The Veil of Thoughts


In this seminar, Alan describes the ways in which we have concealed truth behind a veil of thoughts. He talks about how and why we mistake symbols for reality, argues that civilization may be a misguided experiment, offers observations about the way in which abstractions have become more powerful than the realities they are referencing, and explains how we can become “unbamboozled” from these ways of thinking.


Part 1


The subject of this seminar is The Veil of Thoughts, and following out the theme that somebody once suggested by saying that thought is a means of concealing truth, despite the fact that it’s an extraordinarily useful faculty. But in quite recent weeks we’ve had an astounding example of the way mankind can be bamboozled by thoughts. There was a crisis about gold. And the confusion of money—in any form whatsoever—with wealth is one of the major problems from which civilization is suffering. Because, way back in our development, when we first began to use symbols to represent the events of the physical world, we found this such an ingenious device that we became completely fascinated with it. And in ever so many different dimensions of life we are living in a state of total confusion between symbol and reality. And the real reason why, in our world today—where there is no technical reason whatsoever why there should be any poverty at all—the reason it still exists is people keep asking the question: “Where’s the money going to come from?” Not realizing that money doesn’t come from anywhere and never did, except if you thought it was gold. And then, of course, if to increase the supply of gold and use that to finance all the world’s commerce, prosperity would depend not upon finding new processes for growing food in vast quantities, or getting nutrition out of the ocean, or getting water from atomic energy—no, it depends on discovering a new gold mine.


And you can see what a nonsensical state of affairs that is, because when gold is used for money it becomes, in fact, useless. Gold is a very useful metal for filling teeth, making jewelry, and maybe covering the dome of the Capitol in Washington. But the moment it is locked up in vaults in the form of ingots it becomes completely useless. It becomes a false security, something that people cling to, like an idol, like a belief in some kind of Big Daddy Oh God with whiskers who lives above the clouds. And all that kind of thing diverts our attention from reality, and we go through all sorts of weird rituals. The symbol, in other words, gets in the way of practical life.


So it was—you remember the Great Depression? I expect a number of you here, looking around, are old enough to remember the Great Depression—when, one day, everybody was doing business and things were going along pretty well, and the next day there were bread lines. It was like someone came to work and they said to him, “Sorry, chum, but you can’t build today. No building can go on. We don’t have enough inches.” He’d say, “What do you mean, we don’t have enough inches? We’ve got wood, haven’t we? We got metal, we even got tape measures!” They say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand the business world. We just haven’t got enough inches! Just plain inches. We’ve used too much of them.” And that’s exactly what happened when we had the Depression. Because money is something of the same order of reality as inches, grams, meters, pounds, or lines of latitude and longitude. It is an abstraction. It is a method of bookkeeping to obviate the cumbersome procedures of barter. But our culture, our civilization, is entirely hung up on the notion that money has an independent reality of its own.


And this is a very striking, concrete example of what I’m going to talk about: of the way we are bamboozled by our thoughts which are symbols. And what we can do to become un-bamboozled, because it’s a very serious state of affairs. Most of our political squabbles are entirely the result of being bamboozled by thinking. And it is to be noted that, as time goes on, the matters about which we fight with each other are increasingly abstract, and the wars fought about abstract problems get worse and worse. We are thinking about vast abstractions, ideologies called communism, capitalism—all these systems—and paying less and less attention to the world of physical reality, to the world of earth, and trees, and waters, people, and so are in the name of all sorts of abstractions busy destroying our natural environment. Wildlife, for example, is having a terrible problem continuing to exist alongside human beings.


Another example of this fantastic confusion is that, not so long ago, the Congress voted a law imposing stern penalties upon anyone who should presume to burn the American flag. And they put this law through with a great deal of patriotic oratory, and the quoting of poems and so on about Old Glory, ignoring the fact entirely that these same congressmen—by acts of commission or omission—are burning up that for which the flag stands. They’re allowing the utter pollution of our waters, of our atmosphere, the devastation of our forests, and the increasing power of the bulldozer to bring about a ghastly fulfillment of the biblical prophecy that “every valley shall be exalted, every mountain laid low, and the rough places plain.” But—you see—they don’t see, they don’t notice the difference between the flag and the country. Or, as Korzybski pointed out, the difference between the map and the territory.


Now, however, I think we should begin by talking a little bit about when we use the word “physical reality”—as distinct from “abstraction”—what are we talking about? Because, you see, there’s going to be a fight about this, philosophically. If I say that the final reality that we’re living in is the physical world, a lot of people will say that I’m a materialist, that I’m un-spiritual, and that I think too much of an identification of the man with the body. Any book that you’ll open on yoga or Hindu philosophy will have in it a declaration that you start a meditation practice by saying to yourself, “I am not the body. I am not my feelings. I am not my thoughts. I am the witness who watches all this and is not really any of it.” And so, if I were to say, then, that the physical world is the basic reality, I would seem to be contradicting what is said in these Hindu texts. But it all depends on what you mean by the “physical world.” What is it?


First of all, it must be pointed out that the idea of the “material world” is itself philosophical. It is in its own way a symbol. And so, if I take up something that is generally agreed to be something in the material world, and I argue that this is material—of course, it isn’t. Because nobody has ever been able to put their finger on anything material—that is to say if, by the word “material,” you mean some sort of basic stuff out of which the world is made. By, say, analogy with the art of ceramics, pottery: we use clay and we form it into various shapes, and so a lot of people think that the physical world is various forms of matter. And nobody has ever been able to discover any matter. They’ve been able to discover various forms, yes—there is patterns, but no matter. You can’t even think how you would describe matter in some terms other than form, because whenever a physicist talks about the nature of the world he describes a form, he describes a process which can be put into the shape of a mathematical equation. And so, if you say, “A + B = B + A,” everybody knows exactly what you mean. It’s a perfectly clear statement, but nobody needs to ask, “What do you mean by ‘A’?” or “What do you mean by ‘B’?” Or, if you say, “1 + 2 = 3,” that’s perfectly clear, but you don’t need to know one what, two what, or three what.


And all our descriptions of the physical world have the nature of these formulae: numbers. They’re simply mathematical patterns. Because what we’re talking about is pattern. But it’s pattern of such a high degree of complexity that it’s very difficult to deal with it by thinking. In science we really work in two different ends of the spectrum of reality. We can deal with problems in which there are a very few variables, or we can deal with problems in which there are almost infinitely many variables. But in between we’re pretty helpless. In other words, the average person cannot think through a problem involving more than three variables without a pencil in his hand. That’s why, for example, it’s difficult to learn complex music. Think of an organist who has two keyboards—or three keyboards—for work with his hands, and each hand is doing a different rhythm. And then his feet on the pedals: he can be doing a different rhythm with each foot. Now, that’s a difficult thing for people to learn to do, just like to rub your stomach in a circle and pat your head at the same time takes a little skill.


Now, most problems with which we deal in everyday life involve far more than three variables. And we’re really incapable of thinking about them. Actually, the way we think about most of our problems is simply going through the motions of thinking. We don’t really think about them, we do most of our decision-making by hunch. You can collect data about a decision that you have to make, but the data that you collect has the same sort of relation to the actual processes involved in this decision as a skeleton to a living body. It’s just the bones. And there are all sorts of entirely unpredictable possibilities involved in every decision, and you don’t really think about it at all. The truth of the matter is that we are as successful as we are—which is surprising, the degree to which we are successful in conducting our everyday practical lives—because our brains do the thinking for us in an entirely unconscious way. The brain is far more complex than any computer. The brain is, in fact, the most complex known object in the universe. Because our neurologists don’t understand it. They have a very primitive conception of the brain and admit it. And therefore, if we do not understand our own brains, that simply shows that our brains are a great deal more intelligent than we are. Meaning—by “we”—the thing that we have identified ourselves with. Instead of being sensible and identifying ourselves with our brains, we identify ourselves with a very small operation of the brain, which is the faculty of conscious attention, which is a sort of radar that we have that scans the environment for unusual features. And we think we are that, and we’re nothing of the kind. That’s just a little trick we do. So, actually, our brain is analyzing all sensory input all the time: analyzing all the things you don’t notice, don’t think about, don’t have even names for. And so it is this marvelous complex goings on which is responsible for our being able to adapt ourselves intelligently to the rest of the physical world. The brain is, furthermore, an operation of the physical world.


