An Ego in a Bag of Skin?

For quite some time, I’ve been reading bits and pieces about Alan Watts, the British philosopher and writer whose most popular book, I think, is The Way of Zen.  I’ve not read the book, but I want to. But first, I want to read something else he wrote, a book entitled The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. The latter book, if what I’ve read about it is correct, convincingly argues that, in his words,  “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.”

According to a piece by Maria Popova about Watts and his latter book, Watts wrote, “There is a growing apprehension that existence is a rat-race in a trap: living organisms, including people, are merely tubes which put things in at one end and let them out at the other, which both keeps them doing it and in the long run wears them out.”

The following words, extracted from the book, are thought-provoking:

We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.

The challenge to one’s self as more than an individual ego in a bag of skin is both refreshing and troubling. It’s especially troubling that I might have lived sixty-one years, years no longer available to be lived again, with a misconception about everything.

I need to read what Watts had to say, and then I need to try to understand how his concepts apply to where I’ve been and where I’m going and who “I” really am.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to An Ego in a Bag of Skin?

  1. I’m glad to have reminded you of Watts’ “beautiful zen self!” Ha! I loved reading about your giving him a zucchini; that was no act of lunacy, it was an act of connection!

  2. robin andrea says:

    I loved Alan Watts from the very first moment I started reading his works in the 70s. I was such a big fan that when he came to Oregon (where I was living at the time) to speak at a small university I went to hear him. I brought him one of the first zucchinis I ever grew in my very first garden. I actually gave it to him. I can’t believe what a lunatic I was. Zucchini? Oy. Thank you for reminding me of his beautiful zen self.

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