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Quotes of the day: Alan Watts
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Published Saturday, November 15, 2014 @ 8:07 PM EST
Nov 15 2014

Alan Wilson Watts (January 6, 1915 - November 16, 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, 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 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. His legacy has been kept alive by his son, Mark Watts, 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." (Click here for full Wikipedia article)

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A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.

Archimedes said, 'Give me a fulcrum and I will move the Earth'; but there isn't one.

Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is simply your symbol of yourself. Just as the word 'water' is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism.

Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.

How could you say the best form of government is a republic if you think the universe is a monarchy?

I am amazed that Congressmen can pass a bill imposing severe penalties on anyone who burns the American flag, whereas they are responsible for burning that for which the flag stands.

I find that the sensation of myself as an ego inside a bag of skin is really a hallucination.

I have suggested that behind almost all myth lies the mono-plot of the game of hide-and-seek.

If you know that 'I', in the sense of the person, the front, the ego, it really doesn't exist. Then... it won't go to your head too badly, if you wake up and discover that you're God.

Now it is symptomatic of our rusty-beer-can type of sanity that our culture produces very few magical objects.

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.

Religion is always falling apart.

Running away from fear is fear; fighting pain is pain; trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought.

The basic problem is to understand that there are no such things as things; that is to say separate things, separate events. That is only a way of talking. What do you mean by a thing? A thing is a noun. A noun isn't a part of nature it's a part of speech. There are no nouns in the physical world. There are no separate things in the physical world either.

The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing.

The prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of the East...

There is always something taboo, something repressed, unadmitted, or just glimpsed quickly out of the corner of one's eye because a direct look is too unsettling. Taboos lie within taboos, like the skin of an onion.

There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied.

There is nothing wrong with meditating just to meditate, in the same way that you listen to music just for the music. If you go to concerts to 'get culture' or to improve your mind, you will sit there as deaf as a doorpost.

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 it is play.

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.

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.

What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean.

What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.

When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique.

Wonder is not a disease. Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.

You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.

You find out that the universe is a system that creeps up on itself and says 'Boo!' and then laughs at itself for jumping.

You take your classified telephone directory, and open up 'Churches', and have a ruler in your hand. And you will find that the longest space is occupied by authoritarian, Bible-banging churches. And these people are barbarians, who take the written word of the Bible literally. Because they need terribly, they have a personal need, for something to depend on... The government realizes that there is a very large number of people like that; and therefore, to keep their votes, they have to pander to those kind of people. And these are the boys who never grew up; they always need Papa.... The trouble is that the boys who need Papa, are violent. They have the guns. And they are the types of people who like to be soldiers, policemen- tough guys. And therefore they have a great deal of power.

Zen... does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.

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(November 16 is also the birthday of George S. Kaufman.)


Categories: Alan Watts, Quotes of the day


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