DISCLAIMER: This is a long ass article, longest I have written or will probably write. So once again I recommend that glass of water and maybe some snacks to go along with it. It takes a good half hour to read this thing. The Cosmos series is a tribute and an overview of the body of work of the philosopher Alan W. Watts(see the P.S. section of this article for more information).
It’s all an illusion. That is the main point. That was always the point. It is so sad to see how most people never see it. Thus I’m writing this article as the last message. Even though most of it is not my own words, I think the content of the message matters more than the messenger. This will be the final entry to The Cosmos series and is an attempt to describe a peculiar experience which sometimes happens to people. I’m not recommending this as a bedtime story for kids.
I don’t claim to know much in this life. I quit school at the age of 16, and most of my so-called knowledge has been accumulated through the internet since. But there is one thing I’ve known for many years now. That is, that what we perceive to be the normal everyday life, is in fact a hallucination. That is to say: most people have a false sense of identity regarding themselves and the rest of the universe. And what I want to bring up now doesn’t require the internet or any other channels for that matter that can be found “outside” of one’s own organism. What I’m talking about is not an idea, belief, system, philosophy or a concept, but an experience. It entirely has to do with state of consciousness.
Keep in mind that I’m trying to describe in words something that cannot be sufficiently talked about, since it is ineffable. But I have some help from a certain philosopher. And the manner this experience operates in, is peculiar. It does not follow any rules. Anyway. Here goes.
This experience is known by several names and is the basis on which most of our great religions are founded. Not going into religions in any detail for the moment because they are irrelevant to the experience itself. But there do exist a number of ways of allegedly attaining this state of awareness that can be found in several of these religions and I’m choosing to refer to them as “methods of liberation” from hereafter.
The first thing I have to do however, is try to describe this sensation as fully as I can so we know what we’re talking about. Let me just interject here by saying that I’m still not sure if my organism has actually gone through this or not and I constantly question my own integrity. Let it also be said that I take no authority of any kind saying anything about it. But I am confident enough to finally say everything I’ve come to know about it over the years. Now that all that is out of the way, I can begin.
Some people call it mystical illumination, others call it cosmic consciousness. The Hindus call it moksha, Buddhists call it bodhi, the Japanese call it satori. It could also be described by a much more scientific term, such as ecological awareness. Because that is really essentially what it amounts to. The sensation is something like this: I no longer feel myself as a separate individual or a source of action apart from everything else, but as if the external world was my own organism – I feel like everything that was happening around me was something that I was doing. And also that whatever was happening at this very moment, including all the good things as well as the bad things we human beings are doing, was of harmonious arrangement. This is the sort of sensation I’m talking about.
And this sensation can hit anyone out of the blue. It is not only through spiritual activities one can come to experience it, but several other and more spontaneous circumstances. Extreme stress is known to trigger it. Consciousness altering substances often trigger it. Anxiety, depression, and others can be factors as well. Or it’s none of those, and it just hits you. And it’s been recorded happening as far back in history, as there have been any recording at all. And when it occurs to you, you definitely know it.
Just in case it happens to someone out there, I thought it might be a good idea to put up the following paragraph before moving any further. The reason for it is, some people may make an error in interpretation and take an unwarranted jump, depending on their religious upbringing.
The jump being namely that they are the biblical boss, in charge of the entire universe and start demanding bows, and then we send them to the loony bin. But this point of view would be wrong. Equally wrong would be the view, that they were just a puppet, which the entire universe just dangled around from strings. The true state of that situation is rather like this: the movement of the individual and the movement of the environment is mutual. The whole universe moves with you when you move and vice versa – and this is true of all times and all people, not just when you go through this experience.
The point being then, that if one can feel themselves in these two polar opposite ways of relating to the rest of the cosmos, it means that we’re all potentially the one great energy, without anyone particular in control, because both opposites are just two aspects of the same experience. You can describe the same experience from two completely different point of views, but they are the same experience.
One might be subtle of going about it to other people, but a lot of the time people do not dare speaking about it, because of the fear they’ll be so misunderstood. Mystical experience is after all a forbidden term in many different circles. And those who bring up such topics are often if not most of the time looked at with funny faces and ridiculed outright. For my part I can say with a sneer on my face, that of course people will have to take that attitude. After all, if the whole game is to be oblivious to our true origin, we must not above all admit it to ourselves. And the mystic is the one who knows that the game really is a game.
