A great Zen master said just before he died, “From the bathtub, to the bathtub, I have uttered stuff and nonsense.” The bathtub in which the baby is washed at birth, the bathtub in which the corpse is washed before burial, all this time I have said much nonsense.
The birds in the trees go twee, twee, twee. What is it all about? Everybody tries to say, “Ah, yes, it is a mating call—and quite purposeful. They are trying to get their mates by attracting them with a song.” This argument is also used to explain why they have colors, and why butterflies have eye-like designs on them for self-protection.
Of course, this is an engineering view of the universe, but why do we do that? We say, “Well, it is because the butterflies need to survive? But why survive? What is that for? Well, to survive. However, human beings really are just a lot of tubes, and in a way all living creatures are just tubes. These tubes have to put things in one end and let them go out at the other. Then they become clever about it and they develop nerve ganglia on one end of the tube—the eating-end called a head. It has eyes and ears, and it has little organs and antennae that help you define things to put in one end so that you can let them out the other. Well, while you are doing this the stuff going through wears the tube out and, in order for the show to go on, the tubes have complicated ways of making other tubes which will go on doing the same thing, in at one end, out the other. And they say, “Well, that is terribly serious. That is awfully important. We have got to keep on doing this.”
However, when the Chinese Taoists say nature is purposeless this is a compliment. It is much like the idea of the Japanese word yugen. They describe yugen as watching wild geese fly and being hidden in the clouds; as watching a ship vanish behind the distant island; as wandering on and on in a great forest with no thought of return. Haven’t you done this? Haven`t you gone on a walk with no particular purpose in mind? You carry a stick with you and you occasionally hit at old stumps, and wander along and sometimes twiddle your thumbs. It is at that moment that you become a perfectly rational human being; you have learned purposelessness.
All music is purposeless. When you dance do you aim to arrive at a particular place on the floor? Is that the idea of dancing? No, the aim of dancing is to dance.
Now, here is the choice. Are you going to trust it or not? If you do trust it you may get let down, and this it is your self—your own nature and all nature around you. There are going to be mistakes, but if you do not trust it at all you are going to strangle yourself. You are going to surround yourself with rules and regulations and laws and prescriptions and policemen and guards—and guards to guard the guards.
So, to live we must have faith. We must trust ourselves to the total unknown and to a nature which does not have a boss. A boss is part of a system of mistrust and so that is why Lao-tzu’s Tao loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
Source: “Man in Nature,” from The Tao of Philosophy, by Alan Watts
Photo courtesy by miyukiatada
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