Buddhism Philosophy

Alan Watts – The Meaning of Happiness

The point on which I have insisted in many different ways is, in brief, that this special and supreme order of happiness is not a result to be attained through action, but a fact to be realized through knowledge. The sphere of action is to express it, not to gain it.

In the terms of the great Oriental philosophies, man’s unhappiness is rooted in the feeling of anxiety which attends his sense of being an isolated individual or ego, separate from “life” or “reality” as a whole. On the other hand, happiness—a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness—comes with the realization that the feeling of isolation is an illusion.

The Meaning of Happiness explains that the psychological equivalent of this doctrine is a state of mind called “total acceptance,” a yes-saying to everything that we experience, the unreserved acceptance of what we are, of what we feel and know at this and every moment.

Wisdom therefore consists in accepting what we are, rather than in struggling fruitlessly to be something else, as if it were possible to run away from one’s own feet.

But whether it is called the giving up of self, submitting to the will of God, accepting life, releasing the tension of striving for happiness or letting oneself go with the stream of life, the essential principle is one of relaxation.

Relaxation is something just as elusive as happiness; it is something which no amount of self-assertive striving can obtain, for as it is in a certain sense the absence of effort, any effort to achieve it is self-defeating.

These arise for two principal reasons: first, that twentieth-century, civilized man is so centered in his own limited self-consciousness that he is quite unaware of its origin, of the directing forces that lie beneath it; and second, that the real problem is not to bring about a state of affairs which does not as yet exist, but to realize something which is already happening—“as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” For although civilized man appears to live only from his self-conscious center, although he appears divorced from nature, from a spiritual point of view this is a mere conceit. In other words, at this very moment we have that union and harmony in spite of ourselves; we create spiritual problems simply through not being aware of it, and that lack of understanding causes and in turn is caused by the delusion of self-sufficiency. As Christianity would say, the Grace of God is always being freely offered; the problem is to get man to accept it and give up the conceit that he can save himself by the power of his ego, which is like trying to pick himself up by his own belt.

Both Oriental and Western psychology, however, state the problem in a rather different way. They say that if the ego can be made to look into itself, it will see that its own true nature is deeper than itself, that it derives its faculties and its consciousness from a source beyond individual personality. In other words, the ego is not really a self at all; it is simply a function of that inner universe.

In much the same way, speech is a function of the human being, and it is possible that one given only the sense of hearing might think that the voice is the man.

It is unusually complicated because in fact it is unusually simple; its solution lies so close to us and is so self-evident that we have the greatest difficulty in seeing it, and we must complicate it in order to bring it into focus and be able to discuss it at all.

“If you want to see, see directly into it; but when you try to think about it, it is altogether missed.”

A man and his wife had a mysterious goose that from time to time favored them by laying a golden egg. When this had been going on for some weeks they began to think it rather tiresome of the goose to part with its gold so gradually, for they imagined that it carried a store of such eggs inside itself. Not having the sense to weigh the creature first and find out if it was much heavier than a goose should be, they decided to kill it and cut it open. As might be expected, they found only one ordinary, dead goose, void of gold eggs and unable to produce any more.

For the meaning is in the whole, and not only the meaning but the very existence of the thing. Indeed, we are only aware of life and life is only able to manifest itself because it is divided into innumerable pairs of opposites: we know motion by contrast with stillness, long by short, light by darkness, heat by cold, and joy by sorrow.

Just as too much light blinds the eyes, too much pleasure numbs the senses; to be apparent it needs contrast.

For as the snail and the tortoise withdraw into their shells, man retires into his castle of illusion.

If we liked pain as much as pleasure we might shortly become extinct, for it is only this original fear of pain which urges us to self-preservation.

But note the term original fear. Man’s difficulty is that his fear is seldom original; it is once or many times removed from originality, being not just simple fear but the fear of being afraid.

Man does not like to admit to himself that he is afraid, for this weakens his self-esteem and shakes his faith in the security of his ego.

To accept fear would be like accepting death, so he runs from it, and this is the great unhappiness. Sometimes it is expressed in sheer unbridled terror, but more often it is a half-concealed, gnawing anxiety moving in vicious circles to an ever-greater intensity. It would have been better to say in the first place, “I am afraid, but not ashamed.”

