there is, and fear can come only from another.” Keep that in mind. Then it said, “But I am alone.” And it experienced delight, as one who is alone has no delight, and therefore it split itself. And one half was male and the other half female. See? You can’t have delight without; now you’ve got another. You’ve got the possibility of fear.


And so the he-part copulated with the she-part and produced all human beings. But she said: how can he have intercourse with me, since he is originally me? This is incest. And so she turned herself into a cow. He immediately turned himself into a bull, and from their copulation were produced all cattle. But then she turned herself into a mare, but he immediately into a stallion. And so they made all horses. Then she turned herself into a yew and he became a ram, and so came all sheep. And then all the various beasts, down to the very ants. And so the world was created. This is sort of an interesting backwards creation story in which the human beings come first and then all the other creatures. But that’s the—I mean, in a mythological way of talking—that’s the kind of game we’re involved in.


And so the process of meditation has as its objective to enable us to have the vision of the mystic—to have what is called, I think, perhaps unfortunately cosmic consciousness. Trouble with the word “cosmic” is that it’s so associated with daft old ladies who wear violet and read Madame Blavatsky or something, and always going around telling people that something’s very cosmic. I remember I had a friend who became like that. She was a very pretty girl when I first knew her. And she always talked about Buddhic consciousness, and I said to her, “Why do you use that word, ‘Buddhic’? Why don’t you just say Buddhist? It’s an ordinary word in the dictionary. And Buddhic sounds spooky.” But she went on talking about Buddhic things, and eventually dressed in pure white, and had all things in her room white, and crystal balls on her table so that, you know, there was nothing earthy left about her. She was much too pure.


Anyway—to realize cosmic consciousness, to realize that this universe, that what there is, is all of a piece. It doesn’t mean that it’s like this lady’s room; all white or without any differentiations in it. Sure, it’s full of differentiations. Look at it! But actually, these differentiations are all the dancing of a single energy, and you are that energy. And the thing that you don’t realize in the ordinary way is that all energy goes on and off. It’s pulsing things. So: now you see it, now you don’t. Now you’re alive, and now you’re dead. You see? And we, because of our limited vision, don’t see that that doesn’t matter in the least.


The conceit of thinking that when you’re dead that’ll be the end of everything is just appalling. Naturally, you’ll come back, but you won’t remember how it was when you were here before for the simple reason that, if you did it, it would be a bore. You know, just like you feel you’re here now without remembering ever being here before, you can feel you’re here again without ever remembering you were there before, which is simply a definition of what we mean by somebody else. You know, after you’re dead, you’ll be somebody else who thinks he’s you. Because that’s what he says he is. He says, “I am I.” That’s your name. So, I mean, just don’t worry about it.


The only thing is: there is some sense in looking toward the future so that, when you come back again, the world will be a reasonably decent place to appear in. Only, as a matter of fact, you simultaneously appear in all worlds. In whatever planets there may be with other people on them, each one of them, as it comes into the world, is you. Because that’s how you feel. They all feel like that. From the point of view of astrophysics, in a curved spacetime continuum, every point in this universe can be regarded as its center. It’s like, look: what is the central point on the surface of a sphere? Well, any point can be the center. So, in the same way, the fact that you feel that you are the center of the world is exactly the truth. You can see equidistantly around you in all ways, you see. And you feel, as when you were out on a ship on the ocean, that the horizon seems to be a circle—well, that’s just because you’re in the middle. But everybody’s in the middle. Wherever you are, you’re in the middle. That’s why St. Bonaventure referred to God as that circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.


So modern man—in the West in particular, after he abandoned the Ptolemaic theory of the world and took on the Copernican, and then realized that the solar system was only on the edge of a galaxy—has felt awfully put down. You see, it’s a terrible shock to find out that. Because, you see, he felt again, you see, as if he wasn’t in the center and didn’t really belong. And that’s why—that having become our common sense—we have such hatred of nature, and have been fighting against it so hard.


But the more you study astronomy, the more you realize that that’s only a partial look at things. I know a psychiatrist who uses astronomy for psychotherapy. He himself has an office where he practices, but no home. He lives on Mount Tamalpais in a tent. And every night, he enjoys the view. People perhaps don’t realize that you don’t have to have a beautiful home like this to have a good view. All you have to do is lie on your back, and you’re looking straight out into the most incredible view. Goes on and on forever. And to begin to realize, you see, that you’re on a spaceship. It’s a big spaceship—beautifully equipped—and you’re going on a long, long journey. Because it’s not just the orbit of the Earth around the sun, the sun’s moving and carrying you along—and at a pretty good clip, quite fast enough for anyone. And the beautiful thing about this existence is that, in a certain sense, everything moves by falling. But there’s nowhere for it to hit—unless something should collide in the course. But we’re all in a completely relativistic space. And there’s no up, there’s no down. There’s no right direction, no wrong direction. We’re behaving in this galaxy like a whole bunch of gulls. You know, when the wind blows, the gulls like to get up high. And they rock around in the wind, and they plunge, and they dance, you see. And this whole cosmos is going bleeah, you know, swinging around, having a ball. Well, it’s all a lot of balls. Naturally, it has a ball.


But it needs an extension. It needs an enlargement, a universalization of our consciousness, in order to be able to feel it that way, and know that that’s what it is. And so therefore, to do that, there must be some way of overcoming myopia—of overcoming, shall I call it, fascinated identification with only a single part of the process. And so meditation, dhyāna yoga, is the art of this de-fascinization. And that is why it is called liberation from māyā: from illusion, from being spellbound, enchanted, bewitched, befuddled, and bewildered. The Buddha means: the one who is awake, the wake—as in the man who was called Hereward the Wake in early English history. So “Gautama the Wake” would be an excellent translation of Gautama Buddha. Wake up.


So meditation, then, is a process of clarifying your consciousness rather as one allows a pool to be clarified. When it’s clear, you can see what’s on the bottom of it and you can see the sky reflected in it. You see both the heights and the depths in a clear pool. But in order for a pool to become clear—either cleared of mud or cleared of waves—there’s only one way to do it, which is to leave it alone. If you try to smooth the waves with your hand or with a flat iron, you’ll just stir up more trouble. If you try to push the mud down, you’ll just make it all the worse. So you have to leave it alone.


It’s very difficult, however, to leave your mind alone without going to sleep. But doing that is the whole art of meditation. And I say to someone, “Have you practiced the piano today?” And I say to another person, “Do you practice medicine?” It’s obvious that the word “practice” has a different meaning in both senses. When you say, “Do you practice the piano?” it means: do you prepare for a concert? Have you practiced as a preparation for your performance? But when you say, “Do you practice medicine?” it means: is medicine the regular thing you do as a way of life? And so, when one talks about the practice of yoga or of meditation, which sense is it meant in? Most people take it in the first sense: practicing the piano. Because they tend to look upon meditation as a sort of mental gymnastic, like doing physical exercises in the morning, because it’s good for your health. But if you understand the practice of meditation in that way, you’re not meditating. Because it’s quite erroneous to consider it as a preparatory exercise with an objective. And of course that bugs people, because then they say, “Well, why do it? I mean, aren’t you trying to do something for yourself? Aren’t you trying to improve? Aren’t you trying to get enlightened?” And you say, “Well, no.”


Because, fundamentally, meditation is not anything except a way of being. People of course usually sit when they practice yoga or zazen. They may also walk. You can actually carry on meditation while you’re doing almost anything except intellectual work. And even that can, by someone competent in it, be used too. But that’s difficult. Meditation is not really to be considered as something special apart from the rest of life. However, when Zen monks or yogis sit for a long time, they aren’t doing anything else—except breathing. And you might imagine that they were doing this for some purpose. They were trying to become Buddhas.


Very far back in the early history of Zen, there was a master by the name of Baso. And he, when he was a young man, was practicing meditation. And when his teacher came along one day—or the man who became his teacher—the teacher said, “What are you doing?” And he answered, “I’m sitting to become a Buddha.” And the teacher picked up a brick and started to polish it. And Baso said, “What are you doing with the brick?” “Well,” he said, “I’m polishing it to make a mirror.” And Baso said, “Well, however much you polish a brick, it’ll never become a mirror.” And the teacher said, “However much you meditate or sit, you won’t become a Buddha.”


