Alan Watts

Alan Watts

Alan Watts is (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) is a well known British-born eastern philosopher who is known for his interpretation of eastern philosophy for western audiences.






“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society. We copy emotional reactions from our parents… Society is our extended mind and body”

"Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth."
--Life magazine (21 April 1961)

"The only way to handle danger is to face it. If you start getting frightened of it, then you make it worse; because you project onto it all kinds of bogeys and threats that don't exist at all.
The rule for all terrors is head straight into them. When you are sailing in a storm, you don't let a wave hit your boat on the side. You go bow into the wave and ride it. So in the same way, old folklore says, whenever you meet a ghost don't run away, because the ghost will capture the substance of your fear and will materialize itself out of your own substance and will kill you eventually, because it will take over all your own vitality. So then, whenever confronted with a ghost, walk straight into it and it will disappear."

"What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? ... What was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep?"

"So the world doesn't come thinged; it doesn't come evented. You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean. The ocean waves, and the universe peoples. And as I wave and say to you 'Yoo-hoo!' the world is waving with me at you and saying 'Hi! I'm here!' But we are consciousness of the way we feel and sense our existence. Being based on a myth that we are made, that we are parts, that we are things, our consciousness has been influenced, so that each one of us does not feel that. We have been hypnotized, literally hypnotized by social convention into feeling and sensing that we exist only inside our skins. That we are not the original bang, just something out on the end of it. And therefore we are scared stiff. My wave is going to disappear, and I'm going to die! And that would be awful. We've got a mythology going now which is, as Father Maskell.?, put it, we are something that happens between the maternity ward and the crematorium. And that's it. And therefore everybody feels unhappy and miserable."
--The Nature of Consciousness

"Archimedes said, "Give me a fulcrum and I will move the Earth"; but there isn't one. It is like betting on the future of the human race — I might wish to lay a bet that the human race would destroy itself by the year 2000, but there is nowhere to place the bet. On the contrary, I am involved in the world and must try to see that it does not blow itself to pieces. I once had a terrible argument with Margaret Mead. She was holding forth one evening on the absolute horror of the atomic bomb, and how everybody should spring into action and abolish it, but she was getting so furious about it that I said to her: "You scare me because I think you are the kind of person who will push the button in order to get rid of the other people who were going to push it first." So she told me that I had no love for my future generations, that I had no responsibility for my children, and that I was a phony swami who believed in retreating from facts. But I maintained my position. As Robert Oppenheimer said a short while before he died, "It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so." You see, many of the troubles going on in the world right now are being supervised by people with very good intentions whose attempts are to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this, and to prevent that. The more we try to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes. Maybe that is the way it has got to be. Maybe I should not say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right but simply, on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise."
--Play to Live : Lectures of Alan Watts (1982)

"This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play."
--The essence of Alan Watts, by Alan Watts (1977)

"But what we've got going wrong is we've got a kind of bifurcation [in cultural development]:

You take your classified telephone directory, and open up "Churches", and have a ruler in your hand. And you will find that the longest space is occupied by authoritarian, Bible-banging churches. And these people are barbarians, who take the written word of the Bible literally. Because they need terribly, they have a personal need, for something to depend on. … The government realizes that there is a very large number of people like that; and therefore, to keep their votes, they have to pander to those kind of people. And these are the boys who never grew up; they always need Papa. … The trouble is that the boys who need Papa, are violent. They have the guns. And they are the types of people who like to be soldiers, policemen— tough guys. And therefore they have a great deal of power."
--Interviewed on Les Hixon's show "In The Spirit" on WBAI New York (November 1972)

"So then, this model of the world, based on the idea that we are all subject to the divine king, was, you might say, a political model, based on the organization of the great city states of the ancient near-east and that image, you see, has absolutely haunted western man throughout his whole development. Because he has felt that he is in this universe on probation, on sufferance, he doesn’t quite belong here, because there’s this great big giant spirit who’d say to him:
'Now you watch out
You’re just a miserable little worm
And I evoked you here out of nothing
Of course I love you, because I am love
I am a very good father
Everything I do, however much it hurts
Is for your good
But you watch out

And don’t you DARE look me in the eye'

So everybody does this, see? All those customs where the ruler is: “face this way with head down and so, no looking at him directly”, is based on this mythology. And of course, its based too on political fact, because when a big man does attain to eminence, everybody is against him secretly, they hate him for it. So he has to be surrounded with guards and secret police. And people all lie with their faces on the floor, so that they’re in a position where they can’t attack. That’s the whole idea and that’s why, in the royal court, the throne has its back to the wall. There is nothing behind the throne. There’s just guards on either side to simply watch the people.

So in a church, when the altar or the episcopal throne, is right with its back to the wall. This really indicates the situation of fear.

But if I am not afraid of you, I shouldn’t really have my back to the wall here in this situation, only, rooms are designed, our whole architecture, following the design of original courthouses made that way. After all, one should walk out into the middle of people and have people behind you, if you can trust them.

So this model, I call it a model of the universe, based on the kingly court, did some important things for us. It gave us the idea of universal law. It lies at the roots of many of our best ideas of justice. But, it bugged us, it really really bugged us, because you felt that you were never really free, from the penetrating glance of an all-seeing eye, that watched everything you do."

