Monday, October 25, 2010

Wow Review of Alan Watts review

This essay written by Alan Watts in 1958 for the Chicago Review is an attempt to explain the spiritual philosophy portrayed by him and other Beat Generation writers. Watts explains, “The point is simply that people who feel a profound need to justify themselves have difficulty in understanding the viewpoints of those who do not” (Charters). This is an idea foreign to most western thinkers. Watts writes that such thinkers may be characterized as “weak-kneed” concerning their lack of commitment to principle. “Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water, and when you're tired go and lie down” (Charters). This is a quote of the great T'ang master Lin-chi that Watts included in his article and here we can find the overall tone of his “Zen.”

Watts explains what is featured in his title as “Beat Zen.” He describes this as a kind of “digging of the universe” as found in some poetry, literature and art. Watts explains the theory of Beat Zen because he believes that being misunderstood, it is taking away from the pure thought of Zen and is being used by some writers to justify angry and violent behavioral responses. Watts also explained what was called, “Square Zen,” which was forcing Zen into a stiff and heartless belief system of discipline. Watts called it “a new form of stuffiness and respectability.” Although Watts sees a place for all three forms of Zen as part of the one, he reveals what the poet Ginsberg describes as living in the physical world, “moment to moment” (Charters).

In response to this argument, one could say that any form of Zen including the Beat Zen is following the same path. However to “justify” themselves, the Beat practitioners use this thought to explain their behavior. If there were a need for justification there would be no need for a traditional form of Zen. Square Zen is a constant striving and learning to obtain what would seem to be justification. So therefore both beat and square Zen practitioners are seeking a justification for their behavior and their existence. Traditional Zen reveals to us that the world is as it should be and all things are happening because they are supposed to. Understanding Zen is as difficult as explaining it. Watts is neither accepting nor rejecting these forms of Zen but he remains neutral. He seeks to understand the forms and even explains that they all fit into one. Watts states, “In the landscape of spring there is neither better nor worse; the flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.”

Watts needs no defense of his understanding of Eastern philosophy; however the purpose of this essay remains cloudy for me. If his intent was to correct mistaken interpretations of Zen Buddhism then he succeeded. The intent however is overshadowed by his willingness to accept Beat Zen as part of the entire system deserving of an equal part. Watts stated, “Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations” (Alan Watts Quotes).

Works Cited

"Alan Watts Quotes." Find the Famous Quotes You Need, Quotations. Web. 02 Apr. 2010. .

Charters, Ann. The Portable Beat Reader. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1992. Print.

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