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This is It & Other Essays on Zen & Spiritual Experience

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  1,045 ratings  ·  39 reviews
The six essays in this volume all deal with the relationship of mystical experience to ordinary life. The title essay on "cosmic consciousness" includes the author's account of his own ventures into this inward realm. "Instinct, Intelligence, and Anxiety" is a study of the paradoxes of self-consciousness; "Spiritually and Sensuality," a lively discussion of the false oppos ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published March 12th 1973 by Vintage (first published 1960)
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Erik Graff
Nov 16, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Watts fans
Recommended to Erik by: Anne-Lise Graff
Shelves: religion
I wasn't raised within a religious tradition. Mother was a member of the Lutheran Church by birth as are all Norwegians unless they sign out of the state religion. Dad, although Norwegian by ancestry, had never had any affiliation with a religious confession, nor had his parents. My brother Fin and I were free to do whatever we wanted as regards religions. Briefly, I attended a Lutheran Sunday school because my best grade school friend, Larry Nolden, did. So, too, my brother attended a Greek Ort ...more
Christopher Sears
This book was not what I was expecting. I was hoping to find a book that was a "how-to" book on Zen Buddhism. Of course, from this book I learned that there isn't really a "how-to" of Zen anyway. One simply learns to stop looking and experiences Zen.

From this book I did learn informally about the underpinning of Zen and how it relates to our culture. The book comprises several essays about Zen, and would serve as a commentary to those who are already familiar with Zen practice.

I was into the boo
I'm so pleased I finally read this pseudo-intro to Zen. It's not comprehensive or a how-to or anything like that. It's more like happening to sit next to someone at a bar who has traveled somewhere you'd like to go. It's casual and approachable, but still serious.

It gives you a sense of things and whets the appetite to experience and learn more.

There's also some unexpected and interesting essays: Watt's keen take on Kerouac and Gary Snyder after the publication of the Dharma Bums, and Watt's exp
"The student of Zen is confronted by a master who has himself experienced awakening, and is in the best sense of the expression a completely natural man. For the adept in Zen is one who manages to be human with the same artless grace and absence of inner conflict with which a tree is a tree. Such a man is likened to a ball in a mountain stream, which is to say that he cannot be blocked, stopped, or embarrassed in any situation. He never wobbles or dithers in his mind, for though he may pause in ...more
Owen Thaxton
One of the key figures of the 1960's counter-culture movement, Alan Watts' insights in to Eastern spirituality (spirituality to mean the idea that we are all in this together) are still relevant to our Western world. As this is a collection of essays a lot of the ideas here are educational but conceptual, lacking the cohesion of a "book project". Still, these thoughts of Watts' are formative and illuminating in the best sense imaginable, exploring ideas of cognizance and the human ideal (the ide ...more
Jeffrey William
My reading this book was perfect timing for when i read it. It was just what i needed at the time. It's a collection of essays. I did get sort of a theme of commentary on dualism; especially with the mystic/sensualist, spiritualist/materialist part. My interpretation is he is commenting on the paradox of being in a "spiritual" or "mystical" state and balancing with the material world we see and can enjoy all around us. Especially interesting to me is the idea of these school of camps trying to g ...more
Kimberly Corona
great zen insights. deep yet simple. must re-read in a few years just cuz...

memorable quote:“We could say that meditation doesn't have a reason or doesn't have a purpose. In this respect it's unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don't do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not
Mohit Parikh
I discovered the book casually placed on a bookshelf in a Hrishikesh cafe and considered it as just-another-rhetoric on living in the present moment. Still I decided to give it a go: the book was thin and I had nothing to do but watch the Ganges flow while sipping my lemon ginger tea. And boy, was I taken aback! I knew nothing about Alan Watts then, but when finished the book, I remember hiding its last page in front of me as if I were holding an old, overlooked chest containing mysterious secre ...more
Oleg Kagan
Standard fare for Alan Watts. Some inspiring and well-put lines went into my commonplace book but as a general reaction, Alan Watts plays it too loose for me. His arguments are often built on shaky grounds which makes reading them seriously difficult. When it comes to zen and eastern religions, there are better teachers.

