In this morning’s session I was emphasizing primarily the theoretical aspects of ecological awareness, showing how our differentiation between separate things and events is an abstraction and that the whole world is an inseparable unity. Not of separate parts, but of the kind of system in which everything that might be called a part—when we talk about it—everything that might be called a part is, in fact, an expression or function of the whole thing. And that—if we came to our senses—we would be aware of ourselves not as only on the inside of our skins, but we would be aware that the outside is us, too. That there is a relationship between the organism and the environment, the subject and the object, and the individual and the world such that the two presuppose each other. And I did get around to the point of mentioning—towards the end—the reason how and why this can become apparent if our minds are not constantly obsessed with verbiage. If, in other words, we can come to contemplating, seeing, feeling the actual world without putting names and labels on it—in other words, to see it directly rather than thinking about it—for, as I said, these separations are conceptual.
Now, I want to take this into a more practical dimension this afternoon. And that is to say that, hand in hand with this whole question of overcoming the hallucination of separateness, there goes also the formation of a new style of relationship to the material present. It’s very important, you see—first of all—to realize that all reality is present, that the present moment is where you have always lived and where you will always live. There is no other time than now. Time past and time future are also abstractions. But in our culture, in particular, we have a very bad relationship to the material present, and not only to the present but also to that aspect of the same thing which is material. And this comes out so strongly in the way in which we educate our children: we do not—in our schools—really have anything very much which relates people to the material present, and thus our achievements in regard to the handling of the material present are extremely shoddy.
School prepares people for a kind of Brahmin’s existence, that is to say, for literary, verbal operations. It educates us to be bureaucrats, insurance salesmen, banker’s clerks, accountants, and lawyers, maybe doctors, and so on. And a person who is going on—say, in high school, and is thought not fit for college—is encouraged to take reluctantly offered courses in trades and manual skills. And in England—where the state of affairs is much worse that it is here, even—they always make jokes about American universities where you can get a B. A. degree in basket-weaving. Because that’s in for a dig; that is loss of face in an academic community: that there should be basket-weaving courses. Bad enough to have a degree in physical education. But the point of the matter is that we are so obsessed with the life of abstractions, with problems of status, with problems of the world as symbolized rather than the world to be symbolized, that most of us don’t relate to physical existence at all.
Now, I remember—and I mentioned this in one of those leaflets I sent out—but I remember very well in 1936, in London, at the World Congress of Faiths, when Suzuki Daisetsu was present—he’s the one who’s written all the essays on Zen Buddhism; the great scholar—and he had made a very, very significant contribution to the congress; various lectures and discussions he had held. And at the final meeting of the congress they took over the Queen’s Hall—great big auditorium—and they set as the subject matter for the evening: “The Supreme Spiritual Ideal,” upon which representatives of all the great religious traditions got up and delivered themselves of volumes of hot air. Finally, Suzuki was the last speaker. And he got up and he said, approximately, “I am feeling very confused tonight. I am simple countryman from a faraway place, and I find myself in this assembly of so many people. I am asked to talk about supreme spiritual ideal. Seems to me, I do not know what supreme spiritual ideal is, so I look up ‘spiritual’ in dictionary. I cannot understand.” He said, “You have, around here, very big city, and I walk along street, and very prosperous. But it’s not right. You have spiritual over here, you have material world over here. And both are unreal.” And then he went on to give a description of his house and garden in Japan. And at the end of it, he had a standing ovation, for—somehow—he was real; he came across as somebody who’s lovable, intelligible and human, as distinct from a mere preacher.
And he made this intensely important point that if you understand the spiritual correctly, it is not different from the material. The material is the spiritual. But in order to see why that is so, one first has to make a clear difference between the material and the abstract and to understand that the abstract doesn’t mean the same thing as the spiritual. The abstract world is a world of symbols, a world of words, a world of concepts which has the same relation to the physical universe as the menu to the dinner, or as money to wealth—I mean money in the sense of bookkeeping entries in a bank or dollar bills. One must be very careful, therefore, not to confuse the spiritual and the abstract. If by the spiritual we designate the domain of ultimate reality—the unified or, more strictly, non-dual energy of the universe that I was talking about this morning—that has nothing whatsoever, really, to do with abstractions. What we call physical reality—the material world—is much closer to what would be meant by ‘spiritual’ than anything abstract is. But the thing is that when we form in our minds—the average person who talks about the physical world, he has a concept of the physical world which is what really should be referred to as ‘materiality’ when one uses that word in a put-down way.
