Alan Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts

Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts

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

Author Quotes

What would it be like to go to sleep and never wake up?

Western religions are more concerned with behavior, doctrine, and belief than with any transformation of the way in which we are aware of ourselves and our world.

What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself. So, say in Hindu mythology, they say that the world is the drama of God. God is not something in Hindu mythology with a white beard that sits on a throne that has royal prerogatives. God in Indian mythology is the self, Satcitananda. Which means sat, that which is, chit, that which is consciousness; that which is ananda is bliss. In other words, what exists, reality itself is gorgeous, it is the fullness of total joy.

What do you desire? What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?

What you do is what the whole universe is doing at the place you call here and now. You are something the whole universe is doing, in the same way a wave is doing something the whole ocean is doing. The real you is not a puppet which life pushes around. The real deep down you is the whole universe.

What governs what we choose to notice? The first (which we shall have to qualify later) is whatever seems advantageous or disadvantageous for our survival, our social status, and the security of our egos. The second, again working simultaneously with the first, is the pattern and the logic of all the notation symbols which we have learned from others, from our society and our culture. It is hard indeed to notice anything for which the languages available to us (whether verbal, mathematical, or musical) have no description. This is why we borrow words from foreign languages. There is no English word for a type of feeling which the Japanese call yugen, and we can only understand by opening our minds to situations in which Japanese people use the word.

When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique. He is universal by virtue of the inseparability of his organism from the cosmos. He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication.

What I am really saying is that you don?t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.

When somebody plays music, you listen. You just follow those sounds, and eventually you understand the music. The point can't be explained in words because music is not words, but after listening for a while, you understand the point of it, and that point is the music itself. In exactly the same way, you can listen to all experiences.

What I think an awakening really involves is a re-examination of our common sense. We've got all sorts of ideas built into us which seem unquestioned, obvious. And our speech reflects them; its commonest phrases. 'Face the facts.' As if they were outside you. As if life were something they simply encountered as a foreigner. 'Face the facts.' Our common sense has been rigged, you see? So that we feel strangers and aliens in this world, and this is terribly plausible, simply because this is what we are used to. That's the only reason... As you question this basic assumption that underlies our culture, you find you get a new kind of common sense. It becomes absolutely obvious to you that you are continuous with the universe.

What is government? Government is the boot. The boot steps here and there, careful to avoid a blade of grass, to nurture it, coddle it, water it. The boot spots a snail heading toward its grass - slowly, surely. The boot smashes down on the snail and twists and laughs at its squelching noises, its last grasp for breath. The boot seeks a new snail - heading slowly toward the blade, sometimes simply minding its own business entirely - and smashes it too, like the first. The boot goes on and on - smashing, twisting, smashing, twisting - until finally it tires too of the blade of grass. The boot stops for only a moment and twists itself back down toward these carcasses lying about its yard. 'How sad,' it says to itself, 'that some otherworldly spirit, possessing me, could do this!' It goes to take a step, lets down onto the ground, and feels a dead snail. It instantly picks itself up, feeling proud - not that it will not stomp the snails in the future, but that it at least is starting to feel remorse for their deaths. It smashes the shells and bodies of hundreds of thousands of millions of snails, only to understand its weakness as originating from someplace else entirely; and then it has the audacity to smash even more.

What is it! This thing, this happening, called existence? You ask that question long enough, and it suddenly hits you, that if you could answer it, you wouldn't know what terms to put the answer in. We classify, always, to give an answer to the question, what is it? And when you classify, you distinguish. An inside group from an outside group. But so what we want to know is what is the group of all groups? Well we can't imagine what the outside would be, so we can't answer the question. What is it?

What is real, if you have decided to live in the dimension of space and time, is muscle and nerve.

What is the difference between "me" and "mental mechanisms" whether conscious or unconscious? Who is being moved by these processes? The notion that anyone is being motivated comes from the persisting illusion of "I." The real man, the organism-in-relation-to-the-universe, is this unconscious motivation.

What is the next step, the practical application? ?I will answer that the absolutely vital thing is to consolidate your understanding, to become capable of enjoyment, of living in the present, and of the discipline which this involves. Without this you have nothing to give.

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.

We therefore work, not for the work?s sake, but for money?and money is supposed to get us what we really want in our hours of leisure and play. In the United States even poor people have lots of money compared with the wretched and skinny millions of India, Africa, and China, while our middle and upper classes (or should we say income groups) are as prosperous as princes. Yet, by and large, they have but slight taste for pleasure. Money alone cannot buy pleasure, though it can help. For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.

What we have to discover is that there is no safety, that seeking is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don?t like it.

We think that the world is limited and explained by its past. We tend to think that what happened in the past determines what is going to happen next, and we do not see that it is exactly the other way around! What is always the source of the world is the present; the past doesn't explain a thing. The past trails behind the present like the wake of a ship and eventually disappears.

What we really are is, first of all, the whole of our body.

We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.

We could say that meditation doesn?t have a reason or doesn?t have a purpose. In this respect it?s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don?t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. 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.

We define (and so come to feel) the individual in the light of our narrowed "spotlight" consciousness which largely ignores the field or environment in which he is found. "Individual" is the Latin form of the Greek "atom"?that which cannot be cut or divided any further into separate parts. We cannot chop off a person's head or remove his heart without killing him. But we can kill him just as effectively by separating him from his proper environment. This implies that the only true atom is the universe?that total system of interdependent "thing-events" which can be separated from each other only in name. For the human individual is not built as a car is built. He does not come into being by assembling parts, by screwing a head on to a neck, by wiring a brain to a set of lungs, or by welding veins to a heart. Head, neck, heart, lungs, brain, veins, muscles, and glands are separate names but not separate events, and these events grow into being simultaneously and interdependently. In precisely the same way, the individual is separate from his universal environment only in name. When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name. Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name makes you a separate being. This is?rather literally?to be spellbound.

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Watts, fully Alan Wilson Watts
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English-born American Philosopher, Writer, Exponent of Zen Buddhism