Alan Watts and Squiggly Zen

Readers of the blog would know I talk/read/think a lot about Alan Watts, (Hell, the blog is named after a saying of his), and I pepper a lot of my posts with reference to him, but I’ve never gotten around to directly writing a post about him. Kudos then to The Vile Scribbler for linking me to this piece by Tim Lott, about Watts’ life, work and influence. It’s a nice, quick summation of his life and viewpoint and a good jumping off point for diving into his large cannon of work.

A warning though: whilst to my amateur Wattist eye the stuff about Alan is fine, I found a bunch of inaccuracies relating to Zen Buddhism. Some are minor; like stating that Zen “emerged” in Japan, when indeed it was imported from China (although, as Buddhism always does, adapting to its new surroundings) others are more serious:

“The Noble Truths are not moral teachings. Zen (unlike Mahayana Buddhism with its ‘Eightfold Path’) makes no judgment about good or bad”

To begin with, to talk about Zen in opposition to Mahayana Buddhism makes is strange, since Zen is a branch of the Mahayana (admittedly with it’s own unique take on things), but furthermore to suggest that Zen has the Four Noble Truths, but not the Eightfold Path is nonsensical: The fourth Noble Truth IS the Eightfold Path, so you cannot have one without the other. It also suggests that whilst the Four Noble Truths are not a moral code (true) that the Eightfold Path is, or that the Noble Eightfold Path makes judgements ‘about good or bad’ is not true.

As I say though, generally it is a fine attempt to summate Watts and the general thrust of Zen philosophy, and a good place to start with him.

Off-beat Zen: How I found my way out of depression, thanks to the writings of the English priest who brought Buddhism to the West by Tim Lott