The Fool On The Hill

  StudentWhat is awakening?

  TeacherBeats me.

  StudentWhat is the goal of the path then?

  TeacherBeats me.

  StudentIs awakening real?

  TeacherBeats me.

  StudentYou don't know?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentDon't you know?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentThen why are you the teacher?

  TeacherWhy are you the student?

  StudentBecause I want to be free.

  TeacherHow do you know you aren't free now?

  StudentI don't feel free.

  TeacherHow does free feel?

  StudentCarefree. Peaceful. Calm. Tranquil. Unconcerned. Lighthearted. Detached.

  TeacherEver felt that way?

  StudentSure. A few times.

  TeacherWhy did you stop?

  StudentI don't know.

  TeacherMe either.

  StudentI don't understand.

  TeacherMe either.

  StudentThis is useless.

  TeacherI agree.

  StudentWell, do you feel free?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentDon't you know how you feel?


  StudentThat's absurd.


  StudentWell, what do you mean?

  TeacherAbout what?

  StudentWhat do you mean, you don't know how you feel?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentWhy do you keep saying "I don't know"?

  TeacherWhy do you keep asking so many questions I don't know the answers to?

  StudentI'm just trying to understand you.


  StudentMaybe I could learn something from you.

  TeacherWhat do you want to learn?

  StudentI want to know how to feel free.

  TeacherI don't know how you do that.

  StudentI don't understand that answer.

  TeacherWhy do you want to feel free?

  StudentTo escape from suffering.

  TeacherAre you suffering?

  StudentYes! Isn't everyone?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentIt's the human condition.

  TeacherOK. So kill yourself.

  StudentI don't want to be dead. I want to be free. Death isn't freedom.

  TeacherFreedom is a feeling?

  StudentNo, it's a condition.

  TeacherLike suffering is a condition.

  StudentThey're different conditions.

  TeacherBut suffering is the human condition. So you don't want to be human?

  StudentI want to be human. But free. Alive and free.

  TeacherSuffering is a condition. Freedom is a condition. Death is a condition. Life is a condition. Being human is a condition. You want some conditions, but not others. Is being you a condition?

  StudentWhat do you mean?

  TeacherAre you a condition?

  StudentI am the thing that can be in a condition.

  TeacherHow do you get yourself into one condition or another?

  StudentThat's what I want to know.

  TeacherDon't you know how to change your conditions? If you're in a hungry condition, you eat something and change yourself into a satisfied condition.

  StudentSome conditions are easier to change than others.

  TeacherYou seem to have a pretty good understanding of your situation already. Why are you asking me all these questions?

  StudentDon't you want to be happy?


  StudentYou don't want to be happy?

  TeacherNot especially.

  StudentDo you want to be unhappy?

  TeacherNot especially.

  StudentWhat do you want?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentWhat do you mean? Don't you know what you want?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentYou don't know what you want, or you don't know whether you know what you want?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentI think you're just playing games.


  StudentAren't you?

  TeacherNo. Are you?


  TeacherHow do you know?

  StudentI know what I mean.

  TeacherThen why are you asking me all these questions?

  StudentTo understand your point of view. To expand my horizons.

  TeacherWhy do you want to do that?

  StudentThere's so much that I don't understand. I'm trying to understand.

  TeacherAbout how to be free?


  TeacherSo once you understand how to be free then you can be free?

  StudentNo, it's not just a matter of understanding. It's not just an intellectual idea.

  TeacherIt's a condition.


  TeacherAnd you know when you're in this condition because you can feel it.


  TeacherAnd you want to know how to be in this condition all the time?

  StudentI guess you could put it that way. Crudely.


  StudentWhy what?

  TeacherWhy do you want to feel that way all the time?

  StudentWhy not?

  TeacherIf you were free would you be free to feel sad?

  StudentYes. But you can be free and still feel sad.

  TeacherBecause freedom is a condition.

  StudentYes. You can still be in that condition but feel sad.

  TeacherWhen you feel free it's because you are in a free condition.


  TeacherSo when you feel sad are you in a sad condition?

  StudentI guess you could put it that way.

  TeacherSo you can be in both conditions at once and feel both feelings at once.

