We can consider the pursuit of pleasure in two broad senses: one which might be called lower, and the other which might be called higher—although I’m not very happy with that classification. There is the pursuit of material pleasure, an art very much neglected in this day and age because it must be carefully distinguished from the pursuit of theoretical pleasure. The pursuit of material pleasure is an art requiring a difficult discipline. Much devotion and much skill. And it ranges through all the activities of man: engineering, cookery, clothes, architecture, lovemaking, and the so-called fine arts, music, literature, painting, sculpture, and so forth.
But we are living in a culture where the pursuit of material pleasure is, as I say, neglected in pursuit of a symbolic pleasure, which—of course, like many religions—has its prayer mat. Because a monetary unit is, of course, useful in exactly the same way that inches, and hours, days, months, pounds, grams, and other units of measure are useful. But nobody has yet made a claim to fame by collecting inches: “I have more inches than you.” Because it is not a matter of social agreement that the possession of inches represents the possession of wealth. It is a matter of social agreement—and this is the only validity for money having any value whatsoever—is that everybody agrees that the chips are worth so much. And money is exactly like poker chips, except there’s an agreement between all of us that we will accept them in lieu of goods and services. But goods and services constitute real wealth.
And we are living in a society where we eat the menu instead of the dinner, because we are more interested in accumulating the tokens of wealth than wealth. And this flows over from symbols such as money itself into many other dimensions of life, because we tend, on the whole, to confuse symbol with reality. The idea that this world that we see with our five senses is a material world is merely an idea. Materialism as a philosophy of nature—dialectical materialism, naturalistic materialism—is a point of view. It’s a concept. It’s very, very highly abstract notion.
So, equally, is the notion that this world that we see with our five senses is basically mental or spiritual. That also is a concept. The actual world is neither spiritual nor material. There is no way of saying what it is because it is—like mystical experience—ineffable. It cannot be effed, or spoken: from the Greek fími, “to say.” So that world which is neither spiritual nor material is the neglected world. Most people think of it as material, but it’s very much overlooked. Symbols are substituted for it. That is to say, we have symbolic goods: people live in symbolic homes, drives symbolic automobiles, wear symbolic clothes which are valued for what they cost rather than for their quality.
And this is, of course (as I’ve insisted perhaps ad nauseam), especially manifested in what we eat. Our standards of cooking are improving thanks to Gourmet magazine and a few redoubtable people on the radio like Julia Childs. But, by and large, the food of even wealthy people is disgraceful. It is symbolized by bread, which is supposed to be our staff of life, and we eat nothing but a kind of consumable styrofoam fortified with vitamins, and you can read the list of them on the wrapper as if it were medicine.
Also, in the pursuit of pleasure in the form of the fine arts, we don’t really enjoy it. An enormous number of reasonably affluent people who attend concerts and go to exhibitions of paintings go there because they think they’re improving their minds. That, in some way, doing things like that is good for you. People go to church for the same reason. That’s the last reason for going to church—because it’s good for you. That is an absolutely morbid interest because it distracts you from what is going on. If you listen to Bach because you think it’s good for you, you’re not listening. In order to listen to Bach, you have to swing with it. And then you forget all about whether it’s good for you or not. In fact, it feels more like things that are bad for you. When you swing with Bach it begins to feel like sex. And as everybody knows, that’s terribly bad for you!
So I’m not going to dwell at any very great length on the niceties and the disciplines of the pursuit of pleasure in that so-called lower sense. I only want to say in passing that if you don’t have the realization that the pursuit of material pleasure requires a certain degree of asceticism, you won’t be able to pursue any other or higher kind of pleasure. Because asceticism is not unpleasant. Asceticism is like an olive between wines: it cleanses the palate. And what’s the matter with olives? It is like taking some sort of exercise which can be very pleasurable indeed, provided you don’t do it grimly.
There is a dreadful exercise being used today called jogging, which has absolutely nothing to recommend it. Because, to begin with, when I watch people jogging, they obviously show they don’t know how to run. They’re running mostly on their heels, and that jars the bones all the way through and upsets the vertebral disks and so on. And there’s a certain grim determination about joggers. They tend to run in straight lines, which they believe to be the shortest distance between two points. A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points on Earth, because Earth is wiggly. It is not a flat surface, except by courtesy of bulldozers and occasional freaks of nature.
This world, as I keep repeating, is a fundamentally wiggly phenomenon. But wherever human beings have been around, you will see they have a passion for Euclideanism. Everything is ruled out in straight lines, and put in boxes, and grid patterns of streets are laid across the surface of the Earth. And that tells you human beings have been there. Why this passion for Euclidean order? Because Mr. Euclid had a very, very simple mind and tended to think in these rather uninteresting shapes instead of in curvaceous wiggles. Now, nobody would fall in love with a Euclidean woman. What we appreciate about women is their curvaceousness, their wiggliness.
And wiggliness offends some people because they are not sure of it. They can’t figure it out. You never know quite what it’s going to do next. That’s why people often don’t like snakes, because a snake is the great symbol of wiggly vitality, of undulation, of waves. And all this world is fundamentally a system of wave vibrations. And if you cannot wave with it, if you are rigid, you will always be resisting life. So wiggliness and going with wiggliness—in other words, do you swing?—is fundamental to the pleasure of life.
But, you see, we think that order and getting things in order is getting them squared away. We always saying: let’s get it squared away. Let’s get it straight. And so there are certain kinds of people who are called straights and squares who do not swing. And as a result of that they are out of harmony with a wiggly universe, and their attitudes range from cookery at one end to religion at the other. Because a square religion is one that is too abstract, that resists the flow element of life. It wants a canal instead of a river. And it conceives heaven as a city rather than a rose garden. Paradise is a garden. And all the trouble began when people substituted the heavenly city for the paradise garden. When, in other words, popes began to be called urban and unbelievers were called pagan. Because a paganos is a country dweller, a man of the wiggles as distinct from a man of the streets. A liver under the sky instead of one who lives in a box.
Because the box, you see, is the great symbol of classification: what box are you in? All words are labels on intellectual boxes. Is it animal? Is it vegetable? Is it mineral? Three boxes. Is it solid or is it a gas? Is it Republican or is Democrat? Is it capitalist or is it communist? Is it Christian or is it heathen? Is it male or is it female? All boxes. And so, because we think in boxes, we live in boxes, all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same. And whereas certain kinds of fish live in beautiful shells. Glorious spirally wiggles on them and lovely colors. And we tend to want everything straightened out, you see?
And that rigidity is always in a fight with the surrounding fluidity. And so we are, as it were, landlubbers rather than men of the waves. And the British have always made a great thing about this because they’ve always associated freedom with the ocean. Who are so free as the sons of the waves and Britons never, never, never shall be slaves. Because of this seamanship.
Now, we think, you see, of the sea as fluid and the land as solid. And nothing could be further from the truth, as you’ve all experienced recently in southern California. The Earth is not very solid. It flows. Where I live, in Sausalito, we have along the waterfront a lot of land that has been reclaimed. And not so long ago they built a marina quite close to us, where they dredged out mud to make the marina, not realizing that land is liquid. Therefore, the land adjoining the water is sinking to fill up the hole made by excavating for the marina. People just don’t think of things like that because they think of land as solid.
And so, in religion we are seemingly looking for solids, for something upon which I can take my stand, for a firm foundation, for the Rock of Ages, or even—poor old Paul Tillich—for the ground of being. But we are not living in that sort of universe. We’re living in a fluid universe in which the art of faith is not in taking one’s stand, but in learning to swim. You don’t cling to, you don’t try to stand on water. By breathing and by a certain relaxation, you learn to trust the water to support you. This is even more true in flying in the air—gliding, especially—or in sailing.
In all those arts there is an adaptation to the fluid, and that is the major thing that we have to learn if we want to survive as a species—and survive happily. Nobody wants just to go on. One wants to go on in an elegant way. And even that passion for survival is something against pleasure. Because nothing ruins pleasure more than the anxiety to go on having it. More! More! More! Because that shows, when you ask for more, more, more and have the anxiety to go on, that you’re not having it now. You always think it’s coming. That you want jam tomorrow is more pleasing than jam today. And we say of something that is useless: it has no future. That’s the most awful thing you can say about it. I would rather say of something that’s no good: it has no present, not it has no future. Because the future is merely a promise in the same way as this symbol is merely a promise to pay. Promises, promises, promises.
So therefore, it is fundamental to pleasure that one learns to wiggle and not be stiff and rigid. As we would say: let go. Relax. That doesn’t mean become droopy. Relax means to become supple. It also means to learn the strength of your weight, how to use weight, how to flow with gravity. Water, for example, always flows with gravity. And it wiggles: it takes the course of least resistance and yet has tremendous strength. But we, in our white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethical system—not to mention our Irish Catholic one, which is really the same thing only a little bit more fancy and dressed up in lace—is to take a line of least resistance is considered cowardly and despicable. Go straight! KAFLUNG! Right through. The bulldozer ahead. Why go straight? We’ve got to get there! Fastest way! Shortest distance between two points.
Now I get back to jogging. That is not the right way to run. The right way to run is to dance. To dance across the countryside. And anyone who dances across the countryside will outwit and out-time the jogger. I don’t know if any of you witnessed the world cup in soccer last year on television. It was won by the Brazilian team, and I have never seen such soccer. That’s not the way they taught us to play it in school. As the Sportswriter and the London Times put it: they danced their way to victory. Because the whole thing was like very fine basketball, where instead of being this sort of tough pushing to victory, they were lilting with that ball. And the most incredible teamwork of subtle passing, bouncing it off almost any part of the body with a capacity to give it direction—with one’s back, with one’s shoulder, with one’s hip, anything; head—it was a beautiful art and a magnificent spectacle.
But, you see, we are not taught to do things that way because we are taught that life is serious, and therefore must be done in an efficient way—but according to Euclidean ideas of efficiency. In ancient times, when people worked, they used to sing. Hardly anybody sings anymore except at a performance of some kind or something like that. Imagine a bank teller singing as they were counting out the money: “Oh, the king was in his counting house, counting out the money. 5, 10 and 20, 30, 40, 50.” You know? Why not? What would happen if you were confronted by a singing bank teller? You would complain to the management and say, “This is money! It’s very serious! You can’t sing about it. Everything will go wrong!” Can you imagine a stockbroker’s working song?
I have seen people. I once had my shoes shined in a New York subway. That was a most extraordinary performance! Ba doo jee da! Dee doo dee da! Dee doo dee doo dee doo dee! Daa daa! Boo! Boo! Boo! Whzzht! Pshht! Whzzht! Pshht! You know? And he was swinging. And imagine—supposing you were a bus driver. You know, most people, when they drive a bus through city traffic, they are cursing and swearing and being angry and fighting the clock all the way through town. Well, that’s a disaster! But imagine driving a bus with the idea that going from here to there—the point wasn’t to get there, but the point was to go! And dancing that bus through the streets with very, very skillfully accurate traffic dodging. And when you get to a stoplight and there’s a jam, you play a little tune on the horn, or you pass jokes to the cab driver near you, or you play with the passengers. See, anything can be turned into juggling; into playing with balls. That’s why we say “Have a ball!” So this bus driver is swinging through the streets and he prides himself in the marvel of his terpsichorean art.
But people don’t do that. Because work is not supposed to be pleasant, because you get paid for it. You’re not supposed to get paid for enjoying yourself. See, that’s what I do, because I think I’m smart. I talk to you not because I think I’m doing you any good, but because I like talking about these things. And if you pay me for it, then I make my living. It’s as simple as that. I’m a sort of philosophical entertainer. But that’s the point: that the transformation of work is swinging it. And the curse of work—that came in the story of Genesis, you see—work became a curse because the tree of knowledge was the knowledge not of good and evil in the ordinary sense, but of the advantageous and the disadvantageous. The words in Hebrew refer to the art of metallurgy.
