Favorite Things 2019

It’s that time again folks! That time when I look back at a year of articles and remind you about the best of the best things I wrote about this year. Looking at the list you’ll realize that not every item came out in 2019. My favorite things list is a recap of what I read or used in 2019, not necessarily a thing that released in 2019. So why now? Why not the end of December, or the beginning of January? Because I like to share my favorites while you still have time to buy them as gifts for people, or yourself.

And speaking of shopping, this year I’m including purchasing links (when I can) for IndieBound. IndieBound supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. I encourage you to shop local, independent bookstores when you can. If you can’t, I ask you to consider IndieBound.

Now, with no further ado, and presented in particular order…..

FAVORITE THINGS 2019

The Little Book of Cat Magic: Spells, Charms, and Tales by Deborah Blake
It’s hard not to be enchanted by this little book of cats. It’s written by Deborah Blake, a crazy cat lady in the best of ways. The book is filled with delightful kitty-centric illustrations. “The Little Book of Cat Magic” is great for anyone who loves cats.

You can read my original review here.

You Can Buy Me Here

Magical Dogs Tarot by Daniel Mueller and Mickie Mueller
From cats, to dogs. It’s hard not to love dogs, and thusly, it’s hard not to love “Magical Dogs Tarot”. Mickie Mueller is a fantastic artist, and her dogs are endearing and whimsical. Daniel Mueller wrote a wonderful companion book, thoughtfully capturing the spirit of canines and merging it with tarot. A great addition to any tarot collection, and obviously it’s fantastic for dog lovers.

You can read my original review here.

Crystals: A Guide to Using the Crystal Compass for Energy, Healing, and Reclaiming Your Power by Aisha Amarfio
This book is ALL about its Crystal Compass. Sure, Amarfio provides loads of information about crystals: uses, care of, properties, etc. However, what sets “Crystals” apart is the super convenient chart she created to go with the book. This colorful graph, aka, Crystal Compass, is an easy to use guide to incorporating crystals into all kinds of work. In a year that saw many great books on crystals, Amarfio’s creation of the Crystal Compass made her book a favorite of this past year.

You can read my original review here.

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Witchcraft Activism: A Toolkit for Magical Resistance by David Salisbury
Written by a long-time activist, David Salisbury does a wonderful job of inspiring the reader to take action, mundane and/or magical. If you want to take action, this is the book to read.

You can read my original review here.

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Witchbody by Sabrina Scott
This year saw SO MANY fantastic releases. However, there was no other book like “Witchbody”. Scott created a graphic novel, filled with fantastic art that explores ecology, magic, spirituality, and more. It’s a journey unlike any other you’ll ever take with a book. In my opinion, “Witchbody” is a classic.

You can read my original review here.

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One Truth and One Spirit: Aleister Crowley’s Spiritual Legacy by Keith Readdy
An amazing work exploring Crowley’s Thelema legacy following his death. Thelema’s fractures, power struggles, and ultimately, its staying power makes “One Truth and One Spirit” a worthwhile endeavor.

You can read my original review here
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The Ark Animal Tarot & Oracle Deck by Bernadette King
Some of you may remember that back in April I backed, and promoted, a Kickstarter for this deck. Well, now it is out and I have my copy. It is just as good, if not better, than promised. A beautiful, sturdy box with a magnetic closer. Gorgeous, full color cards. It’s designed to be used as a traditional tarot deck and/or oracle!

You can read my original post about it here.

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England: The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers, and Bonesmen by Nigel Pennick
Pennick has created a book that is a highly readable blend of scholarly work and fantastical folklore. Trade unions that operate as secret societies is a trend that might be cool to bring back.

Read my original review here.

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The Sacred Herbs of Samhain: Plants to Contact the Spirits of the Dead by Ellen Evert Hopman
I feel like this from my original review says it all, “And no one tells a plant’s story better than Ellen Evert Hopman.”

Read my original review here.

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Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen by Brad Warner
Brad Warner does Buddhism 101. Need I say more?

