[Part 2] ------> "The High Price of Success" (excerpt) FIRE IN THE BELLY: ON BEING A MAN by Sam Keen

---Painting by Derek Turcotte

(PART 2)

When we live within the horizons of the economic myth, we begin to consider it honorable for a man to do whatever he must to make a living. Gradually we adopt what Erich Fromm called "a marketing orientation" toward our selves. We put aside our dreams, forget the green promise of our young selves, and begin to tailor our personalities to what the market requires. When we mold ourselves into commodities, practice smiling and charm so we will have "winning personalities," learn to sell ourselves, and practice the silly art of power dressing, we are certain to be haunted by a sense of emptiness.

Men, in our culture, have carried a special burden of unconsciousness, of ignorance of the self. The unexamined life has been worth quite a lot in economic terms. It has enabled us to increase the gross national product yearly. It may not be necessary to be a compulsive extrovert to be financially successful, but it helps. Especially for men, ours is an outer-directed culture that rewards us for remaining strangers to ourselves, unacquainted with feeling, intuition, or the subtleties of sensation and dreams.

Many of the personality characteristics that have traditionally been considered "masculine"—aggression, rationality— are not innate or biological components of maleness but are products of a historical era in which men have been socially assigned the chief roles in warfare and the economic order. As women increasingly enter the quasimilitary world of the economic system they are likely to find themselves governed by the logic of the system. Some feminists, who harbor a secret belief in the innate moral superiority of women, believe that women will change the rules of business and bring the balm of communication and human kindness into the boardroom. To date this has been a vain hope. Women executives have proven themselves the equal of men in every way—including callousness. The difference between the sexes is being eroded as both sexes become defined by work. It is often said that the public world of work is a man's place and that as women enter it they will become increasingly "masculine" and lose their "femininity." To think this way is to miss the most important factor of the economic world. Economic man, the creature who defines itself within the horizons of work and consumption, is not man in any full sense of the word, but a being who has been neutralized, degendered, rendered subservient to the laws of the market. The danger of economics is not that it turns women into men but that it destroys the fullness of both manhood and womanhood.

History is a game of leapfrog in which yesterday's gods regularly become today's demons, and the rectitude of the fathers becomes the fault of the sons. The Greeks invented the idea of nemesis to show how any single virtue stubbornly maintained gradually changes into a destructive vice. Our success, our indus-•try, our habit of work have produced our economic nemesis. In our current economic crisis we are driving to the poorhouse in new automobiles, spending our inflated dollars for calorie-free food, lamenting our falling productivity in an environment polluted by our industry. Work made modern men great, but now threatens to usurp our souls, to innundate the earth in things and trash, to destroy our capacity to love and wonder. According to an ancient myth, Hephaestus (Vulcan) the blacksmith, the only flawed immortal who worked, was born lame.

Somehow men got so lost in the doing that we forgot to pause and ask, "What is worth doing? What of value are we creating—and destroying—within the economic order?" Work has always been our womb—the fertile void out of which we give birth to our visions. Today we need to stop the world for a while and look carefully at where our industry is taking us. We have a hopeful future only if we stop asking what we can produce and begin to ask what we want to create. Our dignity as men lies not in exhausting ourselves in work but in discovering our vocation. Remembering Dr. Faust, it might be a good idea to pause and ask ourselves how much of our psyches we will trade for how much profit, power, and prestige. Maybe we should require graduate schools, professional organizations, places of labor, and corporations to put a warning over their doors. Caution: Excessive work may be hazardous to the health of your body and spirit.

I fear that something beautiful, terrible, and complex about work has escaped me. Some part of the mixed blessing I cannot capture in words.

A friend who is a successful entrepreneur asked me, "Are you antibusiness? Business is where I create. It is where the excitement and juice is for me. I can hardly wait to get to my office." My literary agent, Ned Leavitt, tells me: "My work is my art. When I dress in my suit each morning I feel like a knight going forth to battle, and I love to fight hard and win in a hard bargaining session with a publisher and get the best deal for my clients."

I know. I know. I am also one of the work-driven men. And I am lucky to have work that fits skintight over my spirit. I hardly know how to separate work from self. Even when I subtract the long hours, the fatigue, the uncertainties about money, the irritation of having to deal with a million nit-shit details, the long hours in the limbo of jet planes and airports, the compromises I have to make, the sum is overwhelmingly positive. I don't know who I would be without the satisfaction of providing for my family, the occasional intoxication of creativity, the warm companionship of colleagues, the pride in a job well done, and the knowledge that my work has been useful to others.

But there is still something unsaid, something that forces me to ask questions about my life that are, perhaps, tragic: In working so much have I done violence to my being? How often, doing work that is good, have I betrayed what is better in myself and abandoned what is best for those I love? How many hours would have been better spent walking in silence in the woods or wrestling with my children? Two decades ago, near the end of what was a good but troubled marriage, my wife asked me: "Would you be willing to be less efficient?" The question haunts me.


[Part 1] ------> "The High Price of Success" (excerpt) FIRE IN THE BELLY: ON BEING A MAN by Sam Keen

---Painting by Derek Turcotte

At the moment the world seems to be divided between those countries that are suffering from failed economies and those that are suffering from successful economies. After a half century of communism the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China are all looking to be saved from the results of stagnation by a change to market economies. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Germany, and Japan we are beginning to realize that our success has created an underclass of homeless and unemployed, and massive pollution of the environment. As the Dow rises to new heights everyone seems to have forgotten the one prophetic insight of Karl Marx: where the economy creates a class of winners it will also create a class of losers, where wealth gravitates easily into the hands of the haves, the fortunes of the have-nots become more desperate.