That’s where the trouble begins: when we use technology to get there fast. And the faster we get there, the less worth is the place of arrival because you’ve eliminated the distance between. And that’s what makes the difference between here and there: the distance. If you take it away, then there is the same as here. So there was no point going there. There’s no point going from here to Honolulu. None, whatever; it’s the same place to all intents and purposes. Certainly no point in going from Los Angeles to Tokyo. I mean, there are a few nice little bars in Tokyo where you can get sushi, but you can get them in Los Angeles now because Tokyo’s come to Los Angeles. So it’s practically the same place. And both have the same smog. The police in Tokyo wear gas masks when they’re directing traffic. You know, crazy. Is this wealth? You have a $150,000 house in Beverly Hills and live in poison gas. Crazy. That’s wealth.
So work, then, being regarded as a method of getting there effectively. A lot of businessmen imagine that they are practical people. They say, “Oh, I’m not in for philosophy and that kind of thing. I’m a practical man and I can get things done.” What? What is practical? Well, you made money, but that’s not practical until you spend it, until you enjoy it. And it’s very difficult to enjoy money. Money is a great responsibility. Besides, if you get lots of it, you’re afraid something is going to take it away. It gives you the jitters. You know, lots of people think that if they had a little more money, their problems would be solved. And they get it, and they worry about their health. There’s always something to worry about if you’re the worrying kind. Always. And it can get worse instead of getting better by achieving all those things you think will stop you worrying.
So the first principle in (we could call it) the art of pleasure is: you must swing. And that means—or at least it looks like, superficially—that you mustn’t take anything seriously. You must realize that life is a form of dancing. And dancing is, of course, not serious, and that’s why it’s prohibited by Baptists and gloomy people of that kind. They don’t approve of dancing. Even in the Catholic Church you don’t normally see priests dancing. I mean, it’s not because it’s sexy. You can dance without partners of the opposite sex. You can dance by yourself. But it’s considered undignified. This was all started by one of David’s wives. I think her name was… it wasn’t Bathsheba; I forget which one it was. Perhaps somebody remembers it better than I do. Anyway, he danced before the Ark of the Covenant, and she reproved him for being undignified. Because he didn’t sit stiff and rigid.
But what is the virtue in being stiff and rigid? As Lao Tzu said: “Man at his birth is supple and tender. But in death, he is rigid and hard. Plants when young are juicy and soft. But when old, they are brittle and dry. And thus, suppleness and softness are the signs of life, but rigidity and hardness are the signs of death.” I suppose some men confuse psychic rigidity with getting a hard-on, or at least substituted for it as they substitute guns, rocketships, and other things of that kind to manifest a masculinity which isn’t really there. But certainly women should uphold to us.
I mean, the real secret of women’s liberation is the liberated woman; the woman who is the human serpent. The wiggly one. The gentle one who has the power of water. And we should look to that, as Lao Tzu again said: “The valley spirit does not die.” The valley spirit, that is: the spirit of the valley. That is the feminine as distinct from the mountain, which is the male. And so, while being a man, you should have a certain feminine element. Because then you will become a universal channel. Hold to the masculine, yes. The mountain is necessary for there to be a valley. You can’t have valleys without mountains. But unfortunately, the gorgeous music of Handel has prevented us from realizing the horror of that biblical passage: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain laid low, and the rough places made plain.” Why, it’s happening all over California.
So the feminine—in the sense of the lilting, the playful, the curvaceous, the soft—is the neglected principal by all us Euclideans. And it is the principle of life and of nature. But the problem that exists for rigid people—and we all get rigid in the sense of resistance: resistance to life, resistance to change—is: how on earth do I stop that syndrome, which makes me [???] uptight. How do I stop that? Because it’s useless—almost useless.
And do you know that your basic sense of ego—of existing here and of being “I” as distinct from all that—do you know it is muscular tension of a certain kind? That is your the physical basis of your sense of identity. It is—for example, you can try this experiment. Maybe we’ll just try it. It’s the simplest thing to do. I just want you to look a little downwards at whatever view is just in front of your eyes. Just allow your eyes to rest on that. Just let the light, the color play with your eye, see? Just rested, easy. Now, supposing I said: “Now I want you to look hard at it. Pay attention.” To be totally attentive and aware of what is in front of you. So look hard. Now do that. Do whatever you would do if somebody told you to look hard. Now don’t do it. Just see, don’t look. Now, again, look hard. And now don’t do it.
So what’s the difference between the two states? What did you do when you were looking hard that you didn’t do when you were looking easy? Where?
What? How do you tense your brain? What did you tense?
Muscles around the eyes.
Muscles around the eyes? Anything else?
Narrow your focus to one thing instead of—
Narrowed your focus, yes. That was a muscular action.
Where do you feel concentration?
You all go tense. Tense all over. But, you see, muscular tension in your jaw, in your focal muscles, has absolutely nothing to do with seeing. The focal muscles of the eyes, all they do is simply open or close the aperture or move the lens in such a way that it comes in focus. It doesn’t need any effort to do that. In fact, the effort you make when you look hard distracts from your seeing accurately. But we are constantly making efforts to do everything we do. For example, to will something. We make all this absurd, muscular straining. Grit your teeth—doesn’t help you to do anything. And all this accumulates as a constant strain between the eyes in here, and that’s what you call “I.” It’s that sensation of totally unnecessary strain that exists all the time. That is the ego, the physical referent of the idea “ego.” Just that unnecessary strain. Because that tells you you exist. “Teacher, I’m trying. At least give me B for effort.” UGH! You know? And it doesn’t work.
So we could say psychic staring is the ego that we feel as being the center of myself, which is opposed to and which is resisting all that is defined as not myself. And so that rigidity of holding against life so that I maintain my shape, my form, my place—all the time that constant resistance—makes you uptight and unable to swing through fear of what will happen if you let it wiggle. And so, therefore, a non-wiggly person is unadaptive and a wiggly world. And so you get these insectual, mechanical-like behavior patterns that have to go on, on, on regularly. Always the same. Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug. And they are not adaptable. And it doesn’t hold up as we watch, you see? It isn’t holding up. The cracks are in the pavements. And, you know, the grass comes through. We’re squaring all the fish out of existence. What will there be to eat? Somebody said we’re going to be left with nothing but crows, crab grass, and inedible fish.
So this is, you might say, it’s a square world, but then you can always—not by preaching at people and condemning them, but by wooing them—you can get them to come off it. See, that’s the thing that I’ve often said: that preaching is no good. Because on Sunday you go to church, and the preacher says baa, baa, baa, baa, baa and lays down the law, law, law. In other words, he throws the book at you. Look at a church: the minister wears the same robes as the judge, and he’s got the book up there. And not only does he tell you what to do, he tells God what to do! And this endless talk fest goes on. And when you get to sing, you sing hymns. Well, hymns are religious nursery rhymes. They all have dreadful tunes and stupider words. And that’s all the singing, you know? Maybe the choir does an anthem. Nobody dances. And there’s nothing mysterious going on—except in the Catholic Church, and they’re trying to get rid of it. And, you know, translate the mass into English so that everybody understands it and finds out at last what it meant after all.
Sunday is supposed to be the day to swing. God worked for six days, and the seventh day rested. That’s a time-out. Time out from being rational and methodical and efficient. It’s like a Mardi Gras. It’s like the old meaning of an orgy. A carnival. You got to be crazy, a little. Because if you’re not crazy at regular intervals, you become insane. Because you’re too rigid, you don’t swing in the wind, and so you’re going to collapse.
But again, the problem remains. For the rigid person—and we all have a rigidity—how on earth do we release it? Because I noticed that people who undertake programs of de-rigidifying themselves—it may be psychoanalysis, it may be therapy of some other kind, it may be exercises, it may be a sensory awareness training, it may be encounter groups, it may be yoga—all sorts of de-rigidifying processes are done in such a grim mood.
I know there’s a book called You Must Relax. Because then people get into these things and they start playing games. You know, it’s like people who retire and they think they’re going to have fun. So they get on the golf course early in the morning. And instead of enjoying golf, which is entirely possible, they begin to think not in terms of athletics, but of mathletics. What is my score? See, they gamble on it. And that gives it the interest of the prayer mat; of the abstract aspect, you see? How much? What is my measure? Do I matter? “Matter” is the same as the word “meter.” See? “Measure.” Do I matter? And so they get this religion of golf and are playing all sorts of social games tied in with it. See? It’s very serious.
Then, when golf is over, they’ll go to the bridge table. When they’re completely worn out, they’ll get vaguely drunk. And this grim pursuit of pleasure goes on. And the religious people do it, too. They do their meditations at forty minutes before breakfast. UGH! You know? Meditate. Then they’ve got stages they can get through in it. And they wonder whether so-and-so is doing yoga with Mrs. X, and so-and-so is doing it with Swami B. And Mrs. X’s followers are afraid that Swami is phony. And it’s not quite the real thing. Well, how do you know whether he’s the real thing or not? Well, the genuine swamis can perform magic, and they can remain undecomposed in forest lawn for an indefinite period without benefit of embalming. Crazy! And now, what does that prove?
You see, it’s the same old thing. That is spiritual technology. And the people who want power, who want to get there fast, want results now—the same temperament that wants it in the management of the material world wants it in the management of the spiritual world. My yoga is more efficient than yours because it’s faster. I’m going to get there. So we come to the great question: where is “there”? You’re gonna get there. Where is it? What do you want? Where are you going? Very few people now.
Some people have a precise, (I would say) disciplined, clear sense of what they want. And they get it. And then they stop. As G. K. Chesterton once wittily said: “Progress is looking for a place to stop.” Very few people like that. Most people you see, when they think of pleasure, don’t have any very definite idea. Or else they have a definite idea, which isn’t really what they wanted. When they get it, they don’t like it. So the saying “be careful of what you desire. You may get it.”
But fundamentally, then, the question arises: where is “there”? Where’s your rush? Where are you going? To what are you progressing? Stop, look, and listen. Because you may be there already—only that you don’t notice it. From the point of view of a starving Indian in a Calcutta slum, we are all as lucky as Maharajas. Even the most penurious person in this room is, by comparison, the Maharajah. You’re there. You’ve arrived.
But you say it can’t last. Eventually I’m going to turn into a corpse. That gives you the horrors. Or you’re going to take a painful route to that end, And to be a terminal case and hospital on the end of a lot of tubes. Say: “I don’t want to disintegrate.” So how can I overcome that? So you turn to religion and say, “Well, physical demise is an unfortunate limitation of the body. So I’m going to identify myself with something beyond the body. So that I can believe that that will go on. And that will be the true vehicle of my personality. I shan’t lose all that I’ve acquired carrying around with me my bag of rubbish. I managed to smuggle it across the border.” They say you can’t take it with you, but you can if the guards can’t notice it—because the baggage is spiritual.
Do you know what the gate of heaven is? Hear about the “pearly gates”? People think it’s gates decorated with pearls—it isn’t. The gate of heaven (it says in the Book of Revelation) is one pearl. Of course, it’s got a hole through for the string. You’ve got to get through there. And you can’t get through if you’ve got a lot of baggage. So you’ve got to leave your past behind to get through. Now, what happens to you when you get rid of your past? Forget it all; forget who you are. The future, of course, is the past reflected in your rear-vision mirror. And as McLuhan says (he borrowed the metaphor from me, as a matter of fact): we’re like people driving, looking at their rear-vision mirror.
So you’ve got to let go of all that past in order to get in through the pearly gate. And what is left of you when you let go of your past? What remains? You can’t bring out your education. Can’t bring out your ancestry. Can’t bring out your distinguished accomplishments, the things you’ve done. Because they say, “Well, you’ve done all that. But let’s see what you can do now.” Where are you? Who are you when you have no past? After all, there isn’t any past. Where is it? Twist your common sense around and see that you’re not being shoved by the past, you’re just leaving it behind like tracks. It’s not pushing you unless you insist on it.
You can always pass the buck. Everybody does that. They say, “I’m a neurotic mess because my mother was a neurotic mess. I never had a fair chance in life.” And somebody says to your mother, “Well, you shouldn’t’ve brought up a child like that.” “Well,” she says, “it’s too bad. I know. But I couldn’t help it. I was a neurotic mess, and my father was just appalling, and my mother was dreadful.” And they look back over their shoulder and say, “Well, it was our parents.” Everybody passes the buck to the past until it gets back to Adam and Eve. And you know what happened there? They passed the buck, too—to the serpent. And God looked at the serpent. He didn’t ask, “Hast thou eaten the fruit of the tree whereof I told thee thou shouldst not eat?” He just looked at the serpent, and the serpent didn’t say anything.