The troubles which he tries to avoid are the only things which make him aware of his blessings, and if he would love the latter he must fear the former.

The isolation of the human soul from nature is, generally speaking, a phenomenon of civilization. This isolation is more apparent than real, because the more nature is held back by brick, concrete, and machines, the more it reasserts itself in the human mind, usually as an unwanted, violent, and troublesome visitor.

All men suffer, now as well as in ancient times, but not all are unhappy, for unhappiness is a reaction to suffering, not suffering itself. Therefore, generally speaking, the primitive was unhappy from his conflict with the external forces of nature. But the unhappiness of civilized man is chiefly the result of conflict with natural forces inside himself and inside human society, forces that are all the more dangerous and violent because they come in unrecognized and unwanted at the back door.

But it is not often realized that the apparent departure from nature which we have in civilization is an absolutely essential stage in man’s development. Without it we should remain like the elder son in the parable, jealous and unappreciative. For only those who have sinned can understand and appreciate the bliss of redemption.

The Hindus represent the evolution of man as a circle. Starting at the top he falls, instinctively and unconsciously, to the bottom, at which point they say he enters the extreme of materiality and self-consciousness, the age of Kali Yuga. From thereon he must climb up the second half of the circle and so return in full consciousness to the point from which he began. But truly to be united with nature again, he must first experience that absolute division between himself and the universe (or life).

Christianity differs from many other religions in according the existence of an immortal soul only to man. The rest of creation exists principally for man’s convenience, for no other living creature is of any special significance in the divine plan.

But in early Christian thought and practice there was, with few exceptions, an utter lack of concern for anything beyond the salvation of man.

It was not surprising, therefore, that Christianity took on an increasingly human or anthropomorphic conception of God.

Therefore when it has to accept an irrational impulse it rationalizes it in the course of putting it into effect. When the unregenerate Adam desires blood just for the sake of blood, the reasoning machine has to find a reasonable purpose for shedding blood, however specious.

Nevertheless, Freudian doctrine aroused little sympathy until after the Great War when it achieved sudden success, primarily through the ability of its method of psychological healing to cure cases of shell shock. But the outburst of the unregenerate Adam in the war itself made Freud’s ideas much more acceptable, though it is surprising how many intelligent people even today will refuse to admit that they have such a thing as an unconscious mind.

For to him the unconscious mind is personal only on its surface; essentially it is collective, racial, and perhaps universal, for Jung found that in their dreams modern men and women spontaneously produced myths and symbols thousands of years old of which they had no conscious knowledge.

Jung describes the ego (which we ordinarily regard as our central self) as a complex of the unconscious. That is to say, it is a device employed by the unconscious mind to achieve certain results; in the same way the apparently self-contained human body is a device employed by nature to achieve certain results.

Thus to the Hindus man’s self was identified with his individual person only because of his limited vision; they knew that if this vision could be enlarged, he would discover that his true self was Brahman. In other words, man’s ego is a trick or device (maya)7 to

For the peculiar thing is that both what we are trying to escape and what we are trying to find are inside ourselves. This, as we have seen, is almost more true of modern man than of the primitive, for our difficulty is what to do with ourselves rather than the external world.

Thus, at the risk of repeating a truism, it is obvious that unless we can come face to face with the difficulty in ourselves, everything to which we look for salvation is nothing more than an extra curtain with which to hide that difficulty from our eyes.

We have examined something of the meaning of unhappiness, of the war between the opposites in the human soul, of the fear of fear, of man’s consequent isolation from nature, and of the way in which this isolation has been intensified in the growth of civilization. We have also shown how man is intimately and inseparably connected with the material and mental universe, and that if he tries to cut himself off from it he must perish. In fact, however, he can only cut himself off in imagination, otherwise he would cease to exist, but we have yet to decide whether this elusive thing called happiness would result from acceptance of the fact of man’s union with the rest of life.

But if this is true we have to discover how such an acceptance may be made, whether it is possible for man to turn in his flight into isolation and overcome the panic which makes him try to swim against the current instead of with it. In the psychological realm this swimming against the current is called repression, the reaction of proud, conscious reason to the fears and desires of nature in man.

