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Reading Alan Watts,

the book is called:

‘Become What You Are,’

the chapter is called ‘Zen’

maybe unsurprisingly,

some (four) Zen stories are told.


A disciple came to Zen Master Chao-chou and asked, “I have just come to this monastery. Would you mind giving me some instruction, please?”

The Master replied, “Have you eaten your breakfast yet, or not?”

“Yes, I have, sir.”

“Then wash you dishes.”

The disciple became enlightened to the whole meaning of Zen.


A Zen Master was about to address an assembly of students when a bird began to sing in a nearby tree. The master remained silent until the bird had finished, and then, announcing that his address had been given, went away.


Another master set a pitcher before two of his disciples.

“Do not call it a pitcher,” he said, “but tell me what it is.”

One replied,

“It cannot be called a piece of wood.”

The master, however, was not satisfied with this answer, and he turned to the other disciple who simply knocked the pitcher over and walked away.

This action had the master’s full approval.


“What is the Tao?”

A Zen master answers, “Usual life is the very Tao.”

“How does one bring oneself into accord with it?”

“If you try to accord with it, you will get away from it.”

And that is four. In the book, Watts introduces and goes into each of these Zen stories.

I will not.

Let’s leave it open-ended.


Because, as Watts HIMSELF says, the very purpose of Zen is to make everyone find out for herself what THE HELL IS GOING ON AROUND HERE (not quite verbatim). For, ‘it is like a detective story with the last chapter missing; it remains a mystery, a thing like a beam of light which can be seen and used, but never caught - loved, but never possessed. And by that we may know that Zen is life.’

Just imagine, a detective story without the ending, how extremely annoing. Unless, of course, you find out who did it by yourself.

The Zen-with-the-bird-story by the way, reminds me of my first (and only, so far) Zen retreat, where the Zen Master gave me my first koan:

‘What is your Buddha nature when you hear the birds sing?’

The answer I cannot give, coming back to the whole open ended detective story and all that. Also, if given the solution to a koan, one can never answer it themselves. A friend of mine gave away the ending to ‘The Sixth Sense’, and I am still annoyed.

The Zen-with-the-breakfast-story reminds me of a poem I once wrote, just before going into the Zen retreat:

Reading that poem now, longing for some rushless Granola once more.

Clockwise, starting with the lady in green: William John Leech, the Sunshade, c. 1913 (From the National Gallery Ireland, in Dublin, which I visited just after the Zen retreat)  Komura Settai, Tattoo artist at work, 1938  Salvador Dalí, White aphrodisiac telephone, 1936  Alexander Calder, Suspended Composition of Small Leaves (Four Red Spots), 1947  Mark Manders, Large Composition with Red, 2017
An assortment of cards that I picked, Zen in mind

The image, with the cards, reading clockwise, starting with the lady in green:

- William John Leech, the Sunshade, c. 1913 (from the National Gallery Ireland, Dublin, which I visited just after the Zen retreat)

- Komura Settai, Tattoo artist at work, 1938

- Salvador Dalí, White aphrodisiac telephone, 1936

- Alexander Calder, Suspended Composition of Small Leaves (Four Red Spots), 1947

- Mark Manders, Large Composition with Red, 2017

Let‘s end with the beginning. Watts says (at the beginning of the chapter):

‘Although Zen is a word of only three letters, three volumes would not explain it, nor even three libraries of volumes’

So, wash your dishes after breakfast, listen to the birds sing, knock over some (empty) pitchers, stop trying and, most of all, stop reading.

A blurb from my last newsletter:

I just finished Philip K. Dick’s ‘The man in the high castle.’ The last chapter is quite something; something somewhat confusing, somewhat unsettling, and it leaves the reader (me, at least) somewhat helpless. Somewhat.

But, there are clues.

The feeling and impression permeating throughout the book, is that there is something just a bit off with the reality the characters inhabit, as if it’s not quite the complete or ‘true’ reality, as if there is another layer of truth just at the edges of one’s vision.

In the last chapter, one of the main characters decides to ask ‘the book of changes’, the ancient Chinese book of wisdom that can also be used as an oracle, the I Ching. Maybe not surprisingly, this book, that can mysteriously reveal underlying truths, is also a main character in the book.

So, she asks the I Ching about her impression that something is 'off' with reality, and gets the following archetype as an answer:

Inner Truth

It reminds me of a quote:

Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry.

(That’s from ‘Don’t look up’, a movie about looking away from (quite the inconvenient) truth)

But, well, I quite like both.

So let’s see about that Inner Truth. Below is the sign. It’s made up of six lines, counting from bottom to top, to whole lines (a whole line signifyies Yang energy), then two broken lines (a broken line signifies Yin energy), then two whole lines again.

Before reading on, maybe listen to some music that came along this week. Movement 6, in particular, strikes a chord with me.

The I Ching says the following about Inner Truth:

Open in the center, a heart free of prejudices and therefore open to truth.

There, in the middle, where the two broken lines are, an open space in the middle, where truth can ‘land’. Only through openness, truth. Only when our thoughts and judgments and old hangups over this-and-thats are cleared, out of the way, can the this-and-thats be seen as they are.


But we are human beings, beings that mostly do. Want to do. Have to do. So what happens when this truth is captured in the heart, in this empty egg? If we brood on it, what will hatch?

Innner Truth says:

Whenever a feeling is voiced with truth and frankness, whenever a deed is the clear expression of sentiment, a mysterious and far-reaching influence is exerted.

If you read a bit on the album ‘Promises’, that album you may now be listening to, there seems to be a somewhat mysterious (and truthful?) connection that drew Pharaoh Sanders and Sam Shepherd together.

Reading on:

The root of all influence lies in one’s own inner being: given true and vigorous expression in word and deed, its effect is great. The effect is but the reflection of something that emanates from one’s own heart. Any deliberate intention of an effect would only destroy the possibility of producing it.

Isn’t this amazing? When one has a goal, wants an effect from truth and frankness, it destroys the possibility of producing it. It collapses unto itself. Of course! For within the search for effect, an intention other than itself, truth and frankness is lost.

This, I feel, has to do with ‘the sophomore curse’ - the struggle many artists face with producing a (‘good’) second album or book or other artwork. The creation of ‘a first’ is oftentimes without expectation. But then, people come to expect something, the artist (and the outside world) has an opinion of him or her(self), (s)he ‘is’ something, and from this expectation an intent in the artist might be born, thereby losing ‘truth’, thereby struggling to create something that ‘emanates from one’s heart.’

An interesting connection between art and truth, from ‘A guide for the perplexed’ by E.F. Schumacher:

If art aims primarily to affect our feelings we may call it entertainment; if it aims primarily to affect our will we may call it propaganda. (…) We have no difficulty in sensing that something is missing. No great artist … was ever satisfied with just these two. Invariably he strove to communicate truth, the power of truth, by appealing to man’s higher intellectual faculties, which are supra-rational. Entertainment and propaganda by themselves do not give us power but exert power over us. When they are transcended by, and made subservient to, the communication of Truth, art helps us to develop our higher faculties, and this is all that matters.

It’s too much for now to go into Schumacher’s ideas of ‘higher intellectual faculties’, for it deserves a whole book. By the way, that book is written, and is called: A guide for the perplexed. So, if perplexed, read!

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