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Alan Watts’ ‘dramatic model’ and the pursuit of peace

untitledMy latest academic publication – on the work of my favourite philosopher of all time: Alan Watts, and how his “dramatic model of the universe” can contribute to peace 🙂


This article explores the contribution of Alan Watts’ ‘dramatic model of the universe’ to the pursuit of peace. It locates Watts’ critique of dominant Western worldviews alongside process philosophers, ecologists and peace theorists who have made similar claims. It focuses on Watts’ proposition that understanding the ‘self’ to be a ‘skin-encapsulated ego’ is a root cause of many of humanity’s biggest problems, not least the destruction of the environment. According to Watts, a more satisfying worldview understands the self to be a process, inseparable from the cosmological, evolutionary and ecological processes out of which it has emerged. Watts refers to this as a ‘dramatic’ model of the universe. He contrasts this with the ‘ceramic’ and ‘fully-automatic’ models, which he posits underlie most Western worldviews. The impact of these models is discussed in terms of social, ecological and inner peace.

Keywords: Alan Watts; dramatic model; worldviews; panentheism; positive peace; inner peace; social justice; ecological harmony

Link to article:

To cite this article: Juliet Bennett (2015) “Alan Watts’ ‘dramatic model’ and the pursuit of peace”, Self & Society, 43:4, 335-344, DOI: 10.1080/03060497.2016.1142257

PS. I can give a special link to 50 people to download for free so please contact me if you’d like it…

Commemorating 100 years of Alan Watts

Today marks the 100-year birthday of Alan Watts. While Watts’ “came out of this world” on 6 January 1915, and “returned to the world” in 1973 (far too young, at 58 years old), his legacy continues and expands in influence and appreciation.

Alan Watts

Alan Watts was a polymath of spirituality, religions, mysticism, philosophy, psychology, phenomenological, among his many disciplines. Though he tried to prevent labels, he was an expert in Zen Buddhism, Taoism, had a stint as an Episcopal clergyman, and a professor and dean of the Academy of Asian . He called himself a “philosophical entertainer”.

Watts was a man before his time, he had visions of the future that have come true, he was a man outside of time, using psychedelic drugs to understand that space beyond, he was a man of ancient wisdom, and a voice of the future who people in millennia ahead are likely to see to be one of the most transcendent and illuminating of all.

Watts is most famous for his influence in bringing Eastern thought to the West. He had a unique ability to make the complex simple, and to make the serious fun.

He describes himself as a ‘sedentary and contemplative character, an intellectual, a Brahmin, a mystic, and also somewhat of a disreputable epicurean who has had three wives, seven children, and five grandchildren’ to which he says he ‘cannot make up my mind whether I am confessing or boasting’ (Watts 1972: x).

He recalls that he has ‘come to see that my own “sins” are as normal and as boring as everyone else’s … beyond boasting on the one hand, or confessing or apologizing on the other, I find my life intensely interesting’ (6).

Watts is a living example of his philosophy, to the extent that even his autobiography does not follow a ‘linear dimension,’ since he explains that ‘I do not subscribe to the chronological or historical illusion that events follow one another on a one-way street, in series… the world itself isn’t strung out; it exists in many dimensions.’

His purpose is to entertain the reader, and perhaps even more so to entertain himself. Instead he tell his biography starting from the present, ‘from which the past rails and vanishes like the wake of a ship.’

He admits to accusation of critics of his repetition, explaining that ‘varied repetition is the essence of music.’ He says: ‘Each of the twenty books I have had published arrives at the same destination from a different point of departure, … Taking the premises of Christian dogmatics, Hindu mythology, Buddhist psychology, Zen practice, psycho analysis, behaviorism, or logical positivism, I have tried to show that all are aiming, however disputatiously, at one center. This has been my way of making sense of life in terms of philosophy, psychology, and religion’ (4).

Watts’ influence is widespread and still unfolding: in our culture, in academia, and in the world.

