Zen Talk: Watts’ Words are Twisted For Us to Unravel – Or Leave as They Are

“Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise.”
Alan Watts

A lot of people like to knock Alan Watts as being a westernized form of eastern Zen Buddhism and of fetishizing the hell out Zen. I can’t really disagree with that sentiment, but I can say that, despite this, I still enjoy a lot of what Watts has to say. It’s interesting and it makes you think, less often in a western way but by helping our western thinking minds move in a more Zen-like fashion.

This quote contributes to that kind of thinking. “Nothing is exactly as it seems,” seems, at face value, to be a very normal thing to say, and perhaps something that we’ve heard before. It’s like the warning Conan the Barbarian should get before entering the Palace of Mirrors.

However, the addition of “nor is it otherwise” gives pause. Does that mean that things are exactly as they seem or that we are actually discussing the notion of “nothing.”

Nothing, as a thing, is exactly as it seems. Nothing is nothing. Nor is nothing not as it seems because it is nothing. This could become a tautological mind f-ing, and rather than do that, I’m going to leave it open to the floor. What is going on in this quote, and what does it mean?

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One Response

  1. Funnily enough, I found this website while trying to find an article to help me decipher this quote. I’m afraid I can’t yet contribute much to the “what does it mean” question, but I do love the site.

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