Asia Online (TAO)
Psychotherapy East and West
text consists of excerpts from Alan Watts' book, Psychotherapy East and West,
selected by Heron Stone.
** means that part of a paragraph is missing. Editorial comments have been added and appear within brackets.
Psychotherapy and Liberation
2. Society and Sanity
3. The Ways of Liberation
4. Through a Glass Darkly
5. The Counter-Game
1. Psychotherapy and Liberation
we look deeply into such ways of life as Buddhism and Taoism, Vedanta and Yoga,
we do not find either philosophy or religion as these are understood in the
West. We find something more nearly resembling psychotherapy. This may seem
surprising, for we [many] think of the latter as a form of science, somewhat
practical and materialistic in attitude, and the former as extremely esoteric
religions concerned with areas of the spirit almost entirely out of this world.
This is because the combination of our unfamiliarity with Eastern cultures and
their sophistication gives them an aura of mystery into which we project fantasies
of our own making. Yet the basic aim of these ways of life is something of quite
astonishing simplicity, beside which all the complications of reincarnation
and psychic powers, of superhuman mahatmas, and of schools of occult technology,
are a smoke screen in which the credulous inquirer can lose himself indefinitely.**
The main resemblance between the Eastern way of life and Western psychotherapy is in the concern of both with bringing about changes of consciousness, changes in our ways of feeling our own existence and our relation to human society and the natural world. The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals. The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people. But it is increasingly apparent to psychotherapists that the normal state of consciousness in our culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental disease. A complex of societies of vast material wealth bent on mutual destruction is anything but a condition of social health.
Nevertheless, the parallel between psychotherapy and, as I have called them, the Eastern "ways of liberation" is not exact, and one of the most important differences is suggested by the prefix psycho-. Historically, Western psychology has directed itself to the study of the psyche or mind as a clinical entity, whereas Eastern cultures have not categorized mind and matter, soul and body, in the same way as the Western. But Western psychology has to some extent so outgrown its historical origins as to become dissatisfied with the very term "psychological" as describing a major field of human behavior. It is not that is has become possible, as Freud himself once hoped, to reduce psychology to neurology and mind to body. It is not that for the entity "mind" we can substitute the entity "nervous system". It is rather that psychology cannot stand aloof from the whole revolution in scientific description which has been going on in this twentieth century, a revolution in which conceptions of entities and "stuffs", whether mental or material, have become obsolete. Whether it is describing chemical changes or biological forms, nuclear structure or human behavior, the language of modern science is simply concerned with changing patterns of relationship.
Perhaps this revolution has affected physics and biology far more deeply than psychology and as yet the theoretical ideas of psychoanalysis remain untouched. The common speech of even educated society has been so littleaffected that it is still hard to convey in some nonmathematical language what has happened. It seems an affront to common sense that we can describe the world as patterns of relationship without needing to ask what "stuff" these patterns are "made of". For when the scientist investigates matter or stuff, he describes what he finds in terms of structured pattern. When one comes to think of it, what other terms could he use? The sensation of stuff arises only when we are confronted with patterns so confused or so closely knit that we cannot make them out. To the naked eye a distant galaxy looks like a solid star and a piece of steel like a continuous and impenetrable mass of matter. But when we change the level of magnification, the galaxy assumes the clear structure of a spiral nebula and the piece of steel turns out to be a system of electrical impulses whirling in relatively vast spaces. The idea of stuff expresses no more than the experience of coming to a limit at which our sense or our instruments are not fine enough to make out the pattern.
Something of the same kind happens when the scientist investigates any unit of patterns so distinct to the naked eye that it has been considered a separate entity. He finds that the more carefully he observes and describes it, the more he is also describing the environment in which it moves and other patterns to which it seems inseparably related. As Teilhard de Chardin has so well expressed it, the isolation of individual atomic patterns "is merely an intellectual dodge".
Considered in its physical, concrete reality, the stuff [sic] of the universe cannot divide itself but, as a kind of gigantic "atom", it forms in its totality** the only real indivisible** The farther and more deeply we penetrate into matter, by means of increasingly powerful methods, the more we are confounded by the interdependence of its parts** It is impossible to cut into the network, to isolate a portion without it becoming frayed and unraveled at all its edges.
In place of the inarticulate cohesion of mere stuff we find the articulate cohesion of inseparably interconnected patterns.
The effect of this upon the study of human behavior is that it becomes impossible to separate psychological patterns from patterns that are sociological, biological, or ecological. Departments of knowledge based upon what now appear to be crude and primitive divisions of nature begin to coalesce into such awkwardly named hybrids as neuropsychaitry, sociobiology, biophysics, and geopolitics. At a certain depth of specialization the divisions of scientific knowledge begin to run together because they are far enough advanced to see that the world itself runs together, however clear-cut its parts may have seemed to be. Hence the ever-increasing discussion of the need for a "unified science" and for a descriptive language common to all departments of science. Hence, too, the growing importance of the very science of description, of communication, of the patterns of signs and signals which represents and elucidates the pattern of the world.
**This does not mean the he (the psychotherapist) has to engage in political revolution; it means that he has to help the individual in liberating himself from various forms of social conditioning-hatred being a form of bondage to its object. But from this point of view the troubles and symptoms from which the patient seeks relief, and the unconscious factors behind them, cease to be merely psychological. They lie in the whole pattern of his relationships with other people and, more particularly, in the social institutions by which these relationships are governed: the rules of communication employed by the culture or group. These include the conventions of language and law, of ethics and aesthetics, of status, role, and identity, and of cosmology, philosophy, and religion. For this whole social complex is what provides the individual's conception of himself, his state of consciousness, his very feeling of existence. What is more, it provides the human organism's idea of its individuality, which can take a number of quite different forms.
Seeing this, the psychotherapist must realize that his science, or art, is misnamed, for he is dealing with something far more extensive than a psyche and its private troubles. This is just what so many psychotherapists are recognizing and what, at the same time, makes the Eastern ways of liberation so pertinent to their work. For they are dealing with people whose distress arises from what may be termed maya, to use the Hindu-Buddhist word whose exact meaning is not merely "illusion" but the entire world-conception of a culture, considered as illusion in the strict etymological sense of a play (Latin, ludere). The aim of a way of liberation is not the destruction of maya but seeing it for what it is, or seeing through it. Play is not to be taken seriously, or, in other words, ideas of the world and of oneself which are social conventions, and institutions are not to be confused with reality. The rules of communication are not necessarily the rules of the universe, and man is not the role or identity which society thrusts upon him. For when a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique. He is universal by virtue of the inseparability of his organism from the cosmos. He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication.
There are many reasons why distress comes from confusing this social maya with reality. There is direct conflict between what the individual organism is and what others say it is and expect it to be. The rules of social communication often contain contradictions which lead to impossible dilemmas in thought, feeling, and action. Or it may be that confusion of oneself with a limiting and impoverished view of one's role or identity creates feelings of isolation, loneliness, and alienation. The multitudinous differences between individuals and their social contexts lead to as many ways of seeking relief from these conflicts. Some seeks it in the psychoses and neuroses which lead to psychiatric treatment, but for the most part release is sought in the socially permissible orgies of mass entertainment (sports), religious fanaticism, chronic sexual titillation, alcoholism, war-the whole sad list of tedious and barbarous escapes.
**Most religious groups oppose some social institutions quite vigorously, but at the same time they inculcate others without understanding their conventional nature. For those which they inculcate of the will of God or the laws of nature, thus making it extremely difficult for their members to see that social institutions are simply rules of communication which have no more universal validity than, say, the rules of a particular grammar. **
Ideally and theoretically the church as the Body of Christ is the entire universe, and because in Christ "there is neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free", membership in Christ could mean liberation from maya and its categories. It could mean that one's conventional definition and classification is not one's real self, that "I live, yet no longer I; but Christ lives in me". But in practice it means nothing of the kind, and for that matter, one hears little even of the theory. In practice it means accepting the religion or bondage of the Christian subgroup, taking its particular system of conventions and definitions to be the most serious realities. Now one of the most important Christian conventions is the view of man as what I have called the "skin-encapsulated ego", the separate soul and its fleshy vehicle together constituting a personality which is unique and ultimately valuable in the sight of God. This view is undoubtedly the historical basis of the Western style of individuality, giving us the sensation of ourselves as isolated islands of consciousness confronted with objective experiences which are quite "other". We have developed this sensation to a particularly acute degree. But the system of conventions which inculcates this sensation also requires this definitively isolated ego to act as a member of a body and to submit without reserve to the social pattern of the church. The tension so generated, however interesting at times, is in the long run as unworkable as any other flat self-contradiction. It is a perfectly ideal context for breeding psychosis. Yet, as we shall see, it would also be an ideal context for therapy if **
Thus far, then, we have seen that psychotherapy and the ways of liberation have two interests in common: first, the transformation of consciousness, of the inner feeling of one's own existence; and second, the release of the individual from forms of conditioning imposed upon him by social institutions.** It helps us to distinguish between social fictions, on the one hand, and natural patterns and relationships, on the other.
**Unconscious metaphysics tends to be bad metaphysics** But the unconscious factors bearing upon psychotherapy go far beyond the traumas of infancy and the repressions of anger and sexuality. **"Our psychology," Jung writes, "is a science of mere phenomena without any metaphysical implications." It "treats all metaphysical claims and assertions as mental phenomena, and regards them as statements about the mind and its structure that derive ultimately from certain unconscious dispositions." But this is a whopping metaphysical assumption in itself. The difficulty is that man can hardly think or act at all without some kind of metaphysical premise, some basic axiom which he can neither verify nor fully define. Such axioms are like the rules of games: some give ground for interesting and fruitful plays and some do not, but it is always important to understand as clearly as possible what the rules are. Thus the rules of tic-tac-toe are not so fruitful as those of chess, and what if the axioms of psychoanalysis resemble the former instead of the latter? Would this not put the science back to the level of mathematics when geometry was only Euclidean.
Now cultural patterns come to light and hidden metaphysical assumptions become clear only to the degree that we can step outside the cultural or metaphysical systems in which we are involved by comparing them with others. There are those who argue that this is simply impossible, that our impressions of other cultures are always hopelessly distorted by our own conditioning. But this is almost a cultural solipsism, and is equivalent to saying that we can never really be in communication with another person. If this be true, all study of foreign languages and institutions, and even all discourse with other individuals, is nothing but extending the pattern of one's own ignorance. As a metaphysical assumption there is no way of disproving it, but it offers nothing in the way of fruitful development.
**Alternatively, the "psychotic break" may also be an illegitimate burst into free play out of shear desperation, not realizing that the problem in impossible not because of overwhelming difficulty, but because it is meaningless.
If, then, there is to be fruitful development in the science of psychotherapy, as well as in the lives of those whom it intends to help, it must be released from the unconscious blocks, unexamined assumptions, and unrealized nonsense problems which lie in its social context. **
It cannot be stressed too strongly that liberation does not involve the loss or destruction of such conventional concepts as the ego; it means seeing through them-in the same way we can use the idea of the equator without confusing it with a physical mark upon the surface of Earth. Instead of falling below the ego, liberation surpasses it. Writing without apparent knowledge of Buddhism or Vedanta, A. F. Bentley put it thus:
Let no quibble of skepticism be raised over this questioning of the existence of the individual. Should he find reason for holding that he does not exist in the sense indicated, there will in that fact be no derogation from the reality of what does exist. On the contrary, there will be increased recognition of reality. For the individual can be banished only by showing a plus of existence, not by alleging a minus. If the individual falls it will be because the real life of men, when it iswide ly enough investigated, proves too rich for him, not because it proves too poverty-stricken.