So the serpent—the wiggle—it really doesn’t have a past. Because it wiggles from its head backwards to the tail. And it’s always the head where it starts. So are you a head? Or are you just a tail? Do you move backwards or forwards? Which way are you going? See, if you’re leaving your past behind you, it doesn’t drive you. It wells up out of a mysterious present, ever new. This moment is the creation of the universe. It’s starting now! If you look back and back and wonder whether there was a big bang a long time ago, all you’ll see is vanishing traces. The big bang is happening now. This is when the world begins. You’re doing it. Only, you’re not doing it by straining. A you deeper than the straining you is doing all this. The same you that is growing your hair and coloring your eyes and making your thumbprints and all that. But you don’t think about it. You don’t strain muscles to do it. But that is what is creating the world. Here it comes. Now.
So instead of thinking that the past is the reality which explains everything that happens now, let’s look at now and see it happening. Where does it happen from? That’s a question asked only by people who think that the past causes the present. They always want to know where it comes from? Who started it? What makes it happen? Supposing nothing makes it happen? Supposing it happens. Well, what is “it” that happens? Again, we get to this basic question: what is it that you want? Where is it? What you looking for?
It’s the same question as: what is reality? What is now? What is life? You won’t get at it by analysis of all sorts of things into their components. You won’t get it by labeling it in various ways and calling it names. You can only find out what it is by looking at it. By feeling it directly. And all kinds of classification where we say, well, it’s animal, vegetable, mineral; it’s this, that, and the other, is putting it in boxes and tidying it up. That’s how you tidy up: you put everything away in a box. And then you have boxes inside boxes and all that sort of thing. That’s tidied up. But when it’s all put away in boxes you can’t see it. Now, instead of putting everything in boxes, let’s just look at it the way it comes.
Now, that’s enough to start with. I’ve therefore discussed the principle of the necessity of wiggling. Only, when I say necessity, you mustn’t take that word in a Calvinistic sense. We’ll talk about the pleasure of wiggling as a means of adaptation to the wiggly world.
The human being is of such a design that it perceives everything by contrast. There is no way of knowing whether the real world is arranged the same way or not. But we are a nervous system composed of neurons in an extraordinarily complicated pattern, based on a very simple principle called “is you is or is you ain’t”? The neuron—in transmitting any sensory input—either fires or doesn’t. So you could represent the fact that it fires by the figure 1 and that it doesn’t by the figure 0. And out of zero and one, with those two integers alone, you can represent all conceivable numbers. This is called binary arithmetic and it is the kind of arithmetic that is used by digital computers.
Messages in 0-1 language can convey not only mathematical and verbal information, but also information that comes out as television; both black and white and in color. And through the same notation we can convey solid objects. You can turn a solid object into terms of this notation at one end of a process and have it come out at the other end of the process engraved in plastic, enlarged or diminished at will by the operation of laser beams. So one is tempted, therefore, to think that “is you is or is you ain’t” is fundamental to the universe.
The Chinese thought so, and therefore devised the yang and the yin; “yang” meaning “positive” and “yin” meaning “negative” principles upon which they based the Book of Changes, the I Ching, showing the various combinations of yang and yin that constitute the 64 basic situations of life. They took hexagrams, made up of six lines. An unbroken line representing the yang and a broken line representing the yin. So if you have six lines with the two possibilities for each line, you get 64 different hexagrams.
They use this for making decisions. When it was necessary to make a decision, you would (by a random process) arrive at one of the 64 hexagrams, and on the basis of that decide what you were going to do. It’s rather like tossing a coin, only this coin has 64 sides instead of two. But it all comes down to: is it heads or tails? Is it yang or is it yin?
It seems absolutely basic to our life. And it’s rather awkward, because when we apply this to the pursuit of pleasure, it seems to be saying: yes, you can have pleasure, but you will not know what it is unless you can contrast it with non-pleasure. And if you want to know pleasure, then you must have non-pleasure. If you want one end of the spectrum, you’ve got to know the other, because you can’t have a one-ended spectrum any more than you can have a magnet with one pole.
And that seems to put an awful kibosh on everything we’re trying to do. Every sort of achievement, every sort of progress, sort of rearrangement of things always runs into the problem that what you gain on the roundabout you lose on the swings. And this is dispiriting, to say the least—but in a way, oh, how true! So let’s look into this business rather thoroughly. Because if you understand the yang and the yin, you really understand something.
The first point is this. Let me sort of clarify the situation in its most simple terms. We’ll take the contrast of black and white. Now, obviously, if I’m confronted with a black background, there is nothing particular to register upon my attention and I am as good as blind. If I’m confronted with a purely white background, there is nothing in particular to attract my attention and I am as good as blind. If, however, I’m a naughty little boy and I’m confronted with a black wall, and I have a piece of chalk, I am tempted to make a mark on it. And if I am confronted with a nice, clean white wall and I have a piece of charcoal in my hand, I’m tempted to make a black mark—because nature abhors a vacuum. So here I have a black ground with a white dot on it, and a white ground with a black dot. Interesting.
Now, of black and white, which is positive and which is negative? If I look at the white background with the black dot, I shall be inclined to say that the black is positive—because it’s the thing, it’s the mark. If I look at the black background with the white dot, I shall, on the other hand, be inclined to say that the white is the positive—because it’s the thing, it’s the mark. I can think of white as positive in general in that it’s light, and black as negative because it’s darkness. But I can also think of white as negative because it’s blank. French: blanche. I can think of black as positive because it’s not blank. It’s all filled up. Then again, I can think of the dot as being the negation in both cases. Because my black background with a white dot is a picture of a wall with a hole in it. And my white background with a black dot is a picture of a box with a hole in it. But I can choose it either way I like; call white negative and black positive, or vise versa. But it’s difficult to do both at the same time.
Now, they are, of course, these two, as different as different can be. We say it’s as different as black and white. Or we also say these two points of view are the poles apart—and we use the word polarization rather incorrectly to indicate an increase of discord in the society, whereas polarization is really a form of harmony. The two poles of the Earth are the harmony of the Earth. The two poles of the magnet of the harmony of the magnet. Because they’re like male and female. A man, a woman are not the poles apart in the sense that they have no common ground. We could say you can’t have a fight between a shark and a tiger, because they have no common ground. One lives on land and the other in the water. But there is common ground between poles. Obviously, the common Earth is the common ground between the north and the south and the common magnet, if it’s electrical. The circuit runs from the positive to the negative. And the circuit won’t begin to run until a negative pole is established. That’s what happens when you turn on the switch.
So therefore, although the black and the white, the positive and the negative, are as different as different can be, they’re also the same. Because they are differences of one; of one field. And this is what makes the difference between what we’ll call an exoteric point of view and an esoteric point of view. In philosophy, religion, and so forth, from the exoteric point of view, the black and the white are emphasized with respect to the difference: good and bad, life and death. Oh, how different. Light and darkness. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. That’s the exoteric point of view.
But always, behind that, there’s a secret. Every religion has a secret. There’s always something esoteric. What is the esoteric thing that is only revealed to initiates; to people who can stand it? It’s simply that black and white, although explicitly different, are implicitly one. Because you can’t have one without the other. You could say black is white, if by the word “is” you mean “implies”. The Buddhists say emptiness is form and form is emptiness. The Chinese way of saying it is not quite the English way; it doesn’t equals. It rather means, Chinese is saying: void that form, form that void. In other words, it implies; it goeswith, if I may invent a word.
So we say that is esoteric. You mustn’t let it out in church that God has a dark side as well as a light side. But it says so. Isaiah 45:7—“I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create the darkness. I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” Well, there’s your answer to the problem of evil. But that, you see, we don’t let out, because someone who wants to commit a murder, they say there’s no reason I shouldn’t commit a murder, because if somebody didn’t commit murders, you wouldn’t know what nice people were. If somebody didn’t steal or cheat, you wouldn’t recognize honest men. Like, if it wasn’t a wet day occasionally, you wouldn’t enjoy the sunshine. There’s no getting around it that that’s true.
St. Paul wrestled with this problem when he saw that the law of Moses made people conscious of right and wrong. “I had not known that there was lust except the law had said, ‘thou shalt not covet’.” So therefore, he said (asking rhetorically), “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” Oh, mythi genito[?]! “Heaven forbid!” So you have to be careful that you don’t let this get into the hands of children. Like it says on the bottle of poison: keep away from children. And yet we have poison, and we have uses for poison. So, in the same way, we have uses for evil.
In the ordinary way, we do a balancing act between them. And what we do is this: we establish an in-group and say this in group, which is us, has a collective ego. And it is wrong to do anything evil to any member of this group. But it’s alright to do it to somebody who’s not in the group. Therefore, when we are going to be very evil to someone, we have to define that person as outside the group. And so we—like when Hitler was going to persecute the Jews, they were defined as not really human. And likewise, if we are going to persecute [black people], we define them as not really human. People can easily see, they can imagine that, because a [black person] looks so different from a Caucasian, that he’s more like an animal. Or you can take people who are generally thought to be insane and you can deprive them of civil rights without due process. They’re insane; they’re defined as not all there. They’re not human, merely bodies. Their mind is absent. We used to do that with heretics and other very seriously diseased people; lepers and so on. They were outcasts. They were not humans. And they were therefore outlawed. They didn’t have the protection of the in-group.
So the worst thing we can do in eating is cannibalism: don’t eat your own kind. You may eat everything else, but not your kind. But that still doesn’t get away from the fact, you see, that you cannot live without eating, and you cannot therefore live without death, without committing murder. I don’t know what the practical solution to that is, except one I’ve suggested is that if you do eat any living creature, at least you can show your respect by cooking it well. As Lin Yutang said: “A fish that has died for you and has not been well cooked has died in vain.”
Now, there are very, very interesting applications of this theory. Let’s look at some of the contrasts in terms of which we are aware. Primary, of course, is what is myself and what is not—which is a sort of contrast, not of two ends of a pole, but rather of the center of a circle and the circumference of the circle. Of course, those are two ends of the radius: one end still, the other end moving. And we say we feel there is a great difference between “myself” and “other.” I do not know your thoughts, I do not feel the pleasures and pains unless I am in a sympathetic relationship with you. I don’t know what you’re going to do. My actions are voluntary, yours are involuntary so far as I’m concerned.
And yet, when I think it over, I realize that I could not realize “self” without the contrast of “other.” I wouldn’t know what I meant by myself unless I meant something contrasting by someone else, or something else. “Self” means “self” only because “other” means “other” just in the same way as “is” means “is” only because you can think of “isn’t.” And you know what “isn’t” means because you know what “is” means, and you know what “is” means because you know what “isn’t” means. There is a relation.
And so, likewise, with the black and the white we see the relation. But that implies that self and other are inseparable. They gowith each other. Characteristic of the difference between self and other is voluntary behavior and involuntary behavior: what you do on the one hand and what happens to you on the other. This is not always quite coterminous with the difference between self and other, because when you have hiccups, you feel that it happened to you, but it was your hiccups—or belly rumbles, or headache, or whatever. What about when you breathe? Do you do it or does it happen to you? That’s a very moot case because you can feel you’re doing it, but you can also feel it happening to you.
So perhaps the distinction between the voluntary and the involuntary is a little arbitrary, a little vague. Certainly it is when it comes to breathing. But once again, I think how could I say of an act I’ve done it unless there were contrasting acts of which I could say I didn’t do them? So I need the involuntary if I’m to have any voluntary. So that if there is a union of implication between the two, I get the same sort of relationship between them as I explained when I said you can use white for either the positive or the negative symbol. In other words, I can regard what I do as what happens to me, and I can regard what happens to me as what I do.
It is in this sense that a Hindu or a Buddhist will say: if you have an accident, it was your karma. Because the word karma means nothing more than “doing.” You had an accident. It was your doing. Well, we would say that’s not fair. And naïve people suppose it was their doing in the sense that this mishap is a punishment for a misdeed you did at a former time. That’s only a superstitious meaning of karma. Karma means literally: “you did it.” But you did your accident in the same way, you see, as you do certain other things that are classified as involuntary, like growing your hair or digesting your dinner.