We here in the West tend to raise an eyebrow towards this and ask: are these people reliable? In other words, will they act against the rules and be a danger to society? After all, we westerners are dedicated to the elimination of “evil”, because we believe that there’s a radical difference between good and evil. And therefore, if these people are saying that everything is a good as everything else, including evil, then all moral standards are blown to the seventh hell. Because it wouldn’t make any difference to anything. And a lot of people do indeed go berserk with this, because they don’t understand the whole picture.
However, good and evil or positive and negative are seen in quite a different light in the Orient. They are not seen as something where one side has to wipe out the other. They are opposite forces, yes, but they always go together. They need each other, like day and night. And when one understands that thoroughly, there’s no need to get rid of anything – because that wouldn’t be an optimal game and everything would have ended a long time ago. So… Back to the question. Can these people be trusted? Well, when you see everything as a unitary energy, and identify with that energy, what would be the point in fighting it anymore?
Life always will contain conflicts of course at its many levels but it helps if one can see through them and remind one’s self that it’s really alright on some level. The people who feel the need to prove something by breaking the rules, show that they still haven’t gotten the point. When you know you’re “it” and everyone else is too, it relieves one of basic hostility towards the world. Because it’s all you anyway. You in the sense of the cosmos, not in the sense of the individual or the Ego.
One more point on how would one feel and see the “external” world. A lot of people imagine the experience being in the middle of some kind of luminous vague ocean of light, where all the outlines of things would get blurred in sort of amorphous mass. But that is not so. Everything would stay exactly the same. What changes is one’s outlook. You would see it all like you do now but it would have a completely different sense to it. And you would suddenly realize that the outlines you thought separated things from each other, are what actually joins them together.
So how come we don’t see this all the time, or feel it all as one or harmonious in the normal, ordinary, everyday circumstances? There are cultural as well as social reasons for this. But the main reason is, we as human beings have specialised in a certain kind of awareness, which is called conscious attention. We tend to screen out things we consider as insignificant, and therefore we come to think of different things as separate things, not realising they in fact go together – actually, there are no things nor events in this world. As Teilhard de Chardin put it: “The universe is the only atom, the only indivisible whole.”
This way of thinking about things as being disconnected from each other runs so deep, we get scared easily by the “other side”. This shows in matters of politics, religions, social relations and so on and so forth. Everything in our culture is based on some kind of conflict between two or more sides. And so in my opinion, we are in dire need of a reminder that underneath there is a unity between things.
Now, one might say about this, that if conflict is an inherent quality of the game, we should just let it be and go on playing the game. And most people do. Unfortunately however, this inability to see one’s own being as something inseparable from the rest of the universe, leads to all kinds of trouble. One concrete example of this being the destruction of our environment because of the basic hostility towards nature it creates. And one can see this attempt to control the environment in these catastrophic results in terms of climate and animal species, to name a couple of them.
And let us not forget the matter which terrifies us most, the big one, Death. When people do not readily understand that black goes with white, they can be scared with death. I won’t exist anymore you see, they can delete me. That would be just awful.
Now wait a minute. Let’s take an analogy of a tree. A tree produces leaves every spring. And every autumn, the leaves die out and fall to the ground. Now, one might seeing these leaves, think of them as new and different from last year’s leaves. – and looking at the individual leaves, on can perceive each of them as unique expressions of the tree, with all their intricate patterns and veins constituting their personalities. And they keep coming and going. But what one actually is, is not so much the individual leaves but the tree underlying them.
What makes it difficult for us to see this is because we as unique expressions of the totality, are much too near to it for close examination. We are as it were, sitting on top of a sub-atomic particle, looking through a microscope at the rest of the totality. So when one goes through the mystical experience, it simply enables one to feel and perceive this totality in full clarity.
Here then, is where we get into the methods of attaining this state of clarity. I have chosen to mention each of them only briefly for a few reasons, one of which is that I don’t want to become an advocate of any specific schools of thought. I have never, and will not ever, identify with any religious sects, although I do borrow different principles and entertain ideas from several of them – if I absolutely would have to label myself in any way, perhaps the nearest would be a “spiritual anarchist”, if anything. Now that that’s off my chest, I have to make one more point before getting into the methods, because I think it’s important. And I’ll make through an excerpt from Watts:
What are known as the “religions” of the East, and the ones that are discussed in The Cosmos series - Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism - are not what we here in the West understand as religions, because they don’t require (in their bare essentials) that you believe in anything specific. They don’t require any idea of obedience to commandments from “above”. And they don’t require any conformity to specific rituals, although they do have rituals, but they vary depending on the country and the time period.