Our mistake has been to suppose that the individual is honored and his uniqueness enhanced by emphasizing his separation from the surrounding world, or his eternal difference in essence from his Creator. As well honor the hand by lopping it from the arm! But when Spinoza said that "the more we know of particular things, the more we know of God", he was anticipating our discovery that the richer and more articulate our picture of man and the world becomes, the more we are aware of its relativity and the interconnection of all its patterns in an undivided whole. The psychotherapist is perfectly in accord with the ways of liberation in describing the goal of therapy as individuation (Jung), self-actualization (Maslow), functional autonomy (Allport), or creative selfhood (Adler), but every plant that is to come to its full fruition must be embedded in the soil, so that as its stem ascends the whole Earth reaches up to the sun.
2. Society and Sanity
As a pattern of behavior, society is above all a system of people in communication maintained by consistent action. To keep the system going, what is done has to be consistent with what has been done. The pattern is recognizable as a pattern because it goes ahead with reference to its own past; it id just this that establishes what we call order and identity, a situation in which trees do not suddenly turn into rabbits and in which one man does not suddenly behave like another so that we do not know who he is. "Who" is consistent behavior. System, pattern, coherence, order, agreement, identity, consistency are all in a way synonymous. But in a pattern so mobile and volatile as human society, maintaining consistency of action and communication is not easy. It requires the most elaborate agreements as to what the pattern is, or, to put it another way, as to what are the rules, the consistencies, of the system. Without agreement as to the rules of playing together there is no game. Without agreement as to the use of words, signs, and gestures there is no communication.
The maintenance of society would be simple enough if human beings were content just to survive. In this case they would be simply animals, and it would be enough to eat, sleep, and reproduce. But if these are their basic needs, human beings go about getting them in a most complicated way imaginable. If what must be done to survive is work, it would seem that the main concern of human beings is to play, yet at the same time pretending that most of such play is work. When one comes to think of it, the boundary between work and play is vague and changeable. Both are work in the sense that they expend energy; but if work is what must be done to survive, may we not ask, "but is it really necessary that we survive? IS not survival, the continuation of the consistent pattern of the organism, a form of play?" We must be careful of the anthropomorphism which asserts that animals hunt and eat in order to survive, or that a sunflower turns in order to keep its face to the sun. There is no scientific reason to suppose that there are such things as instincts for survival or for pleasure. When we say that an organism likes to go on living, or that it goes on living because it likes it, what evidence is there for this "like" except that it does in fact go on living-until it doesn't? Similarly, to say that we always choose what we prefer says no more than that we always choose what we choose. If there is a basic urge to live, there must also, as Freud thought, be a basic urge to die. But language and thought are cleaner without these ghostly instincts, urges, and necessities. As Wittgenstein says, "A necessity for one thing to happen because another has happened does not exist. There is only logical necessity".
An enduring organism is simply one that is consistent with its environment. It climate and its food agree with it; its pattern assimilates them, eliminating what does not agree, and this consistent motion, this transformation of food and air into the pattern of the organism, is what we call its existence. There is no mysterious necessity for this to continue or discontinue. To say that the organism needs food is only to say that it is food. To say that it eats because it is hungry is only to say that it eats when it is ready to eat. To say that it dies because it cannot find food is only another of saying that its death is the same thing as its ceasing to be consistent with the environment. The so-called causal explanation of an event is only the [a] description of the same event in other words. To quote Wittgenstein again, "At the base of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusions that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena."
More complex organisms, such as human beings, are more complex consistencies, more complex transformations of the environment. Not only are they patterns of transforming food, but their agreement or consistency with the environment changes nuclear vibrations into sound and light, weight and color, taste and smell, temperature and texture, until finally they generate elaborate signs and symbols of great interior consistency. When these mesh with the environment it becomes possible to describe the world [our experience] in terms of sign patterns. The world [our experience] is thus transformed into thought in the same way food is transformed into body. The agreement or consistency of body pattern or thought pattern with the pattern of the world [our experience] goes as long as it goes on. To say why it starts or stops is only to describe particular consistencies or inconsistencies.
To say that there is no necessity for things to happen as they do is perhaps another way of saying that the world is play. But this idea is an affront to common sense because the basic rule of human societies is that one must be consistent. If you want to belong to our society, you must play our game-or, simply, if we are going to be consistent, we must be consistent. The conclusion is substituted for the premise. But this is understandable because, as we have seen, human society is so complex and volatile that consistency is difficult to maintain. Children keep slipping out of the patterns of behavior we try to impose upon them, and for this and similar reasons our social conventions have to be maintained by force. The first rule of the game, put in another way, is that the game must continue, that the survival of society is necessary. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the consistencies or regularities of nature are patterns that do occur, not patterns that must occur. Natural events do not obey commandments in the same way that human beings obey the law.
(NOTE: In his superb essay on "Human Law and the Laws of Nature" Joseph Needham has shown that, largely because of Taoist influence, Chinese thought has never confused the order of nature with the order of law. As a way of liberation Taoism of course brings to light the manner in which men project their social institutions upon the structure of the universe.)
Or put in still other words, the first rule of the game is that the game is serious, i.e., is not a game. This is called the primordial "repression". By this I do not mean that it is an event at the temporal beginning of human life, but rather that it may be our most deeply ingrained social attitude. But just as soon as we feel that certain things, such as survival, are serious necessities, life becomes problematic in a very special sense quite different from, say, the problems of chess or of science. Life and problem become the same; the human situation becomes a predicament for which there is no solution**
This self-frustrating activity is [called] samsara, the vicious circle from which the ways of liberation propose release. Release depends upon becoming aware of that primordial repression which is responsible for the feeling that life is a problem, that it is serious, that it must go on. It has to be seen that the problem we are trying to solve is absurd. But this means far more than mere resignation to fate, far more than the stoic despair of recognizing that human life is a losing battle with the chaos of nature. That would amount only to seeing that the problem has no solution. We should then simply withdraw from it and sit aloof in a kind of collective psychosis. The point is not that the problem has no solution, but that it is so meaningless that it need not be felt as a problem. To quote Wittgenstein again:
For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered. **for doubt can only exist where there is a question; a question only where there is an answer, and this only where something can be said. We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer. The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.
When a psychiatrist asked a Zen master how he dealt with neurotic people he replied, "I trap them!" "And just how do you trap them?" "I get them where they can't ask any more questions".
But the idea that human life need not be felt as a problem is so unfamiliar and seemingly implausible that we must go more deeply into the social origins of the problematic feeling. In the first place, the opposition of human order to natural chaos is false. To say that there is no natural necessity is not to say that there is no natural order, no pattern or consistency in the physical world. After all, man himself is part of the physical world, and so is his logic. But it should not be hard to see that the kind of order we call logical or causal necessity is a subtype of order, a kind of order which appears in the world but is not characteristic of it as a whole. Similarly, the order of the rational integers 1, 2, 3, etc., is in the world, but mathematics would be a poor tool for describing the world if it were confined to simple arithmetic. We could say that the order of probability describes the world better than the order of causality. This is the same sort of truth as that a man with a saw can cut wood better than a man with a stone ax. The world is to us as we have means of assimilating it: patterns of thought-language in whose terms we can describe it. Yet these patterns are physical events, just as much as those which they describe. The point is surely that the world has no fixed order. We could almost say that the world is ordering itself ever more subtly both by means of and as the behaviors of living organisms.
To define operationally is to say what happens, to describe behavior, and as soon as we do this we find that we are talking about transactions. We cannot describe movements without describing the area or space in which they occur; we would not know that a given star or galaxy was moving except by comparing its position with others around it. Likewise, when we describe the world as completely as we can, we find that we are describing the form of man, for the scientific description of the world is actually a description of experiments, of what men [people] do when they investigate the world. Conversely, when we describe the form of man as completely as we can-his physical structure, as well as his behavior in speech and action-we find that we are describing the world. There is no way of separating them except by not looking too carefully, that is, by ignorance.
The human behavior that we call perception, thought, speech, and action is a consistency of organism and environment of the same kind as eating. What happens when we touch and feel a rock? Speaking very crudely, the rock comes in touch with a multitude of nerve ends in our fingers, and any nerve in the whole pattern of ends which touches the rock "lights up". Imagine and enormous grid of electric light bulbs connected with a tightly packed grid of push buttons. If I open my hand and with its whole surface push down a group of buttons, the bulbs will light up in a pattern approximately resembling my hand. The shape of the hand is "translated" into the pattern of buttons and bulbs. Similarly, the feeling of the rock is what happens in the "grid" of the nervous system when it translates a contact with the rock. But we have at our disposals "grids" far more complex than this-not only optical and auditory, but also linguistic and mathematical. These, too, are patterns into whose terms the world is translated in the same way the rock is into nerve patterns. Such a grid, for example, is the system of co-ordinates, three of space and one of time, in which we feel that the world is happening even though there are no actual lines of height, width, and depth filling all space, and though Earth does not go tick-tock when it revolves. Such a grid is also the whole system of classes, or verbal pigeonholes, into which we sort the world [our experience] as things or events, still or moving; light or dark; animal, vegetable, or mineral; bird, beast, or flower; past present or future.
It is obvious, then, that when we are talking about the order and structure of the world, we are talking about the order of our grids. "Laws, like the law of causation, etc., treat of the network and not of what the network describes" (Wittgenstein). In other words, what we call the regularities of nature are the regularities of our grids [our descriptions]. For regularity cannot be noticed except by comparing one process with another-e.g., the rotation of Earth about the sun with the strictly measured rotation of the clock. (The clock, with its evenly spaced seconds and minutes, is here the grid.) In the same way, what appears to be necessities of nature as a whole may be no more than necessities of grammar or mathematics. When anyone says that an unsupported body which is heavier than air necessarily fall to the ground, the necessity is not in nature, but in the rules of definition. If it did not fall to the ground, it would not fit what we mean by "heavier than air"**
**Or it may be that the organism, considered as a field in itself, is in self-contradiction: the weight of the nose horn is too much for the muscles. Turning to the human species, we may wonder whether such a split is taking place in the development of the over-isolated consciousness of the individual.
If this be so, we must be careful of a false step in reasoning. We must not say to the individual, "Watch out! If you want to survive, you must do something about it!" Any action along these lines will simply make things worse; it will simply confirm the individual in his feeling of separation. It will become, like the nose horn of Triceratops, a survival mechanism frustrating survival. But if it is not up to the individual to do something, what is there to be said or done, and to whom and by whom?
Is it entirely unreasonable to suppose that the situation may correct itself, that the "field pattern" man/universe may be intelligent enough to do so? If this happens, or is happening, it will at first appear that individuals are initiating the changes on their own. But as the required change takes place, the individuals involved will simultaneously undergo a change of consciousness revealing the illusion of their isolation. May not something of the same kind be happening when a research worker, thinking that he has made an independent discovery, learns to his astonishment that several other people hit upon it at about the same time? As scientists sometimes say, the field of research had developed to the point where this particular discovery might naturally break out at several places.
(NOTE: I, for example, as an "independent philosopher" could not possibly be saying what I am if I were really independent. "My" ideas are inseparable from what Northrop-Frye calls "the order of words", i.e., the total pattern of literature and discourse now being unfolded throughout the world.)
