Alan Watts on Enlightenment

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  • Seiryu
    • Sep 2010
    • 620

    Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    I thought this video has some good insights so I thought I would share....

    [youtube] [/youtube]

    Hope you enjoy...
    清竜 Seiryu
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39472

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Hi Seiryu,

    Thank you.

    Hans, long ago, made this comment about Alan Watts ...

    ... although Alan Watts was a very good writer stylistically, I personally really wouldn't recommend his stuff when it comes to reliable historical and/or spiritual information. He had a great way of communicating certain concepts (at least from what I've seen and read), but he definitely didn't live according to any of the principles he discusses in his books. IMHO (please feel free to disagree at any time - no offense intended), what you get with Mr. Watts' books is first and foremost Mr. Watts' view of the world.
    I think that is the general consensus. Also, scholarship on Zen, and its understanding in the West, has progressed so much (yes, there is progress in some forms of Zen understanding!) since the 1950s and early 1960s. Western books from that time, and Mr. Watts, are worth a read if that is kept in mind. However, many books from those decades must be treated with some caution.

    I love Alan Watts, but he himself once described his way as a 'philosophical entertainer.'

    Only knowing Alan Watts from his writings and what has been written about him, I will say that he did not fit anyone's image of a saint or holy man ...

    And certainly, back in the 50's and 60's, there was sure a lot of misinformation and half-informed opinions about what this whole "Zen whatever' is about, and Alan spoke often as a man of his times. You do have to take his books with some care for that reason. As I understand, he did not actually sit Zazen very much, and indulged in LSD and alcohol a lot more.

    But, ya know, the man was a gifted teacher with a way of expressing things that few others have had before or since. He was a great teacher and crazy/sane holy man,

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 11-12-2012, 01:28 AM.


    • Rich
      • Apr 2009
      • 2603

      Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

      Jundo, thanks for explaining about alan watts. He deserves some credit for introducing zen to many westerners. Besides his personal flaws IMO and speculation he may have mistaken enlightenment with some psychological state. Anyhow, if he had praciced more and did drugs and alcohol less he may have been healthier and lived longer for the benefit of all beings.
      無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...


      • Nenka
        • Aug 2010
        • 1238

        Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

        This was good! Thanks for posting.




        • natezenmaster
          • Oct 2009
          • 160

          Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

          Gassho! Thanks for posting, both the video and the link about Alan Watts. I've read a number of his books (hey, one is a number) and enjoyed it.

          LOL “The uptight school of Western Buddhists who seem to believe that Zen is essentially sitting on your ass for interminable hours.." ... presumably the same ass with which one can learn to drink water... which I didn't realize was a benefit of mind control but do look forward to.. : P

          _/_ Nate


          • Ekai
            • Feb 2011
            • 664

            Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

            I have tried to listen to his talks before, but I was never able to finish listening to them. His style of teaching does not appeal to me for some reason. It's nothing against him personally, I just don't connect like I do with other teachings or talks.



            • Graceleejenkins
              • Feb 2011
              • 434

              Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

              Originally posted by chugai
              I have always liked that one ... here's an interesting essay that takes one directly to enlightenment ...
              I loved this! After my many years of philosophy and philosophy of science courses, I had to smile throughout! Gassho for the post! :lol:
              Sat today and 10 more in honor of Treeleaf's 10th Anniversary!


              • pdxrain

                Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                “You completely miss the point about Alan Watts!” Suzuki fumed with a sudden intensity. “You should notice what he has done. He is a great bodhisattva”
                - Crooked Cucumber, David Chadwick’s biography of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.


                • RichardH
                  • Nov 2011
                  • 2800

                  Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                  Alan Watt's style of writing has the effect of making people who read his books think they are Enlightened because they read his books. His way of invoking a sense of inter-connectedness and non-duality can be inspiring, and that inspiration seems to be taken as some kind of kensho. I've known people who never had any inclination to develop a serious practice, but who loved Watt's and thought they were Enlightened, even though they were completely lost in reveries all the time, and were always jumping from one distraction to another trying to fill up. They would say it was a wei wu wei thing. Different strokes.

                  ed, didn't watch the vid... but have read his books.


                  • Hans
                    • Mar 2007
                    • 1853

                    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment


                    Alan Watts was surely able to inspire many people and had a great way of talking the talk and being a very convincing hippie era sage. However once I came across a number of details about how he actually lived his life in certain ways, I decided not to invest any more time in his literary work. I personally like to invest most of the time I have in getting to grips with what people taught who were all about Buddhadharma...I think it can be very confusing for beginners especially to begin with eccentric POVs (no matter how brilliant they might be). If I want to learn about and practise catholicism, I'll look to catholics first of all

                    A few years down the line however it can make great sense for people to re-visit writings of people like Watts to shake up one's own orthodoxy....but to get a more intimate knowledge (and more importantly an introduction to the practise) of Zen, one should mainly stick to Zen guys and gals in the beginning IMHO.

                    I'm just making this point because part of the reason that Zen has become such a hopelessly meaningless term nowadays has to do with the fact that some of the most popular "definers" of the term are/were not really representative of the main currents of Zen but just managed to sell loads of books.

