Alan Watts on the Nature of Reality - III

I was discussing an alternative myth to the Ceramic and Fully Automatic models of the universe, I'll call the Dramatic Myth. The idea that life as we experience it is a big act, and that behind this big act is the player, and the player, or the self, as it's called in Hindu philosophy, the atman, is you. Only you are playing hide and seek, since that is the essential game that is going on. The game of games. The basis of all games, hide and seek. And since you're playing hide & seek, you are deliberately, although you can't admit this--or won't admit it--you are deliberately forgetting who you really are, or what you really are. And the knowledge that your essential self is the foundation of the universe, the 'ground of being' as Tillich calls it, is something you have that the Germans call a hintengedanka [?] A hintengedanka is a thought way, way, way in the back of your mind. Something that you know deep down but can't admit.

So, in a way, then, in order to bring this to the front, in order to know that is the case, you have to be kidded out of your game. And so what I want to discuss this morning is how this happens. Although before doing so, I must go a little bit further into the whole nature of this problem.

You see, the problem is this. We identify in our experience a differentiation between what we do and what happens to us. We have a certain number of actions that we define as voluntary, and we feel in control of those. And then over against that, there is all those things that are involuntary. But the dividing line between these two is very arbitrary. Because for example, when you move your hand, you feel that you decide whether to open it or to close it. But then ask yourself how do you decide? When you decide to open your hand, do you first decide to decide? You don't, do you? You just decide, and how do you do that? And if you don't know how to do it, is it voluntary or involuntary? Let's consider breathing. You can feel that you breath deliberately; you don't control your breath. But when you don't think about it, it goes on. Is it voluntary or involuntary?

So, we come to have a very arbitrary definition of self. That much of my activity which I feel I do. And that then doesn't include breathing most of the time; it doesn't include the heartbeats; it doesn't include the activity of the glands; it doesn't include digestion; it doesn't include how you shape your bones; circulate your blood. Do you or do you not do these things? Now if you get with yourself and you find out you are all of yourself, a very strange thing happens. You find out that your body knows that you are one with the universe. In other words, the so-called involuntary circulation of your blood is one continuous process with the stars shining. If you find out it's YOU who circulates your blood, you will at the same moment find out that you are shining the sun. Because your physical organism is one continuous process with everything else that's going on. Just as the waves are continuous with the ocean. Your body is continuous with the total energy system of the cosmos, and it's all you. Only you're playing the game that you're only this bit of it. But as I tried to explain, there are in physical reality no such thing as separate events.

So then, remember also when I tried to work towards a definition of omnipotence. Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it's just doing it. You don't have to translate it into language. Supposing that when you got up in the morning, you had to switch your brain on. And you had to think and do as a deliberate process waking up all the circuits that you need for active life during the day. Why, you'd never get done! Because you have to do all those things at once. That's why the Buddhists and Hindus represent their gods as many-armed. How could you use so many arms at once? How could a centipede control a hundred legs at once? Because it doesn't think about it. In the same way, you are unconsciously performing all the various activities of your organism. Only unconsciously isn't a good word, because it sounds sort of dead. Superconsciously would be better. Give it a plus rather than a minus.

Because what consciousness is is a rather specialized form of awareness. When you look around the room, you are conscious of as much as you can notice, and you see an enormous number of things which you do not notice. For example, I look at a girl here and somebody asks me later 'What was she wearing?' I may not know, although I've seen, because I didn't attend. But I was aware. You see? And perhaps if I could under hypnosis be asked this question, where I would get my conscious attention out of the way by being in the hypnotic state, I could recall what dress she was wearing.

So then, just in the same way as you don't know--you don't focus your attention--on how you make your thyroid gland function, so in the same way, you don't have any attention focused on how you shine the sun. So then, let me connect this with the problem of birth and death, which puzzles people enormously of course. Because, in order to understand what the self is, you have to remember that it doesn't need to remember anything,just as you don't need to know how you work your thyroid gland.

So then, when you die, you're not going to have to put up with everlasting non-existence, because that's not an experience. A lot of people are afraid that when they die, they're going to be locked up in a dark room forever, and sort of undergo that. But one of the interesting things in the world is--this is a yoga, this is a realization--try and imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Think about that. Children think about it. It's one of the great wonders of life. What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, it will pose the next question to you. What was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born. You see, you can't have an experience of nothing; nature abhors a vacuum. So after you're dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience, or the same sort of experience as when you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after other people die, other people are born. And they're all you, only you can only experience it one at a time. Everybody is I, you all know you're you, and wheresoever all being exist throughout all galaxies, it doesn't make any difference. You are all of them. And when they come into being, that's you coming into being.

