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Alan Watts, a lecture on Zen


Once upon a time, there was a Zen student who quoted an old Buddhist
poem to his teacher, which says
The voices of torrents are from one great tongue,
the lions of the hills are the pure body of Buddha.
"Isn't that right?" he said to the teacher.
"It is," said the teacher, "but it's a pity to say so."
It would be, of course, much better, if this occasion were
celebrated with no talk at all, and if I addressed you in the manner
of the ancient teachers of Zen, I should hit the microphone with my
fan and leave. But I somehow have the feeling that since you have
contributed to the support of the Zen Center, in expectation of
learning something, a few words should be said, even though I warn
you, that by explaining these things to you, I shall subject you to
a very serious hoax. Because if I allow you to leave here this
evening, under the impression that you understand something about
Zen, you will have missed the point entirely. Because Zen is a way
of life, a state of being, that is not possible to embrace in any
concept whatsoever, so that any concepts, any ideas, any words that
I shall put across to you this evening will have as their object,
showing you the limitations of words and of thinking.
Now then, if one must try to say something about what Zen is, and I
want to do this by way of introduction, I must make it emphatic that
Zen, in its essence, is not a doctrine. There's nothing you're
supposed to believe in. It's not a philosophy in our sense, that is
to say a set of ideas, an intellectual net in which one tries to
catch the fish of reality. Actually, the fish of reality is more
like water--it always slips through the net. And in water you know
when you get into it there's nothing to hang on to. All this
universe is like water; it is fluid, it is transient, it is
changing. And when you're thrown into the water after being
accustomed to living on the dry land, you're not used to the idea of
swimming. You try to stand on the water, you try to catch hold of
it, and as a result you drown. The only way to survive in the water,
and this refers particularly to the waters of modern philosophical
confusion, where God is dead, metaphysical propositions are
meaningless, and there's really nothing to hang on to, because we're
all just falling apart. And the only thing to do under those
circumstances is to learn how to swim. And to swim, you relax, you
let go, you give yourself to the water, and you have to know how to
breathe in the right way. And then you find that the water holds you
up; indeed, in a certain way you become the water. And so in the
same way, one might say if one attempted to--again I say
misleadingly--to put Zen into any sort of concept, it simply comes
down to this:

Alan Watts, a lecture on Zen
That in this universe, there is one great energy, and we have no
name for it. People have tried various names for it, like God, like
*Brahmin, like Tao, but in the West, the word God has got so many
funny associations attached to it that most of us are bored with it.
When people say "God, the father almighty," most people feel funny
inside. So we like to hear new words, we like to hear about Tao,
about Brahmin, about Shinto, and __-__-__, and such strange names
from the far East because they don't carry the same associations of
mawkish sanctimony and funny meanings from the past. And actually,
some of these words that the Buddhists use for the basic energy of
the world really don't mean anything at all. The word _tathata_,
which is translated from the Sanskrit as "suchness" or "thusness" or
something like that, really means something more like "dadada,"
based on the word _tat_, which in Sanskrit means "that," and so in
Sanskrit it is said _tat lum asi_, "that thou art," or in modern
America, "you're it." But "da, da"--that's the first sound a baby
makes when it comes into the world, because the baby looks around
and says "da, da, da, da" and fathers flatter themselves and think
it's saying "DaDa," which means "Daddy," but according to Buddhist
philosophy, all this universe is one "dadada." That means "ten
thousand functions, ten thousand things, one suchness," and we're
all one suchness. And that means that suchess comes and goes like
anything else because this whole world is an on-and-off system. As
the Chinese say, it's the _yang_ and the _yin_, and therefore it
consists of "now you see it, now you don't, here you are, here you
aren't, here you are," because that the nature of energy, to be like
waves, and waves have crests and troughs, only we, being under a
kind of sleepiness or illusion, imagine that the trough is going to
overcome the wave or the crest, the _yin_, or the dark principle, is
going to overcome the _yang_, or the light principle, and that "off"
is going to finally triumph over "on." And we, shall I say, bug
ourselves by indulging in that illusion. "Hey, supposing darkness
did win out, wouldn't that be terrible!" And so we're constantly
trembling and thinking that it may, because after all, isn't it odd
that anything exists? It's most peculiar, it requires effort, it
requires energy, and it would have been so much easier for there to
have been nothing at all. Therefore, we think "well, since being,
since the 'is' side of things is so much effort" you always give up
after a while and you sink back into death. But death is just the
other face of energy, and it's the rest, the not being anything
around, that produces something around, just in the same way that
you can't have "solid" without "space," or "space" without "solid."
