The dreaming period is further subdivided into four stages. The first stage is the longest, and it is the best. During that stage, the dream is beautiful. The second stage is not quite so long, and is a little unsettling. There is an element of instability in it, a certain touch of insecurity. In the third stage, which is not again so long, the forces of light and the forces of darkness, of good and of evil, are equally balanced, and things are beginning to look rather dangerous. And in the fourth stage, which is the shortest of them all, the negative, dark, or evil side triumphs, and the whole thing blows up in the end. But then that is like the bang in a dream, you know when you get shot in a dream, and you wake up, and see it was after all a dream. So then there is a waking period, before the whole thing starts again.
Shall you notice, if you compute, I haven’t gone to the mathematics of it, but if you do, you will find out, that in this drama the forces of the dark side are operative for one-third of the time; the forces of the light side for two-thirds of the time. This is a very ingenious arrangement; because we are seeing here the fundamental principles of drama.
Consider drama. Here is a stage. And over the stage here is what we call a proscenium arch. And out there, there is the audience. Now you’re suppose to be in the world of reality. Let’s suppose this is not a lecture tonight but a show. And you come out side into the show and you know you are real people living in the real world. But you’re going to see a play, which isn’t real. There are actors coming on the stage, but behind the scene here, there are real people like you. But so that you don’t see them that way, they are going to put on their costumes and makeup, and then they are going to come out in front here and pretend to various roles. But you know you want to be half convinced that what they are doing on the stage is real. The work of a great actor is to get you sitting on the edge of your chair, in anxiety, or weeping, or roaring with laughter, because he has almost persuaded you that what is on the stage is really happening. That is the greatness of his art, to take the audience in.
And of course, in the same way, the Hindu feels that the Godhead acts his part so well that he takes himself in completely. So that each one of you is the godhead, wonderfully fooled by your own act. And although you won’t admit it to yourself, enjoying it like anything. Because you must not admit it, that it give the show away.
Now it’s a funny thing, when you say “I am a person,” the word person is a word from the drama. You know, when you open a play script, you see the list of the actors, this is called the dramatis personae, the persons of the drama. The word person in Latin is persona, meaning “through sound,” something through which sound comes; because persona in Greek or Roman drama was the mask worn by the actors. And because they acted on an open-air stage, the mouth was shaped like a small megaphone that would project the sound. So the person is the mask. Isn’t it funny now how we have forgotten that? And so Harry Emerson Fosdick could write a book called How to Be a Real Person, which if translated literally is, “How to be a genuine fake,” because in the old sense, you see the person is the role, the part played by the actor. But if you forget that you are the actor, and think you are the person, you have been taken in by your own role. You are “en-rolled,” you’re bewitched, spellbound, enchanted.
So then, look at something else about the drama and its nature, in the drama there has to be a villain, unless of course you are acting some kind of a non-play that does not have any story. But all fundamental stories start out with the status quo. Everybody is just sort of going along, and then something has to come in to upset everything. The interest of the play lies is, How are we going to solve it? It is the same when you play cards. Supposing you are playing solitaire, you start by shuffling the deck, and then introduce the chaos. The game is to play order against chaos. So in the drama somebody has to be a villain, and play a dark side, and then the hero can plays against it. If you go to the theater for a good cry, then you let the villain win and you call it a tragedy. If you go for a thrill, you let the hero win. If you go for laughs, you call it a comedy. There are different arrangements between the hero and the villain, but in all cases, when the curtain goes down at the end of the drama, the hero and the villain step out hand in hand and the audience applauds both. They do not boo the villain at the end of the play. They applaud him for acting the part of the villain so well, and they applaud the hero for acting the part of the hero so well, because they know that the hero role and the villain role are only masks.
And so you see, behind the stage too, there is the green room, where after the play is over, and before it begins, the masks are taken off. The Hindus feel that behind the scene, that is to say in reality, under the surface, you are all the actors, marvelously skilled in playing many parts and in getting lost in the mazes of your own minds and the entanglements of your own affairs, as if this for the most urgent thing going on. But behind the scenes, in the green room, you might say, in the very back of your mind and the very depth of your soul, you always have a vary tiny sneaking suspicion which you might not be the you that you think you are.
