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Portrait of Alan Watts

Alan Watts

Philosopher and Author
January 6, 1915 – November 16, 1973

Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer, speaker, and self-styled “philosophical entertainer,” best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945, then left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.

Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area while working as a volunteer programmer at KPFA, a Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. Watts wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, introducing the then-burgeoning youth culture to The Way of Zen, one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. Towards the end of his life, he divided his time between a houseboat in Sausalito and a cabin on Mount Tamalpais.

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Art of Meditation

Being Far Out (Spiritual Alchemy)

Alan Watts touches upon a peculiar tendency wherein psychedelic drugs may ignite mystical experiences similar to those known in the Eastern philosophies. However, wheras Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zen accompany these mystical experiences with discipline in order to cultivate positive outcomes, psychedelically induced insights may lead to unhealthy misinterpretations and possibly even delusions of grandeur if not handled properly.

Cover image for Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship

Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship

Alan Watts examines the theme that our normal sense of the person as a lonely island of consciousness is a dramatic illusion based on theological imagery. In a global context, the meaning of this imagery inevitably changes, yet without losing its unique values.

Birth, Death, and the Unborn

All the patterns we see around us in the world are projections of our minds. There is no way things should be, there is no way things shouldn’t be. But if humans can adopt a mental discipline in which they remain able to project patterns without becoming hung up on them, life for everyone will transform into a beautiful artwork.

Buddhism as Dialogue

How does a person get out of a predicament they’ve talked themselves into?

Clarity of Mind

Delivered at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Cover image for Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal

Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal

Over the course of nineteen essays, Alan Watts ruminates on the philosophy of nature, ecology, aesthetics, religion, and metaphysics. Assembled in the form of a mountain journal, written during a retreat in the foothills of Mount Tamalpais in California, Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown is Watts’ meditation on the art of feeling out and following the watercourse way of nature, known in Chinese as the Tao. Embracing a form of contemplative meditation that allows us to stop analyzing our experiences and start living into them, the book explores themes such as the natural world, established religion, race relations, karma and reincarnation, astrology and tantric yoga, the nature of ecstasy, and much more.

Cover image for Cosmic Network

Cosmic Network

Alan takes us from the very small to the very large, explaining the interrelatedness of all things in the universe as a vast network which weaves us into a united yet unnamable divinity.

Democracy in the Kingdom of Heaven

Does God really rule over humans like a monarch, or might the concept of divinity express itself as a drama through all of us?

Diamond Way

An introductory look at the ideas of Pure Land Buddhism.

Do You Do It Or Does It Do You?

Alan explores the meaning of personal free will in the context of core tenets in Eastern mythology: how is it possible to control anything when preexisting conditions outside of our influence determine our present situation? It is a realization of the hidden unity behind our apparent diversity and a relinquishing of obsessive control that enables us to unlock a pathway leading out of the conundrum and towards a celebration and reverence of life.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 01: Man and Nature

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 01: Man and Nature

Alan Watts speaks on the contrast between classical Chinese and historic Western attitudes in regard to man's place in nature. Do we see ourselves as nature's conquerors or collaborators?

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 02: Things and Thinks

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 02: Things and Thinks

Alan Watts presents an explanation of the East Indian idea of māyā: the division of the world into separate things and events is a work of human thought and not a fact of nature. Watts examines the disastrous consequences of confusing thought with fact.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 03: Time

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 03: Time

This program looks at the East Indian concept of time and the illusion of living for the future as the tomorrow that never comes. Plans for the future are only useful for those able to live fully in the present.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 04: The Void

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 04: The Void

Buddhism symbolizes its basic spiritual experience as a void, but Alan Watts explains this must not be taken literally. Watts explores the void as a symbol of freedom and of a world feeling which can be described poetically though not logically as the "absolute rightness" of every moment.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 05: The Silent Mind

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 05: The Silent Mind

One who talks all the time can never hear what others say. And one who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. Alan Watts examines the value of silent-mindedness or the practice of meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 06: On Death

