Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, said “the highest virtue is not virtue and therefore really is virtue.” But inferior virtue cannot let go of being virtuous and therefore is not virtue. Translated in more of a paraphrastic way, the highest virtue is not conscious of itself as virtue, and therefore really is virtue. Lower virtue is so self-conscious that it’s not virtue. In other words, when you breath, you don’t congratulate yourself on being virtuous. But breathing is a great virtue. It’s a living.
When you come out with beautiful eyes, blue or brown or green as the case may be, you don’t congratulate yourself for having grown one of the most fabulous jewels on earth. Just eyes. And you don’t to count it a virtue to see, to entertain the miracles of color and form. But that’s real virtue virtue in the sense of the old sense of the word as strength, as when we talk about the healing virtue of a plant. That’s real virtue. But the other virtue is a stuck on they’re ersatz, they’re imitation virtues. And they usually create trouble, because more diabolical things are done in the name of righteousness. And be assured that everybody of whatever nationality or political frame of mind or religion all ways goes to was with a sense of complete rightness. The other side is that devil.
Our opponents, whether in China or Russia or Vietnam, have the same feeling of righteousness about what they’re doing as we have on our side. And a plague on both houses because, as Confucius said “the goody good is of the thieves of virtue.” Which is the form of our own problem the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So in a way the moral, or the immoral, of these considerations is that if you are really aware of your own inner workings, you will realize there’s nothing you can do to improve yourself. Because you don’t know what better is, in any case, and you, who will do the improving, are the one who needs to be improved. And this also goes for society. We can change society, we can get enormous enthusiasm going out of the idea that there is a revolution afoot, and that this revolution is going to set everything to right. Do you know a revolution that ever said anything to right? Whether the revolution came from the left wing or from the right wing.
The best forms of government that have ever existed in the world others which muddled through. Where they didn’t have any very clear set up of control, but they muddle along. A kind of what are called controlled anarchy seems to work out better than anything else. When we have a great system and great power to put it into effect there, is always more violence more bloodshed more trouble. Makes no difference whether it be Chairman Mao or Adolf Hitler.
So, what instead therefore if we see, that you can’t out with yourself. You can’t be shall I say unselfconscious on purpose. You can’t be design it was spontaneous. And you cannot be genuinely loving by intending to love. Either you love someone or you don’t. If you pretend to love a person, you deceive them, and build up reasons for resentment. So you say well I ought to be honest. That’s the beginning of so many lies you can’t imagine. It like when I hear lots of Love the big love thing on the way everybody’s gotta love everybody but he sings songs about love. Do you know what I do? I buy a gun and board my door. Because I know there’s a storm of hypocrisy brewing. So let’s look at this thing from another point of view which you will at first think highly depressing.
Let’s suppose we can’t do anything to change also. Suppose we’re stuck with it. Now that is the the worst thing an American audience can hear. There’s no way of improving yourself because every kind of culture in this country is dedicated to self-improvement. Let’s take jogging, that deplorable practice. It’s a very nice thing to run. And to go dancing across the hills at a fast need. But these drugs are such trash. Truck junk shaking their bones and rattling their brains running on their heels and because there’s a grimness about. It’s determinately good for you. See, why do you go to school? Now wait a minute, you may not clap when I’m through. Thirty one reason for going to school. And that is that somebody is got something whether it’s a professor, or a library that you want to find out. That you are incredibly interested in how to write Chinese characters. Or how to understand botany. And you would like to know, you are just interested in flowers and you would like to find out everything there is to be known about them. That’s the point of coming. Or you might like to know how to practice yoga there are causes now being offered at U.C.L.A. on Kundalini Yoga. For credit! Pretty funny, when I think back ten years. But the whole point of coming to school is that you’re interested in something. You don’t come to improve yourself. But the trouble is that the schools got the wrong idea. They gave people Honors for learning. And the reward for studying French should be the ability to speak French and enjoy reading French and having fun with French people, but when you get a degree for it, then the degree becomes the point in a game of one upmanship. And of course one upmanship is the main business of the educational community today. You learn all the rules of how to be a good professor. It’s instructive to go to a professors’ meeting. In my field which is philosophy you go to a congress of philosophers and you’ll find when they all get together in the bar or in the restaurant and somebody is the one thing they don’t talk about his philosophy. It is very bad form indeed to show interest in philosophy among your colleagues. The same is exactly true in clergy gatherings they we don’t talk about religion what they both talk about is politics, church politics and academic politics. Because it’s bad form to be brilliant on the faculty, because it out classes your colleagues therefore faculty people tend to cultivate a studied mediocrity. And you’ve got to watch out for that, I mean if you get mobs of students coming to your lectures, you get pretty black looks from your colleagues. And then of course there’s a whole world of one upmanship in research and publication of learned papers how many was that the relative quantity of footnotes to basic text footnotes on for now. And the various ways of making your bibliography painfully accurate. It’s endless, but you see what it is it’s scholarship about scholarship and not scholarship. Just as learning because learning is good for you is irrelevant to learning the whole idea of improving yourself by learning is irrelevant to the learning process and in the same way, doing business is doing business doing business such as manufacturing clothes. Is a very good thing to do. I could conceive that it would be extremely enjoyable something I want to be very proud of to make good clothes ‘cause you need to sell them because you need to eat. But to make clothes to make money raises another question. Because then your interest is not in making clothes but in making money, and then you are going to cheat on the clothes. And then you do get an awful lot of money and you don’t know what to do with it.