If we turn now to the social institution of language, or the "grid of words", we can easily see the ways in which it may be splitting organism from environment, and aspects of the environment from one another. Language with such parts of speech as nouns and verbs obviously translate what is going on in the world into particular things (nouns) and events (verbs), and these in turn "have" properties (adjectives and adverbs) more or less separable from them. All such languages represent the world as if it were an assemblage of distinct bits and particles. The defect of such grids is that they screen out or ignore (or repress) interrelations. That is why it is so difficult to find words to describe such fields as the organism/environment. Thus when the human body is analyzed and its organs are attached to nouns, we are at once in danger of the mechanical, overspecialized type of medicine and surgery which interferes at one point heedless of a disturbance of balance which may have unforeseen "effects" throughout the system. What else must the surgeon do if he has to remove a cancerous thyroid. Similar dangers arise in almost every sphere of human activity.
All classification seems to require a division of the world. As soon as there is a class, there is what is inside it and what is outside it. In and out, yes and no, are explicitly exclusive of one another** The separation between them seems to be as clear-cut as that between a solid and a space, a figure and its background. The separation, the difference, is therefore what we notice; it fits the notation of language, and because it is noted and explicit it is conscious and unrepressed. But there is also something unnoticed and ignored, which does not fit the notation of language, and which because it is unnoticed and implicit is unconscious and repressed. This is that the inside and the outside of the class go together and cannot do without each other. "To be and not to be arise mutually". Beneath the contest lies friendship; beneath the serious lies the playful; beneath the separation of the individual and the world lies the field pattern. In this pattern every push from within is at the same time a pull from without, every explosion an implosion, every outline an inline, arising mutually and simultaneously so that it is always impossible to say from which side of the boundary any movement begins. The individual no more acts upon the world than the world upon the individual. The cause and effect turn out to be integral parts of the same event.
Wrestling as we are with languages whose forms resist and screen out insights of this kind, it is understandable that at present this view is only hypothetical in the behavioral sciences however well verified it may be in the physical. This is perhaps due in part to the fact that it is much easier to describe pure process and pattern in mathematics than in words, with their subjects, verbs, and predicates, their agents and acts. But we have not yet gone very far in the mathematical description of living behavior. Yet it is not so hard to imagine a language which might describe all that man "is" and does as doing. After all, we can speak of a group of homes as housing without feeling impelled to ask, "What is it that is housing?". I do not think that such a language would be impoverished, any more than the sciences are impoverished through having given up such mysterious entities as the ether, the humors, phlogiston, or the planetary spheres. On the contrary, a language would be greatly enriched by making it easier for us to understand relationships which our present languages conceal. Described simply as pattern in motion, the mystery of what acts and what is acted upon, of how the cause issues in the effect, would be as easy as seeing the relationship between the concave and convex sides of a curve. Which side comes first?
The difficulty, however, is not so much in finding the language as in overcoming social resistance. Would it really do to find out that our game is not serious, that enemies are friends, and that the good thrives on the evil? Society as we know it seems to be a tacit conspiracy to keep this hushed up for fear that the contest will otherwise cease. If these opposites are not kept fiercely separate and antagonistic, what motivation will there be for the creative struggle between them? If man does not feel himself at war with nature, will there be any further impetus to technological progress? Imagine how the Christian conscience would react to the idea that, behind the scenes, God and the Devil were the closest friends but had taken opposite sides in order to stage a great cosmic game**
The problem is, of course, that if men are patterns of action and not agents, and if the individual and the world act with each other, mutually, so that action does not originate in either, who is to be blamed when things go wrong? Cab the police then come around asking, "Who started this?" The convention of the individual as the responsible, independent agent is basic to almost all our social and legal structures. Acceptance of this role or identity is the chief criterion of sanity, and we feel that if anyone is reducible to actions or behaviors with nobody doing them, he must be no more than a soulless mechanism. Indeed, there is at first glimpse an element of terror in this universe of pure activity; there seems to be no point from which to make a decision, to begin anything. It is not at all unlikely that some kind of slip into this way of feeling things may sometimes touch off a psychotic break, for the individual might well feel that he had lost control of everything and could no longer trust himself or others to behave consistently. But supposing one understood in the first place that this is the way things are anyhow, the experience itself would be far less unnerving. In practice it happens that just as soon as one gets used to this feeling and is not afraid of it, it is possible to go on behaving as rationally as ever-but with a remarkable sense of lightness.
Setting aside, for the time being, the moral and ethical implications of this view of man, it seems to have the same sort of advantage over the ordinary view that the Copernican solar system has over the Ptolemaic. It is so much simpler, even though it means giving up the central position of Earth. This is, moreover, the kind of simplicity which is fruitful rather than diminishing; it leads to further possibilities of play, greater richness of articulation. On the other hand, the ordinary conventional view seems increasingly to fail in what it purports to achieve.
**the mind or psychological structure of the individual cannot be identified with some entity inside his skin.
If the mind is socially constituted, then the field or locus of any individual mind must extend as far as the social activity or apparatus of social relations which constitutes it extends; and hence that field cannot be bounded by the skin of the individual organism to which it belongs. (George Herbert Mead)
And that is just the paradox of the situation: society gives us the idea that the mind or ego is inside the skin and that it acts on its own apart from society.
(NOTE: Mead himself does not use the term "ego" in quite this sense, for he associates it with the "I" rather than the "me". But since he is also associating the "I" with the organism, this seems quite inconsistent, for the ego is almost invariably considered as something in the organism like the chauffeur in a car, or a little man inside the head who thinks thoughts and sees sights. It is just this ego feeling that is the social construct.)
Here, then, is a major contradiction in the rules of the social game. The members of the game are to play as if they were independent agents, but they are not to know that they are just playing as if! It is explicit in the rules that the individual is self-determining, but implicit that he is so only by virtue of the rules. Furthermore, while he is defined as an independent agent, he must not be so independent as not to submit to the rul es which define him. Thus he is defined as an agent in order to be held responsible to the group for "his" actions. The rules of the game confer independence and take it away at the same time, without revealing the contradiction.
This is exactly the predicament which Gregory Bateson calls the "double-bind", where the individual is called upon to take two mutually exclusive courses of action and at the same time prevented from being able to comment on the paradox.
You are damned if you do and damned if you don't, and you mustn't realize it. Bateson has suggested that the individual who finds himself in a family situation which imposes the double-bind upon him in an acute form is liable to schizophrenia. Fir if he cannot comment on the contradiction, what can he do but withdraw from the field? Yet society does not allow withdrawal; the individual must play the game. As Thoreau said, wherever you may seek solitude men will ferret you out "and compel you to belong to their desperate company of oddfellows". Thus in order to withdraw the individual must imply that he is not withdrawing, that his withdrawal is happening, and that he cannot help himself. In other words, he must "lose his mind" and become insane.
(NOTE: While he has assembled a good deal of evidence in support of this suggestion, he does not claim to have proved it. Other research is suggesting that schizophrenia may be explained chemically as a toxic condition, but the two points of view do not necessarily exclude each other. The stress induced by the double-bind situation could have something to do with generating the toxin.)
But in liberation this comes to pass not through an unconscious compulsion but through insight, through understanding and breaking the double-bind which society imposes. One does not then get into the position of not being able to play the game; one can play it all the better for seeing that it is a game.
The schizophrenic withdrawal affects a minority, and occurs in circumstances where the double-bind imposed by society in general is compounded by special types of double-bind peculiar to a special family situation. The rest of us are in differing degrees of neurosis, tolerable to the extent to which we can forget the contradiction thrust upon us, to which we can "forget ourselves" by absorption in hobbies, mystery novels, social service, television, business, and warfare. Thus it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are accepting a definition of sanity which is insane, and that as a result our common human problems are so persistently insoluble that they add up to the perennial and universal "predicament of man", which is attributed to nature, to the Devil, or to God himself.
If what has been said up to this point is intelligible, it is only partly so; otherwise the reader would have been liberated forthwith! As I have suggested, there are unavoidable verbal difficulties even in describing the paradox we are in, let alone in describing the actual field pattern in which human life takes place. The trouble is that we are describing the difficulty with the very language structure that gets us into it. It has to say, "We are describing", and, "Gets us into it", confirming at every step the reality of the agent-entity presumed to stand behind the activity, or to be enduring it when it is understood to be coming from some other source. Common sense balks at the notion of action without agent just as it balks at the idea of pattern without substance, whether material or mental. But 1 + 2 = 3 and x - y = z are intelligible statements of relation without our having to ask what any of the symbols stand for, whether things or events, solids or spaces.
Thus the whole difficulty of both psychotherapy and liberation is that the problems which they address lie in the social institutions in whose terms we think and act [ i.e., the domain of language/magic]. No co-operation can be expected from an individual ego which is itself the social institution at the root of the trouble. But these institutions are observab le; we do not have to ask, "By whom?" They are observable here, for as William James pointed out, "The word 'I'** is primarily a noun of position like 'this' and 'here'". If they are observable they are subject to comment, and it is the ability to comment upon it that breaks the double-bind. On the one hand, social institutions like the grid of language create, or better, translate the world in their terms, so that the world-life itself- appears to be self-contradictory if the terms are self-contradictory. On the other hand, social institutions do not create the world ex nihilo. They are in and of the pattern of nature which they in turn represent or misrepresent.
The pattern of nature can only be stated in terms of a language; bit it can be shown in terms of say, sense perceptions. For a society whose number system is only "1, 2, 3, many", it cannot be a fact that we have ten fingers, and yet all the fingers are visible. People who know, for whom it is a fact, that they are egos or that the sun goes around Earth can be shown that their facts are wrong [well, not actually wrong**] by being persuaded to act consistently upon them. If you know that Earth is flat, sail consistently in one direction until you fall off the edge. Similarly, if you know that you are an independent agent, do something quite independently, be deliberately spontaneous, and show me this agent.
That there is a pattern of nature can is shown; what it is can be stated, and we can never be certain that what we have stated is finally correct [the very idea of "correct" is irrelevant] because there is nothing about which we can act consistently forever. But when we are employing institutions in whose terms we cannot act consistently, we may be sure either that they are self-contradictory or that they do not fit the pattern of nature. Self-contradictions which are not observed and patterns of nature which the language screens out are, in psychological terms, unconscious and repressed. Social institutions are then in conflict with the actual pattern of man-in-the-world, and this comes out as distress in the individual organism, which cannot be inconsistent with itself or with nature without ceasing to exist.
But what our social institutions repress is not just the sexual love, the mutuality, of man and woman, but also the still deeper love of organism and environment, of Yes and No, and of all those so-called opposites represented by the Taoist symbol of the yin-yang, the black and white fishes in eternal intercourse. It is hardly stretching a metaphor to use the word "love" for intimate relationships beyond those between human organisms. In those states of consciousness called "mystical" we have, I believe, a sudden slip into an inverse or obverse of the view of the world given in our divisive language forms. Where this slip is not, as in schizophrenia, a tortured withdrawal from conflict, the change of consciousness again and again brings the [an] overwhelming impression that the world is a system of love. Everything fits into place in an indescribable harmony -indescribable because paradoxical in the terms which our language provides.
Now our language forms, our grids of thought, are by no means whollywrong. The differences and divisions in the world which they note are surely there to be seen. There are indeed some mere ghosts of language, but in the main the categories of language seem to be valid and indeed essential to any description of the world whatsoever-as far as they go. But a given language cannot properly express what is implicit in it-the unity of differences, the logical inseparability of light and darkness, Yes and No. The question is whether these logical implications correspond to physical relations. The whole trend of modern science seems to be establishing the fact that, for the most part, they do. Things must be seen together with the form of the space between them. As Ernst Cassirer said as long ago as 1923:
The new physical view proceeds neither from the assumption of a "space in itself", nor of "matter" nor of "force in itself"-it no longer recognizes space, force, and matter as physical objects separated from each other, but** only the unity of certain functional relations, which are differently designated according to the system of reference in which we express them.
