A l a n W a t t sLectures and Essays

Alan Watts

Alan Watts (1915-1973) who held both a master's degree in theology and a doctorate of divinity, is best known as an interpreter of Zen Buddhism in particular, and Indian and Chinese philosophy in general. He authored more than 20 excellent books on the philosophy and psychology of religion, and lectured extensively, leaving behind a vast audio archive. With characteristic lucidity and humor Watts unravels the most obscure ontological and epistemological knots with the greatest of ease.

Inability to accept the mystic experience is more than an intellectual handicap. Lack of awareness of the basic unity of organism and environment is a serious and dangerous hallucination. For in a civilization equipped with immense technological power, the sense of alienation between man and nature leads to the use of technology in a hostile spirit---to the "conquest" of nature instead of intelligent co-operation with nature. Alan Watts, Psychedelics and Religious Experience

During his life Alan Watts spoke at length to the public through books, lectures and non-commercial radio broadcasts on the ways and means to spiritual liberation. It is clear that he intended to influence the widest possible audience with this honorable message aimed at improving our understanding of the world and our behavior towards it and each other. These materials are provided to you in that spirit of goodwill for non-profit academic research and spiritual teaching purposes.

"To extend the idea of 'personal property' to include teachings which have as their object the liberation of the human spirit from selfish myopia, the awakening to states of consciousness which apprehend the essential identity of the self and its transcendent essence, seems very contradictory if not simply wrong, maybe even 'evil'." Tom Simons


These lectures are transcripts of recordings made from non-commercial radio broadcasts. They are fairly complete with some inevitable errors in spelling, grammar, and minor tape break omissions. Alan Watts was a higly-skilled lecturer so these files should not be considered acceptable substitutes for the original audio recordings. Unless you don't understand english or have hearing impairment, these files can only serve as the barest introduction to his oral talent.

The subject of this seminar is "Self and Other," and this is therefore to be an exploration into the subject that interests me most, which is the problem of personal identity, man's relationship to the universe, and all the things that are connected with that. It is for our culture at this time in history an extremely urgent problem, because of our technological power. In known history, nobody has had such capacity for altering the universe than the people of the United States of America, and nobody has gone about it in such an agressive way.

Self and Other

I find it a little difficult to say what the subject matter of this seminar is going to be, because it's too fundamental to give it a title. I'm going to talk about what there is. Now the first thing that we have to do is to get our perspectives with some background about the basic ideas that, as Westerners living today in the United States, influence our everyday common sense, our fundamental notions about what life is about. And there are historical origins for this which influence us more strongly than most people realize. Ideas of the world which are built into the very nature of the language we use, and of our ideas of logic, and of what makes sense altogether.

The Nature of Consiousness
Part 1 and most of 2 (of 3) are also known as "What Is Reality?"

Today, serious heresy, and rather peculiarly in the United States, is a deviant state of consciousness. Not so much deviant opinions as having a kind of experience which is different from "regular" experience. And as Ronald Lang..has so well pointed out, we are taught what experiences are permissable in the same way we are taught what gestures, what manners, what behavior is permissable and socially acceptable. And therefore, if a person has so-called "strange" experiences, and endeavors to communicate these experiences, because naturally one talks about what one feels, and endeavors to communicate these experiences to other people, he is looked at in a very odd way and asked "are you feeling all right?" Because people feel distinctly uncomfortable when the realize they are in the presence of someone who is experiencing the world in a rather different way from themselves. They call in question as to whether this person is indeed human. They look like a human being but because the state of experience is so different you wonder whether they really are. And you get the kind of.. the same kind of queasy feeling inside as you would get if, for example, you were to encounter a very beautiful girl, very formally dressed, and you were introduced, and in order to shake hands she removed her glove and you found in your hand the claw of a large bird. That would be spooky, wouldn't it?

The Value of Psychotic Experience

This weekend seminar is devoted to Buddhism .. The center of Buddhism, the only really important thing about Buddhism is the experience which they call 'awakening.' Buddha is a title, and not a proper name. It means "awake".

The World As Emptiness

It would be, of course, much better, if this occasion were celebrated with no talk at all, and if I addressed you in the manner of the ancient teachers of Zen, I should hit the microphone with my fan and leave. But I somehow have the feeling that since you have contributed to the support of the Zen Center, in expectation of learning something, a few words should be said, even though I warn you, that by explaining these things to you, I shall subject you to a very serious hoax.

A Lecture on Zen
(aka Zen Bones)


The undoubted mystical and religious intent of most users of the psychedelics, even if some of these substances should be proved injurious to physical health, requires that their free and responsible use be exempt from legal restraint in any republic that maintains a constitutional separation of church and state. To the extent that mystical experience conforms with the tradition of genuine religious involvement, and to the extent that psychedelics induce that experience, users are entitled to some constitutional protection. Also, to the extent that research in the psychology of religion can utilize such drugs, students of the human mind must be free to use them. Under present laws, I, as an experienced student of the psychology of religion, can no longer pursue research in the field. This is a barbarous restriction of spiritual and intellectual freedom, suggesting that the legal system of the United States is, after all, in tacit alliance with the monarchical theory of the universe, and will, therefore, prohibit and persecute religious ideas and practices based on an organic and unitary vision of the universe.

Psychedelics and Religious Experience

It is said that playing-cards were devised by the ancients to hide a secret where those not "in the know" would never think of looking for it. For heresy-hunters are serious-minded people who would never think of looking for religion in a game. It is curious to think how men have gambled, fought and slain one another over these unknown symbols, and it is interesting to wonder whether the most accomplished 'poker face' would fall a little on discovering that he was playing for lucre with emblems just as holy as the cross, the chalice and the crown of thorns. Probably not, for men have done things just as terrible in the name of symbols whose holiness they recognized. However, it is no less strange that the puritanic mind should see in diamonds, spades, hearts and clubs the signs of vice, to be avoided at all times and more especially on Sundays.

The Cross of Cards

I wish I was there!

Network Resources

Bring your wallet

You're It! You're It! You're It!

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