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September 20, 2023


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This notion that we can participate in our own enlightenment is universal. The notion that we can do so without any other assistance is ignorant of what is within and around us. We are connected to all things, so naturally, these things are there to help us, IF, using the attention, we channelize them into our practice, then we become the wizards of our own development.

But in that process we yearn for a Master Wizard to teach us how.
To yearn for a good Teacher is also very natural.

This need to separate ourselves from what is within and around us is driven in part by a desire to move beyond darkness into light. That's a good desire...motion. But the idea that no one can help us, that we are independent of others, even from our environment takes this notion too far. We cut the very connections we need.

If we accept those things, even the ones around us, even our history, it's easier to sort out what helps us from what takes us from progress.

But it all starts with an understanding that we can make progress.

Here is where Watts falls short, because like all religions he offers salvation with no work, the lazy way, claiming to have achieved what is only seen but not actually accomplished.

For that we must get into the mud of who and what we are,not simply to accept it, but to clean things up, to transform. That power is indeed within us, but it's hidden. And there is the rub.

So long as this is all conjectural, it's easy to claim to be at the peak of Everest. But to actually get there is another matter.

So, when you read Watts, understand his version of heaven, his enlightenment, is an epiphany of something without description, and the first step for all spiritual development. Not the last.

Watts re-writes the classic writings he cribs and regurgitates, leaving out, perhaps out of ignorance or self-justification the most essential parts.

Buddha speaks of an experience that is beyond description, not atheistic. Indeed he refers to Reincarnation, which is life after death. It would be better summarized as beyond conceptual understanding. It cannot be constrained to the experience we see every day but is a transformation to a higher experience beyond the daily experience, but which at some point we realize is in every moment of daily experience.

Because Watts is attempting to conceptualize, he is naturally making the very error Budha spoke of.

In more modern Zen Buddhism, one goal is Kensho, Satori, the transcendent understanding... And beyond, a lifetime's work.

The Upanishads praise the one God above and within all things, but who is beyond comprehension.

Here we see the very lesson Watts had missed altogether, and in missing this teaching, misrepresents all the spiritual writings he cribs and regurgitates..

"Yama said: The good is one thing and the pleasant another. These two, having different ends, bind a man. It is well with him who chooses the good. He who chooses the pleasant misses the true end.

" II. The good and the pleasant approach man; the wise examines both and discriminates between them; the wise prefers the good to the pleasant, but the foolish man chooses the pleasant through love of bodily pleasure.

" III. O Nachiketas after wise reflection thou hast renounced the pleasant and all pleasing forms. Thou hast not accepted this garland of great value for which many mortals perish.

" IV. Wide apart are these two,--ignorance and what is known as wisdom, leading in opposite directions. I believe Nachiketas to be one who longs for wisdom, since many tempting objects have not turned thee aside.
From the Katha Upanishad

The "stripped down to their essence" trope requires discernment. I think one can justifiably argue that Zen Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism stripped down to its essence. Likewise, one can reasonably say that Evangelical Christianity is Orthodox or Catholic Christianity stripped down to its essence.

Why are these legit stripping downs? Because the end, stripped-down, result includes a practice that hasn't deviated from the foundational, core teachings of the religion's founder.

And so, the Zen monk practices with the same intensity and basic moral guidelines that we find in Gautama's teachings. The Evangelical earnestly prays and strives to live within the NT's teachings.

What would be an example of a non-legit stripping down? Perhaps a religion like Eckankar, which billed itself as a "streamlined" version of Sant Mat (while also billing itself as the primal, original, and truly pure teachings of Sant Mat). And instead of 2.5 hours of meditation a day, strict vegetarianism, living on one's own earnings, and an injunction for right living, the Eckist is only asked to do 30 minutes of meditation, can eat whatever they want, and there are literally no moral guidelines to follow.

Of course, one can argue that Eckankar's easier softer way is the Real Deal and that traditional Sant Mat sucks. But then there's the question of why, if the easier way is the Real Deal, all these Sant Mat gurus of antiquity lived scrupulously morally observant lives and meditated umpteen hours a day.

The same critique can be applied to the ersatz Taobuddhism of Alan Watts. Lord knows many have applied it. To wit, on what basis was Watts able to claim that his Read My Book Be Enlightened product was authentic?

Ah! We just need to look at Watts's life and see how the fruits of his philosophy ripened. Heavy drinking, smoking, and boom boom with the coeds. Same with Twitchell: Compulsive liar, plagiarist, mail-order guru. And "Have no Fear" Breer, run children run.

Funny how all these stripper downer gurus end up. It surely means something.

Let's summarize.

1) Taoism and Zen are Sant Mat in disguise.
2) Alan Watts, not a satsangi.
3) Paul Breer, not a satsangi.

Gene Simmons of Kiss claims he slept with 5,000 women. Now that's a sex addict! He makes those guys look like brahmacharis, but even he settled down eventually with Canadian actress and former Playboy Playmate Shannon Lee Tweed. Let's play it out with Kiss, "God Gave Rock and Roll to You."