While we must be careful not to overstress analogies between physics and human behavior, there must certainly be general principles in common between them. Compare what Cassirer said with Gardner Murphy:
I have believed for a long time that human nature is a reciprocity of what is inside the skin and what is outside; that it is definitely not "rolled up inside us" but our way of being one with our fellows and our world. I call this field theory.
The ways of liberation are of course concerned with making this so-called mystical consciousness the normal everyday consciousness. But I am more and more persuaded that what happens in their disciplines, regardless of the language in which it is described, is nothing either supernatural or metaphysical in the usual sense. It has nothing to do with a perception of something else than the physical world. On the contrary, it is the clear perception of this world as a field, a perception which is not just theoretical but which is also felt as clearly as we feel, say, that "I" am a thinker behind and apart from my thoughts, or that the stars are absolutely separate from space and from each other. In this view the differences of the world are not isolated objects encountering one another in conflict, but expressions of polarity. Opposites and differences have something between them, like the two faces of a coin; they do not meet as total strangers. When this relativity of things is seen very strongly, its appropriate affect is love rather than hate or fear.
Surely this is the [a] way of seeing things that is required [useful] for effective psychotherapy. Disturbed individuals are, as it were, points in the social field where contradictions in the field break out. It will not do at all to confirm the contradictions from which they are suffering, for the psychiatrist to be the official representative of a sick system of institutions. The society of men with men and the larger ecological society of men with nature, however explicit a contest, is implicitly a field -an agreement, a relativity, a game. The rules of the game are conventions, which again mean agreements. It is fine for us to agree that we are different from each other, provided we do not ignore the fact that we agreed to differ. We did not differ to agree, to create society be deliberate contract between originally independent parties.
3. The Ways of Liberation
One of the blessings of easy communication between the great cultures of the world is that partisanship in religion and philosophy is ceasing to be intellectually respectable. Pure religions are as rare as pure cultures, and it is mentally crippling to suppose that there must be a number of fixed bodies of doctrine among which one must choose, where choice means accepting the system entirely or not at all. Highly organized religions always try to force such a choice because they need devoted members for their continuance. Those who rove freely through the various traditions, accepting what they can use and rejecting what they cannot, are condemned as undisciplined syncretists. But the use of one's reason is not a lack of discipline, not is there any important religion which is not itself a syncretism, a "growing up together" of ideas and practices of diverse origin.
**Yet if the main function of a way of liberation is to release the individual from his "hypnosis" by certain social institutions, what is needed in California will not be quite the same as what is needed in Bengal, for the institutions differ. Like different diseases, they require different medicines.
It is not within the scope of this book to present a fully documented argument for the idea that liberation is from the maya of social institutions and not of the physical world. Some evidence will be given, but I have not myself arrived at this idea by a rigorous examination of documents. It is simply a hypothesis which, to me, makes far better sense of Buddhism and Vedanta, Yoga and Taoism, than any other interpretation**
If, then, the maya or unreality lies not in the physical world but in the concepts or thought forms by which it is described, it is clear that maya refers to social institutions-to language and logic and their constructs-and to the way [ways] in which they modify our feeling[s] of the world ["of the world" is unnecessary] This becomes even clearer when we look at the relation of the Indian ways of liberation to the social structure and popular cosmology of the ancient Aryan culture. The community is divided into four basic castes-Brahman (priestly), Kshatriya (military), Vaishya (mercantile) and Sudra (laboring)-in terms of which the role and identity of every individual is defined. An individual outside caste has no legal identity, and is thus regarded as a human animal rather than a human person. The four castes are, furthermore, the general classification of roles temporarily assumed by something beyond man and, indeed, beyond all classification. This is the Brahman, or Godhead, which is one and the same as the Atman, the essential Self playing each individual role. In this ancient Indian cosmology the creation of the world is thus a dramatic manifestation. The Godhead is playing at being finite; The One is pretending to be many, but in the process, in assuming each individual role, the One has, so to speak, forgotten Itself and so has become involved in unconsciousness or ignorance (avidya).
So long as this ignorance prevails, the individualized form of the Godhead, the soul or jivatman, is constantly reborn into the world, rising or falling fortune and station according to its deeds and their consequences (karma). There are various levels above and below the human through which the individual soul may pass in the course of its reincarnations-the angelic, the titanic, the animal, the purgatories, and the realm of frustrated ghosts. Until it awakens to fill self-knowledge, the individual soul may undergo reincarnation for amazingly long periods of time, touching the highest possibilities of pleasure and the lowest depths of pain, going round and round upon the wheel of samsara for thousands and millions of years.
If we go back in imagination to an India entirely uninfluenced by Western ideas, and especially those of Western science, it is easy to see that this cosmology would have been something much more than a belief. It would haveseemed to be a matter of fact which everyone knew to be true [much as most current sapes know that time and three-dimensional space are really real]. It was taken for granted, and was also vouched for by the authority of the most learned men of the time, an authority just as impressive then as scientific authority is today. Without the distraction of some persuasive alternative one can know that such a cosmology is true just as one can know that the sun goes around Earth-or just as one can know that the following figure is a bear climbing a tree, without being able to see the bear:
Or is it simply a trunk with burls on it?
To the degree, then, that this cosmology was a matter of ingrained common sense, it would have been as difficult for the average Hindu to see the world otherwise as it is for us to imagine what a physicist means by curved space, or to believe him when he says that matter is not solid.
All the ways of liberation offered release from the endless cycle of reincarnation-Vedanta and Yoga through the awakening of the true Self, and Buddhism through the realization that the process of life is not happening to any subject, so that there no longer remains anyone to be reincarnated. They agree, in other words, that the individual soul with its continued reincarnation from life to life and even moment to moment is maya, a playful illusion. Yet all popular accounts of these doctrines, both Western and Asian, state that so long as the individual remains unliberated he will in fact continue to be reincarnated. Despite the Buddhist anatman doctrine of the unreality of the substantial ego, the Milindapanha records Nagasena's complex efforts to convince the Greek king Menander that reincarnation can occur, without any actual soul, until at last nirvana is attained. The vast majority of Asian Hindus and Buddhists continue to believe that reincarnation is a fact, and most Westerners adopting Vedanta or Buddhism adopt belief in reincarnation at the same time. Western Buddhists even find this belief consoling, in flat contradiction to the avowed objective of attaining release from rebirth.
It is, however, logical to retain the belief in reincarnation as a fact if one also believes that maya is the physical world as distinct from ideas about the physical world. That is to say, one will continue to believe in this Indian cosmology until one realizes that it is a social institution. I wish, therefore, to commend what to many students of these doctrines may seem to be a startling thesis: Buddhists and Vedantists who understand their own doctrines profoundly, who are in fact liberated, do not believe in reincarnation in any literal sense. Their liberation involved, among other things, the realization that the Hindu cosmology was a myth and not a fact. It was, and remains, a liberation from being taken in by social institutions; it is not liberation from being alive. It is consistent with this view that, in India, liberation went hand in hand with renunciation of caste; the individual ceased to identify himself with his socially defined identity, his role. He underlined this ritually by abandoning family responsibilities when his sons were able to assume them, by discarding clothes, or, as in the case of Buddhists, by donning the ocher robes which marked the criminal outcaste, and by retiring to the forests and mountains. Mahayana Buddhism later introduced the final and logical refinement-the Bodhisattva who returns to society and adopts its conventions without "attachment", who in other words plays the social game instead of taking it seriously.
If this thesis is true, why was it not stated openly, and why have the majority of Buddhists and Vedantists been allowed to go on thinking of the reincarnation cosmology as a fact? There are two reasons. First, liberation is not revolution. It is not going out of one's way to disturb the social order by casting doubt upon the conventional ideas by which people hold together. Furthermore, society is always insecure and thus hostile to anyone who challenges its conventions directly. To disabuse oneself of accepted mythologies without becoming the victim of other people's anxiety requires considerable tact. Second, the whole technique of liberation requires that the individual shall find out the truth for himself. Simply to tell it is not convincing. Instead, he must be asked to experiment, to act consistently upon assumptions which he holds to be true until he finds out otherwise. The guru or teacher of liberation must therefore use all his skill[s] to persuade the student to act upon his own delusions, for the latter will always resist any undermining of the props of his security. He teaches, not by explanation, but by pointing out new ways of acting upon the student's false assumptions until the student convinces himself that they are false. [Teachers dig holes into which students fall. In climbing out of the hole, the student learns.]
Herein, I feel, is the proper explanation of the esotericism of the ways of liberation. The initiate is one who knows that certain social institutions are self-contradictory or in actual conflict with the form of nature. But he knows also that these institutions have the strongest emotions invested in them. They are the rules of communication whereby people understand one another, and they have been beaten into the behavior patterns of impressionable children with the full force of social anxiety. At the same time, those who are taken in by such institutions are suffering from them-suffering from the very ideas which they believe to be vital to sanity and survival. There is therefore no way of disabusing the sufferer directly, by telling him that his cherished disease is a disease. If he is to be helped at all, he must be tricked into insight. If I am to help someone else to see that a false problem is false, I must pretend that I am taking his problem seriously. What I am actually taking seriously is his suffering, but he must be led to believe that it is what he considers as his problem.
Such trickery is basic to medicine and psychotherapy alike. It has been said that the good doctor is one who keeps the patient amused while nature works the cure. This is not always true, but it is a sound general principle. It is easier to wait for a natural change when one is given the impression that something is being done to bring it about. What is being done is the trick; the relaxed and rested waiting is the actual cure, but the anxiety which attends a disease makes direct and deliberate relaxation almost impossible**
Let us suppose then that someone who is suffering from a social institution imagines that he is suffering because of an actual conflict in life, in the very structure of the physical world-that nature threatens his presumably physical ego. The healer then must appear to be a magician, a master of the physical world. He must do whatever is necessary to convince the sufferer that he can solve what seems to the latter to be a physical problem, for there is no other way of convincing him to do what is necessary for acting consistently upon his false assumption. He must above all convince the sufferer that he, the guru, has mastered the imaginary problem, that his ego is not disturbed by pain or death or worldly passions. Moreover, because the disease was engendered by social authority, the guru must appear to have equal or superior social authority to the parents, relatives, and instructors of the patient. In all this, the Eastern ways of liberation have been astonishingly ingenious; their masters, whom society would have felt to be utterly subversive, have convinced society that they are its very pillars. It is thus that the guru who has a bad temper, or who likes to smoke or drink sake, gives the impression that he indulges in these "little vices" deliberately-in order to remain in his bodily manifestation, for if he were consistently unattached to the physical world he would cease to appear in it.
Of course the guru is human like everyone else. [Of course they are NOT humans anymore than anyone else is human.] His advantage, his liberation, lies in the fact that he is not in conflict with himself for being so; he is not in the double bind of pretending that he is an independent agent without knowing that he is pretending, of imagining that he is an ego or subject which can somehow manage to be permanently "one up" on its correlative object-the changing panorama of experiences, sensations, feelings, emotions and thoughts. The guru accepts himself; more exactly, he does not think of himself as something other than his behavior patterns, as something which performs them. On the one hand, social conditioning as we know it depends entirely on persuading people not to accept themselves, and necessary as this stratagem, this "as if", may be for training the young, it is a fiction of limited use. The more it succeeds, the more it fails. Civilization attained at the price of inculcating this fiction permanently is necessarily self-destructive**
A Japanese coastal village was once threatened by a tidal wave, but the wave was sighted by a lone farmer in the rice fields on the hillside above the village. At once he set fire to the fields, and the villagers who came swarming up to save their crops were saved from the flood. His crime of arson is like the trickery of the guru, the doctor, or the psychotherapist in persuading people to try to solve a false problem by acting consistently upon its premises.
