In my talk last night I was discussing the disparity between the way in which most human beings experience their own existence, and the way man’s being and nature is described in the sciences. I was pointing out that in such sciences as ecology and biology, ecology for example describes and studies the relationship between all organisms and their environments. The way in which they describe human, animal, and insect behavior is in flat contradiction with the way in which most of us experience our thinking, our action, and our existence. We have been brought up to experience ourselves as isolated centers of awareness and action, placed in a world that is not us, that is foreign, alien, other, which we confront. Whereas, in fact, the way an ecologist describes human behavior is as an action. What you do is what the whole universe is doing at the place you call “here and now”. You are something the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing.
This is not what you might call a fatalistic or deterministic idea. You see, you might be a fatalist if you think that you are a sort of puppet which life pushes around. You are separate from life, but life dominates you. That’s fatalism. But in the point of view I am expressing, the real you is not a puppet which life pushes around. The real deep down you is the whole universe, and it is doing your living organism and all of its behavior, it’s expressing it as a singer sings a song. We have been hoodwinked into the feeling that we exist only inside our skins, and I was showing last night that that is a hallucination. It is just as nutty as anybody could be, like a fruitcake, you know, who thinks he is Napoleon or something another, thinks he is a poached egg and goes around finding a piece of toast to sit on. It is just like that, a hallucination. And I was showing how we need to experience ourselves in such a way that we could say that our real body is not just what is inside the skin but our whole total external environment. Because, if we do not experience ourselves that way, we mistreat our environment. We treat it as an enemy. We try to beat it into submission, and if we do that, comes disaster. We exploit the world we live in, we do not treat it with love and gentleness and respect. We cut down millions of acres of forests to turn it into newspaper, of all things. Lovely trees turned into information about nothing, and we do not replace them properly. We kick the world around in revenge for feeling that really we are puppets which the world kicks around.
So, my main point last night was then that we need a new kind of consciousness in which every individual becomes aware that his real self is not just his conscious ego. You know, let’s take a headlight of a car. The headlight shines on the road in front, the headline does not shine on the wire which connects it with its own battery. So, in a way, the headlight is unaware of how it shines, and in the same way we are unaware of the sources of our consciousness. We do not know how we know. There was a young man who said, “Though it seems that I know that I know, what I would like to see is the I that knows me, when I know that I know that I know.” And so, we are ignorant of, we ignore, it does not come within the scope of our attention how it is that we manage to be conscious, how it is that we manage to grow our hair, to shape our bones, to beat our heart, and to secrete all the necessary fluids that we need from our glands. We do it, but we do not know how we do it. Because you see, underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really “us” than “I.” And if you become aware of that unknown self – the more you become aware of it – the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that there is. That you are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and that furthermore this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies. And that vast thing that you see far off, far off with telescopes, and you look and look, one day you are going to wake up and say, “Why, that’s me!” and in knowing that you know, you see, that you never die. You are the eternal thing that comes and goes, that appears now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown; so it goes, forever and ever and ever.
Now then, why I made this point as an introduction to what I want to say tonight is the problem of the relationship of man and nature. You know, in the history of philosophy there are really three theories of nature. Incidentally, what do you mean when you use the word “nature”? What is nature study, natural history, the Museum of Natural History, what do you expect to find there? Well, for many people nature means the birds, the bees, and the flowers. It means everything that is not artificial. People think, for example, a building like this is not natural; it is artificial. The natural state of the human being is to be naked, but we wear clothes, and that’s artificial. We build houses. Is there any difference between a human house and a wasp’s nest or a bird’s nest? Not really, but we do have in our minds, you see, the idea that nature is somehow outside us. We have got some nature in us, and we say there is a thing called human nature, that’s mostly bad. Human nature, according to Dr. Freud, is motivated by the libido, and you know what that is and you cannot trust it. In the old days they used to beat it with whips, but Freud said, “Don’t do it that way! You have to treat it as a good horse trainer trains a horse by giving it a lump of sugar every now and then, and get it control that way. Be kind to it and respect it, even though it is really very, very disrespectable.”
