Sunday, September 23, 2007

Alan Watts Revealed and Reconsidered


There are those who maintain that Alan Watts' self-destructive alcoholism, marital infidelities and failures, and other personal shortcomings or, at least, questionable behaviors completely undermine any glowing claims that might be made for his greatness as a philosopher-sage, spiritual authority, or just plain self-described "philosophical entertainer." These idealistic critics would argue that Watts' numerous books and innumerable audio lectures--charming and eloquent though they may be--should be blithely ignored because they are the empty words of a man who knew not of what he spoke or wrote, or were verbal potions peddled by a charlatan or spiritual pretender.

But I watch this video, and I say that not only was Alan Watts no charlatan (for no charlatan could walk and talk like the man in that video), but that he also expressed certain profound truths with such extraordinary eloquence and brilliance that it overrides his faults or, in Wilberian-integral terms, the unevenness of his lines of development. Alan Watts was a flat-out genius of a philosophical entertainer, and this video segment, along with the other segments comprising the entire video, are more impressive and inspiring to me than all of the words I've ever heard uttered by Ken Wilber, Thich Nhat Hanh, Krishnamurti and all of the other spiritual sages I've ever heard in person or on "record" put together, with all due and genuine respect to these remarkable persons in their own right.

Alan Watts was one of a kind whose likes will probably never come our way again. But THANK GOD we have videos like this to remember him by and benefit from. Moreover, if he was a fake, he was probably the most, in his own words, "genuine fake" one could ever hope to be, and that may have more to do with genuine "spirituality" than Watts' critics will ever realize as they pretend to be what they aren't and labor, like Sisyphus, to accomplish what they can't.

80 comments:

... said...

Very cool Post Naggy!

Cheers..

Michael~

Rich said...

It's with luck that I bump into this blog, for I am reassesing my thoughts surrounding Alan Watts as I mow through his audio lectures.

It's difficult to dispute Watts' genius; if one is going to accuse him of being a charlatan, then he's the best charlatan this modern world has ever known!

Watts surpasses Wilber in not needing to engage in a needlessly complicated model to discuss "simple" and "obvious" things; he surpasses Krishnamurti in being able to use simple and direct language to describe what K would insist as being impossible to talk about. Thich Nhat Hanh is a monk, not a showman, and shouldn't be faulted for that.

But I'd like to think that one's life is the lithmus test of one's understanding. What good is genius if it's not put to use? I your can't/won't walk the talk, why should I find your talk compelling to listen to?

Maybe Watts' karma was to be the "hypocritical example." Certainly there are many stories of near-alcoholic Zen masters from ancient times to the current day. What has been learned from them? Reverse psychology is skillful means too.

I will continue mowing through Watts' lectures. Perhaps its because I've reconciled some of my own issues with idealism that I'm able to listen to him through a less critical filter. I know I've started to hear some interesting things.

Nagarjuna said...

A belated thanks, Michael, for your compliment, and another thanks, Rich, for your comments.

Rich, when I first encountered Wilber's writings, I too believed that he was being what you call "needlessly complicated." But now I'm not so sure. If we try to represent the Kosmos with thoughts and words, it seems to me that we're going to have to end up with something pretty complex, and that there's a place for this undertaking.

Yet, one might argue that Wilber's system actually boils down to something fairly simple--i.e., AQAL. And Wilber insists on complementing one's intellectual "translation" of Reality into rational concepts with other practices that generate transformational experience.

I'm not sure I agree with you that Watts didn't 'walk his talk' or that he was a "hypocritical example." I don't see where he claimed or pretended to be something he wasn't. He never, to my knowledge, claimed to be a guru, saint, or otherwise, by prevalent social or moral standards, exemplary human being.

He wrote and spoke with incredible eloquence about Eastern and Western religion and philosophy and how they and he understood the nature of Reality and human beings and the relation between the two. He emphasized the interdependence of all phenomena and the ultimate ineffability of the unified field of Reality. I don't see how his alcoholism, marital infidelities, or other questionable behaviors or shortcomings contradicted his metaphysical or spiritual ideas and insights, much less rendered them useless, irrelevant, or untrue.

I think the integral psychological notion of lines of development can be very helpful in our understanding of Alan Watts and in our acceptance and appreciation of what he had to offer. He may have exhibited poor development along some of his lines, but he was, as you say, clearly a "genius" in his ability to use words to convey vital ideals and insights about Reality, and, as you suggest, the less one judges his behavior and the more openly one examines his lectures and writings, the more one will gain from the priceless treasures contained within.

Anonymous said...

I've read all the "great" books and authors including Wilbur, Tolle, Adyashanti, Suzuki, and others. But still, the best book was Alan Watts- The Wisdom of Insecurity written back in the 50's. peace out
donovan moore
editor
spiritnewsdaily.com

Anonymous said...

it's an ad hominem falacy to suggest that because Watts was an alcoholic that makes his messages any less valid.

he was a brilliant man in that he could simplify great ideas in really entertaining ways. whether or not he drank doesn't change the content.

Patrick said...

Alan said many times at the beginnings of his talks that he merely liked to talk about these things and that he was not a Guru or a man of any such title. Perhaps we should forget him as a finger and look more towards the beautiful moon of wonder he was pointing to.

Nagarjuna said...

Donovan, Anonymous, and Patrick, I couldn't agree with you more except, to say, Patrick, that the "finger" was so utterly beautiful and remarkable that it's all but impossible to ignore it when talking about the "moon" to which it pointed.

Anonymous said...

We all agree that Alan Watts was a truly special person. I take this to mean I don't have to go on about his innumerable virtues. So I'll get to the point of why I, at this stage of my thinking about the matter, cannot let Alan off the hook for the scandalous personal life he led. To me it's irrelevant that he never claimed to be a saint or any other derivation of the word. Alan spoke authoritatively about the mysteries of life. His words were transformational, indicative of a person who had been to the mountain-top and had seen wondrous things. My feeling is the following: if he really believed all that he preached, how then could he have struggled with depression and alcohol dependence? He maintained that there is one fundamental reality: we are, everything is, ultimately God... which means there is nothing to fear. If he *truly* believed that, the consequence would had to have been happiness - - which leaves no room for deep depression and alcoholism. This is why his words are now the subject of my doubt. They sound good but evidently had no real purchase in his own life. It seems to me he didn't really believe in his own words. Why then should I?... And to anticipate some of my detractors, this is not about expecting someone to be perfect, to make no mistakes. Ongoing deep depression and alcoholism are not best described as mistakes. Far more illuminating is to view them as symptoms of unhappiness, indicators of the quality of a person's inner state... I am not religious, much less a Christian. But a biblical verse does come to mind at the moment. It basically says something like "you shall know a tree by the fruit that it bears." I heard, with much delight, Alan's beautiful and enchanting words. But the fruit they bore for his *own* life were not those of a liberated, enlightened individual. For this reason, they've become dubious to me.

