ALAN WATTS WAS BORN in London in January of 1915, around the start of the First World War From a young age, he became fascinated with the arts of the Far East and the works of Lafcadio Hern, Christmas Humphreys, and D.T. Suzuki. By the age of fourteen, his writing on Eastern themes was published in The Journal of the London Buddhist Lodge. At the age of seventeen, they produced his first booklet on Zen. He moved to New York in 1938 and then to Chicago where he served as an Episcopal priest for six years before leaving the Church. In 1951, at the invitation of Frederic Spiegelberg, he moved to San Francisco to teach at the Academy of Asian Studies.
Watts was profoundly influenced by the East Indian philosophies of Vedanta, Buddhism, and Taoism, which was reflected in his Zen poetry. Some American Buddhists criticized him for not sitting regularly in zazen, even though he recorded several guided meditations teaching a variety of mediation techniques. Alan responded simply by saying: “A cat sits until it is done sitting, and then gets up, stretches, and walks away.”
After teaching at the Academy of Asian Studies, in San Francisco, he became Dean of the organization, and began giving regular radio talks on KPFA—the Berkeley free radio station. In 1957, he published his bestselling book, Way of Zen. Then, in 1958, Alan returned to Europe where he met Carl G. Jung. He was an early subject in pioneering psychedelic trials, and also recorded two seasons of the public television series “Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life.” By the late sixties he had become a counter culture celebrity, and he traveled widely, speaking at universities and spiritual growth centers worldwide.
By the early seventies, Alan Watts had become a foremost interpreter of Eastern thought for the West, and was widely published in mainstream periodicals. He was also featured on various TV shows. Alan Watts developed an extensive audio library that comprises nearly 400 talks. He also wrote more than 25 books during his lifetime, including his final volume, Tao; the Watercourse Way. Alan died in his sleep, November, 1973 after returning from a very busy international lecture tour.