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Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby christopher::: on Sat Apr 13, 2013 1:56 pm

I've long been a big fan of Alan Watts, but am also a bit amazed at how popular his talks have become on facebook & youtube. There are a number of video artists out there who have reworked decades old audio tapes, adding music, animation and video. Many are quite creative and most focus on the nondual "Zen/Science" view that Watts frequently presented- that each of us is an expression of Nature, a unique action of the Universe. My own opinion is that this very basic "realization" is something people are able to "get" quite easily, especially when words are paired with images, thus the popularity.

Your thoughts?





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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Carol on Sat Apr 13, 2013 7:19 pm

In David Chadwick's biography of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Crooked Cucumber, he tells the story of Suzuki admonishing someone who was condescending about Watts that he was a "great bodhisattva" because of all he had done through his ability to communicate and to interest people in the Dharma. I have always thought so, too, since I first heard Watts' lectures live on KPFA radio back in the day.

BTW, they say that Watts was frequently quite drunk when doing his radio talks. Amazing, really! And food for deep consideration about how one can have such profound realization and yet still have so many afflictions in one's life. I ponder that a lot, given the habit energy and afflictions in my own life. Practice is endless!

I'm so grateful to Alan Watts for all he did to open my mind and point the way when I was young, and I'm glad that a new generation is rediscovering him!
Practitioners who cultivate the personal realization of buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of whatever is present and do not abandon their practice.
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby desert_woodworker on Sat Apr 13, 2013 7:44 pm

Carol,

I'm grateful to him, too.

Just about when it would do me the most good, I'm glad to have found his little book, THE BOOK (ON THE TABOO AGAINST KNOWING WHO YOU ARE). Basic Hinduism, really, and very engaging.

I heard most of his talks on WBAI-99.5-FM, another of the Pacifica stations. There was even a commercial station in NYC in the early 1970s that played his taped talks early on Sunday mornings at 6 AM (a rock-music station, I think; higher up the band). Watts warmed up the crowd, and the music came on at 7 AM. ;-)

Speaking of habit-energy, I like how Watts titled his autobiography: IN MY OWN WAY.

We learn in his memoir that he never sat, and I think practiced walking all his life. But he had some sort of realization at age 14 when staring into the fire at his family home.

In Arizona, I once heard a talk by Tim Leary. Leary referred to himself as a "Performing Philosopher". I think Watts was one, too! And a good one.

--Joe

Carol wrote:
I'm so grateful to Alan Watts for all he did to open my mind and point the way when I was young, and I'm glad that a new generation is rediscovering him!

Last edited by desert_woodworker on Sat Apr 13, 2013 10:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.

"Least said is soonest disavowed". -- Ambrose Bierce (c. 1900)

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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Possum on Sat Apr 13, 2013 9:47 pm

I think many remember Watts as Buddhism's answer to C.S. Lewis. Although he was very articulate, he was also very accessible. Analysis of the language in The Way of Zen with a readability test shows that it's appropriate for high school freshmen.
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Dan74 on Sun Apr 14, 2013 1:44 am

In one of his talks, Watts says "I am not a Zen Buddhist. I am an entertainer."

This is not to say that he is irrelevant but to my way of seeing most of his "realizations" were intellectual. He was a strong personality with a brilliant mind. A great public speaker and popularizer.
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby desert_woodworker on Sun Apr 14, 2013 2:37 am

Dan,

Well, I agree with you. Most of Watts' reading- and lecture-audience was intellectually oriented, I think. He engaged us, and served-up an antidote, too. Kind of as the Zen tradition has done. Even though, as practitioners, maybe intellectuals have the hardest time with Zen practice. Especially in the first few decades. ;-) And it's always been that way.

Of course, Watts did not offer us methods of practice. We were to find them.

And, if I may be a little bold, even if I am a little incorrect, I'd say that if D.T. Suzuki popularized Zen in the West through his ESSAYS... series, then Watts afterwards popularized Suzuki, somewhat further. Watts' most popular book, THE WAY OF ZEN, is little more than a peon to Suzuki, or a reading of him, with a bit of electricity from the Human Potential Movement, charging it.

I still think Watt's THE BOOK is his most powerful and valuable. It fits nicely in a back pocket, too, as my copy did in my early 20s in my jeans.

But maybe Watts' very first book is what started it all, and maybe all his other work is commentary on that first book and its wild instigations, and a further reeling-out: BEHOLD THE SPIRIT: A STUDY IN THE NECESSITY OF MYSTICAL RELIGION. He'd freshly left as a Priest from the Anglican Communion. This book is firey. And, well, spirited. Recommended (1947)!

