Thursday, August 07, 2003

by Alan Watts

Altough we all realize that monotony is boring, almost every form of industrial work- banking, accounting, mass-producing, service- is monotonous, and most people are paid for simply putting up with monotony, for arranging things in boxes, for recording these arrangements on squared and columned sheets of paper, or for welding and drilling innumerable I-beams together for making colossal concrete or glass-walled boxes wherein myriads of others can pursue these dreary routines. For What? For absolutely necessary but abstract and inedible money, wherewith to purchase a box in which to live, another box in which to go about (look at almost any brand of car), and to acquire boxed food which tastes more and more as if its constituent particles were boxes instead of cells.

The tycoons, politicians, and gangsters who manage this operation, whether in Russia, China, West Germany, or the United States, are not happy. By and large they are vulgar men who do not know chalk from cheese, who know very well what they hate and fear, but haven't the least idea of what they love-- except statistical records called money. Some of them have celebrated libraries of pornography. Some have plush harems of frigid girls. Some have yachts and jet planes in which to go somewhere just like the place from which they began. Some have great stables of horses for the merely mathematical purpose of betting on races.

They live in constant fear of thievery, revolution, competition, impotence, cancer, and rising taxation.

The trouble with our rich and powerful people is no so much that they are wicked, but that they do not enjoy themselves. A square can't have a ball, and the great problem of philosophy is not so much to square the circle as circle the square. For our religions are uptight and anal-retentive. Our religious observances consist almost entirely of talk-- "about it and about"-- about obeying commandments and about believing in verbalized statements or creeds presuming to define the ineffable. Virtually nothing is done to encourage any form of silent, nonverbal meditation or yoga wherein the eternal is experienced and not merely discussed. It is a terrible and notorious truth of history that no one has ever been taught how to love by a sermon, for all sermonically based love is simply disguised guilt, which arouses resentment in the recipient. If love can be inspired by anything symbolic, it has to be brought out by poetry-- that is, by words used as music.

Real religion has nothing to do with words. It is a silent, effortless, and fascinated concentration on the basic energy, the fundamental and musical vibration of the world. By such means we experience life as it actually is, as beyond the ways in which it is merely measured and described and calculated in our various systems and symbols. In the end you find out that you yourself are nothing other than that basic and timeless energy.

When you find that out, you don't give a damn about status, fancy possessions, hoards of money, being embalmed and buried in a bronze casket, an living a neatly geometrized life. You don't even quake with anxiety about survival. As the Chinese sages put it, "A man who understands the Tao [the Course of Nature] in the morning may die without regret in the evening". When I explain this to Americans they invariably ask, "But doesn't this imply a merely passive attitude to life?" This is because they have been brought up with such hymns as "Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war".

I simply do not understand the goals and rewards of the Western Way of Life [TM], apart from such side-effects of the project as anesthesia for denistry (which can just as well be effected by hypnosis). What is the point of Progress [TM] if the food is tasteless, the housing absurd, the clothing uncomfortable, the religion just talk, the air poisoned by Cadillacs [or SUVs], the work boring, the sex uptight and mechanical, the earth clobbered with concrete, and the water so chemicalized that even the fish are abandoning existence? Recently, I have been asking questions that really need no answer.

Who wants to serve in a police vice squad, spending hours peeking into men's johns to detect acts of homosexuality? Who wants a job as a debt-collection agent, spending his whole day being nasty to people? What sort of person voluntarily serves as a prison guard or hangman? Also, alas, one might ask what kind of individual would want to spend millions of dollars to become president of the United States, never away from the telephone, guarded around the clock by agents of the Secret Service, reading tomes of amazingly uninteresting documents, and being accompanied day and night by a warrant officer carrying a black bag containing mechanisms to set off the atomic bomb?

We believe that all such occupations, dreary or dangerous as they may be, are exercises of high responsibility and even of glory, despite the maxim that "the paths of glory lead but to the grave". But what is their actual end and purpose? Towards what is Progress [TM]? In fact, what on Earth are we doing? No one has even the ghost of a notion, save perhaps a few simple-minded people who live to smell flowers, to listen to the sea, to watch trees in the wind, to climb mountains, to eat pate de veau en croute, to drink the Malvasia wine from Ruby Hill, and to cuddle up with a lovely woman-- and such pursuits are not really expensive, as compared with the trillions spent on the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory.

For the life-ideal of power-crazy man is (and the word is not insignificant) screwing a plastic woman. She doesn't talk back. She lies perfectly still. She will assume any position you want and be treated in any way. In fact, when it comes down to it, the whole enterprise of technology is to turn all nature into a plastic woman-- a mass of completely obedient and predictable stuff. Why not, instead, lust over the syncopated convulsions of your wife or girlfriend in bed, when you get her into the genuine ecstasy of the witch riding the broom? To me, this is far more manly than smashing and destroying other people and their property, killing wild animals that you neither need nor use for food, or thundering along racetracks in four-wheeled phalluses. Why not go in for something like gliding, sailing, swimming, or even dancing?

Incidentally, I have noticed that these power-men cannot dance, except in the most stilted and formal way, because they will not permit their hips to swing freely-- imagining this to be a strictly feminine gesture. Much of this began because our ancestors had a rigid, antisexual religion, based on an elegantly mistranslated book, The Bible, so that their children fled for relief to the bright lights and distractions of the cities where they could find girls who would play games.

But lack of love for the vegetative, subtle, cthonic, pagan, and sexy aspect of the world means death. The cry, "Back to Nature" used to be derided as unrealistic sentimentality, but I am wondering if it is not becoming an urgent necessity. But mankind is actually feeding on the production of crash and trash-- of superweapons, vast slabs of cement, untold miles of wire, and billions of "objects" to be sold in shops which I haven't the slightest wish to own. Almost everyone who works in a city is producing rubbish and symbols of rubbish.

So WHAT DO WE WANT? I repeat the question again and again wherever I go. We do not know what we want because we are only dimly aware of anything wantable. We have taught ourselves to pursue such abstract and weakly perceived goals as happiness, love, goodness, service to others, fun, fame, fortune, power, peace, or God-- but we have more words than experience for what we mean.

[I propose] that the natural state of man is ecstatic wonder. Ecstasy is the sensation of surrendering to vibrations, and sometimes insights, that take you out of your so-called self. Ecstasy is something higher, or further out, than ordinary pleasure... its achievement requires a particular discipline and skill that is comparable to the art of sailing. Ecstasy is beyond pleasure, it is always a pleasure/pain experience, as when on weeps for joy or as when there is a certain hurt in intense sexual orgasm. Frequent plunges into ecstasy transforms one's normal consciousness. The everyday world becomes luminous and transparent. The chronic neuromuscular tension against the world disappears, and thus one loses the sensation of carrying one's body around like a load. You feel light, almost weightless, realizing you are one with a planet that is just falling at ease through space.

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