Alan Watts: Does It Matter, Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality
Shortly before his death, Robert Oppenheimer is said to have remarked that the whole world is going to hell—adding, however, that the one slim chance of it NOT going to hell, is that we do absolutely nothing to stop it.
For the greater illusion of the abstract ego is that it can do anything to bring about radical improvement either in itself or in the world. This is as impossible, physically, as is trying to lift yourself off the floor by your own bootstraps. Furthermore, the ego is (like money) a concept, a symbol, even a delusion—not a biological process or physical reality.
Practically this means we stop crusading—that is, acting for such abstract causes as the good, righteousness, peace, universal love, freedom, and social justice, and stop fighting against such equally abstract bogeys as communism, facism, racism, and the imaginary powers of darkness and evil. For most of the hell now being raised in the world is well intentioned. We justify our wars and revolutions as unfortunate means for good ends, as a general recently explained that he had destroyed a village in Vietnam for its own safety.
This is also why we can reach no general agreement—only the. most transitory and unsatisfactory compromises—at the conference tables, for each side believes itself to be acting for the best motives and the ultimate benefit of the world.
Alan Watts, “Does It Matter, Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality”
And what is it all about? Well, we say, one must live. It’s necessary to survive. You know, you really must go on. It’s your duty. We think, in other words, part of our Western philosophy, that we think we have a drive to survive, that we must go on living, because some Big Daddy said to us, "You gotta go on living." See! "And you better make it or else!" There really is no necessity to go on living.
The fear of death is completely absurd. Because if you’re dead, you’ve got nothing to worry about, so you’ll be alright.
So in the same way, this thing here, this plant. I’m quite sure it doesn’t say to itself, "You ought to go on living. You’ve got an instinct to survive which is something other than yourself in which you have to obey."
Now you see, living, like this plant, is something spontaneous. In Chinese, the word for nature is "ziran," which means "that which happens of itself; not under any control of any outside boss." And so, you stop this spontaneous flowering of nature cold if you tell it, "You must do it!" It’s like saying to someone, "You must love me!" Well, it’s ridiculous!
If I were to ask my wife, "Darling, do you really love me?" And she says, "I’m trying my best to do so," it’s not the answer I want. I want her to say, "I can’t help loving you, I love you so much I could eat you." And that’s what the plant feels in growing; it doesn’t feel that it must grow, it’s not under orders, it’s not a military chain of command. It does this spontaneously, so that when you try to command this spontaneous process, you stop it.
What you are basically, deep deep down, far far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself. Reality itself is gorgeous, it is the plenum, the fullness of total joy. Wowee! And all those stars, if you look out in the skies, is a fireworks display, like you see on the 4th of July, which is a great occasion for celebration. The universe is a celebration. It is a fireworks show to celebrate that existence is. Wowee.
This is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now, and instead of calling it "work," realize that this is play.
Alan Watts: On Death: A Letter to Playboy Magazine (1969)
Consider the following points:
• Death is not a sickness or disease; it is an event as natural and as healthy as childbirth or as the falling of leaves in the autumn. • As the “natural childbirth” obstetricians are training women to experience the pains of labor as erotic tensions, there is no reason why the “pangs of death” should not be reinterpreted as the ecstasies of liberation from anxiety and overloads of memory and responsibility. • Suppose that medical science achieves a method of getting rid of the overload of memories and anxieties: Isn’t this what death accomplishes already? • The funk about death is the illusion that you are going to experience everlasting darkness and nothingness as if being buried alive. • The “nothingness” after death is the same as the “nothingness” before you were born, and because anything that has happened once can happen again, you will happen again as you did before, mercifully freed from the boredom of an overloaded memory.
An excerpt from The Collected Letters of Alan Watts, edited by Joan Watts & Anne Watts
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