If, for example, we talk about—I could even say this to theologians and they would eventually understand me—if we talk about the evils of the flesh, the word ‘the flesh’ doesn’t mean the body in the sense of this [Alan (presumably) indicates at his own body]. The flesh, as something evil, represents a conception of the body as something to be exploited in order to satisfy one’s spiritual emptiness. And thus, too, when we speak of materialism: we aren’t really talking about materialism, we’re talking about an abstract conception of the value of the material world. Real materialism would, of course, be the love of material, which is something quite different from materialism as one sees it in practice. So it’s very important to realize that when we say “the physical world” and we talk about matter as something which is antithetical to the spiritual, you are not talking about this [Alan indicates at his body] because all this doesn’t have those kind of qualities that we would call materiality as against the spiritual. If you really get in touch with your senses, with the so-called physical world, you’re in for many surprises.
First of all—if you go back to the point I made that there really is only the present—you will see that what we call this physical world is not something expanded in time, stretched out over time, and it is not material also in the sense of being composed of stuff. You see, one of our problems in the West is we think about the relationship of the spiritual to the physical by analogy with form and matter, or rather, with clay as matter and the form as the pot made out of the clay. And therefore, we’ve never been able to put the two together because our conception of matter as something essentially like clay—a sort of primordial stuff—this has no intelligence, nor does it possess energy. Therefore, when you think of the world as a sort of cooperation—or a mixture of form and matter—you have, therefore, to invoke an external agency to inform matter and to bring it into shape, to order it, and to produce art.
But this dualism of form and matter is really rather meaningless. Nobody ever saw an immaterial form or a formless material. There really is no such thing as ‘stuff’ out of which the universe is made. ‘Stuff’ is actually a word for looking at the world with bad focus. When your focus on something is not clear, it is fuzzy. And this fuzziness, or indistinctness, is ‘stuff.’ When your focus on the world is clear, you see pattern, you see details, you see structure. Now, as you look more deeply into any structure it starts to get fuzzy again, and therefore, you ask “Of what stuff is this structure made?” ‘Stuff’ meaning fuzz. But then again, when you turn up the level of magnification and it once again becomes bright and clear, you see within the great structures and the great patterns smaller ones.
So, you always encounter the world as patterning, never as stuff. And so, our physical world that surrounds us is, in a way, immaterial. It is a fantastic pulsation of vibrations which give an illusion of solidity in just the same way as if I take a lighted cigarette in the dark and rapidly revolve it, you get the illusion of a continuous circle of fire. So, the apparent motion of the present moment from the past to the future gives an illusion of continuity as if there were something extended in time. And in exactly the same way, the table—because it is vibrating with such tremendous energy—gives the illusion of solidity in exactly the same way as the blades of a propeller or an electric fan when they’re in rotation. And in the same way as you’ll come to trouble if you try to put your finger through the fan, the only reason you can’t get your finger through the table: it’s going even faster than a fan, and it bounces your finger off. When you feel hardness your finger is being bounced off because of this tremendous energy that lies in and as the table. Likewise, it’s also in your finger.
So, what we’re actually confronted with, what is here and now—nowever—is certainly not a material world as we ordinarily conceive it, but is something intensely magical and strange. And the more—Spinoza once said, “The more you know of particular things, the more you know of God.” And then, put it in another way: if you want to find out what is the spiritual, what is Buddha-nature, what is Brahman, what is Tao, the best way is to go directly to the physical world and find out: the physical world as you are it, and as everything around you is it; the immediate experience.
