This is an interesting, enjoyable and inspiring Q&A session with Alan Watts. It’s as enjoyable to listen to as to read so that’s why I did this transcription. The questions are not always audible but Alan’s answers are witty and worth it. The Q&A session begins at the 00:55 mark.
Alan Watts – So let us suppose I’m the patient and you are the students and the doctors. And I suffer from what you’d call a delusion that I’m God. And therefore you might wanna do something about me, or with me, or humor me or ask me questions. And so I’m perfectly willing to submit to your examination and your treatment. And invite you to help yourselves.
Question – When did you become God?
Alan Watts – Now.
Question – Will you marry me?
Alan Watts – No.
Question – Do you sleep on your stomach or your back?
Alan Watts – Sleeping is like politics. One sleeps on the right side, then when you’re tired of that you sleep on the left. When you’re tired of that you you sleep on your back; and when you’re tired of that you sleep on your stomach. And it is thus that the world goes around.
Question – If you’re God now what were you yesterday?
Alan Watts – Now.
Question – How can you become God?
Alan Watts – You don’t become God.
Question – Am I also a God?
Alan Watts – Yes.
Question – Are we the same person?
Alan Watts – No… Remember, three persons but one God.
Question – God, can you tell us a little bit about Satan?
Alan Watts – Could I tell you a little bit about Satan? Yes. Although the matter is a little esoteric. But I told you all about it in the book of Job. Where you will see that in the court of heaven, Satan is the district attorney. He’s not as Christians imagine, the enemy of heaven and the enemy of mankind. He’s merely the person, who sees the bad side of things and carries out the dirty work. And therefore, he saw Job and wondered whether Job really was as great guy as he seemed to be. And suggested that God should appoint a committee of investigation to find out. And the committee did its work very thoroughly but the case went against Satan. Because it was proven in the end that Job was an honorable man. Now you noticed that although we pay the salary of the district attorney whenever there’s a great criminal case before the public eye – people begin to take the side of the underdog. And the prosecutor always has less public sympathy, than the defense. Except in political trials. On the right hand of God, and you know the defense is always on the right hand of the judge in court. Is our only mediator and advocate, which is the phrase referring to Jesus Christ our Lord. So there is the defense and there is the prosecution. And it is the function of Satan to be the prosecutor. There is a good deal more to it than that because before all has started. Lies in a stage play there was an arrangement in the green room before coming on stage. In which, certain things were understood. But that are only to be revealed when the curtain goes down at the end of the play.
Question – Is Job God too?
Alan Watts – Yes, but he doesn’t know it.
Question – God, why do you hide from sight of so many?
Alan Watts – Why do you hide? It’s for the same reason you’re hiding.
Question – God, did you create man?
Alan Watts – Yes.
Question – And God?
Alan Watts – Who else?
Question – Does man have free will?
Alan Watts – Man has free will to the extent that he knows who he is. Not otherwise.
Question – Where did you get free will from?
Alan Watts – Where I got it from? (laughs)
Question – Do women have free will too?
Alan Watts – Yes, to the extent she knows who she is, yes.
Question – If man has free will on knowing just who he is and man is God. Then, you’re saying your no more than any other God in this room? Or any man.
Alan Watts – That’s correct, I’m no more God than any of you.
Question – Then you only have the power to know who you are?
Alan Watts – Well, that is saying quite a bit yes.
Question – What is not God?
Alan Watts – What is not God? There is nothing that is not God. And when you know your like everybody’s dream of the sultan and the paradise you suddenly notice there’s a button labeled ‘Surprise’. You push that – and here we are.
Question – How do you learn who you are.
Alan Watts – It’s like waking up from a dream. After a while once experiences begins to have a, what I would call “haven’t we been here before feeling?”. Going round and round and round. And then you begin wondering, where am I going? And to answer that question you have to try to find out what you want. And so I went into that very thoroughly, what do I want to happen? And of course as soon as you ask yourself that you begin to fantasize. And our amazing technology is of course an expression of human desire, desire for power – for what we want to achieve. So I simply set myself to thinking through how far we could go? And so I soon found myself at a great push-button place. Where I had a fantastic mechanism with buttons available for every conceivable thing I could wish. So I spent quite a bit of time playing with those. And science fiction wasn’t in it. You know you go “Going!” like that and here is Cleopatra. And so on you then press this button a symphonic music in a four channel sound. Ahmm, sixteen channel sound. Anything! You know all possible pleasures are available. And when you know your like everybody’s dream of the sultan and the paradise you suddenly notice there’s a button labeled Surprise. You push that – and here we are.
Question – Boredom problem?
Alan Watts – Yes, boredom is of course the problem. Boredom is the other side of creativity. And the energy of creation (Yang) has as its Yin side, the Yin side of that energy is called boredom. Everything of course is fundamentally Yang and Yin. If you understand that you really don’t need to understand anything else.
Question – As God, what responsibility do you feel to ameliorate the evil in the world?