Read my original review here.

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Since this is my favorite things, but also a shopping list, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that The Magical Buffet has a bunch of fun merchandise, as well as a vintage witch collection of merchandise for sale now! The witchy collection goes away December 31, 2019.

Shop The Magical Buffet store here!

Zen & Enlightenment & Giveaway

If you’ve been a reader of The Magical Buffet for just about any length of time, you know I love me some Brad Warner. I’ve featured nearly every book he has written on my site. So, believe me when I tell you that this may be my FAVORITE Warner book. This is the book I’ve been waiting for and Warner has been putting off writing. Welcome to your Zen Buddhism 101 book with cool professor Warner. In order to pull it off, Warner needed a framing device to make it work for him. He did it in the form of letters to his childhood friend Marky, who passed away shortly before work on the book began. I’m generally not a fan of the letters format, but Warner’s conversational writing works perfectly with it, and honestly, whatever it took for him to finally give me my grand overview of Zen Buddhism is okay with me.
Here’s a 5 minute video where Warner discusses the book:

And New World Library was kind enough to provide an excerpt to share as well….
By Brad Warner

Through sheer dumb luck I happened to encounter Zen Buddhism when I was a teenager. I didn’t go looking for it. It was just there at exactly the time I needed it to be.

I don’t believe in Buddhism either, by the way. It’s not like I heard their fairy tales and figured they were better than anybody else’s stories. The Buddhists have fairy tales too. The difference is that nobody cares if you believe them. They don’t care whether you believe their stories because the very idea of a you who can believe in stories is something they also call into question.

Even so, I’m not all that interested in Buddhism. I’m much more interested in what is true. What I like about Buddhism is that the Buddhists are also interested in what is true. At least, most of them are.

I’m not sure if Zen Buddhism would have helped you or not, Marky. I never tried to sell it to you. You knew I was into it, but you never asked.

I never liked people who tried to sell me their religions. I know you didn’t either, so I wasn’t gonna do that to you. No one ever tried to sell me Zen Buddhism. If they had, I would have regarded them as people who were too insecure to believe in something unless a bunch of other people believed it too. I have no time for that.

But nowadays I’m a minor spiritual celebrity. I’m not as big as Deepak, but I’m big enough to make a living at it. Which was always a source of embarrassment whenever I interacted with you and still embarrasses me when I’m around friends who, like you, knew me long before I started doing what I do now.

I see spiritual celebrities as charlatans, as people who make their living selling empty promises that they themselves don’t even believe. I swear that’s not what I do. But I don’t have anything against anyone who assumes the worst about me in that regard. Because that’s probably what I’d assume about me if I wasn’t me.

Spiritual celebs play the same stupid games as regular celebs. They, or maybe I should say we, validate each other the same way cheap nightclub singers do when they get on TV talk shows.

It’s like there’s a little Enlightened Beings Club. Here’s how it works. Some guy says he’s got enlightenment. He has a story to back him up about the wonderful day when he finally understood everything about everything. Another guy, his teacher, certified him as a member of the Enlightened Beings Club. And now he’s ready to help you learn to be just like him.

You go to the enlightened guy, and he trains you to imitate the things he says. Or if he’s real clever he teaches you how to rephrase his schtick in your own words. If your imitation meets his criteria, he gives you his seal of approval, and off you go. The industry is self-perpetuating. It’s in your teacher’s best interests to support your claims of enlightenment since you, in turn, are expected to support his. Without such support, the whole thing falls to pieces.

If someone comes along and says, “Ain’t no such thang,” it threatens the whole system since it is built on extremely shaky ground. Unless people believe in enlightenment, enlightenment cannot exist. The enlightenment they sell is nothing more than the belief in enlightenment.

This is the same deal with religions. Believing in God is not like believing in the existence of Mount St. Helens or something tangible like that. The difference is that you can question the existence of Mount St. Helens all you want, but it doesn’t go away. But when someone questions the existence of God, the very existence of God is threatened, because that sort of God is nothing more than the belief in God.

