The Religion of No-Religion
Alan Watts
Tuttle Publishing, Boston, Massachusetts (USA), 1995
98 pages

In order to introduce Buddhism, it is necessary to remember the whole background of the worldview of India and study Indian cosmology, just as you would have to study the Ptolemaic cosmology and worldview in order to understand Dante and much of medieval Christianity. The Hindu cosmology and view of the universe has come into Japanese life through Buddhism, but it antedates Buddhism. Buddhism simply adopted it as a matter of course, just as you would probably adopt the cosmology of modern astronomy if you invented a new religion today.

Human beings have had three great views of the world. One is the Western view of the world as a construct or artifact, by analogy with ceramics and carpentry. Then there is the hindu view of the world as a drama, looked at as a play. Third is the organic Chinese view, looking on the world as an organism, a body. But the Hindu view sees it as a drama, or simply that there is what there is, and always was, and always will be, which is called the self; in Sanskrit, atman. Atman is also called brahman, from the root bri: to grow, to expand, to swell, related to our word breath. Brahman, the self in the Hindu worldview, plays hide-and-seek with itself forever and ever. How far out, how lost can you get? According to the Hindu idea, each one of us is the god-head, getting lost on purpose for the fun of it. And how terrible it gets at times! But won't it be nice when we wake up? That's the basic idea, and I've found that any child can understand it. It has great simplicity and elegance.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, pp. 1-2)

Where are you? Who are you? When we are asked who we are, we usually give a kind of recitation of a history. "I'm So-and-so. I was given this name by my parents. I've been to such-and-such a college. I've done these things in my profession." And we produce a little biography. The Buddhist says, "Forget it; that's not you. That is some story that's all past. I want to see the real you, the you you are now." Nobody knows who that is, because we do not know ourselves except through listening to our echoes and consulting our memories. But then the real you leads us back to this question, Who is the real you? We shall see how they play with this in Zen koans to get you to come out of your shell and find out who you really are.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 5)

However, in the evolution of these scriptures, the Buddha himself wrote nothing, nor did his immediate disciples. It is very important to remember that all Indian scriptures were, for many centuries, handed down orally. We have no clear guide as to their dates, because in handing down an oral tradition you are not always likely to preserve historical landmarks. Suppose we are talking about a certain king, and the name of this king will mark a historical point. In an oral tradition the name of the king is likely to be changed every time the story is told, to correspond to the king then reigning. Things that to change, that have a historical rhythm like a succession of kings, will be changed in handing down the oral tradition. But things that do not change, such as the essential principle of the doctrine, will not be altered at all. So remember that the Buddhist scriptures were handed down orally for some hundreds of years before they were ever committed to writing, and that accounts for their monotonous form.

Everything is numbered; there are four noble truths, eight steps of the eightfold path, ten fetters, five skandhas, four brahma-viharas or meditation states, and so on. Everything is put in numerical lists so as to be memorized easily. Formulas are constantly repeated, and this is supposed to aid the memory. It is obvious that those scriptures of the Pali canon, when you really sit down and read them, have a certain monotony because of mnemonic aids, but also that, in the course of the time before they were written down, many monks spent wet afternoons adding to them and adding tings in such a style that no inspired person would ever have said them. They have made commentaries on commentaries, and lots of them had no sense of humor. I always loved the passage where the Buddha is giving instructions on things on which one could concentrate. A commentator is making little notes on this and has made his list of things on which you could concentrate, like a square drawn on the ground or the tip of your nose or a leaf or a stone, and then it says, "or on anything." The commentator adds the footnote, "but not any wicked thing." That's professional clergy for you, the world over.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, pp. 11-12)

When the Buddha says, "The cause of suffering is desire," the word translated as desire might better be something like "craving", "clinging", or "grasping". He is saying, "I'm suggesting that you suffer because you desire." Then suppose you try not to desire, and see if by not desiring you can cease from suffering. You could put the same thing in another way by saying to a person, "It's all in your mind. There is nothing either good or ill, but thinking makes it so." Therefore, if you can control your mind you have nothing else that you need control. You do not need to control the rain if you can control your mind. If you get wet it is only your mind that makes you think it's uncomfortable to be wet. A person who has good mental discipline can be perfectly happy wandering around in the rain. You do not need a fire if you have good mind control. But if you have ordinary, bad mind control, when it is cold youo start shivering because you are putting up a resistance to the cold; you are fighting it. But don't fight it, relax to the cold, as a matter of mental attitude, and then you will be fine. Always control your mind. This is another way of approaching it.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 15)

