With countless essays, over 25 books, and nearly 400 lectures, Alan Watts quotes will make you more aware of yourself and your world. There are a lot of topics such as the meaning of life, love, death, higher consciousness, the true nature of reality and the pursuit of happiness.
Who is Alan Watts?
Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-American philosopher, an author, a poet, a radical thinker, an ex-priest, a mystic, a teacher, and a critic of society. He interpreted and popularised Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.
If you’re searching for the best life quotes by wise people to share with the people you love (or just want to feel inspired yourself) … look no further! From deep Dr. Seuss Quotes, inspirational Maya Angelou Quotes, and Buddha Quotes, you will find top of greatest sayings.
Top 10 Alan Watts Quotes
Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.
This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.
We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.
Life exists only at this very moment, and at this moment it is infinite and eternal, for the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it exists forever….
Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.
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.
But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.
Philosophy is man’s expression of curiosity about everything and his attempt to make sense of the world primarily through his intellect.
There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering.
Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself.
Best Alan Watts Quotes
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
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.
Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.
We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.
You don’t look out there for God, something in the sky, you look in you.
You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.
But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.
The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention.
The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
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.
Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
I owe my solitude to other people.
What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.
If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.
You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.
Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.
Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.
A scholar tries to learn something every day; a student of Buddhism tries to unlearn something daily.
No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.
The menu is not the meal.
Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.
When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.
You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.
One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.
The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.
The world is filled with love-play, from animal lust to sublime compassion.
Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.
What we have to discover is that there is no safety, that seeking is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.
Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.
Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.
It is hard indeed to notice anything for which the languages available to us have no description.
It’s better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
Society is our extended mind and body.
Love is not something that is a sort of rare commodity, everybody has it.
Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself.
Everything that happens, everything that I have ever done, everything that anybody else has ever done is part of a harmonious design, that there is no error at all.
You can only be on them in relation to something that is out.
The positive cannot exist without the negative.
We notice only what we think noteworthy, and therefore our visions highly selective.
To be free from convention is not to spurn it but not to be deceived by it.
Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.
Words can be communicative only between those who share similar experiences.
If you cannot trust yourself, you cannot even trust your mistrust of yourself – so that without this underlying trust in the whole system of nature you are simply paralyzed.
Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.
But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.
Hospitals should be arranged in such a way as to make being sick an interesting experience. One learns a great deal sometimes from being sick.
No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.
So then, the relationship of self to other is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself.
The problem is to overcome the ingrained disbelief in the power of winning nature by love, in the gentle (ju) way (do) of turning with the skid, of controlling ourselves by cooperating with ourselves.
What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.
Much of the secret of life consists in knowing how to laugh, and also how to breathe.
In the more intimate sphere of personal life, the problem is the pain of trying to avoid suffering and the fear of trying not to be afraid.
People who exude love are apt to give things away. They are in every way like rivers; they stream. And so when they collect possessions and things they like, they are apt to give them to other people. Because, have you ever noticed that when you start giving things away, you keep getting more?
Your soul is not in your body; your body is in your soul.
Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.
We do not come into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean waves, the universe peoples. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.
Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.
There is always something taboo, something repressed, un-admitted, or just glimpsed quickly out of the corner of one’s eye because a direct look is too unsettling. Taboos lie within taboos, like the skin of an onion.
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now. 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.
If you really understand Zen… you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because… the sound of the rain needs no translation.
The sense of wrong is simply a failure to see where something fits into a pattern, to be confused as to the hierarchical level upon which an event belongs.
The only Zen you’ll find on mountain tops is the Zen you bring up there with you.
You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.
What the devil is the point of surviving, going on living when it’s a drag? But you see, that’s what people do.
You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.
The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing.
Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
Man suffers only because he takes seriously.
Zen is a way of liberation, concerned not with discovering what is good or bad or advantageous, but what is.
Don’t hurry anything. Don’t worry about the future. Don’t worry about what progress you’re making. Just me entirely content to be aware of what is.
The only zen you’ll find on the mountain tops is the zen you bring up there with you.
Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
To have faith is to trust yourself.
Don’t make a distinction between work and play. Regard everything that you’re doing as play, and don’t regard for one minute that you have to be serious about it.
You don’t look out there, you look in you.
If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.
The real you is the whole universe.
There is nothing at all that can be talked about adequately, and the whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said.