On the psychological level, the shadow of our success, the flip side of our affluence, is the increasing problem of stress and burnout. Lately, dealing with stress and burnout has become a growth industry. Corporations are losing many of their best men to the "disease" of stress. Every profession seems to have its crisis: physician burnout, teacher burnout, lawyer burnout. Experts in relaxation, nutrition, exercise, and meditation are doing a brisk business.

But finally, stress cannot be dealt with by psychological tricks, because for the most part it is a philosophical rather than a physiological problem, a matter of the wrong worldview. Perhaps the most common variety of stress can best be described as "rustout" rather than burnout. It is a product, not of an excess of fire but of a deficiency of passion. We, human beings, can survive so long as we "make a living," but we do not thrive without a sense of significance that we gain only by creating something we feel is of lasting value—a child, a better mousetrap, a computer, a space shuttle, a book, a farm. When we spend the majority of our time doing work that gives us a paycheck but no sense of meaning we inevitably get bored and depressed. When the requirements of our work do not match our creative potential we rust out. The second kind of burnout is really a type of combat fatigue that is the inevitable result of living for an extended period within an environment that is experienced as a battle zone. If the competition is always pressing you to produce more and faster, if life is a battle, if winning is the only thing, sooner or later you are going to come down with battle fatigue. Like combat veterans returning from Vietnam, businessmen who live for years within an atmosphere of low-intensity warfare begin to exhibit the personality traits of the warrior. They become disillusioned and numb to ethical issues; they think only of survival and grow insensitive to pain. You may relax, breathe deeply, take time for R and R, and remain a warrior. But ultimately the only cure for stress is to leave the battlefield.

The feminist revolution made us aware of how the economic order has discriminated against women, but not of how it cripples the male psyche. In ancient China the feet of upper-class women were broken, bent backwards, and bound to make them more "beautiful." Have the best and brightest men of our time had their souls broken and bent to make them "successful?"

Let's think about the relation between the wounds men suffer, our over-identification with work, and our captivity within the horizons of the economic myth.

Recently, a lament has gone out through the land that men are becoming too tame, if not limp. The poet Robert Bly, who is as near as we have these days to a traveling bard and shaman for men, says we have raised a whole generation of soft men—oh-so-sensitive, but lacking in thunder and lightning. He tells men they must sever the ties with mother, stop looking at themselves through the eyes of women, and recover the "wild man" within themselves.

I suspect that if men lack the lusty pride of self-affirmation, if we say "yes" too often but without passion, if we are burned out without ever having been on fire, it is mostly because we have allowed ourselves to be engulfed by a metabody, a masculine womb—The Corporation. Our fragile, tender, wild, and succulent bodies are being deformed to suit the needs of the body corporate. Climbing the economic or corporate ladder has replaced the hero's journey up Mt. Analogue. Upward mobility has usurped the ascent of the Seven-Story Mountain, the quest to discover the heights and depths of the human psyche.

At what cost to the life of our body and spirit do we purchase corporate and professional success? What sacrifices are we required to make to these upstart economic gods?

Here are some of the secrets they didn't tell you at the Harvard Business School, some of the hidden, largely unconscious, tyrannical, unwritten rules that govern success in professional and corporate life:

Cleanliness is next to prosperity. Sweat is lower class, lower status. Those who shower before work and use deodorant make more than those who shower after work and smell human throughout the day. As a nation we are proud that only three percent of the population has to work on the land—get soiled, be earthy—to feed the other ninety-seven percent.

Look but don't touch. The less contact you have with real stuff—raw material, fertilizer, wood, steel, chemicals, making things that have moving parts—the more money you will make. Lately, as we have lost our edge in manufacturing and production, we have comforted ourselves with the promise that we can prosper by specializing in service and information industries. Oh, so clean.
Prefer abstractions. The further you move up toward the catbird seat, the penthouse, the office with the view of all Manhattan, the more you live among abstractions. In the brave new world of the market you may speculate in hog futures without ever having seen a pig, buy out an airline without knowing how to fly a plane, grow wealthy without having produced anything.

Specialize. The modern economy rewards experts, men and women who are willing to become focused, concentrated, tightly bound, efficient. Or to put the matter more poignantly, we succeed in our professions to the degree that we sacrifice wide-ranging curiosity and fascination with the world at large, and become departmental in our thinking. The professions, like medieval castles, are small kingdoms sealed off from the outer world by walls of jargon. Once initiated by the ritual of graduate school, MBAs, economists, lawyers, and physicians speak only to themselves and theologians speak only to God.

Sit still and stay indoors. The world is run largely by urban, sedentary males. The symbol of power is the chair. The chairman of the board sits and manages. As a general rule those who stay indoors and move the least make the most money. Muscle doesn't pay. Worse yet, anybody who has to work in the sun and rain is likely to make the minimum wage. With the exception of quarterbacks, boxers, and race car drivers, whose bodies are broken for our entertainment, men don't get ahead by moving their bodies.