Their objective is always a method, to transform one’s consciousness. That is to say: the transformation of one’s sensation of what their relationship is regarding themselves, their identity. Because from the standpoint of these methods, the way in which the individual ordinarily feels themselves, and the way they relate towards the rest of the universe, is seen as a hallucination. That they are not just this poor little I that came from somewhere else altogether, living on borrowed time, trapped in the scheme of things – but that they are, the total energy that permeates this cosmos, playing that they are this particular being. Now that that’s out of the way, I think we can move unto these methods.
One of these methods is known as Yoga. Although how it is generally portrayed and marketed here in the West as an exercise for personal mental development and physical health is completely besides the actual, original purpose. The word Yoga is from the Sanskrit root yog, and is where we get the word Yoke from.
Yoga itself means to join, or roughly, union. It originates in India for perhaps as early as 2000 BCE., where there are statues found in the Indos Valley, sitting in the position known as full lotus posture, feet resting on the thighs, soles upward. Like most traditions in those days, it was handed down from teacher to student as an oral tradition and was not committed to writing until 200 BCE., maybe a bit later.
At that time, there appeared a scripture called The Yoga Sutra, Sutra meaning a “thread”. The texts were written on palm leaves with threads, and so sutra came to mean sacred books or scriptures. This particular scripture is associated with a character called Patanjali, and is the primary source for the practise of yoga. The opening passage of the sutra starts out with Now yoga is explained, and commentators emphasise the relevance of the word now, meaning that something came before. In other words, one is expected to be a sensible, rational, and mature human being before engaging in this particular path – so also it is expected in Hinduism that the person has mastered his role as a householder, before taking on the spiritual life. Therefore, one should first master the essential disciplines of one’s own culture in preparation for yoga, so one knows how to handle them after attaining the higher states in yoga, so they don’t run amok not being able to distinguish between good and evil and so on.
The next verse says in Sanskrit “yogas citta vritti nirodha”, which really translates as “yoga is the cessation of turnings of the mind”, although “mind” is not quite the right translation for citta. “Awareness” is closer. Now, different schools have varying interpretations on as to what the highest kind of awareness is as reached by yoga. Some say that nirvikalpa samadhi, which is one of two states of samadhi, of what yoga is all about, means the complete cessation of all sensory input, so that when a psychiatrist looked at the person in this state, they would consider them as completely catatonic. And they regard that level of absorption as the highest attainment of the human consciousness. No awareness at all of the physical world.
However, it is the interpretation of Alan W. Watts, who I happen to agree with, that nirvikalpa samadhi is simply the cessation of conceptions, and not all sensory input. Of thoughts about what one is experiencing. And so, citta vritti nirodha comes to mean two things: a mind which is not going around in vicious circles, and overcoming the hypnotic state induced by thoughts, ideas, and words. And one uses breathing as one of the main techniques – because you can feel like you are doing the breathing, or that the breathing is doing itself. And this is how one can also feel themselves relating to the rest of the cosmos. Another technique besides breathing that’s used is mantras, or chanting sounds. And these two techniques are used to still the stormy mind. This is the goal of yoga.
So, yoga was one of the gifts of Hinduism to the world. As it is difficult to export an entire culture, and that’s what Hinduism essentially is, a religion-culture, because it encompasses absolutely all aspects of one’s life, such as legal system, caste system and so on, but it is much easier to export certain salient features of a culture, so that people from different countries can practice their ways too.
Another one of these ways or methods is known as Buddhism. Buddhism is an “spin-off” of Hinduism. You could in a way call it a reform of Hinduism, or “Hinduism stripped for export, “ to quote Watts. It originates in India, close to the area that is Nepal these days, shortly after 600 BCE. There was a prince by the name of Gautama Siddhartha, who became the person we call The Buddha.