When you look out of your eyes, at nature happening out there, you’re looking at you. That’s the real you. The you that goes on of itself.
To put is still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath.
We’re living in a fluid universe, in which the art of faith is not in taking one’s stand, but in learning to swim.
Your skin does not separate you from the world. It’s a bridge through which the external world flows into you. And you flow into it.
If the universe is meaningless, so is the statement that it is so. If this world is a vicious trap, so is its accuser, and the pot is calling the kettle black.
The source of all light is in the eye.
Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.
But the transformation of consciousness undertaken in Taoism and Zen is more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease. It is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions. As Lao-tzu said, The scholar gains every day, but the Taoist loses every day.
To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect is absolutely dead, for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao. In reality, there is nothing in the universe which is completely perfect or completely still; it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.
We are all floating in a tremendous river and the river carries you along. Some of the people in the river are swimming against the current, but they are still being carried along. Others have learned that the art of the thing is to swim with it. You have to flow with the river. There is no other way. You can swim against it, and pretend not to be flowing with it. But you still flow with the river.
We can’t say anything sensible about everything… about the universe, because we can’t find something that’s not the universe.
This is why human beings find it difficult to learn and adapt to new situations: because we are always looking for precedence, for authority from the past on what we’re supposed to do now. And that gives us the impression that the past is all-important.
The sure foundation upon which I had sought to stand has turned out to be the center from which I seek.
One solitary fact or thing cannot exist by itself, since it would be infinite—without delineating limits, without anything other. Now, this essential duality and multiplicity of facts should be the clearest evidence of their interdependence and inseparability.
It is as necessary to have air, water, plants, insects, birds, fish, and mammals as it is to have brains, hearts, lungs, and stomachs. The former is our external organs in the same way that the latter are our internal organs.
The physical world—clouds, mountains, humans—is wiggly. When you try to pick up a fish with your bare hands, it wiggles and slips out. What do you do? You use a net. And the net is the basic thing we have for getting hold of the wiggly world. And then somehow we think we understand when we have translated it into terms of straight lines and squares. But it doesn’t fit in nature.
Solidity is a neurological invention, and, I wonder, can the nerves be solid to themselves? Where do we begin? Does the order of the brain create the order of the world, or the order of the world the brain?
This is where the world begins. Only you’re not doing it by straining. A ‘you’ deeper than the ‘straining you’ is doing all of this. The same you that is growing your hair, coloring your eyes, and making your thumbprints. You don’t think about it. You don’t strain muscles to do it. But that is what is creating the world.
The clash between science and religion has not shown that religion is false and science is true. It has shown that all systems of definition are relative to various purposes and that none of them actually grasp reality.
You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game and that there is no separate you to get something out of it as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real you is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For you is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.
The morning glory which blooms for an hour differs not at heart from the giant pine, which lives for a thousand years.
In looking out upon the world, we forget that the world is looking at itself.
He who thinks that God is not comprehended, by him, God is comprehended; but he who thinks that God is comprehended knows him not. God is unknown to those who know him and is known to those who do not know him at all.
The centipede was happy, quite, Until a toad in fun Said, Pray, which leg goes after which? This worked his mind to such a pitch, He lay distracted in a ditch, Considering how to run.
I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware.
For there is never anything but the present, and if one cannot live there, one cannot live anywhere.
You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.
For man seems to be unable to live without myth, without the belief that the routine and drudgery, the pain and fear of this life have some meaning and goal in the future. At once new myths come into being – political and economic myths with extravagant promises of the best of futures in the present world. These myths give the individual a certain sense of meaning by making him part of a vast social effort, in which he loses something of his own emptiness and loneliness. Yet the very violence of these political religions betrays the anxiety beneath them – for they are but men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.
If you cannot trust yourself, you cannot even trust your mistrust of yourself – so that without this underlying trust in the whole system of nature you are simply paralyzed
I find that the sensation of myself as an ego inside a bag of skin is really a hallucination.
What happens if you know that there is nothing you can do to be better? It’s kind of a relief, isn’t it? You say ‘Well, now what do I do?’ When you are freed from being out to improve yourself, your own nature will begin to take over.
We can see that the eternal is the transient, for the changing panorama of sense experience is not just a sum of appearing and disappearing things; it is a stable pattern or relationship manifested as, and by, transient forms.
