Alan Watts' Tao Mutually Arising - Newton's Billiards Determinism

Alan Watts' Tao Mutually Arising and Newton's Billiard Balls Determinism

Tao Mutual Arising

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright ©2021 - November 10, 2021

About a week ago an individual asked about tao mutually arising. I was not familiar with the phrase being used within a person's theory, so out of curiosity I did a little investigating to find answers for myself also. The following is a brief summary that includes a few quotes of Alan Watts' that help to lend ideas of how he interpreted tao mutually arising.

Definition of Tao Mutually Arising

"This is called the hsiang sheng, or "mutually arising" order of the forces, and utterly fanciful as it may seem to us, it has the special interest of describing a cycle in which cause and effect are not sequential but simultaneous. The forces are so interdependent that no one can exist without the others, just as there can be no yang without yin." (The Way of Zen, Alan Watts, copyright© 1957, Pantheon Books Inc., copyright renewed 1985 by Mary Jane Watts.)

Example of Tao Mutually Arising

The following quotes are also from The Way of Zen.

"The opening words of the oldest Zen poem say that

The perfect Way [Tao] is without difficulty,

Save that it avoids picking and choosing.

Only when you stop liking and disliking

Will all be clearly understood.

A split hair’s difference,

And heaven and earth are set apart!

If you want to get the plain truth,

Be not concerned with right and wrong.

The conflict between right and wrong

Is the sickness of the mind.

The point is not to make an effort to silence the feelings and cultivate bland indifference. It is to see through the universal illusion that what is pleasant or good may be wrested from what is painful or evil. It was a first principle in Taoism that

When everyone recognizes beauty as beautiful, there is already ugliness;

When everyone recognizes goodness as good, there is already evil.

"To be" and "not to be" arise mutually;

Difficult and easy are mutually realized;

Long and short are mutually contrasted;

High and low are mutually posited; ...

Before and after are in mutual sequence.

To see this is to see that good without evil is like up without down, and that to make an ideal of pursuing the good is like trying to get rid of the left by turning constantly to the right. One is therefore compelled to go round in circles.

The logic of this is so simple that one is tempted to think it over-simple. The temptation is all the stronger because it upsets the fondest illusion of the human mind, which is that in the course of time everything may be made better and better. For it is the general opinion that were this not possible the life of man would lack all meaning and incentive. The only alternative to a life of constant progress is felt to be a mere existence, static and dead, so joyless and inane that one might as well commit suicide. The very notion of this "only alternative" shows how firmly the mind is bound in a dualistic pattern, how hard it is to think in any other terms than good or bad, or a muddy mixture of the two."

"The key to the relationship between yang and yin is called hsiang sheng, mutual arising or inseparability. As Lao-tzu puts it:

When everyone knows beauty as beautiful, there is already ugliness;

When everyone knows good as goodness, there is already evil.

"To be" and "not to be" arise mutually;

Difficult and easy are mutually realized;

Long and short are mutually contrasted;

High and low are mutually posited;...

Before and after are in mutual sequence.

They are thus like the different, but inseparable, sides of a coin, the poles of a magnet, or pulse and interval in any vibration."

Alan Watts speaking of how long it takes to master Zen:

"The koan system as it exists today is largely the work of Hakuin (1685–1768), a formidable and immensely versatile master, who gave it a systematic organization so that the complete course of Zen study in the Rinzai School is divided into six stages. ...Normally, this course of training takes about thirty years. By no means all Zen monks complete the whole training. This is required only of those who are to receive their master’s inka or “seal of approval” so that they themselves may become masters (roshi), thoroughly versed in all the “skillful means” (upaya) for teaching Zen to others."

The following quotes are from Tao: The Watercourse Way (Alan Watts, Pantheon Books, copyright©1975 by Mary Jane Yates Watts).

"Thirty spokes join together in the hub. It is because of what is not there that the cart is useful.

Clay is formed into a vessel. It is because of its emptiness that the vessel is useful.

Cut doors and windows to make a room. It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.

Therefore, what is present is used for profit.

I do not know if this point can really be argued in our logic, but I find it impossible to conceive any form whatsoever without the component of relatively empty space."

"But it is basic to the Taoist view of the world that every thing-event (shih or wu) is what it is only in relation to all others. The earth, and every tiniest thing upon it, inevitably "goes-with" the sun, moon, and stars. It needs them just as much as it needs, and consists of, its own elements. Conversely, the sun would not be light without eyes, nor would the universe "exist" without consciousness—and vice versa. This is the principle of "mutual arising" (hsiang sheng) which is explained in the second chapter of Tao Te Ching. The principle is that if everything is allowed to go its own way the harmony of the universe will be established, since every process in the world can "do its own thing" only in relation to all others."