--Alan Watts - How to Make it Out of the Trap (8:30)

"You cannot get an intelligent organism, such as a human being, out of an unintelligent universe. The saying in the New Testament that figs do not grow on thistles nor grapes on thorns applies equally to the world. You do not find an intelligent organism living in an unintelligent environment."

--Alan Watts - The Myth of Myself 19:34

"Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. Therefore, if you meditate for an ulterior motive... you've got your eye on the future and you are not meditating, because the future is a concept. It doesn't exist. As the proverb says 'tomorrow never comes'. There is no such thing as tomorrow and there never will be, because time is always now and that's one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves and stop thinking, we find that there is only a present, only an eternal now."

--Alan Watts - The Art of Meditation 5:59

"...the biggest ego trip going is getting rid of your ego and the joke of it all is that your ego doesn't exist. There's nothing to get rid of. Its an illusion as I tried to explain; but you still want to ask how to stop the illusion. Who's asking? Do you think, in the ordinary sense in which you use the word 'I', how can I stop identifying myself with the wrong me.
Well, the answer is simple: you can't... you can't do anything about it because 'you' don't exist.
You say, 'that's pretty depressing news'; but the whole point is it isn't depressing news, its the joyous news.
There's a zen poet which puts it like this, talking about 'it' (the mystical experience satori, the realization that you are the eternal energy of the universe)

'You can't catch hold of it, nor you can get rid of it. When You speak, it's silent. When You're silent, it speaks'"

--Alan Watts - Not What Should Be But What Is 36:54

When the Buddha says, "The cause of suffering is desire," the word translated as desire might better be something like "craving", "clinging", or "grasping". He is saying, "I'm suggesting that you suffer because you desire." Then suppose you try not to desire, and see if by not desiring you can cease from suffering. You could put the same thing in another way by saying to a person, "It's all in your mind. There is nothing either good or ill, but thinking makes it so." Therefore, if you can control your mind you have nothing else that you need control. You do not need to control the rain if you can control your mind. If you get wet it is only your mind that makes you think it's uncomfortable to be wet. A person who has good mental discipline can be perfectly happy wandering around in the rain. You do not need a fire if you have good mind control. But if you have ordinary, bad mind control, when it is cold you start shivering because you are putting up a resistance to the cold; you are fighting it. But don't fight it, relax to the cold, as a matter of mental attitude, and then you will be fine. Always control your mind. This is another way of approaching it.

--Alan Watts -- Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion, p. 15

It has become fashionable, and it is nothing more than a fashion, to believe that the universe is dumb, stupid. That intelligence, values, love and fine feelings reside only within the bag of the human epidermis, and that outside that, the thing is simply a kind of a chaotic, stupid interaction of blind forces, and our intelligence is an unfortunate accident. By some weird freak of evolution we came to be these feeling and rational beings, more or less rational, and this is a ghastly mistake because here we are in a universe that has nothing in common with us, that doesn't share our feelings, has no real interest in us: we're just a sort of cosmic fluke. And therefore, the only hope for mankind is to beat this irrational universe into submission, and conquer it and master it.

Now all this is perfectly idiotic. If you would think that the idea of the universe as being the creation of a benevolent old gentleman, although he's not so benevolent - he takes a sort of "this hurts me more than it's going to hurt you" sort of attitude to things, you can have that on one hand, and if that becomes uncomfortable you can exchange it for its opposite: the idea that the ultimate reality doesn't have any intelligence at all. At least that gets rid of the old bogey in the sky - in exchange for a picture of the world that is completely stupid.
Now these ideas don't make any sense, because you cannot get an intelligent organism such as a human being out of an unintelligent universe. The saying in the New Testament that figs do not grow on thistles nor grapes on thorns applies equally to the world. You do not find an intelligent organism living in an unintelligent environment.

Look, here is a tree in the garden, and every summer it produces apples, and we call it an apple tree because the tree apples, that's what it does. Alright, now here is a solar system inside a galaxy and one of the peculiarities of this solar system is that at least on the planet Earth the thing peoples. In just the same way that an apple tree apples.

Now maybe, two million years ago somebody came from another galaxy in a flying saucer and had a look at this solar system, and they looked it over and shrugged their shoulders and said, "just a bunch of rocks," and they went away. Later on, maybe two million years later they came around and they looked at it again, and they said, "Excuse me, we thought it was a bunch of rocks, but it's peopling, and it's alive after all. It's done something intelligent."

Because, you see, we grow out of this world in exactly the same way that the apples grow on the apple tree. If evolution means anything it means that, and this is discovered by the scientist when he tries to describe .. exactly what you do. He finds out that you, your behavior, is not something that can be separated from the behavior of the world around you. He realized then that you are something that the whole world is doing. Just as when the sea has waves on it. Alright, the sea, the ocean is waving, and so each one of us is a waving of the whole cosmos, the entire works, ALL THERE IS! And with each one of us it's waving and saying, "Yoo hoo - Here I am!" Only it does it differently each time, because variety is the spice of life.

--Alan Watts - from the lecture "Who Am I?"

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