Education, in the real sense, is not preparation for life, it is actually living. It is the child participating in adult concerns. And doing it now and realizing that the point of the process in which the child is engaged, is not to prepare the child for the future, but to enjoy doing the thing today.
Your real self, the real you, is everything there is… but concentratedAlan Watts in meditation and expressing itself at the point called your physical organism.
Your ego has about as much control over what goes on as a child sitting next to his father in a car with a plastic steering wheel.
Thought is a means of concealing the truth, despite the fact that it’s an extraordinarily useful faculty.
When you know that you have to go with the river, suddenly you acquire—behind everything that you do—the power of the river.
A proper exposition of Zen should ‘tease us out of thought, and leave the mind lie an open window instead of a panel of stained glass.
You are all Vishnu playing that you’re in this mess, which is part of the cosmic dance. So, if that’s the case, dig it! You see? I mean, get with it! Be that!
How can truth be known if it can never be defined? Zen would answer: by not trying to grasp or define it.
When you get to a deep ethical problem—where there is no easy decision on way or the other—you must look at the problem from the point of view of an artist. Which way of doing this is, in some sense, greater? It may be better to go off with a bang than a whimper.
Man has to realize that he is an integral part of nature… that he is just as much a natural form as a seagull or a wave, or a mountain. And if he doesn’t recognize that, he uses his technical powers to destroy his environment… to foul his own nest.
Every effort to change what is being felt or seen predisposes and confirms the illusion of the independent knower or ego, and to try to get rid of what isn’t there is only to prolong confusion.
[…] the transformation of consciousness undertaken in Taoism and Zen is more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease. It is not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions.
It’s one of the great wonders of life: What will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, that it will pose the next question to you: What was it like to wake up after never having gone to sleep? That was when you were born. You see, you can’t have an experience of nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum.
We need to recognize the physical reality of the relationship between organisms as having as much ‘substance’ as the organisms themselves, if not more.
We love to see a child lost in the dance and not performing for an audience. To be happy and know that you are happy is really the overflowing cup of life. To dance as if there was no audience.
Only those who have cultivated the art of living completely in the present have any use for making plans for the future, for when the plans mature they will be able to enjoy the results.
Tomorrow never comes.
No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.
The actual trouble is that profit is identified entirely with money, as distinct from the real profit of living with dignity and elegance in beautiful surroundings.
Before you were born there was this same nothing-at-all-forever. And yet… you happened. And if you happened once, you can happen again.
Everybody is ‘you’. Everybody is ‘I’. That’s our name. We all share that.
For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.
In nature the skin is as much a joiner as a divider, being, as it were the bridge whereby the inner organs have contact with air, warmth, and light.
I do not even style myself a Zen Buddhist. For the aspect of Zen in which I am personally interested is nothing that can be organized, taught, transmitted, certified, or wrapped up in any kind of system. It can’t even be followed, for everyone has to find it for himself.
Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Whole, as every branch is a particular outreaching of the tree.
When you get free from certain fixed concepts of the way the world is, you find it is far more subtle, and far more miraculous than you thought it was.
The more we struggle for life (as pleasure), the more we are actually killing what we love.
Life and love generate effort, but the effort will not generate them. Faith in life, in other people, and in oneself, is the attitude of allowing the spontaneous to be spontaneous, in its own way and in its own time.
Parts exist only for purposes of figuring and describing, and as we figure the world out we become confused if we do not remember this all the time.
Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to the superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name, and define fear in order to make it “objective, that is, separate from “I.
There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied.
The problem comes up because we ask the question in the wrong way. We supposed that solids were one thing and space quite another, or just nothing whatever. Then it appeared that space was no mere nothing because solids couldn’t do without it. But the mistake, in the beginning, was to think of solids and space as two different things, instead of as two aspects of the same thing. The point is that they are different but inseparable, like the front end and the rear end of a cat. Cut them apart, and the cat dies.
Light is a relationship between electrical energy and eyeballs. It is you, in other words, who evoke the world and you evoke the world in accordance with what kind of a ‘you’ you are.
[…] Thoughts, ideas, and words are ‘coins’ for real things. They are not those things, and though they represent them, there are many ways in which they do not correspond at all. As with money and wealth, so with thoughts and things; ideas and words are more or less fixed, whereas real things change.
The more complete kind of mind, which can feel as well as think, remains to ‘indulge’ the odd sense of mystery which comes from contemplating the fact that everything is at base something which cannot be known.