But now, you see, though, we get back to this question: “physical world.” This is a concept. This is simply an idea. And if you want to ask me to differentiate between the physical and the spiritual, I will not put the spiritual in the same class as the abstract. But most people do. They think that 1 + 2 = 3 is a proposition of a more spiritual nature than, say, for example, a tomato. But I think a tomato is a lot more spiritual than 1 + 2 = 3. This is where we really get to the point. That’s why, in Zen Buddhism, when people ask, “What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?” you could very well answer “A tomato.” Because, look how—when you examine the material world—how diaphanous it is. It really isn’t very solid. A tomato doesn’t last very long. Nor, for that matter, do the things that we consider most exemplary of physical reality, such as mountains. The poet says, “The hills are shadows, and they flow from form to form, and nothing stands.” Because the physical world is diaphanous. It’s like music. When you play music it simply disappears, there’s nothing left. And for that very reason it is one of the highest and most spiritual of the arts: because it is the most transient.


And so, in a way, you might say that transiency is a mark of spirituality. A lot of people think the opposite: that the spiritual things are the everlasting things. But, you see, the more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless. Nothing is so dead as a diamond, and yet, this imagery—the idea of the most mineral objects being the most permanent, and so they get associated with the spiritual. Jesus Christ is called the Rock of Ages. And even the Buddhists have used the diamond—the vajra—as an image of the fundamental reality of the universe. But the reason why they used the diamond was not that it was hard, but that it was completely transparent and, therefore, afforded a symbol of the void which everything fundamentally is. Not meaning that there simply is nothing there, but the void means that you cannot get any idea which will sufficiently define physical reality. Every idea will be wrong. In that sense, it will be void.


So then, the physical world: we can’t even find any stuff out of which it’s made. We can only recognize each other, and I say “Well, I realize that I met you before, and that I see you again. But the thing that I recognize is not anything, really, except a consistent pattern.” Let’s suppose I have a rope, and this rope begins by being manila rope, then it goes on by being cotton rope, then it goes on with being nylon, then it goes on with being silk. So I tie a knot in the rope, and I move the knot down along the rope. Now, is it—as it moves along—the same knot or a different knot? We would say it is the same because you recognize the pattern of the knot. But at one point it’s manila, at another point it’s cotton, another point it’s nylon, and another it’s silk. And that’s just like us. We are recognized by the fact that, one day, you face the same way as you did the day before, and people recognize your facing. So they say that’s John Doe or Mary Smith. But, actually, the contents of your face—whatever they may be; the water, the carbons, the chemicals—are changing all the time. You’re like a whirlpool in a stream. The stream is doing this consistent whirlpooling and we always recognize—like at Niagara: the whirlpool is one of the sights, but the water is always moving on. And we are just like that, and everything is like that.


So there’s nothing in the physical world that is what you might call substantial. It’s pattern. And this is why it’s so spiritual. To be non-spiritual is not to see that; in other words, it is to impose upon the physical world the idea of thing-ness, of substantiality. That is to be—in the sense that the Hindus use it—that is “to be involved in matter;” to identify with the body. To believe—in other words—that the body is something constant, something tangible. The body is really very intangible. You cannot pin it down; it’s all falling apart, furthermore. And we’re aging, getting older, and so, therefore, if you cling to the body you will be frustrated. So the whole point is that the material world—the world of nature—is marvelous so long as you don’t try to lean on it, so long as you don’t cling to it. And if you don’t cling to it you can have a wonderful time with it.


Let’s take a very controversial issue: all spiritual people are generally against lovemaking. Ramkṛiṣṇa used to speak about the evils of woman and gold—I’ve already demonstrated the evils of gold. But what about the evils of woman? In my point of view, yes, women can be a source of evil if you attempt to possess them. I mean, if you can say to another person, “I love you so much I want to own you, and really tie you down, and call you”—well, it’s like that poem of Ogden Nash, where someone claimed that he loved his wife so much he climbed a mountain and named it after her. Called it Mount Mrs. Oswald Tregennis! And so, in other words, if you try to possess people and you make your sexual passion possessive in that way, then, of course, you are trying to cling to the physical world. But, you see, women are—in a way—much more interesting if you don’t cling to them, if you let them be themselves and be free. And, in my opinion, you can have a very spiritual sex life if you are not possessive. But if, on the other hand, you are possessive, then you’re in trouble.


But, you know, the average svāmī won’t agree with that because he confuses—by thinking that the body (the body that I touch) is something evil—he’s hung up with it. It’s like the story of the two Zen monks who were crossing the river, and the ford was very deep because of the flood. And there was a girl trying to get across, and one of the monks immediately picked her up, threw her over his shoulder and carried her across. Put her down on the other side, and then the monks went one way and she went another. And the other monk, who had been in a kind of embarrassed silence and which he finally broke, he said, “You realize that you broke a monastic rule by touching and picking up a woman like that?” And he said, “Oh, but I left her on the other side of the river, and you’re still carrying her!”


So the whole question, then, you see, is that even—you can find this to some extent in some rather irritable saint (Paul), where he speaks of the opposition of the flesh and the spirit. Now, this word—σάρξ (sarx) in Greek; “the flesh”—as he uses it, is really—as Bogaev points out—it’s a spiritual category. For the Christian, you see, the word is made flesh in Christ, and there will be the resurrection of the body in the final consummation of the universe. So you cannot really, as an orthodox Christian, take an antagonistic attitude to the flesh. Why, then, does St. Paul take an antagonistic attitude to the flesh?


Well, you can only save the situation and make the New Testament consistent with itself by saying that he meant by “the flesh” a certain kind of spiritual category. He didn’t mean this [Alan slaps his own arm], because this isn’t flesh. Flesh is a concept, this is not. And so the flesh—or, you might talk about the sins of the flesh—they have entirely to do with certain hangups that we have about our bodies. And that, again, is what I would call leaning on the world, exploiting it.


When you take, as a Buddhist, you take the Third Precept: Kāmesumicchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi. And it’s usually translated “I undertake the precept to refrain from adultery.” It doesn’t say anything of the kind. Kāma is “passion.” Kāmesumicchācāra, therefore, is “I undertake the precept not to exploit the passions.” So, in other words, you may be bored—see?—and you’re feeling sort of empty and at a loose end, and you think, “Well, I dunno, let’s go and commit adultery. It might liven things up.” See? And that would be what they call in Zen “raising waves when no wind is blowing.” It would be quite a different matter if, in a perfectly spontaneous and natural way, you fell in love with some woman. You wouldn’t be going out of your way to get in trouble. It would be appropriate and natural at the time. Or, in the same way, a lot of people—instead of saying “let’s commit adultery”—when they feel sort of bored they say, “Let’s go and eat something.” And so they become fatter and fatter and fatter because they’re filling the spiritual vacuum in their psyche with food, which doesn’t do the job. It’s not the function of food to fill spiritual vacuums. So, in this way, one exploits the appetites or the passions.


