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I respect Alan Watts (1915-73), widely known for his books and speeches on Oriental philosophy. He speaks openly and clearly, always intending to get the listener to understand the heart of his message. And I think he only really had one, but all the more challenging ideas to understand. As you listen to him, he is frank in his speeches. He knows that religions are originally not born due to human imagination, but they are not what churches try to make people believe. Beliefs are about serious things. They are about a distorted worldview of man, who sees reality through his imagination instead of seeing reality on its terms. That has severe and wide-ranging consequences. Much more challenging than people even understand.

It is good to note right from the start that Alan Watts does not represent any religion. Instead, he sometimes calls himself a philosopher. Watts became an Episcopal priest in 1945 but 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 extensively worldwide. However, Watts did not consider himself a Christian or a Buddhist, although many thought him a kind of Zen guru. He tried to be more than that. Watts wanted to be a mediator or a psychic. On one occasion, Watts described himself in this way:

“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.”

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

Thanks to After Skool for making this whiteboard animation.

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