The cosmic game of hide and seek; a brilliant introduction to parts of human philosophy grossly under-represented in Western society.

This book — which is a written account of some six lectures orated by Alan — is truly magnificent. It treats large ontological questions head-on from fascinating philosophical perspectives (Hinduism, Buddhish, and Zen) while simultaneously criticizing Western religious thinking. Alan has a likable wit in his words that make you so enormously excited to know more and to breathe a pleasant peace and joy in life.

Throughout this book I annotated disproportionately many phrases and paragraphs, considering its modest page count. There is just too much beautiful brilliance in here.

Part I: The nature of consciousness

Any good scientist knows that what you call the external world is as much you as your own body. Your skin doesn't actually separate you from the world — it's a bridge through which the world flows into you, and you flow into the world.

The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe. And that's why we feel alien to it, as if we were separate parts confronting the world.

[...] that's the whole nature of God. To play that he's not God. God abandons himself — he gives himself away and gets lost. In this way, everybody is the fundamental reality — not God in a politically kingly sense, but God in the sense of being the self. Deep down, you're all this basic reality, but you're pretending that you're not.

Your body is continuous with the total energy system of the cosmos. It's all you. But you're playing the game that you're this tiny, little bit of everything.

And yet we persist with our little, partial view: "No, I'm just something in this body. I'm just this ego." What a joke. The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention. It's like radar on a ship — it's a troubleshooter.

You can't give up desire. It's like telling someone to be unselfish or get rid of their ego or let go and relax. Why would you want to do all that? Only because you're trying to beat the game. Because you're still operating under the hypothesis that you are different from the universe, so you want to get one up on it. And competing with the universe just reveals that you don't understand that you are the universe. You still think there's a real different between self and other, but the two are mutually necessary, just like the poles on a magnet.

[...] gurus of all types tell you to know yourself, to look within, to find out who you really are, because the harder you look, the less you will find, and then you'll realize it was never there in the first place. There isn't a separate you. Your mind is what there is. It's everything. But the only way to find that out is to delve into the state of delusions as hard as possible.

Part II: The web of life

So if you're perfectly honest about loving yourself and don't pull any punches and don't pretend that you're anything other than exactly what you are, you suddenly come to discover that the self you love is the universe. You don't like all of it — you're still highly selective — but on the whole, you love yourself in terms of what is other. Because it's only in terms of what is other that you have a self at all.

In other words, the more you are engaged with the external world, the more you are enriched.

Part III: Inevitable ecstasy

The reason we die is to give us the opportunity to understand what life is all about, and we can only experience that when we let go, because it is only then that we come to a situation that the ego can't deal with.

In meditative consciousness, you will see that nothing is more important than anything else. And there is no such thing as wasting time, because what is time for except to be wasted? Just sit and do nothing. Meditation is the perfect waste of time.

Part IV: The world as just so

[...] bodhi in Sanskrit alludes to awakening from the illusion of being a separate ego locked up in a bag of skin.

[...] simply because they are attached to punctuality as a fetish. We spend an awful lot of energy trying to make our lives fit images of what life is or should be — images which our lives could never possibly match or fit. So Zen practice entails getting rid of those images.

When you first begin zazen — that is, sitting meditation — you don't do much other than count your breathing, maybe by tens, until your thoughts become more still. And Zen people don't close their eyes when they meditate, nor do they close their ears. They keep their eyes on the floor in front of them, and they don't try to force away any sounds that are going on or any smells or any other sensations whatsoever. They don't block any of that out. And as time goes on, they spend less time counting their breath and more time devoted to the koan assigned to them by the roshi — What is the sound of one hand clapping? Who were you before your father and mother conceived you? Does a dog have Buddha Nature? That sort of thing.

Now, this all takes differing periods of time. For some people, it only takes ten years.

Part V: The world as self

[...] moksha — liberation. Liberation from the hallucination that you are just some poor little me. It means to wake up from that kind of hypnosis and discover that you are something being done by this vast, incredible self that has no beginning, no end, neither continuation nor discontinuation — it's beyond all categorization whatsoever. As the Upanishads say, "It is not this, it is not that."