To return to our analogy: life is the current into which man is thrown, and though he struggles against it, it carries him along despite all his efforts, with the result that his efforts achieve nothing but his own unhappiness.

Finding it, he will understand that in fleeing from death, fear, and sorrow he is making himself a slave, for he will realize the mysterious truth that in fact he is free both to live and to die, to love and to fear, to rejoice and to be sad, and that in none of these things is there any shame. But man rejects his freedom to do them, imagining that death, fear, and sorrow are the causes of his unhappiness. The real cause is that he does not let himself be free to accept them, for he does not understand that he who is free to love is not really free unless he is also free to fear, and this is the freedom of happiness.

Hinayana Buddhism

The gist of its teaching is that when you realize that your personal self does not exist, then you are free of suffering, for suffering can arise only when there is a person to suffer.

Strictly speaking, a composer is inspired when melody emerges from the depths of his mind, how or why we do not know. To convey that melody to others he writes it down on paper, employing a technical knowledge which enables him to name the notes which he hears in his mind. This fact is important: his technical knowledge does not create the tune in his mind; it simply provides him with a complicated alphabet, and is no more the source of music than the literary alphabet and the rules of grammar are the sources of men’s ideas.

The spiritual genius works in the same way as the musical genius. He has a wider scope because his technique of expression, his alphabet, is every possible human activity. For some reason there arises in his soul a feeling of the most profound happiness, not because of some special event, but because of the whole of life. This is not necessarily contentment or joy; it is rather that he feels himself completely united to the power that moves the universe, whatever that may be. This feeling he expresses in two ways, firstly by living a certain kind of life, and secondly by translating his feeling into the form of thoughts and words. People who have not had this feeling make observations on his actions and words, and from them formulate the “rules” of religious morality and theology. But this involves a strange distortion, for as a rule the observer goes about his work in the wrong way.

But experience as such never made anyone either free or happy, and insofar as freedom and happiness are concerned with experience the important thing is not experience itself but what is learned from it. Some people learn from experience and others do not; some learn much from a little, others learn little from much. “Without going out of my house,” said the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, “I know the whole universe.”

And this is real freedom; it includes both freedom to move and to be moved; action and passivity are merged, and in spirituality as well as in marriage this is the fulfillment of love.

Wisdom is a quality of the psychological or spiritual relationship between man and his experience. When that relationship is wise and harmonious man’s experiences set him free, but when it is unwise and discordant his experiences bind him. Religion alone can deal with that relationship, and this is its essential function.

For what do we find left in religion when its quasi-scientific aspect is removed? There is the whole, vast problem of love or spiritual union which is contained in the question, “How can I learn to love life, whose source and essence we call God? How can I learn to be united with it in all its expressions, in living and dying, in love and fear, in the outer world of circumstances, and in the inner world of thought and feeling, so that in union with it I may find freedom?”

The will of God as expressed in morality is not a ukase which we should merely obey, for the purpose of His will is not that there should be morality, but that there should be love, and morality is just the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

But this kind of religion does not encourage the type of love upon which spirituality is founded. We have seen that its technique is imitative and thus unlikely to produce genuine, firsthand religious experience; we have also seen that its contempt of this world and its concentration on the life hereafter has little to do with the essentials of religion. This is not all, for not only has it little to do with such essentials; it is also a decided hindrance to spiritual growth because it encourages a “love” of God on a false basis. God is loved not because He has given us this world, but because He is said to have promised a much better world in the life after death.

Certainly all pleasures are transient; otherwise we should cease to appreciate them, but if this be made the excuse for refusing to enjoy them, one must suspect that man’s ideas of happiness are horribly confused. The secret of the enjoyment of pleasure is to know when to stop. Man does not learn this secret easily, but to shun pleasure altogether is cowardly avoidance of a difficult task. For we have to learn the art of enjoying things because they are impermanent. We do this every time we listen to music. We do not seize hold of a particular chord or phrase and shout at the orchestra to go on playing it for the rest of the evening; on the contrary, however much we may like that particular moment of music, we know that its perpetuation would interrupt and kill the movement of melody. We understand that the beauty of a symphony is less in these musical moments than in the whole movement from beginning to end. If the symphony tries to go on too long, if at a certain point the composer exhausts his creative ability and tries to carry on just for the sake of filling in the required space of time, then we begin to fidget in our chairs, feeling that he has denied the natural rhythm, has broken the smooth curve from birth to death and that though a pretense at life is being made it is in fact a living death.

