Category Archives: Philosophy

Still the Mind

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at Tue, Oct 7, 10.59.49 AMExcerpts from Alan Watts’ Still the Mind (An Introduction to Meditation)

We fail to distinguish between the way things are and the way they are described.

One’s actual organic being is inseparable from the universe.

I found out that unless one has something to give people, there is nothing one can do to help them. Just because I thought I ought to help, it didn’t mean that I had anything to give.

The whole energy of the universe is coming at you and through you, and you are that energy.

You can only know what you can compare with something else.

What we call the past is simply the traces, the fade-outs trailing away from the present. Continue reading

Tao: The Watercourse Way

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at Mon, Sep 22, 2.13.57 PMExcerpts from Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts.

The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal (or regular) Tao.

Our organisms have ways of intelligent understanding beyond words and conscious attention.

The supposition that knowing requires a knower is based on a linguistic and not an existential rule.

Alphabetic writing is a representation of sound. A sign for a sound which is the name of a thing.

Li is the pattern of behavior which comes about when one is in accord with the Tao, the watercourse of nature.

We and our surroundings are the process of a unified field, which is what the Chinese call Tao. #

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.

It is the great and imaginary terror of Western man that nothingness will be the permanent end of the universe. We do not easily grasp the point that the void is creative, and that being comes from nonbeing as sound from silence and light from space.

I find it impossible to conceive any form whatsoever without the component of relatively empty space. […] I cannot get away from the sense that space and my awareness of the universe are the same.

How would you know that you are alive unless you had once been dead? How can one speak of reality or is-ness except in the context of the polar apprehension of void.

There is something in us which may be called upon for a higher wisdom than can be figured out by logic.

The nervous system can integrate more variables than the scanning process of conscious attention.

It is a matter of realizing that oneself and nature are one and the same process. […] The whole cosmos is implicit in every member of it, and every point in it may be regarded as its center.

There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains, so if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens. # Tao is just a name for whatever happens. […] Yet the Tao is most certainly the ultimate reality and energy of the universe, the Ground of being and nonbeing.

Tao cannot be defined in words and is not an idea or concept. #

Verbal description and definition may be compared to the latitudinal and longitudinal nets which we visualize upon the earth and heavens to define and enclose the positions of mountains and lakes, planets and stars. But earth and heaven are not cut by these imaginary strings.

It is basic to the Taoist view of the world that every thing-event is what it is only in relation to all others.

Nature has no “parts” except those which are distinguished by human systems of classification.

The Tao is the pattern of things, but not the enforced law. […] The universe is a harmony or symbiosis of patterns which cannot exist without each other.

Just as every point on the surface of a sphere may be seen as the center of the surface, so every organ of the body and every being in the cosmos may be seen as its center and ruler.

As the universe produces our consciousness, our consciousness evokes the universe.

The only single event is the universe itself.

Pantheism: The idea that the universe, considered as a mass of distinct things and events, is simply God by another name.

But if, as is the case, the Tao is simply inconceivable, what is the use of having the word and saying anything at all about it? Simply because we know intuitively that there is a dimension of ourselves and of nature which eludes us because it is too close, too general, and too all-embracing to be singled out as a particular object.

Taoists do not look upon meditation as “practice,” except in the sense that a doctor “practices” medicine. […] Meditate for the joy of meditation.

“You” cannot go along with “things” unless there is the understanding that there is, in truth, no alternative since you and the things are the same process — the non-streaming Tao. The feeling that there is a difference is also that process. There is nothing to do about it. There is nothing not to do about it. […] In realizing that you are the Tao, you automatically manifest its magic.

As a way of contemplation, (Tao) is being aware of life without thinking about it. #

To be anxious to survive is to wear oneself out. […] If, deep down inside, you want most desperately to survive and be in control of things, you cannot genuinely take the attitude of not worrying about it. You must allow yourself the freedom to worry — to let the mind think whatever it wants to think.”

Hebrew, Islamic, and Catholic scholastics, as well as Protestant fundamentalists, are like tourists who study guidebooks and maps instead of wandering freely and looking at the view.

True knowledge can be encompassed only by instinct and by actual experience.

Waking Up

waking-upJust finished Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris. Amazon reviews here; more about Mr. Harris here. Ideas I found highlighter-worthy below.

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind.

It is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determine the quality of your life.

Everything we want to accomplish is something that promises, if done, it would allow us to finally relax and enjoy our lives in the present. […] Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.

Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

Is it possible to be happy before anything happens, before one’s desires are gratified, in spite of life’s difficulties, in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease, and death?

One one level, wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one’s own advice.

A true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at east in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time.

It is impossible for any faith, no matter how elastic, to fully honor the truth claims of another.