This apparently unorthodox account of the basic method of the ways of liberation is required, I feel, to explain a number of problems. However various their doctrines and however different their formal techniques, all seem to culminate in the same[?] state or mode of consciousness in which the duality of the ego and the world is overcome. Call it "cosmic consciousness" or "mystical experience", or what you will, it seems to me to be the felt realization of the physical world as a field. But because language is divisive rather than relational, not only is the feeling hard to describe but our attempted descriptions may also seem to be opposed. Buddhism emphasizes the unreality of the ego, whereas Vedanta emphasizes the unity of the field. Thus in describing liberation the former seems to be saying simply that the egocentric viewpoint evaporates, and the latter that we discover our true self to be the Self of the universe. However pundits may argue the fine points, it come to the same thing in practical experience.
There is, then, nothing occult or supernatural in this state of consciousness, and yet the traditional methods for attaining it are complex, divergent, obscure, and, for the most part, extremely arduous. Confronted with such a tangle, one asks what is common to these methods, what is their essential ingredient, and if this can be found the result will be a practical and theoretical simplification of the whole problem. To do this we must look for a simplified and yet adequate way of describing what happens between the guru or Zen master and his student within the social context of their transaction. What we find is something very like a contest in judo: the expert does not attack; he waits for the attack, he lets the student pose the problem. Then, when the attack comes, he does not oppose it; he rolls with it and carries it to its logical conclusion, which is the downfall of the false social premise of the student's question.
**there is good reason to believe that some teachers of the ways of liberation know perfectly well what they are doing, that they are fully aware of their merciful trickery and also of the fact that the release attained is not from physical reincarnation but from confused thinking and feeling.
Some evidence for this point of view must, however, be presented if we are to be sure that psychotherapy and the ways of liberation have common ground. We must start from the well-recognized fact that all the ways of liberation, Buddhism, Vedanta, Yoga, and Taoism, assert that our ordinary egocentric consciousness is a limited and impoverished consciousness without foundation in "reality". Whether its basis is physical or social, biological or cultural, remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that release from this particular limitation is the aim of all four ways. In every case the method involves some form of meditation which may take the form of concentrated attention upon some particular object, problem, or aspect of consciousness, or simply of the relaxed and detached observation of whatever comes to mind. It may take the form of trying to suppress all verbal thinking, or the form of a dialectic in which the most rigorous is carried to its full conclusions. It may be an attempt to be directly aware of the perceiving self, or it may follow out the idea that the self is not anything that can be known, not the body, not the sensations, not the thoughts, not even consciousness. In some instances the student is simply asked to find out, exhaustively and relentlessly, why he wants liberation, or who it is that wants to be liberated. Methods vary not only among the differing schools and teachers, but also in accordance with the needs and temperaments of their disciples.
Some schools insist that a guru who is himself liberated is absolutely essential to the task; others say only that it makes things much easier, but that is not impossible for the student to play the game upon himself. There is a similar division of opinion about psychotherapy. But infact there is always a guru in some sense, even if it be only a friend who has given one the idea, or perhaps a book that one has read**
**The comedian is often one who can so beguile an audience into expecting him to be witty that he can set them to bursting their sides with quite ordinary remarks. The philosopher, too, can create a situation in which platitudes or sheer nonsense strike listeners as the greatest profundities, and this may also happen quite without his intention**
The genuine guru uses this situation not to make fools of his students, but to increase their zeal to dominate the physical world or their own feelings, to act consistently on the false premise that there is a contest between the ego and its experience. For situations of this kind are simply special instances of the double-bind which society puts upon the individual: he knows that there are separate events and things, and that he and others are independent agents, just as he knows that the comedian's casual remarks are howlingly funny. This is the whole technique of hypnosis, of the judo by which the operator persuades the subject that he cannot disobey him, and in Buddhism liberation is called awakening (bodhi) just because it is release from social hypnosis. To be hypnotized is to pretend unconsciously that, say, the hypnotist is invisible, or, comparably, that a game is serious or that "I" am inside my skin and that my field of vision is outside.
But for the symbolic interpretation of supernormal powers let us take, for example, the claim to omnipotence. "I am God, and therefore everything that happens is my doing." There is, of course, no way of disproving such an assertion. If I can persuade anyone to believe it, I will have him in a double-bind because he will take me to be willing what would ordinarily be against my will. The only way to escape from the bind is to comment on it, to make a meta-statement, as that such an assertion cannot possibly be verified, or that "I do everything" is logically equivalent to "I do nothing". But the point of ascribing everything that happens to a single agent is to call into question the very idea of agency, and at the same time to modify the consciousness of "oneself". In other words, the realization that the ego agent, apart from the act or the choice, is a fiction is equivalent to the feeling that all actions of which you are aware are your own. This feeling is "omnipotence", but it is not actually an awareness of the ego's doing everything. It is awareness of action happening in a unified field, in which it is still possible to observe the conventional difference between "my" deeds and "yours" because they happen at different places in the field. It would mean something to say that I, the ego agent, make choices, perform actions, or think thoughts if it would make any demonstrable difference to what choices and actions occur. But it is never demonstrable either that what is done could have been done otherwise, or that what is done must be done-except by confining one's attention to very small fields, by cutting out variables, or, in other words, taking events out of the context in which they happened. Only by ignoring the full context of an action can it be said either that I did it freely or that I could not help it. I can try same action again; if it comes out differently, I say that I could have done it otherwise, but if the same, that I could not. But in the meantime the context has of course changed. Because of this, the same action can never be repeated.
Now to ignore the context of events is exactly the Buddhist avidya, ignorance or ignore-ance, which liberation dispels. In one way the repeatable experiments of science are based on ignor-ance, for they are performed in artificially closed fields. But these experiments add to our knowledge just because the scientist knows that he is ignoring. By rigorous isolation of the field, he gets more and more detailed knowledge of the way in which fields are, in practice, related to each other. He does not ignoreignore-ance. In the same way the Buddhist discipline overcomes unconscious ignorance-the habitual selective acts of consciousness which screen out "separate" things from the context-by intense concentration. This is judo applied to ignore-ance. The fiction of the ego agent is dispelled by the closest awareness of what actually happens in intending, choosing, deciding, or being spontaneous. One thus comes to understand that consciousness, or attention, is ignore-ance and cannot be otherwise. But now one knows it, and thus the siddhi of omniscience is not to know everything but to understand the whole process of knowing, to see that all "knowns" are distinguished by ignore-ance. When ignore-ance is unconscious, we take its isolates for realities, and thus the habitual and conventional ways of classifying things and events is taken for natural.
The Buddhist principle that "form is void [sunya]" does not therefore mean that there are no forms. It means that forms are inseparable from their context-that the form of a figure is also the form of its background, that the form of a boundary is determined as much by what is outside as by what is inside. The doctrine of sunyata, or voidness, asserts only that there are no self-existent forms, for the more one concentrates upon any individual thing, the more it turns out to involve the whole universe. The final Buddhist vision of the world as the dharmadhatu-loosely translatable as the "field of related functions"-is not so different from the world view of Western science, except that the vision is experiential rather than theoretical. Poetically, it is symbolized as a vast network of jewels, like drops of dew upon a multidimensional spider web. Looking closely at any single jewel, one beholds in it the reflections of all the others. The relationship between the jewels is technically called "thing/thing no obstacle" (shih shih wu ai), which is to say that any one form is inseparable from all other forms.
In sum, then, the Buddhist discipline is to realize that anguish or conflict (duhkha) arises from the grasping (trishna) of entities singled out from the world by ignor-ance (avidya)-grasping in the sense of acting or feeling toward them as if they were actually independent of context. This sets in motion the samsara or vicious circle of trying to solve the false problem of wresting life from death, pleasure from pain, good from evil, and self from not-self-in short to get one's ego permanently "one up" on life. But through the meditation discipline the student finds out that he cannot stop this grasping so long as he thinks of himself as the ego which can either act or refrain from action. The attempt not to grasp rests upon the same false premise as the grasping: that thinking and doing, intending and choosing, are caused by an ego, that physical events flow from a social fiction. The unreality of the ego is discovered in finding out that there is nothing which it can either do or not do to stop grasping. This insight (prajna) brings about nirvana, release from the false problem. But nirvana is a radical transformation of how it feels to be alive: it feels as if everything-including "my" thoughts and actions-were happening of itself. There are still efforts, choices, and decisions, but not the sense that "I make them"; they arise of themselves in relation to circumstances. This is therefore to feel life, not as an encounter between subject and object, but as a polarized field where the confrontation of opposites has become the play of opposites.
It is for this reason that Buddhism pairs insight (prajna) with compassion (karuna), which is the appropriate attitude of the organism to its social and natural environment when it is discovered that the shifting boundary between the individual and the world, which we call the individual's behavior, is common to both. My outline, which is not just the outline of my skin but of every organ and cell in my body, is also the inline of the world. The movements of this outline are my movements, but they are also movements of the world-of its inline. "According to relativity theory, space is not regarded as a container but as a constituent of the material universe." (R. O. Kapp, Towards a Unified Cosmology, 1960) Seeing this, I feel with the world. By seeing through the social institution of the separate ego and finding out that my apparent independence was a social convention, I feel all the more one with society. Corresponding, then, to the final vision of the world as a unified field (dharmadhatu), Buddhism sees the fully liberated man [person] as a Bodhisattva, as one completely free to take part in the cosmic and social game. When it is said that he is in the world but not of it, that he returns to join in all its activities without attachment, this means that he no longer confuses his identity with his social role-that he plays his role instead of taking it seriously. He is a Joker or "wild" man who can play any card in the deck.
**One's life is an act with no actor, and thus it has always been recognized that the insane man [person] who has lost his mind is a parody of the sage who has transcended his ego. **The sphere of the Bodhisattva is thus what Gerald Heard call "meta-comedy", a jargonesque and up-to-date equivalent of the Divine Comedy, the viewpoint from which the tragedy of life is seen as comedy because the protagonists are really players. So, too, the lower outcaste, whether criminal or lunatic who cannot be trusted, is always the mirror image of the upper outcaste, the impartial one who takes no sides and cannot be pinned down. But the former retreats from the tragedy of the double-bind because it appears to him to be an insoluble problem. The latter laughs at it because he knows it to be nonsense. When society cannot distinguish between these two outcastes, it treats both alike.
This "knowing where to stop" is more generally called wu-wei, a term whose literal meaning is nonaction or noninterference, but which must more correctly be understood as not acting in conflict with the Tao, the Way or Course of nature. [How could one act in conflict with Tao?] It is therefore against the Tao to try exhaustively, to pin its unceasing transformations to names, because this will make it appear that the structure of nature is the same as the structure of language: that it is a multitude of distinct things instead of a multitude of changing relations. Because it is the latter, there is actually no way of standing outside nature as to interfere with it. The organism of man does not confront the world but is in the world.
