Starving on eating menus
Among recent downloads have been talks by the late Alan Watts. Watts, who died in 1973, was a great popularizer of Zen Buddhism in America.
You can listen to many of his lectures here.
A week ago, as I was running on the treadmill, I heard Watts say the following. The fact that I was on a treadmill at the time of hearing this was purely co-incidental and, frankly, weird. As you will see, Watts speaks of the Westerner’s need for control systems. What greater control system is there than the treadmill?
Anyway, here’s what he said:
The assumption of Judeo-Christian culture is that man in his nature is sinful, and therefore can’t be trusted. The assumption of ancient Chinese culture is that man in his essential nature is good and therefore has to be trusted. They say to us, if you can’t trust your own basic nature, you can’t really rely on the idea that you are untrustworthy. And therefore you are hopelessly fouled up.
This different assumption has amazing political and other consequences. If we say, no, we human beings are fallible and basically selfish and really, really fundamentally evil, we need law and order. We need a control system to put us in order. And then we project these control systems into the church or into the police or into somebody, who are really ourselves, disguised.
It’s like daylight savings time. Everybody could simply get up and hour earlier, but instead of doing that, we alter the clock because the clock is a kind of authority. We say, well, the clock says it’s time for us to get up. The Ameri-Indians laugh at the pale faces because the pale face doesn’t know he is hungry until he looks at his watch.
And so in this way we become clock-dominated. And the abstract system takes over from the physical organic situation.
And this is my big pitch, if I’m going to make a big pitch: We’ve run into a cultural situation where we have confused the symbol with the physical reality, the money with the wealth and the menu with the dinner.
And we are starving on eating menus....