Now, the title of the seminar is a very strange word, translatable into English as “thusness” or “suchness;” in Sanskrit: tathātā. And this is based on the Sanskrit word tat, which is etymologically the root of our word “that.” And it’s supposed—in India, you see—that this is the first word that a baby says. We all know babies say, “da da da,” and in our highly paternalistic culture it’s assumed that the baby is addressing its father. And so “da da” means “father.” But in India, which is where the cultures anciently were matriarchal, it didn’t even mean “mother,” but “da,” which was the fundamental word of all words. It is the baby pointing to it and saying “that.” Because when the baby wakes up and is, as I said last night, an aperture through which the All looks at everything, the great and proper exclamation when it sees it is to say “da!” And so tathātā is “da da da.” And it means just exactly that, in the same way as there was a Dada school of painting in the West, because they wanted to go beyond words and names. Because a Dada would argue when you call a dog a “dog,” it doesn’t sound anything like a dog sounds. Or a chien, in French, sounds nothing like a dog. But if you called a dog rrruff-rrruff, that would be a proper name for a dog. So this is a fundamental word. And we have great difficulty in translating it because, in a way, it’s a meaningless word.
Now then, in order to understand this subject properly I must not take too much for granted. I have to give you some introduction to Buddhism, because this is all part of Buddhist philosophy. And Buddhism finds its context in the philosophy of India. And we have to go, first of all, very thoroughly into what Buddhism is about. And the first thing I want you to understand about Buddhism (that very few people do understand) is that Buddhism does not have a doctrine in the same sense that Christianity has a doctrine. There could be no such thing as a Buddhist creed. The word dharma, in Sanskrit, which describes what Buddhism is, Buddhism is called the Buddhadharma. Dharma means “method.” Not doctrine, not law. It’s often translated “law.” That won’t do at all. Dharma sometimes means “function.” The function of somebody, his svadharma, means roughly what we would call his vocation. Dharma can also mean, in a peculiar way, a thing: a basic portion of the world, a thing or event. But its primary meaning as used in the phrase Buddhadharma is “method.” And so Buddhism is a method for something or other. And so for this reason all Buddhism is a dialectic: a discussion, an interchange between a preceptor or guru or teacher and his student. Between the Buddha and his disciples.
Now, what is it about? First of all, the word Buddha comes from a Sanskrit root budh. And budh means “to be awake.” So a Buddha is a person who is awake. It is therefore a title. It’s not a proper name and it’s not the name of a divinity. There are many, many gods recognized—angels we might rather call them—in Buddhism, but they are regarded as being inferior to a Buddha. The gods are not yet fully awakened. Buddhism divides the world into six divisions. And this is very important for understanding what’s it about. And you don’t have to take these six divisions literally, because they may equally well refer to states of human consciousness.
But the six divisions are like this. You see, you draw the circle of the wheel of life, and in the top section of the circle you have the deva world. And deva—from which we get our word “devil”—actually means the angels. The reason is this: that when the the Iranians had battles with the Aryans, the Northern Indians, the Northern Indians called their gods deva. So the Persians insulted them by using that word for devils. And then they had here asura, who are in this division. And these are spirits of wrath, and so opposite ahura, in Persian Ahura Mazda is the lord of light. Because they were enemies. But so, here are the Devas on top. Next to them on this side are the powers of divine wrath in the sense of energy, vigor. And below, opposite the devas, are the naraka. And those are the purgatories. That’s where everybody is as unhappy as they can possibly be. Here are animals, in this section. Here are men and women. And here are things called pretas. Pretas are frustrated spirits with very large stomachs and very small mouths.
Now, this is the rat race of existence called saṃsāra in Sanskrit. Saṃsāra: the round of birth and death. And this is the zenith, and this is the nadir. This is as high as you can get, that’s as low as you can get. And that’s always going to happen to you while you work on the principle of a squirrel cage. That is to say: so long as you are trying to make progress, you will go up. But up always implies down. So while you are trying to get better and better and better, that means that when you get to the best you can only go on to the worst. And so you go round and round and round, ever chasing the illusion that there is something outside yourself—outside your here and now—to be attained that will make things better. And the thing is to recover from that illusion. So a Buddha means somebody who has woken up and discovered that running around this thing may be fun, and it may be good to run around, but if you think you’re going to get something out of it, you’re under illusion. Because you’re forever the donkey with a carrot suspended from his own halter.
Now then, it goes on to say that there’s only one place, one point, in this wheel from which you can become a Buddha, and that’s here. The devas are too happy to become Buddhas, or to worry about becoming a Buddha. The narakas are too miserable, the asuras are too angry, the animals are too dumb, and the pretas too frustrated. Only in the middle position, the position of man—which is, you could say, the equal position; the position of sufficient equanimity to begin to think about getting off this rat race—only from there, you see, can you become a Buddha. So the position of a Buddha may be represented either as not on the wheel at all, or as right in the middle of it. It makes no difference. And so he is just as, in a way, the axle point—the still point of the turning world, as to use T. S. Eliot’s phrase—is the unmoved center, the Unmoved Mover, the Primum Mobile, the axletree of the world. Also the navel: that’s why yogis are said to contemplate their navel. The navel isn’t on their tummy, it’s this place. The navel of the world. So that’s the scheme of cosmology, of ancient Indian cosmology, in which Buddhism arises. So, you see, therefore: a Buddha is one who awakens from the illusion of saṃsāra—that is: from the thought that there is something to get out of life; that tomorrow will bring it to you; that, in the course of time, it’ll be alright. And therefore one is set pursuing time, as if you were trying to quench your thirst by drinking salt water.
Now, I can exemplify this a little more strongly by relating Buddhism to the social system in which it arose. A Buddhist monk is sometimes called a śramaṇa. This is closely allied to the word “shaman.” And a shaman is the holy man in a culture that is still hunting. It isn’t settled, it isn’t agrarian. There is a very strong and important difference between a shaman and a priest. A priest receives his ordination from his superiors; he receives something from a tradition which is handed down. A shaman doesn’t. He receives his enlightenment by going off into the forest by himself to be completely alone. A shaman is a man, in other words, who has undergone solitariness. He’s gone away into the forest to find out who he really is. Because it’s very difficult to find that out while you’re with other people. And the reason is that other people are busy all the time telling you who you are in many, many ways: by the laws they impose on you, by the behavior ruts they set on you, by the things they tell you, by the fact that they always call you by your name, and by the fact that when you live among people, you have to be in a state of ceaseless chatter.
But if you want to find out who you are before your father and mother conceived you—who you really are—you almost have to go off by yourself, and go into the forest and stop talking, even stop thinking words, and be absolutely alone and listen to the great silences. And then, if you’re lucky, you recover from the illusion that you’re just little me, this so and so, and you attain the state of nirvāṇa, which means the blown-out state, the relieved state; the sigh of relief. Nirvāṇa may be translated into English as “phew!” I’ve at last discovered that I don’t have to survive. I can survive, of course, but I don’t really have to. Because you discover, you see, that what you really are doesn’t have to survive, because it’s what there is. The real you is It, or that. Tát tvam ási: “that art thou,” as the Hindu say.
So then, in the normal life of India—which is not a hunting culture, but a settled culture—there are priests, but there is something beyond the priest. That is to say, when a man or woman has fulfilled his or her life in the world of society, it’s the normal thing to do for a person to quit their status in society and become what’s called a “forest-dweller.” That is almost, you see, to go back to the hunting culture. They divide people into two classes: gṛhastha, which means “householder,” and vānaprastha, which means “forest-dweller.” And the older people all hand over their occupations and positions to their children, and go into the state of vānaprastha or become a śramaṇa, and go outside the stockade—I’m speaking metaphorically; they sometimes do actually, they sometimes don’t—and become a nobody. They give up their name—that is to say, the label which designates who they are in terms of caste or class. They become unclassified people. That’s why, strictly speaking, you see, Hinduism and Buddhism are not religions. You can classify the religions. You can say: what’s your denomination? Baptist? Methodist? Catholic? Presbyterian? Episcopalian? Quaker? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you see? But strictly speaking, a vānaprastha, a śramaṇa, has no label. He is an unlabeled bottle.
So, in the time when the Buddha lived—about 600 B.C.—the Hindu system had become somewhat decadent. It isn’t altogether clear what had happened to it, but it is certain that it did seem in some way to be in need of reform. And so there were many reasons for this. And the Buddha, as a young man, being basically troubled by the great problems that we’re all troubled with—the problem of suffering and the problem of what all this universe is about— he endeavored to follow the methods that were then being used by people who were śramaṇas or vānaprasthas, forest-dwellers. And at that time it’s very apparent that the main method that these people were using was an ascetic discipline: starvation, very arduous meditation practices, probably self-flagellation, and things of that kind. And it’s said that for seven years he practiced these austerities, but he found out that they didn’t lead to liberation, and all the people who were practicing them knew they didn’t either, but they felt that that was only because they weren’t doing it hard enough.
And so he propounded instead the Middle Way: the way that led to liberation from the rat race that I’ve drawn here, neither through austerities nor through pleasure-seeking. See, these are the two ways, the two paths: the people who say the whole point of life is to enjoy it, to get the most out of it, you see? And the other people who tried that and then they found it was sour grapes or something, you know, or they burned their fingers in the pursuit of pleasure. The girl that was so beautiful eventually fell apart, or just turned into a shrew and whatever it was. So they said instead: let us torment ourselves.
A lot of people enjoy this or get something special out of it. I was in Mexico this summer, and what I went there for was to study Mexican Catholicism, where they make a great cult of suffering. And I was very puzzled about this and wanted to understand it. And everywhere, you know, they have these ghastly tormented Christs, all drooling with blood, hanging on crosses in very contorted positions. And I realized there are certain people who find that sitting on the tip of a spike is the realest place in the world. Because when you’re on the tip of a spike, you know you’re there. There’s no doubt about it. And also, you know that you’re expiating for everything. Somehow, by sitting on the spike, you are paying for your guilt. And so long as you hurt, you’re alright. See?
So these śramaṇas were doing something of the same kind. And the Buddha became enlightened—became a Buddha; he woke up—at the moment when he gave up that kind of quest. The moment he gave up, as we should say, trying to take the kingdom of heaven by storm. Now what does this mean? It means that, in his time, the way of liberation had become competitive, which meant it was on the wrong track. There are a lot of people who—we call it the holier-than-thou attitude, but we find it today with some objectionable Westerners who go over to Japan to study Zen Buddhism, and then come home and brag about the great disciplines they’ve undergone, and say, “I sat with my legs crossed in one position for ten hours,” as distinct from somebody else who only sat for five. And always there’s this tendency, you know, to have a marathon and be in a competition with others or with one’s self about these things. But the moment you do that, you’re back on the wheel. The best thing you can get by asceticism is to get up to the deva world. You can’t get anywhere else by it. You may get down to the naraka world by asceticism, too—read the story of Thaïs by Anatole France.
So he found, you see, that the real path, the Middle Way—the meaning of the Middle Way is that it’s the path that can’t be followed. Because to get you onto the Middle Way I have to get into a dialogue with you, you see? And you say to me—because, after all, it’s always the student that raises the problem, not the teacher—you say, “Well, now, what’s the right thing to do?”
I say back to you: “Why are you looking for the right thing to do?”
And then you have to consider your situation, where you are. And you say, “Well, I’m looking for the right thing to do because I feel that I’m in the wrong situation. I don’t have peace of mind.”
“Why do you want peace of mind?”
“Because my mind is disturbed.” And, in other words: you, as a disturbed mind, are trying to find peace of mind.
“Your quest for peace of mind is the same thing as having a disturbed mind. Now, if you don’t have a disturbed mind, you won’t ask for peace of mind.”
“Well, how can I quiet my mind?”
“Why are you asking to quiet your mind?”
“Because it’s disturbed!”