The Germans call this a hintegedanka, a thought way, way back in your head that you will hardly admit to yourself, because of course, you’ve been brought up, most of you, in the Hebrew-Christian tradition, it would be very wicked indeed to think that you were God. That would be blasphemy; and don’t you ever dare think such an idea! Which of course this is all as it should be, because the show must go on until the time does come to stop.
Now you will see that this involves two quite different ways of dealing with the two fundamental questions. One What is man? that is, Who are you? And in the Hebrew-Christian answer, we more or less say, “Well I’m me. I am Alan Watts, I’m John Doe, I’m Mary Smith, and I firmly believe I am, because I really oughtn’t to think anything else, ought I?” And this “me” is a finite ego, or a finite mind, whatever that is. On the other hand, the Hindu will say that the real self, which he calls atman is what there is, it’s the works, it’s the which than which there is no whicher. The root and ground of the universe and of reality.
The next problem where they differ so sharply is, Why have things gone wrong? Why is there evil; why is there pain; why is there tragedy? In the Christian tradition you have to attribute evil to something besides God. God is defined as good, and He originally created the scheme of things without any evil in it. But there was a mysterious accident, in which one of the angels, called Lucifer, did not do what he was told. And there was the Fall of Man. Man disobeyed, he went against the law of God, and from that point on evil was introduced into the scheme of things and things began to go wrong, that is to say, against the will of the will of the perfectly good creator.
The Hindu thinks in a different way. He feels that the creator or the actor is the author of both – good and evil for the reasons, as I explained it to you, you have to have the evil for there to be a story. In any case, it is not as if the creator had made evil and made someone else its victim. It isn’t like saying “God creates the evil as well as the good, and poor little us are his puppets and he inflicts evil upon us.” The Hindu says, “Nobody experiences pain except the Godhead.” You are not some separate little puppet who is being kicked around by omnipotence. You are omnipotence in disguise. So there is no victim of this, no helpless, defenseless, poor little thing. Even the baby with syphilis is the dreaming Godhead.
Now this makes people brought up in the West extremely uneasy, because it seems to undercut the foundations of moral behavior. They say, “If good and evil are created by God, isn’t this a universe in which anything goes? And if I am God in disguise, surely if I realize that, I can get away with murder.” But think it through. Didn’t I point out that in the game as the Hindus analyze it, the evil part has one-third of the time and the good part has two-thirds? What sort of a game do you want anyway; you will find out, you see, that all good games, games worth playing, that arouse our interest, are constructed like this. If you have the good and the evil equally balanced, the game is boring; nothing happens, it is a stalemate. The irresistible force meets the immovable object. On the other hand, if it is all good, and it is hardly any evil, maybe just a weeny little bit of a fly in the ointment, it also gets boring. Just in the same way for example, suppose you knew the future, and could control it perfectly. What would you do? You would say, “Let’s shuffle the deck and have another deal.” Because for example, when great chess players sit down to a match and it suddenly becomes apparent to both of them that white is going to mate in sixteen moves and nothing can be done about it, they abandon the game and begin another. They do not want to know. There would not be any “hide” in the game, any element of surprise, if they did know the outcome. Again with good and evil equally balanced is not a good game; a game with positive or good forces clearly triumphant is not an interesting game. What we want is a game where it always seems that the good side is about to lose, in really serious danger of losing, but manages always to sneak out. You know how it is in serial stories, and they had a hero at the end of installment, in some absolutely impossible position, where it seems he’s going to be run over by a train, and he’s tied with his girlfriend to the rails. And somehow in the next installment the author is going to get him out of his difficulty, only he mustn’t do it too obviously, because you wouldn’t keep reading the installments. So what is necessary is a system in which the good side is always winning but never is the winner, where the evil side is always losing but never is the loser. That is a very practical arrangement for a successful, ongoing game that will keep everybody interested.
And you must watch this in practical politics. Every in-group or group of nice people needs an out-group of nasty people, otherwise they wouldn’t know who they were. And you must recognize then that the out-group is your necessary enemy, whom you need. He keeps you on your toes. But you mustn’t obliterate him, if you do, you are in a very dangerous state of affairs. So you have to love your enemies in this sense, regard them as highly necessary and to be respected chivalrously. We need the communists and they need us. The thing is to cool it and play what I call a contained conflict. When conflicts get out of hand, all sides blow up. Of course I suppose there is another deal, maybe a million years later.
