When I was a small boy I used to haunt that section of London around the British Museum, and one day I came across a shop which had a notice over the window which said ‘Philosophical Instruments’. Even as a boy I knew something about philosophy, but I couldn’t imagine what philosophical instruments could be. So I went up to the window and there are displayed where chronometers, slide rules, scales, and all kinds of what we would now call scientific instruments. Because science used to be called natural philosophy. Because as Aristotle says ‘The Beginning of Philosophy is wonder.’ Philosophy is man’s expression of curiosity about everything, his attempt to make sense of the world primarily through his intellect. That is to say, his faculty for thinking. And thinking, of course, is a word used in extremely many ways and is a very vague word for most people but I use the word thinking now in here after you must understand this in a very precise way. By thinking, as distinct from feeling, or emoting or sensing, I mean the manipulation of symbols, whether they be words, whether they be numbers, or whether they be other such signs as say a triangle, squares, circles, astrological signs or whatever. These are symbols. Sometimes a symbol is a little bit more concrete and less abstract than that as when you get a mythological symbol, like a dragon. But all these things are symbols in the manipulation of symbols to represent events going on in the real world is what I call thinking.
So, philosophy in the Western sense, means generally and exercise of the intellect, and the manipulation of symbols is very largely until we come to poetry and music, an exercise of the intellect. But what philosophy has become today in the academic world is something extremely restricted. By and large in the academic world of both the United States and England, Germany, France to some extent, philosophy is falling into two other disciplines mathematical logic on the one hand, and linguistics on the other. And the departments of philosophy throughout the academic world have bent over backwards to be as scientific as possible as William who was Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University said in an essay called Notes on the death of a culture, that an academic philosopher today must above all things avoid being edifying. He must never stoop to lying awake nights considering problems of the nature of the universe in the destiny of man because these have largely been dismissed as metaphysical or meaningless questions, so unworthy of a scientific philosopher who arrives at his office at nine o’clock in the morning dressed in a business suit carrying a briefcase and does philosophy until five in the afternoon at which point he goes over to cocktails and dinner, and dismisses the whole matter from his head and William Earl adds, ‘He would wear a white coat to work if you could get away with it.’ This is of course a little exaggerated, but this by and large is what departmental academic philosophy has become, and Oriental philosophy is simply not philosophy in that sense.
These things Hinduism, Buddhism and so on, are sometimes also called religions. And I question the application of that word to them. Because I like to use the word religion rather strictly. I’m not going to be so bold as to venture a definition of religion which is supposed to be true for all time all I can do is to tell you how I use the word religion and I want to use it in an exact sense from its Latin root, which really means a bond or rule of life. And therefore, the most correct use of the word religion is when we say of a man or woman that he or she has gone into religion, that is to say has joined a religious or Monastic order, and is living under a rule of life living a life of obedience. For religion if Christianity is a religion, if Judaism is a religion, if Islam is a religion, they are based on the idea of man’s obedient response to a divine revelation. And thus religion as we understand it in these three forms of religion consist really of three things. We will call them the three C’s. The Creed, the code, and the cult. The creed is the divinely revealed map of the universe. The nature of things, the revelation of the existence of God, of our Allah or Yahweh, or as we say God. And his existence and his will and his design of the universe, the creed. To this we add, the second C, the code. The divinely revealed law, or exemplar, which man is supposed to follow. In the case of Christianity there’s a certain variation in this because the principal revelation of the code aspect of things in Christianity as well as the cult is not so much a law as a person. God is said in Christianity to be supremely revealed in the historic Jesus of Nazareth. And so the code here becomes really, the following of Jesus of Nazareth. Not so much in a obedience to a law as through the power of divine grace. Then finally the cult. This is the divinely revealed method or way of worship so that man relates himself to God by prayers, by rights and by sacraments, which in these particular religions are not supposed to be so much man’s way of worshipping God as God’s way of loving himself, in which man is involved. So in the Christian religion, say in the mass, we would say that we worship God with God’s own worship following the saying of Meister Eckhart, that great German mystic, “The love with which I love God is the same love wherewith God loves me.” So too in the when monks in a monastery recites the divine office, using the Psalms as the basis of it the Psalms are supposed to be the songs of the Holy Spirit and so when using the Psalms The idea is that you worship God with God’s own words, and thereby become a sort of flute through which the divine breath plays.
Now, neither Hinduism, Buddhism nor Taoism can possibly be called religions in this sense. Because all three of them significantly lack the virtue of obedience. They do not conceive the Godhead as related to mankind or to the universe in a monarchical sense. For you see, there are various models of the universe which men have used from time to time. And the model which lies behind the Judeo-Christian tradition, if there really is such a thing, is a political model. It is based on, it is a kind of using the metaphor, of the relation of an ancient neareastern monarch to his subjects. And he imposes his austerity and his will upon his subjects from above by power, whether it be physical power or spiritual power. And so it is thus that in the say the Anglican Church when the priest that morning prayer addresses the throne of grace he says ‘Almighty and everlasting God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the only ruler of princes, who does from the throne behold all that well as upon earth most heartily we deceived the with favor to behold, our sovereign Majesty Elizabeth the Queen and all the royal family.’
