Tag Archives: Enlightenment

The Book – Alan Watts

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Reading Alan Watts always leaves me feeling like a tangled snarl of string. He begins with a compelling premise, elucidates his considerable thinking on the matter, amplifying his views with quotes from poets like William Blake and from various scriptures and sacred writings. And, by the end of the argument, I have followed him down into a place where the light is either too faint or too glaring for me to see properly. I can’t get to the end of the lesson. Mostly there doesn’t seem to be an end—which is probably what he meant anyway.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is typically brilliant, ahead of its time and infinitely frustrating. Watts examines the social conditioning that teaches us we are separate beings in a physical world of distinct objects and boundaries. He counters this assumption with a mash-up of Vedanta and contemporary physics to assert that our personal selves don’t actually exist. Well, they don’t actually exist as independent beings, disconnected from everything else. We are, in fact, entirely interconnected—as much to the city bus as to the irritating dolt in the next cubicle. And to Mother Theresa and Oprah and all of our friends and to every river, cucumber, butterfly and star.

If your life is a bowl of cherry pits, the collective unconscious, including your own unconscious, created that for your awareness. Or possibly you perceived those pits from the specific level of your own awareness. Sigh.

Some of the most fascinating ideas in Watts’ book (first published in 1966) are his evaluations of the limits of technology and the damage we are doing to the planet with extraordinary depletion of its resources—all because we don’t realize that we are both divine energy and the ground of the universe. We are the creators and to wander around deluded about that is to be unhappy and dissatisfied and to make a complete muck of life.

Nearly half a century ago, Watts was warning about the loss of privacy, technology creep, the eventual restriction of travel, artificially-created foods, the destruction of the environment and the standardization that transforms Waikiki Beach into any island beach anywhere—or maybe an especially theatrical resort pool area far from a real ocean. Wonder what he would have had to say about reality TV?

The monetization of work exhausts you and turns you and your product/service/labor/innovation into cheap commodities. This holds for burger jockeys as well as architects, scientists, housemaids and oil paint slingers (otherwise known as artists). The twin skills of attention and awareness can reveal glimpses of your true nature. We need to acknowledge the existence of magic in the world because, at its heart, all of this is a mystery and there are no words that can adequately capture it, no philosophy that can serve it up to us in neat digestible bits.

I wish I could get a solid handle on the brain of Alan Watts. I think he is right and intellectually dazzling but what the words represent is elusive. I agree we are deluded—I am deluded. But my simple soul would do cartwheels at some graspable notion of how to wake up. Clearly, I will have to read The Book again.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are   Alan Watts | Vintage Books  1989

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription – Deepak Chopra

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The Ultimate Happiness Prescription was the thinnest book on the stack so it bumped the 400, 500 and 900+ page monsters aside. Deepak Chopra rides to the rescue on a day hijacked by too much real life. Good message for the frazzled, in any case. The book explores spiritual and neurological dispositions toward emotional equanimity and follows each of seven keys (Deepak Chopra likes to write self-help books in lists of seven) with some simple steps to move your happiness set point up on the scale.

It’s quite sensible, not very woo-woo at all. Body awareness provides clues to how you really feel about events, circumstances and decisions. Chopra examines the interrelatedness of matter, the energy field consisting of the entire universe and you in it, as he tells you to pay attention to what you feel and where in the body you feel it. Stress affects certain areas, anger and fear others—by bringing awareness to physical feelings you can mitigate and even heal what might be making you unhappy, or unwell.

There’s a very good section on being present in the moment. Nothing new about the teaching—it is thousands of years old—but it is a powerful catalyst for change. The point is that happiness can only exist in the moment because the past is over and the future does not yet exist. That seems obvious but we cart around so much baggage that we seldom devote full awareness and appreciation to the present. Chopra recommends a mindfulness practice to increase present-moment awareness. He emphasizes the benefits of meditation as well.

I tend to like Chopra’s audio and video lectures more than his books. Those events seem to treat subjects in greater depth than the slim, nicely laid-out books. But The Ultimate Happiness Prescription is worth the relatively short amount of time it takes to read it and probably worth a few re-reads, too. The activities Chopra suggests and the points he makes apply to every type of self-improvement effort. In the end, he delivers an introduction to the quest for enlightenment—not some exalted mystical state but a better, saner, more intelligent and, well, happier way to live in this world.

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment   Deepak Chopra | Harmony Books 2009

On Right Livelihood – J. Krishnamurti

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“Is it not necessary,” Krishnamurti writes, “for each one to know for himself what is the right means of livelihood? If we are avaricious, envious, seeking power, then our means of livelihood will correspond to our inward demands and so produce a world of competition, ruthlessness, oppression, ultimately ending in war.” That statement dates from 1944, even though it sounds like a cogent observation of the moment.

On Right Livelihood is a collection of J. Krishnamurti’s talks, writing and conversations about how to find what we are meant to do for a living. But it is really an exploration of the motives of the human heart and how to balance economic necessity with moral integrity.

Krishnamurti was a spiritual teacher aligned with no particular teaching or organization. He brought a deep knowledge of eastern spiritual tradition to western audiences but his message was one of inner silence, environmental awareness, individual responsibility and world peace.

His wasn’t an easy prescription to follow. An absence of ambition and indifference to material success reads like the road to nowhere in our society. We are conditioned to create hierarchies—the CEO is worth millions more than the chef, the financial advisor is revered and compensated, the farmer is impoverished and loses his land. Whose children go to college? Where is the honor in simple labor? How do we hear the calling of our true vocation in this clamor?

Krishnamurti preached non-duality and freedom. We are at once who we are and what we do, he said. We embody our beliefs. Once we learn to set aside society’s thought shackles about struggle and success, we can be truly free.

I read this book with one eye on our dwindling finances, one on the news about the little shop of horrors that passes for political discourse these days. Talk about jobs and joblessness, about the 1% who own all the money and the rest of everyone who are cast in the role of collateral damage, is repetitive and cheap. Our civilization is beyond broken, our planet is in a shambles, our leadership should be set adrift in space, maybe with the titans of industry to keep them company. But sweeping away the mess won’t bring us any closer to Krishnamurti’s vision.

His book speaks to educated people who are not captive of ideologies, convinced of their own superiority and entitlement or blind to the inherent bleakness and exploitation of consumer-capitalism. Maybe not so many people. Education is a failure system that trains compliant cubicle workers and coddles the privileged through universities that supply little more than vocational training. People learn how not to think, how to avoid painful truths, how to fill chasms of emptiness with stuff, frantic schedules and all things superficial. Krishnamurti’s advice is timeless but it seems almost too challenging for our times.

“How am I to live sanely in this world that is insane?” he asks. “To live in this insane world sanely, I must reject that world and a revolution in me must come about so that I become sane and operate sanely. That’s my whole point.”

Good point. Add: Get a Life to the to-do list. Figure out how to pay the escalating grocery bill with the proceeds from honorable and valuable work. Identify what honorable and valuable work means these days. Meditate to experience inner peace. Respect the integrity of the planet. Read more books. Refrain from manufacturing or selling weapons. And stop using plastic bags.

On Right Livelihood     J. Krishnamurti | HarperSanFrancisco   1992