Because it all depends what you mean by “you.” If you restrict self to the voluntary, then you get the distinction between what you did and what you didn’t do. But if the self really must include the other and the involuntary, then others are your others and involuntary happenings are your deeds. That’s rather interesting. You may feel—as a result of seeing that—one of two things: you may feel that you really don’t do anything at all. That you are not completely deterministic universe where everything happens. That your own voluntary decisions and deeds spring out of unconscious mental mechanisms which determine them completely, so that you are at best only a witness of what happens. Or you can feel the opposite of that: you can feel that you are God, that you’re doing everything. That rocks fall, water is wet, and fire hot because of you.
Which is, in a way, true. Because the sun would not be light except in relationship to eyes that can see light. Nor would rocks be hard except in relation to relatively soft skin. Nor would they be heavy except in relation to a certain musculature. So by the way you are you evoke the way the world is. We might say there are some vibrations out there that are really out there. But these vibrations are not colored, or soft or hard, or light or dark, or light or heavy until in relation to some sensitive system. But then again, the sensitive nervous system is part of the external world. And the external world is an event in the nervous system. The inside of the box is outside the box, and the outside is inside. I mean, you know, it seems to flip flop perpetually.
Take, again, another contrast: the solid in the space. Most of us think that reality is solid, rather than space. We talk about hard facts. We talk about impenetrable reality; even brute facts. The hard always seems real, just like the black mark on a white background, even though it’s black, even though the solid is untransparent, unluminous, it seems to be more real than blue sky. This is a very partial point of view. Can you imagine a world that was solid without any space? The edges of the solid would be, of course, invisible. There would be no edges. Because an edge is a point of interface between a solid and a space. So if you take away space, you take away solid.
Alright, let’s take away solid, where’s the space? After all, you say of space: it’s a space between. If there are no limits, there’s no space. Even if you imagine purely empty space, you’ve always got the sense of yourself looking at it, and that’s the solid. Now, this is very awkward. Because we are quite sure that space isn’t there. We take no account of it and therefore get puzzled when our mathematicians and physicists begin to talk about curved space, or properties of space, or expanding space. People say—the ordinary, average person says, “You can’t talk like that. That’s bunk! Space can’t expand because it’s not there. It isn’t anything. It can’t do anything.”
Well, let’s see if a solid can. Let’s investigate a solid. You know what happens when you start going into nuclear physics: you find that, in any given solid, however dense a piece of steel it may be, there’s a great deal more space in it than there is any solid. The distances between molecules, the distances between atoms and subatomic particles are relatively vast. In something there’s a lot more nothing than there is any something. Because as you investigate and penetrate the solid, you find it to be increasingly spacious. Now, what happens when we investigate the spacious? How do you investigate space? Why, you go there. You bring in a solid. You map it.
So space and solid are really like poles. They’re limits. And the same with yourself and the other, the organism and the environment, the individual in the world. Go thoroughly into any one and you get the other. Ask, for example, the question: what do you mean when you love yourself? Love yourself thoroughly. I want you to be completely selfish as possible. Tell me: what do you love? Wowee! You see? Well, I like to… I like candy, I like beautiful girls, I like beefsteak, I like wine, I like good bread, I like the sun on a lovely landscape, I like clear water, I like music. Come on, now! Talk about yourself, will you, for a change! And I suddenly realize I can’t. When I love myself, I think of all things other than myself that I love. It’s very queer. But that’s what’s called the basic flip-floppability between the powers of opposites.
That’s why the Chinese represent them with these two interlocked commas that suggest the kind of blwwp, blwwp, blwwp, blwwp rhythm. So that when you get the full development of yang, you get the beginning of yin. And when you get the full development of yin, you’ll get the beginning of yang. That is, the one implies the other. So they’re always flipping; doing a flip. And doing a flip is the love that makes the world go ’round. You’ve got a double helix, so the male and the female. That’s the love position. The double helix. Spiral nebulae do this. So do creatures in sexual intercourse. The double helix: I’m chasing you, you’re chasing me. I love you so much I could eat you. I realized myself, you see, only through other. So in this way, then, we get another marvelous instance of the pairs of opposites. We’ve got the differences, and we see a unity between them. Then let’s contrast the principle of difference with the principle of unity.
Here we are again. We know what we mean by different because we know what we mean by one. So difference implies unity and unity implies difference. Now, what is it that lies beyond difference in unity? See, we found unity lying beyond differences. North and south. The difference is united. They are poles of one. Alright, now let’s take difference in unity. What lies between them? You could say your mind. As in the magnetic tape: what lies between the on signals; the one signals and the zero signals? Of course, the tape. They’re both on the tape. Only, the tape as such doesn’t register. It registers only in terms of yes or no. But you don’t get a signal tape with yes/no tape because it’s irrelevant, makes no difference. And yet, if there weren’t the tape there, you wouldn’t get any signals at all.
So is there something underlying yes and no, life and death, light and darkness? Well, that’s what we call God. Only, we can’t say anything about it because everything we say is a statement, and that implies an opposite. But as I pointed out in the beginning: this is so frustrating! Because we want to play a game with these opposites, you see? Just like we have opposites in chess: the black side and the white side. But we want to win. And we want to win—but then, when we think of the other fellow, we realize that if I’m going to win, you’re going to lose. It’s rather hard, isn’t it? Couldn’t we arrange for a game in which everybody wins? Then nobody wins. Nothing happened. There was no game.
So to try to play a no-lose game is impossible. We set ourselves an impossible task, and that makes us feel very frustrated. Always frustrated, because we’re trying to do what can’t be done. You want it good all the time. You want sunshine every day—okay, a desert for you. No, that’s not what you wanted, was it? Do you really want a world which is all positive? No, nobody really does. Only, we think we do. We think we ought to.
But it still bothers us. Because after all, if I come to the conclusion that it doesn’t make any difference, it’s going to be black and white, black and white, life and death, good and evil, alternately for ever and ever and ever. I can’t improve this world. I feel sort of sad, and I’m just going to sit around and vegetate. All the guts have gone out of me. And yet I can’t put up with that. I have an itch. Surely, there must be some way of getting through.
So what is it? Is there a great pleasure which lies beyond the ordinary contrast of pleasure and pain? What do the Hindus mean when they say that Brahman, the absolute reality, is satcitānanda? Sat: “reality,” cit: “consciousness,” ānanda: “bliss.” What is ānanda? What is metaphysical bliss? Joy beyond pleasure/pain, good/evil? Has such a conception even any meaning?
Well, in all the various accounts that are given to us of the mystical experience, they have an intense, joyousness: the sudden realization that the dark and the light constitute a harmony. They are not discordant. That, as somebody once put it to me—this was a lady of sixty or so, who was in an accident with an elevator, and she had her leg crushed. And they couldn’t get a rescue crew to her for half an hour. But she said: “During that time I had the most extraordinary experience. I realized there wasn’t one grain of dust in this whole universe that is out of place.” Pretty weird.
But from a strictly philosophical and logical point of view it doesn’t mean anything. If I say, “everything is good”—you know, sort of a Christian science attitude—it doesn’t mean anything. It’s no more, from a logical point of view, than saying “everything is everything.” That doesn’t tell me anything. It’s all good. It’s all happy. It’s all harmonious. And yet, if any one of you ever had an experience of cosmic consciousness, you know jolly well that those are no idle words. Because you can see the positive and the negative, the yes and no singing together, constituting each other in this fantastic dance in which the outward radiance, flowing outward of the white light, is at the same time the withdrawal of the black outline. And that withdrawal seems to be drawing aside a veil to show the white, the light. And if the veil didn’t draw back, there would be no light. The veil to the drawing back for the light to shine. Or did the light shove the veil back. If it hadn’t got a veil to shove back, where would the contrast be? So you see the light and the dark playing with each other.
So there is a concept in a game called good sportsmanship, which means that you can be a good loser, that you can play the part of “lose” with the same enthusiasm that you can play the part of “win.” And therefore, what you look for is a good opponent; someone who’ll really give you a run. And so what you do is: you let the opponent win every so often, and you have to try and keep yourself on top as just a little edge on the other one, you see? Well, after a while, you see, your consciousness changes and you find you’re always a little on top when you average it out. And that gets boring. So you’re going, after a while, to let the other person average out. But then you’re going to count the spaces. Do you see? For a year, you average out. Then you’ll allow your your partner to have six months averaging out better. And you get a little more daring and give him seven months. Then he’s going to catch up with you just at eleven months. And I’m going to come in again and I’m going to add another twelve months in which I’m the usual winner. See? The more you think of that, the more you think, “Well, I’m kind of a cad to be like this.” You’ve got to let the other person win.
Because you can’t maintain consciousness without the contrast, you see? That’s why people go in for adventure, why we take risks, why we do absolutely foolish things: toss a coin and see what happens. Go skydiving. Let’s go roaring around in racing cars. Let’s even have wars, see what happens. Because some people are cautious and say life is like a fire, and the thing to do is to keep it burning as long as possible. See, there are two kinds of pipe smokers: people who take enormous puffs and having vast clouds of smoke, and the pipe burns out very quickly, and the other people who very slowly take a puff and keep the pipe going for a long, long time. Some people like a quick, enormous flash. Others like a long, long, slow glow.
Who’s right? Who’s left? You can take it either way. You may go off with a whimper, but we will go off with a bang. The morning glory blooms for an hour, and yet it differs not of heart from the giant pain that lives for a thousand years. Fruit fly at the one end, bzzzt, lives a few hours. Tortoise at the other—slow, solemn tortoise—who lives for 500 years, but slowly. Maybe they both, from their own point of view, lived the same time. Maybe the fruit fly thinks a few hours are very long and the tortoise thinks 500 years are but four score and ten and all flesh is grass. From your own point of view, it’s always the same. Because it’s your point of view. If you are a person born to riches, you will feel it’s terrible to go down to poverty. But if you’re born to poverty, that will be the usual state of affairs. You will think it’s extremely lucky if you rise to riches.
But, you see, I haven’t really answered the question. Is there any way around this? Yeah, we can be a good sport, but it all comes out the same thing in the end. I mean, it balances out. And so what? What do you mean, so what? What’s wrong with it doing that? Would you rather it was different? Well, if you really go into your thinking, you find you can’t rather that it was different. When you see that you cannot have the positive without the negative, and if you want the positive, you’ll have to take the negative. You say, “Well, it’s making the best of it,” you know? As if to say, “Well, the thing’s kind of a lousy deal, but I’ll take it.”
But I would ask you: what else would you have? Suggest me a better arrangement. You suddenly find that if you do suggest what you think is a better arrangement, that that won’t be what you wanted. And you finally have to admit that you want it the way it is. Because the whole nature of wanting involves contrast. You want the good to be good, don’t you? You wanted it be real yummy. Okay. Alright, so I’ll give you nothing but chocolate éclairs with honey and a glass of champagne for breakfast every day, and for lunch and for dinner. Whew! You’ll soon get sick of that. Or I’ll give you a harem. You just keep it up day and night. Pretty soon you will say, “Will someone take me to a bar?”
So by following this through the relentless logic of “is you is or is you ain’t,” you come to the curious sensation that, after all, if I really go into this problem of life, it is the way I want it to be. If I look at it superficially and in a sort of short-run view, well, it isn’t the way I want it. I want it changed right now. See? And I will—you see, life is like sleeping on a hard bed. You lie on your left side for a while and then you say, “I can’t stand this anymore,” and turn on your right side. Same with politics. And you get tired of that, so you say, “Well, I’ll lie on my left.” You get tired of that little bit faster than you did before. You try the right again. And it’s boring, so you try your back. Then that begins to get rough. Then you turn over and lie on your tummy. And then you switch to your back. And to your tummy. And then you try your right side again, then your left, you see? And so you proceed.
But what else do you suggest? I would like it to be so that I was always comfortable. But you can see that, if you were, you wouldn’t know what comfortable is. So here’s this puzzle. It’s got two sides. Side one: I cannot beat the game of opposites. I cannot have more positive than negative. Side two: I wouldn’t want it otherwise, because I cannot imagine how to improve it. So, involved in this is a sudden and curious initial deflation. I’m out of sorts when I feel there’s no impression I can make on it. And yet I find: who is this “I” that’s tried to interfere and wants to be challenged and is put out of sorts?
