Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Ego Hallucination

The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human
beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity.
We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of
our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation
that "I myself" is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside
and bounded by the physical body—a center which "confronts" an
"external" world of people and things, making contact through the
senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of
speech reflect this illusion. "I came into this world." "You must face
reality." "The conquest of nature."

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the
universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all
other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not "come into" this
world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves,"
the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole
realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely,
if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be
true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of
themselves as isolated "egos" inside bags of skin.

The first result of this illusion is that our attitude to the world
"outside" us is largely hostile. We are forever "conquering" nature,
space, mountains, deserts, bacteria, and insects instead of learning to
cooperate with them in a harmonious order. In America the great
symbols of this conquest are the bulldozer and the rocket—the
instrument that batters the hills into flat tracts for little boxes made of
ticky-tacky and the great phallic projectile that blasts the sky.
(Nonetheless, we have fine architects who know how to fit houses into
hills without ruining the landscape, and astronomers who know that the
earth is already way out in space, and that our first need for exploring
other worlds is sensitive electronic instruments which, like our eyes,
will bring the most distant objects into our own brains.)(1) The hostile
attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all
things and events—that the world beyond the skin is actually an
extension of our own bodies—and will end in destroying the very
environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life

The second result of feeling that we are separate minds in an alien,
and mostly stupid, universe is that we have no common sense, no way of
making sense of the world upon which we are agreed in common. It's
just my opinion against yours, and therefore the most aggressive and
violent (and thus insensitive) propagandist makes the decisions. A
muddle of conflicting opinions united by force of propaganda is the
worst possible source of control for a powerful technology.

It might seem, then, that our need is for some genius to invent a new
religion, a philosophy of life and a view of the world, that is plausible
and generally acceptable for the late twentieth century, and through
which every individual can feel that the world as a whole and his own
life in particular have meaning. This, as history has shown repeatedly, is
not enough. Religions are divisive and quarrelsome. They are a form of
the "damned," the true believers from the heretics, the in-group from the
out-group. Even religious liberals play the game of "we're-more tolerant-
than-you." Furthermore, as systems of doctrine, symbolism, and
behavior, religions harden into institutions that must command loyalty,
be defended and kept "pure," and—because all belief is fervent hope,
and thus a cover-up for doubt and uncertainty—religions must make
converts. The more people who agree with us, the less nagging
insecurity about our position. In the end one is committed to being a
Christian or a Buddhist come what may in the form of new knowledge.
New and indigestible ideas have to be wangled into the religious
tradition, however inconsistent with its original doctrines, so that the
believer can still take his stand and assert, "I am first and foremost a
follower of Christ/Mohammed/Buddha, or whomever." Irrevocable
commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive
unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith
is, above all, open-ness—an act of trust in the unknown.

Alan Watts ~ "On the Taboo of Knowing Who You Are (pp.12-14)

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