Alan Watts

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Kim O'Hara
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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Kim O'Hara » Thu Mar 26, 2020 12:30 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 2:33 am
...All that said, I think Watts still had some profound things to say, and that he said some things that you wouldn't find in other sources. In his defense, I don't think he ever proclaimed himself any kind of spiritual master or guru, in fact he said he was an entertainer. ... But I think he can be seriously misleading if taken as any kind of authority - he needs to be understood in context, and that takes a fair bit of reading and study.
I agree context is vital, particularly with Western teachers and writers of his generation, who were pioneers in the introduction of Buddhism (and other Asian religions) to the West as living traditions. The Wikipedia bio - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts - is worth reading for all the familiar and half-familiar names scattered through it - Christmas Humphreys, Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, Joseph Campbell, John Cage, Aldous Huxley, Gary Snyder.
Pioneers' role is to explore unknown territory - and survive to return and tell others, who will make better maps, better roads, better descriptions of the territory. In 1954, nearly 20 years after he published the first edition of The Spirit of Zen (1935), his new preface apologised for the errors in the original but was proud of the new bibliography: "The only important change in this second edition is that it carries a completely new bibliography, which is, I believe, as complete a list of writings of Zen in European languages as may be found. This is an important feature of a book which was never intended to be more than a popular introduction to Zen..."
Four years later, for the third edition (the one I bought secondhand many years ago) he wrote: "the bibliography has been brought up to date..."
How long do you reckon it is? Ten pages? Twenty?
No. Two and a half.

We wouldn't be here now without Watts, Suzuki, Huxley, Krishnamurti and the rest. We should thank them for what they achieved, even as we acknowledge that their works have been superseded by those they inspired.

:namaste:
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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Aemilius » Thu Mar 26, 2020 1:05 pm

JoaoRodrigues wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 5:02 pm
Aemilius wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 3:59 pm
On what gorunds do you (or other people) say that "he was never able to free himself"? What do you mean by it? That he never had kensho? Or that he is not a stream winner or at higher stages? Or that he had not developed bodhicitta
I don't think anyone here is capable of affirming that he had or not had kensho. We could probably say that his lifestyle didn't go in accordance with a enlightened being, there's plenty of information about it from people that knew him, heavy drinking, infidelity, pornography / masturbation obsession, a book written about it: zen effects by monica furlong. I guess we could argue the opposite, that he lived accordingly with what he talked about, that might be concerning and one of the reasons I opened this thread: to know how could someone say accurate things, things that according to zen teachings one can't reach with words, only experiencing, assuming he reached there, how could he not apply it (taking in consideration zen-buddhist teachings and not his philosophies). That would raise the question if his words are actually accurate, if not, my question doesn't have a use.
That kind of things are written about very many spiritual teachers, like Krishnamurti, Madam Blavatsky, Gurdieff, etc... Why do we so readily believe that they are all true? What does that tell about us? Do you know what is told about you at this stage of your spiritual career? Even when you are a beginner, there are people somewhere hidden from your sight, who have the capacity to fabricate fantastic and unbelievable stories about you. That is the nature of this world that we live in. But even your friends will take those stories to be true!
There are lots of stories about officially acknowledged Zen-masters too. In 1980's it was often said that alcoholism is a common problem among them. If you haven't heard of that, please look up! Take for example Joshu Sasaki Roshi, who lived and practiced till the age of 107, which is quite remarkable! https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/joshu-s ... -dies-107/ "Life-style of an enlightened being" seems to be a very difficult matter.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Meido » Thu Mar 26, 2020 3:12 pm