You see where you are? So, in this way, by this dialogue, the guru, the teacher, brings a person back to center.
So then, this is the point: all Buddhist teaching is a dialogue. Really and truly, the man who goes out and leaves society and becomes a monk is a little bit too much. Buddhism involves this act as a preliminary gesture, but what it comes to in the end is the position of what’s called a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva means somebody who went out of society—or we should say gave up the world in some way, took on the the robe, took on the discipline—he found what he was looking for, but his finding it was absolutely simultaneous with his coming back into society. And he’s called a bodhisattva as distinct from a pratyekabuddha, which means a private Buddha; one who goes out and doesn’t come back. And the bodhisattva is considered as having a superior attainment, superior insight. So the important thing to remember, then, is: Buddhism is a dialogue, and its teaching is a method, and not a doctrine.
Now, the teaching of Buddhism is summed up in what are called the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth about the origin of suffering, the truth about the ceasing of suffering, and the truth about the way to the ceasing of suffering. Duḥkha is the Sanskrit word we translate “suffering,” “discord,” “frustration,” something like that. That’s always the problem, you see? And this, because of suffering, is the reason why human beings seek out teachers and saviors. “I hurt, and I don’t want to hurt.” So that’s the the universal problem, you see, that everybody brings.
So then, the teacher replies to this problem by saying: “You suffer because you crave things.” Tṛ́ṣṇā—from which we get our word “thirst”—tṛ́ṣṇā, “craving” or “desire,” is the cause of suffering. That’s the second truth. Now, the Buddhist analyzes this a bit. He says the world is duḥkha. It’s full of frustration, and it’s also characterized by impermanence, anitya, and by non-entityness, anātman. That means that no thing exists independently: every thing is a thing only in relation to everything else, therefore there are no separate things, no real selves or souls or egos. And trying to cling to the world—which is necessarily changing—trying to have a separate self and to protect it, all these things are tṛ́ṣṇā. They are the cause of duḥkha.
So the teachers, having said this, then the student comes back and says, “Well, how do I get rid of tṛ́ṣṇā? If tṛ́ṣṇā, desire, is the cause of suffering, couldn’t I get rid of desire so as not to suffer?” And the teacher says, “Well, you try!” And this, then, is the first part of the discipline: to try not to desire, to calm your mind, to practice centering, to practice getting rid of all—what they call kleśa: “disturbing thoughts,” “distractions,” “evil passions,” “immoderate appetites,” and come to upekṣā, or “equanimity of mind.”
And so the student practices that. And this is a very difficult and arduous discipline, and all the time he sees the teacher watching him of the slightly sour expression on his face. And he knows, of course—or thinks he knows—that the teacher is fully aware of his inmost thoughts. Because, you know, it’s the Indian way: they go to meeting with the teacher and the teacher sits under a tree and smokes a cigarette or a pipe or something, and all the students sit around cross-legged, and they they meditate. And sometimes the teacher meditates. And they can see him occasionally looking at them like this, you know, and they think “Uh-oh! Teacher knows what I’m thinking.” Because he has the power of infinite vision, you see, and all-seeingness. And this bugs them completely. Because, you see: you remember how it was in school when you were trying to do something, and the teacher walked around and looked over your shoulder? It puts you off completely. And so the Hindu teacher, or the Buddhist teacher, deliberately puts his students off.
And finally he raises in their minds an insoluble problem: that if you are trying to stop desire so that you will not suffer, aren’t you still desiring to stop desire? Or the students may very well find that out for themselves, and they say to the teacher: “But how are we to stop desire when we’re desiring to stop desire?” So then the teacher can engage them in an extremely marvelous trap—which is to say, he can play it in a number of different directions. One direction is to say: “Well, don’t try to stop all desire, but try to stop as much desire as you can stop.” You see where this is going to go. Then they’re going to say: “Well, I’m a little excessive about desiring to stop desire.” Well, if you’re naturally excessive about it he says: “Try to be as slightly excessive as you can,” you see?
Now do you see what’s leading here? If you follow that course, you are being brought to center in the same way as I demonstrated before: you are being brought to yourself, to accept yourself as you are here and now, totally. But you can’t do that directly. Because if you try to accept yourself, you will always find that in yourself there is a spirit of the non-acceptance of things. And you have to accept that. So the teacher would say: “Don’t try to accept yourself more than you can accept yourself. Accept yourself as much as you can accept yourself.” Because then, you see, you are also accepting the part of you that doesn’t accept. Or he may try, on another tack, he may say: “Alright now, if you’ve seen that desiring not to desire is simply another form of desire”—you’re trying, for example, to get rid of your sensuous appetites. You are going to give up booze and women and pate de foie gras, or whatever it may be. And you then think, “Well, now, yes this I must do.”
And eventually you find that you are becoming proud of your success in mastering your appetites, and you’re beginning to depend on that. So the teacher says, “Do you see you’re in the same trap as you always were? Formerly, you sought spiritual security in booze and women and so on. Now you’re seeking it in holiness. Formerly, you bound yourself with chains of iron. Now you’re bound with chains of gold. Formerly, you boasted to all the boys how many sins you committed. Now you’re boasting before the Lord of how many virtues you have. Same trap. Why do you do it?” So the student eventually finds there’s no way at all to not desire. Even desiring not to desire is desiring. Even trying to accept one’s self is a way of trying to escape from one’s self. Because one hopes psychotherapeutically that, by accepting yourself, you will get rid of your nasty symptoms. So you’re not accepting them. You’re not accepting them by the gimmick, by the pretense, of trying to accept them. So this is the way in which the dialogue of Buddhism begins to work.
And as it progresses step by step—let me try and show you a little bit more how it works, because I’m shortening it enormously in order to give you an outline of the whole thing. What is going on between the teacher and the student, the Buddha and his disciples, is not merely a dialogue. There is the verbal dialogue, yes. That goes on. But also, spread over a long period of time and in the intervals, the students are practicing meditations. They are making efforts to control their minds and emotions, and practicing those things which are the Buddhist equivalents of yoga. So that, in parallel to the intellectual discussion, there is going on a total devotion of one’s whole being to a quest—morning, noon, and night. And so, you see, this works up to a very considerable psychic alertness. It makes the student put a very considerable psychic investment in the task.
And as he goes on, you see, he becomes more and more frustrated. Because as the trap closes and he finds that it’s impossible to do the right thing, because the right thing is always done for the wrong reason—when the wrong man uses the right means the right means work in the wrong way. You see? There is something you could do to attain liberation—or as the Christian would say: union with God—if you could do it. But the Christian would say: by reason of original sin you can’t, because through original sin everybody is basically selfish, and you can’t be unselfish for a selfish reason. But you have only selfish reasons. So to him that hath shall be given. But, of course, he doesn’t need it. From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Poor fellow! What is he to do?
So, you see, in this way the teacher closes a trap on the student where he finds himself completely impotent. Not only can he not do anything that will bring about his salvation, he is also unable not to do anything. One might say: you must do nothing, you must be completely passive. But you can’t do that, because the moment you try to be passive you’re doing something. So you get into the state which they call in Zen Buddhism a mosquito biting and iron bull—or as we would say in our Western idiom: the state when the irresistible force meets the immovable object. Where something must be done but simply cannot be done. And in this state of maximum frustration there is an opportunity to understand the situation. To understand that I—the meaning of the state “I cannot do, I cannot not do”—the meaning of this state is that the separate I which you thought yourself to be is an illusion. That’s why it cannot do and why it cannot not do.
You see, what is our I, our ego? Some time in the development of man—maybe 3,000–4,000–5,000 years ago—we developed self-consciousness in a peculiar way. We began to realize that, by directed thought, we could control our environment. And then it was, you see, that we had a sense of responsibility Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that there was a time when nobody deliberated. They did exactly what they felt like. When you were hungry, you ate. When you were thirsty, you drank. When you were angry, you hit something. When you were happy, you danced. But you never stopped to think what was the right thing to do. You just trusted your intuition, your instincts, your unconscious, or whatever it might be called. Well that was great, because nobody worried. Nobody had any problems when it was like that. See, a baby is in the same situation today.
Now, maybe you were unsuccessful. Maybe the thing you did spontaneously was absolutely the wrong thing, and the tiger ate you up. Well, that was alright. Because it really doesn’t matter if the tiger eats you up so long as you weren’t spending your previous time worrying about it. See, everybody dies. And if you die—CLUNK—like that, that’s that. You don’t spend all your life before you die worrying about death. You don’t spend all your time before you get sick worrying about getting sick. And when, you see, you move on that level of unpremeditated spontaneous behavior, that’s the golden age. And the reason people look back with nostalgia to the golden age is because that was the time of irresponsibility. But when people began to see that they could provide for the future, and that they could look after things, and take care, and direct everything—immediately, anxiety came into the world.
See, that was the fall of man. Because then, the moment you start doing that, you begin to think: now, having thought this question through and decided that such and such is the right thing to do, have I thought it over carefully enough? Now, that’s a real bugaboo of a question! You know, you go out of the house and you wonder: did I turn off the gas stove? I think I did. But on the other hand, I’m not quite sure. Let’s go back and see. So, having gone about five blocks, you walk back. Yes you did turn it off. So you go out again. And you wonder again: now, I wonder if I really looked, or whether I was so keen on finding out that I did turn it off that some sort of wishful thinking perverted my consciousness, and whether I hadn’t better check that I really did look properly. You see? Well, this way you never get away. You’re trapped.
So this, you see, is the problem of all self-conscious beings. They feel responsibility, then they feel responsible for being responsible, and responsible for being with responsible for being responsible. And there’s no end to it. So then, in this obscure way, everybody wants to get back to the golden age. But they say, “If I just acted as I felt and was completely spontaneous, goodness only knows what would happen!” Jesus, you see, said to do that. He did! And everybody reads it in the King James Bible, where it means nothing:
Take no thought for the morrow
What ye shall eat, what ye shall drink,
And wherewithal ye shall be clothed.
Consider the lilies of the field; how they grow.
They toil not, neither do they spin.
But I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory
Was not arrayed like one of these.
Now, if God so clothed the grass of the field,
Which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven,
Shall he not much more clothe you, oh ye of little faith?
Oh, I mean, it sounds lovely read in church. But what it says—everybody says, “Uh, uh, uh, uh! No! That’s the Sermon on the Mount, and that’s not practical. Nobody can do that. That may be for a few saints, but after all, in our practical life as practicing Christians in the modern world, we can’t do that kind of thing.”
Well, isn’t that funny! Why can’t you do it? I mean, that’s the real reason for saying it in the first place. Jesus said many very strange things. For example, in the parable of the Pharisee in the Publican: how the Pharisee goes up into the front row and says how good he is, and that he has fulfilled all his obligations and paid the tithes. And then there’s this publican who goes into the back and sits there and beats his breast and says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus says, “Now, that man was the right man. He was justified.” But the moment he’s told that story, everybody creeps into the back row and says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” And they’re all in the front row again. Nobody can do it, you see? That’s why the story is told.
In the same way, he says: “Take no thought for the morrow”—stop being anxious! Like going to a psychiatrist and he says to you, “Oh, don’t worry. Stop being nervous.” Can you? See, nobody can. And also, they find out, you see, that really, in the end, nobody can be God, nobody can make life any better by being responsible about it. Because whatever you gain in that direction, you lose at the same time. By being responsible we’ve created civilization, medicine, care of the poor—everything. But what a headache the thing has become. As we solve all our problems, we make more problems. Every problem you solve gives you ten new problems. I’m not saying don’t do that, but don’t think you’re going to get anywhere by doing that. That’s one way of arranging it—that’s one kind of dance you can have—is to improve everything and have technology. But it doesn’t really solve anything. And it’s only in the moment, you see, when you fully understand that your situation as a human being is completely insoluble—that there is no answer, and that you give up looking for the answer—that’s whew! That’s nirvāṇa. And that’s how Buddhism works.
