Tonight at any rate we’ve got to go through some theoretical material so we’re on a head-trip. I don’t know where the trip will end up, it depends on you. But in order to lay the foundation for this, we have to examine ideas that are basic to our common sense. Ideas are very powerful. It is not only emotions that are powerful in human life. Psychoanalysis has, of course, examined the emotional bases of human opinions and beliefs, but one should also examine the intellectual bases of psychological principles, theories, or therapies. Because everybody who speaks any language at all has, has underneath the surface of the language or the figuring that he uses, certain basic assumptions which are usually unexamined, and these unexamined systems of belief are extremely powerful in their influence over our lives.
We will begin with one very common idea that is built into our common sense, which is that the physical world consists of two aspects: respectively, form and matter. This was foisted on us by Aristotle and also by the Bible. Because it is said that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and as it were made a figurine in His own image, and then breathed the breath of life into its nostrils so that this form of clay became a living being. So, underneath that lies the notion that everything material is made of some sort of basic stuff, like clay is the basis of pots. For centuries, scientists, philosophers wanted to know, “What is that stuff? What are we made of?” Now look here, a carpenter makes tables out of wood, and a potter makes pots out of clay, but I ask you: is a tree made of wood? Obviously not. A tree is wood, it is not made of it. Is a mountain made of rock? Obviously not, it is rock. See, our language contains innumerable ghosts. Supposing I say, “The lightning flashes.” Surely the flashing is the same as the lightning. There is not one thing called “lightning” and another called “flashing.” The lightning is the flashing. It is raining. What is this it that is raining? The raining. I can make a noun out of a verb anytime by turning it into a gerund. So, we populate the world with ghosts which arise out of the structure of our language, and thus therefore of the structure of our thinking because we think in language, or in figuring, and numbers. So it is intensely fascinating investigation to find out what are the hidden assumptions that underlie language and figuring, in other words language and mathematics, and here is this basic assumption, you see, that almost all of us have, that, and it comes again and again into our everyday speech, that form, pattern, organization, organisms are made of something. As if there were some inert primordial and, of course, stupid stuff which had to be put into shape by an energy and an intelligence other than the stuff like the intelligence of the potter shapes the clay.
So therefore we have a basic picture of the world in which everything is being pushed around. There’s a boss, there is somebody in charge who is different from what that somebody is in charge of, and puts everything into shape, because our common sense does not allow that things shape themselves. Very odd. In Chinese the word for nature is tzy-jan which is that which is so of itself, the spontaneous. The Chinese have no difficulty in thinking about nature as self-shaping. A Chinese child would not ask its mother ‘how was I made?’ It would ask its mother ‘how did I grow?’ which would be quite different, you see? So to be made is to be commanded and therefore every good being obeys, whether you obey god or whether you obey the laws of nature, you obey. And in an analog therefore of the world that has been putted into our common sense is one of military command, note that. Because the image of god, I would go further and say the idolatrous image of god, which has been handed down to us, is one of the beneficent tyrant – the boss, big papa.
So then, when our physicists started to find out what stuff was, they went into it and into it, and examined it with ever more minute instruments. First they started cutting up things with knives, and they cut them into smaller and smaller and smaller until the particle that they wanted to dissect was exactly the same width as the edge of the knife, and so they got the atom. And that word in Greek atomas means the “non-cuttable.” A: non; tomas: cuttable. Thus, the basic atom, what you cannot cut anymore because you have come down to the end. Well, they were not satisfied with that, so they got an atomas – in other words a particle of something or other that was just the same width as the blade of the knife edge – and they looked at it under a microscope. They saw that it seemed to be composed of more small particles, so they found out means of working those out, and then they found extraordinary means of investigating the properties of matter, then they reached a point where they couldn’t decide whether was particles or weather was waves, so they called them “wavicles”, they thought they had come to certain ultimate wavicles called electrons. But then, unfortunately, everything fell apart, and they found protons, mesons, and many other extraordinary things. Because of course, what they did not realize was that as you make more and more powerful microscopic instruments, the universe has to get smaller and smaller in order to escape the investigation. Just as, when the telescopes become more and more powerful the galaxies have to recede in order to get away from the telescopes because what is happening in all these investigations is, through us and through our eyes and senses, the universe is looking at itself. And when you try to turn around to see your own head, what happens? You see? It runs away! You will never get at it. You cannot bite your own teeth, you can’t touch the tip of this finger with the tip of this finger. This is the principle. Shankara explained this beautifully in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad where he says, “That which is the knower – the ground of all knowledge – is never itself an object of knowledge, just as fire does not burn itself.” So there is always that profound mystery that you are never going to be in absolute control of what goes on, because if you were, to be like making love to a plastic woman. Who wants that? There’s always the mystery. The thing we don’t know, as Van der Leeuw put it, “The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” If there were not that, you see, there would be no life.
The reason why certain people turned to philosophy, well I became a philosopher was that ever since I was a little boy I always felt that existence, as such, was weird. I mean here we are, and isn’t that odd? Of course it is odd, but what do you mean by odd? Well, it is what is different from even, and what is odd stands out. What is even lies flat, but you cannot see the outstanding without the flat background. Is the thing standing out? It’s odd. Each one of you is odd: strange, unique, particular, different. How do we know what we mean by that, except against the background of something even that is not differentiated, like space? So, you get this philosophical itch, you begin to scratch your head and think about why is that so. Well after awhile you may realize that “Why?” is a meaningless question, and so you may ask: “How is it so?” Well, that leads you into science and other investigations. So you want to know, “What is it?” I mean, what is this happening, this thing called existence, “what is it”? You ask that question long enough, and it suddenly hits you that if you could answer it, you would not know what terms to put the answer in. I mean, when we investigate the properties of nature, and we do get some answers, all the answers are in terms of particular structures, forms, patterns. And these can be measured, and their behavior can be predicted. But when I want to ask the question “What are the forms made of?”, I mean “What is it really?”, we cannot think of any way in which we could answer the question, because we would have to have a class of all classes.
