May the Tao Be With You

Hello again, friends!

Firstly, we’d like to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who took advantage of the discounts in the store in April. Thank you! We had a great response and Alan’s work found its way into many homes - this has allowed us to push forward the archiving project. We've been been hard at work on transcribing the talks, so we’ve got another set of transcripts ready for you. This month it's the Philosophies of Asia.

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If you’d like to jump right into listening to the audio, you can pick up the album Philosophies of Asia in the store for 50% off (ASIA50). If you’d like to purchase any other products (including The Works), we’re extending the 20% discount until May 18th (SPRING20).
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I decided for this newsletter to write a little piece tying together some of Alan's work and the stories many of us grew up with. I hope you enjoy it! - J

The great Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho, wrote:

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself."

In this haiku, Basho was describing the way in which the Tao operates interdependently throughout all things. We need not exert any force over the way of things for the grass to grow, in fact, when we try to force things, we find it seldom actually has the intended effect.

Alan and friends sort through hundreds of entries in a Haiku competition.

Sometimes we find ourselves withdrawing completely in an effort to avoid "forcing" things against their nature, but this too has its downfalls. People develop the notion that the right path is to withdraw from everything and become renunciatory. To sit on your hands and let the world turn without you. However, this too is a sort of trap.

“It doesn't mean you don't cut wood, but it means that you cut wood along the lines where wood is most easy to cut - and you interact with other people along lines which are the most genial. And this then is the great fundamental principle which is called wu-wei, which is not to force anything.”

- Alan Watts in The Taoist Way Pt. 3 from Philosophies of Asia 

As the flowers are in bloom, baby animals are appearing, and many of us begin to sniffle, we can see that Spring is showing up big time in the Northern Hemisphere. This beautiful time of year pulls us into the present with its sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, and we are encouraged to experience the sensations in the now of the Tao. We harvest when the crop is ready, we plant when the soil is receptive, and we stop to smell the roses when they're in bloom.


“When you know that this moment is the Tao, and this moment is considered by itself, without past, and without future, eternal - neither coming into being nor going out of being… there is Nirvana!”

- Alan Watts in The Taoist Way Pt. 2 from Philosophies of Asia

Original Al Huang calligraphy kept in the Alan Watts Archives in Northern California.

This past Saturday was May the Fourth (May the Force), which many will know as Star Wars Day. In honor of that, let's look at how creator George Lucas uses the concept of The Force as an analogue for the Tao. It may not surprise you to hear that some of the people that work on the Star Wars films are great supporters and lovers of Alan Watts' work. Their stories are heavily influenced by philosophies of Asia, and particularly by Taoism and Buddhism.

As in the Yin and Yang, translated into the shady and the sunny side respectively, there is a dark and a light side of The Force. In chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching (the pinnacle of Taoist literature attributed to Lao Tzu), it is written:


“What is and what is not create each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Tall and short shape each other.
High and low rest on each other.
Voice and tone blend with each other.
First and last follow each other.” 

-Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching

The Star Wars Jedi Code is written in a similar style, pairing seemingly opposing ideas to show their interdependence:

“Emotion, yet peace.
Ignorance, yet knowledge.
Passion, yet serenity.
Chaos, yet harmony.
Death, yet the Force.”


The Tao and the Force are similarly set up by presenting two sides of a coin and then reminding you that you are holding both... but it's just one coin. The frontback is the object. You can't take just the front of the coin and leave the back behind. It’s not the yin and/or the yang, but rather the yin-yang. 

“The yin-yang view of the world is serenely cyclic. Fortune and misfortune, life and death, whether on small scale or vast, come and go everlastingly without beginning or end, and the whole system is protected from monotony by the fact that, in just the same way, remembering alternates with forgetting.” 

― Alan W. Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way

A selection of books in the Alan Watts mountain archive.

“It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.”

- Alan Watts describing the Tao? Nope. Obi-Wan Kenobi as he explained The Force to young Luke Skywalker.

The Tao is not something we can speak clearly about, because the Tao we can speak about is not the real Tao. The Tao is that thing beyond the language about the Tao. It's that great permeating essence that is not only contained within the box people put it in, but also contains all of people who put it in the box, and the box itself. It surrounds us, penetrates us... well, you get the point!

There is an inherent balance that is the natural course of things, and if left to its own vices and devices, it maintains a sort of cosmic equilibrium - but nowadays it seems we're finding out that our influence is anything but subtle. When we exert force, we can knock the balance askew. Is that a good thing, a bad thing? Maybe! Remember the Chinese Farmer

Anyway, George Lucas had this to say about changing the balance of the Force to the darkness:


“What happens when you go to the dark side is it gets out of balance… When you get selfish you want stuff… and when you want stuff and you get stuff, you’re afraid someone’s going to take it away from you... Once you become afraid you’re gonna lose it, you start to become angry… and that anger leads to hate… and hate leads to suffering… You spend all your time being afraid of losing everything you’ve got instead of actually living.”

- George Lucas

Or as Alan put it some years prior:


“Man suffers because of his craving to possess and keep forever things which are essentially impermanent...this frustration of the desire to possess is the immediate cause of suffering.” 

- Alan Watts... some years prior

As we consider the stories and myths we hear today, it's interesting to recognize how much they borrow from the stories people have been writing for thousands of years.  Sure, they may be set during a war in outer-space now, but the light and the dark are still the factors we consider. The interplay between man and nature... between the nature of woman and the varying degrees of nature we call wilderness... the nature OF things and the way all things are interdependent... that yin-yang nature is still and will always be the basis for the greatest stories.

Our best stories have questions that will perhaps never be answered and mysteries that will perhaps always be interesting. Those stories are the eternal stories... so I suppose we can't really speak about them.

What's your story? We'd love to hear from you! You can reply directly to this email with your favorite Alan Watts lecture, a fond memory, requests, corrections, and so on... Here are some stories we received as a response to our last newsletter:

Rosalia about listening to Alan: "Recently I was listening to an Alan Watts recording in my car while parked in the grocery store parking lot.  A woman got out of a car parked next to me and tapped on my window and said, “You know, I just love Alan Watts too!"

Olivier on the new transcripts: "This is absolutely fantastic for a French reader/listener like me who sometimes struggles with understanding the words. Thank you so much for all the great work!!!"


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