This morning, I was discussing the problem of technological civilization’s urgent need for a new sense of human existence in which the human being no longer discovers himself as an alien oddity, somehow trapped and caught up in a system of tubes called the body, confronting an external world which is not himself. The urgency of realizing that just as this city is an extension of you, so is everything out to the farthest galaxies that we have any knowledge of, and beyond. Of regaining a sense of responsibility and identity with the basic functioning of your self as a complete physical organism, and that beyond that, your own organism, in a certain sense, knows its identity with its whole environment. In other words, the human body belongs in a continuous energy system which is co-extensive with the universe. And instead of making out that this is something you got caught up in, and for which you are not responsible, and in which you are just a victim. And if you’re lucky, you beat the game for a while, and win until death destroys you and you lose everything. You know? You can’t take it with you.
That reminds me of a funny—Gary Snyder is a great friend of mine. He’s a poet from the West Coast, and he’s a very good Zen student. He’s studying under Oda-Rōshi. And he suggested one day that we found a null and void title in Gary and Trust Company, with its slogan “Register your absence with us.” And what you do is, you give your fortune to us, and we guarantee to transport it to you in the next life.
Anyway—this situation I was suggesting is one that can be overcome reasonably simply, if you can just get the idea straight. A lot of people say, you know, “I understand what you say intellectually, but that’s not enough. I don’t really understand it.” But I often think that when people say that, they don’t fully understand it intellectually. If you can get something quite clear, really clear in your head, I don’t think that our mind is compartmentalized so that the intellect’s over here, and the feelings are over here, and the intuition is over there, and the sensations are over there. I don’t think Jung meant that when he made that classification. I think every faculty of the mind is continuous with all the others.
And so, what you’re saying when you say, “I understand it intellectually, but I don’t get it intuitively,” or “I don’t feel it in my bones,” is that you understand it in the sense of being able to repeat a form of words. Now, it’s true that there’s lots of debates and problems that are purely verbal. A great deal of what goes on as theological or philosophical discussion is absolutely nothing except a war of words. A logical positivist, for example, can show conclusively that all metaphysical statements are meaningless. But so what? That’s just talk. People have, on the other hand, experienced, say, mystical states, and these experiences are quite as real as the experience of swimming in water, or lying in the sun, or eating a steak, or dying. And you can’t talk them away. They’re there, in a very concrete sense. But there is a very close connection between your conceptual understanding of the world and how you actually see the world.
In other words, let’s take for example this problem: there are people who don’t have number systems going beyond three. They count “One, two, three, many.” So anything above three is a heap, or many. Now, those people cannot know that a square table has four corners. It has many corners. But once you’re able to count beyond four, you can extend your counting system indefinitely. You have a different feeling about nature. It’s not only you know more, but you feel more. You feel more clearly. So my point is simply that the intellect is not something cut off from every other kind of experience, existing in a kind of abstract vacuum which has nothing to do with anything else. The intellect is part and parcel of the whole fabric of life. It goes along with your fingers; it goes along with being able to touch. After all, what an intellectual thing in a way the human hand is. It can do things that other hands can’t do. No other mammal can have thumb-finger contact. The monkey doesn’t achieve it.
So the hand is intellectual. So, as a matter of fact, a plant is intellectual. This thing is a gorgeous pattern. If you look into it and realize how this is designed to absorb light and moisture and so on, and to expose itself in different ways and to propagate its species, that it’s in alliance with bees and other insects so that the bees and the plants—since they go together and are found together—they’re all one continuous form of life. This doesn’t exist except in a world where bees are floating around. I mean, you can bring it into an apartment, but you can’t expect it to propagate beyond that point. It’s decorative here. But in its natural habitat, this goes along with being bees, and bees go with there being something else. So this form that you see here is inseparable from all kinds of other forms which must exist if this is to exist. And the bees have language. if you’ve read von Frisch’s book about bees and their marvelous intelligence. But you see that the intelligence of the plant is the same as the pattern of the plant. You shouldn’t think that I would say the plant is the result of intelligence. The shape of it is the same as its intelligence. The shape of your brain, the shape of your face, the whole structure of the culture you live in, the human interrelationships that go on—it’s that pattern which is intelligence.