Now, to go back. This, as I said, is something which our culture—which WASP culture in particular—neglects, because we are obsessed with abstract attainments. And this goes back to some curious factors in our history. To introduce this matter I have to refresh your minds about caste, strangely enough. In ancient Hindu society, there are four castes, respectively: brahmins, who are priests, theologians, philosophers, and intellectuals; kṣatriya, who are warriors and rulers, politicians; vaishya, who are merchants; and shudra, who are laborers, blue-collar workers. These castes have something peculiar about them in the fact that they are eternal—let me say perennial. They still exist, even though we don’t admit it. There are kṣatria people around and they are very different from brahmins. The typical fraternity American with his crew cut and his—uses alcohol, is agressive, likes football, and so on—he’s a kṣatria type. The professorial, quiet fellow is a brahmin. The businessman is a vaishya, and our blue-collar people are shudras. They’re still there. And they’re all necessary to each other; they balance each other in a very fascinating way. The brahmin cannot get on by himself, he needs the kṣatria, the vaishya, and the shudra. And likewise, every one of them needs the others.
But there was a curious revolution in Europe at the time we call the Reformation. When the vaishyas got the upper hand of the brahmins and the kṣatrias, the feudal aristocracy began to lose power in the face of, say, the great merchant bankers of Italy and the burghers of central Europe. The brahmins, who were the priests of the Roman Catholic church, began to lose power because their doctrine was criticized and fell under suspicion. For, you must see that the Protestant religion was the creation of the burgher cities of Europe, of places like Geneva, Frankfurt, and—one must add—London, Edinburgh. And immediately, money values began to dominate Christian theology. For example, the number of holy days was very strictly cut down by on Protestant sects because those were holidays and the merchants didn’t want their apprentices taking all these holidays off an not busying themselves. And so, always connected with the Protestant ethic are the virtues of frugality, saving money, saving up for the future, and in such things are vaishya ideals running a bit wild. And thus, you see, the common-sense ethic—that is to say, the basic conception of the good life as it is held in the United States—is very largely a creation of bourgeois Protestantism. We have a very bad relation to the material present. Because that’s one thing that the vaishya can’t maintain by himself anymore than the brahmin or the kṣatria or the shudra could maintain it by himself.
We have a whole world based on these two things: save up, there’s a good time coming—so, put your money aside, invest it—secondly, which is somewhat contradictory: happiness consists in the possession of things. A lot of people, when they feel inadequate, bored, unfulfilled, try to get rid of this sensation by going shopping. A lot of people spend all their daytime shopping. That’s the thing to do. You go out and shop. There are women galore who go into San Francisco every day just to shop and come back loaded with all kinds of things. But these things are not true material possessions—for at least two reasons. Number one: most of them aren’t well-made. Number two: you can’t use that many things. You can store them, you can put them away, you can show your friends that you’ve got this and that, but you can’t live in six houses at once, you can’t ride more than two horses at a time—unless you’re doing some sort of a circus act, you know? You can’t drive more than one car at a time. So we tend to become absolutely overloaded with possessions and have the greatest difficulty, therefore, in moving ourselves around. Because every time we move, we have to carry all the stuff with us.
Let’s take the comparison between a Japanese living room and a British, American, or German living room. You see, the Japanese living room: you have a table, and some cushions, and the floor. And you don’t have any beds because you sleep in a futon, in a quilt, and that’s delightful. You don’t, therefore, have to haul beds around, you don’t have overstuffed chairs which stand in most rooms like gun emplacements—you know, these huge things, vast things that have to be pushed around, very heavy. We, in other words, are absolutely cluttered with enormously heavy objects. And it doesn’t redound to our true material comfort because we’re always using our muscles to lug them around. They have to be taken care of, they have to be cleaned, the moths have to be kept out of them. They’re a perfect pest! So we don’t really understand furniture.
Now, I would think furniture, and a house, and a shelter over you is one of the most important things in life. Shelter is fundamental. But when you see what shelter most people in the United States have provided for themselves, you’re aghast. Clapboard boxes—miles and miles and miles of them—that you wouldn’t want a dog to live in. Have you ever looked at the furniture in Dagwood’s home? The absolutely uninspired junk. It has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. It isn’t good design, it isn’t fun, it’s just nowhere.