There's a famous Zen koan: "Before your father and mother conceived you, what was your original nature?"

Americans in particular are terrible at this. Everything you do is done for some serious reason — it's the Protestant conscience. But play is that which is done just for itself — for fun. And the self — atman, Brahman — exists for fun.

You have to work to survive, because you think you have to survive. But you don't have to. And this whole thing doesn't have to go on, which is why it does. I know that seems paradoxical, but think about it — life is full of examples of this. If I try to impress someone, I usually don't. If you try to too hard with anything, you usually make a mess of it. So the one self behind the world is engaged in play, which is why it is said that Brahman does not actually become the world — Brahman plays at being the world, which is distinct from working at it.

What does any group of people like to do when they don't have to do anything? As far as I can tell, people get together and do something rhythmic — they dance, sing, and play games.

We forget that trough implies crest, and crest implies trough. There is no such thing as pure sound — sound is sound/silence. Light is light/darkness. Light is pulsation — between every light pulse there is the dark pulse.

There are Egyptian inscriptions from 6000 BCE or so that describe the world as going hopelessly to the dogs. It seems this has always been the complaint.

[...] things get worse and worse as time goes on until the end of the kali yuga when Shiva puts on a black appearance with ten arms and dances a dance called the tandava, in which the whole universe is destroyed in fire.

So this involves certain ideas that are quite alien to the West. To begin with, the idea of the world as play. Our Lord God in the West tends to be overserious, and none of the famous Christian artists every painted Christ laughing or smiling. He's always this tragic figure who has this sort of look in his eye that says, "One of these days, you and I have to get together for a very serious talk."

[...] the guru's job is to show the inquirer in some effective way that they are already what they are looking for. In Hindu traditions, realizing who you really are is called sadhana, which means "discipline." Sadhana is the way of life that is necessary to follow in order to escape from the illusion that you are merely a skin-encapsulated ego.

[...] we are brought up in a social scheme that tells us we have to deserve what we get, and the price to pay for all good things is suffering. But all that is mere postponement. We are afraid here and now to see the truth. And if we had the nerve — you know, real nerve — we'd see it right away. But that's when we immediately feel that we shouldn't have nerve like that, because it would be awful. After all, we're supposed to feel like a poor little me who has to work and work and suffer in order to become something far away and great, like a Buddha or jivanmukta — someone who becomes liberated.

samadhi — the attainment of nondualistic consciousness.

vanaprastha — the person in Hindu society who has played the social game their entire life and now devotes themselves to self-discovery.

Part VI: The world as emptiness

[...] the Buddha proposed the Four Noble Truths: dukkha, trishna, nirvana, and marga.

The Japanese word yugen refers to subtle profundity, but it's also a way of digging change. It's described poetically — you feel yugen when you see, out in the distance, some ships hidden behind a far-off island. You feel yugen when you watch wild geese fly, then suddenly disappear in the clouds. You feel yugen when you look across at a mountain you've never been to before, and you see the sky on the other side. You don't go over there to look and see what's on the other side — that wouldn't be yugen. You let the other side be the other side, and it invokes something in your imagination, but you don't attempt to define it or pin it down.

Things vanish into the mystery. And if you try to pursue them, you destroy yugen.

They are liberated by the very fact of not being able to stop changing.

Death isn't terrible — it's just going to be the end of you as a system of memories. So you've got a great chance right before it happens to let go of everything, because you know it's all going to go, and knowing that will help you let go.

The dialectic method is perfectly simple and can be done with an individual student and teacher or with a group — you'd be amazed at how effective it is when it involves precious little more than discussion. The teacher gradually elicits from participants their basic premises on life — what their fundamental assumptions are. What is right and wrong? What is the good life? Where do you take your stand? And the teacher finds this out for each student and then demolishes it.

Nagarjuna continued on to teach that you must "void the void" — that is, you mustn't cling to the void. And so the void of nonvoid is the great state, as it were, of Nagarjuna's Buddhism.