  StudentYes, I suppose so.

  TeacherIs every feeling just the way you perceive your condition?

  StudentI don't know.

  TeacherWell, could you feel something without being in that condition?

  StudentI guess not.

  TeacherCould you be in a condition without feeling it at all?

  StudentI don't know.

  TeacherHow could you know?

  StudentI guess you couldn't.

  TeacherDo you feel that you are in a condition of suffering?


  TeacherIf you can be free and still be sad, why can't you be free and still be suffering?

  StudentBecause they are opposites. It's just contradictory to say you can be free of suffering and still be suffering at the same time.

  TeacherSo there are certain conditions that cannot coexist in the same time and person?

  StudentOf course!

  TeacherLike happy and unhappy, male and female, alive and dead.


  TeacherAnd sometimes you're in one and sometimes in the other.

  StudentI guess so.

  TeacherBut what you want is to be in one all the time and never in the other.

  StudentYou're oversimplifying. You put everything too crudely.

  TeacherDo you want to feel free all the time or just some of the time?

  StudentAll the time.

  TeacherHappy or unhappy?


  TeacherCalm or upset?


  TeacherMale or female?

  StudentThat's silly. There's nothing I can do about that.

  TeacherAlive or dead?


  TeacherAll the time?

  StudentEverybody dies.

  TeacherNothing you can do about that either?


  TeacherHow do you know which conditions you can do something about and which ones you can't?

  StudentWell, some things are just the way the world is. Male and female. Life and death.

  TeacherHow do you know which conditions are just the way the world is and which ones are not?

  StudentIt's obvious!

  TeacherWhat about freedom and suffering? Permanent or changeable?

  StudentI think you can be free all the time. If you're really free, you're always free.

  TeacherHow do you know?

  StudentBecause that's what freedom is.

  TeacherIf a prisoner escapes, is he free?

  StudentOf course.

  TeacherIf he is caught again and put back in jail, then was he really free when he was free?

  StudentHe wasn't really free. He was supposed to be in jail.

  TeacherIf a prisoner completes his sentence and is released, then commits another crime and is sent back to prison —

  StudentIf he had been really free he wouldn't have committed another crime that would put him back into prison.

  TeacherCan a man be in prison and still be free?

  StudentYou're mixing up different meanings of "free".

  TeacherIt all seems very complicated.

  StudentNot really. You are just confusing the issue by mixing different things up together.

  TeacherTo me it's confusing because you keep separating things into different things. You make so many distinctions. Feelings and conditions, permanent ones and changeable ones, desirable ones and undesirable ones. Perhaps you could draw a diagram?

  StudentYou're ridiculing me.


  StudentThat's not helpful.

  TeacherI didn't offer to help you. You came to me asking a lot of questions about a lot of things that you seem to think you already know a lot about but I do not know much about.

  StudentBut I'm not saying anything outrageous. You pretend like you don't already know what I'm talking about, but everybody knows. I'm speaking in a very ordinary way. You understand the human condition as well as I do. As we all do.

  TeacherYou want answers to your questions. Your questions are ordinary questions, and they have ordinary answers. But you already know the ordinary answers, and the ordinary answers are not getting you what you want. If they were you wouldn't still be asking the same questions looking for different answers. If you get some different answers, some extraordinary answers, perhaps those will get you what you want. That's what you think you want from me. Some extraordinary answers, some stunning revelations, some bolt of lightning.

  StudentI guess so.

  TeacherSo here's my extraordinary answer...


  TeacherForget about it.

  StudentAbout what?

  TeacherFreedom, suffering, life, death, conditions, feelings, qualities, happiness, unhappiness. Forget about it. All of it.


  TeacherWhy not?

  StudentBecause I want to be free of suffering.

  TeacherI can't help you.

  StudentThat's your extraordinary answer?

  TeacherSuppose you get yourself into your condition of real freedom. Will you die anyway?


  TeacherSo forget about it. You're just making yourself miserable anyway.

  StudentSo I should just resign myself to a meaningless day to day existence, then a pointless death? What kind of a life is that?

  TeacherWhat kind is the one you're having now?