Comments on the Quotes

[1] At first glance, Alan Watts' books and speeches appear to be but one of many people's long-winded yadda-yaddas of memorized words mishmashed together into invented theories, but Watts did make an attempt to explain his own ideas, which is very uncommon in books. Regardless of whether an individual's theory is right or wrong, if the individual attempts to explain what he is talking about, then the theory has value because (i) the words lend ideas of how the individual is stringing his thoughts together, and (ii) the explanations help to describe which topics that are unknowns to the individual. In no stretch of the imagination was Watts a master of any sort, but still he brings to the surface numerous good ideas that are worthy of pondering how the 'masters' may themselves think (what Watts had memorized while listening to the masters speak). At first glance, I had no intention of reading more than Watts' definition of mutually arising, but after reading numerous segments of two of his books, I may now sit and read their entirety.

[2] The article Tao Beauty (written over two years ago) already has a good enough introductory discussion on the topic of Daodejing's mutuals. It is almost universal that people do not self-observe nor self-learn how and what beauty is, and Watts (as well as the 'masters' that he learned under) also failed to recognize the obvious, which pretty much nullifies the meat of their teachings. Nevertheless, it is useful to observe their teachings so as to learn how well the people's minds were able to rationalize the unknown topics.

[3] For some of us, consciously turning off the mental act of liking, disliking, beautiful, plain, right, and wrong, is as easy as turning off being ticklish, or turning off a bad case of the hiccups (severe hiccups might take fifteen seconds or so to fully quieten). For some people, it is very easy to enter into a so-called 'Zen state' (there seem to be as many different definitions of 'Zen state' as there are individuals who attempt to explain what it means) where the heart and inner torso are quietened (relaxed, calmed, minimal weighing of comparisons), while the upper mind lets-go of its analytical stress-states, relaxes its analyses into calmness, and the resulting state is very quiet and unstressed, which permits an active awareness to be the dominate state. For some individuals, the state is used for various purposes naturally (i.e. just sitting and staring at Nature while permitting the sense of great beauty to arise independently, or while target shooting (sub-.5" five-round groups at 600 feet, repeatedly)). This parallels the Zhong Yong (aka Doctrine of the Mean) Confucian quote of "Happy angry, grieve laugh, it have-not expressed, call it center". Therefore, for some individuals, they enter into 'Zen states' naturally, and do so without first having been told that their self-calming is Zen-like.

[4] The "dualistic pattern" might be common amongst man, but it is not universal. Some individuals have never thought dualistically; always the individuals have analyzed (processed thoughts) based upon curves and durations, with no distinct mutuals of good-bad, up-down, etc.. Within a curved Nature, there can never be distinct mutuals, and too, as one example, the sense of beauty and ugly are fully dependent on one's own body shape (physics), of which, when an individual is self-aware of their own selves, and having recognized why the sense of beauty arises, it is very obvious that the so-called 'mutuals' of beauty and ugly only relate to one's own private self, and they do not relate to the things interpreted as beautiful and ugly. Being in the 'Zen state', therefore, is not a goal to achieve, but rather, it is merely a logical self-act.

[5] Important for the quotes' topics is the question: if the emptiness of a vessel makes the vessel useful for inserting liquids, then fine, but, when a man has emptied himself, then what will he fill himself with? In what will he hold of usefulness? It is not rational for a man to claim that the emptiness of wheel hubs, doors, windows, and vessels is what makes them useful, while the man also does not make his own emptiness useful.

Another quote from The Way of Zen:

"Those who know do not speak;

Those who speak do not know.

Although, however, they do not “put up,” they do not completely "shut up." On the one hand, they would love to share their understanding with others. But on the other hand, they are convinced that words are ultimately futile, and are, furthermore, under an agreement not to discuss certain aspects of their training. They begin, therefore, to take the characteristically Asian attitude of "Come and find out for yourself.""

Ah, yes, people after my own heart, that of words being futile and of none having definitive definitions, but, communication between individuals is a very important ingredient for living beings, and when the reciprocal communication cannot be shared through the warmths of heart when touching and sensing, then the sounds of words (or any other animal noises) are a weak substitute, and sometimes the writing of words functions as a means of soothing the need for communicating even if no one ever reads the words. But yes, agreed, saying too much about important topics is far worse than not saying enough: saying too much leads to people memorizing the words and then believing of themselves to understand things that cannot be understood through words alone.

But here, when a man has emptied his self, what will he then fill the vessel with? How can a person who "avoids picking and choosing" be able to choose what to fill his own vessel with? Ah, but that is perhaps one of the very most important questions of all, and, "Those who know do not speak; Those who speak do not know".

