In The Book, Alan Watts provides us with a much-needed answer to the problem of personal identity, distilling and adapting the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. At the root of human conflict is our fundamental misunderstanding of who we are. The illusion that we are isolated beings, unconnected to the rest of the universe, has led us to view the “outside” world with hostility, and has fueled our misuse of technology and our violent and hostile subjugation of the natural world. To help us understand that the self is in fact the root and ground of the universe, Watts has crafted a revelatory primer on what it means to be human—and a mind-opening manual of initiation into the central mystery of existence.
on the taboo against knowing who you are
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We are therefore in urgent need of a sense of our own existence, which is in accord with the physical facts and which over comes our feeling of alienation from the universe. In The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts asks what causes the illusion of the self as a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin, which confronts a universe of physical objects that are alien to it. Rather, a person's identity (their ego) binds them to the physical universe, creating a relationship with their environment and other people. The separation of the self and the physical world leads to the misuse of technology and the attempt to violently subjugate man's natural environment, leading to its destruction. Explaining man's role in the universe as a unique expression of the total universe, and interdependent on it, Alan Watts offers a new understanding of personal identity. It reveals the mystery of existence, presenting an alternative to the feelings of alienation that are so prevalent in Western society, and a vision of how we can come to understand the cosmic self that is within every living thing. The foremost Western expert on Eastern thought, Alan Watts urges against the idea that we are separate from the world. Nowhere is this idea more apparent than in the concept of cultural taboos. The biggest taboo of all is knowing who we really are behind the mask of our self as presented to the world. Through our focus on ourselves and the world as it affects us, we have developed narrowed perception. Alan Watts tells us how to open our eyes and see ourselves not as coming into the world but from it. Alan Watts takes us through our daily lives, explaining how our goal-oriented selves leave something missing. In tackling technology and consumerism from the 1960s, Alan Watts demonstrates ways of thinking that have become increasingly urgent in the time since The Book was first published. In our increasingly adversarial times, The Book offers a way out of conflict by reckoning first with who we are before defining us against others. Alan Watts overturns the illusion that individuals are merely 'egos' contained within their bodies who are separate from the rest of the universe. Drawing on the Vedanta religion, Alan Watts explains how a person's identity makes them the centre of the universe, and outlines that the universe has meaning only if each individual places himself at the centre of it.The separation of the Self from the physical universe has led to Mankind's hostile attitude to the environment, and a destructive attitude to Nature. In coming to understand the individual's real place in the universe, Alan Watts presents a critique of Western culture and a healing alternative.