What’s something else of material importance that, really, after all, we ought to know something about? Clothes. Well, by and large, we are shockingly clothed as compared with many other people. Men go around looking like funeral directors in the most uncomfortable survivals of military uniforms. Women wear frocks and dresses, and things to cover up amazing systems of pulleys and blocks and tackles. And, you know, it’s sleazy and they have no real joyous color. Occasionally—I mean, we all know exceptions—but I’m talking about the generality of the culture. The clothes don’t look as if anybody really enjoyed wearing them. They’re worn because one has to be dressed and covered up, and decent. And therefore, they’re worn rather apologetically. To get, furthermore, they wear out in nothing flat. And to buy good clothes you have to go outside the country. There are, of course—if you want to dress in a rather traditional way, you go and get British tweeds from the Hebrides. But if you want to dress colorfully and beautifully you have to go to Mexico and get gorgeous materials. Or to India, and get silk for saris. Or to Java, and get batiks for sarongs. And these things will last forever. They are beautifully made by people who had a real enthusiasm about making them.
Because in the life of the people who make such things, they don’t make a differentiation between working and playing. But in a culture where you work, and play is different—you work in order to make money to play—this is insane! Because you spend most of the time working, and then if all you carry… if you don’t really value the work—I mean, you’re lucky if you’ve got work that you really enjoy doing—but if you don’t really value the work, all you get out of it is money. Then you come home with that and you’re supposed to play. Well, you’re pretty tired, to begin with, and we just don’t play. That’s all there is to it. You might play Saturday, or something, when there’s a day off. But in the evening very few people actually play. They sit and passively watch television. And they got all the money in the world—I mean, compared with Hindus and African and so on, we live like princes. But we don’t enjoy it. Not really. There’s no gusto for it. You would think that people would come home and have orgies, and banquets, and… with all that money, and they don’t! It’s just a—sort of—constant disappointment.
Well, going back to clothes: I can illustrate another way in which our clothes are made without regard for material values. Most clothes are made of cloth, and when you weave cloth, cloth has a certain nature. It comes out in a long, wide strip which is rectangular. We take this material, woven this way, and we try to fit it to the contours of the body by shaping it, by doing things with rectangular material that rectangular material just doesn’t want to do. To fit the sleeves of a man’s jacket—it doesn’t want to do that. And therefore, our jackets don’t fold up properly. Whenever you take them out of a suitcase they have to go to the dry cleaner’s to be pressed, or your wife has to iron it. Our shirts—a man’s shirt is the most ridiculous construction. It will not fold unless you’re an expert laundress. There’s nothing you can do about it. And it always comes out of a suitcase ruffled. And it requires all kinds of care to get the thing ready to be wearable. And it’s white and gets filthy, and nothing flat. There’s no rationale to it whatsoever. Nor to the necktie, which has to be worn with it; sort of noose to strangle you with.
But if I may point out: a Japanese kimono is quite different. It follows the nature of cloth. The rectangular forms of the cloth, if you stretch it out like that, it hangs in a rectangle right here from your sleeve, and it falls over you. It hasn’t been forced to fit you, and therefore, it fits you comfortably. The cloth conforms itself to you by its nature, and therefore, gives you a certain dignity. I once a saw a Tibetan woolen garment. It was a cloak. And it was prepared by their method, which is: they have a method of pounding wool rather than weaving it. And they make it into a great big—again, it’s a rectangle. And it’s a double rectangle: the front one and the back one. The front one is split down the center, and at the sides there’s a place for the sleeves to go through, and beyond that, it’s stitched. So you just got this sort of—if you put it out like that, it’s like a sort of sandwich board. But we had this one evening, and we got every man in the room to put it on—and there were about five men—and it turned all of them into kings. They looked absolutely regal in this thing, it was so dignified and so exquisitely beautiful.
I have a Japanese friend who told me he always wore Western clothes in Japan, and I asked him why. I said it’s absurd. I said, “You have the most comfortable clothes anybody ever invented. What on Earth do you go around in a Western business suit for?” “Oh,” he said, “I wouldn’t be seen dead in Kyoto in a kimono. You can’t run for a bus in a kimono.” It’s true. But what a degradation, you see, of the human being: you’ve got to be someone who’s got to run for a bus now, you see? Whereas if you put on a kimono, you’re very comfortable but you have to be leisurely. You have to stroll rather than rush, and that slows you down. Because, you see, all people who are in a rush are not related to the material present.