boda wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 7:32 am
Again from the preface:
Perhaps, then, the most appropriate author of such a work would be a Westerner who had spent some years under a Japanese master, going through the whole course of Zen training.
Not knowing much about him, as you say, it seems there shouldn't be a reason to disbelieve him here. Also:
Ideally, I suppose, such a work should be written by an accomplished and recognized Zen master. But at present no such person has sufficient command of English.
So some of his reasoning was merely practical.
Really, the tortuous argument he gives in his preface as to why he was best qualified of all possible persons to introduce Zen to Westerners should be enough for anyone to remember that sometimes, love just aint enough.
This is somewhat of a mischaracterization, he offered reasons for why his work may be of value but did not argu what you claim he argued. Near summation of his position he humbly states:
... even if this study of Zen does no more than express a standpoint which is neither Zen nor anything Western, it will at least provide that third point of reference.
Anyway, Meido, perhaps we can agree to disagree on why this lovable man is viewed less than positively in Zen circles and move on to the much more important issue of when your next book(s?) will be available. I periodically check the Koeinji website in eager anticipation. Can you give an ETA?
Well, you've quoted the questions he raises in his preface as to who should write such a book. Indeed, it would have been better for a Westerner actually involved with Zen to undertake the task, or a recognized Japanese Zen master (translators were available in those days, and the man knew D.T. Suzuki after all). But he is not suggesting those possibilities: what you didn't quote are the replies he then gives to discount each of those possibilities, and affirm himself as the most likely candidate - that is what I consider the tortuous part. Anyway, folks can read the preface and decide for themselves. And none of this in any case excuses the inaccuracies and misunderstandings that continue to confuse readers.

Again, his lovableness is not really at issue here. I admit I do enjoy listening to him speak: extremely charismatic (of course we Americans can be suckers for a "splendidly resonant English voice," as Wayfarer describes it). But yes, we can agree to disagree. And I am willing to acknowledge, as Kim says, that he played a role.

Since the book is still out there and being read, I just think it important to point out that it really is not useful in the way the author intended: an introduction to Zen for Westerners.

Thanks for the kind words about the next book, Shambhala says mid-October. We can pick apart the preface to that work then LOL
PeterC wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 3:52 am
In fairness to those people, this is a very easy mistake to make when you confuse the medium with the message. There is a lot of common cultural baggage around the visual arts and poetry. Someone lacking an understanding of classical Chinese art might not realize that the apparent common ground is just due to the cultural milieu - I believe this was an important motivation for Watts when he first became interested in the field. The people making that mistake also usually don't realize that the art they so admire was usually created by people who lacked any particular achievement in either Buddhism or Daoism.
Good point.
It is relatively easy to accomplish the important matter of insight into one’s true nature, but uncommonly difficult to function freely and clearly [according to this understanding], in motion and in rest, in good and in adverse circumstances. Please make strenuous and vigorous efforts towards this end, otherwise all the teachings of Buddhas and patriarchs become mere empty words. - Torei

The Rinzai Zen Way: A Guide to Practice

Hidden Zen: Practices for Sudden Awakening and Embodied Realization

Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery [臨済宗 • 祖的山光林禅寺] - http://www.korinji.org

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by boda » Thu Mar 26, 2020 4:27 pm

Meido wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 3:12 pm
Shambhala says mid-October. We can pick apart the preface to that work then LOL
Thanks, looking forward to it. :P

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by boda » Thu Mar 26, 2020 8:28 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 8:06 am
He was probably enchanted by his abilities and the reactions they produced and at the same time revolted by what lay beneath the spark, which drove him to drink. And deep down probably afraid to get buckle down to it and immerse himself. Whether due to a lack of self-belief or some other factor.. I am only guessing though..
Holly molly, you've outdone yourself in judginess. Similar story with highly respected teachers like Taizan Maezumi and Chögyam Trungpa or were they somehow different?

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by PeterC » Fri Mar 27, 2020 2:49 am

boda wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 8:28 pm
Dan74 wrote:
Thu Mar 26, 2020 8:06 am
He was probably enchanted by his abilities and the reactions they produced and at the same time revolted by what lay beneath the spark, which drove him to drink. And deep down probably afraid to get buckle down to it and immerse himself. Whether due to a lack of self-belief or some other factor.. I am only guessing though..
Holly molly, you've outdone yourself in judginess. Similar story with highly respected teachers like Taizan Maezumi and Chögyam Trungpa or were they somehow different?
They too continue to be highly controversial. However one interprets it, that a teacher is an alcoholic has to be in some way relevant information

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by tobes » Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:22 am

It's relevant, no doubt.

But so too is the fact that both drew many to the Dharma.

I won't be getting on my high horse until I manage such feats of virtue.

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by PeterC » Fri Mar 27, 2020 8:22 am

tobes wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:22 am
It's relevant, no doubt.