In the first session last night I was making two principal points about the nature of Buddhism. Number one: that it’s a dharma, or method, and its method is a dialogue—or what is sometimes called dialectic. It is basically a conversation, a dialogue, the beginning of which is not necessarily at all the same thing as the end. The reason is that the discovery which constitutes the foundation of Buddhism—the experience of awakening—can’t be stated. Or at least, if it can be stated, it can’t be stated in such a way that the mere statement will communicate the experience to somebody else. The experience itself is the culmination of an adventure, and one has to go through that adventure in order to come to it.
I’ve sometimes tried to describe this adventure as a reductio ad absurdum of one’s own false views through a process wherein the teacher makes you act consistently upon your false views, so that you come to find out experimentally that they are false. And indeed, one might say Buddhism has nothing to teach. Nothing whatever. All it has to do is to get rid of illusions, and then the experience happens when the illusions are gone, just like the sun comes out when the clouds go away. But if you try to manufacture the sun before the clouds have gone away—you see what I mean?—and you paint the sun on this side of the clouds, it’s not the real sun. So, in this way, the speculation as such, ideation as such, does not lead to the awakening experience. So then, this was the first point, then: that it’s a dialogue. And from the statements about Buddhism that you can read in books you will discover only the opening phases of the dialogue.
One of the methods that’s used in this respect—people say, now Buddhism teaches that all things are subject to change. Nothing is permanent. Now, that isn’t exactly what Buddhism teaches. A more subtle scholar will tell you that the Buddha taught that the world is impermanent in order to counteract the wrong view that it’s permanent. And Buddhist teachers always work in oppositions. If a person asks you a question about philosophical matters, you should reply in terms of everyday matters. “What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?” “I have just finished washing the saucepans.” Or the other way around: if a person asks you a worldly question, you answer with a philosophical one. “Please, will you pass me the knife?” And so the teacher passes it blade first. “Please, I want the other end.” “What would you do with the other end?” You see? Here, the metaphysics comes in in answer to the practical question. And so, once, when R. H. Blyth—who was a great Zen student—was asked by some students: “Do you believe in God?” he replied, “If you do, I don’t. If you don’t, I do.”
So when anything, then, is taught, it’s taught in order to counteract something. You see, the Buddha taught that there was no self, and scholars have debated eternally whether he meant there was no ego in the sense of the superficial “I” centered on consciousness alone, or whether he taught that there is no self in the more classical Hindu sense of the Ātman—that is to say: the ultimate self, the divine, final reality which is in everybody, which is the root and ground of all consciousness everywhere. And some people, you see, have thought that he denied that. Well, he may very well have done so—but with the idea, you see, of correcting something. If you see a person believes that his basic self is divine and eternal and beyond all vicissitude, he may be believing that very wrong reasons. He may be believing in it as something to cling to, to give him a sense of security. But so long as you have a sense of security and you feel safe, you haven’t got the point. Because it means you are still relying on something.
And a Buddha is a man who doesn’t depend on anything. Not because he’s so tough and he’s so strong. When you get a tough guy who says, “I’m not afraid of anything,” you try him out and you’ll soon find he has limits. Everybody has his price, if you try hard enough. It isn’t, you see, a question of being strong in the sense of tough, it’s a question of knowing very clearly that there isn’t anything to depend on. So you don’t depend on things anymore. The only thing to depend on is what you really are. But that’s not something you can hang onto, you see? You can’t catch hold of that. You don’t need to. The sun doesn’t need to shine a light on the sun.
So by the exploration of the dialectic, the teacher—by talking this way, and talking that way—completely undermines you. That is to say: he digs out all the dirt from underneath you. And you drop, or think you do, because you’re used to having the Earth there. But when you’re in fully empty space, there’s nowhere to drop. That’s why people get such a marvelous feeling when they go skin-diving and they get down below thirty feet or so and start to lose all sense of weight, or when astronauts go out and start to lose weight in the middle of their space bubbles. You know what’s going to happen? All those boys are going to get out there and they’re not going to want to come back. This is just great! That’s what happens to skin divers, you see? If they didn’t have automatic controls on those things, they’re not too certain of getting the man back. Because when people go down skin diving and they stay down too long—see, you have to have a watch with you, or someone with a string on you, or something, to know exactly when you’ve got to make the trip back. You may have oxygen to last you a long time, but you’re going to go out of your mind. Because you will suddenly realize that nothing matters, that everything is okay. I mean… so what? Supposing I do die? And people take off their oxygen masks and present it to a fish; say, “Have a drag!” They’re so happy, you see? So you know the famous story when Suzuki was asked, “What is it like to have satori?” He said, “Well, it’s just like ordinary everyday experience, except about two inches off the ground.”
So there is this peculiar thing—a sense of, you might say, weightlessness—but you mustn’t interpret that too literally. Some people interpret it so literally that they believe great mystics levitate. I remember when I was a little boy, there was a famous Dean in England. His name was Ralph W. Inge. “Ing,” I think it’s pronounced. And he wrote many books on Plotinus and mysticism. And one day he came to Canterbury Cathedral and was sitting in the choir stall, and I was sitting right near him, and I noticed that all the time he was doing this. He had this tick, you know? But people said it was because he was always about to levitate, and he had to keep himself pressed down.
So that levitation, you see, is something in mystical experience, like a sense of luminosity or a sense of transparency. It’s very common. There are two visions of the world, you see, that painters have had in history. There is the vision of—let’s say in our own Western history—the vision of Giotto, or Fra Angelico, and the vision of Rembrandt. You see, Rembrandt is full of shadows, whereas the other painters are full of luminosity. And then you can get some painters who are not only full of shadows, but their paintings look as if they were all drawn just outside of Fosters Freeze. You know what a Fosters Freeze is? I don’t know if you have them on the East Coast, but you probably have the equivalent. They are places where they sell iced cream custard, and they sell them from a from a glass box which is all it inside with fluorescent light. It’s absolutely blue and cold. And the customers all stand outside the glass box. And on a chilly night, there you see them, all under this ghastly blue light, eating ice cream cones. And the men serve it to them through little windows, like a theater ticket box. And how people can go—that’s my idea of one of the cold hells. But they do. And so there are some paintings, some visions of the world, that look as if they’re seen under that light, so that there is no light within things.
Now, when you see the other painter who sees light in everything, even shadows are full of color. You notice with Picasso’s work how full of light it is. And that’s because the vision of the world of the mystic is always full of light. Only, it isn’t quite literal light. It isn’t as if everything was blazing. Or he may say that everything is transparent. And it doesn’t mean that he can see through your body to the wall, or the other person behind. It means that things are transparent because they’re clear. It has become clear. A problem has disappeared that I thought was a real problem, and now it is clear. I can’t tell you how it’s clear, but it is. And that’s what we’re going to get to in finding out what thusness is. When things are seen in the state of thusness or suchness, they are clear. There is no further problem about them. They are what they are and they do what they do. And if you can really penetrate that—as we shall go into it—you will see the mystery clear up. The mystery clears up when you get to the point that you don’t know what questions to ask anymore. The questions have vanished. The problem has vanished.
Now, aside from the fact that Buddhism is a method, is a dialogue, I explained, too, that it’s a transformation of one’s state of consciousness. That’s what “awakening” means. That is to say, it is a transformation of the way you see things—almost, I could say, the way you sense them. And in this respect I’ve often thought that the process of Buddhism is much more like ophthalmology than it’s like religion. An ophthalmologist is a person who corrects your vision so that you see clearly. And so, in exactly the same way, awakening is to see clearly: a transformation of consciousness. Be careful of the implications that that word may have, because it doesn’t mean necessarily an ecstatic state of affairs, and it doesn’t mean an unnatural or even strange state of affairs. I mean, you could imagine that, if you put on blue glasses, you would for a while see everything looking blue. It isn’t something like that at all. Or it isn’t as if you saw everything in a different way. Like, you suddenly put on the eyes of a fly, you see, and suddenly everything became multiple. You saw this room of the people in it hundreds of times all at once. It isn’t something like that. It’s just that everything is the way it always was, except it has a completely different meaning. And there is a curious connection between the experience of this and the understanding of it.
First of all, there are really three steps in this kind of understanding. You might say there is, in the first place, an intellectual comprehension; the getting of an idea. And what sort of idea do I mean? Let’s take, for example, the idea of a third dimension: to be aware of depth. If you look at things with one eye only, you see, you don’t see depth. But if you look with two eyes, then the dimension of depth appears. And once you, though, have understood depth, though you can see depth—for example, I don’t look at things with two eyes at once. I look either with my left eye or with my right eye, and I don’t have binocular vision. But I still see depth because I understand it to be there. And as a result of understanding it to be there, I see it—if I understand clearly. I couldn’t understand the nature of depth if I was just told, looking at things, that they have two dimensions. But if I make an exploration and I handle the thing, and I understand what a third dimension is, then I understand it more thoroughly. I’m quite clear about it. And then, as a result of being clear about it, I see it.
Now, in the same way, people did one time actually see (believe it or not) the crystal spheres in which the planets were supported. We would say: how did they see it if it was transparent? Well, they saw it. They knew it was up there. And it was there for all to see because, naturally, you can always see through crystal. It’s clear. You see, people really think like that! And they see things if they’re hypnotized into seeing them.
Now then, if you take the suggestion away, then they won’t [interruption] anymore. Or conversely, if you have the idea of a number system which is only 1, 2, 3, many, nobody can see four things. They will see something that other people call four, but they won’t see four, they will just see many. And four will be as many as five. They might begin, then, to have a concept of a “little many” and a “big many” and a “middle many.” That’s three again. They won’t be able to get “little many,” “not so little many,” “rather large many,” “very big many.” See, they won’t be able to do that so long as their number system is 1, 2, 3, many. So then, it can never be a fact for such a person that a room has four corners. It has many corners, or else three. But once you’ve got the idea of “four,” then you can see that it has four corners. When I see the sun rising, I know that the sun isn’t moving but the Earth is turning. One has traveled enough in aeroplanes to see that for one’s self. And the the question, now, is this: if someone believes that the sun is rising and the Earth is still, when he looks at the sun rise, is he seeing the same thing I’m seeing? I don’t think he is. Because my seeing has an entirely different interpretation on it than his seeing. So what you understand also determines what you see.
So that’s what’s meant by—in dhyana yoga in India—a method of awakening through intellectual mind, through intellectual understanding. People say you can’t get it intellectually. That’s partly true, but only partly true. That means, first of all—well, for example, the old Hindu saying that you cannot get wisdom through books is as I explained. Because it’s a dialogue. But also it’s because the books that exist are only notes. In other words, all the sacred books are nothing more than memoranda, just like the notation of Hindu music is only a memorandum, it’s not something you follow. It’s a reminder of a certain raga, or theme, and then you play it and improvise on it. So, in the same way, all the aphorisms in the yoga sutras or the verses of the of the Gita, and so on, they’re notes. Little jottings. And then the teacher will explain them.
So when something is understood very thoroughly by the thinking mind, it will eventually become a sensation because you really understand it, you see. So that—I’m saying all this as a basis for seeing—that when Buddhism envisages the character and the consciousness of the highest form of man (which it calls bodhisattva), it is not somebody who’s out of this world. It’s not somebody who is in a state of some weird ecstasy, or somebody who sees everything kind of full of angels, as we might expect in the ordinary way; anything like that. Real angels, gods, and so on, are very different from what you might suppose in the imagery.
You can find out, for example, that the dust is full of gods if you really look at dust, and that the pores of your skin contain many universes. And that’s marvelous, you see? That’s to see that things are full of gods. But you’re still not seeing anything different from the ordinary things you see, but you’ve got a different understanding of it. So, having a different understanding, you’re nevertheless the same world, same everyday life, same everything going on that everybody else has. The understanding, in other words, is not away from this everyday kind of experience we’re having now.
