Alan Watts is a very large topic. I am reading Zen Effects: The Life of Alan Watts by Thomas Merton biographer Monica Furlong.
At the same time I am rereading Psychotherapy East and West. I see Watts as something of a genius as a social critic. He rejected his Evangelical upbringing and left the Anglican priesthood.
Quite a transformative experience!
C.S. Lewis and his student Bede Griffiths, as well as Thomas Merton were also social critics, but were all adult converts to the Christian faith.
Watts to me represents an in-between-stage of the breaking down of the dominant paradigm and cultural assumptions of modernity. I see him as an intellectual student of the mystic path, yet he may have had mixed results in reaching the goal himself. He has been some help to myself and others in pointing the way, which may be why there is an Alan Watts revival underway. Like Merton, he left us hundreds
of hours of lectures which we have yet to hear.
Does anyone out there enjoy his books, talks and essays?
I've enjoyed the zennish teachings of Watts, but have never understood why he rejected the truths of Christianity. In many ways, his journey demonstrates how wholeheartedly embracing Eastern practices leads one, willy-nilly, to embrace Eastern philosophy as well.
His personal life is largely tragic and nothing I'd recommend to anyone.
I am very new to this form and I am making my way back to the Church. Could you expand on why you feel his life was tragic because of his decision to embrace eastern philosopy?
(My resolultion this year is particpate more in this forum.)
Hello Wayne, and happy New Year!
One of Watts' most popular essays, Zen, Beat Zen and Square Zen seems as relevant today as nearly a half century ago. I find nothing to quarrel about.
Prophetic utterances to ponder:
"When the Iron Eagle flies and horses run on wheels,
the Tibetan people will be scattered over the Earth and the Dharma will go to the land of the Red Man." -Padmasambhava, 8th Century
"When the Iron Bird flies, the Red-Robed People of the East who have lost their land will appear, and the Two Brothers from across the Great Ocean will be united." -Hopi prophecy
I used to listen to interviews and radio programs on the Berkeley station KPFA, and always found Alan Watts fascinating.
For instance I recall his well-advised comment on Sex and Spirituality, a particular hang-up for many people:
"Either do it or don�t do it. But get on with it."
Wayne, I didn't say his personal life was tragic because he embraced Eastern philosophy. It was tragic for many reasons; Eastern philosophy was only part of it.
See Zen Effects, by Monica Furlong. It's an excellent biography of Watts. For all his talk of spirituality, there was a deep narcissism at work in Watts to the end.
Not the best example of a person bridging Christian and Eastern mysticism, imo. Just a rascally "character."
Phil, who would you name as good bridge people?
Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton, Henri Lesaux, William Johnston, Dom Aelred Graham, Enomiya Lasalle and James Arraj.
That ought to keep anyone busy for awhile.
I might use this place as well as any to jump in an introduce myself as a newcomer.
I've listened do a good portion of the "hundreds of hours of Watts' lectures" and find them very interesting. They seem to have a good sense of what he might call the TAO--an idea I find not well addressed explicitly in Catholocism. Despite all its protests against gnosticism, I find what eem likes a distinct *dualistic* streak in Catholicism (i.e., the world is basically bad, and so is the body). Watts alerts us to another possibility--the ancient idea that (1) microcosm = macrocosm; and (2) there is, or can be, a Joy to the whole thing.
But I definitely agree that his rejection of Christianity seems very unfortunate.
BTW, I joined the group because I read a book of Phil's (based on the recommendation of retreat directors at the Living Waters retreat house in North Carolina) about his initial kundalini experiences. I'm curious how that interest developed (maybe as I read the posts in the other sections that will become clear).
Phil is Godsent, as is the book and the experience.
Watts is a mixed bag. "A skin encapsulated ego" was the term he was fond of using. He shattered a great deal of paradigms, paradigm filters and paradigm defenses.
One difficulty which he spoke of in understanding Eastern philosophy is the Western context we are soaking in, and which has become so second nature to us. I saw a couple of Christian missionaries on television praying for Tibetan monks in a monastery in the Himalayas. They tried to stick to the core of the Gospel and basic human experience.
I can't help but wonder what would happen if the missionaries would remain there for several years,
rather than the hit-and-run evangelism for the sake of the audience back home.
Spiritual researcher David Hawkins has calibrated
Alan Watts at 420, the U.S. at 421, theology at 485, and Zen Catholicism at 550 on a scale of 0-600 representing normal human consciousness. Christianity in the U.S., by comparison, calibrates at 499. Why does it go up so much with a Zen influence? I've pondered over this a great deal.
When I get the answer, I, of course won't be able to tell you, since "I" will no longer exist.
A Christian appraisal of Taoism:
This fellow seems to have both theological training and a fairly open mind. I like his approach.