Now, what I’m trying to talk about is a deeper understanding of the pattern in which we live. And if you understand that, it suddenly hits you so that you feel, right in your guts, this new kind of existence that is not yourself alone facing an alien world, but yourself as an expression of the world in the same way as the wave is the expression of the ocean.
Now then, the most important shift one has to make in intelligence and understanding this is to be able to think in a polar way. We sometimes say of things that we want to describe as being opposed to each other as being in conflict, that they are “the poles apart.” People who belong to different schools of thought, people who belong to nations in opposition with each other, people who are in flat, outright conflict—we say they are the poles apart. But that’s a very funny phrase. Because things that are the poles apart happen to be very deeply connected. The north and the south pole are the poles of one Earth. So try to imagine a situation in which there is an encounter between opposites, which have no connection with each other at all. Where will they come from? How will they meet each other? You think from the opposite ends of space? But what is space? For space to have opposite ends, there has to be a continuum between the ends. And so to think in a polar way is to realize the intimate connection between processes or events or things, which language describes as if they were unconnected and opposed.
Let’s take, first of all, two very fundamental poles. We’ll call them respectively “solid” and “space.” If you want, “existence” and “non-existence,” because we tend to treat space as something that is not there. That’s simply because we don’t see it; we ignore it. We treat it as if it had no effective function whatsoever, and thus when our astronomers begin to talk about curved space, expanding space, properties of space, and so on, we think “What are they talking about? How can space have a shape? How can there be a structure in space, because space is nothing.” But it isn’t so. You see, this is something we completely ignore. Why? Because we have specialized in a form of attention to the world which concentrates on certain features as important. We call this conscious attention, and therefore it ignores or screens out everything which doesn’t fit into its particular scheme. And one of the things that doesn’t fit into our scheme is space. So we come into a room like this and notice all the people in the room, and the furniture, and the flowers and the ornaments, and think that everything else just isn’t there. I mean, what about this interval that is between me sitting here and the inner circle of people who are arranged around the floor? What a mess we would be in if there wasn’t that interval. You know? I would be blowing down your throat to talk to you!
Now, intervals of this spatial kind are tremendously important. Let me demonstrate this to you in a musical way. When you listen to a melody, what is the difference between hearing that melody and hearing a series of noises? The answer is that you heard the intervals. You heard the musical spaces between the series of tones. If you didn’t hear that, you heard no melody, and you would be what’s called tone deaf. But what you actually hear is the steps between the levels of sound—the levels of vibration—that constitute the different tones. Now those weren’t stated, they were tacit. Only the tones were stated, but you heard the interval. So it made all the difference whether you heard the interval or not. So, in exactly the same way, the intervals between us, seated around here, constitute many important things. They constitute the dignity of us all. They constitute the fact my face isn’t all mushed up in your face, and that we therefore have individual faces, and that need spaces around us.
In a country like Japan, space is the most valuable commodity because it’s a small island that’s heavily overpopulated. So an apartment in Japan costs you a lot of money; in Hong Kong, it’s sky-high. But they have mastered the control of space in a fantastic way. And one of the ways they control space is through politeness. You can live with other people so that you live in a house where you’re so close together that you can hear every belly rumble of your neighbor, and you know exactly what’s going on. But you learn to hear without listening, and to see without looking. There’s a courtesy, you see, a respect for privacy which puts an interval between one individual and another. And it’s by reason of that interval that you are defined as you and I’m defined as I.
So, you see the various kinds of space? Various kinds of intervals? The pauses, when a person plays the drum? It’s those intervals—otherwise it would be of no interest. It’s the intervals that make the thing valuable. The space, then, is as real as the solid. This is the principle of polarity. Space and solid, in other words, which are formally opposed things. And you think, “Well, where there is a solid, there is something, and where there is space, there is nothing.” They are actually as mutually supportive as back and front. They go together. Nobody ever found a space without a solid, and nobody ever found a solid without a space. But we’ve been trained to fix our attention on the solid and disregard the space. Well then, obviously you haven’t been given the news—you haven’t been let in on what the secret of life is. It is that the space is as important as the solid. And if you see that, then you have the clue.
