Seminar on Taoism

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Alan Watts on Taoism, session 1


This reel was part of the original SR pilot collection, but is not SR speaking.

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the subject of this seminar is gonna be taoism
as contained in the teachings of louder and longer
who lived
approximately four hundred years or more before christ
separated probably buy one hundred years from each other
that is often repeated
announcer started out
by explaining that the doll which can be explained is not the eternal tao
and then went on to write a book about it
also saying
those who say do not know those who know do not say
because there's nothing to be explained
explain means to lay out in a plane
that is to put it on a flat sheet of paper
all mathematics has done on a flat sheet of paper until very recent times
but it makes a great deal of difference because this world isn't flat
if you draw a circle on a flat sheet of paper it has an inside and an outside which are different
on the other hand if you draw a circle around a donut the inside and the outside of the same
what we are the first of all saying
is that the dow
whatever that is
cannot be explained in that sense
so it's important
first of all to experience it so we know what we're talking about
and in order to go into taoism at all
we must begin by being in the frame of mind
which can understand it
you cannot force yourself into this frame of mind
any more than you can
smooth disturbed water with your hand
but let's say that are starting point
is that we forget what we know
i'll think we know
that we suspend judgment about practically everything
returning to what we were when we were babies
when we have not yet learned the names
all language
and although we have extremely sensitive but is
very alive senses
we have no means of making an intellectual or verbal commentary on what is going on
how can you
consider that as your state
just plain ignorant
but still very much alive

and in the state you just feel what is
without calling it anything at all
you know nothing at all about anything called an external world in relation to an internal world
you don't know who you are you haven't even got the idea of the word you or i it's before all that
nobody has taught you self control
you don't know the difference
between the noise of a car outside
and a wandering thought that enters your mind they're both something that happens
you don't identify
the presence of the thought which might be just an image
have a passing cloud
and your mind's eye
and the passing automobile they happen
your breath happens
light all around you happens
your response to it by blinking happens

so you simply are really unable to do anything
there's nothing that you're supposed to do nobody's told you anything to do you are unable completely to do anything but be aware of the buzz
the visual bugs the audible buzz the tangible buzz
the smell of all bugs all bugs as go out
watch it
don't ask who's watching it you have no information about that yet
that it requires a watcher for something could be watched somebody's idea
you don't know that
allowed sir says the scholar learn something everyday the man of dow unlearned something everyday
until he gets back
to not doing
that's what we're in at the moment

just simply
without comment
without an idea and your head
be aware
what else can you do don't try to be aware you are

you'll find of cost that you can't stop the commentary going on in your head
but at least you can regarded as interior noise
listen to your chattering thoughts
as you listen to the singing of a kettle

we don't know what it is we are aware of
especially when you take it all together
and there's this sense of something going on
i wanted to say that this isn't this
well i said it was going on
that's an idea
the form of words
obviously i wouldn't know if anything was going on this i could say something else wasn't
i know motion by contrast with rest
so while i am aware of motion i'm also aware of a rest so maybe wants at rest isn't going on and what's motion is going on so i won't use that concept because i got to include both
and if i say well here it is
that excludes what isn't like space
and if i'd say this it excludes that
reduced to silence
but you can feel what i'm talking about country
that's what's called dow
that's why we begin
means basically way
and so course the course of nature
our which loud so says doubt thoughts city on which means
the fuck dow for means
the way of functioning of the dao zu yan is of itself so
that is to say is spontaneous

watch again what's going on
if you approach it with this wise ignorance
you will see that you are witnessing a happening
in other words
in this primal way of looking at things there is no difference between what you do on the one hand and what happens to on the other it's all the same process

just as your thoughts happen
the car happens outside
the clouds the stars
when a western ideals that
fatalism or determinism
that's because he still preserves in the back of his mind
two illusions one is that what is happening is happening to him
and therefore he is the victim of circumstances
but when you are in primal ignorance there is no you different from what's happening and therefore it's not happening to you
it's just happening
so as you know what you call you what you later call you was part of the happening your part of the universe although the universe strictly speaking has no parts
we only call seven features of the universe parts of it you but you can't disconnect them from the rest without causing them to be utterly non-existent but never to have existed

when you have this happening the other illusion that her western is labo to have is that it's determined in the sense that what is happening now follows necessarily from what happened in the past
but you don't know anything about that and your primal ignorance
cause and effect
why obviously not ah because if you are really nice if you see
that the past is the result of what's happening now
it goes backwards into the past
like a weight goes backwards from a ship
all the echoes are disappearing finally go away and away and away and it's all starting now
what we call a future is nothing
the great void on everything comes out of the great void
that's the way a naive person and they as i explained if any viewer my lecture last night
if you shut your eyes and
contemplate reality only with your ears
you will find this a background of silence and all sounds are coming out of it
they start out of silence if you close your eyes listen just listen