You know that very well, only you don't have to remember the past in the same way you don't have to think about how you work your thyroid gland, or whatever else it is in your organism. You don't have to know how to shine the sun. You just do it, like you breath. Doesn't it really astonish you that you are this fantastically complex thing, and that you're doing all this and you never had any education in how to do it? Never learned, but you're this miracle? The point of it is, from a strictly physical, scientific standpoint, this organism is a continuous energy with everything else that's going on. And if I am my foot, I am the sun. Only we've got this little partial view. We've got the idea that 'No, I'm something IN this body.' The ego. That's a joke. The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention. It's like the radar on a ship. The radar on a ship is a troubleshooter. Is there anything in the way? And conscious attention is a designed function of the brain to scan the environment, like a radar does, and note for any trouble-making changes. But if you identify yourself with your troubleshooter, then naturally you define yourself as being in a perpetual state of anxiety. And the moment we cease to identify with the ego and become aware that we are the whole organism, we realize first thing how harmonious it all is. Because your organism is a miracle of harmony. All these things functioning together. Even those creatures that are fighting each other in the blood stream and eating each other up. If they weren't doing that, you wouldn't be healthy.

So what is discord at one level of your being is harmony at another level. And you begin to realize that, and you begin to be aware too, that the discords of your life and the discords of people's lives, which are a discord at one level, at a higher level of the universe are healthy and harmonious. And you suddenly realize that everything you are and do is at that level as magnificent and as free of any blemish as the patterns in waves. The markings in marble. The way a cat moves. And that this world is really OK. Can't be anything else, because otherwise it couldn't exist. And I don't mean this in a kind of Pollyanna Christian Science sense. I don't know what it is or why it is about Christian Science, but it's prissy. It's got kind of a funny feeling to it; came from New England.

But the reality underneath physical existence, or which really is physical existence--because in my philosophy there is no difference between the physical and the spiritual. These are absolutely out-of-date categories. It's all process; it isn't 'stuff' on the one hand and 'form' on the other. It's just pattern-- life is pattern. It is a dance of energy. And so I will never invoke spooky knowledge. That is, that I've had a private revelation or that I have sensory vibrations going on a plane which you don't have. Everything is standing right out in the open, it's just a question of how you look at it. So you do discover when you realize this, the most extraordinary thing that I never cease to be flabbergasted at whenever it happens to me. Some people will use a symbolism of the relationship of God to the universe, wherein God is a brilliant light, only somehow veiled, hiding underneath all these forms as you look around you. So far so good. But the truth is funnier than that. It is that you are looking right at the brilliant light now that the experience you are having that you call ordinary everyday consciousness--pretending you're not it--that experience is exactly the same thing as 'it.' There's no difference at all. And when you find that out, you laugh yourself silly. That's the great discovery.

In other words, when you really start to see things, and you look at an old paper cup, and you go into the nature of what it is to see what vision is, or what smell is, or what touch is, you realize that that vision of the paper cup is the brilliant light of the cosmos. Nothing could be brighter. Ten thousand suns couldn't be brighter. Only they're hidden in the sense that all the points of the infinite light are so tiny when you see them in the cup they don't blow your eyes out. See, the source of all light is in the eye. If there were no eyes in this world, the sun would not be light. So if I hit as hard as I can on a drum which has no skin, it makes no noise. So if a sun shines on a world with no eyes, it's like a hand beating on a skinless drum. No light. YOU evoke light out of the universe, in the same way you, by nature of having a soft skin, evoke hardness out of wood. Wood is only hard in relation to a soft skin. It's your eardrum that evokes noise out of the air. You, by being this organism, call into being this whole universe of light and color and hardness and heaviness and everything.

But in the mythology that we sold ourselves on at the end of the 19th century, when people discovered how big the universe was, and that we live on a little planet in a solar system on the edge of the galaxy, which is a minor galaxy, everybody thought, 'Uuuuugh, we're really unimportant after all. God isn't there and doesn't love us, and nature doesn't give a damn.' And we put ourselves down. But actually, it's this funny little microbe, tiny thing, crawling on this little planet that's way out somewhere, who has the ingenuity, by nature of this magnificent organic structure, to evoke the whole universe out of what otherwise would be mere quanta. But you see, this ingenious little organism is not merely some stranger in this. This little organism, on this little planet, is what the whole show is growing there, and so realizing its own presence. The universe does it through you, and you're it.

