The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan W. Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
To me, this book felt like an unexpected left-hooked punch to my jaw, which left me dazed and defenceless. Even now, I can still feel my head spinning (figuratively speaking). "The Book" tackles some very tough issues, mostly ones that we are forcibly indoctrinated into children at a very early age, especially those that live in the Western society. Watt's words tackled my own long-held beliefs, but I chose to read them with an open mind. In the beginning, he discusses the idea of "self" and "ego" (both were intellectually stimulating, especially the analogy of the ego behaving like an onion with many layers). I am somewhat familiar with this concept, but Watts' took it a step further by declaring that the self is actually an "It" and that the individual is not separate from the environment, but ultimately a part of it. Watts' successfully challenged the pillar beliefs of Christianity, and even though I am a Protestant raised, I can clearly see that his arguments did have some merits. I also enjoyed the fact that he implemented Eastern philosophical beliefs, as it educated me on some subject matters that I was entirely ignorant of, prior to reading this book.
Still, the idea that we are not truly individuals, and that I am "It" AND you are "It," AND that this entity of "It"- God or whatever power that connects all sources of life on earth (and even beyond) has this uncanny ability of residing in all living souls while playing an "endless game of hide-and-seek with oneself" is still a difficult topic to grasp. I suppose not intellectually speaking, but the belief in Watt's philosophical arguments is something that I found myself unable to stomach fully. I suppose this is the reason, Watts' ended his book with the following passage:
Now you know- even if it takes you some time do a double-take and get the full impact. It may not be easy to recover from the many generations through which the fathers have knocked down the children, like dominoes... On the contrary, you're IT. But perhaps the fathers were unwittingly trying to tell the children that IT plays IT cool. You don't come on (that is, on stage) like IT because you really are IT, and to come on like IT- to play at being God- is to play the Self as a role, which is just what it isn't. When IT plays, it plays at being everyone else.
As you can see, Watts' tends to speak in parables and analogies, but it works because of the difficulty of his complex ideas, much of which derived from Buddhism teachings. After all, how am I supposed to believe that God is not only in me, but that I AM God? As a matter of fact, he is in everyone of you? From the small grasshopper, to the farthest galaxy, there is a part of God's spirit or soul that resides in these things. It is difficult to comprehend, but I am slowly coming to terms with Watts' philosophy. As a man that holds a master's degree in Theology and a doctorate of divinity, he is a man well versed in Christianity thinking. I find it interesting that he goes against his own religion later on in life, and that he leans more towards the teaching of Zen Buddhism. Watts' is a highly knowledgeable man, and a wise one at that. I suppose I will take what I can from "The Book" and brood over it for a couple of days. It is not a light topic, and it is one that goes against Westernized teaching. I do agree, however, with the importance of living in the present moment and the common fear of death among people in North America. The idea of purgatory/heaven/hell does create a sense of unease for people, since they fear their sins will condemn them to a certain place for all eternity (i.e. Heaven or Hell). Alan is correct in stating that death is a certain "Taboo"- a topic that no one wants to speak about, and that we vainly contrive to use all modes of life/artificial technology to extend it to the last possible second. Does everyone fear death? No, not exactly, but I believe it is because of people's fears or beliefs which compels them to take on a certain view of departing from this world. I suppose this is the reason I enjoyed one of the final segments of Alan Watts' passages as he closes up his last argument about "It" and the idea of "It" reincarnating itself into a different selves (i.e. person or animal after death). This passage was written not so long after he passed away. I will leave this remarkable speech down below for you to ponder over, as I still do even after the final page.
"I presume, then, that with my own death I shall forget who I was, just as my conscious attention is unable to recall, if it ever knew, how to form the cells of the brain and the pattern of the veins. Conscious memory plays little part in our biological existence. Thus as my sensation of "I-ness" of being alive, once came into being without conscious memory or intent, so it will arise again and again, as the "central" Self- the It..."
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