Supposing—let’s take—you’re in a rush to get coffee when you get up in the morning. What do you do? You take instant coffee. And that’s a punishment for being in a hurry. It doesn’t taste of coffee; not really. So, because you forced it—it’s like forcing the growth of tomatoes: they don’t taste of tomatoes anymore. Forced apples: they’re called ‘delicious.’ They’re nothing but wet pith. So this is very important. This is showing that we aren’t here. We’re insane: we’re not all there, as they say. But trying to get to something—the result, the thing we thought we wanted, the thing that we thought would be what would make us happy; you’ve got to get something.
Now, it’s true: in order to not be hungry, you have to eat. And therefore, when you eat there’s a certain satisfaction. You feel alright. But then, when you begin to consider that life is going to wear out, and there are all sorts of problems—disease, change, and misfortune—and you get depressed. And then, in order to feel happy, you eat when you don’t need to eat. Then you begin to get obesity and indigestion, and wonder why the possession of all this great food isn’t doing anything for you—it’s supposed to! And so, in the same way with property of all kinds: when it is used to get the thing that you look forward to in the future and don’t seem to have now, it becomes a complete delusion. And you can’t understand, because you think that the possession of these things ought to make you happy. The admen have persuaded you that if you could get this kind of car, this kind of yacht, this kind of house, this kind of scene—whatever it may be—that’s the thing in life, that’s what’s important, and it doesn’t make people happy at all. And then they wonder why it doesn’t, and feel cheated, and they have to go to psychoanalysts and churches and things like that to be persuaded that it’s coming sometime, somehow; the thing that always seems to be missing. And there’s nothing missing at all! Except—I mean, supposing you’re absolutely starved and you just don’t have the normal flow of energy through your organism, then, of course, you need food. Or, if you’re freezing, you need shelter. But in the ordinary way, when you are fed and sheltered, there isn’t anything missing. It’s all here, but nobody is here to see it; everybody is wandering off to something else in the distance.
And, of course, this is preeminently true with two other aspects of life. I’ve discussed housing, furniture, and clothing. But, more specifically, food in the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture is unbelievably bad when you consider it by and large. The reason being that we eat food because it’s good for us. And that’s a dreadful thing to do because it means that you look at the food from the point of view of abstract dietetics rather than concrete taste. And wherever dietitians get interfering with cooking, it is utterly destroyed. In every university from coast to coast, where you would think would be centers of culture, the institutional food is unbelievably abominable, and the scholars are ashamed to come out about it and protest and lay down the law because they’re supposed to be devoted to higher things. And, after all, what you eat—just so long as it’s got the right chemicals in it—isn’t very important.
But what this is—you see, the trouble with that is two things: to eat in order to live—sort of, that it’s good for you—is… what do you mean, “good for you?” It means that it helps you to go on into the future. But what is the point of going on into the future when all the meals ahead of you are these unappetizing things that are just going to enable you to go on into the future? And the second thing is that eating in this spirit is very disrespectful to all the creatures you have killed in order to eat. It’s even disrespectful to an onion to eat it improperly. Onions are living creatures, and if you cut up an onion for dinner you should reverence the onion, you should respect it. Because if you don’t have a feeling of love for the onion, for the fish, for whatever you eat, you won’t cook it properly and you won’t enjoy it. Cooking is a process of loving. And it is a paying of respect to these marvelous beings which we ingest in order to go on living. So this entirely futuristic, dietetic attitude to food is—again, you see—a question of purely quantitative thinking, of lack of relation to the material world.
I may make out: one other rather important aspect of life is lovemaking. Here, again, is a subject entirely neglected in our education—from any practical point of view. I mean, [there are] a lot of theoretical works, some of which are fantastic and grotesque. But as a fine art, when you compare what goes on in most bedrooms with the things that are suggested in the Kama Sutra, the difference is amazing. That there could be a real great art as between lovers—husbands and wives, and so on—is something, again, that we don’t consider because—once again—although sex is fun, we go about it not really because we enjoy it—we can’t admit that—but it’s good for us, it’s a healthy outlet. And also, it’s necessary—of course—for having children, and that’s also something for the future, you see?
