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Tao: The Watercourse Way

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  1,935 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Drawing on ancient and modern sources, Watts treats the Chinese philosophy of Tao in much the same way as he did Zen Buddhism in his classic The Way of Zen. Critics agree that this last work stands as a perfect monument to the life and literature of Alan Watts.
Paperback, 1st edition, 160 pages
Published 1975 by Pantheon
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While I most enjoy the hundreds of hours of lectures by this, my favorite thinker of all time, I do treasure this book which was his last - and was a gift to me from his son Mark. After I received it, I noticed the musty smell of a fine old book. Watts died in the 70's while in his late 50's and he lived on a houseboat in Sausalito harbor near San Francisco (he also had a cabin in the forests just 30 minutes north where he would go for solitude). When I asked Mark about the smell of the book he ...more
Andrew Neuendorf
Ha Ha Ha Ho Ho Ho !
Harish Venkatesan
"Just as Chinese writing is at least one step closer to nature than ours, so the ancient philosophy of the Tao is of a skillful and intelligent following of the course, current, and grain of natural phenomena— seeing human life as an integral feature of the world process, and not as something alien and opposed to it. Looking at this philosophy with the needs and problems of modern civilization in mind, it suggests an attitude to the world which must underlie all our efforts towards an ecological ...more
Frank D'hanis junior
This was my first brush with the work of Alan Watts, and I have to say it was very intriguing. Not so much because of the content, I read quite some classical Chinese in university and there were no real surprises, but more because of the magnetic personality of the writer that radiates of each page. In the afterword there's an account from the coauthor about the great joy as well as the tragedy in Watts' life, which I found very moving.
May 06, 2008 Josh added it
Wow. A fitting capstone to Watts' catalog.

A topic that necessarily defies linguistic elucidation is necessarily the most ambitious topic a writer can take on. The fact that Lao Tzu did it once should be enough to deter all other interpreters. Far beyond scholarship, this is nearly as essential as the Tao Te Ching itself.

I will take some issue with Watts' dismissal of pranayama (and the bulk of yogic practice) toward the end, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one and sa
Josh Of
As far as adapting an eastern perspective to a western audience Alan is definitely up there as one of the most articulate. Some of Alan's lectures and quotes are fantastic gems of thought, 'on death' being one of my favorite. This book is no different, and definitely has some very well constructed interpretations of the musings of some influential Taoist personalities. Some of his viewpoints can be I think a little dated, (although one does need to remember that this book was published 50 yrs ag ...more
Johnny Cordova
I read this book, Watts' last, immediately after reading The Spirit of Zen, his first. What I got from The Spirit of Zen was to what great extent early Zen Buddhism was influenced by Taoism. What I got from The Watercourse Way was how utterly fucking cool Taoism is. A fitting swan song from the ever-lucid Watts.
The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon, and the Way that can be named is not the eternal Way. Watts knows this well, but points and names for fun anyway (more effectively than anyone else I've come across so far.)
It is very difficult to for me to write this review because, like water, Tao seems to be something so pervasive yet so elusive. It is the source of everything but it is not their Creator. It permeates everything but it cannot be seen and cannot be grasp. It reigns but does not rule. Tao has order but it is not law. Because we are part of Tao, and Tao flows through us, we are part of the stream and it is difficult for us to see, understand or describe it objectively.

"The Tao that can be spoken is
Here's a nice train of thought that, I particularly like as Alan Watts seemed to share my own view of Taoism. Thus, he is more concerned by its contemplative aspect than, what he refers to as 'Hsien Taoism' that is, all the metaphysical and religious stuff later added and uselessly burdening it. I agree indeed to say that all these asides (alchemy and other exercises to reach 'immortality') even contradict the basic teaching of its classical roots, found for instance in the 'Tao Te Ching'. More, ...more
This is an excellent treatise on contemplative Taoism, that is the way based in meditation and oneness with nature rather than that involved in Chinese alchemical and quasi-magical practices. Watts elegatly explains the Tao as the watercourse way, showing how it is both life-philosophy and a deep expression of Chinese culture.

The only difficulty I had had with Watts's approach was that it seemed a little disjointed. This is probably less a reflection on Alan Watts than a reflection of the sheer
Felt like this was an unfinished work, or maybe it is because I simply wanted more. I wanted to understand this "thing that cannot be understood". Asian mysticism and philosophy challenges and frustrates my western-dominated paradigm of reality, which seeks to know reality through words, classifications, categorizations and the "ten steps to enlightenment". I accept that Western mind-set has an underlying arrogance to it in trying to control reality through forcing it into laws, but I also can't ...more
I didn't enjoy this book all that much. Could it have a long-term effect on me? Quite possibly. So why the disconnect?

As I read the book, which explains Tao, I kept asking: Why is there no concise definition at the beginning of each chapter? Wouldn't a glossary help? How about an explanatory chart? Isn't it useful here to say X causes Y, thus yielding Z? At times I was frustrated, at other times impatient, with concepts that seemed a little too vague, a little too impractical.

So I didn't find en
ManuFactured Artists
This is the book with which to start if you would like to explore philosophical Taoism--or Zen Buddhism, for that matter--as opposed to later religious Taoism.