you see the bell came out of nothing floated off off off off and then stop being a sonic echo and became a memory which is another kind of echo
awake is very simple
it all begins now
and therefore it's spontaneous
it isn't determined
that's a philosophical notion nor is it capricious that's another philosophical notion as we distinguish between what is orderly and what is random
of course we don't really know what randomness is
you talked to a mathematician about randomness you'll make you feel quite weird
to take the los angeles phone book
take the last number on the right-hand side of each column
i make a series out of it
the too many patterns of recurrence for them to be considered random
well anyway
what is so of itself sui generis in latin
that means coming into being spontaneously on its own accord the real meaning of virgin birth sui generis
and that's the world that is the doll
that makes us feel scared
but because we say well of all this is happening spontaneously who's in charge
i'm not in charge that's pretty objects
but i hope this god or somebody looking after all this
but why should it be
someone looking after it because then as a new worry that you may not have thought of
like who takes care of the caretakers daughter while the caretakers busy taking care
who guards the gods
who supervises the police
who looks after god
when you say god doesn't need looking after
oh well they're not as this
because thou
is a certain kind of order
and this kind of order
is not quite what we call order
when we arrange everything geometrically in boxes or in rose
ah that's a very crude kind of order
but when you look at a plant it's perfectly obvious that this bamboo flowers
has order
we recognize at once that that is not a mess
but it is not symmetrical
and it is not geometrical looking
it looks like a chinese drawing
because the chinese
appreciated this kind of order so much that they put it into their painting non symmetrical order
and the chinese language this is called lee
and the character folly
means originally the markings and jade also means the grain and would and the fiber and muscle
we could say to the clouds have lee marble has lead
the human body as league
and we all recognize it and the artist copies it whether he is a landscape painter a portrait painter or an abstract painter or a non objective painter they all are trying for me
and the interesting thing is that although we all know what it is there's no way of defining it
but because now is the course
we can also call lee the watercourse
because the patterns of lee our patterns of flowing water
and we see those patterns of flow memorialized as it were in sculpture
in the grain and wood which is the flow of zap
in marble
in bones
in muscles all these things are patterned according to the basic principles that is the thought d-alpha the dow's principle or flow
there is a book called sensitive chaos by theodore shrank with many many photographs and studies of flow patterns
and therein the patterns of flowing water you will see all kinds of motifs from chinese art
immediately recognizable including the s curve in the circle the yang yangon
like this
so really means than the order of flow
the wonderful dancing pattern of liquid
because loud the likens dow to water
the great dow he says flows everywhere to the left into the right
like water i'm interpolating that it loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them
because he says elsewhere water always seeks the lowest level which men a hall
because we're always tried to play games of one upmanship and be on top of each other allows the explains that the top position is the most insecure
everybody wants to get to the top of the tree and then if they do the tree will collapse
that's the fallacy of american democracy
you too might be president the answer is no one but a maniac would want to be pressed
who wants to be put in charge of a runaway truck
so loud says
the basic position is the most powerful
and this we can see at once in judo
you are an eye kiddo
which are
wrestling arts or self defensive arts
you always get underneath the opponent
and so he falls over you
if he attacks you
the moment he moves to be aggressive you go either lower than he is or in a smaller circle than he is moving
and you have spin if you know i can go
you're always spinning and you know how something rapidly spinning exercises centrifugal force so if somebody comes into your field of centrifugal force he gets flung out
but by his own bombs
it's very curious
so therefore the watercourse way
is the way of dow
that seems to white anglo-saxon protestants into irish catholics
spineless acid
and i'm always being asked when i talk about things if people did what you suggest wouldn't they become terribly passive
well from a superficial point of view
i would suggest that a certain amount of passivity
would be an excellent corrective for are kind of culture
because we're always creating trouble
by doing good to other people
you know we wage was for people's benefit
and that
educate the poor for their benefit
so that they desire more things which they can't get
i mean that sounds rather callous
about our rich people are not happy
whereas the poor people of haiti are
to judge by the way they laugh
and we think
we're sorry really not for the poor but for ourselves
so a certain amount of doing nothing on stopping rushing around would cool everything
but also it must be remembered that passivity is the root of action
where do you suppose you're gonna get energy from just by being energetic
no you can't get anything that way that is exhausting yourself
to have energy you must sleep
but also much more important than sleep is what i showed you at the beginning
passivity of mind mental silence
not you can as i tried to explain be passive as an exercise that's good for you
you can only get to that point by realizing there's nothing else you can do
so for god's sake don't cultivate passivity as a form of progress has like playing because it's good for your work
you never get to play
who suffer
now passivity that is the root of energy in the same way that nothing is the root of something
nothing implies something does to something implies nothing you can't understand one idea of without the other one
but as that their the positive and negative force of electricity
you and dow you are allowing you to manufacture not because there is no you either to allow or disallow we don't have to get used to that
that it did what happens is nothing to do with your say so
except that if you do have a say so that's part of what's happening but it is irrelevant
it's not trying to pull yourself up by our own bootstraps it doesn't work you can try nothing stopping but it doesn't have any effect except wearing you out turn the same way to try and force the issues
wears you out
and when you force the lock you usually bend the key
so you jiggle gently until you find the right open so in the same way anybody who knows how to conduct business
always jiggles the key to find the right moment to turn the lock and then it all happens as if it would natural and none of it were forced
that's the judo way of going about it
so therefore the watercourse
we'll give you the sense that your life
is a flowing
the flowing is equally you and what has not you or called not you
it's the process that's happening
and where do you understand that you will stop asking questions about it
you will see that all asking of questions about it
is as i shall i say tautological
you get explanations but it's don't explain all explanations of what's happening call for further explanations because big explanations of little explanations upon their backs to buy them little explanations have lesser explanations and so ad infinitum
this is the analytic process that produces the atomic universe
the electronic universe the proton a universe and so on and so on
and if you go the other direction
you'll find the solar system in a galaxy the galaxy and a system of galaxies and then goodness knows what
because obviously the universe
as it seeks to know itself must run away from itself
as your eyes revolved when you turn to look at them
you are the universe
you are aperture through which it is aware of itself
holes in the wall as it were
and so as you look
now you see it now you don't
it's very simple
so you'll find therefore that
the big quest
what is it
what am i supposed to do
what is human destiny why are we here
these questions will slowly disappear and that itself will be the answer
the answer will be this is why this is what is going on that cannot be described the dow dow is simultaneously departing and arriving
that's the meaning of the o'donnell ah the eternal about

