Spiritual Authority

January 1, 1971

Quit striving so hard spiritually, Watts implores. You’re already the Buddha you seek! Your constant efforts to improve yourself are like trying to bite your own teeth. So relax! Meditation isn’t about suffering through boredom or bragging about pain. Instead, penetrate the moment and have fun watching yourself be. Spiritual enlightenment isn’t some far-off goal—it’s already here, now. Dig it!

Part 1


I may take the liberty of beginning by saying something about myself and my role in talking to you about philosophical matters, because I want it to be understood perfectly clearly that I am not a guru. In other words, I talk about what we call these things—and that comprises a multitude of interests concerning Oriental philosophy, psychotherapy, religion, mysticism, et cetera—I talk about these things because I’m interested in them and because I enjoy talking about them. And every sensible person makes his living by doing what he enjoys doing, and that explains me.


Now, in saying, therefore, that I’m not a guru, that means also that I’m not trying to help you or improve you. I accept you as you are. I am not out, therefore, to save the world. Of course, when a stream, a bubbling spring, flows out from the mountains, it’s doing its thing. And if a thirsty traveler helps himself, well that’s fine. When a bird sings, it doesn’t sing for the advancement of music. But if somebody stops to listen and is delighted, that’s fine. And so I talk in the same spirit. I don’t have a group of followers. I’m not trying to make disciples. Because I work on the principle of a physician rather than a clergyman. A physician is always trying to get rid of his patients and send them away healthy to stand on their own feet, whereas a clergyman is trying to get them as members of the religious organization so that they will continue to pay their pledges, pay off the mortgage on an expensive building, and generally belong to the church, boost its membership, and thereby prove by sheer weight of numbers the veracity of its [???]. My objective is really to get rid of you, so that you won’t need me or any other teacher.


I’m afraid some of my colleagues would not approve of that attitude because it is widely believed and said that, in order to advance in the spiritual life (whatever that is), it is essential that you have a guru, and that you accord to that guru perfect obedience. And so I’m often asked the question: is it really necessary to have a guru? I can answer that only by saying: yes, it is necessary if you think so. In the same spirit as it is said that anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.


Of course, there is more in that saying than meets the ear. Because if you really are sincerely concerned with yourself and are in such confusion that you feel you have to go to a psychiatrist to talk over your state, then of course you need to go. Likewise, if you are in need of someone to tell you what to do to practice meditation or to attain a state of liberation, nirvāṇa, mokṣa, or whatever it may be called, and you feel that necessity very strongly, then you must do it. Because, as the poet William Blake said, the fool who persists in his folly will become wise.


However, I do want to point this out: what is the source of a guru’s authority? He can tell you that he can speak from experience; that he has experienced states of consciousness which have made him profoundly blissful, or understanding, or compassionate, or whatever it may be. And you have his word for it. And you have the word of other people who likewise agree with him. But each one of them, and you in turn, agree with him out of your own opinion and by your own judgment. And so it is you that are the source of the teacher’s authority. And that is true whether he speaks as an individual or whether he speaks as the representative of a tradition or a church.


You may say that you take the Bible as your authority, or the Roman Catholic Church. And the Roman Catholic following very often says that the individual mystical experience is not to be trusted, because of its liability to be interpreted in a whimsical and purely personal way, and that it has to be guarded against excesses by the substantial and objective traditions of the church. But those traditions are held to be substantial and objective only because those who follow believe it to be so. They say so. And if you follow it, you say so.


So the question comes back to you. Why do you believe? Why do you form this opinion? Upon what basis does all this rest? Well, of course, almost everybody is looking for help. And when I was younger—so much younger than today—I never needed anybody’s help in any way. But there is this feeling of a certain helplessness, of being alone and somewhat confused, in an unpredictable, wayward, external world of happenings. And this world of happenings includes an enormous amount of suffering, tragedy, and we wonder why we’re here, how we got here, and, in short, what to do about the capital P “Problem” of capital L “Life”—to which should be added death, because it seems to be certain that we’re all going to die and that death may be a painful process, and those we love are going to die. So what about it? Is there any way in which we can become masters of the situation?


