The Intriguing Thought-Provoking Insights Of The Legend: Alan Watts

I am coming out of the closet. I’m a Wattsist. A what-ist? A Wattsist. After Alan Watts, the British-American philosopher, spiritual entertainer, and author. Alan Watts was a treasure to his generation and to ours, as his words continue to provide solace, humour, and understanding. His podcasts are increasingly well-known and his books seem to be experiencing a resurgence in popularity. His son, Mark Watts, has released a new documentary about his dad, so we can expect Alan’s popularity to keep rising even though it has been many decades since his death in 1973.

I’ve been sufficiently inspired by Watts’ work that I am writing a new biography of this great man. It’s been an interesting journey because I’m learning, as one must when traveling from the realm of pure concepts to details of a person’s life, that Watts was no angel. His wisdom is beautiful and profound, but he wasn’t a very good father and he wasn’t a very good husband, at least not to his first two wives (he had three and died while living with his third wife). We shouldn’t, however, expect perfection from our spiritual leaders, particularly when the leader in question (Watts) was fond of talking about his own and all spiritual leaders’ “irreducible rascality.”

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Watts was a British expat who spent most of his life in the U.S., with his later years in Marin County and the Bay Area. He died in 1973, apparently of natural causes, but no autopsy was completed. He was well-known to be an alcohol abuser later in his life so it is possible that alcohol had some role in his death.

He wrote a number of books, including The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are; The Way of Zen; The Meaning of Happiness; Cloud Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal; In My Own Way (an autobiography), and many others. A good selection of wonderful Alan Watts podcasts are available on iTunes – recordings of the many talks he gave, which are free and present 15 minutes of profound wisdom with wit and grace.

Watts’ worldview and spiritual views were shaped largely by Eastern traditions, in particular Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Vedanta Hinduism, but also by his Christian upbringing and training. He was an Episcopal priest for six years, serving at Northwestern University in Illinois, until he left the church after he and his first wife messily separated. Watts states in his autobiography: “If I am asked to define my personal tastes in religion I must say that they lie between Mahayana Buddhism [of which Zen is a type] and Taoism, with a certain leaning toward Vedanta and Catholicism, or rather the Orthodox Church of Eastern Europe.”

The constant themes in his talks and books are the perils of language tricking us into mistaken views about ourselves and reality, that mind is pervasive in all of reality, and – most importantly – knowing that we are, each of us, none other than God. Not “a” God, but “the” God. I’ll explore some of Watts’ key ideas further below.

The World Is God Playing Hide & Seek With Itself

There is no better way to describe Watts’ view of God and the universe than to quote him from his profound little book, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are:

[T]here are times when the world is, and times when it isn’t, for if the world went on and on without rest for ever and ever, it would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and it goes. Now you see it; now you don’t. So because it doesn’t get tired of itself, it always comes back again after it disappears. It’s like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible.

It’s also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it’s always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn’t always hide in the same place. God also likes to play hide- and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself.

In Fact, You Are God

So the universe is, to echo the comedian and philosopher Bill Hicks, just a big amusement ride. We can’t take ourselves too seriously in this grand game. At the same time, Watts time and time again returns to the theme of who we really are. Who am I really? Who are you really? Well, Watts makes the extraordinary case, rather convincingly, that you, yes, little old you, are none other than God. Not “a” God, but “the” God. You’re the boss. In fact, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are, is all about this idea. This book was written for Watts’ children and all children who struggle to find their identity.

Mark Watts, Alan’s oldest child, was fourteen when his father sent him The Book. Mark told me over lunch at the Aroma Cafe in San Rafael in Marin County, that Alan had told him that he was thinking of Mark when he wrote the first chapter (Mark was living with his mother across the country from Alan at the time). While the book is accessible to teen readers, its wisdom is relevant and very enjoyable to adults too, including philosophically-sophisticated adults.

Watts states in The Book:

[B]ecause there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars.

In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.

Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that’s the whole fun of it—just what he wanted to do. He doesn’t want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disguise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self—the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.

We Can’t Change Anything

Is there anything with which I might quibble about when it comes to Watts’ thinking? Surely. One issue in particular, however, may rise above the level of a mere quibble to an actual disagreement: the degree to which we, as conscious beings, should “go with the flow” or work actively to change things.

