Alan Watts – You Exist As A Favor


I was discussing two of the great myths or models of the universe, which lie in the intellectual and psychological background of all of us. The myth of the world as a political, monarchical state in which we are all here on sufferance as subject to God. In which we are MADE artifacts, who do not exist in our own right. God alone, in the first myth, exists in his own right, and you exist as a favor, and you ought to be grateful. Like your parents come on and say to you, ‘Look at all the things we’ve done for you, all the money we spent to send you to college, and you turn out to be a beatnik. You’re a wretched, ungrateful child.’ And you’re supposed to say, ‘Sorry, I really am.’ But you’re definitely in the position of being on probation. This arises out of our whole attitude towards children, whereby we don’t really acknowledge that they’re human. Instead, when a child comes into the world, and as soon as it can communicate in any way, talk language, you should say to a child, ‘How do you do? Welcome to the human race. Now my dear, we are playing a very complicated game, and we’re going to explain the rules of it to you. And when you have learned these rules and understand what they are, you may be able to invent better ones. But in the meantime, this is the thing we’re doing.’


Instead of that, we either treat a child with a kind of with a kind of ‘blah-blah-blah’ attitude, and don’t treat the thing as a human being at all–as a kind of doll. Or else as a nuisance. And so all of us, having been treated that way, carry over into adult life the sense of being on probation here. Either the god is somebody who says to us ‘blah-blah-blah.’ And that’s the feeling we carry over. So that idea of the royal god, the king of kings and the lord of lords which we inherit from the political structures of the Tigress-Euphrates cultures, and from Egypt. The Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV is probably, as Freud suggested, the original author of Moses’ monotheism, and certainly the Jewish law code comes from Hammurabi in Chaldea. And these men lived in a culture where the pyramid and the ziggurat–the ziggurat is the Chaldean version of the pyramid, indicating somehow a hierarchy of power, from the boss on down. And God, in this first myth that we’ve been discussing, the ceramic myth is the boss, and the idea of God is that the universe is governed from above.


But do you see, this parallels–goes hand in hand with the idea that you govern your own body. That the ego, which lies somewhere between the ears and behind the eyes in the brain, is the governor of the body. And so we can’t understand a system of order, a system of life, in which there isn’t a governor. ‘O Lord, our governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world.’


But supposing, on the contrary, there could be a system which doesn’t have a governor. That’s what we are supposed to have in this society. We are supposed to be a democracy and a republic. And we are supposed to govern ourselves. As I said, it’s so funny that Americans can be politically republican–I don’t mean republican in the party sense–and yet religiously monarchical. It’s a real strange contradiction.


So what is this universe? Is it a monarchy? Is it a republic? Is it a mechanism? Or an organism? Because you see, if it’s a mechanism, either it’s a mere mechanism, as in the fully automatic model, or else it’s a mechanism under the control of a driver. A mechanic. If it’s not that, it’s an organism, and an organism is a thing that governs itself. In your body there is no boss. You could argue, for example, that the brain is a gadget evolved by the stomach, in order to serve the stomach for the purposes of getting food. Or you can argue that the stomach is a gadget evolved by the brain to feed it and keep it alive. Whose game is this? Is it the brain’s game, or the stomach’s game? They’re mutual. The brain implies the stomach and the stomach implies the brain, and neither of them is the boss.


You know that story about all the limbs of the body. The hand said ‘We do all our work,’ the feet said ‘we do our work,’ the mouth said ‘We do all the chewing, and here’s this lazy stomach who just gets it all and doesn’t do a thing. He didn’t do any work, so let’s go on strike.’ And the hands refused to carry, the feet refused to walk, the teeth refused to chew, and said ‘Now we’re on strike against the stomach.’ But after a while, all of them found themselves getting weaker and weaker and weaker, because they didn’t realize that the stomach fed them.