So, likewise, also the Fifth Precept: Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā is a list of intoxicating substances. And it doesn’t say that you are not going to take them, it says you’re not going to be intoxicated by them. In other words: a Buddhist may drink, but not to get drunk. I don’t know how that applies to psychedelics, but that’s another story.


So one might say, then, that we are confused, through and through, about what we mean by the “material world.” And what I’m first of all doing is I’m just giving a number of illustrations which show how confused we are. And let me repeat this to get it clear, because it is rather complicated: in the first place, we confuse abstract symbols—that is to say, numbers and words and formulae—with physical events as we confuse money with consumable wealth. In the second place, we confuse physical events—the whole class and category of physical events—with matter. But matter, you see, is an idea; it’s a concept. It’s the concept of stuff, of something solid and permanent that you can catch hold of. Now, you just can’t catch hold of the physical world. The physical world is the most evasive, illusive process that there is. It will not be pinned down and, therefore, it fulfills all the requirements of spirit.


So what I’m saying, then, is that the non-abstract world—which Korzybski called “unspeakable,” which is really a rather good word—is the spiritual world. And the spiritual world isn’t something kind of gaseous, abstract, formless (in that sense of “shapeless”), it’s formless in another sense: the formless world is the wiggly world. There really is no way that the physical world is. In other words, the nature of truth—I said in the beginning that somebody had said thoughts were made to conceal truth—this is a fact because there is no such thing as the truth that can be stated. In other words, ask the question “What is the true position of the stars in the Big Dipper?” Well, it depends where you’re looking at them from. And there is no absolute position. So, in the same way, a good accountant will tell you that any balance sheet is simply a matter of opinion. There’s no such thing as the true state of affairs of a business.


But we’re all hooked on the idea that there is, you see, an external, objective world which is a certain way, and that it really is that way. History, for example, is a matter of opinion. History is an art, not a science. It’s something constructed, which is accepted as a more or less satisfactory explanation of events which, as a matter of fact, don’t have an explanation at all. Most of what happens in history is completely irrational. But people always have to feel that they’ve got to find a meaning. For example: you get sick, and you’ve lived a very good life, and you’ve been helpful to other people and done all sorts of nice things. Then you get cancer. And you say to the clergyman, “Why did this have to happen to me?” And you’re looking for an explanation—and there isn’t one. It just happened that way. But people feel if they can’t find an explanation they feel very, very insecure. Why? Because they haven’t been able to straighten things out. The world is not that way.


So the truth—in other words: what is going on—is, of course, a lot of wiggles. But the way it is is always in relation to the way you are. In other words, however hard I hit a skinless drum, it will make no noise, because noise is a relationship between a fist and a skin. So, in exactly the same way, light is a relationship between electrical energy and eyeballs. It is you, in other words, who evoke the world. And you evoke the world in accordance with what kind of a you you are; what kind of an organism. One organism evokes one world, another organism evokes another world. And so everything—reality is a kind of relationship.


So once one gets rid of the idea of “the truth” as some way the world is in a fixed sense—say “it is that way,” see?—then you get to another idea of the truth altogether: the idea of a truth that cannot be stated, the truth that cannot be pinned down. And then, that is the kind of truth that is God when we speak of God as the reality that exceeds all thoughts, that surpasses all definitions, that is infinite, unbounded, eternal, immeasurable in terms of time. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about a gaseous vertebrate or a huge, vast void without any wiggles in it. All gas. We’ll put it another way altogether: the truth that cannot be pinned.

Part 2


Well now, in the first talk I was explaining that the theme of this seminar was the problem of how thoughts protect us from truth and what to do about it, and showing various ways in which the symbolizing process—which we call thinking; the use of signs, words, symbols, numbers to represent what’s going on in the external world or the world of nature—leads us into a curious confusion that we confuse the symbolic process with the actual world. And the temptation to do this arises from the extraordinary relative success that we have had in controlling the world of nature with the power of thought. But I don’t know if it’s ever struck you that we really don’t know whether we have successfully controlled it or not. It could be argued—a very strong case could be made—that the entire intellectual venture of civilization has been a ghastly mistake, and that we are now on a collision course, and that all the vaunted benefits of intelligence (technology and all that) is simply going to draw the human race to an extremely swift conclusion.


Of course, that might not be a bad thing. I’ve sometimes speculated on the idea that all stars have been created out of planets. And that these planets developed high civilizations which eventually understood the secrets of nuclear energy and, naturally, blew themselves up. And in the process these stars flung out lumps of rock as they blow up, which eventually spun around them and became planets all over again. And that this is the actual method of genesis of the universe which would accord, of course, with the Hindu cosmology where time and the events in time are invariably looked upon as a process of progressive deterioration through the cycles of each kalpa, in which things get worse and worse as time goes on until it can’t stand itself anymore, and it blows up and, after a period of rest and recuperation, begins all over again.


Why do we somehow have a distaste for a theory of time which runs in that direction? I mean, would you rather have a rhythm that goes nyeeaow-zhip, nyeeaow-zhip, or one that goes neeiyp-punng-neeiyp? See? I mean, which is it? Or you want one that’s going up always? You see? Always getting better. You can’t even imagine such a state of affairs because, you know, it’s relative. As you succeed in life you simply… well, there was a communist—a Russian, not a communist—a Russian philosopher who accused the communists in their various five-year plans and progressive notions (wherein people were always preparing for tomorrow) of converting all human beings into caryatids. Now, you know, a caryatid is a pillar, shaped in a human form, which supports a roof. And he said “You are turning all men into caryatids to support a stage upon which others will dance.” But, of course, you know they never will. You have one row of caryatids supporting a floor, and very soon your children are the next row of caryatids supporting another floor: so that it gets higher and higher, and we don’t really know where we began and we’re always in the same place. Always hoping, always thinking that the next time will be it. And this, of course, is an eternal illusion. It’s much better—actually, one would be much happier—to think that the future is simply deteriorating. I can explain that very simply.


Human beings are largely engaged in wasting enormous amounts of psychic energy in attempting to do things that are quite impossible. You know—as the proverb says—you can’t lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. But recently, I’ve heard a lot of references in just general reading and listening where people say, “We’ve got to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps!” And you can’t! And you can struggle, and tug, and pull until you’re blue in the face, and nothing happens except that you’ve exhausted yourself. All sensible people therefore begin in life with two fundamental presuppositions: you are not going to improve the world, and you are not going to improve yourself. You are just what you are. And once you have accepted that situation, you have an enormous amount of energy available to do things that can be done. And everybody else, looking at you from an external point of view, will say, “My God, how much so-and-so has improved!” But I know—I mean, hundreds of my friends are at work on enterprises to improve themselves—by one religion or another, one therapy or another, this system, that system—and I’m desperately trying to free people from this. And I suppose that makes me a messiah of some kind.


But the thing is that you can’t do it! One very simple reason—which, I think, most of you are by now familiar with—is that the part of you which is supposed to improve you is exactly the same as that part of you which needs to be improved. In other words, there isn’t any real distinction between ‘bad me’ and ‘good I,’ between the ‘higher self’ which is spiritual and the ‘lower self’ which is animal. It’s all of a piece; you are this organism, this integrated, fascinating energy pattern. And as Archimedes said: “Give me a fulcrum and I will move the Earth.” But there isn’t one. It’s like—you know—betting on the future of the human race. If I were really smart I would lay a bet that the human race will destroy itself, because (in practical politics) one realizes that nothing is going to work out right. No candidate I’ve ever voted for ever won the election. But the trouble is there’s nowhere to place the bet! And so, since I can’t place the bet anywhere, I’m involved in the world and must perforce try to see that it doesn’t blow itself to pieces.