In his last book, Tao: The Watercourse Way, published shortly after his death, Watts presents his take on Taoist thinking. Taoism is one of two major strains of Chinese indigenous philosophy and spirituality (the other is Confucianism). Taoism is thought to have begun with Lao Tzu in the 4th Century BCE.

tambookThe Chinese term Tao may be translated many different ways but is generally translated as the “way.” By understanding the Tao and not working in opposition to the Tao we literally go with the flow that is the entire universe. The Tao may also be thought of as the ground or ocean of being, the substrate from which all stuff grows. How could we possibly act in opposition to the very ground of being and the flow that is the universe? Why would we want to? This is the case that Watts makes in his book and in some of his talks.

Well, many people might want to change things, for various reasons, including desires for social justice, environmental improvement, spiritual growth, political improvement, etc. Where I think we may improve upon Taoism and Watts’ own thinking is by recognizing first that the Tao itself may indeed change over time, and, second, that the manifest universe and the Tao itself is nothing but (literally) the sum total of all individual desires and actions. While the Tao is indeed eternal, it doesn’t have to be unchanging, and it is in fact very likely not unchanging. Rather, we, as part of the Tao (of course we are part of the Tao because we are part of the universe and, in a very real sense, we are, each of us, the entire universe, as discussed above) are helping the universe to evolve over time.

What does this mean? To me, it means that every choice we make, every thought and every action, has repercussions in the entire actual universe as well as the Tao from which it grows. While the actual universe will likely grow in complexity for many trillions of years to come, it will eventually perish into complete stillness with the passage of additional trillions of years. But the Tao will not and cannot perish. Rather, it will continue to proceed blissfully and joyously for all eternity, birthing new universes, new games of hide and seek, forever and ever. The Tao, the ocean of being, contains the reverberations, the echoes, of each cycle of the actual universe within its calm depths, even as each actual universe dissipates back into the Tao from whence it came. And we are, each of us, part of that unimaginably long process.

In closing, I have been tremendously appreciative of Watts’ wisdom and wit and I hope that many others will take the time to learn more about this underappreciated philosopher and sage. His website, run by Mark Watts, is www.alanwatts.com and many of his books are still widely available. Read, listen, enjoy! Who knows, maybe you’ll become a Wattsist too.

As I mentioned above, I’m working on a new biography of Watts and I am looking to talk with people who knew Watts. If you or someone you know knew him well and are interested in discussing your experiences, please let me know (I can be reached at tam dot hunt at gmail).

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Santa Barbara, California, and Hilo, Hawaii.

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38 comments
  1. you discovered GOD hiding place ? no,i think you just random thought only of HIM…ANYWAY you’re right in the sense that GOD indeed was just Playing with all of what he Created. let me tell you a story…

    ” Before the Beginning ,when GOD was alone, HE was lonely and so HE thought of a way where in HE could make Himself Happy. Thus then he First from being One ,he intend to Divide HIMSELF into Halves maintaining the count as still ONE only combining with HIM a woman ( wo-man / he took from out of ribs one rib and there a woman was Produced then HE became a S-HE ( SHE/ AND HE ) in the English language…then afterwards fallows the CREATIONS of whatever HE come. across in HIS thought as HE PLEASES …THEN, you just can IMAGINE what other things happened according to your add ups if you want to continue this story—“

  2. There is a neo-Pagan magazine called Green Egg. It started in 1968 and was full of new paradigm ideas, with writers such as Robert Anton Wilson and Jacques Vallee. I was publisher and managing editor for 8 yrs. I just received a copy of the mailing list for the magazine this past year – it was from 1971 and Alan Watts was on the mailing list.
    You may want to look into any Pagan ideas that Alan Watts may have had. You can contact me at:
    greeneggzine@gmail.com

  3. “We shouldn’t, however, expect perfection from our spiritual leaders, particularly when the leader in question (Watts) was fond of talking about his own and all spiritual leaders’ “irreducible rascality.”

    As a cult survivor(sic) I am qualified to comment.

    Why would you commit yourself to absorb guidance from someone who does not respect even an every-day standard of the Golden Rule? You would expect to be able to learn awareness? compassion? respect? from such a person?

    The quote was a commonplace in the 70’s, when there were not very many competent teachers around, and half-baked gurus were the most that most people could find for a f2f relationship. That is no longer true.