well then

to go with the watercourse
it's called by louder
wu wei
who means not way
as a complex of meanings
which can be action
our best forcing
not forcing as will way
so he says thou will wei tao does nothing but nothing is left undone
another was dow accomplishes all things without forcing them
and so therefore when you
the that's the wrong word because it has the idea of superiority
when you come to away by as it were coming down
you are working on the same principle as the doll
and so this is likened poetically
to the difference between a willow and a pine when it snows
the pine is a rigid tree and the snow and ice piles up on the branches until they crack the willow is a springy tree and when the weight of the snow is on the branch the branch drops and the snow falls off on the branch comes up again that's will way
john's or tells a lovely tail
that a sage was wandering along the bank of a river near an enormous cataract
and suddenly way up beyond the cataract he saw an old man
a roll off the bank into the cataract
these authors too bad he must be old and ill and as making an end of himself
but a few minutes later the old man jumped out of the street way down beyond the cataract and when running along the bank so the sage and his disciples when scooting after him and said this is the most amazing thing we ever saw how did you survive but he said there's no special way i just went in with a swirl and
came up with the will
i made myself like the water so there was no conflict between myself and water
so in the same way when a baby is an automobile accident you'll find often with the baby is uninjured
because the baby didn't go rigid to protect itself
so when likewise when you learn to fall in judo
you learn
to call up limply
and yet make your arms very heavy so that they flop with an immense thought on the floor and that making heavy is again like water
and this absorbs the shock
it doesn't you see you must realize that the watercourse is not complete limitless because water has weight and therefore strength
and that really all energy that the secret of will way is that all energy is gravity
we as a planet would if we encountered some obstacle in space
there would be an enormous release of energy
the obstacle would feel that it was being hit by some colossal force but the planet is falling around the sun
and the sun is falling around something else the whole universe is falling but since there's nowhere for it to drop it's a sort of not a falling out anything it's is falling around itself
sometimes of collisions but everything's got so much space that they're very rare
maybe the ones it didn't have space has been eliminated
i became all the dust that's in the sky
but it all energy is gravity as the secret of judo and it's really the secret ultimately of the puzzle of the relationship of gravity to energy
it's the real secret of equals mc squared
energy is mass
times the square of the velocity of light