Because a Buddha is in no special state. If you become attached to sitting, then your Buddha will only be a static Buddha. Nevertheless, in spite of this, Zen monks still continue to meditate, to do zazen. Za in Japanese simply means “sitting:” “sitting Zen,” as distinct from standing Zen, lying Zen, and walking Zen. Because there is in Buddhism what are called the three dignities of man. And they are walking, standing, sitting, and lying. Four, excuse me. Four dignities of man. And so that, to sit in meditation is simply really to sit the way a Buddha sits. And so they say in Zen: if you want to walk, walk. If you want to sit, sit. But don’t wobble.


When Yakujo was asked, “What are all you monks doing in this monastery?” And he answered, “We eat when hungry, we sleep when tired.” The man said, “Well, everybody does that. What’s special about you?” “Oh no,” said Yakujo, “they don’t do anything of the kind. When they’re hungry, they don’t just eat, but they talk and think about all sorts of other things. When they’re tired, they don’t just sleep, but they dream all sorts of dreams.” And it’s interesting, you know, that if you’re—proficient people in Zen, it’s said that they don’t have any dreams. The Zhuang Zhou, the Taoist philosopher, says that when a wise man sleeps, he breathes deeply from his heels and is without dreams. So he sleeps thoroughly.


The Hindus distinguish four states of consciousness: waking state, the dreaming state, and dreamless sleep, and then the fourth state—which they don’t call anything except the fourth. And they value very much long, long periods of dreamless sleep in which you go to a very, very deep level. And it’s so deep that you can’t remember it when you wake up. And that’s the non-dream or the beyond-dream state.


However, then, you might say that the whole principle, therefore, of meditation is along the lines of: when you sit, sit. Or, as the Japanese Zen priest Dōgen put it: sit just to sit. Not to become a Buddha, but because you are one. And so, in the same way, Hakuin’s song of zazen starts out by saying: from the beginning all beings are Buddhas. It is like ice and water. Apart from water, no ice can exist. But ordinary people are like a man swimming in the middle of a lake, crying out imploringly in thirst.


So here is our initial apparent paradox: that if, as we saw this morning, cosmic consciousness involves the recognition that everything is right or harmonious the way it is, that the universe is a terrific play of energy—this energy is you—but part of the game is that this energy myopicizes itself (if I may invent a word) and becomes identified with particular individual expressions of the pattern, individual bits of the pattern. And once that has happened, there is, as it were, a taking of sides. And you become identified with one particular wiggle, and therefore concerned with that one particular wiggle, and therefore eventually anxious about the destiny of that one particular wiggle. And that’s a result of your not seeing the whole thing. But! That very entanglement, that very identification, that taking sides, is part of the whole system of wiggles in its own turn.


I mean, imagine the system of wiggles: it’s like a great vine, and there’s a central branch, and then other branches come off, and then other branches come off that, and then other branches come off that, and then on the end of those they begin to be twigs. And right out on the end of the twigs—you know how a vine clings to things? It has little wiggly wiggles. Now, we could talk of a vine at various levels. The main trunk is level number one. Any trunk branching off the main trunk is at level two. Any trunk branching off the subsidiary trunks is at level three. Then each branching again we’ll assign the numbers four, five, six, until maybe down at about fifteen we get to those little curly things. See?


Now on every level, you see, the thing is harmonious. But you might think—you might mistake levels. You might think that something that was one of those little very complicated curly things was a level two phenomenon. You say: “Well, that’s not the way we should behave on that level.” Because level two isn’t supposed to be a spiral like that. Level two goes like this, see? But you’d mistaken levels. You know how often we do this in ordinary human relationships. We mistake the level on which a message is given to us. We take, for example, someone who’s kidding as if they were speaking seriously. That’s to mistake the level.


Well, so, in exactly the same way, when you get involved in the life game and you think you really are a separate ego, that itself is part of the life game; that getting involved. But it’s way out on the end, you see? It’s very far out to get so immersed in the illusion of separateness. And so, as a result of getting immersed in the illusion of separateness, we play all our complex social games of one-upmanship. But they’re all in the scheme. But they’re very far out. So you never really get away from the vine. The whole thing is a play. And it’s perfectly, from a fundamental view—as, say, the mystic sees it from his standpoint, all the people wandering around in ignorance are all perfectly divine.


So then, a basic difficulty arises about this. I can put it in two ways. If the mystic sees this and says, “Well, I see that everyone is Buddha,” or “everyone is God,” or whatever you want to say, has he really said anything at all? And if you ask that to a Zen master, he would laugh and say, “No, he had said nothing whatever.” Because, you see, from the standpoint of strict logic, you can’t say anything about everything. Because the only meaningful statements you can make are comparative statements, which involve some sort of classification. And there isn’t a class of all classes. You can’t classify everything. So, very naturally, a person who thinks logically would say, “Well, this mystic is just talking through his hat.” But nevertheless, you cannot get away with the fact that the person who is saying this has had a very, very moving and profound experience, and this is the way in which he tried to say what he meant. And that’s why some of them just shrug their shoulders and give up and say: “It can’t be put into words, you have to realize it.”


Because, you see, whenever you put it into words, you talk nonsense. But it is rather easy to see this: that the lens of your eye is what we call transparent or colorless. If it were not so, we would not be able to differentiate between all the colors we can see. It is just possible that the lens of our eye has a color, only we are unaware of it because it’s always the background to everything else. It is possible that the windows are colored. There might be some being with a different kind of eye from ours who would see our windows as colored, and he would say, “Good heavens, why do you people always look at things through colored glass? Because it distorts your vision.” If I have red glass, you see, I will not be able to differentiate red in the outside view.


So would there be some means, then, you might say, whereby I could discover the color of the lens of my eye? And if so, then it would be like putting on colored spectacles. And so if I put on red spectacles, I will see that everything is red. But I could only say that having remembered another situation where it wasn’t. And in my memory, I could compare the present situation with the former situation. So I would know it was red. I can also have spectacles which simply turn everything upside down, and you see the world upside down. And if you wear them for some time, your brain will simply turn the image the right way up. And then you will be perfectly adjusted.


Because, you see, consciousness eliminates all constant stimuli. Because the moment a stimulus is constant, it is of no further interest to ordinary attentive consciousness. It isn’t a warning sign, it isn’t something you have to look out for. It’s going to be the way it is. And we were talking about bad smells—the only way to master a bad smell is to get used to it. If you live in a neighborhood where there’s a tannery or a gas works or a slaughterhouse or something, you soon think that that’s nothing at all; it vanishes.


But, you see, to talk about this, though, is not entirely to talk about meaningless things. There is the transparency of the eye through which everything seen is filtered. There is, likewise, the speaker in a radio, and on that speaker all the sounds that come from the radio vibrate on it. But you’re not normally aware of that, because the speaker makes no difference to what is said on the radio, or what music is played. But they all go through it just the same.


So then, assuming that there is this unitary energy, or whatever it is, that is at the basis of the universe, there is no way of making it a thing that you can “thing-k” about. Because if it wasn’t there, nothing else would be there. It’s basic. It’s what Paul Tillich called the ground of being—his decontaminated name for God. So you say, “Well, what difference does it make if this ground is basic to everything? What difference does it make?” Well, it doesn’t make any difference. That’s the whole point. Unless you can say: all differences that are made, it makes. Then again, a logician is going to quarrel with that statement, because you say “all.” But by analogy with the function of the speaker in the radio, or the lens of the eye, you can see that there very well might be some completely indefinable continuum at the basis of the multiplicity we call life. But how to get at it? It seems to be the same sort of problem as discussing color with a congenitally blind man.