    If some perceived wisdom appears to you as less than absolutely necessary, non-optional Item-A-on-to-do-list, on what basis would you expect piddling around with it would in some way affect, let alone change, you?

    If you come across some miracle on 2 feet who seems instead to embody this necessity, I urge you to disregard your super-ego, walk right up to that gift horse, pry its mouth wide open and take a good long look…

    1. If they were perfect they would not be able to write the stuff they wrote.They were simply trying to give the more advanced among us possibilities. If you want perfection, read “The teachings of Ramana Maharshi by Arthur Osborne. If that is not to your liking this one is very sad.

    2. Excellent point (not sure what the ‘rascality’ relates to in particular but it is dissapointing to think that people who seem wise may act unaccordingly) but as a big fan of Watts I find his perspectives useful, insightful & fascinating.

      I think ‘committing oneself to absorbing guidance’ indicates a dangerous way of thinking, and it seemed to me that Watt’s more ‘pondered life’ & offered his perspective opposed to giving guidance to be followed.

      The importance with everything in life is to discern between useful healthy information that strikes a chord within & to build our own healthy perspective in life without depending on the source & becoming ‘blinded faithful followers’ of any questionable guru/religion.

      I think that’s the danger within religious groups is that while they may display healthy aspects, if not properly understood & scrutinised by a rational thinking individual, then the manner of indoctrination & accepting information on faith without question can lead to expoitation & danger..

      It reminds me of ‘life of brian’ where the slightest piece of common sense from Brian results in a mass cult of crazy followers ready to do anything for him ‘he is the messiah!’. That’s why our cultural tendency for role-models, leaders + idols is just begging for trouble.

  4. Under the assumption that this reply is to Tam, maybe Alan and this johnmary have pretty close to the same understanding. Tam, you are terrific. Please keep it up. So many people need so much help to raise their awareness.
    johnmary read and still has some of his books. The tao is the way in this phenomenal universe. Read ” the teaching of LaoTze. A masterpiece of simplicity. but deep,deep. Alan understood more than me at the time of his writings. Alan also recognized the place of HOME which is not understandable by the mind. If you can talk about it you do not know it. Solution is; be happy in every way always and “go with the flow” . “The one whose job it is to take care of this universe knows what to do”

  5. “One issue in particular, however, may rise above the level of a mere quibble to an actual disagreement: the degree to which we, as conscious beings, should ‘go with the flow’ or work actively to change things.”

    Either way, you’re “doing” the Tao. If you’re comfortable with Total Evil in the world game (at least “evil” as judged by a majority of individuals) then that’s fine; that’s what “god” is doing now.
    If you want to change things in the world game, that’s fine too.
    Ultimately there is no right or wrong.
    So relax already.

    1. Exactly. 🙂 If you find yourself as a white knight, naturally, and working towards world peace then that is what you do AS part of everything else that is going on. Fighting against that is like swimming up stream against the flow of the Tao.

      BUT if YOU bring up that acting as a savior of the world is causing you anxiety and ulcers and is a ‘problem’ then it is you that is responsible and so what are you going to do about it? Well naturally you may just get into Zen and begin flowing in that direction instead 😉

  6. “Well, many people might want to change things, for various reasons, including desires for social justice, environmental improvement, spiritual growth, political improvement, etc. Where I think we may improve upon Taoism and Watts’ own thinking is by recognizing first that the Tao itself may indeed change over time, and, second, that the manifest universe and the Tao itself is nothing but (literally) the sum total of all individual desires and actions. While the Tao is indeed eternal, it doesn’t have to be unchanging, and it is in fact very likely not unchanging. Rather, we, as part of the Tao (of course we are part of the Tao because we are part of the universe and, in a very real sense, we are, each of us, the entire universe, as discussed above) are helping the universe to evolve over time.”

    I have not read ‘Tao: The Watercourse Way’, but perhaps you should look at/revisit the concept of Wu Wei. It is easily mistaken in the West as “going with the flow” but actually it means “effortless doing”. The Tao of Physics by Fritzof Capra has the best explanation of this concept I know.

