What I think I want to do today is to talk to you about the things which are of major interest to me. Now, the origin of a person who is defined as a philosopher is one who finds that existence itself is exceedingly odd. I mean, we have an opposition between odd and even, and it would be even—that’s to say, flattened out—if nothing existed at all. I mean, it’d be so simple: no effort, no trouble, no nothin’. But strangely enough, we have the strange conviction that something exists, that we’re here, that we’re real.
And from earliest childhood that has been an extreme puzzle to me: that just something exists at all. And I discovered the nature of the puzzle. The nature of the puzzle is that I was persuaded by my culture to translate this phenomenon into words or numbers; that I had to represent what is going on in nature in terms of the English language, the French language, the Latin language, the Greek language, and finally the Chinese language. And I found the latter the most suitable. But nevertheless, this is the puzzle. When you want to understand something, when you want to know what is it all about, what you mean is that you need a translation of what is going on into language.
And that’s the purpose of a university. You’re all here studying to translate what is going on in the physical world into words. And even when I say “the physical world,” that is a purely philosophical conception. It’s an idea about the world propagated largely from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries of European scientific thought. “Physical.” We all know what physical is, don’t we? I mean, it’s material. And what does the word “material” mean? Well, of course it’s the same word as “mother,” Latin mater. Greek mitér. Also “meter,” “measure.” And finally Sanskrit: mātṛ, which also means “to measure” and is the root word behind māyā, which is “illusion.”
So the physicists, you know, finally abandoned the quest for finding out what matter is, because they found out that when they investigated matter, they had to describe it in terms of form. And they found out—they just gave it up. In other words, the idea that there was some kind of basic stuff underlying everything was nothing more than an illusion. Because the strict, precise physicist describes structure, and he finds that matter is, after all, only a matter of form. It’s only the form that matters. Wowee! You know?
Now, we’ve all been brought up in the common sense of the 19th century. This is the background, this is the unconscious belief system, underlying most of our judgments. And that is—well, we had two belief systems, you see. We had, first of all, the Christian or the Jewish, in which there was big daddy up atop the sky. Now, I don’t want to offend anybody, but there are probably some of you here who’ve studied St. Thomas Aquinas, and have a very, very profound, deep conception of the Christian god, or you may have studied Kabbalah, or Hasidic Judaism, and have a very deep realization that goes beyond big daddy. But big daddy is the image which influences your emotions and your basic feelings. And so the big daddy thing became much too oppressive, and it was absolutely essential for very many people, especially intellectuals, to get rid of it. Because you didn’t want to be supervised all the time, judged all the time, looked at all the time by somebody criticizing everything you did. So we got rid of it. Nobody really believes in it anymore. An enormous number of people think they ought to believe in it, but they don’t. And that’s what certain theologians call the death of god.
But instead of that, we supplanted big daddy with another image which is just as mythological, and that was the image of the world as a mechanical phenomenon—a thing that goes tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick in various ways, or that is a randomness of particles or wavicles that occasionally produces order in the same way that a million monkeys typewriting on a million typewriters for a million years would probably at some point reproduce the Encyclopædia Britannica. But the real reason lying behind that vision of the world was a declaration of personality. That is to say, I am the kind of fellow who doesn’t believe that there’s someone up there who cares. That’s for little old ladies. I’m a tough guy. I believe that life is at root meaningless, and I’m going to face the hard facts. Incidentally, nobody ever talks about soft facts. So I’m URGH! I believe it’s all empty and that the only thing is that the meaning of life, of human life, consists in the heroic conflict with tragedy. We’re all going to end up in the dustbin—excuse me, the ashcan—and there’s no future. Finally, it’s empty.
And then we come across Buddhists—because the world is all closing in, you see?—people on the other side of the world, who think that emptiness is a great thing. “Wowee!” they say. Śūnyatā in Sanskrit: “emptiness.” If you can understand that you are basically emptiness, you’re a Buddha, you’re enlightened, you’re awakened. Isn’t that weird? From a Western point of view that seems absolutely crazy! We call it nihilism. That’s awful. But the basic formula of Buddhism is shiki soku ze kū, kū soku ze shiki: “that which is emptiness is also precisely form, that which is form is also precisely emptiness.” Now what does that mean? You know, they all sit together in the Zen monasteries and elsewhere, and they chant this sūtra: Maka hannya haramitta shin gyoo. And then it goes shiki soku ze kū, kū soku ze shiki, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, bong, bong, bong. And finally it ends up with a kind of gate gate paragate parasamgate om svaha. You know? What’s all that about?
Excuse me, I’ve a little cough because I’ve just been to London and picked up the London flu.
