Watts was a major figure in the counter culture of the 60's/70's to which he brought a scholar's knowledge of all forms of...

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ZEN EFFECTS: The Life of Alan Watts

Watts was a major figure in the counter culture of the 60's/70's to which he brought a scholar's knowledge of all forms of Buddhism and the ability to communicate in books and lectures. Furlong, a journalist and author (Merton: A Biography), gives a straightforward account of Watts' life and work in context. Born in England of always supportive parents, Watts avoided a university place and read widely in Asian religions under the guidance of Christmas Humphreys and D. T. Suzuki. His first book (written in 1935 and still in print), The Spirit of Zen, was published when he was 20. He married and moved to New York and, though basically a Buddhist, suddenly took steps to enter the Episcopal priesthood, a step Furlong attributes mainly to his wishes to pry himself loose from his mother-in-law and to avoid the WW II draft. All the same, his seminary years produced another first-class book, Behold The Spirit. Appointed chaplain at Northwestern University, Watts found he could not live in a manner consonant with the Episocopal ministry and resigned. Thereafter he lived as a free-lance lecturer and writer. Party-going and conversation gave him pleasure. At different times, his circle included Aldous Huxley, John Cage, L. Ferlinghetti and T. Leary. But his three wives and seven children never felt he was present for long. Inner stress showed increasingly in compulsive drinking. Swami Prabhavana might be dismayed at Watts' assumption that enlightenment might come without discipline, but Watts ""always cared intensely about ideas and had a boundless curiousity about what others made of them."" Until his death at 58, he worked hard to read critically, to think and to hold his audiences. Furlong summarizes the main books, has talked to family and friends and visited the locales. This sober biography will appeal to Watts' large surviving following. It also has something to say about the West's use of Asian religions and about the now historical phenomenon, the counter culture.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1986

ISBN: 1893361322

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986