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This is It & Other Essays on Zen & Spiritual Experience

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  2,354 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Six essays dealing with the relationship of mystical experience to ordinary life.
Paperback, 158 pages
Published March 12th 1973 by Vintage (first published 1960)
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Patricia As to how these essays can deal with mystical experience, the only way to answer that is to suggest you read them. Alan Watts is particularly know for…moreAs to how these essays can deal with mystical experience, the only way to answer that is to suggest you read them. Alan Watts is particularly know for his ability to communicate Asian philosophies for Western readers. FYI the essays are titled: This is it; Instinct, Intelligence and Anxiety; Zen and the Problem of Control; Beat Zen. Square Zen and Zen; Spirituality and Sexuality; The New Alchemy.(less)

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Sanjay Gautam
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening".

Recognizing that the experience of presence is the only experience, is also a reminder that our “I” doesn’t exist beyond this present moment - a Paradox. There is no permanent, static, and immutable “self” which can grant us any degree of security and certainty for the future; and yet we continue to grasp for precisely that assurance of the future, which remains
Tom Quinn
Alan Watts is a cool-down jog for a mind that spends all day racing.

Alan Watts is a relaxing soak for a brain that's feeling strained.

Alan Watts is a soothing balm for an ego running hot.

3 stars. Some essays here are good, most just fair-to-middling, but all are worth the little bit of time they take to read. My favorite by a wide margin was "Instinct, Intelligence, and Anxiety." Though quaintly dated and stamped with a heavy 1950s vibe, that's still a 5 star essay for modern folk burdened by a
Mohit Parikh
Feb 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 I finished the book, I remember holding its last page in front of me as if I were holding an old, overlooked chest containing mysterious se ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Omar Delawar
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is good, however, it shows earlier not fully developed ideas of Alan Watts. Some of which have completely flipped or have been modified since then.

The benefit here is that we get to see some explanations or clarifications from Watts that we normally do not, because he later took up the idea that is boring for a philosopher to clarify too much, and more entertaining to say something extreme to correct an imbalance in the opposite direction. In this comes to mind how he normally always d
Parker Sylvester
May 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I previously questioned whether or not Alan Watts was a reliable academic source. I often thought, based on a lot of random quotes scattered throughout tik tok and YouTube that he might just be a romantic mystic. But after taking a course last semester in Buddhist philosophy I think his work, at least in terms of the essays on zen in this book, is a genuine depiction of Buddhist philosophy. Watts has a way of taking complex and at times very esoteric terms and concepts in zen philosophy and maki ...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
Jeffrey Spitz Cohan
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
The collection of essays that form “This Is It” reach their culmination and offer their most significant observations in the final entry, “The New Alchemy.”

What starts out as a consumer review of LSD quickly unfolds into a meditation on reality itself. Watts expounds on one of the central tenets of his philosophy, one that is consistent with scientific understanding; specifically, that the observer and observed are mutually interdependent and form a unified experience.

This builds on – or predat
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
"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
Krutika Kalkal
Dec 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Zen" - mostly we take the word to represent some sort of stress-free state.

This book is a good introduction to Zen, though I'm not sure if it's even possible to explain in words. Spoiler: it's not what you see in instagram posts tagged as #zen :P

Overall an interesting collection, ending with an essay on discovering how the effect of psychedelics compares to mystical experiences.
Dave Paola
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
I can't decide which I like more: listening to Alan Watts lecture, or reading his books. These essays, particularly the final one "The New Alchemy", are introspective and wonderful. I can't get enough. ...more
Jul 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is pretty much my favorite book. Solid and unpretentious, which is a rare thing in books on this subject.
Aug 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I have read and re-read this book for the last 12 years and it never ceases to offer new insights.
Ross Cohen
May 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I would read Watts describe his trip to the post office. Gratefully, he chose to write about weightier subjects.
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Alan's back once again spinning wax and laying it down. Are you wiggly? You will be after reading these essays. It also might make you want to take LSD. ...more
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic!!! Sean Runnette does a fantastic job reading the best essays of Alan Watts. I can concentrate on the meaning of the words, rather than the deciphering of symbols on the page. I read this book many years ago, and it's much more meaningful to me now. Hearing it helped that, I'm sure, although not quite as much as 50 years of perspective.