Peter J. Columbus and Donadrian L. Rice collected essays Here and Now explore Watts’ contribution to contemporary academic literature in psychology, philosophy and religion, pointing to many areas yet untapped.

Watts was involved in setting up (what is now called) the California Institute of Integral Studies, which continues to offer university courses in the interdisciplinary fields that Watts explored. Ralph Metzner, Brian Swimme and Charlene Spretnak are among its esteemed professors.

Watts had a significant influence in counterculture movement of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, that started in San Fransisco and spread across the world. The Occupy Movement and many environmental and social movements to advocate its values.

Watts’ lectures, many recorded on his home on an old ferry boat S. S. Vallejo in Sausalito, California, uplift the moods of millions of people every day:

Watts books have influenced writers such as Deepak Chopra (see his Introduction to The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety), Spike Jonze (hence Watts’ cameo appearance in the movie Her) and the animators of South Park Trey Parker and Matt Stone- see their videos:

A new film by his son Mark Watts, who is now building The Alan Watts Mountain Center north of San Francisco, was released last year:

You’ll never regret getting his books, downloading his lectures, or now the Apps… here are some links to his books on Amazon:
In My Own Way: An Autobiography
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety
This Is It: and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience
Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation
Tao: The Watercourse Way
Psychotherapy East and West
The Supreme Identity
Myth and Ritual In Christianity
Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion
The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
Nature, Man and Woman
Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives
Does It Matter?: Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality
You’re It!: On Hiding, Seeking, and Being Found


What I like most about Alan Watts is the way that he tackled the myopia of modern day society, that is, the short-sightedness that leads to a lack of care for the long-term well-being of our planet, an onslaught of alienation and anxiety associated with the future of “me” and what happens when “I” die, that makes it difficult to really enjoy life.

He counters this myopia with a holistic view of the self as the world, both which are involved in an ongoing cosmic process of creation and appreciation. In this view “You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.”

I will continue to share his insights on this blog, as Watts’ writings continue to inspire and ground my own philosophy of life.



Alan Watts, 1972. In My Own Way: An Autobiography. California: New World Library.

Retreat from the city: Watts’ mountain cabins and old ferry-boats

My partner, a sculptural artist, and I, with my love of writing, have been thinking about ways we might create some sort of retreat from the city. As I read Alan Watts’ biographies I have been curiously uncovering his two most unusual abodes: a communal mountain retreat with Gary Snyder, Catharine A. MacKinnon, Elsa Gidlow and others at Druid Heights, and an old ferry-boat named SS Vallejo with artist Jean Varda and other party-goers in San Fransisco Bay.

Druid Heights, Mount Tamalpais

“What do you get when you bring together a groundbreaking lesbian poet, a famous Zen philosopher, the founder of a prostitutes’ union and the inventor of the self-regulating filtered hot tub?” writes .

“The answer: Druid Heights — a once-thriving Bay Area bohemia deep in the forest, now moldering despite the best efforts of its residents, a few hardy holdovers from the counterculture, to maintain it.

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Secreted away one and a half miles down a dirt road, Druid Heights is unknown to thousands of tourists who flock to the misty redwoods of Muir Woods, even as it comes under review by the National Park Service for recognition as a historic or culturally significant site.


The philosopher Alan Watts, who died here in 1973 in the Mandala House, a circular work of architecture resembling a spinning top, wrote of this community’s “numinous, mythological quality,” which drew artists, writers, musicians and hedonists from 1954 through the early ’70s.

Among them were the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder; Margo St. James, who organized the union for prostitutes; Catharine A. MacKinnon, the feminist law professor who advises the International Criminal Court in The Hague on gender issues; and the lesbian poet Elsa Gidlow, whose ashes reside near the Moon Temple. Her guest room and meditation cabin still exude an otherworldly goddess aura.”

