Alan Watts - An Introduction

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Reply Tue 16 Dec, 2008 01:39 pm
[CENTER]Alan Watts (January 6, 1915 - November 16, 1973)

Alan Watts was a British philosopher, writer, speaker, and student of comparative religion. He was best known for his interpretation and popularization of Asian philosophies for a Western audience.

Watts held a Master's Degree in Theology from Sudbury-Western Theological Seminary and an Honorary DD from the University of Vermont in recognition of his work in the field of comparative religions.

Watts wrote more than 25 books and numerous articles on subjects that touch on personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher consciousness, meaning of life, concepts and images of God and the pursuit of happiness. Watts took his experience and applied scientific knowledge and both eastern and western philosophies and religions.

Watts believed that the key to the universe is fundamentally a higher consciousness or mind. The world is an emanation of the one Being or Consciousness. Unity is the nature of the universe while the distinctions between knowing subject and the objects of knowledge are actually expressions of unity. This fact, he said, is gaining support from the discoveries of science, such as those of the British biologist Joseph Needham, in whose work he was especially interested. The human predicament is the mistaken belief in the individual ego and the forms of activity which result. This places the individual in conflict with all of reality and results in the ego feeling ultimately responsible. Christianity in all its forms, Watts said, has reinforced this delusion, while Chinese and Indian thinkers have discovered the unity of the depths of the human being and the One which makes one at home in the world.

[quote=]I find that the sensation of myself as an ego inside a bag of skin is really a hallucination. What we really are is, first of all, the whole of our body. And although our bodies are bounded with skin, and we can differentiate between outside and inside, they cannot exist except in a certain kind of natural environment. Obviously a body requires air, and the air must within a certain temperature range. The body also requires certain kinds of nutrition. So in order to occur the body must be on a mild and nutritive planet with just enough oxygen in the atmosphere spinning regularly around in a harmonious and rhythmical way near a certain kind of warm star.

That arrangement is just as essential to the existence of my body as my heart, my lungs,and my brain. So to describe myself in a scientific way, I must also describe my surroundings, which is a clumsy way getting around to the realization that you are the entire universe. However we do not normally feel that way because we have constructed in thought an abstract idea of our self.
"Well," you ask."How do I get rid of it?" And my answer to that is: That's the wrong question. How does one get rid of what? You can't get rid of your hallucination of being an ego by an activity of the ego. Sorry, but it can't be done. If you try to get rid of your ego with your ego you will just end up in a vicious circle. You'd be like somebody who worries because they worry because they worry.[/quote]
[CENTER]On the Self
[quote=]Underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really us than I. And the more you become aware of the unknown self -- if you become aware of it -- the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that is. You are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies. You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes. You look and look, and one day you are going to wake up and say, "Why, that's me!" And in knowing that, you know that you never die. You are the eternal thing that comes and goes, that appears -- now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown -- and so it goes, forever and ever and ever.[/quote]
[CENTER]On Nothingness
[quote=]The idea of nothing has bugged people for centuries, especially in the Western world.We have a saying in Latin, Ex nihilo nuhil fit, which means "out of nothing comes nothing." It has occurred to me that this is a fallacy of tremendous proportions. It lies at the root of all our common sense, not only in the West, but in many parts of the East as well. It manifests in a kind of terror of nothing, a put-down on nothing, and a put-down on everything associated with nothing, such as sleep, passivity, rest, and even the feminine principles. But to me nothing -- the negative, the empty -- is exceedingly powerful. I would say, on the contrary, you can't have something without nothing. Image nothing but space, going on and on, with nothing in it forever. But there you are imagining it, and you are something in it. The whole idea of there being only space, and nothing else at all is not only inconceivable but perfectly meaningless, because we always know what we mean by contrast. [/quote]