Nagarjuna said...

Although I understand your reservations, I think it would be a mistake of logic and psychology to conclude that what Watts said and wrote about philosophy, spirituality, and ultimate reality were false because he suffered from depression and drank excessively. Much of what he taught harmonizes with the key teachings of exemplary mystics and sages of all traditions, and, I would argue, it resonates with the deepest recesses of our hearts and souls.

But this is not to say that even if one who teaches such universal and resonant truths understands and believes them on a very deep level, he will necessarily live the life of a stereotypical saint or spiritual master. I believe, as Ken Wilber and various psychologists tell us, that there are different aspects of our consciousness and being that mature along different lines of development. This means that even a great spiritual sage and teacher who is intellectually brilliant, linguistically gifted, and profoundly wise about the spiritual domain, can still be stunted or disordered emotionally and in other ways even to the point of self-destructive pathology. This might well have been Watts' predicament, brought on, perhaps, by a genetic or otherwise biological susceptibility to depression and/or alcoholism that no amount or level of philosophical or spiritual knowledge and wisdom could overcome.

Having said this, I don't know if Watts was wise or taught wisdom or not. But when I read his remarkable writings, listen to his amazing talks, and contemplate them, I can't help but think that he was and did, regardless of how he lived his personal life.

Anonymous said...

I like him even more because of his imperfections, That was the whole point of his philosophy, the more you try to be this perfect spiritual person the more you are enslaved to your ego. The snake eats it's tail. I meditate just to meditate, I drink just to drink. Sometimes I speak words of peace, sometimes I speak words of destruction, it is what it is.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous above myself :-) i so agree with you. I think Alan Watts was brilliant and to my knowledge he never claimed to be perfect.
However, i do feel myself ....after reading a lot of Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Ken Wilber etc sometimes it is hard to think any efforts are worthwhile. Very hard to explain but after all it is just a game, illusion etc whatever you like to call it ...and nothing means anything LOL.

Nagarjuna said...

When I started listening to Alan Watts and reading him, I felt the same futility about undertaking a spiritual practice that you do because of the reasons he gave and that you repeat for not doing it. That is, I didn't want to reinforce my ego by making an egoic effort to dispel my ego. "How can I, thinking of myself as an ego, get rid of thinking of myself as an ego?" is the way Watts put it.

I tried instead to understand Watts' message so thoroughly that I would experience spontaneous illumination. Never mind that Watts himself kept pointing out that even the effort to understand him for this purpose was just another way of bolstering the ego. I figured that I needed to keep trying to understand Watts' message until the fool who persisted in his folly became wise as a result of the ego reaching a point of such overwhelming futility that it shattered itself and left blissful enlightenment in its permanent place.

In retrospect, with the help of books by Eknath Easwaran, Ken Wilber, Thich Nhat Hanh, B. Alan Wallace, and others, I came to see this as naive. That is, I came to see that if there really is such a thing as enlightenment, it wasn't just a state of mind but a stage of development that the overwhelming majority of us need to work our way up to through arduous and skillful means that employ not only the rational intellect but also the intuition and other aspects of consciousness.

However, when I looked at Watts, Wilber, and other supposedly enlightened individuals, I began to wonder if it's really all it's cracked up to be. I'm sure these guys know or knew, to the core of their being, things I didn't, but they didn't literally or figuratively float above the ground, project some divine light from their bodies, or generally seem appreciably "better" or happier than the rest of us.

And I guess this is where I am today. I'm skeptical that there really is such a thing as enlightenment or, at least, that it's worth untold years of extremely arduous effort to grow into, effort that could be directed to more productive pursuits. What's more, I also suspect that just as only the rare person can become a concert pianist or Olympic gold medalist, no matter how hard he or she works at it, it's an even rarer person who can become enlightened, and I sincerely doubt that I'm one of them.

So I tend to embrace Ken Wilber's idea of "translation" rather than "transformation," of intellectually conceptualizing reality in a way that seems true to me and brings me a measure of emotional peace instead of trying to transcend intellect to radically transform myself into the spittin' image of a fully enlightened Ramana Maharshi or the like.

Anonymous said...

I don't really know what enlightenment is and in a way whatever we think it is ....IT ISN'T...i do know that lol. To me Watts talked about knowing who we really are as important,seeing life as a game and as one lot of events all happening at once, meaning nothing is separate we are all ONE.

So part of the journey seems to be aware of what we are not and that being the personality. Our personality is our idea of yourself, our image,and that’s made up of how you feel yourself, how you think about yourself and what others have told you about yourself etc. So on that note your image of yourself is not really you it is what you have choosen to think you are due to experience etc.

I think that we are not meant to be trying to remove this egoic self, but more to see through it, thus not taking life so seriously etc. We spend a lot of time in life trying to remove things that WE have decided are less desirable but like Watts says often, how would we know black without white, good without bad etc. It is all part of the whole and all is totally necessary. I don't see Watts as trying to encourage us to remove these, contrary to many new age self help information. It's more about seeing through the veil which may bring about change in oneself without removal or the disappearance of anything.


I love what Ken Wilber writes about I am aware of my feelings, so I am not my feelings – Who am I? I am aware of my thoughts, so I am not my thoughts – Who am I? Clouds float by in the sky, thoughts float by in the mind, feelings float by in the body – and I am none of those because I can Witness them all. Basically he is saying we are the Witness (in this stage, then he goes on to talk about the second stage, which is basically this...)
That we are everything...the witness disappears and we realise we are everything.

Nagarjuna said...

