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Fresh thinking for modern life.
on 16 August 2012
Alan Watts was one of the great popularisers of 'eastern' thinking in the west. This 1951 classic is probably an excellent starting point for anyone wanting an introduction to Watts' writing. Even though this book is well over 60 years old, it remains an extremely timely read, and it is surprisingly fresh in both its approach and thinking. Watts' starting point is the predicament of western man in the mid twentieth century; the book is definitely a product of 'you've never had it so good' 1950's materialism. Watts was one of the first people to detect the spiritual emptiness that many people feel in modern society (in spite of rising living standards and longevity) and in this book he proposes, if not a cure for this feeling of emptiness, then at least a new way of looking at things.
Watts also shows how scientific scepticism has undermined the belief in God. Watts sums up this stance perfectly: 'If, the scientists would say, you believe in God, you must do so on purely emotional grounds, without basis in logic or fact.' Needless to say such scepticism has grown inordinately since Watts wrote these words and it has perhaps reached its zenith in recent years with the 'New Atheist' movement. This scientific viewpoint has made the belief in the Christian God untenable for many western people, and it is to such an audience that Watts aims his writing.
There are so many pithy statements in this book; every page seems to contain a phrase or sentence that just leaps out at you and I love Watts' distinction between faith and belief: 'belief clings while faith lets go.' You could certainly see similarities between Watts' writing in this book and the work of J. Krishnamurti in such books as 'The First and Last Freedom.' (1954) Watts and Krishnamurti also share similiar preoccupations with 'the thought and the thinker,' the burden of selfhood and the nature of time and its role in creating psychology insecurity. In spite of these similarities, however, Watts' fascinating blend of eastern and western thinking and his own distinctive turn of phrase give him a memorable voice all of his own.
In summary an excellent and influential book. Many modern writers have taken many of the ideas that Watts first set out in English all those years ago and taken them mainstream but, for me, Watts is the original and the best.