religious ideas and practices (which are no more religion itself than any other activities) exist solely to promote a positive and loving attitude toward ordinary life and what it stands for, namely, God. Unless one happens to be a religious specialist, which is not necessarily the same thing as a spiritual person, religious practices are not ends in themselves. They are means to a fuller and greater life in this world, involving a positive and constructive attitude to pleasure and pain alike, and thus an increasing ability to learn happiness and freedom from every possible kind of experience.

An earlier myth than that of St. Michael and the Dragon tells of an encounter with a monster who for every one head slashed off by the hero’s sword grew seven new heads. Indeed, the problem of evil is not quite so straightforward as the accepted technique of “morality by battle” would assume. Those desires, feelings, and impulses in the soul which are called evil seem to thrive on resistance because resistance belongs to their own nature, and, as the Buddha said, “Hatred ceases not by hatred alone; hatred ceases but by love.” This seems reasonable enough when applied to persons, but somehow we find it difficult to believe that the impulse of hate can only be overcome by loving it. But, as with fear, the hate of hatred is only adding one hate to another, and its results are as contrary as those of the war which was fought to end war.

In Christianity the idea of total acceptance is somewhat hidden; it is only spoken of directly in some of the writings of the mystics, but it is soon discovered when we begin to make a thorough search into the symbolism of Christian doctrine. In the religions of the East, however, it is given particular emphasis; in fact, it is the fundamental principle of Vedantist, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy. The chief difference between these Eastern religions and Christianity is that, on the surface at least, Christianity is concerned with belief in doctrines whereas the Eastern religions are concerned with states of mind. That is to say, Christianity tends to be a theological and ethical religion, while Buddhism, Taoism, and Vedanta are psychological religions.

In the ordinary way the aim of Christianity is to make the person of Jesus as described in the Gospels as vivid a reality as possible so that the believer may love, follow, and serve Him as if He were a real friend standing always at his side. The psychology of Christian faith is therefore one of the personal devotion of the disciple to his Lord and Master, and this expands into mysticism when the believer feels a relation of love to the cosmic as well as to the personal Christ.

The Christian belief that only one historical religious tradition is valid for man is a clear enough sign of this confusion; so much emphasis is placed on history and doctrine as the essentials of salvation that a psychology of religion independent of the person of Christ is not understood. In the three great Eastern religions this confusion does not exist, and from them we are able to form a much clearer idea of the essentials of religion, of the state of mind called spiritual experience as distinct from the “local color” of particular historical events. For if indeed this experience is attainable outside the Christian faith, apart from devotion to a particular personality, and even without reference to theology (as in certain forms of Buddhism), then Eastern religions have two important contributions to make to Western civilization. Firstly, they show the principles of an approach to spiritual experience on a purely psychological basis to those who have lost faith in the historical and theological tenets of Christianity; secondly, Christianity itself can be enriched and expanded in this sadly underdeveloped aspect of its experience, and perhaps led to a higher understanding of spirituality than even many of its own mystics have attained.9

Anyone who has studied either Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism will know that the object of these religions is to attain a realization of the union between man and the Self of the universe.

As Bernard Shaw says, belief is a matter of taste and is quite unaffected by the objective truth or falsity of that belief. Our belief in a logical universe is a matter of taste, even though it may be objectively true; we say we are reasonable men, but we accept the pronouncements of our scientists with a faith quite as groveling as the faith of peasants who believe unquestioningly those who say they have seen gods and demons. How many people could prove such common beliefs as that the earth revolves round the sun or that atoms are composed of electrons and protons?

In conclusion we may say that for Western man acceptance means this: “Live and let live.” We see the root of our unhappiness in the war between ourselves and the universe, a war in which we so often feel tiny, impotent, and alone. The forces of nature, death, change, and unreasoning passion, seem to be against our most cherished longings, and by no trick or deceit can we get rid of our helpless solitude or of the battle between desire and destiny. Acceptance for us is therefore to say, “Let it live” to the whole situation, to the ego and its desires, to life and destiny, and also to the war between them.