And here’s what’s even weirder.

It turns out that enlightenment actually is real.

God actually does exist.

I don’t know how you feel about my saying that now that you’re dead, Marky. But I know that when you were alive you would have rolled your eyes at me. And I would not have blamed you.

There are a lot of things I wish I’d talked to you about. But I didn’t. And so I’m writing you this letter. Maybe I’ll write you a bunch of letters. There’s a lot to say. I don’t know if there’s an afterlife and you can somehow read these letters, or if there’s reincarnation and you’re still a baby and can’t read them, or if you just stay dead after you die, in which case you’ll never even know of their existence. Maybe I’ll write about that in another letter.

All I know is that whether or not you can receive what I’m saying doesn’t change the fact that there are things I want to say. And so I’m going to say them.

But I’m going to have to say them later because right now there’s nobody else in the Pizza Pazza and the surly guy behind the counter is giving me a funny look. So I’d better scarf down my cold pizza and go.

About Brad Warner:
Brad Warner is the author of “Letters to a Dead Friend about Zen” and numerous other titles including “It Came from Beyond Zen”, “Don’t Be a Jerk”, and “Hardcore Zen”. A Soto Zen teacher, he is also a punk bassist, filmmaker, and popular blogger who leads workshops and retreats around the world. He lives in Los Angeles where he is the founder and lead teacher of the Angel City Zen Center. Visit him online at www.hardcorezen.info.

Excerpted from the book “Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen”. Copyright ©2019 by Brad Warner. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

Shop your local indie bookstore <---This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. But wait, there’s even MORE! New World Library is going to send one lucky winner a copy of “Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen”! As usual, we’re doing the Rafflecopter thing, so see the widget below! Contest ends 12/06/2019 at 11:59pm eastern. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Zen

Alan Watts was a philosopher and an author who popularized Zen Buddhism in America. “Zen: A Short Introduction with Illustrations by the Author” is a wonderful addition to his published work. It’s minimalist in word and design (clocking in at 70 pages), and features illustrations by Watts. A perfect introduction to Zen and Watts, in a format perfect for collecting or gift giving.

You can learn more here.

Shop your local indie bookstore<---This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.


Just Enough

I’m writing today to tell you that you should read “Just Enough: Vegan Recipes and Stories from Japan’s Buddhist Temples” by Gesshin Claire Greenwood. Many of you have probably already clicked out thinking this in no way can apply to your life. Congratulations to those still reading these words, because “Just Enough” is a delightful read for anyone.

Gesshin Greenwood nicely combines a memoir of her life becoming a Buddhist nun and running the monastery’s kitchen, with recipes, and with bits of practical Buddhist wisdom. The book centers around the philosophy of oryoki, which translates to “just enough”. Oryoki is a highly ritualized form of eating that includes meticulous food preparation and consumption. However, Greenwood does an excellent job of showing how that concept can apply to many facets of your life. More importantly, FOOD!

If you know me, you know I love food! “Just Enough” is loaded with delicious looking vegan recipes. I couldn’t resist trying one out to share with you. I made “Crushed Cucumber and Tomato Salad”.

It didn’t require a lot of ingredients. The recipe calls for shiso, which the author describes as a Japanese herb reminiscent of basil. My grocery store didn’t have it, so I just used basil, and it worked fine.


Part of the preparation calls for you to beat up some cucumber. Here’s mine. I called it vegan roadkill. (I amuse myself.)


Here’s a sexy close up of the completed salad and let me tell you, it was delicious. I roped a few of our friends into trying a couple of forkfuls and they agree, it’s light, refreshing, perfect for summer. The dressing is great. Simple and delicious. I bet it would even make a good marinade for salmon or chicken.


While on the surface “Just Enough” may not seem readily accessible, I’d encourage you to give it a try. I think you’ll like what you find.


To learn more, click here.

