|Famous as||Philosopher, Writer & Speaker|
|Born on||06 January 1915|
|Born in||Chislehurst, Kent, England|
|Died on||16 November 1973|
|Works & Achievements||Popular philosopher known for his Eastern philosophy and Zen teachings, Wrote famous books like The Way of Zen (1957), Psychotherapy East and West (1961), The New Alchemy (1958) and The Joyous Cosmology (1962).|
Alan Watts Childhood & Early Life
Alan Watts was born in a middle class family in the village of Chislehurst, Kent, England on January 6, 1915. His father worked for the London office of Michelin Tyre Company, whereas his mother was a housewife. Alan grew up in pastoral surroundings. Her mother’s religious family had a significant impact in shaping his religious side. From his childhood Alan was attracted towards the storybook fables and romantic tales of the mysterious Far East. Alan was believed to be headstrong, imaginative and talkative since his childhood days. From his early years, he was sent to boarding schools to receive academic and religious training. During his teen years, he got an opportunity to travel France when Francis Croshaw, a wealthy Epicurean took Alan with him. Croshaw’s Buddhist beliefs influenced the mind of Alan. He faced a situation where he had to choose between Anglican Christianity and the Buddhism. Watts chose Buddhism and became the member of London Buddhist Lodge. This lodge was established by Theosophists and was operating under barrister Christmas Humphreys. In 1931, at the young age of sixteen, Watts became the secretary of the organization. During these years, he learned several styles of meditation. He attended the King’s School which was situated near to Canterbury Cathedral. After completing his graduation from the secondary school, he started working in a painting house and later worked in a bank. In his free time, he was involved with the activities of Buddhist Lodge. Watts widely studied philosophy, history, psychology, psychiatry and Eastern wisdom. His involvement with the Buddhist Lodge gave him many opportunities for personal growth. He came in contact with eminent spiritual authors like, Nicholas Roerich, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and theosophists like Alice Bailey.
At the age of 21, Watts attended the World Congress of Faiths at the University of London in 1936. It was in this congress, where he heard D.T. Suzuki, an esteemed scholar of Zen Buddhism and later met him. He also studied the fundamental concepts and terminology of the main philosophies of India and East Asia. The same year in 1936, Watts published his first book, “The Spirit of Zen” which was mostly influenced by the writings of Suzuki. After two years in 1938, he and his wife, Eleanor Everett left England and moved to America. In New York, Watts left Zen training as the method of the teacher didn’t please him. To find a professional outlet for his philosophical dispositions, he entered Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, in Evanston, Illinois. In this Anglican school, he studied Christian scriptures, theology, and Church history. Watts wanted to mix the contemporary Christian worship, mystical Christianity, and Asian philosophy. He received a master’s degree in theology on his thesis. He published his thesis under the title, Behold the Spirit. In 1951, Watts moved to California to join as faculty at American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. He also served in the Academy’s administration for several years. During his service in the Academy, he studied written Chinese and also practiced Chinese brush calligraphy.
Later Life & Works
Watts left the Academy for a freelancer career in mid 50s. In 1953, he began his career as a radio programmer at Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley. Even though being a volunteer programmer didn’t give him any money, it provided him with large following at San Francisco Bay Area. In 1957, Watts published one of his famous books, “The Way of Zen”, which was basically focused on philosophical explication and history. Apart from drawing lifestyle and background of Zen in India and China, he had reaped ideas from general semantics. The book became instant success and gave him immense recognition and widened his lecture circuit. Meanwhile, he traveled to Europe and met renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung. On his return to America, he started taking psychedelic drugs starting with mescaline given by Dr. Oscar Janiger. He then tried LSD which was followed by trying marijuana. For some time, he opted for writing in the language of modern science and psychology and tried to find some match between the mystical experiences and the 20th century theories of material universe. Watts came in contact with many noted intellects, artist and educationist during his explorations and teachings. His friend, the poet Gary Snyder raised his sympathies with developing environmental movement. He also acquainted with Robert Anton Wilson who credited him among the “Lights along the way” in the opening appreciation of “Cosmic Trigger”.
In his later writings, Watts expressed admiration for practicality in the history of Zen in Eastern world. According to him, Zen had nurtured farmers, architects, builders, folk physicians, artists and even the monk administrators of monasteries. In his book, “Tao: The Watercourse Way”, he presented himself as "Zennist" in spirit. He was also interested in topics like child rearing, the arts, cuisine, education, law and freedom, architecture and sexuality. Watts was also greatly influenced by ancient Hindu scriptures, especially Vedanta and spoke extensively about the divinity that Man misses. He also said about how the contradiction of opposites is the method of life and the means of cosmic and human evolution. These major teachings are discussed in great detail in the audio series, “Out of Our Mind”. His feelings of alienation from the institution of marriage and the values of American society were evident from his classical comments on love relationships in "Divine Madness". On social issues, he was mostly concerned with the necessity of international peace and understanding between different cultures. In his later works like “Beyond Theology” and “The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”, he drew views from Hinduism, Chinese philosophy, pantheism, and modern science to put forward a worldview.
Alan Watts married three times in his life and had seven children including five daughters and two sons. He met his first wife Eleanor Everett in 1936 and married her in April 1938. The couple had two children, Joan and Anne. Their marriage lasted for eleven years. In 1950, he married Dorothy DeWitt and the couple had five children, Tia, Mark, Richard, Lila, and Diane. He met his third wife, Mary Jane Yates King while lecturing in New York and married her in 1964.
Alan Watts died on 16th November 1973 in his home on Mt. Tamalpais. He was 58 when died.
1915: Born in Chislehurst, Kent, England.
1931: Became the secretary of London Buddhist Lodge.
1936: Attended the World Congress of Faiths at the University of London; Published his first book, “The Spirit of Zen”.
1938: Married to Eleanor Everett and moved to America.
1950: Married to Dorothy DeWitt.
1951: Moved to California to join as faculty at American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco.
1953: Began his career as a radio programmer at Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley.
1957: Published one of his famous books, The Way of Zen.
1964: Married to Mary Jane Yates King.
1973: Died due to heart failure.