    1. Thanks Kai, I have read the Tao of Physics but it’s been some time so perhaps I’m due for a re-read. In terms of wu wei, I agree of course with the concept and the wisdom of working with the waves we’re given. My point in my article was that while we should always be strategic and recognize that the universe is flowing in its own ways at all times, that flow is nothing but the sum of all of our individual efforts, going all the way down. This insight is empowering because it allows us to recognize that we can in fact change things. But we are all just little pieces of the larger wave at the same time. So I think to be strategic and content at the same time we should recognize that the universe is not a separate thing doing what it’s doing, but is instead just all of us doing our thing. And we can choose in each moment how to ride whatever wave we want, or to create an entirely different wave if we like.

  7. Alan Watts was a sad case. Back in my youth in 1966 I discovered Watts and was a fan of his until the mid 1970’s. I lived on the West Coast and traveled around there in the late 60’s and heard the rumors that he liked to drink, did some drugs and smoked too much. Those of us who were his fans all figured these were probably exaggerations by jealous critics and he was just a moderate user of such. Heck, he was a charming speaker, clever with words, had a gift of gab and an excellent intellect and memory. He had to be the “real deal.”

    Not so. Over the years, more and more would come out about his private life. He had been drinking heavily daily since 1960(vodka), used amphetamines to keep functioning and meet his writing deadlines. He lived the life of a single playboy throughout his 3 marriages. He was riddled with doubts, fears and insecurities. His later several years were marked by extreme alcoholism. None of what he was teaching to others brought him any peace of mind or let alone some type of “enlightenment.” Only alcohol and drugs brought temporary relief. There’s no doubt he went to a drunkard’s grave.

    In short, he was a hypocrite. Yes, our teachers need not be “perfect.” Some modicum of flaws and eccentricities are to be accepted. We might call them “lovable rascals.” But, there’s a point where the personal peccadilloes of a teacher become so severe, so debilitating, that it’s obvious that the teacher needs more help than the people he’s preaching to. Such was Alan Watts.

    I’m not judging him. He was a talented, but deeply troubled man who desperately needed help. Some of his friends and family tried to get him to seek that help, but he was too much of a “Mr. Know-it’all” to do so.

    I’ve left Eastern Philosophy after many years involved in it. I have some disagreements with many of Watts philosophical points, but I won’t go into that here. I will say that if anyone is interested in any of the schools of Buddhism(there are many, with disagreements on central points) or any school of HInduism, go elsewhere to explore them, not Alan Watts. There are many excellent writers on these subjects out there.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Michael. Did you meet Alan or have personal experience with his habits? If so, I’d love to chat more.

      1. Hi Tam,

        I just wrote a reply, but it seems not to have gone through. I’ll try to repeat it here.

        No, I never met Alan Watts personally. In traveling around the San Francisco area in the Summer of Love of 1967, my friends and I met a couple who lived over in Muir Woods across the bay. They invited us over and it turned out they knew Watts quite well. They invited him over that afternoon and had a full far ready for him. They said he loved his cocktails and reciting bawdy limericks. My friends and I were all fans of Watts and excited, but he never showed up.

        Years later I met a guy who’d been a student of his at the Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. He said there was lots of partying and the booze flowed freely, on and off campus. I asked how Watts handed his hangovers and he said he’d use Dexadrine to get going in the morning and also to get his writings done on time for his book publisher. He did a video where he talks of using amphetamines for his writing, but I can’t recall the name of it.

        Also, attending various spiritual and mind expanding seminars and workshops over the years, Watts name would crop up occasionally. His alcoholism and other problems would be the immediate topic. It’s been so many years that I don’t remember all the people who had had some encounter with him, some good, some not so favorable.

        Watts popularity went on the downswing starting in the mid-1970’s until sometime this century. His controversial private life had been forgotten by some and the new generation is unfamiliar with it.

        Have you read Monica Furlong’s “Zen Effects: The Life of Alan Watts”? She goes into his last 13 years in the later part of the book. Many felt, myself included, that it was not long enough. Anyhow, she details some his alcoholic downfall and documents several statements to friends in unguarded moments of how fearful he really was and how he wasn’t happy unless drinking. I’m sure she left out a lot of what she got from close friends, so as to point out the positive points of his.

        You’ll probably have a difficult time finding any close friends of Watts still alive at this late date. The mention of Jean Houston in the comment below is a worth pursuing. She’ll emphasize his strong points, I’m sure.

