alan watts Quotes

Alan Watts Quotes

Birth Date: 1915-01-06 (Wednesday, January 6th, 1915)
Date of Death: 1973-11-16 (Friday, November 16th, 1973)

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    • Camus said there is only really one serious philosophical question, which is whether or not to commit suicide. I think there are four or five serious philosophical questions: The first one is: Who started it? The second is: Are we going to make it? The third is: Where are we going to put it? The fourth is: Who's going to clean up? And the fifth: Is it serious?
    • Life is a game, the first rule of which is that IT IS NOT A GAME.
    • There is obviously a place in life for a religious attitude for awe and astonishment at existence. That is also a basis for respect for existence. We don't have much of it in this culture, even though we call it materialistic. In this culture we call materialistic, today we are of course bent on the total destruction of material and its conversion into junk and poisonous gases. This is of course not a materialistic culture because it has no respect for material. And respect is in turn based on wonder.
    • Zen ... does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
    • Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.
    • Ego is a social institution with no physical reality. The ego is simply your symbol of yourself. Just as the word 'water' is a noise that symbolizes a certain liquid without being it, so too the idea of ego symbolizes the role you play, who you are, but it is not the same as your living organism.
    • It must be obvious... that there is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.
    • For the greater part of human, activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing.
    • I am amazed that Congressmen can pass a bill imposing severe penalties on anyone who burns the American flag, whereas they are responsible for burning that for which the flag stands: the United States as a territory, as a people, and as a biological manifestation. That is an example of our perennial confusion of symbols with realities.
    • Running away from fear is fear; fighting pain is pain; trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought.
    • 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.
    • Now, you see, if you understand what I'm saying, with your intelligence, and then take the next step and say 'But I understood it now, but I didn't feel it.' Then, next I raise the question: Why do you want to feel it? You say: 'I want something more', because that's again that spiritual greed. And you could only say that because you didn't understand it.
    • You see, many of the troubles going on in the world right now are being supervised by people with very good intentions whose attempts are to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this, and to prevent that. The more we try to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes. Maybe that is the way it has got to be. Maybe I should not say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right but simply, on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise.
    • The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.
    • Nothing fails like success.
    • But what we've got going wrong is we've got a kind of bifurcation [in cultural development]: You take your classified telephone directory, and open up 'Churches', and have a ruler in your hand. And you will find that the longest space is occupied by authoritarian, Bible-banging churches. And these people are barbarians, who take the written word of the Bible literally. Because they need terribly, they have a personal need, for something to depend on. [...] The government realizes that there is a very large number of people like that; and therefore, to keep their votes, they have to pander to those kind of people. And these are the boys who never grew up; they always need Papa. [...] The trouble is that the boys who need Papa, are violent. They have the guns. And they are the types of people who like to be soldiers, policemen-tough guys. And therefore they have a great deal of power.
    • The pity of all this is, you know, a man like that [ Sri Ramakrishna ] has to have disciples, or no one would ever hear about him. But somehow, as the generations pass, the flame dies out. And eventually the disciples kill him. I wish that there was a way of putting a time-bomb into scriptures and records- not a time-bomb, but some kind of invisible ink, so that all scriptures would un-print themselves about fifty years after the master's death. And just dissolve.
    • Nowadays, of course, progressive theologians are all for sex; they say it's a good thing, the biblical position was not that sex was evil, but that it was good, and that it's alright.    But now, look here, what is the real point here? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. What can you get kicked out of the church for? Any church- Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, and the synagogue I think too. What's the real thing for which people get kicked out, excommunicated?    For 'envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness'? 'Pride, vainglory, and hardness of heart'? Owning shares in munitions factories? Profiting off slums? No sir. You can be a bishop and live in all those sins openly. But if you go to bed with the wrong person, you're out.    So one has to conclude that, for all practical purposes, the church is a sexual regulation society; and it really isn't interested in anything else. Christianity is more preoccupied with sex than even Priapism or Tantric Yoga [are]. Because that's the thing that counts, that's the sin, the really important sin.
    • Archimedes said, 'Give me a fulcrum and I will move the Earth'; but there isn't one. It is like betting on the future of the human race - I might wish to lay a bet that the human race would destroy itself by the year 2,000, but there is nowhere to place the bet. On the contrary, I am involved in the world and must try to see that it does not blow itself to pieces. I once had a terrible argument with Margaret Mead. She was holding forth one evening on the absolute horror of the atomic bomb, and how everybody should spring into action and abolish it, but she was getting so furious about it that I said to her: 'You scare me because I think you are the kind of person who will push the button in order to get rid of the other people who were going to push it first.' So she told me that I had no love for my future generations, that I had no responsibility for my children, and that I was a phony swami who believed in retreating from facts. But I maintained my position. As Robert Oppenheimer said a short while before he died, 'It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.' You see, many of the troubles going on in the world right now are being supervised by people with very good intentions whose attempts are to keep things in order, to clean things up, to forbid this, and to prevent that. The more we try to put everything to rights, the more we make fantastic messes. Maybe that is the way it has got to be. Maybe I should not say anything at all about the folly of trying to put things to right but simply, on the principle of Blake, let the fool persist in his folly so that he will become wise.
