Thus you got to make a move, which will put yourself out of your own control, into the control of a better.
If you don’t believe in the Christian kind of a God, you can believe in the Hindu kind of a God, who is your Inner Self.
You see, you got a lower self, which you can call your ego. That’s that little scoundrelous fellow, that’s always out for me. But behind the ego, there is the Atman; the Inner Self; the Inward Light, as Quakers would call it; the real Self, the Spirit, which is substantially identical with God!
So, you got to meditate in such a way that you identify with your Higher Self! Now, how do you do that? Well, you start by watching all your thoughts. Very carefully; watching your feelings; watching your emotions; so that you begin to build up a stance of separation; between the watcher, and what is watched. So that you are, as it were, no longer carried away by your own stream of consciousness. You remain the witness; impassively; impartially; suspending judgement; and watching it all go on.
That seems to be something like progress. At least you’re taking an objective view of what is going on; you are beginning to be in a position to control it by just “Wait a minute! Who is this Self behind the self… the watching Self… Can you watch that one?” It’s interesting if you do! Because you find out of course, that this is, just as the problem of Grace, is nothing more than a transposition of the first problem; “How am I to be unselfish… by my own power?” It becomes “How am I to get graced by my own power?”
So, in the same way, we find that the watching Self, or the observing Self behind all our thoughts and feelings, is itself a thought! That is to say: when the police enter a house in which there are thieves, the thieves go out from the ground floor to the first floor; when the police arrive on the first floor, the thieves have gone up to the second; and so to the third, and finally out to the roof. And so, when the ego is about to be unmasked, it immediately identifies with the Higher Self! It goes upper level. Because, the religious game is simply a refined and highbrow version of the ordinary game. “How can I outwit me? How can I one-up me?”
So, if I find, for example, that in the quest for pleasure, the ordinary pleasures of the world; food, sex, power, possessions; all this becomes a drag, and I think “No, it isn’t there”, so I go in for the arts; literature; poetry; music; and I absorb myself in those pleasures. And after a while, they aren’t the answer. So I go to psychoanalysis, you see? And then I found out, that’s not the answer. I go to religion. But I’m still seeking what I was seeking when I wanted candy bars! “I wanna get that goodie!” Only I see now, that’s of course it’s not gonna be a material goodie; all material goodies fall apart! Then maybe this is spiritual goodie that’s not gonna fall apart.
But in that quest… The quest is not different from the quest for the candy bar. Same old story. Only you’ve refined the candy bar, and made it abstract and holy and blessed and so on. So it is for the Higher Self; the Higher Self is your old ego; and you sure hope it is eternal; indestructible, and all-wise.
But then the great problem is, how to get that Higher Self working? Or how does it make any difference to what you do and what you think? I know all kinds of people who got this “Higher Self” going… practicing their yoga… But they’re just like ordinary people… Sometimes a little worse! And… they can fool themselves. They can say, for example, “Well, my point of view in religion, is very liberal; I believe that all religions have divine revelation in them, but I don’t understand the way you people fight about it! You fight. You say, ahm, that ‘We, Jehova’s witnesses have the real religion’. Others say, ‘Well, we Roman Catholics have it’, and the Muslims say ‘No, it is in the Quran, and this is the right way.’ And somebody else gets up, and he may be a rather highbrow Catholic and say ‘Well, God has given the Spirit through all the traditions, BUT; ours is the most refined and mature.’” And then somebody comes along and says “Well, as I said, they’re all, equally revelations of the Divine, and in seeing this, of course I’m much more tolerant than you are!”
Huh! You see? That how this game is gonna work? They architect this position. Supposing you regard me as some sort of a guru. And you know how gurus hate each other; and always putting each other down! And I could say, “Well, I don’t put other gurus down! See? That outwits all of them!
We were always doing that! We’re always finding a way to be one-up; and by the most incredibly subtle means…
So, you see that, you see? And you say, “I realize I’m always doing that! And tell me: How do I not do that?”
I say, “Why do you wanna know?”
“Well, I’d be better that way!”
“Yeah, but why do you wanna be better?”
You see, the reason you wanna be better, is the reason why you aren’t.
Shall I put it like that?
We aren’t better, because we want to be. Because the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Because, all the do-gooders in the world, whether they’re doing good for others, or doing it for themselves, are troublemakers. On the basis of “’Kindly let me help you, or drown!’ said the monkey, putting the fish safely up a tree.”
We, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, British, German, American, have been on a rampage for the past hundred or more years to improve the world! We have given the benefits of our culture, our religion, our technology, to everybody; except perhaps the Australian Aborigines. And we have insisted that they receive the benefits of our culture and even our political styles, our democracy. “You’d better be democratic! Or we’ll shoot you!” And having conferred these blessings all over the place, we wonder why everybody hates us! See, because sometimes doing good to others, and even doing good to oneself, is amazingly destructive. Because it’s full of conceit! How do you know what’s good for other people? How do you know what’s good for you? If you say, you wanna improve, then you ought to know what’s good for you. But obviously you don’t! Because if you did, you would be improved!
So, we don’t know. It’s like the problem of geneticists, which they face today. I went to a meeting of geneticists not so long ago, where they gathered in a group of philosophers and theologians and said “Now look here; we need help! We, now, on the verge of figuring out how to breed any kind of human character we would wanna have, we can give you saints, philosophers, scientists, great politicians… anything you want; just tell us, what kind of human beings ought we to breed?” So, I said, “How will those of us who are genetically unregenerate make up our minds what genetically generate people might be? Because I am afraid, very much, that our selection of virtues, may not work! It may be like, for example, this new kind of high-yield grain which is made, and which is becoming ecologically destructive. When we interfere with the processes of nature and breed efficient plants and efficient animals, there’s always some way in which we have to pay for it. And I can well see, that eugenically produced human beings might be dreadful! We could have a plague of virtuous people! [Laughter] Do you realize that? Any animal, considered in itself, is virtuous; it does its thing; but in crowds, they’re awful! Like a crowd of ants, or locusts on the rampage; they’re all perfectly good animals, but it’s just too much! I could imagine a perfectly pestiferous mass of a million saints! [Laughter] So I said to these people, “Look, if there’s anything you can do, just be sure that a vast variety of human beings is maintained. Don’t please breed us down to a few excellent types. Excellent for what? We never know how circumstances are gonna change, and how our need for different kinds of people, changes. At one time, we may need very individualistic and aggressive people; at another time we may need very cooperative, team-working people; at another time we may need people who are full of interest in dexterous manipulation of the external world; at another time we may need people who explore into their own psychology and are introspective. There is no knowing. But the more varieties and the more skills we have, obviously, the better.
Alan Watts transcribed by Leon Hieros