Alan

100+ Favorite Alan Watts Quotes on Life and Religion

Alan Watts was a British philosopher, author, and motivational speaker. He was also one of the first people to interpret the Eastern philosophy of Buddhism for a Western audience. He was a prolific figure in the zen spirituality community, traveling the world to teach people the importance of diminishing the fear(s) of reality, learning to live in the moment, finding peace with nature, and taking time to practice meditation. Here are the best Alan Watts quotes on life, spirituality, and the Universe.

Alan W Watts: Biography and Career

Born in 1915 in a small countryside near London, England, Alan Watts had always been fascinated with Asian art, literature, and philosophy. His father encouraged him to write, and when he was a teenager, he became the editor of the Buddhist Lodge’s journal, The Middle Way. He kept writing, and in 1932, he wrote and produced An Outline of Zen Buddhism, a booklet summarizing the zen writings of D.T. Suzuki.

In 1938, Watts moved to New York City, where he studied and lectured zen in bookstores and cafés. Two years later, he published his first real book, The Meaning of HappinessHe then moved to Chicago and enrolled at the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, studying mystical theology. In 1944, he was ordained as a priest, but he left the church and Chicago in 1950. He then moved to upstate New York, where he began writing The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of AnxietyOne year later, he moved to San Francisco to teach Buddhism. 

He went to various colleges across the country throughout his life to give lectures on zen, meditation, and Buddhism. Sometime around the early 70s, Watts felt an urge to spend the rest of his life in the mountains. He did most of his writing there.

Alan W Watts passed away in his sleep in November of 1973, on his mountain.  Watts was a pivotal figure in the meditative community, inspiring people with zen training and words of wisdom on life and the world. Here are some Alan Watts quotes to show you how insightful he was:

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Alan Watts Quotes On the Universe

“There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again.” –Alan Watts

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” –Alan Watts

“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.” –Alan Watts

“You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.” –Alan Watts

“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” –Alan Watts

“It’s like you took a bottle of ink, and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So, in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things, and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and-so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.” –Alan Watts

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.” –Alan Watts

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are, therefore, out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions, and ideas.” –Alan Watts

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.” –Alan Watts

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.” –Alan Watts

“Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.” –Alan Watts

“Tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.” –Alan Watts

“Every individual is a unique manifestation of the Whole, as every branch is a particular outreaching of the tree.” –Alan Watts

“Life exists only at this very moment, and at this moment it is infinite and eternal, for the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it exists forever….” –Alan Watts

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.” – Alan Watts

silhouette photo of mountain during night time

Alan Watts Quotes On Spirituality, Religion, Faith 

“A scholar tries to learn something every day; a student of Buddhism tries to unlearn something daily.” –Alan Watts

“If we cling to the belief in God, we cannot likewise have faith, since faith is not clinging but letting go.” –Alan Watts

“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.” –Alan Watts

“Philosophy is man’s expression of curiosity about everything and his attempt to make sense of the world primarily through his intellect.” –Alan Watts

“Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However, if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.” –Alan Watts

“But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be.” –Alan Watts

“The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.” –Alan Watts

Alan Watts Quotes On Zen and Meditation

“If you really understand Zen… you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary because… the sound of the rain needs no translation.” –Alan Watts

“Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.” –Alan Watts

“The only Zen you’ll find on mountain tops is the Zen you bring up there with you.” –Alan Watts

“Society is our extended mind and body.” –Alan Watts

“Zen concentrates on the importance of seeing into one’s own nature now at this moment – not in five minutes when you have had time to “accept” yourself, nor ten years ahead when you have had time to retire to the mountains and meditate.” –Alan Watts

“Trying to explain Zen is like trying to catch wind in a box; the moment you the lid it ceases to be wind and in time becomes stagnant air.” –Alan Watts

“It could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.” –Alan Watts

“The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention.” –Alan Watts

silhouette of person balancing using 1 foot

Alan Watts Quotes On Fear, Anxiety, and Suffering

 “One is a great deal less anxious if one feels perfectly free to be anxious, and the same may be said of guilt.” –Alan Watts

“There will always be suffering. But we must not suffer over the suffering.” –Alan Watts

“If you cannot trust yourself, you cannot even trust your mistrust of yourself – so that without this underlying trust in the whole system of nature, you are simply paralyzed.” –Alan Watts

“What we have to discover is that there is no safety that seeking is painful and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.” –Alan Watts

“We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.” –Alan Watts

“Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.” –Alan Watts

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” –Alan Watts

“The more we struggle for life (as pleasure), the more we are actually killing what we love.” –Alan Watts

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.” –Alan Watts

“No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” –Alan Watts

“To remain stable is to refrain from trying to separate yourself from a pain because you know that you cannot. Running away from fear is fear; fighting pain is pain; trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought. There is no escape.” –Alan Watts

“Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression, or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name, and define fear in order to make it ‘objective,’ that is, separate from ‘I.’” –Alan Watts

Alan Watts Quotes on Society, Power, and Money

“A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.” –Alan Watts

“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.” –Alan Watts

“A world which increasingly consists of destinations without journeys between them, a world which values only “getting somewhere” as fast as possible, becomes a world without substance.” –Alan Watts