When you wake up to this, and realize that the more it changes the
more it's the same thing, as the French say, that you are really a
train of this one energy, and there is nothing else but that that is
you, but that for you to be always you would be an insufferable
bore, and therefore it is arranged that you stop being you after a
while and then come back as someone else altogether, and so when you
find that out, you become full energy and delight. As Blake said,
"Energy is eternal delight." And you suddenly see through the whole
sham thing. You realize you're That--we won't put a name on it--
you're That, and you can't be anything else. So you are relieved of
fundamental terror. That doesn't mean tht you're always going to be
a great hero, that you won't jump when you hear a bang, that you
won't worry occasionally, that you won't lose your temper. It means,
though, that fundamentally deep, deep, deep down within you, you
will be able to be human, not a stone Buddha--you know in Zen there
is a difference made between a living Buddha and a stone Buddha. If
you go up to a stone Buddha and you hit him hard on the head,
nothing happens. You break your fist or your stick. But if you hit a
living Buddha, he may say "ouch," and he may feel pain, because if
he didn't feel something, he wouldn't be a human being. Buddhas are
human, they are not devas, they are not gods. They are enlightened
men and women. But the point is that they are not afraid to be
human, they are not afraid to let themselves participate in the
pains, difficulties and struggles that naturally go with human
existence. The only difference is--and it's almost an undetectable
difference--it takes one to know one. As a Zen poem says, "when two
Zen masters meet each other on the street, they need no
introduction. When fiends meet, they recognize one another
instantly." So a person who is a real cool Zen understands that,
does not go around "Oh, I understand Zen, I have satori, I have
this attainment, I have that attainment, I have the other
attainment," because if he said that, he wouldn't understand the
first thing about it.
So it is Zen that, if I may put it metaphorically, *Jon-Jo said "the
perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it
refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep." And another poem
says of wild geese flying over a lake, "The wild geese do not intend
to cast their reflection, and the water has no mind to retain their
image." In other words this is to be--to put it very strictly into
our modern idiom--this is to live without hang-ups, the word "hang-
up" being an almost exact translation of the Japanese _bono_ and the
Sanskrit _klesa_, ordinarily translated "worldly attachment," though
that sounds a little bit--you know what I mean--it sounds pious, and
in Zen, things that sound pious are said to stink of Zen, but to
have no hang-ups, that is to say, to be able to drift like a cloud
and flow like water, seeing that all life is a magnificent illusion,
a plane of energy, and that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid
of. Fundamentally. You will be afraid on the surface. You will be
afraid of putting your hand in the fire. You will be afraid of
getting sick, etc. But you will not be afraid of fear. Fear will
pass over your mind like a black cloud will be reflected in the
mirror. But of course, the mirror isn't quite the right
illustration; space would be better. Like a black cloud flows
through space without leaving any track. Like the stars don't leave
trails behind them. And so that fundamental--it is called "the void"
in Buddhism; it doesn't mean "void" in the sense that it's void in
the ordinary sense of emptiness. It means void in that is the most
real thing there is, but nobody can conceive it. It's rather the
same situation that you get between the speaker, in a radio and all
the various sounds which it produces. On the speaker you hear human
voices, you hear every kind of musical instrument, honking of horns,
the sounds of traffic, the explosions of guns, and yet all that
tremendous variety of sounds are the vibrations of one diaphragm,
but it never says so. The announcer doens't come on first thing in
the morning and say "Ladies and gentlemen, all the sounds that you
will hear subsequentally during the day will be the vibration of
this diaphragm; don't take them for real." And the radio never
mentions its own construction, you see? And in exactly the same way,
you are never able, really, to examine, to make an object of your
own mind, just as you can't look directly into your own eyes or bite
your own teeth, because you ARE that, and if you try to find it, and
make it something to possess, why that's a great lack of confidence.