    • A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.
    • The transformation of human consciousness though meditation is frustrated, as long as we think of it in terms as something that I, my self can bring about. because it leads to endless games of spiritual oneupmanship, and Guru competitions.
    • That we are no longer this poor little stranger and afraid in a world it never made. But that YOU ARE THIS UNIVERSE and you are creating it in every moment...Because you see it starts now, it didn't begin in the past, there was no past. See, if the universe began in the past when that happened it was now, see, but it still now. and the universe is still beginning now, and it's trailing off like the wake of a ship from now, and that wake fades out so does the past. You can look back there to explain things, but the explanation disappears. You'll never find it there... Things are not explained by the past, they are explained by what Happens Now. That Creates the past, and it begins here... That's the birth of responsibility...
    • If you know that 'I', in the sense of the person, the front, the ego, it really doesn't exist. won't go to your head too badly, if you wake up and discover that you're God.'
    • Beyond positive and negative, what is reality?
    • Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.
    • How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.
    • I find that the sensation of myself as an ego inside a bag of skin is really a hallucination. What we really are is, first of all, the whole of our body. And although our bodies are bounded with skin, and we can differentiate between outside and inside, they cannot exist except in a certain kind of natural environment. Obviously a body requires air, and the air must be within a certain temperature range. The body also requires certain kinds of nutrition. So in order to occur the body must be on a mild and nutritive planet with just enough oxygen in the atmosphere spinning regularly around in a harmonious and rhythmical way near a certain kind of warm star. That arrangement is just as essential to the existence of my body as my heart, my lungs, and my brain. So to describe myself in a scientific way, I must also describe my surroundings, which is a clumsy way getting around to the realization that you are the entire universe. However we do not normally feel that way because we have constructed in thought an abstract idea of our self.
    • I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.
    • It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance that when Western civilization discovers Relativity it applies it to the manufacture of atom-bombs, whereas this Oriental civilization applies it to the development of new states of consciousness.
    • Light shines in darkness because what else could it shine in?
    • Many people never grow up. They stay all their lives with a passionate need for external authority and guidance, pretending not to trust their own judgment.
    • Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen.
    • Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.
    • Some believe all that parents, tutors, and kindred believe. They take their principles by inheritance, and defend them as they would their estates, because they are born heirs to them.
    • Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.
    • The difficulty for most of us in the modern world is that the old-fashioned idea of God has become incredible or implausible. When we look through our telescopes and microscopes, or when we just look at nature, we have a problem. Somehow the idea of God we get from the holy scriptures doesn't seem to fit the world around us, just as you wouldn't ascribe a composition by Stravinsky to Bach. The style of God venerated in the church, mosque, or synagogue seems completely different from the style of the natural universe. It's hard to conceive of the author of one as the author of the other.
    • The idea of nothing has bugged people for centuries, especially in the Western world. We have a saying in Latin, Ex nihilo nihil fit, which means 'out of nothing comes nothing.' It has occurred to me that this is a fallacy of tremendous proportions. It lies at the root of all our common sense, not only in the West, but in many parts of the East as well. It manifests in a kind of terror of nothing, a put-down on nothing, and a put-down on everything associated with nothing, such as sleep, passivity, rest, and even the feminine principles. But to me nothing - the negative, the empty - is exceedingly powerful. I would say, on the contrary, you can't have something without nothing. Image nothing but space, going on and on, with nothing in it forever. But there you are imagining it, and you are something in it. The whole idea of there being only space, and nothing else at all is not only inconceivable but perfectly meaningless, because we always know what we mean by contrast.
    • To the philosophers of India, however, Relativity is no new discovery, just as the concept of light years is no matter for astonishment to people used to thinking of time in millions of kalpas, (A kalpa is about 4,320,000 years). The fact that the wise men of India have not been concerned with technological applications of this knowledge arises from the circumstance that technology is but one of innumerable ways of applying it.
    • Underneath the superficial self, which pays attention to this and that, there is another self more really us than I. And the more you become aware of the unknown self - if you become aware of it - the more you realize that it is inseparably connected with everything else that is. You are a function of this total galaxy, bounded by the Milky Way, and this galaxy is a function of all other galaxies. You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes. You look and look, and one day you are going to wake up and say, 'Why, that's me!' And in knowing that, you know that you never die. You are the eternal thing that comes and goes that appears - now as John Jones, now as Mary Smith, now as Betty Brown - and so it goes, forever and ever and ever.
    • We are at war between consciousness and nature, between the desire for permanence and the fact of flux. It is ourself against ourselves.
    • We are all basically scams and if you haven't found that - you are very unconscious. I know all sorts of people who are full of outward love, but of course it always turns up that they need money. And where it comes to money, the virtue flies out of a window.
    • When no risk is taken there is no freedom. It is thus that, in an industrial society, the plethora of laws made for our personal safety convert the land into a nursery, and policemen hired to protect us become selfserving busybodies.
    • You can't get rid of your hallucination of being an ego by an activity of the ego. Sorry, but it can't be done . . . If you try to get rid of your ego with your ego you will just end up in a vicious circle. You'd be like somebody who worries because they worry because they worry.
    • alan watts

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