For it seems as if the ego were the organizing faculty whose function is to “make sense” out of a collection of chaotic powers.

From one point of view it is true that almost everyone suffers from some form of neurosis, however mild, but the cure of neurosis by itself is not generally desirable unless one of two other conditions is involved: first, that the neurosis is unbearable, and second, that the psychology can supply a source of creative energy to take the place of the neurosis. In fact, we have neurosis to thank for some of the greatest human genius, for the very motive of escape from conflict has provided a driving force for artistic and scientific accomplishments very worthwhile in themselves, and possession by unconscious forces is the secret of many a creative genius. It may indeed be possible to attribute the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci2 to unresolved problems of infantile sexuality, and maybe the sonnets of Shakespeare were the work of a homosexual.

But the process does not consist simply in watching over one’s dreams; it is fundamentally a question of the conscious assimilation and acceptance of hitherto unconscious processes, in spite of their seeming irrationality and independence of the ego. When this has been carried out successfully for some time, a fundamental change is said to take place in the psyche. This Jung describes as a shifting of the center of personality from the ego to the self, a term which, in his system, has the special meaning of the center of the whole psyche as distinct from the center of consciousness, which is the ego. He explains the self as a “virtual point” between the conscious and the unconscious which gives equal recognition to the demands of both.

Whereas the neurotic genius finds his energy in escape and the natural genius in “possession” by unconscious forces (“which is to madness close allied”), the integrated genius would supposedly be able to draw upon the unconscious life-sources quite freely and consciously.

I think the re-creation of the personality might fairly be described as becoming conscious again of our plurality, of our many souls, and having them all contribute to our being instead of one at a time.

Jung has gone far more deeply into the nature of the unconscious than did Freud,8 and his system is bound up with aspects of the human soul which have a peculiar magic. Indeed, he goes so deeply that to follow him, not in ideas alone but in experience, is an extremely serious undertaking which involves the gravest risks for those whose feet are not planted on solid earth. And here “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

here again the view of such Oriental systems as Taoism and various forms of Buddhism is very suggestive. For here the object is not to reach any particular stage; it is to find the right attitude of mind in whatever stage one may happen to be. This, indeed, is a fundamental principle of those forms of Oriental psychology which we shall be considering. In the course of his evolution man will pass through an indefinite number of stages; he will climb to the crest of one hill to find his road leading on over the crest of another and another. No stage is final because the meaning of life is in its movement and not in the place to which it moves. We have a proverb that to travel well is better than to arrive, which comes close to the Oriental idea.

he is like the dunce who looked for fire with a lighted lantern. Sometimes the longest way round is the shortest way home.

For the unconscious is not, as some imagine, a mental refuse-pit; it is simply unfettered nature, demonic and divine, painful and pleasant, hideous and lovely, cruel and compassionate, destructive and creative. It is the source of heroism, love, and inspiration as well as of fear, hatred, and crime. Indeed, it is as if we carried inside of us an exact duplicate of the world we see around us, for the world is a mirror of the soul, and the soul a mirror of the world.

If anyone imagines Buddhism to be a religion of pure passivity, as we understand it, he should see some of the Chinese paintings of Achala! He might also do well to visit some of the living masters of Zen Buddhism. For the art of becoming reconciled to and at ease with those aspects of natural man which correspond to storm and thunder in the natural universe is to let them rage. Just as there is an incomparable beauty and majesty in thunder and lightning, so also there is something awe-inspiring in the abandoned and uninhibited anger of the sage, which is no mere loss of temper or petty irritability.

For acceptance is emptiness in the Buddhist sense of sunyata, which is sometimes likened to a crystal or a mirror. “The perfect man,” says Chuang Tzu, “employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep.”

Those who have followed partial techniques know that in a life where there is nothing special to be unhappy about there is a kind of barrenness; it is like a wheel without a center, or a perfect lamp without a light. There is nothing to supply any creative fire.