Live by the clock. Ignore your intimate body time, body rhythms, and conform to the demands of corporate time, work time, professional time. When "time is money," we bend our bodies and minds to the demands of EST (economic standard time). We interrupt our dreams when the alarm rings, report to work at nine, eat when the clock strikes twelve, return to our private lives at five, and retire at sixty-five—ready or not. As a reward we are allowed weekends and holidays for recreation. Conformity to the sacred routine, showing up on time, is more important than creativity. Instead of "taking our time" we respond to deadlines. Most successful men, and lately women, become Type A personalities, speed freaks, addicted to the rush of adrenaline, filled with a sense of urgency, hard driven, goal oriented, and stressed out. The most brutal example of this rule is the hundred-hour week required of physicians in their year of residency. This hazing ritual, like circumcision, drives home the deep mythic message that your body is no longer your own.

Wear the uniform. It wouldn't be so bad if those who earned success and power were proud enough in their manhood to peacock their colors. But no. Success makes drab. The higher you rise in the establishment the more colorless you become, the more you dress like an undertaker or a priest. Bankers, politicians, CEOs wear black, gray, or dark blue, with maybe a bold pinstripe or a daring "power tie." And the necktie? That ultimate symbol of the respectable man has obviously been demonically designed to exile the head from the body and restrain all deep and passionate breath. The more a corporation, institution, or profession requires the sacrifice of the individuality of its members, the more it requires uniform wear. The corp isn't really looking for a few good men. It's looking for a few dedicated Marines, and it knows exactly how to transform boys into uniform men. As monks and military men have known for centuries, once you get into the habit you follow the orders of the superior.

Keep your distance, stay in your place. The hierarchy of power and prestige that governs every profession and corporation establishes the proper distance between people. There are people above you, people below you, and people on your level, and you don't get too close to any of them. Nobody hugs the boss. What is lacking is friendship. I know of no more radical critique of economic life than the observation by Earl Shorris that nowhere in the vast literature of management is there a single chapter on friendship.

Desensitize yourself. Touch, taste, smell—the realm of the senses—receive little homage. What pays off is reason, willpower, planning, discipline, control. There has, of course, recently been a move afoot to bring in potted plants and tasteful art to make corporate environments more humane. But the point of these exercises in aesthetics, like the development of communication skills by practitioners of organizational development, is to increase production. The bottom line is still profit, not pleasure or persons.

Don't trouble yourself with large moral issues. The more the world is governed by experts, specialists, and professionals, the less anybody takes responsibility for the most troubling consequences of our success-failure. Television producers crank out endless cop and killing tales, but refuse to consider their contribution to the climate of violence. Lawyers concern themselves with what is legal, not what is just. Physicians devote themselves to kidneys or hearts of individual patients while the health delivery system leaves masses without medicine. Physicists invent new generations of genocidal weapons which they place in the eager arms of the military. The military hands the responsibility for their use over to politicians. Politicians plead that they have no choice—the enemy makes them do it. Professors publish esoterica while students perish from poor teaching. Foresters, in cahoots with timber companies, clear-cut or manage the forest for sustained yield, but nobody is in charge of oxygen regeneration. Psychologists heal psyches while communities fall apart. Codes of professional ethics are for the most part, like corporate advertisements, high sounding but self-serving.




"Walking Closer to the Bone" (excerpt) THE EXQUISITE RISK by Mark Nepo

---Painting by Linda Johnson

There are no rules now. You who bore me, taught me, raised me, Mother, Father, friends, lovers, You are my brothers and sisters now.
All that you taught me to help me in life Is no longer true, unless I find it so. Your truths for you, mine for me.
But I, being some part child still,
Grieve for the missing parents to be no more,
Nor to be a parent myself.
No longer even a child of God but co-creator.
This is frightening. This is glorious.

—Jane Bishop

When I first met Jane in 1994 when Helen Luke brought me to the Apple Farm Community in Three Rivers, Michigan. She was a remarkable being with unusual spiritual clarity and peace, and I, among many, am more fully alive for knowing her. For Jane lived at the root level of things. Most of all, she listened to everything and everyone from that depth. Magically, I always felt that Jane understood whatever I was about to share. There was no need to translate with her. More than anything she might say, I think it was her complete attention that affirmed my small efforts to thin whatever I'd thickened around my heart and eyes.

It is as she declared: There are no rules. Given enough time and chances, we each discover the center of the earth, one at a time, and just seeing the center burn under everything changes the way we look at the stars, the way we hold the wood we gather. It changes what we see while making love. For me, this seeing from center has deepened the nature of how I feel. Now waves of feeling pulse and ache close to the bone. I used to think that ache was sadness, and so spent many years trying to get rid of it. But now it is deeper than not getting what I want or losing what I need. Now I feel this ache the way the earth feels its core grind about that central fire that no one sees. It is the slight burn of being here.

I am fifty-three, have been lifted and battered by love many times, have survived cancer and a cold mother, have tried to hold on to friends like food for twenty-five years, and all that has fallen away. I use solitude now like a lamp to illumine corners I have not yet seen. And, at times, I am scared that, after all this way, I will come up empty, like a man who thirsts for the water running through his fingers. But actually, I am only scared when thinking of the rules, which say I'm not enough. If we rip them up—no, Jane would simply set them aside—if we set them aside, there is nothing between us and the next moment about to happen.

