The Tao of Philosophy 6: Man In Nature
1965


Alan Watts explains that how we define the borders of our self determines our relationship to the environment and our role in the universe.

References:
00:00

In my talk last night I was discussing the disparity between the way in which most human beings experience their own existence, and the way man’s being and nature is described in the sciences. I was pointing out that in such sciences as ecology and biology—ecology, for example, describes and studies the relationship between all organisms and their environments—the way in which they describe human, animal, and insect behavior is in flat contradiction with the way in which most of us experience our thinking, and our action, and our existence. We have been brought up to experience ourselves as isolated centers of awareness and action, placed in a world that is not us, that is foreign, alien, other—which we confront. Whereas, in fact, the way an ecologist describes human behavior is as an action: what you do is what the whole universe is doing at the place you call here and now. You are something the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing. This is not what you might call a fatalistic or deterministic idea. You see, you might be a fatalist if you think that you are a sort of puppet which life pushes around. You’re separate from life, but life dominates you. That’s fatalism.

02:21

But in the point of view I’m expressing, the real you is not a puppet which life pushes around. The real, deep down you is the whole universe, and it’s doing your living organism, and all its behavior. It’s expressing it as a singer sings a song. We’ve been hoodwinked into the feeling that we exist only inside our skins, and I was showing you last night that that is a hallucination. It’s just as nutty as anybody could be—like a fruitcake, you know—who thinks he’s Napoleon, or something or other. Thinks he’s a poached egg and goes around finding a piece of toast to sit on. It’s just like that: a hallucination. And I was showing how we need to experience ourselves in such a way that we could say that our real body is not just what’s inside the skin, but our whole total external environment.

03:34

Because if we don’t experience ourselves that way, we mistreat our environment. We treat it as an enemy. We try to beat it into submission. And if we do that—comes disaster. We exploit the world we live in, we don’t treat it with love, and gentleness, and respect. We cut down millions of acres of forests to turn it into newspaper, of all things. Lovely trees turned into information about nothing, and we don’t replace them properly. We kick the world around in revenge for feeling that, really, we are puppets which the world kicks around.

04:37

So my main point last night was, then, that we need a new kind of consciousness in which every individual becomes aware that his real self is not just his conscious ego. You know, let’s take a headlight of a car. The headlight shines on the road in the front. The headlight does not shine on the wire which connects it with its own battery. So, in a way, the headlight is unaware of how it shines. And in the same way, we are unaware of the sources of our consciousness. We don’t know how we know.

There was a young man who said, “Though
It seems that I know that I know.
What I would like to see
Is the I that knows me
When I know that I know that I know.”
05:40

And so we are ignorant of—we ignore; it doesn’t come within the scope of our attention—how it is that we manage to be conscious. How it is that we manage to grow our hair, to shape our bones, to beat our heart, and to secrete all the necessary fluids that we need from our glands. We do it, but we don’t know how we do it.

06:02

Because, you see, underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really us than I. And if you become aware of that unknown self, the more you become aware of it, the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that there is. That you are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and that, furthermore, this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies, and that vast thing that you see far off, far off, far off with telescopes, and you look, and look, and look—one day you’re going to wake up and say, “Why, that’s me!” And in knowing that, know—you see—that you never die, that you are the eternal thing that comes and goes, that appears now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown, and so it goes, for ever, and ever, and ever.

07:18

Now then, why I made this point as an introduction to what I want to say tonight is the problem of the relationship of man and nature. Do you know: in the history of philosophy there are really three theories of nature? Incidentally, what do you mean when you use the word “nature?” What is nature-study? Natural history? The Muesum of Natural History; what do you expect to find there? Well, for many people nature means the birds, the bees, and the flowers. It means everything that is not artificial. People think, for example, a building like this is not natural, it’s artificial. The natural state of the human being is to be naked, but we wear clothes, and that’s artificial. We build houses. Is there any difference between a human house and a wasp’s nest, or a bird’s nest? Not really. But we do have in our minds, you see, the idea that nature is somehow outside us. We’ve got some nature in us. We say there’s a thing called “human nature,” and mostly bad. Human nature, according to Dr. Freud, is motivated by the libido. And you know what that is. And you can’t trust it. In the old days they used to beat it with whips, but Freud said, “Don’t do it that way, you have to treat it as a good horse trainer trains a horse by giving it [a] lump of sugar every now and then, and get it controlled that way. Be kind to it, respect it. Even though it’s very, very disrespectable.”