  StudentAt least I'm seeking for something! At least I'm trying to be free! Trying to do something meaningful, to live a life worth living.

  TeacherOrdinary answers to ordinary questions. Everybody is doing just what you are. Very ordinary.

  StudentYou're ridiculing me again.

  TeacherAm I? What's wrong with being ordinary?

  StudentNothing. But you are trying to insult me with it.

  TeacherWhat are you upset about?

  StudentYou're not taking me seriously. You're not being serious at all. You're just playing word games and copping a Socratic attitude.

  TeacherIf my answer was not extraordinary you wouldn't be upset.

  StudentIt's not extraordinary. It's lazy. It's empty. It's cynical.

  TeacherIgnore it then.

  StudentLook, you don't get to be free just by saying "O, never mind!"

  TeacherI agree. But it'll do.

  StudentWhat's that mean?

  TeacherI don't know anything about freedom. That's your concern, not mine.

  StudentWhat do you care about then? What do you want?

  TeacherI don't know. When I'm hungry, I eat.

  StudentThat's it? Eating? That's a dog's life.


  StudentWell, it's just primitive. It's just hedonism.


  StudentAnd you're fine with that.


  StudentEat, sleep, fuck, die. That's it?

  TeacherLaugh, cry, talk, puke, suffer, love, lose, gain, whatever. Just so.

  StudentWhat about compassion and caring and helping one's fellow man?

  TeacherSure. That too.

  StudentWhy should I?

  TeacherI don't know. Do what you like.

  StudentBut if we're all just marking time till death, why should anybody help anybody else?

  TeacherI don't know. Whatever comes naturally. If you are a caring person, then go ahead and care.

  StudentWhat a selfish attitude!

  TeacherSo be selfless then. Do what you like.

  StudentWhere would we be if everyone was as cold and careless as that?

  TeacherI don't know. Where do you want us to be?

  StudentIt'd be nice if we weren't dropping bombs on one another.

  TeacherAnd you want me to do something about that?

  StudentDon't you want to?

  TeacherI don't know.

  StudentI don't know! I don't know! I don't know! That's all you ever say!


  StudentI just mean that your selfish, aimless attitude doesn't do anything to help alleviate all the suffering in the world.

  TeacherYou think there might be fewer bombs if I changed my attitude?

  StudentYou make a joke out of everything. How is that helpful?

  TeacherYou are the bomber, not I.

  StudentWhat do you mean by that?

  TeacherYou bomb me with your criticisms, opinions, judgments. Perhaps you will succeed in bombing me out of my selfishness into being compassionate like you are.

  StudentYou're just taking cheap shots.

  TeacherIs that the reason why you want to be free of suffering — so there'll be fewer bombs dropped?

  StudentIf everyone was looking for freedom rather than self-interest there would be less bombing.

  TeacherBecause bombing doesn't help one to achieve the condition of freedom.

  StudentYes. Of course not.

  TeacherAre you seeking freedom for your own sake or for the sake of humanity? Is it selfishness or compassion? Do you seek to end your own suffering or everyone's?

  StudentThey are not mutually exclusive. I can have both aims at once. I am one of everyone. As much as I alleviate my own suffering, I alleviate the suffering of at least one member of the race. Moreover, in seeking an end of suffering, I also am causing less suffering in myself and others.

  TeacherSo actually you have a duty to the race to seek to escape from suffering.

  StudentYes, you could put it that way.

  TeacherWhat is suffering?

  StudentPain, grief, sorrow, loss, death.

  TeacherThis is what you want to be free of?


  TeacherCan you be free of death? never die?

  StudentNot death, but suffering. Suffering is something extra that you bring to experience. If you can learn not to do that, then you can experience pain without suffering, death without suffering.

  TeacherFirst you said that suffering is pain, grief, sorrow, loss, and death. Now you're saying that suffering is something else, something extra that you experience when you experience pain, grief, sorrow, loss, and death.

  StudentYes, suffering is how you react to pain.

  TeacherSo you don't want to get rid of pain, you just want to react to it differently?

  StudentYes, I guess you could put it that way.

  TeacherThat is the way you put it.

