The Way of Zen

The Way of Zen has been one of the most influential books I have read. The style of Alan Watts is one I have admired for some time and the clarity of his thinking which he imparts is illuminating. I simply recommend this book for anyone who is seeking a new perspective on life as we know it.

To aid in your assessment I am including a few of my favourite quotes from the book. Personally I found #4 the most revealing and challenging.

I would love to hear your reactions to the book in the comments below.


so the vague, void-seeming, and indefinable Tao is the intelligence which shapes the world with a skill beyond our understanding.


For the Tao does not “know” how it produces the universe just as we do not “know” how we construct our brains.


The idea is not to reduce the human mind to a moronic vacuity, but to bring into play its innate and spontaneous intelligence by using it without forcing it.


But the anxiety-laden problem of what will happen to me when I die is, after all, like asking what happens to my fist when I open my hand, or where my lap goes when I stand up.


But the genuine Zen flavor is when a man is almost miraculously natural without intending to be so. His Zen life is not to make himself but to grow that way.


It may seem both strange and unreasonable that strong and intelligent men should simply sit still for hours on end. The Western mentality feels that such things are not only unnatural but a great waste of valuable time, however useful as a discipline for inculcating patience and fortitude. Although the West has its own contemplative tradition in the Catholic Church, the life of “sitting and looking” has lost its appeal, for no religion is valued which does not “improve the world,” and it is hard to see how the world can be improved by keeping still. Yet it should be obvious that action without wisdom, without clear awareness of the world as it really is, can never improve anything. Furthermore, as muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, it could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.


Until this has become clear, it seems that our life is all past and future, and that the present is nothing more than the infinitesimal hairline which divides them. From this comes the sensation of “having no time,” of a world which hurries by so rapidly that it is gone before we can enjoy it. But through “awakening to the instant” one sees that this is the reverse of the truth: it is rather the past and future which are the fleeting illusions, and the present which is eternally real. We discover that the linear succession of time is a convention of our single-track verbal thinking, of a consciousness which interprets the world by grasping little pieces of it, calling them things and events. But every such grasp of the mind excludes the rest of the world, so that this type of consciousness can get an approximate vision of the whole only through a series of grasps, one after another. Yet the superficiality of this consciousness is seen in the fact that it cannot and does not regulate even the human organism. For if it had to control the heartbeat, the breath, the operation of the nerves, glands, muscles, and sense organs, it would be rushing wildly around the body taking care of one thing after another, with no time to do anything else. Happily, it is not in charge, and the organism is regulated by the timeless “original mind,” which deals with life in its totality and so can do ever so many “things” at once.


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