09:15

Well now, there are—as I said, in the history of mankind—three theories of nature. The first theory is the Western theory, which is that nature is a machine or an artifact. We inherit this from the Hebrews who believed that nature was made by God in somewhat the same way as a potter makes a pot out of clay, or a carpenter makes a table out of wood. It is not insignificant that Jesus is the son of the carpenter. Our tradition has been to look upon the world as a construct, and somebody knows how it was put together—somebody understands—and that is the constructor, the architect, the lord God.

10:20

But it so happened that, in the 18th century, Western thought began to change. They became increasingly doubtful as to whether there was a maker, whether there was a God. But they continued to look upon the creation as an artifact, as a machine. And by the time of Newton people were explaining the world in terms of mechanism, and we are still under the influence of that idea because—after all, in things like Life Magazine and so on, when they give you an article on human physiology—they usually make drawings which show the human being as a kind of mechanism, as a sort of factory. And they show how the peristaltic action carries the food in, and how it’s processed by this organ and that organ, just as if a certain product is fed into a factory—a cow at one end—and it comes out canned corned beef at the other.

11:30

Just in such a way the human is illustrated, and so—in some kinds of rather degraded medicine that is now practiced—when you go to the hospital for a medical examination, you are treated as a machine. They process you. You’re not a person. You’re put in a wheelchair immediately, even if you were perfectly healthy and can walk, nevertheless they have to have you in this wheelchair. And they put you through a process. And the heart specialist looks only at your heart because he can’t understand anything else. The otorhinolaryngologist—which means an ear, nose, and throat man—looks at that section of you, and he doesn’t know about anything else. And maybe a psychiatrist takes a look at you, and goodness knows what happens there. And so on, and so on; everybody looks at you from their specialized point of view as if they were a bunch of mechanics examining your automobile. Because, as I said last night, we just asked for this, because most of us consider ourselves as chauffeurs inside our bodies which we own in the same way as you own a car. And when it goes wrong you take it to the mechanic to fix it. You don’t really identify with your body, just as you don’t really identify with your car. So here is this whole theory of nature—which has grown up in the West—as an artifact, something made.

13:00

Now let me take a second theory of nature. This is an Indian theory; East Indian. Nature not as an artifact, but as drama. Basic to all Hindu thought is the idea that the world is māyā (माया). That is a Sanskrit word which means many things; it means magic, illusion, art, play. All the world’s a stage. And in the Hindu idea there is—the ultimate reality of the universe—is the Self, which they call Brahman, or Ātman. That’s what there is. The Self: universal, eternal, boundless, indescribable. And everything that happens, happens on the Self. Like you say, “It’s on me. The drinks, tonight, are on me.” Or like we say, when you hear the radio, “It’s on the speaker.” You see, everything you hear on the radio—flutes, drums, human voices, traffic noises, any imaginable sound—all those sounds are vibrations of the diaphragm in the speaker. But the radio doesn’t tell you that. The announcer doesn’t come on and say every morning, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is KQED. The following sounds that you are going to hear are vibrations of the diaphragm in your speaker, and they’re not really human voices or musical instruments, but just that.” They never let you in on that.

14:54

And in exactly the same way, the universe doesn’t let you in on the truth that all sense experiences are vibrations of the Self—not just your self, but the Self—and all of us share this Self in common because it is pretending to be all of us. Brahman, the ultimate principle, plays hide and seek eternally. And he does it for unspeakably long periods of time. The Hindus measure time in what is called a kalpa: that’s 4,320,000 years. (Don’t take this seriously, it’s not meant to be taken literally.) But just for an unspeakably long time, the Brahman—the Self—pretends that it’s lost and is us. And all our adventures and all our troubles, and all our agonies and tragedies—it gets mixed up in them. Then, after the period of 4,320,000 years has elapsed, there is a catastrophe. The universe is destroyed in fire, and after that the Brahman wakes up and says, “Well, good crazy! What an adventure that was!” He wipes the sweat of his brow and says, “Whew! Let’s rest a while.” So, for another 4,320,000 years the divine Self rests and knows who it is: it’s me. Then it says, “Well, this is rather boring. Let’s get going again. Let’s get mixed up.” And it does it in a very strange way because, the way the Hindus time it, the first period of getting mixed up—getting lost—is beautiful. That’s the longest period. Everything’s right; it’s just—life’s glorious. Then it has the next period in which things get a little wonky. Something is vaguely out of order. That doesn’t last so long. Then the next period, the third, is when good and evil are equally balanced. And that’s still not so long. Finally comes the shortest period when everything bad triumphs, and the whole thing blows up and we begin all over again. We’re supposed to be living in that now; it’s what’s called kali yuga, the age of darkness, and it began on Friday, February 23rd, 3,123 B.C., and it has 5,000 years to run. But as it goes on time gets faster, so don’t worry.