So there is the possibility then that we are not in the kind of system that these two myths delineate. That we are not living in a world where we ourselves, in the deepest sense of self, are outside reality, and somehow in a position that we have to bow down to it and say ‘As a great favor, please preserve us in existence.’ Nor are we in a system which is merely mechanical, and which we are nothing but flukes, trapped in the electrical wiring of a nervous system which is fundamentally rather inefficiently arranged. What’s the alternative? Well, we could put the alternative in another image altogether, and I’ll call this not the ceramic image, not the fully automatic image, but the dramatic image. Consider the world as a drama. What’s the basis of all drama? The basis of all stories, of all plots, of all happenings–is the game of hide and seek. You get a baby, what’s the fundamental first game you play with a baby? You put a book in front of your face, and you peek at the baby. The baby starts giggling. Because the baby is close to the origins of life; it comes from the womb really knowing what it’s all about, but it can’t put it into words. See, what every child psychologist really wants to know is to get a baby to talk psychological jargon, and explain how it feels. But the baby knows; you do this, this, this and this, and the baby starts laughing, because the baby is a recent incarnation of God. And the baby knows, therefore, that hide and seek is the basic game.


See, when we were children, we were taught ‘1, 2, 3,’ and ‘A, B, C,’ but we weren’t set down on our mothers’ knees and taught the game of black and white. That’s the thing that was left out of all our educations, the game that I was trying to explain with these wave diagrams. That life is not a conflict between opposites, but a polarity. The difference between a conflict and a polarity is simply–when you think about opposite things, we sometimes use the expression, ‘These two things are the poles apart.’ You say, for example, about someone with whom you totally disagree, ‘I am the poles apart from this person.’ But you’re very saying that gives the show away. Poles. Poles are the opposite ends of one magnet. And if you take a magnet, say you have a magnetized bar, there’s a north pole and a south pole. Okay, chop off the South Pole, move it away. The piece you’ve got left creates a new south pole. You never get rid of the South Pole. So the point about a magnet is, things may be the poles apart, but they go together. You can’t have the one without the other. We are imagining a diagram of the universe in which the idea of polarity is the opposite ends of the diameter, north and south, you see? That’s the basic idea of polarity, but what we’re trying to imagine is the encounter of forces that come from absolutely opposed realms, that have nothing in common. When we say of two personality types that they’re the poles apart. We are trying to think eccentrically, instead of concentrically. And so in this way, we haven’t realized that life and death, black and white, good and evil, being and non-being, come from the same center. They imply each other, so that you wouldn’t know the one without the other.


Now I’m not saying that that’s bad, that’s fun. You’re playing the game that you don’t know that black and white imply each other. Therefore you think that black possibly might win, that the light might go out, that the sound might never be heard again. That there could be the possibility of a universe of pure tragedy, of endless, endless darkness. Wouldn’t that be awful? Only you wouldn’t know it was awful, if that’s what happened. The point that we all forget is that the black and the white go together, and there isn’t the one without the other. At the same time, you see, we forget, in the same way as we forget that these two go together.


The other thing we forget, is that self and other go together, in just the same way as the two poles of a magnet. You say ‘I, myself; I am me; I am this individual; I am this particular, unique instance.’ What is other is everything else. All of you, all of the stars, all of the galaxies, way, way out into infinite space, that’s other. But in the same way as black implies white, self implies other. And you don’t exist without all that, so that where you get these polarities, you get this sort of difference, that what we call explicitly, or exoterically, they’re different. But implicitly, esoterically, they’re one. Since you can’t have the one without the other that shows there’s a kind of inner conspiracy between all pairs of opposites, which is not in the open, but it’s tacit. It’s like you say ‘Well, there are all sorts of things that we understand among each other tacitly, that we don’t want to admit, but we do recognize tacitly there’s a kind of secret between us boys and girls,’ or whatever it may be. And we recognize that. So, tacitly, all of you really inwardly know–although you won’t admit it because your culture has trained you in a contrary direction–all of you really inwardly know that you as an individual self are inseparable from everything else that exists, that you are a special case in the universe. But the whole game, especially of Western culture, is to conceal that from ourselves, so that when anybody in our culture slips into the state of consciousness where they suddenly find this to be true, and they come on and say ‘I’m God,’ we say ‘You’re insane.’