Now, what are these words? This is the language of court flattery. And the title King of kings, as a title of God, was borrowed from the Persian Empress. The Cyrus of Persia, the kyros, hence kurieos. Lord have mercy upon us is a kind of image drawn from things earthly and applied to things heavenly. God as the monarch, and therefore between the monarch and the subject there is a certain essential difference of kind. What we might call an ontological difference. So that God is God. And all those creatures whether angels or men or other kinds of existence which God has created are not God. There is this vast metaphysical Gulf lying between the two domains. That gives us as citizens of the United States some problems, because as a citizen of the United States, you have believed and do believe that a republic is the best form of government. How can this be maintained if the government of the universe is a monarchy? For surely in that case a monarchy will be the best form of government. And many of the conflicts in our society arise from the fact, that although we are running a republic many of the members of this republic believe all believe that they ought to believe, that the universe is a monarchy. And therefore, they are above all insistent upon obedience to law and order. If there should be democracy in the kingdom of God, that would seem to them the most subversive idea ever conceived. Now I’m exaggerating the standpoint a little bit just for effect, because there are some subtle modifications which one can introduce theologically, but I won’t go into them at the moment.
Now there are at least two other models of the universe which have been highly influential in human history. One is dramatic. Where God is not the skillful maker of the world standing above it as its artificer and King. But where God is the actor of the world as an actor of a stage play. The actor who is playing all the parts at once. And this is essentially the Hindu model of the universe. Everybody is God in a mask. And of course, as you know, our own word person, is from the Latin persona. That through which comes sound. And this word was used for the masks worn by actors in the Graeco-Roman theater which being an open air theater required a projection of the voice so the actors wore masks with megaphonic mouths. And so the word person, has however in the course of time come to mean the real you. There was a very serious mistake made in translation from Greek to Latin, when one began to talk about the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The three Masks of God wasn’t quite the right idea, because the Greek word was apostosis, says not prosopon a word in which would have meant properly translated person, apostosis is a very difficult word to translate. You could say that ice, water and steam were three ‘apostosies’ of the same thing. And that would be a little better analogy,[but] not too good.
But in Hindu thought, every individual as a person is a mask, but fundamentally a mask of the Godhead. A mask of a Godhead, who although the actor behind all parts, the player of all games, is indefinable for the same reason that you can’t bite your own teeth. For the same reason that you can’t look straight into your own eyes. You can never get at it, because it’s the middle of everything. The circle whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere. Then a third model of the universe, which is characteristically Chinese, is that the world is an organism. And the world which is an organism has no boss. Even no actor. Because you see in any organism. There isn’t really a boss or top organ. We are accustomed of course in our culture to think of our heads as ruling the rest of the body, but there could well be an argument about this. I’m going to put up a case that the stomach is cheif. Because the stomach., the sort of alimentary tract with a digesting process in it, is surely anterior to brains. There may be some sort of rudimentary nervous system attached to a stomach organization, but it’s the the the more primitive you get the more you get a little creature that eats, see, it’s a sort of tube and then go things at one end and out the other. And that because that way as the tube out the tube finds means of reproducing itself to make more tubes so that this process of in and out can be kept up but in the course of evolution, at one end of the tube is developed a ganglion which eventually develops eyes and ears and has a brain in it the better to scrounge around for food. And so the stomach point of view is, that the brain is the servant of the stomach to help it scrounge around for food.
But the other argument is this: true, the brain is a later development than the alimentary tract but the alimentary tract is to the brain as John the Baptist to Jesus Christ the forerunner of the big event and the reason for all this scrounging around and stomach and stuff is eventually to evolve a brain. And man shall eventually live primarily for the concerns of the brain, that is, for art and science and all forms of culture and the stomach will be servant. Now cynical people, like dialectical materialists say that’s a lot of hogwash, it’s really all history is a matter of economics and that’s a matter of the stomach. It’s a big argument and you can’t decide it because you can’t at this stage have a stomach without a brain or a brain without a stomach. They go together like a back in the front. So the principle of organism is rather like this: an organism is a system of–a differentiated system–but it has no parts. That is to say the heart is not a part of the body in the sense that a distributor is part of an automobile engine. Because all those surgeons are trying to treat the body as a machine with replaceable parts but the difficulty is. That these are not parts in the sense that they are screwed in, in other words when the fetus arises in the womb the mechanics in there of were lugging in the hearts and stomachs and things and fitting them together and screwing them to each other. An organism develops like a crystal in solution, or a photographic plate in chemicals it develops all over at once. And there isn’t a boss in it. Because all of them act together in a strange way. It’s a kind of orderly anarchy. And this is the Chinese view of the world fundamentally. This principle of organic growth they call Tao. That’s pronounced ‘dow,’ if it had an apostrophe after it, it would be pronounced Tao, but ‘dow’ is more or less the right pronunciation for that word. This Chinese word is usually translated the course of nature, the way. The way it does it. The process of things. And that again you see is really very different from the Western idea of God the ruler of the Tao, Lao Tzu says 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, and when merits are accomplished it lays no claim to them. And so the Chinese expression for nature becomes a word which we will translate some so on. You know on what happens of itself like when you have hiccups. You don’t plan to have hiccups it just happens. When your heart beats, you don’t plan it it happens of itself. When you breathe, you can pretend that you are breathing but most of the time you’re not thinking about it and your lungs breathe of themselves so the whole idea of nature is something happening of itself without a governor. Is the organic theory of the world so you see we have these two others that we’re going to consider in this course on oriental philosophy the dramatic theory and the organic theory.
