This morning, I discussed the idea of the Self as the basis of the universe, and showed that this idea, which is fundamental to the central tradition of Hindu philosophy is not a logical idea. You could call it paralogical, metalogical or something like that, because logically, we can discuss only what could be classified and in logic only that which can be classified has meaning. Buddhist philosophy speaks of the four unknowns. Water to the fish, air out of the bird, enlightenment to the ignorant, and the mind to man. Because of what we are embedded in. What As I said we are on in the sense that something is on the radio, or on tape. Or on like a color transparency is on film what we are on is clean everything. It’s like salt in the sea. And therefore since it’s in everything and in all directions. It never becomes an object. But that doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t some form of knowledge in which shall we say, its presence is apprehended rather than comprehended. So far Hinduism, and especially for its central philosophy called Vedanta. The of summation, the end of the Veda the the Veda being the traditional scriptures of Hinduism dating from perhaps about two thousand. B.C.. According to the Vedanta, realization of the Self is the goal of life. Moksha, liberation is when you know for sure. That you yourself is in a special case. Of the self. That, just as you are unaware of all your organic processes, just as the beam of a headlight doesn’t shine on the wire that gives it power on the battery, but shines out in front so in the same way one is ordinarily ignorant. Or shall I say ignore-ant, of the root of one’s own self as being the central self of all. Then I went on to discuss the production of a seemingly divided Universe of separate things out of the self, as Lila, a form of play. And this afternoon I want to develop that idea further.
So you must remember, of course, that the word ‘play’ and the word ‘game’ have many levels of meaning. We are accustomed to use the word ‘play’ in opposition to ‘work’ and to regard play as trivial and work as serious. Very largely, a game or a play is something associated in our minds with triviality. You’re only playing with me, says a girl to a suitor, you’re not serious. How serious do you have to be? When does one get serious in a flirtation? When do we say this is getting serious? When you’re holding hands? Playing footsies under the table? Do you see? Petting? Sleeping together? Married and babies? Maybe that’s serious.
But we also use the word ‘play’ in a non-trivial sense. I went to hear Heifetz play the violin. Was that a trivial matter? On the contrary—the very highest kind of artform. Still: ‘play.’ I say, too—when I do philosophy, like I’m doing with you—this is entertainment, but in the sense—perhaps, I hope—of your listening to someone play a musical classic. I’m not being serious, but I am being sincere.
The difference, you see, between seriousness and sincerity is that seriousness is someone speaking in the context of the possibility of tragedy; that there is a situation where things might go absolutely wrong, and then I put on the expression which is serious. That’s why soldiers on parade are always serious. They don’t laugh. And when they salute the flag they put on a stern expression. That’s why, in courts of law and in churches, people normally don’t laugh—because all that we deal with here is very important, a matter of life and death.
But the fundamental question [that] must be brought forth: is God serious? And obviously the answer is no, because there’s nothing to be serious about. I said, also, that the Self—as conceived, the supreme Self—was quite useless, that it was immaterial. Doesn’t matter. Because it transcends all values of what is better or worse, what is upwards or downwards, what is good and bad. It so weaves the world that the good or the bad play together like the black and white pieces in the game of chess.
So play is—deeply—the sort of thing children like to do with deep absorption and fascination. To drop pebbles into the water and watch the concentric circles of waves. Or mathematicians. Mathematicians, you know—especially what we call higher mathematicians—are entirely lacking in seriousness. They couldn’t give a hoot in hell as to whether what they’re doing has any practical application. They are working entirely on interesting puzzles and working out what they call elegant and beautiful solutions to these puzzles. And they can go on and on like that in absorbed meditation, spend their whole lives doing it. Or consider the musician: practicing, working out interpretations; what is he doing? He’s making series of interesting noises on instruments.
Now, what do people like to do when they don’t have to do anything? Well, as far as I can make out as you look all over the world, they like to get together and do something rhythmic. They may dance, they may sing, they may even play games—because, say, in playing dice there’s a certain wonderful rhythm to shaking the cup and rolling the dice out on the table. Or dealing cards: Tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu-tsu Wwrrrrrrtt! Crrrck! You know? All the things that people like to do and think about: these rhythms. Or some people like to knit, and this is a rhythmic thing, you see? Others just like to breathe. There are all sorts of ways in which we love to do this.
Now you see, our very existence is a rhythm of waking and sleeping, eating, and moving—and that’s all we’re doing. Just consider what we do every day. What’s it all about? Does it really mean anything? Does it go anywhere? It’s just because we want to keep on doing this kind of a hoop-de-dah. So you can get a certain vision of life where everything is seen to be a complex pattern of rhythm. Dances. The human dance, the flower dance, the bee dance, the giraffe dance. And these are also comparable to various games: poker, bridge, backgammon, chess, checkers, et cetera, or to various musical forms: sonata, fugue, partita, concerto, symphony, or whatever.
