Thought-provoking Quotes by Alan Watts
Welcome to our collection of quotes (with shareable picture quotes) by Alan Watts. We hope you enjoy pondering them and that you will share them widely.
Wikipedia Summary for Alan Watts
Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British writer and speaker known for interpreting and popularising Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism for a Western audience.
Born in Chislehurst, England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. He received a master's degree in theology from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and became an Episcopal priest in 1945. He left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.
Watts gained a following while working as a volunteer programmer at the KPFA radio station in Berkeley. He wrote more than 25 books and articles on religion and philosophy, introducing the emerging hippie counterculture to The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), he argued that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy. He considered Nature, Man and Woman (1958) to be, "from a literary point of view—the best book I have ever written." He also explored human consciousness and psychedelics in works such as The New Alchemy (1958) and The Joyous Cosmology (1962).
The state of nirvana means the blown-out state -- the relieved state - the sigh of relief. Nirvana may be translated into English as WHEW!
Basically, there is simply nothing to worry about, because you yourself are the eternal energy of the universe.
Life is like music for its own sake. We are living in an eternal now, and when we listen to music we are not listening to the past, we are not listening to the future, we are listening to an expanded present.
There's an interdependence between flowers and bees. Where there are no flowers there are no bees, and where there are no bees, there are no flowers. They are really one organism. And so in the same way, everything in nature depends on everything else.
Nirvana is where you are, provided you don't object to it.
If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you'll come to understand that you're connected with everything.
Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.
We must abandon completely the notion of blaming the past for any kind of situation we're in.
We must abandon completely the notion of blaming the past for any kind of situation we're in and reverse our thinking and see that the past always flows back form the present. That now is the creative point of life. So you see its like the idea of forgiving somebody, you change the meaning of the past by doing that...Also watch the flow of music. The melody as its expressed is changed by notes that come later. Just as the meaning of a sentence...you wait till later to find out what the sentence means...The present is always changing the past.
Money is a way of measuring wealth but is not wealth in itself.
You don't look out there for God, something in the sky, you look in you.
But I'll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you'll come to understand that you're connected with everything.
You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes.
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple.
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
To practice with an end in view is to have one eye on the practice and the other on the end, which is lack of concentration, lack of sincerity.
The brush must draw by itself. This cannot happen if one does not practice constantly. But neither can it happen if one makes an effort.
There was a young man who said though, it seems that I know that I know, but what I would like to see is the I that knows me when I know that I know that I know.
Other people teach us who we are. Their attitudes to us are the mirror in which we learn to see ourselves, but the mirror is distorted. We are, perhaps, rather dimly aware of the immense power of our social enviornment.
Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure -- attractively packaged but inferior in content.
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.
Philosophers, for example, often fail to recognize that their remarks about the universe apply also to themselves and their remarks. If the universe is meaningless, so is the statement that it is so.
There is nothing at all that can be talked about adequately, and the whole art of poetry is to say what can't be said.
One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.
So then, the relationship of self to other is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself.
For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.
A priest once quoted to me the Roman saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh at each other across the altar. I always laugh at the altar, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, because real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter.
Trust in human nature is acceptance of the good-and-bad of it, and it is hard to trust those who do not admit their own weakness.
Taoists do not look upon meditation as 'practice,' except in the sense that a doctor 'practices' medicine. They have no design to subjugate or alter the universe by force or willpower, for their art is entirely to go along with the flow of things in an intelligent way.
You cannot teach an ego to be anything but egotistic, even though egos have the subtlest ways of pretending to be reformed.
To know nature, the Tao, and the 'substance' of things. we must know it as, in the archaic sense, a man 'knows' a woman -- in the warm vagueness of immediate contact.
Cultures in which the individual feels isolated from nature are also cultures wherein men feel squeamish about the sexual relationship, often regarding it as degrading and evil -- especially for those dedicated to the life of the spirit.
To give free rein to the course of feeling is therefore to observe it without interference, recognizing that because feeling is motion it is not to be understood in terms which imply not static states but judgments of good and bad.
Indeed, the world is not unlike a vast Rorschach blot which we read according to our inner disposition, in such a way that our interpretations say far more about ourselves than about the blot.
Growth in philosophical understanding, or just plain wisdom, is always a matter of being able to distinguish between levels of truth, and frames of reference, at the same time being able to see one's own life in its intimate relation to these differing and ever more universal levels.
Resistance disappears and the balancing process comes into full effect not by intention on the part of the subject, but only as it is seen that the feeling of being the subject, the ego, is itself part of the stream of experience and does not stand outside it in a controlling position.
For as the nonsense of the madman is a babble of words for its own fascination, the nonsense of nature and of the sage is the perception that the ultimate meaningless of the world contains the same hidden joy as its transience and emptiness.
An organic natural order has its proper correspondence in a mode of consciousness which is a total feeling or experiencing. Where feeling is broken up into the feeler and the feeling, the knower and the known, what lies in between the two is not relationship but mere juxtaposition.
