Free U.S. Shipping on orders over $20.00


New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Tuesday, November 10, 2020
The Cosmic Dance: An Excerpt from THE TWO HANDS OF GOD by Alan Watts

Originally published in 1963, The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity is Alan Watts’s forgotten book on world mythology — myths of light and darkness, good and evil, and the mystical unity that sees the transcendent whole behind apparent opposites. Alan Watts is one of the world’s most popular interpreters of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Fans of the mythologist Joseph Campbell will immediately notice his influence throughout this book. Campbell and Watts were in fact friends during its writing, and Campbell shared notes and feedback on several chapters. One might even say that The Two Hands of God is Alan Watts’s own introduction to the mythology of the world’s religions, using the nondual lens he was so well known for in his Zen teachings and study.

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

# # #

As there is no woven cloth without the simultaneous interpenetration of warp and woof, there is no world without both the exhalation and inhalation of the Supreme Self. Though the image of breathing, as distinct from weaving, makes the two successive rather than simultaneous, nevertheless the one always implies the other. Successive in time, they are simultaneous in meaning —that is, sub specie aeternitatis, from the standpoint of eternity. Beginning and end, birth and death, manifestation and withdrawal always imply each other. In Western — that is, Judaic and Christian — imagery there has generally been a tendency to overlook this mutuality and to see each life and the creation itself as unique — as a beginning, and then an end which does not imply another beginning. Our world is linear, and the course of time is very strictly a one-way street. Nature is a clockwork mechanism which does not wind itself up in the process of running down. In Western religion and physics alike, we tend to think of all energy as expenditure and evaporation. There is no hope for a renewal of life beyond the end unless the supernatural Creator, by an act of special grace, winds things up again. 

But the Indian view of time is cyclic. If birth implies death, death implies rebirth, and likewise the destruction of the world implies its recreation. The Western images are thus essentially tragic. Nature is a fall and its goal is death. There is no necessity for anything to happen beyond the end: only divine grace, operating outside the sphere of necessity, can redeem and restore the world. But the Indian imagery makes the world-drama a comedy — a sport or lila — in which all endings are the implicit promise of beginnings. Yet comedy must always depend on surprise. The burst of laughter is our expression of relief upon discovering that some threatened doom was an illusion — that “death was but the good King’s jest.” 

Consider a very simple but typical comedy enacted many years ago in a London music hall. The curtain rises upon an elaborately furnished bedroom. The sleeper is at once awakened by a shrill alarm clock. Reaching under his pillow, he produces a hammer and smashes it in the face. Sitting up in bed, he glowers at his early-Monday-morning surroundings, and, hammer still in hand, slowly crawls out from the covers. Thereupon he proceeds, item by Victorian item, to smash everything in the bedroom — the bedside table, the flowered pitcher and basin on the wash stand, the knickknacks on the mantel, the chocolate-colored chamber pot patterned with green leaves, the glass on the pictures, the windows, and the bed itself — leaving only a bulbous and pretentious floor lamp with a huge glass shade. Creeping stealthily across the wreckage he eyes this last and perfect object of his rage, very obviously designed to disintegrate with a spectacular explosion. Instead of smashing it with his hammer, he grasps it with both hands and flings it high into the air — and, falling to the floor, it bounces: made of rubber. 

This is the vulgar archetype of the cosmic punch line, the totally unexpected anticlimax which, in Hindu mythology, follows the terrifying tandava — the dance in which ten-armed Shiva, wreathed in fire, destroys the universe at the end of each cycle. But Shiva is simply the opposite face of Brahma, the Creator, so that as he turns to leave the stage with the world in ruin, the scene changes with his turning, and all things are seen to have been remade under the cover of their destruction. 

