Alan Watts (1915-1973) was a British Philosopher who lived in the United States for most of his life. He studied Theology and took his Masters in that subject. He was an ordained Episcopal priest until a scandal over an extramarital affair caused him to leave the ministry. Watts studied Buddhism and began several notable friendships with people such as the great mythologist Joseph Campbell, pioneer of psychology the notable Carl Gustav Jung, the famed writer Aldous Huxley, the venerable Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki and the avant garde composer John Cage among others.
Watts later moved to the San Francisco Bay area and began a series of radio programs and for two season television programs on Eastern religion. Watts wrote several books and was known for his breezy style and his mixing of Eastern and Western ideas. In the 1960s he began to experiment with drugs such as mescaline, marijuana and LSD. These experiences shaded his writings from that period. Later he abandoned psychoactive drugs famously saying “if you have received the message hang up the phone”.
Watts was never ordained as a Buddhist monk or priest. He was always a secular teacher who taught Buddhist philosophy in a Western manner. He believed, as I do, that enlightenment does not require years of strict zazen practice. He came under considerable criticism for this from more orthodox practitioners such as Philip Kapleau whose books competed with those of Watts and did not sell as well.
Watts was to Buddhism what Carl Sagan was to science. He was a great popularizer. He lectured in an affable friendly manner which was easily understood by the university students who made up his following. Watts died in 1973 of a heart condition which was worsened by years of heavy drinking. He had three failed marriages and many who knew him well said he was, for all of his wisdom, a profoundly sad and lonely man.
A search of the watts tag on main page of the blog will bring up many of his lectures and books. Search “bio” for more of my biographies of the great teachers.
๑ Samsaran ๑