Tuesday, September 9, 2014

other thoughts - Alan Watts

Having recently rediscovered Alan Watts I'm wondering why he hasn't always been on my seriously Wise Person radar. The book itself is on my purchase list, but in the meanwhile I downloaded 'On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are'. Here is a story which he said was for children, but that doesn't really seem to be the case.

"There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again. But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can't have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn't be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black.

"In the same way, there are times when the world is, and times when it isn't, for if the world went on and on without rest for ever and ever, it would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and it goes. Now you see it; now you don't. So because it doesn't get tired of itself, it always comes back again after it disappears. It's like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible. It's also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it's always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn't always hide in the same place.

"God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.

"Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that's the whole fun of it—just what he wanted to do. He doesn't want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self—the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.

"Of course, you must remember that God isn't shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins. If there weren't, we wouldn't know the difference between what is inside and outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape because there isn't any outside to him. The inside and the outside of God are the same. And though I have been talking about God as 'he' and not 'she,' God isn't a man or a woman. I didn't say 'it' because we usually say 'it' for things that aren't alive.

"God is the Self of the world, but you can't see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can't see your own eyes, and you certainly can't bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.

"You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of horrible people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease and pain. Remember, first, that he isn't really doing this to anyone but himself.
Remember, too, that in almost all the stories you enjoy there have to be bad people as well as good people, for the thrill of the tale is to find out how the good people will get the better of the bad. It's the same as when we play cards. At the beginning of the game we shuffle them all into a mess, which is like the bad things in the world, but the point of the game is to put the mess into good order, and the one who does it best is the winner. Then we shuffle the cards once more and play again, and so it goes with the world." 

What the story contains is a description of the essence of Advaita.
What do you think?

Now for something different, or maybe it's not all that different - a man and his dog dancing:

I liked that :)

ps: The painting at the top is a quick watercolor sketch from a story (written by the daughter of a friend) that I'm in the process of attempting to illustrate.


The Crow said...

Ah, but the painting goes so well with the story of god playing hide and seek! Engaging post, Susan - thanks!

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
Pleased to see you’re illustrating that book that will surely add colour and interest for the readers, evident in your post illustration. I don’t know a great deal about the topic but from what I can gather the captivating children’s story could I think be interrupted as an attempted representation of Upanishad’s teaching on ultimate liberation.
But as is the case in all religions / philosophes we have limitations when we use language and in interpreting such ancient texts whose derivations are oral traditions. Best wishes

Tom said...

That Alan Watts book is a blast from the past, and I enjoyed reading your excerpt as much as I enjoyed the original reading. The down side is that when i went looking for the book, I couldn't find it! Never mind. I do like your painting, as always.

Should Fish More said...

Yin and Yang, or as Ursula Le Guin wrote, "Light is the left hand of darkness". Lovely painting.

marja-leena said...

Fascinating story, appealing to both child and adult. Your lovely illustration suits it, and I'm delighted for you that you are illustrating a story...I've always said that is your special talent, haven't I?

marja-leena said...

Oh, and the video of dog and master dancing is delightful!

susan said...

That's not who the character represents in the story, but you're right
it worked out well that way. Glad you enjoyed it, Martha.

susan said...

Hi Lindsay, While I'm sorry I won't be able to share the written story itself for a time it will be nice to show at least some of the baseline idea illustrations. It was serendipity that this picture worked well with Alan Watts' brief description of Vedic thought. Then again, since the essence of Veda is simply 'I Am' the only way to be more clear about the philosophy is personal experience. You're right that is impossible to verbalize.
All the best.

susan said...

It's hard to say what might be considered Alan Watts' best book, but this was one I seemed to need about now. I've sent you a copy of the pdf I have on my desktop.

Glad to know you like the picture. It's not the final version, though.

susan said...

It's always interested me that we can only discern color in a band between light and dark.
Thanks :)

susan said...

It was a pretty neat one, wasn't it? Most good stories do appeal to both.

I was really delighted to read a story I felt I could illustrate - that basically means one that's quirky and wise enough to make it worth the effort. I think you'd like it too, Marja-Leena :)

susan said...

The dog was enjoying herself so much we both got big smiles watching the video.

Sean Jeating said...

It looks as if the mountain were stoning, stony tears were rolling / falling out of his eyes. Hopefully the "tears" won't drop on the girl's head? That would be a sudden end of the story. :)

Even more seriously: You are illustrating more than thousand words, if I may say so. :)

susan said...

As I remember she did have to do a bit of hopping out of the way :) Otherwise, you're right that we'd have an all too sudden and tragic end to the story. I'm planning more detail and a subtler color scheme for the real painting still to come.

I'm delighted you like the results so far :)

L'Adelaide said...

well, i would agree that 'comment should not be empty'... sigh, i just wrote you a nice long one too. lest i just give up, the dancing dog and man was a lovely little laugh. awaiting dawn... it's going to be 100 degrees as we harvest today and tomorrow... i loved this Watts piece on god and where is the 'i' of god as if there were a separation. not exactly a child i know's story but a good one. your painting is somehow fitting for this tho i realize it has nothing to do with it ... well, maybe sleep will find me if i turn out the light... and this little gadget. i put a keyboard on my ipad and it's not so bad now. :)
much love to you.... it's been awhile!!!

susan said...

Nice to see you again, sweet friend. I'm sorry to hear about your comment going astray. I just left one on your most recent post and all went well with that for once. (I've been in the habit of copying them before I hit send).

I thought the story was a good one too - made me smile - but hardly something the average kid would sit still for, eh? Yes, it surprised me too just how well the picture fit the story. One never knows :)

The Geezers said...

The good news is that you now have a lot of Alan Watts to catch up on. Lucky you.

Some of the best translations you'll ever find.

susan said...

Yes, lucky me :) I liked this one:

There was a young man who said, "Though
It seems that I know that I know,
What I would like to see
Is the 'I' that knows 'me'
When I know that I know that I know."

Sean Jeating said...

Was / Is this young man's first name Andrew? :)

susan said...

Would appear to be logical, neh? :)

Life As I Know It Now said...

I've read some of Alan Watts before but it was a long time ago. I'll have to see what our library system has on him. The dog video is funny. He wants to stop and get some pets though and he deserves that too :)

susan said...

I hadn't read him in years either, Lib. His work is well worth re-examining and you're in an excellent position to find a lot.

The video was delightful just because the dog was having so much fun :)