That shows that you don't really know your "it". And if you're "it,"
you don't need to make anything of it. There's nothing to look for.
But the test is, are you still looking? Do you know that? I mean,
not as kind of knowledge you possess, not something you've learned
in school like you've got a degree, and "you know, I've mastered the
contents of these books and remembered it." In this knowledge,
there's nothing to be remembered; nothing to be formulated. You know
it best when you say "I don't know it." Because that means, "I'm not
holding on to it, I'm not trying to cling to it" in the form of a
concept, because there's absolutely no necessity to do so. That
would be, in Zen language, putting legs on a snake or a beard on a
eunuch, or as we would say, gilding the lily.

Alan Watts, a lecture on Zen
Now you say, "Well, that sounds pretty easy. You mean to say all we
have to do is relax? We don't have to go around chasing anything
anymore? We abandon religion, we abandon meditations, we abandon
this, that, and the other, and just live it up anyhow? Just go on."
You know, like a father says to his child who keeps asking "Why?
Why, Why, Why, Why, Why? Why did God make the universe? Who made
God? Why are the trees green?" and so on and so forth, and father
says finally, "Oh, shut up and eat your bun." It isn't quite like
that, because, you see, the thing is this:
All those people who try to realize Zen by doing nothing about it
are still trying desperately to find it, and they're on the wrong
track. There is another Zen poem which says, "You cannot attain it
by thinking, you cannot grasp it by not thinking." Or you could say,
you cannot catch hold of the meaning of Zen by doing something about
it, but equally, you cannot see into its meaning by doing nothing
about it, because both are, in their different ways, attempts to
move from where you are now, here, to somewhere else, and the point
is that we come to an understanding of this, what I call suchness,
only through being completely here. And no means are necessary to be
completely here. Neither active means on the one hand, nor passive
means on the other. Because in both ways, you are trying to move
away from the immediate now. But you see, it's difficult to
understand language like that. And to understand what all that is
about, there is really one absolutely necessary prerequisite, and
this is to stop thinking. Now, I am not saying this in the spirit of
being an anti-intellectual, because I think a lot, talk a lot, write
a lot of books, and am sort of a half-baked scholar. But you know,
if you talk all the time, you will never hear what anybody else has
to say, and therefore, all you'll have to talk about is your own
conversation. The same is true for people who think all the time.
That means, when I use the word "think," talking to yourself,
subvocal conversation, the constant chit-chat of symbols and images
and talk and words inside your skull. Now, if you do that all the
time, you'll find that you've nothing to think about except
thinking, and just as you have to stop talking to hear what I have
to say, you have to stop thinking to find out what life is about.
And the moment you stop thinking, you come into immediate contact
with what Korzybski called, so delightfully, "the unspeakable
world," that is to say, the nonverbal world. Some people would call
it the physical world, but these words "physical," "nonverbal,"
"material" are all conceptual, and bangs stick on the floorŲ is not
a concept. It's not a noise, either. It's Bangs stick againŲ. Get
that? So when you are awake to that world, you suddenly find that
all the so-called differences between self and other, life and
death, pleasure and pain, are all conceptual, and they're not there.