Now, let me see if I can for a moment put these two visions of the world together. It seems that if you believe the Christian, Hebrew, Islamic view, that you can’t admit the Hindu view, because if you are a Christian, one thing you cannot believe, let’s say if you are an orthodox, you’re an orthodox Protestant Bible type, or if you are a Roman Catholic, you can’t believe that you are God. So that excludes Hinduism apparently. But let us go back to Judaism for a minute and ask this question, “If Judaism is the true religion, can Christianity be true too?” No, because the one thing in Christianity the Jew cannot admit is that Jesus Christ was God. It is unthinkable for a Jew that any man was indeed God in the flesh.
Or the second question, if Christianity is the true religion, can Judaism be true too? The answer is yes, because all Christians are Jews. That is to say, they have taken in the Jewish religion, lock, stock, and barrel [completely] in the Old Testament, into their own religion. Every Christian is a Jew plus something else, which is his particular attitude to Jesus of Nazareth.
Let’s play this game once again, “If Christianity is true, can Hinduism be true?” The answer is no, for the reason we have seen, the Christians will say, “Jesus of Nazareth was God, but you are not, I’m not.” Now then, If Hinduism is true, can Christianity be true? The answer is yes, because it can include it. But how? What would be the attitude of a Hindu to a very sincere and convinced Christian? He would say, “Bravo, absolutely marvelous; what an actor! Here in this Christian soul God is playing His most extraordinary game. He is believing and really feeling that He is not Himself, and not only that, but that He is living only one life, and in that life He has got to make the most momentous decision imaginable.” In the course of this four score years and ten, he’s got to choose between everlasting beatitude and everlasting horror. And he is not quite sure how to do it, because in Christianity there are two sins to be avoided, among others. One is called presumption, that is knowing surely that you are saved. The other is called despair, which is knowing surely that you are damned. There is always a margin of doubt about this, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling.
So you might say this is preeminently the gambler’s religion. Imagine you know at some great casino, late at night, that there is some marvelous master gambler who has been winning, winning, winning all night. Then suddenly he decides to stake his whole winnings on whether the ball lands on red or black. Sensation! Everybody gathers from all over the casino to watch this terrific gamble. So in the same way, the predicament in which the Christian soul finds itself is this colossal gamble, which is saying, this universe can possibly contain within it ultimate tragedy, there could be such a thing as an absolute, final, irremediable mistake. What a horror that thought is! So the Hindu is sitting in the audience fascinated by this Christian’s extraordinary gamble. He says, “That’s a beautiful game.” The Christian does not know it is a game, but the Hindu suspects it is. And he is a little bit admiring of it, but not quite involved.
Now you would say perhaps, you want to be involved, give your whole self to this, make a active commitment, you know “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife twixt truth and falsehood, for the good or evil side. Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside” ect. That sounds great, doesn’t it? Commitment; stand up and be counted. This is a virtue, but on the other hand, you see another virtue, what we call being a good sport. If your enemy in the battle of life is to be regarded as an absolute enemy, who is pure evil, black as black can be, you cannot be a good sport and you can accord him no chivalry, no honors of battle. You have got to annihilate him by any means possible, fair or foul. That leads to some pretty sticky situations, especially when he has the means of annihilating you in just the same way.
If, on the other hand, in all contests you know that while you are going to take it seriously and regard it as very important, in the back of your mind and that little hintegedanka you know it is not ultimately important. Although very important. And this saves you, this enables you to be a good player. You may worry about the word play because we often use the word play in a trivial sense: “You’re just playing. This life you mean is nothing but a game.” The Hindus indeed call the creation of the universe the lila, or the game, or the play of the divine. But we also use “play” in other senses. When you see Hamlet, which is by no means trivial, you are still seeing a play. In church the organist plays the organ. And in the Book of Proverbs, it is written that the divine wisdom created the world by playing before the throne of God. Play also you see, has a deep sense. When we say music, even the music of Bach, as a great master of what we call serious music, is still playing. So in the deeper sense of play, the Hindus sees this world as “play,” and therefore that the intense situations, personally, socially, and so on, that we are all involved in, are seeing not as bad illusions but as magnificent illusions, so well acted that they have just about got most of the actors fooled, so that they’ve forgotten who they are. And man thinks of himself, when he has been fooled, as a little creature that comes into this world, which is all strange and foreign, and is just a little puppet of fate. He has forgotten that the whole thing has, at its root, the self, which is also your self.