Showing posts with label Alan Watts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alan Watts. Show all posts

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Alan Watts On Ontology

Alan Watts, a favorite philosopher of mine, had a very interesting spiritual way of looking at the universe, that as far as I can tell, can be perfectly compatible with naturalism.

Watts rejected what he called the "two models." One is what he called the ceramic model, and the other is what he called the fully automatic model. The ceramic model of the world is the traditional theistic view that the world was something created by god, just as a potter creates a pot, and a carpenter creates a table. It is the idea that the world is made as an artifact through some sort of an act of supernatural will. And this creator god is the ruler of this universe and resides as a king. The fully automatic model, is the traditional atheistic or naturalistic view of the world where the universe exists almost as some kind of blind, unintelligent machine, and that humans are just a chance fluke in its history.

Watts didn't think either two models made sense. So instead, he held to a view that the universe was something musical. The universe was a symphony, it was a piece of music. And just like how when making music, the goal isn't to get to the end of the piece as quick as possible — that would make it so that the shortest songs are the best. No. Rather the point of the music is the music itself. It isn't necessarily going anywhere. The unfolding of the universe is the purpose, beauty, and audacity of this symphony.

This is a very interesting view of the world, and one that at first I found hard to imagine. I've recently been thinking about it again and am willing to consider it plausible. There is nothing I see completely absurd about the idea of the universe as a piece of music, so long as one doesn't imagine a musician playing it, like it was the musical piece of some deity. I'm not sure if Watts saw this idea of a musical universe as a metaphor or something literal. If only seen as a metaphor it can be construed with naturalism. And although I'm still a metaphysical naturalist in the traditional sense of the term, this idea that the universe is naturally musical, I don't suddenly object to. Watts called this the organic model.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

That there is only the natural world, which we are a part of, seems to me truth given the evidence. Thus the naturalist like myself realizes that man and nature are the same thing. Mankind is nature becoming conscious of itself. The late Anglo-American philosopher Alan Watts knew this quite well. In recent years he's become one of my favorite philosophers, and although he may not have technically been a naturalist in the strictest sense, his Zen inspired wisdom and metaphysics more often than not fall perfectly in line with the naturalism espoused by many atheists.

There is no doubt that naturalism can seem a lot more appealing when cloaked in the beautiful poetic language of philosophy and analogy. And Watts was incredibly good at doing this. In the Eastern traditions, the universe is not a creation, it's more like an organism. It grows. And as it grows, it peoples, in the same way that an apple tree apples. Thus, human beings are not born into the universe, they're born out of it. Watts thought that existence was fundamentally musical in nature. And so just as music doesn't have a destination, he argued the universe is not heading towards a particular goal. It is the process of the music unfolding over time that is why we enjoy it, just like when we dance we don't aim at a particular spot on the dance floor. The point is not to finish as fast as you can. The enjoyment comes from the dancing itself. Western philosophy however, which is so heavily influenced by Christianity and Judaism, sees the world and man as two separate creations, each created with a teleology in mind, and this Watts observes, is fundamentally at odds with the Eastern traditions and naturalism.

From some perspectives Zen and naturalism go hand in hand. Perhaps naturalism allows us the best explanation why we at times feel one with nature. In my mind, one can easily be a naturalist and a practitioner of Zen Buddhism. Now I'm not at all advocating Zen, or claiming myself as one of its followers. I'm just noticing that there is this tendency among too many atheists to reject all of what religion or spirituality has to offer because it is associated with metaphysics which the atheist rejects. I too reject the metaphysical claims of almost all religions, but that does not mean that here and there one cannot find bits of wisdom and insight that offer a far richer view of the natural world than through the lens of a purely scientific epistemology. Life is too colorful and our minds are too philosophical to restrict one's way of thinking in such rigid scientism. Philosophies like the kind held by Alan Watts can offer the naturalist who has jettisoned all forms of religion and spirituality with an enhanced understanding of their place in the universe. And so I leave you with his words:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Alan Watts On Christianity

A few years ago I came across the British-American philosopher Alan Watts. He was one of the foremost interpreters of Zen Buddhism and Eastern schools of thought in his day during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Although he was for a time an Episcopalian priest, he left the church and was often critical of Western religions like Christianity. His criticism of Christianity is not typical of the brash New Atheism we are accustomed to today. He does not slam the church and the scriptures with the wield of a sledgehammer like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins does, but in his remarks you can pick up some of the precursors that these contemporary critics deploy.

He wasn't even an atheist as far as I know but he did accept that there was some sort of higher power in the universe. Nonetheless, I am not so hardened an atheist that I cannot respect someone who accepted into his life something beyond pure materialism.

