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The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
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The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  6,596 ratings  ·  332 reviews
A witty attack on the illusion that the self is a separate ego that confronts a universe of alien physical objects.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
ebook, 176 pages
Published September 28th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1966)
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Michael Occasionally, I come across a 'milestone' book, which resets my take on life. This is one of them. Intelligent, witty and readable.
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Patrick
What a powerful little book. Watts has a gift for explaining Eastern thought and metaphysics to a western audience. Some of the statements in this book will change the way you look at the world in an instant. The day I finished reading this I spent two hours wandering around Seattle staring at trees and buildings and everything else under the sun. Things felt new and interesting for a little while. This book also has lots of interesting (and sometimes very humorous) commentary on western society ...more
Erik Graff
May 09, 2012 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone?
Recommended to Erik by: Anne-Lise Graff
Shelves: philosophy
Having read this and several other works by Watts while still in high school, I am unsure of a proper rating. At the time he was very influential, but then I knew so little and was so very unhappy.

Mother introduced me to Watts and, thus, Eastern philosophies. Actually, they were covered a bit in Freshman Civilization class taught by Kelly Fox and that was intriguing, but Watts was the first actual believer I may have read. Later, not much later, Mike Miley was to introduce me to the real stuff,
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Bryan Duffy
Sep 28, 2007 Bryan Duffy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
This is one of those books that goes deep into the essence of the PERSONAL EGO. The way we look at the world and why we look at it with squinting eyes. This book literally opened up my mind to some new thoughts and at solidified some of my own ideas that I had been dwelling on for years.

Its funny at times. But, Read it with no distractions around. Its only enjoyable if you can literally digest what the man is saying.

Youll never look at the world the same once youve read this book, and I mean th
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Jack Waters
Alan Watts does a fine job of breaking through the narcissistic wall that many of us build around ourselves, as if we have a superior, godlike ability to access a vantage point that sees a world around us, apart from us, rather than us of it, fully immersed within the Whole Everything of All Things.

Sure, it is totally the book you love as a freshman college student, trying to disavow your WASPy upbringing by incorporating Easternized Western Thought rather than good ol' fashioned Westernized Wes
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Tom
I read this book while on a kayaking trip with my older brother on Kachemak Bay, Alaska and I have never, literally, been exactly the same. It pulls the veil back, as it were. You can read it over and over, but I think the best one is the first time through. It made my mind race with the possibilities that it opened up, created some serious dialogue with my brother, and it made the perfect Christmas present, that year, to my parents who absolutely NEED to read it (though I know they never have, ...more
Chris Chester
The core of his argument is that Western society is plagued with an overabundance of ego. Which is not to say that we are overly full of ourselves (OK, that is kind of what it says), but that our confusion, frustration with life, and overall isolation from one another stems from this cultural meme that the individual exists wholly separate from everything else.

Watts finds the Hindu/Buddhist notion of a "ground of being" in place of God to be helpful in dispelling this notion of ego. If we accept
...more
Tim Burrington
Wow, what do I say about this book.
I read this based on the numerous, quite intelligent, quotes that can be found on the Internet attributed to Mr. Watts. Reading this book was a very different experience though.
To be sure, there are some grains of wisdom, but they are to be found among tons of chaff. With the flowing and unfocused nature of this book I could only picture a stoned hippy unloading a stream of consciousness while reading it. In the end Watts takes a full book to state the obvio
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Bob Nichols
Watts says humans are connected to everything around us so that we and the universe are one. The goal of Eastern thought is to tap into that oceanic feeling and love and harmony will result. This perspective he contrasts with Western thought, which is atomistic and ego-based, leading to competition, domination and conflict.

Watts has an interesting writing style. Points and themes fade in and out, like a smooth power point, and he takes the reader along for an almost mesmerizing ride until one t
...more
Marshall
What if there were One Book, which gave the low-down on all the Big Questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? What is the Universe? How was it created? No, I'm not talking about the Bible. That doesn't really answer those questions in a way that is palatable to the modern, scientific, skeptical thinker.