A somewhat more syncretistic approach:
One of my favorite Alan Watts essays:
A good kick in the assumpions every once in a while. Zen masters used to whack people with a stick.
shalom, mm <*)))))><
One of my personal goals is to help, in whatever little way I can, re-acquaint Western culture, and especially Christians, with their Greek philosophical heritage, including Plato and Heraclitus. In my estimation, they offer everything that people are seeking in Eastern religions, and more.
For example, people seek Enlightenment, nirvana, etc. in Eastern religions. But Platonism offers the Beatific Vision.
One thing I especially like about Watts is his manner of speaking--clever and witty.
Thanks for your links--checking them forthwith.
John U, would you say a little more about Platonism offering the Beatific Vision. I'm not familiar with that one, nor what he might mean by this.
Phil, this should help:
The Catholic version seems unattainable to the Church Militant, as something reserved for the Church Triumphant. "No man shall see God and live."
The human body would overload.
Perhaps a glimpse in Jacob's Ladder, described as a dream, and even as a dream causing a crippling condition.
Elijah ascending in a flaming chariot or Elijah and Moses with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. That's the closest look that we are going to be allowed.
Aquinas had something ineffable which led him to call his writings "straw." That must have been something! Mystics don't seem to write after a certain point. Nothing to be said or words are insufficient, it seems. Hawkins has calibrated Plato as a person as higher than Plato's writings.
Perhaps something happened to him as well.
As MM and the wiki article notes, Plato had something different in mind than Catholic teaching on this matter.
You guys help me to see how this relates to Alan Watts.
That reminds me - here's a recent essay/article I wrote called: Illuminative Mysteries of the New Testament:
It has two parts. (Someone told me they thought the first part was better; I'm not sure if that's significant or not.)
If you have any feedback, that would be appreciated.
I checked out your web sites, and I'm sure that Phil
and I would enjoy talking to you about Carmelites, the Beatific Vision and Plato, as well as sapience and noesis, particularly your own experience, which includes a rather extensive educational and corporate backround, knowledge and interest in Eastern and Western philosophy, an obvious deep interest with First Things, and their Author, and with which
we are very priviledged to make contact with.
Why not begin a thread in this section on any topic which interests you relating to Transformative Experiences?
We'll keep this one to Allan Watts' experience, if
that's alright. Thanks again for being here.
That's a good idea. In fact, I logged on today realizing that and planning not to continue the subject here. (I should have picked up on it when you kindly started the new thread for me.)
Anyway, I've placed a new post in that other thread.
Something from a talk by Watts, as recorded by his son Mark:
"All of us need to be liberated from our culture to a certain extent. largely becase education is a necessary evil. When the process of education or acculturation has been completed, we need a cure for it. Education is like salting meat in order to preserve it; when we are actually ready to cook the meat and eat it, we need to soak some of the salt out. In the process of being brought up by parents and teachers, we are made tolerable to live with on the one hand, but on the other we are unavoidably damaged. As a result, in our culture,
it is increasingly popular to undergo psychoanalysis after we complete our education, to work out all the damage and traumatic shocks we experienced in the process. In sophisticated circles psychoanalysis has become something one goes through not because one suffers from a specific mental sickness but because it is considered generally beneficial to mental health. Here we can see our fumbling attempt to find a cure for our own culture." - Zen Tales
Take what you like and leave the rest...
Uncover, discover and discard...
It does not take long to discover and uncover abuse by social institutions and systems. They can't help it, since they need to survive and humans must be controlled and made to conform.
There is no time for persuasion, so manipulation and coercion become the order of the day.
Watts was no liberal. He rather evolved from conservative to a more libertarian stance. Many libertarians are anti-authoritarian, which appealed to Watts' largely liberal audience. A few Beats, notably Jack Kerouac became conservative in their later years. If a person lacks green meme capability, as five out of six in the U.S. do, they may become "Zen Republicans" or conservative
Zen Catholics of some stripe. Currently a rare breed, as only 5% of Buddhists in the U.S. are registered Republican.
Is that important? It may be, since Watts does not seek to convert anyone to a left ideology, which might be abusive anyway. He does not tell us what to think. He does suggest, without bitterness, that the dominant culture may be suffering from a lack of perpective. This is anathema to the idealogue of whatever stripe.
I have listened for ten thousand hours to the unpouring of hearts. My mother was a key-punch operator at one time. A popular bumper sticker or button at the time reads, "Do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate." Well, that's what the system does, and, as Watts predicted, we are crumbling under the weight of our institutions. If consumerism and nationalism continued, the United States would cease to exist by the year 2000. The
That's when the U.S. became an empire, according to some observers, and the collapse of this empire appears immanent. Watts was ahead of his time.
"Awareness is two steps ahead, paranoia is two steps behind." -A Zen poet
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