Well, when I look for it, I can’t find it. I cannot find an “I,” “myself” opposed to “they” or “it.” Because how could I have the one without the other? So that feeling that I had of deflation, of frustration, was simply the realization there is no such thing as a separate “I.” Now, if you don’t want to feel that truth, you will resist feeling it. But if you’re open, this logic of the opposites of the game of black and white will lead you ineluctably to the conclusion that you have no separate self apart from what is called “other.”
So there you are. You find that you are the vibration system, which is what’s going on. You are the undulation, the pulsation, called existence. That’s you. And it’s going womm womm womm womm womm womm womm womm womm womm in ever so many different ways. Well, you say, “Is that all?” What more did you expect? “Well, I don’t know what I wanted. Just a little something more.” You mean you want a surprise? I think we’re back where we were a little while ago.
But the surprise is, in a way, this: we are looking in this system for that little something more which will give it meaning. But we’re looking for the wrong kind of meaning. The meaning of this “now you’ll see it, now you don’t,” “is you is or is you ain’t,” tcha-tcha tcha-tcha tcha-tcha tcha, this pulsation, goojidee goojidee goojidee goojidee goojidee—the meaning of it is not apart from it, away from it, something different. The meaning of it is the dance, you see? That’s why we get back to the point I made this morning. To get with this you’ve got to swing.
And swing means… I’ll give it to you in a Zen story. A Zen student said to his teacher, “It’s terribly hot. How do we escape the heat?” He said, “Why not go where it’s neither hot nor cold?” He said, “Where is that?” The teacher said, “In summer we sweat. In winter we shiver.” So it’s different from—in Shakespeare’s Richard II, where Bolingbrook is about to be banished, and John of Gaunt, I think it is, says to him,
In other words: don’t think the king has banished. Think that you have banished the king. You weren’t fired, you quit. Bolingbrook replies
In other words, if during the winter, I think of the summer, it’s colder. And if, during the summer, I think of the winter or ice cream, it’s hotter. So that’s why the Zen master replies, “In summer we sweat, in winter we shiver.” When it’s hot, eat curry. When it’s cold, try ice water. Swing with it! Roll with the punch. This is jūdō. Because the colder you make it, the hotter it’ll get.
Now we’ll have an intermission.
Now, you must understand that yesterday I was doing a demolition job. The negative aspect of what we’re talking about, the pursuit of pleasure, and by approaching it from two different points of view I was explaining the fact that there really isn’t anything that you can do to transform your consciousness into, shall we say, the state of pleasure, or ānanda, bliss, ecstasy, especially the very high ecstasy of everyday consciousness. There’s nothing! And I worked on this especially through an analysis of the nature of the opposites of perception by contrast. And so that leaves you flat. And so, from that place where we can apply the Turkish proverb “He who sleeps on the ground will not fall out of bed,” we can proceed to the positive aspect.
Now, what happens when we are at the end of the negative aspect? When we come to the depth of the yin-motion, which is the seed point of yang? What happens when you are really convinced that, first of all, there is nowhere to be but now, impossible to be anywhere else, to be conscious of anything else except what is present, and that there is no trickery which you can play on your mind—whether it be by an iron-forced discipline or by self-hypnosis or by any kind of hocus-pocus to bring about a satori, a state of illumination of cosmic consciousness or whatever you want to call it. Because this will always be a case of a vicious circle in which the person who needs to be transformed is attempting to do the transforming. In other words, it’s the old story of trying to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, trying to bite your own teeth, look into your own eyes without a mirror, gild the lily, put legs on a snake, beard on a eunuch, and so on. Can’t be done!
So at that moment, when that is clear, where are you? You may feel depressed. And what will you do about that? Well, there’s nothing to do about it. Because you would have discovered at this point that the depression, when it’s there, is the “you” of the time. And if you try to get out of it by some sort of distraction, you won’t really do anything except cover up the dirt with white paint. So if you feel let down, meaningless, somewhat depressed by this whole thing, and you see at the same time you can’t do anything about it, what happens? Why, you’re simply watching what’s happening. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. And it isn’t just watching something that is formally identified as a depressed state, because a lot of other things [are] going on, too.
There’s the world around you. There’s your breath breathing, still. Your eyes looking, still. Your ears hearing, still. All that’s going on. And you don’t know what to make of it anymore. You can’t believe anything about it because you know that’s all a hoax. So there’s nothing left for you to do but watch it. And you have become, inwardly, rather quiet just because you’re worn out. There’s nothing to do. And you realize that all escapes lead back to the thing you were running away from. You can take a detour. Detours, detours, detours. But they always get shorter. And you get back to where you started.
So when this sort of defeat of all enterprises and ideals and aspirations occurs, you find yourself naturally (and not in an affected or forced way) in the contemplative state where you’re just watching what goes on. And even if you’re automatically thinking about it, because you realize that those thoughts are futile so far as changing anything is concerned, you might as well try to sweep dust on the stairs with bamboo shadows. And so you watch your thoughts as if they were the ticking of a clock, or birds chattering outside the window, or water falling, or a leaky faucet. And they just chatter on and life does its thing. And you watch. The thoughts—because they’re just chatter—begin to go away. And the past has disappeared, because you know it’s just memory. The future has disappeared because it hasn’t happened. Never does, you know? Tomorrow never comes. There is no tomorrow. And if you don’t realize that, it’s useless for you to make plans for it. If you do realize there’s no tomorrow, then maybe plans will be of use to you. Because when they work out, you can enjoy the result. But if you’re not all here, you can’t. So tomorrow can only be handled by those who don’t take it seriously. So there you are.
Now, if you’ve read the literature (which many of you have) of mysticism, and yoga, Buddhism, Vedanta, so forth, you know it’s said again and again and again that this kind of vision, this way of seeing, is always dependent upon transcending your ego in one way or another; giving up. Well, here you are. You’ve given up. Only, you are not able to pride yourself on having achieved a great achievement. And this is the snare for all people who go into these spiritual disciplines that make a project of getting rid of their ego. And they’re terribly proud of it. They come home and brag about how much they suffered, how long they sat and had their legs hurt so much. They’re absolute bores. And this spiritual braggery is nothing more than blowing up and inflating the ego to a colossal degree, because the ego is undertaking the actually impossible but seemingly incredibly difficult task of getting rid of itself.
So when you run into this kind of thing, don’t be beguiled. All those disciplines to get rid of your ego have as their underlying design to persuade you that it can’t be done—not in a merely theoretical kind of persuasion, but so that you actually realize that you can no more get rid of your ego than you can put out fire with fire. It is precisely, you see, the ambition of the ego to be egoless. When you find a person who is what you might call frankly egotistic, makes no bones about it, he will be less egotistic, actually, than people who are very self-effacing. That’s a curious thing. People, for example, who speak very frankly and tell the truth and come right out and say whether they like you or whether they don’t, whether they want you around or whether they don’t, and you say, well, “Can I stay overnight?” And they say, “Sorry, but I’m tired and I don’t want anybody around.” You think, well, is that selfish? But that kind of selfishness is not really selfish, because with a person like that, you always know where you are. Nobody likes to impose on anyone else. And you can’t impose on that kind of person. That makes for a very comfortable relationship. So you owe it to other people to be as egotistic as you are. Then they know where you stand. But if you come out full of love and full of good intentions and make promises to all kinds of people and say, oh, you’ll do this, that, and the other for them, and then you forget about it or you’re too lazy or you think you’d rather not. They’ve been relying on you for your promises, and then you let them down simply because you weren’t selfish when it was time to be selfish.
So, you know, if somebody asks you, “Will you help me?” “Will you give me some money?” or something like that, if you’re not going to do it, say no. And you shouldn’t be ashamed of saying no. Because if you’re going to do no eventually, do it now. But if you say, “Well, I’ll think it over. I’ll go back and look at my bank balance,” that means, “No, but I don’t want to say so.” People are always fouling each other up that way. So it’s very important to be as egotistic as you are. Because the ambition to be less egotistic than you are is a very insidious form of egotism. And there is nothing more reprehensible than the ambition to be a saint.
So you found that out, you see, not by going through some project, some fierce discipline, to get rid of your ego unless, of course, you were the kind of nut who had to go through that and couldn’t find it any other way. That’s why I have nothing against gurus who put people through all sorts of complicated obstacle races, because those people asked for it. They wouldn’t have respected the guru unless he had made things difficult. It’s on the principle of: anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined. There it is!
Because let me repeat the point: you are responsible. And when you go to a guru, you did it. And you gave him authority to take charge of your spiritual development. And he’s going to show you that the authority was always yours. But he can’t do that by just talking. He has to carry the absurd things you are doing to their logical extreme so that you will find out. You are making yourself miserable. He will increase your tendency to do so until you find out that it’s you who are doing it.
Well, I say you find out it’s you who are doing it. Who is you? We never have to define this because it’s become like a point in modern geometry or mathematics. In the old Euclidean system we say the point is that which has position but no magnitude. A kind of absurd definition. But in mathematics today we don’t define a point at all. We say it’s a limit of size. And it’s much more useful that way. So when I use the word “you,” you know what I mean. But I’m not going to define it, because then we get thinking about: is the you immortal or mortal, is it eternal or non-eternal? Is it separate or is it one with? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And all these are silly questions.
The word “I,” as William James said, is a pronoun of position like “this” or “here,” or like the “it” in “it is raining.” So when I say, “I know,” “I do,” I’m not thinking that there is some agent “I,” who is the doer of deeds. “I do,” “I say” means the saying is coming from here as distinct from over there.
And there is no disjunction between the “I” and the saying. I am what I say because the saying is the act. This is “I” while I say it. So with the rest of the body I’m head-ing, I’m heart-ing, I’m stomach-ing, bone-ing, and that’s the “I” while it’s happening. This particular bone-ing and stomach-ing and heart-ing and brain-ing, you see? It’s all process, all wiggles.
But so, then, when you find naturally that the supposed “I” (the mythical soul in the body, ego in the brain, or whatever it is) is fictitious, is a social convention like the equator, and can’t do anything except the thought that it can do something simply gets your psychic processes going in a vicious circle. So then, at that moment, you are in the contemplative state naturally. You are neither trying to do something about it. You are certainly not trying to do nothing about it. Because you find the only thing you can do—now, this is interesting: the only thing you can do is let it happen. Whatever’s going on, let it happen. And you’re not even letting. How could you stop it? Because if you try to stop it, that trying to stop is all part of the happening. See?
So what have you discovered? When there is absolutely nothing to do except it happens—whatever does happen—you suddenly discover that you are what happens. That you’re not limited to what goes on inside your skull. That the wind blowing outside, the cars pouring down the road, the rattle of human life, the sun shining, and all that—that there is no you, there is no reality, that is apart from that. Then stay with that a while. Just don’t try and get that recognition back as something you had remembered. You had, suddenly, this flash, this insight of satori. And then you think, “Oh! Let’s let’s hold on to that! I don’t want to forget that. Let’s make a note of it.” See?
Ugh, wait a moment. You’re is still trying to pull a trick here. See what happens next. Don’t stay with that. Go on. The moment is always new, always fresh—whatever’s going on. Don’t try to fix it into any mold and say, “Ha-ha! That state of mind is satori.” See? “That I must keep.” Don’t keep anything! You can’t! It’s just like pouring water into a bottomless bucket. Let it flow through. Let it go on. And as you go on, you see something is coming to you all the time. You don’t know what it is. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. So you just watch. But don’t slide back. You’re always right where it’s happening, right at the critical moment, which is the moment. And don’t worry about whether you’re right or whether you’re wrong. Whether this is what you’re supposed to do or not supposed to do. There is no script—unless you insist on making somebody else’s script your script. And you see it coming at you. And yet you realize: it’s not coming at me from somewhere or someone else. This spontaneous arisal is me. There isn’t any me besides this. So when the chickens cluck outside, that’s just the same as my having belly rumbles. It’s all me from each one of our points of view.