When you put a chicken's beak on a chalk line, it gets stuck; it's hypnotized. So in the same way, when you learn to pay attention, and as children you know how all the teachers were in class: 'Pay attention!!' And all the kids stare at the teacher. And we've got to pay attention. That's putting your nose on the chalk line. And you got stuck with the idea of attention, and you thought attention was Me, the ego, attention. So if you start attending to attention, you realize what the hoax is. That's why in Aldous Huxley's book 'Island,' the character Roger had trained the myna birds on the island to say 'Attention! Here and now, boys!' See? Realize who you are. Come to, wake up!

Well, here's the problem: if this is the state of affairs which is so, and if the conscious state you're in this moment is the same thing as what we might call the Divine State. If you do anything to make it different, it shows that you don't understand that it's so. So the moment you start practicing yoga, or praying or meditating, or indulging in some sort of spiritual cultivation, you are getting in your own way.

Now this is the Buddhist trick: the Buddha said 'We suffer because we desire. If you can give up desire, you won't suffer.' But he didn't say that as the last word; he said that as the opening step of a dialogue. Because if you say that to someone, they're going to come back after a while and say 'Yes, but now I'm desiring not to desire.' And so the Buddha will answer, 'Well at last you're beginning to understand the point.' Because you can't give up desire. Why would you try to do that? It's already desire. So in the same way you say 'You ought to be unselfish' or to give up you ego. Let go, relax. Why do you want to do that? Just because it's another way of beating the game, isn't it? The moment you hypothesize that you are different from the universe, you want to get one up on it. But if you try to get one up on the universe, and you're in competition with it, that means you don't understand you ARE it. You think there's a real difference between 'self' and 'other.' But 'self,' what you call yourself, and what you call 'other' are mutually necessary to each other like back and front. They're really one. But just as a magnet polarizes itself at north and south, but it's all one magnet, so experience polarizes itself as self and other, but it's all one. If you try to make the south pole defeat the north pole, or get the mastery of it, you show you don't know what's going on.

So there are two ways of playing the game. The first way, which is the usual way, is that a guru or teacher who wants to get this across to somebody because he knows it himself, and when you know it you'd like others to see it, too. So what he does is, he gets you into being ridiculous harder and more assiduously than usual. In other words, if you are in a contest with the universe, he's going to stir up that contest until it becomes ridiculous. And so he sets you such tasks as saying-- Now of course, in order to be a true person, you must give up yourself, be unselfish. So the Lord steps down out of heaven and says 'The first and great commandment is 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.' You must love me.' Well that's a double-bind. You can't love on purpose. You can't be sincere purposely. It's like trying not to think of a green elephant while taking medicine.

But if a person really tries to do it--and this is the way Christianity is rigged--you should be very sorry for your sins. And though everybody knows they're not, but they think they ought to be, they go around trying to be penitent. Or trying to be humble. And they know the more assiduously they practice it, the phonier and phonier the whole thing gets. So in Zen Buddhism, exactly the same thing happens. The Zen master challenges you to be spontaneous. 'Show me the real you.' One way they do this getting you to shout. Shout the word 'moo.' And he says 'I want to hear YOU in that shout. I want to hear your whole being in it.' And you yell your lungs out and he says 'Pfft. That's no good. That's just a fake shout. Now I want to hear absolutely the whole of your being, right from the heart of the universe, come through in this shout.' And these guys scream themselves hoarse. Nothing happens. Until one day they get so desperate they give up trying and they manage to get that shout through, when they weren't trying to be genuine. Because there was nothing else to do, you just had to yell.

And so in this way--it's called the technique of reductio ad absurdum. If you think you have a problem, and you're an ego and you're in difficulty, the answer the Zen master makes to you is 'Show me your ego. I want to see this thing that has a problem.' When Bodhidharma, the legendary founder of Zen, came to China, a disciple came to him and said 'I have no peace of mind. Please pacify my mind.' And Bodhidharma said 'Bring out your mind here before me and I'll pacify it.' 'Well,' he said, 'when I look for it, I can't find it.' So Bodhidharma said 'There, it's pacified.' See? Because when you look for your own mind, that is to say, your own particularized center of being which is separate from everything else, you won't be able to find it. But the only way you'll know it isn't there is if you look for it hard enough, to find out that it isn't there. And so everybody says 'All right, know yourself, look within, find out who you are.' Because the harder you look, you won't be able to find it, and then you'll realize it isn't there at all. There isn't a separate you. You're mind is what there is. Everything. But the only way to find that out is to persist in the state of delusion as hard as possible. That's one way. I haven't said the only way, but it is one way.