Well now, there are, as I said, in the history of the mankind, three theories of nature. The first theory is the Western theory, which is that nature is a machine, or an artifact. We inherit this from the Hebrews who believed that nature was made by God in somewhat the same way as a potter makes a pot out of clay or a carpenter makes a table out of wood. It is not insignificant that Jesus is the son of a carpenter. Our tradition has been to look upon the world as a construct and somebody knows how it was put together. Somebody understands and that is the constructor, the architect, the Lord God. But it so happens that in the eighteenth century Western thought began to change. They became increasingly doubtful as to whether there was a maker – whether there was a God – but they continued to look upon the creation as an artifact, as a machine. And by the time of Newton, people were explaining the world in terms of mechanism and we are still under the influence of that idea because after all, things like life magazines and so on, when they give you an article on human physiology, they usually make drawings which show the human being as a kind of mechanism, as a sort of factory. And they show how the peristaltic action carries the food in and how it is processed by this organ and that organ, as just as if a certain product is fed into a factory, a cow at one end and comes out canned corned beef at the other. Just in such a way the human is illustrated and so in some kinds of rather degraded medicine, that is now practiced, when you go to the hospital for a medical examination, you are treated as a machine, they process you. You are not a person, you are putted in a wheelchair immediately even if you are perfectly healthy and can walk, nevertheless they have to have you in this wheelchair. And they put you through a process and the heart specialist looks only at your heart, because he can’t understand anything else. The otorhinolaryngologist, which means an ear, nose, and throat man, looks at that section of you, and he does not know about anything else. Then maybe a psychiatrist takes a look at you and goodness knows what happens there; and so on, and so on. Everybody looks at you from their specialized point of view as if they were a bunch of mechanics examining your automobile. Because as I said last night, we just ask for this because most of us consider ourselves as chauffeurs inside our bodies, which we own in the same way as we own a car. And when it goes wrong we take it to the mechanic to fix it. You don’t really identify with our body, just as we do not really identify with your car. So here is this whole theory of nature which has grown up in the West, as an artifact, something made.
Now let me take a second theory of nature. This is an Indian theory, East Indian. Nature not as an artifact but as drama. Basic to all Hindu thought is the idea that the world is Maya. That is a Sanskrit word which means many things. It means magic, illusion, art, play. All the world is a stage, and in the Hindu idea of nature there is, the ultimate reality of the universe is the self which they call brahman, or atman. That is what there is; the Self – universal, eternal, boundless, indescribable – and everything that happens, happens on the Self, like you say “It’s on me, the drinks tonight are on me,” or like we say when you hear the radio, “It’s on the speaker.” You see, everything you hear on the radio, flutes, drums, human voices, traffic noises, any imaginable sound, all thou sounds are vibrations of the diaphragm in the speaker. But the radio does not tell you that. The announcer does not come on and say every morning “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is KQED. The following sounds that you are going to hear are vibrations of the diaphragm in your speaker, and they are not really human voices or musical instruments, but just that.” They never let you in on that, and in exactly the same way, the universe does not let you in on the truth that all sense experiences are vibrations of the self; not just your self, but the Self, and all of us share this Self in common because it is pretending to be all of us. Brahman, the ultimate principle, plays hide and seek eternally, and he does it for unspeakably long periods of time. The Hindus measure time in what is called a kalpa; K A L P A, that is 4,320,000 years. Don’t take this seriously, this not meant to be taken literally, but just for an unspeakably long time. The brahman, the self, pretends that it is lost, and is us. And all of our adventures and all our troubles, and all our agonies, tragedies, it gets mixed up in. Then, after the period of 4,320,000 years has elapsed, there is a catastrophe. The universe is destroyed in fire, and after that the Brahman wakes up and says, “Well, good, crazy! What an adventure that was!” He wipes the sweat off his brow and says, “Shwooo, let’s rest a while.” So, for another 4,320,000 years the Divine Self rests, and knows who It is. It’s me. Then It says, “Well, this is rather boring. Let’s get going again; let’s get mixed up.” And it does this in a very strange way because the way the Hindus time it, the first period of getting mixed up, getting lost is beautiful. That is the longest period. Everything is right, just life is glorious. Then there is the next period in which things get a little wonky. Something is vaguely out of order, that doesn’t last so long. Then the next period, the third, is when good and evil are equally balanced, and that is still not so long. Finally comes the shortest period when everything bad triumphs, and the whole thing blows up and we begin all over again. We are supposed to be living in that now. It is called the Kali Yuga, the Age of Darkness, and it began on Friday, February the 23rd, 3123 B.C., and it has 5,000 years to run. But as it goes on, time gets faster, so do not worry. So you see, that’s the theory of nature as a drama, it’s a play.
