I've just answered a question referencing Alan Watts. I'm aware he isn't a straightforward figure though I've always found him provocative and interesting. At one point I though he was a Buddhist having written books such as The Way of Zen. I'm pretty sure that isn't the case now.

So the question is what kind of relationship did Alan Watts have to Buddhism. Was he a practitioner at any point in his life or did he just use the ideas in a kind of heady new age type of mix that he was pushing at the time?

  • According to Wiki he was at least in death.
    – Dawnkeeper
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 13:01

2 Answers 2


Alan Watts appears to be a renaissance man that is not feeling constrained by any religion or philosophy. You can read general history and maybe get clues to who he was at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts here is an excerpt

"Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master's degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest then left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.

Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area while working as a volunteer programmer at KPFA, a Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. Watts wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, introducing the then-burgeoning youth culture to The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion. He also explored human consciousness, in the essay "The New Alchemy" (1958), and in the book The Joyous Cosmology (1962)."

Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion.

So if this is what he thought, he may have not taken an eastern view of making peace with the eternal within as Buddhism proposes. He may have seen Buddhism as a means to a joyous life.

To me, what I think about Buddhism is inconsequential compared to how I practice Buddhism. Not knowing him personally I would not know if his irreverence was a way past dualities that disguised a heartfelt practice.

It reminds me of the story of the zen master who laughed at 4AM in the morning every morning and awoke the whole sangha. Students would ask him why he was laughing but he would just laugh more. Even approaching his death bed he would not vocalize a reason.

After the master died his students searched through all his papers searching for the reason of his laughter, but no clues. I guess the zen master had the last laugh!

  • Watts defintitely did buy into 'peace with the eternal'. Afaik he endorsed Buddhist doctrine, nondualism and the Perennial philosophy. He seems to make this clear in his book 'This is It'.
    – user14119
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 10:37

He shares similarities in philosophy to a Zen/Tao outlook in my opinion, seems to know a bit about both.

i havent heard that he adheres to anything specifically.

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