Wisdom From Alan Watts

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Born in Britain in 1915, Alan Watts was a philosopher, priest, and writer. And long before meditation was something you could do at the local yoga studio, Watts was knee deep in Eastern philosophy.

Watts developed an interest in Asian culture as a child and later went on to join the local Buddhist Lodge.  Throughout his life he devoted himself to studying Eastern religion and philosophy. He harbored a special interest for Zen and Taoism.

Though Watts was never ordained as a Zen monk, he is credited as being one of the first to introduce Buddhist ideas to the West. Famous for his clarity and articulate writing style, Watts made some of Zen’s most vital concepts palatable for Western audiences. Throughout his life, he published over 25 books and delivered lectures on topics like meditation, nothingness, and the ego.

Watts passed on in 1975. His writings left us not just with a better knowledge of Zen and Buddhism, but with an understanding of how we can embrace life’s fickle and tricky nature. In celebration of his legacy, here are 10 bits of Watts’ profound wisdom.

On Mindfulness 

“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.” 

On Embracing Change

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

On Suffering

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

On Living In The Present

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

On Zen Spirituality

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

On Letting Things Be

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

On Emotions

“One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.”

On Acceptance

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.” 

On Meaning and Meaninglessness

“And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words… As if you had a meaning, as if you were a mere word, as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.” 

On Gaining Perspective 

“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.” 


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