But apparently this is what the mystic has seen, has become aware of, in some way. And the difference that it makes is this: having discovered that that’s what there is and that’s what you are, you then see that there is really no need to cling to life. That you are just what there is, what there will be, what there always was: this energy, this continuum, that’s at the basis of consciousness. And, having seen that, you get an enormous access of psychic energy. Because, in the ordinary way, you waste a colossal amount of energy defending yourself, worrying, fighting this and pushing that. When you see you don’t need to do that anymore, all that energy is available for something else—we could say for creative work, for just wonderful life, and goofing off, and everything. See? It’s all there. So it makes a difference—in that sense.


So then, though—that’s the first part of the puzzle. The second part of the puzzle is this: if it is true that everything that is happening is in accord, is the expression, of this energy down to the very wiggles, and if even we can add to that confusing wiggles on one level with wiggles on another—that’s also in the game—then wouldn’t the best teaching be to say to people: why do you have any kind of religious, therapeutic, meditative practice at all? Why not just be as you are? “Eat when hungry, sleep when tired,” et cetera. Why something special? After all, we’ve never seen cats go to church with each other. I’ve never seen dogs practicing zazen. They don’t have this special thing they do. Why couldn’t human beings be just natural like that? Why all this hocus-pocus?


Furthermore, we could go on to say: it may very well be that this hocus-pocus gets in the way of realizing the basic unity. Because if you are a Buddha, trying to become one is based on the presupposition that you aren’t so already. And therefore it becomes like what the Taoists call beating a drum in search of a fugitive—or, as we would put it: driving to a police raid with a siren on. Because then they hear you coming; get out of the way. So, in this way, Bankei described it as trying to wash off blood with blood. Or we would say: trying to put out fire with fire. And there is an enormous amount of truth in this, because one would be astonished at the extent to which religious people are pretty mixed up. You find this everywhere. One doesn’t know whether they are religious because they are mixed up, or mixed up because they are religious. And in Zen this is called “Zen stink.”


So then, you see, it’s like a very interesting meditation exercise you can employ. It’s to take two knitting needles and practice fencing with yourself, see? And really do it and see if you can stick one hand with the other. And yet, the other hand has got to defend itself. See? What happens? Well, nothing happens. Because one hand always foreknows what the other one’s going to do. There’s no means of one hand surprising the other. So you get a stalemate. It’s like those baseball games between two equally good sides: it’s absolutely boring. Perfect playing, but nothing happens.


So there has to be a surprise. So then you ask the question: how do you surprise yourself? Well, you can’t arrange to do that. Satori—enlightenment—is always a surprise. Hiccups is a surprise. It’s very difficult to plan for hiccups. Or, you know, the old Indian superstition that if you think of a monkey while you are taking medicine, the medicine won’t work. So you must try not to think of the monkey while taking the medicine. You see? There is the whole hangup.


Now, one answer to this is: yes, that’s perfectly true, and therefore the only thing you can do is wait until it happens by itself. They say, “Oh heavens! Uugh! I might wait all my life for satori and it might never happen!” It’s like one of the kings of Spain: went for 27 days without a bowel movement, and heaven only knows what anxiety, what frightful purges were taken. But as Georg Groddeck, the contemporary of Freud, used to say: just don’t worry about it. There’s a hole down at the end, and it’s got to come out sometime!


So there are things, you see, that are like going to sleep. Children often have a great deal of difficulty going to sleep because they’re so excited, and their mothers tell them to try to go to sleep. Well, that’s a ridiculous thing to say. You can’t try to go to sleep. That’s merely a way of staying awake, because you develop anxiety about it. Or when they are (going back to the matters of the toiletry) children used to be—I don’t know what they do today since the age, [???], whatever—but we used to, as children, to be absolutely hounded to have bowel movements every day regularly after breakfast. And if you didn’t work, they first of all gave you a California syrup of figs. If that didn’t work, they gave you senna tea. If that didn’t work, they gave you cascara. If that didn’t work, they gave you a Calamel pill. And if that didn’t work, the final blast was castor oil. And this developed in so many children a kind of chronic peristaltic anxiety, and they were just always in trouble because the mothers and nurses wouldn’t let nature take its course. They had to have it all on schedule. Well, in just the same way, you can’t schedule your own enlightenment. You can’t say you must be enlightened every day at six o’clock—or when I want it. You do have to wait.


But now, there are two ways of waiting. One way is the way of expectancy: “Oh, when will it happen? Oh, when will it happen?” You know? And you wait like that. Another way of waiting is to abandon enlightenment altogether; give it up. Well, you say, “How can you do that? Because I can’t help being fascinated with the prospect that there is another state of consciousness which is somehow more harmonious than the one I’m in.” See? The grass on the other side of the fence is always greener. And I want to get that in other state of consciousness, you see?


Well now, then, teachers, you see, have all kinds of clever gimmicks that they use to get in here. They say such as, “You should realize that enlightenment is really the actual state of consciousness you’re in now. There’s nothing to be attained.” Or it was like one of the monks came to Jōshū, another early Chinese Zen master, and said, “What would you say to someone who comes to you with nothing?” Jōshū answered, “Throw it away.” So, alright, in ordinary consciousness we are normally trying to get into another state of consciousness. We call it, say, the quest for pleasure or the quest for happiness: “I would like to be happy all the time. Therefore, I don’t like the state of consciousness I’m in. I want to get out of it.” Now then, if somebody says, “No, you can only change your consciousness by accepting it as it is,” then, if I do something about that—like trying to accept my state of mind as it is—why am I doing that? Obviously that I want to change it—so I didn’t accept it at all.


So then the teacher can say, “Alright, look: just leave everything alone. Because it’s all there the way it is.” See? Now, he may, just if he’s lucky, get you to see something at that point. What he says in that way may so surprise you that—what will you be doing then, you see? You will be, in fact, insofar as you’re not striving to change your state of consciousness, you’re at last meditating. But it’s that, you see, it’s that little problem to get over. One think,s in other words: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have cosmic consciousness? Gee, think of all the problems it would solve. Think of all the new energy I would get.” Well, what’s wrong with this consciousness? What’s wrong with being in this state? Can’t you, you know, get rid of your troubles anyway by seeing that you really can’t do anything about them?


Because, you see, if you do do anything about your problems in practical life, it’s like: what you’re going to do if you win the war? Supposing you’ve got money troubles, and by some shrewd business you get some more money, you think you’ve solved your problem for a while. But then you start worrying about something else, as I pointed out this morning. You’ve got the same old trouble back, only you’ve got it in another form. And we’re always doing that. We’re always doing the same thing over and over again in all kinds of different ways, pretending each time that it’s a new trick, or a new situation, or a new problem. That’s what makes the world go round. It’s like a squirrel cage. See? This animal going choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong, choong on the bottom of the cage, and he always stays in the same place, but the cage goes round, and it looks as if he were getting somewhere. But he’s not. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.


And so it is, likewise, with all beings in this universe, whether they be as high as the gods or as low as the demons. They’re all on the make. And they all think they have the same problems. You can see this to a certain extent in human life: that very poor people have their problems, very rich people have their problems, and from a subjective standpoint the two can feel equally bad. So it is—somehow, isn’t it?—a matter of coming to where you are. What’s the difference, then, between coming to where you are, and going on just as you did before? Isn’t there some little itty-bitty difference? Well, if I say: no, there isn’t. There’s none, whatever. Some people will simply dismiss the subject out of hand. Other people will be very deeply affected by it, because that understanding will lift away their anxiety. They’ll become calm inside. They will not be struggling with their own state of consciousness as it is. And that will be exactly like leaving the pool of water alone, so that the waves die down and the mud sinks to the bottom.


Now, when that starts to happen, and you’ve learned (somehow or other) to leave your mind alone, you can begin to practice meditation—which is that you make the discovery that, to sit quietly in this present state of consciousness, letting whatever happens happen, in this way your mind pacifies itself and the activity becomes extraordinarily pleasant. So that those people who are proficient in meditation just plain like to meditate. They’re not doing it for any ulterior reason, but just that they like to be in that state.


