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 consciousness, the meaning of life, concepts and images of God and the non-material pursuit of happiness. In his books he relates his experience to scientific knowledge and to the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy.
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 an abstraction. Watts argues that our only chance for awakening from this vicious cycle is bringing full awareness to our present experience.
He takes especial issue with the very notion of self-improvement and admonishes against the implication at its root. Happiness, he argues, isn’t a matter of improving our experience, or even merely confronting it, but remaining present with it in the fullest possible sense. Watts says, we don’t actually realize that there is no security until we confront the myth of fixed self-hood and recognize that the solid “I” doesn’t exist; which is something modern psychology has termed the self illusion. And yet that is very hard to do, for in the very act of this realization there is a realizing self. He points out that what makes us unable to live with pure awareness is the ball and chain of our memory and our warped relationship with time.
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 Capital-A Anxiety Disorder like yours truly.
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 secrets of the world. Not sure how I would find it now... cannot recall most of what it said. Just remember those large black letters staring at me: THIS IS IT, and that rare feeling when I knew This really Is it.
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 Orthodox Sunday school with his best friend for a while.
Early on, I knew Dad was an atheist and thought little of religion. Mom was more complicated--or perhaps simple. Once she started working as a nurse's aide at Lutheran General Hospital she began to befriend members of their chaplaincy staff--a big one as the institution had a large Clinical Pastoral Education program. Occasionally she'd bring home a minister or a priest for dinner. Once we even had some sort of truncated mass celebrated in the living room. I saw them, these clergymen, as odd and intriguing.
Religion was a big thing in Park Ridge, where we lived, and at my high school, Maine South. Most everyone seemed to have some affiliation and Christian groups such as Campus Life and Campus Crusade for Christ met on campus after the class day was concluded. Some of my best friends were ostensibly involved in religious activities. The Catholics were pretty pro forma, though some spoke well of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine sessions. The Protestants, some of them, even the countercultural ones, tended to be more in-your-face enthusiastic. The Jesus Freak thing was catching on and I knew kids who made a point of trying to convert me. Their arguments, however, were not very impressive. Indeed, the evangelicals seemed to be generally pretty ignorant. But not every Christian I met was so.
The more impressive Christians were the least exclusively Christian and the most religious--if by "religion" one means thoughtfully serious. Some of my very best friends were so, some of them rejecting their confessional upbringings for religious reasons, others of them reinterpreting them and, often, going on to study other religious traditions. I followed a couple through their re-examinations, usually arguing on the side of atheism and of science, usually feeling that I had the better part of these discussions.
There was, however, a religious tradition I couldn't discount and that was Zen Buddhism. As it, and kindred movements in Buddhism, was anti-metaphysical, my usual arguments weren't applicable. Besides general ethical and philosophical problems, my own experiences with psychotropic drugs seemed to be meaningfully addressed by some religious writers concerned with Zen, mystical traditions and Eastern meditational practices.
Mother first got me interested in one of these writers as she had a couple of Alan Watts books in the house. Respected friends had mentioned him, so I gave them a look and read several before graduating from high school. He was accessible and, I thought, sensible. In college I took a survey course on Eastern Religion much because of his having opened my mind to the topic.
Ironically, I went on to complete a degree in religious studies at college, then to seminary and even to completion of a program in Clinical Pastoral Education at Manhattan's St. Luke's hospital center. None of this made me a Christian, but it did help me appreciate the various strands of such traditions and of others.
Coming upon a book by Watts I hadn't yet read, this one and his early book on Easter in fact, I returned to the kind of material which had so influenced me as an adolescent. It held up, but then "the perennial tradition" should, shouldn't it?
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 experience as a test subject in studies on LSD and how that taking LSD compares to satori. Surprisingly, both of these essays are most interesting as windows into the culture of the 60s.
Mostly, though, these handful of essays here are straight-forward, plain-spoken discussions of Zen that a Westerner can easily approach and digest--a great intro that left me eager to learn more.
This work is a collection of essays that deal with the phenomenology of mystical experience, everyday present consciousness, and zen as a whole. Unfortunately, this is one of the weakest works by Watts. While there is still some playfulness here, most of the critiques and insights are rather shallow. There is nothing you can find in this book that you will not find more authentically and poetically expressed by Watts himself in his other works.
