Jan Cox Talk 3140

The Paradox of Not Knowing What the Questions Are


The following recordings are from Jan’s final years, when his voice was diminished and he spoke in a low whisper. Some listeners may find these tapes hard to listen to, or difficult to understand. Thus, as another option, read the transcript below.

Otherwise, turn up the volume and enjoy! Those who carefully listened to Jan during this period consider that he spoke plainly and directly to the matter at hand, “pulling out all the stops,” as he understood that these were to be his last messages to his groups, and to posterity.

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Notes by TK

At the heart of consciousness is a question and a paradox. The only true passion of the mind is curiosity. The core of curiosity is the great why questions of existence. Men are satisfied that they can’t answer these questions, but not satisfied that they don’t understand what the questions are. That is the paradox.

To be awake is to understand what the questions are—not their answers. Although that is the answer! A related paradox: you are in prison only when you say otherwise. Men know that they are physically confined in the body and subject to its physics. Yet they do not consider that their minds are equally confined.

The “I” = the prison cell of consciousness that claims not to be in prison. You can only claim not to be in prison, for the moment, you cannot claim that you are free. You can only state you are not sleeping (at this moment), not that you are awake. (39:32) #3140

Notes by DR

Jan Cox Talk 3140       It’s not knowing the answer, it’s knowing the paradox: that being that no one knows what the question is. Your mind, your ability to think is imprisoned if you say otherwise. You can never say you’re awake, you can only say you’re not distracted, not hypnotized. You’re in prison when you say otherwise. You can never say you’re awake. You can say you’re not asleep. And the reason is because you can’t say what the question is. You have to wake up before you can realize that you don’t know what waking up is.


04-28-2004   #3140
Edited by S.A.

At the heart of consciousness, at the heart of being human, is a question, and at the heart of the question is a paradox. If there is anything resembling a native passion of the mind, it is curiosity. But if curiosity were an atomic reactor, then the question, the question, would be the reactor’s core or its fuel rods.

Everyone is aware that there is a question. Ordinary people are satisfied with its many lesser versions—but I use “satisfied” advisedly, as I’ll explain later. I haven’t numbered the variants of the lesser versions, but there are just a few. Why is there evil? Why are we here? Those are considered to be heavy-weather philosophical questions. A more personal question is, why does all this bad stuff happen to me?

That about covers it, doesn’t it? I should have made a list. At any rate, if you listen when people speak about matters that seem to be of some consequence, it’s almost always on the basis of a question that begins with why. Why do my children do this to me? Why does my wife treat me this way? Why did my boss fire me? Why is life so arranged that I am not recognized for the genius that I am?

I said earlier that most people are satisfied with these lesser questions. I also said that that was a figure of speech, because no one is truly satisfied that any one of those is the question. Perhaps the most apparently serious version of the question would be something like, “Who is God?” Or possibly, “What happens after we die?” Those two questions, along with “Why are we here?” are basically the same question. Even if an ordinary person insisted that one of those was the question, you could look into his eyes, and you would recognize that he didn’t really mean it.

People are not satisfied that they know what the question is, and that is the paradox. If you said to even the most religious of people, “Do you believe that there is a question, a central question, a core question to being a human?” the religious people would emphatically say yes, and they would insist that the question must be a version of “Who or what is God?” I suggest, however, that even the most deeply religious people are not satisfied with that question. I certainly can’t prove this, but you should be able to hear what I’m saying, because there’s a piece of this in you, and you probably went through a stage of feeling that that particular version of the question was very important.

A religious person can say, “I swear on my immortal soul that I am convinced that the question, the only question, the only worthy question is, ‘Who is God?’” If they truly were convinced that there is a question at the heart of being human, and that they knew what it was, would they not devote their lives to answering that question? They may claim that they do. They point out that they go to Mass every day, they read the Bible for an hour every day. Nevertheless, that is not pursuing the question. Those activities could even be viewed as avoiding the question.

Throughout history, there have been groups of people—so-called “schools”—that claim that their purpose is to awaken, and that include the God-question in their path to awakening. They say that in some way you must know God in order to awaken. Yet even they are not sure that they know the true question at the heart of consciousness. The closest I can come to presenting evidence of this is that if the leaders of those schools, or anyone else, were convinced that they knew what the question was, surely they would dedicate every remaining moment of their lives to answering that question. Yet they don’t.

This is not an attack on people. This is just a fact. People do not devote themselves to answering that question, or any other question, because no one knows what the question is. The paradox is that no one is able to face the fact that they do not know what the question is.