17:49

So you see, that’s a theory of nature as a drama. It’s a play. Now, there’s a third theory of nature, which is Chinese. And this is very interesting. The Chinese word for nature—they call zìrán (自然). And this expression means “of itself, so;” “what happens of itself.” Or we might say “spontaneity.” It almost means “automatic,” because automatic is what is self-moving. Only, we associate the word ‘automatic’ with machinery. But zìrán, what is so of itself, is associated in the Chinese mind not with machinery but with biology. Your hair grows by itself, you don’t have to think how to grow it. Your heart beats by itself, you don’t have to make up your mind how to beat it. That’s what they mean by “nature.” The poem says:

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and grass grows of itself.
19:19

So their principle of nature is called the Tao—t-a-o, pronounced /daʊ/ in the Mandarin dialect, /tâu/ in the Shanghai dialect, /tou/ in the Cantonese dialect; take your choice. Tao means “the course of nature,” and Lao Tzu, who was a philosopher who lived a little later than 400 B.C., wrote a book about the Tao. And he said, “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” You can’t describe it. He said the principle of the Tao is spontaneity. He said, “The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. It accomplishes merits and lays no claim to them.” So there is a very great difference between the Chinese idea of Tao as the informing principle of nature, and the Judeo-Christian idea of God as nature’s lord and master. Because the Tao does not act as a boss. In the Chinese philosophy of nature, nature has no boss. There is no principle that forces things to behave the way they do. It is a completely democratic theory of nature.

21:09

Correspondingly, you see, most Westerners—whether they be Christians or non-Christians—don’t trust nature. Of all things, nature is the thing least to be trusted. You must manage it, you must watch out for it; it will always go wrong if you don’t watch out. You know, the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out. So we’re always feeling that you can’t trust it. See, we’re absolutely instilled with the idea of original sin. You can’t trust nature, because it comes out with weeds and insects. And above all, you can’t trust human nature, because if you don’t hold a club over yourself you’ll go out and rape your grandmother.

22:03

Now, the Chinese would say if you can’t trust yourself, you can’t trust anybody. Because if you can’t trust yourself, can you trust your mistrust of yourself? Is that well-founded? See? If you can’t trust yourself, you’re totally mixed up. You haven’t a leg to stand on, you haven’t a point of departure for anything. And in this respect the Taoist philosophy and the Confucian philosophy are in agreement. In Confucius’ philosophy, the fundamental virtue of a human being is called jen (仁)—spelled j-e-n for reasons best known to Chinese scholars; I don’t know what they are. But it’s pronounced ‘ren.’ And it’s a character—Chinese character—that Confucius placed as the highest of all virtues; higher than righteousness, higher than benevolence. And it means approximately human-heartedness.

23:20

Now, Confucius once said that goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue. Virtue, in Chinese, is de (德). We romanize it as t-e-h. De. And it means ‘virtue’ not in the sense of moral propriety, but ‘virtue’ in the sense of magic, as when we speak of the healing virtues of a certain plant. A man of true virtue is, therefore, a human-hearted man. And the meaning of this is that one should, above all, trust human nature in the full recognition that it’s both good and bad. That it’s both loving and selfish.

24:16

Now, let me give an illustration of the wisdom of this. When people fight wars, I trust them if the reason for which they fight a war is to expropriate somebody else’s possessions and women, because they will fight a merciful war. They will not destroy the possessions and the women that they want to capture. They want to enjoy them, and that’s a war based on simple, ordinary, everyday human greed. The most awful wars that are waged are the wars waged for moral principles. “You are a lousy Communist. You have a philosophy that is destructive to religion and to everything that we love, and value, and reverence. And therefore, we will exterminate you to the last man unless you surrender unconditionally.” Such wars are ruthless beyond belief. We can blow up whole cities, wipe people out, because we are “not greedy, we are righteous.” That is why the goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue. If you are going to do something evil, do it for a plain, honest, selfish motive. Don’t do it in the name of God—because if you do, it turns you into a monster who is no longer human; a sadist, a pure destroyer.