Alan Watts – As God, what responsibility do I feel to ameliorate the evil in the world? I begin with the point that I’m responsible for the way the world is. If I couldn’t feel that then I’d blame somebody else. I’m not willing to do that. Because I know that under various changing circumstances it might be appropriate for me to be as bigger rascal as rascal has been. As to improving the world, the world is always improving. It may look to some people as slow. But it’s improving even as it is declining. Because the world works in an undulatory process. Like the wave, it goes up and it goes down, it goes up and it goes down. And it couldn’t go up all the time because if it did we wouldn’t know that was up. So it goes down some of the time so the we can know when it goes up because if we didn’t know when it went up it would be like being in a space – where everything was light. There would be nothing to write home about. There would be no black marks on the space and so it’ll be like a piece of perfectly empty paper. Similarly to be to be in a complete black space, would also be an unconsciousness with nothing to write home about. As nothing would ever make a difference. So therefore if your going to have black, you won’t know its black unless you have some white – and if you’re going to have white, you won’t know its white unless you have some black.
Question – Why do you teach us all to love one another? Because if we get to that point there won’t be any ups and downs – that happen anyway.
Alan Watts – Correct! But that’s not a teaching it’s a koan. A koan is Japanese word for a spiritual problem used in Zen Buddhism. Such as “What is the sound of one hand” and these problems are given to those who ask questions concerning their spiritual development. And sometimes as St. Paul pointed out commandments are not given in the expectation that they will be obeyed. But in the expectation that they will reveal something to those who hear them. That was St. Paul comment on the whole Mosaic law.
Question – If we accept that we try to se that we’re all God. Is there a heaven, is there a hell.
Alan Watts – The hereafter is of course here now. Because if you’ll examine it closely there is no when else than now. And if you want to make hell of it, you can make hell of it. If you want to make heaven out of it, you can make heaven of it. Purgatory, purgatory. It’s all here. Always was always will be.
Question – What is death?
Alan Watts – Death is an undulation in consciousness. How would you know if you were alive unless you’ve once been dead?
Question – If you’re saying your ways are the same as Jesus in the name of God. Why was it unnecessary for him to have material possessions and necessary for you?
Alan Watts – It wasn’t unnecessary for him to have material possessions. They said of St. John The Baptist that he was an ascetic but of Jesus consults with — and wine gibbers and comes eating and drinking. And when lady Mary poured precious ointment on his feet and anointed him. They said the same thing that the members of the vestry to the minister today “Why this great expense? Couldn’t it all be sold for much money and given to the poor?”.
Question – It is a problem
Alan Watts – It is a problem, sure. But you see, in many ways when you get down to these very deep ethical problem, where there sure is no easy decision one way or the other. You must look at the problem from the point of view of an artist. Which way of doing this, is in some sense greater? It may be better to go off with a bang than a with a whimper.
Question – Are you God all the time or conscious all the time?
Alan Watts – There is no time my dear it’s always now.
Question – During every event… in space time… every precise moment…?
Alan Watts – Yes if you put it that way of course.
Question – …Consciously God as an experiencing unit on this plane…
Alan Watts – Wait a moment. Consciously? Not necessarily. Because that would spoil the fun. If you press button Surprise, you’ll press the button so that you forget who you are.
Question – So you don’t always know of the answer to a given problem.
Alan Watts – Yes, that’s perfectly true. This is called in the Bible kenosis. In St. Paul’s epistle to the Philippians he says “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 grasped”. But humbled himself, made himself of no reputation and was found in fashion as a man and became obedient to death. And so you get from this the kenotic theory of creation. Held by some of the Greek fathers. That the creation of the universe is the self-emptying or the self-forgetting of the Godhead.
Question – How does your concept of the creation evolve so that man of critique comes from a buddhist is different from the story of the man beating his head to the wall so that he can feel how good it is to die?
Alan Watts – It’s really rather like it, because the universe is fundamentally a system which creeps up on itself and then says “BOOOH!”. And then it laughs at itself for jumping, and you see every time it does it, it forgets it did it before. So it never becomes a bore.
Question – Can you make yourself into a point of consciousness and travel around cosmos such as Dr. Lily was speaking of last night? In talking of —.
Alan Watts – Yes, but it’s not necessarily travel. (Re-reading the question “Can I make myself into a point of consciousness and travel around the cosmos, and see things from all sorts of places.”) Yes, but it isn’t necessarily travel, one is already there. In other words, I’m using your eyes, where you are. Like you’re using mine. Just in the same way my head is not my feet, it uses my feet. The head is very different from the feet. You couldn’t possible say the head and the feet are the same but they are one organism.
Question – They each have a soul.
Alan Watts – Two.
Question – What do you do about boredom?
Alan Watts – Press button ‘surprise’.
Question – Oh it’s always this?
Alan Watts – Always.
Question – You talk about boredom it seems to me at least in my own case, and in many people’s, that one of the biggest problems in life is being forced to earn a living in something which is what I’d rather not be doing. And I often wonder is the answer to move somewhere and live on less money and do the things that I’d like to do, or must I resign myself as many people have to? To do what I guess would be the bread and then in spare time try to make up. With as many days and weeks in a year… What is the answer?
Alan Watts – Well there are two sort of answers which you’ve already indicated. Which is to live with less and do what you want.