But the question is, you see: how do you get to that little jumping point between the two? And as you examine it and go back behind the motivation, you see: why do you want to jump from one to the other? “Because I’d feel happier.” How do you know you would if you hadn’t already been there? Well, all those mystics who come back with reports of it say they’re happy. It’s like the little girl who wrote to me the other day: “Dear Mr. Watts, are you enlightened? I would like to be enlightened too. Will you please tell me how I can be enlightened?” Age 15. I haven’t answered the letter yet. I think I’ll send her a hula hoop or something; I don’t know. What would be a nice present for a 15-aged girl?



There’s that new thing from England; the jumping balloon thing.



Oh, that’s right! Yes, that’s right. Yeah, kangaroo balloon. Yeah.

So this is—then let me try, first of all, and put it in this way. Generally speaking, the simplest way to learn to meditate is: yes, by all means, sit down in lotus posture, or any posture that is reasonably comfortable, and let your mind alone. You could say to your thoughts: “Okay, okay, okay, go ahead. Think anything you want.” Say to your feelings: “Alright, feel.” To your body: “Yes, by all means, itch, fidget, or whatever.” As Liezi put it:

I let my mind think whatever it liked.

I let my mouth say whatever it wanted.

I let my eyes see whatever they wanted to see,

And my ears whatever they wanted to hear.


That is in a way, you see, in the direction of the democracy of the body I was talking about. Give free speech to your mouth, free hearing to your ears, and free vision for your eyes. Then he said he’d let his legs go wherever they wanted to take him, and then he discovered he had the sensation of walking on the wind. And he says, “I didn’t know whether I was riding on the wind or the wind was riding on me.” In other words, he was describing the tremendous liberative effect of trusting your own organism to do its own thing.


Of course, we feel that that’s dangerous. Because we think that the human organism is really a kind of a naked ape, and that if left to itself and not in the ordinary sense of discipline—that’s to say, not disciplined by violence—everybody will be like the monk of Siberia who, fasting, grew wearier and wearier until, at last, with a yell, he burst from his cell and devoured the Father Superior. And that this is what will happen. Well, yes, to some extent it would. With Westerners, I think, that if this became a sort of popular religious attitude, all sorts of people would break loose and do things they never would’ve agreed to doing before. This has happened to some extent in the hippie revolution. Because when people go and get a lot of mystical experiences from using LSD or marijuana or something, and they somehow get an insight into this thing, they are very liable—through the karma, or backlog, of resentment they have for their authority figures (teachers, parents, and so on)—they will do something calculated to shock those parents completely. They will wear the kind of clothes that would be quite outrageous.


See, responsible Americans always appear in a certain way. You can turn through the pages of photographs of important people, and by Jove, it’s amazing how much alike they look. But especially in dress, and short hair, and so on. So naturally, the hippie, having realized this experience, grows his hair long, wears womanish beads, and generally does all sorts of petty thievery, and writes four-letter words all over the place, and—you know the whole pitch. Well, that’s a swing, you see. That’s one of the dangers. That’s the thing that’s always liable to occur. When you stop moving in one direction, you tend to be shoved in the opposite, even though your intention was to come to the middle way.


But, on the other hand, if you persevere—now that sounds like a practice word in the sense of practicing piano, therefore “persevere” isn’t quite the right word to use for meditation. Not persevere, but simply go on doing it for no purpose at all. You know, when you’ve got the hot water faucet on and cold water is coming out, and you leave it alone, and it keeps coming cold water, cold water, you may, with your fingers on the tap, be impatient and say, “Oh, it’s never going to come!” Sometimes it comes quickly. But this is the idea, you see: that meditation is putting your fingers under the cosmic hot water tap, and then you have to wait for it to happen.


Now, there’s a difference between the experience and the statement. If I say you wait for it to happen, there is the thought, “Oh, I shouldn’t be just lazy like that. Surely there’s something I can do, just some little bit of a thing I can do, to hasten it along.” But if the teacher says, “No, nothing,” you see, what he’s saying on one level—and this, again, is a question of levels as I enumerated them in the analogy of the vine—will have a different sort of effect on another level. It’s as if, for example, Calvinists, who are fatalists and believe in absolute predestination, how come that people who can believe that get so spiritually energetic? It’s a paradox. But that’s true for all the same. The person who sees, in other words, that any forced meditation can’t solve anything, thereby leaves his mind alone.


There’s a Tibetan poem, a sort of verse:

Mi-mno, mi-bsam, mi-dpyad-ching,

Mi-bsgom, mi-sems, rang-babs-bzhag

Which means: “Don’t think, don’t meditate, don’t concentrate, don’t practice contemplation, but keep your mind in its natural state”—from the precepts of Tilopa. Well, you can’t do it. There’s no way of keeping your mind in its natural state. But if I say to you: “But you don’t need to. You always are.” If you, then and there, get what I’m saying—say you just simply believe me—then you will, by doing that, stop doing the things that are preventing you from being in the natural state. Only, you mustn’t say so. Otherwise it gives the show away.


Alright, so I’ve given the show away to you. So you can’t do this anymore, because you know about it. So what will you do next? Let me put it in another way. You can say: whether you like it or not, you’re a Buddha already, and nothing you can do will get rid of it. Not even trying to get it will get rid of it. See, I’ve gone to another level now. I haven’t said: by not trying you will get it. I have said: you can’t get away from it, even if you do try. Now, you see the psychological effect of that? You feel perfectly free to try, i.e. to be as you are.


And in this state, then, you are no longer wrestling with yourself. But the point is: we always do wrestle with ourselves—even people who we would consider spiritual bums and total failures, and even positively vicious people—they’re wrestling with themselves like anything. Why, let’s take the people who—there’s a special kind of cheating the income tax. And what you do is: you go all over the country filing false returns and then claiming something on them, so the government will send you a check. And you keep a place in ever so many different cities, and you go around collecting the checks. But you could earn far more money at an honest job. I mean, this is one of the great fallacies of the criminal life: that it becomes very complicated, because you have to tell lies to cover up lies, and you have to commit murders to cover up murders, and you get so involved. So in that sense, you see, it is more work to be neurotic, to be a slob, than it is to let go and actually meditate. That’s, in a way, the easiest thing to do.


But the trouble is: when you’re used to a life of criminality, when you’re used to anxiety, you can’t give it up. Because you think it’s good to be anxious. In all this talk by existentialists like Rollo May about authentic humanity, that a person who is not anxious—surprise! But they say that a person is not anxious is not really human, and therefore it sort of becomes your duty to be anxious. Well, a lot of people are like that. They think: “If I don’t worry, the thing I’m worried about is going to happen.” That if we don’t get excited about something, you see, well, then we won’t do anything to correct it. Of course you won’t. But the point is: if you do get excited about it, if you do, you know, lie awake nights thinking about your sins, and especially your sins of omission, you won’t wake up in the morning with any energy to do anything about it at all. All your psychic energy will be gone, will be dissipated, in trying to steam up motivation.


Now, you don’t need to do that. Because if you need to alter some situation in life and actually do something about anything, you will do it not from worry, but from an over-plus of psychic energy. It’s like the industrial revolution: everybody always worried about what to do with the poor people and the sick. But until the industrial revolution came along there was no energy for it. It’s only as we harnessed electricity and steam and things like that that we could produce effectively to feed everybody in the world. So, in the same way, when you have let go, then you’ve got all this energy to do things with. You don’t ask: where are we going to get the energy from? It’s like asking: where are we going to get the money from? Money doesn’t come from anywhere. It’s an invention. So where are you going to get the energy from? Well, the answer is: you are energy. You are nothing but energy. Your whole being is a pattern consisting of nothing whatsoever except energy. There isn’t any kind of lump of body that you are carrying around. That’s a kōan in Zen: “Who is it that carries this corpse around?”