But the thing—I once had a terrible argument with Margaret Mead. She was holding forth one evening on the absolute horror of the atomic bomb and how everybody should immediately spring into action and abolish it. But she was getting so furious about it that I said to her, “You know, you scare me. Because I think you’re the kind of person who will push the button in order to get rid of the other people who were going to push it first.” And she told me that I had no love for my future generations, no responsibility for my children, and I was a phony swami who believed in retreating from facts. But I maintain my position. Robert Oppenheimer, a little while before he died, said that it’s perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.


Because, you see, all the troubles going on in the world now are being supervised by people with very good intentions. They’re attempts to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this and prevent that possible horrendous damage. And the more we try, you see, to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes. And it gets worse. And maybe that’s the way it’s got to be. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right. But simply, on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise.


Would this be an argument against conservationists?


This is an argument against all kinds of do-gooding. In other words, it’s simply—it’s the… what I’m saying is: don’t take me too seriously. I’m pitching a case for the fact that civilization has been a mistake; that it would be much better to leave everything alone. That the wild animals are wiser than we in that they—putting it in our crude and not very exact language—they just follow their instincts. And if a moth mistakes a flame for the signal on which it gets a mating call and flies into the flame, so what? That just keeps the moth population down. And a moth doesn’t worry. You know, it doesn’t go buzzing around in a state of anxiety, wondering whether this sex call is the real thing or just a flame. It doesn’t think consciously about the future—at least, we suppose this is so. Maybe it does. But we suppose that it doesn’t and, therefore, it isn’t troubled. But the species of moths goes on and on and on, and so far as we know it’s been around for an incredibly long time, and may be even longer than we have. Bees, ants—creatures of this kind—they have long since escaped from history, so far as we can see. In other words, they live a settled existence which you might consider rather boring because it doesn’t have constant change in the way that we do. They live the same rhythm again and again and again, but because they don’t bother to remember it consciously it never gets boring. And because they don’t bother to predict, they’re never in a state of anxiety. And yet they survive.


Now we—who “look before and after,” as Emerson says, and predict, and are always concerned whether this generation is gonna be better or worse than the one that came before—we are tormented. And we just don’t realize—because of this tremendous preoccupation with time—we don’t realize how beautiful we are, in spite of ourselves. Because, you see, the conscious radar is a troubleshooter: it’s always on the watch out for variations in the environment which may bring about disaster. And so our consciousness is, from one day’s end to another, entirely occupied with time and with planning, and with what has been and with what will be. And since troubleshooting is its function, we then get the general feeling that man is born to trouble. And we ignore in this preoccupation with conscious attention how marvelously we get on, how—for most of the time—our physical organs are in a fantastically harmonious relationship, how our body relates by all sorts of unconscious responses to the physical environment. So that if you became aware of all the adjustment processes that are being managed spontaneously and subconsciously by your organism, you would find yourself in the middle of great music. And, of course, this occasionally happens.


The mystical experience is nothing other than becoming aware of your true physical relationship to the universe. And you’re amazed—thunderstruck—by the feeling that, underneath everything that goes on in this world, the fundamental thing is a state of unbelievable bliss. Well, why not? Why else would there be anything happening? Because if the game isn’t worth the candle, if the universe is basically nothing but a tormented struggle, why have one? Hasn’t it ever struck you that it would be much simpler not to have any existence? It would require no effort. There would be no problems. So why is there anything going on? Let me say not why, but how is there anything going on? Because if it’s all fundamentally a drag, I just don’t see any reason for its being. Everything would have committed suicide long ago. And to be at rest.

Abou Ben Adhem—may his tribe decrease

By cautious birth control and be at peace.

G.K. Chesterton, The Philanthropist


So we might work on this possibility, then, that civilization is a mistake and that we’ve taken completely the wrong track and should have left things to nature, as it were. And, of course, this is the same problem that is brought up in the Book of Genesis. Actually, the fall of man, in Genesis, is his venture into technology. Because in the Bible, the Hebrew words for the knowledge of good and evil are connected with technics. What is technically expeditious and what is not—words connected with, actually, metallurgy—and to be as God, you see. When you “eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and you become as God” means you think you’re going to control your own life. And God says, “Okay, baby! You wanted to be God! You try it!” But the trouble with you is you’ve got a one-track mind. And therefore you can’t be God. To be God you have to have an infinitely many-tracked mind—which is, of course, what your brain has, you see? The brain is infinitely many-tracked, but consciousness is not—it’s one-tracked. As we say: you can only think of one thing at a time. And you cannot take charge of the universe with that kind of a consciousness because there’s too much of it. As I explained before: too many variables. And our science can take care of a few variables, or of an enormous number of variables (as in quantum mechanics) by statistical methods—as we can use statistical methods to predict that most people will live to be 65 years old, at least, but we cannot say of any given individual whether he will live to 65 or not. That’s what we wanted to know! But the problem is that the variables on each individual are too complicated. And we have not yet, you see, developed a science which can deal with, say, 50- or 100- or 500-variable systems. It’s too complicated to think about. But computers are going to help us. But, as yet, we are either on the low number or the extremely high number. And these are outside the range of the problems with which we are really concerned.


That’s why, for example, a lot of people have taken to using the I Ching; the Book of Changes. Because if you’re tossing a coin to make your decisions—and everybody does, fundamentally, make their decision by tossing coins—it’s better to have a 64-sided coin than a two-sided coin. The I Ching gives you 64 possibilities of approach to any given decision instead of just two: yes or no. It’s based on yes or no because it’s based on the yang and the yin, but in the same way that digital computers use a number-system which consists only of the figures 0 and 1 out of which you can construct any number. And this was invented by Leibniz, who got it from the Book of Changes. It’s amazing how this book is somehow always with us. But this, then, is a way of helping your own multi-variabled brain arrive at decisions, cooperating with your own mind. Because, then again, after you’ve tossed your 64-sided coin, the oracle that you read—that explains each particular hexagram in the Book of Changes—is a sort of Rorschach blot. It is a very laconic remarks into which everybody reads just exactly what they want to read. But that helps you make a decision by the fact that you don’t really have to accept responsibility for it. See? Then you can say, “It told me. I consulted the oracle.” The same way when you go to a guru. You say, “My guru is very wise and he’s instructed me to do this, that, and the other.” But it was you who decided on this guru. How did you know he was a good one? See? You gave him his authority because you picked him out. It always comes back to you, but we like to pretend it doesn’t. But the thing is that one’s self is certainly not the stream of consciousness. One’s self is everything that goes on underneath that, and of which the stream of consciousness is a mere—well, it has about the same relation to one’s self as the bookkeeping does to a business. And if you’re selling grocery, there’s very little resemblance between your books and what you move over your shelves and counters. It’s just a record of it, and that’s what our consciousness keeps.


Now supposing, then, we work with the argument that we’ve made an awful mistake in bringing out civilization and we’re not going to survive. Now, there are various things that can be said about this. Just as I made the joke that all stars used to be planets, one could say, “Well, is it such a good thing to survive?” You know T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land says “this is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.” But some people would rather end with a bang than a whimper. Some people are stingy and they like to burn up their fire very gradually, conserving the fuel and just keep enough heat going so that they get a long time. Other people prefer a kind of a potlatch situation where they have a huge whiz-bang fire that goes out in a hurry. Now, who is right? Do you want to be a tortoise? You know, a tortoise that lives for hundreds of years but drags itself around all the time very slow, slow, slow, sullen? Or would you rather be a little hummingbird—yeah, yeah! Humming bird, that’s the thing! See?—that dances and lives at a terrific pace? Well, you can’t say one is right and the other’s wrong. And so there may be nothing wrong with the idea of a world, a civilization, a culture that lives at a terrific increasing pace of change and then explodes. That may be perfectly okay. My point is that if we could reconcile ourselves to the notion that that is perfectly okay, then we would be less inclined to push that button. It’s the anxiety. If you cannot stand anxiety—and if you cannot simply be content for issues to be undecided—you are liable to push the button because you say, “Let’s get it over with.”


