I’ve met two people who also can’t get enough Alan Watts, and tonight will be our first night of our small Alan Watts Fan Club! In preparation I thought it would be useful to post some thoughts and summaries of his work.
Alan Watts (1915-1973) was a British-born philosopher best known for popularising Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. While he worked in many universities, including a fellowship at Harvard, giving lectures and writing books for many universities, he called himself “a philosophical entertainer”. Read about his life here. He published his first book at 21 years old – 1936 The Spirit of Zen and he continued to write, talk and explore life without boundaries.
My favourites of his work so far:
- 1940 The Meaning of Happiness
- 1963 The Two Hands of God – The Myths of Polarity
- 1966 The Book – On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
- 1970 Does It Matter?: Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality
Trey Parker & Matt Stone (who did South Park) animated these clips:
Prickles and Goo
Music and Life
Some favourite quotes:
‘Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center for feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body – a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange… This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.’  pp. 15-6.
‘When the line between myself and what happens to be is dissolved and there is no stronghold left for an ego even with a passive witness, I find myself not in a world but as a world which is neither compulsive nor capricious. What happens is neither automatic nor arbitrary: it just happens, and all happenings are mutually interdependent in a way that seems unbelievably harmonious. Every this goes with every that. Without others there is no self, and without somewhere else there is no here, so that – in this sense – self is other and here is there.’  p. 113.
In other words, I am both that which I do voluntarily, and what I do involuntarily, and my admitting all the involuntary aspects of my life – from my birth into a particular cultural circumstances, to my death in which ever way it will come, I empower myself to not be a victim but to seek the lessons from both the good and the bad, and make the most of the short window of life I’m here to experience.
‘In terms of the great Oriental philosophies, man’s un-happiness is rooted in the feeling of anxiety which attends his sense of being an isolated individual or ego, separate from “life” or “reality” as a whole. On the other hand, happiness – a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness – comes with the realization that the feeling of isolation is an illusion. [… This order of happiness] is not a result to be attained through action, but a fact to be realized through knowledge. The sphere of action is to express it, not to gain it.’‘The Meaning of Happiness explains that the psychological equivalent of this doctrine is a state of mind called is “total acceptance,” a ‘yes-saying to everything that we experience, the unreserved acceptance of what we are, of what we feel and know at this and every moment.’
- Life is a Game: Alan Watts & Happiness
- Attention and Ignore-ance
- The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are
- Advice for Aspiring Writers