Reality is, of course, neither matter nor spirit. It is a percept, not a concept, and everyone knows what it is in the sense that one knows how to breathe without the least knowledge of physiology.
Reality or existence is a multidimensional and interwoven system of varying spectra of vibrations, and man’s five senses are attuned only to very small bands of these spectra. That sounds very profound and may even mean nothing at all, but in reading it one should attend to the sound of the words rather than their meaning. Then you will get my point. .
Not so long ago a professor of Harvard University said—in connection with the scandal about Timothy Leary and consciousness-changing drugs—that no knowledge is intellectually and academically respectable which cannot be put into words. Alas for the departments of music, art, dancing, and physical education!
The nervous system, in organizing all the functions of the body, is dealing with thousands of variables at once, for the brain operates intelligently without having to stop to think.
Civilized people, whether Western or Eastern, need to be liberated and dehypnotized from their systems of symbolism and, thereby, become more intensely aware of the living vibrations of the real world. For lack of such awareness our consciousnesses and consciences have become calloused to the daily atrocities of burning children with napalm, of saturation bombing of fertile earth with all its plants, wild animals, and insects (not to mention people), and of manufacturing nuclear and chemical weapons concerning which the real problem is not so much how to prevent their use as how to get them off the face of the earth.
We need to become vividly aware of our ecology, of our interdependence and virtual identity with all other forms of life which the divisive and emboxing methods of our current way of thought prevent us from experiencing. The so-called physical world and the so-called human body are a single process, differentiated only as the heart from the lungs or the head from the feet.
Our intellectual and scientific “establishment” is, in general, still spellbound by the myth that human intelligence and feeling are a fluke of chance in an entirely mechanical and stupid universe—as if figs would grow on thistles or grapes on thorns. But wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvelous neural organization which, shall we say, sponsors it?
Our radically misnamed “materialistic” civilization must above all cultivate the love of material, of earth, air, and water, of mountains and forests, of excellent food and imaginative housing and clothing, and of cherishing and artfully erotic contacts between human bodies. Certainly, all these so-called “things” are as impermanent as ripples in water, but what life, what love, what energy is there in a perfectly pure abstraction or a totally solid and eternally indestructible rock?
Playboy—that remarkable journal which, posing as a high-class girlie magazine, publishes some of the most exciting philosophical thinking in America, and thus at least exposes some six million readers to the intellectual life.
The reality of money is of the same type as the reality of centimeters, grams, hours, or lines of longitude. Money is a way of measuring wealth but is not wealth in itself.
I predict that by A.D. 2000, or sooner, no one will pay taxes, no one will carry cash, utilities will be free, and everyone will carry a general credit card. This card will be valid up to each individual’s share in a guaranteed basic income or national dividend, issued free, beyond which he may still earn anything more that he desires by an art or craft, profession or trade that has not been displaced by automation.
The life of affluence and pleasure requires exact discipline and high imagination. Somewhat as metals deteriorate from “fatigue,” every constant stimulation of consciousness, however pleasant, tends to become boring and thus to be ignored.
The life of pleasure cannot be maintained without a certain asceticism.
Plans for the future are of use only to those who can live fully in the present.
Man as an organism is to the world outside like a whirlpool is to a river: man and world are a single natural process, but we are behaving as if we were invaders and plunderers in foreign territory. For when the individual is defined and felt as the separate personality or ego, he remains unaware that his actual body is a dancing pattern of energy that simply does not happen by itself. It happens only in concert with myriads of other patterns—called animals, plants, insects, bacteria, minerals, liquids, and gases. The definition of a person and the normal feeling of “I” do not effectively include these relationships. You say, “I came into this world.” You didn’t; you came out of it, as a branch from a tree.
The greatest illusion of the abstract ego is that it can do anything to bring about radical improvement either in itself or in the world. This is as impossible, physically, as trying to lift yourself off the floor by your own bootstraps. Furthermore, the ego is (like money) a concept, a symbol, even a delusion—not a biological process or physical reality.
This means that we stop crusading -- that is, acting for such abstract causes as the good, righteousness, peace, universal love, freedom, and social justice, and stop fighting against such equally abstract bogeys as communism, fascism, racism, and the imaginary powers of darkness and evil. For most of the hell now being raised in the world is well intentioned.