People who have trouble with the law and are manipulating the courts in one way or another always learn to delay everything: put it off, introduce legal red tape managed to—like Ralph Ginzburg, who’s been in trouble because of the Eros Magazine. He’s got a very smart attorney who’s simply the—although the case has gone to the Supreme Court—he’s simply mumbling away and putting up all sorts of things so that he keeps Ralph out of jail. And that’s life! Life is simply a way of postponing death. And that’s what we have to do.


So then, let’s say: well, civilization wasn’t really a mistake. It was just as natural as anything else: a being that exists under conditions of illusion that imagines that it’s controlling its own destiny, that thinks it’s capable of improving itself, and—by virtue of this illusion—destroys itself rapidly in an interesting way. You see? Let’s suppose that’s what we are. But you still come back to the point that you are spending an enormous amount of energy in doing things that can’t be done—that is to say, tugging at the bootstraps. And if you find this frustrating, if you really don’t like it, you don’t have to do it! You can stop. And the paradox is that, when you stop, you become happier and more energetic. People always wondered about the Calvinists because Calvinists believed that, from the beginning of time, God had foreordained who was to be saved and who is to be damned, and you have no choice. Predestination. Therefore, the logical assumption would be that people who believed in predestination would be a laissez faire: they just sit and wait saying, “There’s nothing we can do about it.” But Calvinists were quite other than that. They were very energetic people; too energetic. Very, very vigorously moral. They gave us the Protestant ethic. But they believed in predestination because, you see, they simply had all the psychic energy which Catholics were dissipating upon wondering whether they were saved or not—see?—and being in a state of fear and trembling about “Have I made the right decision? Did I act rightly?” and so on. So they didn’t have as much energy as the Calvinists.


So then, in this day and age we say—in the line of thought of psychiatry or of most schools of psychotherapy—it’s important for you to accept yourself rather than to be in conflict. Get with yourself. But everybody says, “But!” Because nobody dares take that too far. There’s always a little bit of reservation on the end of it. It’s like, I’ve never heard a preacher—to this day!—give a sermon on the passage in the Sermon on the Mount which begins: “Be not anxious for the morrow.” They do occasionally refer to it and say, “Well, that’s all very well for Jesus.” But the the actual putting into practice of this—nobody will agree with. They say it’s not practical to not give a damn about how you’re going to provide for the next day’s meals, and all that sort of thing. But it is practical. It’s much more practical than what we’re doing, if you mean by “practical” that it has survival value. Only, I want to point out that this is a kind of a two-step way. See, the first step is not being anxious for the morrow, not dreaming for one moment that you can change anything, or improve anything. Which of you—by being anxious—can add one cubit to his stature, you see? But this, just like the belief in predestination, has an unexpected consequence: namely, the making of the energy available so that, in fact, you can take care of the morrow—but for the simple reason that you’re no longer worrying about it. And thus it comes about that people who do not live for the morrow have some reason to make plans, but those who live for the morrow have no reason to make plans for anything because they never catch up with tomorrow; because they don’t live in the present. They live for a future which never arrives. That is very stupid.


But, you see, so all this is said in quite another spirit than the spirit of sermonizing. I’m not talking at all about something you should do. All I’m doing is explaining a situation, and you can do anything you like about it. Actually, you know, you cannot lift yourself up by your own bootstraps—however hard you try—and I’m merely pointing out the it can’t be done. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try, because it may be your lifestyle to be constantly attempting to do things that can’t be done. I do this in a way because all poets do it. A poet is always trying to describe what cannot be said. And he gets close, you know? He often really gives the illusion that he’s made it. And that’s a great thing: to be able to say what can’t be said. I’m trying to say, to express, the mystical experience—and it just can’t be done. And therefore, everything I’m saying to you is a very elaborate deception. I’m weaving all kinds of intricate nonsense patterns which sound as if they were about to make sense, and they don’t really. But, you see, we could take that to another level and say, “Well, that’s just life!”


Once I was talking with Fritz Perls at the Esalen Institute and he said, “The trouble with you is you’re all words. Why don’t you practice what you preach?” So I said, “I don’t preach. And furthermore, don’t put words down. Because the patterns that people make with words are just like the patterns of ferns, or of the marks on seashells. They are a dance. And they’re just as much a legitimate form of life as flowers.” He said, “You’re impossible!” But, you see, that’s very important.


And that is why—in certain forms of methods of meditation and religious rituals—we use words in a way that is not ordinarily in accord with the use of words. Words are normally used to convey information. But in religious rituals words are not used to convey information: words are used musically for the sake of sound. And this is a method of liberating oneself from enthrallment with words. When you say any ordinary word—just take a word like “body,” see?—and you say it once, and it seems to be quite sensible. But say it four or five times: body, body, body, body, body, body. And you think, “What a funny noise.” Isn’t that curious? Or “apple dumpling.” Apple dumpling, you know? That’s kind of a nice sound: apple dumpling.


And so in one of the great methods of meditation—which is called mantra yoga—the use of sound for liberating consciousness is precisely that. You take all sorts of nonsense and chant it. And you concentrate on these sounds quite apart from anything that they may mean. See, this is why the Catholic Church has made a ghastly mistake in having Mass celebrated in the vernacular. Now everybody knows what it means, and it really wasn’t so hard after all. And—while it was in a tongue that was completely incomprehensible—have this sense of mystery to it. And furthermore, if you knew how to use it as a sādhanā; a method of meditation—you could do very well. All monks were trained when they recited the Divine Office. They would explain to a novice: “Don’t think about the meaning of the words. Just say the words with your mouth and keep your consciousness on the presence of God.” They used it that way, see?


So it’s a very good thing, then, to use words in this way to overcome slavery to words. I’ve just written a book of nonsense ditties which are to be used in this way. To get the rhythm going—which is an incantation. Which is a way of getting beyond the bondage of thought. Because, you see, you cannot think without words. You can use numbers and a few things like that. But if you preoccupy your consciousness with meaningless words, that very simply stops you from thinking. And then you dig the sound. Do you know what it is, to dig the sound of anything? Anybody who’s had a psychedelic experience knows exactly what this means. That you—I can only call it “you go down into sound,” and you listen to that vibration, and you go into it, and into it, and into it, and you suddenly realize that that vibration that you’re listening to—or singing—is what there is. That’s the energy of the cosmos. That’s what’s going on. And everything that’s going on is a kind of a pulsation of energy, which in Buddhism is called “suchness” or “thatness”—tathātā. You see? What’s da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da-da-daaa. And that’s what we’re all doing. Only: we look around and, you know, here we all are with people. We’ve got faces on, and we talk, and we’re supposed to be making sense, but actually we’re just going da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-d-da-daaa in very complicated ways, see? And playing this life-game. And the thing is that if we don’t get with it, it passes us by. That’s alright! You can miss the bus; it’s your privilege. You see? But it really is a great deal to go with the dance and know that that’s what you’re doing, instead of agonizing about the whole thing.