                    Btw. the following is a great and fun book that busts quite a few myths:

           ... 0971394237


                    Hans Chudo Mongen


                    • Jinyo
                      • Jan 2012
                      • 1957

                      Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                      Hans - I totally agree with you - but that 60's current of what constitutes Zen still runs strong, and has morphed into something far more
                      'polished' and seductive.

                      To begin with it morphed into humanistic psychotherapy - when I was training (in the late 80's) I took in my fair share of all of that - but I grew disenchanted.

                      Fortunately - half my training was psychoanalytic - and I realised the humbling affect of simply sitting quietly with another human being, not saying much - allowing a space,
                      an 'emptiness' if you like - to open up. For me this felt authentic. I am not saying this is Zen - but it is closer to it than what passes for Zen in some quarters of the 'human potential' movement now.

                      I think part of my recent confusion has arisen because over the past few weeks I'd re-visited some of the 'main players' in the humanistic field, and discovered that there are even wilder theories out there - of 'instant' enlightenment, etc etc. I felt disturbed that Zen has been appropriated in this way.

                      The result - too much noise - too much debate in my mind.

                      I see this site as a touchstone - a portal to a more authentic way - transparent - open.




                      • Myoshin

                        Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                        Thank you, That video makes me feel that's a way of freedom in de middle of suffering, I knew that, but my heart felt an encouragement


                        Yang Hsin


                        • pdxrain

                          Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                          While I think it is understandable that there are aspects of Alan Watt's life that we find unappealing (alcoholism, drug use, multiple marriages..) I think we should examine him in the context of his intellectual and cultural contributions, which I think are his most significant.

                          Watts believed that "no intelligent person should restrict himself to artificially segregated fields of spiritual or intellectual adventure.” And I believe this to be his primary contribution to Western intellectual life which has had a long tradition of building walls among intellectual disciplines, at the loss of seeing the whole or larger parts of the whole.

                          Its been mentioned that Watts helped break up the orthodoxy of inherited Zen. I would argue that all and any attempt to break down orthodoxies inevitably come with excesses. The Cultural Revolution in China was largely a response to the inherited Comintern-Soviet orthodoxy, and had very visible excesses.

                          The Reformation and Calvinist excesses during that period are well document as well. Breaking orthodox always involves excesses and experimentation. Its notable that a Zen reformation was not a violent one.

                          I think many of us would agree that Zen needed a movement against orthodoxy - inherited Zen had a history of militarism with a fusion of Japanese imperialism, institutionalization, long and heavy rituals (however valuable they were) and obvious profit motives in the death industry.

                          So in this context people influenced by Zen promoters like DT Suzuki, listened and learned and then made Zen something their own by brushing off the idiosyncratic aspects of Japanese Zen and used what remained to launch what Alan Ginsberg called a Spiritual Revolution in the West, and I think a very important one.

                          So I agree with Suzuki Roshi when he says “You completely miss the point about Alan Watts!” if you cast him aside as just an entertainer without content.


                          • Omoi Otoshi
                            • Dec 2010
                            • 801

                            Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                            I agree. A great Bodhisattva.

                            No need to judge his faults or (lack of?) depth of realization.

                            At the same time I agree with Hans. For the beginner, the only fool proof method for choosing literature or a teacher is to look at how the author/ teacher is living his life, realizing the Dharma. For the more experienced student this may not be as important, but I could be mistaken.
                            In a spring outside time, flowers bloom on a withered tree;
                            you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
                            now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
                            the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day


                            • Keishin
                              • Jun 2007
                              • 471

                              Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

                              Hellos to all posting here!

                              The trend these days is to speak belittlingly of Alan Watts. I would like to point out that during the context of his times, Alan Watts took what was acknowledged as cool and hip--the Beats--who took a narrow interpretation of zen as wide open zen-is-freedom-and-freedom-means-anything-goes--and was more 'responsible' if you will at 'splaining various concepts. His ability to explain Eastern concepts for Westerners reminds me a bit of Carl Sagan and Michi Okaku (astronomical 'entertainers' if you will) who spoke eloquently of astrophysics in a manner graspable to those with limited background.

                              As far as his life-style: he was not a zen priest. He did not in any way falsely represent himself as anything other than what he was. His private life as such is his own business, not mine. I have never heard that he behaved irresponsibly toward anyone. Whatever agreements he had with his wife and/or others in his life belongs to them.
                              As far as use of alcohol/drugs I have two words: The Era. In the context of the Timothy Leary generation, Watts is tame.

                              Something comes through in the tapes I have heard of his talks. What is that something? Does it make me want to drink alcohol? no... does it make me want to use drugs? no.... does it make me want to smoke cigaretts? no... does it make me want to get married and have affairs?
                              It makes me want to understand more. His talks relax me, and pique my interest. His talks allow me to look freshly upon that which I take for granted...

                              so--in gratitude to a philosophical entertainer and stand up zen buddhist!


                              Alan Watts.

                              Thank you.

                              In gratitude to all teachers
                              past, present, and future.

                              To those with and without pedigrees from recognized lineages...

                              if not for the many teachings which have touched me, have struck a cord within, have helped keep this egg warm,
                              where would I be now?