Alan Watts

Alan Watts
In My Own Way—
An Autobiography 1915-1965

A Selection of
Interesting Personalities

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

In My Own Way
Pantheon Books, NY, 1972

Preface: Alan Watts was a British philosopher, writer, public speaker, and student of comparative religion. He was best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote more than 25 books and numerous articles on the nature of reality, higher consciousness, meaning of life, personal identity, concepts and images of God, and the pursuit of happiness. His autobiography In My Own Way (1972) written eight years before his death is one of my favorite books. In my own spiritual search for enlightenment, I had read and met many of the people that Watts writes about. So it's interesting to read stories about them which I'm citing below.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)
Joe is simultaneously an athlete and a jñana yogi— a man of wonderful physique who, however, has a wisdom that does not seem to have been attained by formal meditation under any guru, or by being psychoanalyzed, or anything of that kind. He is an example, although such examples are rare, of the fact that one can understand certain deep matters of the spirit simply by understanding them. To see it "intellectually" is to see it all the way through.
    This was recognized, in Joe's case, by the Indian guru (not the politician) Sri Krishna Menon [Atmananda]. For when Joe went to see him on a visit to India and found him surrounded by students who were trying to get rid of the consciousness of maya, of the illusion of this everyday world, so as to experience the undifferentiated Brahman, Joe interposed a single remark, "Surely," he said to the guru, "if there is no reality except Brahman, this state of illusion is also Brahman." The guru regarded him with astonishment and said, "You are the first person to come by here who has understood that!" Whereupon he requested Joe to explain it to his students, saying that if an American could understand it why couldn't they. Yoga is sometimes the world's most elaborate way of postponing liberation. (p. 229) ("Indra's Lesson")


Paul Brunton (1898-1981)
It was said that on rare occasions a Master would leave sanctuary and appear in the everyday world, as had happened in the instances of the Buddha, Lao-tzu, Jesus, and obscure individuals who had not founded great religions. The fraternity was, furthermore, of incalculable antiquity. It had been at work in the lost civilizations of Atlantis and Lemuria, and kept its records, written on indestructible paper in the secret language of Senzar, in great underground libraries hewn out of the mountains. Wittingly or unwittingly, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Aleister Crowley, and Mitrinovic, as well as Yogananda, Meher Baba, Alice Bailey, Paul Brunton, and even Krishnamurti, had the aura of this legend attached to them. And of those whose lives and techniques did not correspond to what one would expect of a saint, it was said that they "moved in a mysterious way" and must not be judged by common standards, or that they had to have some small human failings to remain incarnate in a physical body. (p. 110) (PB on prayer)


D. T. Suzuki (1870-1966)
For the last time I saw Suzuki, in Kamakura, he emphasized the earthiness of Buddhism and his fascination in exploring the inmost depths of his own mind. Suzuki never worried. His apsara-secretary, Mihoko Okamura, told me that when tossed about on a stormy plane ride he would simply sink into his seat and enter into samadhi, or perhaps go to sleep. No one was ever quite sure which it was.
    Actually, the mood or atmosphere of Suzuki was more Taoist than Zen Buddhist. He didn't have the skin-headed military zip that is characteristic of so many Zen monks, nor their obedient seriousness. For my feeling, that was good riddance. I do not like this attitude, although I have found so many of these unsui, or cloud-watermen, most kind and friendly. (p. 120)... D.T. Suzuki would sometimes sign himself Buji-nin, or "No special person," and when the Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma, "Who are you?" he answered, "I don't know." (p. 220)... I pointed out [to Carl Jung in 1958 at his home in Küsnacht, Zurich] that Suzuki had sometimes used the phrase "the unconscious" in a very different way, to translate the Japanese mushin ("no-mind") which, so far from being unconscious, was a highly aware unself consciousness. (p. 338) (1936 World Congress)


Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
Jiddu Krishnamurti was, and still is, one of the most elegant men in the world. He wears clothes from Saville Row and used to zoom about the country in Alfa-Romeo and Mercedes-Benz sports cars... Just after World War I, Annie Besant, then president of the Theosophical Society in Madras, proclaimed him avatar, incarnation of the Christ, and Savior of the World. In his honor she founded the Order of the Star in the East, which had offices all over the world, and he was given a castle in the Netherlands... but in 1928 he dissolved the Order of the Star, and proclaimed that he was not a guru and acknowledged no disciples. Nevertheless, this incredibly gracious man goes on giving lectures and is surrounded with nondisciples. One evening in London, Eric Graham Howe invited Krishnamurti to his home and asked me to come. That evening Krishnamurti made the following points, which are still the main themes of his dialectic teaching: Why— and again why— do you want to know whether there is a God, whether there is life after death, or what method you should follow to become enlightened, liberated, or realized? Could it be that you identify yourself with a merely abstract ego based on nothing but memories? That therefore you are not alive and aware in the eternal present, and thus worry interminably about your future? Furthermore, don't you realize that when you accept someone as a spiritual teacher, you do so by your own authority and choice? You yourself license the Bible, the Koran, or the Bhagavad-Gita as infallible. Wake up! and, without putting it into words, watch what is, now. You thus realize that there is no "feeler" apart from feelings, and no granular, billiard-ball "self" confronting the universe. Krishnaji liberates people and then adamantly refuses both thanks and adoration... such a man has my boundless admiration... In 1953 I had a long heart-to-heart conversation with him in Ojai Valley. We discussed the art of meditation. Was I practicing yoga? If so, why? I replied that this was my problem: I could not do any systematic or formal meditation because I had pondered too long his own reiteration of the point that methodical spiritual disciplines are merely highbrow ways of exalting the ego. Aiming at unselfishness is the most insidious form of selfishness.
    Thereupon Krishnaji picked up two cushions from the couch and said, “Look. On the one hand there must be the understanding that there is nothing, nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing that you can do to improve, transform, or better yourself. If you understand this completely you will realize that there is no such entity as 'you'” He then moved his hands from the first cushion to the second, and went on, “Then, if you have totally abandoned this ambition, you will be in the state of true meditation which comes over you spontaneously in wave after wave after wave of amazing light and bliss.” (pp. 117-118) (What Is a Religious Man?)


Gary Snyder (born 1930)
Unburdened by a Christian upbringing, Gary Snyder has the humorous attitude to religion so characteristic of Zen. We found him in a Japanese-style cottage, close to the Daitokuji monastery in Kyoto, where he was making a twelve-year study of the Zen way of life. He is like a wiry Chinese sage with high cheekbones, twinkling eyes, and a thin beard, and the recipe for his character requires a mixture of Oregon woodsman, seaman, Amerindian shaman, Oriental scholar, San Francisco hippie, and swinging monk, who takes tough discipline with a light heart. He seems to be gently keen about almost everything, and needs no affectation to make himself interesting. He has taken to wife Masa, a beautiful but gutsy Japanese girl from the southern islands, who looks you straight in the eye, does not simper and giggle, gives no mock humility, yet has a quiet naturalness. Their living room is adorned with two large and colorful scrolls bearing those Shingon diagrams of multitudinous Buddha-figures, and so abounds with Buddhist ceremonial tools that Gary called it "the safest place in the galaxy." (p. 378) (Gary Snyder Poem)


Kim Novak (born 1933)
Throughout my work in San Francisco I was increasingly involved with the people of Big Sur, and took any excuse I could find to get down to those pelican-haunted rocks, aromatic grasses, and floating mountains. When I travel I usually have to pay my way by the equivalent of singing for my supper, and so it was that Margaret Lial, Laverne Allen, and Nathaniel and Margaret Owings arranged seminars in their homes. these were so regular that the place Big Sur and the custom of informal seminars about These Things became so connected as to result in the founding of the Esalen Institute by Michael Murphy and Richard Price (named after the Amerindian tribe which once lived there). In fact I gave the first seminar they held, and have returned repeatedly to work with them, not only because the atmosphere and their hot sulphur baths are seductive, but because I believe that they are doing something absolutely important for the future of both education and religion...
    But what has really kept me returning to Big Sur is, again, people— especially those who live or have lived on Partington Ridge... and Bill and Loly Fassett's joyous restaurant Nepenthe (with dancing around the outdoor fire at night)4... and cooking over coals of oak-bark at Margaret Lial's retreat in Coastlands, and searching for jade along the beaches with Janet Crew (who climbs as surely as a mountain goat)... and eating fresh abalone with fried potatoes for breakfast with Emil White, and sampling the extraordinary wine from Ruby Hill with Henry Miller... and doing tea ceremony with Douglas Madsen at his home on the edge of a precipice...

4 And with Kim Novak as a partner, just for one round, She dances
  as well as she acts and generally adorns the landscape. (p. 298)

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