Alan Watts Introduces America to Meditation & Eastern Philosophy (1960)

Alan Watts moved from his native London to New York in 1938, then eventually headed west, to San Francisco in the early 1950s. On the left coast, he started teaching at the Academy of Asian Studies, wrote his bestseller Way of Zen (among many other books), and began delivering a long-running series of talks about eastern philosophy on KPFA radio in Berkeley (listen to some sample audio here). During these years, Watts became one of the foremost popularizers of Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoisim, which made him something of a celebrity, especially when the 60s counterculture movement kicked into gear.

Now, almost 40 years after his death, you can find no shortage of vintage Watts’ media online. And today we’re featuring an episode from a TV series called Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, which aired in San Francisco circa 1960. “The Silent Mind” runs 28 minutes, and it offered American viewers an introduction to the philosophy and practice of meditation, something still considered exotic at the time. History in the making. You’re watching right here. Find Part 1 above, part 2 below.

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  • Matt Cardin says:

    This is beautiful. Many thanks for it. Watts is a lifelong influence on me, and I do love his early stuff.

    Also, don’t forget about Huston Smith doing something similar to the above video. And he did it five years earlier: In 1955 he hosted a series of programs on world religions for the precursor to PBS, titled the National Educational Television network. At one point he climbed up on a table and assumed the lotus position to demonstrate eastern meditation techniques, thus sending shockwaves through the American psyche. Smith was, of course, great friends with Watts.

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