Now, there is a very curious relationship between great energy and activity and stillness. These two like each other very much. Take a guy like Joe Louis, the boxer: he would spend a great deal of time just lounging around. He was like a great big cat—and study cats, because they’re just like this. Cats will relax like this, completely open. They’ll curl up. They’ll sit for a long time quite still but wide awake, watching. And then, zingo! The minute a cat needs to do anything, it’s all there, just full of energy. So, in exactly the same way, anybody who has realized energy, he will very much enjoy being like a cat and spending time just sitting. And that’s meditation practice. And that’s real meditation practice as distinct from something which is self-conscious, cultish, phony, where everybody—one of the most offensive things about certain people in Japan who go over there to study Zen, they’re always bragging about the difficult times they had: how long they sat, how much their knees ached, how difficult it all was, but by Jove have we suffered! You know, this is the good old Protestant conscience suddenly coming along in a Buddhist robe!

Part 2

From Mind Waves to Still Waters


This morning I’m going to talk about the various different methods of meditation. The Yoga Sutra of Patañjali starts out with the phrase yogas citta vritti nirodha, which is a definition of yoga, and roughly translated into English it means: “yoga is the cessation of mind waves.” The word citta means roughly “consciousness,” except that we don’t have the same richness of words in English for aspects of the mind which they have in Sanskrit. You see, there’s the word vijnana, which is also translated “consciousness.” Citta is a different word, which we just call “consciousness.” And there’s manas, which we translate “mind.” And so it goes. Now, citta is analogous to the water in the pool that I was talking about; the reflecting pool. And vritti is a word which means basically a “turning,” that is to say a sort of a churning motion. Nirodha means “cessation,” roughly.


So: “the sensation of the turnings of the mind” has quite an elaborate meaning, and different schools of thought interpret it in different ways. For example, when you get this pool completely still another Sanskrit word is used for it, which is nirvikalpa. Now, one school of thought will interpret this as: the mind in such total stillness that nothing at all is registering in it. In other words, that there are not only no thoughts, but also no feelings and no sensory input— quite blank. Perhaps not so extremely as to say quite blank. It is also held that this kind of blankness is also called sat-cit-ānanda, which means “reality, consciousness, bliss.” It is in a state of bliss, of a kind of formless blissful luminosity.


But if you look into the word nirvikalpa and see exactly what it means, the same word nir—as in nirodha—again means “cessation,” but vikalpa means “concept,” as distinct from “percept.” So my own interpretation of the word nirvikalpa is “the mind operating without concepts.” That is to say: thoughts are not being formulated. And by “thoughts” I mean symbolic tools such as words, such as numbers, such as abstract symbols, by which we represent the physical world. In other words, in a state of nirvikalpa you would be perfectly aware of everything going on in this room, only you wouldn’t be talking to yourself about it. You wouldn’t be naming things. And you would therefore be reflecting your sensory input very, very clearly. Also, you can say that citta vritti—“mind waving” or “mind turning”—is a state like worrying, where you’re going around and around and around in a sort of vicious circle. That’s turning. You can also interpret the same phrase to mean “the mind attempting to turn back on itself,” like a dog chasing its tail.


So there are at least four meanings of this phrase, but I simply take the one that means the attainment of nirvikalpa samadhisamadhi (a difficult word again to translate) referring to a state of consciousness. The root of the word sam is related to our word “sum,” which means therefore “complete;” an idea of totality; integrity. Samadhi is sometimes translated “trance,” but that isn’t very good. Samadhi is often understood to mean the disappearance of any distinction between subject and object, the knower and the known, and probably that does rather well.


Because—as I explained yesterday—when, after some time, you have simply allowed your mind to think whatever it wants, and to feel whatever it wants, and to perceive whatever it wants, you become aware of yourself not as a sort of separate observer, but simply as the flow of experience. So that there is no experience facing an experiencer, or vice versa, but simply a process of experiencing which is unitary—even though it is differentiated, as we speak of sensory differentiations. Only, you don’t call it differentiated. That’s a concept. You can’t point to the difference between somebody’s fingers, because the difference between them is conceptual. The idea of difference is purely conceptual. So in this state, then, of samadhi, it means it is a state of quietness because there is no further agitation going on between the process of experience—the panorama of experience—on the one hand, and the experiencer on the other, who is either accepting or rejecting or commenting upon the constant flow of nature.


Now then, what are the various methods of getting to this state? We might begin with ānāpānasmṛti, which means “watching over the breath.” This is basic to almost all techniques of meditation, and it may take the form of simply allowing breath to go on—however it feels like going on—but, say, counting the breaths. There are two reasons for this. Number one: by watching breathing, you concentrate your mind on something which absorbs your attention, but which isn’t a concept. Also, number two: breathing is a very curious faculty, because you can experience it as happening either voluntarily or involuntarily. You can say: “I breathe.” That’s normal in our speech, even though you don’t say, “I circulate my blood.” Because you don’t experience that as a voluntary action. So you can consciously control the rhythm of your breath, but within limits. If you stop thinking about it, it goes on by itself and happens involuntarily


And therefore, through becoming aware of the breath in this way, you see that the division between voluntary action and involuntary action is arbitrary. When you do something voluntarily—like opening and closing your hand, which is not something liable to go on automatically all the time, whether you’re thinking about it or not—then you say, “I do it.” And it does seem to be voluntary. It seems to be under your control. And yet, you don’t know how you do it. You are not in voluntary control of the processes which enable you to do something voluntarily. You don’t know how you manage to be conscious. You don’t know how you exert will. And so, again, the borderline is quite arbitrary.


And so, as you simply become aware of breathing, and just sit for a while and do nothing but breathe, you begin to get into that state of mind where what you do and what happens to you become the same. And also, the easy, unrestricted flow of breath works on the rest of your consciousness like a pacifier, and everything becomes still and quiet. After a while, the breathing becomes so gentle that you could say (almost) that you’d stopped breathing. You haven’t of course actually stopped, although some expert hatha yogins can hold their breath for an unbelievably long time, and will even roll back their tongues in a certain way, and literally stop breathing, and be buried underground for seven hours, and then be brought out and immediately resuscitated. That’s a sort of a music hall trick. There is no point in it. But actually, what is called the cessation of breath simply means that it’s become extremely quiet and very, very smooth.


On the other hand, breathing exercises are practiced of quite a complex nature, whereby, for example, you take your fingers, and you breathe in at the left nostril and then out through the right nostril, and then in through the right nostril and out through the left, and in through the left and out through the right, and in through the right and out through the left, and in through the left and out through the right, and so on. And as you do this you imagine that the current that you’re breathing in goes in when you breathe in through the left nostril, it goes down a passage in the spine which is called the sushumna. And it has two channels in it. One is called the iḍā on the left, and one is called the piṅgala on the right. So that when you breathe in through the left, you imagine the current is going down through the iḍā. And it goes all the way down to the bottom of your spine and strikes on a center called the muladhara chakra. The chakra—the word literally means a “wheel.” And they are sometimes equated with neural plexi or ganglia based along the spinal column, but I think one should take these in a more symbolic way and not really in a literal way.


The muladhara chakra is always represented as being an inverted triangle. That, of course, represents the feminine sex organ. Inside the muladhara chakra, when it is drawn on yoga maps of the body, there is an erect phallus around which is entwined a serpent who is asleep. And this gentleman is known as the kuṇḍalinī. The kuṇḍalinī represents the divine essence, and it was said, therefore, that in ordinary people the divine essence is asleep and needs to be awakened. And the process of yoga—or what is strictly called raja yoga, the royal yoga; there are many kinds of yoga—raja yoga consists in awakening the kuṇḍalinī, and drawing it up the spinal cord, up the sushumna, and as it goes up it energizes all the different chakras on the way; all seven of them.


I’m not going into the geography of all the chakras, except to say that the top chakra is called the sahasrara, which means the “thousand-petaled lotus.” And that is, as it were, the cortex. Now, all this has a very very deep symbolism in it. It is this: that the skull represents the vault of heaven. And in the top of the skull there is supposed to be an aperture out of which your life departs when you die. But it also represents the sun. Because the sun it has been considered as a door in the firmament of heaven through which you see into heaven. So the sahasrara is at the top. Below the vault of heaven there is a great tree called the axle-tree of the world, and that is the spine. and the sahasrara chakra (the thousand-petaled lotus) is, as it were, the great flowering top of the tree.


