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I have great respect for Alan Watts (1915-73), who is widely known for his books and speeches on Oriental philosophy. He speaks simply and clearly always with the goal of getting the listener to understand the essence of his message. And I think he only really had one, but all the more challenging message to understand. As you listen to him, he is very sincere and honest in his speeches. He understands that originally religions are not born as a result of human imagination, but they are also not what churches try to make people believe. Religions are about serious things. Religions are about a distorted worldview of man. Man sees reality through his own imaginations instead of seeing reality on its own terms. This has wide-ranging and serious consequences. Much more serious than people even understand.

It is good to note right from the start that Watts does not represent any religion. He sometimes calls himself a philosopher. He became an Episcopal priest in 1945, but he left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California to begin the studies of Oriental philosophy and religions. He wrote several books on oriental thinking and also lectured them extensively worldwide. However, he did not consider himself either a Christian nor a Buddhist, although many considered him a kind of Zen guru. In fact, he tried to be more than that. He wanted to be a mediator, or a psychic. Or in his own words:

“I am not a Zen Buddhist; I’m not advocating Zen Buddhism; I’m not trying to convert anyone to it. I have nothing to sell: I’m an entertainer. That is to say in the same sense that when you go to a concert, and you listen to someone play Mozart, he has nothing to sell except the sound of the music. He doesn’t want to convert you to anything, he doesn’t want you to join an organisation in favour of Mozart’s music as opposed to say Beethoven’s. And I approach you in the same spirit: as a musician with his piano or violinist with his violin, I just want you to enjoy a point of view which I enjoy.”

This reveals practically everything essential about his relationship to the things he talks about. He wants his audience to understand the same paradoxical-looking reality of which he himself is so enchanted. And he knows that paradoxes don’t come from the “real world,” but arise from our own inability to face the world as it is. He has no answer as to why this is the case, but he knows the answer exists and he is constantly looking for it.

Thanks to After Skool for making this great speech an whiteboard animation.

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