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Alan Watts Biography

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Alan Watts Bio
Alan Watts Biography

Alan Watts was born on January 16, 1915 in the village of Chislehurst, Kent, England. His father was a representative for the London office of the Michelin Tyre Company. His mother, a housewife, came from a religious family – her father had been a missionary.

Like most British children of the middle and upper classes, he attended boarding schools from a young age. He attended King's School – which is located next to Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent. Watts was at the top of his classes scholastically, but lost an opportunity to obtain a scholarship to Oxford for being “presumptuous and capricious” in his reading of an essay on the scholarship exam. His religious education continued both at home and at school, but he was introduced to Buddhism from a young age, and became a Buddhist at age 16.

After graduating from secondary school, therefore, Watts went to work in London, first in a printing house and later in a bank.

In 1936, at age 21, Watts attended the World Congress of Faiths at the University of London, where D.T. Suzuki, a scholar of Zen Buddhism, presented a paper. Afterwards, the two men met. This meeting had a profound impact on the young Watts, who shortly thereafter published his first book, The Spirit of Zen, which synthesized Suzuki’s work.
Watts married Eleanor Everett and in 1938 the couple moved to New York. Eleanor’s mother, Ruth Fuller Everett was also a Buddhist. Indeed, a few years later, she married the Zen master Sokei-an Sasaki. Sasaki became one of Watt’s mentors, although he did not take formal Zen training from him. Indeed, Watts was never ordained as a Zen monk.

Watts went to a school in Illinois to study Christian scriptures, theology, and Church history. His goal was to blend of contemporary Christian worship, mystical Christianity, and Asian philosophy. He received a master's degree in theology, and his thesis, Behold the Spirit, was published in book form for the masses. Watts refuted all religious outlooks that were “dour, guilt-ridden, or militantly proselytizing—no matter if they were found within Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism.”

At age 30, in 1945, he became an Anglican priest. However, he had an affair, and his wife had their marriage annulled. As a result, in 1950 Watts left the ministry.
In 1951, he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies, located in San Francisco, California. By 1953 he left the faculty to become a lecturer – traveling the country and indeed the world giving lectures on his philosophical thought. In 1953, he began a weekly radio program at Pacifica Radio station KPFA in Berkeley, which continued until his death in 1973. He was not paid for these broadcasts, but they allowed him to prosletyze his philosophy to the world.

In the 1960s Watts experimented with such drugs as mescaline and LSD (as a participant in research projects led by noted doctors). Although he found the experience helpful in growing his philosophy, he soon gave it up. As he said: "When you get the message, hang up the phone.”

Watts was married to his first wife, Eleanor, for 11 years, and had two daughters with her. His second wife was named Dorothy – he had five children with her – three more daughters and two boys. Tiring of the institution of marriage, he left his wife – although he always supported the children financially. His third wife was Mary Jane Yates King.
Watts had long been a heavy drinker, it made him more creative, but it doubtless shortened his life. In October 1973, he returned exhausted from a European lecture tour. The next month, he died in his sleep, of heart failure. He was only 58 years old.

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Alan Watts Biography

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