The Book – The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are – Alan Watts

The Book
The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are


Alan Watts

First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape
Ltd 1969 FACE

Preface and Chapter




THIS BOOK explores an unrecognized but mighty
taboo—our tacit

conspiracy to ignore who, or what, we really are.
Briefly, the thesis is

that the prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego
enclosed in a

bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with

science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of
the East—in

particular the central and germinal Vedanta philosophy of

This hallucination underlies the misuse of technology for
the violent

subjugation of man’s natural environment and,
consequently, its

eventual destruction.

We are therefore in urgent need of a sense of our own

which is in accord with the physical facts and which
overcomes our

feeling of alienation from the universe. For this purpose
I have drawn

on the insights of Vedanta, stating them, however, in a

modern and Western style—so that this volume makes
no attempt to be

a textbook on or introduction to Vedanta in the ordinary
sense. It is

rather a cross-fertilization of Western science with an
Eastern intuition.

Particular thanks are due to my wife, Mary Jane, for her

editorial work and her comments on the manuscript.
Gratitude is also

due to the Bollingen Foundation for its support of a
project which

included the writing of this book.

Sausalito, California ALAN WATTS

January, 1966



JUST WHAT should a young man or woman know in order to be

the know”? Is there, in other words, some inside
information, some

special taboo, some real lowdown on life and existence
that most

parents and teachers either don’t know or won’t tell?

In Japan it was once customary to give young people about
to be

married a “pillow book.” This was a small volume of
wood-block prints,

often colored, showing all the details of sexual
intercourse. It wasn’t just

that, as the Chinese say, “one picture is worth ten
thousand words.” It

was also that it spared parents the embarrassment of
explaining these

intimate matters face-to-face. But today in the West you
can get such

information at any newsstand. Sex is no longer a serious

Teenagers sometimes know more about it than adults.

But if sex is no longer the big taboo, what is? For there
is always

something taboo, something repressed, unadmitted, or just

quickly out of the corner of one’s eye because a direct
look is too

unsettling. Taboos lie within taboos, like the skins of
an onion. What,

then, would be The Book which fathers might slip to their
sons and

mothers to their daughters, without ever admitting it

In some circles there is a strong taboo on religion, even
in circles

where people go to church or read the Bible. Here,
religion is one’s own

private business. It is bad form or uncool to talk or
argue about it, and

very bad indeed to make a big show of piety. Yet when you
get in on

the inside of almost any standard-brand religion, you
wonder what on

earth the hush was about. Surely The Book I have in mind
wouldn’t be

the Bible, “the Good Book”—that fascinating
anthology of ancient

wisdom, history, and fable which has for so long been
treated as a

Sacred Cow that it might well be locked up for a century
or two so that

men could hear it again with clean ears. There are indeed
secrets in the

Bible, and some very subversive ones, but they are all so
muffled up in

complications, in archaic symbols and ways of thinking,
that Christianity

has become incredibly difficult to explain to a

person. That is, unless you are content to water it down
to being good

and trying to imitate Jesus, but no one ever explains
just how to do that.

To do it you must have a particular power from God known
as “grace,”

but all that we really know about grace is that some get
it, and some


The standard-brand religions, whether Jewish,

Mohammedan, Hindu, or Buddhist, are—as now

exhausted mines: very hard to dig. With some exceptions
not too easily

found, their ideas about man and the world, their
imagery, their rites,

and their notions of the good life don’t seem to fit in
with the universe as

we now know it, or with a human world that is changing so
rapidly that

much of what one learns in school is already obsolete on


The Book I am thinking about would not be religious in
the usual

sense, but it would have to discuss many things with
which religions

have been concerned—the universe and man’s place in
it, the mysterious

center of experience which we call “I myself,” the
problems of life and

love, pain and death, and the whole question of whether
existence has

meaning in any sense of the word. For there is a growing

that existence is a rat-race in a trap: living organisms,
including people,

are merely tubes which put things in at one end and let
them out at the

other, which both keeps them doing it and in the long run
wears them

out. So to keep the farce going, the tubes find ways of
making new

tubes, which also put things in at one end and let them
out at the other.