Now, in the same way exactly, all other kinds of supposedly opposed entities and forces imply and involve each other. And this is the key to getting a different kind of consciousness of oneself, because you wouldn’t know who you are unless you knew what you have defined as other than yourself. Self and other define each other mutually. Let’s consider this first of all in a kind of a funny social way. In every town in the United States, there are a group of people who consider themselves to be the “nice” people. They live on the right side of the tracks. Where I live in Sausalito, California, they live up on the hill. And down on the waterfront there live all kinds of beatniks and bums, and we live in boats and shacks of all kinds. Some of these shacks are elegant inside, but that’s a secret. We call the boat I live on the Oyster, because you know how an oyster’s shell on the outside is very rough and crude, but there’s pearls on the inside.
But anyway, the people up on the hill say—what do they talk about? When they get together for cocktails or dinner or whatever, and they have their social occasions, what’s the topic of conversation? It’s how the people are awful down below, and they’re encroaching, and the town is going to the dogs, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. By this means, they preserve their collective ego. Meanwhile, the people down below, what do they talk about at their parties? They talk about the squares up on the hill who are engaged in business, which is ridiculous because it’s nothing but a rat-race, and they buy Cadillacs and other phony objects, and they deride them. But in the same way, those beatniks are enhancing their collective ego, and they don’t realize that they need each other. That the symbiosis between the nice people and the nasty people, between the “in” group and the “out” group, is as much a symbiosis as between the bees and the flowers. Because you wouldn’t know who you were, unless there was an outsider.
In exactly the same way, politically speaking, our economy is presently dependent upon the Cold War, which mustn’t be allowed to become hot. Because if there weren’t an enemy—defined as communism—nobody would be disturbed, nobody would be worried. Therefore, they wouldn’t put all this energy and money and taxes into a certain kind of productivity. Likewise, on the other side, if those people in China and Russia couldn’t be worried about and afraid of the dirty capitalists, they wouldn’t have any means of stirring up their people to do something. Everybody would presumably just loaf around.
So because you define your position in opposition to another position, then you know who you are courtesy of the outsider, and so you can say to the outsider—if this suddenly strikes you, you start laughing, because you realize that you’re indebted to the outsider, whom you defined as awful, because you know where he is, you know where you are. Well now, it’s the same thing in philosophy and religion. There are all sorts of schools of thought, and they disagree with each other. They debate with each other, but so far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t know what I thought unless there were people who had different opinions than mine. Therefore, instead of saying to those people, “You ought to agree with me,” I’d say to them, “Thank you so much for disagreeing, because now I know where I am.” I wouldn’t know otherwise. In other words, the in goes with the out; the solid with the space. It’s a very funny thing.
Take any highly organized system of life. Take the way a garden exists. It’s full of, in a sense, competitive species. Snails and thrushes and various insects that are supposed to be at war with each other. And because their fights keep going on, the life of the garden as a whole is maintained. And so I can’t say, “All snails in this garden should be abolished, so that the lettuces should thrive,” because if there aren’t some snails around there, the birds won’t come around, because they like the snails. And the birds do all sorts of things for my garden, not to mention supplying it with manure and all kinds of things. So I need them around. So the price of having birds is snails that eat your lettuces. And so on. I mean, this is merely an instance, an example of this.
The funny thing is, though, that when you realize this, and you suddenly see for the first time that you and your point of view—and everything that you stand for and believe in, and you think, “Boy, I’m going to stand for that and I’m going to fight for that!”—that it depends on its opposite. When you get that, it starts giving you the giggles, and you begin to laugh at yourself, and this is one of the most amazing forces in life, the creative force is human. Because when you are in a state of anxiety, and you are afraid that black may win over white, that darkness may conquer light, that non-being may conquer being, you haven’t seen this point. When it strikes you that the two go together, the trembling emotional feeling which we call anxiety is given another value, and it’s called laughter.