You can’t, you can’t eat ten roasts of beef in one day. Can’t live in six houses that one can’t drive three Rolls Royces at the same time. What do you do? When you discover make more money you put your money back invested in something else it’ll make mom and you don’t give a damn how it’s made so long as they make it. You don’t care if a foul or reversed put oil fumes throughout the area where kill off all of fish–so what?–so long as you see these figures happening you’re not aware of anything else. So you see you went out to do a self-improvement thing making money you see is a measure of improvement a measure of your economic worth while or less, or least that’s what it’s supposed to be it isn’t anything of the kind but you well are in other words for the status instead of for the actuality.
So if, in other words you you do not you’re a musician Why do you play music the only reason for playing music is to enjoy it. If you play music to impress an audience. To read about yourself in the newspaper you’re not interested in music. So in the same way, why do I come and talk to you. Because I enjoy it. I like the sound of my own voice and I’m interested in what I’m talking about. I get paid for it and that’s modernist life is to get paid for what you enjoy. So here’s the situation you see there is no that the whole idea of self-improvement is a is a will o’ the wisp on a. That’s not what it’s about. Let’s begin where we are. What happens if you know if you know beyond any shadow of doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better. Well it’s kind of a relief, isn’t it.
Now you say well now what will I do. See there’s a little fidget comes up. Because we’re so used to making things better, leave the well a better place than when you found that sort of thing. I want to be of service to other people and all these dreadfully hazy ideas. And so we think there’s that little itch still. But supposing instead of that, seeing that there isn’t really anything we can do to improve ourselves or to improve the world, if we realize that that is so, It gives us a breather in the course of which we may simply watch what is going on. Watch what happens. Nobody ever does this, you know. And therefore it sounds terribly simple it sounds so simple that is almost looks as if it isn’t worth doing. Never just watched. Watch what’s happening, and watch what you are doing by way of reaction to it just watch it happen. And don’t be in a hurry. To think you know what it is. In other words, people look at the well that’s the external world. Oh? How do you know? The whole thing from a neurological point of view is a happening in your head. That you think there is something outside the skull is a notion in your nervous system. May or may not be, but it’s a notion in your nervous system. You think this exists the material world. Well that somebody is philosophical idea. Or maybe you think it’s spiritual. That too is somebody is philosophical idea this is real world is not spiritual. It is not material. The real world is simply.
So could we look at things in that way? Without as it were fixing labels and names and gradations and judgments on everything, but watch what happens. Watch what we do. Now you see if you do that you do at least give yourself a chance. And it may be that when you are in this way freed from busy-bodiness, and being out to improve everything. That your own nature will begin to take care of itself. Because you’re not getting in the way of yourself all the time.