Well, there are all sorts of ways of trying to escape from the human predicament of being a lonely, isolated consciousness in the midst of this enormous and wayward not-self. We can, of course, try to beat the game on a material basis by becoming very wealthy or very powerful. We may resort to all kinds of technology to get rid of our sufferings—hunger, pain, sickness, and so forth—but it will be noticed that, as we succeed in these enterprises, we’re not satisfied. In other words, if you feel at this moment that an increase in income would solve your problems, and you got an increase in income, this would give you a pleasant feeling for a few weeks. But then, as you well know, if that’s ever happened to you, the feeling wears off, and you may start worrying about paying your debts and start worrying about whether you will get sick. There is always something to worry about. And if you’re very rich indeed, you’ve still got the anxiety about sickness and death, and also anxieties about revolution, and about whether the Internal Revenue Service will take it all away from you, or catch you for cheating on your taxes, or put you in prison for no good reason.


Now, there is always this worry. And so you realize that the problem of life does not really consist in your external circumstances, because you worry whatever they are. The problem consists, rather, in what you call your mind. Could you, by some method, control your mind so that you won’t worry? And how on Earth would you do that?


Well, there are those people who tell you that the best answer is to think positive thoughts, to be peaceful, to breathe slowly and hum gently, and get yourself into a peaceful state of mind by repeating affirmations such as all is light, all is God, all is good, or whatever it may be. But unfortunately it doesn’t always work, because you have a nagging suspicion in the back of your mind that you’re simply hypnotizing yourself and whistling in the dark—what the Germans call a Hintergedanke, which is a thought concealed way, way back behind your intellect, but it has annoying persistence: “What if?”


And so you realize that this matter of controlling the mind is no superficial undertaking, because although you may be able to smooth the ruffles of your consciousness, there is beneath that a vast area of unconsciousness which erupts as unpredictably as events in the external world. And so you consider seriously the possibilities of psychoanalysis to go down and get into those depths, and see if oil can be put on those troubled waters. And then, of course, you get into the guru business. You have to go to someone against whose mirror you can reflect those aspects of yourself of which you are not directly aware.


So, as the process goes on, you find that there is something awkward about all this, and this awkwardness can be expressed in many different ways. One of them is this: how on earth are you to get at yourself to do something about yourself? Because it’s a project not unlike trying to pierce the point of the pin with the point of the same pin. In other words, if you feel that you could do with some sort of psychological or spiritual improvement, obviously you are the character who is going to have to bring this about. But if you are the one who needs to be improved, how are you going to accomplish the improvement? You’re in the predicament of trying to lift yourself up off the floor by pulling at your own bootstraps—and, as you all know, that cannot be done, and if you attempt to do so, you are likely to land with a bang on your fanny and be lower down than you were in the first place.


So that problem continually arises and it has arisen historically in all the great religious traditions. We find it in Christianity, in the debate between Saint Augustine and Pelagius. And Pelagius said that if God had given us a commandment to love him and to love our neighbors, he would not have done so unless we could obey it. Saint Augustine countered and said: yes, but the commandment was not given in order for it to be obeyed. God never expected that it would be obeyed, because we were incapable of loving anyone but ourselves. The commandment was therefore given to convince us of our sinfulness from which we could be rescued only by divine grace—that is to say: by the infusion of our souls with a power beyond them. And that was more or less the doctrine for which the Church settled.


The puzzle has always been, therefore, how to get grace. Because grace is apparently freely offered to all, but some people seem to get it, and some don’t. With some the medicine takes, and with others it doesn’t. Why? Well, apparently you have the power to resist grace—but if you do, you also have the power not to resist it. We would like, therefore, to know how not to resist it and to be open. And there, you see, we are back at exactly the same problem with which we began. It’s like saying: “You must relax. Damn you. Let go! Give in!” And I know I ought to give in. I know I ought to let go and abandon my will to the divine will. But as Saint Paul put it so well: “To will is present with me. But how to do that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.”


In other words, we all come down to a basis in ourselves which we will call, first of all—since we are in the Jewish temple—the yetzer hara, or the “wayward spirit,” which God is supposed to have put into the soul of Adam, or in my translation, our element of irreducible rascality, where we are all basically scamps. And if you haven’t found that, you’re very unconscious. I know all sorts of people who are full of outward love, but of course it always turns out that they need money. And when it comes to money, the virtue flies out of the window.


So we do have that element in ourselves. We know it very well. And the question is therefore, once again: how can it be transformed? But if the transformer is the one who is afflicted, who transforms the transformer? It’s the old problem of who guards the guards, who polices the policeman, who governs the government? And it seems perfectly insoluble for that reason alone that it is a vicious circle.


