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The Top 75+ Alan Watts Quotes

Best known for his philosophical views captured in his bestselling books “The Way of the Zen” and “Tao: The Watercourse Way,” Alan Watts and his philosophies were an embodiment of the hippie counterculture in 1960’s America. A native of southeast London, Watts went to The King’s School in Canterbury where he eventually faced the prospect of becoming a scholar at the prestigious Oxford University. However, being the youthful, brash, and conventional kid that Alan was at the time, the future famous and sought-after philosopher appeared to have purposely flunked the test, stating that the test was rather dubious.

Eventually, by the 1930s, Alan Watts acquired a keen interest in Zen Buddhism through his own personal readings in related subjects such as Taoism and Confucianism. At 21 years of age, Watts would pursue studies at the University of London. The young philosopher would soon move to New York to pursue further studies on Zen, eventually quitting after finding the methods unsuitable to his own expectations. He then redirected his studies toward understanding the scriptures and Christianity as he studied at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. With a strong set of knowledge and understanding, Alan Watts would articulate his learnings and growing philosophical prowess.

By the 1950s, Alan Watts began to have a strong following as he had a very successful career on radio as many heard and thought of his unique approach to life with the thoughts and musings he shared on radio. Broadcasting at Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, Alan Watts became a star philosopher. Recordings of his shows are safe-kept in the archives of the radio station. At the age of 40, Alan Watts met other great minds of his generation including the famous psychologist Carl Jung. Watts, however, never associated himself with universities, holding only a brief faculty post at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Alan Watts spoke greatly on topics related to spirituality, life, social identity, happiness, suffering, and many others that are continually read and studied by millions of people worldwide.

1. “The menu is not the meal.”
2. “Life and love generate effort, but effort will not generate them. Faith in life, in other people, and in oneself, is the attitude of allowing the spontaneous to be spontaneous in its own way and its own time.”
3. “We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”
4. “Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”
5. “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. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly. ― Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety.”
6. “Total situations are, therefore, patterns in time as much as patterns in space.”

7. “To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath.”
8. “You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.”
9. “You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.”
10. “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.”
11. “The sense of wrong is simply failure to see where something fits into a pattern, to be confused as to the hierarchical level upon which an event belongs.”
12. “Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.”
13. “There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied.”
14. “If you cannot trust yourself, you cannot even trust your mistrust of yourself – so that without this underlying trust in the whole system of nature you are simply paralyzed.”
15. “Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

16. “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.”
17. “It is hard indeed to notice anything for which the languages available to us have no description.”
18. “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.”
19. “Life is like music for its own sake. We are living in an eternal now, and when we listen to music we are not listening to the past, we are not listening to the future, we are listening to an expanded present.”
20. “There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again.”
21. “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.”
22. “If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”
23. “Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Whole, as every branch is a particular outreaching of the tree.”
24. “The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”
25. “Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”
26. “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”
27. “But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.”
28. “What the devil is the point of surviving, going on living, when it’s a drag? But you see, that’s what people do.”
29. “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth..”
30. “There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering.”
31. “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.”
32. “Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.”
33. “We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”
34. “You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”
35. “Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”
36. “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.”
37. “Words can be communicative only between those who share similar experiences.”
38. “The more we struggle for life (as pleasure), the more we are actually killing what we love.”
39. “The problem comes up because we ask the question in the wrong way. We supposed that solids were one thing and space quite another, or just nothing whatever. Then it appeared that space was no mere nothing, because solids couldn’t do without it. But the mistake in the beginning was to think of solids and space as two different things, instead of as two aspects of the same thing. The point is that they are different but inseparable, like the front end and the rear end of a cat. Cut them apart, and the cat dies.”
40. “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.”
41. “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.”
42. “The only Zen you’ll find on mountain tops is the Zen you bring up there with you.”
43. “Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal, for the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it exists forever…”
44. “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.”
45. “When you get free from certain fixed concepts of the way the world is, you find it is far more subtle, and far more miraculous, than you thought it was.”
46. “The world is filled with love-play, from animal lust to sublime compassion.”
47. “It’s better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
48. “Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”
49. “There is always something taboo, something repressed, un-admitted, or just glimpsed quickly out of the corner of one’s eye because a direct look is too unsettling. Taboos lie within taboos, like the skin of an onion.”
50. “The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing.”
51. “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 toProblems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”
52. “To be free from convention is not to spurn it but not to be deceived by it.”
53. “You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”
54. “A scholar tries to learn something everyday; a student of Buddhism tries to unlearn something daily.”

55. “Society is our extended mind and body.”
56. “Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.”
57. “Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.”
58. “Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself.”
59. “How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.”
60. “What you are basically, deep, deep down, far, far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself.”

61. “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.”
62. “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
63. “One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.”
64. “Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.”
65. “What we have to discover is that there is no safety, that seeking is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.”
66. “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.”
67. “You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”
68. “We do not come into this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean waves, the universe peoples. Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”
69. “Philosophy is man’s expression of curiosity about everything and his attempt to make sense of the world primarily through his intellect.”
70. “Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.”
71. “Hospitals should be arranged in such a way as to make being sick an interesting experience. One learns a great deal sometimes from being sick.”
72. “Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.”
73. “Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”
74. “When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”
75. “What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions, and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money … but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth … In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas and words are coins for real things.”
76. “If you really understand Zen… you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because… the sound of the rain needs no translation.”
77. “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”
78. “Parts exist only for purposes of figuring and describing, and as we figure the world out we become confused if we do not remember this all the time.”

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