Nice summary, Umami...
But maybe Watts and Breer are indeed Satsangis (in the true meaning of association with Truth) and this is just their prequel, their first impression. ;)

Yes, Spence. Watts, Breer, everyone and everything, I assume, according to their circumstances. Anything with desire, down to blades of grass, bacteria, dust mites, goldfish, wolf spiders, button mushrooms, earthworms, etc. Anything with a need.

The title of the article is a little misleading, because the author suggests Watts exhausted himself with work, just not on himself. Work hard, play hard, work harder to keep up...he was caught on a treadmill. Its pretty clear he never severed desire at the root, so in my understanding he couldn't have been Enlightened with a big 'E.'

He once argued about enlightenment with Swami Prabhavananda, prominent in the Ramakrishna Movement. "The Swami retorted that if Watts was really enlightened, he would feel no suffering, not even a pinch."

That's a different take, the Enlightened feel no suffering. Scientifically testable! I'm skeptical. What do you think?

It is definitely liberating to know that such concepts as enlightenment and non-duality are basically common experiences available to anyone at any time and not confined to mystical thinking and practices. Although I say “available to anyone at any time”, there obviously initially needs to be an enquiry, an impetus to understand who I am. It is tempting and perhaps inevitable that we run to some sort of teacher or master – and that may satisfy for a while – but ultimately, like the prodigal son, we have to return home which entails being here now or as Brian sums up: “So it all comes down to accepting the reality of what is in the present moment.”

In the Buddhist section here, Watts says: “Nirvana is unattainable in the sense that it already is.” This is much of what Chan/Zen Buddhism states. Nirvana in one sense means extinguishing the self so completely (blown out like a candle) that the illusion of reality has no more impact. In Chan/Zen there is no striving. This goes hand-in-hand with the realisation (an observable feature) that there is no self. Striving, to have a goal is a self-motivated activity. It is only through the insight of no-self that kensho may arise – through perhaps something as simple as seeing a bird in flight, seeing without the habitual comments from the ego/self.

The ‘self’ in Zen is the cause of suffering. Makes sense; the self (construct) by definition is a cognitive function, a function that comprises all the information which we need to navigate our environments. But some of its contents can be misleading giving the impression that ‘I’ am a separate and consequently an isolated individual. Chan/Zen talks of rebirth rather than reincarnation; a rebirth back to the state of the innocence or oneness of an infant where we are in touch with our true natures rather than the conceptual one that the mind/self has constructed.

To realise, to really see this dualism is at the heart of Zen and Taoism. “When you have discovered your own union with it [Tao], you will be in the state of Te, sometimes rendered as "virtue" or "grace" or "power," but best understood as Tao realized in man.” Tao is simply the natural order of the universe and can be realised in moments when the habitual dualism of the mind/self constructs are inactive.

Definitely addictions and bad habits inflate the ego, the sense of self, and blind us to what is really going on. Cause us to act selfishly at great harm to others. They take us away from "enlightenment" and so they deserve attention in any conversation about "enlightenment".

Overcoming these addictions and bad habits helps us become selfless. Watts, Breer and that branch of Atheists working to transform spirituality to their own mundane and worthless philosophy are helpless to offer any real answers. But if you like Atheism, Humanism is also within the philosophy of Atheism, and it offers an affirmative, positive, forward looking approach to personal progress.

While touting acceptance, Breer and Watts refuse to acknowledge and accept and disclose the ugliness within their own natures, and their own misbehavior. Yet that is a crucial step. And doing so would actually be helpful to others. It is universal to all of us. But the next step is to do something about it. The point of accepting is to accept responsibility. If you don't accept these things exist within you, you don't work on them.

Watts and Breer offer reductive arguments against belief. Then they crib, regurgitate and warp the classic works of spirituality of others who did in fact have a path of focused spiritual effort (Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sihkism, etc...) but Watts and Breer offer no real practice to overcome.

Now, how to do that?

1. First inventory oneself, see the strengths and the weaknesses dispassionately. All life brought you here to this moment. Become aware. And doing this alone, over time, you become more aware of things you can't see today.

2. Then put forth a plan to overcome those tendencies that cause negative emotions that get in the way of seeing: Anger, lust, greed, jealousy, etc....Any strong negative emotions that usually are around attachments to things. Even emphatuation can be harmful, an attachment to your label for someone else, for what they represent to you, but not who they actually are.

To become ONE means that all things have their place, not as your Master, but simply as part of the life.

When some attachment takes hold, and passion follows, it is out of balance, and acting out of balance, we become blind. We lose that center from which oneness proceeds.

To Accept means to acknowledge what is, not to hide it.

And then to proceed to work on that.

So rather than discuss this theoretical "Enlightenment" which may or may not exist, or which may or may not be real, why not instead focus on achieving balance through A. Acceptance, B. Focused Effort?

3. All things are in motion anyway. Nothing is static. The idea that you behave consistently to some philosophy is just an illusion. You are already changing all the time. But you may not be aware of it.