There’s a great deal of talk about two selves: the lower self (or ego), the higher self (called the spirit or the Ātman), and the duty of the Ātman seems to be to transform the wretched little ego. Well, sometimes it does. But a lot of times it doesn’t. So we asked: why doesn’t so-and-so’s Ātman succeed in getting through? Is his ego too strong? If so, who will weaken it? Is his Ātman too weak? And if so, why? But surely, aren’t all Ātmans the same? The puzzle remains.


So let’s take a look at what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re trying to get better. We are out after that type of experience (which we will call the positive, the good, the light, the living), and to get away from the negative (the evil, the dark, and the dead). Unfortunately, however, human experience, human consciousness, knows by contrast. We are equipped with a nervous system where the neurons either fire or don’t fire. All that we are aware of is made up of an extremely complicated arrangement of yes and no. And by recording on magnetic tape impulses, there are areas where there is a pulse and there are areas where there is not a pulse. And by so doing, we can take almost any form of human experience. In other words, we can put colored television on a tape so that it is all reduced to a matter of yes and no.


And you will understand, of course, that that is the philosophy of the Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, which represents all the situations of life in terms of combinations of the yang (or positive principle) and the yin (or the negative principle). Interestingly enough, a Latin translation of the I Ching was read by the philosopher Leibniz, and from this he invented binary arithmetic, wherein all numbers can be represented by zero and one. And that is the number system used by the digital computer, which lies behind all our electronic ingenuity—this great extension of the nervous system, which is based on the same principle.


But you see what we are trying to do: we are trying to have yang without yin. We are trying to arrange a life game in which there is winning without losing. Now, how can you arrange such a state of affairs? A game in which everybody wins would end up, as W. S. Gilbert put it: “When everybody’s somebody, then no one’s anybody.” If we are all equally happy, it is impossible to know that we are happy, because a certain flatness comes over everything. If we lifted up all valleys and lowered all mountains, we should have the sort of thing they are attempting to do with bulldozers in the Hollywood Hills, to the destruction of the ecology, in ghastly fulfillment of the biblical prophecy that every valley should be exalted, and every mountain laid low, and the rough places made plain. And I’m sorry to say it was Isaiah who made that remark. But the same Isaiah also said something that at least Christians do not often quote, which is this following sentence: “I am the Lord and there is none else. I form the light and create the darkness. I make peace and I create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things”—in spite of which everybody is busy trying to be good, not realizing that we would not recognize saints unless there were sinners, or sages unless there were fools.


And there is no way out of that dilemma. That is why Buddhism represents existence in terms of a wheel called the bhavacakra: the wheel of becoming, of birth and death. And on the top of that wheel there are deva people (whom we would call angels), and at the bottom of the wheel there are naraka (or tormented people) in purgatory. And you go round and round: now this way, now that way. It’s really like a squirrel cage, where you’re running and running and running to get to the top, and yet you have to run faster and faster to stay where you are. And that’s why there is always the sense of: the more you succeed in any scale of either worldly or spiritual progress, the more you have the haunting feeling that you’re still in the same place.


So you think, now, there must be some way out of that. Perhaps there’s something ambitious and proud and wrong in aspiring to be enlightened or compassionate. Perhaps there’s a great dose of spiritual pride in that—that I, by my efforts, could make myself into a Buddha or a saint. And therefore, perhaps the thing to do is to try to eliminate all desire—not only the desire for worldly success, but likewise the desire for spiritual success. For the Buddha proposed that desire was the root of suffering, and therefore suggested to his hearers that if they eliminated desire, or clinging, they might cease from suffering. But you must realize that the so-called teachings of the Buddha are not doctrines in the sense that the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims have doctrines. They are proposals: they are the opening steps in a dialogue. And if you go away and try not to desire in any way, you will very quickly discover that you are desiring not to desire.


And so we very rapidly come to a situation where you discover that, with regard to your own transformation, everything you try to do about it doesn’t work. It may have some sort of temporary success to make you feel better, but again and again you come back to the same old gnawing problem. And that is why people interested in spiritual things tend to move from one sect to another, from one teacher to another, always hoping that they will meet one who has the answer. Of course, then there are many teachers who say, “Indeed, there is nothing you can do.” And yet therefore you have to practice non-doing—as the Taoists call it: wú wéi, “non-striving.” But then you find, in turn, that it’s extraordinarily difficult not to strive. It’s like trying not to think of a green elephant—and immediately you think of it.


