The State of Nothing Lecture by Alan Watts
If you are aware of a state called is, or reality, or life, this implies a state called isn’t. Or illusion, or unreality, or nothingness or death. You can’t know one without the other. And so as to make life poignant, it’s always going to come to an end, that is don’t you see what makes it lively. Liveliness is change it is motion, and motion is going to fall out and be gone. You see, you are always at the place you always are..[Laughs] Except it keeps appearing to change. And you think wowie we’ll get that thing. I hope we don’t go further down so that we don’t lose what we have. But that’s built into every creature’s situation or matter how high or how low. So is this sense, all places are the same place. And the only time you ever notice any difference is the moment of transition. When you go up a bit you gain, when you go down a bit you feel disappointed, gloom, lost. You can go all the way down to death. Somehow, there seems to be a difficultly getting up. Death sees so final. Nothing seems so very very very irrevocable and permanent.
Then if it is, what about the nothingness before you started. So don’t you see, what we’ve left out of out logic and this is part of the game rule to the game we are playing. The way we hoodwink ourselves is by attributing powerlessness with nothingness.
We don’t realize that is a complete logical fallacy. It takes nothing to have something. You wouldn’t know something without nothing. You wouldn’t know what the form is, without the background space. You would’t be able to see anything unless there was nothing behind your eyes. Now imagine yourself with an anestical eye, and you can see all round. Now whats in the middle? Even if I have all this behind me within view suddenly I will find there is something in the middle of it all and there is a hole of reality. Like now there seems to be wall, not so much a whole, but you see if I was an animal that had eyes in the back of its head. You could feel the sensation I’m describing.
Now you may say to me, now that’s all a bunch of wishful thinking, because when your dead your dead! Now wait a minute, what is that state of consciousness that talks that way? This is somebody saying something that wants to make a point, but what kind of point are they trying to make? When your dead your dead see. Well that’s one of the people that want to rule the world. That’s what frightening about death. Death is real. No indulge in wishful thinking, all you people who dream of an afterlife, and heavens and gods and mystical experiences, and eternity. You are just wishy washy people, you don’t face the facts!
What facts? How can I face the fact of nothing. Which is by definition not a fact. All this is toddle whatever way you look at it. So if you really go the how way and see how you feel at the prospect of vanishing forever. Of all your efforts, and all your achievements, and all your attainments turning into dust and nothingness. What is the feeling? What happens to you?
Is a curious thing, that in the world’s poetry, this is a very common theme. “The earthly hopes men set their hearts upon turns ashes, and or it prospers, a non like snow settles on the desert dusty face lighting an hour or two and is gone” All kinds of poetry emphasize the theme of transcendence. There is a kind of nostalgic beauty to it. "The Banquet Hall deserted, after the revelry, all the guests had left and gone on their ways. The table with overturned glasses, crumbled napkins, bread crumbs , and dirty knives and forks lies empty. And the laughter echoes only in one’s mind. And then the echo goes, the memory, the traces are all gone. That’s the end you see."
Do you see in a way, how that is saying the most real state is the state of nothing? That’s what it’s all going to come to. With these physicists who think of the energy of the universe as running down dissipating into radiation, and gradually and gradually, and gradually, gradually, until there is nothing left.
And for some reason, we are suppose to find that depressing. But if somebody is going to argue that the basic reality is nothingness. Where does all this come from? Obviously from nothingness. Once again you get how this looks behind your eyes. So cheer up you see, this is what is meant in Buddhist philosophy by saying ‘we are all basically nothing.’
When the Six Patriarch says “the essence of your mind is intrinsically pure”. The pure doesn’t mean a ‘non dirty story state of mind’ as is it apt to mean in the word Puritan. Pure means “clear “ void. So you know the story when the Six Patriarch was given his office to his successor. Because he was truly enlightened. There was a Poetry contest. And the losing one wrote the idea that the mind, the consciousness was like a mirror.
So I’m detached, calm, and pure headed. Buddha-ed. But the one who won the contest said there is no mirror, and the nature of mind is intrinsically void. So where is there anywhere for dust to collect? See so in this way, by seeing that nothingness is the fundamental reality, and you see it’s your reality. Then how can anything contaminate you? All the idea of being scared, and it’s nothing it just a dream. Because your really nothing. But this is most incredible nothing. All the Six Patriarch went on to contrast that emptiness of indifference. Which is sort of blind emptiness. See if you think of this idea of nothingness as blankness, and you hold onto this idea of blankness then kind of grizzly about it, you haven’t understood it. Nothingness is really like the nothingness of space, which contains the whole universe. All the sun and the stars and mountains, and rivers, and goodmen and bad men, and the animals, and insects, and the whole bit. All are contained in void. So out of this void comes everything and you it. What else could you be?"