Psychotherapy and Metaphysics

This seminar explores the concept of consciousness and its limitations. Watts discusses the lack of depth in certain analytical approaches, highlighting the need for individuals to find harmony with life and death. He emphasizes the enrichment that comes from realizing the significance of everything and the potential healing effects of altering our state of consciousness. Watts also touches on the influence of scientific naturalism on modern psychiatry and shares a personal account of a transformative experience.


Part 1

The Priest and the Doctor


In this seminar we’re going to discuss the relationship of psychotherapy to metaphysics—and by “metaphysics” I mean at least the basic assumptions upon which people operate; the very basic assumptions. And remember: we have these assumptions whether we know it or not, because they’re built in to us. Even if you never took a course in philosophy, never bothered to have heard about anything to do with what the world and life are about—a certain number of assumptions are built in to your mind through the language you speak and through the society in which you live.


So one of the joys of being a professional philosopher is that you can tell everybody that they can’t escape from philosophy. You must be a philosopher in order to be a human being. Because if you’re the kind of person, you know, who says, “Now, I’m just a down-to-earth, practical kind of a guy. I don’t know. All this philosophy stuff is a lot of bullshit.” But actually, that person who says that is what’s called a pragmatist, and he’s in the tradition of William James and Bentham, but he’s a bad pragmatist because he hasn’t examined his premises, he hasn’t thought it out, and he can’t really carry this point of view with conviction.


And so some kind of view, some kind of tacit assumption about what one if here for, what is the good life, what is a person, what one’s self is, is implicit in everybody’s behavior. And I’m going to speak to you about these sort of assumptions that lie behind the practice of psychotherapy and psychiatry in the Western world today. Because something that bothers me in reading an enormous amount of psychiatric literature and holding ever so many seminars and discussions with people in the profession, one of my jobs is going round to the various mental hospitals in this state and others and bugging the members of the staff. They want to hear about the relationship of Zen Buddhism to psychiatry. They sometimes ask me about such terrible monstrosities as LSD and mescaline.


And so the thing that bothers me in this whole discourse, dialogue, with the psychotherapeutic profession is what I can only call a certain metaphysical shallowness. I don’t feel that their thinking runs very deep. And it’s not, of course, a matter—I’m using the word “thinking” not in a purely intellectual sense. In this loose way of using the word “thinking” I mean things that would also be called feelings, intuitions, experiences, even sensations. But so far as the whole background of psychotherapeutic practice is concerned, I get constantly this sense of its being entirely on the surface of things. Not only does it not come to grips with the depths of human life—I mean, in the sense, the roots of human life—but I don’t think it really grapples with the depths of psychotic states.


I feel that, for example, a psychiatrist should be a person who has experienced very many levels of consciousness, and is therefore able to act as a go-between, an interpreter, from one level of consciousness to another. Because a highly disturbed person has got his wires crossed, shall we say, in some way, so that he’s experiencing the world where he thinks that everybody else is insane. And if somebody comes along and knows exactly where that person is because he’s been there himself, and who is—supposing you were lost in the middle of Timbuktu and you couldn’t speak the language, and you didn’t understand the customs, you’d feel very shaky. But then somebody turns up and says, “Oh, you’re an American, aren’t you? I speak English,” and you feel very happy because he also speaks Timbuktuese. So, in the same way, very often a person who is what we call mentally deranged, is in a place—he’s gotten somehow into a state of consciousness where he’s completely confused. And he’s not able to live at the same time in his world of reality and the world of reality which we say is the real world, simply because, as a society, we’ve agreed upon a certain kind of reality.


Now, we should understand how relative reality can be. You see, what the world is, our commonsense assumptions about the external world, has quite obviously—and no one can argue about this—a great deal to do with the kind of sense organs we have. In other words, what the world is to the human eye is something quite different from the world as it is in relation to a fly’s eye, or even in relationship to a bee’s eye. Bees’ eyes are polarized, and they can tell the direction of the sun even on a cloudy day. So what reality basically is is not something that is there, outside, but it’s a relationship between whatever there is outside our skins and the kind of structure that is inside our skins. For example, if I have a drum and I beat it and make a noise, the noise is the relationship between my hand and the skin of the drum. If there is no skin on the drum there will be no noise, however much I move my hand through that area. But the noise of playing a drum is a relationship. Now, in exactly the same way, things like noise, light, weight, are all relationships. Nothing is heavy except in relationship to a force which has the intention of lifting it. Nothing is hot except in relation to something that is responsive to temperature. Nothing is light except in relation to something that reflects light or registers it. So out in interstellar space there’s no blue sky, because there’s no air. Light appears in interstellar space only when there is something to engage with light.


So all existence is relative. You can see this very simply if you consider the problem of motion. And, after all, life is to a large extent motion. It’s energy. Well then, if I have nothing but one ball in the middle of empty space, there is no way of telling whether it’s moving. And there is also no way of telling whether it’s still. Because if it’s moving, it has to move in relation to something relatively still. So if I introduce a second ball into space, and now we can say at least that they are moving towards each other or away from each other. But we can’t tell which one of them is moving and which one is still. And they can only move in a line. If we introduce a third ball then we’ve got movement on a surface, and we can have a debate about which one is moving and which one is still. Because if two stay together and the other one either goes away from them or draws near to them, then they say, “We constitute a majority and we’re going to decide which one of us is moving and which one is still. We say we’re still and you’re going away from us because you don’t like us.” And so now, if you introduce four balls and you say, “Well, this really is rather inconclusive.” I mean, mere numbers don’t make proof. So let’s introduce a referee. And that’s number four. And we’ve got the possibility of motion in three dimensions. But then again, it’s still quite a relative question, because now: which one of them is the fourth?


But you can see that there is only movement in relation to stillness, and there’s only stillness in relation to movement. So that’s why I’m saying that motion—energy, which is the root of the physical universe—is something that is relational. And so this is so fundamental. And in exactly the same way, what reality is, what nature is, what the physical world is, is so in relation to the structure of our senses, and in relation to the way we use them—that is to say, on the one hand, in relation to our physical organisms, and on the other in relation to our social institutions. Social institutions being the game rules upon which human society operates. It is a social institution in the United States to drive on the right hand of the road. It is a social institution to marry and have families. But it is also a social institution to carry around watches and to observe time. It is a social institution to measure lengths or areas in inches or in meters. Money is a social institution. But so, also, certain ideas are social institutions. Definitions of personality. What a person is, what one’s self is, what an ego is. All these things are, to a far greater extent, social institutions than biological structures. You can think about biological structures in many, many different ways, and describe them in different ways, and have different game rules about how you will play between them.


But now, let us suppose that, for some reason or other, a person’s structure changes. It may be that what we simply call his thinking changes, or it may be that something in his nervous system becomes different. And as a result of this he sees the real world, or the physical world, in a different way from other people. Now who is right? Is this person a sick person, or is he, on the other hand, a new mutation in the development of the human species? Who is to decide? By what standards shall we decide? If this person seems unhappy and doesn’t get along with other people and is hostile to them or withdrawn, we’re apt to say, “Well, he’s sick.” If, on the other hand, he still seems to be capable of understanding what other people are doing and says, “Well, the trouble with you poor people—you’re like people who’re all congenitally blind. I’ve got a new sense, and you better dig this because it’s great.”


But, you know, people who are congenitally blind, and their sight is restored by surgery, they have a very strange experience when they first get sight. It’s troublesome. They don’t know why we want this nuisance. They have a long time relating, say, three corners of a piece of wood which they can feel to the visual idea of a triangle. But they learn in about a month.


So supposing there are people who are altered—physically different from us in some way—who decides what sort of people they are? Are they good? Are they bad? Does the majority make what reality is? Like the Bandar-log, the monkeys in Kipling’s story? We all say so, so it must be true? This is a very, very serious question. But there are many possible variations, you see, of what human beings can—what kind of a real world they can experience. And maybe all of these worlds are real—in the sense that they are the way in which the outside world is related to a given human organism. The problem of society is to get consensus, to get agreement, about what kind of a world we’re in. So then, you see, a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist should be a person very adept and versatile in understanding different kinds of reality, because he understands different kinds of human functioning and is able to crisscross between them.


But I feel that we are somewhat defective even in that kind of inquiry, and still more defective in exploring fundamental meanings of human life. You see, one of the great tragedies of history is the division between the priest and the physician. It comes up today in a very crucial way because there is no kind of professional function—like tinker, taylor, soldier, sailor, doctor, lawyer, et cetera—there’s no kind of professional function that can handle, say, psychedelic drugs. Because here is something that requires the physician as well as the priest. And the priest is utterly incompetent when it comes to medicine, and the physician is usually (especially psychiatry) terribly incompetent when it comes to religion. Most psychiatrists are terrified of religion. And if you get messed up in a mental hospital of some kind, the moment they know you’re interested in religion, they know you’re a nut!


But this is very sad, you see: that this dual function was at one time split. Because we can see why it was split, and that probably, when we recover from it all, we will look back and say that the split was a good thing; we in some way benefited from it. But it is high time for this split to be healed, and for the physician and the priest—and I’m using the word priest, of course, in the sense of not necessarily the institutional priest, but the wise man about the things of the universe—it’s high time that these came together again.


What, then, is in the background of this? Why is psychotherapeutic thinking today so incredibly superficial when it comes to its metaphysical roots? Why even does a man so perceptive as Jung keep saying, “I am just a physician, I am not a metaphysician. I am only interested in the clinical stuff out of my work, and I don’t presume to say anything about metaphysics.” Why? Because Jung was canny and he wanted to retain his scientific reputation. He would say a lot of other things privately, but he had to put up this point that we don’t mess around with the deep, deep world here, because that’s outside the province of doctoring.


Well, how has this come about? You see, all the present philosophies upon which our practical sciences, our applied sciences, are working are nineteenth century affairs. Applied science, for the most part, reflects the climate of opinion of 1850 to 1900, because this was a great creative time in the development of the sciences. And in that period Western philosophy underwent a tremendous revolution. It disowned, cut loose from, its Hebrew and Christian history and formed a new image of the universe—what one might call a new myth, because a myth means in my vocabulary an image or a complex of images in terms of which people make sense of life. Just as, for example, you might want to explain the behavior of electricity to someone who didn’t understand it: you might make a metaphor between electricity and water. The flow of a current—see, the very word “current” comes from a water current. And in this sense you would be using a sort of myth, because electricity isn’t water, even thought it may be something like it. Well, in a rather similar way we use, then, great analogies, great metaphors, to make sense of the world.


And under the dispensation of both Judaism and Christianity and Islam, the presiding myth of nature was (I call it) a ceramic myth, because the world was seen as fashioned out of stuff, like clay, by an external intelligence. Inert matter—mud or clay or even blocks of wood—do not shape themselves, according to this way of seeing the world, and therefore they require an outside force of some kind to shape them, to give them form, to inform them. And so you get the duality of spirit and matter, of intelligence and life, and on the other hand the inertia and stupidity of mere material.


But in the course of history the ceramic myth was replaced by a mechanical myth, and this emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and I call this—instead of the ceramic model of the universe—I call it the fully automatic model. What happened was that the thinkers, philosophers, of the West got rid of the idea of informing spirit, of an external—I’m not using the word “external” in a spatial sense, but in a qualitative sense—an external intelligence directing the world. But they retained from the ceramic myth the idea that the world was material, you see? They got rid of the technician and they kept the machine. And they said this machine is fully automatic; it runs itself. And they felt that in due course everything could be explained as automatic.


But, you see, in getting rid of the technician they stayed with the matter, and thus concocted a view of the physical universe in which it was a fundamental assumption that the thing is stupid. After all, it’s fully automatic, it has no feelings, it has no intelligence. And the fact that feeling and intelligent people exist in it is nothing but a fluke. And therefore, of course, if we want to maintain this kind of creature that we are, who have arrived here as a result of a fluke, we’ve got to get very busy. We’ve got to wage war on this universe and beat it into submission so that it will enable us to continue living. Otherwise it’ll just wipe us out. It’s made of rock and fire, and that’s all very hostile to skin and flesh and bones and human things.


