Best Wishes To Everyone
During the Holiday Season
And The Coming New Year
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. Do justly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I must begin with a word of explanation. Some time ago I was in a radio station as a participant in a panel discussion on man and religion. Before we went on air, the moderator asked all the participants around the table to introduce themselves. I was sitting on his left, and the man on his right began: Rabbi So-and-so, Jewish; Reverend So-and-so, Protestant minister; Father So-and-so, Catholic priest; Doctor So-and-so, logical positivist and so on. When it was my turn, I said, 'Alan Watts, no label." Immediately, there was an outcry: "You aren't being fair."
I say 'No label' sincerely, because although I speak a great deal about Zen, I never refer to myself as a 'Zen-ist" or as a Buddhist because that seems to me like packaging the sky.
There is an excellent reason for the absence of a definition of Zen. All systems that have preconceived views of what the human being is and what the world ought to be categorize existence under labels. People who have Jehovah-like ideas of an order that they wish to impose on reality also use labels. But when one's concern is not to order the world around but to understand it, to experience it and to find out about it, you give up this superior attitude and become receptive.
Then, instead of knowing all about it, you come to know it directly. But this 'knowing' is difficult to talk about because it has to be felt. It is the difference between eating dinner and eating the menu.
We may in the past have had marvelous spiritual experiences — almost everyone in this world is lucky enough to experience satori once in their life . . . Ever afterwords, you search for that experience again: 'I want it that way.' You once had a wonderful girlfriend, and now you want another just like her. That way of thinking blocks the possibility of meeting with life. This is why meditation for Zen practitioners and Taoists means affirming that your everyday mind is the way — not the mind you ought to have or the mind you might have if you practiced acceptance or concentration. We want you to look at it just the way it is right now — that's Buddha. Just like that.
Of course, many will say this is nonsense. 'The way I am now is degraded, ordinary, unevolved, not spiritual, decadent.' Yet remember this phrase from the Zenrin poem: 'At midnight, the sun brightly shines.' All right, it is midnight now. This, at this moment, is the awful dark thing we think we are. Yet the poem also says, 'This is Buddha.'
A monk once asked a Zen master, 'What is Zen?' The master replied, 'I don't feel like answering now. Wait until there is nobody else around and I'll tell you.' Some time later the monk returned to the master and said, 'There is nobody around now, Master. Please tell me about Zen.' The master took him into the garden and said, 'What a long bamboo this is! What a short bamboo that is!'
So you may be a long bamboo, you may be a short bamboo. You may be a giraffe with a long neck or a giraffe with a short neck.. What you are now is the very point. There is no goal because all goals are in the future. There is only the question of what is. Look and see; see how, of its own accord, it comes to your eye.Alan Watts, No Label
We understand the specific attraction of Zen Buddhism when we realize the extent to which the contemporary West is animated by "prophetic faith," the sense of the holiness of the ought, the pull of the way things could be and should be but as yet are not. Such faith has obvious virtues, but unless it is balanced by a companion sense of the holiness of the is, it becomes top-heavy. If one's eyes are always on tomorrows, todays slip by unperceived. To a West which in its concern to refashion heaven and earth is in danger of letting the presentness of life—the only life we really have—slip through its fingers, Zen comes as a reminder that if we do not learn to perceive the mystery and beauty of our present life, our present hour, we shall not perceive the worth of any life, of any hour.
One day a man of the people said to Zen Master Ikkyu: "Master, willyou please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?"
Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word "Attention."
"Is that all?" asked the man. "Will you not add something more?"
Ikkyu then wrote twice running: "Attention. Attention."
"Well," remarked the man rather irritably, "I really don't see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written."
Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: "Attention. Attention. Attention."
Half angered, the man demanded: "What does that word 'Attention" mean anyway?"
And Ikkyu answered gently: "Attention means attention."
Man craves happiness here on earth, not fulfillment, not emancipation. Are they utterly deluded, then, in seeking happiness? No, happiness is desirable, but it is a by-product, the result of a way of life, not a goal which is forever beyond one's grasp. Happiness is achieved en route . . . To make happiness a goal is to kill it in advance.
If there is one power which man indubitably possesses—have we not had proof of it again and again?—it is the power to alter one's way of life. It is perhaps man's only power.
Struggle has its importance, but we tend to overrate it. Harmony, serenity, [and] bliss do not come from struggle but from surrender.
The long voyage is not an escape but a quest. The man is seeking for a way to be of service to the world. Toward the end he realizes what his mission in life is—"it is to be a bridge of goodwill." Un homme de bonne volonté!
One takes up the path in order to become the path.
What they tried to convey to us, these luminaries, was that there is no need for all these laws of ours, these codes and conventions, these books of learning, these armies and navies, these rockets and spaceships, these thousand and one impedimenta which weigh us down, keep us apart, and bring us sickness and death. We need only to behave as brothers and sisters, follow our hearts not our minds, play not work, create and not add invention upon invention. Though we realize it not, they demolished the props which sustain our world of make-believe . . .
They changed worlds, yes. They traveled far. But standing still. Let us not forget that the road inward toward the source stretches as far and as deep as the road outward.
When you find you can go neither backward nor forward . . . when you are convinced that all the exits are blocked, either you take to believing in miracles or you stand still like the hummingbird. The miracle is that the honey is always there, right under your nose, only you were too busy searching elsewhere to realize it. The worst is not death, but being blind, blind to the fact that everything about life is in the nature of the miraculous.