Druid Heights was once a five-acre ranch formerly known as Camp Monte Vista Sub One. It was set up by Elsa Gidlow and carpenter Roger Somers. According to wikipedia: “Somers, influenced by Japanese architecture and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, built many of the structures with unique furniture designed by Ed Stiles.[5] Gidlow was fond of organic agriculture and grew vegetables for the people in the community.[6]

Druid Heights was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1970s[2][3] and is currently under review for a proposed listing on the National Register of Historic Places.[4]
Watts wrote these journals on this mountain:

Check out the photos:

S. S. Vallejo ferryboat in Sausalito

Built in 1879, and out of service after WW2, this old 37m x 9m ferry boat was bought by artist Jean Varda, surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford, and architect Forest Wright in the ’50s. Wright sold his share to Ford, and they turned it into a houseboat, art studio and party place for the likes of Jack Kerouac among others.

Watts bought Ford’s share of the houseboat in 1961. Varda’s parties and salons continued. The most famous party, thrown in 1967, was known as the “Houseboat Summit”, and featured  Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Watts discussing LSD. Many of Watts’ lectures were recorded on this boat:


This aerial photo was taken by Ted Rose [owner of the white octagon houseboat] and Ford Kiddo.

Marian Saltman, who had begun living on Vallejo in 1971, arranged for its purchase in 1981, and began to restore the boat. She said, “I hope she will continue to be the home of remarkable people and ideas, and I wish her to serve the creative and artistic needs of Sausalito and the Bay Area.”[3]

In 2001-2002 Vallejo was restored by Kiwi’s and privately owned by someone who is now collecting its stories!

photo by Heide Foley

I believe Watts recorded Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives on board Vallejo.


Brown, Patricia, Oasis for Resisting Status Symbols Just Might Get One, New York Times article published January 25, 2012


Stories on Vallejo


Also note: if I have not credited the photographer/source it is because I have not been able to locate – please do contact me if any issues re copyright.

A Wattsian Message of Happiness for 2015

In 1940, as the Second World War began its violence, a 25-year old Alan Watts published a book called The Meaning of Happiness. Its subtitle was the quest for freedom of the spirit in modern psychology and the wisdom of the East.

Meaning of HappinessThis book shares the same essential message of  countless books, articles and lectures that followed: you are not only what is inside your “bag of skin”, you are what is outside of it too. To kick off the new year, let me explain what this means and how it relates to happiness…

Watts ([1940] 1968: ix) points out that generally there are two types of books on happiness:

  1. ‘those which tell us how to become happy by changing our circumstances
  2. ‘those which tell us how to become happy by changing ourselves’ (emphasis mine).

Yet he points out that his book does neither. Instead, his book points out that ‘it is possible in a certain sense to become happy without doing anything about it’ (ix).

The Meaning of Happiness offers a means of becoming happy without changing anything. He leads readers through a process of acceptance of self—where you are and as you are. If you cannot be happy in this moment, then you will never be happy, because life is a series of moments.

In an age that tells us happiness will come if we try harder, if we do more, if we get better grades, if we buy that dress, car, or house, score that chick or marry that man, get that job, have that much money, then and only then we will be happy. In such a culture, is it really possible to accept our selves and be happy now?

Watts says yes we can. None of these external things will actually bring us happiness.

Watts points out that happiness of the deepest kind is found through ‘a conscious harmony with life and nature both in external circumstances and in oneself’ (xvii).

This is not so say we should become lazy and do nothing. Watts points out that even thought ‘happiness is associated with relaxation,’ it is possible to be happy whilst being challenged or ‘in the midst of strenuous effort’ (xxi). Paradoxically, Watts goes on to point out that happiness, like relaxation, is not something we can try to achieve. Neither are obtained by effort.

The more you try to relax, the more stressed you are likely to feel. Instead we have to let go of the effort, stop trying!

Stop. Look.

Look at yourself—what lies inside your skin and what lies outside it—and observe your intimate connections, the relationships, the processes.

See that You are always in process with everything else. Let go. Relax into the harmony of the process.

