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What Is Tao?

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  838 ratings  ·  57 reviews
In his later years, Alan Watts, noted author and respected authority on Zen and Eastern thought, turned his attention to Taoism. In this book, he draws on his own study and practice to give readers an overview of the concept of the Tao and guidance for experiencing it themselves. What Is Tao? explores the wisdom of understanding the way things are and letting life unfold w ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published October 5th 2000 by New World Library
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  838 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Sanjay Gautam
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Alan Watts is the man who can be poetic in the prose. He says: Tao is like water, if you try to hold it, it will slip through; it's better let life flow. Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. The following lines by Lao Tzu sums up the book by Watts: water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fl ...more
Anthony Haynes
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This little book appears to be a shorter, simplified version of Watts' bigger, more academic work, 'Tao: The Watercourse Way'. Though apparently drawn from lectures in the last years of Watts' life and edited, the book reads with flow and continuity, and with the same style throughout, making me think that the content was perhaps originally one or two talks and edited by Mark Watts with the pictures. For that reason, it bears a funny resemblance to the Tao Te Ching, which, though often claimed t ...more
Oct 14, 2012 rated it liked it
As with all Alan Watts books, 'What Is Tao' clearly articulates concepts which are very difficult and abstract.

While the essence of these concepts are far beyond my grasp so shortly after the completion of this book, it was an interesting read. I assume the subject matter will require far, far more attention - perhaps a lifetime. It took me many months to assimilate at least some of the ideas of Watts' 'What is Zen?' into my life; who knows if this experience will be similar?
Anthony  Wright
Alan Watts is one of my favourite philosopers. He interprets eastern philosopy better than anyone I've ever read. After reading five of his books in a row, I decided that Taoism is the way for me. I've even created a morning affirmation/meditation from his words and it touches me everytime. It reminds me of the simple things like stay in the moment and live with detachment. Seems simple enough, but so hard to do after nearly 50 years of conditioning in this Wester society. ...more
Travis Hosgood
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
My main geezer watts on Taoism. Where do I start? Simple explanation of the unexplainable. The way of knowing all things is to know yourself, living simply, finding comfort in hostility, and sharing cultural bits of information and creation. As with all philosophy, use it sparingly. Gather what the ego considers righteous, and be like water. "Nothing in the world is weaker than water, but it has no better in overcoming the hard." ...more
Chloe Glynn
May 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Though I'd read a few versions of the Tao, Watts put words to some of the philosophical constructs I didn’t have a good sense for, especially in his dealing with the I Ching. It's a concise introduction. The writing is light and readable. There's a few interpretations I object to, and I would've liked a little bit more reverence, but readers who enjoy that aspect of Alan Watts' style will feel right at home. ...more
An admirable element of the Taoist philosophy that this book relates is the inherent inadequacy of words to accurately capture and convey the nuances of our myriad experiences on this planet - and indeed the book embodies that truth too, as Watts, in attempting to convey the complexities of ancient Eastern spiritual wisdom in some 90-odd small pages, often devolves into modern-day western bromides and platitudes, such as ‘easy does it’ and ‘go with the flow’ etc.

I drew some personal arbitrary li
Aug 23, 2019 rated it liked it
In the words of Lisa Turtle, what is Tao? Are we Tao? Is Tao, Tao?

Yes, we/it kind of is/are.

But as Lao Tzu said about the Tao, "Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know."

So. What do I know after reading this book?!...I...I'm not sure. And if I did know, I couldn't speak it, that's for sure!

Last couple chapters here are quite good. It's all from lectures so the book just kind of hops all over the place. Too short as well. A bit longer and a deeper dive into some of and I would b
Ron Davidson
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good introduction to Taoism by the master of "Eastern" philosophy. As usual, Watts presents the subject in a clear and entertaining way. ...more
Bill W
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wonderful in its simplicity and directness.
??? 80s: this is probably only a five if: you want complex ideas simply or simple ideas simply, you have read and have some sense of dao, you like philosophy, you like such comparative, you are interested in daoism, you like the idea and execution of an introductory work that summarizes and is an excellent interpretation of philosophical poetry (in translation) that is concise, correct, complete, in a way longer texts never are...

