Alan Watts died from alcoholism?
Wow. As a wannabe hippy in the late 80s/early 90s I had a fascination with all things hippy/countercultural. Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, the Grateful Dead, the 'scene' in San Francisco and, of course, drugs. I consumed literature on the subject and though I didn't get into the music that much, I did see the Dead on on their East Coast tour in '94.
But over time I began to realize the size of the egos involved and how it is so contrary to the ideals that were preached. Timothy Leary and company were just a bunch of spoiled brats, misleading those who followed them into potentially misleading and dangerous paths. It would seem that Richard Alpert transcended what is really just an immersion into licentious behaviour under the sophistry of "wisdom" talk.
I just found out that Alan Watts, whose books are quite lucid and clear, died of complications due to alcoholism. I understand he was 'just' human but it was still a disappointment to find out that he was also a womanizer, married three times.
And it makes me wonder about the Path. Is it the position they found themselves in, the temptation of guru status? Perhaps it is the dilemma of being "followed" by so many and, at the same time, the realization of the responsibility and at the same time the lack of wanting that responsibility? Is it the lack of freedom that comes with such responsibility, the fame a surprise?
Gia Fu Feng, who was with Watts at the Esalen Institute, that bastion of hippydom, had this to say:
Q. You've mentioned Alan Watts several times and I know that you've been with him when he was teaching. What was he like to be with?
A. You see Alan Watts was very creative. When he drinks he's very clever. He was in a class, you know, at night time, he was all drunk. But his lectures were never boring. He was a tremendous entertainer. He said, "I'm an entertainer, I'm no Buddhist philosopher."
Q. Alan Watts actually died from alcohol, didn't he?
A. Oh yeah. At that time he drank whisky by the bottle.
Q. But how could that tie in with the Tao?
A. That's from the Tao! The fact that he drank is totally in tune with the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove-his utter disregard for convention. One of the sages, a famous poet called Liu Ling, had a servant who followed him carrying a jug of wine and a spade. In this way he always had some wine to drink and his servant would be ready to bury him if he dropped dead during a drinking bout! It's in the Tao. So Alan Watts' drinking is quite Taoistic.
Something to think about.
I suppose in the end all is as it should be as the Path is solely our responsibility. That, more than anything, is the issue. It just came as a surprise as I too held him in something of a 'guru' light as if he was somehow different than I. I don't believe he held such a notion. He just had something he was compelled to teach.
Alcohol, drugs, anything chemical (yes, even my beloved caffeine) can be a distraction or a crutch. True transcendence is to arrive at a place not where these are deemed bad or condemned but that they are not needed at all and all judgment as to whether they are good or bad is left aside. This is non-attachment.
And I am not there yet either...
May I hold a soft spot in my heart for these individuals and may I reflect on the lessons their lives have to teach.