“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?” -Hui Neng, 6th Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism
With a deep background in Advaida, Buddhism, and Taoism, the writings of Alan Watts are an excellent perspective into Eastern philosophy from the eyes of a Westerner. London born and then transplanted to the States, he had a deep interest in Eastern traditions from an early age. He was also an exceptional writer, with an ability to distill the wisdom he was taking in and express it for western readers in unique ways that are extremely lucid.
I am currently reading The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, and only a few pages in am already enjoying it immensely and finding a lot of good insight in his thoughts. A few gems:
“In the end one is committed to being a Christian or a Buddhist come what may in the form of new knowledge. New and indigestible ideas have to be wrangled into the religious tradition, however inconsistent with its original doctrines, so that the believer can still take his stand and assert, ‘I am first and foremost a follower of Christ/Mohammed/Buddha, or whomever.’ Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world.”
“For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to point beyond themselves to a world of life and experience that is not mere words or even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency.”
In discussing what type of book he might want to give to his children, Watt’s describes one that “would slip them into a new domain, not of ideas alone, but of experience and feeling. It would be a temporary medicine, not a diet; a point of departure, not a perpetual point of reference. They would read it and be done with it, for if it were well and clearly written they would not have to go back to it again and again and again for hidden meanings or for clarification of obscure doctrines.”
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’. The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind that mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
Watt’s ability to elucidate the details of this magnificent and all pervasive con job (or the intoxicating dance and play of maya) are illuminating, and help to awaken one to a recognition of something that lies beyond our normal conditioned thoughts of self and individuality. His writings are a good companion to Wei Wu Wei (Terrence James Stannus Gray), another British philosopher of Eastern traditions.
The emphasis that Watt’s places on experience is strongly appealing. Doctrines, traditions, esoteric wisdom, rituals – all of these can be means of playing with the moldable fabric of reality, but it is all too easy to fall back into the Great Sleep, or to simply never wake up in the first place.
I have worked with many esoteric groups over the past 20 years, and have seen first hand how easy it is to fall into complacency, and get caught up in rituals, tradition, dogma, high and mysterious sounding titles and grades, and yes… books. We kid ourselves while we continue to dream without ever touching upon the single great secret.
Reading Watt’s is a breath of fresh air. As with the ideal book that he describes, after setting it down I find myself not “needing” to read more, but rather to get out into nature, to trek and climb mountains, to experience life.
5 thoughts on “Alan Watts”
The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is one of my favorite books of all time! I’m so glad to see you’re reading it and enjoying it! 🙂
Really impressed with his writing style. I am going to explore his writings in a lot more depth.
Great Post, thank you!
Alan Watts is a serious inspiration, here’s my animation of his’ account of Nirvana as recorded in his Lectures on Buddhism: The Middle Way – Watts’ Nirvana
Glad you enjoyed it! Nice video. Watts is really inspiring, I’m working my way through as much of his writings as I can find