Buddhism at Millennium's Edge - Seminar 4

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Copyright 1998 by Peter Matthiessen - Unedited Preview Cassette

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Great, right next to you there. We don't have to have more questions, don't feel you have to sort of think up questions. We could end with a little Zazen or anything else that we might want to do. Originally I was going to have a writing exercise to try to work toward an impressionistic thing, but again I don't know quite how we would handle the mechanics of it. Could you read from something else besides Far Tortuga? Read from Far Tortuga? Could you read from something else? I could read from The Snow Leopard, except somebody stole it. Oh here it is, here it is. Huh?


Well you can try it, but I recommend that you find others who would like to try it and then form up one of those groups that I talked about. I think for, I mean there's no way in our time left I could really administer it. I probably, we could have done it earlier, but we thought things were going. You know there was a lot of good talk and stuff. So I thought it seemed unwieldy. Another time. Oh good. Let's have any questions first and then if there's a little time I'll read a short passage. I wanted to ask you if you've written much poetry and if not, why not? And if so, what do you think of it in relation to your other writing as far as the experience of writing it and if it has a guide for other poems? Okay. I have written some poems. I'm a closet poet. A couple of them I think are okay, but I've never really, I've never submitted a poem anywhere


to anybody. I haven't written enough of them. I think one has to have a certain body of work. I did have the idea when I was writing this book called The Snow Leopard that I was going to do it like Master Basho's Journey to the Far North. And I would have these impressions and descriptions and then have haiku all the way through. I love the idea of writing haiku. And I discovered that I really wasn't that good at writing haiku. And that George Schaller, who was this technician, scientist, you know, with a very, very mind hating anything sort of fuzzy or metaphysical at all. George, as he always does, he just sort of ran out of books and he went through our chocolate in about two seconds. He's just one of those kind of people. There he was practically bookless and we were only about ten days into our trip. So I got him writing haiku. And the only haiku you will find in that book are by George Schaller. For some reason, he's a very good haiku writer, completely untrained,


but he got it almost at once. Furthermore, he's a good deal more mystical than his work or his persona would let you believe. When he gets up, when you get up at 15 or 16,000 feet and you're there for a few weeks, boy, it's amazing how you open up. So much so that I was wondering if we would still be friends after we went back down to the lowlands because he really did open his heart. He really talked freely, maybe for one of the very few times in his life. I see him, I see him infrequently, but periodically we're still very good friends. And he has, as I knew he would, he's closed up again. He hasn't really, you know, I think Zen practice would be wonderful for Schaller. He'd open up again, but it was wonderful what it did for us. Yeah. You mean the people in tiger countries?


Well, that's a very large and a very painful question. And I often find myself extremely torn. I am, you know, we are many too many of us, us mammals, big mammals, big dangerous mammals. But we have to take care of those who are here. Sometimes you see a kind of a scarily, almost dangerous point of view that, you know, really people would like to, they secretly are pleased when there are mass famines and stuff like that. I don't believe that. Our errors and our lack of wisdom, which always is so far behind our technological skill, because of that we have, there are many too many of us, but we have to take care of those who are here. But that does not mean we can't start educating people and one another about the future. We have to really cut down on our population growth, which is exponential.


You've seen those figures. They're really terrifying how fast it's happened and is continuing to happen. And I think there's a decline now, but it will take decades for it to have any effect. And by that time, there'll be an accumulated momentum of population. So there'll be many, many more people. So, but again, we're talking about jobs. Those loggers are real people with real families and they have bread to put on the table. And they don't care about the spotted owl. Why should they? They don't care about that. They have for them much, much more urgent demands. And I'm afraid there's a good deal of right on their side. How about the traditional people, traditional Inuit? I love the Inuit, but they are up there. They're hunting by treaty. They're entitled to hunt right whales and bowhead up in the Arctic Sea. And these are two disappearing species, probably. But now they're using, you know, motorboats and stuff like that.


And a lot of them are not in the old traditions, and they're not the people the laws were made for in many instances. So what do you do? A lot of Plains tribes, they need spotted eagle feathers, which they call the young of the golden eagle. They need those feathers for their ceremonies. Some of the Miccosukee, they need cougar for their ceremony. And often you really do interfere with that, a very, very age-old tradition. I'm very sorry the Chinese use tiger parts in their medicines, but it's not something new or tricky or venal. They always have, and they always had plenty of, they really had plenty of tigers, almost up until the time of Chairman Mao, who decided they were pesky, you know, brutes, and they should be eliminated, and they put a bounty on them, and that just about finished them in China. They're really quite a common animal. They're quite adaptable where they are. The tigers are really quite flexible, and they could come back very easily with any kind of encouragement. But you always are torn.


You always are torn. Some of you may remember, let me say it once, that I support Greenpeace. I'm a radical environmentalist. I've always supported Greenpeace since the outset. But I've been at odds with Greenpeace policies for a number of years now because they fake the evidence. They've been caught over and over again. You know, they say, you know, they're a little bit fanatic, and they say the end justifies the means, therefore we can fudge the data a little bit. And they did that thing on the young harp seals. You remember on the Labrador ice, these beautiful little white coats, they call them beautiful little white seals with black eyes, and there they are, these terrible guys clubbing them to death. And somehow, but that footage never quite showed the faces of the people who were doing the clubbing. They didn't name the ship. And there's quite a lot of reason to believe, and all the more so because Greenpeace was caught and admitted in court faking evidence in Australia about the killing of animals there,


that, who were those whalers? I've been a commercial fisherman. This is February on the ice of Labrador, and all I can tell you is I've never run into a commercial fisherman who could conceivably kill, I don't know, probably 50 or 60 of those things an hour, you know, or whatever, and only has two or three hours of light to do it in, or less, and a dim light at that. And it's very cold on the ice of Labrador in February, you know. Is he really going to stop and torture these animals and taunt the mother with the dead, and skin it alive, which is all a suggestion. And they showed Brigitte Bardot cuddling this harp seal pup. Well, it turned out Brigitte never left the studio, you know, kind of thing. She really was protecting him. It was a symbolic action. Well, how about the people who apparently didn't do this? They could never find out who these so-called seal hunters were. How about the people who lost their living?