Part 3


Well, now, we’ve been discussing—in two sessions—the ways in which thought can conceal truth, and so now we have to come to the other aspect of the problem, which is: how to get un-bamboozled. And I often say that, in a way, this is the wrong question because it reminds me of the famous tale about the American tourist in England who wanted to find a way to obscure a little village called Upper Tuddenham. And he asked a local yokel the way, and the man scratched his head and said, “Well, sir, I do know the way, but if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.” And the problem, therefore, of what to do is, in a way, the wrong question. Because—as I pointed out yesterday—you have to begin with the assumption that you can’t do anything. You can’t change yourself because the whole idea involves a sort of schizy situation where this “I” is going to change “me.” And this is where the genius of Krishnamurti comes out, where he won’t give anyone a method. And, actually, he gets you into the meditation process by pretending not to. He’s a real tricky character! Very, very great guru, except that nobody really knows what to do with him. Because whenever you suggest that there might be something that you could do to bring your mind to tranquility or your heart to the knowledge of the ultimate reality, he says simply, “Well, why do you want to? Find out why you want to.” And then he gives you a kōan. And, in a way, this gets you meditating naturally instead of it being a kind of artificial process; you get so bugged by this questioning that you are involved in the kōan process right away. And he’s very insistent about this.


But my own view is very generous. I think that all ways of meditation can be followed. And because even if some of them are folly—to quote Blake again—the fool who persists in his folly will become wise. All that’s required that you keep at it. So I want to talk this morning about the various central methods of meditation, and we’ll begin—why not—with the Yoga Sūtra, Patañjali, where [in] the first he says, “Now, yoga is explained.” This is the first verse. And the commentators point out that the word “now” means that this is a discourse following other discourses. Something has gone before; certain things you have to have mastered before you try yoga. And this is in line with the Hindu view of life that life is divided into ashramas, or stages: that you start out with the stage called brahmacharya, which is the studentship, and then you become a gr̥hastha, which is householder. And only after you’ve fulfilled the life of the householder do you take up yoga. And this is, of course, also in line with Jung’s views that spiritual awakening belongs properly to the second half of life.


But you mustn’t take that literally. The stages of life can be lived simultaneously, and they don’t necessarily follow each other in chronological order. And today, the predominance of interest in yoga in the West is among young people. And these are the people who are now the new saṃnyāsa; the “wandering monks,” the drop-outs. After all, a saṃnyāsa is a drop-out—only a high-class drop-out. But he has—in India, of course—fulfilled his social debts. He has raised a family, established his work, and put his oldest son in charge of the business. But we are in an entirely different situation because many of our oldest sons despise the business that we, as adults, were involved in. Because they see through the hollowness of a way of life that has so hopelessly confused symbol with reality. So I guess in our circumstances yoga is important for everyone.


Now, the next verse of the Yoga Sūtra says, “Yogas citta vritti nirodha.” And this is a complicated thing to translate. It says “Yoga is the cessation of turnings of the mind.” Vritti means “to turn,” to be turbulent. When you talk about a cakravartin as a great ruler, a great king, means “one who turns the wheel.” Vartin is the same as vritti. And a vartin is one who turns; a vritti is a turning, a wave. Like a wave rolls over and splashes. Citta means, approximately, “consciousness.” It refers to the basic awareness that we have, whether it is strictly conscious or subconscious. Citta means something like—let’s suppose we make the mind analogous to a mirror, a reflecting mirror. The mirror itself would correspond to what is meant in Sanskrit by citta. You see, we’re not aware of the color of the lens of our eye, and so we just name that color transparent. If it had a color, we wouldn’t know it, and so we don’t. But you can’t really altogether ignore the background of vision because it’s very important, even though you never see it. It’s basic to all that you see, just as the diaphragm in the speaker of the radio is basic to all that you hear on the radio. But so, in the same way, there is something basic to all our sensations, and that is citta.


So now, there are two schools of thought. One who says that yoga—that “citta vritti nirodha,” the cessation of the turnings in the citta—is the elimination of all sense experience and all thought and all feeling whatsoever from consciousness. And when one speaks, then, of the goal of yoga as being samādhi—and particularly what is called asamprajnata samādhi, which means “samādhi without a seed in it,” or nirvikalpa samādhi—nirvikalpa is a moot word. Some people think that that means this total elimination of all contents from consciousness. It’s like when you get into a sensory deprivation chamber and you learn to relax the muscles of your tongue, and the muscles of your eyes, and you really go blank. But I think that is a false interpretation. It’s a very interesting experience to go through and I recommend it if you want to make a little adventure. I was just in a sensory deprivation chamber a day or two ago; it was fascinating. But, you know, it’s real quiet. It’s just as nice as nice can be and I recommend that everyone install one in a New York apartment! But nirvikalpa means, strictly, “without concept.” Vikalpa means a “concept,” having an idea. And that’s a symbolic thing. It doesn’t mean having no sensation.


And they make a great point of this in the instruction about practicing meditation in Zen. They say quite definitely, “Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t close your ears. But simply: eliminate thought.” If you cut out your sensation input entirely and have a blank mind, then you’re no better than a log. In that case, logs and rocks would be Buddhas. The point, then, is, in other words, they have various poetic phrases in Zen to indicate the nature of samādhi. One is the moon in the water. You see, there’s a verse which says, “All waters contain the moon. Not a mountain, but the clouds encircle it.” So “all waters contain the moon” means that whenever the moon rises, instantly, it is in all waters. They didn’t know, of course—in those days—anything about the speed of light. But they felt that the moon comes into the water when the moon is in the sky in exactly the same way as, when the hands are clapped, the sound issues without a moment’s hesitation. And so another verse says, “The geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to receive their image.” It’s zzwht, there. Like that.


And so the ideal of samādhi is for you to have a mind like that—what they call a “mind of no hesitation.” A mind which doesn’t, as it were, stop to say whether this should or should not be reflected. And so they would go on to explain the basic nature of your mind is like that from the beginning. That’s what it is to have a mind. That’s what Zen master Bankei would call the “unborn mind,” or the “Buddha mind” in every one of us that we all have as a natural gift. And so he says when you hear a crow go caw, you know immediately it’s a crow. (I am a crow, for the moment!) And so, in the same way, when Bankei was once giving a talk, there was a Nichiren priest—you know, those Nichirens are kind of a Buddhist Jehovah’s Witnesses—and this priest was heckling him in the back and he said, “I don’t understand anything you’re saying.” And Bankei said, “Come closer and I’ll explain it.” And this man began to weave his way through the crowd. And Bankei said, “Come closer still.” “Still closer. Come right here.” And he came right up. And Bankei said, “You see? You understand me perfectly!”


So the feeling, then, is that the nirvikalpa samādhi is this state of just perfectly clear consciousness which responds to everything going on without labeling it, without categorizing it. And even to say “respond” isn’t quite right because that means as if consciousness was something that is pushed by life and then reacts to it. Action and reaction, like cause and effect. The crow caws, and the ears vibrate: cause and effect. That’s not the Buddhist theory. The Buddhist theory is not cause and effect, it is called pratītyasamutpāda. And that means “interdependent origination.” In other words: when the wind blows, the trees move. This is not two events, but one. Wind blowing and trees waving are all the same process. And so the verse says, “The tree displays the bodily power of the wind.” It manifests it. Because nobody would know there was any wind blowing unless the trees were waving. Nobody would know there was any light shining unless there was something reflecting it. They really go together, you see? So the tree displays the bodily power of the wind, the water exhibits the spiritual nature of the moon. Because, you see, when the water flows and ripples, it breaks the moon into thousands of pieces. So that is the spiritual power: the one becomes many.