Yes, Watts talked about seeing through the ego--i.e., the grossly narrow and simplified sense or image we have of ourselves--rather than of destroying it and, in so doing, of understanding that we are ultimately an "organism environment field" that encompasses the unified totality of existence transcending all intellectual or verbal representations. And I have to say that this essential metaphysic has made enough intellectual sense to me over the years that, even though it hasn't launched me into a condition of neverending bliss or turned me into some renowned world sage or guru, it has definitely impacted my life in a positive way.

As for Wilber's exercise in nondualistic understanding, I have to say that I've tried it repeatedly but never experienced anything approaching what I understand to be a state of satori. I think one of my stumbling blocks is that I'm so influenced by Watts' nondual perspective that I can't successfully navigate the necessary first stage of identifying with the Witness in order to progress to the second stage of realizing that we are everything.

Watts, as I understood him, didn't talk about us being the Witness or Atman that brings the universe into existence. He talked from the outset of our being the unified universe. That is, he bypassed the seeming dualism of Witness and universe and went directly to nondualism.

Somehow, this seems to me to be at odds with Wilber who, even though he pays lip service to nondualism being "higher" than the dualism of Witness consciousness, strikes me as having an essentially dualistic perspective of reality as consisting of spirit and non-spirit, Witness and the "objects" of Witness creation and consciousness.

One thing that Wilber might say in response is that I'm trying to understand him strictly intellectually using dichotimizing language instead of performing the "injunctions" necessary to understand his nondualism meta-rationally.

Charlie Wiederhold said...

This is a very late in coming comment, but I still wanted to leave it. I've been having yet another wonderful evening with Mr. Watts on YouTube.

The problem does not lay with Alan Watts' behavior in his private life, but with our judgement (supportive or not) of it in any way. If we understand what he was trying to communicate... it becomes very very clear that he lived what he taught as fully as he could.

There are those who would say the marital and substance behavior are a detriment and to be looked at as a mark against what he had to say.

Alan would say "May be... may be."

There are those who would say that they were positives and contributed to his deep wisdom and ability to communicate honestly, as only those who have actually been there can truly understand.

Alan would say "May be... may be."

We can't know either way.

I know the effect his words have though. I don't see any contradiction between what he communicated and what he lived. I see the pain and challenge experienced... but that doesn't mean it is a contradiction. It just... is.

Namaste!

Anonymous said...

re.comparisons of alan watts and wilber.
i would like to quote charles bukowski....
"an artist is someone who says a hard thing in a simple way.
an intellectual is someone who says a simple thing in a hard way"

Steve said...

I'm glad we have our artists AND intellectuals.

Julian Julio said...

Like the discussion here. I think that 'Anonymous' may consider that on this 'reality-level' of our society and its conventions,etc., there will always be our less-than-'perfect' personality, our sense that there is a lack of rightness/justice here, , and so on.,.. I think this is why many teachings talk of self-acceptance: we are on one level, monkeys... and the more egotistical these monkeys become, perhaps the more stupid or confused... And yet, on another level (some new-age people insisting tat this is 'our true self/home' etc., ) we are of have a perfect soul: pure, multi-talented -and yet completely humble, deeply-compassionate,deeply-understanding etc. It is an awareness beyond our ordianry place, where we can know and be the Ultimate.
I think Alan's life -a s a gift for others, and as a learning journey for himself, really emphasised these two sides and the possible conflict between them and perhaps the integration between them(-as perhaps exemplified in his writings and those talks).
I don't think that we are in a position to know and judge. Maybe one day... In the meantime, we are all struggling / intending to be ourselves, to be fully alive, whole, at-peace, in-service-to something Beyond Ourselves..and yet with these two sides to us, the path is difficult, contradictory and more - but it is interesting.

Mike Walker said...

I wonder about missing something beautiful when we judge someone's efforts to communicate the feeling at the centre of a spontaneous belly laugh, to be somehow tarnished by their own struggle of life.

To speak with such clarity whilst falling through darkness, is all the more moving.

Segovia was still teaching into his late eighties, when he could hardly hold the guitar.

Anonymous said...

Same goes for Bubba Free John!

lisa lindenlaub said...

In the first few sentences when I read the word Failures , I lost all intrest in any attempt to consider the possibility that Alan Watts is a "fake".
With the belief that someone can actually 'fail' or be a 'failure' you are already trapped within a distorted belief. Alan is offering a wonderful oppertunity to look at and question our own Beliefs and Ideas regarding what a 'sage/enlightened/awake' being 'should' look like. Can we actually know? I say no.
If you don't resonate or like a particular teacher/teaching based on personality or character then don't follow them. Ignore there teachings and find what serves your truth. But making collective claims and biases is absolute nonsence. I would ask those who feel the need to make such judgements, what is it your afraid of? Another good oppertunity to look within if truth, love and understanding are Actually what one wants.
Thank you Alan Watts for sharing your wisdom

Anonymous said...

Just saw something here. You say that Alan Watts is a spiritual teacher(or guru or whatever you now may call him) that due to his depression and alcoholism is a _BAD_ spiritual teacher. That he is WRONG.

How about if you look at it this way -> Alan Watts was depressed and an alcoholic, and still he managed to talk to people and make them search for their spirituality.

Fake? Sure, call him bad, fake or wrong. It won't change anything. Just look at what he accomplished with his life. Not bad for a mentally ill alcoholic huh?

Seriously, don't label him(or anyone), because that lessens your ability to percieve reality as it is.

Namaste

Damian said...

Watts himself never claimed to be a guru, master or to be modeled after. He shunned to say he was more evolved or enlightened than everyone else. He had no method for us to follow or critique. He lectured because he got paid to do something he enjoyed. If he had a message it was for us to take the challenge of getting past the illusion of "I".

BRIGT said...

alan watts was a joker and there are so many layers in his work! i listen to him often and sure there was a destructiveness in some points he where making. he tried to make a point out of the destructive self in all of us i think. did not watts do this to sacrifice or his ego and to give us the answer instead of drinking yourself and finding out? a man can give another person these facts and not getting away with it! everyone has felt the melancholia and the destructive self. this sure gave my life another meaning thinking about this.

Don Brookes said...

