Alan Watts – The Boat Analogy
So, the course of time is really very much like the course of a ship in the ocean. ‘Cause here is the ship, you see, and it leaves behind it a wake. And the wake fades out, and that tells us where the ship has been, in just the same way as the past and our memory of the past tells us what we have done. As we go back into the past and we go back and back to prehistory and we use all kinds of instruments and scientific methods for detecting what happened, we eventually reach a point where all record of the past fades away in just the same way as the wake of the ship.
Now the important thing to remember in this illustration is that the wake doesn’t drive the ship… any more than the tail wags the dog.
Suppose there’s a neurotic, difficult child.
One school of thought used to say well bang him about, beat him up and then maybe he’ll change. Then they said oh no. That’s not fair to the child to beat him up, because it was his parents. They didn’t bring him up properly. And so then they say we’ll punish the parents. But the parents say excuse me but our parents were neurotic too. And they brought us up badly so we couldn’t help what we did. And so since the grandparents are dead, we can’t get at them. And in any case suppose that we could, we would pass the whole blame back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And say they started all this mess. But then Eve would say no, the serpent tempted me and I did eat, and it was the serpent’s fault. Well you know when God in the story of Genesis asked Eve: “Didst thou eat the fruit of the tree whereof I told thee thou shouldst not eat?” She said: “Oh but the serpent tempted me and I did eat.” And God look at the serpent and the serpent didn’t make any excuse. He probably winked. Because the serpent being an angel, was wise enough to know where the present begins.
So you see if you insist on being moved, being determined by the past, that’s your game. But the fact of the matter is it all starts right now. But we like to establish a connectivity with the past because that gives other people the impression that we’re sane.
If you ask me then why am I talking? Well I could say I’m making a living this way or I have a message that I want to get across to you. But that is not the reason. I’m talking for the same reason the birds sing and for the same reason that the stars shine. Cause I dig it. Why do you dig it? Well, I could go on answering all sorts of questions about human motivation and psychology, but they wouldn’t explain a thing, because explaining things by the past is really a refusal to explain them at all. All you’re doing is postponing the explanation. You’re putting it back and back and back and back and that explains nothing.
What does explain things is the present. Why do you do it now?
Now, this is a slight cheat. Because that doesn’t explain it either. Because what happens now just as the sound comes out of silence, all this comes out of nowhere. This is in connection with what I explained to you in another talk about the power of nothingness.
All life suddenly emerges out of space! Bang! Right now!
And to ask again why does it happen, is an unprofitable question, because the interesting thing is not why, but what? What happens, not why does it happen.
I can say, well, I am doing this now because I did that then, and so I am producing for you a continuous line of thought. But actually I’m doing it backwards. I’m doing it always from now and connecting up what I do now with what I did so that you could see a complete and consistent story.
If I define myself as the whole field of events well, say the organism-environment field, which is the real me, then all the things that happened to be may be called my doing. And that is the real sense of karma.
But when we speak about freedom from karma, freedom from being the puppet of the past, that simply involves a change in your thinking. It involves in other words your getting rid of the habit of thought whereby you define yourself as the result of what has gone before.
And instead get into the more plausible and more reasonable habit of thought in terms of which you don’t define yourself in terms of what you’ve done before but in terms of what you’re doing now. And that is liberation from the ridiculous situation of being a dog wagged by its tail.