How can a person fill his vessel with virtue, love, and quality if he does not know what virtue, love, and quality are? The act of not caring to self-learn through self-observation, results in one's vessel being filled with uncaringness and ignorance. People who go to schools, expecting to learn self-learning, fill their vessels with hypocrisy and foolishness.

Audio Example of Watts' Opinion of Tao

The following quote is from the first 5 minutes of the audio mp3 from's 167 Alan Watts Lao Tzus Tao Te Ching. The audio file has Alan Watts speaking of the Daodejing book. (Note that the accuracy of transcription may not be 100%.)

"...faces some serious problems of translations ...ordinarily translated virtue ...The text says something like this; superior virtue, not virtue, but it has virtue, inferior virtue can't let-go of virtue, that's not virtue, and we more or less paraphrase that by translating, superior virtue is not conscious of itself as virtue, and therefore it is virtue, but inferior virtue is so, hooked-up with being virtuous, or hooked-on being virtuous, that it is not virtue. Now then therefore this word is a connection of virtue and magic. It means, the superi-, the, the excellence, of things, in the sense that, a sea excels at being a sea, and nobody really knows how it does it, there is no way of imitating a sea excelling in something naturally, and yet it's something that is so difficult to understand that it seems that it has been done by magic, is the meaning of this word. So what de is, is, the state ...a human being who has learned to live in harmony with the dao."

Reason enough to smile, Watts' speech sounds much too similar to the peculiar Hegelian quote that was given in Pathological Science #3 Experts.

But Watts' statement is a good example of people who do not self-observe, nor self-learn, and have no knowledge of what is popularly noun-named physics (of which, the absence of knowledge was caused by the absence of self-observation and self-learning). For over thirty years I professionally designed, created, modified, and diagnosed electronic circuitry that operated upon the interactions of electrical field flux. To people who do similarly, it is elementarily simple to create new states of flux by combining specific existing states. It is like baking bread and everything else in Nature: everything is based upon specific ingredients and specific sequences. I have publicly written of it many times, that an analogy is building a pyramid: each higher level's color and tone is dependent on the lower level's color and tone. As a research project, I applied similar techniques organically to create numerous new and wonderfully positive emotions that cannot otherwise exist in today's societies. The authentic Laozi of Daodejing appeared to have written of similar, that of specific states of virtue relying upon the preexistence of specific ingredients and sequences. The nuts-n-bolts act of producing virtue (and emotions) is popularly noun-named physics, the same general physics that students ought to have learned of in the 4th and 5th grades.

A better name for physics is Nature's Way, of which all healthy people learn from, but for individuals who did not adequately self-learn Nature's way as infants, they interpret physics as "magic". But no, light bulbs are not magic, radios are not magic, television is not magic, car ignitions are not magic, computers are not magic, music is not magic, flowing water is not magic, wave patterns of sounds are not magic, water pressure is not magic, and the physics of flux fields is not magic.

Physics existed first; man existed last. The human body — including the brain — is physics-based. Beauty is physics-based. Virtue is physics-based. Thoughts are physics-based. As simple as it is to modify electromagnetic frequency flux, so also is it simple to modify emotions through the same principles.

It is the human mind that invents the concepts of up and down, left and right, beauty and ugly, and all other similar mutuals, including yin and yang. The noun-name is anthropomorphism, the act of people giving human characteristics to animals and objects. Nature does not create up and down, left and right, nor beauty and ugly; it is man who believes that Nature the Creator thinks and behaves as Man the Created.

(Anthropomorphism is predominate within all ideologies, including the topmost of modern science.)

What happens in-between points A and B? What happens in-between measuring the height of a wall? What happens in-between the mathematical numbers of 1 and 2? What happens in-between the sense of beauty and the sense of plain? The quantity of stuff happening in-between each point is huge, but very few individuals are aware of what happens.

How do you know that different species exist? Why do you not wish to marry a sparrow? How do you know that sparrows and eagles are different? The "nothingness in-between mutuals" idea has serious flaws because the claimants are still discerning the differences in-between sparrows, eagles, roaches, and elephants. All ideologies that teach 'nothingness in-between' are not speaking accurately.

"Yang and yin are in some ways parallel to the (later) Buddhist view of form, se, and emptiness, k’ung—of which the Hridaya Sutra says, "That which is form is just that which is emptiness, and that which is emptiness is just that which is form."" (Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way, Copyright© 1975, Mary Jane Yates Watts.)

Numerous ideologies speak of emptiness — whether it be an emptiness in-between matter, or the emptiness of a vessel — and the promoters of the ideologies often claim of themselves to be empty, but still the individuals unknowingly recognize and discern the differences between sparrows, eagles, humans, and food. The absence of self-learning through self-observation can and does lead to serious mistakes, including the mistake of believing that Nature does not rule man.