They don't exist at all in that world which is bangs stickŲ. In
other words, if I hit you hard enough, "ouch" doesn't hurt, if
you're in a state of what is called no-thought. There is a certain
experience, you see, but you don't call it "hurt." It's like when
you were small children, they banged you about, and you cried, and
they said "Don't cry" because they wanted to make you hurt and not
cry at the same time. People are rather curious about the things the
do like that. But you see, they really wanted you to cry, the same
way if you threw up one day. It's very good to throw up if you've
eaten soemthing that isn't good for you, but your mother said
"Eugh!" and made you repress it and feel that throwing up wasn't a
good thing to do. Because then when you saw people die, and
everybody around you started weeping and making a fuss, and then you
learned from that that dying was terrible. When somebody got sick,
everybody else got anxious, and you learned that getting sick was
something awful. You learned it from a concept.
So the reason why there is in the practice of Zen, what we did
before this lecture began, to practice Za-zen, sitting Zen.
Incidentally, there are three other kinds of Zen besides Za-zen.
Standing Zen, walking Zen, and lying Zen. In Buddhism, they speak of
hte three dignities of man. Walking, standing, sitting, and lying.
And they say when you sit, just sit. When you walk, just walk. But
whatever you do, don't wobble. In fact, of course, you can wobble,
if you really wobble well. When the old master *Hiakajo was asked
"What is Zen?" he said "When hungry, eat, when tired, sleep," and
they said, "Well isn't that what everybody does? Aren't you just
like ordinary people?" "Oh no," he said, "they don't do anything of
the kind. When they're hungry, they don't just eat, they think of
all sorts of things. When they're tired, they don't just sleep, but
dream all sorts of dreams." I know the Yun-Mens won't like that, but
there comes a time when you just dream yourself out, and no more
dreams. You sleep deeply and breathe from your heels. Now,
therefore, Za-zen, or sitting Zen, is a very, very good thing in the
Western world. We have been running around far too much. It's all
right; we've been active, and our action has achieved a lot of good
things. But as Aristotle pointed out long ago--and this is one of
the good things about Aristotle. He said "the goal of action is
contemplation." In other words, busy, busy, busy, busy, busy, but
what's it all about? Especially when people are busy because they
think they're GOING somewhere, that they're going to get something
and attain something. There's quite a good deal of point to action
if you know you're not going anywhere. If you act like you dance, or
like you sing or play music, then you're really not going anywhere,
you're just doing pure action, but if you act with a thought in mind
that as a result of action you are eventually going to arrive at
someplace where everything will be alright. Then you are on a
squirrel cage, hopelessly condemned to what the Buddhists call
_samsara_, the round, or rat-race of birth and death, because you
think you're going to go somewhere. You're already there. And it is
only a person who has discovered that he is already there who is
capable of action, because he doesn't act frantically with the
thought that he's going to get somewhere. He acts like he can go
into walking meditation at that point, you see, where we walk not
because we are in a great, great hurry to get to a destination, but
because the walking itself is great. The walking itself is the
meditation. And when you watch Zen monks walk, it's very
fascinating. They have a different kind of walk from everybody else
in Japan. Most Japanese shuffle along, or if they wear Western
clothes, they race and hurry like we do. Zen monks have a peculiar
swing when they walk, and you have the feeling they walk rather the
same way as a cat. There's something about it that isn't hesitant;
they're going along all right, they're not sort of vagueing around,
but they're walking just to walk. And that's walking meditation. But
the point is that one cannot act creatively, except on the basiss of
stillness. Of having a mind that is capable from time to time of
stopping thinking. And so this practice of sitting may seem very
difficult at first, because if you sit in the Buddhist way, it makes
your legs ache. Most Westerners start to fidget; they find it very
boring to sit for a long time, but the reason they find it boring is
that they're still thinking. If you weren't thinking, you wouldn't
notice the passage of time, and as a matter of fact, far from being
boring, the world when looked at without chatter becomes amazingly
interesting. The most ordinary sights and sounds and smells, the
texture of shadows on the floor in front of you. All these things,
without being named, and saying "that's a shadow, that's red, that's
brown, that's somebody's foot." When you don't name things anymore,
you start seeing them. Because say when a person says "I see a
leaf," immediately, one thinks of a spearhead-shaped thing outlined
in black and filled in with flat green. No leaf looks like that. No
leaves--leaves are not green. That's why Lao-Tzu said "the five
colors make a man blind, the five tones make a man deaf," because if
you can only see five colors, you're blind, and if you can only hear
five tones in music, you're deaf. You see, if you force sound into
five tones, you force color into five colors, you're blind and deaf.