They did. There's a dead community up there on the coast of Labrador, partly Inuit and partly Labrador Canadians. They lost their livelihood completely, the livelihood of many of the northern people. There was a seal boycott that came in. Don't buy seal products. The harp seal, there are millions of harp seals in the Davis Strait between Greenland and Baffin Island alone. And the harp seals are very definitely an added effect on the absolute destruction of the cod population, which made the Grand Banks, the Georges Banks, so valuable, that fishery. There are many, too many of them. I don't have to tell you people about too many seals. You have them right here on the docks. People can't get to their boats up and down California coast. And this isn't true of all species. Some species are rare and should be protected, but the harp seal was a fake issue. These are the pups of a very, very common, prosperous species that goes all the way across the Atlantic. Do you remember where I started off?


Where? Yeah. Native peoples. Oh, yeah. Yeah, sorry. The choice. Often there are some of these things. Perhaps you remember the famous gray whales trapped in the ice. Remember that off North America? Ronald Reagan, who made those wonderful conservation remarks about redwoods. If you've seen them one, you've seen them all. He needed a little help with his green image. Exxon was there with their usual track record. The Russians, who were the last people in the world fishing gray whales commercially, they lent icebreakers to save these two whales. The Inuit, who also hunt them. All the people who needed a lot of greening in their image were there. And the media. Everybody. Maybe hundreds of thousands, who knows, a million dollars, probably more, were spent saving these two dimwit gray whales that didn't make the cut. And who should have died for natural reasons because they really didn't.


They didn't do what they should have done in terms of their whatever. And they were caught. And there they are. And all the TV's hanging around, people moaning and sighing. Human beings are starving all over the world. Human beings are trapped in slums. Who cares about them? These two whales, we all want to return to mush over these two animals. Now, I love animals and I have all my life. And I write about whales. I love whales. But those two whales, I mean, how... Well, I mean, it's truly a travesty. And on top of all that, let me point out that it's extremely unlikely that those two whales survived. Anyway, after all that, you know, showboating up there around that ice hole. And it's disgraceful, you know. I am getting punchy. Maybe I better go to the next question. There's somebody here that I overlooked. It was right... Oh, yes, you. That was great. I was raised in an Episcopalian family.


And they were not very religious. My sister was a wonderful person, was very impressionable indeed. She was in love with Jesus for quite a long time and truly hated me for my irreverent remarks. And I wasn't... I had nothing against Jesus Christ at all. On the contrary, but I just didn't like her piety. I think it was an early reaction against the stink of sin. So, I wasn't a very religious person. But I have always loved the church. I've always loved church music. I love the stained glass windows. There's no cathedral so paltry that I won't go a hundred miles out of my way to see it and to be in it. I love that. I remember when my grandmother died, I was on a research trip in Mexico. And I couldn't get home. But I did go to a little church. I just sat with her meditating. And I wasn't even a Zen student then, but I just instinctively did that. I'm drawn to the church. I love church music, the greatest music we have in our culture. Really, it's church music.


It's wonderful. So, I guess I've always been a religious person. I've always seen and I'm drawn and I keep writing about mystical experience. I've always had a sense of things, but I simply was not an organized church person at all. And I came to Zen practice because my then wife, my late wife, we were very drawn to Eastern thought. Eastern poetry, Leopold, always. We just loved the way those minds worked. And we wanted a teacher. This was the early 60s. And we ran across this man who was kind of a renegade pioneer shrink. He was kind of Dr. John the Night Tripper. And he was a very early experimenter with LSD. And we moved into that and did a lot of that in the 60s. And then my wife, she had a succession of bad trips and she moved out of that.


And she went over to Japanese tea ceremony. And there a friend led her into the Zen world. And she led me. And that was about 1969. And that's really, I guess, how I... But I think there's always been that yearning for spiritual clarity. You know, some kind. I've always had it since I was a little boy. It just came about through rather odd ways. I think you know an awful lot of people. I think you would agree in the early days, especially with Zen in this country, a lot of people I know who I practiced with in the 60s, early 70s, were people who had used psychedelics and then gone away from them because we didn't like that chemical screen between you and the experience. And Zen practice can lead to something as powerful or more powerful. And so it drew a lot of people for that reason. But there is no question that those psychedelics, when they were used,


you know, Timothy Leary has a great deal to answer for. They used to say about Leary that he was the only human being on Earth whose ego was not soluble in LSD. And the very attention he drew to it was because of him, really. And Richard Alpert a little bit too, Ram Dass, but Ram Dass at least learned and changed. But those guys, really, they're the ones who got it prohibited and therefore it became an outlaw substance and nobody knew what they were taking. And it no longer was safe to use, you know. But I really mean this. I would never, I think there's an enormous amount of abuse of it and irresponsible use and a lot of damage was done to a lot of people because it's very, very powerful stuff. But I feel that if it were made as it was when I first started using it, made by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland, you knew exactly what you were getting and you could use it accordingly. And in the hands of responsible people who knew what they were doing, I know hardly anyone who would not have benefited by it.


