Alan Watts

During his lifetime, Alan Watts wrote 25 books on the topics of philosophy, the psychology of religion, and mystical experience. He also wrote more than a dozen booklets, and contributed chapters to a plethora of books. Since his passing in 1973, nearly 40 additional books have been published to date, including writings from his early years and works derived from his numerous lectures. Watts also wrote many popular and academic articles, and much has been published about him. Below is a comprehensive account of his book-related works.

Which Alan Watts book to read first from Big Think

Alan Watts was a gifted philosopher who tasked himself with the near impossible, putting that which transcended the knowable into words.  A counterculture mystic and a spiritual entertainer with an eye on the divine, it’s no surprise that Alan Watts’ ideas filled a number of books. 

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Many wonder which Alan Watts book they should read first. A centerpiece in the bibliography of Watts is a piece usually referred to just as The Book. It is here where Watts sets out to discover what he believes to be the fundamental misunderstanding of who we really are. The idea of the “Ego” or self as an isolated being not connected to the rest of the universe has given us a hostile view of the world “outside of ourselves.”

Watts works to do away with all of these arbitrary divisions, which are products of our language and upbringing. Working from the Hindu Vedanta and other assorted Eastern works, Watts crafts a new way to view the self and the universe together:

“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.

With language that is inherently playful and conversational, Watts expertly pokes fun at the belief of viewing the Self as a contained and separate entity from the whole.

Become What You Are

You’ll find a number of Watt’s philosophy have been disseminated online through a hodgepodge of lectures taken throughout the years. Become What You Are is a unique set of essays that can be read in a few sittings. The book reads as a disconnected set of ideas as commentary on ways to live.

“You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now… there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it. So become what you are.”


  • 1932 — An Outline of Zen Buddhism [booklet]
  • 1936 — Seven Symbols of Life: Being an Essay on Eternal Verities as Expressed in the Images of the Lotus, of Water, Wind, Fire, Man, Woman, and Child [booklet]
  • 1936 — The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work, and Art in the Far East
  • 1937 — The Legacy of Asia and Western Man: A Study of the Middle Way
  • 1939 — The Psychology of Acceptance: The Reconciliation of the Opposites in Eastern Thought and in Analytical Psychology [booklet]
  • 1940 — The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East
  • 1944 — Theologia Mystica: Being the Treatise of Saint Dionysius, Pseudo-Areopagite, on Mystical Theology, Together with the First and Fifth Epistles [booklet]
  • 1946 — The Meaning of Priesthood [booklet]
  • 1947 — Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion
  • 1947 — Zen Buddhism: A New Outline and Introduction [booklet republished in 1948 as Zen]
  • 1948 — Zen [enlarged republication of Zen Buddhism (1947)]
  • 1950 — Easter: Its Story and Meaning
  • 1950 — The Supreme Identity: An Essay on Oriental Metaphysic and the Christian Religion
  • 1951 — The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety
  • 1953 — Myth and Ritual in Christianity
  • 1955 — The Way of Liberation in Zen Buddhism [original booklet, published by the American Academy of Asian Studies]
  • 1957 — The Way of Zen
  • 1958 — Nature, Man, and Woman
  • 1959 — Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen
  • 1960 — This Is It: And Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience
  • 1961 — Psychotherapy East and West
  • 1962 — The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
  • 1963 — The Two Hands of God: The Myths of Polarity
  • 1964 — Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship
  • 1965 — The “Deep-in” View: A Conversation with Alan Watts [booklet]
  • 1966 — The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
  • 1967 — Nonsense
  • 1968 — Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal
  • 1970 — Does it Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality
  • 1971 — Erotic Spirituality: The Vision of Konarak
  • 1972 — In My Own Way: An Autobiography, 1915-1965
  • 1971 — The Theologia Mystica of Saint Dionysius [New and revised booklet: Alan Watts Journal]
  • 1972 — The Art of Contemplation: A Facsimile Manuscript with Doodles
  • 1972 — The Way of Liberation in Zen Buddhism [second edition booklet: Alan Watts Journal]
  • 1973 — Tao: The Watercourse Way [completed by Al Chung-liang Huang]

