Alan Watts

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by Guest » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

What was Joseph Campbell's relationship to Alan Watts. I've seen some quotes and know they have met, but I'd like to learn more.
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Post by Martin_Weyers » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am


it would help, if you'd tell us, from where you have your quotes and information. Nearly everything I know about it is from A Fire in the Mind and A Campbell Companion. And I know that Watt's The Way of Zen was on the reading list of Campbell's class on Mythology at Sarah Lawrence College.

"... where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves ..."

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Another good source is Alan Watts' autobiography, In My Own Way - a title with a dual meaning. Joseph Campbell and Jean Erdman are mentioned a few times - Watts enjoyed Joe's company and considered him a good friend.

Then, in Diane Osbon's A Joseph Campbell Companion, Joe mentions how Jean would always be a half hour late whenever they were supposed to meet somewhere in New York, and this irritated Joe to the point he would be a little snippy when Jean would finally arrive. One day he asked Alan Watts what he could do about this problem (perhaps expecting some advice about how to hurry Jean along).

Alan pointed out that Joe's problem was that he wasn't living in the moment, but was busy anticipating jean's arrival. Joe took Alan's words to heart, and started immersing himself in the scene around him whenever he was waiting for Jean - and found that so interesting that there were times he hoped Jean would delay a bit longer!

Sounds like Campbell and Watts were pretty close friends. Mark Watts, Alan's son, is also involved with the JCF's media program.

What is everyone's favorite Alan Watts' work? As much as i enjoy The Way of Zen and The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, my sentimental favorite is Om Meditations, a sweet, slender compilation of Watts' lectures (edited, I believe, by Mark Watts).



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Post by shead » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I just wanted to add that my favorite Alan Watts book is BEYOND THEOLOGY: THE ART OF GODSMANSHIP. I adore Watts' positive attitude and eagerness to spread the good news about being alive.
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Post by peaceclinic » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Is there anything written by Campbell or Watts regarding the Zen of Peace?
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Post by OliveBranch » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hello Chloe,

You ask quite a specific question about Campbell, Watts & Zen:
On 2005-01-27 16:14, peaceclinic wrote:
Is there anything written by Campbell or Watts regarding the Zen of Peace?
To the best of my knowledge, and for all my searching, the only joint work of Alan Watts & Joseph Campbell would be a lecture by Alan Watts reviewing a paper that Campbell submited to the 1965 Eranos Conference.

The lecture by Watts is called "Return to the Forest", and the Campbell paper that he is reviewing was called "The Symbol Without Meaning". I have heard that this paper is compiled in the recent book "Flight of the Wild Gander".

I would like to know if anyone else has turned up any joint works between my favourite two thinkers.
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Post by Ken O'Neill » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Watts and Campbell were friends. As I recall, Watts contributed a book to a three volume set that Campbell was in some manner involved in.

My mentor, Philippkarl Eidmann (cf, Sake and Satori) was part of that circle as well. So here I sit attempting to remember backwards more than 30 years what he had to say about all three. He worked with Campbell in Japan, his mentor for Buddhism. When Eidmann returned to the States, Watts made overtures inviting him to teach through his Society for Comparative Philosophy - which Eidmann would not do.

While Watts' The Way of Zen is a classic, it's doubtful his Zen works will withstand the test of time. His other works doubtlessly will endure.

Watts' Zen material greatly follows in the footsteps of DT Suzuki. Suzuki has been rather thoroughly examined by both Bernard Faure of Stanford and Bob Scharf of UC Berkeley, along with others examining the Kyoto School (Abe Masao, Nishita, and others). A pivotal generation scrambling to come to grips with Western philosophy, to move Japan beyond taking its native traditions for granted, they went on to construct accounts of Zen that dominated in the 20th century, and have since been found to be largely fictional. Suzuki's Zen is preoccupied with creating a Japanese national identity by means of Zen (viz, Zen and Japanese Culture, a pure fantasy).

Watts had little exposure to Japan, did not know the language, and based much of his understanding on Suzuki. Inevitably, his "Zen" sinks with Suzuki's.

I suspect what I've said will come as a shock. Materials published in no more than the past 15 years - and continue as new research - have far from trickled down to popular expression.

What's more, once this material becomes better known I expect that massive denial will be the response. So many folks have immense emotional investments in the nonsense.

Add to that many modern Zen movements - the Sambokyokan, likely the most influential in the West, having linked roots - and not in the slightest connected to traditional Zen. In Japan it's pretty much taken as Protestant Zen or a "New Religion" like Soka Gakkai.

What we're facing is a major revolution - and some major embarrassment. So I suspect these discoveries will be met with denial, rejection, or by ignoring them.

Since I'm working on a "user's companion" to Buddhism, it's not likely the news will be su ppressed. It's time to free buddhism from a web of illusions.

I should add that I grew up in the Bay Area. Alan Watts was a lifelong influence, far beyond his death in 1973. I knew him somewhat. Associating him with Zen reduces him to that, while his major contributions were not Zen but in transformational spirituality. I count him as one of the patriarchs or formative figures of a new global buddhism. had he lived, no doubt he'd had embraced the bad news about Suzuki and moved ahead evolving his teachings and insights.

