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June 11, 2011 / johnoliversimon

Alan Watts: I am not a guru

I am not a guru, begins Alan Watts. There are distant sirens in the recording, taped in the late sixties and rebroadcast over KPFA on a Sunday night in May 1977, four years after his death. These are my notes to his talk, written in my 15th blue notebook and slightly edited for flow. Archaic 20th-century gender pronouns dot (and date) Watts’ discourse; I won’t change them]. He must have begun with something like Good evening. This is Alan Watts.

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Every sensible person makes his living doing what he enjoys doing, and I talk in that spirit.

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It’s only necessary to have a guru if you think it is. Anybody who goes to a shrink ought to have his head examined. And vice-versa. What is the source of authority? Agreement. Everybody is looking for help. We’re alone and confused in an unpredictable external world of happenings and suffering. How did we get here? The Problem of Life. We’re all going to die. So what about it?
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Can we become masters of the situation? Escape the human predicament, that of isolated cnsciousness surrounded by huge wayward not-self? Given our material basis, wealth, power and technology, would an increase in income solve your problems? There’s always something to worry about. The problem’s in your mind. Control it. How? With positive thoughts? Be peaceful? Hum constantly? Repeat affirmations? Doesn’t always work. Whistling in the dark. The thought concealed behind your intellect: the dark what if.

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To smooth the ruffles of consciousness, and the erupting unconscious, you might try therapy. Hence the guru business. Which is designed to reflect, as in a mirror, aspects of self of which you’re unaware. It’s awkward to work alone, how do you get at yourself to work on, it’s circular, a bootstrap problem.

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Augustine said we can’t love anyone without grace. So how do you get grace? How do you learn not to resist it? You must relax, damn you! Acknowledge our element of irreducible rascality.

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Lookin’ for the Light… but the neurons either fire or don’t fire. All that we’re aware of is a complex arrangement of yes and no, Color TV recorded on magnetic tape [update technological metaphor four decades later]. Liebnitz read  the I Ching and invented (or discovered — JOS) binary arithmetic, which leads to the computer [original reference].

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The trouble is we try to have yang without yin. Isaiah: “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill laid low.” Leads to bulldozers in the Hollywood Hills. Isaiah tells us that God makes both peace and evil. Buddhism represents existence as a wheel. Cyclical, a calendar.

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Spiritual pride. The desire to become enlightened. Or to convert. The desire not to desire. Hah! Try not thinking of a green elephant!

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What if you had one question to ask God. What’s the meaning of it all? God answers: your question is meaningless. You ask again: what question should I ask?” God answers: Why do you want to ask a question?

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Training yourself to be unselfconscious. Finding out you can’t concentrate is valuable. Says the teacher. But there are higher things. So you keep on trying to learn the tricks. Rinzai says: there was nothing much in Obaku’s Buddhism. Deceive a child with an empty fist. The realization that there is nothing to realize. It was all there from the beginning.

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Thoughts and the controller of thoughts: no difference. “The thinker” is your thought of yourself. Try to bite your own teeth. Get the process: You’re it! Not it! Not it!

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Imagine you’re sitting on your lotus. You’ve got everything you want, you’re in control. You want that? The self, vis-a-vis limits to voluntary action. In the end we’re overwhelmed by the involuntary. But the voluntary keeps popping up. Voluntary self and involuntary happening. You want to get rid of either one and have just the other? that’s what happens when you go crazy.

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Interplay of self and other. “Because you can’t have one without the other…” It must be a conspiracy. There’s really only one of them.

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The word cleave meaning holding together and splitting apart. Latin sacer meaning holy and accursed. Karma is your doing. Organism and environment: two poles of a magnet. You are both: what you do and what happens to you. What you’re responsible for and what you’re not responsible for.

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Who’s at the left hand of God? If everything’s under control, it’s all dead. You’re a Disneyland God. You want something to happen! and thus you transcend control. Just as the guru’s authority is your authority, so your place in life is where you put yourself. Any place is a true place. Everyone is a manifestation of the Divine. We’re playing the game. If you don’t know it, that’s part of the game. Get lost! Get scared! Take drugs! The point of danger.

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If you’re really square, congratulations. You’re playing a far-out game. You’re so lost you don’t know where you started from. Because of you we might even blow up the planet. As the dust settles… that was a far-out dream. Hmm, where shall we go next?

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You do the logic: you suffer from yourselves. None else compels that ye whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss on spokes of agony. Tired of all this trouble? Try the nave (maze?— JOS) of nothingness.

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Zen monk: what’s the way to liberation?

Master: who’s restraining you?

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Meditation: the one human activity with no purpose. The art of being completely here and now, for no other reason. “When he sits, he sits, when he walks he walks”: the Buddha. Because he digs it. Dig as in to penetrate, the moment, the center of yourself. get with yourself, the moment, your center where the universe is created, future flowing into past like the wake of a ship. If it ain’t fun your’re not meditating.

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Then there’s the Zen game of competitive suffering. Comparing leg-aches. Caution: there are hierarchies and politics in the meditation scene as in the outer world. You miss the eternal now by expecting some result. Though you can’t not expect. Meditation is sitting aware, but don’t make a goal of it.

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He must have said thank you, and good night.

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. JoAnn Anglin / Jun 11 2011 2:21 pm

    I rarely comment, though I read most of these entries. And they never seem like a waste of time, always make an opening into something new, whether big or small.
    All the best.

  2. J.D. Moyer / Jul 3 2011 1:22 pm

    Enjoyed this — thanks for writing these up.

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