Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life Collected Talks: 1960-1969 (Paperback)
|Author: Alan Watts|
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|Alan Watts introduced millions of Western readers to Zen and other Eastern philosophies, but he’ s also recognized as a brilliant commentator on Judeo-Christian traditions as well as a celebrity philosopher who exemplified the ideas — and lifestyle — of the 1960s counterculture. In this compilation of controversial lectures, delivered at American universities throughout the decade, Watts challenges readers to reevaluate Western culture’ s most hallowed constructs. Watts treads familiar ground, interpreting Eastern traditions, and also covers new territory, exploring the counterculture’ s basis in the ancient tribal and shamanic cultures of Asia, Siberia, and the Americas. In the process, he addresses some of the era’ s most important questions: What is the nature of reality? And how does an individual’ s relationship to society affect this reality? Filled with his playful, provocative style, the talks show the remarkable scope of a philosopher in his prime, exploring and defining the '60s counterculture as only Alan Watts could.|
Alan Watts grew up in a village in Kent, England, but was sent off to boarding school at age 7. His mother was a collector of Oriental furniture and art and young Alan had an interest in the character Fu Manchu, the villain of Sax Rohmer stories. He was uncomfortable with certain aspects of Christian ritual, and by his teens he was developing an interest in Zen through his mentor, Christmas Humphries, the famous scholar of Buddhism. He read Vivekananda and classics such as the Tao Te Ching and the Upanishads. Watts studied under D. T. Suzuki, and at age 20 he wrote his first book, THE SPIRIT OF ZEN (1935), which was intended to introduce Zen to England. This was followed in a year by THE LEGACY OF ASIA AND WESTERN MAN, A Study of the Middle Way. Watts met Eleanor Everett, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy American, and he married her the next year. They moved to Chicago, and she and her family provided financial support. Watts later returned to England, but as a pacifist, he made the controversial decision to leave when it became clear that he would have to serve in the army following the rise of Hitler. In America, he published THE MEANING OF HAPPINESS (1940), a moderate success that appealed to the same audience that read Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale. Watts moved to Greenwich Village, and he and his wife lived a lifestyle among bohemians and intellectuals. Faced with the challenge to make a living, Watts enrolled in Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and obtained a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1948. After that he was assigned to nearby Northwestern University, where Watts caught people's attention by organizing church music concerts and gatherings where he was a central figure. In 1950, his wife sued for annulment on the basis of his belief in free love, which ended Watts' career in the Episcopal church. With a second wife, he quickly moved to California and renewed his study of Eastern traditions. He started a school for Asian Studies, worked at radio station KPFK, had a television show, and earned a good income from lectures and books. In addition, he made friends in the artistic world of Big Sur. In 1956, Watts published his major work, THE WAY OF ZEN. It offered a new vision of Zen, one adapted to a Western mentality. He and his group were the subject of Kerouac's THE DHARMA BUMS. Watts, who had never been to the Orient, made a trip there in the late '50s. In 1961, Life magazine did a profile of him. In 1962, he was charged with desertion by his second wife. He immediately took up residence on a ferryboat in San Francisco bay with his third wife, Jano. Watts gravitated to the world of Tim Leary, Haight-Ashbury, and the drug culture. He had a problem with alcohol, wrote his autobiography, IN MY OWN WAY (1973) and died in his sleep after returning from a lecture tour.