The essence of Watts is not his scholarship, but his personality and ability to simplify -- because of his charisma, it isn't a chore to spend time with him. All in all, while I
Watts writes, “From the earliest times those who have experienced Zen have always repulsed would-be disciples, not just to test their sincerity, but to give fair warning that the experience of awakening is not to be found by seeking, and is not in any case something that can be acquired or cultivated.” Good advice for neophytes like me who have conceptual knowledge that “cosmic-consciousness is release from self-consciousness", but no experiential knowledge, and the reason that I don’t have the ...more
This book helped me deal with some of the apparent contradictions inherent in everyday life that I struggled with for some time. I still struggle with them but at least I have some suitable frames of mind (or non-frames of mind) with which I can proceed to tommorrow thoughtfully. Watts has a certain power over the words he uses. He makes words take on definitions that make all the sense in the world but which are strictly forbidden by Merriam-Webster's. It's all poetry, paragraph after paragraph ...more
James Tharpe
Overall I found this book to be insightful in describing the various takes on spiritual experience and the common threads among religions as Watts sees them. There are a few very good passages that really get you thinking, but I also found the book tedious at times. While I enjoyed the book overall, I found Watt's rambling, unstructured style a little frustrating because it makes it easy for your mind to wander off and miss some of the good stuff, which I undoubtedly did on a few occasions.
Ted Child
At first I mistook Watts simple articulation for a bit of simple-mindedness but his humble effectiveness and clear-sighted logic quickly disarmed me of any intellectual pretensions I had. This book is a great example of how good and relevant philosophy doesn’t need overly technical and alienating language. I especially liked Watts understanding and non-pedantic discussion of the Beats, sex and hallucinogens. Watts thinks Zen very well.
In the spring of 1968 when I was a junior in high school I read about Buddhism in a religion class (I went to a parochial school) and wanted to learn more. Somehow I came across this book of essays which happened to address all the issues about religion that interested me at the time. Watts writes clearly and in a lively prose style that makes new and difficult ideas understandable.
A cool and passive stream of insight on: balancing faith and doubt in our experience, the intellect embracing instinct, purposeless purpose (in experiencing Zen), extremities folding into normality, the mutualism of materialism and spirituality, and 'easy' insight requiring understanding - all with the Western perspective in mind.
Steve Woods
I can't get enough of this guy. It is amazing to me that his work doesn't have greater currency given that most of it was published around the middle of the last century. He makes perfect sense to me an reframes much of what I have gleaned through my own practice into clear concise expression.
You've heard the old "if you were stuck on a desert island and you could only have one book" schtick before: This Is It. I return to this book at least once a year, sometimes more often, to re-read several of the essays and to refresh myself when I am feeling the weight of the mundane.
Alex Schmidt
This was one of the first books that I read, regarding the zen path. It was quite insightful, and written in an limpid accessible manner. akldhfjkdhfjksahflskfhdjlfaahdfjkasldfhjdkflhskfhsdfkjdshlfkdsjhlfksdjhfksdhfsdkflhskjfhl.
That is a direct quote from the book.
Watts was obviously a brilliant man, but this particular group of essays feels an awful lot like a train that picks up a lot of steam then derails a mile from the station. The first 5 essays are wonderful. Skip the 6th, or take it with a grain of salt.
Scott W.
Mostly just skimmed it, though I did read the first two parts and most of the fourth. Didn't get real interested in it. I was really into Watts a couple years ago but it seems I got my fill then and just don't get into his books anymore.
Ben Moeller-Gaa

I enjoyed all but the last chapter on LSD. I just don't have much interest in the trip. The rest of the book, though, was a delight to read. A good intro to Alan Watts.
The clarity that Watts uses in this definitive book on philosophy makes it as popular as it is. A must have book for anyone searching inward for their own spiritual meaning.
Bite-sized peri-atheist ode to the numinous experiences of daily life. Anxiety and control are special focuses on which Watts has a particularly poetic point of view.
Michele Kallio
Alan Watts is wonderful. He explains difficult concepts and ideas very clearly. Explaining about Zen Buddhism simply and clearly. A excellent read.
What a beautiful soul to think about life in this way. Not strict Zen but not necessarily watered down either. A way of thinking without thinking.
I read this several years ago and loved it. I got it for my kindle so I can "sip" and savor it when the mood strikes. Great stuff.
An eclectic collection of six essays on reconciling the mystical spiritual experience with consensus reality. Compelling stuff!
This is pretty much my favorite book. Solid and unpretentious, which is a rare thing in books on this subject.
Douglas Graney
This book reflected some of my concert and travel experiences during the mid-to-late 80's perfectly.
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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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