So then, it became and is today the mark of a kind of sophisticated person—a person who wants to be considered academically respectable in any field whatsoever—to have as a basic assumption under all he does this notion of the fundamentally mechanical Newtonian style of universe, which is a billiard game between nobody. And to be acclaimed by his peers—so long as he does that and he holds that general sort of view about things that he’s a realist. See, he faces facts. He doesn’t indulge in wishful thinking or in funny fantasies. He doesn’t, furthermore, make meaningless assertions, because the logical positivists who preempted so much modern academic philosophy say that all metaphysical statements about the universe in general are perfectly meaningless.


But, you see, that’s all very well when you’re just playing little games with logic. But actually, this is a personality style that we’re talking about: that the academic world has been preempted by a certain kind of personality, basically: you all have to conform to this view that nature is basically grim and stupid, because it’s necessary for Man to put down the world—because that puts him up. At least he can say, you see: “I am a strong man. I am a man of character because I face facts, and the facts are unpleasant. And so, dear colleagues, you see, we’re all in the same club.” And all these other people who lived a long time ago or in some other kind of culture, they’re just crazy. They’re not informed.


And so it has become absolutely plausible, whatever you may want to believe by way of having a religion—it’s very difficult to have one at all today, because it’s not plausible. You may join with a church club or a psychic something club, or whatever, and get together with a few people sort of bolster each other up in feeling that there’s something more than all this. But, you see, the thing is this: when you get into trouble and you get sick, there are a few nuts who go to a Christian Science practitioner. But most people run for the doctor because he’s the good sound man who’s got all the experience, and he really knows the works, you see? And so the philosophy behind the doctor—however unexamined by the doctor himself—is frantically persuasive. It really takes its toll in being the actual practical common sense—in other words, the metaphysics upon which we operate.


And the practical common sense metaphysics upon which we operate today is basically still the fully automatic model of the universe, in which we are insignificant little sort of fungoid specks on a minute planet revolving around a tiny star way out on the edge of one of the smaller galaxies. And, you know, when the astronomers suddenly wake up with their gorgeous telescopes, you know, and find out this is the scene, the poets of science say, “How insignificant is man! How short his life! How tiny, how brief, how unimportant.” Yeah, what a relief! God isn’t watching after all!


But also—when you begin to think about it and this becomes operative in one’s philosophy of life, and therefore everyday behavior—you start to think: oh well, so what? You know? So what? Why bother? What a fuss the whole thing is. And it begins to lend color to a peculiarly nasty form of psychosis that can afflict us, which is called the vision of the plastic doll. It’s a certain state of consciousness that’s extremely unpleasant where everybody looks as if they were made of plastic and were only copies of human beings, but they had engines inside them, horrible neurological tangles, which make them talk and claim to be real. And everything looks like patent leather, everything looks cruddy, cheap, as if it were made of ticky-tacky. And, of course, we’re busy trying to make the world really look like that! This is the way it feels in this nasty psychotic state. And that’s just, you see, appropriate to that vision of the universe.


It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone, when you consider this tiny little thing called Man in this way out situation—first of all, from whose point of view is this way out? You define the center any way you want to go. Because any point in the relative universe can be defined as the center of it. You make your center. And then, furthermore, what’s size got to do with it? Inside this minute little head here—and every little head round here—there is the most fantastic brain which is able to relate to this whole works. And that’s nothing to sneeze about. The very fact that this minute little center suddenly discovers itself to be like a crystal ball or a dewdrop which reflects all other crystal balls and dewdrops that there are inside it is pretty great. And so it begins to appear that, in some way, the existence of this colossal scheme of things, the universe of nature, is in some way dependent upon this minute little center. It doesn’t exist apart from Man, and Man doesn’t exist apart from it. The two have a kind of strange mutuality between them, and it’s important to explore that for a moment.


We know—it’s obvious, as I already explained at the beginning of this talk—that existence is relationship, and that the way the external world is is the way it is in relation to our senses. Now, let’s argue, then, that there aren’t any beings that have sensory apparatus—nowhere. Is there a world? Well, the question is quite meaningless, because for a world to be it has to be for someone. In other words, just in the same way as you don’t get the sound of the drum without the drum skin, so you can’t say, really, that there’s anything going on. Because for whom is it going on? It would just be like—to ask, “Is there a world?” is to ask, “Is there motion?” when there’s only one ball in space. Well, we can’t answer. There’s no way of deciding.


So, in a way, when we extrapolate and imagine a world existing before any living beings existed, we’re saying: this is what would’ve happened if there had been beings around. But even so, if you want to project the idea—which is perfectly okay for the sake of argument—that before any conscious beings existed there were things going on (and if so, they were going on without the presence of beings, and therefore didn’t require any beings to make it possible), I’m going to say: yes. But look here: when you see an acorn, you don’t yet see an oak tree. But there’s a very fundamental relationship between an acorn and an oak. Because, as a matter of fact, if there hadn’t been an oak tree, there never would’ve been an acorn.


Furthermore, we can put it in another way: when you get various stages of a series of events, we are apt to separate these events from each other and say they are separate events, and they have causal relations between them. But this isn’t quite so. Actually, there are not separate events. There is one event. And we think of it as separate events in order to talk about it and think about it, to measure it. But supposing there was at the beginning of this universe a great explosion that blew all these galaxies into space: that is continuous with our existence in this room at this moment. You know when you see an explosion go off—take a good bottle of ink and throw it at a white wall, and splash, you know? And then you watch as it goes out on the edge: all kinds of little wiggles occur, see? Way out on the extremity. Well, that’s all part of the same explosion. And we, sitting in this room, are complicated little things going on like the spray of a big bang that went off in the beginning. So we are still the big bang. It’s happening now, you see? It’s still going out, you see? There wasn’t a big bang that happened and then stopped, and then all this was left out here. It’s going on now, and we’re all part of it. And each organism, as it is defined in space, is not separable from the whole bang except for purposes of discussion. So we can’t say there was originally a big stupid bang that just couldn’t help itself, which later got all these intelligent things going. The production of these intelligences here is all part of the big bang. The big bang is, in other words, intelligent. And so you see how it is true: that whatever the big bang does, whatever little curlicues come on the end of it, these are all symptomatic of what it is. And that there are people around is symptomatic of the kind of universe that we live in.


But it’s been drilled into us—it’s in our language, it’s in our mythology—that we don’t really belong here. That we came into this world somehow. That the world is basically a big rock, you see. But then it got some goo on it. It got water and mud and stuff, and then all sorts of funny things began to worm around in it. But then life comes. But all this life is fundamentally alien. It doesn’t belong on a rock! There are even people who say: well, it all came from somewhere else; from another planet. It didn’t grow out of this one. You know, it just something kind of like a disease that’s settled on this nice, clean ball!


So that, you see, is what is our basic common sense. It’s very powerful for everybody that this is an alien world, stupid, made of stuff—even though physicists know better than this. Still, the fundamental Zeitgeist, spirit of the age, is that this is the way things are. And therefore we human beings don’t like our universe. And if it so turns out that our consciousness, our self, our soul, our psyche or whatever it is, is nothing more than a fluke, which is basically the same stupid arrangement playing around in a rather jazzy way, then we don’t like ourselves very much. We don’t like this world, we’re alienated, and we’re going to blow the thing up. Because the only thing to do is suicide. Albert Camus said very properly: “The only really serious philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide.”


And that is pretty much what we’ve decided to do because of this point of view. And the possibility of our not committing suicide depends, I feel, not so much on tinkering around with a few relatively superficial psychotherapeutic problems, but getting down to bedrock and finding out if we belong in this universe at all, and whether we can approve of the very fact that we’re here and we exist. Because if we don’t, if we make up our minds that this game (which existence is) is not worth the candle, then the only sensible thing to do is to stop it.

Part 2

A Cure for Philosophy


Now, this morning I was talking about the whole problem of the relation of psychotherapy as practiced today in the West to metaphysics, and I was saying that what I meant by metaphysics were one’s fundamental assumptions on the basis of which you act—about what is life, who you are, and so on. And I was showing that, for historical reasons, most psychotherapists operate on the fully automatic model of the universe, which is the conception of the world that arose out of the philosophy of science in the nineteenth century which conceives the world as essentially a stupid mechanism in which Man is trapped and in which he is a stranger.


It’s funny, you know—this philosophy called itself scientific naturalism. And you would think that anybody who would call himself a naturalist would be somehow all for nature, just as you would think a materialist would be someone who would be all for material. But the contrary is true in both cases. A materialist is a person who hates matter and tries to convert it into junk as quickly as possible, and likewise, a naturalist is a person who hates nature. Of course he hates nature, because he’s defined it as a stupid mechanism. He comes, of course, by defining himself in the same way, to hate himself. And the whole thing, you see, is a put-down view of the world.


And the reason why people have clung to it—well, the reasons are complex. But one of the reasons why is that it seems to advertise yourself as a very tough guy. You face facts. You’re a realist. And therefore, this hard theory of the world as a place where nature is red in tooth and claw, where survival is for the fittest, where religion or any kind of belief in some sort of a something somewhere is regarded as old-womanish, weak-witted, wishful thinking.


Now, I was pointing out that because this view of the world, this theory, this myth, has so thoroughly penetrated the common sense of Western Man, it is the completely plausible view—whether you like it or whether you don’t, whether you actually… you know, you may be a pious Episcopalian or a Methodist or something, but it’s pretty obvious that people who belong to churches and call themselves Christians, in this day and age, do not believe in Christianity. If they did, they’d be screaming in the streets. They’d be taking full-page ads in the San Francisco Chronicle every day, warning people of the dire consequences of their behavior and unbelief. But they’re not doing it. So they don’t believe the religion they say they believe in. Why not? Because at the back of an Episcopalian or a Catholic’s mind is the far more plausible picture of the world that has become the common sense of modern Man: that this is a gyration of bits and pieces of stuff, very big, very vast, totally meaningless, and unfriendly, and therefore that you are nothing more than a brief spark of consciousness between one darkness and another.


Now, of course, do you know that if you take any philosophy whatsoever—I don’t care what it is—and follow it rigorously to its conclusion, something will happen. I’ve made experiments with this in writing various books. I’ve sometimes said I’ll take any premises you want, and I’ll start from there and I’ll end up where I’m going, you know? That if you want me to start from the premises of Catholicism, I’ll get you there. If you want me to start from the premises of logical positivism, I’ll get you there, too. Because, you see, the trouble is that people don’t go through with the whole thing. If you just take this sort of totally mechanistic view of the universe, and you follow it through fully and realize: well, after all, the whole thing is nonsense, and you are absolutely unimportant. That you will exist for a few years and then vanish. Now, if you really succeed in getting with that point of view, you will realize that there isn’t anything to hold on to. Nothing. No security, no rocks, no God, no nothin’. And if you really get with nothing, and dig it, then you come into something else altogether. Then you come into an important, real experience for the first time.


But, you see, people don’t do that. People who hold this kind of philosophy don’t go from the point of philosophy to experience. You know, this whole thing was—in 1921, Ludwig Wittgenstein published his Tractatus, which is the sort of Bible of modern philosophy, in the course of which all metaphysical questions in philosophy were shown to be meaningless. And he said, “My philosophy is in fact a kind of therapy. Now, it is a cure for philosophy. Because when you follow it through fully you have dispensed with philosophy, and that’s that.” And so the last words of the book were: “Of that whereof one cannot speak, one should remain silent.” And at this moment all departments of philosophy in the Western world should have shut up and gone into silent meditation. That was their golden opportunity. But the trouble is that, in our academic world, you’re not allowed to do that. Because a philosopher who says nothing is presumably not doing any work. You can’t pay him, you see, unless he’s productive. So the poor philosophy departments had to go on talking.


Well, since they couldn’t discuss any interesting questions anymore—such as: what is the self, or what caused the universe—all this was dismissed as meaningless, you see? They couldn’t talk about that. So what could they talk about? Well, they started talking about grammar, logic, mathematical logic. And so they became very dull departments. Nobody was interested in it anymore, and so now you’ll find that philosophy is an extremely unpopular discipline on our university campuses, because they’ve missed the opportunity.


