The object of Buddhist discipline or methods of psychological training is as it were, to bring about a state of affairs in which the individual feels himself to be everything that there is. The whole cosmos, focused, expressing itself here. Now, in that way, your sense of identity would be turned inside out. You wouldn’t forget who you were. You wouldn’t forget your name and address, your telephone number, your social security number and what sort of role you are supposed to occupy in society. But you would know that this particular role that you play. This particular personality that you are, is superficial and the real you is all that there is.
And that inversion, turning upside down of the sense of identity, of the state of consciousness which the average person has, is the objective of Buddhistic disciplines. The method of teaching something in Buddhism is rather different from methods of teaching which we use in the Western world. In the Western world, a good teacher is regarded as someone who makes the subject matter easy for the student. A person who explains things cleverly and clearly so you can take a course in mathematics without tears.
In the Oriental world, they have an almost exactly opposite conception, and that is that a good teacher is a person who makes you find out something for yourself. In other words, learn to swim by throwing the baby into the water. There’s a story used in Zen about how a burglar taught his child to burgle. He took him one night on a burgling expedition and locked him up in a chest in the house that he was burgling and left him. And the poor little boy was all alone locked up in the chest and he began to think, how on earth am I going to get out? So he suddenly called out fire, fire, and everybody began running all over the place and they heard the shriek coming from inside the chest and they unlocked it and he rushed out and shot out into the garden. And just then, everybody was in hot pursuit calling out thief thief and he went by a well he picked up a rock and dropped it in the well. And everybody thought the poor fellow has jumped into the well and committed suicide. And he got away. And got home and his father said Congratulations you have learned the art. So do you see? William Blake once said a fool who persists in his folly will become wise.
And so, the method of teaching used by these great eastern teachers is to make fools persist in their folly, but very rigorously and very consistently and very hard. So then, if I may now having given you the analogy, the image let’s go to the specific situation. Supposing you want to study Buddhism under a Zen master, what will happen to you. Well first of all, let’s ask the question why would you want to do this anyway? I mean I can make the situation fairly universal it might not be as an master that you go to it might be a Methodist minister. It might be a Catholic priest it might be a psychoanalyst but what’s the matter with you. Why do you go? And surely the reason that we all would be seekers is that we feel some disquiet about ourselves. Many of us want to get rid of ourselves. We can’t stand ourselves and so we watch television and go to the movies and read mystery stories and join churches in order to forget ourselves. In order to merge with something greater than ourselves. We want to get away from this ridiculous thing locked up in a bag of skin. So I have a problem. I hurt. I suffer. I’m neurotic, or whatever it is, and one goes to the teacher and say my problem’s me, change me. Now if you go to a zen teacher. He’ll say. Well I have nothing to teach. There is no problem, everything’s perfectly clear. And you think that one over. And you say he’s probably being cagey. But he’s testing me out to see if I really want to be a student. So I know, according to everybody else who’s been through this, that in order to get this man to take me on I must persist. Do you know our saying, anybody who goes to a psychologist ought to have his head examined. That’s a very there’s a double take in that saying. So in the same way anybody who goes with a spiritual problem to a zen master defines himself as a nut, and the teacher does everything possible to make him as nutty as possible. But the teacher says quite honestly I haven’t anything to tell you. I don’t teach anything. I have no doctrine as I said to you in the beginning of this talk, I have nothing whatsoever to sell you. So the student thinks, this is very deep, because this nothing that he’s talking about this nothing that he teaches, is what they call in Buddhism Sunyata, is Sanskrit for nothingness. But, and it’s supposed to be the ultimate reality but as you know if you know anything about these doctrines This doesn’t mean real no-thing-ness,not kind of just nothing there at all not just blank but it means no thing. It’s the transcendental reality behind all separate and individual things and that’s something very deep and profound so he knows that when the teacher said I have nothing to teach he meant this very esoteric no thing. Well he might also say then if you have nothing to teach what are all these students doing around here? And the teacher says they are not doing anything they’re just, they’re just a lot of stupid people who live here. And he knows again you see, this stupid doesn’t mean just straight stupid but the higher stupidity of being, people who are humble and don’t have intellectual pride.