"It is high time to ask whether it is really any scandal, any deplorable inconsistency, for a human being to be both angel and animal with equal devotion. Is it not possible, in other words, to be the extreme mugwump without inner conflict, to be mystic and sensualist without actual contradiction? It is hard to see how a human being can be anything but a mediocrity on the one hand or a fanatic on the other unless he can give rein to both sides of his nature, avoiding, however, the deceit and degradation which attach themselves to the animal side of our life when it is associated with shame. The philosophy of the out-and-out pagan, the romanticist of nature and the flesh, is by itself enormously superficial—lacking in wonder at disease and death, which are quite as normal as good health, and deficient in that combination of awe and curiosity which urges on the mystic to marvel at the overwhelmingly odd fact of simple is-ness, to stretch his imagination to the furthest limits of time and space, and to explore the inward mystery of his own consciousness. The logical grammarian’s opinion that such inquiries are simply meaningless appears to be nothing more than a new variation on the old psychological type that gets the words but never understands the music. On the other hand, the mystic who has no part in the earthiness and allure of nature is sterile rather than pure, an extreme type of cerebrotonic ectomorph, i.e., skinny abstractionist, who lives in a world of ideas without concrete meanings. Furthermore, the philosophy of the pure spiritist, even when he allows that God created nature, can never explain how the good Lord so forgot himself as to make anything so allegedly impure.
Not to cherish both the angel and the animal, both the spirit and the flesh, is to renounce the whole interest and greatness of being human, and it is really tragic that those in whom the two natures are equally strong should be made to feel in conflict with themselves. For the saint-sinner and the mystic-sensualist is always the most interesting type of human being because he is the most complete. When the two aspects are seen to be consistent with each other, there is a real sense in which spirit transforms nature: that is to say, the animality of the mystic is always richer, more refined, and more subtly sensuous than the animality of the merely animal man."
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 sunlight underneath (Still the Mind) managed essay after essay of long-winded sentences such as "the apparent multiplication of psychological disorders in our technological culture is perhaps due to the fact that more and more individuals find themselves caught in these snarls - in situations which the psychiatric anthropologist Gregory Bateson has called the "double-bind" type, where the individual is required to make a decision which at the same time he cannot or must not make." Sweet mercy. (The great irony is that Watts details his experiences with LSD in this book, so one would think if anything this little volume would be as given to fun as any others: no dice.)
Oh sure, there are still bits and pieces of sage advice and insights, my favorite of which centers on the Japanese and the "compulsion which turns every craft and skill into a marathon of self-discipline." Truer words... More poignantly, Watts notes that in gazing at the night sky "we make no comparison between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations" and that "there would be no bright stars without dim stars, and, without the surrounding darkness, no stars at all." Likewise, in the final pages, Watts leaves readers with the observation, proven so true to me in this interminable year that has been 2020 that "life organized so as to be completely foolproof and secure is simply not worth living." Still, these paltry lines feel like minor compensation for the slog through This Is 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 derides self-improvement, but here he clarifies that there is a time and place for it, but a limited one.
In this book, Alan's view on marijuana is completely skeptical, he says it may be the least useful of the psychedelics if any of them are useful at all. Towards the end of this book his idea on psychedelics is updated and changed greatly, but it isn't until the book "the joyous cosmology" some 8 years or so later, where he says marijuana is actually his favorite and most useful of the psychedelics because he can get the same mystical experience without the side effects of bizarre sensual perception.
For me, Alan Watts makes a great deal of sense. Each book from this deceased author (circa 1940's - 1970's), has been an inspiration in Eastern thought. While one must consider our immediate Western world, with all of its buildings and bridges, Alan Watts takes us down another path. The path of calmness and reflection. For me, the author lends value and understanding to a complicated subject. I can still live and work in a Westernized medium, while applying to my own life, a calming Eastern philosophy that makes me realize that "stress," is simply "fear," and that fear is from what we perceive as "the unknown".