  StudentOK then.

  TeacherSo you don't really want to get rid of pain?

  StudentWell, who doesn't want to avoid pain?

  TeacherBut you can't avoid pain entirely, can you?

  StudentNo, of course not.

  TeacherSo, instead you want to learn how to have pain but not suffer because of it.


  TeacherSame for grief, sorrow, loss, and death.


  TeacherFor all the unpleasant, undesirable experiences of life?

  StudentYes. And even for the pleasant and desirable ones, even for the neutral ones. To be truly free of suffering you must react differently to all experience.

  TeacherHow must you react?

  StudentWith equanimity, without aversion.

  TeacherSo the way to end the suffering of pain is to accept pain rather than reject it?

  StudentNeither accepting nor rejecting. Just indifference.

  TeacherSo if you were truly free and I lit a match under your finger you wouldn't even pull away?

  StudentOf course I would. But that's just a reflex action of the body.

  TeacherSo you wouldn't even yell "Ouch!" or stick your finger in your mouth?

  StudentIt's not the same thing.

  TeacherThese ideas are so complex! Is there a college course you have to take to understand all this stuff?

  StudentIf it was so simple then we'd already have figured it out.

  TeacherBut you said that it isn't enough to just figure it out. That it isn't just intellectual.

  StudentRight. Suffering doesn't just disappear because you have an intellectual understanding about it.

  TeacherThen how does it?

  StudentYou have to change your whole attitude, your whole way of responding to experience.

  TeacherYou have to learn to be indifferent, accepting.


  TeacherThen you can be free.


  TeacherCan you be free and still stick your finger in your mouth when you burn it?


  TeacherCan you be free and still yell "Ouch!"?


  TeacherCan you be free and still cry because it hurts so bad?


  TeacherCan you be free and still go to the doctor for some ointment?


  TeacherCan you be free and still say "Please don't ever set a match to me again"?


  TeacherIf I burned your finger now wouldn't you do all those things?

  StudentI guess so.

  TeacherThen how do you know you aren't free already?

  StudentBecause I don't feel free.

  TeacherSo if you were free you'd feel lighthearted and detached even when your skin was burning?

  StudentYes. If you were really free, you'd be free even then.

  TeacherBut pain would still be painful, and death would still be death?

  StudentI suppose so.

  TeacherYou'd still get sick, still fall in love, still stub your toes?


  TeacherBut you can do all that anyway. What would be different about it if you felt free?

  StudentYou'd feel free. That would be the difference.

  TeacherYou described suffering as some extra and unnecessary feeling that you add to your ordinary feelings. But this feeling you call freedom sounds like that to me. I wonder if you've mixed them up?

  StudentFreedom is the state you're in when you don't add suffering to your experience.

  TeacherAnd you know you are in that state because you can feel it?


  TeacherBut you don't really feel free. You just don't feel suffering.


  TeacherSo what is this suffering feeling?

  StudentEveryone knows what suffering is!

  TeacherI know what pain is, and sorrow, and hunger, and grief, and death. But if suffering isn't just another word for these, then I don't know what it is.

  StudentDo you really mean to say that you don't know what I'm talking about when I talk about suffering?

  TeacherI mean to say that you don't even know yourself what you're talking about.

  StudentYou're in no position to say that.

  TeacherAnd you're no position to say that!

  StudentWhat do you mean?

  TeacherYou think I cannot know what you know. But then you can't know what I know either. For all you know, I know exactly what you know and don't know.

  StudentThat's absurd.


  StudentWhy do you keep saying "I don't know"?

  TeacherI don't know. But you think you know all sorts of things. But none of the things you've explained to me make a lick of sense to me. I don't know any more now than before. Do you?


  TeacherTo me, every explanation you have made is absurd, illogical, nonsensical. But it's not your fault. You're no more irrational than everyone else. I know you all think that you're talking sense, and perhaps you are. I don't know. But nothing any of you say makes any sense to me.

  StudentMaybe you're just cracked!

  TeacherMaybe. I don't know. I don't care. If to be sane I have to figure out all these complicated conditions and terms and what not, then I'd rather have my simple dog's life.