From one view, being awake is knowing the answer. As I said, there are and have been so-called schools whose stated aim is to achieve enlightenment, which they claim is knowing the answer to the singular question at the heart of humanness. They are wrong. Being awake is not the same as knowing the answer.

The paradox at the heart of the question is not that there exists an innate, omnipresent question that is an integral part of consciousness. The paradox comes with consciousness, and is at the heart of consciousness. The paradox is not even that no one knows the answer to the question. The paradox is that no one knows what the question is, and no one realizes that.

There is another paradox almost equal in splendor and potential to the paradox at the heart of the question. Indeed, the other paradox may be the most significant paradox for people like us, because it is more specific than the paradox at the heart of the question.Before I discuss the more relevant version for people like us, I have to admit that I’m savoring it, delighting in it. I’ve put it into words before, because in my mind, I’ve talked to myself about it, but I’ve never said it aloud before.

First, a little background—people commonly say that they’re trapped in their bodies. We’re all obviously under the constraints of the so-called “laws of physics,” the laws of the universe. We have to put up with gravity, with inertia. We’re limited in what we can safely eat and drink, and what activities we can safely undertake. Ordinary people understand that we live in physical confinement. Not so obvious to ordinary people is my suggestion that we are imprisoned mentally. In my daily writings on the Web, discussing man’s Second Reality, I’ve been using the symbolism of prison. What I mean by mentally being in prison is being in a state where your consciousness consists of no more than your natural-born mind, the congenitally conscious part of your brain. That is being in prison.

That was the setup. Now for the absolutely mouth-watering paradox. You could build an entire school of awakening on just this paradox. In fact, there is a minor version that uses some classic mystical terms, and that may help shoehorn you into the major paradox. First, the minor version of the paradox that I have been using for years is that you can never say that you’re awake, or that you’re enlightened. All you can say is that you’re not asleep, you’re not distracted, you’re not hypnotized. As you might expect, if you switch to the symbolism of the mind being imprisoned, the lesser version of that paradox is that you can never say you are free. All you can say is that you are not in prison.

I suspect that, verbally, this sounds pretty sketchy, paradoxical, abstruse, fake, weird, irrational—but if you can see this, those few words literally explain everything about the mystical way of life, the mystical view, the big secret, the big question.

I’m trying to convey something, not to be supernaturally spooky or incomprehensible. Imagine that I’ve been talking for thirty minutes, or thirty years, about how we’re imprisoned. Imagine that I haven’t been using the terms, “Man believes he’s awake but he’s actually living in a dream,” but for all this time, I’d been saying, “Everyone believes that they’re walking around free, but they’re not. They’re in prison. I don’t mean that they are physically imprisoned. I mean that their consciousness is imprisoned.” What if I had said that the first time you’d ever heard me?

Ordinary people believe that they can think anything they want to. They believe they can say anything they want to. But no, my fellow mystics, that is not true. That is a dream, an illusion, madness. Ordinary men are mentally imprisoned. You, in your ordinary state of mind, are imprisoned. You can not think what you want to. You don’t realize this, because you were born in prison. You grew up in prison. You’re listening to me right now from a prison cell. When I say to you that you are mentally imprisoned, you look around, and you think, “What on earth are you talking about? I’m as free as I’ve ever been. I can walk over here, and turn around and walk back. I can turn ninety degrees, and walk over that way. I can look out my window and see other people. I can sing or murmur or shout.” Nevertheless, that is an illusion. You are in prison.

In my opinion, the prison metaphor, “Man believes he’s free, but he’s actually in prison,” is as good as “Man believes he is awake, but he’s actually asleep.” You are in prison, trapped in a wee little cell that you happen to call you. Remember, we’re talking about consciousness, not about your body. When you say, “I,” that “I” is a symbolic representation of the prison cell in your brain that is your consciousness. All of your answers to questions, your opinions, your tastes in intangible artifacts like music or literature—all of that comes from within the little prison cell in which you’re trapped.

If, instead of using terms like being asleep when you think you’re awake, I had talked and written about being in prison when you think you’re free, and you’d been listening to that or reading that from the beginning, then by now, those terms would sound natural to you. If I used those terms for just five minutes, they should sound natural to you. Assume, then, that for the last thirty years I had spoken of being imprisoned and believing you were free, and tonight I said, “There is a paradox that is actually the gemstone of everything I’ve described for the last thirty years. The major version of that paradox is that for people like us, your consciousness, your mind, your ability to think, is instantly imprisoned if you say otherwise, even to yourself. Again, the paradox is that you immediately, unconditionally, unquestionably, are in prison whenever you say or think otherwise. That is the answer to the question.”

