Alan Watts

Alan_Wattsdisinformation author (Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book without Instructions) and all-round badass academic Daniele Bolelli has written a primer on Alan Watts for Datsusara:

Those who can’t resist the urge to take popular heroes down a notch will tell you that Alan Watts was an alcoholic and was addicted to nicotine. They will tell you that he was a victim of his own excesses. They will tell you that he sometimes mischaracterized Buddhism and Taoism, and turned them into hippie fantasies. In saying this, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but at the same time they would be completely missing the point. Nobody says Alan Watts was a saint. Watts himself never claimed it, nor would he have been interested in it. What he craved was an intense life, not a perfect one. And those who can’t appreciate his philosophical genius, just because the good man had some issues, miss out on the contributions of one of the most brilliant and influential minds of the 20th century.

Odds are that if you have any remote interest in Taoism or Zen Buddhism, you owe a debt of gratitude to Alan Watts. No Westerner, in fact, has done more to popularize these philosophies in the English language. People with no previous exposure usually hit a stumbling block the second they try to read one of the many translations of Taoist and Zen classics. Allusions, paradoxes, the foreignness of some concepts, an unorthodox sense of humor, the many things left unsaid… lots of factors contribute to discourage prospective readers and make them give up. And this is where Alan Watts’ talent came to the rescue. In his own unique fashion, he managed to explain Taoist and Buddhist ideas without losing their poetry and subtlety along the way. He communicated Taoist and Buddhist insights in ways more easily understandable for Westerners without killing the wonder of it all in the process. He guided adventurous readers through unknown lands, lighting the path along the way. His radio lectures for the Pacifica Station, and his many excellent books cracked the door open introducing Taoist and Buddhist ideas to mainstream Western consciousness. His influence reached hundreds of thousands, among them the great Bruce Lee, whose own philosophy sprouted in large part thanks to Watts’ ideas.

But Alan Watts was much more than a brilliant Western interpreter of Eastern philosophy. In his hands, Taoism and Zen Buddhism were but tools serving him in the quest to create one’s own way of life. The wide range of his interests had a “Renaissance Man” ring to it. Art and philosophy to him were not important for their own sake, but for how they could enrich everyday living. As much as he loved Taoism and Zen Buddhism, he was interested in any field of human experience that could offer him anything capable of elevating the quality of existence. It was in this spirit that he experimented quite a bit with psychedelics (he even wrote a book about the intersection of spirituality and psychedelics long before Terence McKenna, or even Timothy Leary did)…

[continues at Datsusara]


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7 Comments on "Alan Watts"

  1. New Monkey | Mar 4, 2014 at 4:55 am |

    Mark my words Alan Watts is going to be absolutely massive and cool people like Disinfonauts are gonna wince and feel many kinds of weird when all the celebs and broadcast media leap on the bandwagon.

    • Rhoid Rager | Mar 4, 2014 at 8:00 am |

      When I saw (heard) Watts make a post mortem appearance in the movie Her with Brian Cox playing his voice, I thought the same damned thing. Watts’ radical views are gonna get the same treatment as Gandhi’s radical views–namely, diminished through over-focusing on the individual as lionized figure of unapproachable status. As it so happens, putting a person on a pedestal, as gratifying as it may seem, is the surest way to treat their ideas with complete contempt. Indeed, Jesus would be another example.

  2. Thurlow Weed | Mar 4, 2014 at 6:39 am |

    I loved LSD and alcohol, and nicotine. Where’s my pay check?

  3. mannyfurious | Mar 4, 2014 at 12:18 pm |

    He was a genius in many ways and a hero of mine.

    His only mistake was in thinking that because Taoism/Ch’an (as opposed to the much more strict and rigorous “Zen” that would develop in Japan) didn’t have any ostensible hangups about “excess” that he could drink and fuck all he wanted. He thought, though he denied it several times, that those philosophies gave him a thumbs up for a little old school hedonism.The truth is, you’re kind of supposed to learn that a life of any kind of excess is a fruitless one. Sex and drugs are fine in moderation (as is just about anything), but when that sort of stuff becomes the centerpiece of your existence, you wind up feeling a bit empty inside, and then you die in your mid-50s as an alcoholic and deadbeat dad.

    • New Monkey | Mar 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm |

      Fill your bowl to the brim
      And it will spill.
      Keep sharpening your knife
      And it will blunt.

      [Tao Te Ching]

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Mar 5, 2014 at 2:16 am |

      The interesting thing is I probably would have never paid him much attention if his public persona was without flaws. The fact that he had his struggles as all humans do, made his message more palatable too me, like he wasn’t being propped up as a guru or put on a pedestal of sorts. CuzzBoastin’s idea of him as a psycho-pomp resonates with me. Philosophers use words to help others navigate reality, there isn’t any prerequisite for ethical superiority or perfection. He was a courageous navigator who brought back some important strategies for integrating the unconscious into the conscious.

  4. BuzzCoastin | Mar 4, 2014 at 7:07 pm |

    Al (nobody calls me Al) Watts
    served as a psychopomp (in the Jungian sense)
    for many people in many different ways
    his insights were very helpful to me
    i listened to hours of his lectures
    he never really hid his shadow
    (he that is without sin…)
    but acknowledged it

    thanks Al
    whererever & whatever “you” maybe right now

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