Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Tao: The Watercourse Way” as Want to Read:
Tao: The Watercourse Way
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Tao: The Watercourse Way

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  4,897 ratings  ·  158 reviews
"A lucid discussion of Taoism and the Chinese language . . . profound, reflective, and enlightening" (Boston Globe)

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, 134 pages
Published 1975 by Pantheon Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,897 ratings  ·  158 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Tao: The Watercourse Way
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ha Ha Ha Ho Ho Ho !
Johnny Cordova
Sep 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spiritual
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. ...more
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
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual-stuffs
"Let your ears hear whatever they want to hear; let your eyes see whatever they want to see; let your mind think whatever it wants to think; let your lungs breathe in their own rhythm. Do not expect any special result, for in this wordless and idealess state, where can there be past or future, and where any motion of purpose? Stop, look, and listen...and stay there awhile before you go on reading."

We are unimaginably conditioned by our cultures. We may repress all the things that we don't want t
Olga Teslenko
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the book which explaines why it is impossible to foollow the requets like " You have to relax" or "You need to love God with all your heart".
There are things in life which are natural like loving, relaxing, gettinng inspiration. Fortunately, noone can hurry them or postpone them as noone can smooth out the waves on the sea (and one`s thoughts , to tell the truth). One can only attune to them and follow the course much like the coursewater.
Alan Watts tells that living is turned to such a
Frank D'hanis junior
Oct 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alan Watts (1915 -73) was an English philosopher who specialized in making Eastern religions accessible to Western readers. His books and lectures (YouTube) focus mostly, but not exclusively, on Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and related philosophies. Generally speaking, his books are quite readable, though not necessarily the best starting place for those exploring these topics for the first time.

This is the trickiest of Watts’ books that I’ve read, perhaps because I had little prior knowledge of Taoi
Apr 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
"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
Jan 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.) ...more
Aug 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Awesome, mind-blowing, effectively powerful and over all a magnificent piece of work. Watt's final books adjusts the ideas of ancient Chinese traditional philosophically-religious movements such as Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Confucianism while briefly mentioning some of the most important principles of Christianity, points from Hinduism et. c Watts also presents his thought concerning traditional Chinese calligraphy. He also gives a brief info about historical foundations of the research of Buddh ...more
Bob Miller
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The Tao is that from which one cannot deviate; that from which one can deviate is not the Tao".

"You may imagine that you are outside, or separate, from the Tao and thus able to follow it or not follow; but this very imagination is itself within the stream (Tao), for there is no other way than the Way (Tao)."

"For the game of Western philosophy and science is to trap the universe in networks of words and numbers, so that there is always a temptation to confuse the rules, or laws, of grammar and
ManuFactured Artists
May 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Aurélien Thomas
Dec 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: taoism
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
Jan 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Still a solid, breezy introduction to Taoism. My criticisms that stop this being higher rated are threefold:
1. The first chapter on Chinese language is interesting, but kind of suspect. I don't know enough about Chinese linguistics to unilaterally say he's wrong, it's just one of those things that strikes me oddly.
2. Although a generally very engaging personality, Watt's nature as a 70s "guru" is sometimes detrimental to the text. Some of his decrying of modernity, technology, etc. can't help bu
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: taoism
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
Nancy Bevilaqua
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 29, 2008 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
Oct 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This is a nice introduction to Tao. Alan Watts was probably totally bonkers, and the hippy-style life he lived was one of those chaotic lives you don't know whether to envy or be thankful you've avoided. Insofar as he wrote about the Tao, he did not know Tao (Lao Zu, 56) - there's the paradox and dilemma. He left the book unfinished at his death... and you have the same question in mind: Would it have been improved if he had finished and/or revised it at all? Or is it 'perfect' (i.e. imperfect) ...more
Bob Nichols
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
The opening discussion on Chinese writing was excellent. Chinese calligraphy goes with the flow – if you hesitate or hurry, blemishes follow. This is the entry into Watts’ discussion of Tao – the Watercourse Way. We, as its adherents, are sailors who work with the wind or like carpenters who work with the grain.