Shop your local indie bookstore<--- This is an affiliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book, I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Plum Village

I love comic books. Although technically what I love are “graphic novels”, which are issues of comics bound together into one paperback book that generally covers a story arc. A man whose opinion counts on such matters, Neil Gaiman, says we no longer need to use the term “graphic novels” because comics are now mainstream and recognized for their own artistic merit. However, I know no other term for a collection of comics other than “graphic novels”, so the name remains. At least for me. All this lead in and explanation is amusing because I am now reading a second of what is legitimately a graphic novel. A novel told in art and text. Should I call them picture books for adults? I need some serious help with labels here!

The first was the fabulous “Witchbody” by Sabrina Scott. (Read the review here.) Now, there’s “Plum Village: An Artist’s Journey: Finding Inner Peace at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Monastery” by Phap Ban.

The author’s biography is compelling. A freelance illustrator discovers meditation at the age of 24 years old. This leads him to Plum Village, a monastery in France founded by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. He eventually received ordination and 3 years later returned to his home country of Italy where he works as an artist for Disney. Who wouldn’t want to see that book?

What Ban has created with “Plum Village” is a visual love letter not just to Plum Village, but his journey while there. Somehow in riotous colors he captures the heart of stillness. With a beautiful montage of imagery, he demonstrates depths of gratitude. Never underestimate the power of images paired with words. Whereas Scott’s “Witchbody” was a transformative reading experience, Ban’s “Plum Village” evokes heartfelt emotions that on one occasion brought a tear to my eye.

This uptick in graphic novels in the mind, body, spirit genres is greatly welcome. Particularly if works like “Plum Village” are indicative of what we can expect.

You can learn more here.

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Self-Love and Compassion

By Lama Palden Drolam

Love on Every Breath is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana meditation from the Shangpa lineage that combines breath, awareness, imagination, and an energetic transformation process. The meditation brings all these components together in a powerful way in order to open our hearts, to reveal and cultivate our kindness, love, compassion, and wisdom. In Tibetan, this is called the Extraordinary Tonglen, since it uses special techniques of Vajrayana to transform suffering. The Tibetan word tonglen is composed of two words — tong means “giving or sending,” and len means “receiving or taking.” First, we open ourselves to receive and feel the suffering of ourselves and others, breathing it into our heart center. This is the “taking.” The suffering is then instantaneously and effortlessly liberated in the heart and transformed by a special method into unconditional love. At this point, on the out-breath, love and healing energy are sent back out to whomever you are doing the meditation for at the moment, whether yourself or another. This is the “sending.”

The primary purpose of the Love on Every Breath meditation is to cultivate our love and compassion, to transform and liberate our heart. When we come from a place of love, everything shifts for us. This book gives you the tools to transform and empower yourself and come to a place of creative engaged freedom.

The Love on Every Breath meditation is not an exotic Himalayan practice, but it is something that emerges out of us spontaneously and naturally. It is inherent in us to want to remove suffering — others’ or our own. The problem for many children (and adults) is that we absorb the suffering of others, and then it stagnates inside of us. Love on Every Breath gives a way for the suffering to be liberated in the body and the psyche and emerge as compassion. There is a felt sense as this happens.

Developing Self-Love

Traditionally, in Tibet, Love on Every Breath involves first developing compassion and love for ourselves before we do so for others. In the West, many people do not experience self-love, but rather self-criticism and self-hatred. We tend to be overly self-centered and often feel that something is wrong with us. Therefore, it is important that we start the Love on Every Breath meditation by generating compassion and love for ourselves. One of my students, a serious meditator for over thirty years, found that meditating on Love on Every Breath for himself healed a deep psychological angst that had not been touched by many years of quiet sitting meditation. It powerfully liberated wounds he had been carrying for many years.