At the input end they even develop ganglia of nerves
called brains, with

eyes and ears, so that they can more easily scrounge
around for things to

swallow. As and when they get enough to eat, they use up
their surplus

energy by wiggling in complicated patterns, making all
sorts of noises

by blowing air in and out of the input hole, and
gathering together in

groups to fight with other groups. In time, the tubes
grow such an

abundance of attached appliances that they are hardly
recognizable as

mere tubes, and they manage to do this in a staggering
variety of forms.

There is a vague rule not to eat tubes of your own form,
but in general

there is serious competition as to who is going to be the
top type of tube.

All this seems marvelously futile, and yet, when you
begin to think about it,

it begins to be more marvelous than futile. Indeed, it
seems extremely odd. FACE


FACEIt is a special kind of enlightenment to have this
feeling that the

usual, the way things normally are, is odd—uncanny
and highly

improbable. G. K. Chesterton once said that it is one
thing to be amazed

at a gorgon or a griffin, creatures which do not exist;
but it is quite

another and much higher thing to be amazed at a
rhinoceros or a giraffe,

creatures which do exist and look as if they don’t. This
feeling of

universal oddity includes a basic and intense wondering
about the sense

of things. Why, of all possible worlds, this colossal and

unnecessary multitude of galaxies in a mysteriously
curved space-time

continuum, these myriads of differing tube-species
playing frantic

games of one-upmanship, these numberless ways of “doing
it” from the

elegant architecture of the snow crystal or the diatom to
the startling

magnificence of the lyrebird or the peacock? FACE


FACELudwig Wittgenstein and other modern “logical”
philosophers have

tried to suppress this question by saying that it has no
meaning and

ought not to be asked. Most philosophical problems are to
be solved by

getting rid of them, by coming to the point where you see
that such

questions as “Why this universe?” are a kind of
intellectual neurosis, a

misuse of words in that the question sounds sensible but
is actually as

meaningless as asking “Where is this universe?” when the
only things

that are anywhere must be somewhere inside the universe.
The task of

philosophy is to cure people of such nonsense.
Wittgenstein, as we shall

see, had a point there. Nevertheless, wonder is not a
disease. Wonder,

and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the
most important

things which seem to distinguish men from other animals,

intelligent and sensitive people from morons. FACE


FACEIs there, then, some kind of a lowdown on this
astounding scheme of

things, something that never really gets out through the
usual channels

for the Answer—the historic religions and
philosophies? There is. It has

been said again and again, but in such a fashion that we,
today, in this

particular civilization do not hear it. We do not realize
that it is utterly

subversive, not so much in the political and moral sense,
as in that it

turns our ordinary view of things, our common sense,
inside out and

upside down. It may of course have political and moral

but as yet we have no clear idea of what they may be.
Hitherto this inner

revolution of the mind has been confined to rather
isolated individuals;

it has never, to my knowledge, been widely characteristic

communities or societies. It has often been thought too
dangerous for

that. Hence the taboo. FACE


FACEBut the world is in an extremely dangerous situation,
and serious

diseases often require the risk of a dangerous
cure—like the Pasteur

serum for rabies. It is not that we may simply blow up
the planet with

nuclear bombs, strangle ourselves with overpopulation,
destroy our

natural resources through poor conservation, or ruin the
soil and its

products with improperly understood chemicals and
pesticides. Beyond

all these is the possibility that civilization may be a
huge technological

success, but through methods that most people will find

frightening, and disorienting—because, for one
reason alone, the

methods will keep changing. It may be like playing a game
in which the

rules are constantly changed without ever being made
clear—a game

from which one cannot withdraw without suicide, and in
which one can

never return to an older form of the game. FACE


FACEBut the problem of man and technics is almost always
stated in the

wrong way. It is said that humanity has evolved
one-sidedly, growing in

technical power without any comparable growth in moral
integrity, or,

as some would prefer to say, without comparable progress
in education

and rational thinking. Yet the problem is more basic. 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.” FACE


FACEThis 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

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.


