The authenticity of Alan Watts

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Abstract

Alan Watts (1915-1973) was one of the most influential teachers of Buddhism in mid-twentieth-century America, although he was neither a Buddhist nor, to his own way of thinking, a teacher. Whatever he became, he made his way by evading conventional categories. Early on, as a student at a highly conventional English preparatory school, he distinguished himself by declaring himself a Buddhist. Later, in America, he invented his own vocation as a freelance lecturer, broadcaster, and author of books on comparative philosophy in general and Zen Buddhism in particular. Throughout his adult life, however, Watts refused to call himself a Buddhist, arguing in fact that it would be un-Buddhist of him to do so.1 He participated regularly in no Buddhist community or practice, and apart from a brief association with Sokei-an in New York, he studied with no Buddhist teachers. His "tastes" in religion, as he liked to put it, lay rather "between Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism, with a certain leaning towards Vedanta and Catholicism."2 More a connoisseur of religious ideas than a committed participant, Watts was accordingly reluctant to represent himself as a teacher of any of the traditions he loved. He preferred to think of himself as a gadfly or "philosophical entertainer."3 He had nothing to offer anyone, he held, that they did not already know.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmerican Buddhism as a Way of Life
PublisherState University of New York Press
Pages13-38
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9781438430935
StatePublished - 2010

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