You will begin to find out, that the great things that you do are really happenings. For example, no great genius can explain how he does it. Yes he said I have learned a technique to express myself, because I had something in me that had to come out I had to know how to give it out so if I were a musician I had to learn how music is produced, that means learning to use an instrument or learning a technique of musical notation or whatever it may be. If I want to describe something I have to learn a language, so that others can understand me. I need a technique but then beyond that, I’m afraid I can’t tell you how it was that I use that technique to express this mysterious thing I wanted to show you. If we could tell people that, we would have schools where we would infallibly train musical geniuses, scientific, miracle minds, and they would be so many of them we wouldn’t know what to do with them. Geniuses would be a dime a dozen and then we would say well these people are after all not very ingenious. You know P.H.D.’s how many of them are there? Because what is fascinating always about genes is the fellow does something we can’t understand. He surprises us. But you see just in the same way we cannot understand our own brains; neurology knows relatively little about the brain, which is only to say that the brain is a lot smarter than neurology. Yes it didn’t get there is this which can perform all these extraordinary intellectual and cultural miracles, but we don’t know how we did. But we did we didn’t have some campaign to have an improved brain over the monkeys or whatever may be our ancestors. It happened. And all growth, you see is fundamentally something that happens. But, for it to happen, two things are important. First this, as I said you must have the technical ability. To express what happens. And secondly, you must get out of your own way. But right at the bottom of the whole problem of control is how am I to get out of my own way. And if I showed you a system, let’s all practice getting out of our own way, it would turn into another form of self-improvement. See here’s the dynamics of this thing. And we find this problem you see repeatedly throughout the entire history of human spirituality. In the phraseology of Zen Buddhism, you cannot get this by thinking. You cannot attain to it by not thinking. It is only you see, as you, as getting out of your own way ceases to be a matter of choice, when you see that there’s nothing else for you to do.
When you see in other words that doing something about your situation is not going to help you. When you see equally, that trying not to do anything about it is not going to help you where are you where you stand. Your nonplussed. And you simply reduced to watching.
Now you may say I need some help in this process, and therefore I am going to find someone else to help me. It may be a therapist. It may be a clergyman, it may be a guru. It may be any kind of person who teaches a technique of self-improvement. Now how will you know whether this person is able to teach you. How can you judge, for example, whether a psychotherapist is effective or just a charlatan? How can you judge whether a guru is himself spiritually wise or merely a good chatterbox? Well of course, you ask your friends, you ask of his other students or patients and they’re all of course enthusiastic. You have to be enthusiastic when you bought something expensive. If you bought an automobile which turned out to be a lemon it’s very difficult to admit that it was a lemon that you were fooled and it’s the same when you buy a religion or an expensive operation. But what people do not sufficiently realize is that when you pick an authority, whether it’s a psychotherapeutic one or a religious one. You chose it. In other words, that this fellow, or this book, or this system is the right one is your opinion. And how are you competent to judge? After all, if you’re saying to this other person or other source, I think you are the authority, that’s your opinion. So you cannot really judge whether an austerity is a sound off already unless you yourself are a sound off already. Otherwise you may just be being food. You may say, for example, I believe that the Bible is the Word of God. All right, that’s your opinion. I know the Bible says it’s the Word of God, but it’s your opinion that the Bible is not lying. The church says the Bible is the Word of God but it’s your opinion that the church is right. You cannot escape from that situation, it’s your opinion!
So you see when you select an author who will help you to improve yourself it’s like hiring the police out of your tax money. And putting them in charge of seeing that you obey the law. I mean, can’t you take care of yourselves? I mean is this the land of the free and the home of the brave or isn’t it? But you see nobody seems to want to be in charge of themselves. Because they feel they can’t do it. The St. Paul said “To will is present with me. But how to do good I find not, for the good that I would I do not and the evil that I would not that I do.”
So, there at once we are in difficulty, because trying to improve yourself is like trying to lift yourself up into the air by tugging at your own bootstraps, and it can’t be done. Now, there are all sorts of ways in which religious people try to explain that it can be done I referred already to the grace of God. And say No you can’t do the job yourself. Because the improving you is the one that needs to be improved, therefore you have to say God help me. Now of course, that God exists is your opinion, that God will answer your prayer is your opinion and your idea of God is your idea of God If you bought somebody else’s script, you bought it. Maybe your mother and father talked to you about God in a very impressive way. But basically you bought their idea. And if you’re a father yourself; I’m a grandfather now, I’ve got five grandchildren and I know I’m a stupid as my own grandfather must have been. You know I am one I sit there in the position which they look at they go wowwe as a man. I know that just like anyone else. So I hope my children are not believing things on my authority, because it’s always their authority. If I look impressive and make big noises at them, they’ve just been taken.