So now, think about this. What do you mean by the idea of clarity? Clear? The word “clear,” in English, can be spelled in different ways: C-L-E-A-R, C-L-E-R-E, C-L-E-V-E-R, C-L-E-R-G-Y. They’re all on the same root. A clergyman, a cleric, a clerk, is supposed to be someone who’s clear. Like Ron Hubbard invented the word “clear,” you see? He used it for somebody who had developed dianetic proficiency. Clear. And what do we mean by this word? When you say it’s a clear day, it means there’s no smog, and so the air is empty. And as a result of the fact that the air is empty, all the forms are articulate in detail. When your head is clear, when your vision is clear, all the details can be made out. So that is why emptiness equals form. That’s marvelous! So, therefore, I think that the most essential ingredient of an academic discipline is to clear our heads.
For some reason my lectures are always attended by dogs!
Now, to clear our heads—now, how do you do that? This is the most important adjunct to intellectual discipline. I say this most urgently, because here we are. We’re at the University of California, and we’re all presumably intellectuals. And we need to further the intellectual life, we need to further the disciplines of learning languages, of psychology, of science and physics and chemistry, medicine, and so on and so forth. But underlying that there must be a background. In other words, you need plain white paper in order to write something. And so, in the same way, underlying all our thinking there must be emptiness. And that’s what we call in Asia dhyāna, which means the practice of meditation. You can also call it yoga. These are really—oh, there are little nitpicking details we might make between them—but they’re really equivalent words. Dhyāna, yoga, zen, and of course also the Sufi disciplines, are all the same thing, but they’re largely missing in Western religion.
Because Western religion is excessively talkative, excessively didactic, and does not really practice silence. The nearest thing we have—I mean, we have some Catholic orders like Trappists and we have the Quakers, who practice silent disciplines. But I’m rather inclined to believe that they talk to themselves while they’re silent. Real silence, dhyāna, is stopping talking to yourself inside your head; is to get real mental silence. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have a blank mind. You are vividly aware of what is, only you don’t give it any name.
Now, if you, for the moment, would experiment with this by closing your eyes and listening to all sounds whatsoever that are going on, but don’t try to identify or name them. Listen to the susurrus of the world in the same way as you would listen to classical music without asking what it means. If you find yourself thinking compulsively, unable to stop naming what is going on, don’t try to stop it. Listen to yourself doing that in the same way as you would be listening to the air conditioning. And as and when I say anything, don’t try to make sense of it. Just listen to the sound of the voice.
And now I ask you: listening to what is, can you hear anything past or anything future? Can you hear yourself as a listener? It’s amazing how many things there are that aren’t so. And just for a moment, also be aware of your breath. Are you doing it or is it happening to you? Or both? Or neither? Listen and feel the breath as it wants to go, as your ears want to respond to the waves.
And don’t be uptight about coughing or shifting your position or… you know, doing whatever nature wants you to do. It’s all part of the symphony. Just listen. Ears only and breath only. This is your method of testing out what reality is. You’re a baby. You have no ideas. Nobody’s ever told you anything. You have no theories about the universe. And if you’re anxious about that—you know, you’ve checked your theories at the door. You can pick them up when you go out. Just feel it. I think I’ve got you into the state of meditation. At least that’s the way it feels.
Now remember, in this state we are not looking for any result. Nothing at all to be accomplished in the future. We are simply experiencing what is now, here, and we are abandoning the project—momentarily—of forming any concepts about it. Watch it. And don’t ask who is watching it, because that’s a merely grammatical question. Because the verb has to have a subject according to the conventions of our language. There is a watching.
Now, feel it like that. This is called tathātā in Sanskrit. “Da-da-da.” “Suchness.” [???] See?
Alright. Now, what you are now experiencing is what I’m trying to tell you. And I want you now to return to your state of normal restlessness. And if any of you in this company has questions to ask, I’d be very happy to try and answer them to the best of my ability. Yes?
You spoke, speaking of silence—I wonder if you have any special feelings on, for instance, the 44 years of [???]?
Well, I feel that he cheated. You see, he was what is called a mauni practicing silent yoga, but yet he always used to talk on a letterboard. And if you’re going to be a true mauni, you have to stop writing also and be absolutely at silence. It’s a very difficult exercise, and I don’t recommend that anybody do it for much more than a month. To go on doing it for ever so many years is, really, a rather egocentric performance. Y’know: “I’m so different from everybody else.” One should never overdo yogic practices. They are—all yogic practices, meditation practices—are wrong if they are not fun. True meditation should be an absolute delight. An absolute delight. Delight, the light.
Do you ever think about astral projection?
Astral projection. This astral projection is not important.
No, no. It’s just the [???].
Astral projection is a new form of jet propulsion.
I have a question about identity, and I’d like to approach it from two ways.
The first is: at the end of your book, The Art of Contemplation, there is this saying: “egoless people have very strong character.”