The sense of the vast gulf between the ego and the world disappears and one's subjective inner life seems no longer to be separate from everything else, from one's total experience of the stream of nature.
Nature is ordered organically rather than politically, ... it is a field of relationships rather than a collection of things.
When our love for others is based simply on mutual need it becomes strangling -- a kind of vampirism in which we say, all too expressively, 'I love you so much I could eat you!' It is from such desiring that parental devotion becomes smother-love and marriage holy deadlock.
If God is universal, the knowledge of God should include all other knowledge as the sense of sight includes all the differing objects of vision. But if the eye should attempt to see sight, it will turn in upon itself and see nothing.
The more inward and central the form of activity, the less it partakes of the mask of the ego. To unveil the flow of thought can therefore be an even greater sexual intimacy than physical nakedness.
The full splendour of sexual experience does not reveal itself without a new mode of attention to the world in general.
The rift between God and nature would vanish if we knew how to experience nature, because what keeps them apart is not a difference of substance but a split in the mind.
Sexuality is not a separate compartment of human life; it is a radiance pervading every human relationship, but assuming a particular intensity at certain points.
Zen concentrates on the importance of seeing into one's own nature now at this moment -- not in five minutes when you have had time to accept yourself, nor ten years ahead when you have had time to retire to the mountains and meditate.
Great power is worry, and total power is boredom, such that even God renounces it and pretends, instead, that he is people and fish and insects and plants: the myth of the king who goes wandering among his subjects in disguise.
For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.
God is the Self of the world, but you can't see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can't see your own eyes, and you certainly can't bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.
Unaccepted, the universe has no meaning; it is senseless fate and chaos, but acceptance is a way of discovering meaning, not of manufacturing it.
For God is the wholeness of life, which includes every possible aspect of man and is known in accepting the whole of our experience at each moment.
At each moment the mystic accepts the whole of his experience, including himself as he is, his circumstances as they are, and the relationship between them as it is. Wholeness is his keyword; his acceptance is total, and he excludes no part of his experience, however unsavory it may be.
Trying to explain Zen is like trying to catch wind in a box; the moment you the lid it ceases to be wind and in time becomes stagnant air.
But God is always found where He is least expected, and no one would have thought of looking for Him in the cowshed of a country inn.
When life is empty, with respect to the past, and aimless, with respect to the future, the vacuum is filled by the present -- normally reduced to a hairline, a split second in which there is no time for anything to happen.
A world which increasingly consists of destinations without journeys between them, a world which values only getting somewhere as fast as possible, becomes a world without substance.
Our progress has been almost exclusively technological, which means that we are able to manipulate the physical world ever more sensationally, to increase the speed, the span, and the powers of material existence without any clear idea of what to do with the time gained and the powers acquired.
True, the seed does not intend to move itself with the wind, but neither did I intend to have arms and legs.
Yet could anything be more obvious than that the past follows from the present like a comet's tail, and that if we are to be alive at all, here is the place to be?
I am not looking at the world, not confronting it; I am knowing it by a continuous process of transforming it into myself, so that everything around me, the whole globe of space, no longer feels away from me but in the middle.
The present is self-sufficient, but it is not a static present. It is a dancing present--the unfolding of a pattern which has no specific destination in the future but is simply its own point. It leaves and arrives simultaneously, and the seed is as much the goal as the flower.
For the task of the psychotherapist is to bring about a reconciliation between individual feeling and social norms without, however, sacrificing the integrity of the individual.
I am basically an eternal existence
momentarily and perhaps needlessly
terrified by one half of itself.
In a relativistic universe you don't cling to anything, you learn to swim. And you know what swimming is -- it's kind of a relaxed attitude with the water. In which you don't keep yourself afloat by holding the water, but by a certain giving to it.
To have order, you must have randomness, because where you have no randomness order cannot manifest itself.
In known history, nobody has had such capacity for altering the universe than the people of the United States of America. And nobody has gone about it in such an aggressive way.
The secret of the enjoyment of pleasure is to know when to stop. Man doesn't learn this secret easily, but to shun pleasure altogether is cowardly avoidance of a difficult job. For we have to learn the art of enjoying things because they are impermanent.
Buddhism ... is not a culture but a critique of culture, an enduring nonviolent revolution or loyal opposition to the culture in which it is involved.
No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.
The animal tends to eat with his stomach, and the man with his brain. When the animal's stomach is full, he stops eating, but the man is never sure when to stop. When he has eaten as much as his belly can take, he still feels empty, he still feels an urge for further gratification.
Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself.
To feel that life is meaningless unless I can be permanent is like having fallen desperately in love with an inch.
Just as the highest and the lowest notes are equally inaudible, so perhaps, is the greatest sense and the greatest nonsense equally unintelligible.