Without love and compassion for ourselves, we cannot sustain love and compassion for others. Love and compassion can arise spontaneously in certain circumstances for all of us, but to fully actualize love and compassion, we need to work through our anger and hurt and have compassion and love for ourselves. Then we can authentically have more compassion for others. Otherwise, it is like living in a home where we behave with harshness and cruelty and then expect to go outside and be open and loving. If we do not include ourselves in our love, our love is not whole, not complete. This is essential. As Aristotle wrote (in Ethics, book 9), “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.” It should be noted that self-love and compassion are not to be confused with self-centeredness or narcissism.

Developing love and compassion helps us to grow spiritually and emotionally by lessening our ego fixation and self-centeredness and helping our relationships with others. When we generate compassion, we do not excuse or condone our own or others’ negative actions. Likewise, awakened love does not enable our own or others’ negativity or destructiveness. Awakened compassion understands that everyone is trying to be happy. We often try to be happy in all the wrong ways, such as when we think that money, prestige, and power will bring us happiness. Some people think they will be happy by stepping on, cheating, or destroying others, but we can have compassion for them in their ignorance. This does not mean we endorse or in any way condone their behavior. We need to stand up to their destructive agendas. Our compassion means that we wish for them to be authentically happy and free of suffering — in other words, awakened.

About Lama Palden Drolma:
Lama Palden Drolma is the author of “Love on Every Breath”. A licensed psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and coach, she has studied Buddhism in the Himalayas with some of the most preeminent Tibetan masters of the twentieth century. Following a traditional three-year retreat under his guidance, Kalu Rinpoche authorized her to become one of the first Western lamas. She subsequently founded the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, a Tibetan Buddhist teaching center in Fairfax, California. Visit her online at http://www.lamapalden.org.

Excerpted from the book “Love on Every Breath”. Copyright © 2019 by Lama Palden Drolma. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

Shop your local indie bookstore <--- This is an affliate link to IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores throughout the United States. If you use this link to purchase the book I will make a small commission.

Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of goddesses, and so I’ll admit the main reason I wanted to check out Jo Jayson’s “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” was because the cover art was beautiful and the subtitle is “A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson”. I figured a book full of art like what was on the cover was worth a look.

“Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine: A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson” is a thoughtful exploration of what it is to identify as a woman. Jayson explores the lives/folklore and wisdom of Guinevere: The Queen, Mariamne of Magdala: The Magdalene, Brighid: Mother Goddess of Ireland, Isis: One Who is All, Mary: The Mother, Jeanne D’Arc: Maid of Orleans, Miriam: The Prophetess, Guan Yin: Mother of Compassion and Mercy, Morgan Le Fey: The Water Spirit, Artemis: Maiden of The Hunt, Kali Ma: The Dark Mother, Inanna: Star of Heaven and Earth, and Grandmother Spider: The Weaver.

First and foremost, the artwork is BEAUTIFUL! The book is hardcover with full color glossy pages, perfect for showcasing Jayson’s work. Each entry includes a brief history lesson and what we can learn from them. There is also a prayer and then some exercises you can work through. “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” is equal parts artbook, workbook, and history lesson. It’s wonderful book!

You can learn more here.

The Heart of the Goddess

“The Heart of the Goddess: Art, Myth and Meditations of the World’s Sacred Feminine” by Hallie Iglehart Austen was originally published in 1990, but Austen felt the time was right to bring it back.

She’s right. In this time of #resistance, Austen’s look at universal spiritual feminism is right on the mark. Respect for the earth, community building, and reclaiming the power womanhood all blend together in “The Heart of the Goddess”. Instead of your typical who’s who of female deities, Austen discusses each goddess from the perspective of a piece of artwork featuring the deity. This allows for a discussion of the origin of the art (geography and date) and with it, the history and culture surrounding the goddess.

To make “The Heart of the Goddess” a spiritual journey for the reader, the deities are collected into 3 parts: Creation, Transformation, and Celebration. Along the way Austen presents meditations, prayers, and thought exercises with the goddesses.

Regardless of how many books you own or have read about goddesses, I guarantee you that you’ve never encountered anything like this. Informative, spiritual, and filled with art pieces from antiquity to contemporary times, “The Heart of the Goddess” is, and will remain, a classic.