Transiency is a mark of spirituality. A lot of people think the opposite… that the spiritual things are the everlasting things. But, you see, the more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.
Supposing you knew the future and could control it perfectly, what would you do? You’d say: ‘Let’s shuffle the deck and have another deal.’
I see that resistance, ego, is just an extra vortex in the stream—part of it—and that in fact there is no actual resistance at all. There is no point from which to confront life or stand against it.
The physical universe is basically playful. There’s no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere; that is to say, it doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by analogy to music because music as an art form is essentially playful.
We have been hypnotized—literally hypnotized—by social convention into feeling and sensing that we exist only inside of our skins… That we are not the original big bang, but just something out on the end of it. And therefore, everybody feels unhappy and miserable.
When you are not getting in the way of yourself, you will begin to find out that all the great things you do are really happenings. All growth is something that happens. For growth to happen two things are important. You must have the technical ability to express what happens. And secondly, you must get out of your own way.
Let’s ask, ‘How big is the sun?’ Are we going to define the sun as limited by the extent of its fire? That’s one possible definition. But we could equally well define the sphere of the sun by the extent of its light.
The more it sides with itself, the more the good soul reveals its inseparable shadow, and the more it disowns its shadow the more it becomes it.
Nature is really formless, in the sense that it is one form. Naming a cloud a cloud does not separate the cloud from the sky. Just as when you pick up water into a sieve, you don’t succeed in separating the water into strips.
The word ‘person’ comes from the Latin word ‘persona’ which referred to the masks worn by actors in which sound would come through. The ‘person’ is the mask—the role you’re playing. And all of your friends and relations and teachers are busy telling you who you are and what your role in life is.
Light is an inseparable trinity of sun, object, and eye.
There’s no need to possess [the Tao]. You are it, and by trying to possess it you imply that you’re not. So, by trying to catch hold of it, you as it were, push it away… Although you can’t really push it away because the very pushing is all it. You see?
The gift of remembering and binding time creates the illusion that the past stands to the present as an agent to act, mover to moved. Living thus from the past, with echoes taking the lead, we are not truly here and are always a bit late to the feast.
If you say making money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living. That is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid. Better to have a short life, which is full of what you like doing, than a long one spent in a miserable way.
This very moment, this very world, this very body is the point. Now. You see? But, if you’re seeking something beyond all the time, you never get with it. You’re never here.
The physical world is diaphanous. It’s like music. When you play music, it simply disappears. There’s nothing left. And, for that very reason, it is one of the highest and most spiritual of the arts because it is the most transient.
There are, then, two ways of understanding an experience. The first is to compare it with the memories of other experiences, and so to name and define it. This is to interpret it in accordance with the dead and the past. The second is to be aware of it as it is, as when, in the intensity of joy, we forget past and future, let the present be all, and then do not even stop to think ‘I am happy.’
There is no such thing as ‘the truth’ that can be stated. In other words, ask the question: ‘What is the true position of the stars in the Big Dipper?’ Well, it depends on where you’re looking at them from.
The hills are moving into their stillness. They mean something because they are being transformed into my brain, and my brain is an organ of meaning.
Consciousness is a radar that is scanning the environment to look out for trouble, in the same way, that a ship’s radar is looking for rocks or other ships. The radar does not notice the vast amount of space where there are no rocks and other ships. By and large, we scan things over but we pay attention only to what our set of values tells us we should pay attention to.
Not picking and choosing doesn’t mean that you have to cultivate being detached. You can try that, sure. But then you find you’re terribly attached to your non-attachment. Like you’re proud of your humility.
For when we stand with our nature, seeing that there is nowhere to stand against it, we are at last able to move unmoved.
You hear the sound of water… And that’s quite as important as anything I’ve got to say.
I am looking at the world, not confronting it; I am knowing it by a continuous process of transforming it into myself, so that everything around me, the whole globe of space, no longer feels away from me but in the middle.
Total situations are, therefore, patterns in time as much as patterns in space.
There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes around, and so the world repeats itself again and again.
We do not come into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves, the universe “peoples.
Everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
The art of living is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.
The most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.
When a bird sings, it doesn’t sing for the advancement of music.
The possibility of seeing down into something goes on forever and unnamedever. When you work with mantras, you can learn to hear similar infinite depths in sound.