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 06: On Death

Alan Watts explores Buddhist ideas of the value of death as the great renovator, including the Wheel of Life, and the idea of reincarnation as it is understood by philosophical Buddhists.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 07: Recollection

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 07: Recollection

This program focuses on the East Indian idea that we have forgotten who or what we really are through identifying ourselves with the individual personality. The person or "persona" is also discussed as the social or dramatic mask assumed in daily life.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 08: Queries and Sources

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 08: Queries and Sources

Alan Watts reveals his research resources for the series of Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life thus far, and he answers questions about points in the previous programs. He recommends books for further study.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 09: Pain

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 09: Pain

Alan Watts discusses the Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist ideas about physical and moral pain, emphasizing the art of accepting pain by ridding it of its contextual associations.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 10: Nonsense

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 10: Nonsense

Sense or meaning is a property ascribed to symbols rather than the real word. Alan Watts uses this differentiation as a prelude to the Taoist and Zen Buddhist idea of the perfectly "purposeless" life and its parallels in Christianity.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 11: On Being Vague

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 11: On Being Vague

The idea of clear-cut "definiteness" reflects as a sharp and somewhat hostile attitude to life. In this talk, Alan Watts shows the value of the vague and gentle approach reflected in Far Eastern poetry and painting.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 12: Law And Order

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 12: Law And Order

Alan Watts speaks on the contrast between organic and legalistic views of the order of nature, the former being based on visual pattern intelligence and the latter on verbal conventions.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 13: Omnipotence

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 13: Omnipotence

Watts explores the contrast between organic and mechanical world views and the difference between the growing process and the making process, and he explains why one corresponds to a democratic principle and the other to a monarchical hierarchy.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 14: The Life Of Zen

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 14: The Life Of Zen

A look inside Zen monastic life and practice reveals a culture of dialog and subtle humor between master and student.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 15: Zen In Painting

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 15: Zen In Painting

This program focuses on Zen-inspired brush painting in the Chinese and Japanese traditions, and it looks at the approach of the contemporary artist Sabro Hasegawa in his inspired return to primitivity in the arts.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 16: Zen In Gardens And Architecture

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 16: Zen In Gardens And Architecture

Alan Watts speaks about the remarkable integration of traditional Japanese homes and gardens within the rural landscape, and the celebration of natural forms of mountains and waters in Zen gardens.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 17: Zen In Fencing And Judo

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 17: Zen In Fencing And Judo

Alan Watts demonstrates how the Taoist influence in Aikido and Judo also influenced swordsmanship.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 18: Buddhism And Christianity

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 18: Buddhism And Christianity

Alan Watts brings his expertise to bear in this presentation of Mahayana Buddhist and traditional Christian world views (he was once an Episcopal priest), and how to bring the two together.

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 19: The Discipline of Zen

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 19: The Discipline of Zen

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 20: Mahayana Buddhism

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 20: Mahayana Buddhism

Cover image for Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 21: Buddhism and Science

Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, Episode 21: Buddhism and Science

Eco Zen

Ecological Awareness

When Alan Watts talked about the ‘mystical experience’ among scientific circles, he preferred to call it ‘ecological awareness’—referring to a state of mind in which a person ceases to feel separate from the environment in which he or she exists.

Education for Non-Entity (A True Materialist Society)

Alan presents his argument that the United States—often referred to as the ultimate materialist society—is anything but: it lacks a sincere appreciation for the material world and inadvertently destroys it in an attempt to “live the good life,” chasing after ever greener pastures just beyond the horizon of time.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 01: Nothingness

Essential Lectures 01: Nothingness

Basing his ideas on sensory perception and physical experience, Alan Watts makes a compelling argument that everything actually depends upon nothing for its very existence.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 02: Ego

Essential Lectures 02: Ego

Alan Watts was concerned with the way we trap ourselves in words. He considered it unfortunate that we separate the “I” from reality and think of “I” in terms of how others see us or the image that we want to project. What is the answer?

