52 in 52 Book Summaries

Book Summary: The Book by Alan Watts

forces of habit The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are summary

The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts

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The Essence

Alan Watts is one of the pioneers for interpreting and popularizing Eastern philosophy towards a Western audience. In The Book Watts addresses one of the core assumption in Eastern thought; that the self or ego that we create and identify as a separate being does not really exist. A mind-altering experience on every page, the illusion of separateness we attach to is identified as the problem, and a solution to our ego trip is offered. Since forcibly ignoring the self only strengthens its influence, we must embrace it, learn so much about it that our new found self-consciousness makes its influence blatant—we gain control with awareness. By accepting our condition—craving for categorization—we can begin to monitor how we create these imitation realities and modify our conscious experience to embrace our relationship with the universe—everything is interconnected, it is all one. You’ll gonna want to read Watts book a few times, an existential manual of this caliber is timeless and profoundly insightful.

The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are Summary Journal Entry:

This is my book summary of The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. The Journal write up also includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
  • To Know IT you must understand that you cannot understand it. This sounds like epistemological modesty to me. “The universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game… there is never anything to be gained —through the zest of the game is to pretend that there is. Anyone who brags about knowing this doesn’t understand it, for he is only using the theory as a trick to maintain his illusion of separateness.”
  • Wiggly Universe: Everything is a big wiggle. They wiggle so much and in so many different ways that one can really make out where one wiggle begins and another ends whether it be in space or time.
  • No matter how much we divide, count, sort, or classify the wiggle into particular things, this is nothing more than a method for thinking about the world; Nothing Is Actually Ever Divided.
  • “Just as nothing or organism exists on its own, it does not act on its own. The total interrelationship between all things.
  • On Change: The more it changes, the more it is same. Change is in some ways an illusion, for we are always at a point of uncertainty where any future can occur.
  • America’s reputation for materialism is unfounded… Pleasures are not material but symbols for pleasure—attractively packaged, but inferior in content.
  • Wandering… the best way to discover surprise and marvels. Watts see this as the only real reason to not stay home.
  • “The prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of the East.”
  • To define is to limit. The words we use in language are limits to the magnificence that is our preymbolic The boundaries we set on the boundless make it impossible to properly define things like the universe.
  • Attention: “an intentional, unapologetic discriminator”. Attention is a narrowed perception. Like a scanning mechanism, it is a flashlight in the darkroom that narrows our perception. While a narrowed perception is great for being sharp, it can only focus on one area at a time.
  • Life is a system of geological and biological cooperation. But man continues to separate himself, as though he is the only subject among a world of objects—such dualist thinking is a neurosis.
  • Two Factors are ignored:
    1. Not realizing that so-called opposites are poles of the same thing. Things like light and darkness, sound and silence, solid and space cannot be without one another.
    2. We are absorbed in conscious attention, convinced that this narrowed perception is the only real way of seeing the world. Further, we view the self-sensations as what makes ‘I’ a conscious being—we are hypnotized by this disjointed vision of the universe.
  • “The individual is separate from his universal environment only in name. When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name. Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name makes you a separate being. This is — rather literally — to be spellbound.”
  • Memories overtime convinces you that ‘I’ is real—they are actually one of the key parts of the ego-sensation. It gives an impression of a self, the executive, as something that remains constant as life changes—as if our conscious selves were a static mirror reflecting a fixed perception.

As a bonus, here's Alan Watts speaking about some of the topics discussed in his TV series (Thats right, we has insightful enoguh to give a live TV show).

Here's a link to all the episodes of Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life.

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what discussed in the book.

1. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts

2. Be Here Now by Ram Dass

3. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

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