energy so comes from gravity
and so we don't have a situation which is purely limp

therefore we're way
is intelligent course of action
because intelligence itself
is the laziest way of dealing with a situation
it is not so much necessity as laziness which is the mother of invention
how could we do it in a simpler way
is always the question of the good technologist initially the technologists thinks are very complicated ways
but as time goes on all his operators get smaller and smaller and lighter and lighter
and the best machines have no moving parts
as one approaches the potluck machine one approach approaches something like a magic stone
a transistor a crystal which contains an enormous amount of information without having to move
and this increasing simplification
his intelligence
so that a very very intelligent things would be the most difficult to understand because we would not see the explanation of their parts
of the
structures the farms contained within

so it is remarkable isn't it that from
the very simple cells
which look almost completely transparent
all the complexities of living organisms can proceed

so now if you want you see to find an intelligent solution to a problem
the work is done with your brain
you have all the necessary intelligence inside this bone
only most people never use their brains they use their minds instead
and think that they use their minds like they used their muscles that you constrain your head and work very hard with it as if it were a muscle to achieve a result but that doesn't work that way when you want to find out the answer to something what you do is you contemplated
visualize your problem your questions as well as you can
and then simply look at it
because you don't try to find a solution because any solution that comes in that way as liable to be wrong
but when you have watched it for a while the solution comes of itself
and that is the way to use your brain it works for you in the same way as your stomach digest your food
without your having to supervise it consciously
but all our attempts to supervise everything consciously have led to things that aren't too good for our stomachs and so far you know how it goes ah
they're the reason for that is quite simple
that conscious attention employing words
you cannot think of very much
we know almost everything while we're thinking
we think along a single track
but the world isn't going on along a single track the world is everything altogether everywhere and you just can't take that into consideration that as the time with your brain can because the brain is capable of handling innumerable variables at once
whereas you're conscious attention is not or rather small strictly speaking verbal symbols are not capable of handling any more than a one very very crudely simple track
that's why we have to trust our brains
because you see we are much more intelligent
then our understanding of ourselves
when a neurologist admits that he has only begun to scratch the surface of understanding the nervous system
he is actually saying that his own nervous system is smarter than he is
it's outwitted him so far

and that's remarkable isn't it
so you see what you are is necessarily more than anything you can understand
for the simple reason
an organism which completely understands itself
would be comparable
to lifting yourself up by our own bootstraps
oh kissing your own lips
there's always this element of the nothing or unknown
in any process of consciousness or knowledge
and if that irritates you
remember you are really addressing yourself to a stupid problem because fire doesn't need to burn itself any more than a light needs to shine on itself
so for light to ask what am i
although it sounds like a sensible question isn't