Now the word “Buddha“ is not an actual name, but a title. And it’s based on the Sanskrit root budh, which means “to be awake” or “to know”. So you could say that The Buddha is the man who woke up, from the dream of life as we ordinarily take it to be, and found out what his real identity is. It’s noteworthy that this title was not a new phenomenon. There was already, in the whole manifold of Hinduism, the idea of Buddhas, of awakened people, and interestingly they are ranked higher than gods. Because even gods, or the devas, are still constrained to the wheel of Samsara (cycle of existence) in pursuit of success.
So the idea is, that if one tries to seek, to achieve something that you can call winning, pleasure, good or virtue, all these positive things, one is then under an illusion, because the positive cannot exist without the negative. So if one tries to gain the positive and eliminate the negative, it’s as if one tried to arrange everything in this world, so that everything was vertical only, and nothing was horizontal. They have set themselves an absolutely irresolvable problem.
This attempt to solve irresolvable problems, and the frustration or pain which follows, is what The Buddha mainly addressed himself to resolve. So then, The Buddha as the man who woke up, is regarded as one Buddha among countless of Buddhas. Everyone has in them the capacity to wake up from the illusion of being simply the separate individual, and become Buddhas.
Now, The Buddha made his method very easy to understand, because in those days there wasn’t a whole lot done in written record, and so people committed things to memory and oral tradition. He of course practised the various disciplines offered by Hinduism in his time, but he found that they had become inadequate in a certain way. That they had overemphasised asceticism. There was this notion you see, that if the problem of life is pain, then let us suffer as much as possible – and this is the root of ascetics one sees, that lie on beds of nails, who hold out an arm for forever and ever, who only eat one banana a day and so on, because they feel that if they dive right into pain, they will by this method conquer the problem.
But The Buddha was very subtle. He is really the first recorded psychologist. Because he noticed that a person who is battling with pain, is still basically afraid of it. And so his method is called The Middle Way, which is neither ascetic, nor hedonistic. So it’s summarised in what are called The Four Noble Truths. Now, to save some article space, I will mention each of them briefly, because all the information about them is out there for the curious mind to discover.
The first Noble Truth is known as dukkha and it means suffering in a very general sense. One might say that how most people live their lives is experienced through dukkha. One could call it “chronic frustration”, which is the result from trying to solve irresolvable problems. Try to draw a square triangle, you can’t. Because the problem is in itself meaningless – likewise, try to have light without dark, or negative without the positive, it is meaningless. Such a problem cannot ever be solved. So trying to work out through life problems of this nature and getting frustrated, is dukkha.
The second Noble Truth is called trishna, which translates to thirst, and is the cause of dukkha or suffering, although it is better translated as “clinging”, “grasping” “grabbing”, or “clutching.”. If one doesn’t recognize that this world is smoke and mirrors, a grand illusion, and one tries to hold unto it, one starts seriously suffering, and so is in a state of trishna. Trishna in turn is based on avidja, ignorance. It was explained how we ignore space and backgrounds in the Unified article, and that really is what leads us to be in the state of trishna.
The third Noble Truth is called Nirvana, which means “blow out”, and so is a kind of releasing of breath. Now in breathing, you know that breath is life. The Greek word pneuma, which is breath, also means spirit. “He that would save his life, will lose it.” So breathe in, get in as much air as you can, and then trishna, hold unto it, and you will lose it. But if you let it go and breathe out, your breath will return to you – so don’t cling, and you’ll be in the state of Nirvana. So a person in the state of Nirvana can be said to be a “released” person. A person without attachments. And so, Nirvana is the cessation of dukkha.
So then the fourth Noble Truth is known as marga, which means “path”, the Noble Eightfold Path, and is what leads to the attainment of the state of Nirvana, at least in theory. Now there are eight phases in the path, because they’re not sequential. Now instead of listing all of them in the article, I will only mention the three headings or phases under which they are subsumed. The first phase has to do with one’s understanding or view of the world, called prajna. The second phase is called sila, and has to do with one’s action, how one acts. And the third phase has to do with one’s mind or the practise of meditation, called samadhi.
Now, a Buddhist does not base their ethics on commandments, of rules from a higher degree of authority. Their idea of ethics is based on expediency. If one is engaging on this particular way of life, and one wants to “clear” one’s consciousness, from unwholesome acts and emotions, doing that is inconsistent with certain kinds of action. So every Buddhist takes five vows, five precepts or pancasila, and refuge in what is called The Three Jewels or sarana.
