Archives for posts with tag: alan w. watts

The question “why,” because it can be asked interminably, never leads to any interesting answers. If you ask me why I am proposing this, I could say, “Well, I’m making a living this way, or I have a message I want to get across to you.” But that’s not the reason. I am talking for the same reason that birds sing and the stars shine. I dig it.

Why do I dig it? I could go on answering all sorts of questions about human motivation and psychology, but they wouldn’t explain a thing, because explaining things by the past is really a refusal to explain them at all. All you’re doing is postponing the explanation. You’re putting it back and back and back and that explains nothing.

– Alan Wilson Watts


Therefore, this idea that living an ordered life consists in controlling yourself is doing nothing but creating a conflict and a disturbance inside yourself.

Imagine what it would be like if you had to control the movement of your right hand with your left hand. If I want to pick up a cigar with my right hand, my left hand would come over and grab it and direct it to the object, close the fingers around it, and carry it to my mouth. Wouldn’t that be absurd?

But that is what we are doing all the time when we divide ourselves into two parts, the spiritual and the material, the angelic and the animal, and the rational and irrational. We are constantly holding clubs over ourselves.

… the original name for science was natural philosophy.

A philosopher is a person who is curious about everything. He’s not only curious about theoretical matter,s but he’s also curious about what we should now call practical matters. I regard myself as a philosopher in exactly that sense. Aside from being interested in changed states of consciousness, the problems of death, problems of time and space, and the practice of meditation, I am also interested in what you would call down-to-earth things, such as food, clothing, housing, problems of ecology and population, because all of this is part of natural curiosity or philosophy.

In Hindu philosophy the whole creatoin is regarded as the Vishnu Lila, the Play of Vishnu. Lila means dance or play. Also, in Hindu philosophy, they call the world an illusion; and in Latin the root of the word illusion is ludere, to play. All that is going on, the spinning of the prayer wheel, the pattern in which the flower grows, is just the living. And if you take it seriously and say, “Are you doing anything useful?” Useful for what? Useful for going on?

But if you have to be useful for going on, going on becomes a drag, survival becomes a sweat, and it’s not worth it. And if you teach this to your children, they’ll imitate you. They’ll treat survival as an ordeal which they have to undergo.

They have to keep going on and they’ll teach their children to do it, and the whole continuation of the human race will be a drag which is in fact what it has become because of this attitude. And this is the reason we have invented the atomic bomb and are preparing to commit suicide. We think we must happen and, to the degree to think we think we must happen, we hate it, and are going to bring it to an end, stop it.

If you’re in pain, cry. And if you can’t do that, then pain is your problem. But if you can cry, if you can let go in that way, pain is no problem. And if you get the shudders at death, the idea of death, the idea of not being here anymore, just get those shudders and dig them. Isn’t it curious? You really get the shivers of delight!

So all these emotions we have, the emotions of uptightness, dread, shivers, horrors, can be interpreted in other ways. But we interpret them in a negative way so long as we are under the sense that you absolutely must go on living.

Now, you see, living is something spontaneous. In Chinese the word for nature is ch’i lan, which means that which happens of itself, not under nay control of an outside entity. And they feel that all the world is happening of itself; it’s spontaneous. And you stop this spontaneous flowering of nature cold if you tell it it must do.

What is more of a bore than knowing a person so well that their reactions to everything under the sun are predictable? You know automatically what their opinion will be on any subject and therefore you do not bother to discuss anything. Indeed, such a predictable person is very vulnerable, because anybody whose habits are completely predictable is, as Don Juan told Carlos Castaneda, easy prey.

Always be surprising and, furthermore, surprise yourself!

The only way that you can be truly irregular is not to know yourself, in your own head, what you are going to do next. This is as Jesus taught. He said that everyone who is born of the Spirit is like the wind which blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but you cannot tell where it is coming from or where it is going. He also advised his disciples that when they were going to speak they were not to think in advance of what they would say, but just wait for the Spirit to give it to them.

(Naturally all clergymen are trained to prepare their sermons carefully in advance!)

It is the unknown that is profoundly scary to most of us.