Learn more here.

Newsletter # 4 (1940)

Interesting title, no? The title is the way it is because this is an excerpt from the recently released “The Collected Letters of Alan Watts”. This is a little bit of history because this is from an actual newsletter Watts wrote in 1940! Well I think it’s cool.

Newsletter #4

Once upon a time there was a lunatic who used to pass the time by sitting in a corner and beating himself on the head with a brick. When asked the reason for this interesting behavior he replied, “Well, it feels so pleasant when I stop.” Very often the lunatic is nothing more than a caricature of people supposed to be sane; we call him a lunatic only because he expresses fundamental traits of human nature in the most obvious and concrete manner, whereas sane people carry on the same processes in more veiled and mysterious ways. And the performance of beating oneself on the head with a brick is an exact caricature of man’s chief spiritual problem, for we have to realize that our apparent lack of what Oriental sages call Enlightenment (bodhi) or spiritual freedom (kaivalya) is due to our not having ceased to knock ourselves on the head with a brick. Naturally, the realization of Enlightenment is accompanied by an enormous sense of relief — not because we have acquired something new, but because we have got rid of something old. Enlightenment, wisdom, or a sense of harmony with life and the universe is present within us all the time; it becomes apparent when we cease to use the brick just as the moon becomes visible when the clouds are blown away. But we appreciate the light of the moon more keenly when it emerges from the clouds; if it had been shining openly all the time we should never have experienced the sudden ecstasy of light breaking in upon darkness. And for this sudden ecstasy we have to be thankful for the darkness as much as for the light.

At the same time, our lack of Enlightenment or freedom is only apparent, for in a special sense “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” In this sense the darkness is also a manifestation of the light but does not understand it. Therefore as soon as we understand that our very lack of realization is itself an aspect of Enlightenment, our ignorance turns into wisdom. Thus a Buddhist text says, “If the accumulation of false imaginations is cleared away, Enlightenment will appear. But the strange thing is that when people gain Enlightenment they realize that without false imaginations there could be no Enlightenment.” In Vedanta philosophy and Buddhism alike Enlightenment is the nature of the universe; all possible forms and aspects of life are manifestations of Brahman or “Buddha nature” because there is only one ultimate Reality. Thus maya, which in one sense is darkness or illusion, in another sense is the creative power of Brahman. Now Enlightenment is the condition of union with that power, and we realize its freedom in understanding that not even in ignorance or darkness can we be deprived of that union.

There is a Buddhist story of a disciple who asked his teacher, “How can I find liberation?”

The teacher replied, “Who is putting you in bondage?” “Nobody.” “If so, why should you seek liberation?” And for this reason it is often said that Enlightenment cannot be found by doing something about it, for it is always a question of being rather than doing. Hence the saying, “Seek and you will find not; become and you will be.” Become what? Become what you are. Thus the Orient has always sought wisdom in meditation rather than action, but from this it should not be supposed that meditation is a passive way as distinct from an active way. Both activity and passivity are forms of doing; the latter is indirectly doing by not doing. Therefore the West has found it difficult to understand what is really meant by meditation. Meditation is not only sitting still like a Buddha-figure, nor is it thinking about something, for the Upanishads say that the stars, the trees, the rivers, and the mountains are meditating — unconsciously. Conscious meditation is a knack, and as an exercise it is a way of learning that Enlightenment comes to pass in us as much when we are doing nothing to produce it as when we are in the midst of activity. Thus the “sitting-still” meditation of the Orient is so much valued as a way of enlightenment because in it we are able to realize that our spiritual freedom consists not in our manner of doing and thinking, but in the fact of our being.