        Also, check out Dr. Stanley Krippner, a friend of Watts and I believe still alive. There’s an essay on the web where he writes of Watts last year or so. He points out Watts good points, but also doesn’t flinch from detailing Watts raging alcoholism which gripped his wife Jano, as well. A sad portrait. Do a search for that.

        Best to you and your proposed bio of Watts!

        1. Thanks again, Michael. Yes, I’ve read Furlong’s biography and while interesting and helpful it was a very negatively framed biography with almost no discussion of his ideas or their impact. I hope to write a bit more balanced biography.

          1. Hi Tam,

            We see Furlong’s bio from different angles. I thought it titled more to over praising him. She also spent too much time in describing the Haight-Ashbury scene in the “Summer of Love” of 1967. I was there much of that time period and she did capture the rise and fall of it fairly accurately, but it had little to do with Watts. His books were sold there, but so were many others. Timothy Leary had more to do with the scene. Watts never endorsed it nor hung out there.

            It will be interesting to read your discussion of his ideas and their impact. Frankly, I think many of them missed the mark and are outdated now.

            On Meditation, he advised in his early career a formal approach to it, Zen style. Later on, in his taped talks he put it down, joining the J. Krishnamurti school that it is useless. Since his death, much research on various types of meditation have proven it’s value on many levels.

            He was way behind the curve on the study of the nature of consciousness. He thought he’d solved it and took a materialistic approach, that mind brain are the same. That’s being questioned by big time scientists now and there is no biological basis for self awareness, thought and qualia. The “hard problem of consciousness” as it is now known,

            On death, he took a Zen and materialistic view, that consciousness does not survive bodily death. He never lived to see the publication of Raymond Moody’s book, “Life After Life” and all the one since then on Near Death Experiences(NDE). Then there is Dr. Gary Schwartz’s famous study recounted in his book “The Afterlife Experiments.” Tons of material I could list on survival of individual consciousness after the death of body. Would liked to have seen Watts in discussion with the top afterlife researchers!

            Anyway, just a few thoughts. Hope all works out for you with your Watts bio.

  8. my impression of Watts is different than most opinions of him. i felt that he talked down to people, was arrogant, self centered and boring.

  9. I’ve written about Watts at considerable length already, in this the year of his centenary. The work of a genius is far more important to future generations than his biography. When Daniel Barenboim dared to conduct Wagner in Israel — much to the horror of his audience, about half of whom walked out of the concert hall — this is the point he was making: never mind what a bastard this fellow was in life, let’s experience and love the production of his genius, which (as Watts himself might remind us) comes from a place utterly separate from the ego.

    So: write your biography, remind us what a bastard Watts was. Those of us who have studied his books and lectures know all that very well already. But this is precisely where the genius persists: even in the early 70’s when he was clearly speaking from the bottom of a bottle, his lectures still have the spark of “shin” — the heart-mind of Chinese Taoism that he so loved to talk about and contrast with our Western “skull-mind.” But if you’re merely going to skim the surface of his addiction and his familial depredations, then you’re not telling his story. Every biography is a psychological portrait; the deeper you go there the better — that is to say, the more useful — your work will be. I remember when Shafer’s play and Forman’s movie adaptation of “Amadeus” came out and the cries rose up that it was grossly ahistorical (i.e., there is no evidence that Salieri ever attempted the murder of Mozart); I responded: of course it’s not historically accurate as to banal facts, but it is a compelling psychological portrait. If that’s where your bio of Watts lands, it will have some value..

    1. Brian, you’re welcome to think of Alan Watts as a “genius.” I don’t and I was a big fan of his in my younger days when he was at his height of popularity, 1960’s to early 70’s. Of course, I was less sophisticated and discerning back then, as most people are in their youth. I’ve conceded that he was quite talented in certain areas, listed in another post, but so are many others very talented. Excellent talent does not make a genius.

      Putting aside his shambles of a personal life, many of his teachings are problematic and in this day and age on shaky grounds. I’ve listed some of my main objections in another post here. This is where he fails the test of being a “genius.”

      Whether Watts was speaking from the “spark of shin” or just rephrased, well rehearsed lines in the early 70’s is a matter of debate. What is certain is they came from the “bottom of a bottle.” In his last tour of Europe that ended in November, 1972, he was reported to be drunk all the time. Also, he constantly directed lewd and crude lines to the women attendees, some of whom were titillated, others disgusted. It didn’t go all that well and he returned exhausted, to say the least.