Now, then, as you well know, those things in life which are most pleasurable almost invariably happen unexpectedly. They are not contrived. When I take students with me to Japan, the first thing I tell them when we sit down together is that this is not going to be a scheduled tour, except within certain rather vague limits. Many people, when traveling in foreign countries, see nothing because they see what they’re supposed to see. Somebody tells them, “When you go to India you’ve got to see the Taj Mahal.” “You must see the caves at Ajanta.” “You must see the burning ghats of Benares.” And so on. And they all go and see that so that they can say, “I’ve seen it.” And then they take these little black boxes (which are capturing devices for grabbing experience), and they fascinatedly go round, click, click, click, click, click, click, like this, and never see anything. They’re always looking at the aperture, figuring, and see that that’s right, and so on. And it’s an absolute drag, taking a camera! Especially if you are not a professional photographer. You know, you just have to preserve this memory of this one thing. Once in a lifetime! I got a chance to see the Taj Mahal! Click!
What I say to these people is: look, the Japanese have a phrase which is like our phrase “just follow your nose.” They say “follow your feet.” Because, unlike the United States, Japan is a very easy place to wander in. I mean, here it’s very difficult to wander. It takes narrow streets, funny courtyards, curly kind of places, for effective wandering. Here, you’re not allowed to wander. If you go wandering in any nice part of town the police will stop you. Because: “Where are you going?” “Nowhere particular.” Well, that’s very suspicious, not to be going anywhere particular. “Where are you from? Have you got a paper that proves that you are there?”—paper always being more reliable than people. And everything is straightened out, you know? It’s the shortest distance between two points. Kazowey! As fast as possible. No wandering allowed.
But in Japan you still can wander. It’s a miracle you can still, but you can. And you can take a side turning, not [having] the faintest idea where you’re going, and suddenly you discover the most amazing garden in a courtyard. Or a funny little restaurant where the most unusual food is being served. Or a bar where there’s room only for two people to sit, and they’re serving broiled sea snails. Or a shop where rare pottery is being sold. And although the shopkeeper can’t speak a word of English, you go in and the utmost courtesy is shown to you. Brought out tea to drink and very pleasant, friendly surroundings. You didn’t get shown this. You followed your feet and discovered it.
Now, all the best things on any journey I’ve ever taken were unscheduled. And most of the scheduled things were a disappointment because of the big build up of expectations, and then flop! So therefore, the essential principle of the positive side of the pursuit of pleasure, you see, is the unscheduled life. Now, of course, for the convenience of other people, some schedule is always necessary. But it’s best to make it a kind of humdrum habit thing and don’t get uptight about it. Because it is nothing more just as the skeleton is a framework for the flesh, so a schedule is bones for wiggles. Snakes on ladders. And we need some bones, you see? Otherwise everything gets too gooey. But don’t take your bones too seriously. Always allow for the unexpected. Because this is true at the level of the most simple, sensuous pleasures, as well as at the level of high mystical experience.
So the paradoxes that come into mystical literature, such as that “he that would save his life must lose it”—or loose it—or “the highest knowledge is non-knowledge” in the Kena Upanishad, where it is explained that Brahman, the supreme, is known to those who know it not. All that sort of paradox is simply this, you see: that the cosmic consciousness is what arises of itself when you see that nothing arises at all except what arises of itself. In other words, life isn’t something on the one hand happening to you on the other, or being done by you on the one hand to it on the other. The whole thing—you and it—is a spontaneous occurrence that is going on—the word spontaneous in Chinese is means “of itself.” zìrán means in Chinese “what is so of itself,” and it’s their word for nature.
And be careful to remember what I said yesterday: that the happening, the spontaneous, is not something you can preconceive and, by preconceiving it, imitate spontaneity by going against social convention. Because then you are merely acting out the obverse of the convention and being conditioned by it as ever. The truly a spontaneous can only happen of itself and you cannot arrange it.
So then you may say, well, now, does that mean (as we say in a kind of everyday talk) just take things as they come? I mean, just live day to day, so on? And then I know—if a person asked that—that they don’t take things as they come. What they do have is: they have a concept of what it would be like to take things as they come. And they would say, well, the ordinary person is anxious and full of plans and schemes, and therefore let’s be the opposite of that. Take things as they come. See? And that’s the same as fake spontaneity. Because this true taking things as they come doesn’t mean that you imitate a placid attitude, or that you have some kind of expected behavior like, say, one expects of a psychotherapist, a certain kind of act which he puts on to accommodate you. If you say to a psychotherapist, you know, “I have just raped my daughter and murdered my wife,” he says, “Mhmm.” And, you know, it’s an amazingly unhuman reaction.
So also, then, you see, people have preconceived notions of a mystic or a Buddha or a sage, and they think he has no emotions. And so when Zen masters, for example, get angry, they get so angry that the room rattles. But when it’s over, it’s gone. It’s like a child’s emotion, you know? A child can flare up and scream, and suddenly—zzhupp!—it’s vanished. People think, well, he ought to have more control over himself. Isn’t he supposed to have all that yogi self-control and all that no emotion and be completely serene and placid under all circumstances? Rubbish! That would be to say that a stone Buddha is as good as a living one. That is to say: we will test your virtue by taking out our stopwatch, and we will bang you about and see how long it takes you to scream. If you don’t scream at all, then of course you win. But it doesn’t make much difference. You might as well be dead. Is that a test of anything? It’s simply a test of insensitivity.
So don’t think, therefore, that there is some kind of stereotype of what this state is. We don’t know what this state is. And those who have tried to write it down and explain it have always said: “But it’s ineffable.” And what I’m trying to describe is: I’m doing my best, but I know I can’t really get it across. So you would say, then—going back to the point that I’m making here—the person who said, well, it’s just taking things as they come. And by that you think of something like: here you get up and brush your teeth, and take a shower, and look out of the window. And then you put on your pants, and have a boiled egg for breakfast, and then get on the bus, and go and do some business, and so on. And that’s it. But that is not it. Because when you are in the state that I am talking about, what (from the former point of view) would have appeared to be nothing more than ordinary everyday life, is suddenly seen to be a magical process. Absolutely weird.
So that you can see that you might be just rubbing around in some ash, and it becomes perfectly obvious that that’s the whole point of the universe. Incredible! I mean, it’s all there. Infinity in the grain of sand, and everything. That’s it! And you look at other people rushing around. People’s noses, when they’re in that state of rushing around, are more pointed somehow than they would be otherwise. The nose seems to be leading out, the eyes wildly searching, and people going about their business every day. Serious! “Ugh! I’m gonna get there! I’m going to make this thing!” And they’re quite mad. You feel sorry for them, you don’t feel angry at them—but they’re quite mad. They don’t realize that that now is it. That’s where it’s all going, as well as where it all comes from. The alpha and the omega is now. And indeed:
The whole surround of us is completely magical.
Now, of course, we become aware that imaginative people are conscious of this. Imaginative people show their consciousness of it by the way they act, by their taste in whatever they surround themselves with. You begin to notice that there are some certain people with whom you either have great accord or great fear because they’re not ordinary, because they have an atmosphere of magic. They have imagination, and they are not hiding under an attempt to conform to the ideal of being ordinary. And the artistic people are here. They’re also people you can call relaxed people. Relaxed society is a very wonderful class of people. They’re not on edge, you know? There are some people who are edgy all the time. And you you feel that your very presence around their place is a mess—if you know what I mean. But relaxed people have what in Arabic is called barakah. It means “divine grace,” but it also means the quality of an old frying pan that has had long years of use and is just perfect. That’s barakah. And there are people like that too, you see?
And all these are the great spontaneous virtues that cannot be contrived. We can try to produce barakah by finding some scientific process for artificially and antiquing things: for putting patina on bronze and five minutes, for pre-aging wine, or something like that. I mean, none of it works. It’s all phony. Because this thing can only come in the process of growth. So you say, “Well, do I have to wait?” But the whole thing is in the waiting. I don’t mean the virtue of patience, I mean waiting when there is nothing to do but wait. And when you see there is nothing to do but wait, then it happens. But it won’t be hurried. Because the minute you’re trying to hurry it, that introduces the one thing that stops it. The miracle, the magic thing, is happening all the time. But you can’t see it when you’re trying to get it, and you can still less see it when you’re trying to get it fast. So there is no alternative but to go through the point of: you can’t get it at all. You are going to be you. The same slob you’ve always been. See? You can’t change it. And all your good resolutions are just bombast. And then you start to be real.
So just as in traveling, or in ordinary relations with your friends every day, these gorgeous things happen of themselves. Those are the true pleasures. So at the level of mystical experience, the most astounding insights of—you know, where you can go into the deep, most trivial everyday affairs—this is behind all those Zen stories of the monk who was sweeping the courtyard, and a small piece of broken tile zipped out from under his broom and struck against the bamboo and made a plop. And that sound he suddenly saw as containing the entire secret of the universe. One can do it from anything.
As I say, it could be the ashes in the ashtray. It could be light in a dewdrop. It could be the sound of a bell. Any point becomes the takeoff point. Because as a principle in operation which the Japanese call jiji muge. Now, the word ji means any experience which you could identify as a thing or an event. And the doubling of the word, jiji means: “between thing-event and thing-event.” Muge: mu means “no,” ge means “barrier” or “obstruction.” Or, put it in another way: Every thing-event implies all the others.
And here, in this way, you begin to see that that is actually so. When you pick up a chain, you pick up one link and the rest comes. In this, you pick up one thing-event and the universe comes up with it. Because, you see: there are no separate things. It’s all a single unified process, no longer divided into the voluntary and the involuntary, the “I” and the “you” or the “I” and the “it.” Because it is the big happening which is neither voluntary nor involuntary, which is neither free nor determined. All these are mere ideas about it. You’ve abandoned all that. You’ve abandoned philosophy totally. Because you see it’s just a net designed for catching water. And when all that’s gone and that whole attempt to clutch life, to capture the pleasure, has disintegrated—there it is. And you needn’t feel anxious about: will it stay? It’s a gorgeous thing to feel you’ve no longer got to worry whether it will stick around. Because you know that if you do worry, you’ll shoo it away.
So it’s a tremendous relief, you see, not to have to bother with: will it stick around? Will I lose my insight? Will my satori take wing and go off with the bats? You just say: forget it! Because the more you let go of it, the more it stays. And you don’t even have to worry about: will you be sure to let go of it? Because that, too, is a hangup. And you can begin—you see from your very weakness. That’s your strength. It’s not your big ego and your big will that is the strong thing here. It’s your slobbiness, it’s your weakness, it’s your foolish side that is your strong suit here, see?
Yoka Daishi puts it in this way:
Let me repeat this:
So we’ll have an intermission and then questions.
I suppose many of you are familiar with the work of Krishnamurti. And you will of course recognize that there is something in common between what he says and what I have been saying to you. But probably you will also notice that there’s something different. Because Krishnamurti is more of a purist than I am, and he takes, apparently, a rather negative attitude to things that are recognizably religious. That is to say, he sets no store by religious literature, by ceremonies, by meditation practices, religious ideas and so forth, and does without them. He wouldn’t dream of being involved in a ritual, at least not one that would be mistaken for a religious ritual.
I, on the other hand, have a different attitude about those things because I, first of all, am not going to argue with anybody about their religion, because everybody’s religion is the same sort of thing as their life. You may be living a very weird life, but I could say—speaking sort of from a Hindu point of view—that that’s your trip this round. If the generation of māyā (of the world illusion) is the play of the Godhead, then he will play the villains as well as the heroes, the fools as well as the sages, and the sinners as well as the saints. And that’s why I’m not out to convert anybody or win souls. Because it’s as if I would go and talk to a pig and say, “My dear pig, you should be a cow.” Or to a giraffe and say, “Your neck is too long.” Or to an elephant and say, “You are too heavy.”
I try to see what people are not in the sense of trying to classify them or type them, but to see if it is possible to find what is called divine in every disguise. And beware [???] was when he came to maturity. He used to look around. He was a mystic—who was part Hindu, part Buddhist, part Islamic—who lived in India in about the 15th century. He used to look around and say, “To whom shall I preach?” Because he saw the beloved, the Godhead, on all sides in every being, and therefore felt it would be presumptuous to make any recommendations. That’s a strange state of mind. Because it’s so easily made over into a very shallow, Pollyannaish optimism.
