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Thread: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

  1. #1

    Alan Watts on Enlightenment

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

    [youtube] [/youtube]

    Hope you enjoy...

  2. #2

    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 ...

    http://www.wisdom-books.com/FocusDetail.asp?FocusRef=70

    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 at 12:28 AM.

  3. #3

    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.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    This was good! Thanks for posting.

    Gassho

    Jen

  5. #5

    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

  6. #6
    Senior Member Ekai's Avatar
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    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.

    Thanks,
    Jodi

  7. #7

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Quote Originally Posted by chugai
    I have always liked that one ... here's an interesting essay that takes one directly to enlightenment ... http://www.madore.org/~david/misc/totipsism.html
    I loved this! After my many years of philosophy and philosophy of science courses, I had to smile throughout! Gassho for the post! :lol:

  8. #8

    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.

  9. #9

    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.

  10. #10

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Hello,

    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:

    http://www.amazon.com/Turn-Off-Your-Min ... 0971394237



    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen

  11. #11

    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.

    Gassho

    Willow

  12. #12

    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

    Gassho

    Yang Hsin

  13. #13

    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.

  14. #14

    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.

  15. #15

    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? no...no...
    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!

    Ahhhh!

    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?

  16. #16

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    Hellos to all posting here!

    The trend these days is to speak belittlingly of Alan Watts. ......
    Please.


    Ed. Hi Keishin. I should say more than just a snarky sounding "Please" , and explain further. A perceived trend says something about those who are perceived to be part of that trend, and that involves a lot of assumptions, in this case about how those who have come to a view, have come to it. View-trends are like memes, fleeting, superficial, reflexive things. But views may be come by, regardless of trends, based on all kinds of experiences of who-knows-how-much depth and history.

  17. #17

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Thinking through the crux of this discussion.

    Is it skilful to separate the 'personhood' of an author/teacher - from the work/teachings? Or - If we perceive the person to be flawed in their 'lived life' is it skilful to judge? In judging do we lose sight of the fact that we are all flawed and perhaps this person is merely reflecting back the fragility and flawed nature of human life.
    Should we only regard 'the words on the page' - the teachings - and ignore the life of the teacher all together.

    I don't have an answer to this.

    Kershin - I took on board your final comment 'where would I be now without many teachings?' I mentioned in an earlier post my disenchantment of some teachings I
    had been involved with/influenced by. But no - your words resonated with me because whatever my relections then/and now - I did grow/learn through those experiences. ..... but another voice says 'well - I was lucky' - because sometimes individuals get hurt.

    Kojip - could you write a bit more on 'view trends are like memes'....

    Gassho


    Willow

  18. #18

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    In another thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by Kojip
    I knew lots of painters who were "beat Zen" i.e. slackers, who never applied themselves enough to bring their craft to fruition. it is a shame IMO.
    In this thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    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.
    Views are just views and we are all formed and transformed by our experiences.
    Truth is, none of us knew the man. From the little I know about him, he never tried to market himself as an enlightened Zen master, like Dennis Genpo Mertzel did, and should not be judged as one. I choose to believe that he was spreading the Buddha's Dharma the best he could and in so doing made an important contribution in explaining difficult eastern buddhist concepts for westerners. For me, therefore, he was a great Bodhisattva. But it is just a view and not very well grounded. Like everything, it will change.

  19. #19

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Quote Originally Posted by willow

    Kojip - could you write a bit more on 'view trends are like memes'....
    Sure. I do not mean “Meme” as used in the Spiral Dynamic model of value-view unfolding (which is interesting but has unfortunately been completely appropriated by the “Integral” movement). I was thinking of an “internet meme”, where a view or feeling or sensibility or image can rapidly evolve as it sweeps across the online world, then departs. Here is an example of an internet meme being tracked. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/trololo-russian-rickroll

  20. #20

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    ... thanks Kojip - I have looked that up - and then got sidetracked into Spriral and Integral theory!

    Back to shikantaza - need to clear my mind.

    Gassho

    Willow

  21. #21

    Re: Alan Watts on Enlightenment

    Sorry!! Spreading the monkey mind around again

  22. #22
    I owe Watts this: In The Way of Zen, he made clear the difference between conventional and unconventional knowledge. Before reading The Way, I had a bad tendency to dismiss or belittle unconventional knowledge. Getting a grip on the difference opened me up to Eastern philosophy in a new way. And, not incidentally, convinced me that it was worthwhile to get my butt on the cushion.

  23. #23
    Thanks for digging up this old thread!

    My two cents on "Alan Watts":
    As was said above, Alan Watts didn't claim to be a Zen master. When you listen to his talks (there is an excellent collection called "You're It!") or read his book "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" you see that he mixed traditions/practices in his personal life. He "combined" Zen, Taoism, Hinduism and other practices. IMHO the reason for this becomes apparent in some of his talks: He considered these practices as a means not as the goal, they were fingers pointing to the moon, not the moon themselves. He warned that one should not to get attached to a certain practice.

    Even Abbot Muho from the Soto monastery Antaiji said in a documentary something like "I believe there are other ways to enlightenment than Zazen. I don't claim it is the only way. And I am even not sure whether it is the easiest way for everybody."
    Nevertheless, he chose this way for himself.

    Yes, Alan Watts was not someone who strictly followed one tradition. He had his faults, but who hasn't?
    However, this does not mean we cannot learn something from him. I have found his talks and books quite inspirational.