And so you come to the dismal conclusion that you can neither achieve what you want to achieve—that is to say: liberation from the alternation of the opposites—by striving, nor can you achieve it by not striving. And thereby you have learned that you cannot concentrate on purpose. It’s like trying to be un-self-conscious on purpose, or to be genuine on purpose, or to love on purpose. When you say “I ought to love,” well, that puts you in double bind. And we say of a person: “Well, he’s trained himself to be deliberately un-self-conscious,” or, “He has very disciplined spontaneity.” But what we were looking for was somebody whose spontaneity was genuine, so that the scaffolding didn’t show. And we believe that there are such people, like children, but they don’t know how interesting they are. And when they find out, they become brats.

Part 2


Imagine for a moment that it was your privilege to have a brief interview with God, in the course of which you were allowed to ask one question. What would you ask? Now, you would have to think this over very carefully, because this golden opportunity would come to you only once, and you would have to be most careful that you didn’t ask the silly questions.


Well, you might try God out with a Zen Buddhist kōan, such as: “Beyond the positive and the negative, what is reality?” And the Lord would turn to you and say, “My dear child, your question has no meaning!” And you wouldn’t have the opportunity to think up a meaningful one and come back. So perhaps you should have asked [???], and the Lord would say to you: “Why do you want a question?”


See, it seems you do want one, don’t you? Because you feel that is the insoluble problem of trying to win without losing. Now, as long as you can keep that problem, you’ll be busy—only, however, until you see that it can’t be solved. But there are all sorts of ways of presenting that problem in such a way that you cannot see that it’s meaningless. And the better gurus are very clever at bringing these ways out. You may see—for example, if you are invited to practice intense concentration—that after a while you find yourself thinking about concentrating, and therefore that your concentration is somewhat divided. Or he may ask you, “Why are you concentrating? What is your motivation for this activity?” And you find out that it’s your element of irreducible rascality.


So, however, the teacher (once he’s seen that we’ve mastered that lesson) has something still more ingenious. He says, “Now you have actually made progress.” Because finding out that you could not really concentrate—it was valuable because it began to prick the illusion of your ego. But you’ve only got your foot in at the door. Beyond this are many, many higher things to be learned, and you must redouble your efforts. And so, of course, you apply yourself all the more, again and again, on all sorts of tricks that these old gentlemen can come out with. And you will keep at it just as long as he can make you fall for it.


But in the end you see that it was all tricks. As the great Zen master Rinzai said: “Well, after all, there was nothing much in Obaku’s Buddhism.” And he went on to explain to his students that the art of Zen, or teaching Zen, is like deceiving a child with an empty fist. You know how you can intrigue a child by pretending you’ve got something very precious in your fist? And you can play a game for an hour, provoking the child to ever greater enthusiasm to find out what you’ve got. And in the end, the revelation is that there was nothing there. So many people say in the course of their Zen training: “I realized there was nothing to realize. It was all there from the beginning.”


Because, you see, standing opposite to the realization that you can’t do anything about it—and equivalently that you can’t do nothing about it—comes of course the awakening that the reason for that is there is no “you” separate from you. In other words, when you try to control your thoughts or control your feelings, there is no difference between the thoughts and the controller. Because what you call the thinker is simply your thought of yourself. The thinker is a thought among thoughts, and the feeler is a feeling among feelings. And trying to control thoughts with thoughts is like trying to bite your own teeth.


So you found that out. Well then, the other side of the picture is, of course, that if you do find that out, you discover that the project of controlling yourself was unnecessary, because you were yourself a Buddha from the very beginning. That’s what the Upanishads mean when they say, quite simply, tat tvam asi: “you’re it.” You, as you are.


Now, how can you conceive that? Supposing you let your imagination go and really think through what you would like to happen. Imagine the most gorgeous state of bliss that you can conceive, where there are no worries, no anxiety, no haunting future with unpleasant consequences. You are in control of the whole works, and you’re sitting on your lotus, perfectly content. And I ask you seriously: is that really what you want? You quite sure that’s what you want?


Imagine now—let’s get this situation straight—you’ve got everything you want. You’re in the highest possible spiritual state that you can conceive. And yet, I haven’t really surrendered myself—because I know it all. Something I don’t know. So please, the surprise. You know what would happen? You would find yourself sitting here in this building tonight, feeling exactly the way you feel. That’s your answer.


Because, after all, don’t you have it all? Look: you have the feeling of yourself. But the feeling of self depends on their being at the same time a contrast: the feeling of other. This self has a certain sensation of being in control of life to some extent through voluntary action. The will seems to have a certain freedom. And yet, on the other hand, there are limits to that. And it seems in the end life sweeps us away, and we are overwhelmed by the involuntary. And yet, the voluntary keeps popping up. New voluntaries has come into the world with every baby. So, you see, you couldn’t have the experience you call being a voluntary acting self without the contrast of the involuntary happening.


