“I am committed to the view the whole point and joy of human life is to integrate the spiritual with the material, the mystical with the sensuous, and the altruistic with a kind of proper self-love,” writes Alan Watts in his book In My Own Way: an Autobiography. “So I have always done things in my own way, which is at once the way that comes naturally to me, that is honest, sincere, genuine, and unforced.”
Right from the beginning Alan Watts — who has done perhaps more than any other writer to open the eyes of the West to the spiritual significance of Eastern religions and philosophies — demonstrates that his life was full of paradoxes and contradictions. A lot of it was due to the fact that he attempted to describe mystical experience — not of formal visions and supernatural beings, but of reality as seen and felt directly in a silence of words and mindings. But there was no heaviness to it, no preaching or trying to edify the listener or reader. “Truly religious people always make jokes about their religion; their faith is so strong that they can afford it,” he writes in the prologue, and so humor and lightheartedness permeate every page of his autobiography, and the following excerpt is no exception. In it, he describes the paradox of ego awareness and how he doesn’t take his self too seriously. Alan Watts writes:
My existence is, and has been, a paradox, or better, a coincidence of opposites. On the one hand, I am a shameless egotist. I like to talk, entertain, and hold the center of the stage, and can congratulate myself that I have done this to a considerable extent — by writing widely read books, by appearing on radio and television, and by speaking before enormous audiences. On the other hand, I realize quite clearly that the ego named Alan Watts is an illusion, a social institution, a fabrication of words and symbols without the slightest substantial reality; that it will be utterly forgotten within five hundred years (if our species lasts that long), and that my physical organism will shortly pass off into dust and ashes. And I have no illusions that some sort of proprietary and individual soul, spook, or ghost will outlast it.
Nevertheless, I know too that this temporary pattern, this process, is a function, a doing, a karma, of all that is and of the “which than which there is no whicher” in just the same way as the sun, the galaxy, or shall we bold to say, Jesus Christ or Gautama the Buddha. How can I say this without offense — without seeming proud, haughty, and pretentious? I simply, and even humbly, know that I am The Eternal, even though such supremely enlightened people as Jesus, Buddha, Kabir, Sri Ramakrishna, Hakuin, and Sri Ramana Maharshi may have manifested this knowledge in a more forceful and authoritative style. I would be affecting the most dishonest false modesty if I did not acknowledge this, and yet the idea of my coming on as a messiah or great guru just breaks me up with laughter.
Full of personal anecdotes, reflections, and meditations on the meaning of life, In My Own Way will be your doorway into the mind of one of the most influential spiritual writers of the 20th century. It will show you how his work was fully concerned with the mystery of being, and that he was more interested in religion as feeling and experience than as conception and theory. Complement with Ruth King on the dichotomy of “no-self” and the “conditioned self” in the context of racial suffering, Christina Baldwin on bridging the outer and inner world through writing, and Carl Rogers on what it means to enter another person’s world without prejudice.