Chapter 1 – Inside Information

We suffer from a hallucination that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by a physical body which “confronts an “external world”.

Language supports the illusion: “I came into this world” “You must face reality”

Our individual and social malaise derives from the way we feel and conceive of ourselves, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity.

But says Watts,
-We do not come into the world, we come out of it, like leaves from a tree. Every individual is an expression of the whole reality of nature, a unique action of the total universe… but we don’t normally experience it this way.

Results of the illusion of separateness:

-attitude to world outside ourselves is largely hostile;  we must ‘conquer’ nature, rather than live with it, ignoring the interdependence of everything and that the world “outside” is really an extension of our bodies.
– we have no “common” sense of the universe, that we all can agree on.

Do we need a new religion?  Heck No!  Religions are divisive, us against them.  “Faith” is intellectual suicide, closing the mind to new ideas.

What we need are not new ideas but a new experience, a new sense of what it is like to be “I”.

 

Our normal sensation of self is a role we temporarily play.  We are socialized into this role and it is, says Watts, the strongest of taboos to acknowledge that there is no “I” as an independent center.

[I would point out that the notion of individual responsibility is central to the functioning of our society.  People do use the “insanity plea” in cases of murder etc,   but arguing that “I” doesn’t really exist so I couldn’t have murdered that little girl might be a problem.  I don’t know if Watts addressed such an issue. I’m sure he could, because I think he is right.  In the world he envisions where we all experienced our bigger selves maybe hierarchy, inequality, bigotry and so on would vanish and even murder- someone should used this as the basis of a story].

In any event Watts says that we are conditioned by society to experience existence as a lonely and isolated center of being, even though we have a nagging suspicion in the back of our minds that it is conditioning, a form of hypnosis.

We are so thoroughly conditioned that you can only hint at the bigger picture through myth.  On pp 14-16 he talks about the myth that we are God playing hide and seek with himself.  God or the universe temporarily pretends to be independent beings as a sort of amusement, the way we might take a role in a play. If you ask why god sometimes hides in the form of murderers or alternatively people suffering, according to the myth this makes the game more interesting, for without the bad there can be no good.  If everything were peaceful and orderly there would be no impetus for action,  nothing to fight for  [that’s a bit ironic, no? the original premise was that our conditioning deludes us intro seeing the world as a hostile place to be conquered, but here we are saying that nastiness is designed into the game to make it more interesting.]

[I have always been amazed the way talented actors can just become other people.  So maybe we are all just actors, as the Bard told us]

“God is the Self of the world but you can’t see god for the same reason that you can’t (without a mirror) see your own eyes or bite your own teeth.”  You are god hiding from himself (herself, itself?)

Watts notes that even people who don’t subscribe to a Judeo christian perspective have replaced god as a deity with a colder scientific version of the same thing.

Watts notes that the “god” in his myth is not the Judeo christian god, King of the Universe, the “absolute technocrat who personally and consciously controls every detail of his cosmos.”  The god in the myth derives from the Hindu Vedanta, not a supreme ruler but the essence of everything: “nothing exists except god”, there only appears to other things because god is dreaming them up for the hide and seek game.

“You cannot teach an ego to be anything other than egotistic, even though egos have the subtlest ways of pretending to be reformed.  The basic thing is therefore to dispel, by experiment and experience, the illusion of oneself as as a separate ego.”

 

Summary:
Our experience of existence as an ego,  a separate little person living behind our eyes in the control room of our mid is an illusion

Epilogue
This myth described in Chapter 1 has for some reason stuck in my memory from my first reading of The Book some fifty years ago (yikes):

“Another Hindu myth says that as time goes on, life in the world gets worse and worse, until at last the destructive aspect of the Self, the God Shiva, dances a terrible dance which consumes everything in fire.  There follows, says the myth, 4,320,00 years of total peace during which the Self is just itself and does not play hide.  And then the great games begins again, starting off as a universe of perfect splendor which begins to deteriorate only after 1,728,000 years, and every round of the game is designed that the forces of darkness present themselves for only one third of the time, enjoying at the end a brief but quite illusory triumph.”

 

Watts continues:

“Today we calculate the life of the planet along in much vaster periods. but of all the ancient civilizations the Hindus had the most imaginative vision of cosmic time. Yet remember, this story of the cycles of worlds appearance and disappearance is myth, not science, parable rather than prophecy. It is a way of illustrating the idea that the universe is like the game of hide and seek.”