And it's a great pity. You know, it's still used. There is a group that still uses it with the permission of the government because it proved so effective in certain specific ailments. And one was recidivism. People who had a tendency to keep getting caught and going back to prison, they were obviously hung up on something or they needed the safety of that routine, whatever it was. They were able to have a measurable effect on people who had that tendency. Frigidity in women was another thing that it was very effective with. People who were dying of some sort of terminal disease, enormously effective. And the results were so clear that even the NARC squad had to back down on that. And so these people still do experimental stuff with it in Maryland, I think. Hi. Yeah. So the film business being what it is,


I've had five or six of my books at once under option to be made films. And I can tell you this, that of those so-called properties, as they call them in Hollywood, that actually reach treatment stage and even first draft screenplay and maybe preliminary locations, preliminary casting, all that kind of thing, of those films that maybe hundreds of thousands of bucks have already been spent on, one out of every 483 ever makes it to the silver screen. So there's an awful lot of talk, and an awful lot of guys are living off the movie industry, but not so many films are made, and not very many good films. I've done it. Most writers do it here and there. When you're broke, you go out and do a screenplay. Your agent gets you one. And they're kind of fun to do, but the results and the people you have to work with and everything are so appalling. And I'm glad I don't really have to do that. I'll tell you a typical film story. I wrote a short story. It's in that collection somebody had here,


On the River Styx. That wasn't that story. It was called Traveling Man. It was a very, very simple concept. But Luis Buñuel saw it, and he was absolutely right. He made an incredible film where the animals, the wild animals were the character, and these two men were simply carrying all of this out, and the human voice was never heard until the very end of the film. And he came up to New York, and we had supper, and we talked about it. We were both so excited. We could hardly see straight. I was just amazed that he'd seen this, you know. So then I went off to New Guinea, and when I came back, oh, no. The guy who ran the New Guinea expedition, somebody here has worked with Robert Gardner. Gardner told me that he, and he was a friend of Buñuel. He went on location where they were doing this travesty in Mexico. And Buñuel at that time was politically unpopular. He was considered left-wing and not allowed in the country or something. And so he had to, he fell in the hands of these sort of fly-by-night producers.


And they said, ah, are you kidding? A film with no talk in it, and there's no sex interest or whatever. And this film which only involved wildlife and these two men, and it was a very strong, simple kind of allegory story. The white man has a 13-year-old nymphette mistress who's in there. She's in there for the sex interest. And then the black guy, and both these guys were very tough. The black guy is, instead of being this kind of escape guy from the road gang, kind of woods-tough and a good trapper and a good hunter, he turns out to be this guy in kind of peg pants. He's got a little fedora hat on. He says things, yeah, man, knock on that right there already. And it's sentimental, and it turns out the white guy is a real nice guy after all. I sat in the exhibitors preview theater when they had the first screening of it, and I was all by myself, and I turned the color of one of these chairs. I could feel it. I practically fainted. I got so embarrassed. So hot. Fortunately, it wasn't Bunuel's fault.


They just imposed this on him. He lost, he just couldn't control it. They did this to the film. It was held up in litigation with distributors, and it was never seen. And furthermore, it had a happy ending in this way. The guy, the terrible guy who made it, I remember him, the producer, they got the story out of me because I was broke at the time. I sold the story, which was very cheap, even for these guys, for 1,500 bucks, total world rights forever to this movie. And they stiffed me on that. I didn't get that. I got 500 bucks upon signing, and that was all I ever saw. And then the man died, and the film never came out, and I said, hey, Hollywood being what it is, forget it. You're never going to see the color of that again. A few years ago, this is how many years later, I mean an incredible number of years later, 25 or 30, I have a phone call from a very nice Mrs. Pepper.


And she said, I am the widow of so-and-so Pepper, whatever his name was, and I seem to have inherited the rights to Your Story, Traveling Man, which my husband made a film. And I said, he did. It's true. He did do that. And she said, I'm reading the accounts here. I'm trying to clear up his estate, and it seems, if I'm reading this correctly, I think you are still owed $1,000. And I said, Mrs. Pepper, I have no way of proving that, and you are quite entitled, legally and otherwise, to walk away with that 1,000 bucks, because I can't. I have nothing to cover it or show you. And she said, no, if you say, she said, do I owe you $1,000? I said, you do. Came right in the next mail. It was wonderful. Isn't that nice? She didn't have to do anything like that. That was wonderful. Why didn't I think of that?


Are there any copies of the film? Yeah, I think you can get it. For some reason, Bunuel fans think that what he did with this, despite all these obstacles, was really wonderful. I don't know, because I couldn't take it in. My story had been absolutely... The act of the white poacher was played by an actor, not a very good actor, but you may recall Zachary Scott. Those of you who are old, remember old Zach Scott? He's playing a guy who's supposed to be a great hunter, a guy who moves like a snake through the woods. And old Zach, they got him in a... For some reason, it's in southern swamps, but they had him in a lumberjack outfit. A big, hot, check shirt. You'd die of prostration if you walked around anywhere in that shirt. He has big, clumpy lumberjack boots on. And here's a guy who has never been in the woods in his entire life. He's stumbling over everything. I can't even believe this, you know. With his little black sidekick who's a little hipster. I talked earlier about the humiliations of being a writer. Well, that was another one to add to my list.


What is the title? Oh, The Young One. Something like that. A totally forgettable title. Did you get a credit? I doubt it, pretty much. I think they would dispense with that. Any guy who'd take 1,500 bucks for a short story doesn't deserve a credit, I'm sure. Were you anywhere involved in the incident with Lala? Ask the Redford. I was nowhere involved except that my book, In the Spirit of a Crazy Horse, was used so much for that film and also for the film that Michael Abt had ripped off from that film. See how angry I get? I'm falling apart. The cameraman and the director... Sorry, Norman. The cameraman and the director


and another guy involved with the film, they all said, we call your book The Bible. He said, we've absolutely looted it. Neither I nor Leonard Peltier, who owns his defense committee, gets half of every penny that book makes, whether it's a movie or a book or whatever, ever saw a cent. They never... They completely... So I did have something to do with it. I gave them their story and most of their lines but I didn't have anything to do with it. Hollywood. Do you have trouble with female characters or how do you deal with them? I didn't hear that question. Do you have any trouble with female characters? Is it easy for you to... I don't think I'm in a position to answer that question. I don't know. I think there are... In this new book, there are more female characters. There have been more serious female characters. And so I think you'd have to judge for yourself.