We manage to avoid being happy while struggling to become happy.

(Mindfulness is ) a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness. […] Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves.

The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing we are thinking.

Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed.

Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the movie of our lives.

Meditation is a technique for waking up.

Investigating the nature of consciousness is the basis of spiritual life.

Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

If you shut your eyes at this moment, the contents of your consciousness change quite drastically, but your consciousness (arguably) does not.

Are we unconsciousness during sleep or merely unable to remember what sleep is like?

We are not aware of all the information that influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I’ve forgotten most of what has happened to me over the course of my life.

Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents. […] Reality vastly exceeds our awareness of it.

(I am) a continuum of experience.

The feeling of “I” is a product of thought. […] Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.

(Thoughts are) transient appearances in consciousness.

We tell ourselves the story of the present, as though some blind person were inside our heads who required continuous narration to know what is happening.

Even if your life depended on it, you could not spend a full minute free of thought. […] We spend our lives lost in thought. […] Taking oneself to be the thinking of one’s thoughts is a delusion.

One must be able to pay attention closely enough to glimpse what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one.

We imagine that we are conscious of our selves within our bodies. We seem to be riding around inside our bodies.

(The self) is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience.

It may be that an awareness of other minds is a necessary condition for an awareness of one’s own.

Consciousness is the prior condition of every experience; the self or ego is an illusory appearance within it; look closely for what you are calling “I,” and the feeling of being a separate self will disappear; what remains, as a matter of experience, is a field of consciousness — uncontaminated by its ever-changing contents.

Consciousness is intrinsically free of self.

That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not fearful. Notice thoughts as they emerge and recognize them to be transitory appearances in consciousness. In subjective terms, you are consciousness itself — you are not the next, evanescent image or string of words that appears in your mind.

Consciousness is intrinsically undivided.

Nothing is intrinsically boring — boredom is simply a lack of attention.

We need not come to the end of the path to experience the benefits of walking it.

We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.

It is by ceasing to cling to the contents of consciousness — to our thought, moods, and desires — that we make progress.

There is experience, and then there are the stories we tell about it.

Consciousness is never improved or harmed by what it knows.

My Synoptic Gospels

trumanshow“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.” While watching The Truman Show (again) last night, I found myself wondering how I could be certain I’m not living in an elaborate TV show. Not sure I can.

It also occurred to me that I’m more comfortable getting my metaphysical/cosmic truths from movies than from books cobbled together during the Iron Age. If you’re willing to believe god spoke to Paul, Muḥammad, Joseph Smith and George W. Bush… why not Ridley Scott, Harold Ramis and Peter Weir.

My Synoptic Gospels are Blade Runner, Groundhog Day and The Truman Show. I might add to that list, much in the same way the early church tweaked the scriptures when necessary. Shoot, two of my guys are still alive. With a bit of luck and some persistence, I could probably meet them face to face.

This Is It

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at Tue, Jul 22, 8.50.16 AMExcerpts from This Is It: and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience by Alan Watts.

This — the immediate, everyday, and present experience— is IT, the entire and ultimate point for the existence of a universe. […] We use this simplest of words because we have no word for it.

The high ideals for which we are killing and regimenting each other are empty and abstract substitutes for the unheeded miracles that surround us— not only in the obvious wonders of nature but also in the overwhelmingly uncanny fact of mere existence.

Everything is as right as it can be. […] The universe, precisely as it is at this moment, as a whole and in every one of its parts, is so completely right as to need no explanation or justification beyond what it simply is.

It is usual for the individual to feel that the whole world has become his own body, and that whatever he is has not only become, but always has been, what everything else is.

The immediate now, whatever its nature, is the goal and fulfillment of all living.

The enlightenment or awakening is not the creation of a new state of affairs but the recognition of what always is.

Each thing, each event, each experience in its inescapable nowness and in all its own particular individuality was precisely what it should be, and so much so that it acquired a divine authority and originality.

Solving problems and coping with situations is by no means the only or even the chief business of life.

Nature is much more playful than purposeful, and the probability that it has no special goals for the future need not strike one as a defect.

The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.

“Law of nonidentity” — “whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t.” […] (There is a world other than words) Words represent it, but if we want to know it directly we must do so by immediate sensory contact.

However much I may be impressed by the difference between a star and the dark space around it , I must not forget that I can see the two only in relation to each other, and that this relation is inseparable.

There are no such things as truths by themselves: a truth is always in relation to a point of view.

The price of intelligence as we now know it is chronic anxiety,

Imagine, a point of view, or perhaps a state of mind, which is experiential rather than intellectual— a kind of sensation rather than a set of ideas.

Let your mind alone ; let it think whatever it likes.

Thinker and thoughts are the same. […] When the dualism of thinker and thought disappears so does that of subject and object.