Cover image for Essential Lectures 03: Meditation

Essential Lectures 03: Meditation

As Alan Watts explains, “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts and loses touch with reality.” He covers basic mediation techniques, including listening without naming and chanting mantras.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 04: God

Essential Lectures 04: God

To many of us the image of God as a gray-bearded omnipotent and omnipresent supreme being has become implausible, yet the common sense notions of divine authority surrounding that image persist.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 05: Cosmic Drama

Essential Lectures 05: Cosmic Drama

Alan Watts further explores the Hindu dramatic view of the universe, in which God plays all of the parts – all the while pretending not to know who he/she/it is!

Cover image for Essential Lectures 06: Time

Essential Lectures 06: Time

Here Alan Watts points out that our insistence that the past determines the present is nonsensical.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 07: Work and Play

Essential Lectures 07: Work and Play

Alan Watts swirls an orange on a string and shoots an arrow high into the air before explaining why the art of living is being paid to play–and to the extent that we feel compelled to work and survive, life becomes a drag.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 08: Death

Essential Lectures 08: Death

Alan Watts comments on the circle of life and our response to the surprising event of being born in the first place.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 09: The More It Changes

Essential Lectures 09: The More It Changes

Alan Watts speaks on our fascination with reproduction through media, and on the far out notion that human beings may just be one star's way of becoming another star!

Cover image for Essential Lectures 10: Clothing

Essential Lectures 10: Clothing

In this whimsical presentation, Alan Watts demonstrates a variety of cultural garb and points out how each influences the way we live and feel. His choices of attire include a western business suit, kimonos, and a sarong.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 11: Do You Smell?

Essential Lectures 11: Do You Smell?

Alan Watts speaks about our most repressed sense. Here he introduces viewers to the intricacies of incense in front of a small Buddhist altar, while commenting on the types of incense used in Church rituals and all across Asia.

Cover image for Essential Lectures 12: Conversation With Myself

Essential Lectures 12: Conversation With Myself

While walking in a field above Muir Woods, Alan Watts points to humankind's attempts to straighten out a wiggly world as the root of our ecological crisis.

Four Ways to the Center

Can an ego overcome egocentrism? Can a self become selfless? Is there even any value in this pursuit, and if so, how should one approach it? Through renunciation and repentance, or through acceptance and merging into it? Many consciousnesses encounter this conundrum on the brisk seas of being, and Alan invites us to take a closer look at our so-called individuality.

Future of Communications (Part 1)

Future of Communications (Part 2)

Game Theory of Ethics

Is playing the game of life worth the effort required? Alan turns the question upside-down and investigatates the alternative, allowing us to appreciate every being’s gamble with fate taken upon birth.

Image of Man

Individual and the World

This seminar covers a variety of topics, from the illusion of our separation from the environment and the futility of trying to be genuine, all the way to the discipline required to handle mystical experiences in order to bring something back from them to share with the rest of the world. The presentation ends with his endorsement of insanity, saying a healthy amount of craziness in old age is necessary to prepare for a joyous death.

Intellectual Yoga

“A Journey to Unthinking”—an introduction to the Eastern traditions of yoga. Alan describes the entrance into the unspeakable reality, first from the East by practices of dhyana yoga and zazen, and then from the West through the intellectual perspectives of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Spencer Brown. East and West all arrive at the same mysterious that which is unspeakable. Delivered at the First Unitarian Church.

Intelligent Mindlessness

Alan discusses ways in which Western civilization confuses symbols with reality and introduces meditation and its associated gadgets as tools to get in touch with reality. Then he encourages his audience to cast off their reliance on symbols by guiding them through various mantra in a half-hour demonstration of this intelligent mindlessness.

Jesus, His Religion

Journey to India

Landscape, Soundscape in Painting, Music, and Mystical Vision

During a seminar at the New College of Sausalito, Alan asks: what is an aesthetically satisfying composition—not just in the visual and auditory arts, but also in the arrangement of the universe?