So there’s the bodhisattva. And this is an extraordinarily important vision for the whole of Asia. Why? Because there was always a tendency in Asian spirituality to want to go away. That’s very understandable, because when life is rough and there are terrible plagues and wars and hunger and diseases, a lot of people would think, “Oh, enough is enough is enough! And if this is going to go on and on, if we’re going to be reincarnated back and back into this mess, isn’t there some way of getting out?” So, in that way, you can lose all interest in everyday life.
For example, supposing you are a drunk—a really serious, dedicated drunk—and lots of people are. They want out. And they couldn’t care less whether they have no money, whether they’re going to die, or whether they’re dead, just so long as they can stay out. Now, you might say as we look at people like that: “Well, that’s very sad. It’s terrible. Look, they’re wasting their lives!” But from their point of view they’re not. They’re living the real out life they want to live. Or a person may be an opium addict, you see, and he would be in his special paradise. And you say, “Well isn’t that terrible!” Or, “He wants out.” And from his point of view, as he looks at it, it’s perfectly alright because he thinks the people who are pursuing those ends which are considered virtuous and practical, he thinks they’re out of their minds! Why do all that? Why do you have to go on struggling and struggling and struggling to keep alive? What do you think that that’s going to give you? You see? So he feels it doesn’t matter if it ends sooner or if it ends later. Time is an illusion. In his state of consciousness he can make a tiny little bit of time into a long, long time. He can experience a hundred years in an afternoon or longer. And some people think, you see, that you might have immortality through the fact that, in the moment of your death, your sense of time gets longer and longer and longer and longer and longer and longer. So that, although from the standpoint of an outside observer (who is not in your state of consciousness )it looks as if you’re having your head cut off in a hurry, from your standpoint that lasts forever because of the alteration of your time rhythm. See how slippery philosophy can be?
And so people can think all these things, and they can get lost, and there was always a tendency in Oriental culture to do that. And from our point of view, that’s a bad thing. Well, from, say, the Chinese point of view, also, it was a bad thing. The Chinese are very practical. And they believed in the family, and in having children, and husbands, and wives, and in industriousness, and in the building, and in arts, and in cultivating the soil by very ingenious methods. And so there was a special appeal to them in the idea of the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva, you see, is not like the extremely contemplative private Buddha. You won’t find a bodhisattva sitting all day under a tree in a state of rapt absorption, so that anybody who comes up and knocks on him won’t get an answer. He’ll be like everybody else, or he will look like everybody else, because he will see that this everyday world, too, is it; this no special, nothing special world.
Misty rain on Mount Lu,
Waves surging at Che-chiang.
When you have not been there,
No rest from the pain of longing.
But you go there and come back—
It was nothing special.
Misty rain on Mount Lu,
Surging waves at Che-chiang.
This isn’t meant, you see, to debunk it and say, “Well, after all, it was a nasty baby anyhow. It only died to spite us.” It isn’t a kind of thing—“Oh, it was nothing,” like that. In the idea of “nothing special” (or buji) there is a way of saying: “But look at ordinariness! Look what you miss every moment!” And, you see, that sort of attitude underlies tea ceremony, where a very great appreciation exists of the very simplest kinds of utensils, rooms, architecture, and so on.
There was a very great sage who lived far off in the mountains behind Kyoto, and an American student had great desire to see him. And he made all sorts of inquiries to find this man. At last found the way to the hermitage, but then it was very difficult to get there. But he did finally find the old man out, and came and said, “How do you do?” And they talked. And the old man was delighted that the foreign student should have taken all that trouble, and should show such good understanding of these things, that he served him tea ceremony with nothing but hot water—no tea, see? And the American student was delighted! He realized that this man had paid him a real compliment. So that’s buji, you see. That’s nothing special.
Now then, generally speaking, as we look at the whole field of Buddhism, the idea of the bodhisattva—that is to say, the idea of realizing the enlightened state in terms of everyday life—is characteristic of the Mahāyāna school of the north. North Asia. Whereas, the Theravāda (or sometimes Hīnayāna) school of South Asia still has its emphasis on the idea of getting away, still very much concentrates on the ideal of the monkish life which is celibate and away from all everydayness, all attachment, all kinds of worldly responsibility. And so those monks in their yellow robes are very much a people apart. In the Mahāyāna, on the other hand, although there are monks, they aren’t monks quite in the sense of the Southern school. I mean, it’s like a Roman Catholic priest is not supposed to marry, but an Episcopalian priest may. So, in that sense, the southern monks are like Roman Catholic monks and the northern monks are like Anglican clergy—something like that. Except that they have a rule that if they do live in a monastery, they mayn’t take wives in there. And likewise, the nuns mayn’t have husbands in there. But if they live apart, in a temple, a priest may have a wife. Because they see no fundamental inconsistency between the state of deeply illuminated consciousness and living in some kind of affectionate human community and society.
So therefore, for that reason, through Mahāyāna, through the idea of the bodhisattva, Buddhism was able to exercise an enormous influence upon the everyday life of the Far East to express itself through artforms that were by no means stereotyped, not merely iconographic and stylized. Buddhism in the Far East expressed itself through naturalistic art forms. And so it’s an extraordinary thing. But, you see, the religious painting of China—insofar as it is influenced by Zen Buddhism—very rarely has a religious subject. When you would say: what is Christian art? Well, you would recognize that there are certain great schools and styles. You would say you would associate Romanesque architecture with Christianity; certainly Gothic architecture. You would associate early Italian painting or a great deal of Russian painting with Christianity. Peculiarly. But Christian art, you see, always seems to have for its subject matter the Christ, the saints, the angels, the incidents in the lives of the saints, their martyrdoms, and so on and so forth.
But it’s inconceivable to get the idea—is it?—that a still life which might have been painted by a Christian is a form of Christian art when all that’s in it is a few apples on the table. A case could be made for that idea, but it hasn’t been made. It’s never really occurred to someone to express Christianity through that sort of method. Oh, it’s true that there has been a symbolism. The grapes and the wheat represent the sacrament, the mass. That lilies represent something, and so on and so forth. But this is purely symbolic. It wouldn’t occur for Christian art that the fine painting of a used ashtray with a piece of torn paper beside it could possibly be Christian art unless it was propaganda against being dirty, or something like that. See? But for the Far East, a painting of an old rock with some grass growing beside it can most definitely be Buddhist art. Because that painting of the rock is concerned with suchness, and just as much so as any painting of Buddhas and their halos, and golden jewelries, and flowers, and lotuses, and all like kind of thing.
So, likewise, when this school of painting paints Buddhas and bodhisattvas it makes them look like ordinary people. Even a little bit—to get the point over—little bit more than ordinary. That is to say: tramps, bums, clowns—you know, this fellow. This is Hotei, or Budai in Chinese, and he is a fat slob. But he goes around with an enormous bag, patched and so on, and he collects trash. He collects everything that nobody wants. See, There are ordinary people who’re always out for precious things. But Budai is out for rubbish. And he collects all this rubbish, and he gives it away to children—who love it! See? Well, this is a way, you see. This is true. This man is sometimes called the fat or laughing Buddha. And he is a fat Buddha. But the only clue that he is a Buddha is his big ears, because that means he can hear right through everything, see? He can hear the ultimate sound in everybody’s voice.
Now, that’s a very important trick. If you listen to me talking, you may try to make sense of the words. But actually, in the sense of the words that I’m saying isn’t the content of what I’m trying to explain. The content of what I’m trying to explain can be heard in the sound of my voice. And in order to listen to that properly, you have to go beyond its meaning. For example, if you say the word “yes,” and then say it again—yes, yes, yes, yes, yes—it becomes a very funny word. And you think: why did we use that funny noise “yes” to mean “yes?” Or you might see somebody sitting like this, you know—imagine this is on a movie, and the man just sitting there for a while, and then suddenly he goes… he shrugs his shoulders. That’s a normal enough gesture. It might mean he was just puzzled. But as he’s going on, say, he does… and you wonder: “What’s the matter? He’s got a tick?” Suddenly, you see, the gesture begins to lose meaning. [???] Well, you have to have big ears to get that, you see?
So it’s through that you know he hears all sounds as being just songs. Of course, he can hear meaning in them, too—when they have meaning. But fundamentally underlying the meaning he hears just the sound. And this is something you get to if you go to a foreign country, and you don’t understand the language, and you see all the people talking, and you notice things that they don’t notice about themselves because they get absorbed in the meaning of what they’re saying. And so they don’t notice the fascinating aspect of the perfectly meaningless side of their behavior.
But at any rate, the whole approach, the whole result, of the bodhisattva doctrine in the art of the Far East is to create what the Spiegelberg has called the religion of non-religion: where the religion became so perfect that it left no trace. It’s like when you build a house, you erect scaffolding. When you finish, you take the scaffolding away. And you wonder (if you’d never seen a house being built) how on earth the builders got up so high. So, in the same way, the ancient idea of Buddhism is that Buddhism is a ferryboat. And it’s designed to take you across the stream from this shore (which is saṃsāra; the rat race) to the other shore (which is nirvāṇa). When you get on the other side, you get off the ferry. See? A ferryboat goes back to bring the next party over. But if you stay on the ferryboat, that means, you see, you’re in love with the ferryboat, and you’re in danger of becoming a religious maniac. And people do that, you see. You know how it is. You’ve probably had that experience. People who join a church and then become fascinated with all the things that go with church. They like Bibles—not just for what’s in them, but the smell of a Bible, the appearance of the Bible has something something holy and numinous about it. And they like crucifixes. Now, a crucifix is a pretty grisly object: a corpse nailed on beams. But they get jeweled crucifixes. Beautiful works of art; enameled, gorgeous things. And people with a great religious feeling love to think of those things, you see? And Buddhists, too, do that. They like their rosaries and their Buddha images and the smell of incense. And they get a kind of churchification. The French have a wonderful word for those goods. They call them the bondieuserie. And it’s a little difficult to translate. Literally: “Good God-ery.” That le bon dieu, you know? Everybody’s who’s sentimental always says le bon dieu. The old lady is always talking about le bon dieu. And so people say, you know—people who’ve got church on the brain—le bon dieu. So all these stores sell bondieuserie.
Now, while this, you see, is in its own way understandable, the whole point is that, in the supremes state of understanding, you get rid of bondieuserie altogether. That’s the religion of no religion, see? You don’t even have any beliefs. The whole creed, everything, is utterly surpassed. That means you’ve left the ferryboat and you’ve gone on on the other shore. You don’t carry the ferryboat with you. And so this religion of no religion is very pure, very transparent. It’s called—like the salt in water, like the glue in color, or in ink, you see. Stick ink that the Chinese make has glue in it to hold it together. But you can’t see the glue. It’s all solid black all the way through, and the glue isn’t observable. So the salt isn’t observable in water.
In this way, you see, religion is being used as a medicine and not as a diet. The dharma is—to use a Zen expression—it’s like picking up a brick to knock at somebody’s door, and when the door opens, you don’t carry the brick into the house. So a person, you see, who has much religion has what is called in Zen a “Zen stink.” And that’s considered rather bad. A rather specially bad smell. And one of the Zen poems says:
To know your original mind, your essential nature,
That is the great disease of our religion.
Of our school, see? So people who have this thing, who have Zen—and you can say, “Well, that fellow’s a Buddhist.” And he has this special thing he has, you know? It’s like those of us who have the disadvantage of our eyes not being quite good; we have to wear spectacles. And this nuisance you carry around with you all over the place, gadgets you have to fix on you. Or people who belong, like clergy, to a religious order, have to go around in funny clothes. And the rabbi who has a beautiful beard, but he will wear a beastly black homburg hat, which is so unnatural, you see? And so they have this apparatus. In a way, they’re like people with artificial legs, crutches, and so on. So it isn’t something that’s worked; it isn’t working like a medicine. Because if a medicine works, you get rid of it. If a doctor successful, he gets rid of his patients.