As an example of right view, let us consider the right view of the constellation called the Big Dipper. When we look out from our specific, earthly point in space, it seems that the stars that form the Big Dipper must naturally form it, and always will. But imagine looking at them from somewhere else in space altogether. Those stars would not look like a dipper. They would be in an altogether different position relative to each other. What is the true relationship of those stars, then? There isn't one? Or else you could say that the true view of those stars would be their relationship when looked at from all points of view simultaneously. That would be the truth. But there is no such thing as the truth. The world, in other words, does not exist independently of those who witness it. Its existence derives from the existence of a relationship between the world and its witnesses. So if there are no eyes in this world, the sun doesn't make any light, nor do the stars. That which is, is a relationship. You can, for example, prop up two sticks by leaning them against each other. They will stand, but only by depending on each other. Take one away and the other falls. So in Buddhism it is taught that everything in this universe depends on everything else.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 27)

All religious comments about life eventually become clichés. Religion is always falling apart and promoting lip service and imitation. The imitation of Christ, for instance, is a perfect example. It is a terrible idea because everyone who imitates Christ becomes a kind of fake Jesus. In the same way, there are all kinds of imitation Buddhas in Buddhism, not only sitting on gilded wooden altars but sitting around in the monasteries, too. One might say that the highest kind of religious or spiritual attainment shows no sign that it is religious or spiritual. As a metaphor for this, there is in Buddhism the idea of the tracks of birds in the sky. Birds do not leave tracks, and so the way of the enlightened man is like the tracks of a bird in the sky. As a Chinese poem says, "Entering the forest, he does not disturb a blade of grass. Entering the water, he does not make a ripple."

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, pp. 34-35)

In other words, when you erect a building, you have to put all kinds of scaffolding up. This shows that building is going on. When the building is complete, however, the scaffolding is taken down. The scaffolding is religion. To open a door, as they say in Zen, you may need to knock on it with a brick. But when the door is open, you do not carry the brick inside. Similarly, to cross a rivere you need a boat, but when you have reached the other side, you do not pick up the boat and carry it across the land on your back. The brick, the boat, the scaffolding, all represent religious technology, or method, and in the end these are all to disappear. The saint will not be found in church. However, do not take what I say literally. The saint can perfectly readily go to church without being sullied by church. It is ordinary people who too frequently come out of church stinking of religion.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 38)

The properly rounded person is an embodiment of the third dharma world, is both spiritual and material, is both otherworldly and worldly. This is the supreme attainment of a human being, to be fully both worldly and otherworldly, to avoid the extreme of one-sidedness. The person who is just a materialist ends up by being very boring. You can live the successful life of the world and own every kind of material refinement, have the most beautiful home, the most delicious food, the most marvelous yachts and cars, but if you have no touch of the mystical about you, material success will eventually become perfectly boring, and you will get tired of it. On the other hand, there are people who are purely spiritual, who live in a dry world where all luxury has been scrubbed away, and they are very intense people. When you are in the presence of an excessively spiritual person, you feel inclined to sit on the edge of your chair. You are not at ease.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 42)

All specifically religious activity is "legs on a snake." Eventually religion will be eliminated, just as, eventually, when every individual becomes self-governing and able to relate properly to his brother, the state will vanish. That is why in the Book of Revelation, in the New Testament, it is said that in heaven there is no temple. The whole place is the temple. Similarly, when we achieve the fulfillment of Buddhism, there will be no Buddha, no temple, no gong, no bell, because the whole world is the sound of the bell, and the image of Buddha is everything you see.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 48)

If I were to give you a truly proper and educated talk about Zen, I would gather you around and sit here in silence fir five minutes and leave. This would be a much more direct exposition of it than what I am going to do instead, which is to talk about it. I am afraid that you would feel disappointed and somewhat cheated if I just left after five minutes of silence though.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, pp. 50-51)

In the history of Christianity there was a huge argument aroun 400 AD between a Welshman or Celt named Pelagius and Saint Augustine of Hippo. Pelagius was an optimistic Britisher, the type who believes in muddling through, playing the game, and putting your nose to the grindstone. He believed that one could, by one's own will and effort, obey the commandments of God. He argued that God would not have given us any commandments we could not obey. But Saint Augustine said that Pelagius had missed the point entirely. If he had read Saint Paul properly —especially the Epistle to the Romans— he would have found that God did not give us commandments in order that we should obey them, but rathyer to prove that we could not. As Saint Paul put it, God gave us impossible commandments in order to convict us of sin. The law, in other words, was a gimmick, an upaya. Nobody was ever expected to obey a law such as —from the Ten Commandments— "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." Nobody can do that. Therefore even the greatest saints are always beating their breasts and confessing that they are abysmal sinners because they cannot live up to the commandments. This is why Saint Paul taught that the law is a pedagogue designed to lead us to Christ. Pedagogue has the same meaning as upaya.

(Alan Watts: Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 69)

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