Love of Waters

Man is a Hoax

Mind over Mind

Mysticism and Morality

Not What Should Be, But What Is

Alan reminds his audience that our mental image of the world is just an internal fairy tale loosely related to the truth of reality. Paying attention to our sensory experiences can therefore help us lift this thought-tainted veil, an action which reveals the magic of being far better than any words ever could.

On Commerce

On G. K. Chesterton

On Instinct

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 01: The Nature of Consciousness (Part 1)

Out Of Your Mind 01: The Nature of Consciousness (Part 1)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 02: The Nature of Consciousness (Part 2)

Out Of Your Mind 02: The Nature of Consciousness (Part 2)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 03: The Web Of Life (Part 1)

Out Of Your Mind 03: The Web Of Life (Part 1)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 04: The Web Of Life (Part 2)

Out Of Your Mind 04: The Web Of Life (Part 2)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 05: The Inevitable Ecstasy (Part 1)

Out Of Your Mind 05: The Inevitable Ecstasy (Part 1)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 06: The Inevitable Ecstasy (Part 2)

Out Of Your Mind 06: The Inevitable Ecstasy (Part 2)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 07: The World As Just So (Part 1)

Out Of Your Mind 07: The World As Just So (Part 1)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 08: The World As Just So (Part 2)

Out Of Your Mind 08: The World As Just So (Part 2)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 09: The World As Self (Part 1)

Out Of Your Mind 09: The World As Self (Part 1)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 10: The World As Self (Part 2)

Out Of Your Mind 10: The World As Self (Part 2)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 11: The World as Emptiness (Part 1)

Out Of Your Mind 11: The World as Emptiness (Part 1)

Cover image for Out Of Your Mind 12: The World as Emptiness (Part 2)

Out Of Your Mind 12: The World as Emptiness (Part 2)

Parallel Thinking

Originally broadcast on the KPFA radio series Philosophy East and West. Alternate title: Simultaneous Discovery.

Power of Space

Pursuit of Pleasure

Where does pleasure come from? What are we trying to achieve in our frantic day-to-day activities? Why are we in such a hurry? And why do all of our efforts to pin the universe down and bring it under our control dial up the misery?

Q and A With God

After discussing the nature of consciousness, the human mind, and the philosophical viewpoint that every person is God, Alan Watts assumes the role of God himself for the latter half of this lecture, answering each question his audience serves with wit and insight.

Cover image for Reality, Art, and Illusion

Reality, Art, and Illusion

Watts explores the different meanings of the Sanskrit word māyā and explains them to the Western audience.

Relevance of Oriental Philosophy

Self and Other

Alan coaxes the listener’s mind to simultaneously zoom in and zoom out in an effort to demonstrate that identity is merely an intellectual hallucination. Instead, personal identity is fluid, ranging from one’s constituent atoms and molecules all the way out to the farthest bounds of cosmic existence. Overcoming this mental myopia leads to greater harmony, contentment, and a desire to playfully dance with this universal energy system.

Sense of Nonsense

In this public radio broadcast, Alan explores the origin of the desire for meaningfulness. In the search for satisfaction, what is it that is really sought for or yearned after? The talk turns from academic discussion into poetry. What is the meaning of significance?

Spectrum of Love

Still the Mind

Swimming Headless

Taoist Way

Cover image for The Art of Contemplation

The Art of Contemplation

A manuscript with doodles, handwritten by Alan Watts. Published as a limited edition by the Society of Comparative Philosophy.

Cover image for The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

At the root of human conflict is our fundamental misunderstanding of who we are. The illusion that we are isolated beings, unconnected to the rest of the universe, has led us to view the “outside” world with hostility, and has fueled our misuse of technology and our violent and hostile subjugation of the natural world. In The Book, philosopher Alan Watts provides us with a much-needed answer to the problem of personal identity, distilling and adapting the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta to help us understand that the self is in fact the root and ground of the universe. In this mind-opening and revelatory work, Watts has crafted a primer on what it means to be human—and a manual of initiation into the central mystery of existence.