I really don't know. I do believe that really we are... I believe men and women are entirely different creatures. I hold that view. I think there's an enormous amount of evidence to support it. I think it's really true. Our responses are different. I was saying to somebody, I agree with the cliché that women should be running the world. I think I'm much better grounded. I think I have a much better spirit of life than men do. Men go off on their heads and do nutball, stupid things. And so I'm all for that. And I like women very much indeed. But whether I actually get the character of women speaking, I just don't know. I really don't know. I'm thinking. Now and again, male writers really do. If you've ever read William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness, that's an extraordinary book. And the heroine. I mean, the protagonist is a young woman. And it's an amazing feat. I don't think I'm capable of that. But I don't know. It's a curious question. How did you happen to ask that? Do you see it once?


My person, my appearance, that I'm an old dinosaur with terrible macho attitudes. I don't know. I have no experience with writing. And I just wonder how difficult it is. You talked earlier about getting into the character and can't really be true to the character. How important that is. You know, I think men will get certain things wrong about women and women writers often get things wrong about men. But I think they're more the subtle social things, the kind of things that Jane Austen was so good at, that very sharp eyes she had, men and women. She got the folly and all that kind of behavior. But I think on the deeply felt emotional things, love and loss and grief and all of those things, we are all human animals. And we really are, I think, as you go deeper, the point draws closer and closer.


And I think that's really what you're trying to tap into if you're writing a serious novel. I can make up a good woman character. I can read other people's books and I say, oh, that's pretty cute about the eyes, that's nice. And then she walks in a certain way and she dresses this way. It's really like putting the tail on the donkey. You assemble all these parts and it's a pretty interesting character. Anybody can do that, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the heartland of the character. Do you know what's the closest you've ever come to being taken by an animal in the wild? And what do you make of the parable of the eager Bodhisattva to throw himself to the tiger? I didn't hear that question. Would somebody repeat it? What's the closest you ever came to being attacked by an animal in the wild? And what do you make of the parable of the Bodhisattva offering himself or herself to the tiger to be eaten as an act of kindness? One time on safari in Africa,


we were going across this very wild country and I described this in a book called Sand Rivers. And we had a tracker up front and he had the rifle, this elephant gun he had, and then behind him was this warden, the old warden of this region, and then behind him was me. And we came around a great big thorn bush, a big high bush like that, and there, right there, I mean, I think in the first second, about as far as me and Norman, was a huge rhinoceros with a cub, not a cub, that was the tiger, calf, right by. Actually, the calf was confused and was facing the wrong way, very alert. Cute, ugly little thing. And, you know, rhinos are short-tempered. They're called Kali in Swahili. They're hot. They tend to go for you when you get into their space that far. It's pretty automatic. But for some reason,


and all the bearers of our safari dropped their packs and loads and really scampered, and the tracker passed the rifle back to this warden, and we were starting to back off, and I suddenly realized, that animal is not going to charge. She just, she had us fixed, and I just, I couldn't believe it. I could see every fly, I could see every fly in the crevices of her hide. I could see the dust and the air flicking and everything, even the droopy eyelids, you know, kind of thing. This comical calf faced the wrong way. And I guess that was, I've had lots of experiences. I had a crazy friend who was an elephant biologist in Nanyara Park who had amused him to have me in the open bed of his truck going through the forest, and if he could find an angry elephant, or make one angry, and there I was out there like a snail waiting to be plucked, and, ah! And I thought, why is this man so anxious to kill me?


And then he stopped, he stopped the car one day, really, it was really stupid, because the whole open was, the back was open, and I was, no, this time the whole car was open, and he had his girlfriend in the front seat, and I was in the back seat, and there were one of these tree-climbing lions, they're in Nanyara, they climb trees in Nanyara, lions do, because they're scared of the elephants, so to get above the elephants, they climb up on these limbs, and he stopped, and the lion is right there, so angry and so upset that her tail, her big old long tail with a black end on it, you know, the tuft, was just whacking the branch, I mean, she was like a rattlesnake up there, she was very agitated, and I said, what are you doing? And she said, oh, she wants a picture of this, and she said, I don't care, I just hate pictures of frightened animals, and I said, well, then don't take my picture, do I? So you do have, I mean, in this line of work, you're going to get in trouble with animals a little bit,


I don't like danger, I don't like the feel of it, but in this work, if you, I mean, what I do, sooner or later, you can't anticipate everything, if you want to, we did, we got the first films underwater of the great white shark, and it was hairy, my job, I was just a gopher, but I was in this cage, and the cage was made of aluminum, you know, that shark could open up that cage like a sardine can, without any trouble, just, in fact, he did, I'm very happy, I wasn't in the cage that day, but one day he got his dorsal fin, in between the bars, he just did a roll, because he felt himself trapped, he just did a roll, he opened up the whole cage, and the poor diver in there was crouched in the corner, you know, all I was doing in there, I was holding out, I was trying to lure him into the cameras, and he didn't need any luring, he came in like an express train, wham, up against the wall, and he was biting at the tanks, luckily the tanks were compressed air, and they're made of steel, even the white shark couldn't make a dent in them, but all that is thrilling afterwards, it's great fun to talk about, I love that I had that experience,


I love that I had that fear, but I cannot say I enjoyed it at the time, no, no, I don't like risk, I don't even like the name adventurer, it embarrasses me, it's a terrible, I think we're through, we've exhausted people, this avalanche of talk, yeah, okay, we've been very busy today, and a number of you, or several of you, have given me letters and things to read, and a painting, and everything, which is great, no need for that, but I'm very grateful, and I will have a chance to look at them, soon, and thank you very much for coming and supporting San Francisco Zen Center, and thank you Norman for having me, so we'll see you all again. Thank you.


