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by Monica Furlong

ePub Zen Effects: The Life of Alan Watts download
Monica Furlong
Houghton Mifflin Company (October 1987)
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Books by Alan Watts": p. -230. Books for People with Print Disabilities. Internet Archive Books. Gutierres on October 25, 2010.

The external events of Alan Watt's life are not pretty: For example, he quite suddenly "converted" to. .Monica Furlong's earlier biography of Thomas Merton is quite a bit longer as well as more objective.

The external events of Alan Watt's life are not pretty: For example, he quite suddenly "converted" to Episcopalianism after many years as a Buddhist, and became a Priest without going through the normal academic preparations. She would seem an ideal biographer for Watts, and yet the results are somewhat disappointing.

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Zen Effects: The Life of Alan Watts. The first and only full-length biography of one of the most charismatic spiritual innovators of the twentieth century. Monica Furlong followed Watts's travels from his birthplace in England to the San Francisco Bay Area where he ultimately settled, conducting in-depth interviews with his family, colleagues, and intimate friends, to provide an analysis of the intellectual, cultural, and deeply personal influences behind this truly extraordinary life.

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Through his widely popular books and lectures, Alan Watts (1915-1973), one of the most charismatic spiritual innovators. Through his widely popular books and lectures, Alan Watts (1915-1973), one of the most charismatic spiritual innovators of the twentieth century, did more to introduce Eastern philosophy and religion to Western minds than any figure before or since. Watts was a renegade Zen teacher, an Anglican priest, a lecturer, an academic, an entertainer and a leader of the San Francisco renaissance.

Monica Furlong (17 January 1930 – 14 January 2003) was a British author, journalist, and activist. Zen Effects: the Life of Alan Watts (1986) (published in England as Genuine Fake: A Biography of Alan Watts). Therese of Lisieux (1987)

Monica Furlong (17 January 1930 – 14 January 2003) was a British author, journalist, and activist. She was born at Kenton near Harrow, north-west of London and died at Umberleigh in Devon. An obituary called her the Church of England's "most influential and creative layperson of the post-war period. Many of Furlong’s books reflected a deep interest in religion and spirituality. Therese of Lisieux (1987). Birds of Paradise: Glimpses of Living Myth (1995).

Book by Furlong, Monica
  • Unlike some previous reviewers, I did not find Furlong's biography biased or unsympathetic. It seemed balanced, and her psychological insights were astute. The myth of the Coyote, a Native-American trickster who brought fire to the people but burned his tail in the process, as mentioned in the introduction, seems very appropriate. What I took away was something of a tragic sense - in order to deliver his message, Watts sacrificed his health and family life. His early missteps, largely due to various social pressures didn't help either. In the end, Watts was trapped by his sudden fame and obligations, more than his audience (to whom he preached about freeing themselves from their own inner traps) could have imagined. The label "genuine fake" that he often applied to himself makes sense in this context, without diminishing the importance or meaning of his work.

    Especially toward Watts' later years, his drinking served as a lubricant to withstand the constant socializing and touring. In spite of all his wisdom and insight, alcoholism was a disease he could not beat with sheer willpower (and perhaps he accepted that). The book contains many anecdotes and recollections of family members and friends who seem to agree that his flaws and personal difficulties notwithstanding, Watts had an inherently benevolent and playful aura about him, more so than many other "visionary" personalities.

    The reason why I give "Zen Effects" 4 stars is because it spends less time on his later years and seems to speed up after the early 60's - with more space devoted to describing the San Francisco "hippie" scene in general, than needed. Surely, more documentary accounts of that period of Watts' life must be available.