Question – …which one is that? You know those things… we sort of expect in life would not get done.
Alan Watts – I think the objection ‘if every one did that’ is rather like asking: What would happen if everybody wanted to catch the four o’clock train from Grand Central to Westport. Or if all the molecules of air in this room were suddenly to congregate over in that corner. There is a bare chance that might happen, but very low.
Question – Would you say we’re going around in circles trying to eliminate evil, because we never will and there might not be an evil…inaudible…playing games?
Alan Watts – Yes, we’re going around in circles but you see going around in circles as you may have observed by looking at the sky is what the universe is doing. You see, before…
Question – As long as we recognize we’re going in circles, we’re alright?
Alan Watts – Yes. That’s the thing it’s a dance and when you dance you don’t dance to get somewhere. Yes all right but when you wake up you turn the confusion into a dance and so I get back to your question “what is the alternative to clearing out of the job you’re doing and to say doing with less but having more fun”. Well there are ways of making almost any activity into a dance. Supposing you have to drive a bus in New York, which is a very harrowing job in the ordinary way. You must not take seriously anything about it. This is the first rule, that it doesn’t matter a damn if you get there on time. But it would be fun to go as fast as is consistent with safety and therefore you swing that bus and you play things with the horn, you take the whole thing lightly as if it is not serious. And because this is the nature, say in ritual, when you have a procession. Now people who don’t understand religion don’t know how to make the right kind of processions. There are those who go in military march and they don’t understand it because their objective is to get there. There are those who dawdle like ducks and they don’t understand because they are trying to be dignified. On the other hand there those who walk as if they had already arrived and this is the way kings walk. Because a king is the center and he’s always where it’s at. Where it’s at is where the king is by definition.
So if you work i this way even, I mean, people who are practicing meditation take up monotonous things for fun and meditation is supposed to be fun. I hope John Lilly told you that this morning.
Well you say you’re going to do “Om Mani Padme Hum” – you know you can really have a gas doing that. And so that anything monotonous can be treated in the same way. This is the way, one of the ways of overcoming boredom. Those boredoms are the great problem for energy. The energy is always on the go.
…Yes sir, the gentleman in the white shirt. Mythic? No mythic is a great word. (Can you repeat the question).
Question – Does it bother me to be called mythic?
Alan Watts – No. Myth is very powerful. Myth is fun. Myth is stories told stories told to children. Everybody loves them.
Question – Is God omniscient?
Alan Watts – Well, it depends on what you mean by the word. A lot of people think that omniscience is like knowing everything that’s in the Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s not omniscience, that’s the select intellectual elephantiasis.
Now you see, let me explain this question because it’s always important and when anybody that he or she is God. People say at once, well will you tell us in millimetres the height of Mont Blanc. When I say look it up in the encyclopedia it’s there. Thing is this, what we ordinary call knowledge is the translation of life into words. And that is a very cumbersome process. Because if we had to translate the process into words every time we took a breath we’d never get around to it. It takes so long to describe and think through the whole physiology of breath. Therefore we do it without thinking about it. And I find that I’m shining the stars in just the same way. I mean if you wanted it in words it’s going to take us a long time to get through them because words are strung out in a line.
Question – How do you, if you’re a God, how do you find such a difficulty in finding peace and tranquility in yourself.
Alan Watts – That’s because you’re looking for it away from the place in which you are. You are seeking it apart from the experience which you have at this moment. And you’re regarding that experience and saying that’s pretty lousy I’d like something better than that. But the trouble with that is that it splits you into two pieces. And once you’re split in two pieces you’re lost. Because you’ve made a difference between the experience you are now having on the one hand and yourself who’s having it on the other. And you wish you could get away from that experience, now the truth of the matter is you can’t because you are what you experience. It’s a myth, surely that there is some sort of experiencer who has the experience. You are what you know because it’s that I know something but there’s simply a process the knowing. You could say that knowing like the world has two poles like the north and the south, and so the knowing-ball has the knower and the known but only in that sense.
Now, knowing changes it changes itself. But if you try to stand outside it and change it it’ll be like standing outside your hand and trying to move your hand from outside. And so comes the difficulty. In other words this would be a difficulty for God in the press-button-surprise situation. Where you think you want something different from what you have. But if you do think that you’ve got to ask yourself the question “what is it that you really want?”. This is the most fundamentally important question, and you will find if you go into it very deeply that you have it.
Now, you may change your mind about it. But you do have what you want.
Question – God, if this place caught on fire I’d find myself so scared that I wonder if I’d also feel that I was God? And if I am God and scared, what do I do about that?
Alan Watts – Well, one of the ways of not being bored is to scare yourself. Don’t we all go to the movies just to be scared? We put some limits on it indeed before we go and say it’s a “well this isn’t really going to happen, it’s only a play or a movie”. And therefore while we see the safe outline of the proscenium arch back in the back of our minds as a sort of hintergedanke (German word meaning without any ulterior goals, as in nothing intended outside of the theatre stage or cinema screen) we know it’s only a play.
Question – I’m talking about what isn’t knowing.
Alan Watts – How do you you know it isn’t?