Jane died last winter. I saw her three weeks before and she was calm and vital, her eyes alight. She loved horses and spoke of death as a pony with no saddle waiting in a meadow. She set things out to make her pony welcome. I loved Jane. I still do. And I marvel at how deeply practiced she became at living at this root level, so much so that curiosity and courage became the same thing. She taught me that listening and being kind are also the same thing.

It's meeting people like Jane, who speak in tongues that know the Source, that makes me believe there is a common heart beneath all human longing that burns like that fire at the center of the earth. And despite the weight of living, there is, within each of us, a luminescent heat from that fire that can be blocked but not contained.

At Jane's memorial, there were friends who knew her for fifty years and a woman she had met just once. Remarkably, they all spoke of the warmth and welcome of her silence. And over the piano there were two pictures of her just before her death. While we were singing, I kept staring at these traces of her. Then a horse whinnied across the road and stopped to out-wait a cloud. I looked at Jane's gaunt face wearing out, more aglow from within, and it became clear. In the end, we are worn to the same bone, each of us hollowed to the one light we all take turns becoming. It's how that fire that no one sees keeps singing. For we each, in our turn, burn at the center under everything. It's how the song of a lifetime is played until we become the earth. It's how the breath of centuries keeps rising.

For so long, I didn't know, but now I confess: This rising forth of sheer life is what I live for. It keeps me alive. If I were a dancer, I'd use my gestures to scribe this endless rising against the sky, over and over, giving it away. Oh, the heart like a whale has no choice but to surface. Or we die. And having surfaced, we all must dive. Or we die. And more than books or flowers or thoughtful gifts that show I know you, the dearest thing I can give is to surface with the sheen of my spirit before you. And so I look for the truest friendships, watching the deep for spirits to surface all wet with soul.


"Down By the River" by Chang-tzu

The old man sat on the muddy bank of the great river, fishing quietly and watching the water flow. He liked it here, out with the sun and the mosquitoes, his toes squishing delightfully in the mud, his bottom getting wet with the early morning dew. He didn't mind a little dampness. He just liked sitting by the river and watching the water flow by. His line trailed out into the water, though he used no bait. Whether or not he actually caught a fish was not important. The simple act of sitting by the river, toes in the mud, line dancing over the water, was enough for him.

The old man had been a philosopher and student of the Way for quite some time. He knew he was not popular with certain segments of society, those pedantic logicians and the like who used words as a screen to hide behind or else brandished them like weapons. His teaching had always been a bit convoluted and full of riddles, puns and a sublime sense of the ridiculous. As for arguments with other scholars and philosophers-he just wasn't interested. He often said that if two people argue and one wins and the other loses, does that mean one is right and the other wrong? Or are they both partly right and partly wrong? Or are both all right and also all wrong? Waiting for final answers is like waiting for nothing, he told his students. Look at everything in relation to the great Tao and leave differing viewpoints as they are. That's the way to live out one's life in peace and harmony.

He knew he was often laughed at behind his back, and sometimes to his face. So what? He didn't care! He knew what he knew and he also knew what he didn't know and that was enough for him. Still, his fame had spread lately and he was continually being bothered by people seeking the ultimate truth, as if such a thing could ever be conceptualized and put into plain words. Besides, it wasn't up to him to tell people the "ultimate truth." He could only share his truth, and even that changed from day to day just like the ongoing cycles of the seasons. No, he was better off here by the river alone except for the mosquitoes and an occasional bird. He loved looking at the river and thinking about the great, unfolding Way and his place in it. He had learned a lot just by sitting here and watching the water flow by. He noticed that many people's energy flow was like water. Some people just had little trickles, like a small creek. Other's energy was clogged and muddied, like a dammed up stream. Others' was wild and turbulent like a river in the spring. Others' flowed serenely along, like the great river in front of him. Still others' flowed fast and furious like the rapids he knew were up river, then at other times it grew sluggish and heavy like the part of the river that flowed past the village downstream. The trick was to find a rhythm that suited one's self and try to stick to that. It was far better to be harmonious and consistent than it was to change one's flow every other day or even many times a day. He himself had been quite turbulent in his youth, but a combination of self-cultivation and suffering had changed that. Now he just liked to sit here, toes squishing, line dancing, mind empty, bottom soaking, and enjoy the day.

Suddenly he heard a commotion behind him. Two men were sliding down the muddy bank toward him. They wore the insignia of messengers for the local lord who lived on the other side of the river, in a great castle. The old man had never seen this great lord, since the lord did not condescend to travel among the common people. Years ago the old man had lived in the capital and had known many such men. They were mostly a very boring and irritating crowd, their energy stuck in their feet. They were the reason he had left the capital long ago and retired to this small village by the river.

The two messengers, who wore costly robes of silk, were struggling to hold up their hems to avoid getting them muddied. They were out of breath by the time they reached the old man, who sat with his back to them.

"Honored sir," they panted. "Are you the one they call --?" They used an honorific title he had been given years ago at the capital in recognition of his sagehood. He thought at first of denying it but realized they already knew who he was when they first climbed down the riverbank. They were only using a formality. He knew it all so well-the empty, flowery phrases that fell from their tongues like rancid butter. Sighing, he got up slowly and turned to face them. "Yes," he answered. "I am that most unworthy person." He knew how to play the game. The two silken messengers looked at each other. Could this really be the great sage that their lord had sent them after? Why, he looked like a ragged fisherman! Yet there was something about his direct and piercing gaze that held them for a moment, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. 'Then, just as suddenly, it was gone again and the old man stood before them, idly picking his nose.

