I was taught when I was a little boy that it was good to be unselfish and loving, and I used to think that I should grow up to serve other people. But after a while I found out that unless one has something to give people, there is nothing one can do to help them. Just because I thought I ought to help, it didn't mean that I had anything to give.
Gradually, over the years, as I understood what it was that I had received of significance from the world, I realized that these things were never intended as gifts to be given in the usual sense of the word. However much one enjoys the song of birds, they are not singing for the advancement of music, and the clouds are not floating across the sky to be painted by artists.
In the words of a Zen poem,
The wild geese do not intend
to cast their reflection
The water has no mind
to retain their image
When a mountain stream flows out of a spring beside the road, and a thirsty traveler comes along and drinks deeply, the traveler is welcome. But the mountain stream is not waiting with the intention of refreshing thirsty travelers; it is just bubbling forth, and the travelers are always welcome to help themselves. So in exactly that sense I offer these ideas, and you are all welcome to help yourselves.
I am offering these words for your entertainment, and to entertain myself. I am not trying to improve you, and I really do not know how I would improve you. It would be imprudent for me to recommend any improvements, because one never knows how these things may turn out -- and as they say, be very careful of what you wish for, because you may get it.
One of the problems when people ask for miracles is that they never know what the miracle they ask for ultimately involves. That is why magicians and genies always grant three wishes, so that after the first two you can always use the third one to get back to where you began.
What invariably happens is that with the first wish, things never quite work out as you expected. You may not realize what it may involve if you wish for a glass to be changed into gold, for instance. If we change the arrangement of the universe in such a way that glass becomes gold, you may suddenly find that your eyesight fails or you lose all your hair, because that might go with it. We do not understand all the interconnections between things, because in reality what we call "things" are not really separate from each other. The words and the ideas about them separate them from each other, but they are not separate. They all go with each other, interconnected in one vast vibratory pattern, and if you change it at one point it will be changed at all sorts of other points, because every vibration penetrates through the entire pattern.
Why Do You Believe?
You never really know what is going to happen, and therefore I would not presume to say that you ought to be different than the way you are. I am not a guru, in the sense of a spiritual teacher or an authority from which you may expect something more than what you have. When you confer spiritual authority on another person, you must realize that you are allowing them to pick your pocket and sell you your own watch.
How can you be certain with any great teacher (or scripture for that matter) that they know what they say they know? You may believe in a religion; that is a choice you have made. But how do you know, and why do you believe?
If you believe in something simply because the Bible says it is true, for instance, you do so because you believe that the Bible has the authority to tell you it is true. You may well say that your fathers and mothers and all sorts of reliable people believed it, and therefore you have accepted it on their authority. If you are curious, however, you will also ask, "How did they know it was true?" Did they, by their light and example, show that they were enormously improved because of their belief?
If we look at human history with a clear eye, we see that over an appallingly long period of time people have not improved very much despite their religions and ideals. When you become a grandfather with five grandchildren as I am, you realize that you are just as stupid as your own grandfather was because you still look at things from your own limited position. And although my grandchildren may think that I am a wise and venerable man with a beard, I know that I am still a child, and I feel pretty much as I have always felt. So when you set someone up as an authority, never forget that the belief that you have in this authority is just your opinion.
©2000. Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA 98989. www.newworldlibrary.com.
Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation
by Alan Watts.
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About The Author
Alan Watts was one of the most famous and endearing writers and speakers of the twentieth c entury on the subjects of Eastern thought and meditation. He was born in England in 1915 and died in his home in northern California in 1973. In all, Watts wrote more than twenty-five books and recorded hundreds of lectures and seminars. He became widely recognized for his Zen writings and for The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. For more info, visit www.alanwatts.com and www.audiowisdom.com.