I remember once seeing in some paper like the Saturday Evening Post—you know, they have sort of a standard joke where there’s a wife and her girlfriend from next door, standing in the doorway looking at the husband doing something, you know? Making some comment. Well, in this one, the husband is sitting in a chair and staring into space. And the wife is saying, “The trouble with being married to a philosopher is that you can never tell whether he’s working or just goofing off.”


So I’m just saying this parenthetically, because if you do take this particular myth of the meaningless cosmos and follow it to its full conclusion and go beyond it, then you get into a domain which the West has not sufficiently recognized as being philosophical. Because our philosophy is always in terms of ideas. Now, fundamentally, anything that we could call metaphysics in the sense in which I’m using the word is not an idea, but a state of consciousness—an experience, let’s call it that. And so there is just as much gap between that experience and theoretical philosophy as there is between wealth and money or physical nature and words. And part of the great difficulty of all philosophical debates—we were discussing during the intermission in the last seminar, some of us, the question of Descartes saying, “I think, hence I exist.” And how, a propos of the question, how do we know we exist? Well, I said: what difference does it make if we don’t? It’s just another way of talking about it. If not existing feels just the same way as existing feels, why talk about it? It doesn’t mean anything to ask whether we exist or whether we don’t unless—unless—you have experienced something which, say, is a state of awareness, a state of being, which by comparison makes your ordinary level of being unreal, or relatively unreal, or in some way or other illuminates it. But, you see, a great deal of philosophy is nothing but playing with words, since it is not related to experiment, experience.


So now, as this all relates to psychotherapy, I would like to explore what is the current crisis in psychotherapy in relation to its metaphysical background. There is a big crisis going on right now, a huge walloping argument. And it’s roughly something like this: since Freud, at any rate, mental disorders have been looked on as a form of sickness. And when we say that a person is sick, it is understood in our culture that he is not responsible for being sick unless, you know, he deliberately went out and drank himself to death and got delirium tremens. Then we think he’s sort of responsible—except that more and more therapists will say that alcoholism is not a sin, but a disease. And certain people are afflicted with it, and so on. So there is a whole disease theory of the so-called mental illness, and this requires, then, that people who are that way be defined—as in actions of law—as not responsible for what they do.


Now, this has created amazing and fascinating complications, because there is a point of view, you see—especially if you believe in the fully automatic model of the universe—of believing that everything that happens anywhere, anyhow, done by anyone, is determined. It is a link in a causal chain where what is going to be read at the last dawn of reckoning was written at the first day of creation. If you believe in that, then when you get on to questions of disease and so on, you look for the causes of disease and you trace everything back. And so, therefore, in a great deal of psychoanalytical theory you are going to explain the socially inconvenient behavior of a person by his past. And the therapeutic process will be an attempt to recover the full past of that person, especially the emotional experiences of the past, in the hope that this recovery and bringing it all to consciousness will help the individual to see that he has been acting under repressed tensions, repressed traumatic experiences, so that, as a result of the repression, he is trying to live them out in his current behavior.


Well, this is to a certain extent workable. But very soon everybody begins to get the hang of this and say, “Well, now, if I’m a juvenile delinquent, it’s a disease! And you can’t complain because I’m a juvenile delinquent, because it’s my mother’s fault or my father’s fault.” And so then the newspapers start saying, “The police should prosecute the parents instead of the children.” Then the parents have to defend themselves somehow; they say, “But we can’t help that. We are bad parents because our parents were terrible!” And there are two kinds of terrible parents. One kind of terrible parents are those that drank and fought and got divorced and had mistresses, and that’s obvious—you can blame them. They were obviously bad for the children. The other kind of terrible parents are those who are very happily married and were exemplars of life and never drank anything, and certainly didn’t run around with other people than their husbands and wives. And of course that’s a terrible home influence as well!


So the whole problem was this: that—see, the Freudian attitude of, now, understand children; that they’re under all these social influences in their background, came on the heels of the opposite attitude, which was, we’ll call it, Bible and birch rod. That system of education I was brought up in was that suffering builds character. And therefore: bang the children about as much as possible, because—as we used to say when we started to be mercilessly cruel to some individual—it does him good. And so you were exonerated of any blame for this, because you were doing him a favor. You were building his character. So we believe very much, you see, in freedom of the will, in individual responsibility, and in a system of rewards and punishments.


Then the whole thing flipped and did a change, because this system didn’t really work very well—the system of rewards and punishments, and bang on the butt. It’d been going on in the world for hundreds and hundreds of years, and the world hadn’t gotten any better, and people were always banging each other about. Because the human game is based on the idea of: who started it? See, we play cops and robbers in an elaborate way all the time, and it’s like playing dice or something, or any kind of game of cards where we’re dealing around, and somebody is the patsy. Somebody’s it. And you may be elected to be it to be thrown out, or you may be elected to be it to be crowned the king of the ball or something, you see? But we do this all the time because we want to find out who did it. Of course, this is the first philosophical question: who started it? And also, then, when we study medicine, when we look for the cause of a disease—who started it? We find out that it was those bacteria that started it. So get onto them, you see? Knock them out!


And then suddenly you find out that if you knock out those particular bacteria, something goes wrong somewhere else in an altogether unexpected direction. So, in the same way, if you take a class of people in any given society and say, “You so-and-so, you started this trouble! Away with you!” Hitler with the Jews: “Away with you!” Louis XIV with the Huguenots. There have been many, many occasions in history when some particular group of people said, “You are the Jonas in this thing. Away with you!” And then they suddenly find out that that thing which was supposed to be so bad served a very important function in the total system. See? So that finding out the guilty guy and punishing him—there was always something wrong with it, and everybody knew there was something wrong with it, really.


Now we’ve got a theory, you see, in psychoanalysis, to say what was wrong. Those people weren’t responsible for what they were doing. You shouldn’t be unkind to them, they were sick. But then you can always say anyone who does anything wrong can simply blame it on mother, and mother can blame it on her mother, she can blame it on her mother, and the buck gets passed all the way back; goes kittee-kittee-kittee-kittee-kittee, like that, and gets back to a gal called Eve. And then Eve says, “Oh, but there’s this serpent character here who gave me the fruit.” And then the serpent, in turn, takes it back to God. God, you’re responsible. You started all this. “Oh, Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin beset the path I was to wander in.” You know, that thing. Omar Khayyám blaming, fundamentally, the lord. It’s nice to have someone to pass it right back to.


Of course, in the fully automatic model there isn’t anywhere to pass it back! It’s just the whole system is stupid, and that’s all you can say. But at least with the theistic system you can say: “God, you did it.” And furthermore, when you can say, “God, you did it,” that means I am exonerated. You see what happens when you follow that all the way through? Note that. Make a mark at that point. You get back to God. You did it, and I’m not responsible.


Now, this theory of mental illness—that it’s illness and people aren’t responsible for it and so on—has been challenged in recent years, particularly by a psychiatrist by the name of Thomas Szasz—it’s a Hungarian name—who’s written a book called The Myth of Mental Illness. And his theories have been taken up in a more exciting form by a man who writes much better, one of our local lights here in the peninsula, in Palo Alto, Jay Hayley, who has just written one of the most provocative psychotherapeutic essays ever published called The Art of Being Schizophrenic. And this is published in Voices, the journal of the American Academy of Psychotherapists; the first issue of the journal. And here the completely opposite point of view is coming into play, namely that mental illness is really malingering; that it’s an elaborate game which is being carried out in which everybody involved in it is responsible. He shows to a certain extent—I’m not going to go the whole length of his argument—but he shows that schizophrenic behavior in a child is an ideal way of holding the family together. Because father and mother, who are about to split up, suddenly find they’ve got a poor, poor, mentally sick child on their hands. This makes them feel very guilty, and it tends to make them stay together because they both feel responsible and that they have to handle the problem. And this little brat plays it for all his worth, and he follows out step by step by step how you can play the schizophrenic game, even in a mental hospital, and have everything going in a way. After all, somebody wrote me from San Quentin a few days ago: people don’t realize how simple it is to get free board and room. All you have to do is to smoke a joint in front of the police station and you’ve got free room and board for five years. He said: “How silly is this society‽” Of course he’s a meditative chap who—I don’t think he can be very interested in girls—and he’s content to live in a monastery. But there it is. It’s free board and room, and he doesn’t have to do much work. Two hours a day, that’s about it.


So here, then, is the opposite thing. You are really much more responsible for what you do than you think. You manage to repress, in other words, your actual doing of things that in another school of psychotherapy are called the unconscious. Well, this is saying: oh yes, you conveniently forgot. You meant to forget. You really knew what you were doing, only of course you can’t possibly admit it to yourself. It’s that line of thought.


Now, I want you to note what happens if you follow that line of thought consistently. If you are really responsible for everything you do—if, for example, when you get sick, you got sick on purpose to avoid some business that was unpleasant, and you can check out because it’s legitimate to be sick. And we know very well, don’t we, that we do sometimes sort of get sick on purpose. And indeed, if you read Groddeck—you know, that extraordinary, more-Freudian-than-Freud man who wrote The Book of the It. This is a book about his idea that, in healing ordinary sicknesses—you know, mumps and measles and the rest of it—you should always look for the purpose of sickness. Try and find out what this is doing for this particular life, for this individual, and begin to work on it that way. So it was such that he used to run a sanatorium in Baden-Baden, and he practiced psychoanalysis and massage. And when people came to him for massage he gave the psychoanalysis, and when they came to him for psychoanalysis he gave them massage.


But Groddeck would say—he would take, apparently, a completely deterministic view and say, “All your conscious behavior, and what you think you’re influencing and not influencing, is a façade. Behind that is your It. And your It almost on purpose does everything that happens to you. If you have an accident, it’s your It. If you have a sickness, it’s your It. Every kind of thing you’re doing is just a performance, for the It is the dominant.” You can call it the id (it’s really the same word) or the unconscious. But watch, now. The effect of this is to say: of course the It is really you.


See, when you want to talk with a therapist and you don’t want to admit that you desire certain things or that you have certain kinds of feelings, you can always put it in the form of a dream. And you can talk about the dream. And, of course, by an old convention of the Catholic church, you are not held responsible for anything you do in dreams. For example, if you sin in a dream you don’t have to confess it—unless afterwards you look back on the dream and remembered it with great pleasure. Then you would have to say, “I confess to the sin of remembering this dream with pleasure.” But actually, what you do in a dream you’re not responsible for. So this convention of the Catholic church carries over into psychiatric practice so that we can talk about my state of the unconscious, or we can look at what my reaction is to a Rorschach blot, or we can consider my free associations. All these things are material for which I am not formally held responsible. But the implication that’s going on all the time, and usually in a kind of a funny look in the analyst’s eye, is: well, all this is you, isn’t it? I mean, after all, come on now! Admit it! This is what you really want. Because the theory is: if we can get your conscious together with your unconscious, then you’re integrated.


But now look what’s happening here. Watch out! Watch out! Be very careful, metaphysically. This theory of responsibility is getting very close to saying: there is no real distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior. Of course, the more you look at it, when you explore what you call voluntary behavior very carefully, it comes to a point where you don’t know quite what to make of it. See, I can voluntarily open and close my hand, but how the devil do I do that? I don’t know. But I do it, see? I’ve no idea how this happens, but I do it.


Now, breathing—what about that? That’s a little different, is it, from opening and closing your hand. I can feel I am breathing just like I open and close my hand voluntarily. But then, when I stop thinking about it, it just goes on happening. So that must be involuntary. Well, what about my heartbeat? Apparently I have very little voluntary control over that. But now, am I doing that—beating my heart—in the same way that I’m opening and closing my hand? At a certain point it’s perfectly clear that I am, because I don’t know how my heart beats and I don’t know why or how my hand opens and closes when I tell it to. So at the basis of all voluntary behavior there is a capacity which we might define as involuntary. But now, which is which?