And there’s this funny kind of humorous, rolly polly, Buddha-like thing to it.
Okay. Then there are two senses of the word “identity.” The first is kind of a separateness. We say that when we mean getting our identity together, where we become separate.
The second meaning is kind of in a sense to identify with, to become one with. And that’s the sense of identity which mystics usually talk about. Now, I want to know: is a strong sense one necessary to achieve a strong sense two?
Aha! Now, I hope you all heard this question. No, alright. Now, he’s raised the question of two meanings of the word “identity.” The first meaning is the separate identity that each one of us tries to find in the course of our education, where we know who we are as an ego. The second sense is to be identical with the universe, as a mystic discovers that he is.
Excuse me, ladies, for using the word “he,” but it’s shorthand. Don’t forget that the word “man” doesn’t mean “male.” It comes from the Sanskrit manu, from which we get manas (“mind”) and the Latin manus (“hand,” “handy”). Has nothing to do with sex.
So these two senses of identity—the particular who I am, and the fact that I also realize that I am finally identical with what there is; you know, with the whole thing that’s going on. I mean, the two go together. They’re not antithetical in any way. The second one is basic, because that’s the way you felt when you were a baby. You have what Freud calls the oceanic feeling. And you knew that you were—you didn’t have words to put it in—but you knew that you were this jazz, whatever it is that is. And you made no distinction between the knower and the known, the voluntary and the involuntary, the doing and the happening. There was just this jazz. You knew that perfectly well as a baby. But then they came and put it on you that you were different, see? They wanted you to be something particular. And, well, so you learned that. Well, they put it on you so heavily that you forgot the first thing.
But the whole point of sanity is to have them both at the same time. It’s just the same as I described the white paper behind the print, the mirror behind its reflections. Because if you don’t get both going at the same time, you get a kind of myopia of not being able to see the forest for the trees, of forgetting your own origin. And if you forget that each one of you is an incarnation of god, if you don’t know that, you will try to become god by effort, and therefore will become impossible; a demon—an aggressive, obstreperous nuisance. But if we all know, basically, we are god—and I don’t mean god in the grandfather sense of the Judeo-Christian image, which is an idol, but in the sense that we can’t define. See, you can’t define yourself. Just like you can’t bite your own teeth. You don’t know who you are. And, you know, all science of neurology is trying to go out and make out: what is, finally, consciousness in here? What is the brain all about? And they don’t know. And they’re the people, most of all, who know they don’t know. Well, you don’t know.
Because each one of us is an aperture through which the universe is observing itself. But, of course, it couldn’t observe itself completely and totally, because that would be a bore. To understand absolutely, to be totally in control of everything, would be like screwing a plastic woman. Who wants that? See? Always, there needs to be an element of mystery. So the thing that is is mysterious to itself—but not completely, because if it were completely mysterious to itself, nothing would happen. That would be everything being even. What we need is something odd. But we can’t have something odd without the even. See, that’s the nature of the way it works: yang and yin.
Next question? Yes?
Do you think it’s possible [???]
The question is whether it is possible for a Jew or a Christian to follow a yogic philosophy without abandoning the tradition. No, it is perfectly possible to put the two together. I am, this weekend, going to a community of nuns to show them how to practice Christian yoga. And this is entirely possible, because it’s perfectly obvious if you understand Jesus Christ, as a historical figure, that he was a realized person who knew that he was an incarnation of god in the same way as you are—only, he was embarrassed by the language of the religious tradition which was the only one he knew. Because in the language of that tradition, to be the son of god was to claim, like, “I’m the boss’ son,” because they had a boss image of god.
Now, on the other hand, if he had been in India and he’d suddenly announced that he was the incarnation of god, everybody would’ve said, “Of course. We all are.” And so likewise, in China, the image there, you see—the Tao—is not a boss image. Lao Tzu says:
The great Tao flows everywhere,
Both to the right and to the left.
It loves and nourishes all things,
But does not lord it over them.
And when good things are accomplished
It lays no claim to them.
So the image of the Tao and the image of the Brahman—the Ātman-Brahman behind the Hindu universe—is not something that gets up and says booh, booh, booh, booh, booah, eeaargh!—you know, has its back to the wall—but it’s something invisible, subtle, always self-effacing.
Now, however, there are grounds for this in Christianity. There is a passage in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians which I’m going to translate in a slightly different way from the King James:
Let this state of consciousness be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who, being identical with god, thought not identity of god a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself and made himself of no importance, and was found in fashion as a man, and became submissive to death, even to the death of the cross.
Crazy! If you really understand what he’s saying, he’s saying: let this state of consciousness be in you that was also the state of consciousness of Jesus, who—being identical with god (Ātman is Brahman)—didn’t think that’s something you had to make a great scene about. Take it natural. Play it cool! And said: let’s see what happens if we don’t cling to this permanent state, but we let everything go, and we get into a weird thing called death.