For exactly two thirds of the time, if you figure it all out, the positive forces are in operation, but the negative ones have their innings because it goes off with such a big bang at the end, so this is the way the world ends, not with a whimper, but with a bang, according to this cosmology, and furthermore, I think to console you, is that time goes faster in the Kali Yuga than in the other Yugas, and in the end, you see, the destruction is personified as Shiva, who just dances the dance of the Tandava, with all his ten arms waving with knives, and clubs, and lightning, and everything, and the whole thing blows up, but the instant it blows up, everybody wakes up, and finds out who they are, and laughs it's silly, because what a terror, and how easily overcome. Now, that of course, again, I'm speaking mythological language,


and it is important to realize this, because mythological language is useful. You can say things with it you can't say in other ways, and often mythological ideas are more sophisticated than what you might call abstract, or even scientific ideas. You see, if you think of the universe as founded on Brahma, or someone like that, even Jehovah, you've got definitely an anthropomorphic idea of the Lord. He's the old gentleman, or he's the great dancer, whichever image you want to use. And you might say this is rather primitive. Yes, it is primitive. But there isn't really a better image. If you think of it as, say, to use Northrop's inimitable phrase, the undifferentiated aesthetic continuum, what you've got is a conception


vaguely resembling tapioca, or some kind of goo. And that is really an inferior conception to the human image. Alas, you see, we don't know anything more evolved than the human image. Angels, or with the ultimate... Alas, you see, we don't know anything more evolved than the human image. You may have had, some of you, conversations with angels, or with the ultimate itself. And when you do meet the ultimate itself, as some of you have, you know that you can't think about it. But it's certainly not a minus quantity. It's certainly nothing like goo. There's nothing like goo. It's just plain undifferentiated goo. So the advantage of mythological ideas is that you know they're mythological


and therefore you don't take them literally. That's a very important thing to remember. So don't worry about people who believe in God. The problem about believing in God, incidentally, is that believing is the wrong attitude. Believing is a form of mistrust because it's saying, I fervently wish that you exist and if you don't, I don't know what to do with myself. Now, the real attitude of faith is not believing, but simply being open to whatever reality is and to say you don't know. That's why even in early Christianity you find out that they call the highest form of faith unknowing, agnosia in Greek, from which we get in its kind of deprived sense the word agnostic. But agnosia, unknowing,


is the highest form of faith because ultimately, of course, what is the final witch in which there is no witcher wouldn't completely know itself what it was. Because in order to know what something is you have to be able to classify it and you have to compare it with something it isn't. And so the final ground of the universe is perfectly unclassifiable, therefore, strictly speaking, outside the domain of logic and formal philosophy. Now, having examined then these two mythological forms which underlie the Western man's intense feeling of alienation and separateness, we have to go into another dimension of the question. And that is the influence upon who we think we are of our social institutions. Now, what is a social institution? We know that there are things like


the family, marriage, the police, the courts, the law, the church, and we know that these are social institutions. But social institutions are far more subtle than those things. Time, for example, is a social institution because it is a matter of convention, that is to say, of coming together to agree to measure time in a certain way. And we have international agreement about that. Likewise, obviously, money is a social institution. So are weights and measures. So are ideas of value. What is the good life? Who is contributing to society? And who is working against it? So you see, we were discussing this morning, among other things,


excuse me, the idea of survival. And that survival is a good thing. And to survive as long as possible is a very good thing. But that is a form of social institution. It is something we have come to agree about. It isn't necessarily true in the sense that, shall I say, the French language is not a truer language than the English. But so long as people agree to speak a certain language, they can communicate. And they've decided that communication is a good thing. So any language that makes communication possible is a good language. And in a way, the more people who agree about it, the better. But it is a matter of agreement. You see, same way, the lines of latitude and longitude are conventions.


They don't exist. You can't tie up packages with the equator. But it's a very useful idea. And so in the same way, the ways in which we have shaped the constellations, that we all agree that the stars called the Big Dipper look something like a dipper. And though, you know, there aren't any strings tying them together, the constellation is not there as a constellation. So in a sense, we project our institutions onto the world in rather the same way that psychiatric patients project images onto a Rorschach blot. And what interests the psychiatrist is what sort of images this person produces. That tells him something about the person. In the same way, our social institutions tell us something about people. And furthermore, as I also explained this morning, people are also members of the external world.


And therefore they tell us something about the external world. Man is something nature is doing. And is not a stranger, as these two great myths have made us believe. So it's the physical facts of the matter are not that we are confronted with, note that word confront, with a world that cares nothing for us. And that is, has nothing in common with our kind and style of intelligence. It is rather the very opposite. That the fact that we are intelligent is symptomatic of the intelligence of the world as a whole. We live in a highly intelligent environment. And intelligence, you see, is really a kind of complex behavior.


When we see some very exquisite pattern, we look at it and say, my, isn't that wonderful? Isn't that intelligent looking? I wonder who did it? Because we associate all intelligence with a who. And when you look at a plant, it's obviously intelligent. Its shape, its rhythm, all its wonderful tubes inside, its complex relationship to bees and birds. And to the surrounding atmosphere and light. This is a very intelligent affair. Now, in just the same way, we are related to the external world, as plants are, in amazingly complicated ways. And by and large, we don't notice them. Because the aspect of our consciousness with which we notice things is very limited.


It notices what it calls facts, things and events, and pinpoints them, it pulls them out as significant. You see, when you remember coming here, and what you saw, and who was here, you only remember very tiny bits of the whole scene. You will not remember what very many people wore, unless you happen to be interested in clothes. You won't really remember how they did their hair, what their styles were, unless you are peculiarly interested in hairstyles. You probably won't notice their shoes at all. And goodness knows what else that nobody has ever thought to notice. But when, under certain circumstances, our consciousness becomes expanded, as in mystical vision, you begin to become aware of things that you don't notice. One of the most important things that we don't notice is space.


Most people regard space as nothing. It's just a void in which we move around. But actually, space is terribly important, it has properties. We are all something happening in space, in rather the same way that a whirlpool occurs in water. Space has turns in it. It has ripples in it. It has places where it's denser than at other places. And this is all becoming clear in physics. But it's certainly not impinged upon the consciousness of the average intelligent person. So the space in which we live and move and have our being is an intelligent continuum. It isn't just nothing at all. There's one little lesson about this that I will... that you must excuse me for repeating if you've heard it before, but it's very important. And it's a lesson in the value of space.