Steve, many thanks for this open-minded look at the life and work of Alan Watts. I also studied Zen at the Buddhist Society in London, and was surprised to find that when I asked the librarian about his books, I was told that he had avoided the war by relocating to the US ! and though this comment was not expanded upon it was clear that, at least to that senior person, that he was an undesirable influence.
Alan Watts cultivated no school, had no students, and sought to liberate, in his own way. And that is COOL. That is the Way.

Don Brookes said...

Picking and choosing. Yes or No. Therein lies the problem. The ladder is a ladder, the finger is a finger, but there is no dispute amongst those who 'see'...did Alan Watts 'see'. I don't know. But, for me, his spoken word was and is delightful. And therein I feel there is something to say about Alan, that is simply: delight.
It is a very cool thing to have reached so many people, and expressed his consciousness so delightfully with the expressed intention of pointing out the traps and binds of commonly held modes of thought. WE, individually, wake up, so I sincerely believe it is nonsense to blame anyone else for lack of credibility.
Thanks Alan.....

Anonymous said...

What I am staggered by is that you are still compelled, after listening to Watts, to put him in a box. 'Alcoholic box', 'depressive box' etc.. What does this allow you to do/mean you are? What does making moral judgement allow you to do? You can't damage him. He is I, just as you and I are I. He did harm, he did help. That is how it is with all of us isn't it?
You are making comments about the game he was playing. The rascal game, the philosopher game, the 'having fun' game, the joker game. What game does your ego play? What kind of wiggle do you do? Are you all light? or dark and light? Maybe you are playing the judge game, the belief game, the fear game. Wake up!

Anonymous said...

i see spiritual teaching as similar to comedy.
if it makes you laugh, it just does.
it is not a choice...it just happens.

the choice is in finding a teacher/comedian that does it for you!

who would go to the same comedy show more than once and come away complaining that it wasnt funny?

ps alan watts made me laugh quite a lot,too....

Spiritual Seeker said...

After reading through the comments, I remembered what Ramana Maharshi had said,"If you have doubt in Mind,ask yourself as to who is having the doubt",(the obvious answer would be, me or I),so then know who you are or who am I?".........In my opinion, before we comment on any of the people(Alan, Wilbur, Tolle, Adyashanti, Suzuki, and others) who have talked about their experiences have never asked any one to comment about it, it is better we know what this I is all about, then none of the comments/discussion here is valid . The thoughts that they have expressed here are coming out of their mind and not of the self. Hope it is clear...

Anonymous said...

I spent a great deal of my 20s and 30s soaking up the writings and lectures of Watts. I very much enjoyed the wit and wisdom which they contained though I was puzzled when I sat in a zen group to find his reputation was not high amongst genuine Buddhist practitioners. More recently I shared them with a younger friend and we delighted in his honeyed tones and the sentiments which his works contain.

Latterly though I have realised that Watts was in fact the consummate narcissist, as was my friend. If we take just one facet of his life, his infidelities, we can only imagine the emotional destruction that must have caused to those around him. How is that in any way consonant with an enlightened view of life?

Watts espoused the idea that You are It. And indeed I am, you are, we are. The narcissist however, is trapped in his very words by acting as if he is, but others are not. People who have affairs can only do so by putting their own needs first and ignoring the feelings of others.

To see the through the narcissist you have to pay attention not to what they say but what they do. Watts said he was not a guru yet his written works and spoken lectures sought to tell people how it is. Are those not the actions of a teacher, a guru?

Watts spoke little of love and compassion and even less about personal growth. Instead he was like a philosophical interior designer - he laid out the conceptual furniture beautifully and with clarity but ultimately without substance. He appeals to people because he does not ask anything of them in terms of spiritual growth, denying the possibility of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

The narcissist is ultimately empty, disconnected from his own emotions and those of others. Depression and substance abuse are common because of the strain of leading a false life, of always being an actor.

Watts was ultimately a fake and yet he deserves our compassion for the struggles that his life must have entailed. I do feel grateful to him and have empathy for what his life must have been like.

In the end though, we have to see clearly when people are emotionally dishonest, untrustworthy and their communication is not borne out in the life they lead. We must not be judgemental but neither should we be naive.

Andrew

Anonymous said...

I agree with the doubters. But first, it seems we are arguing about different things. I don't deny his writings, speeches etc were eloquent, beautiful, inspiring, awe-inspiring, intellectually brilliant, touching etc etc etc. But, if you admire his readings on that basis alone, you are just admiring art or poetry in the broadest sense of the word. And i didn't read Watts for art, aesthetics, poetry. I read because i was looking for a solution, answers to critial issues of psycho-spirituality such as desire, urges, pleasure-seeking, craving, and why we are addicted to what i call "experiencing experiences". These are the fundamental questiosn (for me) in life. And Watts purported to give some answers- and very brutal answers. That fact that he could not trancend his own limitations does not make him a fraud, it makes him human, but it suggests his analysis has some serious shortcomings. It makes me think, for all the beauty and profundity of his ideas and their expressions, that maybe he was just plain wrong. I cannot see how you can read Watts and not look at his own conduct (even if in a non-judgmental way)- the 2 are inextricably linked. If someone tells you the key to the universe is X, but that person does not-X, i have to wonder.

Anonymous said...

If we're all "god in disguise" that makes each and every one of us a "genuine fake". Not just good old Mr. Watts. And I think the fact that he was deeply flawed is no big deal, because we all are. Life is all contradiction. So what.














































Anonymous said...

Amen, Anonymous at 7:24 (says another of the Anonymi).

jlueke said...

What Alan Watts has taught me is that ego alone is not enough to reduce suffering. I cannot imagine a more intelligent, scholarly, eloquent, and insightful philosopher of spirituality and yet he could not use all his knowledge to help himself or those closest to him reduce their suffering. It certainly doesn't invalidate his teaching not should he be held up as anything more than we is. A construct of our egos interpreting his words in a way so that we can feel right.

Alan Whats Your Problem said...

In all individual natures there are pros and cons, that's what being human is.
Our natures must play out,
seeing that You are not your nature does not require sainthood.

At this level of realizaton, the pros and cons are equally embraced for the simple fact that they are there.

Seekers who are conceptually intelligent are still coming from a place where becoming all virtuous and pure represents credibility.
They want to believe in a saviour that conforms to an ideal of spiritual super nice person.

