This seminar is about a very sticky problem, which is to say the problem to which the Buddha primarily addressed himself, which is that of agony, suffering. But before we get into that. We have to be clear about certain basics. And these basics have to do not so much with concepts and ideas. As they do with the state of mind. Would call it also a state of feeling the state of sensation the state of consciousness. And, we need to understand that even be in that the fall we can really go very far.
And this is an extraordinarily difficult state of mind to talk about even though in its nature it’s extremely simple. Because, it is in a way like we were when we were babies. When we hadn’t been told anything and didn’t know anything, other than what we felt, and we had no names for it. Now of course as we grow older, we learn to differentiate one thing from another, one event from another and above all, our selves from everything else. Well and good. Provided you don’t lose the foundations. Just as mountains are differentiated, but they’re all based on the earth so the multiple things of this world are differentiated. But, they have as it were, a basis. There is no word for that basis, not really, because words are only for distinctions. And so there can’t really be a word not even an idea, of the non-distinction. We can feel it, but we can’t think it. But we don’t feel it like an object. You feel you’re alive, you feel conscious, but you don’t know what consciousness is because consciousness is present in every conceivable kind of experience. It’s like, the space in which we live, which is everywhere. It’s like a fish being in water and presumably a fish doesn’t know it’s in the water because it never goes out. A bird, presumably, knows nothing of the air. And we really know nothing of consciousness, and we pretend space isn’t there.
So however, when you grow up, and become fascinated, which is really the right word, spellbound, enchanted, by all the things that adults way that you. You forget the background. And you come to think that all the distinctions which you have been learning are the supremely important things to be concerned with. You become hypnotized. And so when we are told to pay attention to what matters, we get stuck with it and that’s what and but as I’m is called attachment. Attachment doesn’t mean that you enjoy your dinner. Or that you enjoy sleeping. Or beauty. Those are responses of our organism in its environment as natural as feeling hot near a file or cold near ice. So are certain responses of fear or of sorrow. They are not attachment. Attachment is exactly translated by the modern slang term hang-up. It’s a kind of stickiness, or what in psychology would be called blocking. When you are in a state of wobbly hesitation, not knowing how to flow on, that’s attachment. What is meant by the Sanskrit word klesha.
So, when the chicken has its big foot to the chalk line it’s got a hang up. It’s stuck on that line. And so in the same way, we get a hang up on all the various things that we’re told as we grow up by our parents, our aunts and uncles, our teachers and above all, by our peer group. And the first thing that everybody wants to tell us is the difference between ourselves and the rest of the world, and between those actions which are voluntary, and those which are involuntary what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other. And this is of course immensely confusing to a small child. Because it’s told to do all sorts of things that are really supposed to happen. Like going to sleep, like having bowel movements, like not loving people. Like not blushing. Stopping being anxious, and all sorts of things like that.
So what happens is this. The child is told in sum, that we, your parents, elders and betters, command you to do what will please us only if you do it spontaneously. [laughs] One hundred and I want everybody is completely confused. We go through life with that burden on us. So, we therefore develop this curious thing. We develop a thing which is called an ego. And I’ve got to be very clear here what I mean by an ego. And ego is not the same thing as a particular living organism. From my philosophy, the particular living organism which is inseparable from a particular environment. That is to say, from the universe as centered here and now. As something real which isn’t a thing, I call it a feature of the universe. But what we call our ego is something abstract. Which is to say, it has the same order and kind of reality. As an hour, or an inch or a pound, or a line of longitude. It is for purposes of discussion, it is for convenience, in other words, it is for social convention, that we have what is called an ego. But the fallacy, that all of us make is, is that we treat it as if it were a physical organ. As is if it were real in that sense. When in fact it is composed on the one hand. Of our image of ourselves. That is our idea of ourselves, as when we say to somebody, you must improve your image.
