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The Way of Zen is a 1957 non-fiction book on Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy

The Way of Zen is a 1957 non-fiction book on Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy by philosopher and religious scholar Alan Watts. It was a bestseller and played a major role in introducing Buddhism to a mostly young, Western audience. The Way of Zen is divided into two sections, the first which deals with the background and historical development of Zen Buddhism, and the latter which focuses on the principles and practices. The second half has sections that include "Empty and Marvelous," "Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing," "Za-zen and the Koan," and "Zen and the Arts." Watts traces the origin of Zen Buddhism as a synthesis of Chinese Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. Watts introduces the reader to a variety of Eastern philosophical concepts such as wuwei, Middle Way and anatman. Watts portrays the western philosophical tradition as being intrinsically limited by the strict adherence to logical structures as opposed to eastern philosophy which is not bound by these structures.

The Book: on the taboo against knowing who you are

You do not ask what is the value, or what is the use, of this feeling. Of what use is the universe? What is the practical application of a million galaxies? Yet just because it has no use, it has a use—which may sound like a paradox, but is not. What, for instance, is the use of playing music? If you play to make money, to outdo some other artist, to be a person of culture, or to improve your mind, you are not really playing—for your mind is not on the music. You don't swing. When you come to think of it, playing or listening to music is a pure luxury, an addiction, a waste of valuable time and money for nothing more than making elaborate patterns of sound.

Alan Watts - The Book: on the taboo against knowing who you are


Watts, Alan (1980): die Illusion des Ich. Westliche Wissenschaft und Zivilisation in der Krise, Kösel, München (Original 1966: The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Jonathan Cape, London). 

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

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

1904 via fb

in this universe, there is one great energy, and we have no name for it.

People have tried various names for it, like God, like Brahman, like Tao, but in the West, the word God has got so many funny associations attached to it that most of us are bored with it. When people say God the father almighty, most people feel funny inside. So we like to hear new words, we like to hear about Tao, about Brahman, about Shinto, and __-__-__, and such strange names from the far East because they don't carry the same associations of mawkish sanctimony and funny meanings from the past. And actually, some of these words that the Buddhists use for the basic energy of the world really don't mean anything at all. The word tathata (तथाता), which is translated from the Sanskrit as 'suchness' or 'thusness' or something like that, really means something more like 'dadada,' based on the word tat (तत्), which in Sanskrit means 'that,' and so in Sanskrit it is said tat tvam asi (तत् त्वम् असि), 'that thou art,' or in modern America, 'you're it.' But 'da, da'—that's the first sound a baby makes when it comes into the world, because the baby looks around and says 'da, da, da, da' and fathers flatter themselves and think it's saying 'DaDa,' which means 'Daddy,' but according to Buddhist philosophy, all this universe is one 'dadada.' That means 'ten thousand functions, ten thousand things, one suchness,' and we're all one suchness. And that means that suchess comes and goes like anything else because this whole world is an on-and-off system. As the Chinese say, it's the yang and the yin, and therefore it consists of 'now you see it, now you don't, here you are, here you aren't, here you are,' because that the nature of energy, to be like waves, and waves have crests and troughs, only we, being under a kind of sleepiness or illusion, imagine that the trough is going to overcome the wave or the crest, the yin, or the dark principle, is going to overcome the yang, or the light principle, and that 'off' is going to finally triumph over 'on.' And we, shall I say, bug ourselves by indulging in that illusion. 'Hey, supposing darkness did win out, wouldn't that be terrible!' And so we're constantly trembling and thinking that it may, because after all, isn't it odd that anything exists? It's most peculiar, it requires effort, it requires energy, and it would have been so much easier for there to have been nothing at all. Therefore, we think 'well, since being, since the 'is' side of things is so much effort' you always give up after a while and you sink back into death. But death is just the other face of energy, and it's the rest, the not being anything around, that produces something around, just in the same way that you can't have 'solid' without 'space,' or 'space' without 'solid.' When you wake up to this, and realize that the more it changes the more it's the same thing, as the French say, that you are really a train of this one energy, and there is nothing else but that that is you, but that for you to be always you would be an insufferable bore, and therefore it is arranged that you stop being you after a while and then come back as someone else altogether, and so when you find that out, you become full energy and delight. As Blake said, 'Energy is eternal delight.' And you suddenly see through the whole sham thing. You realize you're That—we won't put a name on it— you're That, and you can't be anything else. So you are relieved of fundamental terror. That doesn't mean that you're always going to be a great hero, that you won't jump when you hear a bang, that you won't worry occasionally, that you won't lose your temper. It means, though, that fundamentally deep, deep, deep down within you, you will be able to be human, not a stone Buddha—you know in Zen there is a difference made between a living Buddha and a stone Buddha. If you go up to a stone Buddha and you hit him hard on the head, nothing happens. You break your fist or your stick. But if you hit a living Buddha, he may say 'ouch,' and he may feel pain, because if he didn't feel something, he wouldn't be a human being. Buddhas are human, they are not devas, they are not gods. They are enlightened men and women. But the point is that they are not afraid to be human, they are not afraid to let themselves participate in the pains, difficulties and struggles that naturally go with human existence. The only difference is—and it's almost an undetectable difference—it takes one to know one. As a Zen poem says, 'when two Zen masters meet each other on the street, they need no introduction. When fiends meet, they recognize one another instantly.' So a person who is a real cool Zen understands that, does not go around 'Oh, I understand Zen, I have satori, I have this attainment, I have that attainment, I have the other attainment,' because if he said that, he wouldn't understand the first thing about it.