Alan Watts studied with Christmas Humphreys in England (founder of The Buddhist Society and author of an influential early edition on Buddhism entitled, Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide) before moving to the United States in the late thirties, and was largely responsible for the rapid spread of the writings of his teacher, D. T. Suzuki
Reads as more of an extended, slightly whimsical essay than some of his more serious works, like The Way of Zen. Still hugely enjoyable and refreshing, yet I was hoping for more of a full on treatment of Taoism as he did so effectively with Zen. Appreciate that he died before he could finish, although his collaborators who claimed to be able to finish the book for him offered fairly little. With a good couple dozen pages dedicated to calligraphy and a foreword and afterword there is really only ...more
Tao: The Watercourse Way, the final work by philosopher Alan Watts, was published posthumously in 1975. This is the first book I've read that was penned by Watts himself and I was so pleasantly surprised. The first chapter is devoted to Chinese ideograms, which made perfect sense to me. How better to understand such an abstract worldview as Taoism without also trying to understand a bit of the language in which it developed? And even without the intellectual reasons, the ideograms themselves are ...more
Timothy Covel
I happened to start reading this during a very interesting time in my life. I have read and listened to lectures by Alan Watts, primarily on Buddhism and zen, but this was my first exposure to Taoism in many years. As usual, Watts does an excellent job of bridging eastern and western philosophy while retaining historical context. Now if only i learned Chinese so i could read some of the provided source material as written.
Nancy Bevilaqua
Wow--that went quickly. I didn't realize when I started reading Tao: The Watercourse Way that Watts passed on before he could finish it. I wish he could have held out a little longer and gotten it done. Of course, it's not as if he didn't write anything else, and there are a mess o' his talks on YouTube to keep me going.

There's no way that I'm going to be presumptuous enough to review Alan Watts, but I will mention that one thing (among many) that he helped me understand was the nature of "wu we
Not about religion at all
go and be content with the natural way of things
Question current paradigms versus what you know is true and happy
Look forward to reading his other works
Patrick Grau
Este tío explicaba muy bien todas estas mierdas, sin ir de gurú ni cachiflows. ¿Quieres enterarte de qué palo iban los chinos hace chorrocientos años? El flipado este es tu macho.
Tommy Tong
a must read for anyone seeking understanding about Taoism.
Extraordinary book that everyone should read.
It cannot be described, one must flow with the words and experience this book.
Joseph Gendron
A good introduction to some key topics of Chinese philosophy; yin-yang polarity, wu-wei (non-action), te (virtuality) and TAO. I learned a good definition of TAO: the flowing course of nature and the universe with the organic pattern as its principle of order. Also: Our only way of apprehending TAO is by watching the processes and patterns of Nature and by the meditative discipline of allowing our minds to become quiet, so as to have vivid awareness of "what is" without verbal comment.
I was not expecting more then half the book to be about Chinese translations and how Chinese text leaves a lot to be interpreted or words could mean multiple things. Don't get me wrong it was interesting but thats not what I was looking for.

Not to be part of the problem like some people, I liked it so I still marked it 2 starts, not just 4 or 5 just because.
Aug 27, 2007 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in a juicy explanation of this Asian framework
Shelves: health
This is one of the most enthralling books I've read in a long time. It's practically zaftig. Watts just has so much enthusiasm, and there's marvelous calligraphy throughout. Moreover, all of the Chinese terms have the characters written in the margins next to where they're introduced, which for many readers who have to go between hideous romanization styles (myself included) is of immeasurable help.
Andrew Wright
Watts toes the line between naivety and brilliance. This is his last book I think, but he really goes all the way in discussing, and making more palatable the essential tenets of Taoism. Though he doesn't have the audacity or myopia to purport to give you one honest answer concerning Taoism since it's rather open ended, and the Tao you talk about is never the real Tao.
I'm more or less in love with this man.

The philosophy he loved more than the one he was known for, he intended to get that last chapter in to truly express Tao, in perhaps bittersweet irony he never got to do so, thus furthering the misconception that it is too difficult to "get" Taoism.

I love you Alan Watts.
Mario Bustamante Reyes
Me hizo sentir lo que era el Zen y me convirtió. Dentro de lo denso que es seguir los tecnicismos, me enseñó que he practicado el Zen, sin saberlo, desde hace unos pocos años, quizá solo desde hace pocos meses. Paciencia. Calma. Serenidad. Sorpresa. Alegría. Zen.
Timothy R.
Brent, who is now my landlord, sent me this book when I was living in Senegal. I don't remember anything notable about it, yet I cart it with me everytime I move. I now live in Brent's place. I'm sure the Tao has something to say about that.
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Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer and speaker, who held both a Master's in Theology and a Doctorate of Divinity. Famous for his research on comparative religion, he was best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles on subjects such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher con ...more
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“Confucians, along with Hebrew, Islamic, and Catholic scholastics, as well as Protestant fundamentalists, are like tourists who study guidebooks and maps instead of wandering freely and looking at the view. Speech and writing are undoubtedly marvelous, but for this very reason they have a hypnotic and fascinating quality which can lead to the neglect of nature itself until they become too much of a good thing.” 0 likes
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