The Doors of Perception
The Doors of Perception is a philosophical essay detailing Aldous Huxley's experiences of a mescaline trip that took place over the course of an afternoon in May 1953. The book takes its title from a phrase in William Blake's 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, which range from the "purely aesthetic" to "sacramental vision". He also incorporates later reflections on the experience and its meaning for art and religion.
This insightful booklet illuminates Zen Buddhism's iconoclastic yet practical approach to awakening one's mind to the timeless Reality beyond concepts. Watts skillfully conveys how Zen uses spontaneity, humor, and shock tactics to point directly to the ever-present "now." A thoughtful exploration for any seeker.
In this talk, given to benefit the Zen Mountain Center and recorded at the Avalon Ballroom, Alan invites us to float like clouds; to directly experience life instead of mediating it through concepts. Constant thinking takes us from the real. Open wide the mind’s doors, be here, flow present like water. Watts touches on meditation’s liberating power in realizing our true nature already within. Sit, walk, breathe; see through illusion’s mist, marvel at the mundane’s hidden jewels, embrace each now, wake up! Enlightenment’s sunrise awaits those who cease thinking. Realize you're already It and let life’s living magic move your feet.
A small group of students traveled with Alan Watts through Japan, and along the way they stopped to visit the temples and gardens of Kyoto, listening to Alan bring ancient kōans to life.
When Alan Watts talked about the ‘mystical experience’ among scientific circles, he preferred to call it ‘ecological awareness’—referring to a state of mind in which a person ceases to feel separate from the environment in which he or she exists.
The Veil of Thoughts
Alan describes the ways in which we have concealed truth behind a veil of thoughts. He talks about how and why we mistake symbols for reality, argues that civilization may be a misguided experiment, offers observations about the way in which abstractions have become more powerful than the realities they are referencing, and explains how we can become “unbamboozled” from these ways of thinking.
The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism
In this paper, written for G. W. Davis’s course History of Living Religions at Crozer Theological Seminary, King explores the tenets of Mahayana Buddhism and implicitly associates that religion’s morality and popular appeal with the ideals of Christianity. King drew chiefly on S. Radhakrishnan’s Indian Philosophy and J. B. Pratt’s The Pilgrimage of Buddhism. (King later met Radhakrishnan during his 1959 trip to India.) Davis gave King an A for the paper, calling it “a clear statement,” and a B+ for the course overall.
Relevance of Oriental Philosophy
Do You Do It Or Does It Do You?
Alan explores the meaning of personal free will in the context of core tenets in Eastern mythology: how is it possible to control anything when preexisting conditions outside of our influence determine our present situation? It is a realization of the hidden unity behind our apparent diversity and a relinquishing of obsessive control that enables us to unlock a pathway leading out of the conundrum and towards a celebration and reverence of life.
World as Play
Watts presents a core Eastern philosophy of the world as a dramatic illusion, and that it exists for no other reason except to be experienced in a playful manner.
Buddhism as Dialogue
How does a person get out of a predicament they’ve talked themselves into?
Alan Watts discusses the concept of "thusness" or "suchness" in Eastern philosophy, exploring the meaning of the Sanskrit word tathātā and its potential to help us cultivate a deeper sense of presence and awareness in our daily lives.
Journey to India
Birth, Death, and the Unborn
All the patterns we see around us in the world are projections of our minds. There is no way things should be, there is no way things shouldn’t be. But if humans can adopt a mental discipline in which they remain able to project patterns without becoming hung up on them, life for everyone will transform into a beautiful artwork.
Zen and the Art of the Controlled Accident
Most people grow up learning to treat life as a problem, a set of circumstances which must be controlled with an iron will. Some transcend this view, realizing there is no problem and nothing to attain. In that state of mind it becomes possible to act without intention, to have “controlled accidents,” and in so doing one may rejoin society as a whimsical rascal who breaks things to improve them.