To be human, one must recognize and accept a certain element of irreducible rascality both in oneself and in one’s enemies. It is, therefore, an enormous relief to realize that these abstract ambitions are total nonsense and to see that we have been wasting untold psychic and physical energy in a fatuous enterprise. For when it is understood that trying to have good without evil is as absurd as trying to have white without black, all the energy is released for things that can be done. It can be diverted from abstract causes to specific, material undertakings—to farming and cooking, mining and engineering, making clothes and buildings, traveling and learning, art, music, dancing, and making love. Surely, these are excellent things to do for their own sake and not, please not, for one’s own or anyone else’s improvement.
A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event, like a flame or a whirlpool: the shape alone is stable, for the substance is a stream of energy going in at one end and out at the other.
I am a maze—a complex wiggliness, an arabesque of tubes, filaments, cells, fibers, and films that are various kinds of palpitation in this stream of liquid energy. But what really gets me is that almost all the substance of this maze, aside from water, was once other living bodies—the bodies of animals and plants—and that I had to obtain it by murder. We are other creatures rearranged, for biological existence continues only through the mutual slaughter and ingestion of its various species. I exist solely through membership in this perfectly weird arrangement of beings that flourish by chewing each other up.
Expressed by Lin Yutang as follows: “If a chicken has been killed, and it is not cooked properly, that chicken has died in vain.” The very least I can do for a creature that has died for me is to honor it, not with an empty ritual, but by cooking it to perfection and relishing it to the full. Any animal that becomes me should enjoy itself as me.
The richest and most powerful civilization on earth is so preoccupied with saving time and making money that it has neither taste for life nor capacity for pleasure.
As a people, our ideal is to have a future, and so long as this is so we shall never have a present. But only those who have a present, and who can relate to it materially and immediately, have any use for making plans for the future, for when their plans mature they will enjoy the results. Others, with their eyes fixed on the tomorrow that never comes, will bolt down all times present—forever—along with a vitamin-enriched styrofoam called “bread.”
In my particular work it is frequently my fate to have to take lunch or dinner in the student-union cafeterias of universities all over the country. All are identical. Icebox lettuce with a glob of cottage cheese and a wedge of canned pineapple. Slices of overdone and warmed-over beef that have suffered for hours in some electronic purgatory, coated with a gravy made of water, library paste, and bouillon cubes. Peas, corn, and carrots—boiled. The pie is a sickening slab of beige goo, flavored with artificial maple sugar, in a crust of reconstituted cardboard, topped with sweetened shaving cream squirted form an aerosol bomb. The effect of this fare on the intellectual life of the nation must be catastrophic.
Because we cannot relate to the sensuous and material present we are most happy when good things are expected to happen, not when they are happening. We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can’t slow down enough to enjoy them when they come.
To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all—except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. “Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present.
For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones—for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.
If you are bewitched by money, what happens? You take your loaded cart to the cashier, who clicks out a long strip of paper and says, “Thirty dollars and twenty-five cents, please!” You are suddenly depressed at having to part with so much “wealth”—not realizing that your wealth is now in the shopping bags and that you are going to walk out with it. For the money was a future, a “promise to pay,” an abstraction now converted into present and substantial reality—and you are unhappy because you have exchanged the expectation of good things to come for actual goods!
This particular feeling of personal existence is a delusion. The special branch of science which studies the relation of living beings to their environments—ecology—shows beyond doubt that the individual organism and its environment are a continuous stream, or field, of energy. To draw a new moral from the bees and the flowers: the two organisms look very different, for one is rooted in the ground and broadcasts perfume, while the other moves freely in the air and buzzes. But because they cannot exist without each other, it makes real sense to say that they are in fact two aspects of a single organism. Our heads are very different in appearance from our feet, but we recognize them as belonging to one individual because they are obviously connected by skin and bones. But less obvious connections are no less real.
Civilized human beings are alarmingly ignorant of the fact that they are continuous with their natural surroundings. It is as necessary to have air, water, plants, insects, birds, fish, and mammals as it is to have brains, hearts, lungs, and stomachs. The former are our external organs in the same way that the latter are our internal organs.