Yesterday I talked to you about the three basic principles of Taoist philosophy. Namely Tao itself, the course of nature. Wu wei, not forcing, in other words, the watercourse character of the course of nature. Te, which is virtue, of the seemingly magical power. Which comes. Of hollowing the water cost. Of taking the line of least resistance, which argues always, a higher order of intelligence, because it’s more intelligent to sail a boat than to row. Even though it’s a lazier way of doing it. Use the wind, use the, it’s like in the same way for technology. We haven’t really walking up to the fact that it would be much more intelligent to use the sun, the wind, and the tides as a source of energy rather than fossil fuel.
But once again, to understand anything about this philosophy, you really need to be in a state of wise ignorance. I am often cast among people, who are frantically conceptualizing, and defending their frameworks of conceptualization. Who have a very fixed, elaborate theory, of the nature of the universe,of man’s destiny, and of the way to its fulfillment. And you will find too that these conceptions of man’s destiny are very ambitious. But once you’re in that framework of conceptualization. You become increasingly abstracted from the natural world, as if you were a person who lives in books, rather than in life or lives in the movies rather than with People. Because you begin to fall into the fundamental fallacy of civilization, which is to value the world of symbol above the world which symbols represent. And of course we in our culture have taken that to the wildest extremes. So that you don’t exist unless you possess a birth certificate or a passport, which is a piece of paper. So that the record of what happens is far more important than what happens, therefore we waste incalculable energy on recording. On filling out income tax forms. On seeing that in a university, the registrar’s records are properly protected books a bit and the library can go to hell. But they keep safes for the students records.
So in the same way, a lot of people don’t believe that they are real, unless they can read about themselves in the newspaper. And a lot of people feel uncomfortable if something fantastic occurs and there’s nobody there with a camera to take a picture of it. And so children commit crimes in order to get their names in the newspaper. So that they know they’re there, because their parents all the time are using appearance in the newspaper as a standard of importance and so obviously you are not important unless you too appear in the newspapers. In the record, you will go down to history. And so too, we are making records on films, and all sorts of tapes of what we call vanishing civilizations, vanishing cultures, vanishing art, vanishing species. And we seem to think, well it’s all right, they can vanish, just so long as we have been recorded. Now now anyway alls anymore but you can read about them in the Encyclopedia Britannica. And this confusion of the world of representations with the world of nature is just disastrous. So therefore, it’s tremendously important for us to get back to the world of nature. You may have a concept that the world of nature is unspiritual. A lot of people too. And a lot of people are at odds with their bodies. But what they are at odds with, as I think I tried to point out yesterday. Is not this. But their idea of this. A lot of people resent physical change. They resent the idea of the dissolution process that is involved in physical change. That you get older. And therefore, from a conceptual point of view, you get uglier. And that just isn’t true. If you are alive and alert old people are not arguing at all. Just by virtue of being old. Only you see we have very very rigid concepts of where in physical beauty consists.
So, i’s important to abandon those ideas. At least occasionally. Because, if you are very attached to them, you can always take them up again later. But you see, if you think all the time it’s like talking all the time. I am found by you as a very talkative person. But I assure you that I’m a good listener. In social gatherings I’ll often hold the floor, only because. Somebody hasn’t yet produced something more interesting than the minute some of the does I’m very silent and attentive. Because if I talk all the time I won’t hear what anyone else has to say.
Likewise, if I think all the time, I won’t have anything to think about except thoughts. And that leaves me high and dry. I become like a library, and all the books that are constantly added to it are about the books already in it. And that is pretty much what our big libraries are doing. So, it would be as if a painter never saw anything but art galleries. As if a musician listened to nothing but concerts. And so, very simply, this is being out of touch with the world that is naturally with us. I won’t even say presented to our senses, that is too conceptual. Lao Tzu said, the five colors may command blind. The five tones make a man deaf. Because if you think there are only five colors, you are blind, and if you think there are only five tones are there. There is as we know an infinite continuum of sound colors. And the spectrum is merely a matter of convenience and classification.
So, likewise, when you read in ancient texts of mysticism that it’s necessary to go beyond the senses, that’s very easily misunderstood. It is not so much the senses, that is to say the eyes the ears and cetera, which falsify. It’s our conceptions of what the eyes and ears bring to us. In other words it is not the percept, but the concept wherein we find the root of Maya, Illusion or of course magic. Because you can use conceptualization creatively if you know what you’re doing. That’s very important. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, your concept of reality can completely delude you.
So begin again with seeing what happens if you are just generally aware of yourself and your surroundings. Without taking any idea whatsoever about it seriously. And using no words you see. And using no words. Because of the time being you listen to my words as if they had no meaning. As if I were just making noises at you. And in this marvelous state of ignorance, there will be nothing called time. Nothing called space. Nothing call self and nothing called other. There is just that happening. And it’s not supposed to be anything particular. Whatever state of feeling you find yourself in. That is the way it’s going. That’s this. And you have no standards whereby to criticize it, to approve of it or disapprove of. It’s quite simply what there is. And sometimes it’s delightful. I won’t make a discipline out of it, because that would put you off.