Watts goes on to say that the greatest freedom does not come from an ego’s ‘conceit of personal freedom and self-sufficiency’ (xviii). When ‘that conceit is abandoned an altogether new and more powerful freedom is known—the freedom of union or harmony between human and life’ (xviii). [1]

When you realise you are one with everything else, many of the fears that haunt our narrowly defined self disappear.

If you are everyone else, then rather than envy others’ achievements you can rejoice in them. If you are everything else, then rather than fear death you can feel comfort in knowing that you will live forever in all your other forms.

Watts says that in the face of violence, a Hindu philosopher might say “Sarvam kalvidam Brahman”—“This, too, is Brahman” (2). [2]

Life and death, young and old, joy and sorrow, are like two sides of one mountain. Being cannot exist without non-being.

The meaning is found in the whole process, all of which is You.

These words and beautiful animation might help bring this message of happiness to life:

Alan Watts would turn 100-years old on 6 January 2015, so stay tuned for more enlightening Wattsian philosophy 🙂


[1] I changed ‘man’ to ‘human’, to meet new language norms.

[2] Brahman refers to ‘that divine Being of whose Self each single thing is a changing aspect’ (Watts 1968: 2).


Alan Watts [1940] 1968. The Meaning of Happiness London: Village Press. Original edition, Harper & Row, New York.

Boundaries between Self and World

“Your skin doesn’t separate you from the world; it’s a bridge through which the external world flows into you, and you flow into it.”

More Alan Watts? Yes, it’s always a good time for more Alan Watts. Over and over and over, repeat.

The whole world is moving through you, all the cosmic rays, all the food you’re eating, the stream of steaks and milk and eggs and everything is just flowing right through you.

Have you ever thought about your self in this way? In goes oxygen, water, sunshine and food. Out goes carbon dioxide, piss and shit. We all know that our bodies are is constantly in-taking and expelling the world, but I’m not sure many of us feel ourselves as fully connected and inseparable from our environment.

What ways, then, can we define ourselves as separate from and connected to our environment?

Watts likens us to a whirlpool in water:

“you could say because you have a skin you have a definite shape you have a definite form. All right? Here is a flow of water, and suddenly it does a whirlpool, and it goes on. The whirlpool is a definite form, but no water stays put in it. The whirlpool is something the stream is doing, and exactly the same way, the whole universe is doing each one of us, and I see each one of you today and I recognize you tomorrow, just as I would recognize a whirlpool in a stream. I’d say ‘Oh yes, I’ve seen that whirlpool before, it’s just near so-and-so’s house on the edge of the river, and it’s always there.’ So in the same way when I meet you tomorrow, I recognize you, you’re the same whirlpool you were yesterday. But you’re moving….  When you’re wiggling the same way, the world is wiggling, the stream is wiggling you.”

Why do we tend to think of ourselves as separate from our environment? Why do we wage wars on nature, when we are in fact a part of nature?

“the problem is,” explains Watts, “we haven’t been taught to feel that way. The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe, but only parts of it, only in it, only confronting it–aliens. And we are, I think, quite urgently in need of coming to feel that we ARE the eternal universe, each one of us… Otherwise we’re going to go out of our heads. We’re going to commit suicide, collectively, courtesy of H-bombs. And, all right, supposing we do, well that will be that, then there will be life making experiments on other galaxies. Maybe they’ll find a better game.”

Do we need a new religion? Watts says: No.

‘This, as history has shown repeatedly, is not enough. Religions are divisive and quarrelsome. They are a form of one-upmanship because they depend upon separating the “saved” from the “damned,” the true believers from the heretics, the in-group from the out-group… As systems of doctrine, symbolism, and behavior, religions harden into institutions that must command loyalty, be defended and kept “pure,” and – because all belief is fervent hope, and thus a cover-up for doubt and uncertainty – religions must make converts.’

What, then do we need?

We do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need a new experience – a new feeling of what it is to be “I”.’

We need to deepen our understanding of our selves and our world, and expand our philosophy for life in ways that align with this understanding.

What does it feel like when one defines themselves as the universe?

