Alan Watts Essays

Alan Watts Essays-77
This is not a kind of sentimental pantheism or nature mysticism.Still less is it a simple philistinism as if to say, “Stop asking silly questions and get on with your work.” The difficulty of talking about Zen is that every attempt to explain it makes it more obscure.When one of the great Zen masters was asked, “What is the ultimate principle of Buddhism?

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I can recollect a glimpse of sunlit pigeons against a dark thundercloud.

The sound of cowbells in a mountain silence on a hot afternoon. The smell of burning leaves in the haze of an autumn day.

I also include various comments and annotations on the text through footnotes.

I invite you to read each footnote as you go along; you can return to your place in the essay by clicking the footnote number beside each footnote, or you might want to open the footnotes in a separate window.

Though this is perhaps a poor haiku for the very reason that it begins to philosophize even though it philosophizes against philosophizing. Being too much against philosophizing is just as much an arid intellectualism as being too much for it.

Bash This state of mind is technically called mushin, literally the state of no-mind.

It is easy to imagine Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and other Beat poets listening in. In 1959, Musical Engineering Associates released the recording as a vinyl record, and in 2004 it came out on CD from Locust Music. You can also listen to the original radio broadcast in its entirety on Vimeo (also on You Tube), at, and read more about this and other recordings of Alan Watts online. Henderson (whose An Introduction to Haiku came out from Doubleday in 1958) in describing haiku, down to including Blyth’s thirteen characteristics of haiku, nine of which are exemplified with sample poems.

Alan Watts’ essay also appeared in a landmark 1960 book edited by Nancy Wilson Ross, titled The World of Zen: An East-West Anthology (New York: Vintage Books, pages 121 to 128). She states that “a successful haiku must, in spite of its brevity, not only evoke a mood but also manage to convey a picture vivid enough to stir the imagination of the reader or listener” and that “One is expected to ‘fill in,’ to continue where the artist, so to speak, leaves off” (113).

Once again, the art is one of knowing when to stop.

As another Zen master said, “If you want to see into it, see into it directly, but when you begin to think about it it is altogether missed.”Zen answers profound questions with simple everyday facts: “It is windy again this morning.” But watch out!


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