Cover image for The Circle of Sex

The Circle of Sex

An ingenious delineation of the age-old magnetism between male and female in which a clock face is used to chart the 12 libidinal types that attract and repel. Originally printed in issue 144 of Playboy magazine.

Cover image for The Houseboat Summit

The Houseboat Summit

An extended conversation between Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder on the problem of whether to “drop out or take over,” conducted on Alan Watts’ houseboat in 1967.

The Joker

One of Alan’s most popular seminars, and for good reason—in The Joker, listeners will find out why every society needs fools in order to remind itself not to take life so damn seriously.

The Joyous Cosmology

What kind of a theory of the universe would it take for us to willingly accept the pain, turmoil, chaos, heartbreak, and suffering that comes with the state of being a consciously aware and individuated Self?

Cover image for The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness

The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness

The Joyous Cosmology is Alan Watts’ exploration of the insight that the consciousness-changing drugs LSD, mescaline and psilocybin can facilitate when accompanied with sustained philosophical reflection by a person who is in search, not of kicks, but of understanding. More than an artifact, it is both a riveting memoir of Alan’s personal experiments and a profound meditation on our perennial questions about the nature of existence and the existence of the sacred.

Cover image for The Meaning of Happiness

The Meaning of Happiness

Deep down, most people think that happiness comes from having or doing something. Here, Alan Watts offers a more challenging thesis: authentic happiness comes from embracing life as a whole in all its contradictions and paradoxes, an attitude he calls the “way of acceptance.” Drawing on Eastern philosophy, Western mysticism, and analytic psychology, Watts demonstrates that happiness comes from accepting both the outer world around us and the inner world inside us—the unconscious mind, with its irrational desires, lurking beyond the awareness of the ego. Although written early in his career, The Meaning of Happiness displays the hallmarks of his mature style: the crystal-clear writing, the homespun analogies, the dry wit, and the breadth of knowledge that made Alan Watts one of the most influential philosophers of his generation.

The Myopic View of the World (We as Organism)

Alan Watts argues that we spend most of our life in a sort of myopia; that is, only perceiving a microscopic subsection of the reality which we occupy. By mentally “zooming out,” humans can begin to see (and enjoy) the marvelous universal dance that has been unfolding since the Big Bang—and which now expresses itself in and through us at this very moment.

The Problem with Christianity

The Psychedelic Experience

The Psychedelic Explosion

Alan talks about the upcoming revolution in which Western society will have to come to grips with the existence of the psychedelic/mystical experience, and how to integrate it into our culture in a productive, fulfilling, and responsible manner. Included are personal recollections of DMT and LSD trips experienced by Watts himself, why the utilization of psychedelic drugs should be seen as a tool, his vision of a psychedelic campus for guided mystical experiences, and why prohibition is doomed to failure.

The Symbolic and the Real

The Tao of Philosophy 1: Slices of Wisdom

Highlights from the "The Love of Wisdom" radio series by Alan Watts

The Tao of Philosophy 2: Images of God

Alan Watts talks on the impact of various models of the ultimate reality, and the contrasts between male and female symbolism.

The Tao of Philosophy 3: Coincidence of Opposites

Alan Watts explains the sense in nonsense and how to enjoy the playfulness of life while sincerely participating in the human game.

The Tao of Philosophy 4: Seeing Through The Net

In a talk given to the IBM Systems Group, Alan Watts describes the wiggly world of nature and the net we cast over it.

The Tao of Philosophy 5: Myth of Myself

Alan Watts explains how we are not born into this world, but grow out of it; for in the same way an apple tree apples, the Earth peoples.

The Tao of Philosophy 6: Man In Nature

Alan Watts explains that how we define the borders of our self determines our relationship to the environment and our role in the universe.

The Tao of Philosophy 7: Symbols and Meaning

The Tao of Philosophy 8: Limits of Language

Alan Watts explains how language helps to construct reality, and what to do about it. He then follows up with the challenges of expressing the ineffable.