"We have been sent by the great lord of this province to bid you come to his castle so he may humbly prostrate himself before you and beg of you to share some small part of your great wisdom with his lowly household."

What a crock! The old man knew just what would happen if he allowed himself to be led to the castle. Hours and hours of fawning and false modesty, to be followed by days and days of being a virtual prisoner, arguing with a dim-witted nobleman who had never had an original thought in his head. He would have to deal with whatever other "sages' the noble had ensconced there to argue philosophy in front of him. All his life he had dealt with those high-minded, longwinded Confucians who confused propriety and wisdom, duty and Tao, classism and true spiritual freedom. He wanted no more to do with them.

And the logicians were even worse. How they loved to confuse and conspire with endless torrents of words-words with no spirit, no real energy behind them, words which clouded the mind and induced a narcotic, hypnotic effect that numbed the mind to the true reality of the Way. How many endless hours had he already spent trying to get them to let go of their precious concepts and opinions and open themselves to the simple, unadorned truth of the integral and eternal Way?

No, he could not stomach any more of that. He had to find a way to turn them away without incurring the wrath of their great lord. Suddenly an idea came to him. "You have the shell of a ritual tortoise at the castle, do you not?"

The two messengers did not know what to say. This old man was a little abrupt. They had expected him to jump at the chance to be set up in the castle. After all, he would be paid well for his efforts and he would be wearing much finer clothing than the old rags he presently wore and be enveloped in much richer surroundings than this mosquito-infested, muddy riverbank.

"Yes," answered one of them, finally. "We do have a great and ancient tortoise shell which, as you most assuredly know, great sage, is used for divination at certain times of the year. "

The old man could imagine the pomp and circumstance of the divination ceremony: The ancient tortoise shell would be carried into the hall of divination between rows and rows of seated nobles and servants, stiff and formal. The procession would be accompanied by the ancient sing-song music of the Confucians, more irritating and less musical than the whining of the mosquitoes in his ear. Endless speeches and formal testimonials would follow. At last would come the ceremonial heating of the tortoise shell; the cracks which appeared on it could then be read. Would the year in question be good or bad for the great lord and his fief? The priests were not fools; they were not stupid enough to share bad tidings, even if they read them on the tortoise shell. The great lord would not want to know about the floods, the many farmers going hungry, the diseases and the pestilence that would be visited upon the common people that year No, the great lord would want to hear how beneficent and wise he was, what a great ruler of men he was, what a generous and compassionate father to his people he was. The very thought of it made the old man want to vomit right there at the silken feet of the great lord's messengers.

"Well," he said, "what do you fellows think? I can see you are intelligent men. If the tortoise himself had been given the choice between being slaughtered for his shell to be venerated for hundreds of years or to be left alone to drag his tail in the mud, what do you think the tortoise would have wanted?"

The two messengers looked at each other again. Was this some kind of test? They had been told that the old man was a bit odd, some even thought him crazy. They both decided to take their time in answering, just in case. Finally one of them took a deep breath and spoke. "I suppose," he said slowly, "that if it were truly up to the tortoise, why of course he would rather have been left alone to, as you say, drag his tail through the mud." "Then that is precisely what I intend to do with mine, ' said the old man and abruptly turned his back on them, his muddy bottom winking obscenely He gathered up his fishing line and trudged down the bank, singing an old folk song at the top of his lungs.

The messengers watched him for some time as he walked slowly away. What would they say to the great lord? They were not even sure themselves what had just happened. To think they had walked all this way and gotten muddy and mosquito bitten for this! It was true, they would tell their lord, the old man was crazy, not a sage, not a wise man. Just a crazy old man sitting on his ass in the mud.


Jesus and His Religion (or the religion about Him) [3rd of 3 Parts] by Alan Watts

--Photograph by Eugenio Pastor

(Part 3)


But you see what happens. If you pedestalize Jesus you strangle the Gospel at birth. And it has been the tradition in both the Catholic Church and in Protestantism to pass off what I will call an emasculated Gospel. Gospel means "good news," and I cannot for the life of me think what is the good news about the Gospel as ordinarily handed down. Because, look here – here is the revelation of God in Christ, in Jesus, and we are supposed to follow his life and example without having the unique advantage of being the boss's son. Now, the tradition – both Catholic and Protestant Fundamentalist – represents Jesus to us as a freak! Born of a virgin, knowing he is the son of God, having the power of miracles, knowing that basically it's impossible to kill him, that he's going to rise again in the end. And we are asked to take up our cross and follow him when we don't know that about ourselves at all! So what happens is this: we are delivered, therefore, a Gospel which is in fact an impossible religion. It's impossible to follow the Way of Christ. Alright. Many a Christian has admitted it. "I am a miserable sinner. I fall far short of the example of Christ." But do you realize the more you say that the better you are? Because what happened was that Christianity institutionalized guilt as a virtue. (enthusiastic applause) You see, you can never come up to it. Never. And therefore you will always be aware of your shortcomings, and so the more shortcomings you feel the more – in other words – you are aware of the vast abyss between Christ and yourself.

[Audience member] "You are just setting up straw men and knocking them down!"