And, likewise, when it gets to children: we don’t relate to children in the material present very well. This is especially true of what one calls child-centered families. Here is a frustrated mama and papa who feel guilty for some reason or other. Either they didn’t really make it in life the way they wanted to make it, and they hope their children will. And they feel that, anyway, the reason why I am earning a living and you are a housewife is that it’s for the sake of our children. We live as husband and wife in order to bring up children. Now, this is completely backwards. If a husband and wife have a vocation in life—that is to say, they are deeply interested in and devoted to living—supposing the husband is a doctor and he is fascinated with healing people, and that’s really what he’s about, the children—if permitted to do so—will catch his fascination. If the wife loves working in the kitchen, the children actually want to help. But we don’t allow them to because what we do is: in an industrial society you can’t possibly have children around the factory or the office. In more primitive agricultural societies you can have children around the farm, around the shop, and so on, and in countries like Mexico—and it used to be so in Japan before they shrilled them all off to school—the children worked along with their parents and learned their crafts.
But now we, first of all, say no, no! We’re going to do some—we’re going to propitiate you with toys. And these are fake plastic replicas of things that adults play with, like guns and dolls, and they’re always frustrating. They never quite come up to expectations. The children, therefore, break them and it reduces them to fury, and at the end of the day every household I know—in good, nice, American homes where there are children—they are strewn from end to end with disintegrated plastic. Papa is coming home from the office with a mysterious commodity called money—which is… you’ve got to bring it, but nobody’s really interested—and so the house has to be tidy for him to get back. Therefore, there’s a screaming, knock-down, drag-out battle with mama trying to get all the children to clean up and throw this stuff away. And he comes home from a job in which nobody is interested because they have no part in it. The wife knows nothing about it except in a theoretical way, the children know nothing about it because it’s something he does off there. And then, all his interests—if he has any interest in his job at all, off there, with the community of people with whom he works in that situation—he comes back, and with people to whom he now has absolutely no real relationship whatever he’s supposed to be a good pal and nice, kind husband. And that is why, in all our comic magazines, the father of the family is portrayed as a clown. Invariably. All the jokes are on poor old dad. Whew!
But again, you see: this is abstractionism. It’s a result, for example, that the whole family set-up in our culture is an institution hanging over from agrarian civilization, which just doesn’t work in an urban-industrial civilization. And we keep it up because that’s the way things are supposed to be, and we’ve never re-thought human relationships in immediate relation to this new kind of situation in which we’re living. So those families that thrive and get on reasonably well with each other are fortunate flukes—of which there will always be a certain number.
I could go on endlessly with this discussion of our lack of relation. I mean, let’s just take our notions of feminine beauty: they’re entirely fabricated by some curious creeps who edit Vogue magazine and Harper’s Bazaar to make stuffed dummies who, when actually encountered, are about as comfortable as falling into the middle of a bicycle. And, you know, poor women: they’re always having to live up to the image of some movie star, or somebody, who is the great type of the day. They feel their husbands will be disappointed if they don’t look like that. And that’s because we set up these ideal external surface forms of beings, having no sensitivity to the substance, to the weight, to the volume, to the temperature, and—above all—to the smell.
It is, indeed, the sense of smell—among all matters of the material present—is the most repressed in this culture. And therefore, interestingly enough, it is one of the main channels of unconscious communication. Whatever is repressed is, as Jung would say, put into the unconscious and thereby activated in a special way. So a great deal of ESP—or telepathic communication: intuitive likes and dislikes we form for other people—are the result of the sense of smell which we don’t recognize consciously because we are not attending to it. And the word ‘smell’ means bad smell: it smells. You know the story about Dr. Johnson—who never bathed, you know?—and he was traveling in a coach, and a very dignified lady got in, sat down, and said to him, “You smell.” He said, “Madam, on the contrary: you smell. I stink!” But, you see, smell is essentially bad smell.
In English, there are only three adjectives peculiarly used for qualities of smell: fragrant, acrid, pungent. All other adjectives used for smell are borrowed from taste or some other sense. It’s repressed, you see? We’re not really aware of smell. And so, we want the human body to smell of disinfectants and things like that, rather than its own natural, interesting flavors. And so, everybody is scrubbed, and over-cleaned, and squirted with alcohol or something, so that they shan’t smell. But, actually, they do smell, only they smell of a kind of a lab instead of people.