Nothing wrong with that of course, but the beauty of Alan Watts is that he was no Buddha type.
He demonstrated how being human and all the quirks that go with it,
is what this is all about.

Does it matter that he liked a drink or four or explored the stormy seas of relationships when the larger picture of what he has contributed to the world?

It's also easy to judge an author,
that judgement has no relation to who Alan Watts was but a conceptual idea of who he should have been.

Simply ridiculous


Anonymous said...

I ask this: If a gifted priest talks wonderfully about God and the virtues of giving and sacrifice and gives magnificently uplifting and inspiring sermons that give you hope and propel you to seek a profound purpose in your life, then you find he has raped children, does his message have less meaning? Is it less profound? Do you find his message less applicable? Just asking?

Anonymous said...

.........

Celestial Elf said...

Alan Watts is a wonderful inspiration, thank you.
Here's my animation of his' account of Nirvana
Watts Nirvana
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xTlIxa7oAI

Anonymous said...

calling watts a narcissist is the most misguided opinion i have ever heard

ed ed said...

I had the fortune of attending the 20th Anniversary Celebration of Alan Watts in 1993 at the SF Asian Museum. It was quite a assembly! Once everyone was seated and settled, there was that voice that we have all come to enjoy making the statement "It's all bullsh*t".
Really - this really happened. It was clear to me at that point - Alan really knew. ed

Lau~ren~Zen said...

Watts (is still) Happen'n Man. This Watts Man had done it all. Wives, Spirituality, Psychedelic pioneer and was respected from Wall street to City Lights and still is. Japanese Zen Masters acknowledge him as the (or at least a) Zen Master of the West. Sometimes Masters stay with what they know. I would call him a heavy wine drinker but that doesn't make you Alcoholic or unbecoming. His Body of works and articulate pen swayed a coming of age generation. Labels at the end don't need to abide. His works speak for themselves. For Him we can now play Zen ON :)

Anonymous said...

We are being serious about what he used to do for fun.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading these commentaries on allen watts, the very effort to write something is difficult considering that the ego seems to be a mental effort as all conscous thought is. Even if we could put it in words they are only pointers. Words only divide us.the best I could say is that even the smallest glimps is enough to impack the rest of your life. To cease grasping or grasping at not grasping is still ego. Krishnamurti seem to be according to his lectures and books totally uncondition and was free in his freedom, my impression of watts was he took a difference view of freedom, to him the freedom to do was his conditioning so that he was free from identifying with the illusion of ego but his boby and mind was condition, cause and effect and karma was still manisfesting to understand the uncondition state is easier then being uncondition.

Lightning Brother said...

Thing is, as far as I can tell, Wilber is a wanker and denies it. Watts was a wanker and enjoyed it.

love eternal said...

ive only just started reading up on him & some of his methods of explaining one-ness....spiritual concepts i understand....especially when done in the format of nature footage & music with brief commentary for approxiametely the length of a song....as these are the simplest ways my brain & senses can remember & be impacted by them....he often referred to people as having a light & dark side....ying & yang...for him he understood the depths of spirituality but i guess his material human side was the dark in him which he struggled with....it is also one thing to sense something just beyond ur reach...& to live it in a world that for many have no idea how ur percieving life as it is filtered thru every individuals own way of seeing things....one mans madness is anothers mans sanity....hence what is right & wrong....good & bad....no he wasnt perfect but perfection isnt the goal....compassion is.....& when u are truly compassionate towards something u are able to let it go without changing it....& in that acceptance.....is the experience of oneness....judgement disappears....just this complete feeling which defies the duality of logic exists....it is very hard to explain in language...it is a feeling....ive felt it here & there throughout my life but thats not to see im liberated & perfect....i just know what he means by oneness & beyond duality.....sometimes when u get a taste of it ...it can make anything less feel unbearable & thus the dark side....like trying to grab the slippery soap & just bruising urself in the process....anyway....i feel he was as honest a man as he could be & tried the best to explain inexplicable things in human terms so that others who mayve experienced similar would not feel weird or alone....all he asked was compassion....all he aimed for was compassion....& speaking his truth as it was at the time......courage to him for showing himself warts & all....

Michael Moran said...

Watts never reached any " higher " consciousness. He told us he was an entertainer. He told us he was "In My Own Way." He was a serious writer. He did not say thing without thought. If he was in "his own way" he had a dualistic outlook. So even if he sought "oneness," he expressed failure.
I like him for his honesty. He had a DESEASE: alcoholism.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, getting stuck is part of the "process"; actually just an apparent sequence of events, encountered by the seeker as an insurmountable ever-growing mountain of more ever-weirder science and information which is inter-related, but is still wrapping and not the present itself (ItSelfishness!). That part comes from the whole "not doing" side of the deal, which is meditation as opposed to contemplation. In a way a magic trick can be used to illustrate the picture. In our everyday reality, a magician is always using a trick; and we want to know the trick that makes magic. But tricks don't make magic, because they just FAKE magic. But Enlightenment is Real ie. Sat; and of course It's magic does not rely on trickery. You dudes have obviously spent a ton of time on the western perspective and the
recent "advaita for sale here" crowd, as well as on the eastern motifs, but the shortest distance to getting magically enlightened is to do exactly what Ramana Maharshi says, unless you have what it takes for a full-on nervous breakdown, or are incredibly lucky with near-death experiences. If you once experience the results of a mind which has come full stop, you'll find part of what you're looking for (the experience), yet that too is still kind-of an effect, and is still oddly externalized (kind-of). BUT- then comes !*The Knowledge ItSelf*! And then THAT is NOT external whatsoever. And then depending on the hand you got dealt combined with your ability to deal with shifty circumstances, followed by your decisions about what to do with The Knowledge vs. all of the bloodsucking weasels on the planet (even though it's a Hall- of-Siva-gram) and it's a wonder why all real gurus aren't in some kind of a stupor(self-induced or otherwise {I know, everything's a pun}). Do I need to mention ex-wives? Anyway, whether you "get it" or not has the same relative consequences as winning or losing in musical chairs in fourth grade; but you do kind of miss out on the ability to freely act within your destiny (which is to say to act within the destiny of your Character/role in a kind of intuitively/instinctive "body-english" way; which is like a cat falling as opposed to an ox falling!) if there is still the possibility of some higher authority, or the danger of utter extinction. "Enlightenment" removes these from consideration, revealing all action to be both equally spontaneous,and without profit (but not necessarily without merit {such as DeLight}): which is as it should be. When you get it really right, you don't do anything at all, and never did!!! Ramana Maharshi is the last step in the same way that Adi Sankara was the first step: as we couldn't make use of Gaudapada until Sankara - we now can make no further use of material beyond Ramana Maharshi- because there isn't any! Also the effects of extreme hallucinogenics produces some solid clues, but doesn't last due to the effects being intermittent and externalized again somewhat. So then that just leaves begging and pleading and crying to God that you must have relief; which works immediately if what you are proposing is True; or doesn't work at all if you're just being a weasel. So then on Our behalf, I again recommend following the advice of Ramana Maharshi! Yours, Satguru Al ( Because the Satguru said so goddamn it, that's why!)