i started readings of daoism and buddhism when young and they were
Robbt E
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
An interesting overview of Taoism and eastern philosophy compiled from Alan Watts various talks he gave throughout his life. It is useful for people who are unfamiliar with Taoism and includes enough reiteration to be a useful review for people who want a review of the concepts.
Lucy Whitaker
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent introduction to Taoism. My only complaint is that it isn't longer, since I could read it for days. After discovering Alan Watts on YouTube, I decided to seek out more of his work and this book has only encouraged that search. ...more
Jimmy L.
Apr 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book just comes and blows my mind. Taoism (Daoism) is an interesting practice to study, and I find myself taking upon its influence. Great Book, Alan Watts is now one of my favorite author.
Natalia Ospina
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those curious about Taoism
Great short read on the history, background and paradoxical interpretation of the Tao. Watts' use of analogy is masterful. ...more
Worthless Bum
Oct 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
A superb introduction to Taoism, elucidating the central concepts and giving historical and cultural backround information.
Jan 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
As great as What is Zen?
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Alan Watts is my new superhero.
Alex Kartelias
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
An excellent book. Without being too- intellectual and being very clear, these words will make anyone who is restless and return back to the present moment. A book to read over and over again.
René Sadae
Apr 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
Food for thought. I've recently listened and read lengthy transcripts of Watts, and thought these edited versions of his talks were nicely done for a little synopsis of his lengthier philosophical postulations. I'm not so sure I wasn't 'reading (into and) between the lines' in these with my earlier words of Watts. However, I still think it's a great little 'original food of thought' that is slowly replacing my 70's-80's superficial westernized and popularized consumptions of the concepts of Tao, ...more
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Ultimately, of course, it is absolutely impossible to understand and appreciate our natural universe unless you know when to stop investigating."

I honestly thought that sitting down with pages of Watts' explaining to me what Tao is would give me a crash course on the Tao. What I was reminded of instead is that not all beauty on earth is linear, and not all concepts can be easily explained. The Tao is more than words can explain, it is something to be felt and experienced. Much like a drink of f
Brian Wilcox
This book might have led to a "Wow!" experience in reading it, if it were a first introduction to Taoism. It covers some peak concepts of Taoism, derived from oral talks. I found the contrast between causality and divination specious and shallow, reflecting Watt's bias to "oriental" thought. Also, the long - compared to the time spent on other topics and length of book - treatment of the I Ching detracted from the book. I came away feeling like this was a book published to publish another Watt's ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brief and insightful (long) essay on Taoism and Taoist thinking. Alan Watts writes clearly and well. This is the best description of the Tao I have come across. The author does a good job trying to get at something--the Tao--that is no get-at-able. In other words, when you try and use language to describe the Tao, you are no longer describing the Tao. It's sort of like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in particle physics: you can't know position and velocity at the same time. A particle has ...more
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful little essay/lecture collection! I wish it was longer, but I will definitely read more of Alan Watts’s writing after this. I especially like how he illuminates Taoist concepts and then compares them and presents them to a Western perspective. A permanent addition to my library and a ver quick read! I imagine taking this on a camping trip and pulling it out by a campfire or on some mountaintop!
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Good Summary of the meaning of Tao for westerners

I ha e this only four stars because Alan Watts gives better and more in-depth descriptions elsewhere. Still, this stands as a good, bite-size introduction to the differences in approach between the Western mindset and that of Eastern philosophies. It's a quick read and the concepts are clearly stated. If you are new to understanding Tao, read this.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Great as a quick primer for Taoism, but very short. Also, Alan Watts contrasting between Eastern vs. Western thought felt a little antiquated, although I have to forgive the book that fault, just because it was written so long ago.

Also, with Watts' waxing poetic about Chinese divination vs the scientific method, plus his remark about ESP being a real phenomenon, the end of this book lost its Tao for me.
Saqib Rizvi
Mar 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Although Alan Watts has done great work in simplifying esoteric Eastern practices for the common man, this one is too short to be called a book. I don't really know if in just 92 short pages he could cover even atleast the basics of Tao. This book will just a you a brief introduction of Tao. Feeling thankful and disappointed at the same time! 🙁 ...more
Muaad Sucule
Feb 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
A short easy to read book on eastern philosophy. I’d often see Alan Watts on YouTube and listen to a few of his tapes from time to time. So I figured I’d read this book. It was very short and I finished it in one setting very quickly. Yet it feel like it answered some deep questions I didn’t know I had. I’ll give the book 4/5 and I do recommend it. A good read.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A clear explanation of Tao and eastern perspective

I love Watts' writing because of the poetry. It is sometimes even inspiring. He is able to both explain the philosophy and allow you to feel it's meaning.
christopher j martin
Be itself so

What the book is about does not matter. The experience was 5 stars, five burning balls of radiation and gas or five wonderful points of light in the night sky. Up to you.
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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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