ALAN WATTS by David Stuart


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Zen and Tao popularizer Watts, who wrote his own autobiography In My Own Way (1972), comes off even less well here. Fleeing from gloomy British Protestantism, he became the thrice-married prisoner of American suburbia and slipshod father to seven children, all the while espousing free love and the joys of adultery. As Stuart says, ""Watts left many with the definite impression that he was a rogue, a lovable rogue, perhaps, but nonetheless a rogue, skating through life, enjoying himself immensely, and ripping off everyone in a giant con game of his own."" Only 20, Watts published his first book on Zen (in 1935) when Oriental studies were virgin territory. But though despising Christian strictures, he was reluctant to accept Zen meditative disciplines, which he called ""sitting on your ass."" Watts' books are skewered by Stuart as so much potato-chip religiosity and cash-conscious showmanship, as are his various forays into radio, TV and the campus speakers' circuit. He does point out some areas where Watts displayed great erudition, charm and honesty. Readers were often moved by his ""splendid packages of words"" and believed they saw universal truths seeping through the pages. But one Zen master called Watts' style ""words. words, and mouthy""; he drank heavily at the end and was described as a frustrated, cynical, aging bum. Speak well of the dead?

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Chilton