I was listening to the clip Matt Staggs posted on here the other day of Alan Watts expounding on the Buddhist concept of “No Self” so I clicked on it in YouTube to see what else came up, and there I found this little clip of Charles Manson answering the question of “Who are you?”
After listening to Watts, Manson’s answer struck me as profound. “I am nobody”, was his answer, basically. It struck me that Manson is a Zen Master.
I had seen other Manson interviews. He completely dominates all his interviewers, running circles around them. Interviewers always come at Manson in a hostile way, seeking to pass judgement and not listen at all. Manson takes these as an opportunity for dharmic battle, and he destroys. He is a master. It seemed to me that Manson was answering all of the questions in little Koans, dropping gems of wisdom completely missed by his interviewer.
I particularly like the one with Geraldo Rivera. Rivera Seemed to think he was going to shame Manson and get him to cry tears of contrition and apologize to the American people or some ridiculous thing, or at least those are the wheels I saw turning in Rivera’s well -oiffed head. He didn’t have a chance: Manson completely owned him. No amount of creative editing in the world could give a contrary impression.
I clicked on some more links and discovered an interview of Manson being interviewed by Charlie Rose, one I hadn’t seen before. Not surprisingly my impression of Charlie Rose was that of a more dignified, serious journalist, but he gets dominated as well. Its interesting that these men both seem to want to set out to shame Manson. They come at him from the perspective of representing the establishment and all that is good. In that sense it’s not a normal interview in that they’re not asking probing questions to get Manson to open up and share about themselves.
I am struck by how confidently Manson, who appears to be just over 5 feet tall, walks into the room in comparison to the three enormous correctional officers who accompany him, all ow home appear to be slightly nervous to be on TV. Apparently he had just come out of solitary confinement and apologizes for being a little out of it. If Manson was out of sorts at the start of the interview, within 30 seconds he appears to be perfectly at ease and in complete control. It is Charlie Rose who appears stiff and awkward, and once the interview is underway Manson immediately starts dropping gems!
Rose: Do you have friends you can talk to?
Manson: I am friend to everything I see, everything I know, everything I feel
Rose seems to establish early on a pattern of steering the conversation continually from the interesting to the banal:
Rose: “what about other inmates?”
Manson: “I am brother in these hallways for 40 years. With no snitching on my jacket, no asking for nobody to protect me, and walking on my own two feet.”
This statement is a theme that Manson revisits later in the interview. Rose asks him about his fan mail and then Manson opens up about “the Rainbow”: His explanation of what the spiritual aspect of the sixties was about and where it originated, using an analogy of a tree growing up from a seed underneath the ground and how a similar process can occur in the mind.
Rose immediately cuts him off, asking him to instead explain why he makes little origami scorpions. Rose seems to think most people would consider scorpions creepy and wants to keep the conversation focused on lurid spectacle, but Manson once again steers the conversation back again back to the spiritual dimension, talking about shamanism and the difference between what Manson calls “spiritualism” and organized religion.
Rose continues to attempt to paint a preconceived picture of Manson, who refuses to play along and answers in metaphors and analogies. Rose considers these as an attempt at obfuscation, in the process completely missing the profundity Manson is offering him. Rose asks Mansonabout his mother and father, feigning pity that Manson never knew his father. Manson asserts that he does know his own father, but that he considers his father to be every man (everyman?) and that his mother is the ice box, meaning the penitentiary. When Rose scoffs, Manson elaborates that the generation of men returning from WWII raised the generation of boys living in the penitentiary. Manson then recounts one of his earliest memories of visiting his mother in prison.
When Rose asks if he has any happy memories, Manson once again lays it for for him, Bodhisattva style:
Manson: I…I don’t have that.
Rose: You don’t have that?”
Manson: I don’t have that yin and yang that you people do.
Rose: Is that ying yang?” (rose seems to take “ying yang” as a phrase connoting nonsense)
Manson: yeah, in other words, you can’t make me unhappy
Rose: Are there sad memories, though, growing up?
Manson: I don’t have all that. (smiling)
Rose: You do have it. You are an individual; You have an experience. You are one human being with experience.
Manson raises his eye brows back in forth quizzically but with good humor, amused at Rose’s attempt to put words in his mouth, responding:
Manson: When you leave go get a big rock and set it on the table.
Manson: I am that big rock on the table.
This was a pretty straight-forward Zen object lesson. Was it completely lost on Rose?
Manson expounds on non-attachment, explaining that he was merely “pass(ing) through” the scene at Haight and Ashbury street. Rose asks why these young hippies were drawn to him, and Manson responds that he stands on his own two feet. He says that a the time he didn’t realize how rare that was and how weak most other people are. He relates the killings to a holy war, but one that he wanted no part of.
At one point in the interview he explains love as the ground of being and the role Manson plays as establishment scapegoat:
Manson: Everything is love, there’s nothing that isn’t love, even the confusion is love in one form or another, it’s misguided. Love is a word to supplement for God. I would rather use the word intelligence. If you’re going to use the word love, use the word intelligence because love is misunderstood in so many different ways and fashions.
Rose: Do you need to be loved?
Manson: Loved… I am loved, I am love
Rose: By whom? Are you loved?
Manson: I am love
Rose: Are you loved?
Manson: All the way and around the world with it, didn’t you see it? Two hundred and fifteen times taking it in the fire with it man
Rose: Meaning what
Manson: Me? Meaning I’m taking up all the slack for you assholes. I’m carrying you around. Nixon. I still got you… Reagan, hey Ronny! … I’m intertwined in your very soul man.
Rose, being firmly on the side of established authority(demiurge?), isn’t going to go along with Manson’s idea of himself as a scapegoat., instead continuing to paint a picture of Manson as psychopath/criminal/schizophrenic. He couches his words in the implication that others see him that way:
Rose: … and what do you say of those people who say ‘monster’?
Manson: What you see is what you get. Man, they have to live with it. I don’t. You have to live with your judgement. I live with mine. (Smiling)
Rose: You don’t think of yourself…
Manson: That is right. I don’t think of myself.
Rose continues to paint the picture of how “most people” see Manson:
Manson: I don’t think you guys have seen me.
Rose: No? What don’t we understand?
Manson: You don’t understand yourselves.
Rose: No but what don’t we understand about you? Granted we don’t understand ourselves, but what don’t we understand about you?
Manson: Just what I said…I am inside of you man. I live inside of you. I am inside every one of you.
They go back and forth for a while.
Rose is so invested in making him out to be a monster; that he “ordered the murders” and that he deserves life in prison. He is so invested in this that he misses absolutely everything Manson is saying. Rose seems to get that Manson is defending his innocence but catches not much else.
When asked if he will ever get out of prison, Manson ends the interview with:
Manson: Prison? I left prison in ’67. I got out of jail.
Rose: Yeah, but you are back.
Manson: Can’t you see that I am out, man? Can’t you see that I am free?”
Somewhere along the line, Manson found liberation. Rose, captive to his own judgments, a man of the establishment, remains in prison.