Take a Break from Your Frantic Day & Let Alan Watts Introduce You to the Calming Ways of Zen

By the end of the 1960s, Alan Watts had become one of the gurus of the coun­ter­cul­ture. Though he was not real­ly a Zen Bud­dhist, he was many a person’s gate­way into the reli­gion due to The Way of Zen pub­lished in 1958. His was a philo­soph­i­cal and pop­ulist approach to East­ern reli­gion, an antecedent to the Eck­hart Tolles of our time.

This short film, Now and Zen, was direct­ed by Elda and Irv­ing Hart­ley, shot in the gar­dens at their res­i­dence, and fea­tures Watts encour­ag­ing the view­er to go beyond the mate­r­i­al world, espe­cial­ly as we under­stand it through lan­guage and our cul­tur­al view­point. Instead, he says, “This world is a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al net­work of all kinds of vibra­tions” which infants under­stand bet­ter than us adults. The film then tran­si­tions into a guid­ed sit­ting med­i­ta­tion of sorts, and ends with the sounds of nature. (Plus, there’s ducks.)

“Hence the impor­tance of med­i­ta­tion in zen,” he con­tin­ues, “which is, from time to time, to stop think­ing alto­geth­er, and sim­ply be aware of what is. This may be done very, very sim­ply. By becom­ing aware of the play of light and col­or upon your eyes. Don’t name any­thing you see. Just let the light and the shad­ow, the shape and the col­or, play with your eyes, and allow the sound to play with your ears.”

Elda Hart­ley, work­ing with her hus­band Irv­ing, used this film to launch the Hart­ley Film Foun­da­tion, its mis­sion to pro­duce doc­u­men­taries on world reli­gions and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. (It still exists as a non-prof­it). Zen as a sub­ject came first, because Elda had been on a trip to Japan with Alan Watts, and when she pro­posed the film, he agreed to nar­rate. She would lat­er make films with Mar­garet Mead, Joseph Camp­bell, Ram Dass, Hus­ton Smith and oth­ers.

There are sev­er­al oth­er films on archive.org’s Hart­ley Pro­duc­tions page, and anoth­er Watts-nar­rat­ed one: The Flow of Zen. (Warn­ing: this is the oppo­site of med­i­ta­tive, and its harsh aton­al elec­tron­ic sounds very far removed from any medi­a­tion CD you might have kick­ing around.)

Bet­ter still: Open Cul­ture also has plen­ty of Alan Watts in the archive.

Final­ly, as some­one who spent many an under­grad night lis­ten­ing to his late-night lec­tures on KPFK and at the time not under­stand­ing a whit, it was edi­fy­ing to hear Watts say in the above film:

As you lis­ten to my voice, don’t try to make any sense of what I am say­ing. Just be aware of the tones and your brain will auto­mat­i­cal­ly take care of the sense.

I can vouch that he was right about that…eventually. But only after read­ing many, many books on Bud­dhism.

Now and Zen and The Flow of Zen will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Alan Watts Intro­duces Amer­i­ca to Med­i­ta­tion & East­ern Phi­los­o­phy: Watch the 1960 TV Show, East­ern Wis­dom and Mod­ern Life

The Wis­dom of Alan Watts in Four Thought-Pro­vok­ing Ani­ma­tions

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

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.