There are many different sects or schools of Buddhism, but all of them can be put under two branches, respectively called Mahayana or the Northern School, which is found mainly in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Taiwan, Vietnam and so on, and Theravada or the Southern School, which is found in countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The Theravada adheres itself to the Canon written in the Pali language, which is a sort of easier or softer form of Sanskrit. The Mahayana in turn adheres itself to the Canon written in Sanskrit, of which there are not many original scriptures left – however, the early Mahayana Canon scriptures were largely preserved by the Chinese, on which Buddhism came to have a very definite influence from such an early period as the first century CE..
It is curious to note that as Buddhism arose and started to develop in India, there appeared a similar tradition or a way of liberation at around the same period in China, which shares many of the same basic principles as Buddhism, a philosophy known as Taoism.
Now Taoism is one of the chief forms of philosophy in China, and is as it were the polar opposite side of Confucianism. For these two ways of life lie at roots of Chinese thought. Both of them have a kind of common ground originating in the approach to life, as is expressed in the Book of Changes or the – I Ching –, which may be recorded as early as 1300 BCE..
The I Ching is an interesting and peculiar book. It is an explanation on 64 symbols, which consists of broken and unbroken lines. The unbroken line is known as yang, and the broken line is known as yin. So when you have a six lined symbol made of these broken or unbroken lines, you can make 64 variations. And this is essentially a method of making decisions, by flipping a 64-sided coin. In the old days, the first questions asked of the Oracle in the I Ching were asked with tortoise shells. You can also use a box of matches. And so these Hexagrams as they’re called are fundamentally made of two symbols, yang, the positive, and yin, the negative.
The words yang and yin seem to refer to the sunshiny and shady sides of a mountain. And note that one cannot have a one-sided mountain. And therefore it is always recognised that the two are the explicit differences of an implicit unity. Yang is called the male, and Yin the female. Their relationship is also conveyed in a familiar symbol where the two forces are joined together by tadpoles with the opposite color as their “eyes” – behind this unity is, what is sometimes represented by an empty circle and is called Tai Chi, or The Great Ultimate.
So underneath the whole philosophy of China, there lies this recognition of the polarity of the universe, that the opposites go together. As Lao Tzu puts it in the second chapter of his book Tao Te Ching:
When all the world understands beauty to be beautiful, there is already ugliness, and when all the world understands goodness to be good, there is already evil. For to be and not to be arise mutually.
Now, Taoism becomes an explicit point of view somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 BCE.. The primary text for Taoism is called Tao Te Ching and is pronounced “Dao or Dow De Jing”, because of the lack of apostrophes before the two Ts and Ch. It is Watts’s theory that the complication of the Chinese language is a Western invention by the scholars who translated it. Ching means a classical book or scripture. Tao is usually translated as “The Way”, but can be also translated as “course”, or “the course of nature”. And Te means “virtue”, but in the sense of a healing virtue of a plant. It has a magical connotation. Or the connotation of power or peculiar skill. The book was written by “Lao Tzu”, which means “old boy”, because legend has it that when he was born, he already had a white beard!
The story tells of him being the librarian of the imperial court, who when becoming an old man and sick of the intrigue of the court life, dedicated to vanish into the mountains but was detained at the gate by the captain of the guard who said: “Sir, we cannot lose you without you leaving behind some kind of record of your wisdom.” – so he prevailed upon him to stay at the gate house and write this short and laconic book, which is divided into two main sections, one about Tao, and the other about Te. He was followed in due course by a number of successors of which the most important is somebody called Chuang Tzu.
This Chuang Tzu, who lived about in the 4th century BCE., was quite astonishing. Because the sometimes simply referred as The Chuang Tzu book, is quite unique in the whole history of philosophy. He is perhaps the only philosopher from the whole of antiquity who has a genuine sense of humour. Part of his humour is the art of exaggeration. He’s always slightly pulling his own leg. And he puts a lot of his wisdom into the mouth of Confucius, just to confuse everyone. He takes concepts and drags them into ludicrous extremes, just to roar with laughter towards them. He has also a great deal to discuss about the value of the useless life.
