All quotes from Alan Watts’

Eventually, the logical conceptual mind turns on itself, recognizes the foolish inadequacy of the flimsy systems it imposes on the world, suspends its own rigid control, and overthrows the domination of cognitive experience.

Western science is now delineating a new concept of man, not as a solitary ego within a wall of flesh, but as an organism which is what it is by virtue of its inseparability from the rest of the world. But with the rarest exceptions even scientists do not feel themselves to exist in this way.

Whether it is organic or inorganic, we are learning to see matter as patterns of energy—not of energy as if energy were a stuff, but as energetic pattern, moving order, active intelligence.

We learned to center our identity, our selfhood, in the controlling part—the mind—and increasingly to disown as a mere vehicle the part controlled. It thus escaped our attention that the organism as a whole, largely unconscious, was using consciousness and reason to inform and control itself. We thought of our conscious intelligence as descending from a higher realm to take possession of a physical vehicle. We therefore failed to see it as an operation of the same formative process as the structure of nerves, muscles, veins, and bones—a structure so subtly ordered (that is, intelligent) that conscious thought is as yet far from being able to describe it.

We believe, then, that the mind controls the body, not that the body controls itself through the mind. Hence the ingrained prejudice that the mind should be independent of all physical aids to its working—despite microscopes, telescopes, cameras, scales, computers, books, works of art, alphabets, and all those physical tools apart from which it is doubtful whether there would be any mental life at all. At the same time there has always been at least an obscure awareness that in feeling oneself to be a separate mind, soul, or ego there is something wrong. Naturally, for a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature.

The simultaneous compulsion to preserve oneself and to forget oneself. Here is the vicious circle; if you feel separate from your organic life, you feel driven to survive; survival—going on living—thus becomes a duty and also a drag because you are not fully with it because it does not quite come up to expectations, you continue to hope that it will, to crave for more time, to feel driven all the more to go on. What we call self-consciousness is thus the sensation of the organism obstructing itself, of not being with itself, of driving, so to say, with accelerator and brake on at once.

Taoism and Zen are alike founded upon a philosophy of relativity, but this philosophy is not merely speculative. It is a discipline in awareness as a result of which the mutual interrelation of all things and all events becomes a constant sensation. This sensation underlies and supports our normal awareness of the world as a collection of separate and different things.

The individual is so interwoven with the universe that he and it are one body.

The realization that all things are inseparably related is in proportion to one’s effort to make them clearly distinct.

The transformation of consciousness undertaken in Taoism and Zen is more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease. It is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions. As Lao-Tzu said, “The scholar gains every day, but the Taoist loses every day.”

Is there, in short, a medicine which can give us temporarily the sensation of being integrated, of being fully one with ourselves and with nature as the biologist knows us, theoretically, to be?

There is no difference in principle between sharpening perception with an external instrument, such as a microscope, and sharpening it with an internal instrument, such as one of these three drugs. If they are an affront to the dignity of the mind, the microscope is an affront to the dignity of the eye and the telephone to the dignity of the ear. Strictly speaking, these drugs do not impart wisdom at all, any more than the microscope alone gives knowledge. They provide the raw materials of wisdom, and are useful to the extent that the individual can integrate what they reveal into the whole pattern of his behavior and the whole system of his knowledge.

I begin to feel that the world is at once inside my head and outside it, and the two, inside and outside, begin to include or “cap” one another like an infinite series of concentric spheres. I am unusually aware that everything I am sensing is also my body—that light, color, shape, sound, and texture are terms and properties of the brain conferred upon the outside world. I am not looking at the world, not confronting it; I am knowing it by a continuous process of transforming it into myself, so that everything around me, the whole globe of space, no longer feels away from me but in the middle.

Where do we begin? Does the order of the brain create the order of the world, or the order of the world the brain? The two seem like egg and hen, or like back and front.

The associative couplings of the brain seem to fire simultaneously instead of one at a time.

I begin to congratulate the priest on his gamesmanship, on the sheer courage of being able to put up such a performance of authority when he knows precisely nothing. Perhaps there is no other knowing than the mere competence of the act.

No one wants to be loved out of a sense of duty.

In what form do I know myself? Always, it seems, in the form of something other, something strange. The landscape I am watching is also a state of myself, of the neurons in my head. I feel the rock in my hand in terms of my own fingers. And nothing is stranger than my own body—the sensation of the pulse, the eye seen through a magnifying glass in the mirror, the shock of realizing that oneself is something in the external world.

