Alan Watts: The Vegetable Root Discourses

[Here is a transcript from one of the scores of Alan Watts’ talks I have in mp3 format.]

[Begin transcript of Alan’s talk.]

I’m not really a musician but it just so happens that I have in front of me a fabulous instrument which the Japanese call koto. I suppose it would be best described as a table harp. Long instrument stringed with bridges – horizontal harp.

It was customary among Chinese poets in the old days to read poetry and strum on the lute or table harp at the same time. And I have got here a curious old text called Ts’ai-ken T’an – which means the “Vegetable Root Discourses” – written by Koji Tse (sp?) somewhere around 1624.

I thought I’d like to read some of this to you. And to get into the right mood, I suggest that you try to become a little stupid. That is to say, childlike, as if you hardly knew how to talk and didn’t really know very much about anything that is going on. Just listen . . . as you would listen to the wind.

If the mind is clear
A dark room has its blue sky
If the mind is somber
Broad daylight gives birth to
Demons and evil spirits

The just man
Has no mind to seek happiness
Heaven therefore
Because of this mindlessness
Opens its inmost heart
The bad man busies himself
With avoiding misfortunes
Heaven therefore
Confounds him for this desire

How unsearchable are the ways of heaven
How useless the wisdom of men

The Tao is common property
It should be pointed out to all we meet
Learning is as ordinary as eating rice at home
According to the circumstances
It should be applied circumspectly

The Ancients left rice for mice
And did not light lamps
Out of pity for moths
These thoughts of theirs
Are the operation point of humanity
In life
Lacking this
A man is a mere earthman
A wooden body

The Zen sect says
When you are hungry — eat
When you are weary — sleep

Poetry aims at the description
In common language
Of beautiful scenery
The sublime is contained in the ordinary
The hardest in the easiest
What is self-conscious and ulterior
Is far from the truth
What is mindless
Is near

[End transcript of Alan’s talk.]

Here’s a bit more about the Vegetable Root Discourses.

Author: Atanu Dey


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