Watts believed that there was some sort of a transcendent nature to reality. I personally interpret this transcendent phenomena as simply just being an aspect of our consciousness that we often interpret in the language of spirituality. "God" is just a word we use to express these feelings we sometimes get in the context of the religions we were raised in, and Watts was perfectly aware of this as he says in this lecture. Listen to this critique he gives of Christianity from a slightly different perspective from what we are used to today.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Science Vs. Philosophy

Many of my fellow atheists are very quick today to discard philosophy in favor of science. Science has made philosophy irrelevant, they say, and philosophy no longer contributes anything useful to understanding reality. This is a problem in my view. Atheists hold science up in such high regard because we know it's largely been science that has cast light onto the darkness of man's ignorance, and has given us the best way of understanding reality that nothing else comes close to. But, we can not deny—we should not deny, the fact that in order to make sense of anything, you need philosophy.

Sure, science is the empirical methodology that we should all use to guide our philosophy, but science should not be used to replace philosophy altogether. To do so would be an egregious error on the part of the atheist. For example, how do you argue morality without using philosophy? It's impossible! Science is not going to give us definitive answers when it comes to ethics. Science can be used to guide our ethics when it comes to giving us empirical information about certain moral issues, but you will need philosophy to make any sense of that scientific data. And what about interpreting quantum mechanics? Science can allow us to predict quantum particles to eleven decimal places, but how do you interpret quantum weirdness properly? We have many theories, including the Copenhagen interpretation, and the many worlds interpretation. But science is not—at least not yet—going to give us definitive answers to these pressing issues. The philosophy of science is what guides these theories because the scientist who entertains such possibilities has left the realm of physics and entered the world of metaphysics.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications Part 3

I would be perfectly fine with never having to work another day in an office, performing work that I cared nothing for. To me, the idea of spending 40 years sitting in an office, is like hell. Sure there are office jobs that I could see myself working in, where the job wasn't that stressful and overbearing, and the people I worked with were decent and we got along. But ultimately, I think that my personality type, is simply not meant to exist for long periods of time within the confines of a florescent-lite cubical.

That being said, where do I belong? I'm actually not quite sure. I know where I feel comfortable. I know that there are three basic conditions to be met that make me content. They are: doing what I like, with people I like, at a place that I like. This is of course assuming that the physiological needs for me to be content are already met, such as having good health, a place to live and food. When it comes to work, I prefer to have a job working for an organization that does good to the world in accordance with my personal morals. Any job where I have to aide giant corporations in their destruction of the Earth for money, is not something that I can take lightly. I have done that in the past and I am not proud of myself for it.

Discovering Zen Buddhism through the teachings of Alan Watts has helped me to see the world from a new perspective. Zen has this mystery to it. Many of the experiences associated with it cannot be put into words adequately, which for me is a part of its appeal. I think that though Zen I have journeyed a bit closer to where I am supposed to be. I don't consider myself a Buddhist but what I aim to take from Buddhism is its practical philosophical aspects, and incorporate them into my existing belief system, that is grounded in atheism and Western philosophy. I would like to keep a foot in both worlds so to speak.

This all being said, I still honestly feel lost as to where I am in this world or where I belong in terms of my profession. I feel almost as if I simply just exist, without a greater purpose being actively implemented by me. I know where I stand in terms of my philosophy and morals, but translating this to an action plan that can support me financially has been an utter failure. Now I am of the mindset, that we each make our own purpose. We each have within us, inherent talents and desires, and from them we can each find the path that  feels right for us. A few years ago, when I started to get very serious about my passion for atheism and humanism I felt as if a light had just gone on. Unfortunately, this light seems to have gone off a bit too late - I was already in college paying thousands of dollars towards a degree in the IT industry just as my interest in it was waning.  This set of events has left me angry, but I don't blame anyone or anything for it, it just happened. I am glad to have found something I am passionate about at all. I do still wish that I could turn the clock back 5 years or so and have gotten my degree in political theory, philosophy, or one of the sciences.

In Zen you don't dwell in the past, because it doesn't exist. The past doesn't determine the present because the present is all that exists. My past miscalculations should not affect my desire and strive for doing something I am really passionate about. But all to often I become controlled by my past, as many of us do, whereby we allow events that have happened to limit our abilities in the present. This is not only harmful to one's potential, it is harmful to one's being. For to dwell too strongly into the past prevents the self from expressing who it truly is, and I struggle greatly with this.

What Zen philosophy means that my past experiences do not determine my potential in the present. Haven't we all succeeded in an assignment when we had no past experience to gauge whether we would be successful? It is shocking sometimes when you realize what you can achieve in certain situations, even when there has been failure in the past. All I can say is that my potential now to achieve what I am passionate for has is not bound with the chains created by past events.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications

The Zen philosophy puts great emphasis on the perpetual now. The time is always now, it is never the future, it is never the past. And just like how spring doesn't turn into summer, and summer doesn't turn into fall, you don't turn into the person you will be tomorrow. You only exist and can only exist in the here and now. Thinking about this concept of time and of existence, I cannot escape my mind from my solidified western approaches to existence. And that is the belief that I am the same person I was, and the same person I will be, I change like the seasons do, and although I can only exist at the present, I am inextricably tied to my past. And so I struggle with this conflict, in hope of a reconciliation. I admit that I do dwell way too much on the past. Events that have happened years ago, often have their way of popping into memory, sometimes at the ugliest of times. Sometimes I am consumed with a past memory, that it makes me surrender to it. It controls me. The neurons and impulses in my brain that compose this thought have such power over me that I let it affect my future. This the Zen master, knows too well.