26:03

So an inflexibly righteous person is not human, and that is why—in Chinese ideas of justice—a good judge is not somebody who abides by the book. Their idea of justice is, “For God’s sake, keep the case out of court. Let us have a consultation behind the scenes, and let’s arrange a compromise.” Because we know our opponent is a rascal—I know I am a rascal—and therefore there can be a mutual arrangement between thieves. So we [...] we talk about it, and we call the judge in—in an unofficial capacity—and the judge hums and haws, and if he’s a good judge he has a sense of what is called . I’m going to talk to you about another meaning of a word pronounced later on, but it’s quite a different word. Li is ‘justice,’ but you can’t write it down. There is another word for justice, or law, in Chinese: zi. And this word represents—in its Chinese character form—a cauldron for cooking sacrifices, and a knife. In the high and far-off times of Chinese history there was an emperor who, when the people brought their sacrifices—of meat, and so on—to be put in the cauldrons, he also scratched—with the knife—on the side of the cauldrons the laws of the state, so that all the people could read them and understand what they were. But the sages who advised this emperor said that was a very bad thing to do, because the moment people see the law written down they develop a litigious spirit. That is to say, they think out ways of wangling around it. And that’s what we do all the time, don’t we? The moment Congress passes a law—tax law, especially—all the lawyers get together and they fill it full of holes. They say, “Well, it didn’t define this, and it didn’t say that.” And some of those Confucians wanted to put the language in order and to make all the words mean just so, but the Taoists laughed at them and said, “If you define the words, with what words are you going to define the words that define the words?” So they said, therefore, the emperor should not have written the laws down, because a sense of justice is not something you can put in words. It’s what our lawyers call ‘equity.’ And you talk to any lawyer, and he—in discussing various judges around town—he will say, “Well, judge So-And-So is pretty much a stickler for the letter of the law. But on the other hand, judge So-And-So has a sense of equity. He knows when the letter of the law just doesn’t apply to this particular case, and he just has an innate sense of fair play.” That’s the man to be trusted as a judge. So this is what the Chinese mean by a judge who has the sense of , of real justice. It can’t be written down, it can’t be explained, because every case is individual.

29:38

But what such a man has fundamentally in his heart: he trusts the good and bad of human nature. Human beings are complex. We don’t know ourselves at all, really. Consider your nervous system. Neurologists haven’t even begun to figure it out, and yet all your conscious decisions are based on this thing that you don’t understand. You’re unbelievably more wise in your nature than you ever will be in your conscious thoughts, because behind your conscious thoughts lies your nervous system. And if you say, “Well, my nervous system is unreliable. It is just a bunch of strange, weird biological chances that have gotten mixed up somehow.” Then this very opinion that you’re expressing—you see?—is a function of that nervous system. So you’re saying that you are a total hoax; you can’t trust yourself at all. So that is a set of game rules that don’t lead anywhere; it’s totally self-frustrating.

31:02

So you see, what the Chinese have developed here is a theory of nature. I said there are three theories: the Western Mechanical Theory (nature as an artifact), the Hindu Dramatic Theory, and the Chinese Organic Theory. Nature—human nature included—is an organism, and an organism is a system of orderly anarchy. There is no boss in it, but it gets along by being left alone and being allowed to do its stuff. That’s what the Chinese Taoist philosophy calls wu wei (無爲), which means—not ‘doing nothing’—but ‘not interfering with the course of events.’ Not acting against the grain.

31:56

Now this is the time to introduce the second word, , in Chinese. The first meant ‘justice.’ The second (理) is a character which had the original meaning of the markings in jade, the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle. And it’s usually translated ‘reason,’ or ‘the principle of things.’ These are not very good translations. The best translation of is ‘organic pattern.’ Now look here: when you look at the clouds, they aren’t symmetrical, they don’t form fours, they don’t come along in cubes, but you know at once that they’re not a mess. A dirty old ashtray full of junk may be a mess, but clouds don’t look like that. When you look at the patterns of foam on water, they never make an artistic mistake and they’re not mess. They are wiggly, but in a way orderly—and it’s difficult for us to describe that kind of order.