And so, in exactly this way, suchness is an attempt to say something which can’t be said. It is trying to say: the world just as it is, you see, that’s what we’re trying to show you to look at. We’re not trying to drag in some fancy apparatus from above, some special system which has got to be imposed on you, all kinds of gods and complicated people you’ve got to believe in. We’re not going to fill your brains with a lot of new stuff. But instead, come to the clarity of seeing things just the way they are. The trouble is, when somebody said to a Zen master, “The lines of the hills and the clouds, are not all these the body of Buddha?” He said, “Yes, but it’s a pity to say so.” And so even to have to say, “Look, that!” See? It’s just a little bit too much. Just a little bit too much. It would be more admirable if I didn’t have to say anything, didn’t have to point out a thing. But, after all, one does have to make some concessions to folly.
This morning I was discussing various aspects of what might be called the religion of no religion; considering religion as a raft for crossing a river—or rather, religion in the sense of dharma, not so much the doctrine as the method—considering it as the raft for crossing a river, as the brick for knocking at a door, as a medicine to cure a sickness—which, when it’s worked, you get rid of. And I was showing you that this, in the Far East, culminated in a type of life, a way of life, where to some very large extent the outward symptoms of religiousness disappear, especially in the art forms, where the icon ceases to be the figure of the holy person, or the deity, or whatever, and becomes simply a flowering branch, a rock, flowing water, clouds, birds, and funny little old men.
You know, a curious thing goes on in the whole world of religious practice, and that is: the older a religion gets, the more the distance of time lends such eminence to its original founders that they become superhumanized, and the practice of the religion that they founded becomes sort of derived of power. It just sinks into going through the motions. Because people say, “Well, we’re living in a decadent age. In the past there were these great heroes who did all these marvelous things. Buddha and Jesus and Confucius and all their great followers. But today, everybody’s rotten and nobody can expect to get more than a little way.”
I had a friend who went to India. He was an astonishing fellow, because he was earnest. He would do anything. He was full of the power of self-discipline. And he put himself under an Indian master who came to this country in the first place, and he became a vegetarian, and he practiced yoga every day, and he was determined to get that thing. So finally, his teacher told him the best place he could go to in India. And off he went, and he joined a yoga school. There was a whole faculty, and everybody was practicing yoga, and he was so earnest and he was so devoted that, within four weeks, he could do everything that the other students could do. And they’d been there maybe two or three years. And so, when he got to that, he mastered all the physical postures and the breathing exercises and the concentration exercises. And so he said to one of the older students, “Now, what about real samadhi? Do you get that around here?” And the student said, “No, none of us have got it yet. You better ask the teachers.” So he began asking around the members of the faculty: “What about samadhi? Do you get this?” Well, they said, “No, not yet.” “Well,” he said, “I’m willing to spend any amount of time here. I don’t have to get back. I have just enough funds to get by. And so I’m willing to do anything you tell me; to practice with all my heart. Do any of you have samadhi?” And they said, “Well, no, not yet.” “Does anybody? Can you direct me to someone who does have it?” “Well,” they said, “About 125 years ago there was someone who was really considered to have had it.” And so then he began to think: why is it, then, that when the members of the faculty come out of their meditation period, they all look as if they’d just had a good sleep? You see? There begins to, always, grow up the concept of a golden age. “Our forefathers, they really knew how to do it. But today everything’s falling apart.” Do you know people have been saying that for centuries? There is an Egyptian text on the panels of some pyramid, temple, or whatnot, 6,000 years old, in which an Egyptian priest is complaining that everybody’s falling apart.
So the lesson of this is: everybody here has just as much capacity as Buddha had. Nobody—who was Buddha’s teacher? Think about that. Who psychoanalyzed Freud? Somebody has to start. And so everybody has the potentiality of being the first one. So I call this problem the distance of excessive reverence. It has the disadvantage, you see, of making all these problems that we’re discussing—and states of consciousness that I’ve been talking about—it makes them seem impossibly remote, as if they were something attainable only by a very, very favored few. And that’s a very frustrating attitude to get.
We were discussing this morning the sense that people have when they read Zen literature that the thing is just around the corner, and just almost was on it. See, that’s a much more healthy attitude than that, “Oh, this thing will require many, many years of practice.” Now, it so often turns out, you know, that the person who feels that it’s just ’round the corner will feel this way for many years. Only, he won’t be put off by the idea of many, many years’ work yet to do. But in the feeling that it’s always almost instantly available, his interest will be maintained for an extraordinarily long time. Thinking of how much work there is to be done just puts some people out of commission. You know, you’ve got to answer a lot of letters, and they’ve stacked up and stacked up and stacked up. It’s an appalling pile. And eventually everything gets so complicated that you’re inclined to take the whole bunch of correspondence and throw it in the fire. But if you have to answer it for some reason or other, you can only answer it one letter at a time. Same way with washing dishes: when they pile up on the drying board, and you get this mountain of dishes, and you think: “Oh, I’ve got to go through that! I’ve done it before, I’ve got to do it again this afternoon. And for year in, year out, I can see all those dishes I’ve got to wash in the future.” And lo and behold, the pile of dishes on the draining board grows higher and higher in your mind’s eye, until it’s absolutely overwhelming. And you say, “Well, maybe some super dishwasher, some kitchen maid of the past who was a great hero, would undertake this sort of life. But poor little me. I can’t do that sort of thing.” Whereas the only way to wash them is one by one, as if each one was the only one you had to wash. That’s obvious.
So don’t be discouraged by this attitude that you find so commonly among Asian peoples in their feeling about Buddhism and Hinduism; that it’s something so great that it’s only cut out for a very few super-men. Don’t let that put you off. It may be true, statistically, when you review the vast, vast multitude of human beings that there are. But so, likewise, from a statistical point of view, this group of you gathered here, and maybe some comparable group started around the country in various places, constitute a tiny, tiny fragment of the total population. And I suppose some external observer could say of you: “Rare, rare indeed are the people who are interested enough in all this to give it a weekend’s thought, even.” But from your own subjective standpoint, you’re not a statistic. You’re not one of a special, elect few, such that you’ve joined a secret society and have become self-conscious about it. You may be, from a certain point of view, one of an elect few. But fro your own point of view you’re just your own direct, perfectly straightforward self, with no particular claims to fame or whatever it may be. So don’t be put off by the distance of excessive reverence when it comes to all these things.
Well, now, I want to take a further step in getting across the idea of thusness. I made already some mention of looking at words as if they were things that had no meaning, but were just noises—but interesting noises, just as the shape of a leaf is an interesting shape. Now consider, first of all, the shape of a leaf. It’s something that goes like this, you see. And it’s green, you know, and it floats on the tree. And is a method whereby the tree absorbs moisture. And there are all sorts of people who will want to say to you: “You see, a leaf is a very rational thing. It exists so that the tree can absorb moisture.” And they can go on describing it, and you see all the wonderful ways in which this little leaf works as a kind of moisture-absorbing, breathing thing. And you say, “Yes! By Jove, isn’t that great! That’s very rational. Marvelous thing a tree is.” And yet, when you consider that the object of the leaf is to absorb certain things that are necessary for the maintenance of the tree, then you must ask the next question—look at the tree as a whole, standing there, bushy and bright—and you say, “Well, what’s that for?” I mean, what purpose is served by the tree? “Well,” people say, “it has something to do with the oxygen in the atmosphere. And if there aren’t any trees around, you see, human beings and higher animals can’t live. They need trees and they need plants.” So, taking it back again, the shape of the leaf, then, is interpreted as having something to do with the maintenance of me. Well naturally, then, that’s very important. It serves a function. It’s a good leaf, see?
But then, let’s ask a few deeper questions. We looked at the tree and said, “You’re an entertaining and funny shape. What are you for?” And it said, “Well, I serve mankind.” Alright, now let’s look at a human being and say, “You’re a funny shape, sitting around here. What on Earth do you think you’re doing?” I mean, you’re surviving, you’re eating things up—but what for? And then you really have to think. “Oh yes! I remember now,” you say. “I’m for the boss. There’s a system going on, and the lower things serve the higher things. And there’s something higher than us. There are angels above us. And then, above all the angels, there’s God. And we serve God.” Oh! And that’s the meaning of human life: to serve God.
Alright, now what’s God for? See? There he is, sitting up in heaven. However you want to interpret God—whether you want to interpret God in a primitive way as an old gentleman, kindly disposed, very powerful, clothed in this guise, upon the golden throne, surrounded by all the angles playing those harps I told you about. You know, the angel’s harp is the entire spectrum of physical possibilities. Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee deeeeeee, you know. From cosmic rays to hard x-rays on the other end, or whatever it is—I’m not a physicist. But that’s the harp of the angel. And the lord God, clothed with this guise, there they all are, sitting, and they’re looking at him and saying, “Well, Lord, you’re the most beautiful thing we ever saw. You’re the answer!” But why? See? What’s he for?
Well, they agree. They sat around there for a long time, and they said, “Really, Lord, we look at you and we decided you aren’t for anything.” You don’t need to be. You don’t serve any purpose—because you’re It. You’re there! You’ve arrived. See? So what do you do when you’re there? What does the Lord do, you see? I mean—I think you’ll understand my figurative language—well, he glows. And everybody sits around that glow and they say, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah, hallelujah! Holy, holy, holy! Lord God of hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of thy glory! Thy glory, thy shekinah, thy jazz!” That’s what it’s all about.
Now, you see, you can derive a lot of things from that. You can say, “Look, everybody”—as if this were God talking—“Look, everybody: I have this big thing going. And I want you to share it. But there are conditions. In order to share it, you must love me. But you can’t love me unless I give you the capacity to do so. But if I give you the capacity to love me, you get at the same time the capacity to hate me, or to love yourself instead.” So from that, you see, we set up a whole pattern of game rules in which you think like this: “Oh dear me,” you know, “I ought to get that thing, that love of God! That’s terribly serious! I ought to get that. Because if I don’t get that, I haven’t made it. I haven’t got the purpose of the whole creation. And that’s terribly difficult to do.”
But what, then, when you get it? What then? Suddenly, the whole thing changes. And it’s no longer this awful kind of thing; will I or won’t I? Am I good or am I guilty? Am I saint or am I sinner? Then, suddenly, at the end of it all, the Christian sees that what he was being invited to, you know, was a party in heaven where they could all sit around and go blee-blwebble-dee-blee-blwoo-blupp-blwebble-bubble-bee-bwlll, like this, because that’s great, you see? The vibrations. You can do it forever. Just like children like to throw stones into a pond and watch the waves go out. Or like birds will sit all through twilight and sing and sing and sing, in no hurry, repeating the same themes, sometimes with subtle little variations and so on. They just sit and they sing.
So, you see, always, when you get down to the bottom of anything and you say, “What’s that for?” “What’s that for?” You’re finally going to get to a point where somebody says, “Well, I just like to make a noise. I can’t explain it. It has no purpose. But I saved my money for years. I bought an insurance policy. I did everything purposively just so that I could finally sit down and make this noise.” Oh, I mean, you may like to smoke cigars and sit in a rocker on a porch, and smell the smell of that smoke, see? You may think that that’s very decadent and that you ought to be working for others, that you ought to be raising funds so that there shouldn’t be anybody underprivileged. And when you’ve raised the funds and you’ve given all that money away to the poor, what are the poor going to do? They’ve got to find some other poor they’re going to work for. But then, when they’ve worked for those and they’re alright, and everybody’s all alright, what are they going to do? Why, they’re going to sit on the porch and then smoke a big cigar!