Now, it’s very difficult–you can very easily slip into the state of consciousness where you feel you’re God; it can happen to anyone. Just in the same way as you can get the flu, or measles, or something like that, you can slip into this state of consciousness. And when you get it, it depends upon your background and your training as to how you’re going to interpret it. If you’ve got the idea of god that comes from popular Christianity, God as the governor, the political head of the world, and you think you’re God, then you say to everybody, ‘You should bow down and worship me.’ But if you’re a member of Hindu culture, and you suddenly tell all your friends ‘I’m God,’ instead of saying ‘You’re insane,’ they say ‘Congratulations! At last, you found out.’ Because their idea of god is not the autocratic governor. When they make images of Shiva, he has ten arms. How would you use ten arms? It’s hard enough to use two. You know, if you play the organ, you’ve got to use your two feet and your two hands, and you play different rhythms with each member. It’s kind of tricky. But actually we’re all masters at this, because how do you grow each hair without having to think about it? Each nerve? How do you beat your heart and digest with your stomach at the same time? You don’t have to think about it. In your very body, you are omnipotent in the true sense of omnipotence, which is that you are able to be Omni-potent; you are able to do all these things without having to think about it.


When I was a child, I used to ask my mother all sorts of ridiculous questions, which of course every child asks, and when she got bored with my questions, she said ‘Darling, there are just some things which we are not meant to know.’ I said ‘Will we ever know?’ She said ‘Yes, of course, when we die and go to heaven, God will make everything plain.’ So I used to imagine on wet afternoons in heaven, we’d all sit around the throne of grace and say to God, ‘Well why did you do this, and why did you do that?’ and he would explain it to us. ‘Heavenly father, why are the leaves green?’ and he would say ‘Because of the chlorophyll,’ and we’d say ‘Oh.’ But in the Hindu universe, you would say to God, ‘How did you make the mountains?’ and he would say ‘Well, I just did it. Because when you’re asking me how I made the mountains, you’re asking me to describe in words how I made the mountains, and there are no words which can do this. Words cannot tell you how I made the mountains any more than I can drink the ocean with a fork. A fork may be useful for sticking into a piece of something and eating it, but it’s of no use for imbibing the ocean. It would take millions of years. In other words, it would take millions of years, and you would be bored with my description, long before I got through it, if I put it to you in words, because I didn’t create the mountains with words, I just did it. Like you open and close your hand. You know how you do this, but can you describe in words how you do it? Even a very good physiologist can’t describe it in words. But you do it. You’re conscious, aren’t you? Don’t you know how you manage to be conscious? Do you know how you beat your heart? Can you say in words, explain correctly how this is done? You do it, but you can’t put it into words, because words are too clumsy, yet you manage this expertly for as long as you’re able to do it.’


But you see, we are playing a game. The game runs like this: the only thing you really know is what you can put into words. Let’s suppose I love some girl, rapturously, and somebody says to me, ‘Do you REALLY love her?’ Well, how am I going to prove this? They’ll say, ‘Write poetry. Tell us all how much you love her. Then we’ll believe you.’ So if I’m an artist, and can put this into words, and can convince everybody I’ve written the most ecstatic love letter ever written, they say ‘All right, ok, we admit it, you really do love her.’ But supposing you’re not very articulate, are we going to tell you DON’T love her? Surely not. You don’t have to be Heloise and Abyla to be in love. But the whole game that our culture is playing is that nothing really happens unless it’s in the newspaper. So when we’re at a party, and it’s a great party, somebody says ‘Too bad we didn’t bring a camera. Too bad there wasn’t a tape recorder. And so our children begin to feel that they don’t exist authentically unless they get their names in the papers, and the fastest way to get your name in the paper is to commit a crime. Then you’ll be photographed, and you’ll appear in court, and everybody will notice you. And you’re THERE. So you’re not there unless you’re recorded. It really happened if it was recorded. In other words, if you shout, and it doesn’t come back and echo, it didn’t happen. Well that’s a real hang-up. It’s true, the fun with echoes; we all like singing in the bathtub, because there’s more resonance there. And when we play a musical instrument, like a violin or a cello, it has a sounding box, because that gives resonance to the sound. And in the same way, the cortex of the human brain enables us when we’re happy to know that we’re happy, and that gives a certain resonance to it. If you’re happy, and you don’t know you’re happy, there’s nobody home.