Enlightenment and realization is the main theme of our informal lectures and discussions at my apartment during the first few months of this year, and future letters will keep those who cannot come acquainted with the course of our work. We shall be studying first the Hindu and Chinese views of Enlightenment and the technique of its realization on the basis of readings from original sources and also from that famous allegory of the “Oxherding Pictures.” We shall then go on to consider the expression of Enlightenment in Chinese art and in the mental and physical culture of the Far East as a whole. Finally we shall compare our findings with Western equivalents of the way to Enlightenment — in particular with Christian mysticism and analytical psychology. This letter is a cordial invitation to those of you who do not already come to join us. Groups are now meeting on Mondays at 8:30, on Wednesdays at 8:30, and on Thursdays at 8:30. The last of these is generally speaking reserved for those who have already some knowledge of these matters and who do not feel the need of any introduction to basic principles. The group which meets on Thursdays at 3:15 has not yet been started again, but will begin as soon as arrangements can be made, and those who would like to come on Thursday afternoons would assist me by letting me know as soon as possible. And may I say again that comments on these letters will always be welcome and will always be answered.

Alan W. Watts, New York City, January 1940

About Alan Watts:
Alan Watts (January 6, 1915 – November 16, 1973) was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero, best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles applying the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy to our everyday lives.

Excerpted from the book “The Collected Letters of Alan Watts”. Copyright ©2018 by Joan Watts and Anne Watts. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

The Instrument of Freedom

An excerpt from The Meaning of Happiness by Alan Watts

We have examined something of the meaning of unhappiness, of the war between the opposites in the human soul, of the fear of fear, of man’s consequent isolation from nature, and of the way in which this isolation has been intensified in the growth of civilization. We have also shown how man is intimately and inseparably connected with the material and mental universe, and that if he tries to cut himself off from it he must perish. In fact, however, he can only cut himself off in imagination, otherwise he would cease to exist, but we have yet to decide whether this elusive thing called happiness would result from acceptance of the fact of man’s union with the rest of life. But if this is true we have to discover how such an acceptance may be made, whether it is possible for man to turn in his flight into isolation and overcome the panic which makes him try to swim against the current instead of with it. In the psychological realm this swimming against the current is called repression, the reaction of proud, conscious reason to the fears and desires of nature in man. This raises the further question of whether acceptance of nature involves just a return to the amorality of the beast, being simply a matter of throwing up all responsibility, following one’s whims, and drifting about on the tide of life like a fallen leaf. To return to our analogy: life is the current into which man is thrown, and though he struggles against it, it carries him along despite all his efforts, with the result that his efforts achieve nothing but his own unhappiness. Should he then just turn about and drift? But nature gave him the faculties of reason and conscious individuality, and if he is to drift he might as well have been without them. It is more likely that he has them to give expression to immeasurably greater possibilities of nature than the animal can express by instinct, for while the animal is nature’s whistle, man is its organ.

Even so, man does not like to be put down to the place of an instrument, however grand that instrument may be, for an instrument is an instrument, and an organ does what it is made to do as subserviently and blindly as a whistle. But this is not the only consideration. It may be that man has a wrong idea of what his self is. In the words of the Hindu sage Patanjali, “Ignorance is the identification of the Seer with the instruments of seeing.” Certainly man as instrument is an obedient tool whether he likes it or not, but it may be that there is something in man which is more than the instrument, more than his reason and individuality which are part of that instrument and which he mistakenly believes to be his true self. And while as an instrument he is bound, as this he is free, and his problem is to become aware of it. Finding it, he will understand that in fleeing from death, fear, and sorrow he is making himself a slave, for he will realize the mysterious truth that in fact he is free both to live and to die, to love and to fear, to rejoice and to be sad, and that in none of these things is there any shame. But man rejects his freedom to do them, imagining that death, fear, and sorrow are the causes of his unhappiness. The real cause is that he does not let himself be free to accept them, for he does not understand that he who is free to love is not really free unless he is also free to fear, and this is the freedom of happiness.

About Alan Watts:
Alan Watts (January 6, 1915 – November 16, 1973) was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero, best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles applying the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy to our everyday lives.

Excerpted from the book “The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East”. Copyright ©2018 by Joan Watts and Anne Watts. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.