You see, it’s a way of talking. Basically, when you really get down to it, and if you follow this through, you see, that you are responsible for the involuntary, for what your unconscious does, and so on, the conclusion at the end of that line of argument is the same as the conclusion that the line of argument that everything is determined. The conclusion is: you are God. Only, when you put God off at the end and say, “Well, you did it all. It wasn’t me,” or the other way around, when you say, “I’ve just discovered I’m responsible for everything”—see? I’m God. You either case, it’s God who’s responsible. And it’s not your ego. Because your ego disappears in either case. Obviously it isn’t a matter of actual ordinary ego intention that you get sick. If you intend to get sick in some way, then the meaning of the word “you” there is something rather deeper than the ego. But it’s still you. And if you wake up, you acknowledge it is you.


It’s fascinating, you know, how these two lines of thought really come to the same point, although they are quite opposite when you encounter them somewhere in the middle at a point at which you had not taken them to their extremes. Well, you see, it’s the same problem with—let’s look at it in a more practical way. If we try to treat people on the assumption that the poor, sick people are not responsible, and we follow that way through, we’re following the way of, really, deterministic theory. And this ends up by petering out. It becomes ineffective. Alright, follow the way through where everybody’s responsible for what they do and push that. And very soon you find you’re in a pitched battle beating people up and cursing them out and saying, “You did it, you so-and-so!” Well, of course, it’s very satisfactory to be able to say that to somebody, because finally you fell you got at the cause, and you know just where it all started—and by God, it was you! And so you can feel wonderful and very righteous that you can blame someone for that. That was why it was so nice to have a theory of the devil. When people believed in the devil, they really knew who to hate.


But, you see, all this problem—there is a problem here only because of the assumption that we’re working under all the time that there are truly separate individual events. If we make this assumption that events are indeed distinct from each other, then we’ve got to do one of two things. On the one hand, we’ve got to say, “This event in particular is the cause of the trouble,” or else we’re going to say, “Yeah, but events are so related to each other by causality that you can’t blame any one alone. Because what caused it to be the way it is?” But, you see, in either case the difficulty in the problem is created by treating the events as really separate.


So then, if—to go back to what I might call the ecological scene—you isolate a given event and say, “Look, this is the thing. Just change this.” You’ll find that this specific bacteria is knocked out by this specific drug. Alright, knock it out, and then you get rid of this condition. And this works beautifully for a time until suddenly new problems start coming up. We are keeping too many people alive. The world is becoming cluttered with people. Then what are you going to do. Alright, now the specific thing here is [???]. You see? That’s the next thing. We’re going to interfere there and we’re going to make it possible for people to go on making love, but not so many people come out as a result of it. Well, in time that’s going to create some trouble, too. Goodness only knows what it will finally do to people to interfere with the fundamental reproductive cycles. I mean, we’ll get by. We’ll muddle through as we’ve muddled through everything else. But you’ve got to keep going, you see? Once you start moving in and interfering with a certain part of nature, you’ve got to jug in somewhere else and somewhere else and somewhere else and somewhere else until you are in the situation of the sorcerer’s apprentice. And you can’t go back. You can’t say: oh well, let’s not interfere anymore.


Because then you suddenly discover that your existence is interference. To be is to interfere. Because everything you do affects everything else. And even if you sit perfectly still and don’t move a muscle and don’t even wiggle a thought, you’re still interfering! After all, you’re breathing air. You’re exerting a certain weight on the planet. All kinds of bacteria are buzzing in and out of you all the time. Just like you were an old tree, and these birds come around, and things fly in and out of you, and so on. You’re interfering. And tiny little interferences, like sitting in a room, can have incredible consequences.


Why? You see, the moral of the whole thing is very simple. The moral of the whole thing is, you see, that you (as an event) are not really different from all other events. There is just one event. And that’s what’s going on, and that’s what really is you—only: you can’t admit it. Because the game we’re playing in this culture won’t allow you to admit that, you see? Because it would be tantamount to saying “I am God,” and with our conception of God that’s a very socially disruptive thing to say. Because when a person says “I am God,” we say “Okay, turn this ashtray into a shoe.” You can always turn the shoe into an ashtray! But you notice that when anybody says “I am God” in our culture, the assumption is that he’s saying he ought to be venerated. “I am God, and all you people should bow down and offer respect,” you see? Then they say as a comeback to that: “We don’t think we ought to bow down and respect you.” Or: “Alright, if you’re God, perform a miracle.” Because God is supposed to know how everything is done.


Now, in India their gods work differently—or their God, because all the gods of India are really one. They don’t know how they do things. They don’t have to know, just like you don’t have to know how you open and close your hand. You just do it. You don’t have to know how to grow hair, you just grow it—until you don’t. And then you can say: well, obviously I’m not growing any more hair because I wanted it to stop. So the Hindu God, you see, is represented as having ten arms—say, Shiva, or Kannon with one thousand arms—and if they were asked, “How do you use so many arms at once?” they would say, “I never need to think about it. I just use them.”


But, you see, when we say “how do you know,” the question we’re asking from our Western background is: can you put it into words? Can you explain how you do it? And what we mean by “explain” is: translate into language. Well, the Lord might say to you, “Yeah, I guess I can explain to you how I do it, but it would take forever because I would have to explain this, and how that goes with that, and that goes with that, and that goes with that, and finally we’d get somewhere near explaining how I created the universe. But, after all, why sit around and talk about it for ever and ever when you can actually do it?”


So when, from the Hindu point of view, God is regarded not as know-it-all—in the sense of knowing in words how the trick is done and not necessarily as someone to be peculiarly singled out for reverence—but the Hindu knows the same godhead is in everybody. And so, as a matter of fact, when meeting in the street, the Hindu does in a way practically acknowledge that his neighbor is God because he makes this salutation. And that is honor to It in you. And so, likewise, returned. I mean, it’s said Chinese shake hands with themselves—they don’t, they’re making the same gesture of reverence and respect to another person. Because you’re It, too. We shake hands, and that’s quite clear that the right hand doesn’t contain a sword. The positive side. Of course, it’s the physical body contact that’s pleasing, too. But here, then, you see, is the view of the individual no longer separated from everything that happens by being defined as an individual event.


Now, watch how this happens. In childhood, you see, is the moment at which this particular game is laid on us. Because every child—as we were discussing in the discussion period this morning—is as soon as possible taught to identify himself and his property: who Tommy is and what belongs to Tommy and so on. And so what the child is told is this: you are—in the eyes of your friends and parents and so on—you are responsible. You are a separate, independent source of actions. And if we like what you do we’ll give you goodies, and if we don’t like what you do we’ll bang you about. Now, just examine this situation for a moment. The people say to the child: you are free, you are an independent source of action—but the implication is: and by God, you’d better be! You see? It’s a paradox: you must be free!


Now, the way in which it puts the “must” on is this: it’s very difficult—practically impossible—for an individual human to resist social conditioning. For example, you can play a game. You can send two people out of the room, and then the teacher says to the rest of the group, “Now when these people come back, we’re going to set out two chairs here, and we don’t know which one of them will sit in which chair. But the one who sits in that chair, we will agree with everything he says. But the one who sits in that chair, we will disagree with everything he says.” And you may find that the person who sits in the “agree with” chair is a very inarticulate kind of fumbling person, and the person who sits in the “disagree” chair is very keen-minded and very articulate. But within a few minutes of this conversation (provided the two don’t know the rules of the game), the inarticulate guy in the “agree” chair will be making a very good conversation as seen with the group. The articulate guy in the “disagree” chair is going to be stammering and flustered. Because the group exercises such power in controlling the behavior of any one of its members.


Now, if this is true of an adult, just think what it is for a child. There is no way in which a child could resist the definition of itself as a free and independent being. Do you see? Just because this definition is not true, for that very reason it is made to seem to be true. The child cannot resist the conditioning. The conditioning is defining him as free by the very technique through which he is not free. Do you wonder people grow up confused? And so that is why there is a human problem. That is why there is a sense of something being wrong, why we’re all blocked in some way. This curious definition—which takes, of course, the classical form of a double bind: damned if you do and damned if you don’t.


So when this is inculcated, naturally, when the child has been isolated in this way, he feels voluntary, but at the basis of voluntary is involuntary. He feels involuntary—I mean, that things happen to him—and yet basically guilty. This is a great puzzle, you see. Also, by virtue of being defined in this way, he feels he doesn’t belong. This was all part of the game. Because when the children came into existence here, they looked down their noses and said, “Little children should be seen and not heard.” Yeah, alright, we’ll wait and see. You know, a child does something wrong and says it’s sorry. Well, it’s not enough to say you’re sorry, we’ll say whether you’re really sorry over the next few days; whether you repeat this kind of misbehavior again. And the child wonders what’s going on here. It doesn’t really know what sort of a game this is. But the child is made to feel on probation. Maybe, maybe, maybe we’ll give you a go here.


And so this, coupled with the definition of himself as being separate—there is therefore a very deep and important taboo planted against the recognition (which the child has intuitively at the beginning) that his life, individuality, body, or whatever you want to call it is inseparable from all this. That it’s simply a hoax that himself is this so-called ego, but what myself and yourself really is is the works that includes all galaxies, all whatever. Only, just as when you take a chicken, and you put its beak on a chalk line and the chicken can’t get off the chalk like, so you can make a person’s awareness of self myopic. You can say: “Now listen. You’re you, see? And it’s called Johnny, and that’s that. And you better be you! Because we want you in a pass. We want you in a bottle.” That’s the game.


And so however much you may have a sneaking suspicion in the back of your mind—and who doesn’t, you know?—you have a sneaking suspicion in the back of your mind that all is not well with this definition; that somehow or other you have a vague, funny memory of having always been around. You can’t put your finger on it, quite. Where were you before you were born? It’s a funny thing. And everybody knows it, but nobody will admit it. There’s a little Zen poem which says:

Officially, not even a needle is allowed to pass.

Unofficially, a carriage with four horses may be driven through.


So, you see, officially nobody may admit to being who they really know they are. You know? Who do you think you are? God, or something? But inwardly everybody knows it. But it’s part of not admitting this, you see—a very important element in the fully automatic model game of the universe, and of common sense as we now have it—that this is quite inadmissible. That there really is nothing behind it all, as it were, and there is just this (what I would call) rusty-beer-can-style of reality that we dig, which is the world seen on a bleak Monday morning—which is the world of reality in official psychiatry.


But you notice, you see, that, just as in many kinds of therapy as we know them today, there is a kind of attitude in which the therapist is gently, gently wanting you to get together with the unconscious and, as it were, take responsibility for the unconscious, you see? But he’s doing the same sort of thing, say, as a guru is doing. Only a guru—say, a yoga teacher—is gradually trying to get you to get with the unconscious in another sense. The unconscious as the yoga teacher sees it is the divine reality—whether he calls it Brahman or whether he calls it śūnyatā. And he’s saying—the twinkle in his eyes is: “Come on, now! You really know who you are, don’t you?” But, for kind of a lack of metaphysical depth, the therapist is apt to be saying: “Oh, come on, now! You really know who you are, don’t you?” But his definition of it is libido. And libido is, you know, not really a very nice guy as defined. He’s the animal in us, the monkey, the dog. The point is: we all really go to the toilet, don’t we, you see? We all really have animal organs and so on despite our clothes. And, after all, can’t we get together and sort of be human beings on that basis? Well, sure. But so what? I mean, is that all there is to it? You see, that’s what I think many people would fee. Sure, we can get over all that farce about whether we have a sex life and whether we go to the toilet and all that jazz.


And then, you see, I know all kinds of people who really analyze, and they got back to that. But then they are still running around in circles, because they’ve had a complete catharsis, and after that they’re just sort of nowhere. Well, it’s alright, yes. I’ve got to lay the girl finally. Well, it was good. And then what? That’s what I mean. There’s a sort of lack of depth at that point, because it doesn’t really put the individual in harmony with life and death. It goes a certain distance, but it leaves a great, great unanswered question at the end of it.