allen said...

Watts was not a moralist. He did not believe in religious codes. He did not believe he was at a higher standard. He did not see himself as a guru.

If he had preached ANYTHING, it was that we are all One, which implies the Black and the White, and the eternal struggle. He was open that we are all products of our culture. He said the ego would always be there, and not to try to negate it. He said there's no use climbing the spiritual ladders. He said he'd have fleeting moments of altered consciousnesses, and said he believed we are all God. More importantly, he said life is a game, and we take risks out of boredom.

We should not be surprised that a charming progressive college professor from his time period.

A shame that on many of the forums I've read, someone will bring up his drinking, womanizing, or drug use.

A shame that someone will quote a Zen or Hindu guru and claim Watts was "wrong" in his lectures.

ed ed said...

06/10/2015

"...
A shame that someone will quote a Zen or Hindu guru and claim Watts was "wrong" in his lectures."

There is a audio file by Sam Berkholtz (spelling?) where he relates that Chogyam Trungpa thought Watts was Enlightened until he met him. Sam goes on to say that Trungpa performed a ceremony to ensure that Watts consciousness was not "stuck" near Druid Heights after his death.

This is not uncommon in the Guru trade. It always comes down to "My Guru is better than your Guru". The fact remains that Watts is popular because he strikes a cord in most of us. His lifestyle is not so much immoral as amoral: Alan had a BLAST! To the emotionally cold and sober Teachers, he is a real threat. Just read about the sexual, financial and legal problems of the more popular teachers and it will become apparent, IMO, that THEY were totally clueless miserable bastards.

Alan Watts will continue to be a beacon of what a TRUE awakening is all about: Being a warm, engaging and fully alive Human with all the best & worst qualities.

ed

Unknown said...

For clarity www.philipgoddard.com

Anonymous said...

Alan watts was a man who spent most of his life studying culture and philosophy, his idea of why we suffer from our egos is on point. If he had a problem with drinking, so be it, we are not all perfect. I'm surprised he wasn't a junkie to be honest, most rock stars were, it doesn't mean they never created good music, some made better music when they were high. Alan watts was an entertainer of communication, and admittedly confessed he loved the song of his own voice. He, lived in the moment, and philosophized why we cant better ourselves through our ego. He drank because he digged it, so criticizing him as a man who wasn't enlightened because of an alcohol addiction is ridiculous. Zen teaches before awakening man cuts wood and drinks water, after awakening man cuts wood and drinks water. Being enlightened doesn't change your personality or behavior because it is not that person or illusion that is enlightened. It is simply knowledge and the only use out of it is to either meditate in nirvana or teach it to others. Its like when someone explains and proves the moon isn't a circle plate in the sky, its a sphere, you cant look at the moon without seeing the sphere. So when you realize the universe is one, you just cant look at it the same way. This knowledge doesn't mean you are going to act any differently than before, just like knowing the moon isn't a plate doesn't do anything, its just a realization of the world and great wisdom that we lost when we were children and being taught not to give it away. He almost perfected the art of speaking to any audience and engaging them into deep thought about what life is and why we are here. He was never a man to force a religion on someone or to fore a man to only follow him, he wanted the audience to go away. The more you give it away, the more it comes back to you.

ed ed said...

Alan's drinking is often mentioned and commented upon.
We could also comment on the drinking of Chogyam Trungpa and his alleged drug use.
Alan and Trungpa both loved & made love with women.
Well read people know about the drug and sex abuses of Franklin Jones (Adi Da).
Zen types know about the alcoholism of Maezumi Roshi and his womanizing. The list can go on to include other well known teachers as well.
So what or So WHAT!
What does this have to do with being Awakened?
It certainly flies in the face of how most people define how an Enlightened or Liberated person is supposed to act. Imagine being a sexless, non-emotional vegetarian type like some Hindu Yogis. To me, this seems like being a Stone Buddha. This speculation will not end as to whether Alan was just an entertainer or a Buddha that enjoyed entertaining. I have my own opinion ;)

bb said...

...wondering if this topic is still active after all these years... Watts should be thought of in the same enlightened way he came to think about Christianity as expressed in Beyond Theology. Not as a "snake which is missing legs" - ie. something which needs to be "fixed," but as a perfectly wonderful expression of the lila and maya, the playfulness and creativity, of spirit.

steven waldman said...

...wondering if this topic is still active after all these years... Watts should be thought of in the same enlightened way he came to think about Christianity as expressed in Beyond Theology. Not as a "snake which is missing legs" - ie. something which needs to be "fixed," but as a perfectly wonderful expression of the lila and maya, the playfulness and creativity, of spirit.

Steve said...

The topic is still active for as long as people want to discuss it. And I tend to share your perspective of Watts.

ed ed said...

My bias should prevent me from posting here.
Alan Watts wrote many books, left many audio recordings and some videos that
contain a wealth of perspectives and ideas about living and "What is this?"

The fact that people still talk about him whether positive or negative clearly shows his ideas are provoking people into thinking about a great many things.

I used to be a fan of Indian Religious literature years ago and recall this short exchange in some Samhita or whatever.

Devotee: (Addressing Lord Shiva) Lord, who will come to know you more quickly? The one that loves you or the one that hates you?
Lord Shiva: The one that hates me. He will think of me more often.