So, would I recommend this book? Sure, if you are an avid Alan Watts fan, absolutely! Never heard of Alan Watts? You may want to start with some of his later works (where his philosophies are more clear-cut and easier to understand).
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 making them much more accessible, at least in the context of modern western thought. Plus his writing is simply delightful, I no longer consider his work to distort reality with a rose colored lense, but perhaps, his writing helps us remove the lenses that make our world black and white (as in his discussion of non-dualism)
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 book until the last essay on the use of LSD and Zen. I was not surprised that LSD experimentation was covered, as it was written in the early 1960's. I was hoping that Watts would come out against LSD use as an artificial means to enlightenment. However, he actually suggests that the use of LSD might have some benefits. Just say "No", kids.
I've read parts of Watts's, The Way of Zen. I will have to finish it to get what I was looking for.
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 predates, I’m not sure which – Watts’ amazing book “The Wisdom of Experience,” in which he also defines reality as the unfolding of experience, one after another, which helps dissolve the perception of self.
It also forms a book end to the first essay, which shares the book’s title. There, Watts write that the “ego was never anything but an abstraction.”
All of it is mind-bending stuff, and an antidote to anxiety.
"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 overt action to think a problem out, the stream of his consciousness always moves straight ahead without being caught in the vicious circles of anxiety or indecisive doubt, wherein thought whirls wildly around without issue. He is not precipitate or hurried in action,, but simply continuous."
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.
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 enjoy it).
I've delved into the subject all my life, and this is where I have returned to after it all. I read this in college, but I didn't get it at the time. I, like many reviewers here who disdained the last essay on the effects of LSD on the mind and spirituality, was not open to his thoughts. It took me half a century, but this IS it.
Perhaps I could have learned all this if I had tried LSD when I was young. I doubt it. I kinda wished that I had tried, but then, I wouldn't be who I am now. No regrets.
I think that it takes a curiosity that takes time and effort to satisfy, two things that most people find in short supply in their lives, and the media makes sure that you don't get them back. Concentration and deeper, longer thought are not the Way of the Screen. I unplugged nearly two years ago, and so, have found the time this needs.
This book was first published in 1960, comprising 6 articles that Watts had written for magazines. Can you imagine anyone being paid to write these today? I'm guessing the New Yorker would still print this. High Times would pay for the last one, I'd guess. There are ridiculous numbers of specialty magazines out there, but I can't keep up. 'Spy' and 'Apartment Life' are gone, 'Backyard Chickens' and 'Self' have taken over their slots locally. YMMV Or how would you find it if you weren't online somehow? I requested it for my public library, whose site is nearly the only one other than GR that I frequent any more. But I digress.
I listened through once, but it was too much. I fell asleep. It was time to chide myself. This is a collection of essays, not chapters in a novel. To be read individually. One at a time. Slowly, without distractions or interruptions. (I keep my pause button handy. And re-wind, or whatever we call the 'go back 15 seconds' button these days. I'm old-school. Très. The 'start over button is the portal to the 'way-back machine') But I digress, again.
What Watts and his colleagues were doing was seeing if they could find the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything in a different way from these guys:
"The intellectual adventure story of the "double-slit" experiment, showing how a sunbeam split into two paths first challenged our understanding of light and then the nature of reality itself—and continues to almost 200 years later. Many of science's greatest minds have grappled with the simple yet elusive "double-slit" experiment. Thomas Young devised it in the early 1800s to show that light behaves like a wave, and in doing so opposed Isaac Newton. Nearly a century later, Albert Einstein showed that light comes in quanta, or particles, and the experiment became key to a fierce debate between Einstein and Niels Bohr over the nature of reality. Richard Feynman held that the double slit embodies the central mystery of the quantum world. Decade after decade, hypothesis after hypothesis, scientists have returned to this ingenious experiment to help them answer deeper and deeper questions about the fabric of the universe. How can a single particle behave both like a particle and a wave? Does a particle exist before we look at it, or does the very act of looking create reality? Are there hidden aspects to reality missing from the orthodox view of quantum physics? Is there a place where the quantum world ends and the familiar classical world of our daily lives begins, and if so, can we find it? And if there's no such place, then does the universe split into two each time a particle goes through the double slit?"