And it's showing you that space and energy are the same thing. Let us suppose that we have a universe in which there is only one ball. And that's all there is. There isn't anything else. Nobody can say of this ball whether it's moving or not. Therefore it doesn't appear to manifest any energy. You can't say it's moving, and you can't actually say it's still. There's no way of thinking about it. Now introduce into our universe a second ball. And we notice that they get further apart. Now one of them is moving. Or both are moving. But we can't decide which. We only know there is energy here. There is motion. Why do we know there's energy? Because the space between them alters. Either increases or decreases. Now let's have three balls. And you find two of them stay close to each other,


and the other one gets further away. Now which one is moving? The majority is going to decide. The two that stay together are going to say, we are moving away from that one. Or else, if they want to argue it differently, they'd say, we are standing still, and that one is moving away from us. Do you see, all these views are equally true. But if an argument starts up, the majority is going to win. But the point is, you see, space and energy are fundamentally related. There is no manifestation of energy without space. Also, we can drag in time, but I don't want to make it complicated. I want to make this little image as simple as possible, so as to understand the importance of space. That is to say, of the surroundings of things, of the background. And the background is ignored in ordinary consciousness. But in mystical consciousness, the background becomes important. You become aware, vividly, of the fact


that you, as an individual, imply, by your existence, everything else that exists. Or ever has existed, or ever will exist. You can't exist as the kind of person you are without all that. Now, that's the secret to the connection between you and the cosmos. Just as a back doesn't exist without a front, in just that sort of way, all of it doesn't exist without you, and you don't exist without all of it. Even if you die, you see, and disappear, totally, nevertheless, the fact that you exist, that you have existed, is still a fact. And a universe in which there has been a person like Socrates is quite a different universe


from a universe in which there hadn't been a person like Socrates. Socrates, having existed, is a symptom of the way things are. So, fundamentally, we get a picture of the cosmos, in which the self, the real I, is the whole thing. Just as we say of an individual human body. You are John Doe, and that's all of you. Although, if we look at you very carefully under an electron microscope, we will find that molecules in your blood are further apart than the Earth and the Sun. What makes you think you're a unity? It's quite a thought. Well, it's space. And so, in the same way, such a relationship exists between our galaxy and other galaxies and so on. It's obvious. So, then, by various conventions and social institutions,


we develop the impression that this isn't so. We learn to ignore. We learn not to notice certain things. And, do you know, not noticing is very, very important. In the Hindu theory of politics, all the, what are spiritual virtues, have political counterparts. For example, in the spiritual domain, the word Upaya, U-P-A-Y-A, means merciful techniques for awakening people, clever devices used by a teacher. In the political domain, the word Upaya means cunning, deceit. Likewise, in the spiritual domain, Upaksha means equanimity. In the political domain, Upaksha means overlooking. When, for example, the boss of the big concern


finds that one of his employees is taking out a little bit of the petty cash, now he figures out, is this man worth it? Are his services really worth it? And shall I merely ignore the fact that he's doing this? That would be Upaksha. Now, in our whole society, we do an enormous amount of Upaksha. The things we overlook, there are obvious things that we don't talk about. There is a taboo side to life that we don't mention. We're supposed to overlook it. You know, when silk stockings were first invented, with the fine mesh type, a present of several dozen of them was sent by an important American businessman to the Queen of Spain. And they were returned by her chamberlain with a letter which said, you should recognize that Her Majesty the Queen of Spain has no legs. In other words, those legs don't officially exist.


So, only what exists officially is what is noticed. And as we say, noted, noteworthy, make a note of it in your mind, in your date book. Noting and noticing, notation, you see, they're all based on the same idea, what we attend to. But there are a lot of very attention-worthy things that we ignore. But part of the whole game, you see, of a cosmos is played in this way. Imagine the cosmos as a great harp. You know, the angels are supposed to play harps in heaven. Well, the actual harp they play is the total possibility of vibrations. Now, you know about the spectrum of light. That is a series of vibrations. So is the spectrum of sound. Then beyond light, there are other vibrations which are not picked up by our senses,


but instruments pick them up. And then there must also be many vibrations as yet not picked up by any instruments that we have. Now, what is, you see, what we call nature is a system of picked-up vibrations. Some vibrations aren't picked up, and therefore nothing appears. That's why it seems that there's space around things, because the vibrations there aren't picked up. They're not noticed. And this is why there is a whole domain of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy called Tantra. Tantra refers to the idea of weaving. And so when you have a warp and a woof, the weaver decides what threads are going to be picked up and appear on the front, which is what everybody's going to look at, and what threads will be overlooked, repressed, put behind the scenes. They'll be behind. And so it will appear that we have a birdie here and a birdie there and a birdie there, and no connection between the birdies.


Actually, if you look on the other side, you will see that the red threads which made the birdies against the white background continues. Only that's not noticed. So in this way we are taught from childhood. We are indoctrinated in a system of social institutions that are simply rules about what is to be noticed and what is not to be noticed. That's why children ask sometimes very odd questions about things that adults don't notice. The famous story of the little boy who has been taken to a concert where a lady is singing, and he says, Mama, why does she scream when she yawns? So, and in the same way, inventive poets put together images that people never thought of before.


It's like Yeats' famous phrase, the be-loud glade. You know, it was a beautiful idea for a nice glade to be be-loud. And everybody says, Wow, think of that. We never thought of that before. We never thought of it just that way. We didn't notice that. Then you see, we don't notice the most obvious thing of all. That's, of course, the last thing that we would notice, what is most obvious. And the question, the fundamental koan, as it would be called in Zen, is what is it you haven't noticed? What are you ignoring? What have you forgotten? You know, you've forgotten something. Very important. In fact, you came in here, you know, without clothes on, in a sort of fit of absent-mindedness. I look at you and say, Haven't you forgotten something? You say, What? Well, I, oh, good heavens. So in the same way,


the fundamental who we are, the basic identity, the Brahman, the Tat, which Tvam Asi, that's what we've all forgotten. But by ignoring it, we make this game. So then, let's see what we do, precisely in steps, about social institutions in training the young. First of all, it's important to identify a child. The child has got to be someone. And we often say of a child we think is dumb and incompetent, you're never going to amount to anything. You're just going to be unimportant. You're going to be something unnoticed. So a child has to find out the approved way of drawing attention to itself.