Hats off to old Uncle Alan.

And, in Gassho,

--Joe

EDITS: Typo correction; spelling; added date, "1947".

Dan74 wrote:In one of his talks, Watts says "I am not a Zen Buddhist. I am an entertainer."

This is not to say that he is irrelevant but to my way of seeing most of his "realizations" were intellectual. He was a strong personality with a brilliant mind. A great public speaker and popularizer.
Last edited by desert_woodworker on Sun Apr 14, 2013 4:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.

"Least said is soonest disavowed". -- Ambrose Bierce (c. 1900)

"Politeness: noun. The most acceptable hypocrisy." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Linda Anderson on Sun Apr 14, 2013 2:51 am

Hi Chris,
why do you think it is mysterious?

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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby partofit22 on Sun Apr 14, 2013 6:07 am

christopher::: wrote:I've long been a big fan of Alan Watts, but


First of all, hi! Haven't seen you in a while- :)

Nothing to offer on Watts directly but on the oddness of popularity in general- Did you see the documentary Searching For Sugarman? He was way popular in South Africa but had no knowledge of it!
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby christopher::: on Sun Apr 14, 2013 9:49 am

Too busy to post right now, but really enjoying reading everyone's perspectives. Another Alan Watts video. I think clyde shared this awhile back.



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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby desert_woodworker on Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:27 pm

Watts could turn a phrase, couldn't he?

One of his that I recall in particular, and with particular gratitude, is a way he once characterized "the Absolute" in one of his recorded talks. He called it:

"The "which" than which there is no WHICHER."

I often recall this with a smile.

(On Halloween, I try to squeeze it into a joke however I can. Good thing Halloween comes only once a year).

--Joe
"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.

"Least said is soonest disavowed". -- Ambrose Bierce (c. 1900)

"Politeness: noun. The most acceptable hypocrisy." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Possum on Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:34 pm

According to Watts, Buddhism asserts some transcendent thing that others call God but refuses to give it a name or ascribe an identity to it.
"We found large differences between the effect sizes reported for complete MBSR programs vs. “pure” meditation."
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Kojip on Tue Apr 16, 2013 1:12 am

Possum wrote:According to Watts, Buddhism asserts some transcendent thing that others call God but refuses to give it a name or ascribe an identity to it.


That is how I read him too. As if Noble Silence is a wink to Supreme Being. His writings are more along the lines of Advaita Vedanta than Buddhism. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Gassho.
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby christopher::: on Tue Apr 16, 2013 10:23 am

I see Watts kinda like a wise and friendly retired college professor sitting on a bench beneath a tree, outside the frameworks of science, advaita, academics and buddhism- speaking to a gathering circle of young people about the interesting ways these frameworks intersect, the commonalities they have. He's got a glass of wine in one hand, some green tea in the other. Perhaps some magic mushrooms in his back pocket, and he's just laughing, laughing, laughing in his impish cosmic way.

But he can get quite scholarly as well. One of my favorite passages:

The final Buddhist vision of the world as the dharmadhatu- loosely translatable as the "field of related functions"- is not so different from the world view of Western science, except that the vision is experiential rather than theoretical.

Poetically, it is symbolized as a vast network of jewels, like drops of dew upon a multi-dimensional spider web. Looking closely at any single jewel, one beholds in it the reflections of all the others. The relationship between the jewels is technically called "thing/thing no obstacle" (shih shih wu ai), which is to say that any one form is inseparable from all other forms.

In sum, then, the Buddhist discipline is to realize that anguish or conflict (duhkha) arises from the grasping (trishna) of entities singled out from the world by ignorance (avidya)- grasping in the sense of acting or feeling toward them as if they were actually independent of context. This sets in motion the samsara or vicious circle of trying to solve the false problem of wresting life from death, pleasure from pain, good from evil, and self from not-self- in short to get one's ego permanently "one up" on life.

But through the meditation discipline the student finds out that he cannot stop this grasping so long as he thinks of himself as the ego which can either act or refrain from action. The attempt not to grasp rests upon the same false premise as the grasping: that thinking and doing, intending and choosing, are caused by an ego, that physical events flow from a social fiction.

The unreality of the ego is discovered in finding out that there is nothing which it can either do or not do to stop grasping. This insight (prajna) brings about nirvana, release from the false problem. But nirvana is a radical transformation of how it feels to be alive: it feels as if everything- including "my" thoughts and actions- were happening of itself.