But, you know, in the mythology of the Hindus they have some very nitty-gritty characters. Let’s take Kālī. Kālī, the female, one of Shiva’s girlfriends; shaktis. She really represents the dark side of yin, the feminine of feminine. the spider mother, the devouring feminine, the night which sucks in all days. But also, Kālī is the mother of the universe. But it emphasizes the dark side of the mother. And she’s shown with fangs, black-skinned. In one hand she carries a scimitar, in another a severed head. And she is a bloody character. And, you know, there are Kālīs all around us. And it’s not like saying, “Oh, Kālī’s not so bad after all. She has her good side.” The thing is to see a bad side as an aspect of the divine, and then genuinely be able to refrain from saying, “I wish you would improve.”
It sounds sort of tough to do that. I mean, I feel the same way when I’m confronted with a representative of the militant lunatic fringe of Protestantism, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Southern Baptist, or a Billy Graham type. I have immense personal distaste for that kind of religion. So I wonder, and I look at it, and I think: where is the real kick in that? What are those people really doing? What do they get their basic pleasure from in this? How can God be playing that game? That’s a very mysterious business. So I try to look at it that way instead of blankedly saying: well, all your religious gimmicks are vanity, therefore cease and desist. Because although many religious gimmicks are vanity from my point of view, I yet think of Blake’s saying “the fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” And for this reason, even foolish religions are ways of realization. Because the more far out you get from realization, in a way, the nearer you get to it. Because the path is a circle.
Then, on the other hand, I suggested this morning that there’s a way of looking at religion which is quite different from: what will it do for me? What can I get out of it? What magic can I perform? Here is yoga. Here is meditation. Here is zazen. Ordinarily, we look into those practices and say: I wonder if that will do something for me? Now, I’m suggesting that we look at them quite differently—as art forms. And instead of saying what will a painting do for me? What will sculpture or music do for me? I don’t think we ask that. We say: I enjoy music. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. Let’s do some. So you’re not looking for something from it. And that’s the attitude which I take to any practice which may be designated religious: that it’s an art form, that it is a way of expressing exuberance, delight, and above all the sense of wonder, appreciation of the magic of being. And I’ve often quoted that saying of van der Leeuw that the mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. And the people who tried to explain mysteries are people who try to destroy mysteries, and that is in a way to destroy life. It’s often said by men that women are mysterious. Is that a complaint or a compliment? I take it as a compliment. May they remain mysterious and may men remain mysterious to women.
But you would see that there seems to be—after all I’ve said and after all that Krishnamurti says—there would seem to be something inconsistent in practicing meditation or going to church or participating in a ritual. If we didn’t do those things, I think myself that life would be very much impoverished. All the churches would be turned into museums. The holy scriptures would be used for fuel. The rituals might live on in funny dances. But we should be scrubbed clean of superstition. And I don’t exactly look forward to that prospect from an aesthetic point of view. I like magical toys. I don’t believe in them in the sense of thinking they will help me in the competitive games of life. But when I see a figure of the Buddha seated on his lotus throne with an aureole behind him and incense burning in front of him, I feel something glowing, warm, civilizing, humanizing, and also mysterious. It’s very hard to say what it is or to put your finger on it, because I don’t think it would be there if I could.
Especially the Mahayana form of Buddhism has spread a kind of warm glow all over northern Asia. It’s such an urbane, such a sophisticated religion. It doesn’t harass you with preachments, it doesn’t pursue you, it doesn’t make a busybody nuisance of itself. And yet it fosters the arts, it fosters compassion and concern—but not of the kind of concern for people that shoves what is good for them down their throats. And it’s so roomy—that’s why it’s called the Mahayana: the “great vehicle” or the “great course.” It has so many different ways in it, so many different practices. And there’s no kind of scrubbing people down to the basic essentials. It’s not plagued with efficiology. So (personally, you see) I dig that. I also like that side of Christianity where it’s expressed in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t like scrubbed Christianity—the Protestant kind—where they take away the candles and the vestments and the mystery and the incense and make it all rational.
Because when you ask the question: what are the essentials of a religion? To my mind, when people reduce any religion to what they call the essentials, they get rid of all the important things and leave in only the misleading ones. Because when we get it down to essentials, we say—we get back to this question, you see, that all religions offer a way of salvation (or of liberation, or whatever it may be; of union with God). And the Protestant would say to the Roman Catholic: “Well, all your rituals and obscure ways are getting in the way of man reaching God directly. We want to get all that crud out of the way and find a more efficient way of getting to God, so that we can reduce the course from five years to ten weeks.” Now you have to take off all those holy days, too, which distract from business, because it gives our apprentices holidays and we don’t want to lose time. We’re on the make.
But, you see, the moment you reduce the time it takes, you take out the religion. Because you make it into an enterprise to get something—and that’s what I’ve been telling you all this weekend you can’t do. Because the moment you try to get God, you assume that you aren’t there. When you don’t try to get, there’s a chance that you may discover that you are there already. We were thinking over lunch how funny it would be if we got a real speeded-up easy course in meditation without tears: all the nonsense taken out of it, only the essentials, with a big headline: “They laughed when I sat down to meditate.” So here are all the merchants who are telling you the quick way.
But what is fascinating about the non-efficient religions is precisely their colorfulness: all the unessential things they do, all the exuberance of flowers and smells and ornaments and color. You notice—in efficient religions the first thing they take away is color? Why do people take away color? Oh, they say, “Color shows the dirt. You have to wash it all the time.” So you wear black because you live in a grimy city. You don’t want to show the dirt. That’s efficiency. But color is the first thing that goes.
But let’s suppose we look at religion in an entirely different way. We have begun, first of all, you see, with the understanding that religion is not an acquisition, and therefore there’s nothing you can do to acquire it. You begin from the point of recognition that you are what you are. You can’t improve yourself—because if you try to, you’ll only make yourself more tied up and then messed up. See? You have to recognize that, because there’s no alternative. And then you’re in a position to be very simply and ingenuously aware of life without trying to do anything to it. You let it happen. And then it begins to show its color. And then you feel intensely the marvel and magical nature of the world, so that whatever you do by way of a religious practice is an art form (like singing) to express the marvelous feeling that comes out of this. Not to secure yourself, not to acquire anything, any reward, but simply to live it up.
It’s difficult, perhaps, for many people to understand how you could be living it up by meditating. Meditation seems on the surface so dull. “Why… sit still for a long time? That’s awful!” You know how, when they tried to make you sit still as a child, how you resented it? You’d be jumping around, looking for this, that, and the other all the time. Of course, you can do that. You can take up dervish dancing as a form of yoga, if your temperament suggests it. But what about the more ordinary still-sitting kind of meditation? Nobody seems to realize that it’s supposed to be fun.
You know, when you have been sick and you just have to lie in bed, there’s nothing else to do while everybody else in the world goes about their business. And you’re left with almost nothing to do except listen. And you hear all the funny little noises that you don’t normally notice, of not only people, but also animals and birds and things going about their daily business. And it suddenly occurs to you that this is an unheeded symphony that’s going on. You notice sunlight leaving curious patterns on the painted walls—maybe of a hospital room where there are patches of damp and cracks in the ceiling. And because you are in a condition of complete receptivity and passivity, all this starts to come to life. Because, of course, passivity is the root of life. Activity is the end of it, but passivity is the beginning. It’s the womb from which creation starts.
And so, in the same way, when you meditate, in some schools you will be given something to meditate on. Although very often, when an Oriental explains that he meditates, and a Westerner asks as he will, “What do you meditate on?” the Oriental will look vaguely surprised. He says, “I don’t know what you mean. I don’t meditate on, I meditate.” Although, as I say, you might be given the practice of concentrating on a visual image of a chakra, or a mandala, or a syllable, or humming a sound, or some focal point. But that isn’t necessary. When you are at the point of which I am speaking, where you are simply not doing anything—even not trying to do nothing, because you can’t—then you are sitting, and you are as aware as can be of every tip of a hair. And you’ve got nowhere to go. You’re not in a hurry. There is a period of forty minutes, an hour, or whatever it is, where is it only required of you that should be.
Now, normally, at that moment, one is impatient; somehow bothered by having to be restricted. If you take it easy you will feel no restriction. I’m trying to think how I can explain this. If you lift up a heavy weight and hold it up on the tips of your fingers (say it’s a big rock), normally we think of that as an effort to maintain it there. But there’s a certain way of looking at this where you say it isn’t an effort, it’s just going to stay there. And instead of fighting against any feeling of tension that the rock causes, you just turn that tension into: “It’s gonna stay there.” It’s a curious thing. You can support a heavy weight for a very oddly long time doing that. So, in the same way, when you sit, even if your legs hurt or you get uncomfortable, there’s the sudden attitude wherein that just disappears and you’ve got this extraordinary—the only thing it does is: it keeps you awake, which is fine—then you’ve got this extraordinary feeling of the amazing nature of looking at reality, at life, without doing anything to it, without any sense of hurry, without any wish to improve it. Just let it happen.
And you can understand, then, why Buddha images look blissful. Because cats do this. Cats will sit for ages and watch. American Indians will do it. They’ll sit for hours by a roadside. We think they’re dumb. You know: “Sometimes I sits and thinks, but mostly I just sits.” You think they have nothing better to do. Someone else was saying at lunch that if you’re bothered on the phone and somebody asks you, “Could you come over this morning and do thus and so?” it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “No, this is my morning for a hair appointment. This is my morning to go down shopping,”—et cetera—“and I can’t come.” But if you say “This is my morning to be alone,” people would think you were very strange. Because you wouldn’t be doing something for the world.
But hermits, for example (and people who live solitary lives and meditate a great deal), are doing an enormous amount for the world. Just the very suspicion that people exist like that is marvelous for everybody! Because it says to all of us: Where do you think you’re going? Why are you raising so much dust? Because you think you’re going somewhere and you’re already there. And this dust is getting in everybody’s nostrils, and it is polluting everything. All because you are so busy to put up this big thing—whatever it is. It is getting top-heavy and it’s getting a bore holding the thing up. So to know that there are hermits deep in the forest is like knowing that there are still streams and flowers which no one has ever seen.
We are mostly of the mentality that if we heard of a hidden valley full of flowers which nobody has ever seen, we would say: “Ugh! That should be open to the public, should be bought for the nation.” You know? And they should put in a ranger station and toilet facilities and a picnic ground. It’d be still worse if there were one person living in there and enjoying it all by himself. They’d say, “That selfish bastard! That he should live in that beautiful, flowery valley all alone. Open it up! Let’s all have a look.” And then, when everybody’s had a look, the place is a desert.
Now, I live opposite a forest. It’s in a state park, and I can see right across to that forest. It’s a very big and very dense forest occupying the whole side of a valley. And I think sometimes it’d be fun to explore it. And then, on the other hand, I decide I’m not going to. I’m not going to disturb it. The only one who lives there is an old she-goat who comes out every so often and dances on top of a big rock. Oh, of course there are birds, and probably deer, and skunks, rabbits. But nobody ever goes there. You never see anybody in that forest. And it’s just wonderful to leave it alone.
So, you see here two things, two trains of my thought connect. The first train was, you see, the folly of trying to do good. And the second train is that you are doing good by doing nothing. That the very hands off on this thing called life—the meditative attitude which realizes to you how magical it all is—also, it benefits other people in the same way as the untouched forest and wilderness land benefits people. It’s essential to our sanity to have those areas of un-interfered-with life.
So we might say that is the passive side of exuberant religion; is the meditative: the one activity in which we are completely here and now and not seeking any result. The other side of this exuberance is, of course, the musical dancing, ritualistic side of religion. When you see another kind of ritual—nobody is expecting to get anything out of this ritual because it’s not considered as magic. It’s the Japanese tea ceremony. It is apparently a purely secular ritual. It is a way of drinking tea together, sociably. Actually, it’s a Zen Buddhist ritual. Because in Zen, you get to a place where there isn’t any difference between religion and everyday life. But they don’t, therefore, knock the ritual out of everyday life. They put the ritual into everyday life. They have the tea ceremony. And there, the beauty of gesture, and of the primitive style vessels that are used, and the serenity of doing this ritual for no reason except the ritual, is a very lovely experience.