  • This book suffers from a problem that is common with biographies. There is minutia that is covered in quite dry detail (especially in the chapters on Watts's early life), yet the very obvious and interesting stories are glossed over, generalized, inaccurate or left out completely. For instance, several pages are devoted to the kinds of food that Watts liked in grade school, yet Watts's relationship with Jack Kerouac is vaguely generalized in a paragraph that completely contradicts everything else that we have read about the friendship that the two had. At times it seems as if the author was not very interested in Alan Watts or his place in culture at all, but rather she seems to have been laboriously and dutifully compling facts as if she were writing a high school book report that had been assigned to her. Considering the fact that I wasn't there, I would much rather read a biography by someone who was not only there but interested. It appears that Furlong was neither.

  • listening to his taped lectures or watching the video recordings should read Monica Furlong's biography first.

    Monica Furlong has written a discreet, respectful biography of a man whose reputation is still a flickering flame, whose seven children and three wives still profit from his works and whose former friends and associates remain, for the most part, silent about Watts' personal life, at least in writing.

    I imagine that Furlong wrote the biography with anxious glances over her shoulder at imagined lawyers defending what is left of Watts' reputation but she manages quite well anyway, to provide a very good outline of his life that we are, I think, invited to fill in with our imaginations.

    The external events of Alan Watt's life are not pretty:

    For example, he quite suddenly "converted" to Episcopalianism after many years as a Buddhist, and became a Priest without going through the normal academic preparations. Powerful people within the Church hierarchy "pulled strings" for him, to "get him in" based on the reputation of his books, mostly on Buddhism and Zen.

    His daughter Joan suggested that one reason for his sudden "conversion" from Buddhism to Christianity was that it was 1941 and Watts was eligible for the draft. Being a Priest would keep him from being drafted.

    Watts was formally asked to leave the Church after his wife, Eleanor, sent a letter to Bishop Wallace Conkling, bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Chicago, complaining about Watt's unusual sexual demands. In the letter, Eleanor said that Watts demanded that Evelyn beat him as the only way he could have sexual satisfaction with her.

    He also inflicted various tortures upon himself to achieve orgasm ... He told me that he had practiced masturbation more than once daily from his schooldays to the present and that as the fantasy life which accompanied this practice grew more compelling he spent hours in drawing pornographic pictures and reading pornographic literature to excite his interest.

    As a result of this and other complications with his marriage, the Church was in the process of asking Watts to leave when Watts resigned. He then married his second wife, Dorothy, which caused automatic excommunication from the Episcopal Church because he was still considered married to his first wife, Eleanor.

    In the end, Watts was married three times and was, by his own admission, unfaithful to all three of his wives.

    Watts' own father regarded his son as "a failure as a husband and father."

    Watts admitted to being a bad father, mostly from simple neglect. He said, justifying himself in his autobiography:

    the Disneyland 'world of childhood' is an itsy-bitsy, cutie-pied, plastic hoax; a world populated by frustrated brats trying to make out why they are not treated as human beings ... If my children have found me distant and aloof, this is the explanation.

    He left his second wife, Dorothy, and his four children, when she was pregnant with their fifth child. During his marriage to Dorothy he spent most of his time away from home and behaved like a single man, according to his friend Gary Snyder. Furlong reports that Watts was drinking heavily by then, in 1960, "mostly vodka."

    Watts' friend Roger Somers said of Watts numerous sexual adventures,

    He saw [these women] freely, was quite effective with them, and loved them, but to live with one of those - here was the crack in the vase: his unwillingness to accept joy. Instead his self-importance was demonstrated by their inability to cope - he would take over from them - and of course, they would end up morbidly dependent upon him. This was not like the man who was talking to us about Zen. That's not Zen - that's Zen backwards.

    One of his closest friends, Gary Snyder, said of him "He was one who sowed problems wherever he went."

    Jack Kerouac describes him in his novel Dharma Bums (as Arthur Whane,)

    [Watts] stands in the firelight, smartly dressed in suit and necktie, having a perfectly serous discussion about world affairs with two naked men.
    "Well, what is Buddhism?" someone asks him. "Is it fantastic imagination, magic of the lighting flash, is it plays, dreams, not even plays, dreams?"
    "No, to me Buddhism is getting to know as many people as possible." And there he was going round the party real affable shaking hands with everybody and chatting, a regular cocktail party.