Then it goes down, and it has roots. And the muladhara chakra is the root place. And the sleeping serpent at the bottom—you will find a complete parallel to this in Norse mythology where the world tree is called Yggdrasil, and at the bottom of it there is the worm Níðhöggr, who is always gnawing at the roots. But, you see, also you will see medieval representations of the crucifixion where there is likewise a serpent at the base of the cross. Sometimes you will see the crucifixes on which there is a serpent instead of the body of Christ. And that is called a Nehushtan in Hebrew: the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness made of bronze, so that whoever looked upon it was cured from the plague of snakes. Why is it also that doctors represent their profession by a staff with serpents intertwined around it? Why does Hermes carry such a staff—a caduceus? What is this business of serpents on rods?


Well to get the simplest answer to that question, you look either at the constellation of Pisces in astrological symbolism—where you will see that one fish is going up and the other fish is going down—or you take the yin-yang symbol of the Taoists, and you will see two fish-like commas interlocked with each other, one black and one white. One is the yang, who is white; one is the yin, who is black. And each one has an eye of the opposite color. These are respectively going up and going down, going in and going out, going away and coming back. They represent the fundamental vibration of nature, or you could call it involution and evolution.


So when you take this breathing process that you see, of the breath going down, the iḍā, up the piṅgala, down the piṅgala and up the iḍā, and getting the kuṇḍalinī to wake up and come up again, you are starting the process of evolution. So this relates to the Hindu idea that the universe is Brahman, the supreme, the saguna Brahman—that is to say, the active aspect of Brahman—playing hide and seek with itself. Now you see me, now you don’t. Now I know who I am, now I get lost. And as Brahman imagines that it’s all of us, that is the serpent going down and hiding in the roots. They also have the image of going down the tubes inside a lotus stem—you know, when you eat lotus roots, they’ve got holes through them because they’re tubes through the stem—and it goes down and hides in the depth of the lotus root, under the surface of the water, in the mud. And then, when it comes up again, that’s why you always see Buddha sitting on top of a lotus. He’s come out. So naturally he sits on the top of the lotus. Thank you. So likewise, also, there’s a myth that Buddhas are born at midnight. Why at midnight? Because that’s the time when the sun is right underneath you. And that’s the lotus on which you’re sitting. All these are images and figures from all over the world that fit together in a funny way.


So then, as you go on practicing this—prāṇāyāma, it’s called: the “breathing technique”—you energize the kuṇḍalinī. And as it creeps up the spine and energizes each chakra, you get all sorts of strange changes in your consciousness. You may start by hearing all sorts of bell-like sounds, smelling the most beautiful perfumes, seeing things that you just never saw before. And you must be very careful, as you do this, not to get sidetracked. Because you may think, “Oh, these sounds are a gas! And I’m going to really absorb and explore all that,” you see? But if you do that you’re apt to get sidetracked, because that’s not the main issue.


Then, when it gets higher, you begin to get very strange experiences of reading other people’s minds, or of knowing the past in strange ways, and of foretelling the future. And again, you mustn’t get sidetracked. These are not important. The thing is to go right on and get that kuṇḍalinī right up to the sahasrara chakra. And then you are enlightened, but you are what is called jīvanmukta, which means liberated jiva in life—as distinct from videhamukta, which means liberated at death. Now then, of course, the yogi—as he’s drawn in this map that I’m describing—is shown sitting in the lotus posture, and always above his head there is a flame. And that is the final liberation of the kuṇḍalinī force escaping through the sahasrara at the top.


And this is, therefore, the fundamental design of what is called in India a stūpa, where you see a pagoda-like structure with a dome and a spike on the top of it. So that dome on the stūpa is the skull, and the spike is the flame. That is modified in the Far East as the pagoda. It is also called a dagoba, and you see the word pagoda is dagoba. It is also the fundamental design of a New England church spire. And the architectural pattern of that church spire is really the same as that of a stūpa or dagoba. In Tibet it’s called a chorten.


So here is this wonderful sort of map of man’s inner life, his psychic constitution, and the process going on. So finally, you see, if you avoid all the traps, if you avoid being beguiled by siddhi (which means “supernormal powers”), you are eventually liberated, because you see through the whole cosmic game. Naturally, when people use pharmacological agents like LSD, many of these chakras—this is at least what an Indian would say—are touched off and enlivened. And as a result of that, you hear all those sounds, you see all the strange sights, you smell the marvelous perfumes, you become aware that the whole world is a throbbing, electronic, vibrating thing, is diaphanous.


But, you see, when people do this and they get fascinated with what I would call the byproducts of LSD, they may get on a very wrong track. That’s what leads people to take LSD over and over again, so that they can have a marvelous time listening to Bach turned on, and seeing the way the music evokes color. Because, you see, as this process works, you get to the point where you experience the unity of the senses. But, you see, to do that is, in a way, to get lost in all the ramifications of the psychic world. So if you use things of this kind, you must be very careful indeed, because they are really nothing more than starters: to get a person who absolutely cannot understand what all this is about to take a peek into paradise, as it were, and see that there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy. And it is of course often the occasion for a person who was really very boring to become quite interested in life; to see that there really is something going on in this world that is extremely exciting.


But it’s strongly to be advised that, once you have seen the point where you understand quite clearly that this whole world is in fact the play of a single energy, and that it has this harmonious property—whatever may be said about things on another level; conflicts, wars, cruelties, diseases, what have you—then it’s time for you to stop employing anything so powerful as LSD, and to switch instead to meditation. Because at that point you’ve had it. You’ve got the message, and there’s no point going back and back and back. Because when you come down out of a state of consciousness like that, there’s a very critical moment as you come down, which is seeing that the real insight doesn’t consist in some exotic experience, it consists in the realization that ordinary everyday consciousness is it. That, in other words (if I may put it in the crudest possible terms), that you see quite plainly that what is going on now is what God is doing—and you are that. And just so simple a matter as picking up the pipe and chewing it is a completely divine act. I don’t even know why I use the word “divine,” but I do it in order somehow to call attention to something that people don’t ordinarily seem to see.


So then, in yoga, when you’ve gone through all this, and all the jazz is the way that kuṇḍalinī was going up, you get to a state which is beyond nirvikalpa samadhi, and that is called sahaja. And that means the “natural state.” And so a great master—one might almost call him an avatar like Sri Ramana, who lived in Tiruvannamalai near Madras; died about, oh I suppose ten years ago. He spent a certain time sitting in meditation, but on the whole he sat back and read the newspaper right in a compound, and hundreds of pilgrims would come from all over. And they would sit around him and practice meditation. They would occasionally ask him questions. And what he was doing was called giving darśan; darśan meaning “view.” He’s on view. And he’s just as much an object of veneration as a Buddha image. See? But he reclined back on his couch, and read the Hindustani Times, and ate meals, and carried on an everyday life. Because he was in the state sahaja, which means that he can live the life of a perfectly ordinary person.


And so, in the same way, many people who have undertaken Zen training and gone through the whole thing, they don’t become Zen masters, they just disappear. And they might be scientists or shoemakers or what have you. In the formal way, most of them—being priests’ sons, which is not too good an idea—go on to be priests and take over their father’s temples. But many people who have completed Zen training just disappear. And indeed that’s considered a very good thing to do, because you don’t leave a track.


The Buddha once, in the Dhammapada, likened the way of an enlightened person to the path of a bird through the sky: he leaves no trace. And a Zen poem says:

Entering the forest, he does not disturb a blade of grass.

Entering the water, he does not make a ripple.

And there was one Zen master who was very much respected called Bankei, who was a contemporary of Hakuin. Now, Hakuin dominates Rinzai Zen to this day, the seventeenth century—his method. Bankei was a contemporary. Hakuin left eighty successors. Bankei left none. And Bankei is a little bit admired for this. See? As the Zen say, he didn’t raise waves when no wind is blowing. So that kind of tracelessness, they would say, you know: it takes one to know one. And if there may be someone who everybody else thinks is just ordinary like themselves, but a Zen man would perceive that he was enlightened.