[quote=]You see, how it was done was this prohibition not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. That was the one sure way of getting it eaten. But of course when the Lord God accused Adam and said, "You've been eating of that tree I told you not to eat," and he passed the buck to Eve and said, "this woman that thou gavest me, she tempted me and I did eat." And He looked at Eve and [said] "now what about it?" She said, "well, it was the serpent." And He looked at the serpent--the serpent didn't say anything, because he knew too much and he wasn't going to give away the show. Who is it that sits at the left hand of God? We know who sits at the right hand. It's hushed up, because that's the side where the district attorney sits, and in the Book of Job of course you know Satan is the district attorney at the court of Heaven. He's the prosecutor, he's a faithful servant of the court. Because, you see, the whole problem is, it would be very bad indeed if God were the author of evil and we were his victims. That is to say, if we keep the model of the King of the Universe, and the creatures are all subjects of the king, then a God who is responsible for evil is being very unkind to other people. But in this theory God is not "an-other" person, there are no "victims" of God. He is never anything but His own victim. You are responsible, and if you want to stay in the state of illusion, stay in it, but you can always wake up.[/quote][CENTER]On Faith
[quote=]Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be. [/quote]
[quote=]The difficulty for most of us in the modern world is that the old-fashioned idea of God has become incredible or implausible. When we look through our telescopes and microscopes, or when we just look at nature, we have a problem. Somehow the idea of God we get from the holy scriptures doesn't seem to fit the world around us, just as you wouldn't ascribe a composition by Stravinsky to Bach. The style of God venerated in the church, mosque, or synagogue seems completely different from the style of the natural universe. It's hard to conceive of the author of one as the author of the other.[/quote]

[CENTER]Authored Work

  • 1936 The Spirit of Zen
  • 1937 The Legacy of Asia and Western Man
  • 1940 The Meaning of Happiness
  • 1944 Theologica Mystica of St. Dionysius
  • 1948 Behold the Spirit:A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion
  • 1950 Easter - Its Story and Meaning
  • 1950 The Supreme Identity
  • 1951 The Wisdom of Insecurity
  • 1953 Myth and Ritual in Christianity
  • 1957 The Way of Zen
  • 1958 Nature, Man, and Woman
  • 1959 Beat Zen Square Zen and Zen
  • 1960 "This Is It" and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience
  • 1961 Psychotherapy East and West
  • 1962 The Joyous Cosmology - Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
  • 1963 The Two Hands of God - The Myths of Polarity
  • 1964 Beyond Theology - The Art of Godmanship
  • 1966 The Book - On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
  • 1967 Nonsense
  • 1970 Does It Matter?: Essays on Man's Relation to Materiality
  • 1971 Erotic Spirituality - The Vision of Konarak
  • 1972 The Art of Contemplation
  • 1972 In My Own Way - An Autobiography 1915-1965
  • 1973 Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal
  • 1975 Tao: The Watercourse Way (unfinished at time of death in 1973 - published in 1975)
Reply Tue 16 Dec, 2008 02:09 pm
Another quote by Watts I really enjoy:
There is no difference in principle between sharpening perception with an external instrument, such as a microscope, and sharpening it with an internal instrument, such as one of these...drugs. If they are an affront to the dignity of the mind, the microscope is an affront to the dignity of the eye and the telephone to the dignity of the ear. Strictly speaking, these drugs do not impart wisdom at all, any more than the microscope alone gives knowledge. They provide the raw materials of wisdom, and are useful to the extent that the individual can integrate what they reveal into the whole pattern of his behavior and the whole system of his knowledge.[/CENTER]

I just came across Watts' "Does It Matter?" last week. I'm quite excited, it looks really great. It discusses how man now confuses what he perceives with what is, and it leads him into doing absurd things, like 'eating the menu instead of the dinner.'
Reply Tue 16 Dec, 2008 02:30 pm
I haven't read that text yet. Everything by Watts I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed--especially The Book and the Wisdom of Insecurity. Alan Watts speaks to a lot of topics that humans must come to terms with in order move on from this period of time.
Reply Fri 9 Jan, 2009 09:31 am
As soon as i stumbled upon him in a used book store, i had a new favorite mind. I listen to his lectures as i clean. His thoughts are pretty parallel to what i was thinking of on my own most of the time.

I definitely recommend everybody at least explore his thoughts, or at the very least some quotes...
Reply Tue 1 Sep, 2009 12:38 pm
I acquired copies of a whole bunch of his lectures and have enjoyed many hours of listening... also good is his video 'Conversations With Myself'...

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