Now, there is a third theory of nature which is Chinese, and this is very interesting. The Chinese word for nature they call tzu-jan, and this expression means “of itself, so”, what happens of itself. Or we might say “spontaneity,” it almost means “automatic,” because automatic is what is self-moving, only we associate the word “automatic” with machinery. But tzu-jan, what-is-so-of-itself, is associated in the Chinese mind not with machinery but with biology. Your hair grows by itself; you do not have to think how to grow it. Your heart beats by itself; you do not have to make up your mind how to beat it. This is what they mean by nature. A poem says, “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows of itself.” So there are principle of nature called the Tao, T A O, pronounced “dow” in the Mandarin dialect, “tow” in the Shanghai dialect, “toe” in the Cantonese dialect, take your choice.
Tao means the course of nature, and Lao-tzu, who was a philosopher who lived a little later than 400 B.C., wrote a book about the Tao. And he said, “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” You cannot describe it. He said the principle of the Tao is spontaneity, he said “the Great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. It accomplishes merits and lays no claim to them.” So there is a very great difference between the Chinese idea of Tao, as the informing principle of nature, and the Judeo-Christian idea of God as nature’s lord and master, because the Tao does not act as a boss. In the Chinese philosophy of nature, nature has no boss. There is no principle that forces things to behave the way they do, it is a completely democratic theory of nature. Correspondingly you see, most Westerners, whether they be Christians or non-Christians, do not trust nature. Of all things nature is the thing least to be trusted. You must manage it. You must watch out for it, it will always go wrong if you do not watch out, you know the goblins will get you if you do not watch out. So, we are always feeling that you can’t trust it. See, we are absolutely instilled with the idea of original sin. You cannot trust nature because it comes out with weeds and insects, and above all, you cannot trust human nature, because if you don’t hold a club over yourself, you go out and rape you grandmother.
Now, the Chinese would say, “If you cannot trust yourself you cannot trust anything, because if you cannot trust yourself can you trust your mistrust of yourself? Is that well-founded?” You see? If you can’t trust yourself, you are totally mixed up. You haven’t a leg to stand on, and you have no point of departure for anything. And in this respect, the Taoist philosophy and the Confucian philosophy are in agreement. In Confucius philosophy, the fundamental virtue of a human being is called jen, spelled J E N, for reasons best know to Chinese scholars. I don’t know what they are, but is pronounced jen. It is a Chinese character that Confucius placed as the highest of all virtues, higher than righteousness, higher than benevolence, and it means approximately human-heartedness. Now, Confucius once said that “goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue.” Virtue in Chinese is teh, we Romanize it as T E H, and it means virtue not in the sense of moral propriety, but virtue in the sense of magic, as when we speak of the healing virtues of a certain plant. A man of true virtue is therefore a human-hearted man, and the meaning of this is that one should, above all, trust human nature in the full recognition that it is both good and bad, that it’s both loving and selfish.
Now, let me give an illustration of the wisdom of this. When people fight wars, I trust them. If the reason for which they fight a war is to expropriate somebody else’s possessions and women, because they will fight a merciful war they will not destroy the possessions and the women that they want to capture. They want to enjoy them. And that’s a war based on simple, ordinary, everyday human greed. The most awful wars that are waged, are the wars waged for moral principles. You are a lousy communist, you have a philosophy that is destructive to religion and to everything that we love, and value, and reverence, and therefore we will exterminate you to the last man unless you surrender unconditionally. Such wars are ruthless beyond belief. We can blow up whole cities, wipe people out because we are not greedy, we are righteous. That is why the goody-goodies are the thieves of virtue. If you are going to do something evil, do it for a play, honest selfish motive. Don’t do it in the name of God. Because if you do, it turns you into a monster who is no longer human. A sadist, a pure destroyer. So an inflexibly righteous person is not human. And that is why in Chinese ideas of justice a good judge is not somebody who abides by the book. Their idea of justice is for God’s sake keep the case out of court. Let us have a concentration behind the scenes. And let’s arrange a compromise. Because we know our opponent is a rascal, I know I am a rascal, and therefore, there can be a mutual arrangement between thieves. So we talk about it, we call the judge in, in an unofficial capacity. And the judge hums and haws and if he is a good judge, he has a sense of what is called Li. I’m going to talk you about another meaning of the word pronounced li later on, but it’s quite a different word.