The dialogue Alo and De Mutual lends additional information that helps to illustrate that — at least for some individuals — a normal state of mind (before the mind has been polluted with 'ear to mouth' schooling) is fully aware and analytic while not yet having memorized the English words up and down.

As a useful comparison, Xian Jin #20 is a Confucian quote that directly speaks against the following of other people's teachings: (abbreviated working draft) "Zi Zhang ask: uniform-consistent-virtuous person, him way? Zi (Confucius) say: Not walk-on footprint, not enter-join into room-grave-tomb." The quote is considerably more complex than it may appear, but still it is very easy to recognize the underlying idea, that quality individuals do not follow other people's teachings. A quality person creates their own path, personally analyzes and chooses what is correct, and does not follow what other people claim to be the way.

Memorizing words, and following other people's footprints, never leads to truth. Attending Zen and Tao schools cannot result in the student attaining Zen and Tao.

Overview of Alan Watts

Wikipedia's article (taken with a grain of salt) on Alan Watts includes the statement of: "When questioned sharply by students during his talk at University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1970, Watts responded, as he had from the early sixties, that he was not an academic philosopher but rather "a philosophical entertainer"". That is a fair judgment: from what was found within his books and speeches, Alan Watts was a stage entertainer (a good one perhaps; he had a good voice and a good skill of stringing together disconnected ideas to invent stories).

The same Wikipedia article speaks of Alan Watts having been influenced by several individuals, including Carl Jung, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, and Allen Ginsberg (the Jung and Ginsberg references are enough evidence for an individual to keep a safe distance from Watts' ideology). Similarly as Ginsberg behaved, within Watts' books is found vulgarity and a disrespect for polite etiquette (which would have been judged as being excessively aggressive and psychopathic during the 1950s (Ginsberg's writings were also), while it is still deemed unacceptable behavior today amongst decent people, and it is valid evidence that Watts did not 'walk the talk' of Taoism nor of any other respectable ideology). also provides the Alan Watts - Carl Jung Tribute speech, which lends supportive evidence that — since Watts valued Jung's ideology — then Watts would also tend to lean in favor of Jung's sophist flavor of psychology. Also included in the Wikipedia article are references of Watts' three marriages, five worships (Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, Christianity, academia), and a sizable background that further suggests that Watts did not 'walk the talk' as what his books might otherwise lead the reader to assume. And so, yes, if the references are valid, and if the Wikipedia article is not another lie and misinformation, then that pretty much sums it up: Alan Watts was a philosophical entertainer — (no dishonor there if the person admits to being a philosophical entertainer) — but in no stretch of the imagination was Alan Watts knowledgeable of the topics related to virtue, physics, nor of beauty, each of which are core necessities when discussing topics related to Daodejing.

Billiard Balls and Physics Determinism

The following quote is from Alan Watts' The Nature of Consciousness.

"Newton's whole image of the world is based on billiards. The atoms are billiard balls, and they bang each other around. And so your behavior, every individual around, is defined as a very, very complex arrangement of billiard balls being banged around by everything else. And so behind the fully automatic model of the universe is the notion that reality itself is, to use the favorite term of 19th century scientists, blind energy."

And, so, perhaps, the phrase Newton's Billiard Balls may have begun as a quote from Alan Watts' books.

Nevertheless, the 'cause and effect' idea within billiards is pretty much dogma in today's science. When viewed on a flat table, and measured with flat mathematics, and theorized by flat theories, then yes, the flat 'cause and effect' appears rational. However, using but only one variable, answer this: how does the future influence the past if all past actions occurred through cause and effect? John Wheeler theorized about a 'self-excited circuit' that influences the past, and current research has repeatedly proven that the distant future (twenty to fifty or more years distant) can and does directly influence the present (and has very specific measurable ingredients). Irrefutable evidence states that the future can and does alter the present (including some very specific emotions that cannot occur within linear time), but, that also means that Newton's cause and effect — as well as most all academic physics — has a tremendously serious flaw. The vast majority of the unsolved problems of physics, are, basically, little more than the expected results of flat thinking attempting to reason curves.

Parallel to what Watts wrote of billiards, physics determinism is the noun-name given to the belief that all present and future actions are determined from the preexisting causes of the past: flat-linear cause and effect. Watts wrote: "a cycle in which cause and effect are not sequential but simultaneous", but, is that not still inferring linear time?

The thing named energy is itself three-dimensional, and thus cannot have been the source of the three-dimensional Reality. What then created energy? There is something else 'out there', but that topic is for an article on panpsychism.