Talking Zen.
Alan W. Watts.
1994. Weatherhill, NY. ISBN 0-8348-0313-5


Creeds and doctrines are ideas about truth, and not truth itself, and the aim of Zen is to sweep away all formulae, symbols and doctrinal substitutes which stand between the individual and enlightenment.

... there can be no association of awakening with ideas of attainment, of spiritual superiority, of success, of mastery, or of claims to any prerogative.

There are certain truths which have to be stood on their heads before they can be noticed at all; in the ordinary way they are so simple that we fail to perceive them, and they have to be complicated in order to be presented for thought and discussion.

... you will find in many yoga texts that one of the first exercises in meditation is to relax the mind in such a way that all its contents gradually rise to the surface; the texts go on to say that you will find yourself thinking all kinds of terrible things, things which you never dreamed could exist in your soul.

Civilized man with his acute self-consciousness has always been possessed with the idea that he is in some way out of harmony with life, that he is leading an artificial existence, that he is a lonely orphan divorced from nature, and most of his religion and psychology is so much chattering about this, as society women with nothing better to do will chatter about an imaginary illness.

For, as I understand it, myth is the imagery whereby we project upon the known, external world the ever-changing and ungraspable pattern of our own unconscious and inner workings.

Science did not ... dissolve the Ptolemaic-Christian cosmology by discovering it to be a mental projection upon the woid, but by discovering it to be an inadequate explanation of astronomical facts. The cosmology was a myth and a projection, indeed; but it was not so much this that made it false as that it did not fit the observable form of the screen.

To me, philosophy and religion have always been ways of expressing the sense that being alive is uncanny and strange; and thus it has seemed utterly incomprehensible that there are people for whom they are of no interest.

By and large, however, this universal tradition of the eternal moment is especially associated with spiritual experience and with the arts - and always it carries the implication that there is some very special and splendid insight to be discovered in a kind of concentration upon the immediate moment. It is as if one were to find out that the moment in which we live is a sort of keyhole through which one may pass into a world in which - on the one hand - time does not rush by, and - on the other hand - life is not merely dead and static. It is to discover that the whole point of being alive does not lie in some future destination, some far-off ideal yet to be attained, but that in some very queer way, this particular instant in which we are living is the fulfillment of everything and leaves nothing more that is of any real importance to be desired.

From a relative standpoint, from within the framework of certain conventions and social institutions, our lives have purpose and meaning. But there is another standpoint from which we are not going anywhere but nowhere, from which all the complex and marvelous creations of human culture are like the intricate but meaningless patterns of bubbles on the seashore. For sanity's sake we need to see both viewpoints.

Concentration in the sense in which I am using the word means, not staring at, but being centered in this one moment and not comparing it with any other. It requires simply the understanding that there is no other moment than this one: there never was, and there never will be.

Our satisfactions are more than ever projected into the future. Tomorrow assumes an ever-growing significance - to the degree that happiness eludes us in the present. To say that something has no future is to damn it outright. On the other hand, to have a future is the measure of value, and this future is what we pursue at ever-increasing speeds.

... no one can effectively overcome the mad greed of anxiety, until he has realized that the future is a mirage which does not contain the answer to anything.

I feel that there is a deep and quite extraordinary incompatibility between the beauty of Christianity and the beauty of nature. Speaking personally still, I have always found it quite impossible to relate God the Father, Jesus Christ, the angels and the saints to the universe in which I actually live.

For God is conceived in the image of a throned monarch, and the rituals of the Church are patterned after the court ceremonials of the Greco-Roman emperors.

... the Chinese conceived of the power behind nature not in the image of a monarch but as the Tao, the course or flow, and found images for it in water and wind, in the air and the sky, as well as in the processes of growth.

In the Church, we are in a universe that has been made. Outside the church, we are in a universe that has grown. Thus the God who made the world stands outside it as the carpenter stands outside his table, whereas the Tao which grows the world is within it.

It is ... the marvelous quality of unselfconsciousness - the quality of the man who can think, act, and live without anxious side-glances at himself which spoil the directness and effectiveness of his action.