With this, Alan Watts becomes my favorite philosopher since Heraclitus (You can't step into the same river twice) and Epicurus (The aim of life is to en
Eduardo Montiel
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Watts always impresses me with the fearlessness of his tone. I enjoy how he makes an effort to explain his argument in detail on various concepts within Taoism and Zen Buddhism that are usually difficult to grasp, and provides ample evidence and personal experiences to illustrate his points. Yet he never seems forced in his views or defensive in his stance, since he recognizes it’s only his opinion and its irrelevant if he’s right. Because of this, his insight is powerful. Personally, what has a ...more
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was ok
Six dated and often uninteresting essays. This wasn't It, for me. ...more
Dec 30, 2020 rated it did not like it

Having read and loved several other books by Alan Watts, I pushed through this one hoping that it would improve, that the humor or grace or joy which so imbue his other works would appear, to say nothing of the golden words. How could it be that the man who penned "by all outward appearances our life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another" (Wisdom of Insecurity) or mused that one might swim to experience the water rippling past and for the shifting net of sun
Michael Lawrie
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was familiar with Alan Watt's book, "The Book" which I read years ago and thoroughly enjoyed. I thought I would spend this year reading Buddhist books and start with this, which is a collection of six of his essays.

I did not realize it would be as deep as a dive as I had anticipated. This is Alan Watts both as spiritual explorer and academic. His thoughts are deep and the text is dense. It took much longer to read than I had anticipated because there was so much to digest. In fact, I'm still
Kimberly Corona
Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was looking for some books about Zen online. I stumbled upon The Way of Zen, got reminded that I’ve been meaning to read Alan Watts for a while now, looked him up and decided to meet him through six separate essays in this book first.
I was warned that Alan Watts is not an easy read for people who have just gotten into meditation or zen or Eastern philosophy in general. Yup, this was a bit heavy. I know I can get more out of this book and I would like to return to it once I’m more familiar wit
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What’s often forgotten to the one practice Zen is that they tried to practice it. Or tried not to. But it turns out that both are okay. For the Satori cannot be achieved by a method or no method. But at one point either way, one will come into frustration that makes them surrender thus satori.

The second important thing that also forgotten is judgmental towards others whom has different views of life as well as toward self when “he” is trying to make an effort. “It” includes those with other vie
Steve Walker
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I discovered Alan Watts on YouTube last year and he is an amazing philosopher with tremendous insight into human behavior, relationships, self-perceptions, hangups, and the like. I have listened to many combined hours of his recorded lectures. Now to read some books.

This I believe is a great Watts starter or introduction if you are not familiar with him. Many of these ideas I had gathered from YouTube video posts. But reading the printed words is a different experience altogether and there are o
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this book over the course of a few months. Picking it up for a chapter or two and then putting it down for a bit. I was raised with almost zero religious beliefs and views. My father is a Christian but would occasionally watch Joel olstein on a Sunday morning and I think I went to Church once for Easter and another for a bible study that my friend was going to. This book took me out of my comfort zone in the way that it mentions things I never would have thought of. I enjoyed it and will ...more
James Tharpe
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Each one of these six essays gave me so much, but my favorites were the 1st essay on "cosmic consciousness" and the 4th, "Beat Zen, Square Zen, Zen." His favoritism towards Chinese Zen (Tao) is also my personal favoritism. I also enjoyed the last essay on LSD & psychedelics, which feels so relevant today as our societal interest seems renewed in this subject. This feels like a book I will return to again and again (which, for me, puts it in a rare class because I don't return to books often). ...more
Apr 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
again, i so so love the title of this book. i actually only found it because "this is it" is my favorite mantra and i wanted to see if there's a book with that title. how lovely that alan watts had written one! though i must admit that compared with his other works i have read (and his spoken lectures) i didn't find all of these essays as interesting. but of course some brilliant alan watts gold nuggets can be found in here. ...more
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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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