So almost all spiritual disciplines, meditations, prayers, etc, etc, are ways of persisting in folly. Doing resolutely and consistently what you're doing already. So if a person believes that the Earth is flat, you can't talk him out of that. He knows it's flat. Look out the window and see; it's obvious, it looks flat. So the only way to convince him it isn't is to say 'Well let's go and find the edge.' And in order to find the edge, you've got to be very careful not to walk in circles, you'll never find it that way. So we've got to go consistently in a straight line due west along the same line of latitude, and eventually when we get back to where we started from, you've convinced the guy that the world is round. That's the only way that will teach him. Because people can't be talked out of illusions.

There is another possibility, however. But this is more difficult to describe. Let's say we take as the basic supposition--which is the thing that one sees in the experience of satori or awakening, or whatever you want to call it--that this now moment in which I'm talking and you're listening, is eternity. That although we have somehow conned ourselves into the notion that this moment is ordinary, and that we may not feel very well, we're sort of vaguely frustrated and worried and so on, and that it ought to be changed. This is it. So you don't need to do anything at all. But the difficulty about explaining that is that you mustn't try and not do anything, because that's doing something. It's just the way it is. In other words, what's required is a sort of act of super relaxation; it's not ordinary relaxation. It's not just letting go, as when you lie down on the floor and imagine that you're heavy so you get into a state of muscular relaxation. It's not like that. It's being with yourself as you are without altering anything. And how to explain that? Because there's nothing to explain. It is the way it is now. See? And if you understand that, it will automatically wake you up.

So that's why Zen teachers use shock treatment, to sometimes hit them or shout at them or create a sudden surprise. Because it is that jolt that suddenly brings you here. See, there's no road to here, because you're already there. If you ask me 'How am I going to get here?' It will be like the famous story of the American tourist in England. The tourist asked some yokel the way to Upper Tuttenham, a little village. And the yokel scratched his head and he said 'Well, sir, I don't know where it is, but if I were you, I wouldn't start from here.'

So you see, when you ask 'How to I obtain the knowledge of God, how do I obtain the knowledge of liberation?' all I can say is it's the wrong question. Why do you want to obtain it? Because the very fact that you're wanting to obtain it is the only thing that prevents you from getting there. You already have it. But of course, it's up to you. It's your privilege to pretend that you don't. That's your game; that's your life game; that's what makes you think your an ego. And when you want to wake up, you will, just like that. If you're not awake, it shows you don't want to. You're still playing the hide part of the game. You're still, as it were, the self pretending it's not the self. And that's what you want to do. So you see, in that way, too, you're already there.

So when you understand this, a funny thing happens, and some people misinterpret it. You'll discover as this happens that the distinction between voluntary and involuntary behavior disappears. You will realize that what you describe as things under your own will feel exactly the same as things going on outside you. You watch other people moving, and you know you're doing that, just like you're breathing or circulating your blood. And if you don't understand what's going on, you're liable to get crazy at this point, and to feel that you are God in the Jehovah sense. To say that you actually have power over other people, so that you can alter what you're doing. And that you're omnipotent in a very crude, literal kind of bible sense. You see? A lot of people feel that and they go crazy. They put them away. They think they're Jesus Christ and that everybody ought to fall down and worship them. That's only because they got their wires crossed. This experience happened to them, but they don't know how to interpret it. So be careful of that. Jung calls it inflation. People who get the Holy Man syndrome, that I suddenly discover that I am the Lord and that I am above good and evil and so on, and therefore I start giving myself airs and graces. But the point is, everybody else is, too. If you discover that you are that, then you ought to know that everybody else is.