Now then, in discussing the main ideas of Lao Tzu, we must naturally start with Tao(道). This word in Chinese is made up of a character which has two parts, one meaning rhythmic motion, and the other intelligence. So you get “intelligent motion”, or the “course of nature”. The character also means to speak, and so is rather like the Greek Logos. The first verse of the Tao Te Ching says:
The Tao which can be described, is not the eternal Tao.
So why go on to write a book about it? “Well, consistency is a virtue of small minds,” to quote a laughing Watts.
So you have in the concept of Tao the flow of life, the flow of events, and the world considered as a stream. And water is very often used by Lao Tzu to demonstrate the principles of the Tao, because water always takes the line of least resistance. Water is very soft and yet one of the strongest things in the world. “You can chop water with a sword and leave no wound. You can’t squeeze it, you can’t compress it. Wonderful stuff.” And elsewhere he says:
Human being at his birth is supple and tender, but in death rigid and hard. Thus suppleness and tenderness are the marks of life, and rigidity and hardness the marks of death.
Tao is always gentle, always yielding. And this is the philosophy on which the Japanese worked out the art of judo. “Do” is how the Japanese pronounce the word Tao, and ju means gentle. The analogy being the pine tree and the willow. The pine tree is a muscle head, and when the snow gathers up on the branch and it becomes icy, the branch cracks, but when the willow gets snow on its branches, the branch drops, the snow falls and the branch swings up again.
So this Tao cannot be defined according to language, that’s essential. Just because it is the flow of life, or a natural process, you cannot capture it. One can’t shut off wind inside a box and expect it to behave like wind, or catch flowing water in a bucket, because then it is no longer flowing. Now, Tao then, is what we might roughly mean by the basic energy of this world. But it is not a governing energy. It’s a kind of anarchy where there is no chaos, but equally where there is no order, or it has to contain both of them to a degree. The Tao does not rule. As Lao Tzu says:
The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them. And when merits are accomplished, it lays no claim to them.
In fact, the Tao is always self-effacing, always disappearing, always behind the scenes, hidden. So the Tao Te Ching can be considered as a manual of instructions to rulers. And it is saying “do not rule by ruling“. To be unobtrusive and generally leave things be. Let things take their course.
The next thing is that the Tao has a kind of order, but it’s not quite what we refer to with order. When we talk of order, we tend to refer to something symmetrical, like a library where all the shelves are rectangular. But the Chinese have a word for the order of the universe, which is Li(禮). Now the sign in this character had the original meaning of the markings in jade, the grain in wood, or the fibre in muscle – when you’re looking at the shape of a cloud, or the pattern of foam in the ocean water, you know that what you’re seeing is not a mess. That it is order, but not symmetrical. It doesn’t seem to follow any apparent pattern. So the best translation for Li is “organic pattern”, to use Joseph Needham’s word again. The Tao is “non-legal” in its nature. If it were “law”, then the Tao which can be spoken, would be the eternal Tao. And it can’t.
So Tao then is the principle of nature, and in Chinese the word nature or tzu-jan(pronounced ziran)(自然) is the same as spontaneity. When one has stomach rumbles or sneezes, they don’t plan for them usually, they happen spontaneously. Same way as one doesn’t intend to beat their heart, it happens by itself. But one doesn’t know how it happens.
Now the next thing to take up, is the word Te(德). And this means virtue, power, magic, as we say that someone is being a “virtuoso”, it has the meaning of Te in it. Incredible accomplishment. And in opening the section on it, Lao Tzu says:
Superior virtue is not virtue, and thus is virtue. Inferior virtue cannot let go of virtue, and thus is not virtue.
Or we might translate it to mean: a person who’s really got virtue, is not striving towards to be virtuous and so has it, a person of no virtue is so trying to be virtuous, that they’re not virtuous. In other words, they’re being self-conscious and artificial. A really virtuous person doesn’t let their virtue show through.
So Te is the virtue say of a great artist who creates marvellous works of art, but makes it seem like they’re using no effort to do it. So we say of great art that it comes naturally to them or without trying. We know of course that it isn’t that simple, but nevertheless it does appear to be so – so what everybody wants to know then is, how to acquire that naturalness, so that we in our human lives manifest the Tao. Tao manifested through a human being is Te.
