Review of The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

After reading Tolle’s The Power of Now, I wanted to learn more about Zen. It was then I learned about Alan Watts and started listening to his youtube lectures. Most of them are just audio. They, along with his writings are brilliant.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British writer and speaker known for interpreting and popularising BuddhismTaoism, and Hinduism for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, England, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. He received a master’s degree in theology from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and became an Episcopal priest in 1945. He left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.[2]

Watts gained a following while working as a volunteer programmer at the KPFA radio station in Berkeley. He wrote more than 25 books and articles on religion and philosophy, introducing the emerging hippie counterculture to The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), he argued that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy. He considered Nature, Man and Woman (1958) to be, “from a literary point of view—the best book I have ever written.”[3] He also explored human consciousness and psychedelics in works such as “The New Alchemy” (1958) and The Joyous Cosmology (1962).

The Way of Zen gives a brief history of Buddhism in its journey from India, through China, and to Japan where what is known as Zen Buddhism, or simply ‘Zen‘ developed.

I find it ironic that Alan Watts spends a good part of the book writing about the history of Zen while one of the main teachings of Zen is that past and future are illusions. There is another irony in that a master said, “Those that don’t know speak while those that know remain silent.” Watts, in one of his lectures laughed, and then pointed out that the master did not remain silent when he spoke these words. Irony. It’s also ironic that Watts wrote over 25 books and gave many lectures. This reminds me of the statement: “This sentence is false.” If it’s false, then it’s true; if it’s true then it’s false. It’s the old problem of the infinite loop. The whole point is that the words point the way. The words are not the way. The way is in the silence. There are no words there. In fact, there is not even the word “Zen” in that place: there is only pure consciousness. There is also no “I” there.