33:17

Now take a look at yourselves. You’re all wiggly. We think, you know, we’re pretty ordinary because there are a lot of us that look approximately the same. So when we see a human being we think, “Well, that’s pretty much in order, and kind of regular, and it’s okay.” But we don’t realize how wiggly we are; we are just like clouds, rocks, and stars. Look at the way the stars are arranged. Do you criticize the way the stars are arranged? Would you like them to form fours? Would you like them to be sort of set out, like needlepoint, on the canvas of the skies? There was somebody in the 18th century—in the days when they built formal gardens of clipped hedges and made all the tulips stand together like soldiers—who criticized the stars for being irregularly arranged, but today we don’t feel that way. We love the way the stars are scattered, and they never make a mistake in their arrangement. What about mountain ranges? Do you criticize the valleys for being low and praise the peaks for being high? You just say it’s great; it’s the way it is.

34:40

Now that kind of order—the artist pays a tribute to it by painting a landscape. People, you know—in every national park, there’s a place called Inspiration Point. And people go there and they say, “Aah, it’s just like a picture!” And nobody knew this 400 years ago. It took the artists to paint landscape, and then people realized how beautiful it is. Nowadays, artists are painting pictures of damp, stained walls, and floors where people have dropped a lot of paint. And one day people will walk into a room where there’s a lot of paint been scattered on the floor and on general [...] thing and they’ll say, “My goodness, it’s just like a Jackson Pollock! Oh, ain’t it just like a picture?” See? It always takes the artist to show us the vision. But of course, in the meantime, it’s difficult. You go to an exhibition of contemporary non-objective painting, and a kind of square fellow walks in there and he says, “That’s not what I call a picture!” Because it’s against his prejudices. But I say to people, “Now, excuse me. Wait a minute. Take a look at that again. I’m going to tell you something. That painting is a colored photograph of—guess what?” And he looks at it in astonishment and entirely new eyes. What could that be a photograph of? And he begins to see it might be a photograph through a microscope; of globules of germs floating in liquid. Might be anything, but there it is; it suddenly comes at him! Goodness knows whether that was what the artist intended, but that’s a method of giving people a shock; of seeing things in a new way.

37:04

You know, a G.I. visited Picasso in Paris during the war and said, “I can’t understand your paintings. They’re absurd; life doesn’t look like that.” Picasso said, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He said, “Yes.” “Have you a picture?” He said, “Yes.” “Show it.” So he drew out his billfold, and there was a little colored photograph of his girlfriend. And Picasso looked at it and said, “Is she so small as that?”

37:46

Now then: the idea of , the idea of ‘natural order,’ is like this: patterns on foam, patterns in jade, the shapes of the clouds, the shapes of trees and mountains. They are orderly, but we cannot put our finger on the order. We know it’s orderly but we don’t know why, and we know it’s completely different from a mess. The order of nature is in that way, then, indefinable. We—when Saint Augustine was asked, “What is time?” he said, “I know what it is, but when you ask me I don’t.” And so in the same way the Chinese would say, “We know what the order of nature is, but if you ask us we don’t.” The poet says,

Picking chrysanthemums along the eastern fence;
Gazing in silence at the southern hills;
The birds fly home
Through the soft mountain air of dusk—
In all these things there is a deep meaning,
But when we are about to express it,
We suddenly forget the words.
39:08

That’s . Nature as a self-ordering principle, but it doesn’t really know how it does it. Another poem says,

If you want to know where the flowers come from,
Even the God of Spring doesn’t know.
39:32