Carried to its final extreme, the logical end of this type of reaction to life is suicide. The hard-bitten kind of person is always, as it were, a partial suicide; some of himself is already dead.
We tend to regard ourselves as puppets of the Past, driven along by something that is always behind us.
Enlightenment or awakening is not the creation of a new state of affairs but the recognition of what already is.
To play so as to be relaxed and refreshed for work is not to play, and no work is well and finely done unless it, too, is a form of play.
To succeed is always to fail -- in the sense that the more one succeeds in anything, the greater is the need to go on succeeding. To eat is to survive to be hungry.
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 no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied. You cannot talk yourself into it or rouse it by straining at the emotions or by dedicating yourself solemnly to the service of mankind. Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self love bad names in the universe. It comes only in the awareness that one has no self to love.
To perceive that form reveals the void, and to see that the void reveals form, is the secret for the overcoming of death. To the extent that one is unaware of space, one is unaware of one's own eternity -- it's the same thing!
The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is.
Don't hurry anything. Don't worry about the future. Don't worry about what progress you're making. Just be entirely content to be aware of what is.
Taoism is a way of liberation, which never comes by means of revolution, since it is notorious that most revolutions establish worse tyrannies than they destroy.
Enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy... your entire education has has deprived you of this capacity because it was preparing you for the future, instead of showing you how to be alive now.
But the disappearance of the effort to let go is precisely the disappearance of the separate thinker, of the ego trying to watch the mind without interfering.
The life of Zen begins, therefore, in a disillusion with the pursuit of goals which do not really exist: the good without the bad, the gratification of a self which is no more than an idea, and the morrow which never comes.
You're not something that's a result of the big bang. You're not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe.
The individual may be understood as one particular focal point at which the whole universe expresses itself -- as an incarnation of the self, or of the Godhead, or whatever one may choose to call it.
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.
Hospitals should be arranged in such a way as to make being sick an interesting experience. One learns a great deal sometimes from being sick.
Think about a piece of music -- some great symphony -- we don't expect it to get better as it develops, or that its whole purpose is to reach the final crescendo. The joy is found in listening to the music in each moment.
You know that if you get in the water and have nothing to hold on to, but try to behave as you would on dry land, you will drown. But if, on the other hand, you trust yourself to the water and let go, you will float. And this is exactly the situation of faith.
Our educational system in its entirety does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don't learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses, how to make love, or to do any of the absolutely fundamental things of life.
The biggest ego trip is getting rid of your ego, and of course the joke of it all is that your ego does not exist.
How could you say the best form of government is a republic if you think the universe is a monarchy?
Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap.
Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap. Lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination. For in a civilization equipped with immense technological power, the sense of alienation between man and nature leads to the use of technology in a hostile spirit -- to the "conquest" of nature instead of intelligent co-operation with nature.
If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.
If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then , my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.
The anitya doctrine is, again, not quite the simple assertion that the world is impermanent, but rather that the more one grasps at the world, the more it changes.
Like love, the light or guidance of truth that influences us exists only in living form, not in principles or rules or expectations or advice, however widely circulated.
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.
Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, openness -- an act of trust in the unknown.
The problem is to overcome the ingrained disbelief in the power of winning nature by love, in the gentle (ju) way (do) of turning with the skid, of controlling ourselves by cooperating with ourselves.
We do not come into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.
We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.
The psychotherapist... tries to help the individual to be himself and to go it alone without giving unnecessary offense to his community, to be in the world (of social convention) but not of the world.
We are all as much extraordinary phenomena 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.
We are not clear as to the role in life of these chemicals; nor are we clear as to the role of the physician. You know, of course, that in ancient times there was no clear distinction between priest and physician.
Self-knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to curiosity and investigation, so that nothing interests people more than people, even if only one's own person.
Spiritual awakening is the difficult process whereby the increasing realisation that everything is as wrong as it can be flips suddenly into the realisation that everything is as right is it can be. Or better, everything is as It as it can be.
The sound of the rain needs no translation.
That's a waste of time. If you really understand Zen. You can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because... the sound of the rain needs no translation.
Life and Reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to all others. They do not belong to particular persons any more than the sun, moon and stars.
LSD is simply an exploratory instrument like a microscope or telescope, except this one is inside of you instead of outside of you.
Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.
We are the eyes of the cosmos. So that in a way, when you look deeply into somebody's eyes, you're looking deep into yourself, and the other person is looking deeply into the same self.
A chest of gold coins or a fat wallet of bills is of no use
whatsoever to a wrecked sailor alone on a raft.
I was talking to a Zen master the other day and he said, You shall be my disciple. I looked at him and said, Who was Buddha's teacher? He looked at me in a very odd way for a moment and then he burst into laughter and handed me a piece of clover.
As a human being it is just my nature to enjoy and share philosophy. I do this in the same way that some birds are eagles and some doves, some flowers lilies and some roses.
Quotes by Alan Watts are featured in:
You Yourself Quotes