Before seeing these videos, I wasn’t aware of Watts or his work, but I must admit that, despite accusations by other scholars of eastern religions, Buddhism and Zen that Watts fetishized and oversimplified Zen for the sake of sharing its philosophy, I really enjoy these mini lectures and the accompanying videos.
As I said Friday, I’m going to be talking about the video I posted then; to watch this video before reading the article, click HERE.
This video begins by telling us about the presumption that there are two types of people: prickly, practical ones, and gooey, sentimental ones. The world, Watts explains, is often perceived in a polarized fashion. We see one thing as black and the other as white, one thing as good and the other as bad, one thing as prickly and the other as gooey. It’s just a fact of our thinking that we pair and perceive in opposites. But, Watts tells us, the world is not so dichotomous. No person is entirely one thing, whether prickly or gooey.
Interestingly, psychology and personality studies reveal something similar. As friends and acquaintances characterize one another, researchers have found that people are often described in opposing ways. Moreover, when individuals try to characterize themselves as one thing, they find that they can also, at times, act in an opposing manner. People are not uni-characterizable, to use a term that doesn’t exist. They are complex, acting one way in certain situations and opposite ways in others.
Using his Zen predilections, Watts makes us realize that the world is not so easily divided into blacks and whites, but must be understood as gooey prickliness, and prickly goo. Now, it is often fetishized about Zen and Buddhism that there is no belief in good and evil or other similar dichotomies, but this is untrue. However, Watts doesn’t say that this is so and we can hardly accuse him of oversimplifying what he hasn’t. Rather, he is making a point about the nature of life and people in an attempt to break down our insistence on characterizing other people along such strict lines, and insisting that we are unable to relate to them.
What did you get out of Watts’ lecture and the accompanying video? Did you like it? Do you think it oversimplifies or does it make you think? What about?
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To read about “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” and the fetishization of eastern thought, click HERE.
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