Checking Out of The Game

“Medieval society, in the west, comparable to Hindu society, allowed people to check out of the game – it revered and encouraged hermits, monks, nuns of various types of discipline….
Now I want to make an observation here about checking out of the game. This is not encouraged in contemporary society, because the Catholic Church and the, say, the Episcopalian Church are very powerful minorities, they can still support monasteries and even hermits. But you can’t be one on your own without great difficulty. Firstly, because you’re a poor consumer. See around here we have a number of hermits: there’s a guy out there building that boat and he’s essentially a nonjoinder, a poor consumer, and the community – they live a lot a along here, and they’re mostly…they’re not working-class people, they are people who dropped out of college because they saw it was stupid – and they’re that sort of people; we could call them perhaps beatniks. But you see, the city doesn’t like it because they aren’t owning the right sort of cars and therefore the local car salesman isn’t doing business through them; they don’t have lawns and so nobody can sell them lawn mowers; they hardly use dishwashers, appliances of that kind – they don’t need them. And also they wear blue jeans and things like that, and so the local dress shops feel a bit put out having these people around, and they live very simply. Well…you mustn’t do that. You’ve got to live in a complicated way. You got to have the kind of car, you know, that identifies you as a person of substance and status and all that. So there’s a great problem here in our society. Now why is there this problem? There’s always a very inconsiderable minority of these nonjoinders or people who check-out of the game, but you will find that insecure societies are the most intolerant of those who are nonjoinders. They are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say everyone must play. Now that’s a double-bind; you can’t say to a person, “you must play,” because what you’re saying is: you are required to do something which will be acceptable only if you do it voluntarily, you see?…
alan watts 2
Now a free and easy society loves outsiders, in fact it’s a little bad for the outsiders integrity because he becomes a holy man, see, and people make salaams and give him food and all that; they really take care of the outsider, because they know that man is doing for us what we haven’t got the guts to do. That outsider who lives up there in the mountain is at the highest peak of human evolution; his consciousness is one with the divine. And great, just there is someone like that around! It makes you feel a little better; he has realized, he knows what it’s all about. And so we need a number of those people. Even though they don’t join our game, they tell us, you see: “What you’re doing’s only a game. It’s okay, I’m not going to condemn you, but it is only a game, and we up on that mountaintop are watching you, we love you, we have compassion for you, but excuse us please we aren’t going to join.” So that gives the community great strength, because it tells the government, in no uncertain terms, that there’s something more than government. That’s why wise kings kept not only priests, but court fools. The court fool is much more effective than the priest, to remind the king that after all he’s human, and…you know, how in “Richard the Second”, where the fool is called the antic, the king says: “Within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of the king keeps Death his watch, and there the antic sits, scoffing at his state and griming at his pomp, allowing him a little time to monarchize be fear’d and kill with looks, and then at last comes death, and with a pin bores through his castle wall, and farewell king…”
Out of your mind
An extract from l Alan Watts lecture titled, “A Place for the Hermit”. The talk is part of the “Out of Your Mind” lecture series (click here to listen):
Available on You Tube: at
alan watts
Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest but left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies. He was the author of numerous books. See and


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