We fear that God–that is to say, the ground of our being, the energy which we all express–should remain unknown. We fix on all these images of one kind or another, whether it be male or female, light or dark, and we know very well that what is essential to us cannot be gotten at, and that worries us.

To abandon ourselves peacefully and truly in a surrendered way to the possibility of death, to the nonexistence of our memories, of our egos; to flip over from isness to isnotness; to yield to the feminine, which we gladly do when engaged in sexual intercourse, something very closely associated in all symbolic history with death: These are steps that cause us much anxiety.

We are once fascinated and horrified by this thing that we are that we can never know, never control.

We thus come into the presence of the God who has no image.

Our attention fixes upon figures and ignores backgrounds. We see a painting, a representation of a bird, and do not notice the white paper underneath it. We see a printed book and assume what is important is the printing and that the page doesn’t matter. But if you reconsider the whole thing, how could there be visible printing without the page underlying it?

We somehow consider an underlying position, like the missionary position, to be inferior. But to be underlying is to be fundamental.

The word substance refers to that which stands underneath (sub–underneath and stance–stands). To be substantial is to be underlying, to be the support, the foundation of the world.

This is the great function of the feminine, to be the substance.

The feminine is therefore represented by space, which appears black at night.

Were it not for black and empty space, there would be no possibility whatsoever of seeing the stars. Stars shine out of space and astronomers are beginning to realize that stars are a function of space. Now this seems contrary to our common sense because we think that space is simply nothingness, and do not realize that space is completely basic to everything.

We are in the midst of a nonfunctioning communication system. That is to say, all the radio, television, newspapers, and so on–all the information everybody is being given–is really useless because there is nothing you can do about it.

Furthermore, there is a vast difference between the world that is and the world that is described. We assume that the world of television, newspapers, movies, books, reviews, Time, Newsweek, represents what is actually happening because we have been acclimatized to the literary culture of a Western industrial state.

It is nothing of the kind.

Just as your opinion of yourself is not yourself, the news is not what is happening. It is a particularly slanted view of what is going on, the expression of the limited intellects of politicians and reporters.



The word yoga, as you may know, is the same as the English word yoke and the Latin word jungare (to join). When Jesus said “My yoke is easy” he was also saying “My yoga is easy.” Yoga describes the state that is the opposite of what our psychologists call alienation, the feeling of separateness, of being cut off from being.


When you allow thinking to stop, all [differentiation] goes away, and you find that you are in an eternal here and now. There is nowhere you are supposed to be, nothing you are supposed to do, nowhere you are supposed to go, because in order to think you must do something: you have to think.It is incredibly important to unthink at least once a day for the very preservation of intellectual life. If you do nothing but think, as you are advised by most of the academic teachers and gurus, you will have nothing to think about except thoughts.It is a very amusing game. I love to bury my nose in ancient Oriental texts, for instance. It is fun; it is like playing poker, or chess, or doing pure mathematics. But the trouble is that it gets increasingly unrelated to life, because the thinking is all words about words.There is an intellectual way to get at this kind of understanding; jñāna yoga is the approach to that which is intellectual. People often say to me, “I understand what you are talking about intellectually, but I don’t really feel it, I don’t realize it” and I am apt to reply “I wonder whether you do understand it intellectually, because if you did you would also feel it.One of the greatest intellectuals of modern time, Ludwig Wittgenstein, at the end of his greatest book Tractatus, shows you that what you always thought were major problems in life and philosophy were meaningless questions.And that those problems are solved not by giving an answer to them, but by getting rid of the problem through seeing intellectually that it is meaningless. Then you are relieved of the problem. You need no longer lie awake nights wondering what is the meaning of life, what it is all about. Simply because it is not about anything. It is about itself.And so Wittgenstein ends by saying, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

What kind of attitude do you want to take towards the world?

If you want to put the world down, you say, “Oh, well, fundamentally it is just a lot of geology, it is a stupidity, and it so happens that a kind of freak came up which we call consciousness.” This is an attitude you can take if you want to prove to people that you are a tough thinker, that you are realistic, that you face facts and do not indulge in wishful thinking. This is just a matter of role playing, and you must be aware of it. There are fashions in the intellectual world.