Games of Simplicity and Complexity
Watts discusses how cultures develop increasingly complex art forms, rituals, manners, and religions, reaching extremes of refinement. Then innovators emerge who return to simplicity, until that too becomes overly refined. The wise person avoids both awe and hostility toward complexity and simplicity, recognizing these cultural developments as elaborate games people play.
Future of Politics
Watts argues against the traditional Western concept of politics and the idea of a powerful leader governing a nation. Instead, he proposes a more Eastern approach inspired by the Tao Te Ching, which emphasizes flexibility, spontaneity, and water-like qualities in leadership. He encourages leaders to avoid using force and to embrace the natural flow of events, allowing the governed to live their lives freely. A society modeled after this philosophy would be more harmonious and functional, as opposed to societies driven by hierarchical structures and coercion.
Alan Watts examines the theme that our normal sense of the person as a lonely island of consciousness is a dramatic illusion based on theological imagery. In a global context, the meaning of this imagery inevitably changes, yet without losing its unique values.
Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown
Over the course of nineteen essays, Alan Watts ruminates on the philosophy of nature, ecology, aesthetics, religion, and metaphysics. Assembled in the form of a mountain journal, written during a retreat in the foothills of Mount Tamalpais in California, Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown is Watts’ meditation on the art of feeling out and following the watercourse way of nature, known in Chinese as the Tao. Embracing a form of contemplative meditation that allows us to stop analyzing our experiences and start living into them, the book explores themes such as the natural world, established religion, race relations, karma and reincarnation, astrology and tantric yoga, the nature of ecstasy, and much more.
Do You Smell?
Alan Watts speaks about our most repressed sense. Here he introduces viewers to the intricacies of incense in front of a small Buddhist altar, while commenting on the types of incense used in Church rituals and all across Asia.
Does It Matter?
In this short collection of essays, Alan Watts explores modern day problems from the outlook of his own philosophy, inspired mainly by Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Tackling problems of economics, technology, cooking and clothing, Watts offers a fresh perspective which is all too foreign to Western society. Published in 1970 just shortly before his death, this book is as relevant now as it was when it was written.
Slices of Wisdom
Highlights from the "The Love of Wisdom" radio series by Alan Watts.
The Life of Zen
A look inside Zen monastic life and practice reveals a culture of dialog and subtle humor between master and student.
The Message of the Myth
Bill Moyers and mythologist Joseph Campbell compare creation myths from the Bible and elsewhere, and talk about how religions and mythologies need to change with time in order to maintain their relevance in peoples’ lives.
The World as Emptiness (Part 2)
Alan Watts talks about the Buddhist perspective on change and impermanence. He discusses how Buddhism encourages detachment from the world of change and pursuit of nirvana, the state beyond change. However, clinging to nirvana as something permanent is still seeking permanence. True liberation comes from fully accepting change and transience, including death. The void or emptiness doctrine in Mahayana Buddhism elaborates on this by teaching that reality escapes concepts. Freedom comes from letting go of fixed ideas and accepting the void.
The World as Just So (Part 1)
Alan Watts lectures on the origins and essence of Zen, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that spread from India to China and Japan. He discusses key concepts like satori, no-mind, and non-attachment, and emphasizes Zen's spontaneity, directness, and humor. Major figures covered include Bodhidharma, Hui-neng, Rinzai, and Dogen. Watts aims to illuminate Zen's appeal in the West and convey the feeling of its practices.
While Pure Land Buddhism promises easy enlightenment through faith in Buddha Amitābha, Alan Watts explains how its eccentric followers, the myōkōnin, found wisdom by goofing off. With playful tales of the monk Ryōkan’s antics, from imitating tigers to forgetting letters mid-juggle, Watts shows how these rascal sages attained childlike wonder by ditching spiritual bootstraps for carefree acceptance of their flawed humanity. For the myōkōnin, the path to Buddhahood involved more fun and games than pious efforts.