So then, what we are looking at, then, is a state of consciousness which is like that—which is one with the whole thing going on. And this is saying the same thing as Krishnamurti says when he tries to explain that there really is no feeler separate from our feelings and no thinker separate from our thoughts. There is simply a process going on. And so, in the same way, Huìnéng—the Sixth Patriarch—prefers not to use the image of the mirror for the mind, but he prefers the image of space. That’s why, when his rival for the patriarchy made up the poem which explained that “the mind is a mirror and we must wipe it to keep off the dust,” Huìnéng countered this by saying “there isn’t any mirror, and so whereon can the dust fall?” See? So this is saying that you will never, never be able to discover a thinker other than thoughts, a feeler other than feelings, a sensor other than sensations. That’s the meaning of the dialogue between Bodhidarma and Eka. When Eka said, “I haven’t any peace of mind. Please pacify my mind.” And Bodhidarma said, “Bring out your mind in front of me, and I will pacify it.” Eka said, “When I look for it, I can’t find it.” Bodhidarma said, “There! It is pacified.”


So Eka, you know, was looking for his mind. It’s like “Who are you?”—the question that the Maharshi Ramana always asked to anybody who said, “Maharshi, who was I in my last incarnation?” And he would always reply, “Who’s asking the question?” Which is the same as Krishnamurti’s “Why do you want to know?” Because this throws the question back at the questioner. Who are you? Who has the problem? And you look, and you look, and you look, and you can’t find it. When you look for—Hume, the British philosopher, really went through the same experience, because when he tried to find out what was his consciousness he couldn’t find anything but sensations, or images, in his head. And so, in the same way, when you want to find out what’s behind your eyes—most people think that they have a blank space behind their eyes; kind of a non-dark, non-light blind spot which you can’t ever see. That’s not the case. You know how the inside of your head is? Why, it’s what you’re looking at! That’s how it feels inside your head. It’s all this that you see in front of you: that’s inside your head. It’s all in these nerves back here, where the optical nerves are centered.


And so this is saying that our conscious relationship to the world is a transactional relationship in which you can speak about the subjective standpoint and the objective standpoint. But that, really, you’ve got one continuum in which these two standpoints are simply opposite ends of a diameter. You go with it, it goes with you, and vice versa. So this is the whole meaning of the Taoist idea that is called “mutual arising.” When Lao Tzu says that “to be” and “not to be” arise mutually, that “difficult” and “easy” suggest each other, “high” and “low” subtend each other, and so on—he’s describing this polar relationship. So you don’t get an —in other words, you don’t get a confrontation, you don’t get a kind of a meeting from things that impinge on each other from entirely separate situations. You get the opposite sort of thing where, when a flower buds and the bud breaks, the petals expand. And it’s true—you have the petals on the far left and you have the petals on the far right. But they arise together, like that, see? That’s how all life is happening. When you come into being, the universe comes into being. When you go out of being, the universe goes out of being. And that’s true for everyone. Not only people—all sentient beings whatsoever. So without the being—the sentient being—there is no cosmos. All we are saying in talking about a cosmos that existed before any sentient beings existed is we’re simply describing what would have happened if there had been any sentient beings around. It’s a kind of extrapolation.


So that relativity of the sentient being and the universe is basic to Buddhistic philosophy and is saying, then, that the one implies the other. Because this is the philosophy called jiji muge (事事无碍): that between thing-event and thing-event there is no barrier. This is the philosophy of the mutual interdependence of all things and events. That the moment there is anything at all, it implies everything else. So, in the same way—you know—with laser beam photography: you can take a tiny fragment of a photographic negative, and by laser beam photography you can restore the whole negative from which it was cut. Because the crystalline structure of any part of the negative is in an inseparable relationship with its whole area. So you can imply it. You’ll get a picture which is (around the area that you have taken out) very clearly definite, and as it moves away from it the outlines will become a little vaguer, but you’ll be able to see everything that was there. It’s fantastic. So in the same way, every hair on your head—this is the real meaning of the saying that the hairs of your head are all numbered—that every hair on your head implies all galaxies because it wouldn’t exist without all the galaxies. Nor would all galaxies exist without the hair, or without the hair having existed. It doesn’t make any difference.


So then, this state of complete unity of mind and nature (what’s going on) without the intervention—first of all—without the intervention of thought is the state of meditation. It may be called dhyāna, it may be called samādhi, and you may make certain subtle differences between these two states, but forget it for the moment. Now, the way of arriving at this is, of course: there is no way. Because that’s the way your mind is working anyway. But you have to find that out. You have to find out that you don’t need to accept yourself by trying to accept yourself. It doesn’t mean anything to accept yourself because who accepts what? But you don’t know that at first. You think there is a “who” who has to accept “what.” And you can only do this by trying to do the impossible. This is the method of reductio ad absurdum. So then, in the beginning of meditation there are alternative methods you can use. You can use the questioning method: “Who am I?” and “Who is it that wants to know?” “Who is asking who it is that is asking?” You can—that’s the method of interiorization; look within: thou art Buddha.


Then there’s the method of concentration: a method of banishing the interior stream of chatter by watching your breathing. Or by focusing your attention on a small point of light or upon a single sound. If you have a tape recorder, all you have to do is you make a loop tape with one sound on it. And you turn your tape recorder on, and that practices meditation for you. And you just listen to that sound. Or—easier still—you hum a sound like om. And you take a long, long, easy, deep breath, and you hum “om, om, om, om.” And just keep it going. And that’s a great method. It’s one of the best ways if you are an auditory kind of character.


Then you can also do it by looking into a crystal ball or by using a mandala. You see, the way a mandala is constructed with circles, you eventually get the feeling from looking at a mandala that you’re dropping into it. And you’re going in, in, in, in, in to that circle. Always in, in. And that brings you altogether in one place, and you go in, in, in to the heart of it. The radii—or whatever they may contain—simply have the function of being, as they were, slides which bring you into the center. And you go in, in, in to that, and you get the same effect, visually, as when you do when you listen into a sound. And you go in, in, in to the sound. You get down to the basic, basic, ungh—you know?—which everything is. And then, when you get that basic ungh, you stay there, see? And you dig that. And eventually you see that that’s what there is, and always was, and always will be. In fact, there isn’t any time in meditation; time completely disappears. You discover there is only the present.


And that brings up another form of meditation that you can practice, and it is a good one for practicing while being active. You see, sitting isn’t the only way of meditation. There are actually four types of meditation. Sitting meditation (called zazen), walking meditation, standing meditation, and lying down meditation. So it’s also good to lie flat on your back for these things—except that you may easily go to sleep that way. Walking meditation has long been practiced both by Christian monks and by Buddhist monks. And in the satipatṭhāna method of meditation that is practiced today—in Burma, and Thailand; in Silom—they do a great deal of it walking. It’s a very good way because you certainly don’t go to sleep that way. And it’s a rhythmic movement, and therefore is peaceful: you just walk slowly up and down. This is the way I use mostly. Especially if you go out to Jones Beach and it’s clear—you know? You go out on a weekday and it’s absolutely clear, and nobody is there, and you can go for miles and miles along the beach in the walking meditation. Beautiful.


So in [those] various ways of posture, shall we say, you can concentrate on sight, on sound. Nobody has done much with touch, but people have done meditation on bodily motion—as in dancing or mudra. That is another thing. Mantra is sound, mudra is gesture. And in Huston Smith and Elda Hartley’s film of Tibetan monks you’ll see them doing the mudra method of meditation: constantly moving their hands. This is the same kind of a thing.