That’s better than southern-fried chicken, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, even Maker’s Mark, is it not? The sparkle in the idea of achieving enlightenment, waking up, experiencing a radical change in your consciousness, is right there in that paradox. Don’t let my calling it a paradox buffalo you or distract you, but if you pursue that beautiful paradox, you’ll feel a finger push right in between your brain’s prefrontal lobes and tickle you until you burst out laughing.

I’m about to say something I hadn’t planned to say. I’m going to say it because I want you to understand. Commonly I’ll talk about a paradox like this, and there will be several versions of it, and I use the obvious version, the introductory or basic version. There will be one particular way of saying it that I never use. I always trust that for a few people listening to me, their mind says, “Why don’t you just say such-and-such?” If you are thinking that, I’m proud of you—but tut-tut, because I did not put it that way. The reason I don’t use this is because even when I say this—I’m not saying this. That is beyond a paradox. That is something else that there’s no name for.

What I said was, “You are in prison when you say otherwise.” Here is what I was not going to say: “You are not in prison until you say you’re not.” Now, remember the first paradox, which is that you can never say that you’re awake. You can say only that you’re not asleep. The reason that is so is that you cannot see what the question is. I didn’t plan to say this, but—you have to wake up before you can realize that you don’t know what waking up is.

The whole of this is the secret. You know by now that I’m not trying to be cute. I’m not playing with words. I find it delicious that somebody who knows what’s going on, an awakened person, an enlightened person, can’t say—you realize what I’m inferring when I say, “You can never say that you’re awake.” Many times I have pointed out that anybody, even if they’re a famous guru or teacher, who says that they’re awake—if that is the term they’re using—they are emphatically not. They may understand more than an ordinary person, but I’m telling you what I know is possible. Anybody who says, “I am awake, I am enlightened” is not awake. If they were awake, they wouldn’t say that.

I don’t doubt that the person may have had an amazing brain experience. I don’t question that perhaps they spent thirty or forty years in a monastery or a mystical school, and have devoted, as best they could, their entire life to trying to achieve enlightenment. They may have undergone an extraordinary mental event, such that they can now see more clearly than they did previously—but anybody who will say, “Yes, I am now enlightened,” is not.

That was the inference, the unstated preface to my telling you that you can never say that you’re awake, but only that you’re not asleep. And of course by “say,” I’m really talking about what is going on inside your head, what you are telling yourself. I can’t imagine what business you’d have ever talking about this in any way to anybody other than yourself. You can’t say to yourself that you’re awake. The best you can ever do is say to yourself, “I am not asleep.”

One more time, you are in prison whenever you say otherwise. That paradox is at the heart of human consciousness, and that paradox is at the very soul of people like us, trying to wake up, to achieve enlightenment. That paradox is, in fact, the question, and nobody realizes it because people think that they’re mentally free to pursue the question, to think about it, to believe they understand it, and then to go off to look for another question—but, again, you are in prison when you say otherwise.

The other thing I didn’t point out is that there is a way out, right there. Right there. “You are in prison whenever you say otherwise.” Best I can make out, taking into account my poor math skills, I believe that’s eight words—and those eight words tell you the way out of the predicament they describe. You are in prison whenever you say otherwise. That’s the way out, right there, in that paradox.

Time for my final comment. Here’s a hint. You’re supposed to think, even though I didn’t say it—no, you do it. I already gave you the hint.

Jan’s Daily Fresh Real News (to accompany this talk)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Occult Marginalia For The Mental Outlier
APRIL 28, 2004 ©2004: JAN COX

When one man would weaken and turn on the television,
(while yet retaining a trace of independent consciousness),
he would also turn on the radio to drown out the tv:
from this he learned how to override the thoughts which life automatically broadcasts to his brain with ones of his own creation.

An awakened man worthy the name is his own primary audience.

A simple (but not thereby rendered invalid) telling of a certain matter could be thus: humanity’s first fathers, immediately upon becoming conscious,
as practice in their new ability to think, made up a batch of fairy tales,
and then forgot to mention to their progeny what they were.

If most of the people who say they want to wake-up had something better to do,
they’d do it.

To ever get over that certain hill and turn-the-corner,
you must be a behemoth in your own hometown;
he who has not outgrown himself has not grown.

There is adventure without and adventure within.

For a moment one man was afraid he was getting serious! — (but thankfully):
turned out he was just having a stroke.