For example, let's see in other ways how you might realize this. Most people think when they open their eyes and look around, that what they're seeing is outside. It seems, doesn't it, that you are behind your eyes, and that behind the eyes there is a blank you can't see at all. You turn around and there's something else in front of you. But behind the eyes there seems to be something that has no color. It isn't dark, it isn't light. It is there from a tactile standpoint; you can feel it with your fingers, but you can't get inside it. But what is that behind your eyes? Well actually, when you look out there and see all these people and things sitting around, that's how it feels inside your head. The color of this room is back here in the nervous system, where the optical nerves are at the back of the head. It's in there. It's what you're experiencing. What you see out here is a neurological experience. Now if that hits you, and you feel sensuously that that's so, you may feel therefore that the external world is all inside my skull. You've got to correct that, with the thought that your skull is also in the external world. So you suddenly begin to feel 'Wow, what kind of situation is this? It's inside me, and I'm inside it, and it's inside me, and I'm inside it.' But that's the way it is.

This is the what you could call transaction, rather than interaction between the individual and the world. Just like, for example, in buying and selling. There cannot be an act of buying unless there is simultaneously an act of selling, and vice versa. So the relationship between the environment and the organism is transactional. The environment grows the organism, and in turn the organism creates the environment. The organism turns the sun into light, but it requires there be an environment containing a sun for there to be an organism at all. And the answer to it simply is they're all one process. It isn't that organisms by chance came into the world. This world is the sort of environment which grows organisms. It was that way from the beginning. The organisms may in time have arrived in the scene or out of the scene later than the beginning of the scene, but from the moment it went BANG! in the beginning, if that's the way it started, organisms like us are sitting here. We're involved in it.

Look here, we take the propagation of an electric current. I can have an electric current running through a wire that goes all the way around the Earth. And here we have a power source, and here we have a switch. A positive pole, a negative pole. Now, before that switch closes, the current doesn't exactly behave like water in a pipe. There isn't current here, waiting, to jump the gap as soon as the switch is closed. The current doesn't even start until the switch is closed. It never starts unless the point of arrival is there. Now, it'll take an interval for that current to get going in its circuit if it's going all the way around the Earth. It's a long run. But the finishing point has to be closed before it will even start from the beginning. In a similar way, even though in the development of any physical system there may by billions of years between the creation of the most primitive form of energy and then the arrival of intelligent life, that billions of years is just the same things as the trip of that current around the wire. Takes a bit of time. But it's already implied. It takes time for an acorn to turn into an oak, but the oak is already implied in the acorn. And so in any lump of rock floating about in space, there is implicit human intelligence. Sometime, somehow, somewhere. They all go together.

So don't differentiate yourself and stand off and say 'I am a living organism in a world made of a lot of dead junk, rocks and stuff.' It all goes together. Those rocks are just as much you as your fingernails. You need rocks. What are you going to stand on?

What I think an awakening really involves is a re-examination of our common sense. We've got all sorts of ideas built into us which seem unquestioned, obvious. And our speech reflects them; its commonest phrases. 'Face the facts.' As if they were outside you. As if life were something they simply encountered as a foreigner. 'Face the facts.' Our common sense has been rigged, you see? So that we feel strangers and aliens in this world, and this is terribly plausible, simply because this is what we are used to. That's the only reason. But when you really start questioning this, say 'Is that the way I have to assume life is? I know everybody does, but does that make it true?' It doesn't necessarily. It ain't necessarily so. So then as you question this basic assumption that underlies our culture, you find you get a new kind of common sense. It becomes absolutely obvious to you that you are continuous with the universe.

For example, people used to believe that planets were supported in the sky by being imbedded in crystal spheres, and everybody knew that. Why, you could see the crystal spheres there because you could look right through them. It was obviously made of crystal, and something had to keep them up there. And then when the astronomers suggested that there weren't any crystal spheres, people got terrified, because then they thought the stars would fall down. Nowadays, it doesn't bother anybody. They thought, too, when they found out the Earth was spherical, people who lived in the antipodes would fall off, and that was scary. But then somebody sailed around the world, and we all got used to it, we travel around in jet planes and everything. We have no problem feeling that the Earth is globular. None whatever. We got used to it.

So in the same way Einstein's relativity theories--the curvature of the propagation of light, the idea that time gets older as light moves away from a source, in other words, people looking at the world now on Mars, they would be seeing the state of the world a little earlier than we are now experiencing it. That began to bother people when Einstein started talking about that. But now we're all used to it, and relativity and things like that are a matter of common sense today. Well, in a few years, it will be a matter of commons sense to many people that they're one with the universe. It'll be so simple. And then maybe if that happens, we shall be in a position to handle our technology with more sense. With love instead of with hate for our environment.

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