Part 3

Myopia of Consciousness


Yesterday I was examining the background of the whole modern psychiatric movement in terms of the philosophy of science and the philosophy of nature that was prevalent in the great days of Freud, Jung, and Adler, and other founding fathers of modern psychiatry, and showing that scientific naturalism (or the fully automatic model of the universe) was at that time becoming what it now is: the plausible common sense of the average person about the nature of this world and of Man’s place in it. So plausible, indeed, as to render any other kind of myth or belief or Weltanschauung a rather desperate effort in the face of what seemed to be overwhelming facts.


I then went on to show that this seemed to me to account for a peculiar feeling of superficiality in our approach to psychotherapy, and in its acceptance of the state that we have of feeling our existence—shall I say, our basic sensation of being alive—this seems to be accepted in psychotherapy as normative. Namely, to feel one’s self as an independent center of consciousness inside a body, separate from everything else, so that your identity implies a sense of strangeness with respect to the external physical world. Inside there is a feeling mind, a heart, the possibility of love, of values, of reason. Outside there is something quite non-human, insensate, mechanical, unfeeling, enormous. So that we have a place in this world not, of course, in the philosophy of a naturalist—as a spirit from another world who is imprisoned in matter in a kind of platonic or gnostic way of feeling it—but rather as a fluke: a fluke of evolution, a product of a battle called natural selection, and therefore a kind of life that has an extremely precarious existence.


I went on to show how this historical myth is effectuated—that is to say, how we are all taught to believe in it, how our sense of identity is shaped by the family, by the school, by society, and yet how, at the same time, each one of us has a certain complicity in this. It’s not something, you see, you can blame society for. When you try to fix the blame anywhere—I was pointing this out—it’s impossible to do. Every time you succeed in getting rid of the blame you take it back to the snake in the garden, and then to the Lord God. And yet, the more you pursue that sort of inquiry, if everything is determined, then you realize what B. F. Skinner so signally fails to realize: that when you’ve established deterministic connections between events in such a way that you are totally not responsible for what you do, the implication of this connection is that the events you’ve described are not disconnected—that is to say, they are all one event. And so you are the event. So you’re once again responsible. It’s so funny about Skinner, because he’s such a militant behaviorist. And it’s also so odd that a man who believes that all behavior is determined, and that any freedom of will is complete illusion, should write a utopia (Walden Two), and should make recommendation for certain changes in child-raising, you see? He’s an added reformer. Like, Calvinists (who also believed in predestination) were very, very ardent do-gooders.


But, of course, he doesn’t follow his thinking through. He doesn’t see that causality is an unnecessary idea. When you have, you see, split events into separate compartments, and you’ve named them as distinct events—and the same goes for things, because a think is the same as an event; there’s no difference except that you use a noun for a thing and a verb for an event. But when, you see, you have split events apart and you’ve forgotten that you had done that in the first place. Then you want to find out how they’re connected, and you invent a ghost called “causality” to be responsible for the connection of one event with another. Well, you don’t need the ghost. All you have to realize is that the split between the events was arbitrary. They were the same event—only, an event has varying features in it, just as a tree (which is a thing) has trunk and branches and leaves. But they all go together. You never saw a leaf growing in midair in no relation to a trunk. Same way you don’t see human heads wandering around, or feet just pattering across the grass. A human being is all of a piece. I mean, it is possible to live a sort of deprived existence if you have limbs amputated or teeth extracted and so on, but after a certain point you will stop existing altogether if we pull you apart enough. But, you see, a leg doesn’t grow on a human body in the same way as a wheel is fixed onto an automobile. When you were an embryo you had embryonic legs, and gradually the whole thing swelled and grew and assumed certain proportions all over. But you weren’t screwed together—although you may have been screwed in into your mother’s womb!


So in the same way, therefore, the various so-called parts of our bodies arise together—or, as the Chinese would say, arise mutually. So we exist in our physical environment. And just as, when you watch the behavior of water you can see pulses in it, you can see forms in it, you can see patterns in it, so, in a very similar way, we are patterns of the universal energy. And just as a whirlpool is a constant pattern in water, but no water stays put in it, so in much the same way we are a constant pattern of physical energy in which nothing stays put. In the same way that a given golf club is “So-and-So Country Club” and remains such for years, but all the membership changes, all the buildings change, so we do. Because what the club consists in is a pattern of behavior. And so, too, we are patterns of behavior. But we are indissolubly connected with the entire universe, and when we die you might simply say the universe has stopped waving in this particular way that we called John Doe. And so to ask what happens to John Doe when he’s dead is like asking what happens to your lap when you stand up. Because lapping is really what you’re doing when you sit down. You’re lapping. Just like you’re fisting when you close your hand. A fist isn’t a thing, it’s a process, because it vanishes the minute that you open your hand. So if you look upon beings and everything as doings, as events, it becomes very simple to realize that if anything can be said to be doing us, it is everything there is; it is the whole total energy of the cosmos. And this is ourself if we have any self at all. So Skinner sticks to his causal connections and his determinism without seeing what this determinism implies.


Now, you see, the minute you see what it implies—that there aren’t separate events, there’s one event—then the determinism idea completely vanishes. Because to establish a deterministic point of view you have to have two factors: the one that determines and the one that is determined—the active and the passive. Something that is pushed around by an external force. But now we’re in a position where there isn’t anything to be pushed around. The patterns aren’t something pushed around by energy, they are the energy. They are forms of the energy. They’re not shoved.


You see, that’s another thing. All kinds of determinism—again, go back to the beginning of nineteenth-century science to the work of Newton, and to Descartes. They go back to a model of the universe which we won’t yet call fully automatic, but we will call it the billiard model. All these ideas of atoms are—the original thought of atoms were as balls, like billiard balls, that are all being knocked around by each other. And so that kind of Newtonian mechanics is very, very strong in psychological thinking when you hear of motivations, of drives, of urges, of outlets. As a matter of fact, along with the billiard model, a very powerful model in psychological thinking is the hydraulic model. In psychoanalysis the hydraulic model plays a great part. You talk about dammed up forces of the libido, stream of consciousness, all sorts of figures like that enter in. And so the mechanics of hydraulics, the mechanics of billiards, all involve a view of the world as atomized into particles which are definitively separate from each other, and which are pushed around. And so the human being becomes a particle in the sense that, although he is composed of many particles, nevertheless he constitutes a particle which is pushed around by environmental and hereditary forces.


But when you realize that the analysis of the world into particles—as if you were to say, “Well, what is really here is the particles. Everything else is a kind of construction of that. These are the basic building blocks, and they are what is really here, what is really going on.” You are taking a medieval school of thought to an extreme. You know, in medieval philosophy there were two great combative schools. One was called nominalism and the other realism. Realism, then, didn’t mean what it means today. Realism was the belief in universals; that universals are ideals—again, not moral ideals, but ideal forms—that really existed. That is to say, that every human being was an instant of a universal called humanity, and humanity exists in the same way as a tree exists, according to realistic school of thought. The nominalists, on the other hand, got the name of their school from the fact that they said universals exist only nominally, that is to say, only in name. There is not such an entity as mankind, there are simply people: this person and that person. But now, if you press nominalism through to its conclusion, there isn’t such a thing as an individual human being, there is only a collection of particles. And these particles have an inconvenient way of being divisible with every new step in physics. We’ve got to molecules and we found atoms, and we found electrons, we found neutrons, neutrinos, we found mesons, protons, and finally anti-matter. And nobody knows where it’s going to stop. So you finally, in your endeavor to find the real particles, you start splitting specks of dust infinitely. And somehow you suddenly get a feeling that somewhere back along the line you missed the point; that you better go back and take another look.


Because, you see, of course, one feature that all this way of thinking leaves out—you look at particles: you can look at a collection of balls or of stars, but what have you forgotten when you were looking? I’m going to talk a bit more about what I call the myopia of consciousness. You ignored the space between them as if it wasn’t any importance, as if it were nothing, you see? And that’s simply because the way we think—as I think it’s sufficiently proved in Gestalt psychology—the way we think is that we notice, but you cannot notice without at the same time ignoring. You notice the figure and ignore the background. You notice what moves and ignore what is relatively still. Despite the fact that you couldn’t see the figure without the ground, or you couldn’t notice motion without something relatively still. But you screen that out. Our senses are in the first place a screening apparatus. They respond only to a very, very narrow band of the total spectrum of measurable vibrations. And they screen out x-rays, cosmic rays, gamma rays, and so on. You have to have special instruments to notice them. But after our senses have screened the physical world, our consciousness screens it even more. And we respond to sensuously, physically, all kinds of things that never enter into our consciousness at all.


So in this process of ignoring one of the most important things that we ignore is space. And we don’t see that space is as real as solids. That, in fact, the reality of the physical world is a space-solid thing, not solids in space. And this, then, arouses the interests of physicists who begin to talk about properties of space, curved space, expanding space, just in the same way as architects are aware that space is important, and painters are aware that space is something there. I mean, consider the motion of your hand like this. The molecules of your hand have vast spaces between them, relative to their size, so that if you magnified your hand so that a molecule was the size of a tennis ball, you look out of the window, and you’d see a flight of tennis balls moving around in the sky, apparently all moving together as one, but with no strings attached between them. You’d think this was extraordinarily odd.


But there’s something that we don’t understand yet, physically, about a space relationship between them. Space has unnoticed properties. And it’s in here, of course, probably, that research on gravitation—gravitation is very possibly not a form of magnetism, but a form of the shape of space. Something of this kind. But we ignore it, anyway. Space isn’t there for all practical purposes. And so this is what the particulate theory of the world tends to overlook.


But, of course, there have been philosophies, metaphysics, which went in exactly the opposite direction: they ignored the particles and concentrated on the space. And those forms of philosophy, which generally go under the name of idealist—I mean, we’d say Berkeley, to Hegel, Bradley, and to some extent the Buddhists tend to be saying that space is the basic reality. But they also equate space with consciousness. It was apparent to me living before 1500—as far as we know, it was part of their common sense—that space was the same thing as your mind. And to see things in space was the same as to see them in your mind. Dante reflects this kind of thinking. And so you could conceive, then, infinite space, or infinite mind, as being—I mean, when people try to formulate an idea of God that’s more or less sophisticated, instead of thinking of an old gentleman on a golden throne, they think of infinite space.


But again, you see, this is a sort of one-sided attitude. That what is there is not just space, but something we don’t have a name for—space/solid—and the two are in a polar relationship to each other. You don’t have one without the other, they are the fundamental—as the Chinese would say—the yang and the yin. The yang is the positive, the solid, the masculine, and the space is the yin, the womb-like, the enclosing, the receptive, and the feminine. The space appears to be passive, the solid appears to be active. But they are terms of each other, and our intellectual thinking is unable to think of them simultaneously, or we have difficulty in doing that. Because all intellectual and logical thinking is in an either/or dynamics. Because logical thinking is based on classification. It is a sorting of experience into intellectual pigeonholes. And the nature of a pigeonhole as such, the function of a pigeonhole is: you ask the question “is the thing in it or is it outside it?” Is you is or is you ain’t?


And this fundamental either/or is possibly part of the way we think because neurons either fire or don’t. Computers work on a zero/one system of binary arithmetic, and out of that either/or we construct fabulous patterns. But what we can’t quite get into our ordinary logic is that either and or are not mutually exclusive. The inside and the outside of a class—although from one point of view they are mutually exclusive, from another point of view are inseparable. You cannot have the inside unless you also have the outside, and the boundary between them is shared in common. And that’s the thing we don’t notice, you see. That’s fundamental. Now, why not? I don’t know. It may have something to do with the zero/one nature of our whole neurological structure. But I think, on the other hand, that since it is possible for a human being in some sort of non-logical way to be aware of yes and no singing together.


One of the things that ever so many people report as a result of LSD experiments is: they suddenly realize something that they had great difficulty in explaining to their friends who were supposed to be sober. They see that inside implies outside, that self implies other. You wouldn’t know you were yourself unless there was something you could feel to be other. You wouldn’t know what other meant unless you knew what self means. And the person instantly sees that that is not a separation, but a connection. So under that state of consciousness that is relieved of the myopic, ignoring qualities of ordinary conscious attention you become aware of connection. And that’s why people start to describe the experience as harmonious. They don’t mean harmonious in the sense that it’s sweet, but harmonious in the sense of concordant, reciprocal, related, making sense, fitting, all of a piece. This kind of feeling of harmoniousness.