Cover image for The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity

The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity

Watts takes readers on a fascinating journey through the mythology of China, Egypt, India, the Middle East, and medieval Europe. His theme is the human experience of polarity, a condition in which opposing qualities define and complement each other. Light cannot exist without darkness, good cannot exist without evil, and male cannot exist without female. Chinese philosophy expresses this idea of universal polarity with the concepts of yin and yang, while other cultures express it through the symbolic language of myth, literature, and art. Watts illustrates the way great sages and artists across time have seen beyond the apparent duality of the universe to find a deeper unity that transcends and embraces everything.

The Veil of Thoughts

Alan describes the ways in which we have concealed truth behind a veil of thoughts. He talks about how and why we mistake symbols for reality, argues that civilization may be a misguided experiment, offers observations about the way in which abstractions have become more powerful than the realities they are referencing, and explains how we can become “unbamboozled” from these ways of thinking.

Cover image for The Wisdom of Insecurity

The Wisdom of Insecurity

This book explores our quest for psychological security, examining efforts to find spiritual and intellectual certainty in the realms of religion and philosophy. The Wisdom of Insecurity underlines the importance of our search for stability in an age where human life seems particularly vulnerable and uncertain. Watts argues our insecurity is the consequence of trying to be secure and that, ironically, salvation and sanity lie in the recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.

Cover image for This Is It (and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience)

This Is It (and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience)

Six revolutionary essays exploring the relationship between spiritual experience and ordinary life—and the need for them to coexist within each of us. With essays on “cosmic consciousness” (including Alan Watts’ account of his own ventures into this inward realm); the paradoxes of self-consciousness; LSD and consciousness; and the false opposition of spirit and matter, This Is It and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience is a truly mind-opening collection.

Thusness

Transcending Duality

An exploration of the male and female symbolism in Tantric yoga and the unity of polar opposites as a form of resonance.

Transformation of Consciousness

Alan discusses the different states of consciousness which the human mind can attain, and some of the chemical compounds which may serve as tools to reach these mental realms.

Truth and Relativity

Through the example of a city, Alan encourages his listeners to reevaluate the definition of their personal identities. Is a person a fully autonomous agent, or might they be a cell in a vast organism? Perhaps it’s necessary to understand both perspectives and recognize that each scale of magnitude depends on all others to manifest as it does. Originally broadcast on KPFA as episode 14 of the Philosophy East and West series.

Turning the Head, or Turning On

Talking to an audience at San José State University, Alan Watts recounts the first time he tried consciousness-altering substances after meeting Aldous Huxley. He argues that Western society largely isn’t ready for the mystical experience which can be triggered in these mental states, but nonetheless advocates for them, as they may arouse positive transformation in the human collectivity.

Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk

A delightful seminar in which Alan introduces his listeners to the details of Japanese and Chinese aesthetics.

Unpreachable Religion

USA 2000

Beginning with his prophecy that the United States of America will no longer exist in the year 2000, Alan introduces us to a possible utopia which he discerned in his vision of the future. Topics include automation, guaranteed universal incomes, the confusion of money with wealth, changing work ethics, and the grim necessity of our learning how to sensuously enjoy luxury if we want to avoid total destruction.

Way Beyond Seeking

Who Is It That Knows There Is No Ego?

Alan explores the idea of separateness, and whether our language has tricked us into falsely believing that things are individual, independent, and comprehensible all on their own.

Wisdom of the Mountains

World as Play

Watts presents a core Eastern philosophy of the world as a dramatic illusion, and that it exists for no other reason except to be experienced in a playful manner.

Zen Bones

A talk given to benefit the Zen Mountain Center, recorded at the Avalon Ballroom.

Cover image for Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism

Zen Clues

A small group of students traveled with Alan Watts through Japan, and along the way they stopped to visit the temples and gardens of Kyoto, listening to Alan bring ancient kōans to life.

Zen for Beginners