But so too is the fact that both drew many to the Dharma.
True, also relevant

I don’t know why this sort of thing provokes such strong feelings. Of course we should scrutinize teachers, and all these things are relevant to that, and since we can’t know someone’s level of attainment we generally don’t reach conclusions except in egregious cases. But if you’re going to drink a lot, someone is going to call you an alcoholic

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by tkp67 » Fri Mar 27, 2020 10:08 am

PeterC wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 8:22 am
tobes wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 7:22 am
It's relevant, no doubt.

But so too is the fact that both drew many to the Dharma.
True, also relevant

I don’t know why this sort of thing provokes such strong feelings. Of course we should scrutinize teachers, and all these things are relevant to that, and since we can’t know someone’s level of attainment we generally don’t reach conclusions except in egregious cases. But if you’re going to drink a lot, someone is going to call you an alcoholic
I think it causes strong feelings because as practitioners we become attached to our own experience on path as a child is attached to its mother's teat.

Rightly so in regards to what our own unfolding path means to us but when we super impose it as a way to judge the efficiency of others use of their own path it all falls apart.

I think it is fair to say that attachment to path is one of the last to go. I like to think Alan made the best of his existence based on what he was working with. Would he had been such a wide broadcaster of zen if he had be more formal a practitioner?

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by tingdzin » Fri Mar 27, 2020 11:24 am

It might also be remembered that Watts was writing at a time when Zen and even Buddhism itself was something completely exotic in the West, and a lot of people make the dreadfully common mistake of trying to judge him outside his historical context. At least he pointed the way to an approach to the world which was not as uptight and uncreative as the prevailing mindset of post WWII America. He also was trying to adapt what he did understand of Zen to Western audiences, which is now considered by many to be a desirable thing in teachers who teach Westerners.

But the phrase "gift of gab" is much to the point.

I also wonder how many of today's most famous teachers of Zen and Dzogchen who have gained followings by their pretty and fluent words will be regarded differently in 30 years.

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Kim O'Hara » Fri Mar 27, 2020 12:49 pm

tingdzin wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 11:24 am
It might also be remembered that Watts was writing at a time when Zen and even Buddhism itself was something completely exotic in the West, and a lot of people make the dreadfully common mistake of trying to judge him outside his historical context. At least he pointed the way to an approach to the world which was not as uptight and uncreative as the prevailing mindset of post WWII America. He also was trying to adapt what he did understand of Zen to Western audiences, which is now considered by many to be a desirable thing in teachers who teach Westerners.
I agree entirely, of course. viewtopic.php?f=69&t=33223&start=20#p525426

:coffee:
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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Rick » Fri Mar 27, 2020 3:53 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Tue Mar 24, 2020 7:25 pm
... a wonderful intellectual adventure, not a praxis.
Ja ... I know this well ... the first two wisdoms, listening and contemplation, can make for a fabulous adventure ... not just intellectual, lots of heart too ... just not bound for soteriological bliss.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily ...

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by tobes » Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:32 am

tingdzin wrote:
Fri Mar 27, 2020 11:24 am
It might also be remembered that Watts was writing at a time when Zen and even Buddhism itself was something completely exotic in the West, and a lot of people make the dreadfully common mistake of trying to judge him outside his historical context. At least he pointed the way to an approach to the world which was not as uptight and uncreative as the prevailing mindset of post WWII America. He also was trying to adapt what he did understand of Zen to Western audiences, which is now considered by many to be a desirable thing in teachers who teach Westerners.

But the phrase "gift of gab" is much to the point.

I also wonder how many of today's most famous teachers of Zen and Dzogchen who have gained followings by their pretty and fluent words will be regarded differently in 30 years.
Yes, this is more or less what I had in mind too. The context you speak of includes the incredibly powerful European-colonialist legacy which automatically and incessantly degraded non-European ideas/philosophy/traditions etc. We take it entirely for granted that this is no longer the case, but Watts was just about the leader of the resistance to this - the guy opening the door to a room which so many of us (in non-Asian places) now inhabit.

I never really read him, but I've met many who have been inspired by him to Dharma paths: and I say "drink as much as you wish sir, you've done your job very well."

Like many here, I had him situated as a bit of a lightweight, but I heard some lectures he gave and I think it must be granted that he is more than merely a good orator. He was a good philosopher.