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  24. #24
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    I've watched a few small excerpts of Alan Watts' work on youtube and thought they were really cool. Then when I read his works I was less impressed. It seems that, as happens with movie trailers, all the "best parts" were made into short videos already. That being said, I really liked a few of his videos where he tries to get people to understand that they are not separate from the universe, it is a simple scientific fact that we are the big bang, we are star dust, we are the planet. We may not feel like it, but we certainly are. Anyone who helps get that across is doing good work to me. One of my favorite discussions is when he talks about how we aren't amazed when an apple tree apples because that's what they do, well the earth is doing the same thing, it peoples. Peopling is what it does.

    I don't care for his stance on drugs and alcohol mixing with spiritual insight. I'm not against casual drug and alcohol use if that's what someone digs, but he seems to make an error in thinking that drugs and alcohol can lead to "enlightenment." As a non drug user I can't refute or explain his experiences. However, If I used drugs for insight, I would always be scared that my insight had nothing to do with reality. For an analogy, lets say you are young, shy guy who has a hard time picking up girls at a bar. You drink a few drinks and loosen up. You drink a few more and you meet a girl and go home with her. On the way out the bar you tell your buddies that you are leaving. You are proud and you think to yourself "man, I've got this game figured out!" Then the next morning you wake up in a trailer park with an unattractive, crazy, 40 year old divorced cat lady whose kid is jumping up and down on the bed screaming "new daddy!" Suddenly you realize that all your inner realizations, all your confidence, and your new "game" were all wrong. The booze was a lie. I imagine that any insight gained trough drugs could be the same, only you may never "wake up" to see if it comported with reality or not.
    Try not to be a jerk-- one of the Buddhas

  25. #25
    I read the books mentioned before learning Buddhist practice.. and as already said, they draw from different traditions. What they instructed me to do was to look at, and recognize, already existing oneness, and of already being-the-flow , regardless. This was in line with the Advaita Vedanta I was familiar with at the time. When I began to learn Buddhism (not Zen at the time) it was a surprise to see that these things were not the emphasis at all. The emphasis was on seeing into the nature of Dukkha, while pointedly, importantly, dropping the inherent limitation of ontological concern. Is non-dukkha oneness? or not-twoness? or being the flow? or "It"? ...Can't say. It is non-Dukkha. When I came to Zen practice some Advaita sounding language came back, but it was in the context of Dukkha and Non-dukkha, and that made a world of difference for me, because then practice became more than just saying to myself "I'm already it" without even touching deeply ingrained, greed anger and ignorance. That's my flawed sense of things anyway.. and those readings were a long time ago, so they may be remembered poorly.


    Gassho. kojip
    大山

  26. #26
    Hi Charles,

    What a cool (and graphic) comparison!
    I totally agree with you on the drug thing. I think several people experimented with LSD during that era.
    Taking substances in order to achieve a certain goal seems unnatural to me...

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  27. #27
    Hi kojip,

    Quote Originally Posted by Kojip View Post
    Is non-dukkha oneness? or not-twoness? or being the flow? or "It"? ...Can't say. It is non-Dukkha. When I came to Zen practice some Advaita sounding language came back, but it was in the context of Dukkha and Non-dukkha, and that made a world of difference for me, because then practice became more than just saying to myself "I'm already it" without even touching deeply ingrained, greed anger and ignorance. That's my flawed sense of things anyway.. and those readings were a long time ago, so they may be remembered poorly.
    Very interesting thoughts!
    Doesn't Oneness contain even Dukkha?
    Perhaps when one really realizes ones true self (i.e. not just a mere theoretical grasp), it is a way to "overcome" Dukkha. By accepting it as part of life and finding a way "somewhere in the middle".

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by LimoLama View Post
    Hi kojip,



    Very interesting thoughts!
    Doesn't Oneness contain even Dukkha?
    Perhaps when one really realizes ones true self (i.e. not just a mere theoretical grasp), it is a way to "overcome" Dukkha. By accepting it as part of life and finding a way "somewhere in the middle".

    Gassho,

    Timo
    In my experience "when one really realizes ones true self (i.e. not just a mere theoretical grasp)" is just stringing along a concept.., throwing away the thing and keeping the scent, blowing away the scent and keeping the memory..etc. All I mean is... when sitting where is true self? There is reaching, and there is seeing reaching, and there is no longer reaching... ontological qualifiers have no footing. That is just my honest experience of practice . Gassho kojip
    大山

  29. #29
    Hi kojip,

    Thank you!

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  30. #30
    Junior Member Oaken's Avatar
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    Thank you Seiryu for the video and everyone for this discussion
    After high school one of my friends gave me The Way of Zen to read,we spent many a night talking about the concepts in it. It opened my young mind to thinking outside the box that school and our culture tried to put us in. Alan's writing got me started thinking about meditation and it got me on the winding zig zaggy path my life has been.
    I reread The Way of Zen this summer and I was surprised how much of the concepts in the book had stuck with me over the years. I am glad to read Suzuki Roshi thought of him as a Bodhisattva
    Gassho
    Tom
    Last edited by Oaken; 11-17-2012 at 12:11 AM.
    Trying to go straight ahead on a narrow mountain path which has ninety-three curves

  31. #31
    Friends of Treeleaf Dokan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin View Post
    In gratitude to all teachers
    past, present, and future.
    Hear, hear...and to you too Keishin! So happy to see your post!

    Deep bows,

    Dokan
    We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.
    ~Anaïs Nin

  32. #32
    Senior Member Heisoku's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Oaken View Post
    Thank you Seiryu for the video and everyone for this discussion
    After high school one of my friends gave me The Way of Zen to read,we spent many a night talking about the concepts in it. It opened my young mind to thinking outside the box that school and our culture tried to put us in. Alan's writing got me started thinking about meditation and it got me on the winding zig zaggy path my life has been.
    Me too!
    Heisoku
    平 息

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