Friday, January 26, 2007

Chasing Tales

As I've written here before, the words and thought of Alan W. Watts (see link on right panel) really speak to me. He has an uncanny way of pealing away the hubris to strike at the core of many of humankind's most vexing questions and he accomplishes this feat outside of conventional western Christian thought.

I do realize, however, that just because Watts makes sense to me doesn't mean he necessarily will seem as elucidating to you. Each person will embrace differing styles and pathways toward enlightenment. The trick is to find those pathways that inspire you.

I'm slowly working my way through one of Watts' earlier works, The Wisdom of Insecurity. The section I'm reading right now in Chapter 4 discusses humankind's efforts to try to catch the mirage on each horizon. I likened it to a cat chasing its own tail. We humans too often find ourselves chasing fairy tales.

Here's a glimpse of Watts' take on the situation:
This is why modern civilization is in almost every respect a vicious circle. It is insatiably hungry because its way of life condemns it to perpetual frustration. [As we have seen,] the root of this frustration is that we live for the future, and the future is an abstraction, a rational inference from experience, which exists only for the brain.

The "primary consciousness," the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. The ingenious brain, however, looks at that part of present experience called memory, and by studying it is able to make predictions. These predictions are, relatively, so accurate and reliable (e.g., "everyone will die") that the future assumes a high degree of reality --so high that the present loses its value.

But the future is still not here, and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements -- inferences, guesses, deductions -- it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead.


  1. I have to agree with you here, I've been listening to some old Alan Watts radio shows explaining Buddhism in mp3.

    The way he explains things really cuts to the chase, I think it makes a lot more sense than an awful lot of the more contemporary thought I find in books and on websites and forums today. Nice to know it's not just me that was thinking that!

  2. Tao is not something that has to be achieved, it is something that is your very nature. So don't try to chase your own tail. You must have seen dogs doing it.... Dogs are very philosophical, Aristotelian; they suffer from Aristotle-it is! You can see them in the winter morning enjoying the sun, but they cannot enjoy because of the tail. The tail is always there; they would like to catch hold of it. They jump, the tail jumps away, they jump harder -- a logical conclusion: you have not jumped hard enough, you have to make a greater effort. The greater the effort they make, the faster the tail jumps -- and they start going crazy. It is the dog's own tail; there is no need to chase it.
    Existence, enlightenment, truth -- they all belong to you; there is no need to grasp, to achieve in the first place. And then it is achieved, and then it is grasped


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