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Wayfarer » Sat Mar 28, 2020 6:21 am

The problem for me with Watts' alcoholism is that it undercut the root meaning of the principles he wrote about. I recall a line from the Monica Furlong bio, towards the end, when he was asked why he was drinking vodka every day, and he replied something like 'so that I don't feel so terribly alone'. Reading that was a real kick in the gut for me. And that's not a matter of 'being judgmental'; it's more like, if he wasn't able to realise the emotional equilibrium and detachment which is at the core of the philosophy that he wrote about, then did he actually realize those principles? ('Realize' the sense of 'make real', like a builder realizes a design for a house.) Or was he actually a phony? Remember, the Furlong book was published in my part of the world as 'Genuine Fake'. That's why, at the time, I felt I had been led up the garden path by him - and not only by Alan Watts, but a few of the other books and speakers of the genre and time. That was a feeling which I really only overcame when I got hold of Nishijima's To Meet the Real Dragon in 1996 or so. (Mind you, I've 'forgiven' Alan Watts long since, and he still deserves a place on the landscape, if only because he still speaks eloquently of important ideas to today's youth. But everyone should understand the caveats around his books. Incidentally found a very good Tricycle profile here for anyone interested.)
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by tobes » Sat Mar 28, 2020 7:29 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 6:21 am
The problem for me with Watts' alcoholism is that it undercut the root meaning of the principles he wrote about. I recall a line from the Monica Furlong bio, towards the end, when he was asked why he was drinking vodka every day, and he replied something like 'so that I don't feel so terribly alone'. Reading that was a real kick in the gut for me. And that's not a matter of 'being judgmental'; it's more like, if he wasn't able to realise the emotional equilibrium and detachment which is at the core of the philosophy that he wrote about, then did he actually realize those principles? ('Realize' the sense of 'make real', like a builder realizes a design for a house.) Or was he actually a phony? Remember, the Furlong book was published in my part of the world as 'Genuine Fake'. That's why, at the time, I felt I had been led up the garden path by him - and not only by Alan Watts, but a few of the other books and speakers of the genre and time. That was a feeling which I really only overcame when I got hold of Nishijima's To Meet the Real Dragon in 1996 or so. (Mind you, I've 'forgiven' Alan Watts long since, and he still deserves a place on the landscape, if only because he still speaks eloquently of important ideas to today's youth. But everyone should understand the caveats around his books. Incidentally found a very good Tricycle profile here for anyone interested.)
Realisation in Buddhism is very hard won. If that is the litmus test, then clearly he fails.

But did he ever claim to have realisation? I think if anything, quite the contrary: he sort of repudiated the guru/master thing as a sham, right at a time when charlatan gurus and masters were all the rage.

It would be a savage contradiction to claim to be enlightened and then get by drinking vodka to mask the pain - but I'm not sure we can charge him with this.

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by JoaoRodrigues » Sat Mar 28, 2020 9:09 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 6:21 am
I recall a line from the Monica Furlong bio, towards the end, when he was asked why he was drinking vodka every day, and he replied something like 'so that I don't feel so terribly alone'.
I don't believe that's a true sentence, I've read the book and I didn't find anything saying that. He did drink a bottle of vodka a day, according to him he liked himself better when drunk, his daughter always said he was a happy drunk. When asked about his drinking he said: There's no problem, I always drink in a enlightenment way.
Wayfarer wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 6:21 am
The problem for me with Watts' alcoholism is that it undercut the root meaning of the principles he wrote about.
Wayfarer wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 6:21 am
Reading that was a real kick in the gut for me. And that's not a matter of 'being judgmental'; it's more like, if he wasn't able to realise the emotional equilibrium and detachment which is at the core of the philosophy that he wrote about, then did he actually realize those principles?
This is pretty much the reason I created this thread. I would like someone who started in the dharma circles with Alan's years and years ago to be critical of someone so highly articulate and intelligence, because I can't. Sadly for me, I haven't had anyone pointing the flaws objectively since I created this thread.

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Kim O'Hara » Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:32 pm

JoaoRodrigues wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 9:09 am
...Sadly for me, I haven't had anyone pointing the flaws objectively since I created this thread.
I think you have, actually. Several of us have said that he didn't properly understand the traditions he was introducing to the West, no matter how good his intentions were, and that later writers and teachers are far more reliable guides. That, to me, is the primary reason to put down his books and look for others.
His drinking habit and his presumed failure to get very far along the path are secondary reasons, in my opinion. Practical expertise in a subject is certainly valuable but one can teach most things quite successfully without it.