But this is the whole problem for us. Several thousand years ago, human beings devolved the system of self-consciousness, and they knew, they knew.

   There was a young man who said ‘though
It seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see
Is the I that sees me
When I know that I know that I know.’

And this is the human problem: we know that we know. And so, there came a point in our evolution where we didn’t guide life by distrusting our instincts. Suppose that you could live absolutely spontaneously. You don’t make any plans, you just live like you feel like it. And you say ‘what a gas that is, I don’t have to make any plans, anything. I don’t worry; I just do what comes naturally.’


The way the animals live, everybody envies them, because look, a cat, when it walks–did you ever see a cat making an aesthetic mistake. Did you ever see a badly formed cloud? Were the stars ever misarranged? When you watch the foam breaking on the seashore, did it ever make a bad pattern? Never. And yet we think in what we do, we make mistakes. And we’re worried about that. So there came this point in human evolution when we lost our innocence. When we lost this thing that the cats and the flowers have, and had to think about it, and had to purposely arrange and discipline and push our lives around in accordance with foresight and words and systems of symbols, accountancy, calculation and so on, and then we worry. Once you start thinking about things, you worry as to if you thought enough. Did you really take all the details into consideration? Was every fact properly reviewed? And the more you think about it, the more you realize you really couldn’t take everything into consideration, because all the variables in every decision are incalculable, so you get anxiety. And this, though, also, is the price you pay for knowing that you know. For being able to think about thinking, being able to feel about feeling. And so you’re in this funny position.


Now then, do you see that this is simultaneously an advantage and a terrible disadvantage? What has happened here is that by having a certain kind of consciousness, a certain kind of reflexive consciousness–being aware of being aware. Being able to represent what goes on fundamentally in terms of a system of symbols, such as words, such as numbers. You put, as it were, two lives together at once, one representing the other. The symbols representing the reality, the money representing the wealth, and if you don’t realize that the symbol is really secondary, it doesn’t have the same value. People go to the supermarket, and they get a whole cartload of goodies and they drive it through, then the clerk fixes up the counter and this long tape comes out, and he’ll say ’$30, please,’ and everybody feels depressed, because they give away $30 worth of paper, but they’ve got a cartload of goodies. They don’t think about that, they think they’ve just lost $30. But you’ve got the real wealth in the cart, all you’ve parted with is the paper. Because the paper in our system becomes more valuable than the wealth. It represents power, potentiality, whereas the wealth, you think oh well, that’s just necessary; you’ve got to eat. That’s to be really mixed up.


So then. If you awaken from this illusion, and you understand that black implies white, self implies other, life implies death–or shall I say, death implies life–you can conceive yourself. Not conceive, but FEEL yourself, not as a stranger in the world, not as someone here on sufferance, on probation, not as something that has arrived here by fluke, but you can begin to feel your own existence as absolutely fundamental. What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself. So, say in Hindu mythology, they say that the world is the drama of God. God is not something in Hindu mythology with a white beard that sits on a throne that has royal prerogatives. God in Indian mythology is the self, ‘Satchitananda.’ Which means ‘sat,’ that which is, ‘chit,’ that which is consciousness; that which is ‘Ananta’ is bliss. In other words, what exists, reality itself is gorgeous, and it is the fullness of total joy. Wowee! And all those stars, if you look out in the sky, is a firework display like you see on the fourth of July, which is a great occasion for celebration; the universe is a celebration, it is a fireworks show to celebrate that existence is. Wowee.


