We live in an age of unprecedented anxiety (uncertainty, information overload, social comparison etc). Historically, religion used to ground people by giving them a set of rules and making them part of a divine plan.
Allan Watts observes the fading of Christianity in the West, but instead of defending a return to orthodoxy, he offers an alternative. An eastern perspective, mainly Taoist, focused on embracing insecurity and living in the present.
Believing in a God may have lots of benefits. Atheists may be more neurotic compared to theists. But this, Watts believes, is not an argument for God. Because the lack or neuroticism does not prove the God hypothesis.
Another way to look at it is to say that “If ignorance is bliss, it would be stupid to chase wisdom”. The solution is not abandoning knowledge but looking at it from a different perspective. One that is in line with science, which also may reveal some of our intuition about God.
The problem with Christianity is that it turned into dogma: focusing on symbols and idols. The ultimate reality is acknowledging that truth lies beyond words. Imaging God as an old man sitting on the throne is nothing but silly, however we tend to personify deities and make rituals around them.
But true salvation can not happen unless God or Jesus are being absolved of their humanity.
Dogma is in opposition to the realisation there is something undefinable, an eternal unstoppable flow.
Religion aims to secure our future after death. Science aims to secure it before death.
Fought in the real of facts, religion is loosing the fight against science. This widening gap leads people to look for instant gratification from addictive behaviours like drugs and alcohol to make up for the lack of purpose or meaning in life.
We are all chasing pleasure in all sorts of ways. But the chase for pleasure leaves us more stressed as the chase is never completed. We are never satisfied.
Unlike animals who live in the present, we poses brains who can memorise and make predictions.
Our ability to be conscious of our self on a timeline took as at the top of the food chain. It also made us miserable. Because our fixation on the past or our obsession for the future takes us away from the present. Which is really the only true part of our existence.
Consciousness seems to be nature’s way to self-flagellate.
Watts was deeply influenced by Taoism and Zen. The attributes of reality for him are represented by:
Ultimately, he believed that individuals should follow the flow of nature and that trying to control or manipulate the world around us can lead to suffering.
We are obsessed with rationality. We label things, we define, we catalogue. However by doing this we are trying to contain a reality which in reality is interconnected and always in flux.
Our obsession to analyse is like trying to save the river in a bottle. A word is a very low resolution interpretation of reality. Where does the river start and where does it end? The river now is ultimately different than one a second ago.
Our scientific rational mind gives us the impression everything can be labelled. And that with enough understanding we keep things under control. But the universe is infinite in size and complexity. And we are part of that vastness. There is no ultimate categorisation. There is no control.
We are not a smart mind trapped in a dumb body. We are one thing and peace can only come by valuing our intuition and instincts the same as rationality.
It’s not just that we are trying to find security in an ever-changing universe. Is that to achieve it means we separate ourselves from the world. It’s trying to hold our breath to preserve it forever.
We have to understand there is no security. No permanence. But to truly understand means we have to accept we are insecurity.
Say you listen to the song, while suddenly being asked the question above. How would you answer it?
If you stop and think, anything you will tell me about you would be about your past you. But who are you now?
In reality the you who was listening was just the sensation of vibration or a certain emotion. It was never someone observing himself experiencing them.
This question is fundamental in Zen, where the answer can be a judgement on how enlightened a person is.
The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.
Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.
Alan Watts at his best, making a strong case for Taoism as antidote to meaning gap created by Christianity.
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