For when no knowledge is held to be respectable which is not objective knowledge, what we know will always seem to be not ourselves, not the subject. Thus we have the feeling of knowing things only from the outside, never from within, of being confronted eternally with a world of impenetrable surfaces within surfaces within surfaces.
Nirvana is right where you are, provided that you don’t object to it.
I am not one who believes that it is any necessary virtue in the philosopher to spend his life defending a consistent position. It is surely a kind of spiritual pride to refrain from ‘thinking out loud,’ and to be unwilling to let a thesis appear in print until you are prepared to champion it to the death. Philosophy, like science, is a social function, for a man cannot think rightly alone, and the philosopher must publish his thoughts as much to learn from criticism as to contribute to the sum of wisdom. If then, I sometimes make statements in an authoritative and dogmatic manner, it is for the sake of clarity rather than from the desire to pose as an oracle.
You can’t live at all unless you can live fully now.
Thus the conventional saint and the conventional sinner, the ascetic and the sensualist, the metaphysician and the materialist may have so much in common that their opposition is quite trivial. Like alternating heat and cold, they may be symptoms of the same fever.
Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.
Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money … but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth … In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas, and words are ‘coins’ for real things.
The style of God venerated in the church, mosque, or synagogue seems completely different from the style of the natural universe.
We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.
Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it.
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.
To put is still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.
Man aspires to govern nature, but the more one studies ecology, the more absurd it seems to speak of any one feature of an organism, or of an organism/environment field, as governing or ruling others.
To travel is to be alive, but to get somewhere is to be dead, for as our own proverb says, To travel well is better than to arrive.
If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll be spending your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing, in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things which you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.
Nothing is permanent.
The future is a concept, it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as tomorrow. There never will be because time is always now. That’s one of the things we discover when we stop talking to ourselves and stop thinking. We find there is only present, only an eternal now.
Life is not a problem to be solved, but an experience to be had.
There never is, or was, or will be anything except the present.
Every explicit duality is an implicit unity.
The best way to convince someone is by making him realize that what you speak came from his own mind.
There is no such thing as a single, solitary event. The only possible single event is all events whatsoever. That could be regarded as the only possible atom; the only possible single thing is everything.
A buddha would see you all as being exactly right; just where you are, all of you are buddhas. Even for those of you who do not know it, it is right for you not to know it at this moment.
Reality itself is gorgeous. It is the plenum; the fullness of total joy.
When you know that this moment is the Tao, and this moment is considered by itself without past and without future—eternal, neither coming into being nor going out of being—there is nirvana.
Because we cannot relate to the sensuous and material present we are most happy when good things are expected to happen, not when they are happening.
We’ve run into a cultural situation where we’ve confused the symbol with the physical reality; the money with the wealth; and the menu with the dinner. And we’re starving on eating menus.
The ego is a kind of flip, a knowing of knowing, a fearing of fearing. It’s a curlicue, an extra jazz to experience, a sort of double-take or reverberation, a dithering of consciousness which is the same as anxiety.
Is it possible that myself, my existence, so contains being and nothing that death is merely the ‘off’ interval in an on/off pulsation which must be eternal—because every alternative to this pulsation (e.g., its absence) would in due course imply its presence?
Faith is, above all, open-ness—an act of trust in the unknown.
If we came to our senses, we would be aware of ourselves not as only on the inside of our skins… But we would be aware that the outside is us too.
Buddha is the man who woke up, who discovered who he really was.
What do we mean by ‘I’? We mean the symbol of ourselves. Now ourselves, in this case, is the whole psychophysical organism—conscious and unconscious, plus its environment. That’s your real self. Your real self, in other words, is the universe as centered on your organism.
Consciousness is rather unfolding, the ‘e-volution,’ of what has always been hidden in the heart of the primordial universe of stars […] It is in the living organism that the whole world feels; it is only by virtue of eyes that the stars themselves are light.
A baby has for a long time been part of its mother and has floated in the ocean of the womb. So it has the sense from the beginning of what is really to an enlightened person totally obvious—that the universe is one single organism.
The extraordinary capacity to feel an event inwardly, as distinct from bursting into precipitate action to avoid the tension of feeling—this capacity is, in fact, a wonderful power of adaptation to life, not unlike the instant responses of flowing water to the contours of the ground over which it flows.
I prefer not to translate the word Tao at all because to us Tao is a sort of nonsense syllable, indicating the mystery that we can never understand—the unity that underlies the opposites.