Posthumous Books

  • 1974 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 1 — God
  • 1974 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 2 — Meditation
  • 1974 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 3 — Nothingness
  • 1975 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 4 — Death
  • 1975 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 5 —The Nature of Man
  • 1975 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 6 — Time
  • 1975 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 7 — Philosophical Fantasies
  • 1975 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 8 — Ego
  • 1975 — The Essence of Alan Watts: Vol. 9 — Cosmic Drama
  • 1977 — The Essence of Alan Watts [the complete Essence series in one book]
  • 1977 — Three [Three books in one: a) The Way of Zen; b) Nature, Man, and Woman; c) Psychotherapy East and West]
  • 1978 — Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk: The Mystery of Life
  • 1980 — Om: Creative Meditations
  • 1982 — Play to Live: Selected Seminars
  • 1983 — The Way of Liberation: Essays and Lectures on the Transformation of the Self
  • 1985 — The Essential Alan Watts
  • 1985 — Out of the Trap: Selected Lectures of Alan W. Watts
  • 1987 — Diamond Web: Selected Lectures of Alan W. Watts
  • 1987 — The Early Writings of Alan Watts: The British Years (1931-1938): Writings in Buddhism in England
  • 1990 — The Modern Mystic: A New Collection of Early Writings of Alan Watts
  • 1994 — Talking Zen
  • 1995 — Become What You Are
  • 1995 — Buddhism: The Religion of No-Religion — The Edited Transcripts
  • 1995 — The Philosophies of Asia: The Edited Transcripts
  • 1995 — The Tao of Philosophy: The Edited Transcripts
  • 1996 — Myth and Religion: The Edited Transcripts
  • 1997 — Seeds of Genius: The Early Writings of Alan Watts [U.S. version of The Modern Mystic]
  • 1997 — Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking — The Edited Transcripts
  • 1997 — Zen and the Beat Way
  • 1998 — The Culture of Counter-Culture: The Edited Transcripts
  • 2000 — Eastern Wisdom: Three Classics in One Volume — What is Zen? • What is Tao? • An Introduction to Meditation
  • 2000 — Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation
  • 2000 — What is Tao?
  • 2000 — What is Zen?
  • 2002 — Zen, The Supreme Experience: The Newly Discovered Scripts
  • 2006 — Eastern Wisdom, Modern Life: Collected Talks, 1960-1969
  • 2006 — The Essential Alan Watts: Seven Things We Thought We Knew About God and the Cosmos (But Didn’t)
  • 2017 — Out of Your Mind: Tricksters, Interdependence, and the Cosmic Game of Hide-and-Seek
  • 2017 — Alan Watts—In the Academy: Essays and Lectures, edited by Peter J. Columbus and Donadrian L. Rice
  • 2017 — The Collected Letters of Alan Watts
  • 2020 — Just So: Money, Materialism, and the Ineffable, Intelligent Universe
  • 2020 — The Fish Who Found the Sea
  • 2021 — There Is Never Anything But the Present: and Other Inspiring Words of Wisdom

Book Contributions (Chapters written by Watts)

  • 1951 — “Introduction” in Spiritual Practices of India, by Frederic Spiegelberg
  • 1963 — “Preface” in Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, by D. T. Suzuki
  • 1967 — “Foreword” in The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects, by A. David-Neel and L. Yongden
  • 1968 — “Foreword” in The Ecstatic Adventure, edited by Ralph Metzner
  • 1968 — “The Point is that Life is a Gesture” in The Ecstatic Adventure, edited by Ralph Metzner
  • 1968 — “The Spirit of Violence and the Matter of Peace” in Alternatives to Violence: A Stimulus to Dialogue, edited by Larry Ng
  • 1969 — “The Individual as Man/World” in The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man, edited by P. Shepard and D. McKinley
  • 1970 — “The Future of Religion” in Toward Century 21: Technology, Society and Human Values, edited by C. S. Wallia
  • 1970 — “Western Mythology: Its Dissolution and Transformation” in Myths, Dreams, and Religion, edited by Joseph Campbell
  • 1973 — “Foreword” in Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain: The Essence of T`ai Chi, by Chungliang Al Huang
  • 1973 — “Foreword” in The Religion of Logos and Sophia: From the Writings of Dimitrije Mitrinovic on Christianity, by H. C. Rutherford

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