The Col­lected Letters of Alan Watts

Alan Watts Joan Watts (Editor) Anne Watts (Editor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - JOE TAY­LOR

New World Li­brary (DE­CEM­BER) Hard­cover $32.50 (560pp) 978-1-60868-415-1

The Col­lected Letters adds a new por­tal to the iden­tity of the man most re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing Zen Bud­dhism to the West.

Edited by his daugh­ters, Joan and Anne Watts, these as­sem­bled letters of Alan Watts—the Bri­tish-born writer, lec­turer, and pop­u­lar philoso­pher—are per­haps the most com­plete and ac­cu­rate pro­file of the man and his work.

Com­ing al­ways in Watts’s con­ge­nial, en­er­getic voice, which dis­plays his fa­cil­ity for metaphor and his abil­ity to sim­plify meta­phys­i­cal ideas, these letters range from his teen years, when his in­ter­est in East­ern phi­los­o­phy was kin­dled, through his life as an Epis­co­pal priest, univer­sity pro­fes­sor, and ra­dio per­son­al­ity. The last letters in the col­lec­tion were writ­ten just months be­fore Watts’s death at the age of fifty-eight.

Ad­dressed to his par­ents and friends, as well as to no­table schol­ars and spir­i­tual lead­ers such as Rein­hold Niebuhr and Joseph Camp­bell, the letters are by turns chatty, per­sonal, and in­tel­lec­tual. Many cover the top­ics and pur­poses of his pub­lished works. They ex­pose his ef­forts to show how East­ern phi­los­o­phy, along with long-ne­glected in­sights from Chris­tian mys­tics, can in­form and en­liven the “too in­tel­lec­tual” and stolid churches and church­men of the West, restor­ing a sense of wor­ship, mys­tery, and beauty.

These letters il­lu­mi­nate, for ex­am­ple, Watts’s sur­pris­ing de­ci­sion to be­come an Epis­co­pal priest, and his dis­cov­ery some years later that the church might not be “the best of all ways to God,” lead­ing to his res­ig­na­tion. Watts’s later letters touch on his ex­pe­ri­ences with LSD and other hal­lu­cino­gens, and his con­vic­tion that they should not be cat­e­go­rized with dan­ger­ous drugs.

Watts’s daugh­ters pro­vide in­tro­duc­tions to the chrono­log­i­cally or­ga­nized sec­tions of letters, and they pe­ri­od­i­cally com­ment on in­di­vid­ual en­tries. They do not delve deeply into their fa­ther’s ideas, but their sum­maries are suc­cinct and help­ful. More im­por­tantly, they add in­dis­pens­able con­text and in­sights into Watts’s per­sonal and fam­ily life. While treat­ing his mem­ory with love and re­spect, they ac­knowl­edge his free and open sex life and the re­sult­ing in­sta­bil­ity in the lives of his seven chil­dren.

The Col­lected Letters adds a new por­tal to the iden­tity of the man most re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing Zen Bud­dhism and the many strands of East­ern phi­los­o­phy to the masses in the West.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.