Li is justice, but you cannot write it down. There is another word for justice, or law, in Chinese tzu. And this word represents, in its Chinese character form, a cauldron for cooking sacrifices and a knife. In the high and far-off times of Chinese history there was an emperor who, when the people brought their sacrifices of meat and so on to be put in the cauldrons, he also scratched with a knife on the side of the cauldrons the laws of the state so all the people could read them and understand what they were. But the sages who advised this emperor said that was a very bad thing to do because the moment people see the law written down, they develop a litigious spirit. That is to say, they think out ways of wangling around it, and that’s what we do all the time, don’t we? The moment Congress passes a law, a tax law especially, all the lawyers get together and they fill it full of holes. They say, “Well, it did not define this and it did not say that.” And some of those Confucians wanted to put the language in order and to make all the words mean just so. But the Taoists laughed at them and said, “If you define the words, with what words are you going to define the words that define the words?” So they said, therefore, that the emperor should not have written the laws down because a sense of justice is not something you can put in words. It is what our lawyers call “equity,” and if you talk to any lawyer and in discussing various judges around town he will say, “Well, Judge so-and-so is pretty much a stickler for the letter of the law, but on the other hand Judge so-and-so has a sense of equity. He knows when the law, the letter of the law just doesn’t apply to this particular case. And he just has an innate sense of fair play, that is the man to be trusted as a judge.” This is what the Chinese mean by a judge who has the sense of li, of real justice. It cannot be written down, it cannot be explained because every case is individual. But what such a man has fundamentally in his heart, he trusts the good and bad of human nature.
Human beings are complex, we don’t know ourselves at all, really. Consider your nervous system. Neurologists haven’t even begun to figure it out, and yet all of your conscious decisions are based on this thing that you do not understand. You are unbelievably more wise in your nature than you ever will be in your conscious thoughts, because behind your conscious thoughts lies your nervous system. And if you say, “Well, my nervous system is unreliable. It is just a bunch of strange, weird, biological chances that have become mixed up somehow,” then this very opinion that you are expressing, you see, is a function of that nervous system. So you are saying that you are a total hoax, you cannot trust yourself at all. So that is a set of game rules that don’t lead anywhere. It’s totally self-frustrating.
So you see, what the Chinese have developed here is a theory of nature, I said there are three theories – the western mechanical theory, nature as an artifact; the Hindu dramatic theory and the Chinese organic theory. Nature, human nature included, is an organism; and an organism is a system of orderly anarchy. There is no boss in it but it gets along by being left alone and being allowed to do its stuff. That is what the Chinese Taoist philosophy calls wu-wei, which means not doing nothing but not interfering with the course of events, not acting against the grain.
Now this is the time to introduce the second word li in Chinese. The first li meant justice, the second li is a character which had the original meaning of the markings in jade, the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle. And it’s usually translated ‘reason’ or the ‘principle of things’, these are not very good translations. The best translation of li is organic pattern. Now look here. When you look at the clouds they aren’t symmetrical. They do not form fours and they do not come along in cubes, but you know at once that they are not a mess. A dirty old ashtray full of junk may be a mess but clouds do not look like that. When you look at the patterns of foam on water they never make an artistic mistake and they are not a mess. They are wiggly but in a way, orderly, and it is difficult for us to describe that kind of order.