FACEThe 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

symbols of this conquest are the bulldozer and 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

depends. FACE


FACEThe 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. FACE


FACEIt 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

one-upmanship because they depend upon separating the
“saved” from

the “damned,” the true believers from the heretics, the
in-group from the

out-group. Even religious liberals play the game of

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

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

New and indigestible ideas have to be wangled into the

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.”

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

An ardent Jehovah’s Witness once tried to convince me
that if there

were a God of love, he would certainly provide mankind
with a reliable

and infallible textbook for the guidance of conduct. I
replied that no

considerate God would destroy the human mind by making it
so rigid

and unadaptable as to depend upon one book, the Bible,
for all the

answers. For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to
point beyond

themselves to a world of life and experience that is not
mere words or

even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth,
books are not

life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper
currency. FACE


FACETherefore The Book that I would like to slip to my
children would

itself be slippery. It would slip them into a new domain,
not of ideas

alone, but of experience and feeling. It would be a
temporary medicine,

not a diet; a point of departure, not a perpetual point
of reference. They

would read it and be done with it, for if it were well
and clearly written

they would not have to go back to it again and again for

meanings or for clarification of obscure doctrines.


FACEWe do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need
a new

experience—a new feeling of what it is to be “I.”
The lowdown (which

is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is
that our normal

sensation of self is a hoax or, at best, a temporary role
that we are

playing, or have been conned into playing—with our
own tacit consent,

just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to
be hypnotized.

The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the
taboo against

knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of
your apparently

separate, independent, and isolated ego. I am not
thinking of Freud’s

barbarous Id or Unconscious as the actual reality behind
the façade of

personality. Freud, as we shall see, was under the
influence of a

nineteenth-century fashion called “reductionism,” a
curious need to put

down human culture and intelligence by calling it a fluky
by-product of

blind and irrational forces. They worked very hard, then,
to prove that

grapes can grow on thornbushes. FACE


FACEAs is so often the way, what we have suppressed and
overlooked is

something startlingly obvious. The difficulty is that it
is so obvious and

basic that one can hardly find the words for it. The
Germans call it a

Hintergedanke, an apprehension lying tacitly in the back
of our minds

which we cannot easily admit, even to ourselves. The
sensation of “I” as

a lonely and isolated center of being is so powerful

commonsensical, and so fundamental to our modes of speech

thought, to our laws and social institutions, that we
cannot experience

selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of
the universe. I

seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the
aeons of time—a

rare, complicated, and all-too-delicate organism on the
fringe of

biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into

sparkling, and multicolored drops that gleam for a moment
only to

vanish forever. Under such conditioning it seems
impossible and even

absurd to realize that myself does not reside in the drop
alone, but in the

whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to
the nuclear

fields in my body. At this level of existence “I” am
immeasurably old;

my forms are infinite and their comings and goings are
simply the

pulses or vibrations of a single and eternal flow of

The difficulty in realizing this to be so is that
conceptual thinking

cannot grasp it. It is as if the eyes were trying to look
at themselves

directly, or as if one were trying to describe the color
of a mirror in

terms of colors reflected in the mirror. Just as sight is
something more

than all things seen, the foundation or “ground” of our
existence and our

awareness cannot be understood in terms of things that
are known. We

are forced, therefore, to speak of it through
myth—that is, through

special metaphors, analogies, and images which say what
it is like as

distinct from what it is. At one extreme of its meaning,
“myth” is fable,

falsehood, or superstition. But at another, “myth” is a
useful and fruitful

image by which we make sense of life in somewhat the same
way that

we can explain electrical forces by comparing them with
the behavior of

water or air. Yet “myth,” in this second sense, is not to
be taken literally,

just as electricity is not to be confused with air or
water. Thus in using

myth one must take care not to confuse image with fact,
which would be

like climbing up the signpost instead of following the

Myth, then, is the form in which I try to answer when
children ask

me those fundamental metaphysical questions which come so
readily to

their minds: “Where did the world come from?” “Why did
God make

the world?” “Where was I before I was born?” “Where do
people go

when they die?” Again and again I have found that they
seem to be

satisfied with a simple and very ancient story, which
goes something

like this:

“There was never a time when the world began, because it

round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a
circle where it

begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes
round, and so the

world repeats itself again and again. But just as the
hour-hand of the

watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there
is day and night,

waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter.
You can’t

have any one of these without the other, because you
wouldn’t be able to

know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side
with white, or

white unless side-by-side with black.

“In the same way, there are times when the world is, and
times when

it isn’t, for if the world went on and on without rest
for ever and ever, it

would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and it goes.
Now you see it;

now you don’t. So because it doesn’t get tired of itself,
it always comes

back again after it disappears. It’s like your breath: it
goes in and out, in

and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you
feel terrible. It’s also

like the game of hide-and-seek, because it’s always fun
to find new

ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn’t
always hide in the

same place. “God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but
because there is nothing

outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But
he gets over

this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself.
This is his way of

hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and
all the people

in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the
rocks, and all the

stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful
adventures, some of

which are terrible and frightening. But these are just
like bad dreams,

for when he wakes up they will disappear.

“Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and
I, he does

it so well that it takes him a long time to remember
where and how he

hid himself. But that’s the whole fun of it—just
what he wanted to do.

He doesn’t want to find himself too quickly, for that
would spoil the

game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to
find out that we

are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But
when the game

has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop
pretending, and

remember that we are all one single Self—the God who
is all that there

is and who lives for ever and ever.

“Of course, you must remember that God isn’t shaped like
a person.

People have skins and there is always something outside
our skins. If

there weren’t, we wouldn’t know the difference between
what is inside

and outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape
because there

isn’t any outside to him. [With a sufficiently
intelligent child, I illustrate

this with a Möbius strip—a ring of paper tape
twisted once in such a

way that it has only one side and one edge.] The
inside and the outside

of God are the same. And though I have been talking about
God as ‘he’

and not ‘she,’ God isn’t a man or a woman. I didn’t say
‘it’ because we

usually say ‘it’ for things that aren’t alive.

“God is the Self of the world, but you can’t see God for
the same

reason that, without a mirror, you can’t see your own
eyes, and you

certainly can’t bite your own teeth or look inside your
head. Your self is

that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.

“You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of

people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease
and pain.

Remember, first, that he isn’t really doing this to
anyone but himself.

Remember, too, that in almost all the stories you enjoy
there have to be

bad people as well as good people, for the thrill of the
tale is to find out

how the good people will get the better of the bad. It’s
the same as when

we play cards. At the beginning of the game we shuffle
them all into a

mess, which is like the bad things in the world, but the
point of the

game is to put the mess into good order, and the one who
does it best is

the winner. Then we shuffle the cards once more and play
again, and so

it goes with the world.”

This story, obviously mythical in form, is not given as a

description of the way things are. Based on the analogies
of games and

the drama, and using that much worn-out word “God” for
the Player, the

story claims only to be like the way things are. I use it
just as

astronomers use the image of inflating a black balloon
with white spots

on it for the galaxies, to explain the expanding
universe. But to most

children, and many adults, the myth is at once
intelligible, simple, and

fascinating. By contrast, so many other mythical
explanations of the

world are crude, tortuous, and unintelligible. But many
people think that

believing in the unintelligible propositions and symbols
of their

religions is the test of true faith. “I believe,” said
Tertullian of

Christianity, “because it is absurd.”

People who think for themselves do not accept ideas on
this kind of

authority. They don’t feel commanded to believe in
miracles or strange

doctrines as Abraham felt commanded by God to sacrifice
his son Isaac.

