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The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  14,380 ratings  ·  782 reviews
Alan Watts asks what is the cause of the illusion that the self is a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin, and which confronts a universe of physical objects that are alien to it. Rather a person's identity (their ego) binds them to the physical universe, creating a relationship with their environment and other people. The separation of the self and the physical world ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 163 pages
Published August 28th 1989 by Vintage (first published 1966)
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Marcus Quick and meaty... easy to get through and much to ponder. Good books to read as companions would include The Lucifer Effect, My Bondage, My Freedom…moreQuick and meaty... easy to get through and much to ponder. Good books to read as companions would include The Lucifer Effect, My Bondage, My Freedom Fredrick Douglass, Flow, Mere Christianity... Watts puts words to ideas that were mere swirls in my own mind.(less)

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Fergus
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Do you sometimes get the feeling that there is an unwritten taboo written all across the faces of the faceless crowd around you?

That they're all walking on EGGSHELLS?

If you've ever thought that, says Alan Watts, you're right!

It's the taboo against knowing who you REALLY are. It's the "unbearable lightness of being." The impossibility of getting any real answers. The immense difficulty in getting to the ‘bottom’ of yourself. Or even finding a secure foundation for an endless stream of very
...more
Erik Graff
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone?
Recommended to Erik by: Anne-Lise Graff
Shelves: philosophy
Having read this and several other works by Watts while still in high school, I am unsure of a proper rating. At the time he was very influential, but then I knew so little and was so very unhappy.

Mother introduced me to Watts and, thus, Eastern philosophies. Actually, they were covered a bit in Freshman Civilization class taught by Kelly Fox and that was intriguing, but Watts was the first actual believer I may have read. Later, not much later, Mike Miley was to introduce me to the real stuff,
...more
Patrick
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
What a powerful little book. Watts has a gift for explaining Eastern thought and metaphysics to a western audience. Some of the statements in this book will change the way you look at the world in an instant. The day I finished reading this I spent two hours wandering around Seattle staring at trees and buildings and everything else under the sun. Things felt new and interesting for a little while. This book also has lots of interesting (and sometimes very humorous) commentary on western society ...more
Tim Burrington
Feb 02, 2013 rated it did not like it
Wow, what do I say about this book.
I read this based on the numerous, quite intelligent, quotes that can be found on the Internet attributed to Mr. Watts. Reading this book was a very different experience though.
To be sure, there are some grains of wisdom, but they are to be found among tons of chaff. With the flowing and unfocused nature of this book I could only picture a stoned hippy unloading a stream of consciousness while reading it. In the end Watts takes a full book to state the
...more
Bryan Duffy
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
This is one of those books that goes deep into the essence of the PERSONAL EGO. The way we look at the world and why we look at it with squinting eyes. This book literally opened up my mind to some new thoughts and at solidified some of my own ideas that I had been dwelling on for years.

Its funny at times. But, Read it with no distractions around. Its only enjoyable if you can literally digest what the man is saying.

Youll never look at the world the same once youve read this book, and I mean
...more
Jack Waters
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Alan Watts does a fine job of breaking through the narcissistic wall that many of us build around ourselves, as if we have a superior, godlike ability to access a vantage point that sees a world around us, apart from us, rather than us of it, fully immersed within the Whole Everything of All Things.

Sure, it is totally the book you love as a freshman college student, trying to disavow your WASPy upbringing by incorporating Easternized Western Thought rather than good ol' fashioned Westernized
...more
Bob Nichols
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Watts says humans are connected to everything around us so that we and the universe are one. The goal of Eastern thought is to tap into that oceanic feeling and love and harmony will result. This perspective he contrasts with Western thought, which is atomistic and ego-based, leading to competition, domination and conflict.

