Alan Watts was a British philosopher who spoke about Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and was an excellent orator on topics such as the meaning of life, higher consciousness, the true nature of reality and the pursuit of happiness.
Below we look at some of his most potent quotes on various topics. At the bottom, I’ve also included one of my favorite YouTube videos of Alan Watts discussing “the real you”. Enjoy!
Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.
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 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.”
On the Mind
Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.
On the Present Moment
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.
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.
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 infintesimal 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.
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.
“…tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live.”
On the Meaning of Life
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.
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.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Artists
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.
The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.
“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.”
“Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.”
Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.
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.
Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.
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.
Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.
On the Universe
“We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”
“Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.”
“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.