Now let’s take the phenomenon of an electric bell. When you turn on an electric bell, you turn on a system in which “yes” implies “no.” That is to say, here’s the bell, and beneath it, there’s an electromagnet, and that magnet, when it’s switched on, magnetizes an armature, which comes and hits the bell. But the moment it does that, it turns off the current, so that the magnet releases it, and because the armature has a spring on it, it goes back. That turns the current on. So it comes back; that turns the current off. So “yes” equals “no;” “no” equals “yes.” And so the bell vibrates, which is what you want it to do. Now, how do you interpret your own vibrating, your alternation between “yes” and “no?” You can interpret this as an awful thing of doubt, and then you say you were anxious. But if you see that the one implies the other, then it becomes “ha ha ha ha ha!” It becomes a laugh. So the transformation of anxiety into laughter comes about through realizing the polarity of “yes” and “no,” of “to be” and “not to be.”
But the important thing for our purposes is the polarity between the self and the other. Let’s consider for example, when you hate, you love yourself. “I love me.” Let’s be very egotistic and very selfish indeed. What do you love when you love yourself? Think about it. Say you were going to live a completely disillusioned, self-interested life, and other people can go hang. Now consider, what is it that you’re interested in? “Well,” you say for example, “I like eating.” Okay. Do you eat yourself? “No. I like eating fish, oysters, radishes, mushrooms.” All these are things that are formally speaking not me, yet these are what I say I like. Well, could you say “What I really like about them is the state they put me in when they impinge on me?” In other words, when I put the mushroom sauce in my mouth, that does something to my mouth and my body, and it’s that that I like, rather than the mushrooms as such. Well that isn’t the truth. If that’s all, you can’t cook properly. I can tell instantly when I taste something that’s been cooked, what state of mind the cook was in.
Now let me tell you a secret. You cannot possibly be a good cook unless you like to pick up an onion in your hands, look it over, and say “Oh, isn’t that lovely?” Or feel an egg. I think an egg is one of the most beautiful shapes on Earth, and you take it up, and although it’s an opaque shell, it has a kind of subtle, luminous transparency to it. Especially when you see the variations between white eggs and brown eggs, and you look at those things and you just love them. Now, unless you have that feeling, you can’t cook. You may follow recipes, you may have had a training course, you may have had everything. But everything you’re going to cook, unless you have that feeling, is going to taste as though it’s been washed in detergent, and you can tell. It may be that they used no fancy sauces, they roasted a piece of meat. Let’s take the Chinese way of cooking a chicken. You take a chicken, and you put in boiling water for ten minutes, with salt and a little sherry. You turn it off, and you leave it there for a half an hour. Then you take it out and chill it, and that can be the most succulent chicken imaginable.
But somehow it doesn’t quite come off if this was just a formula. Same way when you strike a note on the piano, it isn’t simply a matter of so much pressure which could be measured on some sort of mechanical instrument, because if that was so, all we’d have to do is get those player pianos which hit the notes regularly in accordance with the formula, and they all sound terrible. Because there’s a thing in touching that’s called follow-through. When you hit a golf ball, it’s not enough to hit the ball with a certain volume, you have to have a swing that goes beyond that, and so in the same way with striking notes, there has to be a thing called follow-through, that you go beyond the actual hitting of the note, and that is a thing that’s hard to measure, but is very important and makes all the difference.
So then, the relationship of self to other is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself. In fact, the more you try to think about what your self is, the more you discover that you can only think about yourself in terms of things that you thought were other than yourself. If you search for yourself—this is one of the great kōan problems in Zen—produce you, find out who you are. When, for example, Sri Ramana Maharshi, that great Hindu sage of modern times—people used to come to him and say, “Who was I in my previous incarnation?” You know, that sort of stupid question. He would say, “Who wants to know?” Who are you? Find out who you are. And you can search for you endlessly, and never find out. Never. Everything that you get a kind of sensation of as being yourself will, upon examination, turn out to be something else. Something other.
And now let’s work on the other direction. Go exactly the opposite way. What do you mean by something other? Let’s find something other than me, and search for that. “Well,” I say, “all right. I can touch the ground here.” This is something other than me, and yet, I realize that my sensation of this soft carpet with something firm underneath it is a state of my nerve endings in my hand and in my muscles, which report to me that this is a softly covered hardness, and that everything I feel about this carpet and the floor is a condition of my brain. In other words, when I feel this so-called external thing, I feel it only as it is as it were translated into states of my own body. All of you I see with your various shapes and colors, when I look out here, I am actually having an experience of how it feels inside my head. That’s the place where I know you, and you know me, in your heads. So that I really do not have any sensations of anything other than myself, because whatever I do know, I have to translate it into a state of my own body in order to know it at all.