In the West, it’s a mechanistic subject versus object world linguistically, conceptually and materially, whereas in Taoist theory “our surroundings” are “a unified field,” with all sorts
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zen-tao
Watts makes a strong case that to truly appreciate Lao-Tzu's writing, one must read it in the original Chinese. Watts feels that learning to read Chinese characters is much easier than people think, and spends some time demonstrating this. I wasn't convinced, but I enjoyed his engagement with the text, and the many excepts he provides. He's keen to point out the Tao is elusive, has multiple meanings, and has long been the subject of discussion of many different philosophers and thinkers. Yet rea ...more
Rick Harper
Sep 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I wish I could give this book (Alan's final and unfinished book [yet perfect in its way]) a thousand stars. I've wanted this book for quite some time, but it isn't sold in the local bookstores. My incredible wife gave it to me on my birthday.

I love the concept of "Li", like flowing water or grains in the wood. "...the only single event is the universe itself. Li, not causality, is the rationale of the world." Pg 54. This discussion is having a huge impact on me.

"...people would be much better o
Davood Wadi
Dec 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved his "The way of zen," although half the time I was lost in his pedantic notes. However, this work, "Tao: The Watercourse Way" was written in an astoundingly facile way. Really resembles water movement in its use of words.

Its first chapter on Chinese written language was truly thought-provoking. I had previously sensed his preference of ideograms in his previous works; now here he elaborated on this topic thoroughly.

The next chapters were on the fundamental mindset of Taoism (polarity, wu
Roger K.
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a timeless classic that is both the perfect introduction to Watts and the essential summary of his philosophical exploration. His simple language, clear metaphors, and conversational tone reiterate the points I have seen him reference again and again:
- everything is connected
- life is meant to be enjoyed
- it will all be all right

It is a relatively short read, yet I found myself going slow and taking breaks so it wouldn't end so quickly. Whether you speed through it or not, make time
Timothy Covel
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
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.
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Alan Watts is a very, very good writer. In this book he examines the nature of the Tao. Chapters include one on the Chinese written language; the Yin-Yang Polarity; Tao; Wu-wei, and a chapter on Te.

In each of these chapters he examines the concept discussed, providing quotations from the Tao Te Ching and other books to illustrate his explanations. In this way he helps make some very difficult concepts somewhat easier to understand.
Sep 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 27, 2015 rated it liked it
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.
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Incredible, especially the play between hearing Alan Watts and Chungliang Al Huang; The perspective Chungliang brings to reading Watts is a wonderful meta perspective on the author, and insightful in its own right. The forward and the Afterward, and footnotes made reading the book that much more enjoyable; bringing understanding to the reality of Alan's character and that he has passed away.

« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The I Ching or Book of Changes
  • Tao Te Ching
  • The Way of Chuang Tzu (Shambhala Library)
  • The Book of Chuang Tzu
  • Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings
  • Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings
  • The Perennial Philosophy
  • 365 Tao: Daily Meditations
  • Taoism: An Essential Guide
  • Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
  • The Analects
  • Modern Man in Search of a Soul
  • The Te of Piglet
  • An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
  • The Tao of Pooh
  • The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life
  • The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet
  • No Man Is an Island
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

Looking for a fictional meet-cute in the new year? We've got some steamy novels for you to snuggle up with, including Casey McQuiston's...
46 likes · 11 comments
“Great power is worry, and total power is boredom, such that even God renounces it and pretends, instead, that he is people and fish and insects and plants: the myth of the king who goes wandering among his subjects in disguise.” 12 likes
“This may be illustrated by the Taoist story of a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “May be.” The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “May be.” And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “May be.” The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came in to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “May be.”14” 9 likes
More quotes…