If a child succeeds in not drawing attention to itself, it won't get fed, for one thing. So the very first yell of a baby is, in a way, a way of getting attention. And that's what we want people to do. But, we want a certain kind of way of asking for attention. We don't like it when babies howl and get attention that way. I don't know why not, because sometimes if you really listen to a baby crying, it's a very beautiful sound. But it gets attention because it's annoying, and we want to stop it. So, we fundamentally want people to love us. And we don't believe that they will, unless somehow we put them in a situation where they must. So we have all kinds of processes for charming people


and eliciting their love. They range, you see, first of all on one end of the spectrum, from being physically attractive. That elicits attention. Another way is to be funny. And people laugh, and they like you having something around that's funny. Another way is to be helpful. To wash the dishes and things like that. That's good. Another way is to be weird. Only that's a little disconcerting. You have to be careful how you play that one. Or they may put you in a place where you're not seen. All the time you're playing this game, of course everybody else is reacting to it. And they're talking to you, they're giving you messages about the kind of attention-making scene you're playing. And they don't want you to do anything in this game


that will discombobulate them. They want you to play it according to certain rules so that they'll know what you'll do next. That's terribly important. People mustn't be too surprising. We, you know, we like things to stay put. We like them to be regular. And if you had a kettle, which suddenly developed legs and walked off the stove, you would say it was uncanny. And put it in a zoo or something where it would be safe, where it wouldn't do anything further unpredictable. So for the same reason, we have a fairly large number of acceptable character roles that people are allowed to play. And you should watch these things very carefully because it's tremendously instructive to figure out what kind of roles your friends are playing. They have, of course, through long, long accustomedness,


come to believe that that's who they really are. And that when they are playing their role, they are being themselves and being straight and honest. That's a deception that's very easily arranged by choosing between a number of roles in early life that you might play. You've got to decide whether you're going to be a serious person or a clown or whatever, you know? And then you behave as if the roles you've discarded were the superficial ones. The one you've decided to play is the deep one and that's really you. That is soon done in this way. A child notices very early in life that he's a different person in different environments. He is one person in the company of his parents, sometimes one person with his father and another with his mother. He's another person with a nursemaid. He's another person at school. He's still quite another person alone with other children. And still someone else when he's by himself.


He makes a visit to relatives. I know very well that I was a different personality in my aunt and uncle's home than I was in my own home. Because you respond to the environment, you get very, very subtly delivered cues that certain attitudes are expected of you. And you don't just play these attitudes outwardly in how you speak and gesture. You play them inwardly. You think the thoughts that the other people are suggesting you think. If you listen to what you call your own mind very carefully, you will discover that it's full of the echoes of other people's voices. What do I think about this? And you think, but actually it's your mother talking to you. Or the sort of thing she would say. Or whoever else it may be, someone you admire very much. So the interchange of our own behavior and the messages that come from the environment and especially from other people give us the message that identifies us.


It tells us who we are. And in this culture, you see the messages that we get from the social environment do not tell us very many things about ourselves. They do not tell us, above all, about the big secret. How we are connected with the cosmos. Because that, in this weaving game, has been left out in the background. Now, I have spoken, obviously, of many of these social institutions in a somewhat, a way that will sound critical to you. As if they weren't too, as if some of them weren't really a very good idea. And we have to figure out ways of deciding about social institutions. Whether they are good games or not. And that's quite difficult. When we contrast


a Victorian family with a modern family, very different game rules are being played. And we have more or less decided today that they weren't playing very good game rules. If you contrast a book, for example, on child-rearing, written in, say, 1860, with Dr. Spock. Well, Dr. Spock is post-Freud. And since Freud, ideas of child-rearing have altered quite radically. And also, one must not forget that Montessori, and Froebel, and all sorts of other people, and not to mention, what's his name, Summerhill, come in between. Now, on what grounds will we say that the game in which a child is now educated


at a reasonably progressive school is better than the kind of school I went to? Which was based on the fundamental game rule of this school is suffering builds character. And therefore, you could mistreat somebody out of compassion. That it is good for him. Now, you could say, well, I've had many arguments with my father about this. My father's a really genuine philosopher, a man with a very open mind. But he said once, he said, think of any great man who ever came out of a co-educational school. You know, it's the sort of question that you've never thought of, so you don't have any ready answers.


But he was convinced, you see, that in a boy's life, association with women is weakening to the character. And that's why boys are sent away to be in the company of men. Get them out of those womanish ways. And make them tough. You see? Now, if you're playing society by that sort of game rule, and you want men to be soldiers, and so they'll be happy with each other, with no women around, and you want them to be explorers and all that sort of thing, then you will say that kind of education produces good results. But you see, we're living in a world where soldiers are becoming obsolete. They're just becoming a menace and a danger. And we've got to be very careful that we only breed a few of them. Just like bees have these problems of how many of this type of worker and so on to breed. And we have this as a very serious problem. And it's changing rapidly.


It's changing so rapidly that we're in considerable doubt as to what kind of human characters are advantageous to have. You see, there are circumstances in which people who simply conform and cooperate are a damn nuisance. Because they don't get any new ideas. And what we needed was new ideas. And we needed people with the courage of their convictions. There are other circumstances where we've got enough ideas. And people with new ideas just make things complicated. I have a psychiatrist I met recently on my travels who said, I don't know if I'm going to come to your seminar. We'd had a conversation and got on rather amusingly. He said it would be a terrible, terrible problem to me to get any new ideas. He said I would have to reorganize my entire operation. And it's going along pretty smoothly now. And I, you know, said I have a hospital and I have many men under me working and we've got a system going.