Alan Watts==

180319 via fb

The ego is nothing more than the focus of conscious attention

The ego is nothing more than the focus of conscious attention. It’s like the radar on a ship, a trouble-shooter, to see is there anything in the way, and conscious attention is a designed function in the brain to scan the environment, like a radar does, and note for any trouble-making changes. But, if you define yourself as your trouble-shooter, as your ego, then naturally you define yourself as being in a perpetual state of anxiety. The moment we cease to identify with the ego, and become aware that we are the whole organism…then the ego becomes servant, not master."

Alan Watts

Das Gesetz von Wirkung und Gegenwirkung

> > ... > > > "Das Gesetz von Wirkung und Gegenwirkung hat mich schon immer > fasziniert. Manchmal nenne ich es das Gesetz der Umkehrung: Wenn Du > versuchst, auf der Oberfläche des Wassers zu bleiben, so versinkst Du; > wenn Du jedoch zu sinken versuchst, so trägt Dich das Wasser. 

> > Dieses Buch dient der Erforschung dieses Gesetzes in seiner Beziehung > zu dem Suchen des Menschen nach psychologischer Sicherheit und zu > seinem Bestreben, geistige und verstandesmäßige Gewißheit in Religion > und Philosophie zu finden. Es ist in der Überzeugung geschrieben, daß > kein Thema geeigneter sein könnte in einer Zeit, in der das > menschliche Leben so besonders unsicher und ungewiß zu sein schein. Es > vertritt die These, das diese Unsicherheit das Resultat des Versuchs > ist, sicher sein zu wollen und daß, im Gegenteil, Erlösung und > geistige Gesundung letztlich nur in der grundlegenden Einsicht > bestehen: Es gibt keinen Weg, uns selber zu retten.

> > Das Buch ist im Geiste des chinesischen Weisen Lao-tse, des Meisters > des Gesetzes von Wirkung und Gegenwirkung geschrieben, der erklärte, > daß diejenigen, die sich selbst rechtfertigen, nicht überzeugen, daß > man, um die Wahrheit zu wissen, sich des Wissens entledigen muß, und > daß nichts mächtiger und schöpferischer ist, als Leere, - vor der die > Menschen zurückschrecken. Mein Vorhaben ist hier, von rückwärts > aufzuzeigen, daß jene wesentlichen Realitäten der Religion und > Metaphysik gerechtfertigt werden, indem man ohne sie auskommt und man > sie offenbart, indem man sie zerstört."

> > (aus dem Vorwort) Watts, Alan (1978): Weisheit des ungesicherten Lebens, O.W. Barth (Original 1951: The Wisdom of Insecurity, Pantheon Books). 


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