Monday, March 3, 2014

230~on consciousness


“For chivalry is the debonair spirit of the knight who ‘plays with his life’ in the knowledge that even mortal combat is a game.”

Alan Watts was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. In  The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You AreWatts states the cure and cause of separateness that keeps us from embracing the richness of life.

He argues that the whole universe consists of a cosmic self-playing hide and seek (Lila), hiding from itself (Maya) by becoming all the living and non-living things in the universe, forgetting what it really is; the upshot being that we are all IT in disguise.

Wonder is not a disease.

If one ever wonders at a moment in life which book would slip to their children, Watts eloquently advocates for a book of experience and feeling.

“The book that I would like to slip to my children would itself be slippery. It would slip them into a new domain, not of ideas alone, but of experience and feeling. It would be a temporary medicine, not a diet; a point of departure, not a perpetual point of reference.

They would read it and be done with it, for it were well and clearly written they would not have to go back to it again and again for hidden meanings or for clarification of obscure doctrines. We do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need a new experience—a new feeling of what it is to be ‘I’.

Where did the world come from? Why did God make the world? Where was I before I was born? Where do people go when they die?

Children usually ask those metaphysical questions and the author of  The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, explains it with a simple and very ancient story.

“There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world, repeats itself again and again.

But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can’t have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn’t be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black. (…)”

What our consciousness ignores.

“If you put your hand on an attractive girl’s knee and just leave it there, she may cease to notice it. But if you keep patting her knee, she will know you are very much there and interested.

But she notices and, you hope, values the on more than the off. Nevertheless, the very things that we believe to exist are always on/offs. Ons alone and offs alone do not exist.”

It is a general principle that consciousness ignores intervals, so you wonder what governs what we choose to notice, and Alan Watts talks about two elements that work simultaneously.

“The first is whatever seems advantageous or disadvantageous for our survival, our social status, and the security of our egos. The second is the pattern and the logic of all the notation symbols which we have learned from others, from our society and our culture.

Imagination cannot grasp simple nothingness and must therefore fill the void with fantasies, as in experiments with sensory deprivation where subjects are suspended weightlessly in sound-and light-proof rooms.”

Humans are genuine fakes. The hallucination of separateness prevents one from seeing that to cherish the ego is to cherish misery.

 “We cannot chop off a person’s head or remove his heart without killing him. But we can kill him just as effectively by separating him from his proper environment. This implies that the only true atom is the universe—that total system of interdependent ‘thing-events’ which can be separated from each other only in name.

For the human individual is not build as a car is built. He does not come into being by assembling parts, by screwing a head on to a neck, by wiring a brain to a set of lungs, or by welding veins to a heart. Head, neck, heart, lungs, brain, veins, muscles, and glands are separate names but not separate events, and these events grow into being simultaneously and interdependently.

In precisely the same way, the individual is separate from his universal environment only in name. When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name.”

So what? Who am I?

“But peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.

Once you have seen this you can return to the world of practical affairs with a new spirit. You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate ‘you’ to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed.

The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For ‘you’ is the universe looking at himself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.”

Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself.

To know thyself lasts a lifetime, and perhaps even more; and no wonder how the author of  The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,  explains the complexity of it.

“Self-knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to curiosity and investigation, so that nothing interests people more than people, even if only one’s own person. Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.

For the human organism is, apparently, the most complex of all organisms, and while one has the advantage of knowing one’s own organism so intimately—from the inside—there is also the disadvantage of being so close to it that one can never quite get at it. Nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself. This is why the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious.”


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an inspirational novel about the courage to be oneself freely.

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