If you give me new ideas it's going to be awful. So there is some problem, you see, about this whole question of roles. And what roles people ought to have. So what we do, we keep a certain number of roles that are acceptable. And these are the identities you may choose from. Now look at how this is reflected in the criticism of the novel and in writing the novel. One of the chief things a novel will be criticized for is for having characters that are inconsistent. If you want to read a novel that is absolutely hysterical where the characters aren't consistent it's called Cards of Identity. And it's by a Britisher whose name slips me at the moment.


But Cards of Identity, it's about a club that specializes in changing people's identity. And to read papers on identity problems. And it is simply hysterical. There are some scenes in it that are some of the funniest things I've ever read. It has a kind of a weak end, the book sort of fizzles out with a bad parody of Shakespeare. The main part of the book is very funny indeed. But ordinarily you see in a novel what happens is so funny is the way these identities change. And the way personas are suddenly broken down. And the man with the, you know, they get a doctor in the house and he's really got a professional bedside manner. And they take him apart completely. And they turn him into the gardener. And, oh, he's changed entirely. So this is a novel about inconsistency. Of character. But you see, what we read in fiction is what we expect in life.


Consider for a moment how much of your attitude's been influenced and your moral standards by jokes in such papers as the New Yorker. What is an acceptably funny situation? Sometimes, for example, a man like Charles Adams will pull the thing the whole way around by making somebody who is really terribly evil seem extremely amusing. And here's this little boy making a coffin in his carpentry class while all the other little boys are making useful toys. Little chairs and toys. Toy aeroplanes and things. And, well, you begin to wonder would it be all right if you could laugh about it, you see.


Well, the real joke is what's he going to do with it, you know? He's got a dwarf sister he wants to get rid of, you see. He's working at it. Yes, exactly. Now, the basic thing, then, is we are given a choice of roles and we are encouraged to be consistent in our roles through the novel and through drama and through all kinds of other means so that people will be controllable, so that they won't be too jumpy. What is it that worries you about somebody who is insane? See, a friend of mine had a patient who, when he came into the outpatient department in the veterans' hospital every day, would have to sign himself in. And on the roster where you signed yourself in there was a place for your occupation.


But he changed his occupation every day. And one day, when my friend received the card, you know, that he signed as he comes in, he said, oh, I see you're the mailman today. And he said, yep, and I'm married to a mailbag. Well, think of the meanings in that. You know? The trouble with certain schizophrenics is that they've got an association pattern going. They make the most devastating puns. And the people don't appreciate these puns because they're too deep, they don't follow them. The schizophrenic person gets worried because people don't appreciate it. And he sees how everything goes together and plays this language. And if people don't appreciate it, it leads to trouble. Well, it so happens that my friend is very sharp and loves that kind of message.


And they got on very well together. He finally explained to him that how to use languages, how to say the right things on the right occasion, because these nuts called sane people won't understand you if you make that pun. So you see, you should study certain books if you want to understand roles. Like the games people play, like Irving Goffman's books on the presentation of the self and his wonderful book Asylums, which show the games of total institutions like asylums, prisons, hospitals, the army, that is to say, where people are there involuntarily, how these institutions are really run for the staff, how to get out by playing the game properly.


All that sort of information is there, and I can assure you, highly useful. He is a very bright sociologist at the University of California. That, and you'll learn a lot too from Cards of Identity. Nigel Dennis is the name of the author of Cards of Identity. Nigel Dennis. But, therefore, remember at the same time, though, that the role you have, over the years, gradually acquired and are playing is a social institution, in the same way that the equator is, or in the same way that a certain language is. It isn't the real you. And, in many cases,


therapy, in which a person, as a result of which a person, feels that they've found themselves, means that they have exchanged an impossible game for a possible one. They haven't really found themselves. They haven't gone, or very rarely, gone behind the game. But, you see, the difficulty of games is that people do play impossible games. And those are games in which the rules are self-contradictory. Now, this happens when, for example, a parent says to a child, you must go to sleep. Instead of saying, you are a nuisance,


I have a headache, and you are noisy, and, therefore, I'd be much happier if you disappeared, the parent makes out that it'd be awfully good for the child to sleep. And... So, the child gets two messages. One message seems to be saying, beneficently, wouldn't some rest be lovely, darling? But the other message that the child gets is, you are a nuisance. Drop dead. Anyway, for a while. So, that's rather disturbing. And then, when the child stays awake and can't go to sleep, the mother may say, try to go to sleep. Now, you know, make a real effort about relaxing. That's very confusing. There's no way of trying to go to sleep, none whatever.


The only way to go to sleep is to stop worrying about sleeping. And if you can't sleep, get up and do something. Until you just drop off from exhaustion. In the same way, mothers and fathers, and it used to be so with nurses, threaten children about their bowel movements. And they say, it must happen. And it must happen on schedule. Every day after breakfast. I was tormented with this, by a whole barrage of people throughout my childhood life. They were all mixed up. Because they were trying to make you do something, which comes naturally, like having ears, as if it was something you had to do by way of obeying a commandment. As if it was written in the rule book,


thou shalt have ears. Thou shalt not have two heads. Well, it isn't. But it's played that way. And so, children become amazingly confused, by being ordered to do things, which can only happen spontaneously. And if they don't happen spontaneously, then there's obviously something wrong. The child needs to see a doctor, who will look at it and see if there is something wrong. Or whether the child is simply different from other children, and has a different rhythm. We all have different rhythms. Watch then, in the games you play, for self-contradictory games. You must love me games. I'm more sincere than you are games.


And so on. Because all those are games with self-contradictory rules, and therefore cancel themselves out. The only people who ought to play games like that, are those who know they're playing them. And then they can sometimes be exceedingly effective, for releasing people from their self-contradictory games, on the principle of a hair of the dog that bit you. Shall we have an intermission?