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Post by willwagoner » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2004-06-24 10:52, shead wrote:
I adore Watts' positive attitude and eagerness to spread the good news about being alive.
Interesting to note that Alan was an alcoholic, becoming increasingly addicted and most likely it helped to kill him at the tender age of 58. He died in bed next to his third wife.

"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy" - F. Scott Fiztgerald


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Post by Bliss 5150 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

All I know is from a story Chungliang Al Huang told me:

Joe, Chungliang, and Alan were all in New York and Joe wanted to go to one of the New York Clubhouses to eat. Alan wouldn't go because of the shirt, coat, and tie dress-code. To which Campbell's reply was, "Alan...but they got the best Roast Beef!"

It was really funny to hear Chungliang immitate Joe.

And even more surreal to picture all those great minds just hanging out.
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Post by deus_ex_machina » Mon Aug 18, 2008 8:08 pm

Anonymous wrote:What was Joseph Campbell's relationship to Alan Watts. I've seen some quotes and know they have met, but I'd like to learn more.
Not only did they meet, but they spent some significant time together. Campbell would edit one of Watt's books (Myth and Ritual in Christianity, 1954). Campbell also introduced Watts to Krisnimurti, who would profoundly influence his later writings and talks.
Alan Watts was a brilliant and unconventional thinker who was to become one of Joseph Campbell’s most influential friends in his middle years… After about a decade of Campbell’s friendship with Jiddu Krishnamurti, Watts encountered the Indian teacher, whose elegance, sophistication, and subtlety of thought touched profoundly. Krishnamurti introduced Watts to is “doctrine less doctrine”, the practical aspect of which was to live more fully in the present moment—without expectations and without fear.

Alan Watts describes Campbell’s attitude toward life as “tantric”: an almost fearsomely joyous acceptance of all the aspects of being, such that whenever I am with him his spirit spills over into me ... 126]Source
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Post by indraant » Thu Dec 18, 2008 4:26 pm

Haven't posted in a while, but i did some reading since my last post, and listend to some of Watts cd-s. There was one about meditation, where he uses chanting/mantar, and he says something like "If your not comfortable with "Aum, aum, aum", you can use "Hallelujah, or Hare Krishna, or Allah, the meannig of the word are not that much importante, it's there function that counts, it's just remindend me of Joe. And then Watts comes to the end of the talk, and says "A great Zen master showed me once a form of meditation, and he said it's one of the best ways. Lets all just laugh!" and he starts laughing, seconds later i was laughing so hard with him, it was a wonderfull experience, i'm laughing now as im writing this. Watts than concludes "Do this every morning after you wake up." really inspirational. And it occurred to me that when i listen to Watts, or Joe, i just have the feeling they really are in the room with me, i doesn't happen to me when I listen to recordings by other authors.

I have a question too, maby somenoe can help with the answer. In one of his talks Watts mentions a german teologian who had "fantastic" depiction of hell in his writing, it is Mathias S, but i couldn't catch the name(i tried to play the record a few times but i just couldnt understad the last name), maby someone here can halp me? Watts says that he quotes Mathias S. in his book "The two hands of god" but the book is not availabe to me.

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Post by Myrtle » Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:04 pm

Hi Indraant,

I'm not sure about this but could it be Matthias Scheeben?
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Post by indraant » Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:30 pm

Thank you!

I just google him and Watts, and you are right.

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Post by cristiflorin » Fri Mar 20, 2009 8:45 pm

Ken, you said that ,,Watts had little exposure to Japan, did not know the language, and based much of his understanding on Suzuki. Inevitably, his "Zen" sinks with Suzuki's."
So ... Is there a problem, Ken? What has zen to do with Japan, or a tipe of language? Does a christian know aramaic? It'a all about Japan? Isn't zen a chinese philosophy in the form of buddhism? How can something like that sink? Can Wittgenstein's Tractatus sink? The only things that can ,,sink" are the false problems of the inerent dualism of the language. I remind you that Watts' zen is beat zen, not square zen. I don't intend to suggest that it's not ok to be square. It's fine either way. In Japan there are more than 150 buddhist sects. Doesnt ring a bell? What has Watts have to do with zen, he's just zen bones now. Or just bones. Hehehe. If he was helpful for you, like he was for my, he was a teacher, an interpreter of tradition, a guide. For anybody else, a drunk dude. But a wise dude. You know, ,,occidental zen" is something else, has nothing to do with chanting or wearing funny hats or robes (that is so square). It's called cinism, nihilism and now philosophy of language. There is no real zen, cause zen has no real object. Zen is more of a mental cure. Or that is just my opinion. Anyway, I owe Alan a rooster.
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Post by noman » Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:46 am


welcome to the forum.

The posts you see have post dates at the top. And people disappear and sometimes never come back. No worries. Everyone does that at first. I still do it sometimes. I respond to something from years ago.

I don't want to speak for Ken O'Neill but I recall he knew a great deal about Zen Buddhism, was a Westerner religiously trained in Japan, and was angered about the degraded form of 'protestant Buddhism' we practice here. I can't get into it with you because I don't practice it or know much about Zen Buddhism or Japanese religion. But it is typical of some of the topics we like to toss about here.

Enjoy the forums.

- NoMan