Watts has an interesting writing style. Points and themes fade in and out, like a smooth power point, and he takes the reader along for an almost mesmerizing ride until one
...more
Hershey
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I certainly don't agree with him on everything, but this book is life changing. I mostly took off a s tar because he tends to be hypocritical at times - he criticizes superiority complexes but clearly has one, and talks about politics in ways he criticizes people for doing so.
Tom
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read this book while on a kayaking trip with my older brother on Kachemak Bay, Alaska and I have never, literally, been exactly the same. It pulls the veil back, as it were. You can read it over and over, but I think the best one is the first time through. It made my mind race with the possibilities that it opened up, created some serious dialogue with my brother, and it made the perfect Christmas present, that year, to my parents who absolutely NEED to read it (though I know they never have, ...more
Marshall
What if there were One Book, which gave the low-down on all the Big Questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? What is the Universe? How was it created? No, I'm not talking about the Bible. That doesn't really answer those questions in a way that is palatable to the modern, scientific, skeptical thinker.

Alan Watts wondered what such a book would be like, and in so doing, he ends up writing it. At least I think he did. The first time I read it, it put an abrupt end to all of my
...more
Chris Chester
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The core of his argument is that Western society is plagued with an overabundance of ego. Which is not to say that we are overly full of ourselves (OK, that is kind of what it says), but that our confusion, frustration with life, and overall isolation from one another stems from this cultural meme that the individual exists wholly separate from everything else.

Watts finds the Hindu/Buddhist notion of a "ground of being" in place of God to be helpful in dispelling this notion of ego. If we accept
...more
Bria
Aug 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Bria by: Doc
I seem to have this problem where I keep reading books where I pretty much agree with what the author is saying, except that somehow I find it irritating the way they say it. I'm turned off by the parts where Watts turns to the same old complaints about how the world is deteriorating compared to our previous or natural way of being. The wide stereotyped pictures painted are quite tiresome, even though I know he's trying to illustrate the general way of things to make his point and not ...more
Timothy Urges
Some really great concepts are discussed in this book making you look at life and existence in new ways. But my eyes glazed over after a few chapters. An updated version of this text would probably go far.
Canesgalactica
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
I think there is something to be said on the nature of 'dated philosophy'.

While Watts makes some valid points in terms of the ego, the id and the ever present "I", I still think his philosophy is somewhat flawed. Not only that, but this book (perhaps the edition I have as it was an old library copy" suffers from somewhat antiquated analogies in publications and books that no one reads anymore.. or in fact even knows.

I did appreciate that the book was an attempt to get the average person out of
...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
This is a somewhat shallow book with nothing original. The main themes are along the lines that there is no ego and we are part of the world and the world is us, and that mindfulness and contemplation is good. For the first theme, Hegel had said the same thing 150 years earlier and with a firmer foundation than this trivial little book, and who among us doesn’t like mindfulness and contemplation?

Within this book ‘the ultimate foundation of being’ is Watts’ surrogate for the Supreme Being, God. I
...more
Daniel Roy
I find reprehensible the affection of Goodreads reviewers for animated GIFs, but this book begs for an exception. So here goes:



The central idea in this book is expressed in the title. Alan Watts argues that the Self is an illusion, and does so in an eloquent, playful manner. Most of the book focuses on helping the reader intuit this concept, rather than trying to convince them in a formal, logical manner. It's a nice change of pace from Spinoza's itemized logical constructs, for instance, and
...more
howl of minerva
The patter and diction are a little dated but this is generally a lucid and enjoyable explication of the perennial philosophy via Vedanta. Funnily enough it ends up sounding a lot like Heraclitus on the unity of opposites and Hegel on substance-as-subject and the journey to absolute knowing.
Bobby
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came to Watts by reference from a more practical guide of meditation practice. As such, I was really more interested in an exploration of a personal experience of "not-self", or "anatta" as Buddhists refer to it. This may sound somewhat grand and perhaps quixotic, but I sincerely believe that grasping anatta on a more immediate, visceral level of awareness - beyond the conceptual - is really quite possible and achievable for most everyone. In an effort to move beyond the purely conceptual, ...more
Steve Woods
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: georgejastudillo@gmail.com
This book is the work of a great man, a great scholar, a great thinker and he died of chronic alcoholism. I first became aware of Alan Watts when I was studying Chinese literature, for his discussions of the Tao te Ching. Pity I didn't pursue his wider work though I am not sure it would have had the same impact on me in my 20's so full of myself and on the slide into the same chronic alcoholism that killed him.