So that roughly describes the course of raja yoga meditation. And it’s not always easy to know just in what sense this is to be taken—whether the thing is how far it’s symbolic, how far it’s literal. Jung always took it in a very symbolic sense; of not referring to anything that had actually a connection with the spinal cord or the brain. I feel the truth is somewhere in between, and that this is a way of doing things—my own experiments, especially with psychedelics, have led me to believe that there’s really something in it—but that it’s like all these things.


When you study medieval European medicine, you find out all these—the doctrine of signatures; of, say, somebody has got as a sour disposition. Well then, certainly he needs sugar. Or that because a certain flower has a bloom or a leaf that corresponds by resemblance to certain parts of the human body, then that’s the medicine for those parts when they’re affected. One of the funniest things is that one of the very few really effective drugs we have is aspirin. And the way aspirin was discovered was that it was reasoned that, in swampy land where people would contract bad humors, you would find the appropriate drug for curing those bad humors. Because it was always said that next to the poison you found the healing. There’s of course again the two serpents, see, on the caduceus. One is the poisoning serpent, one’s the healing serpent. So they dug around in marshy land. And of course willows grow in marshy land. And from willows you get salicylic acid, which is aspirin. And that was how it was found out—for reasons which today we would consider absurd.


So the modern scientist looks at these old mumbo-jumbos not entirely with disrespect, but says there must be something in it. What—for example, in some frightful stew that one is advised to make up with rope from the gallows and boiled newts—what was the active ingredient? What was essential? And so I look at these things, these ancient methods of meditation, and I ask: what were they really doing? What is the essential ingredient? Because now we have many, many ways of looking at all this—physiological, neurological, psychological, pharmacological—and can perhaps devise from all this a yoga that is appropriate for Western man in the twentieth century, and perhaps very much more efficient, just like our technology is a very efficient technology.


So what one sees then going on is a process of a person becoming aware of a world which is far, far richer than the world as he ordinarily knows it. Why is this? Because the world as ordinarily known is being screened, and the major screening activity results from the fact that throughout our lives we are taught what to experience. And we are not altogether too aware that what is experience depends on certain social regulations. There are experiences which are taboo. There are experiences which really aren’t allowed. And as we are brought up in the same way that we are taught about gestures—there are certain gestures which are considered uncouth, vulgar, hostile; you don’t do that, see?—so, in exactly the same way, experience is regulated.


So it’s like the old joke about the psychiatrist saying to a person, “Well, do you ever have strange thoughts? Do you ever have weird feelings?” Yeah, everybody has strange thoughts and weird feelings. Because the input from our exteroceptive and proprioceptive sense organs is colossal. Now, we ordinarily say—and people commonly put it like this—you can’t deal with all that input because there’s too much of it and it’s too complicated. Now, that’s not true. It is only too much and too complicated when you try to analyze it and translate it into words.


See, let’s take a flower. How many things are there in a flower? Well, it depends how many you want to count. It depends how long you want to spend splitting it up and analyzing it under a microscope and giving names to all the wiggles. From another point of view, there aren’t any things in a flower. It’s all perfectly simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s not wiggly. Yes, it wiggles very much, but that doesn’t make it complicated. It’s only when you try to understand it—that is to say, translate it into words or figures—then the flower becomes complicated. The flower isn’t complicated. The process of translating it is complicated. So, in the same way, how many things are you aware of when you’re aware of this room? Well, it depends on how you want to count the things.


You know, you play that game where you put a lot of objects—spools of thread, a fountain pen, a bottle of medicine, a saucer, and a thimble—on a plate and so on, and you expose it for a moment, the person looks at it, then you cover it. How many can they write down? See? That’s not the same thing as awareness. That’s simply a kind of intellectual dexterity. But vivid awareness is quite different from that. It isn’t counting things at all.


But it comes up, you see, when the mind is quietened, and when the process of thing-king—which is the way we manufacture things—is suspended. Then, of course, if you’re not thing-king about the world, the difference between the knower and the known simply disappears, because that’s conceptual. In the nirvikalpa, or non-conceptual state, there is no difference. Also, there’s no unity, because unity is also a concept. That’s what is meant by the Zen word mu. It doesn’t mean “nothing,” it means “no thing.” Neither one things nor many things. There’s another kōan saying: “When the many are reduced to the one, to what shall the one be reduced?” This state of things is also called in Sanskrit tathātā, which means approximately “thusness,” “thatness,” or “suchness.” And that’s something that comes out very powerfully in these states of consciousness.


Now, I have to explain it, if I can. It’s very easy to understand and very difficult to explain. When a baby is first born, the first sound it makes is da. Dada. And males, fathers, in their vanity think it’s saying “daddy.” It is not saying “daddy,” it is saying “that.” It looks at something—da! See? So the word tathātā in Sanskrit is really “da-da-da.” Like we had Dada in Western art: it was some kind of feeling after this.


Now what is suchness? Well, you could say it’s just the way things are, but it’s a little more than that. And let me try and illustrate it. When you talk to someone, they understand the meaning of what you say, and an interchange takes place. Now I am going to ask the question. The process of talking, making sounds that have a meaning, conveys information to someone else or to yourself. The question is: what does it mean that we do that? Well, it doesn’t mean anything. Why should it? Words have a meaning, because the whole process included words, but the process itself wasn’t a word. It was a dance.


See, look at nature. Why? You know, you hear all these trees reaching out and leaves absorbing things, and all the little creatures running around and breeding their families. And then they eventually disappear, just as a breath has to go out in order to come back in. And so they disappear into the soil. And then the new little generations of the same things, which is the kind of it does it all over again, it comes out and they wiggle around and they eat and they breed their families. And so blwwwb blwwbb blewwwb, all this is going on. And when you look at it in that way you are seeing it from the standpoint of suchness. It’s the jazz. And you see everything is just like that, and the only thing that happens is: you sort of stop panicking about it.


And so you say, “Well, the whole thing doesn’t have any meaning.” In the West that sounds like a put-down, because we say everything has to have meaning. You must do something meaningful. Why, of course we say that, because we are completely hypnotized with words. And so if you do something that has no meaning, people say you’re crazy. That means you’re not acting in accordance with the order of concepts. But lots of people get away with doing things that are completely meaningless. But they manage to give the impression that they’re very important.


Take music, for example. Music, from a practical point of view, is a total waste of time. It doesn’t do anyone—you know, it doesn’t feed anyone, unless you make money by playing music. But music as such, you see, is absolutely vapid. You make the sound and it disappears. It’s not like a product that you can bring out and slap it on the counter and there it is, you know. And the best music has no meaning. It doesn’t represent anything. It doesn’t convey any particular message. The medium is the message in music. And so all these people are blowing through tubes, and complicatedly knocking little patterns of keys, and pulling strings, and hitting on drums, and making blasts through trumpets. And, why, everybody can say: anybody who is anybody has to go to the symphony and contribute to its maintenance. All these weird people are blowing through tubes. And this gentleman in great apparel gets up in front of them all, you know—and he’s the conductor, he’s the great orchestra leader—and he comes on in a very ritualistic way and waves his baton, and sort of leads all these people, and keeps them together, and makes this fantastic blast. And what was all that about? Well, it was culture! You could describe music as an addiction to a very, very hallucinatory state of consciousness called chorditis. And an even worse one; a disease called melodics. But you see that the whole world is like that.


So then, there’s another form of meditation I’m going to go into that’s related to music, and it’s called mantra yoga. Actually, you see, in India, the principal yoga—there’s first raja yoga, the Royal Yoga. Then there’s karma yoga: karma, “action.” T he yoga being practiced through the pursuit of one’s professional vocation, whether it’s physician, housewife, university professor, shoemaker, whatever. Next comes vijnana yoga, which is a kind of intellectual yoga. It doesn’t go through all those chakra things. It’s a very direct yoga, represented by Vedanta; by the doctrines of Shankara. Then there’s bhakti yoga, which is usually a Vaishnava thing. Vaishnavas are the worshipers of Vishnu, and they like to concentrate on devotion. So bhakti means the yoga of devotion, of love. Christianity is bhakti yoga: the devotion to Christ the beloved. The divine is always called the beloved in bhakti yoga. Then there’s hatha yoga, which is not so much a way of liberation as a very elaborate system of physical exercises. Postures, all the complexities of breathing,and so on.


