Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Alan Watts - "Tt"

To go anywhere in philosophy, other than back and forth, round and
round, one must have a keen sense of correlative vision. This is a
technical term for a thorough understanding of the Game of Black-and-
White, whereby one sees that all explicit opposites are implicit allies—
correlative in the sense that they "gowith" each other and cannot exist
apart. This, rather than any miasmic absorption of differences into a
continuum of ultimate goo, is the metaphysical unity underlying the
world. For this unity is not mere one-ness as opposed to multiplicity,
since these two terms are themselves polar. The unity, or inseparability,
of one and many is therefore referred to in Vedanta philosophy as "nonduality"
(advaita) to distinguish it from simple uniformity. True, the
term has its own opposite, "duality," for insofar as every term
designates a class, an intellectual pigeonhole, every class has an outside
polarizing its inside. For this reason, language can no more transcend
duality than paintings or photographs upon a flat surface can go beyond
two dimensions. Yet by the convention of perspective, certain twodimensional
lines that slant towards a "vanishing-point" are taken to
represent the third dimension of depth. In a similar way, the dualistic
term "non-duality" is taken to represent the "dimension" in which
explicit differences have implicit unity.

It is not at first easy to maintain correlative vision. The Upanishads
describe it as the path of the razor's edge, a balancing act on the sharpest
and thinnest of lines. For to ordinary vision there is nothing visible
"between" classes and opposites. Life is a series of urgent choices
demanding firm commitment to this or to that. Matter is as much like
something as something can be, and space is as much like nothing as
nothing can be. Any common dimension between them seems
inconceivable, unless it is our own consciousness or mind, and this
doubtless belongs on the side of matter—everlastingly threatened by
nothingness. Yet with a slight shift of viewpoint, nothing is more
obvious than the interdependence of opposites. But who can believe it?
Is it possible that myself, my existence, so contains being and
nothing that death is merely the "off" interval in an on/off pulsation
which must be eternal—because every alternative to this pulsation (e.g.,
its absence) would in due course imply its presence? Is it conceivable,
then, that I am basically an eternal existence momentarily and perhaps
needlessly terrified by one half of itself because it has identified all of
itself with the other half? If the choice must be either white or black,
must I so commit myself to the white side that I cannot be a good sport
and actually play the Game of Black-and-White, with the implicit
knowledge that neither can win? Or is all this so much bandying with
the formal relations between words and terms without any relation to
my physical situation?

To answer the last question affirmatively, I should have to believe
that the logic of thought is quite arbitrary—that it is a purely and strictly
human invention without any basis in the physical universe. While it is
true, as I have already shown, that we do project logical patterns (nets,
grids, and other types of calculus) upon the wiggly physical world—
which can be confusing if we do not realize what we are doing—
nevertheless, these patterns do not come from outside the world. They
have something to do with the design of the human nervous system,
which is definitely in and of the world. Furthermore, I have shown that
correlative thinking about the relation of organism to environment is far
more compatible with the physical sciences than our archaic and
prevalent notions of the self as something confronting an alien and
separate world. To sever the connections between human logic and the
physical universe, I would have to revert to the myth of the ego as an
isolated, independent observer for whom the rest of the world is
absolutely external and "other." Neither neurology nor biology nor
sociology can subscribe to this.

If, on the other hand, self and other, subject and object, organism and
environment are the poles of a single process, THAT is my true
existence. As the Upanishads say, "That is the Self. That is the real.
That art thou!" But I cannot think or say anything about THAT, or, as I
shall now call it, IT, unless I resort to the convention of using dualistic
language as the lines of perspective are used to show depth on a flat
surface. What lies beyond opposites must be discussed, if at all, in terms
of opposites, and this means using the language of analogy, metaphor,
and myth.

The difficulty is not only that language is dualistic, insofar as words
are labels for mutually exclusive classes. The problem is that IT is so
much more myself than I thought I was, so central and so basic to my
existence, that I cannot make it an object. There is no way to stand
outside IT, and, in fact, no need to do so. For so long as I am trying to
grasp IT, I am implying that IT is not really myself. If it were possible,

I am losing the sense of it by attempting to find it. This is why those who
really know that they are IT invariably say they do not understand it, for
IT understands understanding—not the other way about. One cannot,
and need not, go deeper than deep!

But the fact that IT eludes every description must not, as happens so
often, be mistaken for the description of IT as the airiest of abstractions,
as a literal transparent continuum or undifferentiated cosmic jello. The
most concrete image of God the Father, with his white beard and golden
robe, is better than that. Yet Western students of Eastern philosophies
and religions persistently accuse Hindus and Buddhists of believing in a
featureless and gelatinous God, just because the latter insist that every
conception or objective image of IT is void. But the term "void" applies
to all such conceptions, not to IT.