Alan Watts wondered what such a book would be like, and in so doing, he ends up writing it. At least I think he did. The first time I read it, it put an abrupt end to all of my ph
...more
Steve Woods
Aug 14, 2014 Steve Woods rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: georgejastudillo@gmail.com
This book is the work of a great man, a great scholar, a great thinker and he died of chronic alcoholism. I first became aware of Alan Watts when I was studying Chinese literature, for his discussions of the Tao te Ching. Pity I didn't pursue his wider work though I am not sure it would have had the same impact on me in my 20's so full of myself and on the slide into the same chronic alcoholism that killed him.

In this little book he isolates the great hoax, the sense of separate, self determinin
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Daniel Roy
I find reprehensible the affection of Goodreads reviewers for animated GIFs, but this book begs for an exception. So here goes:



The central idea in this book is expressed in the title. Alan Watts argues that the Self is an illusion, and does so in an eloquent, playful manner. Most of the book focuses on helping the reader intuit this concept, rather than trying to convince them in a formal, logical manner. It's a nice change of pace from Spinoza's itemized logical constructs, for instance, and al
...more
Daniel
I discovered Alan Watts several years ago and became a fan of his entertaining talks on eastern philosophy. Since that time, I've listened to countless hours of his recordings. Until now I have not read any of his many books. If you are someone interested in grasping the philosophical concepts of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or even Christianity, I highly recommend subscribing to the Alan Watts podcast via iTunes as a starting point. After reading this book, I can say he was a much better ora ...more
Bobby
I came to Watts by reference from a more practical guide of meditation practice. As such, I was really more interested in an exploration of a personal experience of "not-self", or "anatta" as Buddhists refer to it. This may sound somewhat grand and perhaps quixotic, but I sincerely believe that grasping anatta on a more immediate, visceral level of awareness - beyond the conceptual - is really quite possible and achievable for most everyone. In an effort to move beyond the purely conceptual, the ...more
T.J. Brearton
This book really started everything for me. I read it when I was nineteen (I'm thirty-nine now). I still can remember things from it very clearly. The idea that we are not separate egos walking around in bags of skin; the skin is permeable, and we're connected with everything. There is a confluence in this book of Native American tradition and the consciousness which expanded in the American 60s. If you've ever dropped acid, ate shrooms, been stoned, then this book will be very accessible. Even ...more
Christine
I think there is something to be said on the nature of 'dated philosophy'.

While Watts makes some valid points in terms of the ego, the id and the ever present "I", I still think his philosophy is somewhat flawed. Not only that, but this book (perhaps the edition I have as it was an old library copy" suffers from somewhat antiquated analogies in publications and books that no one reads anymore.. or in fact even knows.

I did appreciate that the book was an attempt to get the average person out of t
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Bria
Jan 03, 2012 Bria rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bria by: Doc
I seem to have this problem where I keep reading books where I pretty much agree with what the author is saying, except that somehow I find it irritating the way they say it. I'm turned off by the parts where Watts turns to the same old complaints about how the world is deteriorating compared to our previous or natural way of being. The wide stereotyped pictures painted are quite tiresome, even though I know he's trying to illustrate the general way of things to make his point and not necessaril ...more
Jesse D.
Feb 16, 2009 Jesse D. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any person, but especially the young adult (18-26).
This book has many quotes and analogies that I continue to use today when explaining my view of the universe and my relation to "God." I've given out at least 8 copies of this book to my friends, with never a bad review. I can't say enough good things about this book.

As an aside. Alan Watts is one of the greatest spiritual teachers in my life. The lectures he left prior to his passing affirmed many of the beliefs I held, and extended these beliefs to levels I previously hadn't been able to see.
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Adil
What a fantastic little book. Watts uses very little jargon and doesn't really aim to cover any single thought school or religion in this book, but talks directly to the reader about his personal views. For anyone who has never heard the term nonduality or advaita, this will be an eye-opening read. For anyone already familiar with nonduality, they will still enjoy the elegance with which Watts expresses his ideas along those lines. The only complaint I have about the book is how short it is, as ...more
Chaz
Ohh such a tasty little book packed with nuggets of wisdom and questions about questions -- a great translation of Zen to Western thought. If you're into Taoism and Buddhism this is a must read.
Piles and piles of quotes -- one that I thought was particularly noteworthy was