Language seems to be a system of fixed terms standing over against the physical events to which they refer. That it is not so, appears in the impossibility of keeping a living language stable. [This may no longer be true. Are computer languages living?] Thinking and knowing seem to be confronting the world as an ego in the same way that words seem to stand over against events; the two illusions stand or fall together. Speaking and thinking are events in and of the physical world, but they are carried on as if they were outside it, as if they were an independent and fixed measure with which life could be compared**
Human nature could be trusted enough to leave itself alone because it was felt to be embedded in the Tao, and the Tao was in turn felt to be a perfectly self-consistent order of nature, manifesting itself in the polarity of yang (the positive) and yin (the negative). Their polar relationship made it impossible for oneto exist without the other, and thus there was no real reason to be for yang and against yin. If, on the other hand, men do not trust their own nature or the universe of which it is a part, how can they trust their mistrust? Going deeper, what does it mean either to trust or mistrust, accept or reject oneself, if one cannot actually stand apart from oneself as, say, thinker and thoughts? Will the thinker correct wrong thoughts? But what if the thinker needs to correct the thinker? Is it not simpler to suppose that thoughts may correct themselves.
There is an obvious parallel here with the philosophy of Carl Rogers' nondirective therapy, in which the therapist simply draws out the logical conclusions of his client's thinking and feeling by doing no more than rephrasing it in what seems to be the clearest form. The responses of the therapist are confined to expressions of his own understanding of what the client says to him. He trusts in the wisdom of the "positive growth potential" of every human being to work out the solution of the problem if only it can be clearly and consistently stated. The therapist himself is therefore "stupid" and "passive" like the Taoist in that he has no theory of what is wrong with the client or what he ought to become in order to be cured. If the client feels that he has a problem, then he has a problem. If he feels that he has no problem, he stops coming for therapy. And the therapist is content in the faith that if the problem is really unsolved, the client will eventually return. This is exactly the attitude of the Taoist sage to any would-be student, but its success would seem to depend on whether the therapist is applying a mechanical technique or whether he is genuinely at peace within himself.
The Taoist's position, like Wittgenstein's is that while there may be logical problems there are no natural, physical problems, Nature or Tao is not pursuing any purpose, and therefore is not meeting any difficulties.
"He who replies to one asking about Tao, does not know Tao. Although one may hear about Tao, he does not really hear about Tao. There is no such thing as asking about Tao. There is not such thing as answering such questions. To ask a question which cannot be answered is vain. To answer a question which cannot be answered is unreal. And one who thus meets the vain with the unreal is one who has no physical perception of the universe, and no mental perception of the origin of existence." (Chuang-tzu)
This is not because the Tao is inherently mysterious but because the problems of human nature are artificial [i.e., they exist nowhere but in the language machine].
"When the great Tao is lost, spring forth benevolence and righteousness.
When wisdom and sagacity arise, there are great hypocrites.
When family relations are no longer harmonious, we have filial children and devoted parents.
When a nation is in confusion and disorder, patriots are recognized." (Chuang-tzu)
**social conventions in direct contradiction with physical patterns cannot support an enduring society. If this is romantic primitivism, psychotherapy is no less so in our own age in advocating ways of life that are consistent with human biology rather than social tradition. In Confucianism the source of authority was a traditional literature; in Taoism it was the observation of the natural universe, and there is a close parallel here with the break between Western science, reading the book of nature, and Western scholasticism, reading only the Bible, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Under any civilized conditions it is, of course, impossible for anyone to act without laying plans, or to refuse absolutely to participate in an economy of waste and violence, whether its ideological sponsorship be capitalist or communist. It is, however, possible to see that this competitive "rat race" need not be taken seriously, or rather, that if we are to persist in it at all it must not be taken seriously unless "nervous breakdowns are to become as common as colds**
Between A.D. 400 and 900 there arose out of the interplay of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism the school of Ch'an or Zen, with its astonishing technique (of which more will be said later) of teaching liberation by "direct pointing" instead of discussion. The fundamental position of Zen is that it has nothing to say, or, again, that nature is not a problem.
The blue hills are simply blue hills;
The white clouds are simply white clouds.
That is the whole of Zen, and therefore when the student approaches the master with some such artificial question as, "How do I enter the path to liberation?" the master replies, "Do you hear the stream?" "Yes." "There is the way to enter." Or, simpler still, to the question, "What is the meaning of Buddhism?" he answers, "Three dried turds." The difficulty of Zen is the almost overwhelming problem of getting anyone to see that life-and-death is not a problem. The Zen master tackles this by asking the student to find out for whom the world is a problem, for whom is pleasure desirable and pain undesirable, thus turning consciousness back upon itself to discover the ego. But of course it turns out that this mythical "I" that seems to confront experience or to be trapped in the world is nowhere to be found.
With their differing methods, Vedanta, Buddhism, and Taoism all involve the realization that life ceases to be problematic when it is understood that the ego is a social fiction. Sickness and death may be painful, indeed, but what makes them problematic is that they are shameful to the ego. This is the same shame that we feel when caught out of role, as when the bishop is discovered picking his nose or a policeman weeping. For the ego is the role, the "act", that one's inmost self is permanent, that it is in control of the organism, and that while it "has" experiences it is not involved in them. Pain and death expose this pretense, and this is why suffering is almost always attended by a feeling of guilt, a feeling that is all the more difficult to explain when the pretense is unconscious. Hence the obscure but powerful feeling that one ought not to suffer and die.
The state of consciousness which follows upon liberation from the ego fiction is quite easily intelligible in neuro-psychiatric terms. One of the important physical facts that socialization represses is that all our sensory experiences are states of the nervous system. The field of vision, which we take to be outside the organism, is in fact inside it because it is a translation of the external world into the form of the eye and the optical nerves. What we see is therefore a state of the organism, a state of ourselves. Yet to say even this is to say too much. There is not the external world, and then the state of the nervous system, and then something which sees that state. The seeing is precisely that particular state of the nervous system, a state which for that moment is an integral part of the organism. Similarly, one does not hear a sound. The sound is the hearing, apart from which it is simply a vibration in the air (a compression wave in a fluid medium-hs). The states of the nervous system need not, as we suppose, be watched by something else, by a little man inside our head who registers them all. Wouldn't he have to have another nervous system, and another little man inside his head, and so on ad infinitum? When we get an infinite regression of this kind we should always suspect that we have made an unnecessary step in our reasoning. It is the same kind of oscillation that happens when the earpiece of a telephone is placed against the mouthpiece (mic to speaker). It "howls".
So, too, when we posit what is in effect a second nervous system watching the first, we are turning the nervous system back upon itself, and thereupon our thoughts oscillate. We become an infinite series of echoes, of selves behind selves behind selves. Now indeed there is a sense in which the cortex is a second nervous system over and above the primary system of the thalamus. Oversimplifying things considerably, we could say that the cortex works as an elaborate feedback system for the thalamus by means of which the organism can to some extent be aware of itself. Because of the cortex, the nervous system can know that it knows; it can record and recognize its own states. But this is just one "echo", not an infinite series. Furthermore, the cortex is just another neural pattern, and its states are neural patterns; it is not something other than neural pattern as the ego agent is supposed to be, in the organism but not of it.
How can the cortex observe and control the cortex? Perhaps there will come a day when the human brain will fold back on itself again and develop a higher cortex, but until then the only feedback which the cortex has is about its own states comes through other people. (I am speaking here of the cortex as a whole. One can of course remember remembering.) Thus the ego which observes and controls the cortex is a complex of social information relayed back into the cortex-Mead's "generalized other". But this is social mis-information when it is made to appear that the information of which the ego consists is something other than states of the cortex itself. The ego is the unconscious pretense that the organism contains a higher system than that of the cortex; it is the confusion of a system of interpersonal information with a new, and imaginary, fold of the brain-or with something quite other than a neural pattern, a mind, soul, or self. When, therefore, I feel that "I" am knowing or controlling myself-my cortex-I should recognize that I am actually being controlled by other people's words and gestures masquerading as my inner or better self. Not to see this brings about utter confusion, as when I try to force myself to stop feeling in ways that are socially objectionable.
If all this is true, it becomes obvious that the ego feeling is pure hypnosis. Society is persuading the individual to do what society wants by making it appear that its commands are the individual's inmost self. What we want is what you want. And this is a double-bind, as when a mother says to her child, who is longing to slush around in a mud puddle, "Now darling, you don't want to get into that mud!" This is mis-information, and this-if anything-is the "Great Social Lie".
Let us suppose, then, that the false reflex of "I seeing my sights" or "I feeling my feelings" is stopped, by such methods as the ways of liberation employ. Will it not thereupon become clear that all our perceptions of the external world are states of the organism? The division between "I" and "my sights" is projected outwardly into the sharp division between the organism and what it sees. Just such a change in perception as this would explain the feeling, so usual at the moment of liberation (satori), that the external world is oneself and that external actions are one's own doing. Perception will then be known for what it is, a field relationship as distinct from an encounter. It is hardly too much to say that such a change of perception would give far better ground for social solidarity than the normal trick of mis-information and hypnosis.
This (celibacy) is such a drastic method of challenging the ego that, as with certain potent drugs, one is justified in using them only if fairly certain that they will work. Indeed, all the methods of liberation were supposed to work and therefore to be temporary disciplines. The Buddhist discipline is often likened to a raft for crossing from the shore of samsara to the shore of nirvana, and the texts say again and again that when the farther shore is reached the raft should be left behind** But the practical difficulty is that in Asia the ways of liberation are, with some exceptions, as inefficient and theoretically confused as psychotherapy in the West. Indeed, the whole point of comparing them with psychotherapy is to effect a mutual clarification. Chronic Buddhism is perhaps even more common that chronic psychotherapy-twice a week for twenty years or more.
For, as things actually work out, followers of the ways in modern Asia seem to have lost their nerve to such an extent that one rarely hears of anyone actually being liberated outside the particular discipline of Zen Buddhism. (Perhaps other schools are more modest, and, indeed, there is a certain contradiction is saying, "I am liberated" if the ego is unreal. But there is also the false modesty of so imitating humility that it becomes more important to be humble than to be liberated. Golden chains are as binding as chains of iron. There are also followers of the ways who remain anonymous and unorganized-Taoists, for example, who simply mind there own business and lay no claim to anything at all save, with a certain humor, stupidity.) But the general loss of nerve is due in part to what might be called the distance of excessive reverence. Whenever a tradition becomes venerable with the passage of time, the ancient masters and sages are elevated to pedestals of sanctity and wisdom which lift them far above the human level. The way of liberation becomes confused with a popular cult; the ancient teachers become gods and supermen, and thus the ideal of liberation or Buddha-hood becomes ever more remote. No one believes that it can be reached except by the most gifted and heroic prodigies. Consequently the medicine of the discipline becomes a diet, the cure an addiction, and the raft a houseboat. In this manner, a way of liberation turns into just another social institution and dies of respectability.
Outside the sphere of influence of Mahayana Buddhism this has happened so widely that being on the way to liberation is the most that anyone expects. The few liberated ones to be recognized are freaks of birth, like Sri Ramakrishna or Sri Ramana Maharshi, or very old men like the late Sri Aurobindo. But under these circumstances what was intended as a swift remedy, the effort to repress sexuality, become chronic prudery, and it is thus forgotten or simply hushed up that the Bodhisattva is not expected to be celibate. Nor, on the other hand, is he likely to be a libertine since he does not need to use sexual release as an escape from the "problem" of life. It is important, too, to remember that, outside the supposedly temporary discipline of liberation, the sexual mores of Asian cultures are in many ways far more liberal than ours and the association of sexuality with sin is rare indeed**
There is good reason to believe that liberated sexuality might be something like a mature form of what Freud so inappropriately called the "polymorphous perverse" sexuality of the infant, that is, an erotic relationship of organism and environment that is not restricted to the genital system. The eyes and the ears, the nose and the skin, all become avenues of erotic communion, not just with other people, but with the whole realm of nature, for genital eroticism is simply a special canalization of the basic love which is the polarity of yang and yin. The texts say repeatedly that the Bodhisattva is free to enter into the relationship of love because he is unattached. This does not mean that he enters into it mechanically, with feelings as cold as ice. Nor is this the sort of subterfuge whereby some religious libertines have justified anything they do by explaining that all physical states are illusory, or that their "spirit" is really above it all. The point is rather that such sexuality is completely genuine and spontaneous (sahaja); its pleasure is detached in the sense that it is not compulsively sought out as a substitute for liberation. "Sahaja," wrote Coomaraswamy, "has nothing to do with the cult of pleasure. It is a doctrine of the Tao, and a path of non-pursuit. All that is best for us comes of itself into our hands-but if we strive to overtake it, it perpetually eludes us."