So how do I reconcile these two views on one's state of existence in relation to time? Our past certainly affects our present. If I had a child in my past, that likely means that I am a father now. If I ate some bad food in my past, that will affect my health here in the present. How does one not let the past affect the present when almost everything about the present is set down by events in the past? I think it's foolish to act as if the past doesn't exist, because it can lead to irresponsibility. So how then does the Zen master view time? Zen teaches that the past doesn't exist, and neither does the future, there is only the present. In other words, the me that existed in high school all those years who, does not exist. I only exist in the here and now. The me of yesterday also does not become the me of today. In practice, there is an important bit to be learned here. And that is that we too often let our past determine our future. When I had failures with women in my past, I learned that every new meeting with a woman was a unique experience, and that no problem I had in my past will affect this new encounter, unless I allowed it to. If I had let my past failures determine my future, every time I'd meet a woman, I would have already declared defeat before it started. A negative outlook on life is not a recipe for success.

The existence of suffering is one of Buddhism's four noble truths. Being that suffering is a bit different for everyone, its reconciliation is different as well. I am forced into an environment that that I don't like, around people I don't like, to do a job that I don't like. The stress from this is making me get older and am starting to see the results. I've passed the apex physically, and I know that from here on out, my body will be in a perpetual state of decline. This is beginning to cause me increasing depression. We all handle it slightly differently. The best thing I could do would be to get a new job, spend more time doing what I like and spend more time with people that matter to me. While easier said that done, it could be accomplished with enough diligence and hard work.

I am really scared of the effect that stress has on aging faster. I see gray hairs sproughting up where they weren't before. My skin looks weathered at times. I recently went shopping and bought a bunch of clothes a 23 year old would fancy. I feel a strong urge to desperately cling to my youth before it completely evaporates away. The stress I get from my job increases the aging process that is also causing me stress, and so I have a run away process that I ultimately will come out on the losing end of. I would like to practice meditation and to get back into nature. I need peace in my life. I need also to be around people that I like. I need to build strong relationships with like minded individuals, and indulge in my healthier passions. I need to stop listening to that voice in my head of negativity. I need to stop letting the past control my present and future. I need to be more confident in who I am and to stop putting false limitations on myself. These are all things I know in theory but need to be put to be put in practice. The Zen concept towards time and existence, I think adds a positive outlook to dealing with one's past. Do not let the past control your life. Treat everyday is a clean slate, with no residue from yesterday, to be filled in with new experiences.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Human Condition Part 3

With my love of philosophy, I've gotten deeper into Buddhism's philosophy with the help of its many interpreters. Alan Watts made an excellent video, capturing in image and sound some of the brilliant interpretation's of the Buddha, in particular meditation. As Buddhism's main practice, meditation has always intrigued me, but also intimidated me. I have tried several times to properly meditate, but each time I feel that I have failed miserably. I have never reached that highly coveted state of nirvana that the Buddha is said to have reached while in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree.

Meditation bemuses me. I am learning about it more and more to peel away its mysteries. According to its many experienced practitioners, it is to be conducted while in a calm tranquil environment, with slow, rhythmic breathing. Your mind should acknowledge the present, while the past should remain a distant memory. The past should no longer exist. The future shouldn't either. Your body is suppose to simply, be. Let the mind flow freely. Thoughts that enter the mind should be considered noise, like the sounds from nature. Reflect.

It is this part that I usually have such an issue with. Whenever I meditate, I cannot stop thinking about my past, and worrying about the future. It consumes me to such a degree that all hopes for even the lowest slopes of enlightenment are thwarted. It is something I am working on, along with my problem controlling my breathing. With meditation, I hope to reach a state of tranquility. I hope to reflect on my existence in a new light. All the petty issues that are bothering me, that cause me so much stress in my day-to-day life, I hope will become washed away, if even for a moment.  But for the long term, seeing past events in a new light can at least alleviate the negative effects it has on one's peace of mind.

This is an issue that cuts right to the heart of what often troubles me. How do I deal with my problems in life? How do I deal with people I do not like? How do I deal with situations that annoy me? Simple reinterpretation on past events is not the long term solution for me. Change needs to be made for dealing with these same problems for the future, so that the past is not repeated. I'm not sure if meditation is is even the solution for addressing such problems. Maybe it is not. If I can successfully meditate, perhaps that will change my behavior towards my problems in the future.


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