The Wisdom of Alan Watts: The Meaning of Life

“We have made a problem for ourselves by confusing the intelligible with the fixed. We think that making sense out of life is impossible unless the flow of events can somehow be fitted into a framework of rigid forms. To be meaningful, life must be understandable in terms of fixed ideas and laws, and these in turn must correspond to unchanging and eternal realities behind the shifting scene. But if this what “making sense out of life” means, we have set ourselves the impossible task of making fixity out of flux.”

“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.”

“Where there is to be creative action, it is quite beside the point to discuss what we should or should not do in order to be right or good. A mind that is single and sincere is not interested in being good, in conducting relations with other people so as to live up to a rule. Nor, on the other hand, is it interested in being free, in acting perversely just to prove its independence. Its interest is not in itself, but in the people and problems of which it is aware; these are ‘itself.’ It acts, not according to the rules, but according to the circumstances of the moment, and the ‘well’ it wishes to others is not security but liberty.”

“The startling truth is that our best efforts for civil rights, international peace, population control, conservation of natural resources, and assistance to the starving of the earth—urgent as they are—will destroy rather than help if made in the present spirit. For, as things stand, we have nothing to give. If our own riches and our own way of life are not enjoyed here, they will not be enjoyed anywhere else. Certainly they will supply the immediate jolt of energy and hope that methedrine, and similar drugs, give in extreme fatigue. But peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”

“A man does not really begin to be alive until he has lost himself, until he has released the anxious grasp which he normally holds upon his life, his property, his reputation and position.”

“And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words … As if you had a meaning, as if you were a mere word, as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.”

“I find that the sensation of myself as an ego inside a bag of skin is really a hallucination.”

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

“Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering surprises and marvels, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying at home.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“There is only this now. It does not come from anywhere; it is not going anywhere. It is not permanent, but it is not impermanent. Though moving, it is always still. When we try to catch it, it seems to run away, and yet it is always here and there is no escape from it. And when we turn around to find the self which knows this moment, we find that it has vanished like the past.”

“But you cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To ‘have’ running water you must let go of it and let it run.”

“Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.”

“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.”

Published by Rochdalestu

I’m a 38 year old male who has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have found it as a new chapter in my life that has opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on myself and everything around me.

14 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Alan Watts: The Meaning of Life

  1. Fascinating stuff. I’m fairly hermetic, and I agree about seeing the interconnectedness.

    I like the one about learning about ourselves through mirroring, and I suspect that a lot of people greatly underestimate the extent to which that occurs.

    As to the purposeful life having no point, what if ones purpose is be present in the moment?

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  2. I think his observations just go to show how much we’ve become detached from ourselves and reality. The saying “can’t see the woods for the trees” rings true.

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    1. I find it fascinating that, to me, he is merely pointing out what I should already know. The point regarding world famine was an excellent one. We are unable to eradicate it if we continue to do as we do. Using wealth, man made currencies, to buy food, will forever ostracise the poor and famine will continue

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      1. I got the short end of the stick on commonsense but I can say that I believe his logic. If I could remember less is more, I think I could convey my own logic much better. That seems to be his way of presenting his ideals. That is usually the best way for me to learn as well. Thanks for introducing him to me.

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    2. I’m not sure if you have heard of Karl Pilkington? He does a Podcast with Ricky Gervais and has been on a few Docu-series. His thoughts on things are completely ‘say what you see’. I also find him absolutely hilarious.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.” – this one has got me thinking 🤔. I’ve always been an advocate for having purpose in life. My feeling is purpose guards against nihilism. Of course life shouldn’t be all business. Thanks for sharing. Great quotes. 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

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