4. Through a Glass Darkly
is perfectly natural that man himself should be the most unintelligible part
of the universe. The way his organism looks from the outside observer, such
as a neurosurgeon, is so astonishingly different from the way it feels from
the inside. The way is which human behavior is described by the biologist or
the sociologist is so unlike what is seen by the ordinary individual that he
can hardly recognize himself. But the disparity is no different in principle
from the shock of hearing for the first time a recording of one's own voice,
and from getting a frank description of one's character from a shrewd observer.
These descriptions, like the whole external world itself, seem so foreign, so
other. Yet, the time may come when the shock of strangeness turns into the shock
of recognition, when looking at the external world as a mirror we may exclaim
with amazement, "Why, that's me!".
Collectively, we are still a long way from this recognition. The world beyond us is an alien and unfathomable unknown, and we look into its glass very darkly indeed, confronting it as though we did not belong.
I, a stranger, and afraid
In a world I never made.
Only slowly does it dawn upon us that there is something fundamentally wrong with this feeling; simple logic, if nothing else, forces us to see that however separated self and other may be there is no self without this other. But standing in the way of this recognition is the fear of finding out that this external world may be only oneself, and that the answer to one's voice is only an endless reverberation of echoes. This is, of course, because our conception of self is confined to a very small and mainly fictitious part of our being, and to discover that the world were a belt of mirrors round that taper's flame would indeed be a horrifying solipsism. Yet if it turns out that self and other are one, it will also turn out that self and surprise are one.
We have been seeing all along that although Western science started out by trying to gain the greatest objectivity, the greatest lack of involvement between the observer and the observed, the more diligently this isolation is pressed, the more impossible it is found to be. From physics to psychology, every department of science is realizing more and more that to explore the world is to participate in it, and that, frustrating as this may first seem to be, it is the most important clue of all to further knowledge. At the same time, it is often pointed out that there is an ever-widening gap of communication between the scientific specialist and the lay public because his language is incomprehensible and his models of the world ever more remote from the images of common sense. Another aspect of this gap is that the world as we are coming to know it theoretically bears little resemblance to the world that we feel: we have sixteenth-century personalities in the world of twentieth-century concepts because social conventions lag far behind the flight of theoretical knowledge.
Is it possible, however, that science will become Western man's way of liberation?**
But the world of knowledge may, like Earth, be round-so that immersion in material particulars may quite unexpectedly lead back to the universal and the transcendent. Blake's idea that "the fool who persists in his folly will become wise" is the same as Spinoza's "the more we know of particular things, the more we know of God". For this, as we have seen, was the essential technique of liberation: to encourage the student to explore his false premises consistently-to the end. Unhappily, most Western devotees of the Eastern ways know little or nothing of what has happened in science during the last fifty years, and think of it still as the reduction of the world to the "objects" of Newtonian mechanics.
If science is actually to become our way of liberation its theoretical view must be translated into feeling, not only for the laymen but for scientists themselves. Shortly after reading one of the most fascinating accounts of this new unitary view of man-in-the-world, The Next Development in Man by the British biophysicist L. L. Whyte, I put this very problem to the author. He replied that it had never occurred to him and,that so far as he was concerned, the feeling should naturally follow from a thorough comprehension of the theory. I was asking, in other words, whether science should not comprise a yoga-a discipline for realizing its view as what psychologists call insight, over and above verbal understanding. There may be some truth in what Whyte said. After all, when it has been pointed out to us that the following two-dimensional figure is a cube, we really feel it to be so.
But it is extremely difficult to point out insights which go against common sense and social standards of sanity, just as it is difficult for the convention of perspective to suggest depth to a member of a culture in which it is not used. By what effort can we see at a single glance that the above figure is two cubes, one of which has the square with corners a in front, and the other the square with corners b. Can we see the two different facts as one? To be truly liberative Western science must have its own yoga, and some outgrowth of psychotherapy is the natural candidate for the task**
Science and psychotherapy have also done much already to liberate us from the prison of isolation from nature in which we were supposed to renounce Eros, despise the physical organism, and rest all our hopes in a supernatural world-to come later. But that this liberation is by no means complete is clear from the fact that nineteenth-century naturalism was the basis for a technological assault on nature without precedent in history. This liberation is, in other words, a very partial affair even for the small minority which has fully understood and accepted it. It leaves us still as strangers in the cosmos-without the judgment of God but without his love, without the terrors of Hell but without the hope of Heaven, without many of the physical agonies of pre-scientific times but without the sense that human life has any meaning. The Christian cosmos has vanished, but the Christian ego remains-with no resort but to try to forget its loneliness is some sort of collectivism, of huddling together in the dark.
Can psychotherapy complete the job? In almost all its forms it has one enormous asset: the realization that escape is no answer, that the shudders, horrors, and depressions in which "the problem of life" is manifested must be explored and their roots felt out. We must get rid of the idea that we ought not to have such feelings**
We find increasing acknowledgment of the fact that psychotherapeutic results are strikingly similar regardless of the theoretical framework followed by the therapist, that the personality of the therapist is more important than his adherence to a particular school of thought. (George Moor)
We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses** If a doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is. Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one's whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ-all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself-that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved-what then? (Carl Jung)
To have "seen and accepted himself as he is" appears, then, to be that essential quality of personality which, as Mora says, is more important for the therapist than his theory or school. Though it sounds simple, and not very heroic, its implications are tremendous andits difficulties extraordinary-for what constitutes "myself" and who is it that accepts me? This is no mere matter of bringing about a reconciliation between the ego and a number of repressed experiences, shameful or painful but always contents of one's own subjectivity. It is the much larger problem of integrating the split between the individual and the world, and,, as we have seen, this has little to do with adjusting him to society.
But the problem (of psychotherapy) is insoluble because of the way in which it is posed. The great irreconcilables, pleasure principle and reality principle, Eros and Thanatos, rest upon the deeper duality of the knower and the known which Freud took for granted because it was the primary assumption of his culture-even though he saw so clearly that the ego is not master in its own house. He saw that the ego arises out of the tension between the libido and culture; he knew, in other words, that the ego is a social artifact. But he regarded it as essential to consciousness; there could be no knowing, no control of human affairs, no science or art, without the opposition of the knower and the known-that is, of civilized order to nature and of the ego to the unconscious. Thus all that is distinctively human is against nature even though-and here is the conflict-inseparable from it. Eros cannot be put down but it must be. Nature is boundless lust and rapacity, and man has evolved from it through the ruthless struggle of natural selection. Although it was now clear from biology that consciousness had grown out of the unconscious, the ego from the id, this must be regarded as a natural accident. Left to itself, the unconscious evolution of the ego could not be expected to go any further, because nature was inherently unintelligent. Nature's accident, man, must be seized from inevitable dissolution by proceeding to act as if reason were opposed to nature. In practice, then, to regard man as a natural accident, whose survival is thenceforth inconsistent with nature, amounts to the same thing as regarding him as an intelligence outside nature**
In biological development dualism or conflict is always superimposed on a prior unity. The existence of an organism capable of survival implies integration and unity is therefore always prior to inner conflict. Conflict may arise as the result of an inappropriate adaptation, and it may prove fatal or it may be overcome. But the recovery of organic health never involves the synthesis of fundamentally opposed principles, since these cannot co-exist in an organism. It only seems to do so because the natural condition of the organism has been misinterpreted in using a dualistic language. The historical process does not involve the synthesis of pre-existing logical opposites, though it may appear to in the confused language of immature dialectical theories. (L. L. Whyte)
How a mere convention of syntax, that the verb must have a subject, can force itself upon perception and seem to be the logic of reality**
**In East and West alike there is always a danger of disorder when social institutions are called into question, and it is the same whether the institution be the ego or the subjugation of women. When authority is questioned at one point, it tends to become unstable at others. East and West alike have fostered the ego as such an institution, though with differing ideas of its roles and duties. If Eastern cultures were less ego-conscious than Western, Buddhist and Taoist texts would be relatively silent as to the illusory nature of the ego. Jung assumes that a strong ego structure, a struggle against nature, is the necessary condition of civilization** But it is one thing to note that civilization as we know it has depended upon the ego concept; it is quite another to assert that it must, as if this convention were somehow in the nature of things.
Western culture generally rests on the Judaic-Christian theology. The United States particularly is dominated by the Puritan and pragmatic spirit which stresses work, struggle and striving, soberness and earnestness, and above all, purposefulness. Like any other social institution, science in general and psychology in particular is not exempt from this cultural climate. American psychology is overpragmatic, over-Puritan, and overpurposeful** No textbooks have chapters on fun and gaiety, on leisure and meditation, on loafing and puttering, on aimless, useless, and purposeless activity** American psychology is busily occupying itself with only half of life to the neglect of the other-and perhaps more important-half. (Abraham Maslow)
In all directions we use the means of life to justify the ends: we read or go to concerts to improve our minds; we relax to improve our work; we worship God to improve our morals; we even get drunk in order to forget our worries. Everything that is done playfully, without ulterior motive and second thought, makes us feel guilty, and it is even widely believed that such unmotivated action is impossible. You must have a reason for what you do! But the statement is more of a command than an observation. As soon as the ego is divided from the world, like the effect from its cause, it seems to be the puppet of "motivations" which are really the disowned parts of ourselves. If we could see ourselves whole, as differing positions in the unified field of the world, we should see that we are unmotivated-for the whole floats freely and does not rest upon something beyond itself.
In the nineteenth century our actual information about early man was negligible; our position is not much better now. But, in differing ways, both Freud and Jung constructed a theory of primordial man for which there is no historical evidence. It's assumptions are: (1) that intelligence rests precariously on a biological and instinctual basis which is "animal" in the worse sense; (2) that existing cultures differing from ours in not having developed certain scientific and literary skills are survivals of primordial man, and are thus dubbed "primitive"; and (3) that by analogy with the repetition of evolutionary changes in the growth of the human fetus, the first years of infancy rehearse man's primordial mentality. Take these assumptions hand-in-hand with the fact that psychotherapy was at first preoccupied with the study of deranged personalities, and what happens? It is assumed that irrational behavior is historical regression, that the disturbed individual is having difficulty in coping with traits which he inherits from the primordial swamp. In other words, what is repressed in the unconscious is the historical and prehistorical past, and consequently psychoanalysis becomes a tool for investigating the earliest history of man. In default of real evidence about primordial man, such a theory can only be self validating.