Now, do you want to be without the involuntary happening? You want to get rid of that? Alright. If you get rid of it, you won’t have the experience of the voluntary self. Or would you like to turn it the other way around? Would you like to have the experience of no voluntary self, and on the other hand everything just happened? Well, then you say, “Well, I’m not sure about that.” Because then I would feel at first that I was floating. See? That I had no further responsibilities. That I was just walking on air. And we do get that feeling sometimes. If you take the ideas of determinism and fatalism to their final conclusion, you do have that sense of freedom from all responsibility; freedom from worry and care. And you float along for a while, but it wears off. You don’t somehow seem to be able to follow out that philosophy consistently, especially if you have children. And somehow a society begins to push on you to be responsible, as it pushes on children to be responsible. And so this nagging duality keeps coming back: that I cannot realize the nicely responsible condition of involuntary behavior unless I have the contrast of the possibility of the voluntary and vice versa.


And what does that mean? Obviously it means that these two aspects, or sides, of our experience—which we can call the voluntary and the involuntary, the knower and the known, the subject and the object, the self and the other—although appearing to be two, are indeed one. Because you can’t have one without the other. And when that state of affairs arises, you know at once that there’s a conspiracy: that two things which look as different as different can be are, for that very reason, the same.


Now, you can detect—even under those actions of yours which you call the voluntary movement of the muscles or of the mind—that there are processes which are not voluntary. You do not will your blood to circulate. You do not control by intention the synapses in your nervous system. And yet, you would be incapable of any voluntary action unless those involuntary processes were going on. So you see these two things go together. And you begin to realize something which is rather difficult to describe: that what you call your experience is a do-happening. We don’t have good words for this. We have some words which have this sort of sense, like the word “cleave,” which means to stick together (or to hold together) and also to split. And the word “sacria,” in Latin, means “holy” and “accursed.”


And so I would like to propose we should find some word for a do-happening. Because it’s all a do-happening. That’s what Buddhists mean when they talk about karma. The word karma means “action.” And when something happens to you, be it good or bad, they say it is your karma. That means quite simply: it is your doing. But you say, “I didn’t mean to do that.” No. One school of thought will explain it by saying, “But, you see, you did something in a former life or at a former time which now has this consequence.” But that’s a very superficial understanding of karma. You don’t need to believe in reincarnation to understand karma. Karma is simply that you don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. That, with one aspect, you are doing what you call the environment, and with the other aspect you are doing what you call the organism, the me, this living body. But as you cannot conceive possibly the existence of a living body with no environment, that is the clue that the two are basically one—like the two poles of a magnet: north is quite different from south, and yet it’s all one magnet. So in precisely the same way, you are both what you do and what happens to you. So that you have a little game in which you play that what happens to you, that you’re not responsible for. That’s not you, see? You’re only responsible for this side of it. And then you can compete with the other side.


What it’s like is this. Get two knitting pins, one in each hand, and have a fencing match with yourself. And really sincerely try to stick the other hand. But that other hand must really sincerely be trying to stick the first one, and also to defend itself. It’s like playing chess with yourself, you see? Now, it won’t work. You’ll come to a sort of standstill, unless you decide for your right hand that that’s the one that’s really going to win. But then you’ve broken the rule of the game, see? Well, That’s what we do. That’s what the is called by both the Hindus and the Buddhists avidyā, “ignorance,” which really better means ignore-ance.


So what it comes down to, you see, is basically this: just in the same way that the authority of the guru is your authority—you did it—so the place where you are in life is where you’ve put yourself. And just as, on the surface of the sphere, every point may be regarded as the center of the surface, so every place may be regarded as the true place. And everyone’s in his true place. Everybody, in other words—put it in what language you will—is a manifestation of the divine, playing this game, that game, the other game. And your not knowing it (if you don’t know it) is part of the game. Makes it all the more fun. “Get lost,” you say to yourself. And lost you get—like, children love to play hide and seek; to get lost. Like, we all like to go to a play, see a horror movie, and have the cold shivers because we think the awful awfuls are going to happen. Something is going to be seen on the screen which we can’t stand to see. Oh, won’t that be a thrill if it happens. See, we all expose ourselves to that, just as children and young people are always exposing themselves to dreadful things. And the parents get, absolutely, they get the heebie-jeebies. If it isn’t getting drunk or driving hot rods, they take drugs. And that may ruin their sanity for life. How horrible can it be? And if they don’t take drugs, they’ll do something else. Always to see how close to the point of danger you can get. And most people who go into racing cars usually end up in a crash. And they know it. But the life is all the sweeter for being played dangerously.