And you become, for example, aware of that all defined forms have fuzzy edges, as if, you know, in order to have a line of particles which is clear, there are the square core particles, as it were—I’m using social terminology now—which form, as it were, the backbone of this shape. And then along the edges there are all kinds of little ones that are dancing off, you see, and maybe kind of cops along there saying, “Heya! Keep in line! Keep in line! Keep in line!” You see? And the little things are bouncing, and they’re not going to keep in line quite. But if they didn’t have that go out away from the core, the form would have no strength. If there weren’t some revolutionaries in this table, my hand would go clean through it. It wouldn’t be able to stand up. But those revolutionaries are being kept in line so the table doesn’t explode, you see?


Now then, when you’ve seen that, you suddenly realize that all sorts of human beings we think of as deviant or as wrong or as down at the bottom—look at the scale of society. At the top there are people living in palaces, at the bottom there are bums in Skid Row, and frightful creatures in awful slums in Calcutta. And you suddenly see this spectrum, whoosh, like this, and realize that what we’ve done is change our level of magnification about people. We were looking at it like this. We stepped back and looked at it like that. And you say: by Jove, yes! Don’t they go together? How would you know you were rich if somebody weren’t poor? How would you know you were nice people, living in the better districts, unless there were people you don’t approve of? What would you have to talk about in order to know you were nice people except how awful the nasty people are! You know?


So you suddenly start seeing this. And then, because of that, you see, you get this impression of a harmonious world. And as that becomes deeper—the feeling that self implies other—you see, then, that yourself in some way, by polarity, involves everything that you have hitherto defined as other than yourself. And that kind of connectedness becomes extraordinarily clear, and it’s only difficult to talk about because it is the major point screened out in most human thinking. It’s not insuperable. Just as it has been difficult for lay people to understand relativity, just as it was difficult for people to understand that the world was round, that the planets were not supported in crystal spheres. All these, when they were new ideas, were very, very difficult to assimilate. They were flatly opposed to common sense. But now we are getting accustomed to the relativity idea, so soon it will be possible for everybody to understand this idea. That’s perfectly plain. Something that’s not almost an idea, but something that is almost a sensation that is quite self-evident. The “go-withness,” I call it, of things.


Well, you see, part of the problem of understanding go-withness is not merely that our conceptual framework has been inadequate for it, but also that our way of using our senses isn’t quite up to it. And that is because, as I mentioned yesterday, we have worked out a way of using our consciousness since many thousand years which has specialized in an analytical way of looking at things—hence the particles, hence the quest for the particles, you see? We found that way of looking very, very profitable as a magical tool—that is to say, as a way of exercising a control over nature. But just as all those species which in the course of evolution overdid a certain adaptive feature tend to become extinct—a saber-toothed tiger’s teeth would grow through its lower jaw. The dinosaur had to have two brains because it was so big: one in its head and the other in its rump. And the brains didn’t always get together. It’s like the Ford Foundation when they had an office in Pasadena and an office in New York.


And so in this tremendous specialization in conscious attention, the advantages of it also show up some very serious disadvantages. In other words, to make the effort to sustain this kind of attention we’ve had very much to emphasize individual separateness. We’ve had to rub that in. And always the great task for the teacher in school is to say to the children: “Now pay attention. I want your attention.” And so we do all sorts of funny things. We shout and wear orange shirts and all sorts of funny things to get your attention.


Now maybe, though, if I were really skillful a teacher, I wouldn’t try to get your attention. I would get the message over to you without your knowing that it was being communicated. It’s like subliminal advertising. Sleep-teaching. Although I must say, I tried an experiment on my wife while she was asleep some time ago. She’d fallen asleep with earphones on, listening to music. And I changed the record and put on a record of myself reciting haiku poems, and I turned up the volume as high as it would go. She didn’t budge. Then I woke her up and said, “Tell me a haiku, darling.” And she hadn’t the faintest idea of one. Well, I guess she slept pretty soundly! I’d hoped she would recite one that I had just read, you see—just sort of automatically.


Anyway, now, in this great human development of specializing conscious attention, and therefore the kind of controls that go with it, we have neglected the other faculty. And significantly, you see, in a great deal of psychotherapeutic thinking descending from Freud we speak of these two aspects of Man as the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious mind. And that seems to be an extraordinarily paradoxical expression. How can you have a mind that is unconscious? Well, the terminology is not satisfactory, and furthermore—although Jung is quite different in this respect, and some way Groddeck, too, is different—Freud’s conception of the unconscious tended to be definitely something rather unintelligent. A complex of blind forces. The animal in us. The primitive in us. And even in some Jungian thinking—I’m thinking of Psychic Energy by Esther Harding—there’s a basic assumption that at the root of our nature there is a sort of primordial slime full of reptilian creatures that live by what is called in the Hindu philosophy the law of the sharks, the mātsyanyāya, where eat and be eaten, and copulate and eat, and copulate and eat, and so on and so on and so on. This is somehow, you see, the idea that this thing is fundamental to life. It goes with the same idea, you see, that the fundamental energy of the universe, metaphysically speaking, is mere energy, is in some ways just uurgh! like this, you know, without any characteristics or quality or anything like that, you see? But that came out of the psychology that then required a put-down notion of the nature of the universe as a reaction against the idea of the personal God.


But you can look, though, at the unconscious—or I’ll simply say non-conscious—functioning of the human organism, and while you may not approve of some of it from a kind of prissy standpoint, nevertheless you must admit such organization (that neurologically speaking simply defies our intellects) to a large extent is remarkable, to say the least, and that we shouldn’t call it the unconscious. As a matter of fact, it’s all highly conscious. It’s aware. Let’s say it’s sensitive, it’s responsive. But it doesn’t seem to require particular awareness. It doesn’t require attention. It works without that. But if we are somehow not with this kind of awareness, we’re missing an awful lot. As a matter of fact, we’re missing the most of it.


I was talking at Stanford the other day, and it occurred to me that—talking with university students—that sometimes, when a boy says to a girl, “Gee, you’re beautiful,” she’s likely to say, “Oh, that’s so like a man. All you think about is bodies. You know, I may be beautiful, but my parents gave me my body. And I don’t want to be admired for my chassis, but for myself.” In other words, she wants to be admired for a few little conscious tricks she’s learned to perform, and she has reduced herself to being a chauffeur. In other words, she has lost touch with her organism. So, in the same way, her condition is no different from that of most civilized human beings. They’ve lost touch with their organisms.


And indeed, the psychotherapist is aware there’s something wrong here. Obviously. The strict psychoanalytic school is attempting to get people again in touch with their organisms, in touch with their disowned sexual life, with their feelings of anger, hostility, and so on and so forth, that’ve all been swept under the carpet. Jungian therapy is attempting to go perhaps still deeper; to get in touch with great formative powers of which we have become aware that are operating within us, and that are represented in fantasy and dream in the form of the archetypes.


Along with this, though, goes something that is sometimes noticed by therapists, but more than often not, and that is this: that in waking life—and not only in the dream and in fantasy—in waking life you can, as it were, expand your consciousness. And you can be consciously aware of things in what might be called a non-attentive way. A very interesting therapist by the name of Trigant Burrow wrote a fascinating but very unreadable book called Science and Man’s Behavior, and he described two types of consciousness. Respectively he called them ditentive and cotentive. Now, ditentive consciousness is what I’ve been talking about as conscious awareness. It is considering the environment piece by piece, one thing after another in series. Cotension, however, is different. You sometimes use cotension knowingly, almost—say, when you’re driving. Because in driving there are too many things going on to think about them one at a time, and yet you have to be alert. But he made experiments and claimed—although I don’t know who else has tried to repeat these experiments—that in the state of ditension there is a tightness measurable between the eyes; that if a person gets into the state of cotension, they gradually relax that tightness between the eyes. And he made all sorts of breathing analyses and EEGs and measurements of every kind, claiming that he had established different rhythms when the different kinds of tension were operating. Well, you should read the book. All those things are in the appendix to Science and Man’s Behavior.


So then, if one could establish in waking consciousness a cotentive attitude—you might call it openness—then we would be beginning to make available to ourselves what has hitherto been called the unconscious. We would be less alienated from our whole organic life, and we would, as I said, have this sensation of functioning without choice—that is to say, functioning without blocks. Choices or choosing is, in a way, the same thing as what we call blocking: I hesitate, I am in doubt what to do, I dither, I wobble, and say, “Let’s go over that again,” instead of having a kind of instantaneous, swift grasp of the situation.


So when you begin to feel, you see, that you’re acting that way, you first of all may describe it as the sense of effortlessness. That’s because it contrasts. It isn’t that it is using no energy or no effort, it is in such contrast with your normal efforts—a great deal of which is, incidentally, completely unnecessary. You notice I frown a little when I think. There’s no need to do that, it’s just habit. But it’s energy-consuming, because I was taught as a child to frown so that the teacher would know I was thinking. And all sorts of things like that, you see, we do.


And so when you suddenly find out that you don’t function that way, the first thing you get is the sense of effortlessness. And in order to try and translate this into language you may use a deterministic way of talking. As Groddek’s saying: “The It lives you.” As Ramakrishna said of the Mother Kali, the mother goddess: “Oh mother, I am the cart and you are the horse”—or: “you are the driver.” He felt, you know—in other words, he’s trying to describe this state, but he puts it in a passive imagery. Now, that passive imagery can be misleading, because it’s only imagery. It isn’t that you are pushed around by some other power than you, it’s just that the real you—like Shiva with ten arms—operates without using conscious bit-by-bit direction. You are much cleverer than you think.


And so as this cramp in the consciousness (I’m borrowing a phrase from Jung)—what is called in Hindu philosophy saṃkoca, or “contraction;” “contraction of consciousness”—that’s conscious attention. That is avidyā. It means “ignorance.” Consciousness in Hindu philosophy is ignorance. That’s funny, isn’t it? Because of what you ignore. As that cramp is released—aaah!—you begin to realize what you’ve been missing all along, and you get the impression that life is absolutely beautiful. But why?


Because normal functioning is a stupendous achievement of harmony. What all our nerves and everything, the organs, are doing—just fantastic! But conscious attention is like radar. It’s a troubleshooter: it’s looking out for sudden changes in the environment, and so notices only those things which have survival value. Everything else is unimportant. But what unimportance! You see? That, again, is noticeable with mystical types of consciousness: that you suddenly realize that nothing is unimportant. You thought, “Well, I never, never looked at that before, but my god, how gorgeous these stains on the wall are! And when a person talks I don’t simply listen to the message, I listen to every intonation of the voice. This is absolutely beautiful!” Otherwise, you see, we’re screening all the time. We don’t notice those things. They’re rejected. Unimportant.


Children, you see, suddenly drag up to their parents’ attention all sorts of things that are not supposed to be essential. I often remember, as a child, pointing out something and asking what it is. Well, there wasn’t even a word for it. And I was thinking something the other day. In Japanese there’s a style of talking which we would call declamatory. Ordinary Japanese is a rather unexpressive language from our ear. They talk with their teeth closed. Anato wa, Suzuki-san deska? But they have a way of going Uttoyo dowo shuzu-yo gotsui naueo wotsui jokogoe! This is used on stage and for wrestling matches and things like that. And I said to the Japanese, “What do you call that style of talking?” He scratched his head and thought and thought, and said, “We don’t have a word for it.” Also, in singing, when you get American folk ballads, there’s a kind of way of singing where the voice suddenly drops into the speaking. I can’t think of a song at the moment which does that. But you’re singing along, and the voice lowers and goes into the speaking mood. What do you call that when a person does that. There isn’t a name for it, I’ll bet you. So, you see, these are the sort of things that a child notices and says, “What’s that?” And somehow, they’re things that have been beneath our notice, or we never thought about that; we weren’t aware of it.