This is a very remarkable attitude to nature. Politically, you see—to translate this into politics—it is high philosophical anarchy, and there is a lot to be said for this as a political point of view. That, in other words, government is always a mess, because the state opposes itself to the people. We live under a constitution where we are supposed to be governed by ourselves. As somebody once said, “Down with democracy when we get it.” Because the state always—the government always creates itself as a business in competition with all the other businesses. And it wins because it’s the biggest one of the bunch. The Taoists said of the state that it should be as anonymous and as unobtrusive as possible. That is to say that the emperor—instead of going around in processions, and being heralded, and flags waved—should be as unobtrusive as the head of the sanitation department. You know—he’s a man, just a guy who goes around in a plain, ordinary suit, and really attends to his job. When the head of the sanitation of the city of Dallas goes around you don’t have a police escort and sirens blowing and flags waving, he simply does his job. And the feeling of Lao Tzu is that the president, or the emperor, should have the same kind of attitude: that he should simply help the people and retire, and not claim any merits for it. Always withdraw himself, always be behind the scenes. Not striving for power, but simply to help things along. “Govern a great state,” he said, “as you would cook a small fish.” Now, you know, when you’ve got a small fish in the frying pan, don’t keep tossing it around and fidgeting with the spatula, otherwise it’ll fall apart. Do it gently. Softly, softly, catchee monkey.

42:02

So then, here is a conception of nature as something you must trust. Outside nature—the birds, the bees, the flowers, the mountains, the clouds—and inside nature; human nature. Now, nature isn’t trustworthy, completely. It’ll sometimes let you down with a wallop. But that’s the risk you take; that’s the risk of life. What’s the alternative? I do not trust nature at all. It’s got to be watched. You know what that leads to? It leads to 1984 and Big Brother. It leads to the totalitarian state where everybody is his brother’s policeman, where everybody is watching everybody else to report them to the authorities, where you can’t trust your own motivation, where you have to have a psychoanalyst in charge of you all the time to be sure that you don’t think dangerous thoughts, or peculiar thoughts. And you report all your thoughts to your analyst, and your analyst keeps a record of them and reports them to the government. And everybody is busy keeping records of everything. It’s much more important to record what happens than what happens.

43:36

This is already eating us up. It’s much more important that you have your books right than that you conduct your business in a good way. In universities it’s much more important that the registrar’s records be in order than that the library be well stocked. After all, do you know your grades are all locked up in safes, and they’re protected from thievery and pilfering, and they’re the most valuable property that the university has. The library can go hang. Then, furthermore, the main function of a university—as any sensible person would imagine—[is] to teach students and to do research. So the faculty should be the most important thing in the university. On the contrary—the administration is the most important thing. The people who keep the records, who make the game rules up. And so the faculty are always being obstructed by the administration and being forced to attend irrelevant meetings, and to do everything but scholarship.

44:40

Do you know what scholarship means? What a school means? The original meaning of a scholar? Leisure. We talked of a scholar and a gentleman, because a gentleman was a person who had a private income and he could afford to be a scholar. He didn’t have to earn a living, therefore he could study the classics, and poetry, and things like that. Today, nothing is more busy than a school. They make you work, work, work, work, work—because you’ve got to get through on schedule, they have expedited courses, and you go to school so as to get a union card, or Ph.D. or something, so that you can earn a living. It’s a whole contradiction of scholarship. Scholarship is to study everything that’s unimportant, not necessary for survival. All the charming irrelevancies of life.

45:34

But you see, the thing is this: if you don’t have a room in your life for the playful, life’s not worth living. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But if the only reason for which Jack plays is that he can work better afterwards, he’s not really playing. He’s playing because it’s good for him. He’s not playing at all! You have to be able—to be a true scholar—have to cultivate an attitude to life where you’re not trying to get anything out of it. You pick up a pebble on the beach and look at it: beautiful! Don’t try and get a sermon out of it. Sermons in stones and God in everything be damned. Just enjoy it. Don’t feel that you’ve got to salve your conscience by saying that this is for the advancement of your aesthetic understanding. Enjoy the pebble. If you do that, you become healthy. You become able to be a loving, helpful human being. But if you can’t do that, if you can only do things because somehow you’re going to get something out of it, you’re a vulture.

46:55

So we have to learn—we don’t have to, you know. You don’t have to do anything; you don’t have to go on living. But it’s a great idea, it’s a great thing, if you can learn what the Chinese call purposelessness. They think nature is purposeless. When we say something’s purposeless, that’s a put-down. There’s no future in it. It’s a wash-out. But when they hear the word purposeless, they think that’s just great. It’s like the waves washing against the shore: going on, and on, and on forever with no meaning. A great Zen master said as his death poem, just before he died, “From the bathtub to the bathtub, I have uttered stuff and nonsense. The bathtub in which the baby is washed at birth, the bathtub in which the corpse is washed before burial, all this time I have said many nonsenses.” Like the birds in the trees go “Twee! Twee! Twee! Twee! Twee!” What’s it all about? Everybody tries to say, “Oh, it’s just a mating call. It’s purposeful; they’re trying to get their mate, you know? Attract them, with a song. That’s why they have colors, and butterflies have eyes on them: self-protection.” The engineering-view of the universe. Why do that? They say, “Well, it’s because they need to survive.” Well, why survive? What’s that for? “Well… to survive!”

