In his book, ‘The Way of Zen,’ Alan Watts writes, “One must not forget the social context of Zen. It is primarily a way of liberation for those who have mastered the discipline of social convention, of the conditioning of the individual by the group. Zen is a medicine for the ill effects of this conditioning, for the mental paralysis and anxiety which come from extensive self-consciousness.”
Beloved Master, First, I don’t see any need to master social conventions to be ready for the way of Zen. On the contrary, trying to master dead, old rules shows stupidity. Why not drop them immediately?
Second, do you see Zen as a medicine for the ill effect of conditioning?
Whenever you are reading a book, remember the man who is writing it, because those words are not coming from the sky, they are coming from an individual mind.
Alan Watts was a trained Christian missionary. That training continues to affect his effort to understand Zen. And finally, when he came a little closer to Zen, the Christian church expelled him. That brought a crisis in that man’s life. He was not yet a man of Zen, and he had lost his credibility as a Christian. Under this stress he started drinking wine, became an alcoholic and died because of alcoholism. If you know this man you will understand why he is saying what he is saying.
His statement that “One must not forget the social context of Zen,” is simply saying something about himself – that if he had not forgotten the social context and remained a docile Christian, things would have been better. His interest in Zen, rather than bringing him freedom, brought him catastrophe. But Zen is not responsible for it; he could not go the whole way.
He tried somehow to make a Christian context for Zen. Neither did Christians like it, nor the men of Zen. They don’t need any Christian context; they don’t need any social context. It is an individual rebellion. Whether you are a Hindu or a Mohammedan or a Christian does not matter. Whatever load you are carrying, drop it. Whatever the name of the load, just drop it.
Zen is a deprogramming.
You are all programmed – as a Christian, as a Catholic, as a Hindu, as a Mohammedan… everybody is programmed. Zen is a deprogramming. So it does not matter what kind of program you bring; what kind of cage you have lived in does not matter. The cage has to be broken and the bird has to be released. There is no social context of Zen. Zen is the most intimate and the most individualistic rebellion against the collective mass and its pressure.
Alan Watts is not right. His understanding of Zen is absolutely intellectual. He says, “It is primarily a way of liberation for those who have mastered the discipline of social convention.” All nonsense. It has nothing to do with social convention. There is no need to master something which you have to drop finally. There is no point in wasting time. In other words, he is saying, “First, get into a cage, become a slave of a certain conventionality, a certain religion, a certain belief system, and then try to be free of it.”
He is simply showing his mind, unconsciously. He was encaged, and for years trained as a Christian priest. You can expel a Christian, but it is very difficult for the Christian to expel the Christianity that has gone deep into his bones, into his blood. He could not expel it, hence his advice for others who may follow: “It is primarily a way of liberation for those who have mastered the discipline of social convention, of the conditioning of the individual by the group.” Absolutely no.
It does not matter whether you are conditioned this way or that way. Conditioned fifty percent, sixty percent, or one hundred percent – it does not matter. From any point freedom is available. And you will have to drop it, so the less you are conditioned the better, because you will be dropping a small load. It is better if your cage is very small. But if you have a palace and an empire, then it is very difficult to drop it.
When Jesus asked the fishermen to drop their jobs and “come follow me,” they really dropped. There was nothing much to be dropped – just a fisherman’s net, a rotten net. A good bargain: dropping this net and following this man, you will enter into the kingdom of God. But when he asked the rich young man to drop everything and “come and follow me,” the rich man hesitated and disappeared into the crowd. The less you have, as far as conditioning is concerned, the easier it is to drop it.
And he is asking that first you should be conditioned by the group, and master the discipline of social convention. Strange… Do you have to become first a soldier just to get retired from the army? If you don’t want to fight, you don’t have to become a soldier. Why not be fresh? But he was not fresh.
He was contaminated by Christianity, and he hopes – according to his programming – that everybody first should be conditioned, chained, handcuffed, put into a jail, so that he can enjoy freedom one day. A strange way of experiencing freedom!
When you are free there is no need of being conditioned by any group, by any belief. There is no need. As you are, you are already too conditioned. Society does not allow their children to grow like the lilies in the field, pure, uncontaminated. They pollute them with all their conditionings, centuries old. The older the conditioning, the more precious it is thought to be.
