An exploration of man's quest for psychological security and spiritual certainty in religion and philosophy.
Alan W. Watts, who held both a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity, is best remembered as an interpreter of Zen Buddhism in particular, and of Indian and Chinese philosophy in general. Standing apart, however, from sectarian membership, he has earned the reputation of being one of the most original and “unrutted” philosophers of the twentieth century. Watts was the author of some twenty books on the philosophy and psychology of religion that have been published in many languages throughout the world, including the bestselling The Way of Zen. An avid lecturer, Watts appeared regularly on the radio and hosted the popular television series, Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, in the 1960s. He died in 1973.
Alan Watts writes about the obvious. But, like so many simple things, we need his clear and effective writing to see that what he says is truely obvious. Basically, we spend too much time planning and anticipating the future and too much time thinking about, lamenting and wishing to change the past. I have dogeared too many corners underlying too many quotes to reproduce them all here, but let me give you a flavor:
"If happiness always depends on the future, we are chasing a will-o-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future,and ourselves,vanish in the abyss of death."
This quote is taped to the cover of my fanancial notebook that contains my financial portfolio data, 401K information and reams and reams of retirement plan calculations.
He also wrote:
"But tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unlessyou are in full contact withthe reality of the present,since it is in the present and onlyin thepresent that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly."
This short book contains so many pearls, go get yourself a copy, pick some quotes, write them down, look at them, reread them (e-mail them to me) and get on with living today.
While Mr Watts doesn't specifically mention Taoism, his writing has the flavor of it. He spends a long time discussing the problems associated with living in the past, then jumping straight to the future without stopping to look around *now*. He explores the use of language and its shortcomings, but those arguments have become commonplace in undergrad courses everywhere. The real power of this book for me was the focus on letting go, for example, "...the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing." He expands on this quite clearly.
Reading this book was a strange and fun experience in that I realized that I was thinking of a lot of the same issues that Mr Watts discusses, but was of course 5-20 years behind him on almost all of them. I also got the feeling that, even though I understood him on some level all the time, I will have to read this book at least twice more to actually *get it*.
That is, after reading this book, I no longer pause before sleep, fearfully sorting through my feelings... Read more