The polarity of Brahma and Shiva thus finds its expression in what at times seems to be the extreme ambivalence of Hindu culture — extreme in its asceticism as in its sensuality. On the one hand, there is the goal of Yoga, the meditation-discipline: to concentrate thought so as to penetrate and burn away the illusion of the world. Yoga is thus man’s participation in the inhalation or withdrawal of the world breath, in the dissolution of maya, and in return to the undifferentiated unity of the Godhead. Shiva, the destructive aspect of Godhead, is therefore the archetypal yogi, the naked ascetic daubed with ashes sitting hour after hour with his consciousness in total stillness. On the other hand, there is that exuberant delight in form and flesh which is so exquisitely celebrated in Hindu dancing, music, and sculpture, in the marvelously refined eroticism of the Kamasutra, the scripture of love, as well as in the vision of the perfectly governed society laid out in the Arthashastra, the scripture of politics. One might almost say that India had set herself the problem of exploring these two attitudes to their extremes and then of finding the synthesis between them. 

This problem, stated in mythological terms, is the recurrent theme of a type of popular Hindu literature known as the Puranas. Certainly much later than the Upanishads, these are texts of uncertain date, forming a repository of myth and legend accumulated over many centuries. Notable in the Puranas is the relationship of the gods to their feminine counterparts or Shaktis, the feminine symbols of maya, the world-illusion, whereby the male god is alternatingly seduced and disenchanted. Originally the Godhead is hermaphroditic, beyond the opposites, but at the moment of creation the feminine Shakti leaps forth spontaneously, as Eve was created from the body of Adam while he slept. 

# # #

Alan Watts (1915–1973) was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero, best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote more than 25 books and numerous articles applying the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy to our everyday lives.

Excerpted from the book The Two Hands of God. Copyright © 2020 by Joan Watts and Anne Watts, © 1963 by Alan Watts.






November 2020 (4)
October 2020 (2)
September 2020 (4)
August 2020 (3)
July 2020 (4)
June 2020 (4)
May 2020 (4)
April 2020 (2)
November 2019 (2)
October 2019 (5)
September 2019 (4)
August 2019 (5)
July 2019 (3)
June 2019 (4)
May 2019 (4)
April 2019 (4)
March 2019 (4)
February 2019 (4)
January 2019 (5)
December 2018 (3)
November 2018 (5)
October 2018 (4)
September 2018 (4)
August 2018 (4)
July 2018 (4)
June 2018 (5)
May 2018 (7)
April 2018 (5)
March 2018 (5)
February 2018 (5)
January 2018 (5)
December 2017 (3)
November 2017 (6)
October 2017 (6)
September 2017 (6)
August 2017 (6)
July 2017 (5)
June 2017 (7)
May 2017 (6)
April 2017 (6)
March 2017 (8)
February 2017 (5)
January 2017 (5)
December 2016 (6)
November 2016 (8)
October 2016 (6)
September 2016 (7)
August 2016 (6)
July 2016 (6)
June 2016 (7)
May 2016 (7)
April 2016 (6)
March 2016 (7)
February 2016 (6)
January 2016 (6)
December 2015 (4)
November 2015 (7)
October 2015 (7)
September 2015 (6)
August 2015 (7)
July 2015 (9)
June 2015 (9)
May 2015 (8)
April 2015 (9)
March 2015 (9)
February 2015 (8)
January 2015 (8)
December 2014 (7)
November 2014 (7)
October 2014 (9)
September 2014 (9)
August 2014 (8)
July 2014 (10)
June 2014 (8)
May 2014 (9)
April 2014 (8)
March 2014 (9)
February 2014 (9)
January 2014 (7)
December 2013 (7)
November 2013 (4)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (4)
August 2013 (4)
July 2013 (3)
June 2013 (3)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (4)
March 2013 (3)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (4)
November 2012 (4)
October 2012 (5)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (3)
July 2012 (2)
June 2012 (3)
May 2012 (2)
April 2012 (3)
March 2012 (5)
February 2012 (3)
January 2012 (4)
December 2011 (4)
November 2011 (3)
October 2011 (4)
September 2011 (5)
August 2011 (4)
July 2011 (2)
June 2011 (3)
May 2011 (3)
April 2011 (4)
March 2011 (4)
February 2011 (3)
January 2011 (1)
December 2010 (3)
November 2010 (3)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (2)
August 2010 (4)
July 2010 (4)
June 2010 (2)
May 2010 (4)
April 2010 (5)
March 2010 (5)
February 2010 (1)