Man is not so much an organism in an environment as an organism-environment relationship.

Strictly speaking, there are no Zen masters because Zen has nothing to teach. […] the experience of awakening (satori) is not to be found by seeking,

One (can) not be right without also being wrong, because the two were as inseparable as back and front.

I believe that Zen appeals to many in the post-Christian West because it does not preach, moralize, and scold in the style of Hebrew-Christian prophetism.

Looking out into it at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations. Stars are by nature big and little, bright and dim. Yet the whole thing is a splendor and a marvel which sometimes makes our flesh creep with awe.

In Zen one does not feel guilty about dying, or being afraid, or disliking the heat.

The Hebrew-Christian universe is one in which moral urgency, the anxiety to be right, embraces and penetrates everything.

The appeal of Zen, as of other forms of Eastern philosophy, is that it unveils behind the urgent realm of good and evil a vast region of oneself about which there need be no guilt or recrimination, where at last the self is indistinguishable from God.

Zen is above all the liberation of the mind from conventional thought.

“Fundamentally not one thing exists.” Things are terms, not entities. They exist in the abstract world of thought, but not in the concrete world of nature .

Ego is (a) persona or social role, a somewhat arbitrary selection of experiences with which he has been taught to identify himself.

David Cain on the art of not giving a shit

“Not giving a shit sounds like apathy, but it’s not. It’s simply a refusal to waste your energy and time on thoughts you’re not going to act on. So when you do give a shit, make sure that the point of this shit-giving is to figure out what you’re actually going to do in response to what happened, and then move on to the action part.”

“We often believe that our thoughts are accomplishing something just because they’re emotionally charged, or because they’re “about” something we consider important, like fairness, respect, or the state of society. No. They are useful only insofar as they get you to move your body and do something useful.”

Mr. Cain provides a handy flow-chart:

Read his full post

The Way of Zen

The Way of ZenI have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware.

I have somehow become the empty space in which everything is happening.


The vague, void-seeming, and indefinable Tao is the intelligence which shapes the world with a skill beyond our understanding. … Whereas God produces the world by making, the Tao produces it by “not-making” (growing).

The Tao’s principle is spontaneity. But spontaneity is not by any means a blind, disorderly urge, a mere power of caprice. … A philosophy restricted to the alternatives of conventional language has no way of conceiving an intelligence which does not work according to plan, according to a (one-at-a-time) order of thought.

Hsuan – A metaphorical darkness; the sheer inconceivability which confronts the mind when it tries to remember a time before birth, or to penetrate its own depths.

If the ordinary man is one who has to walk by lifting his legs with his hands, the Taoist is one who has learned to let the legs walk by themselves.

The eye’s sensitivity to color is impaired by the fixed idea that there are just five true colors.


Reasonable men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions make them enemies of life.

The value of emptiness lies in the the movements it permits or in the substance which it mediates and contains. But the emptiness must come first. This is why Indian philosophy concentrates on negation, on liberating the mind from concepts of Truth.

The basic reality of my life is not any conceivable object.

Maya: Things, facts, and events are delineated, not by nature, but by human description, and the way in which we describe (or divide) them is relative to our varying points of view.

The formal world becomes the real world in the moment when it is no longer clutched, in the moment when its changed fluidity is no longer resisted.

It is precisely (the) realization of the total elusiveness of the world which lies at the root of Buddhism.


Any attempt to conceive the Self, believe in the Self, or seek for the Self immediately thrusts it away.

It is fundamental to every school of Buddhism that there is no ego, no enduring entity which is the constant subject of our changing experiences. For the ego exists in an abstract sense alone, being an abstraction from memory. The past from which our ego is abstracted has entirely disappeared.

To one who has self-knowledge, there is no duality between himself and the external world.

(Zen on the Round of birth-and-death) The process of rebirth is from moment to moment, so that one is being reborn so long as one identifies himself with a continuing ego which reincarnates itself at each moment in time.

Nirvana can only arise unintentionally, spontaneously, when the impossibility of self-grasping has been thoroughly perceived.

Buddhism does not share the Western view that there is a moral law, enjoined by God or nature, which is man’s duty to obey.

Smriti (recollectedness) is a constant awareness or watching of one’s sensations, feelings, and thoughts – without purpose or comment. It is a total clarity and presence of mind, actively passive, wherein events come and go like reflections in a mirror: nothing is reflected except what is.

Through such awareness it is seen that the separation of the thinker from the thought, the knower from the known, the subject from the object, is purely abstract. There is not the mind on the one hand and its experiences on the other: there is just a process of experiencing in which there is nothing to be grasped, as an object, and no one, as a subject, to grasp it.

The object itself is just thought. A thought cannot see itself.