Everything is going just as it should go; the daily routine may be a little dull, but it is by no means unbearable. Certainly there are troubles, but nothing overwhelming. As for one’s own character, well, that is quite normal. There are no serious neurotic troubles and no moral defects. For the most part life is quite agreeable and if death comes at the end of it, that is a matter of course for which nature will prepare us; when the time comes to die we shall be tired and ready to go. That is not a happy life, even though it may be contented; it is simple vegetation.

There is not that joyous response of the individual to the universe which is the essence of spirituality, which expresses itself in religious worship and adoration.

It is a symptom of our spiritual phlegmatism and torpidity that the dance is no longer a part of our ritual and that we worship in churches which, as often as not, resemble cattle pens where people sit in rows and pray by leaning forward in their seats and mumbling.

The Ecstasy of Creation

They, too, know the answer to that eternal question of philosophy, “Why does the universe exist?” They know that it exists for an almost childlike reason—for play, or what the Hindus called lila (which is nearly our own word “lilt”).1 Chesterton points out that when a child sees you do something wonderful, it asks you to do it again and again. So too he says that God made the earth and told it to move round the sun, and when it had moved round once He was pleased and said, “Do it again.”

Should we ask and expect the universe to conform with our standards of good behavior and doubt the existence of God in all things because He does not observe the ordinary standards of middle-class humanitarian morality?

For the truth is simply that without faith we are forever bashing our heads against an immovable wall. No self-deception, no trick of reason or science, no magic, no amount of self-reliance can make us independent of the universe and enable us to escape its destructive aspect.

Faith means that we give ourselves to it absolutely and utterly, without making conditions of any kind, that we abandon ourselves to God without asking anything in return, save that our abandonment to Him may make us feel more keenly the lilt of His playing. This abandonment is the freedom of the spirit.

That is the only promise which can be given for faith, but what a promise! It means that we share in the ecstasy of His creation and His destruction, and experience the mystery and the freedom of His power in all the aspects of life, in both the heights of pleasure and the depths of pain. It may seem illogical, but those who have once shared in this mystery have a gratitude that knows no bounds and are able to say again that God is Love, though with an altogether new meaning.

There is also the problem of the relation between nature and the ego. If we accept the universe and subordinate ourselves to it, if, instead of trying to live life, we let life live us, we are accepting one aspect of life only to deny another—the aggressive, self-asserting ego in which life has manifested itself.

It seems, therefore, that what we need is, as it were, a higher type of acceptance that includes both acceptance and escape, faith and suspicion, self-abandonment and egotism, surrender and aggressiveness, the Dragon and St. Michael.

The motivating power of the vicious circle is pride. In Christian terms we should say that man is not willing to be saved as he is; he feels that it is necessary for him to do something about it, to earn salvation by his own self-made spirituality and righteousness. The Grace of God is offered freely to all, but through pride man will not accept it. He cannot bear the thought that he is absolutely powerless to lift himself up and that the only chance of salvation is simply to accept something which is offered as freely to the saint as to the sinner.

When it is said that man will not let himself be saved as he is, this is another way of saying that he will not accept himself as he is; subtly he gets around this simple act by making a technique out of acceptance, setting it up as something which he should do in order to be a “good boy.” And as soon as acceptance is made a question of doing and technique we have the vicious circle. True acceptance is not something to be attained; it is not an ideal to be sought after—a state of soul which can be possessed and acquired, which we can add to ourselves in order to increase our spiritual stature.

In other words, as soon as we try to make the ideal state of mind called “acceptance” something different from the state of mind which we have at this moment, this is the pride which makes it so difficult to accept what we are now, the barrier that stands between man and that which we call God or Tao.

And so it happens that the very thing we are forever struggling to get away from, to outgrow, to change, and to escape, is the very thing which holds the much desired secret. That is why there is a vicious circle, why our search for happiness is this frantic running around, pursuing in ignorance that which we are trying to flee.

Bear always in mind that the doctrines of these ancient religions are the symbols of inward, personal experiences rather than attempts to describe metaphysical truth.

Hence Vedanta is also known as the system of Advaita (literally, “not two”) or nonduality, and nonduality in philosophy is the natural expression of total acceptance in psychology. Every object, being, and activity is Brahman in His (or Its) entirety, for Brahman alone is—the “One-without-a-second.”

