After long consideration I have come to the conclusion that there are four fundamental philosophical questions which have been debated for as long as we know anything about intellectual history. The first one is ‘Who started it?’ The second is ‘Are we going to make it?’ The third is “Where are we going to put it?” The fourth is “Who’s going to clean up?” But when you consider all of these together they prompt a fifth question which is perhaps more fundamental than all of these: “Is it serious?” And when we say to the doctor about someone we love who is in some ghastly kind of sickness “Doctor, is it serious?” That means is the person in danger of his life. Because it is almost the fundamental supposition of western thought, at any rate, that life is serious. That we have an obligation to survive. And that there is therefore something shameful about dying. Life, in other words, is not a game. If it is a game, the first rule of this game is that this game is serious.
I remember some years ago counseling a woman much older than myself who was afraid of dying, and she wanted to know why she was afraid. She couldn’t figure it out. And we had a long discussion, and she was clear that it wasn’t the idea of being annihilated, and she had really outgrown her childhood fears of hell. She didn’t really, wasn’t really terrified by the pain of death, but she said “Do you know I finally realize I think what it is? I’m afraid of what people are going to say. They’re going to say at the funeral, I can see them all there, ‘Poor old Gert, she couldn’t make it.’” Because you see, we all labor under this obligation to live. And this comes from our earliest training in childhood where we are taught that we must live, and it comes about in very odd ways. We run into a basic confusion about the meaning of the word must and the confusion is as to whether this word expresses a state of affairs, a condition that is, or whether to precept the commandment. In order to be human, you must have a head. That’s obviously not a precept, nobody ever attempted to have a head. But when a mother says to a child, “Darling you must go to sleep. It’s for your health.” This is taken by the child as a commandment. And so the child tries to go to sleep which is an infallible method of staying wide awake.
So likewise, you must have a bowel movement every morning after breakfast. This too is taken as a commandment instead of simply a condition of being healthy. The worst one of all is the commandment, ‘You must love me.’ Not darling of course because I say so, but I would only want you to do it if you really want to. That is one of the most to discombobulating, subversive things that you can ever say to another human being. You must love me. In other words, I command you to do something which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily. And so imagine it how often this happens when one spouse says to the other darling do you really love me. What answer you’re looking for? ‘I’m trying my very best to do so.’ Oh dear me, no. You want the spouse to say ‘Darling, I can’t help loving I love you so much I can eat you I’m out of my mind about you.’ In other words, you want them to express a state of affairs which is a matter of fact anything but voluntary. You want the person who loves you to say. That they love you in the same way as they exist they didn’t ask to exist, they can’t help it, and there it is, for better or for worse. And that is one of the basic paradoxes in which we all get tied up and it’s called, been christened by the ethnologist Gregory Bateson, a double bind. And we are always being tied up in this thing.
And I gave you one right at the beginning when I started to be the first rule of this game is that it’s not a game. The supposition of this drama is that it’s not a play. Of course, every great actor will try to put that over on you. You know that here stands the Proscenium Arch. When there’s a performance going on, and that what happens on the stage is in jest, is in play. It isn’t somehow real, and yet the actor is going to use all the skill that he has to convince you that what’s going on the stage is real life. He wants you on the edge of your seats with anxiety, he wants you crying, he wants you laughing, because he’s taken you in completely.
Now the Indian Hindu theory of the cosmos is precisely this: that the universe is a play. A dramatic act. Which they call Lila. Whence our word lilt. Lila means play or sport and the universe is looked upon as the playfulness of the Godhead, who is playing a game of hide and seek with himself. And that every so often, he pretends that he is not himself and that he is all of us not only the human beings but the animal beings the angelical beings the diabolical beings the vegetable beings, the mineral beings, every kind of being that there is he hides from himself in these forms. And then after four million three hundred twenty thousand years, which is the basic reckoning unit of the in-goings and the outgoings of the cosmic game with supreme self the which then which there is no which or wakes up and discovers who he is after all and that’s great. What a relief, because in the end, the thing becomes a nightmare, it becomes a tragedy and the universe finally blows up. In the awful awfuls, just as it does for each of us individually when we die.