And then they say, ‘But, however, there’s no point in just sustaining bliss.’ Let’s suppose you were able, every night, to dream any dream you wanted to dream, and that you could for example have the power to dream in one night 75 years’ worth of time. Or any length of time you wanted to have. And you would, naturally, as you began on this adventure of dreams, fulfill all your wishes. You would have every kind of pleasure you could conceive. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each, you would say ‘Well, that was pretty great. But now let’s have a surprise. Let’s have a dream which isn’t under control, where something is going to happen to me that I don’t know what it’s going to be.’ And you would dig that, and come out of it and say ‘That was a close shave, now wasn’t it?’ Then you would get more and more adventurous, and you would make further and further gambles as to what you would dream, and finally you would dream where you are now. You would dream the dream of the life that you are actually living today. That would be within the infinite multiplicity of the choices you would have. Of playing that you weren’t God. Because the whole nature of the godhead, according to this idea, is to play that he’s not. The first thing that he says to himself is ‘Man, get lost,’ because he gives himself away. The nature of love is self-abandonment, not clinging to oneself. Throwing yourself out, for instance as in basketball; you’re always getting rid of the ball. You say to the other fellow ‘Have a ball.’ See? And that keeps things moving. That’s the nature of life.


So in this idea, then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality. Not God in a politically kingly sense, but God in the sense of being the self, the deep-down basic whatever there is. And you’re all that, only you’re pretending you’re not. And it’s perfectly OK to pretend you’re not, to be perfectly convinced, because this is the whole notion of drama. When you come into the theater, there is an arch, and a stage, and down there is the audience. Everybody assumes their seats in the theater, gone to see a comedy, a tragedy, a thriller, whatever it is, and they all know as they come in and pay their admissions, that what is going to happen on the stage is not for real. But the actors have a conspiracy against this, because they’re going to try and persuade the audience that what is happening on the stage IS for real. They want to get everybody sitting on the edge of their chairs, they want you terrified, or crying, or laughing. Absolutely captivated by the drama. And if a skillful human actor can take in an audience and make people cry, think what the cosmic actor can do. Why he can take himself in completely. He can play so much for real that he thinks he really is. Like you sitting in this room, you think you’re really here. Well, you’ve persuaded yourself that way. You’ve acted it so damn well that you KNOW that this is the real world. But you’re playing it. As well, the audience and the actor as one. Because behind the stage is the green room, off scene, where the actors take off their masks. Do you know that the word ‘person’ means ‘mask’? The ‘persona’ which is the mask worn by actors in Greco-Roman drama, because it has a megaphone-type mouth which throws the sound out in an open-air theater. So the ‘per’–through–’sona’–what the sound comes through–that’s the mask. How to be a real person. How to be a genuine fake. So the ‘dramatis persona’ at the beginning of a play is the list of masks that the actors will wear. And so in the course of forgetting that this world is a drama, the word for the role, the word for the mask has come to mean who you are genuinely. The person. The proper person. Incidentally, the word ‘parson’ is derived from the word ‘person.’ The ‘person’ of the village. The ‘person’ around town, the parson.


So anyway, then, this is a drama, and what I want you to is– I’m not trying to sell you on this idea in the sense of converting you to it; I want you to play with it. I want you to think of its possibilities. I’m not trying to prove it, I’m just putting it forward as a possibility of life to think about. So then, this means that you’re not victims of a scheme of things, of a mechanical world, or of an autocratic god. The life you’re living is what YOU have put yourself into. Only you don’t admit it, because you want to play the game that it’s happened to you. In other words, I got mixed up in this world; I had a father who got hot pants over a girl, and she was my mother, and because he was just a horny old man, and as a result of that, I got born, and I blame him for it and say ‘Well that’s your fault; you’ve got to look after me,’ and he says ‘I don’t see why I should look after you; you’re just a result.’ But let’s suppose we admit that I really wanted to get born, and that I WAS the ugly gleam in my father’s eye when he approached my mother. That was me. I was desire. And I deliberately got involved in this thing. Look at it that way instead. And that really, even if I got myself into an awful mess, and I got born with syphilis, and the great Siberian itch, and tuberculosis in a Nazi concentration camp, nevertheless this was a game, which was a very far out play. It was a kind of cosmic masochism. But I did it.


