Several decades ago I stumbled upon the writings of a wry English theologian and philosopher named Alan Watts (1915-1973).
I owe Alan Wilson Watts a huge debt of gratitude for having provided me effortless access to the essence of Eastern mysticism as expressed in the Tao Te Ching and the basic tenets of Zen. Ironic, isn’t it, that someone like me whose physical body can be categorized as “Asian” has to engage the timeless teachings of Eastern mystics through the medium of an Englishman’s mind?
The most endearing – and enduring – quality of Alan Watts’s writing is its elegant, poetic lucidity, and the tangible warmth of his exquisitely noble personality. Watts had the uncanny knack of drawing his readers gently into his private thought-streams and lofty musings minus the intellectual haughtiness of so many run-of-the-mill academics.
Picking up one of his books was akin to enjoying a leisurely walk in the woods with a totally affable and erudite friend. Alan Watts showed me the sheer joy of being alive and fully aware of the world around me. He was a shining example of someone perfectly comfortable with himself and his physical surroundings; whose laser-sharp, inquiring mind was ceaselessly probing the outer limits of thought and perception.
The insights Alan Watts gleaned from his own intense study of Eastern mystical traditions were refreshing, vigorous, transcendental. Oftentimes it takes an “outsider” to appreciate the essence of and to add contemporary value to a long-established cultural and philosophical system.
Much has been written about Zen consciousness but few can match the limpidity with which Watts explains the meaning of “Is-ness.” Allow me to quote from The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (published 1951):