Makes no sense at first reading and over time the logic becomes clearer.
My point is that even people that "hate" Watts will in time benefit from thinking of him.

Like i said, i'm biased.

ed

ben kelley said...

What if there were a financier who's advice resulted in financial gain for you but his personal life was aborhent - would you neglect his advice because of his character? Alan Watts may be like the man who sat on a chest of gold who did not believe he sat on a chest of gold.

ben kelley said...

What if there were a financier who's advice resulted in financial gain for you but his personal life was aborhent - would you neglect his advice because of his character? Alan Watts may be like the man who sat on a chest of gold who did not believe he sat on a chest of gold.

ed ed said...

09/17/2016
"...What if there were a financier who's advice resulted in financial gain for you but his personal life was aborhent - would you neglect his advice because of his character?..."

The analogy fails for the simple reason that Alan Watts was giving his many perspectives about fully living. A financial Advisors advice is simply about finance. Alan was discussing the various routes to and end results of Awakening. The problem might be that the common and maybe not representative image of an Awakened person is inaccurate. I recall that most people regardless of tradition consider an awakened person sexless, without anger, avoids all intoxicants, consistently cheery and just a plain bore - a stone Buddha. I prefer to have the example of Chogyam Trungpa along with that of Watts. No experience in Trungpa's life was rejected. The same is true for Alan. Women, Wine, Song and all manner of adventures characterized their life and quite possibly the expression of their Awakening. After all, if as Alan's often said, all this is Brahman including the Maya, then there is nothing to be rejected. The catch might be that you have to know this completely and see that clearly. Just another set of legs for the cosmic snake.

stephen said...

I am reminded as to why the Catholic church takes its time in declaring sainthood, just in case some less than saintly behavior comes to light. The only thing people like more than a hero is a failed hero. Some smart-ass once said that. I do believe he had some original insights along with many things he took from reading, traveling and from conversations with all sorts of people. I thought he made it clear that what he was saying was just his opinion, not some absolute truth.

ed said...

"I am reminded as to why the Catholic church takes its time in declaring sainthood, just in case some less than saintly behavior comes to light...."

A potential problem with human beings is that they may display compassionate behavior, be charitable and (the men) still enjoy a romp with attractive women (plural intended). This last facet is objectionable to the common puritanistic religious types. The Catholic Church might be trying to cover all bases when presenting someone as some type of Ideal. Alan Watts with all his insight and perceptions had a hedonistic quality that was admired by many and disapproved by much more of various spiritual persuasions including those in the "aching legs schools of Buddhism". I am quite biased and still feel that most people expect a Stone Buddha when encountering a Teacher of some accomplishment.

Frank Coles said...

Just relax - and be present. Simple.

Don Brookes said...

His words still resonate - and the opinions of those who judge him are completely forgotten...

ed said...


"Just relax - and be present. Simple."

The exact, easiest and most direct instruction which is simultaneously
the most vague, near impossible and circuitous.

That which needs to relax is that which needs to do the relaxing.

I am of the view that those that have practiced (on & off the cushion) for decades
develop a deep sense of humor and lightness that the analytical-approach-alone often miss.

e

ben kelley said...

I agree Dan Brookes. But I respectfully disagree with Ed Ed in that all heartfelt advice has one purpose: the easing / improvement of our life whether physical, psychological or emotional. Alan's life seems to indicate, maybe, that he did not find salvation in the beliefs he professed. And therefore might cause others to doubt the possibility of achieving the peace implied in his words. (That is what made me uneasy) OR, that we are judgmental and shortsighted and an alcoholic "nasty fellow" is also a "successful", true, loving expression of the ultimate even though it might conflict with our image of what a person's life should look like considering what he wrote and spoke. He might be like the person who could not succeed in their career and so taught it instead. Considering Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Tolle, Katie et al it seems possible...

Unknown said...

I too struggled with this. However in my own life, with regard to athletics, I have found that the best athletes tend to make terrible coaches and that failed athletes tend to make the best (as they have made all the mistakes already). Those who got it right on the first try often did so by luck.

One might think that Michael Jordan would be the best baseball coach, based on his amazing accomplishments but I'd wager (having never met Michael) that he would be frustrated with his students shortcomings as he's never had to experience overcoming them personally.

In other words, I've found that you do not need to be skilled at implementing knowledge to be good at passing it on and in many cases the opposite is true. If it were true then (insert great persons name here) would be topic of this conversation and not Watts.

Anonymous said...

Agreed!

Anonymous said...

Exactly, why are people looking at the finger still?... That is precisely what Alan was talking about! Look at the moon ! He is pointing at the moon!!

Anonymous said...

that alan watts was highly inteligent is a given. for those that haven't got a handle on the alcoholic life please consider this-alcoholism is a living hell of guilt and denial. ask any alcoholic. you can know everything about a car and never have driven one. poor alan.

Anonymous said...

that alan watts was highly inteligent is a given. for those that haven't got a handle on the alcoholic life please consider this-alcoholism is a living hell of guilt and denial. ask any alcoholic. you can know everything about a car and never have driven one. poor alan.

ed said...

06/28/2017

"that alan watts was highly inteligent is a given. for those that haven't got a handle on the alcoholic life please consider this-alcoholism is a living hell of guilt and denial. ask any alcoholic. you can know everything about a car and never have driven one. poor alan."

Alcoholism is not a simple addiction or necessarily a debilitating flaw.

We live in a litigious world but will take the chance and state a things here that can be checked on the internet.

Trungpa Rinpoche is noted by many to have drank heavily and is said to have died from complications arising from alcoholism. His scholarship is without dispute and He is also alleged to have been a Mahasiddha. No poor Trungpa here.

Maezumi Roshi was an alcoholic and like Trungpa, enjoyed women. His Zen practice and understanding, according to those that studied with him, was first class. No poor Roshi here.

The fact is that alcoholism runs rampant through this society. No sensible & informed person will deny the negative outcome of alcohol abuse. Having said that, this particular addiction does not necessarily cast the person is a bad light or really detract from their documented accomplishments. In the case of Alan Watts, his books, videos, audio tapes and simple popularity indicate the level of His accomplishment. To say "poor alan" indicates that you might have missed the essential "what" of "who" he was.