The reality of our existence is that we are both the natural environment, which is ultimately the whole universe, and the organism, playing together. Why don’t we feel that way? Well obviously, because this other feeling gets in the way of it. This socially-induced feeling.
You might imagine there being a space without any solid in it, but you will never, never encounter one, because you will be there in the form of a solid to find out about it.
You are in relationships with the external world that are, on the whole, incredibly harmonious. But we have this rather myopic way of looking at things. And we screen out from attention anything that is not immediately important to a scanning system based on sensing danger.
What you are in your in-most being escapes your examination in rather the same way that you can’t look directly into your own eyes without using a mirror, you can’t bite your own teeth, you can’t taste your own tongue, and you can’t touch the tip of this finger with the tip of this finger.
Money is the same order of reality as inches, grams, or lines of longitude and latitude. It is an abstraction. It is a method of bookkeeping to obviate the cumbersome procedures of barter. But our culture, our civilization, is entirely hung up on the notion that money has an independent reality of its own.
The bud has opened and the fresh leaves fan out and curve back with a gesture which is unmistakably communicative but doesn’t say anything except, ‘Thus!’ And somehow that is quite satisfactory, even startlingly clear.
The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events—that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies—and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.
When the police enter a house in which there are thieves, the thieves go up from the ground floor to the first floor. When the police arrive on the first floor, the thieves have gone up to the second, and so to the third and finally out to the roof. And so, when the ego is about to be unmasked, it immediately identifies with a higher self. It goes up a level. Because the religious game is simply a refined and highbrow version of the ordinary game: ‘How can I outwit me?… How can I one-up me?’
Love is a spectrum. There is not, as it were, nice love and nasty unnamedlove… spiritual love, and material love… mature affection on the one hand and infatuation on the other. These are all forms of the same energy, and you have to take it and let it grow where you find it. If you find that only one of these forms exists in you, if at least you will water it, the rest of the plant will blossom as well.
Absence speaks. Nothing is important. But, we are brought up… We are so brainwashed, we are so bamboozled, we are so hypnotized, that we don’t know that.
The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.
You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes.
It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlique, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and-so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.
And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words… As if you had a meaning as if you were a mere word as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.
Indeed, one of the highest pleasures is to be more or less unconscious of one’s own existence, to be absorbed in interesting sights, sounds, places, and people. Conversely, one of the greatest pains is to be self-conscious, to feel unabsorbed and cut off from the community and the surrounding world.
The more we try to live in the world of words, the more we feel isolated and alone, the more all the joy and liveliness of things is exchanged for mere certainty and security. On the other hand, the more we are forced to admit that we actually live in the real world, the more we feel ignorant, uncertain, and insecure about everything.
We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions, and ideas.
The true splendor of science is not so much that it names and classifies, records and predicts, but that it observes and desires to know the facts, whatever they may turn out to be. However much it may confuse facts with conventions, and reality with arbitrary divisions, in this openness and sincerity of mind it bears some resemblance to religion, understood in its other and deeper sense. The greater the scientist, the more he is impressed with his ignorance of reality, and the more he realizes that his laws and labels, descriptions and definitions, are the products of his own thought. They help him to use the world for purposes of his own devising rather than to understand and explain it. The more he analyzes the universe into infinitesimals, the more things he finds to classify, and the more he perceives the relativity of all classification. What he does not know seems to increase in geometric progression to what he knows. Steadily he approaches the point where what is unknown is not a mere blank space in a web of words but a window in the mind, a window whose name is not ignorance but wonder.
Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.
Life is like music for its own sake. We are living in an eternal now, and when we listen to music we are not listening to the past, we are not listening to the future, we are listening to an expanded present.
A priest once quoted to me the Roman saying that a religion is dead when the priests laugh at each other across the altar. I always laugh at the altar, be it Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, because real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter.
Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery — the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets — is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.
Like too much alcohol, self-consciousness makes us see ourselves double, and we make the double image for two selves – mental and material, controlling and controlled, reflective and spontaneous. Thus instead of suffering we suffer about suffering and suffer about suffering about suffering.
We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect, it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as on a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.
The Facts About Alan Watts
Cause of death was “heart attack” (November 16, 1973)
Nope. He died in his sleep. He was reported to have been under treatment for a heart condition.
He could only speak English.