Isn’t that an optimal game rule for life? Because if you play life on the supposition that you’re a helpless little puppet that got involved. Or you played on the supposition that it’s a frightful, serious risk, and that we really ought to do something about it, and so on, it’s a drag. There’s no point in going on living unless we make the assumption that the situation of life is optimal. That really and truly we’re all in a state of total bliss and delight, but we’re going to pretend we aren’t just for kicks. In other words, you play non-bliss in order to be able to experience bliss. And you can go as far out in non-bliss as you want to go. And when you wake up, it’ll be great. You know, you can slam yourself on the head with a hammer because it’s so nice when you stop. And it makes you realize how great things are when you forget that’s the way it is. And that’s just like black and white: you don’t know black unless you know white; you don’t know white unless you know black. This is simply fundamental.


So then, here’s the drama. My metaphysics, let me be perfectly frank with you, are that there the central self, you can call it God, you can call it anything you like, and it’s all of us. It’s playing all the parts of all being whatsoever everywhere and anywhere. And it’s playing the game of hide and seek with itself. It gets lost, it gets involved in the farthest-out adventures, but in the end it always wakes up and comes back to itself. And when you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up, and if you’re not ready you’re going to stay pretending that you’re just a ‘poor little me.’ And since you’re all here and engaged in this sort of enquiry and listening to this sort of lecture, I assume you’re all in the process of waking up. Or else you’re pleasing yourselves with some kind of flirtation with waking up which you’re not serious about. But I assume that you are maybe not serious, but sincere, that you are ready to wake up.


So then, when you’re in the way of waking up, and finding out who you are, you meet a character called a guru, as the Hindus say ‘the teacher,’ ‘the awakener.’ And what is the function of a guru? He’s the man that looks you in the eye and says ‘Oh come off it. I know who you are.’ You come to the guru and say ‘Sir, I have a problem. I’m unhappy, and I want to get one up on the universe. I want to become enlightened. I want spiritual wisdom.’ The guru looks at you and says ‘Who are you?’ You know Sri-Ramana-Maharshi, that great Hindu sage of modern times? People used to come to him and say ‘Master, who was I in my last incarnation?’ As if that mattered. And he would say ‘Who is asking the question?’ And he’d look at you and say, go right down to it, ‘You’re looking at me, you’re looking out, and you’re unaware of what’s behind your eyes. Go back in and find out who you are, where the question comes from, why you ask.’ And if you’ve looked at a photograph of that man–I have a gorgeous photograph of him; I look by it every time I go out the front door. And I look at those eyes, and the humor in them; the lilting laugh that says ‘Oh come off it. Shiva, I recognize you. When you come to my door and say `I’m so-and-so,’ I say `Ha-ha, what a funny way God has come on today.“


So eventually–there are all sorts of tricks of course that gurus play. They say ‘Well, we’re going to put you through the mill.’ And the reason they do that is simply that you won’t wake up until you feel you’ve paid a price for it. In other words, the sense of guilt that one has. Or the sense of anxiety. It’s simply the way one experiences keeping the game of disguise going on. Do you see that? Supposing you say ‘I feel guilty.’ Christianity makes you feel guilty for existing. That somehow the very fact that you exist is an affront. You are a fallen human being. I remember as a child when we went to the serves of the church on Good Friday. They gave us each a colored postcard with Jesus crucified on it, and it said underneath ‘This I have done for thee. What does thou for me?’ You felt awful. YOU had nailed that man to the cross. Because you eat steak, you have crucified Christ. Mithra. It’s the same mystery. And what are you going to do about that? ‘This I have done for thee, what does thou for me?’ You feel awful that you exist at all. But that sense of guilt is the veil across the sanctuary. ‘Don’t you DARE come in!’ In all mysteries, when you are going to be initiated, there’s somebody saying ‘Ah-ah-ah, don’t you come in. You’ve got to fulfill this requirement and that requirement, THEN we’ll let you in.’ and so you go through the mill. Why? Because you’re saying to yourself ‘I won’t wake up until I deserve it. I won’t wake up until I’ve made it difficult for me to wake up. So I invent for myself an elaborate system of delaying my waking up. I put myself through this test and that test, and when I convince myself it’s sufficiently arduous, THEN I at last admit to myself who I really am, and draw aside the veil and realize that after all, when all is said and done, I am that I am, which is the name of god.’

And once you realize this, there is nothing left to do but have a good laugh.

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