I like to read books by Alan Watts. Other people don't like Watts. Some of them visit this blog. So when I write about how I enjoy what Watts has to say, probably they find those blog posts irritating.
Such is the play of duality. It's how the world works, generally.
Love is inconceivable without hate. Up is inconceivable without down. Absent dualities, we're simply left with what is, reality without a second. But the moment we ascribe human qualities, such as likes and dislikes, to aspects of reality, duality appears.
(I'm not saying that reality is completely absent of duality. Light and dark, or positive and negative charge, seemingly would be present without people. This is a point in The Tao of Physics. However, there's no doubt that in large part we humans manufacture duality out of the way we conceive of things.)
In the book Watts wrote in 1940 when he was just 24, The Meaning of Happiness, he speaks of the vicious circle of duality.
The problems of duality are clearly stated in the Christian faith, but they often pass unrecognized under the symbols in which they are contained. The story of the Fall, of the eating of the fruit of Good and Evil, describes man's involvement in the vicious circle -- a condition in which, of his own power, he is able to do nothing good that is not vitiated by evil.
In this condition it may be said that "all good deeds are done for the love of gain," that is, with a purely self-interested motive, because "honesty is the best policy."
Every advance in morality is counterbalanced by the growth of repressed evil in the unconscious, for morality has to be imposed by law and whenever there is compulsion there is repression of instinctual urges. Indeed, the very formulation of the ideal of righteousness suggests and aggravates its opposite.
Thus St. Paul says, "I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." So, too, Lao Tzu remarks in the Tao Te Ching,
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.
Where Tao is, equilibrium is. When Tao is lost, out come the differences of things.
I love the solution that Watts proposes. I also love the way Watts says it. He has a wonderful ability to describe subtle ideas in an easy to understand way. When I read his books, often I'm struck by a feeling of "Wow, so nicely said. I've thought along this line myself, but never in such a clear way."
Here's what Watts says about how to avoid making acceptance of reality into a dualistic vicious circle.
The motivating power of the vicious circle is pride. In Christian terms we should say that man is not willing to be saved as he is; he feels that it is necessary for him to do something about it, to earn salvation by his own self-made spirituality and righteousness.
The Grace of God is offered freely to all, but through pride man will not accept it.
He cannot bear the thought that he is absolutely powerless to lift himself up and that the only chance of salvation is simply to accept something which is offered as freely to the saint as to the sinner. If nothing can be done to earn this Grace it seems to set all man's self-imposed ideals at naught; he has to confess himself impotent, and this is more than he can bear.
So the gift of Grace is tacitly ignored, and man goes on trying to manufacture it for himself.
When it is said that man will not let himself be saved as he is, this is another way of saying that he will not accept himself as he is; subtly he gets around this simple act by making a technique out of acceptance, setting it up as something which he should do in order to be a "good boy."
And as soon as acceptance is made a question of doing and technique we have the vicious circle.
True acceptance is not something to be attained; it is not an ideal to be sought after -- a state of soul which can be possessed and acquired, which we can add to ourselves in order to increase our spiritual stature.
If another paradox may be forgiven, true acceptance is accepting yourself as you are NOW, at this moment, before you have even begun to make yourself different by accepting yourself.
In other words, as soon as we try to make the ideal state of mind called "acceptance" something different from the state of mind which we have at this moment, this is the pride which makes it so difficult to accept what we are now, the barrier that stands between man and that which we call God or Tao.
But when it is suggested that we should find union with God here and now at this very moment, everyone is outraged and begins to make excuses. "After all, how can we attain such sublime understanding at the moment? We are unprepared. We are not good enough. We shall have to do all kinds of things first. We must meditate and train ourselves in religious discipline, and then perhaps after many years we shall be fit and worthy to attain the greatest of all attainments."
But this is surely a peculiar form of blindness and false pride, masquerading as humility. We see God every time we open our eyes; we inhale Him at every breath; we use His strength in every movement of a finger; we think Him in every thought, although we may not think of Him, and we taste Him in every bite of food.
This is an old story to those who have studied the wisdom of the East, but still the search goes on, a search for something we have never lost, something which is staring us right in the face, a search which the Buddhists sometimes describe as "hiding loot in one's pocket and declaring oneself innocent."
It is difficult just because it is too easy, for man finds it so hard to climb down from his high horse and accept that which is, freely and unreservedly.
Small wonder, then, that we are advised to become again as little children, who have an inconvenient way of drawing attention to obvious things which the adult mind cannot or will not see. For spiritual understanding is not a reward given to you for being a great person; you cannot acquire it any more than you can acquire the wind and the stars.
But you can open your eyes and see it.
That seeing, Watts says, doesn't require the embrace of any philosophy, religion, spiritual path, or mystical pursuit. However, it lies at the core of three nondualistic practices: Vedanta Advaita, Buddhism, and Taoism.
Watts describes these practices well in chapters that follow his vicious circle discussion, and how to escape it. That probably will be the subject of my next churchless blog post. Which will irritate some and please others.