Revisiting (under color of reviewing) previous published stories makes good economic sense in both the news business and that of being routinely conscious.
(Such endeavors’ silent slogan: “Reminiscing is effortless” — ergo its popularity.)

What interests a man trying to awaken are the same things that interest everyone else;
what interests a man who is awake interests no one else. (Neat, huh?!)

In an Awake World (imagining that there was such a place)
those who talk freely about their fears and frustrations would be ticketed by
the Fire Marshall for contributing to already flammable situations.
The biggest boobs are those who keep talking mentioning what boobs they are.
“But if you are a boob, just being quiet about it won’t change the situation.”
How do you know?

What’s Now Playing; Vis A Vis Films & Books: A La Hormones & Neurons.
In his private review, one man said he found his on screen self to be a reasonably accurate and entertaining adaptation of the original genetically written character.

In his efforts to stay current, by having only cutting edge ills,
one man also insists on being examined only by machines and not by hand,
(especially concerning his intangible parts.)
“Is this why psychiatrists and priests are not required by law
to wash up after each consultation? —
or might it be that Spotted-Striped Jack Spratt Fever is not contagious?”
“Hell man! — none of those baloney ills are;
that’s how men are able to huddle together so tightly in groups without infectiously destroying themselves.”

It is so boring that everyone who goes white water rafting afterwards says:
“You know how exciting it looks on film: well that doesn’t begin to cover it.”
(Same as how men try to pass off their mental life.)

“The good thing about a hangover is it is one period during which you
know that you will eventually feel better than you presently do.”
“Like the one advantage to being asleep, huh?!”
“Are you nuts!”

The king so taught the prince: “Even when you’re doing nothing, always tell the people in your most sincere voice that everything possible is being done.”
(“Royalty In The Cortex,” was the misplaced headline to this story.)

In his private judicial system, one man arbitrarily put himself into foster-care.
“Let the blind take care of the blind, is my policy,” declared he from his bench,
(just before his mother called him to dinner.)
“The great thing about being a soldier — in a foreign place —
where no one knows you — and you can wear someone else’s name tag — is that:
You don’t have to take no shit from nobody!”
“Just wait ’til I get you home young man!”

At the conclusion of every intellectual performance one man always makes note:
“Some of the persons and ideas depicted herein may be fictitious.”

One physician says that although he cannot presently prove it scientifically
he is nonetheless sure that many people are kept alive solely by their irritation.
(“Yes, I have had some patients like that in my ward,” concurred one head.)

If there was an Enlightened World, in it would be no need for comedy writers:
ordinary men being serious is all the humor the awakened would need.

Most of the benefits of being pissed and critical are lost if you won’t admit to yourself that you seriously are.
Also: If you don’t want wild cats in your yard, don’t ever agree to let them in.

“What is the easiest thing in the world to fake?”
“That you are wise to the ways of man.”
“I can’t see it.”
“All right, try it like this: What is the planet’s largest game of pretend —
in which everyone participates?”
“Okay — I can go with that.”

Just as no one has any doubt what “It” is in a song title: “I Just Got To Have It,”
neither is there any question what is meant when it’s said:
“Well, the problem with that idea is……”

In his attempt to make himself into a recognizable-philosopher,
one chap says he believes he has now narrowed down all of man’s historically pressing questions-about-life into a single query:
“Which is the most ridiculous: the past or the future?”
Hurting right now is no problem — just ask any animal.
(“I’ll be damned sir if I will take my lessons for living from brutish creatures,
who by the way cannot even say or think the word, hurting — no sir! —
I’ll be damned if I will lower myself so!”)
The body hurts from physical pain — from what comes man’s emotional variety?
(“Is that actually supposed to be a question? — or is it per chance another of your
arrangements wherein the ostensible question IS its own solution?”

Graffito Found On Public Structure.
“Final Notice: Being able to think independently is no substitute for high social position and political power.
(Addendum To Final Notice: Those of such position paid me to write it like this
rather than the other way around.”)

To his own private police precinct one man called in and anonymously reported
himself to be a gang member.

One man says the best thing about being a house bound invalid who watches television all day long is that you come to forget that anything is happening
that is not appearing on tv.
(Then he broke into song: “Give me the simple life! — even if it is imaginary.”
[“Nothing wrong with that,” added his mom.])

Today’s Fairy Tale.
Once upon a time lived a man who got so good at it
that he finally didn’t have to do it any more.
(In some locales known as: Notions You Can’t Lean On Too Heavily.)

All normally viable thoughts will vigorously defend themselves.
(How else are they gonna survive?)

One guy says he sometimes suspects that being alive is just a publicity stunt.