Now this image of ourselves as obviously not ourselves any more, than an idea of a tree is a tree. Any more, than you can get wet in the word water. And, to go on with our image of ourselves as extremely inaccurate and incomplete. With that some God the gifted ears to see ourselves as others see us we done. So my image of me is not at all your image of me and my image of me is extremely incomplete in that it does not include any information to speak of about the functioning of my nervous system, my circulation, my metabolism, my subtle relationships with the entire surrounding human and non-human universe. So, the image I have of myself as a caricature. It is arrived at through mainly, my interaction with other people, who tell me who I am in various ways, either directly or indirectly, and I play about with what that picture is of me and they play something back to me so that we set up this conception, and this started very, very early in life. And I was told, you see, and you were told, that we must have a consistent image. You must be you you have to find your identity. In terms of image and this is an awful red herring. A lot of the current quest for identity among younger people is a search for an acceptable image. What role can I play? Who am I in the sense of what am I going to do in life and so on. Now while that has a certain importance. If it’s not backed up by deed but not has it’s extraordinarily misleading. So that for on the one hand there is this image which is intellectual emotional. Imaginative. And so forth.
Now we would say I don’t feel that I am only an image. I feel there’s something more real than that because, I feel, I mean I have a sense of there being a particular sort of, how do we say a center of something, some sort of sensitive core inside the skin. And that corresponds to the word I. And let’s take a look at this. Because the thing that we feel as being myself is certainly not the whole body. Because a lot of the body can be seen as an object. In other words, if you stand, stretch yourself out, lie on the floor and turn your head and look at yourself you know you can see your feet and your legs and all this up to here and finally it all vanishes and there’s a sort of a vague nose in front. And you assume you have a head, because everybody else does, and you looked in a mirror and I told you you had a head which would never see it just like you can’t see your back. So you tend to put your ego on the side of the unseen part of the body. The part you can’t get at, because that seems to be where it all comes from and you feel it. But what is it that we feel? Because if I see clearly, and my eyes are in functioning order, the eyes certainly are not conscious of themselves no spots in front of them no defects in other words in the lens on the retina or in the optic nerves that give hallucinations. So also, therefore, if my ego my consciousness, is working properly, I ought not to be aware of it. As something sort of there. Being a nuisance in a way in the middle of things because your ego is often hard to take care of.
Well what is it that we feel? Well I think I’ve discovered what it is. It’s a chronic habitual sense of muscular strain, which we were taught in the whole process of doing spontaneous things to order. When you’re taking off in a jet plane, and the thing is gone rather further down the runway than you think it should have without getting up in the air, you start pulling at your seat belt. Get this thing off the ground, perfectly useless. So in the same way, when our community tells us, look carefully. Now listen, pay attention, we start using muscular strains around our eyes, ears, jaws, hands, to try to use our muscles to make on nerves work. Which is of course futile. And in fact it gets in the way of the functioning of the nerves. Try to concentrate.
And then when we try to control our emotions we hold our breath pull our stomachs in a tighten our rectal muscles. To hold ourselves get that pull yourself together I mean really what do you do what is the child understand that he does it must get and pulls himself together. This is useless. So everybody, chronically pulls himself together so that it’s so funny if you get a person to just lie on the floor and relax, but there’s the floor and he was firm as can be holding you up. Nevertheless, they will detect that the person is making all sorts of tensions lest he should suddenly turn into a nasty Jell-O. on the flaw. So that chronic condition which in Sanskrit is called Samkoca which means contraction. Is the root of what we call the feeling of the ego so that in other words this feeling of tightness is the physical referent for the psychological image of ourselves. So that we get the ego as the marriage of an illusion to a futility, even though the idea of an ‘I’ with a name, with a being, is naturally useful for social communication. Provided we know what we’re doing and take it for what it is.