And that’s what this all is: it’s jazz, you see? This is a big jazz, this world. And what it’s trying to do is to see how jazzed up it can get, how far out this play of rhythm can go. Because that what we all come down to, you see? We’re going this di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-DI-di-di-di-di in every conceivable way. So then that is why, you see, this fundamental view that the world is play.
Now, let’s examine the rules of this game.
The basic form of the cosmic game according to the Hindu view is the game of hide-and-seek—or you might call it the game of lost-and-found. Or, again, now you see it, now you don’t. In examining the nature of vibration we find a very peculiar thing. If you represent vibration as a wave motion you will notice that there is no such manifestation as half a wave. We do not find in nature crests without troughs or troughs without crests. No sound is produced unless there is both. Both the beat, as it were, and the interval between.
Now, this wave phenomenon is happening on ever so many scales. There is the very, very fast wave of light, the slower wave of sound, then there are all sorts of other wave processes—the beat of the heart, the rhythm of the breath, waking and sleeping, the peak of human life from birth to maturity and down again to death. And the slower the wave goes the more difficult it is to see that the crest and the trough are inseparable, so that we become persuaded in the game of hide-and-seek that it is possible for the trough to go down and down and down for ever and never rise again into a crest; forgetting that trough implies crest just as crest implies trough. There is no such thing, you see, as pure sound. Sound is sound-silence. Light is light-darkness. Light is pulsation, and between every light pulse there’s the dark pulse. And so the Hindu image is that the Self eternally plays a game of hide-and-seek with itself.
Hindus calculate time in kalpa units, and the kalpa is 4,320,000 years. And so they say that for a period of a kalpa the worlds are manifested—or any particular universe, not all universes, but let’s say any particular galaxy or whatever it may be; world order of some kind. Don’t take this too literally; don’t take these figures as being some sort of divine revelation as to making predicitons and prophecies. They’re symbolic figures. So for one kalpa the world is manifested, and that period is called in Sanskrit a Manvantara. And during that time the Brahman plays ‘hide,’ and he hides—it hides—in all of us, pretending that it’s us. And then, at the end of the kalpa, there comes the period called Pralaya, and that is also a kalpa long. And in that period the Brahman, as it were, comes out of the act and returns to itself in peace and bliss.
This is a very logical idea. What would you do if you were God? Isn’t the whole fun of things, as every child knows, to go on adventures? To make believe, to create illusions—that is to say, patterns. And so, for some ways of talking in Hindu thought, this world is the dream of the godhead. The godhead is, of course, represented as—in a way—two-faced. With one face he dreams and is absorbed in the dream world. With the other face he is liberated. In other words, what you have to understand correctly is that from the standpoint of the Self—the supreme Self—the Pralaya and the Manvantara are simultaneous.
But put into mythological form for human consumption they are represented as being in sequence, following each other. But they really happen at the same time, so that one doesn’t realize union with the Self after death; later than a certain time. All references to the hereafter should correctly be understood as the herein, as a domain deeper than egocentric consciousness—that is to say, when you get down to the bottom of the egocentric consciousness you get to its limit, which is, figuratively, its death. Then you go on, inwards—the Self deeper than the conscious attention. And in that way you go inwards to eternity, you don’t go onwards to eternity. To go onwards is to find only time, and time, and time, and more time, and more time, in which things go round and round and round for ever. But to go in is to go to eternity.
But in the ordinary way, when we are talking about this graphically and vividly in imagistic terms, we can talk about the everlasting game of hide-and-seek, which the Self plays with itself. It forgets who it is and then creeps up behind itself and says, Boo! And that’s a great thrill. It pretends that things are getting serious, just as a great actor on the stage—although the audience know that what they’re seeing is only a play—the skill of the actor is to take the audience in and have them all sitting in anxiety on the edges of their seats, or to be weeping or laughing, or utterly involved in what they really know is only a play. So you would imagine that if there were a very great actor with absolutely superb technique he would take himself in. And he, you see, would feel that the play was real.
Well, that’s their idea of what we’re doing here and now. We are all the Brahman, acting our own parts, being human, playing the human game—so beautifully that he is enchanted. You see what enchanted means? Under the influence of a chant. Hypnotized. Spellbound. Fascinated. And that fascination is māyā.
Now then, this works on a little plan. Let us consider the breakdown of a single kalpa. It consists of four yugas. Yuga: that means an “epoch.” Number one is called krita, or sometimes satya. And these names are based on the Hindu game of dice. There are four throws in their game, and krita means the perfect throw; the throw of four. Number two is treta, the throw of three. Number three is dwapara, the throw of two, and number four is kali—that’s the worst throw, the throw of value one.