The final essay led me to this book, "Through Two Doors at Once" by Anil Ananthaswamy. It's my next serious read. I'm still curious. I'm still open. It's fun. Join me.
And for those of you who have strict moral grounds of disapproval, you might want to visit a 'legal' state and relax and open your minds a little. If not, if you don't want to, leave others out of your personal decision. If you don't want a reality, don't have one. Let others have theirs. No GSR: no guilt, no shame, no regret. It's a nicer way to live.
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 always drawn me to Taoism and Zen Buddhism is the naturalness and self-awareness of these disciplines. They invite us to truly experience the world, and not necessarily focus on rigid moral hierarchical structure which are usually found in organized religion. Watts explanation of cosmic consciousness was particularly poignant, as I have experienced similar moments throughout my life. His takeaways in square vs beat Zen was also very practical, as he tackles the identity struggles westerners may have when adopting Zen practices. I recommend this book to intermediate readers with an interest in Taoism and Zen Buddhism. Some prior knowledge of Taoism is particularly helpful (read the Tao te Ching!), since Watts main strength is the depth of his analysis into Taoist philosophy.
Was curious to read about Alan (a lifelong heavy smoker and drinker)‘s take on Zen. Summarizing in two words - “Anything goes”.
An important thing that I learned - The existential question ‘Why?’ attempts to draw answers from either the past or the future. How about we restrict the scope of analysis to the present when asked ‘Why?’
Mmm, siin leidub suht huvitavaid mõtteid. Uurinud natuke tema elulugu ja tausta, olen viimasel ajal tema filosoofiat natuke kriitilisema pilguga vaadanud. Olles lugenud varem tema raamatuid, oli küll näha väga palju korduvaid analoogiaid ja mõtteliine, mis kindlasti ei mõjunud enam nii värsekndavalt, kuna olin neid tema varemates raamatutes kohanud. Tema filosoofia ei ole kindlasti, mingi kindel mõttevoog ajaloost nagu budism või vedanta (rohkem nendest mõjutatud). Seega ei soovitaks ma seda raamatut nendele, kes otseselt nendest mõttekoolidest huvitatud. Mulle täiega meeldis artikkel tema kogemustest LSDga ja artikkel kosmilise kosmilise teadvuse kogemustest. Oli kindlasti ka artikleid, mis mõjusid rohkem tema vanade mõtete taaskasutustena.
Kitabın 1985 tarihli baskısını okumak biraz zorlayıcı olsa da (bu durumun sebebi de çevirisinin yapıldığı dönemin diline alışkın olmamaktı) bir şekilde okunabildi. Daha önce okumamış biri olarak Alan Watts'a işbu derleme kitapla başlamak ne derece doğruydu bilemiyorum fakat kötü bir deneyim olmadığı ortada. Ancak yer yer bir hayli tutarsız bulduğumu ve bazı kısımlarda da Bay Watts'ın sınır tanımaz doğu övücülüğü çabasından rahatsız olduğumu da belirtirsem kitap ile alakalı en azından kendim için adil bir değerlendirme yaptığıma ikna olacağım demektir (ki halihazırda ikna oldum bile).
Bazılarınız için bir gün kavuşmayı arzuladığınız aydınlanma yolunda önemli bir kapı açabilecek kuvvette bir kitap olduğu çok açık (yine de o aydınlanmanın büyük bir bölümünü bu kitaba borçlu olmayacaksınız). Bazılarınız için ise bu denemeler faydalı bir beyin egzersizi olacaktır (benim için bu açıdan faydalıydı örneğin).
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 aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”
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 with the subject. Still, even though my comprehension of it was a bit limited, this book kept me thinking and philosophizing. I found my mind positively thrilled to figure out the answers to the many questions the author put down. Amazing. I like Alan Watts.
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 views as well as our effort fulness which we deemed as error.
Reading this book has been deliberating. It reminded myself to not be too hard on myself when I goes not as I am expected and not to be judgmental towards others who held different views than I am.
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 other fascinating ideas transferred in this book.
Letting his ideas sink in is transformative and will free you. I guarantee :D