Steve said...

Ed, I tend to subscribe to the notion that we aren't monolithic creatures but an agglomeration of sub-selves and lines of cognitive, psychological, and spiritual development. With this perspective, I see Watts' alcoholism as only one facet of his nature and not necessarily as one of overriding importance to his overall nature or to our perception of his nature as a whole. To my way of thinking, he was an extraordinarily intelligent, spiritually wise, and verbally gifted man who happened to drink so much alcohol that it negatively impacted his physical and, perhaps, psychological well-being. That is, his alcoholism did not render him unintelligent, spiritually unwise, or verbally mediocre.

ed said...


Alcohol and Drug use appear to be common in the more-gifted people in society.
This might not indicate a particular weakness in them but possibly a means for them
to turn-down-the-noise.

I recall reading about a comment allegedly made by Trungpa when asked about his usual thoughts and state of mind. He said it's like listening to 20 radio stations at once. For me, this does not indicate some sort of telepathic overload but probably the result of being an unusually sensitive person. This could also apply to Watts. Imagine what it would be like living in a world where the vast majority of people are partially blind, deaf and limited in their taste & smell while ALL of -your- senses are wide open! This might apply to all of those that have seen through the game and/or are liberated from social constraints. It's been 44 years since the physical passing of Alan Watts and he is still discussed - amazing.

ben kelley said...

Steve- or, was his psychological well being the seed of his alcoholism. Do we eat the fruit but ignore the vine? Is the way he lived his life his real message?

ben kelley said...

The idea of him is still discussed... and what a big idea he is for me- my interpretation of his message is primarily one of "peace within". How does this mesh with the non peaceful life he lived? I read that they felt it necessary to sage his house in Mount Tamalpaise because some thought he was a vile man... He is a contradiction, like many spiritual teachers. What feels at risk his my hope in his message, my hope for a durable inner peace. it is an interesting thing to consider.

ed said...


"...How does this mesh with the non peaceful life he lived?..."

Interesting viewpoint.

A life of contradictions - maybe.
A life of apparent excesses - possibly.
There is no evidence in Alan's writing or in those about him that he was not
peaceful. There are a number of personal stories on the internet where people meeting him were surprised by his calmness and silence.

Alan was a great contributor to the growth of the SF Zen Center and its various endeavors. Suzuki Roshi while not approving of Alan's drinking, called him a
"Great Bodhisattva" when someone criticized Alan.

I sure would like to know where you see evidence of "non peaceful" aspects within Alan's life.

ed said...

"... Is the way he lived his life his real message?"

Yes, absolutely!

The popular idea of a Buddha or Enlightened person is a sex-less, emotion-less person that is also a strict vegetarian. The popular Zen description for this is a "Stone Buddha". Such a person is not human.

Alan Watts ate all kinds of food, drank all manner of alcoholic beverages, LOVED women and enjoyed smoking. He was human in every sense of the matter.

This might be a good time to take that leap and read about the lives of the great Mahasiddhas of Tibet, the Tantrics of India and some of the more infamous Zen Masters of old. These people were fully human -and- fully awake. There is no limitation to the expression of the Awakened State. Enlightenment, to some, is a condition prior to everything and not dependent on anything. Alan Watts was fully human and to some but certainly not most, an expression of an Awakened Life. Sometimes people focus on his human "shortcomings" as if this is something negative and indicative of Alan not being fully liberated. To me, this is an indication of not being well read in the Traditions that interested Alan and came to mold his life. Being liberated is being TOTALLY released from all constraints of being, behavior and most importantly the opinions of others.

ben kelley said...

Ed- which "infamous Zen Masters of old" do you refer to? I read about the 7 sages. Are there others? What do you think about Alan being married and cheating on his wives? Is even breaking one's word and commitment allowable in the One Mind? If I am all and all is me is me breaking my word or commitment to myself a transgression of myself? That would seem to be dualism right there... if there is only one then saying one thing and doing another, is that dichotomy, dualism? Anita Moorjani says we should laugh as much as possible, be true to ourselves and passions in life. I don't mean the stone buddha as the ideal but what is the "ideal" expression of the One here in this manifestation... maybe I just answered my own question, maybe it is simply expressing and letting go of judgment on what that looks like. However, expressing in a way that hurts others seems to cause internal suffering too... if the purpose is the experience of joy then expressions that contradict that might be misguided.

ed said...


06/30/2017

"... What do you think about Alan being married and cheating on his wives?..."

Lighten up Ben.
Your "Buddhism" sounds like Fundamentalist Christianity without Jesus.

Unless you knew Alan personally, as in being an intimate friend, you have no idea of how he really lived his life. His extensive work speaks for itself.

I get the impression that you've got some ol' Judeo-Christian morality issues to clear up.

Even truth is relative.







ben kelley said...

Ed,

Thanks for your comments. This is me lightened up ;)

Lying, dishonesty, cheating, misleading, stealing- these are universally known characteristics and may have inspired the maxim "do unto others as they would have done unto you" a central tenet in many religions, seeing how these behaviours undermine civility. No doubt I've got some Judeo-Christian issues, I am western after all. And, It is true I have no idea how Alan "really" lived his life, but Alan is an archetypal figure here, substitute Alan for anyone who professes one thing and does another. He said one thing that had certain hopes imbued in it and it appears he sometimes did the opposite according to sources close to him. I am not judging Alan, or anyone, I am only wondering about what is truth. Living my truth may be to be an alcoholic, cheating and lying man... but what impact does that have on others? Others I made a commitment to? What impact on others peripherally involved? On his community? on his message? And, on himself? The more relative truth is the more dissonance, like "alternative facts".

If the universal underlying truth of all reality is Love and Peace, as many conject, how should this manifest in our daily lives? In the extreme ultimate reality, nothing matters. we're here for a blip of a second. So, does that mean screw it all? go to wallstreet, make millions on subprime mortgages, do lots of cocaine, get married, have some kids, screw some prostitutes, steal some money from your family, buy a corvette, go to vegas and gamble your kids college fund, hawk your wedding ring, divorce your wife, marry a girl half your age, have some more kids, retire in florida. The end. Life well lived. ? Does the message of our life matter?