Now, what would you do without death? Norman Brown made the point very cleverly in his book Life Against Death that it is only that we die that we have individuality. Death is what creates our individuality. Now, one always thinks of death as something lying in the future. I want you to think of it in another way: as something in the past. How would you know you were alive unless you had once been dead? This sense that we are here, that we are real—that, you know?—depends upon that contrast. All knowledge is contrast. That we go back in our memories, zzzhhhhht, and we find a place we can’t remember anything. Well, that’s just the same place that you go to when you think, “Well, what would it be like to go to sleep an never wake up again?” Clunk! It’s the end. Take a last look at your creator’s blessed son. But you need that “no” in order to have “yes.” You need that void in order to have form. They go together. It’s all of a piece. And if you understand that, you are at peace.
Yes, this is an important point. The question is: if this acceptance of the void and of death can lead to a certain kind of optimism which would be, as it were, socially destructive—in other words, to a lack of concern for the torments and problems of underprivileged people. It could do so, but it wouldn’t necessarily do so. Now, I find myself, as an individual, that I have some limited but very intense social concerns. I mean, I can’t, as an individual, concern myself about everything going on in the world, because I don’t have the power as an individual to do all the things that need to be done. But I’m very concerned about prisons, about mental hospitals, and the reform of the police. And these are things for which I work extremely actively. But I’m also sympathetic to people in all sorts of other fields.
But this has to be understood. Gary Snyder, the poet, said once to me, “You cannot work effectively in the realm of good ecology unless first you realize that it doesn’t matter.” If you have the primary realization “it doesn’t matter,” then you are in the position of a surgeon who can operate with a steady hand. If your surgeon is so concerned about you that his hand shakes when he operates, you don’t want a surgeon like that. But surgeons who are excellent and very competent make all sorts of funny jokes while they’re operating upon very important people. And they talk to the nurses and flirt with them, and, you know, carry on as if nothing mattered, and so therefore have absolutely accurate and precise work. Because they’re not anxious. They don’t shake. They don’t ask, “To be or not to be, is that…” you know? They just go right ahead.
And so, in the same way, in order to do good work—politically and so on and so on—we have, first of all, to realize that it doesn’t matter. Then we have the energy to go into it. You can’t lift yourself up by your own bootstraps. It won’t work! It won’t happen! So: you can’t improve yourself, you can’t improve the world. Forget it! But then, suddenly, you have the energy available to do things that can be done. As Voltaire said: il faut cultiver notre jardin—“we should cultivate our gardens.”
Will you announce that? Now, is it—
Now, this question is: how can one make this statement that in all the great religious traditions there is a basic common denominator? Experimentally. At the end of August last, we had a conference at a Benedictine monastery where the good fathers invited a gaggle of gurus to be present—there were twelve of them—with 150 students who were priests, nuns, monks, ministers, educators; goodness only knows. We had this great audience. And what we did was that, instead of being merely talkative, we started at 4:30 in the morning to practice each other’s disciplines. You know, we attended the dancing and chanting of a Sufi master, we attended the Jesus prayer of a Greek orthodox master, we attended the zazen sessions of a Zen master, we had the services of two great yogis—Swami Satchidananda, et cetera—and three rabbis who were Hasidic, and we all joined in, and likewise, also, we attended the mass of the Benedictines and the divine office, which is the chanting of the Psalms. And we found in about one and a half days—we had five days in all—that there was nothing to argue about! We even had a black girl who was present who was a southern Baptist who’d worked with Martin Luther King, and she was a real swinger! And I got together with her very quickly, even though the language was so different.
The only sort of holdout was the Greek orthodox, who wasn’t really approving of this extreme ecumenicism. I said to him at the end: “Look, I’m closer to your style of religion in feeling, in my gut, than I am to this black southern Baptist. I love the style of your liturgy, the beauty of your ritual. But would you tell me one thing? What does your belief in the sole preeminence of Jesus Christ do to your state of consciousness? Would you work that out? Because if you would be so kind, we’d all like to know.” He said, “I’ll think that one over.” He was a very learned theologian. And, you know, when he started out his sessions, he had a young man there in front of him teaching pranayama; breath control, so as to be able to chant the Jesus prayer. What it is, when you get beyond words—which is what I was trying to show you—when you get into that state of consciousness where you’re not talking to yourself, but you are simply experiencing what is, then you begin to be at the level of the divine.
Now, I think this is it for now. Talking and discussing these things is very much like the art of cookery, and you can overdo it. And so there comes a certain time when the soufflé is just right. And when I have a feeling that that is so, I think we should conclude. Okay.