But do you see now what I have done? I carried in one direction the argument, where do I find my self? And it all turned out to be something other. Then I followed the question, how do I find something other, and it all turned out to be me. The same thing happens, for example, when you get into the old debates about fate and free will. When you discover that everything that you do is completely determinate. Then you suddenly have to wake up to the fact that the only real you is whatever it is that’s determining what you do. I mean, if you say, “All that I do here and now is a result of the past. There have been processes in the past, going back and back and back, and my sitting here in this room and talking to you is simply the necessary effect of all that ever happened before.” Do you know what that’s saying? It’s saying that here in your presence talking to you is everything that ever happened before. That’s me. Wowee! And so, of course, with you being here, if you want to figure it that way, because all this problem about causality is completely phony.
It’s all based on this: that in order to talk about the world and think about it, we had to chop it up into bits, and we called those bits things and events. In the same way, if you want to eat chicken, you can’t swallow a whole chicken unless you’ve got a huge mouth. So you cut it up into pieces, or you get a cut-up fryer from the store, but you don’t get a cut-up fryer from an egg. Chicken comes whole out of the egg. So, in the same way, the universe of nature doesn’t come in bits or bites. It comes all in one piece. But to digest it, to absorb it into your mind, you’ve got to cut it into bits and take it in, as we say, one thing at a time. But that chopping of the world into these separate bits is like chopping up the chicken or carving the slices off the beef, or taking water out, cupful by cupful. You can handle it that way, but that’s not the way it is.
So you have to see that the whole notion of there being particular, separate events, and particular, separate things, is nothing more than a calculus. A calculus. Calculus means “pebbles.” Pebbles used for counting. So when we measure curves, we pretend as if they were a series of points, and the position of these points can be expressed in an arithmetical way, say, by tracing a curve across a piece of finely calibrated graph paper. That’s the basis of the calculus. So that a curve swings so many points across, so many down, et cetera, and so you feel you have control of the curve that way. You measure it, you know where it really goes. But where it really goes, you have set up this “really” in terms of your other criss-cross system, and you said “That’s for real.” All it means is you’ve meshed two different systems, one on top of the other, and you’re saying “What I mean by reality is the systems of measurements that I’ve invented. The system of weights and measures. This thing is really,” and you feel a great sense of confidence, “exactly two pounds.” Now, simply because you’ve made the two pounds of apples correspond with the weighing machine, which is a constant. Two pounds of apples, two pounds of grapes, different number of apples, different number of grapes, but you say “That’s really two pounds.”
But so, in just the same way, we say, “There are really different people. There are really different events.” But actually there aren’t. I’m not saying that if we were to see the world in its truth, all of you different people would disappear, that your outlines would suddenly become vague, and you would turn into a solid lump of gelatinous goo. A lot of people think that’s the way mystics see things. That’s not at all what would happen. The thing I’m saying is this: we are all different, but we are as interrelated and indispensable to each other as the different organs in our body—stomach, heart, glands, bones, et cetera. Now, you can argue that the stomach is fundamental—eating is the big thing, and therefore we grew brains as extensions of the stomach to get it more food. So that you say, “The brain is the servant of the stomach.” But you can argue equally that the brain is primary, and it has all these thinking games to play, and it needs a stomach as an appendage to supply it with energy. Or you can argue that the sex organs are primary and they need the brain and the stomach to keep that ecstasy going. But the brain and the stomach can equally argue that they wouldn’t find it worthwhile going on unless they had the sex organ appendage to give them solace. The truth of the matter is that nobody comes first. No one pushes the other around. You don’t find brains without stomachs and sex organs. They all go together—and this is the fallacy of Freud in saying that the sexual apparatus are primary. It just goes along with the others.
So you don’t have a universe in which a series or a collection of separate events or things are banging each other around like an enormous mass of billiard balls. You have a situation which is quite different from that, where what have hitherto been called “causally related events.” To say that certain events are causally related is a very clumsy way of saying that these certain specific events which you have isolated as being causally related, were in fact really all parts of the same event.