Now, this has become a serious problem! Because it’s highly possible that we’re entering into an age of automation in which it’s not going to be necessary to work—except, I mean, if you want gravy, it’s going to be, yes. But if you want simply to have the basic necessities for survival, the advanced food, and medicine, and so on that a technological society can produce, you won’t have to do a thing. We will move into an age when all that will be, practically speaking, for free, because the machines will earn the money for us, and we’ll get paid for it. And people will say, “Well, now, a human being (we’ve always felt before), you don’t have any right to live unless you are productive. You must work, you must produce something.” That’s why it’s always been difficult for a literary man. If you’re a farmer, then you know you’re serving the community. If you’re a fisherman, even if you’re a grocer, you know you’re doing something useful. But if you’re a poet, you begin to get a guilty conscience: shouldn’t I have been a farmer? So on.
But always, though, when you follow it through, through, through, through, when the farmer gets the milk to the baby, the baby drinks the milk and goes bleeah, bleeah, bleeah, absorbs this milk and gets bigger. Finally it becomes to be a man. And man does all these things. He gets all this food, and he sends it around, and he makes more people, and he feeds them all. And they say: “Thank you so much for feeding us. We’re doing well.” But he may say, “Well, so what? What’s it all about?” I mean, it looks as if—I’ve sometimes suggested that all we are is an elaborate system of tubes, and the object of these tubes is to put things in at one end and let them out at the other, and enjoy that. Enjoy it so much that you like other tubes, and you make connections with those tubes in such a way that you get more tubes. Now, these tubes have ganglia at each end, the top end, called a brain. And the point of that ganglion is to be a very sensitive, cunning little thing that finds out where there are things to eat. So they keep reproducing each other. And so the whole of life becomes the flow of a stuff through a tube. Get that through, and get it going faster, get more of it going through. Get more of it. And don’t let it foul things up as it goes through. Everything, as it goes through a tube, tends to wear the tube out. So the tube tries not to be worn out by the stuff going through it so as to keep the sensation going on.
Now, the tubes, when they are through with eating and they’re satisfied in that way, they are going to play other games just to keep things interesting. And so, slowly, they invent civilization, and they invent literature and music and painting. And they do all this thing, you see, because when you go off to the evening, you’ve done your day’s work, you’ve eaten your dinner—I hope not out of too much of a sense of duty—well, then what? Well, there are so many things you can do. You can go to the concert, where they will make all kinds of complicated noises. And you’ll say, “My, listen to that!” So that you’ll be able to get that feeling of being astounded. What fantastically complicated noises are made here! Or you go dancing. And when you go dancing, you see, you go jitter-jitter-jitter-jitter-jitter-cha all over the room. See? Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle, jiggle. A complicated jiggle, see? Even beautiful jiggle. But basically, jiggle. And that’s what that led up to.
So, you see, the more you think about it—about what all this work is for, why we are campaigning for this and for that, to get world peace, to get recognition for negroes, to get this, that, and the other—what do we all want everybody to do? So the negroes get their recognition, then what’re they going to do? Well, they’re going to gather together, and they’re going to go hoojie-doogie doogie-boogie boom-ba boom-ba and do all sorts of things like that, because that’s great. But you must see, therefore, the whole world as that sort of a thing, ultimately. When you finally get down to it, it likes to make noises, it likes to blow bubbles, it likes to dance in a ring, and that’s what it’s all about.
Look at it still another way: supposing I use words to refer to a certain situation which happens to be the situation of some trees growing near my front gate. Now, this form of life I can refer to. And I say, “Here are trees.” And you understand what I mean. The word “tree” is meaningful. And my being able to point out the tree to you, you know I’m making sense. We all agree about the word. But now look at the situation from a slightly higher point of view. Here is a creature that goes to another creature and says, “tree,” the other creature understands. And we’ve set up a form of life between us now, which includes the tree and you and I, and we’ve all referred to it, and we’ve got the communication method we understand about it. Now, see, this whole situation that I’m now describing as a form of life, a form of goings-on, which is something in its own turn, just like the tree growing. Well, there it is. What does that mean?
And you finally see: oh! Well, it really doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s just that we say, “Good morning. Aren’t those beautiful trees at my front gate?” You say, “Yes, they are.” “Come around here and look at them from the other side. How wonderful they are against the sky! Isn’t that great.” Now, we’ve made sense to each other. But I ask again: what does it mean that we make sense to each other? It is a playful activity, it is a going-on, it is a performance—just like the tree is a performance that does this and this and this and this and this with all its branches and leaves. And that absorbs things and so on, and then it drops seeds so that it can go on; another one’s going this and this and this, and they can drop seeds, and go on so and so and so and so.
Now, you have to be very careful at this point, because you may go absolutely stark-staring crazy. At this point some people get the horrors, and they suddenly see the whole performance of this human race as nothing but automatic gyrations. They see: here are these mechanisms all sitting around here, and they’re saying, “We’re human.” “Good morning.” “Good afternoon.” “We’re here, isn’t this nice?” Et cetera. And you can suddenly get the horrid feeling that they all are just so much wiggly protoplasmic hullaballoo that goes through the motions of being alive. In other words, if you insult one of them or you hurt one of them, they get on a pained expression. But you can get to the crazy point of regarding that as nothing more than the fact when you hit water with a stone, it goes splash. Naturally, a person gets on a pained expression when they’re hurt. But that’s all it is. Then there are certain tensions inside that being. They may be very acute tensions, they may be rather slight, but it’s just tensions going on inside. There’s nothing to worry about.
And so you can suddenly get the awful feeling that you are surrounded by nothing but senseless process. And so when people sometimes do get that feeling, they lose all their compassion, they lose all their morals, they go entirely to pieces, and they feel they can exploit everybody in any situation in all directions. And so there’s a sort of a hairline difference between that and a vision which is very much the same. Very much the same, but instead of being a kind of thing you put down by saying, “Well, it’s just a lot of behavior. That’s all it is,” you say, “Good heavens! Think of that! You know, it’s not so bad after all.”
For example, there are many, many situations of physical or moral pain of which we are very frightened. And we’re frightened of them because we have been taught that these are bad for us. You see, there are some children who are thought of as schizophrenic—sometimes the Mongolian idiot doesn’t really have… he’s in a situation where he cannot absorb adult judgments about happenings. So he really doesn’t care if he gets run over in the street. He’s not interested in adult life goals. And so a Mongolian idiot type of child, you can get on with them wonderfully, provided you never cross them. If they do something you don’t want them to do, change the subject, interest them in something else. But never say no. Because they roll with anything. You know, if he suddenly wants to strike the matches and light the house on fire, you go up to him and say BLEEAAGHOOOPS! and he gets so interested, he looks at that, and says, “Wow!” And you’re off. And if you want to pay attention, you can play with a child like that for ages. Because they’ll do anything. They’ll sit down at table, and they’ll get interested in bread and jam, and they’ll pick it up like that, and drop it on the plat, and splosh the jam all over the place, and they’ll make figures in it. They’re always absolutely fascinated. But they’re way out. They won’t do what we want them to do. Well, we say: you’re idiots—because they have a head shaped different from ours, and they’ve got another idea about life. But it doesn’t really follow that they’re idiots—I mean in a bad sense. They’re living on different lines. They’ve got a different game. But so we have a little bit to learn from them. They don’t go in for all this business about giving life meaning and arranging it in certain patterns about which you get compulsive. They just go with it as it comes.
So their point of view is apparently, then, quite different from the person to whom the thing is a rattling monstrosity of meaninglessness. This, of course, is liable to be the person who reacts that way against an overdose of insistence that life be meaningful, and that a child behave sensibly and orderly and in accordance with some domineering adult’s game. When he sees that all that doesn’t necessarily hold together, he’s apt to get a bad reaction.
But now, to get back to this thing. When the adult who has got his program and is pushing the child through it—supposing a child vomits. Overate something or other, the milk was bad. The adult teaches the child that the sensation of vomiting is disgusting, because the adult goes BLEAGH! See? And makes the child feel that, in addition to vomiting, he ought to feel disgusted by it. That makes a complication. Alright, so when the adult hurts the child, pinches it, has a doctor stick a hypodermic into it, or something has to be done, then there’s a sensation of pain. But when mother sees the child stuck with a needle and she goes AAAH! you know, or something, this doesn’t help the child at all. The child feels that, in addition to screeching, reacting, or jumping to the pain, it also has to go AAAH! about it, you see? Because mother did. Or if the child feels like crying, crying is a shameful thing to do. You mustn’t cry. So the child, in addition to having the cry thing, has to have the shame about the cry thing. And, you see, that sets up reactions to reactions to reactions on different levels inside us whereby all these complicated problems begin.
Think, for example, about the way we humans die. It’s just terrible. We sweep ourselves under the carpet. We don’t let death be an important thing, really. Because look at what we do to die. Death is terribly important. Just as important as being born or getting married. But death is something that we can’t allow. Because it is a flat contradiction of our image of ourselves. So instead of dying in a riotous and glorious way, we get shuffled off to hospitals, where everything is kind of good intentioned, indeed, but it’s kind of… doctors don’t know what to do when people die, because doctors are supposed to cure you. They can’t help you die, therefore. They are out of role when that happens. And so their whole attitude to your death is: “Well, I’m so sorry. This is dreadfully unfortunate.” It’s too bad. Well, it isn’t necessarily too bad. May be a very good thing. They used to say with mothers and childbirth, you know, that this is a dreadful pain you’ve got to go through, because it’s your punishment. Eating that fruit of the tree in the beginning of time. You are a daughter of Eve, and therefore you suffer. It’s very good for you. And so everybody got these big ideas about the pains of labor. Until some doctors came along and said, “Let’s invent some new language and rehypnotize these patients in another way, and call it contractions instead of pains.” And this made things simpler for many women. Not all women; a lot of them simply are not going to be convinced at all that they oughtn’t to hurt like blazes. But when those who are convinced suddenly realize that this so-called pain is a sort of orgasm you can have, the attitude is a lot better.
Well, let’s get another revolution. Instead of talking about the pangs and pains of death, let’s give them a new name. You know, the ecstasy of disappearing. I’m serious! You may laugh, but the thing is that all those sensations have been, in a social context, where they’re interpreted negatively, and so everybody when you’re having them they say, “Oh, dear me! Oh, dear. That’s awful. We’re so sorry for you. And we’re going to give you a pill to take away the pain.” And that’s alright, you know. But it’s no so much the pill, it’s the attitude of saying, “Oh dear, isn’t it awful you’re going to die.” Well, is it? I mean, it’s very difficult because we’ve all been so thoroughly indoctrinated about this. And we feel—I mean, I remember all through my childhood the way that my peer group and all the literature we read played up death. The image of the skull. The ghosts. The shrieking horrors in the dark. The graveyard. The tolling bell. The bats. The shroud, you know? And all this hocus pocus making this grizzly scene so that everybody interprets the basic sensations that are involved in this in a highly charged, overloaded fashion.
So then, when the cat dies, it dies with great dignity. A sick cat disappears, especially if it’s out in the country, and it curls up in the grass and dies. Birds, they drop off the trees. I remember Ibram Lassaw describing a dying gull on the beach near Montauk. This bird looked and looked and looked into the sun. And as the sun went down, the bird looked and looked, and followed the heat light of that sun until there was nothing left, and it shivered and died. Very dignified. But human beings aren’t allowed to die like that. Because when you die, you see… oh, it’s a big mess. It’s you with all your memories that are being folded up.
I remember a woman who came to me, had high blood pressure, and she said, “I’m sick to death of being afraid of dying. I don’t know what it is. I can’t make out why I’m so frightened of dying. I don’t think it’s the pain I’m afraid of. I don’t think I have any fear of what’s going to happen to me after death in some sort of heaven or hell. But what is it?” So we talked about this for a long time from all sorts of points of view. And finally she said, “You know, I believe what I’m afraid of is what other people are going to say. I just can’t stand the thought of my funeral with all my friends around there saying, ‘Well, poor old Gert. It caught up with her at last.’”
