Alan Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts

Alan
Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts
1915
1973

English-born American Philosopher, Writer, Exponent of Zen Buddhism

Author Quotes

Where there is to be creative action, it is quite beside the point to discuss what we should or should not do in order to be right or good. A mind that is single and sincere is not interested in being good, in conducting relations with other people so as to live up to a rule. Nor, on the other hand, is it interested in being free, in acting perversely just to prove its independence. Its interest is not in itself, but in the people and problems of which it is aware; these are itself. It acts, not according to the rules, but according to the circumstances of the moment, and the well it wishes to others is not security but liberty.

You are the eternal thing that comes and goes that appears - now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown - and so it goes, forever and ever and ever.

While eyes and ears actually register and respond to both the up-beat and the down-beat of these vibrations, the mind, that is to say our conscious attention, notices only the up-beat. The dark, silent, or "off" interval is ignored. It is almost a general principle that consciousness ignores intervals, and yet cannot notice any pulse of energy without them. If you put your hand on an attractive girl's knee and just leave it there, she may cease to notice it. But if you keep patting her knee, she will know you are very much there and interested. But she notices and, you hope, values the on more than the off. Nevertheless, the very things that we believe to exist are always on/offs. Ons alone and offs alone do not exist.

You are this universe and you are creating it in every moment.

While the notion that I am separate from my experience remains, there is confusion and turmoil. Because of this, there is neither awareness nor understanding of experience, and thus no real possibility of assimilating it. To understand this moment I must not try to be divided from it; I must be aware of it with my whole being...To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, "I am listening to this music," you are not listening. To understand joy or fear, you must be wholly and undividedly aware of it. So long as you are calling it names and saying, "I am happy," or "I am afraid," you are not being aware of it.

You are worried because you worry because you worry.

With the arrival of pain, whether physical or emotional, whether actual or anticipated, the split begins and the circle goes round and round. As soon as it becomes clear that "I" cannot possibly escape from the reality of the present, since "I" is nothing other than what I know now, this inner turmoil must stop. No possibility remains but to be aware of pain, fear, boredom, or grief in the same complete way that one is aware of pleasure. The human organism has the most wonderful powers of adaptation to both physical and psychological pain. But these can only come into full play when the pain is not being constantly re-stimulated by this inner effort to get away from it, to separate the "I" from the feeling. The effort creates a state of tension in which the pain thrives. But when the tension ceases, mind and body begin to absorb the pain as water reacts to a blow or cut.

You can?t get rid of your hallucination of being an ego by an activity of the ego. Sorry, but it can?t be done.

Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, un-dancing, mummified.

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.

When the mutual interdependence of the opposites is not seen, it becomes possible to dream of a state of affairs in which life exists without death, good without evil, pleasure without pain, and light without darkness. The subject, the soul, can be set free from the concrete limitations of the object, the body.

Words can be communicative only between those who share similar experiences.

When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.

Wouldn't it be as farfetched to call birth the cause of death as to call the cat's head the cause of the tail? Lifting the neck of a bottle implies lifting the bottom as well, for the "two parts" come up at the same time. If I pick up an accordion by one end, the other will follow a little later, but the principle is the same. Total situations are, therefore, patterns in time as much as patterns in space.

When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.

Ye suffer from yourselves, none else compels, None other holds you that ye live and die and whir upon the wheel, and hug and kiss its spokes of agony, Its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness. Discovering this the mind becomes whole: the split between I and me, man and the world, the ideal and the real, comes to an end. Paranoia, the mind beside itself, becomes metanoia, the mind with itself and so free from itself. Free from clutching at themselves the hands can handle; free from looking after themselves the eyes can see; free from trying to understand itself thought can think. In such feeling, seeing, and thinking life requires no future to complete itself nor explanation to justify itself. In this moment it is finished.

When we were taught 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C, few of us were ever told about the Game of Black-and-White. It is quite as simple, but belongs to the hushed-up side of things. Consider, first, that all your five senses are differing forms of one basic sense-something like touch. Seeing is highly sensitive touching. The eyes touch, or feel, light waves and so enable us to touch things out of reach of our hands. Similarly, the ears touch sound waves in the air, and the nose tiny particles of dust and gas. But the complex patterns and chains of neurons which constitute these senses are composed of neuron units which are capable of changing between just two states: on or off. To the central brain the individual neuron signals either yes or no-that's all. But, as we know from computers which employ binary arithmetic in which the only figures are 0 and 1, these simple elements can be formed into the most complex and marvelous patterns. In this respect our nervous system and 0/1 computers are much like everything else, for the physical world is basically vibration. Whether we think of this vibration in terms of waves or of particles, or perhaps wavicles, we never find the crest of a wave without a trough or a particle without an interval, or space, between itself and others. In other words, there is no such thing as a half wave, or a particle all by itself without any space around it. There is no on without off, no up without down.

Yet again, the more you strive for some kind of perfection or mastery?in morals, in art or in spirituality?the more you see that you are playing a rarified and lofty form of the old ego-game, and that your attainment of any height is apparent to yourself and to others only by contrast with someone else's depth or failure.

When you are dying and coming to life in each moment, would-be scientific predictions about what will happen after death are of little consequence. The whole glory of it is that we do not know. Ideas of survival and annihilation are alike based on the past, on memories of waking and sleeping, and, in their different ways, the notions of everlasting continuity and everlasting nothingness are without meaning. . It needs but slight imagination to realize that everlasting time is a monstrous nightmare, so that between heaven and hell as ordinarily understood there is little to choose? For there is no joy in continuity, in the perpetual. We desire it only because the present is empty... We do not really want continuity, but rather a present experience of total happiness. The thought of wanting such an experience to go on and on is the result of being self-conscious in the experience, and thus incompletely aware of it.

You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.

When you get free from certain fixed concepts of the way the world is, you find it is far more subtle, and far more miraculous than you thought it was.

You are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies.

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 seldom to realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society. We copy emotional reactions from our parents, learning from them that excrement is supposed to have a disgusting smell and that vomiting is supposed to be an unpleasant sensation. The dread of death is also learned from their anxieties about sickness and from their attitudes to funerals and corpses. Our social environment has this power just because we do not exist apart from a society. Society is our extended mind and body. Yet the very society from which the individual is inseparable is using its whole irresistible force to persuade the individual that he is indeed separate! Society as we now know is therefore playing a game with self-contradictory rules.

What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions, and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money ? but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth ? In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas and words are coins for real things.

Author Picture
First Name
Alan
Last Name
Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts
Birth Date
1915
Death Date
1973
Bio

English-born American Philosopher, Writer, Exponent of Zen Buddhism