“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”–Alan Watts

 “For the trouble with our rich and powerful people are not so much that they are wicked, but that they do not enjoy themselves.” –Alan Watts

“What we have forgotten is that thoughts and words are conventions and that it is fatal to take conventions too seriously. A convention is a social convenience, as, for example, money … but it is absurd to take money too seriously, to confuse it with real wealth … In somewhat the same way, thoughts, ideas, and words are “coins” for real things.” –Alan Watts

“We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” –Alan Watts

Alan Watts Quotes On Love and Desire

“Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself.” –Alan Watts

“Life and love generate effort, but effort will not generate them. Faith in life, in other people, and in oneself, is the attitude of allowing the spontaneous to be spontaneous, in its own way and in its own time.” –Alan Watts

“Love is not something that is a sort of rare commodity, everybody has it.” –Alan Watts

“People who exude love are apt to give things away. They are in every way like rivers; they stream. And so when they collect possessions and things they like, they are apt to give them to other people. Because, have you ever noticed that when you start giving things away, you keep getting more?” –Alan Watts

“There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied.” –Alan Watts

“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love.”–Alan Watts

“The world is filled with love–play, from animal lust to sublime compassion.” –Alan Watts

“Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” –Alan Watts

“Money is an abstraction. It cannot, of itself, buy any pleasure whatsoever. Because all pleasures involve skill and love.” – Alan Watts

“Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.” – Alan Watts

Alan Watts Quotes About Happiness and Joy

“Those who search for happiness do not find it because they do not understand that the object of the search is the seeker.” –Alan Watts

“The fact that happiness is associated with relaxation does not mean that it is impossible to be happy in the midst of strenuous effort, for to be truly effective great effort must, as it were, revolve upon a steady unmoving center. The problem before us is how to find such a center of relaxed balance and poise in man’s individual life – a center whose happiness is unshaken by the whirl that goes on around it, which creates happiness because of itself and not because of external events, and this in spite of the fact that it may experience those events in all their aspects and extremes from the highest bliss to the deepest agony.” –Alan Watts

“The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys, which are only lovable because they are changing.” –Alan Watts

“Any attempt to discover happiness is also an easy way to go crazy, and the world today is a crazy place just because people are trying to do it.” –Alan Watts

“It’s better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.” –Alan Watts

silhouette of man standing on rock during sunset

 Alan Watts Quotes on One’s True Self

“Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know.” –Alan Watts

“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.” –Alan Watts

“Waking up to whom you require letting go of whom you imagine yourself to be.” –Alan Watts

“If you are ready to wake up, you are going to wake up. If you’re not, you are going to stay pretending that you are just a poor little me.” –Alan Watts

“Insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.” –Alan Watts

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.” –Alan Watts

“A man does not really begin to be alive until he has lost himself, until he has released the anxious grasp which he normally holds upon his life, his property, his reputation and position.” –Alan Watts

“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.” –Alan Watts

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.” –Alan Watts

person holding ballpoint pen writing on notebook

Alan Watts Quotes and Advice for Creatives

“Stop aspiring and start writing.” –Alan Watts

“If you’re writing, you’re a writer.” –Alan Watts

“Words can be communicative only between those who share similar experiences.” –Alan Watts

“Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.” –Alan Watts

“There is nothing at all that can be talked about adequately, and the whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said.” –Alan Watts

“Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves.” –Alan Watts

“Part of man’s frustration is that he has become accustomed to expect language and thought to offer explanations which they cannot give.” –Alan Watts

“Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.” –Alan Watts

“And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words … As if you had a meaning, as if you were a mere word, as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.” –Alan Watts

selective focus photography of white dandelion flower during daytime

Alan Watts Quotes On Change

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” –Alan Watts

“The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”–Alan Watts

“There is only this now. It does not come from anywhere; it is not going anywhere. It is not permanent, but it is not impermanent. Though moving, it is always still. When we try to catch it, it seems to run away, and yet it is always here and there is no escape from it. And when we turn around to find the self which knows this moment, we find that it has vanished like the past.” –Alan Watts

“Once the mind has seen through all fear and all hope, it finds peace within itself, in a state of awareness beyond thought.”―Alan Watts

“If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.”―Alan Watts

Alan Watts Quotes About Life

“Parts exist only for purposes of figuring and describing, and as we figure the world out, we become confused if we do not remember this all the time.” –Alan Watts

“The destination of life is this eternal moment.” –Alan Watts

“People sometimes fail to live because they are always preparing to live.” –Alan Watts

“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.” –Alan Watts

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.” –Alan Watts

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim, you don’t grab hold of the water because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax and float.” –Alan Watts

Alan Watts quote and illustration
Alan Watts quote and illustration

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” –Alan Watts

“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.” –Alan Watts

“Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself.” –Alan Watts

“Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.” –Alan Watts

“No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.” –Alan Watts

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.” –Alan Watts

For Further Reading

To find a complete list of work by Alan W Watts, visit this source.

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About the author
January Nelson is a writer, editor, and dreamer. She writes about astrology, games, love, relationships, and entertainment. January graduated with an English and Literature degree from Columbia University. Read more articles from January on Thought Catalog.

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