Well now, she had touched the point exactly. Because it wasn’t quite what people were going to say about her, but it’s what people have taught you to think about death, about the disappearance of your self, your ego, your memory system. Because with all the propaganda that’s gone on to you, you must build this thing up, you know? You must be you. You must be great, you see? And then, when this comes to an end, they say, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! You couldn’t make it after all”—as if you ever could!
So then, we need to see death and its allied phenomena in its suchness. That is to say: well, it is just, after a certain time, as the leaves in the fall disintegrate and fall off the tree, and we say, “Well, what a lovely autumn this was, these New England trees. Very gorgeous season.” So, in the same way, human beings fall apart. And we say, “Well, that’s terrible.” And the unanimity of the social attitude makes it terrible for each individual. But supposing the unanimity of the social attitude was quite different—and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be—and falling apart is considered quite the thing to do. After all, it helps to clean things up. It gets old stuff out of the way, and so we, us, I can all go on. We renew. We come back.
And so the whole thing, you see, is this: you can’t suddenly switch from “death as an awful horror” to “death as a great event.” You have to go through a certain intermediate point where you have to see it just as that. This is very useful in getting yourself accustomed to all kinds of queer things. There was a woman who was a good friend of mine who moved into the country, and found her house was full of black widow spiders. Well, she was horrified. But being very sensible, she bought a book about black widows, and she got a model—there’s things they sell from biological firms—a dried black widow spider encased in a plastic cube. And she got a magnifying glass, and she studied this thing, and she learned everything about black widow spiders. Finally, she captured a live one, and looked at it under a magnifying glass, and slowly, slowly, slowly she appreciated the suchness of it. I mean, it’s a thing that goes this way and that way, and it has things that go like this, and it bites, and it does this and that, and that’s that. Well, having appreciated the suchness of it, she relieved herself of her fear. And then she learned after a while to respect them, and then, really, to be on very good terms with them. She knew how to keep out of their way, and what their habits were. Always, when she picked up a shoe, shake the shoe. Don’t put your foot in without shaking the shoe first. Little things like that.
So somebody wrote me the other day from Santa Barbara, and said that in her part of the country there are more private planes than anywhere else in the United States, and they fly at less than a thousand feet, and they keep going over her place. And she’s a very well brought up lady. She says, “I’m horrified to find myself running out of doors, shaking my fist at these planes, and using foul language.” She said, “I just can’t stand them at any price!” So I wrote back. I told her the story about the spiders, and said, “Now, what you’re to do is: you get yourself a certain book”—which I named—“which is a complete photographic catalog of all makes of private planes in the world, and you are to identify them. And every time a plane goes over, look it up in a book and see what kind it is. Go down to the airport, watch them come in and go out, get rides, and never miss one. Always, get right into that plane situation.” Because then this constant neeeoooowwwmmm over the house, which is a horror, you can get rid of it. And you can say, “Neeeowwmm!”
I heard of people who hate drumming. Every time people start playing the conga drums, they call the police. Because there’s something about that which seems threatening. They think, “Why, the cannibals are in the dark. They’re out after us.” Until you get with it yourself, you see, and you move with that. Then, however noisy it is, it isn’t a problem any longer. But you have to see the suchness of it first. That it is just doing this kind of a bumpa-chee-chee bumm bumm bumpa-chee-chee bumm bumm, and that’s that. That’s what it is. And it isn’t a threat, nor is it, for that matter, a promise.
In our fourth session this morning, I was trying to put across two principal ideas, one of which is that, since the idea of thusness is not a way of putting down the nature of things—that is to say, it’s not a form of nothing-buttery—there are certain things to be considered about it. And one is that there is what we call consciousness involved in the nature of thusness. Thusness is transparent and reverberating. And the other was that within this domain, there is room for an enormous number of value games. But you must remember that value games are games. Now, let me just review those two points slightly, because they are tremendously important.
First of all, we’ve got into the habit of thinking of the world as a physical continuum which is not really a continuum, which is divided into the inert things and the ert things, into the conscious and the unconscious, the living and the dead, the organic and the inorganic. And the mythology of the 19th century was to make it a case that everything was really inorganic, you see? And that consciousness is something actually purely mineral and metallic. Only, it’s so complicated and it’s got all kinds of liquid and gooey things in it, but they’re basically minerals and they’re basically machinery. And it’s all like that, you see?
And I say the objection to that point of view is simply that it’s a way of looking down your nose at things. In fact, it’s an objection. The objection to it is that it’s an objection. We won’t go into such embarrassing question as: who objects? But the thing is that when you construe the whole universe in an objectionable way, the person who does this is really saying: “I want to be miserable.” Now, you’re perfectly entitled to be miserable. Or “I want to be realistic” and miserable in that sense. And that’s perfectly okay if that’s the way you want to be. But he has absolutely no right whatsoever to say that his point of view is more valid than ours when we say the opposite; that actually, the universe is a continuum of whatever it is, thusness, and it’s a spectrum in which there are the very conscious things and the only slightly conscious things. But all of it is conscious. And so that when you ring a bell, and ears get this as ting, the bell itself gets it as a state of vibration—which is a very simple form of consciousness, but there it is.
So you don’t have to explain, you don’t have to invent a ghastly problem, which is: how did anything conscious ever get into this mechanism? It’s a simpler thing that it always was there, everything is conscious, but conscious in very many differing degrees. I don’t really know whether that’s a simpler explanation than another. I mean, somebody could, I suppose, scratch their heads a while and say, “How do you get from one degree to another?” See, they want to know how you get from the unconscious rock to the conscious, living being. And I say, “That’s no problem. They’re just different degrees of the same thing.” But he says, “How do you get from one degree to another?” And has he recreated all over again the same problem we started with? Maybe he has. But if he has, you can see a new line on the thing: that this man’s function is to create problems, is to make interesting difficulties. He’s like a person who makes up the crossword puzzle every day for the newspaper. This is a man just setting difficulties for you. And you love to get over them—or else it doesn’t interest you, because are playing the game “my game’s more interesting than yours.”
But nevertheless, for some reason or other, the idea of a spectrum, of a somewhat more or somewhat less of the same thing, seems to make a great deal of sense. It seems more plausible than the idea of having to have two completely different substances, a stuff called “matter” and a stuff called “spirit” or “mind” or something like that, and try and see how they work upon another. If you see, in other words—let’s take the beautiful image of the fern. First of all, a stalk. Just a thing like that. And then more of them, but coming out of the sides. And then, out of the sides of those, more stalks. Out of the sides of those, you see? And then, out of the sides of all those little ones come chit, chit, chit, chit, chit, chit, chit, chit, chit little ones still, see? And you say, “Well, look at that! It’s getting very spiky, isn’t it? Full of spines.” And then, gradually, right on the edge of the spine, more go chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee, chee until they’re all going like this way, more and more and more, until it becomes soft and hairy, you see? And suddenly you’ve got what you’d call a vegetable.
If you look at a watch, some people have extremely tick-tock watches—that is to say, they just have the hours marked with spots. There are even more simple watches than that. I’ve seen watches that simply have four spots on them, twelve and six, nine and three. But on the other extreme, you can buy very expensive watches that have stopwatches on them, and things that tell you the date, and tachometers, and all kinds of involved things, and these watch calibrations are getting more and more and more complicated all the way around. It begins to look like a flower, you see? It begins to look—what started out looking like a kind of metallic object ends up looking like a vegetable, or some kind of wonderful, growing, alive thing. Beyond some mysterious point of complexity, it seems to become alive.
So this is what I mean by the spectrum of the various, let’s say, games that are going on. The very, very pfuumm, pfuumm, pfumm, pfumm at one end, and at the other end all kinds of complicated metric motions, rhythmic motions, that are so difficult to reduce to anything so simple as tchumm, thchumm that we say they’re alive. Whereas the things at the other end that are very, very simple like that, you see, we say they are relatively inert. But whether you say that the inert is merely less alive, or whether you say that the alive is merely the maximum complexity of the inert all depends on whether you want to say yes to the world or whether you want to say no. So it is, as it were, a yes-saying that makes everything seem alive, and no-saying that makes everything seem dead.
And when you say no and you make it all seem dead, what happens? You experience a very extreme form of differentiation between yourself on the one hand, and everything that you experience on the other. Because if you want to put this world down and say it’s all just a bunch of junk, you can’t do that without isolating yourself from it. You’ve got to stand aside and be a completely independent observer. Because if you say, “Therefore I, too, am just a lot of junk, and therefore this statement that I’m making is just a lot of junk,” then, obviously, you can’t expect anybody to lay very much credence upon it. But, on the other hand, when you say, “Well, good gracious, this whole thing is something, isn’t it?” Then you put yourself into it. You don’t stand aside from it any longer. You admit that you, too, are part of the whole thing; that your ego, your self, is so inextricably involved with everything that you experience, that there really ultimately isn’t any difference between the kind of thing that’s going on and you. Then—then, you see—you’ve got the total system. You’re one with it, you’re not standing aside from it.
But to make that clear, I just have to go into something that is puzzling for us, whose thinking is based on sentence structure and a kind of grammar that has subject, verb, and predicate, and a kind of mythology wherein we think of consciousness and being aware by analogy with photography and with mirrors reflecting images. If you can understand that what you are is everything that you know—there are infinitely many ways of… old language has… I was going to say being conscious of what’s going on. Each one of us looks at the present scene from a different point of view. But let me say: look at it like this. Supposing I say instead: each one of us is a different point of view with respect to this situation.
You see, we can say: here’s the situation, and each one of us is an “I,” you see, that looks at it from a different point of view. And so we go into it like this. Now, that’s a very disintegrated picture. What is the connection between this and this? What’s behind this? And where does all that come from? What’s its relation to this, the situation? No, we are part of the situation. You can’t deny that. So, you see, the thing behind this is this, you see? See what I mean? You’re not out of it.
Alright. Then, if that’s the way it is, we’ve got to draw a different diagram altogether. Here’s the situation again. Now, we talk about a point of view towards the situation. But can’t you see that the situation grows out of itself points of view, like this? See? And then, here they are. The little eyes at the end of it, you see, like a snail—but it is a big snail with many, many eyes. See? So it looks at itself like that. Looks at itself through many eyes.
But so, in other words, what each one calls “our self” is a point of view taken by what each one of us calls “our experience.” You get that? Experience, in other words, doesn’t need, really, an experience and an experiencer. You don’t need a thought, and then to have a thought you have to have a thinker; or to have a thinker, then you’re going to have a thought. All I’m introducing you to, you see, is really a simplified language. Do you feel a feeling, or is feeling a feeling the same thing as feeling? It’s easier, isn’t it, to say “feeling” instead of “feeling a feeling.”
There was a faith-healer of Deal,
Who said: “Though pain isn’t real,
When the point of a pin
Goes into my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel.”
Or that other limerick that some of you know that I made up:
There was a young man who said, “Though
It seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see
Is the I that knows me
When I know that I know that I know.”
This is what—so, when you see that things (the physical world) and consciousness are inseparable, it isn’t that the physical world is reflected in a mirror, but that it and consciousness are all one. But that consciousness seems to be something that is different from the world and looks at it, because it is done, focused, projected in so many different ways, and these are like the spikes coming out. See, you remember my fern thing? Alright. We can play ferns with this, and we can start growing little ones out of here, you see? Or take any one of these and start doing this, see? Take one of these and start doing this, see? All points of view growing out of the center.
So then, remember that what you are experiencing—perhaps it’s easier for some of you in this way. What you are seeing out there, in front of you, is actually a sensation inside your head. All that you see is a conversion of quanta in the external world into the form of your brain—your brain, in its turn, being something in the external world. Now then, when it’s in your brain, you say, “Now I see it in terms of my brain.” Well, is there somebody standing back inside your brain, you see, and looking at your brain, and saying, “Well, there it is. What a nice picture!” See, if you can get this it’s wonderful. The centers of the optic nerve are right in the back of your head. They’re not just here. If they were just here, you could imagine someone standing inside your head and looking at them. But actually, they’re right back there. So what you are seeing in front of your eyes is right back in here, where it’s actually happening. So you can stroke the view here with your fingers, see? Now, there isn’t somebody in the middle who’s turned around, looking at the back of your head like the people in Plato’s cave, to see what’s out in front. The point is that the sensation of your self and the sensation of other people is the same thing. And that’s mutual between all of us, you see? We all are our view of other people and other things. Views of views. Views of viewings.
