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Thursday, March 02, 2017
THE WAYS OF LIBERATION: Insights from PSYCHOTHERAPY EAST & WEST by Alan Watts
 
Spiritual philosopher and author Alan Watts introduced millions of Western readers to Zen and other Eastern philosophies, and New World Library is pleased to be reissuing his book Psychotherapy East & West, which was originally published in 1961. Watts proposes that psychotherapy without an understanding of Eastern philosophies can fall short of helping one to reach a feeling of true liberation. In fact, Watts proposes that Western science and art actually reach a closer agreement with the Eastern view of “liberation from suffering” than conventional Western psychotherapy.

We hope you’ll enjoy this sampling of excerpts from the book’s preface and three of its chapters, “The Ways of Liberation,” “Through a Glass Darkly,” and “Invitation to Dance.” Together they offer a glimpse into the wonderful and complex mind of the iconic Alan Watts.

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From the Preface: 


There has been an ever-growing discussion of this or that parallel between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophy. But thus far no one has attempted, comprehensively, to find some basic design common to the methods and objectives of psychotherapy, on the one hand, and the disciplines of Buddhism, Vedanta, Yoga, and Taoism, on the other. The latter are not, perhaps, psychotherapies in the strict sense, but there is enough resemblance to make the comparison important.

My purpose in writing this book is not, however, to sum up or review the development of this discussion. It is rather to give it a new turn . . . to describe what I feel to be the most fruitful way in which Eastern and Western psychotherapies can fertilize one another. For not only have they much to learn from each other, but also it seems to me that the comparison brings out hidden and highly important aspects of both. I decided, therefore, to write not a compendium of sober conclusions, but a provocative essay which may jolt both parties to the discussion. For I feel that both are fumbling in the dark, though not without some light. Wonderful as I have found them, I do not believe that the Eastern disciplines are the last word in sacrosanct and immemorial wisdom such that the world must come and sit humbly at the feet of their masters. Nor do I feel that there is a gospel according to Freud, or to Jung, in which the great psychological truths are forever fixed. The aim of this book is not to say the last word on the subject, but to provoke thought and experiment.

From “The Ways of Liberation”:


First, liberation is not revolution. It is not going out of one’s way to disturb the social order by casting doubt upon the conventional ideas by which people hold together. Second, the whole technique of liberation requires that the individual shall find out the truth for himself. Simply to tell it is not convincing. Instead, he must be asked to experiment, to act consistently upon assumptions which he holds to be true until he finds out otherwise. The guru or teacher of liberation must therefore use all his skill to persuade the student to act on his own delusions, for the latter will always resist the undermining of the props of his security. He teaches not by explanation, but by pointing out new ways of acting upon the student’s false assumptions until the student convinces himself that they are false.

Human nature could be trusted enough to leave itself alone because it was felt to be embedded in the Tao, and the Tao was in turn felt to be a perfectly self-consistent order of nature, manifesting itself in the polarity of yang (the positive) and yin (the negative). Their polar relationship made it impossible for one to exist without the other, and thus there was no real reason to be for yang and against yin. If, on the other hand, men do not trust their own nature or the universe of which it is a part, how can they trust their mistrust? 

The difficulty of Zen is the almost overwhelming problem of getting anyone to see that life-and-death is not a problem. The Zen master tackles this by asking the student to find out for whom the world is a problem, for whom is pleasure desirable and pain undesirable, thus turning consciousness back upon itself to discover the ego.

With their differing methods, Vedanta, Buddhism, and Taoism all involve the realization that life ceases to seem problematic when it is understood that the ego is a social fiction. Sickness and death may be painful, indeed, but what makes them problematic is that they are shameful to the ego. This is the same shame that we feel when caught out of role, as when a bishop is discovered picking his nose or a policeman weeping. For the ego is the role, the “act,” that one’s inmost self is permanent, that it is in control of the organism, and that while it “has” experiences it is not involved in them. Pain and death expose this pretense, and this is why suffering is almost always attended by a feeling of guilt, a feeling that is all the more difficult to explain when the pretense is unconscious. Hence the obscure but powerful feeling that one ought not to suffer or die.

From “Through a Glass Darkly”:

It is perfectly natural that man himself should be the most unintelligible part of the universe. The way his organism looks to an outside observer, such as a neurosurgeon, is so astonishingly different from the way it feels from the inside. The way in which human behavior is described by the biologist or the sociologist is so unlike what is seen by the ordinary individual that he can hardly recognize himself. But the disparity is no different in principle from the shock of hearing for the first time a recording of one’s own voice or from getting a frank description of one’s character from a shrewd observer. 

We might say that the more unfamiliar, the more other the form in which man learns to recognize himself, the deeper his knowledge of himself becomes. Can psychotherapy complete the job? In almost all its forms it has one enormous asset: the realization that escape is no answer, that the shudders, horrors, and depressions in which “the problem of life” is manifested must be explored and their roots felt out. We must get rid of the idea that we ought not to have such feelings, and the relatively new Existential school goes so far as to say that anxiety and guilt are inseparable from human life; to be, consciously, is to know that being is relative to nonbeing, and that the possibility of ceasing to be is present at every moment and certain in the end. Here is the root of angst, the basic anguish of being alive which is approximately the Buddhist duhkha, the chronic suffering from which the Buddha proposed deliverance. To be or not to be is not the question; to be is not to be. Because of anxiety man is never fully possessed of what Tillich calls “the courage to be,” and for this he always feels guilt; he has never been completely true to himself.

In all directions we use the means of life to justify the ends: we read or go to concerts to improve our minds; we relax to improve our work; we worship God to improve our morals; we even get drunk in order to forget our worries. Everything that is done playfully, without ulterior motive and second thought, makes us feel guilty, and it is even widely believed that such unmotivated action is impossible. You must have a reason for what you do! But the statement is more of a command than an observation. As soon as the ego is divided from the world, like the effect from its cause, it seems to be the puppet of “motivations” which are really the disowned parts of ourselves. If we could see ourselves whole, as differing positions in the unified field of the world, we should see that we are unmotivated — for the whole floats freely and does not rest upon something beyond itself. 

From “Invitation to Dance”:

The function of play is to make work tolerable, and work is a burden, not because it requires more effort than play, but because it is a contest with death. Work as we know it is contaminated with the fear of death, for work is what must be done in order to survive, and to survive, to go on, is the ultimate and irreducible necessity.

The point is not that one stops choosing, but that one chooses in the knowledge that there is really no choice. Eastern philosophy is full of such seeming paradoxes — to act without action, to think without thought, to love without attachment. It is simply that in a universe of relativity, all choosing, all taking of sides, is playful. Liberation is not the release of the soul from the body; it is recovery from the tactical split between the soul and the body which seems to be necessary for the social discipline of the young. 

Psychoanalysis in the West and the ways of liberation in the East should enable us to see that the only effective way is to appeal to Eros [the pleasure principle], without which Logos — the sense of duty and reason — has no life. 
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Alan Watts (1915–1973), author of Psychotherapy East & West, was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero. Best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience, he wrote over 25 books and numerous articles weaving scientific knowledge into the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy.

Excerpted from Psychotherapy East & West by Alan Watts. Copyright © 1989 by Anne Watts and Joan Watts




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