You will have your opportunity to speak during the question period, madam. So, you go to confession.... (laughter and applause) ... and if you've got a nice dear understanding confessor he won't get angry with-at you. He'll say, "My child, you know you've sinned very grievously but you must realize that the love of God and of Our Lord is infinite and that naturally you are forgiven. As a token of thanks-giving say three 'Hail Mary's." And you know, you've committed a murder and robbed a bank and fornicated around and so on, but the priest is perfectly patient and quiet. Well you feel awful! "I have done that to the love of God? I have wounded Jesus, grieved the Holy Spirit," and so on. But you know in the back of your mind that you're going to do it all over again. You won't be able to help yourself. You'll try. But there's always a greater and greater sense of guilt.

Now, the lady objected that I was putting up a straw man and knocking it down. This is the Christianity of most people. Now there is a much more subtle Christianity of the theologians, the mystics, and the philosophers. But it's not what gets preached from the pulpit, grant you. But the message of Billy Graham is approximately what I've given you, and of all – what I will call – fundamentalist forms of Catholicism and Protestantism.

What would the real Gospel be? The real Good News is not simply that Jesus of Nazareth was THE son of God, but that he was a powerful son of God who came to open everybody's eyes to the fact that you are too. Now this is perfectly plain. If you will go to the tenth chapter of Saint John, verse 30, there is the passage where Jesus says "I and the Father are one." And this is – there are some people who aren't intimate disciples around, and they are horrified! And they immediately pick up stones to stone him. He says "Many good works I have shown you from the Father, and for which of these do you stone me?" And they said, "For a good work we stone you not, but for blasphemy, because you being a man make yourself God." And he replied "Isn't it written in your law 'I have said you are gods'?" (He's quoting the 82nd Psalm.) "Isn't it written in your law 'I have said you are gods'? If God called them those to whom he gave his word 'gods' – and you can't deny the scriptures – how can you say I blaspheme because I said I am a son of God?" Well there's the whole thing in a nutshell.

Of course if you read the King James Bible that descended with the angel you will see in italics in front of these words "son of God," "THE son of God" – "...because I said I am THE son of God." And most people think the italics are for emphasis. They're not. The italics indicate words interpolated by the translators. You will not find that in the Greek. The Greek says "a son of God." So it seems to me here perfectly plain that Jesus has got it in the back of his mind that this isn't something peculiar to himself.

So when he says "I am the way. No man comes to the Father but by ME," this "I am," this "me" is the divine in us which in Hebrew would be called the "Ruach Adonai." This – a great deal is made of this by the esoteric Jews, Kabbalists and the Hasidim. The Ruach is the breath that God breathed into the nostrils of Adam. It is differing from the soul. The individual soul in Hebrew is called "Nephesh." And so we translate the "Ruach" into the Greek "pneuma" into "psyche" [see´kay] or "psyche" [sy´kee]. The spirit – and you ask the theologian what's the difference between the soul and the spirit and he won't be able to tell you – but it's very clear in Saint Paul's writings.

So the point is that the Ruach is the divine in the creature by virtue of which we are sons of, or of the nature of God: manifestations of the divine. This discovery is the Gospel. That is, the Good News. But this has been perpetually repressed throughout the history of Western religion because all Western religions have taken the form of celestial monarchies, and therefore have discouraged Democracy in the Kingdom of Heaven. Until, as a consequence of the teachings of the German and Flemish mystics in the Fifteenth Century there began to be such movements as the Anabaptists, the Brothers of the Free Spirit, and the Levelers, and the Quakers. A spiritual movement which came to this country and founded a republic and not a monarchy.

And how could you say that a republic is the best form of government if you think that the Universe is a monarchy? Obviously, if God is top on a monarchy, monarchy is the best form of government. But you see, ever so many citizens of this republic think they ought to believe that the Universe is a monarchy, and therefore they are always at odds with the republic.

It is from, principally, white racist Christians that we have the threat of Fascism in this country. Because you see, they have a religion which is militant, which is not the religion of Jesus – which was the realization of divine son-ship – but the religion ABOUT Jesus which pedestalizes him and which says "Only this man – of all the sons of woman – is divine, and you had better recognize it." And so it speaks of itself as The Church Militant, the onward Christian soldiers marching as to war. Utterly exclusive. Convinced, in advance of examining the doctrines of any other religion that it is the top religion. And so it becomes a freak religion, just as it has made a freak of Jesus, an unnatural man. It claims uniqueness, not realizing that what it does teach would be far more credible if it were truly "Catholic" – that is to say: restated again, the truths which have been known from time immemorial, which have appeared in all the great cultures of the world.

But even very liberal Protestants still want to say, somehow – so as, I suppose to keep the mission effort going or to pay off the mortgage – "Yes, these other religions are very good. God has no doubt revealed himself through Buddha and Lao-Tsu. But...!"

Now, obviously, it is a matter of temperament. You could be loyal to Jesus just as you're loyal to your own country, but you are not serving your country if you think that it's necessarily the best of all possible countries. That is doing a disservice to your country. It is refusing to be critical where criticism is proper. So of religion. Every religion should be self-critical. Otherwise it soon degenerates into a self-righteous hypocrisy. If then we can see this, that Jesus speaks not from the situation of a historical deus-ex-machina – a kind of a weird, extraordinary event – but he is a voice which joins with other voices that have said in every place and time "Wake up, Man. Wake up and realize who you are."