Chinese saying that “between the All and the Void is only a difference of name.”

man can only become conscious of it, not as metaphysical truth but as spiritual freedom, by seeing his own nature as it is and relaxing that contraction (sankocha) of egoistic pride which will not let his nature be as it is, and which is forever trying to get away from it by making a virtue of acceptance.

Deliverance (kaivalya) or freedom is not the result of any course of action, whether mental or physical or moral; according to Vedanta it comes only by Knowledge in the special sense of gnana (Gk. γνωδις) as the fruit of “meditation,” which is being rather than doing.

Our ordinary, partial experience is always limited: joy is conditioned by sorrow, pleasure by pain, life by death, and knowledge by ignorance. Therefore the Hindus conceived freedom as an experience which had no conditioning opposite and called it union with Brahman, the “One-without-a-second.”

The Buddha’s teaching is unique in its utter lack of theology; it concentrates wholly on the necessity of arriving at a personal, immediate experience and dispenses with the doctrinal symbol of that experience.

According to him the cause of discord or unhappiness was tanha or selfish craving, which is perhaps best understood as refusal to accept the “three signs of being.” These are:         1.   Anicca—Change or Impermanence.         2.   Anatta—Literally, “No-self.” The unreality of the ego as a permanent, self-contained, and self-directing unit.         3.   Dukkha—In this context, suffering in its widest sense.

Total acceptance of the three signs of being culminates and fulfills itself in the experience of enlightenment or awakening (bodhi), which is the abrupt transition from the dual to the nondual view of life,

The Hinayanists looked upon Nirvana as an escape from the pains of life and death—a conception which to the Mahayanists with their Brahmanic background appeared as the old error of dualism.

But the Mahayanists gave their philosophy of nonduality practical expression in the ideal of the Bodhisattva, who attains liberation but remains in the world of birth and death to assist all other beings to enlightenment.

In a certain sense Buddhism is very much a philosophy and a psychology of the moment, for if we are asked what life is, and if our answer is to be a practical demonstration and not a theory, we can do no better than point to the moment—now! It is in the moment that we find reality and freedom, for acceptance of life is acceptance of the present moment now and at all times.

Acceptance of the moment is allowing the moment to live, which, indeed, is another way of saying that it is to allow life to live, to be what it is now (yathabhutam). Thus to allow this moment of experience and all that it contains freedom to be as it is, to come in its own time and to go in its own time, this is to allow the moment, which is what we are now, to set us free; it is to realize that life, as expressed in the moment, has always been setting us free from the very beginning, whereas we have chosen to ignore it and tried to achieve that freedom by ourselves.

Mahayana scriptures form the largest bible in the world. The whole Mahayana Canon comprises some sixteen hundred works, some of the longer ones, of which there are an appreciable number, running into as many as a hundred and twenty volumes! Even so, we are told that certain parts of it have been lost.

In form rather than content the native Chinese religion of Taoism presents a refreshing contrast. It has only four important scriptures, all of which are eminently readable, straightforward, and brief; these are the works of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, and Huai-nan Tzu.

Therefore toward the end of the eighth century AD the Chinese had evolved a form of Buddhism which combined all the virtues of Buddhism and Taoism, and, I cannot feel by mere chance, the rise of this Chinese school of Buddhism coincided with the golden age of Chinese culture in the dynasties of T’ang, Sung, and Yuan. In Chinese this school was known as Ch’an, but in the West it is more generally known by its Japanese name of Zen,

These stories are rather like jokes. The moment you try to explain a joke it falls flat, and you only laugh when you see the point directly. Thus to explain these stories is really to explain them away. Now Zen never explains; it only gives hints, for, as van der Leeuw has said, “The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

More than the old Mahayana, more even than Taoism, Zen concentrates on the importance of seeing into one’s own nature now at this moment—not in five minutes when you have had time to “accept” yourself, nor ten years ahead when you have had time to retire to the mountains and meditate. The Zen masters resort to every possible means to direct your attention to yourself, your experience, your state of consciousness as it is now, for, as we have said before, there is no greater freedom than freedom to be what you are now.

