Philosopher, author, and lecturer Alan Watts (1915–1973) popularized Zen Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies for the counterculture of the 1960s. Today, new generations are finding his writings and lectures online, while faithful followers worldwide continue to be enlightened by his teachings. The Collected Letters of Alan Watts reveals the remarkable arc of Watts’s colorful and controversial life, from his school days in England to his priesthood in the Anglican Church as chaplain of Northwestern University to his alternative lifestyle and experimentation with LSD in the heyday of the late sixties. His engaging letters cover a vast range of subject matter, with recipients ranging from High Church clergy to high priests of psychedelics, government officials, publishers, critics, family, and fans. They include C. G. Jung, Henry Miller, Gary Snyder, Aldous Huxley, Reinhold Niebuhr, Timothy Leary, Joseph Campbell, and James Hillman. Watts’s letters were curated by two of his daughters, Joan Watts and Anne Watts, who have added rich, behind-the-scenes biographical commentary.
Edited by Joan Watts & Anne Watts
The writings of Alan Watts, a prominent 20th-century Western interpreter of East Asian religion and philosophy, receive a formidable bolstering in this revealing collection of unpublished letters compiled by two of his daughters. The letters cover a wide range of interests and highlight the drastic changes in Watt's life: his early boarding school years in London, move to the United States, life as a seminarian, various marriages and relationships, employment at the American Academy of Asian Studies, use of psychedelics, and publishing and lecturing tours. The first half of the collection is particularly illuminating: the letters reveal a sharp, delighted mind, conversing with others in near-paroxysm to synthesize Buddhist insight with Christian metaphysics and "God-as-Person" theology (his early emphasis on mystical experience as a dramatic action hints toward his later intellectual development as a popular guru of 70s counterculture). Commentary by his daughters gives context to some crucial details that are otherwise elided by Watts himself, such as the deterioration of a few of his marriages and his relationships with literary figures such as Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Sokei-an Sasaki. This collection is a gold mine of insights, offering glimpses into a brilliant mind for newcomers and the acquainted alike.