      You can’t compare the Peter Shaffer’s play “Amadeus” and the movie version with a legitimate Mozart biography. Shaffer freely admitted that his work was fiction, a “fantasia based on fact,” not a biography. In other words, he could legitimately embellish with creative freedom. Not acceptable in a straight biography, if psychological embellishment is passed off as factual information. Speculation should be plainly labeled as such.

  10. Gosh, a fair degree of negativity towards Alan Watts in these comments. In thruth I knew little of his private life until I read this but assuming it is broadly accurate it is not so surprising and doesn’t really change my opinion of him. I still think, from what I have read and listened to, that Watts was very insightful, and an enthralling teacher and story teller. So I guess that makes me a bit of a ‘Watts-ist’ too.
    It’s worth bearing in mind that another highly esteemed teacher, who also broke boundaries and was in some respects rebellious towards his origins, was the Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa. He also, I have read, ended up drinking heavily. Was he flawed? Probably. Does it negate his insight. I doubt that.
    I would not wish to make a virtue out of over-indulgence. Then again if what such teachers said feels true, if it resonates, then that remains regardless. That is the case with both men as far as I’m concerned. Great teachers are often flawed. One should expect it and not simply project one’s own desire for perfection onto them. Perhaps there is a little bit of jealousy, perhaps not. There certainly seems to be a degree of judgementalism involved in some of the comments, though perhaps it might be fairer to say criticism.
    I would simply say this: those who have gone far beyond the general level of consciousness of their society probably don’t have many true friends on their level who will understand as they do and with whom they may feel relaxed and trusting enough to share deeply with, not least for fear that people can and do often take things out of context and give an inaccurate impression of their words and their intended meaning, even when their intentions are both honourable and well-meaning. And the ‘purity’ of such intentions may not always be quite as it is projected to be, consciously or otherwise.

    1. Hi, David,

      My descriptions of Alan Watts’ personal problems with alcohol and drugs were more than “broadly accurate,” but have been documented and only scratch the surface. He went to great lengths to hide it all and it was possible in his time. There was no social media, Internet and all the investigations into people’s lives that there is now. He couldn’t have hid his alcoholism in today’s world.

      As far as teachers being perfect, I commented on that in an earlier post here. Of course, we shouldn’t expect “perfection” in our teachers personal lives, but when the imperfections reach enormous proportions, it’s time to start asking some serious questions about them and their teachings. If they can’t live their own teachings, who can?!

      I fully admitted that Watts had his good side and his talents. He had a natural “gift of gab,” was adroit and clever with words, charismatic public speaker(when at his best), an excellent intellect and blessed with a photographic memory. “I can remember everything I ever read,” he once said.

      As for being judgmental ad jealous, I can only state that I had my own battle with alcoholism and drug addiction. I came out out it and consequently understand and sympathize fully what he was going through. The brain is not functioning correctly, one’s thinking is distorted much of the time, and one is not happy at all deep down if one has to drink heavily daily, in spite of putting on a “happy face” while in public.

      Chogyam Trungpa is another case in point. I’m quite familiar with him. He was another alcoholic teacher with a particular branch of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s also come out he was a cocaine addict and used Seconal to come down from his binges, and to add to his resume, was a sex addict since age 13. He was so booze addicted, he was drinking while on his death bed and also went to a drunkard’s grave. His methods of teaching under the “crazy wisdom” banner were highly controversial. Critical of him, yes, and so were lots of students and visitors who came out of his Naropa Institute. – (a side note: Watts evidently had some correspondence with Trungpa, but that has not been made public as far as I know)

      Since I’ve left Buddhism a while back, I’m not impressed with Trungpa’s teachings. But, if he’s your kind of teacher and if what he said resonates with you and improves your life, fine, go for it! I wish you the very best.

      —-

      I want to add a footnote here to Tam.

      In my previous response I mentioned that Alan Watts’ thoughts toward death were Zen like and materialistic, only a blank nothing after the demise or the body. I want to expand on that a bit. He did, from time to time, bring in the possibility of reincarnation and at other times, dismissed it. So, it’s difficult to exactly pin him down on that subject. Some schools of Buddhism teach reincarnation, but it’s only “tendencies” that reincarnate, not an individualized Self(one of my bones of contention with Buddhism). To my knowledge, the Zen schools don’t teach reincarnation.