But there behind the great show is the actor. And these, this idea is of course fundamental to all the conventions of the stage, because the whole notion of the stage of the drama is that the actor comes out not as himself but as a persona. And the word persona, in Latin, means that through which the sound passes, and refers specifically to that mask worn by actors in classical drama. A mask with a mouth shaped in the form of a megaphone, so that it would project the sound in an open air theatre. And so, at the beginning of a play, the dramatic personae is the list of masks but how to be won by the actors. And by a curious inversion of the meaning of words the word person has come to mean not the mask, but the real thing. Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote a book called How to be a Real Person. That is incorrectly styled, How to be a Real Fake. In Act In other words how to be a good actor. But it disquiets us, doesn’t it, that the idea that the whole world might be a big act. We’re also in social life a bit disquieted when we get into the company of stage people people in showbiz, because we’re not sure whether in real life they’re still acting.
Who are you? That’s the great question. One of the most magnificent Indian sages of modern times, Sri Ramana, always faced people with this question, when people came to him and said ‘Oh master, who was I in my past incarnation? Will I be reincarnated again?’ et cetera et cetera he always used to say ‘Who is it that asks? Who are you?’ And he asked this question. I’ve got a photograph of this man, I never met him but I know lots of people who did and he has a funny look in his eyes, a curious twinkle. And you can feel those eyes from the very photograph going right through you, not with judgment, not with condemnation but with a kind of a wicked humane twinkle.
In other words it says ‘Listen buddy, don’t fool me, I know who you are! And you say me. Why I’m just little me. I’m not a very important person I’m just a poor little human like Houseman’s verse ‘I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.’ The teacher looks at you and so on. Old Shiva don’t give me that stuff. I know who you are in your million masks and you look out and say I’m just a poor little me. That’s the technique you see of the Awakeners, the people who in Hindu, in the Hindu world are called gurus. The so-called spiritual teachers who kid us out of our egocentricity. Egocentricity being the predicament wherein the universe, and all that is beyond the universe identifies itself with a particular role or part that it’s playing in the game.
Now in our culture, You just mustn’t get mixed up with that kind of thinking. I’ve been thinking for a long time what is really a taboo in our culture. And in a good many other cultures besides, what used to be sex, but sex isn’t taboo anymore. You can buy books on sex anywhere any child can find out all about it, it’s the easiest thing in the world. There’s a slight flavor of Taboo hanging over it from the older generations but it isn’t a serious taboo anymore not since Freud. You know there’s a two ages B.F. and and A.F., and in A.F. sex is no longer taboo. What is taboo? There’s always something. The real taboo is what the Hindus call in the immortal phrase tat tvam asi, which means that art thou. You lurking behind the mask of being an impermanent human person. Really responsible for the whole thing. But if anybody claims that in our culture we put them straight away into an asylum that is the very hallmark of insanity. But in India, if somebody suddenly wakes up one. Morning says ‘My goodness, I’m God.’ Everybody says instead of you’re crazy or blasphemous they say ‘Congratulations, at last you found out.’ But of course you see they have a rather different idea of God from ours.
Our popular idea of God, quite aside from any of the ideas of the more profound theologians. Our popular idea of God is that he is the master technician who has created this universe in much the same way that an engineer creates a machine, a carpenter makes a table, or a potter makes a pot, and he knows how he does it. So anybody who says I’m God, we immediately challenge him with technical questions. If you are God how did you create the universe in six days? And all sorts of questions like that, but you see the Hindus God does not need to know in words how he does what he does, in exactly the same way that you don’t know how you grow your hair. You just do it and after all can you know how to do a thing better than by just doing it. You may have a physiologist knowledge of how you open and close your hands but that doesn’t enable you to open and close them any better than anyone else. Unless of course you’ve got a wrecked hand and you need a physiologist to put it back in shape. But in the ordinary way of things, you know how to think because you think, but you don’t know how you think. You don’t understand all the intricacies of the nervous system underlying the process of thought you just do it. So like a centipede who can manipulate a hundred legs without having to think how to move each one so the Hindus can see the Godhead not as a technician but as a cosmic centipede. Who is wiggling all of us. Like so many legs that’s why the Hindu gods have many arms there’s one Buddhist divinity with one thousand arms. But this thing doesn’t have to stop to think how it’s done that would be inefficient because thinking is a process of concentrating our attention on what is called One thing that is to say one think at a time. And that won’t do it all for the regulation of complex processes. That’s why we’re now so fatigued with thinking that we’re getting computers to do it for us. Because computers can think of ever so many things at once and that’s where they have the advantage of us. So a Hindu therefore feels no kind of blasphemy or inconsistency or insanity in suddenly realizing that he is basically what there is. That you aren’t directly aware of this of course just in the same way that you are not directly aware of your brain structure. Nor are you aware of the incredibly subtle interconnected system of relationships balances, networks, whereby your brain, is part and parcel of the whole physical universe. And exists with it, in the same kind of togetherness as a front exists with the back.
