Forward to The Knee of Listening – Alan Watts

The Foreward to the Knee of Listening

Alan Watts


by Alan Watts:

Although I do not know Franklin Jones [now Adi Da] personally, what he says, and says very well, is something that I have been trying to express for thirty-five years, but which most people seem quite reluctant to understands if it were too good to be true. The point, with which Krishnamurti and the ancient Chinese Zen masters also agree, is that there is no progressive method by which the liberated and awakened state (moksha) can be attained. This state of being and consciousness has innumerable names, mystical experience, enlightenment, self-realization, cosmic consciousness, union with God, not to mention Sanskrit, Chinese, and Arabic equivalents but none of them are satisfactory because it is altogether beyond words. Striving after this state blocks the understanding that it is already present, as does also a kind of purposive not-striving.

There are, for example, those who try to live completely in the present, the Eternal Now, by attempting to be fully concentrated on what is at this moment as in the Theravada Buddhist satipatthana discipline or Gurdjieff’s “self remembering.” I am not quarreling with this. Franklin Jones also tried many methods. But all along it should have been obvious that all consciousness, all experience, is of nothing else than the eternal present. Memories of the past and anticipation’s of the future exist only now, and thus to try to live completely in the present is to strive for what is already the case. This should be clear to anyone. The same principle applies to striving for nirvana or union with God by means of so-called spiritual exercises. There is no actual necessity for a road or obstacle course to that which IS.

But there are two main reasons for the persistent attachment to spiritual methods. The first is that, being ignorant of what we have and are now, we look for it in the future, and therefore can be beguiled by all those gurus who pick our pockets and sell us our own wallets. They promise marvelous states of consciousness, ecstasies, psychic powers, and transportation to other levels of being. So what? If you were managing the entire universe which in one sense you are it would be absolutely necessary for it to appear that a lot of things were out of control. Does the ventriloquist want to dine every night with only his dummy?

The second is the beguilement of spiritual pride, which is also the same thing as a sense of guilt. “I am not worthy to attain this exalted state unless I have suffered, unless the teacher has beaten me, unless I have sat in a cold, dark cave for three years, or practiced zazen with my legs aching for hours.” Anyone silly enough to think this way deserves all the pains he must endure. Nothing is more ostentatious than deliberate humility, nor more egocentric than projects to get rid of egotism. These are strong words, but not uttered in a spirit of condemnation, for those who undertake such projects may, by so doing, realize very clearly that they are futile. But then they may return as gurus thinking that this is the only way to realize the futility of spiritual ambition, and then “lay their trip” upon others without asking themselves, “Is this trip really necessary?”

As I read Franklin Jones especially the Epilogue, which is worth the price of the book he has simply realized that he himself as he is, like a star, like a dolphin, like an iris, is a perfect and authentic manifestation of the eternal energy of the universe, and thus is no longer disposed to be in conflict with himself. Dangerous wisdom and yet fire, electricity, and technical knowledge are also dangerous. But if you genuinely know this, it is nothing to be proud of nor humble about. It is just what is so, and there is absolutely no necessity to parade it by defying social conventions, on the one hand, or by coming on as one who is extremely holy, on the other. The hapless Rasputin was, perhaps, an example of the first case, and Meher Baba of the second though he had a jolly face and a lively twinkle in the eye.

It should be understood that none of this is to say that one should not practice yoga or any other type of meditation. I myself use some of these disciplines, not to attain anything in terms of spiritual rank, but simply to enjoy them, as if I were playing a musical instrument or preparing a Chinese dinner.

Now to say what Franklin Jones is trying to say is like drawing an asymptotic curve a curve which is always getting nearer and nearer to a straight line, but only touches it at infinity. Perhaps it could be said that his curve is approaching it a little faster than some others, knowing, however, that there is no hurry. Beyond words, in the silencing of thought, we are already there.

Rancho Saucelito, California.

April, 1973

Knee of Listening

Read how Alan Watts came to write the Foreward.