The transitional word which leads the way to realize Te in one’s life is wu-wei, Wei meaning to act, to strive or to force, and Wu being “non”, so wu-wei comes to be “don’t force it”. Never swim against the stream but with it, wherever it takes you, and you’ll have the entire force of the stream with you always. This had been well understood by even the samurai in Japan, who when they became great masters of swordsmanship, always found their way and belonged to the “no sword school”, because the master of the sword never uses one. They never have to be in a fight. That’s why in Aikido, they teach one to be unattackable, to always avoid the fight. So that no matter how hard one is hit, they’ll always hit the air instead.
And it always comes about through not using effort or straining it. Like one doesn’t force a key into a lock, but gently jiggles it until it fits. Same way when one is using their eyes. Don’t stare at anything in order to see it clearly. You’ll just fuzzy your eyes, and strain them. When you want to see a distant boat out on the ocean, you close your eyes, imagine black, and then slowly open your eyes and look at it lazily, and the detail becomes clearer. Or as when one is singing, never force out the voice.
This also comes into the practise of meditation. There is a story of a man named Lieh Tzu, who had the reputation of being able to dance on the wind. When he explained how he managed to do this, he described it after years of practising as follows: “I let my eyes see whatever they wanted to see, I let my ears hear whatever they wanted to hear, I let my mouth say whatever it wanted to say, and I let my mind think whatever it wanted to think. And at the end of that year, I didn’t know what was subject and what was object, I didn’t take any account of time, I was riding on the wind but didn’t know which was riding on which.” – so he trusted his own nervous system and his own organism. So if you practise meditation, don’t try to meditate, but trust your organism. This is wu-wei. Now an excerpt from Watts:
“There is a Zen story which describes a woodcutter working in the forest, chopping down trees. And he suddenly noticed an animal in a bush over there that was watching him. This was a Satori animal. And he thought he’s going to get that animal for lunch. But the animal could read his thoughts and said: ‘You’re thinking of catching me, don’t you?’ And the woodcutter looked around and made for it, and the animal vanished and appeared at the opposite end of the clearing, laughing and saying: ‘You can’t catch me!’ The man thought he’s going to move to the opposite end next time from which the animal appears, and catch it that way. And the animal says: ‘You’re thinking of going to the opposite side from where you see me, aren’t you?’ And for a while, the man tried by going to various directions with his axe, but all to no avail. So being disgusted, he went back to chopping wood. And the animal laughed at him again and said: ‘So you’ve given up?’ And at that very moment, the axe head flew off the axe and killed the animal. You see, he had to get it without intention to do so. That is what’s called ‘purposelessness’ in Taoism, which is a form of wu-wei. And a Taoist text says: ‘When purpose has been used to achieve purposelessness, the point has been grasped.’”
So one thinks: “How can I be naturally natural? How can I really flow within the course of nature? How can I let my mind think whatever it wants to? Because the moment I start doing that, I realize I’m doing it for an ulterior motive, I’m trying to contemplate, I’m trying to achieve something spiritually. And that ruins the entire thing.” Well, when one has strived and tried for a long time to get the right approach, and found out that all the approaches that one gets are false ones, then one comes to the realisation that there’s nothing they can actually do about it, that it doesn’t make any difference to anything. Then one simply gives up, and in doing so, gains the strength and energy one was searching for.
These are just few of the countless ways to mystical vision out there, I am not saying it needs to be one of these that the reader should get into. But these are the ones that interested specifically the philosopher these articles are dedicated to. Now then. After discussing the methods of liberation, I will now move on to what I consider to be some of the most important attitudes and points regarding the “spiritual scene” that I’ve heard.
People don’t seem to grasp what meditation or contemplation is. They take it up like one takes up psychotherapy or some other self-improvement project, in order to become better. But if they do that, then they are not practising what is called dhyana, yoga, or zen. Meditation is the one activity that has no purpose other than itself – it is simply sitting and watching it all happen. And it is not done because it’s good for you, it is done for fun. One might say that meditation is a joyous thing. And if it isn’t, then one is not meditating.
Now, a lot of people think and believe that when one embarks on the path of spirituality and meditation, that it is necessary to have a guru or a spiritual teacher, to whom one conforms with their complete obedience. Is this really necessary? Well, yes it is necessary if one thinks it is. In other words, if one is feeling like nothing else in the world will satisfy them, then they must do it. It’s like that saying: “People who go to psychotherapy ought to have their heads examined.” But there is one thing to be said about the whole guru business so I’ll just lay it all out as best as I can.
