Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master's degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945, then left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.
Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area while working as a volunteer programmer at KPFA, a Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. Watts wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, introducing the then-burgeoning youth culture to The Way of Zen(1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion. He considered Nature, Man and Woman (1958) to be, "from a literary point of view — the best book I have ever written." He also explored human consciousness, in the essay "The New Alchemy" (1958), and in the book The Joyous Cosmology (1962).
Towards the end of his life, he divided his time between a houseboat in Sausalito and a cabin on Mount Tamalpais. Many of his books are now available in digital format and many of his recorded talks and lectures are available on the Internet. According to the critic Erik Davis, his "writings and recorded talks still shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity."
About Alan Watts
Alan Watts was born in London in 1915, at the start of the first World War. At a young age he became fascinated with the Far East, and at fourteen he began to write and was published in the Journal of the London Buddhist Lodge before writing his first booklet on Zen in 1932. He moved to New York in 1938 and then to Chicago, where he served as an Episcopal priest for six years before leaving the Church. In 1950, he moved to upstate New York before going on to San Francisco to teach at the Academy of Asian Studies. Among Alan Watts' earliest influences were the novelist Sax Rohmer and Zen scholars D.T. Suzuki and Christmas Humpreys. In late 1950, he visited with Joseph Campbell and composer John Cage in NYC.
Alan Watts was profoundly influenced by the East Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism, and by Taoist thought, which is reflected in Zen poetry and the arts of China and Japan. After leaving the Church, he never became a member of another organized religion, and although he wrote and spoke extensively about Zen Buddhism, he was criticized by American Buddhist practicioners for not sitting regularly in zazen. Alan Watts responded simply by saying, "A cat sits until it is done sitting, and then gets up, stretches, and walks away."
1950's and early '60's
After teaching at the Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, he became Dean and began to give regular radio talks on KPFA, the Berkeley free radio station. In 1957, he published his bestselling Way of Zen, and in 1958 returned to Europe where he met with C.G. Jung. He was an early subject in pioneering psychedelic trials, and, after recording two seasons of the public television series Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, traveled to Japan several times in the early sixties. By the late sixties, he had become a counterculture celebrity, and traveled widely to speak at universities and growth centers across the US and Europe.
By the early seventies, Alan Watts had become a foremost interpreter of Eastern thought for the West, and was widely published in periodicals including Earth, Elle, Playboy, and Redbook. He appeared on CBS television's Camera Three in 1969, and in 1971 he recorded a pilot for a new show titled A Conversation with Myself for NET, the precursor to PBS. When the series was not produced, he recorded the shows with his son Mark and his long-time audio archivist Henry Jacobs in 1972. Overall, Alan Watts developed an extensive audio library of nearly 400 talks and wrote more than 25 books during his lifetime, including his final volume, Tao: The Watercourse Way. Alan Watts died in his sleep in November of 1973, after returning from an intensive international lecture tour.
Alan Watts (1915-1973) who held both a master's degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity, is best known as an interpreter of Zen Buddhism in particular, and Indian and Chinese philosophy in general. He authored more than 20 excellent books on the philosophy and psychology of religion, and lectured extensively, leaving behind a vast audio archive. With characteristic lucidity and humor Watts unravels the most obscure ontological and epistemological knots with the greatest of ease.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. “
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”
“Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”
“What the devil is the point of surviving, going on living, when it's a drag? But you see, that's what people do.”
“We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”