As T. George Harris put it:

The social hierarchies of the past, where some boss above

always punished any error, conditioned men to feel a
chain of

harsh authority reaching all the way “up there.” We don’t
feel this

bond in today’s egalitarian freedom. We don’t even have,
since Dr.

Spock, many Jehovah-like fathers in the human family. So

average unconscious no longer learns to seek forgiveness
from a

wrathful God above.

But, he continues—

Our generation knows a cold hell, solitary confinement in

life, without a God to damn or save it. Until man figures
out the

trap and hunts… “the Ultimate Ground of Being,” he has
no reason

at all for his existence. Empty, finite, he knows only
that he will

soon die. Since this life has no meaning, and he sees no
future life,

he is not really a person but a victim of

“The Ultimate Ground of Being” is Paul Tillich’s

term for “God” and would also do for “the Self of the
world” as I put it

in my story for children. But the secret which my story
slips over to the

child is that the Ultimate Ground of Being is you. Not,
of course, the

everyday you which the Ground is assuming, or
“pretending” to be, but

that inmost Self which escapes inspection because it’s
always the

inspector. This, then, is the taboo of taboos: you’re

Yet in our culture this is the touchstone of insanity,
the blackest of

blasphemies, and the wildest of delusions. This, we
believe, is the

ultimate in megalomania—an inflation of the ego to
complete absurdity.

For though we cultivate the ego with one hand, we knock
it down with

the other. From generation to generation we kick the
stuffing out of our

children to teach them to “know their place” and to
behave, think, and

feel with proper modesty as befits one little ego among
many. As my

mother used to say, “You’re not the only pebble on the

Anyone in his right mind who believes that he is God
should be

crucified or burned at the stake, though now we take the
more charitable

view that no one in his right mind could believe such
nonsense. Only a

poor idiot could conceive himself as the omnipotent ruler
of the world,

and expect everyone else to fall down and worship.

But this is because we think of God as the King of the
Universe, the

Absolute Technocrat who personally and consciously
controls every

details of his cosmos—and that is not the kind of
God in my story. In

fact, it isn’t my story at all, for any student of the
history of religions will

know that it comes from ancient India, and is the
mythical way of

explaining the Vedanta philosophy. Vedanta is the
teaching of the

Upanishads, a collection of dialogues, stories, and
poems, some of

which go back to at least 800 B.C. Sophisticated Hindus
do not think of

God as a special and separate superperson who rules the
world from

above, like a monarch. Their God is “underneath” rather
than “above”

everything, and he (or it) plays the world from inside.
One might say

that if religion is the opium of the people, the Hindus
have the inside dope.

What is more, no Hindu can realize that he is God in

without seeing at the same time that this is true of
everyone and

everything else. In the Vedanta philosophy, nothing
exists except God.

There seem to be other things than God, but only because
he is

dreaming them up and making them his disguises to play

with himself. The universe of seemingly separate things
is therefore real

only for a while, not eternally real, for it comes and
goes as the Self

hides and seeks itself.

But Vedanta is much more than the idea or the belief that
this is so. It

is centrally and above all the experience, the immediate
knowledge of

its being so, and for this reason such a complete
subversion of our

ordinary way of seeing things. It turns the world inside
out and outside

in. Likewise, a saying attributed to Jesus runs: FACE

When you make the two one,
FACEwhen you make the inner as the outer

and the outer as the inner and the above as the below

then shall you enter [the Kingdom]….