    The famous Zen scholar and practitioner, Masao Abe said of Watts: "I think he's a very clever man, clever interpreter of Zen, but I don't know how much he has practiced Zen meditation."

    That was, I think, a dismissal of Watts claim to be a Zen teacher. (Zen is, after all, explicitly said to be beyond theory and words and is instead, essentially, a way of life.)

    Watts clearly drank himself to death: His doctor told him that if he didn't quit, he would surely die and when his son Mark, like the others, was troubled by his drinking:

    "I'd say to him, 'Dad, don't you want to live?' and he would say, 'Yes, but it's not worth holding onto.' "

    His third wife's niece, Kathleen, asked him, "Uncle Alan, why?" "When I drink I don't feel so alone," he told her.

    The Jungian analyst, Jane Singer, visited him in the hospital where he was suffering from delirium tremens. "That's how I am," he said to her sadly. "I can't change."

    In 1968, he said to Paula McGuire, his editor at Pantheon Books, "If I don't drink, I don't feel sexy."

    Just before his death, Watts found the time to write a remarkably honest essay which sums up his career, called Trickster Guru. Here are some relevant excerpts:

    It must be understood from the start that the trickster guru fills a real need and performs a genuine public service. Millions of people are searching desperately for a true father-Magician, especially at a time when the clergy and the psychiatrists are making rather a poor show, and do not seem to have the courage of their convictions or of their fantasies. Perhaps they have lost nerve through too high a valuation of the virtue of honesty ...

    you must eventually come to believe in your own hoax, because this will give you ten times more nerve. This can be done through religionizing total skepticism to the point of basic incredulity about everything - even science. After all, this is in line with the Hindu-Buddhist position that the whole universe is an illusion, and you need not worry about whether the Absolute is real or unreal, eternal or non-eternal, because every idea of it that you could form would be, in comparison with living it up in the present, horribly boring.

    Watts made his last visit to his home town in England, Chistlehurst, to celebrate his father's 90th birthday, in 1971. Monica Furlong reports that it was very late and Watts was giving a long-winded speech that no one was interested in when one of the impatient waiters was heard to say "If Confucius here would just stop talking we could go home."

    The waiter undoubtedly went to the country school nearby where the boys were all rumored to say "ain't" instead of "isn't" and where Watts' parents were afraid to send him. The waiter could spot a trickster guru from the back of a dark room, after midnight, without any problem.

    Alan, summed up his own education this way,

    I was sent to a boarding school (Saint Hugh's) for instruction in laughing and grief, in militarism and regimented music, in bibliolatry and bad ritual, in cricket, soccer and rugby, in preliminary accounting, banking and surveying (known as arithmetic, algebra and geometry) and in subtle, but not really overt, homosexuality.

    Instead of England getting a very impressive and imposing head waiter, America got a very impressive and imposing trickster guru. We shouldn't complain too much about that, after all.

  • I appreciated this book and always enjoy Ms. Furlong's research and writing style. To be honest, I was surprised to discover an old counterculture hero was such a combination of earnestness and flimflam opportunism. Too bad.

    But having said that, I guess few of us are totally consistent in our lives. But in a way, isn't that the definition of integrity? So, I don't think Watts had much integrity, if this book is accurate. But he was obviously a profoundly talented man who moved many people to broaden their view of the world. And that is worth a lot.

    As for all the adoring young women that he took advantage of, well, perhaps we are applying today's values on yesterday. They didn't think it was so wrong for a person in authority to have affairs with their students. Today it is abhorrent and certainly a firable offence -- but I doubt he understood the dynamics of abuse in that sort of situation.

    As for the business about him and "spanking," I don't think that needed to be included. Did we really want to know that??

    But I do recommend the book. It is good to remember that people are just people. As the Buddhists would say, a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. So what did anyone really expect.