I don’t remember where I found this battered 1972 paperback, some dusty used bookshop of my youth in upstate New York, a bit of a miracle that. Alan Watts is a bit of a complicated figure, an important popularizer of Zen Buddhism in the west. His audio (and video) lectures are entertaining. He had personal failings — alcoholism, marital infidelities — that would seem to contradict much of what he advocated, and it is possible that he did not always paint an accurate picture of Buddhist teachings. But I am fond of him because he got me thinking about Buddhism at an early age, and pulled me back into it off and on over the years, a journey that is by no means complete, one that is in fact barely started. It started with this book, which promises to reveal secrets that adult, polite society did not talk about. I encountered it as my teenage self was finding the explanations of the church into which I was born unsatisfactory. I underlined many passages, starting with this one.
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (an all other living organisms) in the sciences. 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. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
[Originally posted on my discontinued This Old Book Tumblr.]