      Also, Watts insistence that all use of the Will to improve matters in societies or in one’s self are of no use is another area I disagree with him on. In fact, you and some others also stated in earlier posts a disagreement there as far as society went. Watts did not participate in the civil rights movement of his time nor the anti-viet- nam war movement, He got some blowback on that. And his critique of the “self help” books of his time is another matter that is up for debate. As you know, the “Self Help” arena now is big and is based on the New Thought movement. I’d say that my practice of the methods and philosophy of New Thought have helped and enlightened me more than anything I ever got from my “Alan Watts period.” In point of fact, there’s really little, if anything, practical one can put to use in the writings of Watts, just lots of theory and philosophizing.

      Anyway, Tam, these are are some more areas, in my opinion, that I suggest need discussing when considering the import and influence of the ideas of Alan Watts.

      1. Thanks again, Michael W. Would you mind emailing me at tam dot hunt at gmail so we can continue the discussion?

        1. Okay, Tam, will do. But, I’ve just about had my fill of Alan Watt for awhile! lol

  11. I knew little of his private life until reading all of this. I would like to point out that most people with so much insight and searching are very troubled… the nature of life itself is troubling. I have searched and seen through the abyss on many occasions.. it does not mean I reside there. It only means I know it is there and continue to search. It means I am not satisfied with what someone else’s experience is but want my own. I would think that is true of any true searchers. This search has tormented me my whole life and has led to addiction and many bad decisions.. but it is all related to the search .. the query of the state of life. What we know inside to be true, we do not see around us.. that becomes hard to reconcile at different points on our path and we fall victim to the search itself.

    I would venture to say that he, like I, tapped into knowledge and understand he had no way of knowing himself.. he knew it to be true and wanted more… but often lost sight of the how to get it and searched for any way he could to try to break through to it.. like we all do! And along the way we get distracted from the true purpose… some with drugs, or food, or shopping, or any other ‘busyness’ we can find to take the pain away!

    I try to remember this is not a dress rehearsal… it is simply one experience, in one place, in one time.. there was a before and there will be an after.. but never again will we have this time… so love and create at every possible opportunity!

    Peace to all on your journeys!

  12. Tam, I was a Watts fan in the 60s and read just about everything he wrote. I met him once at a lecture he gave in Bellingham, WA around 1968 at what was then Western Washington College. I wanted to offer a couple items. As an attendee, I enjoyed Alan’s polished presentation and how he confidently handled questions from the audience. I did not detect alcoholism on that occasion. Having read him thoroughly however, I found myself mentally finishing each of the sentences he started. Thus, I left feeling no insight or inspiration than before meeting him and feeling like the audience never got some sort of day-to-day application of his philosophy like you might get from so many other “teachers” of today. The one response to a question about LSD I did not anticipate, however, was Alan saying he was “Leery of speaking about LSD.” It was undoubtedly a well rehearsed response from so many previous engagements. I also wanted to remind you of the “Alan Watts Journal” that came out monthly from the Human Development Corp. in NY. It must have started Nov 1969 as I have Vol 1, No. 6 of Apr 1970 through Vol 2, No. 2 of Dec 1970.

    1. Jerry, as regards Watts’ “polished presentation,” he was a functional alcoholic. Having been one in the past, I can say that he was able to moderate his drinking for short periods of time. Plus, he apparently was able to “hold his liquor” to a certain extent. Watts and Jano, his third wife, led an expensive life style, had a house boat in Sausalito, CA and a cabin in Muir Woods(costly areas) and had child support payments to keep up. Thus, his need to do lots of speeches for the money. Keeping his public persona propped up was of high importance so as not to lose his fan base.

      Good observations about the lecture you attended in 1968. Having heard numerous recordings and seen videos of Watts and read his major works, he’s repeating well rehearsed lines, though sometimes rephrased. There’s no doubt he was an a accomplished public speaker.

      I’ve raised that objection myself, as to Watts not having any practical day-to-day suggestions to offer. Of course, he would counter that any practice, with will power or not, was useless(of which I disagree with him on). At least, that was his view in the last years of his life. He became very nihilistic.