In this little book he isolates the great hoax, the sense of separate, self
...more
Jude Li-Berry
Jun 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: end-of-humanity
This is basically another one of those ecstatic proclamations made by a western intellectual (read: grown up among Transcendent religions, the extreme form of which being christianity) upon 'discovering' eastern, more Immanence-based traditions. At the time, the book might have had certain claims to progress -- especially considering how, half a century later, the world's consciousness is still enslaved by colonialism and the industrial west -- yet the cause of the book is lost early-on, when on ...more
T.J. Brearton
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book really started everything for me. I read it when I was nineteen (I'm thirty-nine now). I still can remember things from it very clearly. The idea that we are not separate egos walking around in bags of skin; the skin is permeable, and we're connected with everything. There is a confluence in this book of Native American tradition and the consciousness which expanded in the American 60s. If you've ever dropped acid, ate shrooms, been stoned, then this book will be very accessible. Even ...more
Daniel
Oct 05, 2009 rated it liked it
I discovered Alan Watts several years ago and became a fan of his entertaining talks on eastern philosophy. Since that time, I've listened to countless hours of his recordings. Until now I have not read any of his many books. If you are someone interested in grasping the philosophical concepts of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or even Christianity, I highly recommend subscribing to the Alan Watts podcast via iTunes as a starting point. After reading this book, I can say he was a much better ...more
DaveD
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
With a nice heady sativa, I think I would have enjoyed this book more. This book is like the four hour conversation that you had one night with your stoner buddy Doug back in college about life the universe and everything. There were a lot of interesting nugs of thought dropped on you, but at times your mind wandered away and then came back at a totally different place. You are IT man! Recommended bookshelf: Things to read when stoned.
Malum
Aug 25, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 stars.

I am a huge fan of Alan Watts' lectures, but this book was just too rambling for me, and I felt that the main point (that everything is connected...I think?) has been expounded on better by others.

Reading this was like reading a "page a day" calendar of Alan Watts anecdotes. It just jumped from one idea to the next too rapidly for me to settle in and enjoy it overly much.
Jesse D.
Feb 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any person, but especially the young adult (18-26).
This book has many quotes and analogies that I continue to use today when explaining my view of the universe and my relation to "God." I've given out at least 8 copies of this book to my friends, with never a bad review. I can't say enough good things about this book.

As an aside. Alan Watts is one of the greatest spiritual teachers in my life. The lectures he left prior to his passing affirmed many of the beliefs I held, and extended these beliefs to levels I previously hadn't been able to see.
...more
Kate Savage
May 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
Another Eastern-Western fusion philosophy book, with the characteristic mixture of profundity and cruelty. No, let me be more clear: I get easily seduced into the ontology that shows the ego as a naughty trickster, and troubles the boundaries between bodies and worlds. But the moment all human suffering and evil is written off as illusion I start to get embarrassed for the author. A bold move for a white man to make in 1966.

This isn't to say he's not right. What do I know?

(Just as a heads up:
...more
Cara
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this, everyone.... push past the eyerolling of a teenager and get them to read it, push past the contrariness of a politician and get them to read it, push past the busyness of the full time worker and get them to read it, push past the multitasking mind of a parent and get them to read it, push past the disdain and mocking by friends and get them... you get the gist, for herein lies the stuff of life...
Kirtida Gautam
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chakra-6
One of the best books I read in 2017. Reading becomes immensely joyful when the thoughts of the writer pulsates with your own thoughts. In such moments, reading feels like an interesting conversation.
Doug Seidl
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that states the premise upfront, and then drives it home every which way afterwards, angle after clever angle, example after meaningful example. Should be basic reading for the planet.
Ellie
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although this book brought me back to the spirit of the 60s, it remains relevant. According to Watts, who we are is both more and less than what we think. We are not isolated selves cut off from each other and the rest of the universe but one expression of that universe, connected to everything else. As he says, we don't come into the world but out of it.

It's pretty heady stuff. And in a time when we are busy destroying our world, it has never been more important to see ourselves as part of
...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 ...more
“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.” 325 likes
“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.” 169 likes
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