  StudentSo you don't understand anything anybody in the world says?

  TeacherI understand them when they say "It's time to eat!" or "What's on TV now?" or "Did you see what the cat just did?" But all this stuff about freedom and suffering, awakening and conditions, and feelings that you feel versus feelings that you don't feel — that's all as meaningless as music to me. Nice to listen to. But it's just sound.

  StudentYou can't converse with music.

  TeacherJazz musicians do it all the time.

  StudentYou know what I mean.

  TeacherYou seem to think I do, but I don't seem to think that I do. You're playing with symbols like a chess player with his pieces and pawns. And I'm playing too. That's what makes a game of it. But you seem to think the game is about something. You think if you win you will be happy forever, and if you lose your life will be a waste. I think that if I win, we'll just start another game, and that if I lose, we'll just start another game.

  StudentI think your philosophy is just meaningless, pointless, selfish, and depressing.

  TeacherI don't have a philosophy, so it can't be meaningless, pointless, selfish, and depressing.

  StudentNo, but your lack of it is what is so meaningless. Your life has no purpose or significance.

  TeacherI thought you were seeking freedom, not significance.

  StudentFreedom is the significance.

  TeacherYour significance doesn't seem very liberating.

  StudentThe significance is the search for freedom, not freedom itself.

  TeacherWhat do you think? If you gave it all up, would you feel more free than you do now?

  StudentWouldn't it be nice if it was just that easy?

  TeacherWhat do you think? Between you and me, which of us seems the freer to you?



  StudentBut your freedom is just the freedom of abandonment. You haven't won through to freedom. You just gave up.

  TeacherSo I don't have the right kind of freedom, is that it?

  StudentYou're not really free. You're just aimless.

  TeacherThe freedom you seek is exalted, extraordinary, radical, sublime. Mine is just personal and petty.

  StudentI'm just going by what you say. Of course I don't know what your state is really.

  TeacherDo you know what yours is?

  StudentWhat do you mean?

  TeacherYou sound convinced that you are locked in a prison of suffering. Yet you seem unable to present a clear idea of what the walls look like. Maybe there aren't any? Maybe you're just mistaken?

  StudentYou're saying I just think I'm suffering but I'm not really?

  TeacherNo. You are really.

  StudentThen what do you mean the walls aren't there?

  TeacherCan a man be free in a prison?


  TeacherThen you can only be free in life metaphorically.

  StudentNo, he can be free in the way that counts.

  TeacherWhat is the way that counts?

  StudentIn his mind. In his heart.

  TeacherWhat does that really mean?

  StudentHe would feel free.

  TeacherHe could feel free even sitting in his cell?


  TeacherSo he would have this feeling which would not correspond to his actual condition.

  StudentNo, you're mixing up the physical and the psychological.

  TeacherConditions are not physical?

  StudentThat's only one kind of condition.

  TeacherBut feelings are only psychological?


  TeacherWhich kind of condition is recognized as a feeling of freedom — a psychological condition?


  TeacherSo feelings are psychological perceptions of psychological conditions.

  StudentYes, but you're oversimplifying again.

  TeacherIf a feeling is how you perceive a condition, then how do you perceive that there is a condition that is different from the feeling?

  StudentI don't understand.

  TeacherHow do know that there is any condition at all?

  StudentBecause you feel it!

  TeacherHow do you know the feeling is not, in fact, the condition?

  StudentThe feeling is your response to the condition!

  TeacherHow do you know there is anything other than the feeling? How do you know the feeling isn't it? How do you know the feeling isn't all that's there?

  StudentAre you asking me how do I know I'm not delusional?

  TeacherNo! To be delusional you'd have to believe something that's just not so. But you can't even know what is so and what is not. Nobody can know that. So you can't be delusional.

  StudentNobody can be delusional?

  TeacherNobody can know whether anybody is delusional.

  StudentThis is ridiculous.

  TeacherYes, it is ridiculous. And it all follows from what you've been claiming about this, that, and the other.

  StudentNo, it doesn't. You just keep mixing up all different things, and reducing one thing to another, and then deriving ridiculous conclusions from it all.