I am the Light that is above

them all, I am the All,

the All came forth from Me and the All

attained to Me. Cleave a [piece of] wood, I

am there; lift up the stone and you will

find Me there.(3) FACE

FACEToday the Vedanta discipline comes down to us after
centuries of

involvement with all the forms, attitudes, and symbols of
Hindu culture

in its flowering and slow demise over nearly 2,800 years,

wounded by Islamic fanaticism and corrupted by British
puritanism. As

often set forth, Vedanta rings no bell in the West, and
attracts mostly the

fastidiously spiritual and diaphanous kind of people for

incarnation in a physical body is just too disgusting to
be borne.(4) But

it is possible to state its essentials in a present-day
idiom, and when this

is done without exotic trappings, Sanskrit terminology,
and excessive

postures of spirituality, the message is not only clear
to people with no special

interest in “Oriental religions”; it is also the very
jolt that we

need to kick ourselves out of our isolated sensation of

But this must not be confused with our usual ideas of the
practice of

“unselfishness,” which is the effort to identify with
others and their

needs while still under the strong illusion of being no
more than a skincontained

ego. Such “unselfishness” is apt to be a highly

egotism, comparable to the in-group which plays the game
of “we’remore-

tolerant-than-you.” The Vedanta was not originally
moralistic; it

did not urge people to ape the saints without sharing
their real

motivations, or to ape motivations without sharing the
knowledge which

sparks them.

For this reason The Book I would pass to my children
would contain

no sermons, no shoulds and oughts. Genuine love comes

knowledge, not from a sense of duty or guilt. How would
you like to be

an invalid mother with a daughter who can’t marry because
she feels she

ought to look after you, and therefore hates you? My wish
would be to

tell, not how things ought to be, but how they are, and
how and why we

ignore them as they are. You cannot teach an ego to be
anything but

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 a separate ego.
The consequences

may not be behavior along the lines of conventional
morality. It may

well be as the squares said of Jesus, “Look at him! A
glutton and a

drinker, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!”

Furthermore, on seeing through the illusion of the ego,
it is

impossible to think of oneself as better than, or
superior to, others for

having done so. In every direction there is just the one
Self playing its

myriad games of hide-and-seek. Birds are not better than
the eggs from

which they have broken. Indeed, it could be said that a
bird is one egg’s

way of becoming other eggs. Egg is ego, and bird is the
liberated Self.

There is a Hindu myth of the Self as a divine swan which
laid the egg

from which the world was hatched. Thus I am not even
saying that you

ought to break out of your shell. Sometime, somehow, you
(the real you,

the Self) will do it anyhow, but it is not impossible
that the play of the

Self will be to remain unawakened in most of its human
disguises, and

so bring the drama of life on earth to its close in a
vast explosion. 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

follow, says the myth, 4,320,000 years of total peace
during which the

Self is just itself and does not play hide. And then the
game 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 so

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.

Today we calculate the life of this planet alone in much

periods, but of all ancient civilizations the Hindus had
the most

imaginative vision of cosmic time. Yet remember, this
story of the

cycles of the world’s 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.

If, then, I am not saying that you ought to awaken from
the egoillusion

and help save the world from disaster, why The Book? Why

sit back and let things take their course? Simply that it
is part of “things

taking their course” that I write. As a human being it is
just my nature to

enjoy and share philosophy. I do this in the same way
that some birds

are eagles and some doves, some flowers lilies and some
roses. I realize,

too, that the less I preach, the more likely I am to be

(1) “I do not believe that anything really worthwhile
will come out of the

exploration of the slag heap that constitutes the surface
of the moon. . . . Nobody

should imagine that the enormous financial budget of NASA
implies that astronomy is

now well supported.” Fred Hoyle, Galaxies, Nuclei, and
Quasars. Heinemann

Educational, 1966.

(2) A discussion of the views of theologian Paul Tillich
in “The Battle of the

Bible,” Look, Vol. XIX, No. 15. July 27, 1965. p. 19.

(3) A. Guillaumont and others (trs.), The Gospel
According to Thomas. Collins,

1959. pp. 17-18, 43. A recently discovered Coptic
manuscript, possibly translated

from a Greek version as old as A.D. 140. The “I” and the
“Me” are obvious references

to the disguised Self.

(4) I said “mostly” because I am aware of some very
special exceptions both here

and in India.


see the

The Full



The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are


Alan Watts FACE

First published in Great
Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd 1969 FACE