And so you don’t have to introduce the problem of how the knower knows. How does the world make an impact on the knowing subject so that it can be aware of, be conscious of, everything else? There isn’t that kind of mirror or camera process going on. That’s the important thing to understand. Because everybody’s thought is so powerfully influenced by the metaphors he uses. And the metaphors for knowing and for consciousness mirrors cameras, et cetera, et cetera, can be extraordinarily introducing unnecessary complications. Simply see that what you are aware of in terms of external sensory experiences, in terms of so-called internal feelings, internal thoughts, that is what you are. Krishnamurti puts it so beautifully when he tries to show that behind the stream of thoughts there isn’t a thinker. He says you create the thinker, you create the thought of a thinker behind the thoughts in a moment of insecurity, when you want to withdraw. But actually, there is simply this stream of what you could call luminous experience. And you can take away the word “luminous” and put the word “conscious” in its place. So see it again—your heads, your nervous systems, your eyes, your senses, your bodies—not as something that encounters the external environment from outside. You all are the external environment. Rather, your heads and eyes and so on are points, you see, put out by the environment as a whole, as a totality, through which it feels all around: like many sensitive hairs, like a sea urchin with all those little spines coming out of it. And each one of us is one.
Well now, there is a final matter to be considered. I have given some seminars on Far Eastern aesthetics, and some of you may have attended some of them. When we talk about Chinese art as compared, say, with Mexican art or Cambodian art, we say it’s naturalistic. On the other hand, these other artforms are highly stylized. What do we mean when we say an artform is more natural than another one. It’s rather difficult to say, isn’t it? Because you’re trying to say that, somehow or other, things that look like this are not as natural as things that look like this. What do you mean by that? What is natural somehow strikes us as being a little bit more asymmetrical, a little bit more wiggly, than what we call artificial.
Well, ever looked at sugar crystals under the microscope? Beautiful cubes. What about iron pyrites? All kinds of things in the crystal world, they look very formal, very stylized, very artificial. Go to the Charles Darwin Hall at the Museum of Natural History and take a look at the glass models of radiolaria. You have never seen anything so artificial. But my goodness, what a wow of artificiality! It’s like looking at a master jeweler; Cellini beyond Cellini has made baubles to hang around your neck, tiaras to put here, all kinds of gorgeous things. For this is the magic of nature. Really, go there—if it’s open now; they were renewing it. But it is the most beautiful exhibition in New York. Makes all the painting look pretty silly. Living forms that are nevertheless absolute craftwork, master craftwork, of jewelry.
So, you see, the point is: fundamentally, there is no such thing as an artificial work. All that happens is nature, all that happens is—however apparently artificial—still within the one domain. Once again, you see, we get a continuum. Everything in this continuum is nature. Just like everything in a continuum is consciousness. But at one end it’s apparently less natural than at the other. It all is natural. But what is less natural isn’t necessarily for that reason boring, lacking in form, lacking in excitement. Because beyond the radiolaria, the diatom is the works of art of mankind, and beyond them the work of the computer. All in the direction, the dimension of, the artificial. But you never reach the purely artificial. You never, never get outside the domain of nature.
So from one point of view, then, everything that exists in the whole world is in the course of nature. It is the Tao, it is the flow, of being. And you can manifest the Tao, and be in accord with it, and be harmonious with the whole universe by doing any single thing you like. If you’re a painter, you can go back home, and you can pick a bottle of ink and throw it at the wall, and smash! And there it is. You can’t stop it. If you’re a writer, you can take somebody else’s essay, cut it up the center, cut it across, and paste it in different ways and then read it straight over. They are doing this now. And that’s alright, too, you see? That’s it. You can roll down the street, you can tatter about and rest upside down, put your pants on your top and your coat on the bottom. Anything goes, you see, in that domain. It’s alright. Don’t worry. You see? But nobody will understand you. You won’t make a communication if you do that. You see? That’s what some of our artists are doing today. They’ve discovered that they can be completely liberated. So they just do anything at all and have the nerve to sell it.
But now, look here. Supposing that we’re going to make a communication. I want to find a way in which I can make some things look more natural than others. How am I going to do that? I’m going to want to show you by some stratagem—whether it’s by talk or by art—how you can have more suchness somewhere than elsewhere. That doesn’t seem possible, does it? There is a saying in Zen, which you can write in a funny way: 見山是山、見水是水. You can say—this character (山), you know, means “mountain.” And this character (見) means “gets,” “pertains to,” “grasps.” “The mountain gets the mountain, and the water gets the water.” Now, mountain-water, the two characters together, mean “landscape.” So this refers to the Earth as a whole.
Now, when does a mountain get the mountain and the water gets the water? The answer is that the mountain gets the mountain when a particular mountain looks just like a mountain, and the water looks just like water. And we can say of, say, a person: “This man is so much of a man.” “This woman is so much of a woman.” So the man gets the man, the woman gets the woman. And well, you know, you can do that, too, you see? The man gets the man, and the woman gets the woman. So how are we going to do that, though. Every man is a man, every woman is a woman. Every mountain, after all, is a mountain. But some mountains are more like mountains than others. As G. K. Chesterton once put it in a kind of satirical way: all religions are really the same religion, especially Buddhism. He was trying to poke fun at people who say all religions are really the same. But what a wise word, you see, he had there.
So now it comes to this question of: how do we show something as being more of the nature of thusness, or especially of the nature of thusness? The same question as: how do we show something as being more natural than something else? Now this lies, you see—this is the basic problem of aesthetics in the Far East. How a house can be constructed to look more like a work of nature than other houses. Of course, this is part of the real fun of going to a place like Kyoto, where for centuries they’ve been tremendously aware of this problem. And you can go, on the one hand, to the Heian Shrine. The Heian Shrine is a huge Shinto shrine on the east side of Kyoto which is built in Chinese baroque style. And it is all orange-red paint and gold, with blue tiled roofs, with every kind of curlicue and luxury, and it’s a real dolled-up scene with a magnificent garden. And in this garden, you know, there are lakes with carp in, and wonderful piers going out to summer houses at the end of the piers—with, again, magnificently curved roofs, and everything is ornate as possible. And you feel you walk into that place and you think, “Good lord, I’ve got into a Willow pattern plate!” Or this is [???] or something, you know? I mean, it’s like you remember China from your grandmother’s china cabinet. It’s just that. And you think, “Well, well!” You know? How unnatural can you get? How contorted, how twisted, how artificial?
And then you go across to a place called Shisen-dō up in the hills. And here is a little rustic house built by some great samurai who wanted to retire from all that political war scene, and built himself a place that would look as much as possible as if it hadn’t actually happened on purpose. But now, how could he do that? He could’ve found a place which hadn’t happened on purpose at all. He could’ve taken simply the hillside and sat down there and not done a thing, but somehow adapt himself to the changing temperature and become nature. But it’s not the nature of a man to do that. He needs clothes because he didn’t grow fur, and he needs a house, and he needs to eat, and so on. And so a man does it in a different way. But he did make a place to look as much as possible as if no one had really interfered with things. All of it is, from a certain point of view, artificial. Every bush, every rock has been carefully considered, its position minutely planned. Because the man enjoyed the problem of: how natural can I make it? He really knocked himself out.
Now, you see, look here. Here’s the problem of “how natural can I make it?” I want to arrange in this area some rocks. You see, this is a big expanse of sand. And I want to put them so that they don’t look as if they had arrived there artificially. Now, what am I going to do. Obviously, if I do this—I’ve got a rock here and a rock here and a rock there—somebody will say, “One, two, three.” You know, it looks as if somebody laid them there. And what you wanted was a situation where it didn’t look as if it had been laid out like that. So we begin again. So we put rock one, rock two, and rock three. Now, are we going to accuse anybody of anything? Yes, maybe we are. We’re going to say, “Now, wait a minute. You couldn’t get away from it so far. You put these two together in alignment, close, and then you thought: well, then the other one should be further away from it. It should be some way like that.” See? But then you would say, “No, they’re all pointing the same direction. Reverse this one and put it that way.” See, it still looks a little artificial. It always looks artificial so long as we can trace the thinking of the artist.
But when we can’t trace the thinking of the artist—look: we’ll divide the thing in two. We’re still using the same pieces. Well, they might’ve been thrown there, but that’s not good enough. What we want is the point where we can trace his thinking to the point where it has only just vanished. We are just going to keep pace with it and say, “This is not quite as if it had been thrown down there. Something a little better than if it had been thrown down there.” And that is the most difficult thing in the world for an artist to achieve. I mean, there’s a trick to that. In other words, they’ve slowly rotated, but at distances which don’t suggest orderly, numbered arrangement. Some of you may immediately see that trick that I used, some of you may not see it. But the point is that the artist gets to this situation with relation to his beholders, where he has a trick just beyond what they see, and almost just beyond what he knows. Do you see? It just reaches a critical point. And so it is so close to chaos, and yet so close to being order, that it’s the point where the one turns into the other.
Because here again you’ve got a continuum. You’ve got chaos way out here and you’ve got order way over here, and you can approach this one or approach this one. But at a certain moment, when you approach chaos but it’s still really order, then you get a garden like Ryōan-ji. And you go there and see the most fabulous arrangement of things so as to look natural, done with infinite care and patience.
So what happens here? In a garden like Ryōan-ji, which is just rocks on sand—there are more; there are five rocks, not three—what you have is somebody revealing that everything is natural, basically, by doing something more natural than anything else. So you can imagine in terms of human character what this experiment would involve. We want a person who indicates to everybody else that, really and truly, everything goes, anything goes. But so that this person shall not be confused with being a complete mess, see, he has to have a very, very carefully natural character. Yet, at the same time, the mystery of this character and how it works must escape everybody who knows him, and it must even escape himself. Because he must be able to do it without really trying. So do you see from this that there are many, many things involved in a truly naturalistic artform, or in something which reveals the nature of suchness more than something else; when, indeed, everything reveals it. Everything is natural, everything is divine, but then there might be someone or something that approximates so well to the divine that you actually see it.
The secret in all this is, first of all, that there isn’t a method. Or, to put it in another way: that you have to come to the point of losing everything, of letting go completely. As an Arab in the sandstorm, when the storm is absolutely impossible and overwhelming, he kneels down on the sand, he puts his banús completely over his head, and he curls up like a fetus and waits. And because light sand blown by the wind can be quite porous, even if he gets covered, he can breathe. But he doesn’t try, he doesn’t use any energy to fight the storm. So in a raging sea you have to turn off the engines, otherwise every time the propellers are thrown out of the water it’ll shake the ship to bits and drift.
The person who wants to master this must first get the feeling of being able to drift—of seeing that suchness (in other words, that nature) is in all directions, and that you have really no alternative. Nothing you can do can hold it up, stop death, change anything else. You have, for a time, go with it completely. Let go everything. And then, as you do that, you see, just in the same way as the sailor finds that the wind blows him—if there is wind blowing and he’s got any kind of a thing to be blown, he’ll be blown by the wind. And after experimenting how it is for a while just to be blown along by the wind, he discovers: good heavens, you can do little things that will change the course!
So, in exactly the same way, when you let yourselves go completely: let’s say you imagine that you are completely determined—there is nothing you can do, you’re just puppets on strings and you accept this situation—you will then suddenly discover that you’ve got new life, and that you can start controlling it, and you can start playing with it in the masterly way that these men made gardens and did magnificent calligraphy.