48:29

See, human beings are really a lot of tubes. And all living creatures are just tubes. And these tubes have to put things in at one end and let it out at the other. Then they get clever about it and they develop nerve ganglia on one end of the tube—the eating end—called a head. And that’s got eyes in it, it’s got ears in it, it’s got little organs—antennae and things like this—and that helps you to find things to put in one end so that you can let them out the other. Well, while you’re doing this, you see, the stuff going through wears the tube out. And so that the show can go on the tubes have complicated ways of making other tubes, who go on doing the same thing. In at one end, out the other. And they say, “Well, that’s terribly serious! That’s awfully important; we’ve got to keep on doing this.”

49:24

But when [the] Chinese say nature is purposeless, this is a compliment. It’s like the idea of—the Japanese have a word, yūgen (幽玄), and they describe yūgen as “watching wild geese fly and be hidden in the clouds.” As “watching a ship vanish behind a distant island.” As “wandering on and on in a great forest with no thought of return.” Haven’t you done this? Haven’t you gone on a walk with no particular purpose in mind? Carry a stick with you and you occasionally hit at old stumps? Wander along and sometimes twiddle your thumbs? It’s at that moment that you are a perfectly rational human being. You’ve learned purposelessness.

50:20

All music is purposeless. Is music getting somewhere? If it were… I mean, if the aim of music were—of a symphony—were to get to the final bar, the best conductor would be the one who got there fastest. See? Dancing—when you dance, you aim to arrive at a particular place on the floor. Is that the idea of dancing? The aim of dancing is to dance! It’s the present. Well, it’s exactly the same with our life! We think life has a purpose.

50:55

I remember the preachers used to say—when I was a small boy I’d always hear it—“We must follow God’s purpose. His purpose for you and his purpose for me.” When I asked these cats what the purpose was they never knew! They didn’t know what it was; they had a hymn: “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year; God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; the time when the Earth shall be full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” What’s the glory of God? Well, they weren’t quite sure.

51:35

I’ll tell you what it is. In heaven all those angels are gathered around the glory of God. That is to say, the which than which there is no whicher. Catholics call it the beatific vision, the Jews call it the Shekhinah. There are all those angels. And they’re standing around it and they’re saying, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!” It means nothing. They’re just having a ball. See, that’s what happened in the beginning: when God created the universe, it was created—like all stars, all planets, all galaxies: they’re vaguely spherical. He created this and said, “Have a ball!” But before he said that he said, “You must draw the line somewhere.” That was the real thing he said first; before “Let there be light,” that came later. First thing was, “You must draw the line somewhere.” Otherwise nothing will happen. You know? You’ve got to have the good guys, the bad guys, you’ve got to have this, you’ve got to have that. Black and white, light and darkness. Must draw the line somewhere.

52:44

Now here’s the choice, then: are you going to trust it or not? If you do trust it you may get let down. And this ‘it’ is your self, your own nature, and all nature around you. There are going to be mistakes. But if you don’t trust it at all, you’re going to strangle yourself. You’re going to fence yourself ’round with rules and regulations and laws and prescriptions and policemen and guards—and who’s going to guard the guards, and who’s going to look after Big Brother to be sure that he doesn’t do something stupid? No go.

53:28

Supposing I get annoyed with somebody in the audience, and I’m going to throw this ashtray at them. Well, I don’t want to hit my friend sitting next to that person. I want to be absolutely sure this ashtray hits that individual. And so I don’t trust myself to throw it. I have to carry it along and be sure I hit that person on the head. See, I don’t throw it because I can’t let go of it. To throw it I must let go of it. To live I must have faith. I must trust myself to the totally unknown. I must trust myself to a nature which doesn’t have a boss. Because a boss is a system of mistrust. That is why Lao-Tzu’s Tao “Loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them.”



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