So when people do become aware that the world isn’t divided into the important and the unimportant—that’s only a special point of view if you’re interested in something. It’s like somebody, like myself, who knows nothing about hairdressing, walks into this room, and sees people have hair, and it’s okay or not okay or something. But if I were a hairdresser I would notice everybody’s style and think, “Well, gee, I wish I could make that one over,” or something, you see? I noticed it because it was important to me.


So when, however, things are opened up and you realize that everything has a significance, life is suddenly immensely enriched, as well as the feeling of harmoniousness. Thus far, we can talk about these things in a sort of plainly physical way. I haven’t introduced any hocus-pocus, have I? I’ve talked about things that don’t require any claims to divine revelation or knowledge behind the scenes. And already we can see that an alteration of our sense of life, our state of consciousness, could have amazing consequences for people and could be extremely healing, whole-making.


But you see what is involved here. Two things. Number one: this very, very difficult and problematic act of loosening up, letting go, opening out of awareness. When you do that, it is the same sensation that is called in religious language self-surrender, abandonment to the divine providence, or whatever you want to call it. Thy will be done. Only, “thy” is not necessarily someone else, it may be you—the real you. But there’s a problem about that, for one thing. The other problem, deeper yet, is this coming to be aware of another identity than that contraction of conscious attention which is the sensation of the ego. Is this something (in the ordinary sense of the word) physical? And, in any case, what do we mean by physical?

Part 4

Gamble with Glee


Now, this morning I was discussing what might be called the myopia of consciousness and the way in which it gives us a deprived sense of reality—the way, in other words, that the feeling of egocentricity is actually identifying ourselves with a restricted part-function of our total organism; with a lookout system which, you might say, squeezes our awareness into a single channel which is very intense and, in a way, bright, but at the cost of ignoring everything else that’s going on so that we fail to see certain relationships and connections. In other words, we fail to see that space and solid, self and other, I and thou, yes and no, and finally life and death, are so interrelated and so interdependent, so (in a word) polar, that they are, in a way, simply two aspects of the same thing, and that this is the entire foundation, the entire clue to our sense of alienation from the world on the one hand, and on the other hand to our failure to feel that our essential selfhood is not merely something that confronts the world, experiences it, comes into contact with it, but that our essential selfhood is it.


If this cramp of consciousness—which I said is called in Sanskrit saṃkoca, or “contraction”—is somehow released, then we regain the fundamental awareness that is native to our organism: the awareness that we had in a rudimentary form as babies but never was developed, which Freud called oceanic consciousness, that is the clear knowledge of the very, very, really obvious fact that each one of us is a focus of the entire cosmos. Or of simply, for want of a better word, what there is. And that this is eternal, this manifests itself in comings and goings, but it’s so absolutely the fundamental reality that, once you know that that’s you, there aren’t really any further problems—there are lots of possibilities in the sense of games and things that can be played—but in the sense that life utterly ceases to be problematic with a capital “P.”


Now then, this returns us, then, to a question that I raised in the beginning. I said what I mean by metaphysics is really the question of: what are your basic assumptions? What are the stakes, really, in living? I quoted Camus, who said that the only really serious philosophical problem is whether or not to commit suicide—that is to say: is the game worth the candle? And in order that the game should be worth the candle, we’ve got to consider the nature of gambling. What sort of a gamble is worth making? Is life, is existence, a gamble where we should say: well, you’ve got to be kind of careful about this. Don’t get too involved, you see? Don’t put your shirt on it. Play it cool and cautious. Well, I’m going to ask: what are you going to win on the basis of that game? All you’ll win, you see, is anxiety. That’s all you’ll get. You’ll get enough goodies to make you go on being anxious. As Saint Augustine put it—well, he put it in another way—he said that God has put salt in our mouths to make us thirst for him. But I would say rather this is like quenching your thirst with salt water. It just makes you more thirsty.


And so that basis for a game—when it is the game of existence itself; the game on which, you see, you’re going to bet everything—this isn’t a good assumption for a game. One of the most interesting questions in the world is: what makes a game worthwhile? What makes a game interesting? And the answer is, of course, gambling is what makes it interesting. And you can figure that, at Las Vegas, some table there where there is one of those great Greek gamblers, and he’s been winning solidly and steadily all evening. And then, as a great show at the end of the evening, he suddenly decides that he will gamble all his winnings on whether the ball lands on red or black. Well, you see, everybody’s going to gather from the whole casino and come and watch that one. And if he loses—well, it was great. Because actually, supposing he wins: what does he have? Something to play further games with.


So my critique of the whole nineteenth-century mythology of the fully automatic model of the universe—the billiards model, and the other model, the hydraulic models, and all those kind of put-down versions of the cosmos—my critique of all of them was that they were tepid. They were simply ways of striking a posture and saying, “We poor little human beings are all alone, confronted with this inane machine called the universe. And we’ve got to make the best of a bad job, and we know we’re going to lose in the end. But still, while there is life, there is a possibility for something—but you’re going to lose.” And, you see, that is the thing that I feel is the real poison in the whole of modern thought. To say, “Well, one day the sun’s going to go out.” Or, “One day the air’s going to freeze and turn liquid.” Or, “One day we’re going to be hit by a comet or an atom bomb or a something,” you see? So what’s the use? What’s the meaning? What’s the sense of it?


Now, you could say on the other hand: well, let’s go back, then, to the good old time Christian religion and believe that we’ve got a big daddy in the sky, and that everything’s going to be nice and great, or kind of a Christian Science scene that there really isn’t any evil, and that it’s all beautiful and sweetness in life. But there’s something about the imagery of those things that is not going to ring anybody’s bell anymore. I don’t know what it is about Christian Science churches and things, reading rooms, but they give me the heebie-jeebies. They’re so oppressive, so lacking in vitality and color and guts. And as for the old gentleman in the sky: obviously, nobody’s going to take that seriously.


Now, I want to read something to you to suggest another thing altogether, and this is a very curious document written by John Blofeld, who for many years has been well known in Zen circles as a rather good translator of Chinese Zen texts, and he wrote a very competent little textbook on Chinese Buddhism called The Jewel in the Lotus. Well, John Blofeld finally broke down some months ago—say, the 25th of May, 1964, and decided he would see what happened to him if he took some mescaline. I don’t think this is particularly important, actually, that he took mescaline. It has a certain importance in the picture, but it’s not the important thing in the picture. The important thing will become apparent to you.


But this is an account of his experience. I’m not going to read quite all of it—all the experimental details—but he starts out by saying: “Prior to the experiment described here I had entertained some doubts as to the claims of Aldous Huxley and others, which imply that mescaline can induce yogic experiences of a higher order.” And then he made the experiment with a friend in Bangkok, and it started out with a rather dreadful feeling. In other words, he got the terrible fear that can come up when you think you’re going to go insane and stay insane. In other words, that somehow you suddenly feel that you’ve got no inner anchor. Your very ego is nonplussed. You don’t have that sense you ordinarily have that there’s a sort of center of security to which you can retreat. He felt that going, and he was scared out of his wits, and says that “hell itself could hardly be more terrifying:”


And so, at about 1:00 p.m., I dragged myself to my bedroom, shut myself away from everyone like a sick animal, and fell on my bed. In my extremity I suddenly made a total surrender, and called upon my yidam. In Mahayana Buddhism it is taught that all deities

(and therefore a man’s own yidam, or “indwelling deity”)

are products of his own consciousness, and that when consciousness is unimpeded by the karmic encrustations left by the sensory experiences encountered during the long succession of lives, it is clearly seen to be not the property of the individual, but

(this is the yidam)

common to all beings to be the sole reality in all the universe. Hence salvation through self power and other power, God’s deities and so forth are in fact identical. Thus, a total surrender of every vestige of the self can take the guise of surrender to what is inside

(as in Zen, for example)

or to what is outside

(as in Pure Land Buddhism).

The yidam, or indwelling deity, which is synonymous with the original nature of Zen, and perhaps of the holy ghost of Christianity, is a concept which, to my mind, admirably covers both inside and outside. As the self beyond the self it lies beyond all dualistic categories. But viewed as the real you or me it is inside and viewed as universal. And viewed as universal, it is in a sense outside the individual.


So in his extremity he made a complete act of surrender to the yidam—that is to say, to whatever there is, basically.

Come madness or death or anything whatever, I would accept it without reservation if only I could be freed from the tension. For the first time in my life I ceased to cling—to cling to self, loved ones, sanity, madness, life, or death. My renunciation of myself and its components was so complete as to constitute an act of unalloyed trust in my yidam.


Within a flash my state was utterly transformed. From hellish torment I was plunged into ecstasy, an ecstasy infinitely exceeding anything describable or anything I had imagined from what the world’s accomplished mystics have struggled to describe. Suddenly there dawned full awareness of the three great truths which I had long accepted intellectually, but never until that moment experienced as being fully self-evident. Now they had burst upon me not just as intellectual convictions, but as experiences no less vivid and tangible than are heat and light to a man closely surrounded by a forest fire.


One: there was awareness of undifferentiated unity embracing the perfect identity of subject and object, of singleness and plurality, of the one and the many. Thus I found myself—if indeed the words “I” and “myself” have any meaning in such a context—at once the audience, the actors, and the play. Logically, the one can give birth to the many and the many can merge in the one, or be fundamentally but not apparently identical with it. They cannot logically be in all respects one and many simultaneously. But now logic was transcended. I beheld and myself was a whirling mass of brilliant colors and forms which, being several colors and several forms, were different from one another, and yet altogether the same at the very moment of being different.


I doubted that this statement can be made to seem meaningful at the ordinary level of consciousness. No wonder the mystics of all faiths teach that understanding comes only when logic and intellect are transcended. In any case, this truth, even if at an ordinary level of consciousness it cannot be understood, can in a higher state of consciousness be directly experienced as self-evident. Logic also boggles at trying to explain how I could at once perceive and yet be those colors and those forms. How the seer, the seeing, and the seen, the feeler, the feeling, and the felt, could all be one. But to me all this was so clearly self-evident as to suggest the words childishly simple.


Two: simultaneously, there was awareness of unutterable bliss coupled with the conviction that this was the only real and eternal state of being, all others (including our entire experience in the day-to-day world) being no more than passing dreams. This bliss, I am convinced, awaits all beings when the last vestiges of their selfhood have been destroyed or, as in this case, temporarily discarded. It was so intense as to make it seem likely that body and mind would be burnt up in a flash. Yet, though the state of bliss continued for what I later knew to be three or four hours, I emerged from it unscathed.


Three: at the same time came awareness of all that is implied by the Buddhist doctrine of dharmas, namely that all things—whether objects of mental or sensory perception—are alike devoid of own being (that is to say, reality as things in themselves), and are mere transitory combinations of an infinite number of impulses analogous to electrical charges. This was as fully apparent as are the individual bricks to someone staring at an unplastered wall. I actually experienced the momentary rising of each impulse and the thrill of culmination with which it immediately ceased to be.


I shall now attempt to describe the entire experience in terms of sensory perception, though not without fear that this will cloud rather than illumine what has been said. For the content of my experience, being supra-sensory and supra-intellectual, can hardly be made understandable in terms originally coined to describe the mental and physical content of ordinary perception. Reality, it seems to me in retrospect, can be viewed as a plasma of no intrinsic color or form that is nevertheless the “substance” of all colors and all forms. Highly charged with vivid consciousness, energy, and bliss, it is engaged in eternal play. Or it can be viewed not as plasma, but as an endless succession of myriads of simultaneous impulses, each of which arises like a wave, mounts, and dissolves in bliss within an instant. The whirling colors and shapes which result produce certain effects that recall flashes of rare beauty seen in pictures, dreams, or in the world of normal everyday consciousness. It can be deduced that the latter are in fact faint reflections of this eternal beauty.