So finally the student having gone out of his way to define himself as a damn fool in need of help has absolutely worked himself into the situation. He’s defined himself as a nut and then the teacher accepts him, and the teacher says now, Im going to ask you a question. I want to know who you are before your father and mother conceived you. That is to say, you come to me with a problem and you said I have a problem I want to get one up on this universe. Who is it that wants to get one up? Who are you who is this thing called your ego your soul, your eye, or identity for whom your parents provided the body? Show me that and, he says Father I’m from Missouri and I don’t want any words I want to be shown. So the student may open his mouth to make an answer but the teacher says. You’re not ready. And he takes him back and introduces him to the chief student, all those so-called Zen monks who live together. And the chief student says now what we do here is so and so, we have this discipline, but the main part of the discipline is meditation. And we all sit crosslegged in a row and then we do that, and you sit cross-legged and you learn how to breathe and be still. In other words to do nothing. But you mustn’t go to sleep, and you mustn’t get into a trance. You have to stay wide awake, not thinking anything, but perfectly doing nothing. And there’s a monk walking down all the time with a flat stick rather long about so long and if you go to sleep or if you get into a trance or if you get dreamy he hits you on the back. So that you’ll stay quite clear and wide awake but still doing nothing. And the idea is that out of the state of profoundly doing nothing you will be able to tell the teacher who you really are. And in other words, the question Who are you before your father and mother conceived you is a request for an act of perfect sincerity and spontaneity, as if I were to say to you, will you be absolutely genuine with me? No deception please, I want you to do something that expresses you without the slightest deception no more role acting, no more playing games with me I want to see you.
Now imagine. Could you really be that honest with somebody else? Especially a spiritual teacher. And you know, he looks right through you. He sees all your secret thoughts. And he knows the very second when you’ve been a little bit phony. And that bugs you. Just like a psychiatrist. You’re sitting in there discussing your problems with him and you start picking your nose. And the psychiatry suddenly says to you is your finger comfortable there, do you like that? And you know you know your Freudian slip is showing. What do fingers symbolize, what do nostrils symbolize? And then use it quickly to put your hand sort of. And you say, oh no it’s nothing it’s nothing I was just picking my nose. And the analyst says Oh really? Then why are you justifying it? Why are you trying to explain it away? He has you everywhere you turn. But that’s the whole art of psychoanalysis and it’s then it’s the same thing.
In other words, when you are challenged to be perfectly genuine. It’s like saying to a child, now darling come out here and play, don’t be self-conscious. Or it’s like I would say to you now look if you come here tonight at exactly midnight and put your hands on the stage you can wish and have granted any wish you want provided you don’t think of a green elephant. So everybody will come there put their hands here and they will be very careful not to think about a green elephant. Well now do you see the point, that everybody if we transfer this to the dimension of spirituality where the highest ideal is to be unselfish, to let go of oneself. When you are trying to be unselfish, you are doing it for selfish reasons. You can’t be unselfish by a decision of the will, any more than you can decide not to think of a green elephant. There is a story about Confucius, who one day met Lao Tzu, who was a great Chinese philosopher. And Lao Tzu said so what is your system and Confucius said it is charity and love of one’s neighbor and elimination of self interest. Lao Tzu said, [that’s] stuff and nonsense. Your elimination of self is a positive manifestation of self. Look at the universe. The stars keep their order. The trees and plants grow up words without exception the waters flow. Be like this. All your nonsense about elimination of self is like beating a drum in search of a fugitive. So in this way these are all examples of the thing, that trickery the master is playing on you. You came to him with the idea in your mind that you are a separate, independent, isolated individual, and what he is simply saying to you is show me this individual. I had a friend who was studying Zen in Japan and he got pretty desperate to produce the answer of who he really is and on his way to an interview with the master to give an answer to the problem he noticed a very common sight in Japan, a big bullfrog sitting around in the garden, and he swooped this bull frog up in his hand dropped it in the sleeve of his. And then he went into the master. And to give the answer of who he was, he suddenly produced the bull frog. And the Master said, too intellectual. In other words, this answer is too contrived. It’s too much like Zen. You’ve been reading too many books. It’s not the genuine thing.