... a person who feels a conflict between a moral conviction and his natural feelings finds himself at odds, not only with his family or his community, but with the very root and ground of life. This is the peculiarly Western sense of sin, of radical and natural uncleanness in one's very vitals.

... wars fought in the defense of absolute moral principles are far more devastating and frightful than wars which spring from such ordinary human passions as greed.

... in any real adult initiation, the mystery so closely guarded from the profane and undisciplined is precisely that the absolute is unconventional, that it is beyond good and evil, and that, by consequence, we cannot go against it or be separated from it.

Herein lies the identity of the two opposed wisdoms of the West - of the Church and of the secularists, of the theologians and the positivists. Both have confused the conventional with the real - the one by identifying God with goodness, and the other by identifying the order of nature with the order of words, and this is one and the same mistake.

I am afraid it is the measure of our profound inner insecurity that we are so damnably tidy, that we cannot tolerate the presence of saints or lunatics, that we cannot really live with people who disagree with us about anything serious, that we conceal and avoid emotions, and make ourselves more and more into the semblance of Kipling's monkeys, the Bandalog, crying, "We all say so, so it must be true!"

The image I have of myself is a caricature arrived at mainly through my interaction with other people who tell me who I am in various ways, either directly or indirectly. I play with their picture of me and they play something back to me, and we establish a shared conception of me.

A lot of the current quests for identity among younger people are a search for an acceptable image. What role can I play? Who am I, in the sense of what am I going to do in life?

You are an aperture through which the universe looks at itself, and because of the universe looking at itself through you, there is always an aspect of itself that it cannot see. It is just like a snake pursuing its tail, because the snake cannot see its head as the observer can. We always find, as we investigate the universe, ever more minute things; and as we make bigger and bigger telescopes the universe expands. Why? Because it is running away from itself, in both directions.

Intellectualization creates a gap or lack of rapport between you and your life. You may think about things so much that you get into the state where you are eating the menu instead of the dinner, you are valuing the money more than the wealth, and you are confusing the map with the territory.

"No one perceives anything, and no one experiences anything - there is simply seeing and experiencing."

In a neurological sense, everything you see is yourself. What you are aware of is a state of your nervous system, and there is no other knowledge whatsoever.

You do not have to attend to your body unless you are sick. The government of your body happens automatically, going on day after day after day. The better it is the less you have to think about it. On the deepest level, a person can get in the way of his own existence by becoming too aware of himself.

... if you want to see the inside of your head all you have to do is keep your eyes open, because all that you are experiencing in the external, visual field is a state of your brain.

In the process of being brought up by parents and teachers, we are made tolerable to live with on the one hand, but on the other hand we are unavoidably damaged. As a result, in our culture, it is increasingly popular to undergo psychoanalysis after we complete our education, to work out all the damage and traumatic shocks we experienced in the process.

The core of Zen training ... is to live spontaneously, and this is why it is so fascinating to many Western people, and especially Western intellectuals, who are overburdened with self-consciousness.

If one must try to say something about what Zen is ... I must emphasize that Zen in its essence is not a doctrine. There is nothing you are supposed to believe in, and it is not a philosophy in our sense; that is to say, it is not a set of ideas, an intellectual net in which one tries to catch the fish of reality.

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 are, without being named and without saying, "That's a shadow, that's red, that's brown, that's somebody's foot." When you do not name things any longer, you start seeing them.


Chuang Tzu
The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep.

Goethe ["Fragment Upon Nature"]
We are encompassed by her, enfolded by her - impossible to escape from her and impossible to come nearer to her. The most unnatural also is nature. Who sees her not on all sides sees her truly nowhere. Even in resisting her laws one obeys them; and one works with her even in desiring to work against her.

I let my ears hear whatever they wanted to hear, I let my eyes see whatever they wanted to see, I let my feet move anywhere they wanted to go, I let my mind think of whatever it wanted to think, and it was a very strange sensation because all my bodily existence seemed to melt, and become transparent, and to have no weight. I didn't know whether I was walking on the wind or the wind was walking on me.

Robert Oppenheimer
[Science is] ... the things we have discovered about nature defined in terms of the ways in which they were found out.