Dharmadhatu – The proper harmony of the universe is realized when each “thing-event” is allowed to be freely and spontaneously itself, without interference.

Logic and meaning, with its inherent duality, is a property of thought and language but not of the actual world.

As the sound “water” is not actually water, the classified world is not the real world.

Instead of trying to purify or empty the mind, one must simply let go of the mind – because the mind is nothing to be grasped. Letting go of the mind is also equivalent to letting go of the series of thoughts and impressions which come and go “in” the mind, neither repressing them, holding them, nor interfering with them.


The fondest illusion of the human mind: in the course of time everything may be made better and better.

The power of thought enables us to construct symbols of things apart from the things themselves. This includes the ability to make a symbol, an idea of ourselves apart from ourselves. We learn to identify ourselves with our idea of ourselves.

All ideas of self-improvement and of becoming or getting something in the future relate solely to our abstract image of ourselves.

In Taoist and Buddhist thought there is no conception of a God who deliberately and consciously governs the universe. [The Tao, without doing anything leaves nothing undone]

It is part of the very genius of the human mind that it can, as it were, stand aside from life and reflect upon it, that it can be aware of its own existence, and that it can criticize its own processes.

When human beings think too carefully and minutely about an action to be taken, they cannot make up their minds in time to act.

From (such) memories, reflections, and symbols the mind constructs its idea of itself. … The identification of the mind with its own image is paralyzing because the image is fixed — it is past and finished.

The attempt to act and think about (an) action simultaneously is precisely the identification of the mind with its idea of itself.

Whatever we do, and whatever “happens” to us, is ultimately “right.”

To act “without second thought,” without double-mindedness, is by no means a mere precept of our imitation. For we cannot realize this kind of action until it is clear beyond any shadow of doubt that it is actually impossible to do anything else.

There is no necessity for the mind to try to let go of itself, or to try not to try.

“Brushing off thoughts which arise is just like washing off blood with blood.” – Japanese master Bankei

Social conditioning fosters the identification of the mind with a fixed idea of itself as the means of self-control, and as a result man thinks of himself as “I” – the ego. Thereupon the mental center of gravity shifts from the spontaneous or original mind to the ego image. Once this has happened, the very center of our psychic life is identified with the self-controlling mechanism.

As soon as I recognize that my voluntary and purposeful action happens spontaneously “by itself,” just like breathing, hearing, and feeling, I am no longer caught in the contradiction of trying to be spontaneous. There is no real contradiction, since “trying” is “spontaneity.”

One stops trying to be spontaneous by seeing that it is unnecessary to try, and then and there it can happen. … One does not realize the spontaneous life by depending on the repetition of thoughts or affirmation. One realizes it by seeing that no such devices are necessary.

Zen lies beyond the ethical standpoint, whose sanctions must be found, not in reality itself, but in the mutual agreement of human beings.

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.

Zen is neither self nor Buddha to which one can cling, no good to gain and no evil to be avoided, no thoughts to be eradicated and no mind to be purified, nobody to perish and no soul to be saved.

The practice of Zen is not the true practice so long as it has an end in view, and when it has no end in view it is awakening — the aimless, self-sufficient life of the “eternal now.”

As muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, it could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.

To see the world as it is concretely, undivided by categories and abstractions, one must certainly look at it with a mind which is not thinking — which is to say, forming symbols about it. … A quiet awareness, without comment, of whatever happens to be here and now. This awareness is attended by the most vivid sensation of “nondifference” between oneself and the external world, between the mind and its contents — the various sounds, sights, and other impressions of the surrounding environment. … It just comes by itself when one is sitting and watching without any purpose in mind — even the purpose of getting rid of purpose.

The basic position of Zen is that it has nothing to say, nothing to teach. The truth of Buddhism is so self-evident, so obvious that it is, if anything, concealed by explaining it.

Awakening almost necessarily involves a sense of relief because it brings to an end the habitual psychological cramp of trying to grasp the mind with the mind, which in turn generates the ego with all its conflicts and defenses.

What we are, most substantially and fundamentally, will never be a distinct object of knowledge. Whatever we can know — life and death, light and darkness, solid and empty — will be the relative aspects of something as inconceivable as the color of space.

Awakening is to know what reality is not.

So long as one thinks about listening, one cannot hear clearly, and so long as one thinks about trying or not trying to let go of oneself, one cannot let go. Yet whether one thinks about listening or not, the ears are hearing just the same, and nothing can stop the sound from reaching them.

Because the world is not going anywhere there is no hurry. Hurry, and all that it involves, is fatal. For there is no goal to be attained.

The purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. It is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world. People in a hurry cannot feel.

Making an effort to concentrate on the instantaneous moment implies at once that there are other moments.