And therefore I feel that the ways of life which use these models are so unlike Christianity, Judaism or Islam that we cannot really use the word religion of these things. Now what is there in western culture that resembles the concerns of Buddhism and Hinduism and Taoism. Because the trouble is from the outside they look alike. In other words, you go into a Hindu temple or especially a Japanese Buddhist temple, and you’ll be pretty convinced you’re in church. In sort of a Catholic church, at that, of course there’s incense chants, bowings, gongs candles, rosaries and all the things that one associates with a theistic monarchical religion. And yet that isn’t what’s going on. There isn’t the factor of obedience. Even though the image of God or maybe sitting on a throne covered with a canopy and royal honors being done. There’s still something different.
Well I suppose that a long shot probably the nearest thing to these ways of life in the West is perhaps psychotherapy in some form. Not all forms of psychotherapy. Because the objective of psychotherapy is as you might say, to change where your head’s at. Is to change your state of consciousness. If you in other words you are horribly depressed, if you’re terrified if you’re under hallucinations you see a head shrinker. And he tries to change your state of consciousness. And so fundamentally these disciplines, these oriental ways, are concerned basically with changing your state of consciousness. Only here we part company. Psychotherapy is largely focused on the problems of the individual as such. The problems peculiar to this individual or that individual. These Asian ways of life are focused on certain problems peculiar to every individual. On the understanding. That the average human being, and the more civilized he is the more this is true. That the average human being is hallucinating. That he has a delusive sense of his own existence. And it is thus that the very word Buddha, in Buddhism, is from a root in Sanskrit word Budh, which means to awake. To awaken. To awaken from the illusion is then to undergo a radical change of consciousness with regard to one’s own existence. It is to cease being under the impression that you would just poor little me. To find out who you really are, or what you really are, behind the Mask.
But we saw, didn’t we, you can never get to see what the Self is basically. It’s always forever elusive. And so if I ask you. Who are you really? And you say ‘Well I’m I’m I’m John Doe.’ You think so. John Doe tell me, How do you happen to have blue eyes? Well he says ‘I don’t know, I didn’t make my eyes.’ Oh you didn’t? Who else? Well I have no idea how it’s done. Do you have to have an idea how it’s done to be able to do it? After all you can open and close your hand perfectly easily. And you say I know how to open my hand and I know how to close my hand, because I can do it but how do you do. ‘I don’t know I’m not a physiologist.’ Well, a physiologist says he knows how he doesn’t become good any better than you can. So you are opening and closing your hand not you you don’t know how you do it maybe you blue-ing your eyes, too. You don’t know how you do it. Because when you say ‘I don’t know how I do it,’ all you are saying is I do know how to do it but I can’t put it into words. I cannot in other words translate the activity it galled opening and closing my hand into an exact system of symbols into thinking. That’s all. And actually a to translate the opening and closing of your hand into an exact system of symbols would take forever. Because trying to understand the world purely by thinking about it is as clumsy a process as trying to drink the Pacific Ocean out of a pint beer mug. You can only take it one mug at a time. And so when thinking about things you can only think one thought at a time when after another in series thinking is a linear process, like writing. One thought after another as we say you can only think of one thing at a time. But that’s too slow for understanding anything at all much to slow. And our sensory input. Is much more than any kind of one thing at a time, and we respond with a certain aspect of our minds, to the total sensory input that’s coming in. Only if we are not consciously aware of it, but nevertheless you’re doing it but what kind of you is this certainly isn’t John Doe and that little ego freak. So there’s something a lot more to you than you think there is. And that’s why the Hindu would say that the real you. Is the self, capital S. The Self of the universe. Because at that level of one’s existence one is not really separate from everything else that’s going on.
So you see, we have something here which I will call not philosophy, except in the most ancient sense of basic curiosity. I prefer to call these disciplines ways of liberation. Ways of liberation from Maya. And the following of them does not depend on believing in anything, in obeying anything, or on doing any specific rituals although rituals are included for certain purposes. It is a purely experimental approach to life. It is something like a person who say has defective eyesight and is seeing spots and all sorts of illusions. Going to an ophthalmologist to correct his vision. Buddhism is therefore basically a correction of psychic vision. To be disenthralled by the game of Maya. Not incidentally, to regard the Maya as something evil, but as a good thing of which one can have too much. And therefore get spiritual and psychic indigestion, from which we all suffer.