I remember recognizing a well-loved smile, a well-remembered gestures of uncommon beauty, though I perceive no lips to smile, no arm to move. It was as though I beheld and recognized the everlasting abstract quality to which such transient smiles and gesture had owed their charm. Again, reality can be viewed as a god, dancing with marvelous vigor, playfully, his every movement producing waves of bliss. From time to time he makes stabbing movements with a curved knife. At every stroke the bliss becomes tense. I remember the plunging of the knife made me cry aloud, “That’s it! That’s right! Yes, yes, yes!” Or else reality can be viewed as a whirling mass of light, brilliant color, movement, and gaiety coupled with unutterable bliss. Those who experience it cannot refrain from laughing cries of “Yes, yes, yes! Ha-ha! That’s how it is! Of course, of course!”


I felt as though after many years of anxious search for the answer to some momentous problem I was suddenly confronted with a solution so wholly satisfying and so entirely simple that I had to burst out laughing. I was conscious of immense joy and of incredulous amazement at my own stupidity in having taken so long to discover the simple truth. Within this play of the universe there is endless giving and receiving—though giver, gift, and receiver are of course the same. It is as though two deities (who are yet one) are locked in ecstatic embrace, giving and receiving with the abandon of adoration. The Tibetan Yab-Yum representations of deities hint at this. The artists who paint them must be forgiven for their inability to indicate that giver and receiver are not only one, but formless—though indeed some artists manage to suggest the oneness by blending the figures so well that the Yum is not seen unless the picture is given prolonged and careful scrutiny.


During the experience I was identical with the giver, the receiver, and the incredible bliss given and received. There is nothing sexual about this union. It is formless. The bliss is all-pervading. The giver and receiver, giving and receiving, are not two, but one. It is only in attempting to convey the experience that the imagery of sexual joy suggests itself as perhaps coming a little closer than other imagery to the idea of an ecstatic union in which two are one.


Some of the conclusions I drew from the whole experience are as follows.

  1. Fear and anxiety as to our ultimate destiny are needless self-inflicted torments. By energetically breaking down the karmic propensities which give rise to the illusion of an ego and of individual separateness we shall hasten the time when reality is revealed and all hindrances to ecstatic bliss removed, unless bodhisattva-wise we compassionately prolong our wanderings in samsara so as to lead other beings to that goal.
  2. The world around us, so often grey, is the product of our own distorted vision, of our ego consciousness and ego clinging. By casting away ourselves together with all longings, desires, qualities, and properties that pertain to them, we can utterly destroy the illusory egos which alone bar us from the ecstatic bliss of universal consciousness. The key is total renunciation. But this, alas, cannot often be achieved by a single effort of will because each of us is hemmed in by a hard shell of karmic propensities, the fruit of many, many misspent lives. The three fires of desire, passion, and ignorance are hard to quench, and yet they would be quenched in an instant could we but make and sustain an act of total renunciation. Such an act cannot result from effort or longing because these would involve our egos, and thus actually strengthen them. Thus, in the ultimate stage, even effort and longing for nirvana must be abandoned together with everything else. This is a truth hard to understand.
  3. The Buddha’s experience indicates that when enlightenment (i.e., full awareness of that blissful reality whose attributes include inconceivable wisdom, compassion, light, beauty, energy, and gaiety) is attained in this life, it is possible to continue carrying out human responsibilities. Behaving is required, responding to circumstances as they arise, and yet be free of them all. So it is with a talented actor who, in the part of Romeo, weeps real tears. When his grief for Juliet threatens to overwhelm him, he can withdraw inwardly from his role long enough to recollect the unreality of Juliet and her death, and yet continue to give the same fine performance as before.
  4. A single glimpse of what I saw should be enough to call forth unbounded affection for all living beings. For however ugly, smelly, or tiresome they may seem, all that is real about them is that gloriously blissful, shining consciousness which formed the center of my experience. Hatred, dislike, disdain, aversion for any being sharing that consciousness (that is, any being at all) must amount to blasphemy in one who has seen being itself.


It may be objected that my description of the experience is too closely reminiscent of Mahayanist imagery, and that what I perceived was not reality at all but a mere subjective illusion based on the content of my previous studies and practices. The answer to this objection is that, as Aldous Huxley brought out so well in his Perennial Philosophy: in all ages and all countries, everyone who has undergone a profound mystical experience, even though in essence its content is apparently the same in every case, has been compelled to fall back on the imagery of his co-religionists or those for whom he writes. The experience itself is so unlike anything known to us in ordinary states of consciousness there are no words to describe it. Moreover, while my own experience fully confirmed what my Mahayana teachers have taught me, it was much too foreign to my previous understanding of those teachings to have been a subjective illusion based upon them.


So you can’t say much more if you want to put a complete plus on the whole scheme of things—except perhaps this, which I will go a step further and try to say something that I don’t think he has said here. In this kind of experience he describes—you see, he starts out by describing intense light, intense bliss, and a feeling of unusual unity. “Something,” as he says, “quite unlike anything that I had ever experienced before.” And in this state of consciousness—as I was saying this morning—you see the connections. You see the going-with-ness of, say, your sitting in this room at this moment with the sound of the water outside, and of your sitting in this room at this moment with the war in Vietnam, and of millions of people rushing up and down on the freeway, and of this, that, and the other. It all goes as much together as head and feet.


And so there is at first something ecstatic about this, something enormously unusual. But as you look deeper and deeper into this experience you are amazed to discover that it is exactly the same thing, in no whit whatsoever different from what we call ordinary consciousness. In other words, you’re sitting here now and feeling maybe puzzled, maybe interested, maybe sleepy, maybe worried about some business concerns, health concerns, anything like that. To be in that life adventure, you realize that this moment is in no whit different from anything that could be described as any imaginable paradise or heaven. That being the maximum that you could possibly imagine in splendor and glory, light, et cetera, et cetera is all, as it were, concentrated into what you feel now. And this is the oddest thing I think I have ever experienced.


Now here’s the problem. He said in this article that none of this happened until he somehow made an act of surrender. The whole point was to give up. So that, in other words, if you are aware of yourself at all, you realize that you go around from day to day in everyday life fighting everything. You’re full of resistances and blocks. And you can feel it right in here, and maybe other places, too. That’s why we get ulcers. Fighting it just in here too much. And you get this sense of—you know, if you fly a lot on airplanes, and they take off, you know, you wonder if they’re going to make it, and you may find yourself going tense. Of course, this is not going to help the plane to get off the ground. But you do, don’t you. You know?


And so let’s suppose somehow it were possible to give all that up, to let go completely—in the sense of what the Buddha meant being desireless. See, you must understand about Buddhism one thing: it doesn’t say give up desire so as not to be disappointed, it says—really, the meaning of it is—you don’t need to desire anything because you have everything. And it’s only because you start desiring that you forget, through desiring, that there isn’t any need to desire anything. So it’s a tremendously, shall I say, positive attitude rather than one of a kind of disdainful withdrawal from the world that is intrinsically a mess.


But then, you see, there arises this whole problem that you can’t do it on purpose. The moment you are in the position of trying to let go so that you will experience this glorious affair—whatever it is—you’re back in desire. You are denying what seems to me to be the peak of the whole thing, that the here-and-now experience is in no respect whatever different from the big one. And so you get into this situation of seeing that, really, all that’s necessary, you see, is to be what you are.


But now, what will be the difference, you see, between what you might call just ordinarily being what you are—you know, just goofing along the way we ordinarily do—and somehow really being what you are when there’s nothing you can do about it? And you think: well, alright, there’s nothing I can do about it. I just go along being as I am. But that’s already too much. That’s what’s called in Zen legs on a snake, or a beard on a eunuch. We would say gilding a lily.


So in seeing, you know, that—well, let’s say you wouldn’t be here at all unless you had a sense of urgency about it. Even idle curiosity is a kind of urgency. And you know that something has got to happen; just it must happen. But as you pursue it you come to the understanding that it can’t happen. That is to say, there’s no way of making it happen by any trickery whatsoever. In other words, you can’t—like a clever girl will sometimes run away from a man in order to attract him. Nature abhors a vacuum. But you can’t play that trick on this. A lot of people, you know, practice passivity and letting go and so on, but in the end they come to see that they’re being fake and phony, and that their passivity is really a form of acquisitiveness. It’s a new way of getting it. So now there comes, then—there supervenes—a kind of desperation. Because you strain, as it were, to find something that has to be done, and there really isn’t anything. Not even not doing. You can’t even contribute that to your own salvation. Because the whole thing is here.


So when people pass over that hump and write what he’s written, they can only say: in retrospect what happened was that, suddenly, my giving up consisted in was—you see, the giving up was the same thing as realizing that there was nothing whatever to be given up, or done, or achieved. Do you see that? It isn’t that you give up and then, as a consequence of that, some new state supervenes. It is that the giving up, the surrender—although it may be described by someone trying to, as we’ve described events by breaking them down into stages and pretend that there are more events than one event, so in this way a person trying to describe this sort of thing in retrospect will say, “Well, I gave up first and then this happened,” in a way, of course, that it does sometimes follow in that order. Because this sort of experience can come in a condition of extreme crisis—when a person is about to die, for example.


I remember an instant of it as a child; that I had a dream. I had a very bad case of flu, and I had delirium. And I had a dream of being bound spread-eagle, face down, on a steel ball that was, say, in diameter about as high as this room. And in the dream the ball was spinning as fast as it could go, you know? And I had this sense of absolutely sickening nausea. And I knew intuitively that this was hell. This was never, never, never going to stop. Well, you see, this is a very critical feeling. And there was nothing for it but to accept. You know, one didn’t accept because that’s what you ought to do, it was because it was the only thing you could do. And at that very moment in the dream, the ball—which was at the same time in orbit, sort of around the world—hit a mountain. It disintegrated completely. And the next thing I knew was: I was sitting on a sunlit beach, great stretch of sand, and all that remained of the steel ball were crumpled fragments of tin. But this was an extraordinarily vivid dream of the opportunity in extremity; the point when you come to it that there is nothing for it but to surrender.


There is a story, too, of a kamikaze pilot who survived because the works of his plane went wrong, and he fell in the water instead of hitting the aircraft carrier. But that when he was actually on course, and he knew he was going to hit that aircraft carrier and blow himself to pieces, and there was nothing else for it but to do that, the same thing happened, see? He suddenly was completely free of the burden of self, and whammo! So the same vision that this guy is describing.


So one way, in other words, of producing this sort of satori is to get people into an emergency. And those Zen teachers who use the kōan method use it very largely to produce a state of what they call the great doubt: of intense crisis where a person is simply beside himself to get this and finds no way through that’s called in Zen the mosquito biting the iron bull. But that’s not—there are, as it were, other ways. This is not, as it were, a necessary, only way. The whole problem is: can you—in any case, who’s “you”? Just see that you can’t surrender, you see? You can’t give yourself up. There’s nothing to give up. You try to give up yourself—that means you think you’ve got a self to give up, to get rid of. And if you could succeed in giving yourself up, you’d be able to pat yourself on the back and say, “Gee, I did it!” But you can’t even have that credit.


But, you see, what a—we may say: alright, alright, maybe someday, somehow, this may happen to me. But for the time being, two questions. Is it true? You see? When I get through with this, is this this hallucination because I put myself through great psychological trial, and then it all went to my brain and addled it? And also, let’s think another thought about this question someday. Well, now, as to whether it’s true. We were discussing—really, it’s a silly question to ask: is it true that you exist at this moment or isn’t it true? What difference would it make? But I do feel this. That, you see, as a certain kind of assumption, while you’re about it, you know, why not bet everything? Which is what this is. If you’re going to live at all, you see, and not commit suicide and not pussyfoot around about it, why not operate on this assumption? Because you can’t lose anything this way. The only thing you can lose is the anxiety that goes with pussyfooting. And then, on the other hand, about this question: when, how long? You must realize, you see, about giving up that it isn’t really a question of giving yourself up. Because what you call your existence is at every moment a state of being given up. You are being disposed of. You are running away like a river. You are evaporating like alcohol. And what you call your existence is simply the process of evaporation, of transience, of passing away, and there isn’t anything to hold on to, and there is nobody to hold on to it. And if you say, “Well, that’s a very difficult thing to understand, and it’ll take me a lot of hard knocks and experience to understand it,” all you’re saying is: I don’t want to understand it now.

Alan Watts

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