You will see that these yugas divide up a period of 4,320,000 years. I never remember numbers too well. So the first yuga is 1,780,000 years long. The second is 1,296,000 years. The third—the dwapara—is 864,000, and the kali yuga is 432,000.
Now, you see what’s happening here? When the manifestation starts it’s as good as possible; everything is just glorious. Because you know well that if you were dreaming anything you wanted to dream you would start out by having the most luscious dreams imaginable. Now when we get, you see, to the treta yuga, something is a little bit wrong. Krita is “four square”—everything’s perfect, like the symbol of the square is an ancient symbol of perfection. Treta is the triangle—something’s missing; there’s a little bit of uncertainty, and danger now enters. By the time we get to dwapara, the forces of light and darkness are equal—duality, the pair. But when we get to kali, the force of darkness overcomes.
But now, you see, what happens is: if you take one third of the treta yuga as being on the bad side, half of the dwapara yuga as being on the bad side, and all of the kali yuga, and you add those figures up, you will get the bad side occupying only one third of the total time. So what’s going on here? It is not quite a situation, you see—it is not a view of the cosmos in which good and evil are so evenly balanced that nothing happens. ‘Evil’ is just troublesome enough to give ‘good’ a run for its money. It’s as if the game that is being played here is playing order against chaos, but you gotta have some chaos in order to play the game of order against it. But if order wins there’s no further game. If chaos wins there’s no further game. If they’re equally balanced it’s a stalemate. So what happens is this: chaos is always losing, but is never defeated. It’s the good loser. And that is a game that is worth the candle.
Let’s take playing chess. If you get an opponent who can always defeat you, you stop playing with him. If you get an opponent whom you can always defeat, you stop playing with him. But so long as there is a certain uncertainty of outcome and you win some of the time, then it’s a good game. And this is simply a number symbolism—as I said, again, not to be taken literally—of the way this thing works.
So the mythology says that we are now in the kali yuga, which started a little before 3,000 B.C.—so we’ve got a long way to go to the end of it, if you’re going to take this literally. But of course, people have a way of always being in the kali yuga. We can go back to Egyptian inscriptions from 6,000 B.C., which say that the world is going hopelessly to the dogs. That’s always been the complaint. But according to this mythology there are—you have to realize the Lord, the Brahman, in three aspects. One is Brahma, the creative principle; two is Vishnu, the preserving principle; and three is Shiva, the destroying principle.
And Shiva is very important here. Shiva is always represented in Hindu imagery as a yogi. He is the destroyer in the sense of being the liberator, the cracker of shells so that chickens can come forth. The breaker-up of mothers so that their children can be un-smothered. The liberative destruction. The bonfire. That’s why devotees of Shiva like to do their meditations along the banks of the Ganges where they burn dead bodies—because through destruction, life is constantly renewed.
Shiva has a paramour, and her name is Kālī, but that is a different word than this kali (yuga); you mustn’t confuse the two. And Kālī is much worse than Shiva. She’s black, and she has a long, long tongue, and her teeth are like fangs—but she’s very beautiful… otherwise; has a lovely figure, but she’s black. And in one hand—her right hand—she carries a scimitar, and in her left she carries a severed head hanging by the hair.
And Kālī, who is Shiva’s—you see, Shiva is normally considered wedded; all the gods have their paramours, and they’re all examples of the one central Self—she’s called Pārvatī. But that’s her bright aspect. But her dark aspect is Kālī. And Kālī is the awful awfuls. The thing about all that men most dread. Kālī is outer darkness, Kālī is the end. She may be represented as a blood-sucking octopus, as a spider-mother that eats its spouse. And Kālī is the principle of total night. And yet, there are those in India like Sri Ramakrishna, for whom Kālī is the supreme mother goddess. Because she is two-faced. She is playful and terrifying, loving and devouring, destroyer and savior. And the cult of Kālī has as its importance helping one to see the light principle in the very depth of darkness.
I have some suggestions for meditation on Kālī, which you can all practice very easily. You go to the aquarium and you find out there the monsters of the deep that make you feel most uncomfortable, and you study them. So in this way, Kālī is studied by her devotees. And if you meditate on those, this will be like putting manure on the soil. And out of all this apparently morbid and dismal thinking, bright things will begin to arise—because you will realize that what Kālī is is the most far-out act that the supreme Self can put on. The symbol of complete alienation from itself.
So what happens, you see, is this: in the process of the game of hide-and-seek the supreme Self tries to see how far out it can get. Just like children like to sit around and have a competition as to who can make the most hideous face. And so this gets worse and worse as the time cycle goes on, until—at the end of the kali yuga—Shiva puts in an appearance, and he’s all black and has ten arms, and he dances a dance called the Tāṇḍava. And in dancing the Tāṇḍava the whole universe is destroyed in fire. But, of course, as Shiva—having done this wreckage—turns around to leave the stage, you find that on the back of his head is the face of Brahma, the creator. And it starts again.
