Alan Watts is considered as a philosophical legend because it was his efforts that helped to popularize the eastern philosophy among the western regions of the world. We human beings dramatize our life so much that we forget to live a real and peaceful life. According to him we must combine both our internal and external thoughts to create happiness around us. Alan Watts propagated the teachings of Zen Buddhism and wrote almost 25 books about Zen and Taoism. With ease, he explained the concepts of physics and metaphysics and the company of Buddhist monks helped Alan Watts to frame his spiritual ideas.
More than an author or philosopher, Alan Watts was a spiritual entertainer who merged the traditional ideas of Zen Buddhism with his mystical thoughts. Until he passed away in 1973, Alan Watts remained a spiritual spokesperson and spoke about many topics like arts, cuisine, child rearing, education, law and freedom and architecture.
Born in London on 6th January 1915, he was the son of Laurence Wilson Watts and Emily Mary Watts. We would wonder that during his childhood, he behaved as a mature child and loved the nature so much that he followed butterflies and enjoyed the beauty of wild flowers. All the members of his family were religiously inclined. When some missioners went to China they brought some paintings which depicted eastern traditions and gifted to his mother, after seeing that he was attracted to countries like Japan and China. Along with his studies he had to learn the religious aspects of Christianity which he felt gloomy. With an Epicurean he went for a trip to France, after the trip his mind became inclined towards Buddhism. From books and articles he gained the knowledge about the origin and history of Buddhism. Alan Watts got influenced by its teachings and ideas, then decided to join the London Buddhist Lodge which later came to be known as the Buddhist Society. Academically he was very genius and wanted to continue his studies in philosophy. As Allan Watts belonged to a middle class family, he aimed for a scholarship at the Trinity College Oxford. Unfortunately he failed to get that scholarship and due to financial crisis, Watts started working at a printing house.
Along with his work, Watts began studying his favorites subjects like philosophy, history, psychiatry and eastern wisdom. All his findings made him closer to Buddhism and at the age of sixteen, he was appointed as the Secretary of the Buddhist Society. While serving there he was fortunate to meet many renowned spiritual leaders like Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Nicholas Roenrich and Alice Bailey. Their support helped him to release his first book based on Zen Buddhism titled as ‘An Outline Zen Buddhism’. Even if the book had only 32 pages the content that it contained was exceptional and was a bestselling one during that period. In 1936, at the World Congress of Faiths held at the University of London, Watts met Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki who was a scholar of Zen Buddhism whom he considered as his biggest inspiration.
Soon after the release of his second book ‘An Outline of Zen Buddhism’ he left England and went to United States of America. Just before the second world one of his major books ‘The Meaning of Happiness’ was released which was based on principles to modern psychology. To know more about mystical theology Alan Watts went to Seabury Western Theological Seminary. In 1944 he was ordained as an Episcopal priest and served there for almost six years. It was in 1951 that Dr. Frederic Spielberg invited Alan Watts to teach Buddhism at the American Academy of Asian Studies. People loved the way he expressed his thoughts and they gathered at the Academy during evenings for healthy conversations.
Apart from working as a teacher he also worked on Berkeley’s KPFA radio station. Two of his broadcast series titled ‘The Great Books of Asia’ and ‘Way Beyond the West’ was popular among the Bay Area audiences. His love for China was very evident in his works; this love gave him the opportunity to learn Chinese language. By 1960s Alan Watts gained celebrity status and had many followers as well as critics. In the following years he continued to give lectures in institutions like Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Brandies, Wesleyan and California.
In 1936 at the Buddhist Lodge he met Eleanor Everett and got married in 1938 and the couple had two children, Joan and Ann. His extramarital affair with Jean Burden led to their divorce. In 1950 Alan married Dorothy DeWitt and in that relationship he had five children, Tia, Mark, Richard, Lila and Diane. After divorcing her he married King in 1964. Alan Watts died in sleep on 16th November 1973 after funeral half of the ashes were buried near his library at Druid Heights while the other half at the Green Gulch Monastery.
There is no doubt that ‘Way to Zen’ is the most significant of Alan Watts. This book would give us a brief history and practices in Zen Buddhism that is practiced in China and India. More than 25 books were written by him. The other popular works of Watts were ‘The spirit of Zen’, ‘The Legacy of Asia and Western Man’, ‘The Meaning of Happiness’, ‘Psychotherapy East and West’ and ‘The Joyous Cosmology- Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness’. The way he interpreted eastern philosophy is really commendable. Through Zen Buddhism he made it clear that life can’t be described it can only be experienced.