The world of color is infinite, as is the world of sound. And it is
only by stopping fixing conceptions on the world of color and the
world of sound that you really begin to hear it and see it.

Alan Watts, a lecture on Zen
So this, should I be so bold as to use the word "discipline," of
meditation or Za-zen lies behind the extraordinary capacity of Zen
people to develop such great arts as the gardens, the tea ceremony,
the caligraphy, and the grand painting of the Sum Dynasty, and of
the Japanese Sumi tradition. And it was because, especially in tea
ceremony, which means literally "cha-no-yu" in Japanese, meaning
"hot water of tea," they found in the very center of things in
everyday life, magic. In the words of the poet *Hokoji, "marvelous
power and supernatural activity, drawing water, carrying wood." And
you know how it is sometimes when you say a word and make the word
meaningless, you take the word "yes"--yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,
yes, yes. It becomes funny. That's why they use the word "mu" in Zen
training, which means "no." Mu. And you get this going for a long
time, and the word ceases to mean anything, and it becomes magical.
Now, what you have to realize in the further continuence of Za-zen,
that as you-- Well, let me say first in a preliminary way, the
easiest way to stop thinking is first of all to think about
something that doesn't have any meaning. That's my point in talking
about "mu" or "yes," or counting your breath, or listening to a
sound that has no meaning, because that stops you thinking, and you
become fascinated in the sound. Then as you get on and you just--the
sound only--there comes a point when the sound is taken away, and
you're wide open. Now at that point, there will be a kind of
preliminary so-called subtlety, and you will think "wowee, that's
it!" You'll be so happy, you'll be walking on air. When Suzuki
Daisetz was asked what was it like to have satori, he said "well,
it's like ordinary, everyday experience, except about two inches off
the ground." But there's another saying that the student who has
obtained satori goes to hell as straight as an arrow. No satori
around here, because anybody who has a spiritual experience, whether
you get it through Za-zen, or through LSD, or anything, you know,
that gives you that experience. If you hold on to it, say "now I've
got it," it's gone out of the window, because the minute you grab
the living thing, it's like catching a handful of water, the harder
you clutch, the faster it squirts through your fingers. There's
nothing to get hold of, because you don't NEED to get hold of
anything. You had it from the beginning. Because you can see that,
by various methods of meditation, but the trouble is that people
come out of that an brag about it, say "I've seen it." Equally
intolerable are the people who study Zen and come out and brag to
their friends about how much their legs hurt, and how long they sat,
and what an awful thing it was. They're sickening. Because the
discipline side of this thing is not meant to be something awful.
It's not done in a masochistic spirit, or a sadistic spirit:
suffering builds character, therefore suffering is good for you.