Now I don't think, you see, until churches get with that that they're going to have very much relevance. You see, popular Protestantism and popular Catholicism will tell you nothing about mystical religion. The message of the preacher, fifty-two Sundays a year, is "Dear people, be good." We've heard it ad-nauseam! Or: "Believe in this." He may occasionally give us a sermon on what happens after death or the nature of God, but basically the sermon is "Be good." But how? As Saint Paul said, "To will is present with me, but how to do that which is good I find not; for the good that I would I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do." How are we going to be changed? Obviously, there cannot be a vitality of religion without vital religious experience. And that's something much more than emoting over singing "Onward Christian Soldiers."

But you see what happens in our ecclesiastical goings-on is that we run a talking shop. We pray. We tell God what to do, or give advice as if He didn't know. We read the scriptures, and remember: talking of the Bible Jesus said "You search the scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life." Saint Paul made some rather funny references about the spirit which giveth life and the letter which kills. I think the Bible should be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter. We need it no more because the Spirit is with us. It's a dangerous book. And to worship it is of course a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone. Because you can –– nobody's senses can confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarified and abstract.

So with this endless talking in church we can preach, but by-and-large preaching does nothing but excite a sense of anxiety and guilt. And you can't love out of that. No scolding, no rational demonstration of the right way to behave is going to inspire people with love. Something else must happen. But we will say "What are you going to do about it?" Do about it? You have no faith? Be quiet. Even Quakers aren't quiet. They sit in meeting and think. At least some of them do. But supposing we get really quiet; we don't think; be absolutely silent through-and-through? We say "Well, you'll just fall into a blank." Oh? Ever tried?

I feel then, you see, that it's enormously important that churches stop being talking shops, they become centers of contemplation. What is contemplation? Con-templum: It's what you do in the temple. You don't come to the temple to chatter, but to be still and know that "I am God." And this is why, if the Christian religion – if the Gospel of Christ – is to mean anything at all instead of just being one of the forgotten religions along with Osiris and Mithra we must see Christ as the Great Mystic. In the proper sense of the word "mystic," not someone who has all sorts of magical powers and understands spirits and so on. A mystic – strictly speaking – is one who realizes union with God, by whatever name. This seems to me the crux and message of the Gospel, summed up in the prayer of Jesus which Saint John records as he speaks over his disciples praying that "they may be one even as you, Father, and I are one." That they may be all one. All realize this divine son-ship, all oneness, basic identity with the eternal energy of the universe and the love that moves the Sun and other stars.


Jesus and His Religion (or the religion about Him) [2nd of 3 Parts] by Alan Watts

Photograph by Eugenio Pastor



Now so therefore everybody who receives divine inspiration – and I'm using that in a very loose way – you could mean anything you like by "divine" – that's your option – but anybody who receives it will express it within the limits of what language he knows. And by language here I don't only mean English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Sanskrit. I mean language in the sense of what sort of terms are available to you; what kind of religion were you brought up with.

Now you see, if you were brought up in the Bible Belt – you came out of Arkansas somewhere – and that's all the religion you knew, and you had a mystical experience of the type where you suddenly discover that you are one with God, then you're liable to get up and say "I'm Jesus Christ!" And lots of people do. Well the culture that we live in just can't allow that. There is only one Jesus Christ. And so if you don't look like you're Jesus Christ coming back again – because it said in the scriptures that when He comes back there'll be no doubt about it: He'll appear in the Heavens with legions of angels, and you're not doing that; you're just old Joe Dokes we knew years ago. Well now you say you're Jesus Christ. Well, he says that when Jesus Christ said he was God nobody believed him and you don't believe again. You know you can't answer that argument. (laughter)

But you see, he says it that way because he is trying to express what happened to him in terms of the religious language which is circumscribed by the Holy Bible. He's never read the Upanishads. He's never read the Diamond Sutra. He's never read The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the I-Ching or the Lao-Tsu, and therefore there is no other way in which he can say this.

But if he had read the Upanishads he would have had no difficulty, and nor would the culture – the society in which he was talking – have any difficulty. Because it says in the Upanishads we are all incarnations of God. Only they don't mean by the word "God" – in fact they don't use that word; they use "Brahman" – they don't mean the same thing that a Hebrew meant by "God." Because the Brahman is not personal. Brahman is – we would say – supra-personal. Not impersonal, because that is a negation. But I would say supra-personal.

Brahman is not he or she, has no sex. Brahman is not the creator of the world – as something underneath and subject to Brahman – but the actor of the world, the player of all the parts, so that everyone is a mask (which is the meaning of the word "person") in which the Brahman plays a role. And like an absorbed actor the divine spirit gets so absorbed in playing the role as to become it, and to be bewitched. And this is all part of the game, hereto believing that I am that role. When you were babies you knew who you were. Psychoanalysts refer to that as the oceanic feeling. They don't really like it, but they admit that it exists. Where the baby cannot distinguish between the world and the way it acts upon the world. It's all one process. Which is of course the way things are.

But we learn very quickly because we are taught very quickly what is you and what is not-you, what is voluntary, what is involuntary, because you can be punished for the voluntary but not for the involuntary. And so we unlearn what we knew in the beginning. And in the course of life if we are fortunate we discover again what we really are, that each one of us is what would be called in Arabic or Hebrew "a son of God." And the word "son of" means "of the nature of" as when you call someone a "son of a bitch," or in Arabic you say "Ibn-kalb" which means "son of a dog," "Ibn al-Himar": "son of a donkey." So, "a son of Belial" means "an evil person." "Son of God" means "a divine person," a Human being who has realized union with God.