What is the function of a spiritual teacher? They are the person who looks you in the eye and says: “Oh come off it! I know who you really are.” In other words, when one has a spiritual problem and they go to a teacher and ask for help, the teacher uses trickery or upaya, of skilful means to show the student the illusory quality of their problem, and makes them “persist in their stupidity”, so that they see the futility they’re in. But one should understand that what the teacher has done is essentially picked the pocket of the student and sold them their own watch – in other words, they will continue to use trickery so long as they can make the student fall for it. So that they finally see that it was a false problem. Because really and truly, you already are “it”, always was and always will be, and there is no way of not being “it”, call it Tao, God, Ultimate, or what have you.
But there are all sorts of ways or methods for people who are not ready to settle for this, and so want to be difficult about it. In other words, they will not accept the mystical experience until they feel that they’ve paid a sufficient price for it. And so these guys have arranged so many steps and so many stages for one to pass, before one has really attained to it. And so long as one can be persuaded that there’s something missing from their lives or them, or that one has to be something more, then they can be led by any old guru into buying their “script”. But really, all that one has to do is understand in the present moment, which is now. Because that’s really the only place to be – as the Sixth Patriarch of the Tang Dynasty, Hui Neng said: “The difference between the Gradual School and my Sudden School is, that while both of them share the same destination, the Gradual School is for slow-witted people, and the Sudden School is for fast-witted people.”
The mystical experience does not follow any fixed set of rules, it resides beyond them. So there is no one right way into the mystical vision, even though a lot of clergy and monks insist so. Someone might get it through a rigorous training that takes decades, others might get it from reading a book. So I will not say that people shouldn’t seek it through a teacher. Hell, I consider Watts as a sort of teacher. Whatever works for people. The method does not matter, the only thing that matters is that you keep at it. Because as William Blake said: “The fool who persists in his folly, will become wise.”
P.S. I have finally finished The Cosmos series. Oh wait, no I have not. Since publishing the original six, I realised I need to discuss three more topics I had not elaborated on before, which I feel to be of paramount importance. So expect three more articles to the series. The Cosmos articles are a tribute and an overview of what I consider to be the most important points of the philosopher, or as he liked to describe himself, “spiritual entertainer”, Alan W. Watts. All the material between the six entries is credited to his website, which is held by his son, and the link to it can be found at the end of each article.
A huge thank you to my friend over seas for doing most of the typing based on my terrible handwriting.
It has brought me great joy to introduce people to his body of work, even though all I did was arrange words into an adequate order between few articles, albeit from memory for which I also have to thank my brain. The material of Watts has given me endless hours of pure delight, and I wish it will do so for others as well.
His objective really was, as he described it, “the mutual fructification of eastern and western cultures.” Not in the spirit of converting anyone from either side to anything, but in the spirit of “you do not understand the basic assumptions of your own culture, if your own culture is the only culture you know.” He was in a way a teacher who said to people they don’t need teachers. He had a tremendous sense of humour, and enjoyed playing the role of the Joker from time to time. I’m choosing to leave the rest to the potential discovery of the reader. And if they’ve gotten this far, they’ll surely find the rest. Hint: try searching his name in YouTube.
I wish to make one last personal point. I’m choosing to prefer a thing called “complete freedom of information”. That is to say: the fact that words, or more generally, symbols that are arranged in a particular order can be an individual’s or corporate entity’s intellectual property, and thus restricted from circulation, is a ridiculous notion to me. All information should be in my opinion available to anyone and everyone. Now, knowing that such a philosophy in any sane circumstances would bring governments and other larger and smaller bodies down, and thus is not a realistic scenario any time soon, I’ll just have to wait around for the final step in our technological evolution when privacy vanishes.
But until such a time, I’ll just have to settle for things like these six articles. My point then boils down to this: realizing I’ve used a lot of material from someone else, I harbour no shame about it. There are two reasons. Firstly, all the material that Watts speaks of, is found in major far eastern “religions”, and so is not or should not be entitled to any one individual or groups. We are after all the entire universe, all of us, so why hide things from ourselves? Secondly, I don’t care. I don’t care if I had written the Oxford English Dictionary. If anything, that would show that I have a burning passion for copying words. Especially since I was originally using a fucking pencil!