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Become What You Are Paperback – March 11, 2003
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From the Inside Flap
"Life exists only at this very moment, and in 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.... You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now."-from "Become What You Are
In this collection of writings, including nine new chapters never before available in book form, Watts displays the intelligence, playfulness of thought, and simplicity of language that has made him so perennially popular as an interpreter of Eastern thought for Westerners. He draws on a variety of religious traditions, and covers topics such as the challenge of seeing one's life "just as it is," the Taoist approach to harmonious living, the limits of language in the face of ineffable spiritual truth, and the psychological symbolism of Christian thought.
About the Author
Alan Watts (19151973) was a renowned lecturer and the author of nearly thirty books, including The Way of Zen and The Book.
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The Paradox of Self-Denial: This first essay sets the tone for the collection. It is framed around the intuition that "He who loseth his soul shall find it." It is pointed out that the seeker that consciously tries to transcend the world, and his own conscious ego, shall never do so. It is only when ego has truly, deeply, experienced defeat, failure, and despair that true transcendence is ever reached. And perhaps not even then, for it comes from beyond the self and is far from predictable.
Become What You Are: This essay deals with the concept of the enlightened man as a mirror. This involves grasping nothing/ refusing nothing and receiving all/ keeping nothing. This is detachment from future and past to live in an eternal Now. We are all centered in the infinite Tao- we have all but to recognize it.
The Finger and the Moon: One of his most famous essays, it deals with not mistaking religion for the ultimate goal of religion. Once you cross the river, don't try to carry the raft with you on your back.
Importance: Deals with the fact that the importance of things has nothing to do with their permanence or duration. Value is in quality and not quantity. The tiniest part of the universe contains that universe in microcosm- and fully participates in the whole.
Tao and Wu-Wei: Watts addressed the concept of Wu-Wei long before it became fashionable. This is what works and moves in harmony with nature without having to be forced. Your heart does this- so would your mind if you let it. You just have to get out of your own way. A life, or a society, totally balled-up in rigid self-control and self-consciousness must eventually fail. Wu-Wei means to live with your center outside of this trap.
Lightness of Touch: Deals with not taking the world of Maya, or yourself, too seriously. The real world is the play of the spirit.
Birds in the Sky: Describes the path of the sage as paradoxically both in harmony with the world, as well as detached from it (in the world but not of it.) Points out that almost all western thought rebels against this as pessimism and nihilism.
Walking on the Wheel: Examines the ideal life as 1) stillness, calm, and immovability, and as 2) dancing with the flow of life. Resolves the seeming conflict as a question of relative perception.
The Language of Metaphysical Experience: Examines how modern logical philosophy (scientific empiricism and logical positism) simply ignores metaphysical and spiritual issues as "meaningless." Points out that such philosophers have no idea what reality is. Shows how materialists are ego driven types who are driven to order and control- and ignore anything that doesn't fit.
Good Intentions: Shows how good intentions in and of themselves are not necessarily good- if they are based on ignorance, laziness, incompetence, or misplaced desire.
Birth of the Divine Son: Once again, long before it was popular Watts recognized that the symbolism of the Christ long preceded Christianity. The Universal power of the symbol of Spirit entering into union with matter is examined. Also dealt with is the concept of the Second Birth- of the potential for unregenerate man becoming Christ.
Even the cover of this book is a spiritual lesson, with its mirror at the center of the mandala, that we may glimpse our Self at the center of creation.
Additionally, he discusses how forces seemingly in opposition are necessary in life, the yin and yang. For without one, we would not know the other. We would not know love without pain, night without day, life without death… Watts takes an opportunity to delve further into Taoism as a basis for living in peace and harmony with the way of the world. The Tao is a complex topic to truly grasp, and one that you may never fully ascertain due to the nature of the Tao.
I admit that I had to read several of the chapters multiple times to really grasp the deeper content that Watts was trying to get across. However, his writing flows like a river from thought to thought, painting you a vivid picture with colorful language. The metaphors he uses jump off the page and into your imagination. You walk alongside his travellers in their journey to seek answers to life’s toughest riddles while simultaneously questioning everything you thought you knew.
After reading this book, I found a new peace in my life that had not been there before. I realized that I am not able to control everything and should enjoy the life I have while I am still here. I also realized that there is nothing to fear in death. It is the other part of life; it is what we all knew before we were born, and what we will all know once more. There was no pain in those moments before birth, as there will be no moments of pain after death.
With the help of this book, as well as The Wisdom of Insecurity and several of his lectures on YouTube, I have started to take more chances and am no longer as afraid to try new things that once scared me. For instance, I have dreamed of becoming a DJ for many years now, but have always been too afraid to fail and for what my social circle would think if I told them I wanted to pursue a career in music instead of education. However, after reading this book, I found a new confidence within myself and enrolled in a two year DJ program. If there is something that you are afraid to do, after reading this book, I believe you will have found the courage to do it.
I believe Alan Watts was on to something that we all need to be in tune with and reading Become What You Are is the first step down an unknown path, but it is your path.
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Very much worth a read.....Read more
Make the most of what you have.
Question it all.
Sit and enjoy.