So you can see in these many, many ways that we’re not here, and we’re not present to materiality because of the strange notion—you see—that the material present is a hoax. You say:
Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth, where moth
and rust doth corrupt
But lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven
Well, the way we’ve interpreted that saying is: lay up treasure in the future. Take out your eternal life insurance policy, you see? So: it’s coming.
Actually, “treasure in heaven” is now, but we think that the real now-world, you see, is disintegrating, crumbling, and therefore is bad. But that’s not the reason. The fact that—yes—the real-world now is always unceasable. It’s changing. You can’t grasp it; there’s nothing to hold on to. But that’s why it’s spiritual. When you lean on it, it collapses. But don’t lean on it. Live in it, but don’t lean on it; don’t try to hold it. Because in just the same way as when you embrace someone and you try to hold too hard—you squeeze the breath out of them and therefore you strangle them—so, in the same way, you don’t grab hold of the world. You can’t sense it that way. I cannot feel whatever this is by [Alan hits the object] doing this, you see? I can’t get the maximum taste out of beef by grinding it to pieces with my teeth and forcing my tongue against it. Because what I do is I dull the nerve ends. It’s a kind of a light touch; you let it flow through your fingers.
And so, by letting life slip—and it’s always slipping; it’s nowever changing. The more it runs, the more it stays. The more it stays, the more it runs. That’s the way it is. And if you don’t hold on to it, it’s always here. If you do hold on to it, it’s always running away. So you suddenly discover that (this is the most shocking thing, you see) that the physical world—right here and now, this absolutely concrete moment— is everything that you could ever have imagined the beatific vision to be. This is quite startling that it’s so if you are really wide awake.
I have thought of a sort of fantasy, and I’ll try and describe it. When you read about the beatific vision in the Paradiso of Dante, you get this fantastic description of the sort of rainbow-rose: at the center, vivid white light which you can’t look at. Just dazzling white light. And then, as it goes out from that, you get all the colors of the spectrum going out into violet and then going out into black. But it’s black so transparent, like obsidian, that it’s not… it’s luminous black. And then, again, suddenly, vivid white in a great arc comes around the black, and it does the trick again. And now, that’s not all it can do. The rays start waving, see? And the whole thing starts shimmering like waves. And then it says, “Now, that’s not all we can do.” Then they do curlicues. Every conceivable kind of complexity. Then they start making angles. All the light starts dancing, you see? Ka-doo de-da, che-doo de-dah, che-doo de-dah, cha-cha-cha! And you see—you could imagine those Buddhist mandalas where there are radiances full of myriads of Buddhas, all dancing, all rattling bells and thunderbolts and swords, and the whole thing is going ka-cha ka-cha ka-cha, and suddenly it goes into another dimension, see? There’s more of it. And then it starts getting sound dimensions going with all this color, and smell dimensions going with the sound. And the sound gets so deep, and so bass, and so vibrant that it becomes solid, and you can touch it. And the thing gets more and more complicated. And suddenly, before you know where you are, here it is. We’re just that thing, [which has] reached this degree of complexity. See? Just like that. But it’s never somewhere else, you see? You don’t get it anywhere but here.
Now, if you try to find it here, and say, “Now, golly! Let’s do this right now! I’ve really gotta pay attention to now.” See? And you try to look at that, you see, and bring now into focus and really look at it: you’re still pushing it away. It has to come to you by—you can’t seek now, because the moment you seek it you’re not looking at the real now, you’re looking at one just ahead. See? So in some, this necessity of relating to the material present is one of the cardinal components of a good ecological attitude. Because greed—which is, essentially, discontent with the present (admittedly, some people living at the edge of poverty have an inadequate material present from a physical point of view)—but it is the greed of the well taken care of that is so terrifying: people who have enough to eat, and wear, and’re clothed, and are still greedy, and therefore go out to exploit this Earth and drag every last ounce of wealth out of it—which is immediately turned into rubbish and poisoned gas—because they can’t be alive here at the moment.
So, let’s take an intermission