Then there is mantra yoga. Mantra yoga, then, is the use of sound as the method of arriving at nirvikalpa, or thoughtlessness. And this is for many people a very good way indeed, because for some reason or other sound will concentrate you more than vision. It’s much easier to give your whole attention into a hum than it is to stare at or to keep your eyes fixed on a certain point, or even than to just watch your breath. Because sound has a little more activity in it. It is a stronger vibration than just breath. And so the mantra means a single syllable or a short sequence of syllables which are chanted in a certain way, either out loud or sub-vocally in your imagination. Usually, gurus who work with mantra yoga give each individual his own mantram.






Yes, he does. He’s a mantra yogi. In the same way that a Zen teacher will give each person his own special kōan. And you’re not supposed to tell anyone else what your kōan is or what your mantra is.


Now, I vaguely suspect there’s a little bit of hocus-pocus there. But I do know the point in the kōan, which is that if the students start discussing their kōans together, it lends to a little bit of cheating. But I don’t see how that would be so with the mantra. Perhaps the idea is that, when you’ve got a secret, you’ve got something sacred. Sacred, secret. See? And that may be it.


But anyway, you have, say—the basic mantram is the word om. And that is used because, fully spelled in Sanskrit, it is A-U-M. And that starts, you see, A is right at the back of the throat, U comes up, and M is with the lips. So you’ve got the whole range of sound in that word, and therefore it represents the whole energy of the universe. And so if you hum om, it sets up a beautiful thing. It’s great to do it in a circle of people where, by staggering it, it goes on all the time, see? Or you can get it on a tape and listen to it that way.


Now, the Buddhists extend that into the mantram aum mani padme hum. And that means very little. Aum means “everything.” Mani means “jewel.” Padme means “lotus.” Hum means “hum,” it’s sort of an exclamation. And they will hum this very, very slowly, taking a full breath on every syllable and keep doing this. They’ll often ring gongs and things along with it. And you can get way out like that. It’s just great.


Then the Hindus often use polysyllabic mantra like the Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Krishna, Hare Ram, or Om Ram Sri Ram, Jai Jai Ram, Om Ram Sri Ram, Jai Jai Ram. Om Hare Om Hare, Hare Om Om, Hare Hare, Hare Hare, Hare Om, things like that, you know? And this isn’t the fellow called Harry, it’s one of the names of God. He used to say, the trouble for Americans is the Pope’s the only man in the world who you can’t slap on the back and call Harry. But anyway, you see, doing that is mantric.


Now, in exactly the same way, the Christians have used mantra yoga. In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a way of meditation which is called Hesychasm, and is used by, they say, the monks of Mount Athos and of Russia. And it simply consists of what is called the Jesus prayer. And it is simply the endless repetition of the name of Jesus. And they describe all the psychophysical symptoms that will follow for this—the change of temperature, the warm feeling in the heart, all sorts of things like that. But that’s what is the effect of going on and on and on and on and on like this.


Then, in the Western church, there are mantras too. Why does a priest say, “As your penance, say five Hail Marys?” Well, you know how a Hail Mary is said: “Haaaaaail-Mary-full-of-grace. The-Lord-is-with-thee. Blessed-art-thou-amongst-women-and-blessed-is-the-fruit-of-thy-womb-Jesus. Holy-Mary-Mother-of-God-pray-for-us-sinners-now-and-at-the-hour-of-our-death-amen.” Whee! And nobody pays the slightest attention to the meaning of the words.


In the same way, for centuries and centuries, the mass was always sung or said in Latin—which was a very good idea, because nobody paid any attention to what it means. It’s meaning that gets in the way. And this awful translation of the mass into English is ruining the whole Catholic church, because everybody discovers what it means and it’s just terrible. And so then they worked out the Gregorian chant, which is a very powerfully mantric chant—even though, unlike the Eastern chants, it has much more melodic structure. Whereas the Eastern chant keeps up a pretty steady beat, where all the syllables are pretty much the same sound. You know: Buddham saranam gacchami. Dhammam saranam gacchami. Sangham saranam gacchami. Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami. Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami. Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami. And so on. In the West, you know, you’ll get Alleluia, aaaaaaah, you know? It moves along in this more lilting way. But you will see there’s a the difference between the traditional Western chant and, say, a mass by Bach, or Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. Because there is no doubt when you hear the Mass in B Minor that it was written by Bach. The style is right there. And Beethoven—of course!


Well now, a mantricist would say, “No, no, that’s not good, because it’s too much attached to a particular personal style.” And the role of the chant is to depersonalize. It is likened to this: that when you chant, you become a flute, and the Holy Spirit blows through you. So it’s the Lord himself that’s blowing when you sing the chant, and therefore an impersonal form is given to it. And so you will hear, when monks chant the Psalms, they keep up an absolutely unvarying—at first you think it’s monotonous, but it will go nee-nee-nee-nee neee nee, nee nee dee nee nee nee-nee, nee nee nee nee neee nee, neee nee nee neee neee nee ne neeee neeee nee nee. You know, Gloria Patri, et Spiritui Sancto, Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, per omnia et in sæculorum. Amen. You know? Just on and on and on, like that. I’m not very good at singing this morning; my voice is a little…ahem.


But, now you keep that up. You go, say, to the Holy Week service of Tenebrae in a monastic church when they have a service that goes on for about three hours, and it slowly gets darker and darker as they put out all the lights. But this rhythm is keeping up all the time until it gets completely black. Well, you are stoned by the end of that! And those monks are not thinking about what it all means. They are practicing contemplation—at least if they know anything about it, they are. And they are slowly coming to what the Christians call the divine darkness or the cloud of unknowing. And that is the same thing as nirvikalpa samadhi. It is the adoration of God without any concept or image of God in your mind. And really, nobody’s ever been able to explain it, because the moment you open your mouth you bring in words. And the state itself doesn’t have any words in it.


Now, of course, beyond that the mantra yoga technique in an electronic age can be vastly souped up. You can get a continuous electrical note and work on that. You can get a stroboscopic light and work on that one. You can get revolving moire patterns and look at those. You can get fascinated with an oscilloscope. There are endless things that can be done to facilitate meditation by technological means.


A few warnings: don’t push it too hard, ever. Take it easy. Stop if anything you do gives you a headache, or seems to strain your eyes, or if you start getting buzzing in the ears. Don’t overdo any breathing exercise. Never strain your breath. There is an exercise called kumbhaka. Kumbhaka is simply retention of the breath. Most people do, when they’re smoking pot, they’re practicing kumbhaka. But actually, don’t ever keep up kumbhaka too long. You will start reeling, because you’ll get a sort of hyperoxygenation.


The Zen people, when they do breathing, they tend to emphasize the out-breath. Maybe that’s a little bit better for us, because when you relax, you sort of give a sigh of relief. When you’re frightened you suck your breath in, you see, and the in-breath is more tensive, the out-breath more relaxive. And what they would say in Zen is: do the out-breath and don’t pay any attention to the in-breath. It’ll come back by itself. So I would say in general: don’t overstrain anything in a meditation process.


Now you see, though: the object of all these gimmicks is that they are like a clever teacher catching people’s attention in order to make it easy to understand the subject. So they are, all of them, crutches or spectacles or gadgets to help still the mind. There are those, like Krishnamurti, who won’t have anything to do with them, because he says if you make your mind still it is a fake, it’s not natural stillness. And he says natural stillness can come only by observing, being aware of all that your mind is doing, without judgment, without criticism, without interference, until in due course it will just give up, and then it’s naturally still. And of course there’s a good deal to be said for that, but I’m rather open-minded about all these things, and I say: each man to his own way.

Alan Watts

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