Yet in speaking and thinking of IT, there is no alternative to the use
of conceptions and images, and no harm in it so long as we realize what
we are doing. Idolatry is not the use of images, but confusing them with
what they represent, and in this respect mental images and lofty
abstractions can be more insidious than bronze idols.

You were probably brought up in a culture where the presiding
image of IT has for centuries been God the Father, whose pronoun is
He, because IT seems too impersonal and She would, of course, be
inferior. Is this image still workable, as a functional myth to provide
some consensus about life and its meaning for all the diverse peoples
and cultures of this planet? Frankly, the image of God the Father has
become ridiculous—that is, unless you read Saint Thomas Aquinas or
Martin Buber or Paul Tillich, and realize that you can be a devout Jew
or Christian without having to believe, literally, in the Cosmic Male
Parent. Even then, it is difficult not to feel the force of the image,
because images sway our emotions more deeply than conceptions. As a
devout Christian you would be saying day after day the prayer, "Our
Father who art in heaven," and eventually it gets you: you are relating
emotionally to IT as to an idealized father—male, loving but stern, and
a personal being quite other than yourself. Obviously, you must be other
than God so long as you conceive yourself as the separate ego, but when
we realize that this form of identity is no more than a social institution,
and one which has ceased to be a workable life-game, the sharp division
between oneself and the ultimate reality is no longer relevant.
Furthermore, the younger members of our society have for some time
been in growing rebellion against paternal authority and the paternal
state. For one reason, the home in an industrial society is chiefly a
dormitory, and the father does not work there, with the result that wife
and children have no part in his vocation. He is just a character who
brings in money, and after working hours he is supposed to forget about
his job and have fun. Novels, magazines, television, and popular
cartoons therefore portray "Dad" as an incompetent clown. And the
image has some truth in it because Dad has fallen for the hoax that work
is simply something you do to make money, and with money you can
get anything you want.

It is no wonder that an increasing proportion of college students want
no part in Dad's world, and will do anything to avoid the rat-race of the
salesman, commuter, clerk, and corporate executive. Professional men,
too—architects, doctors, lawyers, ministers, and professors—have
offices away from home, and thus, because the demands of their
families boil down more and more to money, are ever more tempted to
regard even professional vocations as ways of making money. All this is
further aggravated by the fact that parents no longer educate their own
children. Thus the child does not grow up with understanding of or
enthusiasm for his father's work. Instead, he is sent to an understaffed
school run mostly by women which, under the circumstances, can do no
more than hand out mass-produced education which prepares the child
for everything and nothing. It has no relation whatever to his father's

Along with this devaluation of the father, we are becoming
accustomed to a conception of the universe so mysterious and so
impressive that even the best father-image will no longer do for an
explanation of what makes it run. But the problem then is that it is
impossible for us to conceive an image higher than the human image.
Few of us have ever met an angel, and probably would not recognize it
if we saw one, and our images of an impersonal or suprapersonal God
are hopelessly subhuman—jello, featureless light, homogenized space,
or a whopping jolt of electricity. However, our image of man is
changing as it becomes clearer and clearer that the human being is not
simply and only his physical organism. My body is also my total
environment, and this must be measured by light-years in the billions.
Hitherto the poets and philosophers of science have used the vast
expanse and duration of the universe as a pretext for reflections on the
unimportance of man, forgetting that man with "that enchanted loom,
the brain" is precisely what transforms this immense electrical pulsation
into light and color, shape and sound, large and small, hard and heavy,
long and short. In knowing the world we humanize it, and if, as we
discover it, we are astonished at its dimensions and its complexity, we
should be just as astonished that we have the brains to perceive it.
Hitherto we have been taught, however, that we are not really
responsible for our brains. We do not know (in terms of words or
figures) how they are constructed, and thus it seems that the brain and
the organism as a whole are an ingenious vehicle which has been
"given" to us, or an uncanny maze in which we are temporarily trapped.
In other words, we accepted a definition of ourselves which confined
the self to the source and to the limitations of conscious attention. This
definition is miserably insufficient, for in fact we know how to grow
brains and eyes, ears and fingers, hearts and bones, in just the same way
that we know how to walk and breathe, talk and think—only we can't
put it into words. Words are too slow and too clumsy for describing
such things, and conscious attention is too narrow for keeping track of
all their details.

Thus it will often happen that when you tell a girl how beautiful she
is, she will say, "Now isn't that just like a man! All you men think about
is bodies. OK, so I'm beautiful, but I got my body from my parents and
it was just luck. I prefer to be admired for myself, not my chassis." Poor
little chauffeur! All she is saying is that she has lost touch with her own
astonishing wisdom and ingenuity, and wants to be admired for some
trivial tricks that she can perform with her conscious attention. And we
are all in the same situation, having dissociated ourselves from our
bodies and from the whole network of forces in which bodies can come
to birth and live.

