English-born American Philosopher, Writer, Exponent of Zen Buddhism
Alan Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts
English-born American Philosopher, Writer, Exponent of Zen Buddhism
For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones ? for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.
While you are watching this present experience, are you aware of someone watching it? Can you find, in addition to the experience itself, an experiencer? Can you, at the same time, read this sentence and think about yourself reading it? You will find that, to think about yourself reading it, you must for a brief second stop reading. The first experience is reading. The second experience is the thought, ?I am reading.? Can you find any thinker, who is thinking the thought, I am reading?? In other words, when present experience is the thought, ?I am reading,? can you think about yourself thinking this thought?
If we are to continue to live for the future, and to make the chief work of the mind prediction and calculation, man must eventually become a parasitic appendage to a mass of clockwork.
Why do we love nonsense? Why do we love Lewis Carroll with his ??Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe, all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe??? Why is it that all those old English songs are full of ?Fal-de-riddle-eye-do? and ?Hey-nonny-nonny? and all those babbling choruses? Why is it that when we get ?hep? with jazz we just go ?Boody-boody-boop-de-boo? and so on, and enjoy ourselvesÿswingingÿwith it? It is this participation in the essential glorious nonsense that is at the heart of the world, not necessarily going anywhere. It seems that only in moments of unusual insight and illumination that we get the point of this, and find that the true meaning of life is no meaning, that its purpose is no purpose, and that its sense is non-sense. Still, we want to use the word ?significant.? Is this significant nonsense? Is this a kind of nonsense that is not just chaos, that is not just blathering balderdash, but rather has in it rhythm, fascinating complexity, and a kind of artistry? It is in this kind of meaninglessness that we come to the profoundest meaning.
It is in this kind of meaninglessness that we come to the profoundest meaning.
Just exactly what is the ?good? to which we aspire through doing and eating things that are supposed to be good for us? This question is strictly taboo, for if it were seriously investigated the whole economy and social order would fall apart and have to be reorganized. It would be like the donkey finding out that the carrot dangled before him, to make him run, is hitched by a stick to his own collar. For the good to which we aspire exists only and always in the future. Because we cannot relate to the sensuous and material present we are most happy when good things are expected to happen, not when they are happening. We get such a kick out of looking forward to pleasures and rushing ahead to meet them that we can?t slow down enough to enjoy them when they come. We are therefore a civilization which suffers from chronic disappointment ? a formidable swarm of spoiled children smashing their toys.
Once again, you must stop thinking just, ?I am reading.? You pass to a third experience, which is the thought, ?I am thinking that I am reading.? Do not let the rapidity with which these thoughts can change deceive you into the feeling that you think them all at once.
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, ?We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.? The farmer said, ?Maybe.? The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, ?Oh, isn?t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!? The farmer again said, ?Maybe.? The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, ?Oh dear, that?s too bad,? and the farmer responded, ?Maybe.? The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, ?Isn?t that great!? Again, he said, ?Maybe.?
The ?primary consciousness,? the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than whatis at this moment. The ingenious brain, however, looks at that part of present experience called memory, and by studying it is able to make predictions. These predictions are, relatively, so accurate and reliable (e.g., ?everyone will die?) that the future assumes a high degree of reality ? so high that the present loses its value. But the future is still not here, and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements ? inferences, guesses, deductions ? it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances.
The brainy modern loves not matter but measures, no solids but surfaces.
The farmer steadfastly refrained from thinking of things in terms of gain or loss, advantage or disadvantage, because one never knows? In fact we never really know whether an event is fortune or misfortune, we only know our ever-changing reactions to ever-changing events.
The notion of a separate thinker, of an ?I? distinct from the experience, comes from memory and from the rapidity with which thought changes. It is like whirling a burning stick to give the illusion of a continuous circle of fire. If you imagine that memory is a direct knowledge of the past rather than a present experience, you get the illusion of knowing the past and the present at the same time. This suggests that there is something in you distinct from both the past and the present experiences. You reason, ?I know this present experience, and it is different from that past experience. If I can compare the two, and notice that experience has changed, I must be something constant and apart.?
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it?s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad ? because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.
The working inhabitants of a modern city are people who live inside a machine to be batted around by its wheels. They spend their days in activities which largely boil down to counting and measuring, living in a world of rationalized abstraction which has little relation to or harmony with the great biological rhythms and processes. As a matter of fact, mental activities of this kind can now be done far more efficiently by machines than by men ? so much so that in a not too distant future the human brain may be an obsolete mechanism for logical calculation. Already the human computer is widely displaced by mechanical and electrical computers of far greater speed and efficiency. If, then, man?s principal asset and value is his brain and his ability to calculate, he will become an unsaleable commodity in an era when the mechanical operation of reasoning can be done more effectively by machines.
There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. But the contradiction lies a little deeper than the mere conflict between the desire for security and the fact of change. If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life, I am wanting to be separate from life. Yet it is this very sense of separateness which makes me feel insecure. To be secure means to isolate and fortify the ?I,? but it is just the feeling of being an isolated ?I? which makes me feel lonely and afraid. In other words, the more security I can get, the more I shall want.
There is indeed such a thing as ?timing? ? the art of mastering rhythm ? but timing and hurrying are ? mutually exclusive.
But, as a matter of fact, you cannot compare this present experience with a past experience. You can only compare it with a memory of the past, which is a part of the present experience. When you see clearly that memory is a form of present experience, it will be obvious that trying to separate yourself from this experience is as impossible as trying to make your teeth bite themselves.
To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.
Clock time is merely a method of measurement held in common by all civilized societies, and has the same kind of reality (or unreality) as the imaginary lines of latitude and longitude. The equator is useless for stringing a rolled roast. To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all ? except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. ?Now? will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present.
To understand this is to realize that life is entirely momentary, that there is neither permanence nor security, and that there is no ?I? which can be protected.
You have to learn to leave your mind alone? it will quiet itself.
You must understand as one of the fundamental points of Buddhism, the idea of the world as being in flux.
You see, many of the troubles going on in the world right now are being supervised by people with very good intentions whose attempts are to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this, and to prevent that. The more we try to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes.
You take your classified telephone directory, and open up "Churches", and have a ruler in your hand. And you will find that the longest space is occupied by authoritarian, Bible-banging churches. And these people are barbarians, who take the written word of the Bible literally. Because they need terribly, they have a personal need, for something to depend on. ? The government realizes that there is a very large number of people like that; and therefore, to keep their votes, they have to pander to those kind of people. And these are the boys who never grew up; they always need Papa. ? The trouble is that the boys who need Papa, are violent. They have the guns. And they are the types of people who like to be soldiers, policemen ? tough guys. And therefore they have a great deal of power.
You think there's a real difference between 'self' and 'other.' But 'self,' what you call yourself, and what you call 'other' are mutually necessary to each other like back and front. They're really one. But just as a magnet polarizes itself at north and south, but it's all one magnet, so experience polarizes itself as self and other, but it's all one. If you try to make the south pole defeat the north pole, or get the mastery of it, you show you don't know what's going on.