But we are so hung up on this concept. That it confuses us, even in the proposition that it might be possible for us to feel otherwise. Because we ask the question if we hear about people who have transcended the ego. Well we ask how do you do that? Well I say, ‘What do you mean?’ You how do you do that. Because the you you’re talking about doesn’t exist. So you can’t do anything about it, any more than you can cut a cheese with a line of longitude. That sounds very discouraging doesn’t it? But let’s suppose now you are babies again and you don’t know anything. Now, don’t be frightened, because anything you know you can get back later. But for the time being. Here is awareness, and let’s suppose you have no information about this at all, no words for it. And that my talking to you is just a noise. Now don’t try to do anything about this, but don’t make any effort. Because naturally, by force of habit, certain tensions remain inside you, and certain ideas and words drift all the time through your mind. Just like the wind blows or clouds move across the sky. Don’t bother with them at all. Don’t try to get rid of them. Just be aware of what’s going on in your head. Like it was clouds in the sky. Or the crackling of the fire. There’s no problem to this. All you have to do really is look and listen, without naming, and if you are naming, never-mind. Just listen to that.
Now, you can’t force anything here. That you can’t, willfully stop thinking and stop naming is only telling you. That the separate you doesn’t exist. It isn’t a mark of defeat. It isn’t a sign of your lack of practice and meditation. That it runs on all by itself, simply means that the individual separate you is a figment of your imagination. So you are aware at this point of a happening. Remember you don’t know anything about the difference between you and it. You haven’t been told that. You have no words for the difference between inside and outside. Between here and there. And nobody has taught you, that what you see out in front of you is either near or far from your eyes. Watch a baby put out a finger to touch the moon. You don’t know about that.
Just, therefore, here it is. We’ll just call it this. And if you will feel it. The going on, which includes absolutely everything you feel. Whatever that is, it’s what the Chinese call Tao, what Buddhists call suchness, tathata. And it’s a happening. It doesn’t happen to you. Because where is that. You what you call you was part of the happening. Or an aspect of. It has no parts, it’s not like a machine. And it’s a little scary because you feel who’s in control around here. Why should that be anyone. That’s in a very weird notion we have that processes require something outside them to control them. It never occurred to us that processes could be self-controlling, even though we say to someone ‘Control yourself!’ We know what you know all of the think about self-control We split a person into. So there’s a you are separate from the self that’s supposed to be controlled well how can that achieve anything. How can a noun start a verb? Yet it’s a fundamental superstition that that can be done.
So you have this process which is quite spontaneous going on. We call it life, it’s controlling itself. It’s aware of itself, it’s aware of itself through you, you are an aperture through which the universe looks at itself. And because it’s the universe looking at itself through you, there’s always an aspect of itself that it can’t see. So it’s like that snake you see that is pursuing its tail. Cause the snake down see its head, like you can.
So therefore, we always find as we investigate the universe, make the microscope bigger and bigger and bigger and we will find evermore minute things. Make the telescope bigger and bigger and bigger, and the universe expands, because it’s running away from itself. It won’t do that, if you don’t chase it. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. So, the universe is chasing its own tail. Here this is the thing we’re talking about this Tao. It’s a game of hide-and-seek. Really, when you ask the question who is doing the chasing? You are still working under the assumption that every verb has to have a subject. That when there is an action, that has to be a doer. But that’s what I would call a grammatical convention leading to what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Like the famous It in ‘It is raining.’
So when you say that cannot be knowing without a knower. This is merely saying no more than there can’t be a verb without a subject. And that’s a grammatical rule and not a law of nature. Anything you can think of as a thing, as a noun, can be described by a verb. And there are languages which do that. It sounds awkward in English. But face it, when you look for doers as distinct from deeds, you can’t find them. Just as when you look for stuff, underlying the patterns of nature, you can’t find in his stuff you just find more not patterns. There never was any stuff, it’s a ghost. What we call stuff is simply patterns seen out focus and it’s fuzzy so we call it stuff. You know that cakewalk.
So you know we have these words energy, matter, being, reality even Tao. And we can never find them. [They] always elude us entirely, although we do have the very strong intuition that all this that we see is connected are related. So we speak of a universe, although that word really means one turn. It’s your turn now. Or like you make one turn to look at yourself. But you can’t make two terms and see what’s looking.