Now, take a look at yourselves. You are all wiggly. We think that we are pretty ordinary because there are a lot of us who look approximately the same. So when we see a human being we think, “Well, that is pretty much in order” and regular, and it’s okay, we don’t realize how wiggly we are. We are just like clouds, rocks, and stars. Look at the way the stars are arranged. Do you criticize the way the stars are arranged? Would you like them to form fours? Would you like them to be sort of set out like needlepoint on the canvas of the skies? There were somebody in the eighteenth century, in the days when they built formal gardens of clipped hedges and made all the tulips stand together like soldiers, who criticized the stars for being irregularly arranged, but today we don’t feel that way. We love the way the stars are scattered, and they never make a mistake in their arrangement. What about mountain ranges? Do you criticize the valleys for being low, and praise the peaks for being high? You just say, “It is great, it’s the way it is.” Now, that kind of order the artist pays a tribute by painting a landscape. In every national park there is a place called “Inspiration Point,” and people go there and say, “Oh! It’s just like a picture!” And nobody knew this four hundred years ago. It took the artists to paint landscapes and then people realized how beautiful it is. Nowadays artists are painting pictures of damp, stained walls and floors where people have dropped a lot of paint. One day people will walk into a room where there is a lot of paint scattered on the floor and they will say, “My goodness, it is just like a Jackson Pollock. Isn’t it just like a picture?” You see? It always takes the artist to show us the vision, but of course in the meantime, it is difficult. You go to an exhibition of contemporary, nonobjective painting, and a kind of square fellow walks in there and says, “That’s not what I call a picture”, because it is against his prejudices. But I say to people, “Now, excuse me, wait a minute. Take a look at that again. I’m going to tell you something. That painting is a colored photograph…of guess what?” Then they look at it in astonishment with entirely new eyes. What could that be a photograph of? They begins to see that it might be a photograph from a microscope, of globules of germs floating in liquid. It might be anything, very easy it suddenly comes over them. Goodness knows whether that was what the artist intended, but that’s a method of giving people a shock, of seeing things in a new way.
You know, a GI visited Picasso in Paris during the war and said, “I cannot understand your paintings. They are absurd. Life does not look like that.” Picasso said, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He said, “Yes.” “Have you a picture?” He said, “Yes.” “Show it to me.” So he drew out his billfold, and there was a little colored photograph of his girlfriend, and Picasso looked at it and said, “Is she so small as that?”
Now then, the idea of li, the idea of natural order, is like this patterns on foam, patterns in jade, the shapes of the clouds, the shapes of trees and mountains. They are orderly, but we cannot put our finger on the order. We know it is orderly but we do not know why. And we know it’s completely different from a mess. The order of nature is in that way indefinable. When Saint Augustine was asked, “What is time?” he said, “I know what it is, but when you ask me I don’t.” So in the same way the Chinese would say, “We know what the order of nature is, but if you ask us, we don’t.” The poet says, “Picking chrysanthemums along the eastern fence, gazing in silence at the southern hills, the birds fly home through the soft mountain air of dusk.” In all these things there is a deep meaning, but when we are about to express it, we suddenly forget the words. That’s li. Nature as a self-ordering principle, but it does not really know how it does it. Another poem says, “If you want to know where the flowers come from even the God of Spring doesn’t know.” This is a very remarkable attitude to nature. Politically you see, if you translate this into politics it is high philosophical anarchy, and there is a lot to be said for this as a political point of view. That in other words, government is always a mess because the state opposes itself to the people. We live under a constitution where we are supposed to be governed by ourselves, somebody once said, “Down with democracy, when we get it.” Because the state, the government always creates itself as a business in competition with all the other businesses, and it wins because it is the biggest one of the bunch. The Taoists said of the state that it should be as anonymous and as unobtrusive as possible. That is to say that the emperor instead of going around in processions and being heralded with waving flags, should be as unobtrusive as the head of the sanitation department. You know, he’s a man, a guy who goes around in a plain ordinary suit and really attends to his job. The head of sanitation of the city of Dallas goes around, you don’t have a police escort and sirens blowing and flags waving. He simply does his job. And the feeling of Lao-tzu is that the president or the emperor should have the same kind of attitude. That he should simply help the people and retire, and not claim any merits for it, always withdraw himself, always be behind the scenes. Not striving for power, but simply to help things along. “Govern a great state,” he said “as you would cook a small fish.” Now, you know, when you have a small fish in the frying pan do not keep tossing it around and fidgeting with a spatula, otherwise it will fall apart. Do it gently, softly, softly, catchee monkey.