All that has been said before, by others. I raise it here because it is the basis for Jung's theory of the evolution of consciousness and the ego. It leads him to regard the egocentric mode of consciousness as a universal and historically necessary step in the development of mankind. It is the problematic but essential mechanism for regulating the primordial instincts of the swamp and the cave, for raising mankind from the merely animal level. But we should consider another alternative: that man's peculiar beastiality has little to do with beasts; that his irrationalities, inordinate appetites, mass hysterias, and deeds of shocking violence and cruelty are not historically regressive at all; they are protests against just this mode of consciousness, against the double-bind of a self-contradictory social institution. Does not the practice, as distinct from the theory, of psychotherapy confirm this again and again? The disturbed individual is not so much a historical throwback in whom sufficient ego strength somehow failed to develop; he is the victim of too much ego, too much individual isolation. Furthermore, one should not assume that the development of an ego is the universally necessary basis for consciousness and intelligence. The neural structures of that "enchanted loom", the brain, upon which intelligence depends are certainly not the deliberate creations of any conscious ego, and they do not dissolve into pulp when the ego is seen, by an act of intelligence, to be fictitious. It would follow, then, that when the ego is dispelled there is not an "invasion" of consciousness by primordial contents from the swamp and the jungle. There is instead insight: the perception of a whole new pattern of relationships compatible to scientific or artistic discovery.
**Of course, one can say that all experience is psychological experience because it happens in the psyche. But aside from the questions of whether there really is a psyche, doesn't the equation of all experience with psychological experience make the latter term meaningless? As we have seen, the unconscious which needs to be examined for man's liberation contains physical, biological, and social relationships which are repressed not so much by a "psychological organ", such as the ego, as by defective communication and language. Nor is the content of the liberation experience-satori, nirvana, "cosmic consciousness", etc.-something psychological in the sense of a flash of subjective light. Its content is the physical world, seen in a new way.
blah, blah, blah**
We think of religious and spiritual experiences as events of the "inner life", but this is all because of the false severance of the subject from the object. The Eastern ways direct their students to "look within", to find out the self. only to dispel the illusion that it is inside as distinct from outside. As the Chinese Zen master Lin-chi put it: "Make no mistake: there is nothing on the outside and, likewise, nothing on the inside that you can grasp".
blah, blah, blah**
**the Existential schools of psychotherapy take anxiety and its concomitant guilt as inseparable from being since "to be" implies "not to be", and since to know fully that one exists will necessarily involve the dread of not existing. Perhaps this is a therapeutic gambit, for one is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt**
Here we run straight into an ancient quarrel between West and East, since the former has always alleged that the latter does not take human personality seriously. Slavery, downtrodden women, starvation, a million dead of cholera-such is life! Is not this the Buddhist formula sarva samskara duhkha, sarva samskara anatma, sarva samskara anitya, all systems (including people) are in anguish, all systems are without self, all systems are impermanent? If this be true, does it not make liberation the art of learning not to care? The stereotyped attitudes of a culture are of course always a parody of the insights of its more gifted members. Not caring is the parody of serenity, just as worrying is the parody of concern**
**But I think that I may hazard the suggestion that in the moment of death many people undergo the curious sensation not only of accepting but of having willed everything that has happened to them. This is not willing in the imperious sense; it is the unexpected discovery of an identity between the willed and the inevitable.
What amounts in Existentialism to an idealization of anxiety is surely no more than a survival of the Protestant notion that it is good to feel guilty, anxious, and serious. This is quite a different matter from admitting honestly that that is how one feels, thereby breaking the vicious circle of anxiety by ceasing to be anxious about being anxious. Allowed anxiety ceases to be anxiety, for the whole nature of anxiety is that it is a vicious circle. It is the frustration of no being able to have life without death, that is, of not being able to solve a nonsensical problem**
It is thus that the Western equivalent of reincarnation is our obsession with history; the fruitless attempt to move forward to a satisfactory future by the logic of an impoverished past. For history is the record of frustration, and its earliest sources are the monuments in which men began, in Unamuno's phrase, to store up their dead. History is the refusal to "let the dead bury the dead". History, or better historicism, is a chronic hoarding of trash in the hope that it will someday be useful. It is the state of mind in which the record of what is done becomes more important than what is done, in which there is less and less room for action because of more and more room given over to results. This is why the Bhagavad-Gita describes liberation as action without clinging to the fruits of action, for when life and death are lived completely they proceed without trace in an eternal present.
Life is renewed by death because it is again and again free from what would otherwise become an insufferable burden of memory and monotony. Genuine reincarnation lies in the fact that whenever a child is born "I"-or human awareness-arises into the world again with memory wiped clean and the wonder of life restored. Everlasting annihilation is as nonsensical as everlasting individuality. And who can doubt that if human life has arisen in this tiny area of one immense galaxy, it must be happening again and again, on grounds of sheer probability, throughout the whole diffusion of nebulae that surround us. For where the organism is intelligent the environment also must be intelligent.
Like so much of our psychotherapy, Existentialism does not actually take full account of death. Indeed, in the whole literature of psychotherapy there is the barest mention of suitable treatment for the patient facing death, and this is not, I fear, from the recognition that the problem of death is not a problem at all. It is rather from the feeling that it is an insoluble problem, a hard, inevitable fact which is "just too bad". Yet, again, the Existentialists are on the right track. If death makes the individual authentic, the authentic psychotherapy will be the first to take death in its stride. When a patient is about to die, or is struck in mid-life with the dread of death, this is not the moment to hand him over to the consoling ministrations of some religious fantast who will try to explain death away. No one, I believe, has made any serious and rigorous study of the degree to which the fear of death is involved in the psychoses and neuroses. To ignore it or explain it away is to pass up the major opportunity of psychotherapy, for what death negates is not the individual, not the organism/environment, but the ego, and therefore liberation from the ego is synonymous with the full acceptance of death. For the ego is not a vital function of the organism; it is abstracted by social influence from memories; it is the hypothetical substance upon which memory is recorded, the constant which endures through all the changes of experience. To identify with the ego is to confuse the organism with its history, to make its guiding principle a narrowly selected and incomplete record of what it has been and done. This abstraction from memory thereupon seems to be a concrete and effective agent. But it is just this which is lost in death. Oneself as a story comes to an end, which shows that the ego is in every sense a story.
**if mathematical thinking has given us such deep understanding of physics and astronomy without in any way destroying the glory of the stars, why should it not some day prove as useful in understanding ourselves without in any way destroying the dignity of man? In any case, mathematics has long ceased to mean mere mechanics, and what is feared is that a mathematical description of man's behavior will reduce him to a machine without poetry. It is a serious mistake to oppose poetry to mathematics as the living flesh to the driest bones. The problem is merely that mathematics as taught begins in the arid wastes of arithmetic, elementary algebra, and Euclid-screening out poets from the start. The living flesh is substance and stuff only to those whose eyes are so dull that they cannot see the beauty of its patterns. Taken to its full possibilities, mathematical thinking can reveal the physical world to be something astonishingly akin to music.
The peculiarities of language introduce a number of distortions into psychiatric research. When words are employed to refer to behavior, action and movement, which are continuous functions, are sliced into discrete elements, as if they were replaceable parts of a machine. The continuity of existence thus is split into arbitrary entities which are not so much a function of actual behavior as the result of language structure. ( Jurgen Ruesch)
And while I know no one who has thought more analytically and mathematically of human behavior than Gregory Bateson, he has this to say:
The old Berkeleyan motto, esse est percipi-to be is to be perceived-leads on the one hand to such philosophical toys as the question, "Is the tree there in the wood when I am not there to see it?" But on the other hand it leads to a very pro-found and irresistible discovery that the laws and processes of our perception are a bridge which joins us inseparably to that which we perceive-a bridge which unites subject and object** To increase awareness of one's scientific universe is to face unpredictable increases in one's awareness of the self. And I wish to stress the fact that such increases are always in the very nature of the case unpredictable in nature** No one knows the end of that progress which starts from uniting the perceiver and the perceived-the subject and the object-into a single universe.
To lose the reality of the isolated ego is not, as Erich Fromm seems to fear, to lose the integrity of the individual. To find that the organism is inseparable from its environment is neither to lose the clarity of its form nor the uniqueness of its position. Furthermore, to remove the particular type of repression which ego-consciousness involves is not to throw the gates open to the unrestrained rapacity of the id. For it is not the ego which makes man different from serpents, lions, sharks, and apes; it is his organic structure, and the type of environment in which this structure can appear. It is not romantic and sentimental to blame the peculiar violence and cruelty of man upon social institutions rather than nature. It is true that men have invented these institutions, but is it not obvious that what may start out as a small and unnoticed mistake may turn into a catastrophe as one rolling pebble may start an avalanche? Who could have known that the mistake of regarding men as separate egos would have had such disastrous consequences? But it is easy to be wise in retrospect.
As the Chinese Taoists have seen, there is really no alternative to trusting man's nature. This is not wishful thinking or sentimentality; it is the most practical of practical politics. For every system of mistrust and authoritarian control is also human. The will of the would-be saint can be as corrupt as his passions, and the intellect can be as misguided as the instincts.
5. The Counter-Game
social psychologist is always in danger of being a determinist, seeing individual
behavior as subordinate to social behavior, the organism as responding willy-nilly
to the conditions of its environment. If we define the organism by a complex
boundary-the external skin, the skins of internal organs as well, down to the
very surfaces of cells and molecules-its behavior will consist in the movements
of this boundary. But the boundary of the organism is also the boundary of its
environment, and thus its movements can be ascribed to the environment as well.
Systems of description ascribe these movements now to one side and now to the
other, and these changes of viewpoint are mutually corrective. Philosophical
fashions swing between voluntarism and determinism, idealism and positivism,
realism and nominalism, and there is never any clear issue between these alternatives
when one regards them as opposed. The point I have been trying to make all along
is that we gain better understanding by describing thisboundary and its movements
as belonging to both the organism and its environment, and that we do not ascribe
the origin of movement to either side. The question as to which side of a curved
surface moves first is always unanswerable, unless we restrict our observations
to limited areas and ignore some of the factors involved.
We have seen that the social game is based on conventional rules, and that these define the significant areas to be observed and the ways in which the origin of action is to be ascribed to one side of the boundary or another. Thus all social games regard the boundary between organism and environment, the epidermis, as significant, and almost all regard the inside of this boundary as an independent source of action. They tend to ignore the fact that its movements can also be ascribed to the environment, but this "ignore-ance" is one of the rules of the game. But when the philosopher, the psychologist, or the psychiatrist begins to observe human behavior more carefully he starts to question the rules and to notice the discrepancies between social definitions and physical events. To quote Gregory Bateson again:
There seems to be a sort of progress in awareness, through the stages of which every man-and especially every psychiatrist and every patient-must move, some persons progressing further through these stages than others. One starts by blaming the identified patient for his idiosyncrasies and symptoms. Then one discovers that these symptoms are a response to-or an effect of-what others have done; and the blame shifts from the identified patient to the etiological figure. Then, one discovers perhaps that these figures feel a guilt for the pain which they have caused, and one realized that when they claim this guilt they are identifying themselves with God. After all, they did not, in general, know what they were doing, and to claim guilt for their acts would be to claim omniscience. At this point one reaches a more general anger, that what happens to people shouldn't happen to dogs, and that what people do to each other the lower animals could never devise. Beyond this, there is, I think, a stage which I can only dimly envisage, where pessimism and anger are replaced by something else-perhaps humility. And from this stage onward to whatever other stages there may be, there is loneliness.
This is the loneliness of liberation, of no longer finding security by taking sides with the crowd, of no longer believing that the rules of the game are the laws of nature. It is thus that transcending the ego leads to great individuality.
[The rest of Chapter 5 and all of Chapter 6 remain to be exerpted.]