Or another method is the letting everything alone, where you allow all your psychic processes and sensuous processes free reign to do anything they want to do. And you will find, for example, that—let’s, supposing that, at this very moment, you are all hearing the sound of my voice. Now, if you turn your conscious attention from the meaning of what I’m saying simply to the sound of the words, you will be surprised to discover that you don’t have to make any effort to understand what I’m talking about because your brain will take care of that. And you can just listen to the noise. It’ll all go into you and you’ll understand. But you can just concentrate on the flow of sound. American Indians often do that when they’re encountering a stranger, because they can tell more about him by the tone of his voice than what he says. He may be lying. So you can listen to the tone of my voice and find out whether I’m putting something over on you.


It’s the tone that is important, you see? Fundamentally. It’s the music that finally counts in life. As I was explaining yesterday, one may regard the universe as a musical phenomenon: that it is a huge system of extremely complex vibrations which is playing. And that’s what it’s all about. You don’t ask: what does Mozart mean? You just listen to Mozart. It’s great. So you don’t ask what the universe means.


Well, now, in a way, this meditation method of just letting your mind alone and let it go where it wants to go has the same disadvantage as lying down on the floor: you may go to sleep. But don’t worry about that too much, especially if you do it early in the morning. And, on waking, immediately, is the easiest time. You’re just in that moment between sleeping and waking. You will find you are in a very fascinatingly clear state of mind. That’s the ideal hour of the day for having an experience of cosmic consciousness. And you can move right into it at that point—don’t get up immediately, just lay flat out. You may want to do something or other to refresh yourself a little, like taking a drink of water or something, but right at that moment you find you can have extraordinary clarity. And then you see—as you go on—it begins to become clear to you that there really is no one separate from this changing stream of feelings who’s having them; they’re just there. And in that moment the problem of what to do about yourself vanishes because there is no separate self.


Thereafter, the most fascinating thing that follows from this is that you can keep up meditation while thinking. This is why a Zen master can also be a scholar and an intellectual: because the way he does his thinking is exactly the way as he sweeps a floor or meditates. There is no illusion of the thinker doing the thinking, there is just the thinking process. And therefore, he doesn’t get misled and bamboozled by his thoughts. So, you see, it’s very important to emphasize this because the process of meditation is not anti-intellectual. In fact, it is—I would say—a basic requisite for leading the intellectual life because the person who lives the intellectual life is, of all people, the most liable to be bamboozled with words. And that’s the besetting danger of all academicians. That’s why they get so stuffy and doubty, and they suffer from intellectual porcupinism. They’re always prickly and querulous, and so on. So the reason is they’re starved. They don’t have anything to think about except thoughts, and they write books about books. And they don’t, therefore, have any first-hand experience of life to use for thinking; to think about.


So—of all places—in a university is the place where meditation should be practiced; of getting out of thought for some time of the day. This refreshes the intellectual life. This gives it a zip and a quality so that, as you begin, like Suzuki—old D. T. Suzuki—he was a great intellectual. But he practiced scholarship in the same natural way that one would sail a boat, or watch clouds. So that he was never (in his pursuit of scholarship) cantankerous and pretentious, he was never pedantic. And, of course, in the field of sinology today in the United States you will find some of the most pedantic people in existence. It’s represented by the Journal of the American Oriental Society, which is a testy, quarrelsome, bitchy journal. Everybody’s going kkrk, kkrk, kkrk at everybody else. And when, you know—a scholar doesn’t always have to be a scholar. You can write a scholarly book. I wrote a book called The Way of Zen, which is rather scholarly. But then I can do a movie called The Mood of Zen which isn’t scholarly at all, which is just creating an atmosphere. But boy do the scholars hate it! They say, “This is of no value at all. This is just…” And they call you a popularizer. And they call Suzuki a popularizer because he didn’t put in the right kind of footnotes. He was a little vague about some things. But he had forgotten than most of them ever knew!


So, in this way you can sit light to intellectuality. It’s a very good thing, because otherwise you become hopelessly ponderous. You become a sort of mechanical, tick-tock being that is full of—it’s like you put fish in your mouth, and the whole thing were very small bones with no meat on them at all. And that’s the sort of feeling you finally get from being over-intellectual. So, really, I do want to make this plain, because so many people think that the domains of the intellect and the domain of intuition are mutually exclusive. They’re not. It’s only: people keep saying, “I understand what you say intellectually, but I don’t really feel it.” And, therefore, seem to think that an intellectual understanding may even be an obstacle. And a lot of teachers sometimes give that point of view. They say, “The more you think about it, the further you are from it.” But I don’t think that’s true. At least it’s oversimplifying the matter. If you’ve got an intellect, you must use it. It’s a divine gift. It’s a talent. And nobody can make the sacrifice of the intellect unless they’ve got one to sacrifice.


A lot of fanatics think they’ve made the sacrifice of the intellect and say, “I’ve given up my private opinions, and I’m purely obedient to holy scripture”—or whatever; authority. And that’s a lot of—if I may say so—bullshit! Either they haven’t thought it through, or else they are concealing from themselves that their obedience to scripture is, at root, their own personal opinion. So there isn’t this antagonism. It’s very—if you’ve got an intellect at all, it’s very important that you think things through as far as they can be thought through. But, you see, your intellect will eventually tell you its own limitations. It will—in other words—say, “I have a certain function (as intellect) just like the dial on the telephone has a certain function.” And if you spell out questions about the existence of God on the dial of the telephone, you’ll be told to go to hell! That’s not its function! And so you can easily see—as I’ve tried to explain to you—that the thought process has limitations; that there are things it will not do. It is the symbolizing of the world, but it is not the real world—except insofar as: thoughts are, themselves, vibrations. That’s (how I was discussing yesterday) that you can say words, and listen to the words simply as sounds. Then you’re getting in closer contact with the real world; with the vibration that’s at the basis of everything.


So thought itself tells you that it can’t go all the way. And then, when you understand that, thought naturally gives up. And you become quiet. Let it go. Let all the senses go. And eventually you find you’re quiet, and you’re centered, and still. But don’t make an exercise of it! Dōgen, the great Japanese Sōtō Zen master, always told his students, “Do not practice zazen to attain satori. Sit just to sit. This, already—practicing zazen—is being a Buddha.” This is sitting like a Buddha. And if you do it with an ulterior motive, you’re not doing it. There is nowhere to go. So, likewise, if you practice centering on the present, you can’t do it with an objective, because you’re off it. And so: in action. And you try to do what Gurdjieff calls self-remembering, and you’ve always got your mind on the present, and you’re fully aware of what you’re doing all the time—see?—then, eventually, you will discover that there is nothing else you can do. Because if you think about the past, that’s happening now. Think about the future—that’s happening now. There is nothing else but now! So then, when you discover that, meditation becomes automatic. You’re always in it. Only: you have to be stupid and exercise a little folly in order to find it out; that is: to try to be there. You see? That’s putting legs on a snake, or a beard on a eunuch. Or we would say gilding the lily. But somehow, to wake up, that has to happen.


So it’s a most marvelous discovery, you see, when you’ve been working to try an center, to be present, to be alert and awake, and be just here. And you work at it, and work at it, and one day you go boing! There is nowhere else to be! And then you get a very strange sensation. It seems that the now and you are all the same. And it’s like a stream which is moving along, carrying you, but not going anywhere. It moves and doesn’t move. It’s like looking at a blot, like a Rorschach blot, and seeing the blot running—but into the place where it is. Everything is moving into where it is. And this is state called eternal now. This is the meaning of eternity. Eternity isn’t static. So, this is the meaning of the Zen poem which says:

I walk over the bridge, and it’s the bridge flow, not the water.

I’m walking on foot, and yet riding on the back of an ox.

I’m empty-handed, and yet a spade is in my hand.

Find out more