From England, Watts moved to New York at a young age and began Zen training. Strangely enough, he attained a master’s degree in theology and became an Episcopal priest in 1945, leaving the ministry after 5 years to go to California and work with the American Academy of Asian Studies.
Among his early writings, The Way of Zen was one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. A few years later, in Psychotherapy East and West, he posited that Buddhism could be utilized as a form of psychotherapy, without necessarily being a religion.
Watts did not believe in absolute morality. His sense of ethics was driven by social consideration. Many of his writings addressed humanity’s relationship to nature, and the relationship between government and citizens.
Politically, Watts was moderate. He envisioned societal doing well by exercising more tolerance and support of the arts.
Most of all, Watts wrote and lectured about our individual relationship with existence.
He asserted that instead, all entities we call “things”, including ourselves, are merely aspects of a whole. Much of his work focuses on the oneness of existence as a unifying concept, offering that we ourselves essentially are existence, as is everything and everyone else.
Alan Watts and Buddhism
Why People Love Alan Watts
-He is an excellent speaker and writer
-He translated often difficult-to-relate concepts of Eastern philosophy into western/English terms
-He produced so much material: 35+ books, hundreds of lectures, dozens of essays, TV shows…
-His work is timeless. Most concepts that he addresses are not specifically dated to his time
-His worldview is open: fairly ethereal and hard to put a finger on, his teachings are easy to appreciate for anyone willing to pick the good from it
-Aesthetics: Watts was deliberate and outspoken about aesthetics. He picked up upon and grew a trend of Eastern fascination, especially with Zen
Why People Don’t Love Alan Watts
-His teaching is hard to pin down. It can be hard to tell if he is saying something profound and life-changing or nothing at all.
-He was a bit notorious. He struggled with alcohol for much of his life, potentially leading to his death. He also had infidelity and marriage problems.
-Most Buddhist and Zen authorities do not take him seriously. They feel that he gives a lackadaisical account of Eastern practices and traditions.
-Eastern spirituality and philosophy, for which he is a champion, is still met with resistance in the West.
Talks / Lectures
Do You Do It, or Does It Do You?
How Your Beliefs Create Reality
Society is a Hoax, Take Control of Your Life
What Do You Really, Really Want?
Close Your Eyes
Get Out of Your Own Way
What is a Feeling?
What Awakening Means
The Dangers of Waking Up
How to Remove Anxiety
Time and the More it Changes
AlanWatts.org, AlanWatts.com – a site organized by the Alan Watts organization, with a collection of his works, some premiere videos, and even writings about him.
Best Way to Start Your Journey with Alan Watts – Exactly as it sounds, this article will point you to his recommended top books, lectures, etc in a curated order.
Alan Watts Reconsidered – An article addressing what to make of Watt’s not being taken seriously within Zen and Buddhist circles.
The Western Buddhist Who Healed my Mind – An article about how the writer found their way out of depression thanks to Watts’ writings.
Zen: The Best of Alan Watts – a 1 hr documentary film collecting Watt’s best material.
Alan Watts Soundcloud – A large collection of mostly under 5 minute soundbites from Watts.