Monday, February 13, 2017

Alan Watts reprint of 1961 book

The First Half of Psychotherapy East and West:

In the first chapter of Psychotherapy East and West he skates along big ideas, and typically in academia you're supposed to get into smaller chunks to make sure you've got it right. In some ways Watts is kind of refreshing and there are interesting insights, like that you're going to have to get into social commentary in psychotherapy.

The second chapter is a mash up of physical theories, Wittgenstein and anthropology. The question whether good creates evil was raised, that was my favorite part because it reminds me of the movies MegaMind and Watchmen, who have that theme as well.

Parts of the chapter, I was scratching my head as he switched from topic to topic without transition sentences. It's a kind of riff, and you could see why he was popular in the counter culture when that type of writing was more acceptable. He had some interesting theological views, that in the book of Job, the devil is an adjudicating angel. And he notes he could never get angry at Judas because he just followed Jesus' orders. He thinks schizophrenia is caused by double binds, strong pulls in opposite directions. When the mother tells the little boy, "you don't want to play in that muddy puddle," when the kid really does.

The third chapter on liberation is a kind of history of eastern religions. Watts takes Madhyamaka as the form of Buddhism he is taking about when he generalizes about Buddhism, Vedanta and Taoism. It's an odd choice, when he's speaking in a kind of perfection of wisdom way of Chan.

Watts talks about the caste system of Hinduism, but forgets to mention the "untouchables", the Dalits who have used Buddhism as part of their liberation theology in present times, since Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. Ambedkar died in 56, so the movement had been going for 5 years at least. And yet I don't think right or wrongness in his generalizations and characterizations touches his arguments much, such as they are. Watts' style of writing is a kind of challenge in every statement, a kind of interpretation of a philosophy that is at once hard to evaluate, and bold sounding.

The liberation chapter could almost break the chapter up, because he goes on a long riff about reincarnation which is fairly interesting. Watts suggests that all the magic and miracles are for the weak minded. He points out that westerners see reincarnation as a good thing, where as in the east it is meant to be liberated from.

He compares Taoism and Confucianism, then compares Taoism to Rogerian psychotherapy. He looks at the influence of Ch'an Buddhism from Taoism. Then he throws in a dash of neuropsychology. It's a heady brew to gulp down, but occasionally there's an interesting sentence, and a new way of looking at things.

Many times I find myself asking about a statement about Jung or the other topics, "Is that really true?" I have no way of verifying many of the wide claims Watts makes.

I like the concept of distance of excessive reverence: The further away the prophet, the more reverential there must be, and thus a vibrant tradition "dies of respectability."

The question of sexuality is discussed, but he quotes Vedanta, which I'm not as interested in. The Mahayana is supposed to enter the world and therefore one is more likely to be married as a Mahayana Buddhist.

A tour de force is what they call these kinds of books, because it assumes a lot of background and interpretations on that background which are hard to know how true they are. There's a large grand comparison of liberation east and west, which is what the title is, so there you have it.

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