“other people teach us who we are. Their attitudes to us are the mirror in which we learn to see ourselves, but the mirror is distorted.” – often our most private thoughts and emotions are not our own – because we use language
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Hala
كتاب جميل و ممتع .. عند انتهائي من هذا الكتاب تمنيت لو أنني تعرفت على كتب واتس في وقت مبكر في حياتي لوجدت أجوبة مبسطة لعديد من التساؤلات التي أرهقت تفكيري في طفولتي.. أحببت موضوع الكتاب و الأكثر أحببت عرض واتس لأفكاره و تبسيطه لمعاني عميقة بطريقة قريبة للفهم العادي.
Whitney
The subject of this book is mercurial. So a proper description defies my vocabulary. It's a light read compared to The Perennial Philosophy. He's funny about it, and poignant. He talks about humor in The Book. The title is even funny after you read it.
Doug Seidl
This is a book that states the premise upfront, and then drives it home every which way afterwards, angle after clever angle, example after meaningful example. Should be basic reading for the planet.

Merce Cardus
Alan Watts was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. In The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Watts states the cure and cause of separateness that keeps us from embracing the richness of life.

He argues that the whole universe consists of a cosmic self-playing hide and seek (Lila), hiding from itself (Maya) by becoming all the living and non-living things in the universe, forgetting wh
...more
Taylor Storey
I'm currently reviewing the 50 or so books i've read this year and this book may be the one that comes up most often in my thinking. One I would recommend anyone who is interested in a more or less simple, where-to-begin-developing-a-worldview kind of book.

As I read this book I thought its concepts paradoxically too simple, not relevant, and somehow often difficult to understand. Yet as I was digesting it the thoughts kept becoming more pertinent and valuable.

It is truly a great intro to Alan W
...more
The Night is Large
I have listened to a great deal of Alan Watt's assorted lectures and recordings, but I have not had the pleasure of reading many of his works. I am pleased to report that his writing style is as accessible and uplifting as his speaking, although some of the slang and vernacular shows the age of the book.

For those unfamiliar with Watts, he was ordained an Episcopalian priest in the 1940s and held an advanced theological degree. He eventually left his church for several personal reasons and went t
...more
Richard Newton
This is the sort of book that shows the value of browsing in bookshops. It was not a book I was looking for, but I came across it, was intrigued, bought it and read it. And it was well worth the effort.

Watts was obviously very knowledgeable about a wealth of (Western Analytical) philosophy and religious thinking (many types but particularly Eastern). He deftly merges and plays with concepts from the two, to make a pleasurable, thought provoking read. At times quite profound, but always engaging.
...more
Michele
Watts had a talent with bringing zen buddhism to the western mind.

I love his explanation of seeming opposites as being two sides of the same coin: you can't have "up" without "down;" or "good" without "bad" -- they define each other. Other examples: When I frantically try to stay afloat, I sink; when I relax, I float. When I hold my breath, I lose it, etc.

The solution to so many (if not all) of our spiritual and emotional problems can be found in the realization of who we really are.

I've often
...more
Tyler Wasden
I've been familiar with and studied eastern philosophies for a long time and the author was still able to help my paradigm shift just a little bit in understanding how we are all connected and part of the same experience/illusion/being or whatever you wish to call it. And he was able to do it with a very enjoyable writing style that made it easy to read as well as a pleasure.
James Perkins
Alan Watts explains how you are part of the whole of the universe, and that it cannot possibly exist without you. And in so being a part, the rest of the world is actually an extension of you, and not separate, as it may appear in the grand illusion that is life as we see it. All of this produces an excellent reason for why we should take care of the environment: in doing so, we are actually taking care of ourselves. The author presents his treatise in deceptively simple language and clever anal ...more
Jessica
"Thus we do not trust the universe to repeat what it has already done--to "I" itself again and again. We see it as an eternal arena in which the individual is no more than a temporary stranger--a visitor who hardly belongs--for the thing ray of consciousness does not shine upon its own source. In looking out upon the world, we forget that the world is looking at itself--through our eyes at IT's."

A tremendous and visceral treatise on the illusory nature of the self's separation from All That Is.
...more
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Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer, speaker, who held both a master's in theology & a doctorate of divinity. Famous for his research on comparative religion, he was best known as an interpreter & popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books & numerous articles on subjects such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher ...more
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“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.” 145 likes
“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.” 94 likes
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