how could you answer it
let me demonstrate this do in another and perhaps simpler way
for many many hundreds of years human beings have wanted to know what is isn't this
what does matter substance
obviously it seems there must be
the basis for all the shapes that we see
after or clay is the basis of vessels iron as the basis of tools wood as the basis of furniture but what is the basis of that what is the substance common to everything
well we had tried to find out and that was the reason at least in the beginning of things why physicists tried to find out what matter energy is
when you will consider the problem consider the question
ask yourself what sort of answer you're looking for
supposing you found out what matter is and what sort of language would you be able to describe it
you realize that you couldn't
because all that language can describe
whether the language be of words or of dumbbells
his pattern form
we can measure form
we can outline it we can explain it
but we couldn't possibly explain stuff
just basic pump
there would be no way of talking about it
therefore we're asking a silly question we're asking for a question to be answered in terms which couldn't answer that and of question
so therefore we might say
you don't need rarely the idea of stuff of matter
because what you've got his form and i could say it's the form that matters
and anything
and you know you take a double take on that
and i once you will see that a lot of other things are going to become chair
you'll be able to understand
how you yourself as a living so called physical organism
you're really a wave system
and the the principles i use this word rather than laws because laws
always look
separate from whatever obeys them
and imply some boss who's a law giver but the dow does not act in capacity of a bus the dow is not shoving anything because there is nothing other than the dow to shove
everything is dow
you don't have the idea of the universe obeying reacting are responding to a ruler now the words you have any a an image of the universe which is organic rather than political
our judeo christian image of the world is political
and that's why pope's are called urban
and why someone who's not a christian is called a pagan which simply means the country dweller not a city slicker
st augustine called heaven the city of god the image is political
but the taoist image of the universe is organic
and an organism that does not have a boss
because you cannot separate the nervous system from the rest who say the nervous system is the controlling system you can say it's as the telephone system
and the telephone system is not ruling the people
actually the people are not ruling the system and the all develops together
often it seems that the system is rolling the people but that's when you look at it from a certain way look at it from another way and you'll see the people ruling the system
it's mutual they go together
so therefore
when you look at
the world as form
you will not ask questions about
what is it made of
what are these shapes made of there because they're not made it says dow will way and will way means also not making
making is different from growing
when a plant grows it is not patched or put together all the so-called parts of the plant grow out of it whereas when you construct a machine you assemble the parts and put them together this is not the way a plant works it's not the way
where you work
when you eat your food it is ridiculous to suppose that this is the raw material of parts which are going to be manufactured in a factory and distributed to screw onto the parts of your body
the silly image
you don't ask therefore what are things made of
next thing you down to ask
is how do they go together
because here becomes a very very fascinating thing that but what we are unaware of is that so-called separate things are joined by space
we always think of space as separating but that what separates also joins that was why the word cleave is so important it means to stick to and does it divide
so we are cleft by space
when you
look at a distant galaxy we call it a nebula
because we are seeing it from a long way away
when however we get close to it the nebula disappears and we see individual stars
we are living in the middle of one from a long way away all the stars in our galaxy appear to be a thing
but right close up we don't see that thing
what is it that keeps all these stars together
always say gravity
gravitate is a word for something
it means simply we don't know what it is
like the ether that was once supposed to be the fluid through which light was transmitted and was discovered not to exist
that we could somehow do without it the light went through nothing through space models
here are all sorts of things not join to each other by strings
and yet they constitute a thing
and so when we get down to our own atomic structure we are if we were looked at closely enough we would be like galaxies
with our atoms vastly distant from each other
what holds us together
isn't that the wrong question
because what is what matters is the form
it is your shape
now if i saw you some time ago and i meet you again how do i know you
it's i recognize your shape
if i haven't seen you for some time when i meet you the second time
there is nothing of you that i knew before
all your so-called substances changed just as if i visit a waterfall
a few seconds later you know it's not the same water
it's falling the same way the same style and so the same way when i meet you today
yesterday the day before you're doing your the same style or the same pattern but it's all different ah
that pattern can come to an end
and then after a while it can happen again
just as
if you take a newspaper photograph and look at it under a magnifying glass
what you saw the naked eye as a clean line will appear to be a series of dots
and the dots i like one another
and there's no strings joining
change your level of magnification and there's a line
you could magnify
in time as well as in space
only you do it a different way to magnify anything in time will speed up the time
so we take a fast motion picture
of opinion
and we put the been and on earth and we expose one frame per day
and then when we run the movie we suddenly see the been moving
it puts out a little filler and the field goal
and all the stalks and leaves open from
outcomes a beam and it eventually crumbles
fades off why we saw a gesture we saw happening which we would never notice with the naked eye too slow
now that is use a magnifying time
now therefore let us suppose we had human faces thousands faces
which suddenly began
as little fetal cells
and we got some turn rapidly into baby face into child adolescent adult old fasten scowl and dust going a little bit of a little a little with all these faces coming and going to making the gesture of going through the whole lifespan
well we would watch and we will begin to see patterns of continuity
which things are moving much too slowly to see these and things are moving to a complicated way to see them but stand off at a distance as it were and you would see the same rhythms occurring again again and again and again
so that they would appear from that distance from time that speeded up to be a simply can't hear continuity like the continuity from here to cabin which looked at closely as full of space
so you would get what we call a naive language the reincarnation of forms
you considered as this kind of a wiggle that is recognizable of me
would happen again and again and again
with no spook traveling from one happening to the next that wouldn't be necessary anymore than it's necessary to have a line joining one dot in the press photograph with another dot so that they will make continuous sense to the different level
you know when you watch television
you are actually watching a moving dot
it moves so fast
they it the image now that's supposing you at a different kind of i altogether that had no memory in it
you would look at the television screen and you would see this dot dancing or all across and leaving no trace
they will kind of a funny thing is that the magna sense
but seen it and other ways they all that picture makes sense
so you see you don't have to all these mistress like her
our reincarnation
you don't need any spooky knowledge to understand them
it's all right out in front of you and you will discover that as i talk to you i'm not gonna tell you a thing that you didn't already know
all this was playing the all i will do is put it in words and such a way that you will be able to say well that's what our house to up but i could never explain it
well now let's take an intermission does to goof off for a while and then we can do not go on