When I went to school in England, the basic premise of education was
that suffering builds character, and therefore all senior boys were
at liberty to bang about the junior ones with a perfectly clear
conscience, because they were doing them a favor. It was good for
them, it was building their character, and as a result of this
attitude, the word "discipline" has begun to stink. It's been
stinking for a long time. But we need a kind of entirely new
attitude towards this, because without that quiet, and that non-
striving, a life becomes messy. When you let go, finally, because
there's nothing to hold onto, you have to be awfully careful not to
turn into loose yogurt. Let me give two opposite illustrations. When
you ask most people to lie flat on the floor and relax, you find
that they are at full attention, because they don't really believe
that the floor will hold them up, and therefore they're holding
themselves together; they're uptight. They're afraid that if they
don't do this, even though the floor is supporting them, they'll
suddenly turn into a gelatinous mass and trickle away in all
directions. Then there are other people who when you tell them to
relax, they go like a limp rag. But you see, the human organism is a
subtle combination of hardness and softness. Of flesh and bones. And
the side of Zen which has to do with neither doing nor not doing,
but knowing that you are It anyway, and you don't have to seek it,
that's Zen-flesh. But the side in which you can come back into the
world, with this attitude of not seeking, and knowing you're It, and
not fall apart--that requires bones. And one of the most difficult
things--this belongs to of course a generation we all know about
that was running about some time ago--where they caught on to Zen,
and they started anything-goes painting, they started anything-goes
sculpture, they started anything-goes way of life. Now I think we're
recovering from that today. At any rate, our painters are beginning
once again to return to glory, to marvelous articulateness and vivid
color. Nothing like it has been seen since the stained glass of ?Ų.
That's a good sign. But it requires that there be in our daily use
of freedom, and I'm not just talking about political freedom. I'm
talking about the freedom which comes when you know that you're It,
forever and ever and ever. And it'll be so nice when you die,
because that'll be a change, but it'll come back some other way.
When you know that, and you've seen through the whole mirage, then
watch out, because there may still be in you some seeds of
hostility, some seeds of pride, some seeds of wanting to put down
other people, or wanting to just defy the normal arrangements of

Alan Watts, a lecture on Zen
So that is why, in the order of a Zen monastary, various duties are
assigned. The novices have the light duties, and the more senior you
get, the heavy duties. For example, the Roshi very often is the one
who cleans out the _benjo_, the toilet. And everything is kept in
order. There is a kind of beautiful, almost princely aestheticism,
because by reason of that order being kept all of the time, the vast
free energy which is contained in the system doesn't run amok. The
understanding of Zen, the understanding of awakening, the
understanding of-- Well, we'll call it mystical experiences, one of
the most dangerous things in the world. And for a person who cannot
contain it, it's like putting a million volts through your electric
shaver. You blow your mind and it stays blown. Now, if you go off in
that way, that is what would be called in Buddhism a pratyeka-
buddha--"private buddha". He is one who goes off into the
transcendental world and is never seen again. And he's made a
mistake from the standpoint of Buddhism, because from the standpoint
of Buddhism, there is no fundamental difference between the
transcendental world and this everyday world. The _bodhisattva_, you
see, who doesn't go off into a nirvana and stay there forever and
ever, but comes back and lives ordinary everyday life to help other
beings to see through it, too, he doesn't come back because he feels
he has some solemn duty to help mankind and all that kind of pious
cant. He comes back because he sees the two worlds are the same. He
sees all other beings as buddhas. He sees them, to use a phrase of
G.K. Chesterton's, "but now a great thing in the street, seems any
human nod, where move in strange democracies a million masks of
god." And it's fantastic to look at people and see that they really,
deep down, are enlightened. They're It. They're faces of the divine.
And they look at you, and they say "oh no, but I'm not divine. I'm
just ordinary little me." You look at them in a funny way, and here
you see the buddha nature looking out of their eyes, straight at
you, and saying it's not, and saying it quite sincerely. And that's
why, when you get up against a great guru, the Zen master, or
whatever, he has a funny look in his eyes. When you say "I have a
problem, guru. I'm really mixed up, I don't understand," he looks at
you in this queer way, and you think "oh dear me, he's reading my
most secret thoughts. He's seeing all the awful things I am, all my
cowardice, all my shortcomings." He isn't doing anything of the
kind; he isn't even interested in such things. He's looking at, if I
may use Hindu terminology, he's looking at Shiva, in you, saying "my
god, Shiva, won't you come off it?"