Yet we can still awaken the sense that all this, too, is the self—a self,
however, which is far beyond the image of the ego, or of the human
body as limited by the skin. We then behold the Self wherever we look,
and its image is the universe in its light and in its darkness, in its bodies
and in its spaces. This is the new image of man, but it is still an image.
For there remains—to use dualistic words—"behind," "under,"
"encompassing," and "central" to it all the unthinkable IT, polarizing
itself in the visible contrasts of waves and troughs, solids and spaces.
But the odd thing is that this IT, however inconceivable, is no vapid
abstraction: it is very simply and truly yourself.

In the words of a Chinese Zen master, "Nothing is left to you at this
moment but to have a good laugh!" As James Broughton put it:

This is It

and I am It

and You are It

and so is That

and He is It

and She is It

and It is It

and That is That.

True humor is, indeed, laughter at one's Self—at the Divine Comedy,
the fabulous deception, whereby one comes. to imagine that a creature
in existence is not also of existence, that what man is is not also what
everything is. All the time we "know it in our bones" but conscious
attention, distracted by details and differences, cannot see the whole for
the parts.

The major trick in this deception is, of course, death. Consider death
as the permanent end of consciousness, the point at which you and your
knowledge of the universe simply cease, and where you become as if
you had never existed at all. Consider it also on a much vaster scale—
the death of the universe at the time when all energy runs out, when,
according to some cosmologists, the explosion which flung the galaxies
into space fades out like a skyrocket. It will be as if it had never
happened, which is, of course, the way things were before it did happen.
Likewise, when you are dead, you will be as you were before you were
conceived. So—there has been a flash, a flash of consciousness or a
flash of galaxies. It happened. Even if there is no one left to remember.
But if, when it has happened and vanished, things are at all as they
were before it began (including the possibility that there were no
things), it can happen again. Why not? On the other hand, I might
suppose that after it has happened things aren't the same as they were
before. Energy was present before the explosion, but after the explosion
died out, no energy was left. For ever and ever energy was latent. Then
it blew up, and that was that. It is, perhaps, possible to imagine that
what had always existed got tired of itself, blew up, and stopped. But
this is a greater strain on my imagination than the idea that these flashes
are periodic and rhythmic. They may go on and on, or round and round:
it doesn't make much difference. Furthermore, if latent energy had
always existed before the explosion, I find it difficult to think of a
single, particular time coming when it had to stop. Can anything be half
eternal? That is, can a process which had no beginning come to an end?
I presume, then, that with my own death I shall forget who I was, just
as my conscious attention is unable to recall, if it ever knew, how to
form the cells of the brain and the pattern of the veins. Conscious
memory plays little part in our biological existence. Thus as my
sensation of "I-ness," of being alive, once came into being without
conscious memory or intent, so it will arise again and again, as the
"central" Self—the IT—appears as the self/other situation in its myriads
of pulsating forms—always the same and always new, a here in the
midst of a there, a now in the midst of then, and a one in the midst of
many. And if I forget how many times I have been here, and in how
many shapes, this forgetting is the necessary interval of darkness
between every pulsation of light. I return in every baby born.
Actually, we know this already. After people die, babies are born—
and, unless they are automata, every one of them is, just as we ourselves
were, the "I" experience coming again into being. The conditions of
heredity and environment change, but each of those babies incarnates
the same experience of being central to a world that is "other." Each
infant dawns into life as I did, without any memory of a past. Thus
when I am gone there can be no experience, no living through, of the
state of being a perpetual "has-been." Nature "abhors the vacuum" and
the I-feeling appears again as it did before, and it matters not whether
the interval be ten seconds or billions of years. In unconsciousness all
times are the same brief instant.
This is so obvious, but our block against seeing it is the ingrained
and compelling myth that the "I" comes into this world, or is thrown out
from it, in such a way as to have no essential connection with it. Thus
we do not trust the universe to repeat what it has already done—to "I"
itself again and again. We see it as an eternal arena in which the
individual is no more than a temporary stranger—a visitor who hardly
belongs—for the thin ray of consciousness does not shine upon its own
source. In looking out upon the world, we forget that the world is
looking at itself—through our eyes and IT's.

Now you know—even if it takes you some time to do a double-take
and get the full impact. It may not be easy to recover from the many
generations through which the fathers have knocked down the children,
like dominoes, saying "Don't you dare think that thought! You're just a
little upstart, just a creature, and you had better learn your place." On
the contrary, you're IT. But perhaps the fathers were unwittingly trying
to tell the children that IT plays IT cool. You don't come on (that is, on
stage) like IT because you really are IT, and the point of the stage is to
show on, not to show off. To come on like IT—to play at being God—is
to play the Self as a role, which is just what it isn't. When IT plays, it
plays at being everything else.

From Chapter 6 of his book: "On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are"

PDF       HERE

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