The Zen Teachings of Alan Watts: A Free Audio Archive of His Enlightening Lectures

If you watched Spike Jonze’s new movie Her, you probably also spent a few subsequent hours listening to Alan Watts (1915–1973) interpreting Eastern thought. Late in that futuristic tale of the intersection between handheld computing, artificial intelligence, and pure romance, a philosophical “club” of self-aware operating systems band together to resurrect none other than the English Zen educator himself. Or rather, they put together a digital simulation of him, but one with a very convincing voice indeed. While the characters in Her could actually converse with their Watts 2.0, we’ll have to settle for listening to whatever words of wisdom on thought (or the freedom of it), meditation, consciousness, and the self (or the unreality of it) the original Watts, born 99 years ago this past Monday, left behind. Fortunately, having come to prominence at the same time as did both America’s interest in Zen and its alternative broadcast media, he left a great deal of them behind, recorded by such receptive outfits as Berkeley’s KPFA-FM and San Francisco public television station KQED.

A noted live lecturer as well, Watts gave a great many talks since preserved and now made accessible in such places as the Youtube channel AlanWattsLectures, which contains a trove of exactly those. Here, we’ve embedded his series The Tao of Philosophy: “Myth of Myself” at the top, “Man in Nature” in the middle, and “Coincidence of Opposites” below. All three of them showcase his signature clarity, and he gets even more concrete in his 80-minute introduction to meditation and his 90-minute breakdown of the practice. But why put him in an ultramodern story like Her about a lonely man who falls in love with his brand new, seductively advanced operating system? The reason, as Jonze explains it to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “is that one of the themes [Watts] writes a lot about is change, and where pain comes from, in terms of resisting change — whether it’s in a relationship, or in life, or in society.” Would he have enjoyed the film? While you wait for its future to arrive, at which point you can consult a regenerated Watts directly, feel free to listen closely to his teachings to prepare yourself — to the extent, of course, that the self exists — for whatever other changes may lie ahead.

Related Content:

What If Money Was No Object?: Thoughts on the Art of Living from Eastern Philosopher Alan Watts

Zen Master Alan Watts Discovers the Secrets of Aldous Huxley and His Art of Dying

Alan Watts On Why Our Minds And Technology Can’t Grasp Reality

Alan Watts and His Zen Wisdom Animated by the Creators of South Park

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.



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  1. Richard Vales III says . . . | January 9, 2014 / 5:58 am

    I am a huge fan of Alan Watts, a huge fan of Spike Jonze movies (and the Sabotage video). But when ‘They’ are at the cabin and suddenly Alan Watts starts talking it kick me completely out of the movie and if you had been in my same movie theater I was in you would have heard me mumbling under my breath the rest of the movie, “Alan Watts? Alan FREAKING Watts? Really?”

    As my friend told me afterward, “Well at least it wasn’t Charles Bukowski.”

    Indeed.

    That being said thanks for posting the Watts!!

  2. lbloom says . . . | January 9, 2014 / 3:00 pm

    So Good!! Thanks!

  3. chris says . . . | January 19, 2014 / 11:58 pm

    @Richard…I’m curious as to why the alan watts reference took you out of the movie. I found it to be an interesting tip of the hat. Why did it bother you?

  4. julie says . . . | January 21, 2014 / 12:40 pm

    I was delighted to be reminded of Allen Watts in the movie and the similarities between the OS group quest for understanding and our own, especially in the ’60′s. There is also a huge difference in seeing a movie made by your contemporaries and not by one’s parents!

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