The free man walks straight ahead; he has no hesitations and never looks behind, for he knows that there is nothing in the future and nothing in the past that can shake his freedom. Freedom does not belong to him; it is no more his property than the wind, and as he does not possess it he is not possessed by it. And because he never looks behind his actions are said to leave no trace, like the passage of a bird through the air.

Those who search for happiness do not find it because they do not understand that the object of their search is the seeker. We say that they are happy who have “found themselves” for the secret of happiness lies in the ancient saying, “Become what you are.”

This is why total acceptance, which seems to be a response to bondage, is actually a key to freedom, for when you accept what you are now you become free to be what you are now, and this is why the fool becomes a sage when he lets himself be free to be a fool.

Whereupon the ego and the unconscious, man and nature, oneself and life are seen as the two dancers who move in such close accord that it is impossible to say which moves and which responds, which is the active partner and which the passive.

Eckhart says that “the eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me.”2 Realization is not predestined to come at a certain time because predestination is an utterly limited half-truth. It may come at any moment, for that union exists eternally.

At each moment the mystic accepts the whole of his experience, including himself as he is, his circumstances as they are, and the relationship between them as it is. Wholeness is his keyword; his acceptance is total, and he excludes no part of his experience, however unsavory it may be. And in this he discovers that wholeness is holiness, and that holiness is another name for acceptability. He is a holy man because he has accepted the whole of himself and thus made holy what he was, is, and shall be in every moment of his life.

Even in resisting her laws one obeys them; and one works with her even in desiring to work against her.…Love is her crown. Only through love does one come near her.…She has isolated all things so that she may bring all together.…All is eternally present in her, for she knows neither past nor future. For her the present is eternity.

But, as we have seen, as soon as you let life live you, you discover that you are living life with an altogether new fullness and zest. To return to the analogy of the dance, it is as if you allowed your partner, life, to swing you along until you so get the “feel” of the dance that you are doing the “swinging” just as much as your partner.

But just as music demands four voices for the full expression of melody and harmony, so the human being demands four fully grown faculties to express the complete possibilities of freedom—and even so they are still expressing only possibilities. Jung classifies the four faculties or functions of man as intuition, sensation, intellect, and feeling, and it is almost impossible that anyone should be awakened to all of them before the middle of life.

Therefore in the process of individuation the psyche may be said to grow a new “organ” which Jung calls the self as distinct from the ego on the one hand, and the unconscious on the other. This self, as the vehicle of freedom, appears as a rule only in the ripeness of years when freedom has become a habit and has shaped the human organism to suit its ends, just as perpetually running water carves out a permanent course in the rock. This is the fulfillment of personality.

In the understanding of our freedom we learn that however low we may sink, we can never separate ourselves from the power of life and the love of God.

Just as love is the meaning of man and woman and has its symbol in the child, so only love can explain all other opposites under the sun.

Without these many opposites there could no more be a universe than there could be melody without the sounding and silencing of notes, and only those who do not accept them can complain that the universe was unfortunately arranged.

Note: Painting

Love, however, is not to be confused with liking; we may love the opposites, but because of our human nature we cannot always like them. Only the pervert actually likes suffering, but the love of suffering is known in giving freedom to your dislike of it; for without dislike on our part, suffering is no longer suffering.

This gratitude therefore demands expression in “works of love,” which is to say morality. It makes possible for the first time a genuine morality, for the free man is moral because he wants to be, not because he thinks he ought to be moral. Without gratitude morality is a mere discipline which keeps human society in a relatively stable condition until such time as men learn the freedom of love.

If you try to discover the secret of beauty by taking a flower to pieces, you will arrive at the somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion of having abolished the flower.

For beauty is beauty just because it is a mystery, and when ordinary life is known as a profound mystery then we are somewhere near to wisdom.

If a doctor explains the transformations undergone by food in his stomach, he does not cease to enjoy his dinner. If a scientist tells him that thunder is not the music of the gods but mere electrical disturbances, the thunder is for him no less wonderful. And if some Philistine tells him that playing a violin is only scraping cats’ entrails with horsehair, he simply marvels that melody can emerge from things so unprepossessing in appearance.