When you ask the question “What?” it is like saying: “Is you is or is you ain’t?” Is you animal, is you vegetable, is you mineral? Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you male or female? Are you a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu, or a what have you? We classify, always, to give an answer to the question “What is it?” And when you classify you distinguish an inside group from an outside group. So what we want to know is what is the group of all groups. But we can’t imagine what the outside would be. So we can’t answer the question, “what is it”?
So, the physicists finally abandoned the quest for stuff, and they gave us a description of the universe entirely in terms of form: the pattern, not the stuff. People ask, “What is the work?”, but you can’t do that! “What is the pattern made of? Surely, there must be an answer to that?” See, what happens is, when you turn up the microscope all stuff turns into form, it becomes articulate. You know, the carpet looks like some sort of stuff, but when you look at it under a microscope you will see the crystalline structure of the nylon, or whatever it is made of. See? Then they want to know, “What are the crystals made of?” All right? Turn up the volume and you will find molecules. Turn up the volume, you will find wavicles. Then, “But the wavicles must be of something!” Of course they are not, we find substance, or stuff, totally vanishes, and we are left with form. Sanskrit does not really have a word for “matter.” It has nama-rupa which means “named form,” it’s the form that matters. Or let us put it in another way: everything is a matter of form, and let’s go into this, it’s fascinating.
You see, “Does it matter? What does that mean? Does it matter? Is it important?” In other words, does it measure up to anything? Now let’s go back to the Indo-European roots of the language, matter comes from a Sanskrit root matra, which means “to measure”. Lay out the foundation, you say, for a building. So from this root matra if we go on into Sanskrit, we get the word maya, and maya is generally translated as illusion, although it also means magic, creative power. The word illusion comes from the Latin ludere, to play. “Let us pretend that we matter.” Also from the root matra we have “meter,” and that is also “to measure;” metere in Greek, mater in Latin, which means “mama”, “mother.” The mother of Buddha was called Maya, and Mary, ma again, is the mother of Jesus – ma, ma, ma, ma, ma. But ma, you see, is a matter of form, pattern. The Chinese call the basic principle of nature li, and the character for li means the markings in jade, the fiber in muscle, the grain in wood. So Joseph Needham translates it “organic pattern”. That’s what’s going on. There isn’t any stuff involved. What stuff is, is a pattern seen out of focus, where it becomes fuzzy, like kapok you see? We say, kapok is the stuffing of the cushion. And that’s stuff. You see, some kind of goop. But when we examine the kapok closely, we find structure. That’s what you will find, and there will be anything else. Crazy. Because it completely flouts our common sense. We say …but surely, philosophers beat tables that are in front of them and you know, they say, “It is there, because …bang!, you know. There must be something that is stuff, that is substantial.” But the only reason why you cannot pass your hand through a table is the table is moving too fast. It is like trying to put your finger through an electric fan, only it is going much faster than an electric fan. Anything solid is going so fast that there is no way to get this through it, that’s all. So you say, “What is it that is going so fast?”
Well, that question is based on a grammatical illusion. The grammatical illusion is that all verbs have to have subjects, can you imagine anything more weird than the idea that a verb, or action, or event must be set into motion by a noun? That is to say, a non-event or thing. Now what is the difference between a thing and an event? I can’t, for the life of me, tell. We say, “This is a fist,” that’s a noun. Now, what happens to it when I open my hand? This thing has unaccountably disappeared, so I should have called this a “fisting,” and this is a “handing.” It may also be a “pointing.” So, we could devise a language such as that of the Nootka Indians, where there are no nouns and there are only verbs. Chinese is very close to that, I think the superimposition of the idea of noun and verb on the Chinese language is a Western invention. I can’t think of any Chinese word for a noun. But all those languages of Indo-European origin have nouns and verbs in them; they have agents and operations. That’s one of the basic snags: when we divide the world into operations and agents, doings and doers, then we ask such silly questions as, “Who knows?” “Who does it?” “What does it?” When the “what” that is supposed to do it is the same as “the doing,” you could very easily see that the whole process of the universe may be understood as “process.” Nobody is doing it. Because when you go back to doing it, you go back to the military analogy, the chain of command, the boss who goes bang! and the object obeys. That’s a very crude idea, very unsophisticated.
So, if you can bear it, we have suddenly eliminated a “spook,” and the spook was called “stuff.” So, we are now more at ease with ourselves in a world of form, nama-rupa, named forms. We can, of course, get rid of the names. We can now go further and try the experiment with not calling the forms by any names, but just observing the forms, although when we have got rid of the names we cannot even call them “forms,” because that is a name. And, there is the bizazz going on, which Buddhists called tathata, and that means “suchness” or “thusness.” Actually tathata is “da – da – da,” because when a baby first talks it says “da”: “Da, da, da, da.” And fathers flatter themselves thinking that it is saying “dada”, “daddy,” it isn’t, it is saying “da.” So the Upanishads say, Tat vam asi: you are it. The basic “da” does not mean anything. Da is like everything else, you see, the world is a musical phenomenon, good music never refers to anything except the music itself. You do not ask Mr. Bach, Mr. Ravi Shankar, “What do you mean by this music? What is it intended to express?” Bad music always expresses something other than itself, like the 1812 Overture or the Sunken Cathedral. Good music never talks about anything other than the music. If you ask Bach, “What is your meaning?” he say “Listen! That is the meaning.” Giraffes are giraffing, trees are treeing, stars are starring, clouds are clouding, rain is raining. And if you don’t understand, look at it again. And people are peopling. Wow.