The Veil of Thoughts (Part 3)
1965


In this seminar, held in Sausalito, 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.

References:
00:00

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.

02:28

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.

04:06

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.

05:35

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.

07:48

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.

09:36

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.

11:12

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!”

12:46

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.

14:47

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.”

16:34

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.

18:10

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.

20:22

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.

21:57

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.

23:32

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.” 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.

24:29

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.

25:52

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.

27:17

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.

28:16

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.

29:57

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. Just, 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.

30:44

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.

32:37

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.

34:39

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!

36:54

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.

38:31

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.

40:11

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.

42:35

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.


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