So in this sense you see, we are all something that everything is doing. Every wave is the ocean waving the whole ocean waving announcing its presence, so in the same way each one of us is a waving of all that there is saying you there I am. Only it comes and it goes. All waves come and go they have their ups and downs and we have our ups and our downs when we are up then we suddenly see John Doe when we’re down there’s just a corpse. And works it comes up again as Mary Smith and worked it goes down and so it goes. Like the sparks in the soot on the back of the fireplace, in and out in and out in and out. Every one different than the one before and yet somehow the same.
Now in, as I said, in the Hindu view of the cosmology, this is a drama. And that means it is its basic spirit is playful it is a game. But the difficulty that we have in understanding this idea is that we don’t distinguish between the many connotations of the word play or game. A lot of people say to me when I produce this idea, do you mean it’s only a game? That all this is somehow therefore trivial. And I say no. Look, when you go to listen to a great pianist play the Beethoven sonatas, you are actually going to an entertainment. You pay entertainment tax to get in. But you wouldn’t say would you that this was mere entertainment. There is something about music which is beautifully illustrative of the point that I’m making. Because music is sheer and total play, the highest music that both West and East have produced has no meaning beyond itself. That is to say Mozart Sonatas do not imitate the sound of charging horses tinkling brooks, or screeching factories. They convey no social message. They are pure delight, in complex orders of sound. Almost mathematical.
And you see music is purposeless in the sense that it has no direction. It is not designed to arrive somewhere. I mean, if the point of music or of any musical composition were to arrive that is to say to reach the finale the best conductors would be those who got there the faster. And in the same way with the dance the dance as a high and lofty art. It is not mere entertainment, but when we dance we do not dance with the object of reaching a particular position on the floor. You see we could go straight there, and cut out the dance. In music and in dancing, the point of it is always the going along of it in a kind of continuing present. Now what about the world. Let’s take a look at nature. Is this a musical thing or is it a compulsively purposive thing. Look around at the creatures. The vast variety of insects. The amazing multiplicity of plant forms, of bacteria. Look at the stars, the nebula at night. This tremendous prodigality, this profusion of energy. If we ask the question ‘What is it all for?’ I think this is the wrong question. It sort of doesn’t need that question, it answers itself. Just as when you listen to music. You don’t after you what does it mean? You just dig the sound. You swim with it.
And so in exactly the same way, the world may be seen in all the multiplicity of its creatures as fabulous. G.K. Chesterton once made a very profound remark when he said it’s one thing to wonder at a fabulous creature like a god or Griffin that doesn’t exist but it is of a much higher order to wonder at a rhinoceros, a creature that does exist and looks as if it doesn’t. Now you see there are people with engineering mentalities. I don’t want to insult and engineers present in the audience but what I will call a certain kind of engineering mentality that has an explanation for everything. Namely, that butterflies have those big eyes on their wings as a kind of survival dodge, that comedians change color in order to affect something or other or they have another way round of putting the same point which is, that because certain butterflies had eyes on their wings they frighten the birds more than other kinds of butterflies and therefore survived. Everything, in other words, is nature is approached from the standpoint of an efficiency expert and the idea is that there is an instinct to survive this is the same old compulsion I was talking about you must go on surviving but actually, things don’t live in order to survive because surviving and living are the same thing. Now you survive until you don’t. And that’s that. It is seems to me altogether more rational to look upon this amazing profusion of existence as poetic and musical, and therefore as playful. But, in order to be a good play, it has to have an element and a subordinate element of seriousness in it. That is to say, we can’t have a good stage play without introducing a villain, and the villain has to be convincingly played. There has to be a real big act and they get everybody gets afraid of that villain. That’s absolutely essential.
So in the same way there has to seem about life an element, a very convincing element indeed of the ultimately tragic. Only the big question is, is it so? To put it in another way, is the universe a system in which there can occur an irretrievable mistake. As indeed the Christians have conceived in the idea of eternal damnation. That is one of the most extraordinary ideas ever had start of the brain of man. That there might be the possibility of things going wrong for ever and ever and ever. Well the Hindus, of course, when they look at that idea and realise that the Christians hatched up this ghastly possibility to scare themselves with, they rather applaud what they say the Christian, they see that a Christian so in peril of everlasting damnation is actually the Supreme Lord playing this part. And they think now he’s really scare the wits out of himself. And this is the most marvelous performance in the whole thing.