There are still efforts, choices, and decisions, but not the sense that "I make them"; they arise of themselves in relation to circumstances. This is therefore to feel life, not as an encounter between subject and object, but as a polarized field where the confrontation of opposites has become the play of opposites.

It is for this reason that Buddhism pairs insight (prajna) with compassion (karuna), which is the appropriate attitude of the organism to its social and natural environment when it is discovered that the shifting boundary between the individual and the world, which we call the individual's behavior, is common to both. My outline, which is not just the outline of my skin but of every organ and cell in my body, is also the inline of the world. The movements of this outline are my movements, but they are also movements of the world- of its inline.

"According to relativity theory, space is not regarded as a container but as a constituent of the material universe." Seeing this, I feel with the world. By seeing through the social institution of the separate ego and finding out that my apparent independence was a social convention, I feel all the more one with society.

Corresponding, then, to the final vision of the world as a unified field (dharmadhatu), Buddhism sees the fully liberated man [person] as a Bodhisattva, as one completely free to take part in the cosmic and social game. When it is said that he is in the world but not of it, that he returns to join in all its activities without attachment, this means that he no longer confuses his identity with his social role- that he plays his role instead of taking it seriously. He is a Joker or "wild" man who can play any card in the deck.

His [or her] position is thus the same as that of the Atman-Brahman in Vendanta, of the unclassifiable and unidentifiable Self which plays all the various parts in the cosmic and social drama. As, on a lower level, one is never quite sure who an actor is, since, even when off-stage, he may still be acting, so also the Bodhisattva has no identity that can be pinned down. "His door stands closed, and the wise ones do not know him. His inner life is hidden, and he moves outside the ruts of the recognized virtues."

~ Alan Watts ~
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Carol on Tue Apr 16, 2013 5:37 pm

Dan74 wrote:In one of his talks, Watts says "I am not a Zen Buddhist. I am an entertainer."


Brad Warner said the same thing, recently! Or maybe he said "I'm not a Zen priest, I'm an entertainer." I could find it if I have to.

Thinking about that ... I'm moved/tickled by it. The backdoor in, through all the seriousness, has its virtues. Sometimes there's just not enough humor in Zen ... at least nowadays. See the "8 Winds" story here for an antidote. :lol2:
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby Linda Anderson on Tue Apr 16, 2013 5:41 pm

One of my early teachers used to say something similar.... that he was only tap dancing to keep us entertained while the work went on. It depends a lot on how this is heard.

and it seems a lot about the koan... there are no zen teachers.... yes and no

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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby PeterB on Tue Apr 16, 2013 6:07 pm

Well here I come messing up the place with my muddy boots...
Watts borrowed " the which than which there is no whicher " from GK Chesterton..

I have recounted elsewhere that as a young man I met Watts towards the end of his life.. ...he was living at a place called Druid Heights in a very nice cabin near the Pacific.
Far from chuckling and laughing he was by then clinically depressed. A very different persona to that which emerged in front of a mic or camera.
I saw him on and off over several weeks and was concerned for his mental health, although by then he did not appear to be drinking very much. Or eating much.
He was a pioneer.
Lets not push things further than they will comfortably go.
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby desert_woodworker on Tue Apr 16, 2013 6:27 pm

Thanks, Peter!

Watts may actually have given attribution; I forget; I heard that tape prob. 40 years ago, and while Watts was more clearly lively and present before the mind, and not Chesterton.

I know that Watts and Chesterton had a connection, or at least that Watts admired him, and was often quoting him. If I can think of another time he so tipped his hat, I'll add it here with pleasure.

Thank you again!

--Joe

PeterB wrote:
Watts borrowed " the which than which there is no whicher " from GK Chesterton..

"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.

"Least said is soonest disavowed". -- Ambrose Bierce (c. 1900)

"Politeness: noun. The most acceptable hypocrisy." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby christopher::: on Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:35 am

I think Alan Watts did (and continues to do) a very good job of sharing the nondual "view" of Eastern spiritual traditions, and explaining in clear language how that differs from Western cultural perceptions. But definitely he had difficulty walking the path and integrating the view fully into his life, as daily practice. Hopefully others who were inspired by him did a better job with implementing the wisdom.

Perhaps Dharma coming to the West is like deep rivers flowing into barren land, where the water needed to be channeled out into surrounding fields, watering seeds which could then blossom into flowers and plants. It could be that not everyone needs to swim in the deep waters of the traditions for our culture to be transformed in a meaningful way.