Now my assumption – and my opinion – is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Human being like Buddha, like Sri Rama Krishna, like Ramana Maharshi, etc., who early in life had a colossal experience of what we call "cosmic consciousness." Now you don't have to be any particular kind of religion to get this experience. It can hit anyone anytime, like falling in love. There are obviously a number of you in this building who've had it in greater or lesser degree. But it's found all over the world. And when it hits you, you know it. Sometimes it comes after long practice of meditations and spiritual discipline. Sometimes it comes for no reason that anybody can determine. We say it's the "Grace of God," that there comes this overwhelming conviction that you have mistaken your identity, that what you thought, what I thought was just old Alan Watts – who I know very well is just a big act and a show – but what I thought was, you know, "me!" – was only completely superficial, that I am an expression of an eternal something-or-other: "X," a name that can't be named, as the name of God was taboo among the Hebrews; "I am."; and that I suddenly understand why – exactly why – everything is the way it is. It's perfectly clear.

Furthermore I no longer feel any boundary between what I do and what happens to me. I feel that everything that's going on is my doing, just as my breathing is. Is your breathing voluntary or involuntary? Do you do it or does it happen to you? So you can feel it both ways. But you feel everything like breathing. And it isn't as if you had become a puppet. There is no longer any separate "you." There is just this great Happening going on. And if you have The Name in your background you will say "This happening is God," or "the Will of God," or "the Doing of God." Or if you don't have that word in your background you will say with the Chinese "it is the flowing of the Tao." Or if you're a Hindu you will say "it is the Maya of Brahman." "The Maya" means "the magical power," "the creative illusion," "the play."

So you can very well understand how people to whom this happens feel genuinely inspired. Because very often there goes along with it an extremely warm feeling. Because you see the Divine in everybody else's eyes. When Kabir, a great Hindu Muslim mystic, was a very old man he used to look around at people and say "To whom shall I preach?" Because he saw the Beloved in all eyes, and could see – sometimes I look into people's eyes, and I can look right down, and I can see that Beloved in the depths of those pools, and yet the expression on the face is saying "What, me?!" Ha ha ha ha, it's the funniest thing! But there is everybody, in his own peculiar way, playing out an essential part in this colossal cosmic drama. And it's so strange, but one can even feel it in people you thoroughly dislike.

So, let's suppose then that Jesus had such an experience. But you see, Jesus has a limitation that he doesn't know of any religion other than those of the immediate Near-East. He might know something about Egyptian religion, a little bit maybe about Greek religion, but mostly about Hebrew. There is no evidence whatsoever that he knew anything about India or China. And we – people who think that, you know, Jesus was God assume that he must have known because he would have been omniscient. No! Saint Paul makes it perfectly clear in the Epistle to the Phillipians that Jesus renounced his divine powers so as to be Man. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought not equality with God a thing to be hung onto, but humbled himself and made himself of no reputation and was found in fashion as a man and became obedient to death." Theologians call that "kenosis," which means "self-emptying."

So obviously an omnipotent and omniscient man would not really be a man. So even if you take the very orthodox Catholic doctrine of the nature of Christ, that he was both true God and true Man, you must say that for true God to be united with true Man, true God has to make a voluntary renunciation – for the time-being – of omniscience and omnipotence... and omnipresence for that matter. Now therefore if Jesus were to come right out and say "I am the son of God" that's like saying "I'm the boss's son," or "I AM the boss," and everybody immediately says that is blasphemy. That is subversion. That is trying to introduce Democracy into the Kingdom of Heaven. That is –– you are a usurper of the throne. No man has seen God.

Now, Jesus in his exoteric teaching – as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels – was pretty cagey about this. He didn't come right out there and say "I and the Father are one." Instead he identified himself with the Messiah described in the second part of the prophet Isaiah, "the suffering servant who was despised and rejected by men." And this man is the non-political Messiah, in other words. It was convenient to make that identification even though it would get him into trouble.

But to his elect disciples as recorded in Saint John, he came right out "Before Abraham was, I am." "I am the way, the truth, and the life." "I am the resurrection and the life." "I am the living bread that comes down from Heaven." "I and the Father are one, and he who has seen me has seen the Father." And there can be no mistaking that language.

So the Jews found out and they put him to death – or had him put to death – for blasphemy. This is no cause for any special antagonism toward the Jews. We would do exactly the same thing. It's always done. It happened to one of the great Sufi mystics in Persia who had the same experience. Now, what happened? The Apostles didn't quite get the point. They were awed by the miracles of Jesus. They worshipped him as people do worship gurus, and as you know to what lengths that can go if you've been around guru-land. And so the Christians said "Okay, okay: Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God but let it stop right there! Nobody else." So what happened was that Jesus was pedestalized. He was put in a position that was safely upstairs so that his troublesome experience of cosmic consciousness would not come and cause other people to be a nuisance. And those who have had this experience and expressed it during those times when the church had political power were almost invariably persecuted. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake. John Scotus Eriugena was excommunicated. Meister Eckhardt's theses were condemned. And so on, and so on. A few mystics got away with it because they used cautious language.