:namaste:
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Re: Alan Watts

Post by JoaoRodrigues » Sat Mar 28, 2020 2:00 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:32 pm
Several of us have said that he didn't properly understand the traditions he was introducing to the West, no matter how good his intentions were, and that later writers and teachers are far more reliable guides.
No one mentioned any type of example, I was the one who said some of the divergences, like his view of mediation has unnecessary, or his view that we are already awaken budas and trying to seek enlightenment is going against it, something, I believe, because I'm not versed in zen buddhism is a fallacy, and since many here have knowledge from "the other later writers and teachers" and also had an initial view true Alan Watts, like I'm having, I'd like, if you'd like to spend that time, to have more examples. I didn't came here for an Alan's public judgment, even so, I accept it, I came here for an insight on what he believes / wrote about compared with the traditional or new views of zen-buddhism. The closer some got was saying if he didn't practiced he didn't knew and disagreeing with his view of koans.
Kim O'Hara wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 12:32 pm
That, to me, is the primary reason to put down his books and look for others.
Is it? How different would it be to blindly follow and accept Alan's teachings from blindly putting down his books because of the opinions of others? I could follow, but I'd like some information. I'm here asking, because I can't, for contradictory information.

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by Wayfarer » Sat Mar 28, 2020 11:39 pm

JoaoRodrigues wrote:I don't believe that's a true sentence, I've read the book and I didn't find anything saying that.
I looked up the passage I was thinking of, it was this one:
Paula McGuire, his editor at Pantheon Books, remembers Watts’s telling her in 1968 that he was suffering from an enlarged liver, and that his doctor had warned him that he must give up drinking. For some months he did so, to the relief of his family and friends. Elsa Gidlow remembers the disappointment of sitting beside him at a Druid Heights lunch party and noticing that he was drinking again.

"Oh Alan!” she said, as he reached for the brandy.

"If I don’t drink, I don’t feel sexy,” he growled in reply. Perhaps the drinking came from a deep sense of loneliness that he had so often written about, a loneliness that increased with the cocktail parties and the fame.
In the Wisdom of Insecurity he wrote of alcoholism:
In very many cases he knows quite clearly that he is destroying himself, that for him, liquor is poison, that he actually hates being drunk, and even dislikes the taste of liquor. And yet he drinks. For, dislike it as he may, the experience of not being drunk is worse. It gives him the "horrors” for he stands face to face with the un-veiled, basic insecurity of the world. Herein lies the crux of the matter. To stand face to face with insecurity is still not to understand it. To understand it, you must not face it but be it.
Monica Furlong wrote in the foreword to the book:
The combination of spiritual insight and naughtiness, of wisdom and childishness, of joyous high spirits and loneliness, seemed incongruous. Wasn’t "knowledge” in the Buddhist sense of overcoming avidya, or ignorance, supposed gradually to lead you into some sort of release from craving? And yet there was Watts drinking and fornicating all over California.
JoaoRodrigues wrote: I haven't had anyone pointing the flaws objectively since I created this thread.
I think they're pretty clear.
'Only practice with no gaining idea' ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Alan Watts

Post by boda » Sun Mar 29, 2020 12:35 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Sat Mar 28, 2020 6:21 am
The problem for me with Watts' alcoholism is that it undercut the root meaning of the principles he wrote about. I recall a line from the Monica Furlong bio, towards the end, when he was asked why he was drinking vodka every day, and he replied something like 'so that I don't feel so terribly alone'. Reading that was a real kick in the gut for me. And that's not a matter of 'being judgmental'; it's more like, if he wasn't able to realise the emotional equilibrium and detachment which is at the core of the philosophy that he wrote about, then did he actually realize those principles? ('Realize' the sense of 'make real', like a builder realizes a design for a house.) Or was he actually a phony?
There's a story about Taizan Maezumi Roshi where he and a small group were sitting in the grass near the sidewalk at the LA Zen Centre and some dude came by and asked, "so what's it like being enlightened?" Roshi replied, "depressing." I imagine that some interpret that to be a brilliant form of koan or expression of 'crazy wisdom'. Maybe he was just depressed at the time. The interesting thing is that those who are within the firm embrace of the traditional social hierarchy are allowed such grace, whereas the outliers are judged so mercilessly as to be labeled frauds, even when they explicitly reject authenticity.

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