So then, you see, the _bodhisattva_, who is--I'm assuming quite a
knowledge of Buddhism in this assembly--but the _bodhisattva_ as
distinct from the pratyeka-buddha, bodhisattva doesn't go off into
nirvana, he doesn't go off into permanant withdrawn ecstasy, he
doesn't go off into a kind of catatonic _samadhi_. That's all right.
There are people who can do that; that's their vocation. That's
their specialty, just as a long thing is the long body of buddha,
and a short thing is the short body of buddha. But if you really
understand that Zen, that buddhist idea of enlightenment is not
comprehended in the idea of the transcendental, neither is it
comprehended in the idea of the ordinary. Not in terms with the
infinite, not in terms with the finite. Not in terms of the eternal,
not in terms of the temporal, because they're all concepts. So, let
me say again, I am not talking about the ordering of ordinary
everyday life in a reasonable and methodical way as being
schoolteacherish, and saying "if you were NICE people, that's what
you would do." For heaven's sake, don't be nice people. But the
thing is, that unless you do have that basic framework of a certain
kind of order, and a certain kind of discipline, the force of
liberation will blow the world to pieces. It's too strong a current
for the wire. So then, it's terribly important to see beyond
ecstasy. Ecstasy here is the soft and lovable flesh, huggable and
kissable, and that's very good. But beyond ecstasy are bones, what
we call hard facts. Hard facts of everyday life, and incidentally,
we shouldn't forget to mention the soft facts; there are many of
them. But then the hard fact, it is what we mean, the world in an
ordinary, everyday state of consciousness. To find out that that is
really no different from the world of supreme ecstasy, well, it's
rather like this:
Let's suppose, as so often happens, you think of ecstasy as insight,
as seeing light. There's a Zen poem which says
A sudden crash of thunder. The mind doors burst open,
and there sits the ordinary old man.
See? There's a sudden vision. Satori! Breaking! Wowee! And the doors
of the mind are blown apart, and there sits the ordinary old man.
It's just little you, you know? Lightning flashes, sparks shower. In
one blink of your eyes, you've missed seeing it. Why? Because here
is the light. The light, the light, the light, every mystic in the
world has "seen the light." That brilliant, blazing energy, brighter
than a thousand suns, it is locked up in everything. Now imagine
this. Imagine you're seeing it. Like you see aureoles around
buddhas. Like you see the beatific vision at the end of Dante's
"Paradiso." Vivid, vivid light, so bright that it is like the clear
light of the void in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It's beyond
light, it's so bright. And you watch it receeding from you. And on
the edges, like a great star, there becomes a rim of red. And beyond
that, a rim of orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. You see
this great mandela appearing with great suns, and beyond the violet,
there's black. Black, like obsidian, not flat black, but transparent
black, like lacquer. And again, blazing out of the black, as the
_yang_ comes from the _yin_, more light. Going, going, going. And
along with this light, there comes sound. There is a sound so
tremendous with the white light that you can't hear it, so piercing
that it seems to annihilate the ears. But then along with the
colors, the sound goes down the scale in harmonic intervals, down,
down, down, until it gets to a deep thundering base which is so
vibrant that it turn it turns into something solid, and you begin to
get the similar spectrum of textures. Now all this time, you've been
watching a kind of thing radiating out. "But," it says, "you know,
this isn't all I can do," and the rays start dancing like this, and
the sound starts waving, too, as it comes out, and the textures
start varying themselves, and they say, well, you've been looking at
this this as I've been describing it so far in a flat dimension.
Let's add a third dimension; it's going to come right at you now.
And meanwhile, it says, we're not going to just do like this, we're
going to do little curlicues. And it says, "well, that's just the
beginning!" Making squares and turns, and then suddenly you see in
all the little details that become so intense, that all sorts of
subfigures are contained in what you originally thought were the
main figures, and the sound starts going all different, amazing
complexities if sound all over the place, and this thing's going,
going, going, and you think you're going to go out of your mind,
when suddenly it turns into... Why, us, sitting around here.
Thank you very much.



Alan Watts, a lecture on Zen


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