And contradictorily… the second statement he makes: “Zen is a medicine for the ill effects of this conditioning.”
Zen is not a medicine. Zen is the explosion of health. Medicine is needed only by sick people, but health is needed by everyone – more health, a more juicy life. Zen is not a medicine; Zen is the inner explosion of your wholeness, your health, your ultimate immortality.
The questioner has said, “Beloved Master, first, I don’t see any need to master social conventions to be ready for the way of Zen” – you are right. ”On the contrary, trying to master dead, old rules shows stupidity” – you are again right. ”Why not drop them immediately?” That’s what Zen is asking you: “Why not drop it immediately? Why go part by part?”
I have told you a story in Ramakrishna’s life….
A man had gathered ten thousand golden rupees. And at that time, the rupee was really gold; the word ‘rupee’ simply means gold. And this was his desire – that one day when they were ten thousand, he would offer them to Ramakrishna, of course, to gain virtue in the other life. When small donations are given and people are getting great virtues… for ten thousand gold pieces you can purchase even God’s own house!
He went, dropped his bags of golden coins, and told Ramakrishna, “I want to offer them to you.
Please accept them.”
Ramakrishna was a strange man. Ordinarily, a traditional sannyasin would not have accepted.
He would have said, “I have renounced the world, I cannot accept.” But Ramakrishna was not a conventional type. He said, “Okay, I accept. Now do me a favor.”
The man said, “I am at your feet. Whatever you want.”
“Take all these coins to the Ganges” – which was just behind the temple where Ramakrishna lived – “and drop all the coins into the Ganges.”
The man could not believe it. “What kind of… ten thousand gold pieces?” But now he cannot say that this is not right, he has already lost possession of them. Now they belong to Ramakrishna, and Ramakrishna is saying, “Go and drop them. Just do me a favor.”
Hesitantly, reluctantly, the man went. Hours passed. Ramakrishna said, “What happened to that man? He should have come back within five minutes.”
So Ramakrishna sent a sannyasin to look for him….
The man had gathered a big crowd. He was first checking each golden coin on a stone, and then he would throw them one by one. And people were jumping into the Ganges and collecting, and it had become a great show, and the man was enjoying.
When informed, Ramakrishna said, “That man is an idiot. Just tell him: when you are collecting something you can count them, but when you are throwing, what is the point of wasting time? Just drop the whole load.”
Ramakrishna was, in a simple way, indicating that when you are dropping your conditioning, your mental conceptions, your beliefs, don’t drop by and by. They are all interconnected; drop them all. If you cannot drop them all in a single moment, you will not be able to drop them at all. Either now, or never.
Secondly, the questioner has asked, “Do you see Zen as a medicine for the ill effect of conditioning?”
I don’t see Zen as a medicine, because a medicine sooner or later becomes useless. When your cold is over, you don’t go carrying on with the Greek aspirin!
Mukta keeps them for everybody; she has taken the responsibility. By being Greek she has to carry Greek aspirins. And everybody knows, so whenever somebody needs one, they look for Mukta.
If Zen is a medicine, when you are cured, what will you do with Zen? You will have to throw it away, or give it to the Lions Club. But Zen cannot be thrown away, nor can it be given to the Lions Club. In the first place, there is not a single lion.
Zen is your very nature; there is no way of throwing it away. All that you can do with Zen is two things: you can remember, or you can forget. This is the only possibility. If you forget your nature, your buddhahood… this is the only sin in the world of Zen: forgetfulness.
Gautam Buddha’s last words on the earth have to be remembered: sammasati. Sammasati means right remembrance. His whole life is condensed into a single word, remembrance, as if on dying, he is condensing all his teachings, all his scriptures into a single word. Nobody has uttered a more significant word when dying. His last message, his whole message: sammasati, remember. And when you remember, there is no way to throw your consciousness away.
Zen is not a meditation. Zen is exactly sammasati – remembrance of your ultimateness, remembrance of your immortality, remembrance of your divineness, of your sacredness.
Remembering it, and rejoicing it, and dancing out of joy that you are rooted, so deeply rooted in existence that there is no way for you to be worried, to be concerned.
Existence is within you and without you – it is one whole.
From The Zen Manifesto: Freedom from Oneself, Discourse #4
Copyright© OSHO International Foundation