1. it changes the feeling I have toward you

“I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too.”

In this way I an inclined to enjoy your successes (as they are my successes too) and to feel your pain (as it is my pain too). This radical empathy brings me to point (2).

2.  it increases care for the future of our species and our planet

‘When you know for sure that your separate ego is a fiction, you actually feel yourself as the whole process and pattern of life. Experience and experiencer become one experiencing, known and knowing one knowing.’

If I am the whole universe, I care about the creative possibilities and the destructive suffering of all the beings within that universe. What is best for all is what is best for myself, and I work to align my own actions to bring about the best for others.

3. it takes away loneliness—as I know that my roots connect me to all.

“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.'”

4. it gives my life meaning and purpose.

Watts asks, “Why go on? And you only go on if the game is worth the gamble… a satisfactory theory of the universe has to be one that’s worth betting on.”

universe looking at itself

And (again) my favourite quote from Watts:

“You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate ‘you’ to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For “you” is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.”

I find my meaning not in what I can take from others, for my individual body, but in what I can give to others and what I can give to the world as a whole. And I do this with the most selfish intention: giving, in my experience, is far more rewarding than taking.

We are each the narrator of our own life stories.

We can narrate ourselves as separate individuals, out to take from the world what we feel it owes us—we can set out to compete, beat and survive.

Or we can narrate ourselves as interconnecting processes, here to give to the world, to inspire the best in others and live on through the surrounding processes that we continue within when our own body dies.

The latter focalisation leads to greater happiness and satisfaction in the life that I’m living. For me, Alan Watt’s theory of the universe is one worth betting on.

Quotes are from various Alan Watts books and talks, largely The Book : On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969). pp. 15-8; and The Nature of Consciousness Watts (1960).

Picture is John Wheeler’s “Participatory Universe”, included in Paul Davies’ The Mind of God (1992: 225). Here we are represented as a self-reflexive eye that emerged within life’s story.

Is colour real? Reality and rainbows.

DSC_1070 copy‘Extensive studies of colour perception over several decades have made it clear that there are no colours in the external world, independent of the process of perception.’[1]

Since I was a child I’ve wondered if what I see to be green is the same as what you see to be green. I wondered if I were to switch places with someone would I be horrified by everyone walking around with green faces or green hair.

That’s not the kind of un-real we are talking about here. I think we’re safe to assume our eyes have evolved to see things in at least somewhat similar tones – though we do tend to draw the boundaries differently. Lime and aqua are examples of contested colours…. what I call a limey green, someone else calls limey yellow. Same goes for aqua – is it green or is it blue?

Nit picking aside, the quote above points to an interesting phenomenon: colour, in fact, does not exist external to human perception.

The entire structure of our colour categories come from our neural structures – wave lengths reflected in interaction with colour cones in our retinas and the neural circuitry connected to them. Alan Watts illustrates this beautifully through a more easily understood example a rainbow.

A rainbow appears only when there is a certain triangular arrangement between: the sun, the moisture in the air, and an observer.

A rainbow is not an illusion – a number of observers can verify its existence. Yet it doesn’t exist external to our observation. Chase it and it disappears:

‘One could say that if the sun and a body of moisture were in the right relationship, say, over the ocean, any observer on a ship that sailed into line with them would see a rainbow. But one could also say that if an observer and the sun were correctly aligned there would be a rainbow if there were moisture in the air!’[2]

The observer is an essential part of this story.

Same story for colour.

Same story for reality.

There is no solid “external reality”. Watts asks: what if mountains and rocks and stars are also observed through a participatory observation?

In other words: what if, like the rainbow, mountains and rocks and stars also do not exist without an observer?

This points to the intrinsic connection between the observer and observed. Through our observation we participate in the creation of the universe as it is today. Through our actions we participate in the creation of the universe of tomorrow.

This is a central insight of “phenomenology”- the study of experience. It is also a central insight of “quantum mechanics” (although I admit to saying this with limited understanding).

