Alan Watts Brings Eastern Wisdom to American TV Viewers in 1959 (Complete Episodes)

Near­ly forty years after his death, the words of Alan Watts still gen­er­ate excite­ment. Fans trade them, in the form of texts, radio broad­casts, record­ed talks, and tele­vi­sion pro­grams, both online and off. The British-born inter­preter and pop­u­lar­iz­er of East Asian Bud­dhist thought gen­er­at­ed most of his media in the San Fran­cis­co of the 1950s and 1960s, and his tele­vised lec­tures, pro­duced for local pub­lic sta­tion KQED, must have offered many a San Fran­cis­can their very first glimpse of Zen. Now that episodes of his series East­ern Wis­dom and Mod­ern Life have made it to YouTube (sea­son one, sea­son two), you can see for your­self that Watts’ then-cut­ting-edge deliv­ery of this ancient wis­dom remains enter­tain­ing, infor­ma­tive, and strik­ing in its clar­i­ty. Begin with the intro­duc­to­ry episode above and below, “Man and Nature,” in which Watts calm­ly lays out his obser­va­tions of the ill effects of West­ern­ers’ hav­ing grown to dis­trust their human instincts.

We waste our ener­gy fight­ing nature, rather than work­ing with it; we com­pul­sive­ly chat­ter to our­selves when we should let new things into our minds; we pur­sue plea­sure, for­get­ting that we can’t rec­og­nize it in the absence of pain; we divide real­i­ty into minis­cule chunks to make sci­ence and engi­neer­ing pos­si­ble, but then get unfor­tu­nate­ly locked into that mode of think­ing. These are some of the many dis­ad­van­ta­geous habits Watts points out over the course of these lec­tures. But he also tells sto­ries, cracks dry jokes, and takes advan­tage of the visu­al medi­um with illus­tra­tions from East­ern art, aes­thet­ics, and even lan­guage. When­ev­er I feel I’ve lapsed into the vac­il­lat­ing, inef­fec­tu­al psy­cho­log­i­cal state he called “the quak­ing mess” — and it hap­pens often — I call up a shot of Watts with broad­casts like these, and I’m back liv­ing in real­i­ty in no time.

You can watch oth­er episodes of East­ern Wis­dom and Mod­ern Thought via this Youtube playlist.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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