Fake Virtue with Alan Watts

by | Dec 24, 2022

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

— Alan W. Watts

This festive season I thought I’d share my admiration for the ‘philosophical entertainer’ who helped bring about a cultural awakening in the mid-twentieth century: Alan Watts.

For those that don’t know, Alan watts (1915 – 1973) was a British philosopher, writer and public speaker, who speaks profoundly, eloquently and concisely in a grandfatherly tone, focussing on exploring and adequately explaining Eastern philosophies, such as Zen and Buddhism, to a Western audience. He published many books in his lifetime, including ‘The Way of Zen’ and ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’

“The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a disorder, and manifests itself in the acute feeling of separation between “I” and my experience. The brain can only assume its proper behaviour when consciousness is doing what it is designed for: not writhing and whirling to get out of present experience, but being effortlessly aware of it.”

― Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity

He is a vaguely fantastical figure, with his mischievous grin and pointy beard. A glint in his eye as though he has some decisive answer to life’s great mysteries. Although he never claims to have any answers. He merely takes you on a journey, exploring curiosities and conundrums of the human condition. You may find some meaning in the journey, you may not.

But he is terribly engaging. And certainly worth listening to.

It is a very recent festive tradition, but I find nothing quite so soothing as settling down listening to endless hours of Alan Watts’ lectures, sipping slowly at a glass of wine, sparking up a cigarette when I hear the man himself light his cigars on the old, scratchy 1960’s recording. It sends you back in time almost, while simultaneously planting you in the wonders of this eternal present.

I have attached a beautiful video by ‘After Skool’ that illustrates his breakdown of ‘fake virtue’. It resonates with today. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has witnessed the fast amassing trend of self-styled saints we find ourselves plagued with today.

But by far the best lesson Alan Watts taught me was to not take the whole affair too seriously.

To be able to laugh in the face of ones own suffering is an invaluable tool, one that I shall always be thankful for, especially this time of year.

I invite you to pour yourself a drink, get yourself cosy, and lose yourself to a few hours of  contemplation with a unique and engaging character.

It does the spirit good.

Merry Christmas!


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