Capra writes: ‘our bodies define a set of fundamental spatial relations that we use not only in orienting ourselves but in perceiving the relationship of one object to another.’[1]

Through limited senses we hear/see/smell/touch/feel/sense/act in an experienced world. Simultaneously other humans experience it differently, and other organisms experience it very differently.

Humans cannot know what it is like to be a dolphin in the sea, a bird in the air, an ancient oak tree, a rock deep in Earth’s ground, or a star in a galaxy far away. These entities have their own internal realities – absorbing from their environment, undertaking changes from within, and releasing something back out again. These entities have “intrinsic value” in and of themselves. They also have “utility value” to humans, even if only to appreciate their aesthetics. I’m getting side-tracked…

The point I’m trying to make here is that while each organism observes (and possibly co-creates) the “reality” of the environment that surrounds it, this cannot be seen as separate from everything else that exists. In this way the figure and the ground are one, and we are one with everything – as observers, participants, and the observed result.

Colour, rainbows and mountains exist – but they only exist in this way in relation to human perception.

[1]  Capra, Fritjof (2002). The Hidden Connections : Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life into a Science of Sustainability. New York: Doubleday. p. 54.
[2] Alan Watts, The book : on the taboo against knowing who you are, 1969. p. 95.

Questions to ask

‘The notions most worth questioning are just those which are most taken for granted.’ [1]

I’m not sure who said “Truth cannot be told, it can only be found” (or something along those lines), but I believe there’s something very important in this idea.

Each of us must search for our own truth/s. When you find your truth, you cannot impart it to others. You can share your truth in the context of it being your truth, understanding that the person you are sharing it with may enjoy your perspective and gain some insights from it, but in the end must find their own truth for themselves.

Sheep in NZFollowing-the-leader in New Zealand January 2008


If you accept a truth or “The Truth” that someone is trying share with you than you become a sheep. While there’s lots one can learn from those around them, especially those who have searched and thought critically about what is usually taken-for-granted, there’s still a process we each of us are called to do.

I realise some religions call their congregations to be sheep, preaching that it is the sheep who will be rewarded in this life or another. Even some areas of the academy, and in economics and politics (especially in Australia), encourage and reward sheepish behaviour.

The greatest danger of being a sheep is that your shepherd may lead you down the wrong path, maybe off a cliff or to an abattoir… If one doesn’t stop to question where all one’s other sheep-friends are going, and where and why a shepherd is taking them, they leave themselves vulnerable to be used and abused by those in power, whether it is the intention of the shepherd or not.

Not all religions discourage questioning of the doctrinal truths. Some religions teach the opposite. For example check out my post on the Buddhist Kālāma Sutta, the “Charter of Free Inquiry” if you haven’t already.

It is a worthwhile process to question what we are told, questioning what we have not been told, questioning our assumptions, questioning our leaders and teachers, questioning their assumptions, and thinking about how they came to believe what they do.

The questions we ask must consider the most fundamental assumption in our lives, those things that we most take for granted. This means questioning the direction we are going, the implications of our actions, and after careful observation, analyses and foresight, deciding where we want to go and what actions are likely to take us there.

[1] Alan Watts, The Two Hands of God : The Myths of Polarity (London: Rider, 1978). p. 34. Watts says this is what Whitehead showed us.

Alan Watts Fan Club

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




Then there’s Watts’ TV series  “Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life” – two seasons filmed 1959-1960 for KQED public television  in San Francisco:


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.’ [1] 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.’ [1] 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.’[2]‘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.’[2]

Some of my other blog entries on Alan Watts:


[1] Alan Watts, The Book : On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969).

[2] Alan Watts, The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East (London: Village Press, 1968). p. iv.



Dictators, Monarchs and Anarchy: on Earth and in Heaven

Have you ever noticed that the interior design of churches bears a striking resemblance to courts? From the pews to the preacher, and even their outfits!

There is a curious similarity between our politics and our religion, and an even more curious similarity between our systems of power within human societies and the way we imagine power structures within our universe.

