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Saturday, June 2, 2012


I was recently reading some postings on a networking site having to do with the death of Alan Watts. Such enthrallment with the details of his life and death, such picking and sorting, cataloguing and evaluating! Was it this or that which had done him in? Was it the way he lived his life, his personal vices, his loss of interest? His enemies?

For those of you who don't know, Alan Watts is said to have died in his sleep at the age of 58, way back in 1973, when the Hippies were still among us. And for those of you who don't know who Alan Watts was, he was a wonderfully erudite and irreverent philosopher/spiritual entertainer, author of umpteen books, translator of eastern philosophy for the western audience.

As to how he died, I have my own theory about what caused it. Mis-reporting. Accounts of his death are highly overrated. Just plug his name into youtube and you will see him pop up all over the place, looking hale and hearty--charmingly dour in his younger versions, disarmingly upbeat in his older. Listen to him for awhile and you cannot help but understand how improbable it is that he could have died. I suspect he is enjoying the joke as well as anyone. How could something die that never was? How could anything that is cease to be?

Let me reveal to you something even more shocking. On the same site I mentioned above, one writer compared Alan to the Buddha and found the former wanting. Although sharp in his own way, he declared, Watts was clearly not enlightened like the Buddha. I can almost hear the shout of laughter from dear old Alan. I don't know the Buddha as well, but if he isn't laughing also, then he must not be enlightened. If there was such a condition as individualized enlightenment, that comment would reflect more on the writer's lack of understanding about the condition than the state of grace of either Watts or Buddha. Of course, you can't really go there if you think Watts died. For that matter, you can't comprehend if you assume that the Buddha died. The Buddha by its nature is eternal, changeless in its ever changing form. The condition of enlightenment is to see past the changing form to the changeless. Once the clouds part and the sun shines through, you can never forget that the sun exists, or its power, even if the clouds forever after obscure a direct view. Then you know forever more where the light comes from, you know it was there all along, and you no longer pay homage to the clouds. There's nothing to risk if you play with the clouds, find shapes in them, give them attributes they do not possess. The sun never ceases during this game to shine from beyond.

If you think Watts or Buddha is a cloud, then assuredly that cloud will one day disappear, and you will suffer and weep and think that the blessed one has died. But, since the cloud was never what you thought it was, then its passing is of no consequence. To debate how it passed and whether the cloud was good or bad, better or worse than another, is the height of absurdity--but absurdity is the human condition, and so the Enlightened One laughs and delights in the game. Watts understood this perfectly--it is clear from his books and his lectures. He knew he was playing with clouds, it was evident in his chuckle and his sense of fun. His nature is the Buddha nature revealed. The nature of the one who catalogues and sorts the clouds without knowing of the absurdity is the Buddha nature unrevealed.

The enlightened one has identified with the sun.

Shine on, Alan.