But, you see, in the life of America today—and you notice it here in a rather special way—there is very little joyous ritual. I mean, there are Freemasons, and there are Shriners, and Knights of Columbus, but those people laugh at their own rituals, really. They don’t understand them. They have no real feeling for it. It’s a kind of a clowning affair where you dress up, and you do this, and you give the money to charity, and so forth. And in the Roman Catholic Church, here, they don’t understand ritual.
So that you get the impression, you see, that&ghellip; you know, you put a quarter in the slot, and BLLWWP! out comes a goody. You go to confession. And you don’t even make the full confession, you know? You just say, “The sins that I remember are so and so and so,” and the priest says, “Blhwehbble blhwehbble blhwehbble blhwehbble blhwehbble blhwehbble blhwehbble blhwehbble blwehbble blhwehbblepp!” and then it’s done, you see? And I remember once watching a midnight mass in New York. I never saw anything go so fast! I don’t if any of you ever remember a story by Alphonse Daudet called Les Trois Messes Basses—The Three Low Masses—with a play on basses; low. It was about the three masses of Christmas being celebrated in one hell of a hurry because the priest and the acolytes all wanted to get to dinner. And they gave themselves such indigestion at the dinner that they died and their ghosts were compelled to celebrate three masses through all eternity. Well, this mass was just like that. I’ve never seen anything like those—the people at the altar, the acolyte suddenly went up, genuflected, and vanished. And it reminded me of that passage in the book of Genesis, where it says, “And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” He just disappeared! I mean, PFFEEYONG! There was nothing stately about it. There was no rhythm, no sense of a dance. It was: “Let’s get this thing ground out as fast as possible! Damndest [???], you know? HAAAAAILmaryfullofgracethelordiswiththeeblessedblewbbleblwebbleblhwebbleblebblourDEATH! You know? I can understand that being done because somebody digs a kind of yooing yooing yooing yooijng yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing yooing sound, you see? But this isn’t done that way, it’s done to get it over with. So nobody digs it. This ritual is just a magic to be done as fast as possible.
You know, it’s like a prayer wheel with an electric motor on it! Now, you may laugh at prayer wheels. Have you ever tried to use a prayer wheel? You get one—they’re all over the place nowadays—you rotate it, you see? It has a cylinder, and a little chain, and a weight on the end of the chain. And you get this thing going. It says inside oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ. You get this going and, you know, you’ve got the Earth going ’round the sun. That’s the same sort of process. You get this going, like this. Whoop tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo. It’s fascinating. There’s a little bit of a trick to it, see? You don’t want the chain to get loose and drop the weight on the end. So you’ve got to keep that rhythm going. Whoop tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo tch-choo.
Once upon a time there was a miser, and a Buddhist priest was his friend. He thought he’d go and trick that miser. The Buddhist priest said to the miser, “Look, every time you say the religious formula namu amida butsu”—which means: namu, like hail, or it really means “the name of;” Amitābha, the Buddha, that’s the great sun Buddha—“I’ll give you one sen.” (Which was 1⁄100 of a yen; that was a very small amount of money.) “But all you’ve got to say is namu amida butsu and I’ll give you a sen.” The miser thought, “That’s crazy! Think of all the money I’ll make!” So he began, took out a brush. “Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu.” Krrk! See? And the priest used to come and look at him every day and see these huge sheets of paper accumulating with all the counts he had done, one sen each. The priest is very happy. Guy’s going, “Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu.” One day he came, there was a the miser sitting, saying, “Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu. Namu amida butsu.” And he wasn’t making any marks. Priest said, “Ha-ha!” And another day, still sitting there, going “NamuamidabutsuNamuamidabutsuNamuamidabutsu,” nothing happening at all. And then one day the priest came, and he opened the gate at the end of the garden path, and the doors flew open, and the miser came rushing out and he embraced the priest and says, “Oh! I can’t thank you enough. You don’t owe me any money at all.”
Well, that explains the prayer wheel. But, you see, if the prayer wheel is to do that thing—or rather, you are to do that thing—you can’t be in a hurry. You can’t be trying to get anything. You must be fascinated with the possibility of tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo, you see? And you just do this tchoo tchoo tchoo tchoo at your wits’ end. It’s why you’re kind of a nut. You have to be, you see, to do this. You’re at your wits’ end. All there is. You don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to think anything, you don’t have to be virtuous, you don’t have to believe anything. All you have to do is do goojhee goojhee goojhee goojhee goojhee, see? That’s it. And so you can have a ball swinging that thing.
So therefore, we need to be delivered from utilitarian religion altogether and come to the realization that the highest form of religion is perfectly useless. And this is the true nature of play, and of course it’s the true nature of the universe. And, you see, what I’m doing is: I’m playing a sort of little trick here because I’m showing you the importance of the unimportant. See, we got ourselves down to being absolutely incapable—that’s what we did to begin with—and show you that that’s where you really begin to live. So now, again, we’re going to get down to the very highest that there is—the Godhead, and religion, and the Saints and angels, and the Dhyani Buddhas in their mandalas sitting at the heart of the universe—and we’re going to show that they are all quite useless. They serve no purpose whatever. They are not good for anyone or for anything. Why? They don’t need to be. They’re not going anywhere because they’re there.
And the expression, the māyā of the universe, which they show, is not done because they have some purpose to work out. It’s the way you spend your time when you don’t have any purpose to work out! Then you can afford to be devious. You don’t have to go the direct way. If you’ve got a purpose, get there baby! See? ZHOOMP! Like that. Get there! But if you don’t have any purpose, you wander and you go ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo ka-choo, and suddenly you say, “Well, that’s the outline of a leaf.” And all those veins going through it: Blww blww blww blww blww blww, see? So you get the wiggly path instead of a straight path. Let’s go ’round in circles. So the planets go ’round the sun. They’re not going anywhere. What’s the sun? Going around another star. And all this thing is a great spiral nebula with its center somewhere beyond the constellation of Sagittarius going around and around.
So, in the religious dance, we all join hands and we go around. In meditation, you make your breath go ’round. It isn’t just in and out like a pump, whhsht tchh-foo. It’s not like that. It goes like this, and there’s no sort of hitch between the in and the out. It flows the whole way. You see? In yoga. The Chinese call it the circulation of the light. It’s going ’round. In Buddhism and in Hinduism they talk about the world as saṃsāra, the round. The sorry-round. The sorry-go-round, as distinct from the merry-go-round. Saṃsāra, the wheel of becoming, the bhavacakra, the wheel of birth and death.
And Sir Edwin Arnold, in his poem The Light of Asia, makes the Buddha say:
That’s the rat race: thinking you’re going gonna get somewhere. Spin that wheel, baby! ’Round and ’round the wheel of fortune. What you gain on the roundabout, you lose on the swings.
And, on the other hand, there are certain people who have a different attitude to the wheel of fortune: let’s spin it for fun! Let’s gamble! Not to make money, but just because it’s fun to gamble. Now, you see, that is a gamesman. He’s liberated. He’s not hung up on the game. So, in the same way, the mandala is a symbol of the transformed rat race.
Now, what’s the nature of the rat race? The bhavacakra symbol of the six divisions of life, with the successful people at the top (they’re the angels), the unsuccessful people at the bottom (the naraka, or the purgatorial states of extreme suffering). And then in between are various graduated states: the humans, the frustrated spirits, the furious spirits, and the animals. See? At the top are the gods, at the bottom are the demons and the tormented spirits. So everybody is moving to get up. So in a way, wherever you are, you’re at the bottom; you’re tormented. Those gods are trying to stay up. But there’s no way higher than heaven. And the only way is down. Down and out.
So they got that thing running, whhzzz whhzzz whhzzz whhzzz whhzzz, see? Now, importantly, recognize on this wheel that being at the top is not being a Buddha. You may be a God, you may be an angel, a deva—from which we get our word “divine” as well as “devil.” But you’re not a Buddha. You’re not liberated from the wheel. How do you get off? By knowing that wherever you are on the wheel is it. Be there.
Let’s say we’re all at the bottom, because on a squirrel cage wheel, the running squirrel or rat always stays at the bottom, you see? Alright, so you’re as low as you can get. That’s what I was pointing out this morning. Can’t get any lower. You’re in the naraka: the bottom of hell. But there you are. Now, what happens?
You realize that every point on the wheel is there. And so you get a different picture of the wheel: the significance of it is no longer in the rotary movement around it, but suddenly in the movement from the center to the circumference. And from the circumference to the center, you get a flower. The path of the petal. And your wheel suddenly becomes a mandala—that is to say, a circle subdivided by petals (or other symbolic petals) to be a floral shape. And there you see the great Tibetan paintings of mandalas. We go back to the five great Buddhas, (Dainichi Nyorai as the Japanese say, in Sanskrit he’s Mahāvairocana Buddha), who represents the basic energy of the universe, the great sun Buddha. He’s in the middle. Then he has around him Amitābha, Akṣobhya, Ratnasambhava and Amoghasiddhi. And there are all these beautiful jeweled creatures in their places, and you see the balanced wheel; the joyous wheel.
So this is the transformation of the rat race. And this also is a kind of ritualization of everyday life. And this—you see, just as the rat race has transformed into the mandala, so for the person who is a master of pleasure, the little things of everyday life are likewise ritualized. Not because somebody is compulsive—you know: “All the dishes must be without spot! Give me my magnifying glass.” Not that. But that doing any simple action with delight looks ritualistic. If you watch a very skilled craftsman at work, or a surgeon, or a good dentist, or a shoemaker, or a potter who thoroughly loves the work, you notice their caressing hands, the delight, the dance they do; to do this thing. The doing of it is more important than the done-ing of it. You see, they look ritualistic in their action. It’s a ceremony, and you think he’s worshiping some kind of a God. That’s because he’s turned the rat race into the mandala. So you can do that with everything if you’re not in a hurry. And you’re not in a hurry if you know there’s nowhere to go! I mean, here’s the end of the line, and there’s a place called death and a tombstone on it that says, “Well, he did it once.” We write his name on the tombstone. That’s the end. That’s where you’re going—if you look at it from that point of view. But if you’re going here, and you’ve already arrived.
What is proper behavior for a Buddha? Supposing you are as rich as rich can be—and you are; the whole universe is yours—supposing you got all the time you need (and you do have; now’s enough), what to do, you see? Well, of course: live it up! Take delight in all the ordinary things that are to be done instead of trying to get them out of the way so that you could do something else, which is supposed to be better or more rewarding. You’ll see the reward is everywhere because there’s no hurry. In this way, now, the world is transformed. In this way you might have a utopia. Because as Gary Snyder, my friend, has put it: “There is no possibility of your doing anything effective to save this world from a terrifying ecological disaster unless you know it doesn’t need to be done.”
If you can see the dissolution of this world, the end of the human race, as the Kali Yuga that Hindus talk about—the cosmic cataclysm which comes at the end of every 4,320,000 years; every kalpa—and realize that this ecological disaster is simply the periodical death of a world system, and therefore, there’s nothing especially tragic about it. It’s the way things go. Just like the death of every individual. You would think that such a realization would make a person cold, indifferent. But no! If you understand that, and you’re not fighting it, you are not afraid of it. And if you’re not afraid of it, you can handle it. But you have to show that the preservation of the planet and of life is not a frantic duty. It’s a pleasure. And you won’t convince everybody it’s a pleasure if you go and scream in the streets or start throwing rocks. Then you are saying it’s your duty.
To whom? To whom do we owe this duty? Do you owe it to yourself? Well, that depends what you want to do. Do you want to go on chasing on the wheel? Do you want to think that by fierce political action we will have a better world to live in and we’ll all be so happy? Five-year plans, and then another five-year plan, and then after that another five-year plan? It’s like my music teacher when I was a child: he used to play a scale in some ridiculous ditty, and, you know, he said, “Now, once more.” You’d play it again. He’d say, “Now, just once more.” Broowwt. “Once more.” Blweh blweh blweh blweh, you know? Horrors! But you can find, or realize, the great life if you’re not looking for it.