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The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Kindle Edition
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The central thesis of THE BOOK can be expressed in a single sentence: "Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe." (p. 9).
From the beginning, Watts insists that what is needed is not "words to live by," but a new sense of self and the world. When confronted by a world it perceives as alien and hostile to itself, the reaction of the empty and impoverished ego is to attack. While our present limited view has led us into a cycle of violence against our environment and each other, the first battle field is intimately personal:
"Our generation knows a cold hell, solitary confinement in this life, without a God to damn or save it. Until man figures out the trap and hunts ... "the Ultimate Ground of Being," he has no reason at all for his existence. Empty, finite, he knows only that he will soon die. Since this life has no meaning, and he sees no future life, he is not really a person but a victim of self-extinction." (p. 17)
The internecine human conflicts Watts has observed and the rapacious resolve to subjugate nature are rooted, not only in the "ego-trick," but in the "dualism" that Vedanta also denies, the conviction that Reality divides neatly into two opposed halves, whether man and nature, life against death, or pure good vs. pure evil. Moreover, rather than see these dualities as poles of a single process, we see within each dyad two bitter enemies of one another. We play "the game of black and white," as Watts calls it, not as a game at all, but as a war. At this writing, the same ancient warfare is being enacted between Republicans and Democrats, and between Moslems and the West. Not content to moderate and "contain" the conflict, each side works to exterminate the other.
From beginning to end, Watts returns again and again, ever more elegantly to restate the original problem:
"The sensation of "I" as a lonely and isolated center of being is so powerful and commonsensical, and so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, to our laws and social -institutions, that we cannot experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe. I seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the aeons of time-- a rare, complicated, and all-too-delicate organism on the fringe of biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into individual, sparkling, and multicolored drops that gleam for a moment only to vanish forever. Under such conditioning it seems impossible and even absurd to realize that myself does not reside in the drop alone, but in the whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to the nuclear fields in my body." (pp. 12-13)
On the other hand, Watts is eager to disabuse us of the notion that, now we must strive with all our might to realize that this is so. There is an ancient traditional formula that "The One has become many for the sake of reunion through Love." If this is so, the Self is free to awaken or not in its own good time. In the meantime, our adventure will not leave a trace on its original nature.
What then ARE we to do with this astonishing revelation?
"If, then, after understanding, at least in theory, that the ego-trick is a hoax and that, beneath everything, "I" and "universe" are one, you ask, "So what? What is the next step, the practical application?"-- I will answer that the absolutely vital thing is to consolidate your understanding, to become capable of enjoyment, of living in the present, and of the discipline which this involves. Without this you have nothing to give-- to the cause of peace or of racial integration, to starving Hindus and Chinese, or even to your closest friends," (p. 115-116)
I have been cultivating that advice ever since.
Review by the author of:
Redesigning God: Nuts and Bolts of the Emerging Religion
As for Eastern theology: I do not have much background in this topic, but I did complete an Introduction to Buddhism class several years ago in college. And although I understood the "what" of the material presented in class and in the textbooks, I didn't get the "why" -- as in, why should anyone, especially a Westerner, attempt to apply Buddhist teachings and philosophy to his or her life. Moreover, the class material felt cold and inaccessible to me; it seemed this Eastern thought summed me up as an insignificant speck who was doomed to miserably repeat myself after death again and again, in lesser or greater lifeforms, over and over again until I finally understood what this class never could teach me, and then I'd finally die. Poof. That's it. No meaning, no understanding. And so, I wondered, why should I care or even believe in this stuff?
Some years later, I listened to Watts' lectures and noticed that he talked about the "why" -- why Buddhist thought and practice should matter, what it really means, and how it can help make sense of my own existence. What a novel concept! To make heady, cerebral, cryptic, esoteric theology digestible to the average schlub eager to learn! That's what Watts did, and he did it even better in this book. And more to the point, he doesn't even limit his message to an analysis of Buddhism. In fact, if such references to the aforementioned theology were made, then I didn't catch them. He just talks about "what is,"and that is significant to us all, regardless of philosophical/theological bent.
Although it is only 159 pages long, it is deceptively dense. Again, Watts uses his words economically. Although at first glance, a reader might be tempted to think he's rambling aimlessly, but I can assure you he's not. He maintains his focus like a laser beam of light. He doesn't waste a single word or thought on the reader, but the reader will most certainly have to either linger on certain sentences, or go back and read them again until the idea is grasped.
I know the man is long dead and gone, but if I could ever say one thing to him, I'd say this -- thank you, thank you, for making ancient mystical teachings and practice so clear, so understandable. I laughed, I cried, I think I'm finally beginning to understand that which I was never meant to understand.
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