In the Behavioral sciences we observe and note that people make adaptations all the time, subconsciously, and then looking back they invent attributions for why they behaved that way. Behavior is very fluid and we are all itinerant. But often we aren't aware of it. To be dogmatic only means refusing to accept, to see, and take responsibility for the changes we undergo all the time.

If changes in your environment can cause you to get emotional, to become unkind or selfish, to misbehave, then the environment can also be changed to facilitate calm balance, insight, helpfulness and greater understanding. And through focused effort, higher awareness.

Rather than try to coopt all the great poetic achievements of Sants and Mystics, why not instead just focus on this? Become kind. Become a nicer, more helpful person. Harm less.

Those higher things will come of their own. Watch the nickels and pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves. And if they don't, if all that happens is that you overcome a few negative tendencies, it was worth the effort. That is work that is worthy of job satisfaction :).

To really have the curtain torn away, I tell you, requires a certain level of personal pain and torment...the distance from you and the love and peace at the center of creation, embodied in your teacher.

When you can no longer bear it, when all you can do, all you want to do is plead directly to God, give up altogether, because you realize and accept what you are, knowing you must have help because that is the only way you have done anything; that you no longer can survive without that intervention,divine or otherwise, then epiphany happens, enlightenment happens, then satori happens.

But it's not a bowl of your mother's pudding. The grueling part can be pretty rough.

1. Become Aware through focused attention.
2. Accept what you see.
3. Submit your failures to a higher power, or to a different, better influence and environment.
4. Make Effort to change.

If pain isn't your thing, then just be happy to be a hobbyist, to do what you can to kit bash your happiness together, to work on overcoming a few things. Be patient. Learn to love incremental progress, and be forgiving of near endless setbacks within yourself and anyone else.

And ...

5. Accept and Forgive the efforts of others to be better people. Don't judge or blame them, don't take that personally.

Hi Umami:

You wrote
"The title of the article is a little misleading, because the author suggests Watts exhausted himself with work, just not on himself. Work hard, play hard, work harder to keep up...he was caught on a treadmill. Its pretty clear he never severed desire at the root, so in my understanding he couldn't have been Enlightened with a big 'E.'

"He once argued about enlightenment with Swami Prabhavananda, prominent in the Ramakrishna Movement. "The Swami retorted that if Watts was really enlightened, he would feel no suffering, not even a pinch."

"That's a different take, the Enlightened feel no suffering. Scientifically testable! I'm skeptical. What do you think?"

I think what you wrote is prose. It's beautifully elegant. What happened to Watts happens to all of us at one point or another. Then realizing this, we try to make significant changes to our lifestyle...if we can get off the treadmill.

I do like the writings of Swami Prabhavananda, also. One cannot love the sincere efforts and the eloquence of others.

One CANNOT HELP BUT LOVE the sincere efforts and eloquence of others.

Came across this recently, something I’d filed away - worth a read. It’s from Bernadette Roberts, a former Carmelite nun: - “First of all, I think there are more people in the state of oneness than we realize. For everyone we hear about, there are thousands we will never hear about. Believing this state to be a rare achievement can be an impediment in itself. Unfortunately, those who write about it have a way of making it sound more extraordinary and blissful than it commonly is, and so false expectations are another impediment — we keep waiting and looking for an experience or state that never comes. Her work describes it as a two-stage process. The first stage is to unite with the divine within. Joining with the spiritual presence begins a person’s mature phase in life. The following step, one which she believes is largely missing from previous Christian mystical works, is the complete loss of self. The self plunges into a dark and silent abyss. It is forever loss, leaving no sense of duality whatsoever in the seeker.

And from a reviewer: - “Bernadette Roberts is refreshingly free of the language one often associates with enlightenment. While she admittedly brings her own Christian perspective to the table, her expressions seem genuinely personal.”

Bernadette Roberts described her mystical experience as follows: -
“[T]toward later afternoon, I was standing on [a] windy hillside looking down over the ocean when a seagull came into view, gliding, dipping, playing, with the wind. I watched it as I’d never watched anything before in my life. I almost seemed mesmerized; it was as if I was watching myself flying, for there was not the usual division between us. Yet something more was there than just a lack of separateness, “something” truly beautiful and unknowable. Finally, I turned my eyes to the pine-covered hills behind the monastery and still, there was no di-ision, only something “there” that was flowing with and through every vista and particular object of vision. To see the Oneness of everything is like having special 3D glasses put before your eyes; I thought to myself: for sure, this is what they mean when they say ‘God is every-where.”


Two terms that are often confused – enlightenment and suffering – have a number of meanings. Suffering (dukkha) can mean ‘being out of kilter’ and ‘the inability of life to satisfy. Sure, to many Dukkha means suffering physical pain and sorrow. But the meaning of Dukkha as craving and ignorance falls squarely on the shoulders of a separate, ego-driven self.

Enlightenment is often seen as something extraordinary and other-worldly, something that will end one’s suffering and is the goal of meditators and the like. Rather, the term realisation refers to an awakening, awakening to one’s true nature – post self-construct!

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