Here's another installment in my sharing of notes I'm taking as I listen to audio recordings of Alan Watts that Sam Harris has put on his Waking Up app.
This talk is titled "Man and Nature." It presents the traditional Chinese view as being most in line with modern science, a view I agree with. There's a reason the classic book was called The Tao of Physics, rather than, say the Jesus of Physics or the Brahman of Physics.
Chinese philosophy is thoroughly naturalistic, leaving aside offshoots that are religious/supernatural. This helps explain why I'm enjoying the talks by Watts so much, since I find Taoism (or Daoism) to be my favorite spiritual approach, along with non-religious Buddhism, especially Zen.
Man and Nature
Experience leads us to feel that we're isolated centers of will and action placed in a world that is not us. Science tells us something different. An ecologist would say that what you do is what the whole universe is doing here and now, like a wave being the result of the ocean.
The real you isn't a puppet that gets pushed around. We've been hoodwinked into believing that you only exist in your own skin. Our real body is that, plus the whole external environment.
Don't view things that way, and we despoil the environment. We try to vanquish the world. We need a new consciousness that the real self is more than the conscious ego.
This unknown self is more Us than I, connected to everything that is. Knowing that, you see that you never die, instead appearing in various forms.
What is nature? Not something artificial. There's an idea that nature is outside us. There is human nature, but you can't trust it.
(1) The Western theory is that nature is a machine, an artifact. It is made by God, like a table made out of wood. A construct, and someone knows how it was put together -- the architect, God. Later, the view changed to no God, but nature was still seen as a mechanism. Most of us look at our bodies as a chauffeur looks at a car.
(2) The East Indian theory is that nature is a drama. Maya/illusion, art, play. In Hinduism ultimate reality is an eternal boundless self. The universe doesn't tell you that self is vibrations of the universe. Brahman plays hide and seek eternally. Self pretends it is lost. Kali Yuga is an age of darkness we're supposedly living in now.
(3) The Chinese theory is that nature is of itself, so, marked by spontaneity. Automatic, but not machinery -- rather, biology. The heart beats by itself. Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, grass grows by itself. Tao is the course of nature. Words can't describe it.
There's a great difference between Tao as nature with no boss, and the Judeo-Christian view of God as Lord of Nature. With original sin, you can't trust human nature. The Chinese would say, if you can't trust yourself, you can't trust anything. Can you mistrust yourself if you don't trust yourself?
If you can't trust yourself, you're totally mixed up. You have no leg to stand on. In this respect Taoist and Confucian philosophy are in agreement.
Confucius taught that the highest virtue is human-heartedness. Virtue doesn't mean morality. Above all, trust human nature in full realization that it is both good and bad. A "good" war is based on human greed for treasure, women, whatever. A "bad" war is based on ideologies.
If you're going to do something evil, do it for a plain simple selfish motive. Don't do it in the name of God. Because if you do, it turns you into a monster who is no longer human, but self-righteous.
Humans are complex. We don't know ourselves at all, really. You're much more than your conscious thoughts.
Western mechanical theory. Indian drama theory. Chinese organic theory. Nature, including human nature, is a system of organic anarchy. So the Chinese come closest to getting it right.
When you look at clouds, you know at once they aren't a mess. Patterns of foam on water never make an artistic mistake. We humans are all wiggly. Is there something wrong with how the stars are arranged? Should they be organized in a regular pattern? Do you praise peaks in a mountain range for being high, or the valleys for being low?
When people visit a place called Inspiration Point, they say, ah, just like a picture. Someone goes to see Picasso and says, your paintings don't look like anything. Picasso asks, do you have a photo of your girlfriend? He takes one out of his wallet. Picasso says, is she really so small as that?
Natural order is like order in trees and mountains. They are orderly, but we can't put our finger on the order. Order of nature is thus in a way indefinable. Nature is a self-ordering principle that doesn't know how it does it.
Government always is a mess. Government always is opposed to people. Taoists say the state should be as unobtrusive as possible. Simply help the people and don't claim any merit for yourself.
So here is a conception of nature as something we must trust. But nature isn't completely trustworthy. Sometimes it lets you down with a wallop.
It's a great thing if you can learn what the Chinese call purposelessness. Like waves washing against the shore with no meaning. Haven't you gone on a walk with no purpose in mind? All music is purposeless. Same with dancing. Do you dance to arrive at a particular spot on the floor?
Same with us. There's no "God's purpose."
Here's the choice. Are you going to trust it, or not? That "it" is you and nature and everything around you. Now, there will be mistakes. But if you don't trust it at all, you're going to strangle yourself. You'll surround yourself with laws and rules and police and guards.
Who will look after the guards? No go. To live, I must entrust myself to the totally unknown. I must trust nature that doesn't have a boss.