19 August 2007


A couple months after moving back into my house, I started reading a book that I had had for several years. Someone left it with me and I'm not sure if it was Jason or Mary or someone else, but it was a good time to read my first ever pages on Buddhism.

Now, many months after reading it, I am often aware of a particular passage. If I'm allowed to quote it, it follows:
"We are absolutely fascinated with the whole idea of remembering and recording. When there is a gathering of people, they say, 'This is great. It's a pity somebody didn't bring a camera.'

But in recording a thing there is both a gain and a loss. That's why some people say things should be photographed, while others prefer to look at them and then let them go.

I had some experience of this phenomenon while touring in Japan. My students brought cameras and were constantly photographing things, and I had a camera as well and was also constantly photographing, but at the same time I felt that so long as I had a camera with me I would be distracted from actuality by it.

I had a little box with which I went around grabbing life. Of course, it was great to come back and look at the photographs, but there is something about a photograph that is inferior to the actual experience that is being photographed.

There is something immensely fascinating about photography and painting. They are forms of reproduction, which is also true of sexuality. They are like sexual reproduction in that they say you are here, you are alive, and they resonate with life.

One school of religion says, 'Let it all go. Don't be attached. Live in the moment.'Krishnamurti used to say, 'Stop trying to remember everything.'

"You may need a kind of factual memory for your name and address and telephone number and things like that, but do not linger over memories, treasuring them, thinking, 'I'm going to keep my girlfriend's lock of hair and take it out every now and then and look at it and it will make me feel wonderful.' That is a clinging to memory, which holds you to the past and to death.

"The other school of thought, quite opposite to this, goes along with the title of one of Henry Miller's books, Remember to Remember. This school says, 'Hold on to it all. Get involved. Keep your girlfriend's hair; keep all the photographs.'

You know how in some houses the piano is completely covered with photographs and reminiscences. I went to visit Gloria Swanson once, and had never before seen such a house full of memories. Everything in all directions was of Gloria Swanson, photographed on this occasion, signed on that occasion, and receiving various presentations.

I also once went to visit the wife of the former archbishop of Canterbury, and the whole house was memorials, a complete clutter of tombstone furniture with little brass plates on it, 'Presented on the occasion' of this, that, and the other.

Now, you might say, 'That person isn't really living. They are stuck in the past.' But on the other hand, what is life without memory, resonance, echo?

"I scarcely need to point out the duality of all this. If you are a wise man you do not take sides in this issue, you occupy both sides. That is the meaning of the unity of samsara and nirvana.

On the one hand, you let go of everything and live in the eternal now because that is all there is. Memory is an illusion; it is all gone. That is the meaning of maya, or illusion. There is only the eternal now, the present moment, and there never will be anything else. All remembering occurs in the present; memory exists in the eternal now.

"On the other hand, what fun to drag life out and make it echo and get involved with it, and to fall in love and become attached.

"R. H. Blyth once wrote me a letter in which he said, 'What are you doing these days? As for me, I am abandoning all kinds of satori and enlightenment and am trying to become as deeply attached to as many people and as many things as possible.'

"It is a balancing trick, like riding a bicycle. You find yourself falling over one way and you turn in that direction and stay up. In the same way, when you find yourself becoming too attached to life, you correct that excessive attachment with the realization that nothing exists except the eternal now.

And then, when you feel you are safe again, because the eternal now is the only thing that exists, you go off and get involved with some kind of social, political, amorous, familial, scholarly, or artistic enterprise. The two always go together."
pp. 85 - 87 Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion by Alan Watts


Anonymous LSaw said...

Hi Jen -
This is something I ask myself everytime I go on vacation without my camera: am I missing something? Or am I gaining something? I have many indelible memories of travel, none of them recorded on a camera. I have many photos also, and often don't look at them...they seem a rather pale and pathetic reminder of a moment that was significant, but I find if I take a photo, I rely upon it to keep the moment alive, rather than being IN the experience I'm photographing.
I like Watts' noting that it's fine to wobble back and forth between recording and experiencing. Ah, Buddhism! It shows a Third Road, no more either/or but something beyond.

Monday, 20 August, 2007  
Blogger Guzmán. said...

Jiddu Krishnamurti ;

“There are three monks, who had been sitting in deep meditation for many years amidst the Himalayan snow peaks, never speaking a word, in utter silence. One morning, one of the three suddenly speaks up and says, ‘What a lovely morning this is.’ And he falls silent again. Five years of silence pass, when all at once the second monk speaks up and says, ‘But we could do with some rain.’ There is silence among them for another five years, when suddenly the third monk says, ‘Why can’t you two stop chattering?”



Monday, 20 August, 2007  
Blogger hukmut said...

i love alan watts. he was a dancer.

Sunday, 26 August, 2007  

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