      Yes, he stayed clear of the LSD debate in public, but it’s known he took more psychedelics privately than he admitted publicly.

      I’e never heard of the “Alan Watts Journal.”

      1. If I was not clear in my previous post, let me add that when Alan Watts said he was “Leary of speaking about LSD,” he said it with a twinkle in his eye and a wink. Yes, I would say his public presentation I witnessed in 1968 was just a shadow of his written words.

        If a biography is going to include content about a person’s dark side, then it should include information about possible causes. It is easy to include the impact of world events in his lifetime, but more valuable would be the cultural and psychological footprint of his parents, grandparents, and ancestral heritage. The “sins of the father” going back at least a couple previous generations could provide understanding.

        My father was of that same generation and expressed many of the same characteristics as Alan Watts or other men of that era (e.g. Ernest Hemingway). My father traveled extensively, had 3 wives and many other women and children, was a functional alcoholic in his final years, and suffered with poor physical health and mental depression. The difference is that my father was never an author, public speaker, or even a private speaker. It is difficult to find what was beneficial of such a life. So I’m saying to family, friends, and fans there are worse scenarios than those attributed to Alan Watts.

        Alan Watts left a legacy and opened the door for so many others. If not for Alan Watts, would we have read other authors such as Ken Wilber, Eckhart Tolle, or Alan Arcieri (“Earth School 101”)? Would songs like Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” have come about and have such an impact? Would he even be remembered today?

        1. Yes, Watts took a conservative position on LSD in public that it should be only used by the intellectual elites and with strict discipline, if he said anything at all. Unlike his friend Timothy Leary and even the more far out Ken Kesey, who wanted it more widely distributed. I took the Tim Leary position back then, but not now.

          Anyhow, an interesting story is told in Jay Stevens’ “Storming Heaven,” as to Alan Watts. As I said, Watts had a natural gift of bag and would bloviate on and on while under pot or LSD and other drugs. He bragged to friends that “nothing can shut me up.” Then one day he tried DMT and quickly went into a speechless trance for awhile. A friend nearby kept nudging him, saying “Alan, Alan, say something, your reputation is at stake!” He came out of it, of course, and admitted he’d met his match, but didn’t enjoy the experience.

          Obviously, Tam can write his bio of Watts anyway he wants to. As for going into Watts family background to explain his “dark side,” I feel this approach has troubles in it. A little psychoanalyzing may be fine, but too much gets very iffy, even if done by a professional. What system are you going to use? Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian, or a dozen or more to choose from? And how much in depth info can found out about his family past at this time, anyway. I think Tam says he wants to concentrate on Watts’ ideas and their impact and influence, good, bad or indifferent.

          You’re right, there are worse cases of alcoholism than that of Alan Watts. As for your father, he at least didn’t waltz around in public telling people to do one thing, while engaging in the exact opposite in private. I think that’s one of the big issues with Watts.

          Watts did leave a legacy that at least got many folks to become interested in the spirituality and religions in the East. In my view, hopefully they went beyond him.

          I’m familiar with Ken Wilber and would recommend him over Watts, though I am not an adherent of Wilber. He does list Watts as an influence. He also lists many others, both Mahayana Buddhist and Vedanta teachers. He would have come to his teachings without Watts. I should point out that he includes the value of Willpower, Intention, in his teachings. Something that Watts almost completely discounted. Also, Wilber’s Integral Institute writes and and speaks about social and racial injustice, again something Watts never involved himself in.

          Eckhart Tolle is the “power of now” teacher and is doing good work in his sphere. I checked and couldn’t find Alan Watts among the many teachings and teachers, east and west, that he lists.

          It’s strange you list Alan Arcieri as someone who was influenced by Watts. I’d never heard of him, but checked out his website. He was a spiritual medium, something that Watts never approved of, discounted, and called “spooky stuff.” I don’t see an influence there at all. – (as a side note, I’ve investigated mediumship and spiritualism over the last several years, starting as a skeptic, and have found it holds up under scrutiny. Once you eliminate the fake and phony mediums, there are those that prove real under strict conditions to prevent trickery. This is a whole other discussion, of course)

          I’m not familiar with Steve Winwood, so can’t comment if he was a devotee of Watts or not, or if his music is along the lines of the philosophy of Watts.

          Thanks for your reply.

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