Reply Mon 16 Mar, 2009 05:17 pm
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
by: Alan Watts
ISBN: 0-679-72300-5
Publisher: Vintage Books (1966)


The Book looks into the cause and cure of the illusion that the self is a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin, which "confronts" a universe of physical objects that are alien and stupid. According to Watts, this illusion underlies the misuse of technology for a violent and hostile subjugation of man's natural environment, leading to its eventual destruction.

To find the urgently needed answer to this problem of personal identity, Watts modernizes and restates the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta and brings out the full force of its startling and psychologically subversive way of realizing that the self is in fact the root and ground of the universe.

The Book is written as a manual to the central mystery of existence, which a father may slip his son, or a mother to her daughter, upon the threshold of adult life.


  • Alan Watt's vivid and interesting writing style. The Book is a joy to read from the opening remark to the closing statement.
  • Watts use of the metaphor. As a writer, Watts is a master of taking the abstract and using metaphor to make the abstract vivid and come alive.
  • In a world dominated by ego, the denial of the ego is a refreshing take on the meaning of what constitutes as an individual's identity.


  • Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but at 160 pages The Book is rather short.


  • The denial of the ego as the Self
  • The account of the universe as the Self playing hide-and-seek with itself
  • Watts' account of personal identity

"For the use of words, and thus of a book, is to point beyond themselves to a world of life and experience that is not mere words or even ideas. Just as money is not real, consumable wealth, books are not life. To idolize scriptures is like eating paper currency." (11)

"On seeing through the illusion of the ego, it is impossible to think of oneself as better than, or superior to, others for having done so. In every direction there is just the one Self playing its myriad games of hide-and-seek." (21)

"Any galaxy, any star, any planet, or any observer can be taken as the central point of reference, so that everything is central in relation to everything else!" (29)

"The truth is that in looking at the world bit by bit we convince ourselves that it consists of separate things, and so give ourselves the problem of how these things are connected and how they cause and effect each other. The problem would never have arisen if we had been aware that it was just our way of looking at the world which had chopped it up into separate bits, things, events, causes and effects." (32)

"The more surely the future is known, the less surprise and the less fun in living it." (45)

"Just as no thing or organism exists on its own, it does not act on its own. Furthermore, every organism is a process: thus the organism is not other than its actions. To put it clumsily: it is what it does. More precisely, the organism, including its behavior, is a process which is to be understood only in relation to the larger and longer process of its environment. For what we mean by "understanding" or "comprehension" is seeing how parts fit into a whole, and then realizing that they don't compose the whole, as one assembles a jigsaw puzzle, but tthat the whole is a pattern, a complex wiggliness, which has no separate parts." (97)

My Rating(1-10): 9.6 - This is one of my favorite books, and every time I reread it, I find more hidden between the covers.
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Didymos Thomas
Reply Mon 16 Mar, 2009 05:42 pm
Sounds like a western take on ancient Buddhist and Hindu teachings. Very interesting. I'll have to look for a copy.
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Reply Mon 16 Mar, 2009 06:56 pm
Most of Alan Watts' books are western takes on Eastern philosophies. His main target is probably Zen Buddhism, but I know towards the end of his life he had moved on to focusing on Taoism.
Jay phil
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 12:48 pm
Thanks for all your book reviews. I bet you were that kid in school that always got the A on his book report. Smile
For anyone wanting to read this "must read" book here is a free copy:

Alan Watts - The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
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Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 05:53 pm
Thanks Jay. I have more reviews coming over the next few days for certain philosophy books I have read in the past, and I hope to keep posting reviews for books that I read in the future.
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