WESTERN DIFFICULTY WITH HINDU MYTHOLOGY
Well now, you see, this involves certain ideas that are quite alien to the West. One, the idea of the world as play. Our Lord God in the West tends to be over-serious, and no great Christian artist has ever painted a laughing Christ, or a smiling Christ. Nothing that I’ve seen of any of the great masters. Always, this figure is tragic and has that sort of look in the eye which says, One of these days you and I have got to get together for a very serious talk. So, you see, there is some difficulty about the notion of the world as a dramatic play; for us.
There’s another difficult notion here, and that is cyclic time. See, most of us live in linear time. This originated with Saint Augustine and his interpretation of the Bible. Now, I don’t know how true this really is, but it’s certainly a big fashion in modern scholarship to say that it was Judaism that gave us the idea of history. Hindus have no interest in history whatsoever—or, not until recent times—to the total exasperation of historians. There is no way of finding textual evidence of the age of most of the Hindu scriptures—because they aren’t interested in history as such, they are only interested in human events as archetypal occurrences, as repetitions of the great mythological themes, over and over again. So if a document started out that a certain adventure happened to king so-and-so—whom everybody knew at the time—in the next generation they had changed the name of that king to the current king, because the story was typical anyway. They just wanted to say a king that everybody knew. They altered things in that way, and so they know no kind of chronology. And if you ask even quite intelligent Asians about this, they have difficulty in understanding what kind of a question you’re asking. What is this history thing?
Whereas, on the other hand—according to our scholars—the Jews were historically minded, because they remembered the story of their descent from Adam and Abraham, the great event of the liberation from Egypt, and then the triumphant reign of King David, and then things go sliding downhill as other political forces become stronger and stronger. And so they get a fix on the idea that one day is going to be the day of the Lord, and the Messiah will come and put an end to history. And there will be the restoration of Paradise.
But this is linear. They don’t think of the world having been created many, many times before, and come to an end many, many times before. It’s one clear ascent from start to finish, from alpha to omega.
Well, when Saint Augustine was thinking about this, he thought, If time is cyclic, Jesus would have to be crucified for the salvation of the world once in every cycle. But for some reason he had it firmly fixed into his head that there was only one historical crucifixion in time—what they call the one, full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. Once is enough.
Now, of course, he got his hierarchies confused. It’s true—there is one sacrifice, but that’s on the plane of eternity. On the plane of time, eternal things can be repeated again and again and again. But so, as a result of that, we are handed down not a Greek—the Greeks also had cyclic time, like the Hindus—but we have been handed down linear time, and therefore we’re always thinking of a progression that will take us steadily, steadily, steadily, faster and faster to a more and more perfect world. And it will get better and better and better and better all the way along—if we keep our heads.
Now, this shows—I think—a rather naïve view of human nature. Human beings tend to smash what they create and say, Let’s do it again! There is that in man which is also in the child. Rub it out—what fun! And so it isn’t really too realistic to suppose that human beings will simply get better and better and better and better and better, because they’ll soon get tired of it. They’ll say, Let’s be as awful as possible. See, there was that element in Nazism: how awful can you get? How brutal can you be? How destructive? And that—it isn’t just Germans, you know, who have that. See? We are converting all the living world around us into excrement and pretending it doesn’t happen that way. And we are the most marvelous vortices in this stream of food which whirls around as us and then disappears into excrements, which again fertilize the soil—and we keep on at it.
So you see, there is that thing in us—which is represented by Shiva-Kālī—and it’s always there. But the Hindu looks at the world with very, very hard-boiled realism in this way and sees terror and magnificence, love and fury; those two faces of the same thing. And you could say, Well, is there any peace possible? after you’ve looked at this picture for a long, long time, and you’ve conceived the endless, endless cycles because this thing goes on always and always and always. Per omnia secula seculorum: world without end.
And the Hindu sometimes feels, Oh, Braham, don’t you ever get tired of it? No. Because Brahma doesn’t have to remember anything—and you only get tired of things you remember. That’s why, from the standpoint of Brahma, there’s no time—only an eternal now. So the secret of waking up from the drama, the endless cycles, is the realization that the only time that there is is the present. And when you become awake to that, boredom is at an end and you are delivered from the cycles. Not in the sense that they disappear; that you no longer go through them. You do go through them, but you know—you realize—that they’re not going anywhere.
Now then, supposing you liken the rhythm of these cycles to music—why, surely, you don’t hurry it up. You don’t say, Let’s get to the end faster. You know how to listen to music only when you slow down time, and sit back, and let that be. And so, in the same way, you can see every little detail of life in a new way. You say, Oh my! Look at that! And so one’s eyes are opened in astonishment by being, living—totally—here and now.