“God” is still imagined by many people to be a king. This metaphor originated in the time when this image came to bear people were living in a monarchy. The king was the most powerful person in the kingdom, so God was imagined to be a king.

It is interesting that as our political models have changed, this image hasn’t.

I suppose in some circles it has, and “God” is imagined to be a little more democratic. But in some circles God is still imagined to be a bit like a king, or what could even be considered a fascist dictator (who punishes with eternal suffering if one doesn’t do what he says).

Alan Watts says on The Worlds Most Dangerous Book:

When one considers the architecture and ritual of churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, it is obvious until most recent times that they are based on royal or judicial courts. A monarch who rules by force sits in the central court of his donjon with his back to the wall, flanked by guards, and those who come to petition him for justice or to offer tribute must kneel or prostrate themselves simply because these are difficult positions from which to start a fight. Such monarchs are, of course, frightened of their subjects and constantly on the anxious alert for rebellion. Is this an appropriate image for the inconceivable energy that underlies the universe? True, the altar-throne in Catholic churches is occupied by the image of God in the form of one crucified as a common thief, but he hangs there as our leader in subjection to the Almighty Father, King of the universe, propitiating Him for those who have broken His not always reasonable laws. And what of the curious resemblances between Protestant churches and courts of law? The minister and the judge wear the same black robe and “throw the book” at those assembled in pews and various kinds of boxes, and both ministers and judges have chairs of estate that are still, in effect, thrones.

The crucial question, then, is that if you picture the universe as a monarchy, how can you believe that a republic is the best form of government, and so be a loyal citizen of the United States? It is thus that fundamentalists veer to the extreme right wing in politics, being of the personality type that demands strong external and paternalistic authority. Their “rugged individualism” and their racism are founded on the conviction that they are the elect of God the Father, and their forebears took possession of America as the armies of Joshua took possession of Canaan, treating the Indians as Joshua and Gideon treated the Bedouin of Palestine. In the same spirit the Protestant British, Dutch and Germans took possession of Africa, India and Indonesia, and the rigid Catholics of Spain and Portugal colonized Latin America. Such territorial expansion may or may not be practical politics, but to do it in the name of Jesus of Nazareth is an outrage.

In The Nature of Consciousness, Watts notes with a twinkle in his eye (I imagine through his voice) that: 

“the man who rules you all is the biggest crook in the bunch. Because he’s the one who succeeded in crime. The other people are pushed aside because they–the criminals, the people we lock up in jail–are simply the people who didn’t make it. So naturally, the real boss sits with his back to the wall and his henchmen on either side of him.”

When you really think about our conceptions of God and Satan, and where they have come from and how they have changed throughout history, I can’t help wonder:

What if power-hungry men switched around the human conceptions of Satan and God, in order that they might rule earth?

In other words what if we are mixed up: what if Satan is good and God is bad? Is it more likely that “God” is a dictator wanting worship, or a social libertarian wanting individuals to enjoy their lives while contributing freely and positively to society?

In The Dictator (undoubtedly a ridiculous and distasteful movie, which I enjoyed), General Aladeen asks: “Why are you guys so anti-dictators? Imagine if America was a dictatorship. You could let 1% of the people have all the nation’s wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes. And bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs of the poor for health care and education. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family. You could wiretap phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You could have rigged elections. You could lie about why you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one particular racial group, and no one would complain. You could use the media to scare the people into supporting policies that are against their interests.”

Would it be better to have a peaceful dictatorship or a violent democracy? Neither.

How about a democracy based on freedom and non-violent conflict?

I wonder if that could become the basis of our power structures on earth, and maybe in (metaphorically speaking) heaven too?

General Aladeen goes on to admit, for all its faults, a love for Democracy (in the movie represented by a Greeny who doesn’t shave her armpits). This is a sentiment shared by many including myself. Democracy is good until the point where it joins forces with capital and media and turns into a somewhat fascist state.

None of this is black and white, but it’s interesting to contemplate the extremes and the endless in-betweens…