Sometimes it’s delightful simply to sit. And be that. Of course in the fancy world it’s called meditation.
See It’s awfully important that we know what we’re talking about. That I cannot only tell you about Tao, but show it to you. And that’s the way to show it. See that’s extraordinarily simple. And because of our concepts, what makes this difficult to understand, is that our minds are caught up. In two questions. Why we are doing it, and what’s the use of it. It’s amazing how we are conditioned to turn everything into profit. And feel guilty if we’re not, now that’s a very dangerous thing to say to children.
We all have a kind of a conscience in us. I’ll call it the commercial conscience. Which is saying in what way is this bettering your situation? If not financially, are you improving your mind? Are you becoming more spiritual? Whatever that is. And so we don’t understand, that any state that we could truly cause meditation, or I prefer the the word contemplation rather than meditation. You cannot be in that state for a purpose. Or, in a state of mind that is expecting a result to flow from it because the moment you do that, you are not in that state, you are bothering about concepts instead. This is as it were the one thing that, the one science as it were that has no goal, in the sense of objective in the future.
The stream begins in the mountains and runs down to the ocean and we are apt to say the stream is moving to the ocean as its goal. But when it gets to the ocean the water is again evaporated by the sun’s heat, and it returns to the mountains, and it comes down again. Because the stream has no purpose to reach the ocean. Indeed, the stream is simultaneously in the sky, in the mountains on its course, and in the ocean, it’s in all places at once. And therefore it is not going anywhere. It is simply going.
So when a Zen master was asked the question. What is Tao, he said walk on. And really nothing will stop that. One cannot not walk on. The flow is there whether you resist it or whether you don’t. And when you resist it, you’re like somebody swimming against the current. Which is a fast way to drown. And the skill of it lies in sailing, is to go intelligently with the current. Steering it and using it. But it bothers us, us especially Western industrial people very much indeed to consider a philosophy of no purpose, because when we say of something it has no future in it, that’s equivalent to saying it’s bad. But people use the word purpose of the word meaning in different ways. And often when we speak of a meaningless life or a purposeless lives, in a negative, derogatory way. We are meaning actually a person who lives life for extremely short-term purposes. The same sort of restlessness that is encouraged in you by turning over the pages of such a magazine as Life. Now you realize that a magazine of that character is designed, really, to keep you away from any sort of serenity. No article in it is satisfactory in the sense of giving you anything to chew on. It ends too soon it. Gives you just a flip here, a flip there, never goes into anything deeply it gives you a set of impressions. And you get pictures in it that are exciting or sensational or unusual which might momentarily entertain you, and you go through a whole issue and remember nothing. But it keeps you in a state of pacified agitation while you’re flying on an airplane waiting in an office. Thumbing through something before breakfast sort of thing. And this is the entire characteristic of a person who lives for short-term purposes. And that normally is what one would call the meaningless life. In contrast to that, a meaningful life is generally understood to be one devoted to long term purposes. But, you know what we call serious things. But the Taoist standpoint, is neither of those. Because probably a Taoist will have thought through. The question what do I want, very carefully, and have realized there’s something spurious, about most of our long term purposes. Because when you think realistically, and long termishly about the state of human civilization. You see not much more than muddling through a mess. You will then say, ‘Well, what are we talking about then when we talk about a meaningful life?’
I think we should have a little bit more precision here than we usually do. In a very strict sense, words have meaning. And reality is meaning. And therefore has none. The word, the idea, which is a complex of words, or other symbols. The functions as a pointer to something other than itself. And that other is its meaning. So when you asked the question, what do trees and rivers mean, the answer is they don’t ,because they’re not words, because they’re not signs. Unless you say, a river is a sign of rain. This is a kind of redundant statement because a river is rain a raining off the earth.
So a river, the splendor of the river is that it is the meaning and has none. And therefore, there is a quality of meaninglessness of having no meaning, and yet of being meaning, to all nature. Wittgenstein makes the remark that it is curious that. When after a long questing, there are people who feel that they understand the sense of life. Nevertheless, they cannot say wherein that sense consist. I experience something, some human being, or some quality of light. Or tree or flower, or work of art, that I find is important. And I might use the word it has tremendous meaning for me and yet when I asked what that is, I am at a loss for words. Because actually, in a very high sense, nature is nonsense. And in this way also, music is nonsense. Especially classical music. Whether it be the classical music of the West, or the classical music of India or China. Because all classical music is nonrepresentative. Not symbolic. It does not represent anything other than itself, it is happening of sound. And it is like ferns which are vegetable paddlings like crystals which are chemical patterns. And like animals, you see, with their marvelous routines. And when we look at the routines of the animals and the plants. We with our purpose of minds say, all this is for the purpose of survival. Now for the survival of what? We have already defined the entire organism in terms of the purpose for survival. All the parts of a plant are shown to have roles in the survival process so the survival process has as its fundamental purpose the continuation of the survival process.