  TeacherOn the contrary, I think life is very simple. Eat, sleep, shit, die. You make it all very complicated and confusing.

  StudentYou make it nothing but biological.

  TeacherThat's all I see. I don't see all these abstractions that you speak of.

  StudentThen you don't see the wonder of the human animal, the potential, the uniqueness. You turn your back on all human achievements — art, science, philosophy, culture.

  TeacherBombs, pollution, genocide, advertising.

  StudentThat's why we have to strive for a deeper understanding of the human situation, of our gifts and power and potential, so we can learn how to use them well instead of ill.

  TeacherYou ask me the ordinary questions that men and women have asked for millennia, and you offer the same ordinary answers that have been offered for millennia. Asking those questions and giving those answers has created the world in which we live now — full of art and bombs, science and pollution, spirituality and genocide. If you don't like the world as it is, if you think this world is characterized by suffering and you want it to be different, then you need to ask some different questions and get some different answers. There aren't any more new answers to all those old questions. They've all been found and tried. And we are living in the result. We are living in the answers. Better find some different questions.

  StudentThen what questions do you propose?

  TeacherWhat's for dinner? What's your name? How much is that loaf of bread? Where do you catch the train to Lisbon?

  StudentTrivialities! You want to reduce all of life to day to day tedium?

  TeacherI don't want to reduce or expand or transform or undermine. I just live life as it is. I think all your talk of suffering and freedom is the reduction. You're missing everything!

  StudentIt's a dog's life you live. No better than a dog's life.

  TeacherYou think you're a god? You think you amount to a hill of beans in this universe? You are a dust speck. The entire race is a puff of dust. On the scale of the universe the difference between you and Hitler and Buddha is utterly insignificant, beneath notice. Stop acting like a little god and just live! Live like your life depends on it!

  StudentWhat are we then?

  TeacherWe are matter. Matter is all there is. Not the matter of the scientist. Not quarks and neutrinos and forces and spaces. Those are just ideas about matter. Ideas are matter too. Thoughts are matter. Feelings are matter. Consciousness is matter. Morality is matter. Meaning is matter. Purpose, significance, profundity are matter. Absurdity is matter. Nonsense, incoherence, irrationality are matter. Freedom and bondage, joy and suffering, life and death. Every idea, every conception, every awareness is matter. There is no significance to you or me, to life or death, to existence or nonexistence. Significance is an idea. Ideas are matter. This idea I have of myself is a material phenomenon, a peculiar configuration of atoms, or what have you. When the configuration changes, the idea is different. That is all that death is, the changing of a brief configuration into another brief configuration. I rebel against this notion. I am averse to this definition. I believe there is more to life. I believe that I have more reality than an idea. But that belief itself is also merely matter, one fleeting material configuration.

  StudentThere's no way to prove what you say.

  TeacherNor any need. It is cohesive and persuasive in a way that none of your convoluted intellectual systems are. It suffices. None of your complexities are of any help. Better to remain with what is simple and obvious and clear.

  StudentBut your story doesn't account for anything at all. There's nothing we can take from it. It tells us nothing about anything. Nothing about the nature of things. Nothing about the good, the true, and the beautiful. It has no practical use whatsoever.

  TeacherIt tells us everything about the good, the true, and the beautiful. It tells us they are worthless, empty, hollow, useless, good for nothing, having no practical value whatsoever.

  StudentWell, in your view, nothing could have any value or use.

  TeacherThat is right. There's no need to think about things in that way at all. That is the real freedom you seek.

  StudentNo, it isn't. Freedom is not just meaninglessness.

  TeacherThen meaning is your prison.

  StudentBetter a meaningful prison than a pointless liberty.

  TeacherThere you are. You already knew all the old answers to all the old questions, and none of those answers satisfied you. But now that you hear a radical answer, you run back to the safety of your dissatisfactions. All that you really wanted was to hear me tell you that you're on the right track, keep up the good work, and one day you'll be free and happy. Whether you call it nirvana or bliss or heaven or the pure lands or absolute freedom, what you seek is just an idea — what you seek is to have a single idea or feeling or experience or state forever. But that already is the case. You already are matter. That's all you could be. All there is. Already.