So I would say to those among you who are the most deadheads—in the sense of un-spiritual and square, if there are any here; are real stuffy people—congratulations! You see? You’re playing a very far-out game. See, you’re so lost you don’t even know where you’re standing. And that’s taking a gorgeous risk. Why, because of you, we might even blow up the planet. How close are we going to get to that one? Well, just in the same way as that car racer watches the needle going up, up, up, up, there are these people feeling more and more and more righteous. Determine that the good shall prevail and watching that needle go up; it’s getting hotter and hotter and hotter. And finally they go out in a blaze of glory. And then, when the dust settles, they say, “Whew! That was a close squeak.” I mean, that was quite a dream we’ve woken up from. See, where will we go next? See?


Because that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s why I would say that my function is liberative. I want you to see that it’s you. It’s not me, it’s not Swami So-And-So, it’s not Buddha So-And-So, it’s not Saint So-And-So. It’s you. You do it. As Sir Edwin Arnold put the words into the mouth of the Buddha: “You suffer from yourselves. None else compels. None other holds you that you live and die, and whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss its spokes of agony, its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness.” And when one of the old Zen masters went to his teacher and said, “What is the way to liberation?” the teacher said, “Who is restraining you?” He said, “No one.” “If so, why should you ask for liberation?” See? It all bounces back to you. What do you want? Do you know what you want? Can you think it through? Say exactly what you want? And invariably, you’ll get back to the place where you are. Because what you say you want is always the symptom, the expression, of what you are now.


If, then, that is the case, it is all there—because you’re doing it. Why meditate? Why do anything of a so-called spiritual nature? People don’t understand, really, what meditation is. They take it up like they take up psychotherapy or a course in weight reduction in order to be better. But if you do that, you are not practicing what is called dhyana, or yoga, or Zen. That’s not it at all. Meditation is the one human activity which has no purpose. Buddhas—who are supposed to have attained everything—are invariably shown in some sort of meditation posture. Why should they meditate anymore? Because that just happens to be the way that a Buddha sits when he sits. When he sits, he sits. When he walks, he walks. He’s not going anywhere. He’s just going for a walk because he digs it.


See, to dig—the very word is not merely to appreciate, but to penetrate: to go to the heart of the matter, and to penetrate the moment. To get right to the root of the moment is nowhere else than the center of you, where you are. It’s where you start this whole thing. So to get with yourself is to get at the moment where you begin all this questioning. Where does the question come from? Where does the desire spring from? Well, that’s you. And that you is the point from which the whole universe is created, flowing back into the past like the wake of a ship. The wake doesn’t drive the ship, it’s the ship that makes the wake. So here you are, producing it. Now, meditation is just sitting and watching it happen. And it’s not done because it’s good for you. It’s done for fun. I might even say: meditation is a fun thing. And if it isn’t, you’re not meditating.


There’s an awful game that meditators play, which is competitive suffering. You know, they go to some place where they sit for hours on end until their legs ache and practically fall off. And they come back and brag about they sat through all those hours of leg ache. Now, it’s very difficult to put down people who are suffering because, after all, one has a natural sympathy for pain. But I sometimes want to say: to goodness sake, don’t throw your suffering at me in that way, in that spirit. Don’t brag about it. Don’t one-up me by saying: well, I’ve suffered more than you have. People do things like that. They say: well, I’m more aware of my shortcomings than you are. I’m more tolerant than you are. I recognize more than you do what a rascal I am. You know? Every kind of way of one-upping somebody else in order to play the game in which I always win.


So once we get into that kind of thing with the meditation scene, we get into hierarchies and ranks and degrees, and who has attained number seven, who has attained number nine? And the expert guru will always put a stage higher than anyone’s ever thought of. So it’s to see how far your ambition will run.


And so this goes on endlessly, endlessly, endlessly, until you suddenly wake up and begin real meditation by realizing that you were there; that you do really meditate all the time by virtue of existing all the time. Only: you miss that eternal now by always looking for something next minute, expecting a result. Now, you can say: let me not expect a result—because one does anyhow. And so you may just as well sit and enjoy it.

Alan Watts


Document Options
Find out more