So after a while what happens is this. When the student finds that there is absolutely no way of being his true self. Not only is there no way of doing it, there is also no way of doing it by not doing it. You can’t do it by doing something you can’t do it by not doing something. Let me make this clear or put it into Christian terms. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. Now what are you going to do about that? If you try very hard to love God and you ask yourself Why am I doing this? You find out you’re doing it because you want to be on the side of the big battalions. You want to be right. After all the Lord is the master of the universe isn’t he? And if you don’t love him you’re going to be in a pretty sad state. So you realize I’m loving him just because I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I don’t, then you think that’s pretty lousy love isn’t it. And you think I am that’s a bad motivation. I wish I could change that I wish I could love the Lord. Out of a genuine heart. But why do you want to change? I realize that the reason I want to have a different kind of motive is that I’ve got the same mode. So I say, oh heaven sakes God I’m a mess. Will you help me out? And then he reminds you, why are you doing that? Now you’re you’re just giving up, aren’t you, you’re asking someone else to take over your problem.
So you suddenly find you see you’re stuck. So in this way, what is called the Zen problemor koan is likened to a person who swallowed a ball of red iron. He can’t gulp it down and he can’t spit it out. Or it’s like a mosquito biting an iron bull. It’s the nature of a mosquito to bite and it’s the nature of an eye and the bull to be unbiteable and both go on doing their thing that is their nature. And so nothing can happen. You are absolutely are up against it. Absolutely no answer to this problem. No way out.
Now what does that mean? If I can’t do the right thing by doing and if I can’t do the right thing by not doing what does it mean it means of course. That I do is say to do all this am a hallucination. There is no independent self to be produced. There is no way at all of showing it because it isn’t there. So you recover from the illusion and you suddenly wake up and think what a relief. And they call that Satori, that’s awakening, the first step in awakening. Let me try and translate this. When this kind of experience happens you discover that what you are is no longer this sort of isolated center of action and experience locked up in your skin. That by being, the teacher has asked you to produce that thing. To show it to him genuine and naked and you couldn’t find it. So it isn’t there. And when you see clearly that it isn’t there, you have a new sense of identity. And you realize that what you are is as I said the whole world of nature doing this.
Now that’s a difficult thing for many Western people, because it suggests to them a kind of fatalism. It suggests that the individual is nothing more than the puppet of cosmic forces. So in the same way, when your own inner sense of identity changes, from being the separate individual to being what the entire cosmos is doing at this place, you become not a puppet, but more truly and more expressively an individual than ever. This is the same paradox which the Christian knows in the form whosoever would save his soul shall lose it. Now I think that this is something of very great importance to the western world today, because we have developed an immensely powerful technology. We have stronger means of changing the physical universe than has ever existed before. How are we going to use it? There is a Chinese proverb that if the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way. Let us assume that our technological knowledge is the right means. What kind of people are going to use this knowledge? Are they going to be people who hate nature and feel alienated from it or people who love the physical world and feel that the physical world is their own personal body? And extension the whole physical universe right out of the galaxies is simply one’s extended body. Now at the moment, the general attitude of our technologists who are exploring space is represented in the term “the conquest of space”. And they are building enormous shell like phallic objects to go into the sky. And this is downright ridiculous because who is going to get anywhere in a rocket. You know it takes a terrible long time even to get to the moon, and it’s going to take longer than anybody can live to get outside the solar system just to begin with.
The proper way to study space is not with rockets, but with radio astronomy. Instead of going bang, you know, with tough fist a the sky. Become more sensitive. Develop subtler senses, that’s radio astronomy and everything will come to you be more open be more receptive and eventually you will develop an instrument that will examine a piece of rock on Mars with greater care than you could if you were holding it in your own hand. Let it come to you. But you see this whole attitude of using technology as a method of fighting the world will succeed only in destroying the world as we are doing with uninformed and shortsighted methods of getting rid of insect pests of forcing our fruit and tomatoes to grow of stripping our hills of trees, and so on and so on, thinking with all this is some kind of progress when actually it is turning everything into a junk heap.
It is said you know that Americans who are in the forefront of technological progress are materialists. Nothing is further from the truth. American culture is dedicated to the hatred of material and to its transformation into junk. Look at Los Angeles. Does it look as if it was made by people who love the material? It’s all made out of ticky-tacky, which is a combination of plaster of Paris, paper maché, and plastic glue and comes in any flavor. The important lesson in other words is technology and its power must be handled by true materialists and true materialists are people who love material. Who cherish wood and stone and wheat and eggs and animals. And above all they treat it with a reference that is due to one’s own body.