People are fond of saying to someone they disagree with, "get real!" It's a put down to be told that you're living an illusion.
So when Eastern religions tell us that this physical existence is maya, not really real reality, it's natural to feel concerned.
Even though life seems pleasant enough most of the time, what if I'm living a dream and a much better state -- nirvana, satori, enlightenment, god-realization, buddha nature -- awaits beyond my current consciousness horizon?
Not to worry, says Alan Watts in "Become What You Are," a book that belies its title because Watts tells us that it's impossible to be anything other that what we are. I quoted this passage in a previous blog post.
The idea of God is a finger pointing the way to Reality, but when people try to join God and Reality, to identify the one with the other, to find the former in the latter, they are trying to join together two things that were never in need of being joined. This is like trying to make the eyes see themselves.
I flipped through "Become What You Are" this morning and found some references to a subject that both interests and confuses me: nonduality.
Writings on nonduality seem to imply, or even flat out state, that our ordinary perceptions of reality are off-base -- that the cosmos actually is much more of a oneness than a manyness, so if we see duality we aren't seeing truly.
Watts has a refreshing perspective on nonduality which I sum up as maya is illusion. After all, what's more dualistic than dividing reality into what seems to be, and what really is?
But one of the principal mistakes of Western interpretations of Asian thought is to equate Brahman with the infinite and the realization of one's identity with Brahman as a change from finite to infinite consciousness.
...But Brahman or Reality is beyond opposites, being that what does not require distinction for its existence. For Brahman is all things, this world we see around us, together with our consciousness and the thoughts in our minds and the feelings in our hearts.
To see Brahman we have just to look with our eyes, for Brahman is nothing other than what we are beholding at the moment.
For a long time I've wondered what the difference is between a enlightened being and someone unenlightened, if our ordinary vision already is beholding reality in all its glory. Watts, as he so often does, anticipates my question and addresses it.
In view of this it will also be asked what is the difference between a sage and an ordinary ignorant man. We are accustomed to believe that a sage or mystic is one who beholds God or Brahman in all things; but if Brahman is all things, surely an ordinary man in seeing them is doing no less than the sage?
This is perfectly true, but the difference between the sage and the ordinary man is that the latter fails to realize it.
...But [for the sage] this certainly does not mean that in place of himself, other people, houses, stars, hills, and trees he sees a formless all-pervasive and infinite luminosity, which seems to be some people's idea of the Divine Reality.
If such a state of consciousness were possible, it would still be dualistic, involving an utter difference between Reality and the ordinary world. It should rather be said that he feels Brahman, the force of the universe, at work in everything he does, thinks, and feels, and this gives a powerful and liberating impulse to his spirit.
In other words, wisdom is realizing that spiritually there is nothing to seek; mystically, there is nothing hidden. What we see is what there is. Illusion is the belief that this world, this moment, this state of consciousness is illusory.
That's good news. Even more: great news!
To Christians, the good news of the Bible is that we're saved through Jesus. To Watts, the good news of a proper understanding of Eastern philosophy is that there's nothing to be saved from.
But you are free to abandon yourself to actual life and to know that living in God is another name for this abandonment, for watching the snow and walking down the street.
...You say you do not feel this abandonment right now. What do you expect to feel? It is not a feeling; it is feeling. It is not a thought; it is thinking. If it were a particular thought or feeling there could be coming into it and going out of it; but God is One and all-inclusive, and here there can be neither coming nor going, inside or outside.
...It is your real self, that has no hiding-place. Destroy the universe and it remains. No, you can't feel it -- but then how can you know anything about it at all. Because you can use it and feel its use, just as "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth."
From what I have observed, the notion of reality is that something is fixed. It is not that reality is not real; it is that it is temporary, always in motion.
I guess the Buddhists call that impermanence.
More interesting that ideologies, philosophies, paths or not, is what we do with our suffering - how it is feeling -. When we attend to our suffering, we begin to develop awareness and in awareness we awaken. Wordless wonder.
Posted by: www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1052789444 | November 08, 2009 at 07:28 PM
I have that book! I may read it again; Alan Watts is awesome.
Posted by: Robert | November 10, 2009 at 12:31 AM
Al Watts was the greatest philospher of the 20th century-I enjoy listening to his vast collection of recorded talks on the Pacifica Station KPFK in the L.A. area!
Posted by: Shoeless Joe | November 10, 2009 at 09:06 AM
Great Post, thank you!
Alan Watts is a serious inspiration, here's my animation of his' account of Nirvana as recorded in his Lectures on Buddhism: The Middle Way - Watts' Nirvana
Posted by: Celestial Elf | June 14, 2014 at 11:02 AM
Really liked your video. Nice to be reminded of letting go, no clinging, no trying, just playing the game of being this person I call me :)
Posted by: observer | June 14, 2014 at 02:56 PM
Alan Watts is a wonderful inspiration, thank you.
Here's my animation of his' account of Nirvana,
Posted by: Celestial Elf | June 17, 2014 at 10:13 AM