Alan Watts on Mahayana Buddhism

The transcription of the part 2 of the talks is given below.

[youtube] [youtube]


(Beings, having the ability)

to remember past experiences

and by the ability to receive the results of it’s actions

(which is called feedback)

and to make predictions about future outcomes

and the to correct or control its actions

(gets into this misunderstanding, illusion);

the confusing byproduct of this

is the feeling, that there is some constant entity,

some substantial mind entity,

underlying the stream of experiences (1)


An illusion arises and gives us the impression

that there is this constant thing, the experiencer

that endures, from the past, through the present, to the future

and at the same time has to protect itself

against being worn out by experiences. (2)


And so gradually, we come to develop a resistance

to what we’re experiencing.

This comes about not only because we’re afraid of being worn out,

but also because of the problem of having to control constantly arises.

We become anxious as to whether our predictions are going to work out

and therefore we tend to get over cautious.


As a result, our resistance to experiences builds up.

This makes the whole system, the flow of the patterns,

to operate Not more efficiently, but instead more “stickily”.

We begin to develop a kind of constant shakiness (anxiety).

When we start to resist our processes and feeling (experiences)

and as a result we get a chronic anxiety and chronic frustration.

(Made stronger by feedback).


If we identify ourselves with this enduring illusory ego

we get from this a sense of lack,

a psychological hunger,

and develop a greed for events,

for more and more experiences;

but when we have more and more experiences

the more it’s going to wear us out.


This kind of resistance to life

leads to a vicious circle.

The Buddhist call this the Samsara.

Although in popular Buddhist philosophy,

the Samara is thought of as the process of

the individual being reincarnated again and again into the world,

so long as he has attraction for it,

the real meaning of the wheel of Samsara

going round and round is precisely this vicious circle.

The vicious circle which raises though a resistance to life

which causes anxiety

which leads to desire for more experiences

and for it to be different from the way it is

and builds into further resistance.


The original appeal of Buddhism was that

it offered a way of deliverance

from the vicious circle of Samsara.



One important thing to note is that,

trying to get off the wheel might imply an assumption

that there is an experiencer

who needs to be extracted from experience,

but that is the illusion.

There is simply the experiencing.


In the symbolism of Mahayana Buddhism

the person who is no longer seeking an escape from life,

but has realized that it isn’t something to be escaped from,

is called a Bodhisattva, an awakened being.


And so there is an ancient Buddhist verse that says:

Suffering alone exits; no one who suffers.

Deeds alone exits; but no doer of deeds

The path there is, but no one who treads it

Nirvana is there is, but no one who attains it.




(1) While transcribing this Allan Watts’ presentation on Buddhism, I’ve used a fair bit of artistic liberty to make it more readable in written words, from the original television talk.


(2) Some experiences may be reinforcing the sense of identity, while others erode and weaken the sense of identity. I think the later is referred to here.


(3) From Allan’s elaboration, we can also get an understanding into the causes of greed, fear, and selfishness.

One thought on “Alan Watts on Mahayana Buddhism

  1. Pingback: Allan Watts - Do YOU Do It, or Does IT Do You? | Gallery Of Conscious Thinkers

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