In that respect Watts was (perhaps) a channel digger, not a practitioner of the rivers. He was one of many in the 1950s and 60s who helped to bring Eastern wisdom and methods to the attention of the Western mainstream. The music of that time, the culture, were all vehicles for this.The flowering of ecology as a field since that time is one example of how our culture has been changing. Also the peace movements, women's movement. People standing up against nuclear power, the dismantling of Apartheid, the Soviet Union dissolving peacefully, etc.

Right now the environmental situation is at a crisis point, if humans don't become less selfish and consumer driven this planet will not be a very happy place to occupy in 50 years. Already for too many lives its hard. The emphasis by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and others in Buddhism on non-violence and ecological understanding are absolutely crucial now, these two issues especially are where greater "wisdom" is most needed.

Anyway, that's the perspective I have, so for me Alan Watts and other "popularizers" are role models for very essential Dharma work that needs to be done right now. The great traditions are mighty rivers, but we don't need everyone coming down to drink from them if we can find ways to get the water out to the surrounding fields and help millions of seeds to flower...

Which is what I think videos like this are helping to do.



Did you see the lights
As they fell all around you?
Did you hear the music
A serenade from the stars?

Wake up, wake up!
Wake up and look around you
We're lost in space
And the time is our own

Did you feel the wind
As it blew all around you?
Did you feel the love
That was in the air?

Wake up, wake up
Wake up and look around you
We're lost in space
And the time is our own

Whoa...

The Sun comes up
And it shines all around you
You're lost in space
And the Earth is your home.


~Steve Miller~

:Namaste:
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby PeterB on Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:03 am

If non-duality differed from, or was the same as, western cultural values it wouldn't be non duality would it ?
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Re: Alan Watts' Mysterious Youtube Popularity

Postby jiblet on Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:04 pm

christopher::: wrote:
[...]

Perhaps Dharma coming to the West is like deep rivers flowing into barren land, where the water needed to be channeled out into surrounding fields, watering seeds which could then blossom into flowers and plants. It could be that not everyone needs to swim in the deep waters of the traditions for our culture to be transformed in a meaningful way.

[...]

The great traditions are mighty rivers, but we don't need everyone coming down to drink from them if we can find ways to get the water out to the surrounding fields and help millions of seeds to flower...


Well said, Christopher!

(Have you been reading the Lotus Sutra?)

From Chapter five of the Lotus Sutra, "The Parable of the Herbs" [One of my favourite bits of Buddhist writing] :

Destroyer of existence, the Dharma King manifests within the world;
According to living beings' desires, he teaches the Dharma in various ways.
The Thus Come One, out of veneration for this wisdom deep and far-reaching,
Has long remained silent on this important matter, being in no hurry to set it forth.
Those with wisdom, if they heard it, would be able to believe and understand it.
But those lacking wisdom would doubt it and thereby lose it for a long time.
For this reason, Kashyapa, it is spoken in accord with their powers,
Employing various conditions to lead them to the right view.

Kashyapa, you should know it is like a great cloud
Rising above the world and covering all;
A wisdom cloud filled with moisture, illuminated with lightening flashes
And vibrating with thunderous roars, it brings delight to all.
Obscuring the light of the sun, refreshing the earth,
The cloud lowers and expands as if one could reach out and touch it.
It rains equally everywhere falling alike in the four directions,
Pouring without measure, saturating all the land.

In the mountains, streams and steep valleys; in deep recesses, there grow
Grasses, trees, and herbs, and trees, both great and small.
The grains, shoots, and plants, the sugar-cane and the grape vine;
All are nourished by the rain, and none fail to be enriched.
The parched ground is soaked; the herbs and trees together flourish.
Issuing from that cloud, water of a single flavor
Moistens grasses, trees and forests - each according to its measure.
All of the trees, great, medium and small,
According to their size can grow and develop.
When reached by that single rain, the roots, stalks, branches, and leaves,
Flowers and fruits with luster and color - all are fresh and shining.

According to their substance and marks, and natures either great or small,
They alike receive moisture and each one flourishes.

[...]


http://www.fodian.net/world/0262_05.html

Whoever says it, whether Christopher, Guatama Buddha, or some other buddha writing in The Lotus Sutra on Gautama Buddha's behalf - it's true!

***********************************

Alan Watt's The Way of Zen is one of the first books on Buudhism I read as a teenager (after John Cage's book of lectures Silence and D.T' Suzuki's Essays in Zen Buddhism (second series). I still think -whatever its shortcomings - it's great book. I like Alan Watts!
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