Long before all that, long before I was an embryo in my mother’s womb, there looms the ever-so-familiar stranger, the everything not me, which I recognize, with a joy immeasurably more intense than a meeting of lovers separated by centuries, to be my original self. The good old sonofabitch who got me involved in this whole game.

Everyone and everything around me takes on the feeling of having been there always, and then forgotten, and then remembered again.

All of us look at each other knowingly, for the feeling that we knew each other in that most distant past conceals something else—tacit, awesome, almost unmentionable—the realization that at the deep center of a time perpendicular to ordinary time we are, and always have been, one. We acknowledge the marvelously hidden plot, the master illusion, whereby we appear to be different.

The shock of recognition. In the form of everything most other, alien, and remote—the ever-receding galaxies, the mystery of death, the terrors of disease and madness, the foreign-feeling, gooseflesh world of sea monsters and spiders, the queasy labyrinth of my own insides—in all these forms I have crept up on myself and yelled “Boo!” I scare myself out of my wits, and, while out of my wits, cannot remember just how it happened.

It seems that the superconscious method of thinking becomes conscious.

Ordinary people look like gods because the values of the organism are uppermost, and the concerns of consciousness fall back into the subordinate position which they should properly hold. Love, unity, harmony, and relationship therefore take precedence over war and division.

All this involved delicacy of organization may, from one point of view, be strictly functional for the purposes of reproduction and survival. But when you come down to it, the survival of these creatures is the same as their very existence—and what is that for?

More and more it seems that the ordering of nature is an art akin to music—fugues in shell and cartilage, counterpoint in fibers and capillaries, throbbing rhythm in waves of sound, light, and nerve. And oneself is connected with it quite inextricably—a node, a ganglion, an electronic interweaving of paths, circuits, and impulses that stretch and hum through the whole of time and space. The entire pattern swirls in its complexity like smoke in sunbeams or the rippling networks of sunlight in shallow water. Transforming itself endlessly into itself, the pattern alone remains. The crosspoints, nodes, nets, and curlicues vanish perpetually into each other. “The baseless fabric of this vision.” It is its own base. When the ground dissolves beneath me I float.

Is this, perhaps, an inner view of the organizing process which, when the eyes are open, makes sense of the world even at points where it appears to be supremely messy?

I can see people just pretending not to see that they are avatars of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva, that the cells of their bodies aren’t millions of gods, that the dust isn’t a haze of jewels. How solemnly they would go through the act of not understanding me if I were to step up and say, “Well, who do you think you’re kidding? Come off it, Śiva, you old rascal! It’s a great act, but it doesn’t fool me.” But the conscious ego doesn’t know that it is something which that divine organ, the body, is only pretending to be.

In the contrast world of ordinary consciousness man feels himself, as will, to be something in nature but not of it. He likes it or dislikes it. He accepts it or resists it. He moves it or it moves him. But in the basic super-consciousness of the whole organism this division does not exist. The organism and its surrounding world are a single, integrated pattern of action in which there is neither subject nor object, doer nor done to.

What happens outside the body is one process with what happens inside it. This is that “original identity” which ordinary language and our conventional definitions of man so completely conceal.

I recognize that it is the “intelligence” of the seed to have just such delicate antennae of silk that, in an environment of wind, it can move. Having such extensions, it moves itself with the wind. When it comes to it, is there any basic difference between putting up a sail and pulling an oar? If anything, the former is a more intelligent use of effort than the latter. True, the seed does not intend to move itself with the wind, but neither did I intend to have arms and legs.

The feeling of self is no longer confined to the inside of the skin. Instead, my individual being seems to grow out from the rest of the universe like a hair from a head or a limb from a body, so that my center is also the center of the whole. I find that in ordinary consciousness I am habitually trying to ring myself off from this totality, that I am perpetually on the defensive. But what am I trying to protect?

Quite suddenly I feel my understanding dawning into a colossal clarity, as if everything were opening up down to the roots of my being and of time and space themselves. The sense of the world becomes totally obvious. I am struck with amazement that I or anyone could have thought life a problem or being a mystery.

There isn’t anything in the whole universe to be afraid of because it doesn’t happen to anyone! There isn’t any substantial ego at all. The ego is a kind of flip, a knowing of knowing, a fearing of fearing. It’s a curlicue, an extra jazz to experience, a sort of double-take or reverberation.