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Alan Watts, South Park style

A couple of days ago, Open Culture highlighted some Alan Watts talks that were animated by the creators of South Park back in 2007. That was news to me. What an unexpected pairing. If you enjoy these videos, be sure to see the ‘related content’ links at the end of the Open Culture post.

My exploration of the quirky, entertaining, informative, and often enlightening talks of Alan Watts began about 12 years ago when I started studying Zen Buddhism with his introductory book, ‘The Way of Zen.’ That fairly dry book led me to a raft of Watts audio recordings. Listening to a Watts lecture is a completely different experience. You may not agree with everything that he has to say, but it may lead you to think about the world quite differently. I think the bulk of his talks stand the test of time (although you may notice beat generation lingo and the occasional anecdote that would be considered quite politically incorrect by today’s standards).

If you’re unfamiliar with Watts, YouTube is a good place to start for some free content. Despite what some of the online fan comments convey, it helps to know that Watts didn’t see himself as any kind of a guru. He said he was a mere ‘spiritual entertainer’ with ‘nothing to sell.’ Alas, decades after his death, the Alan Watts collection of audio recordings are now for sale (and they aren’t particularly cheap). Years ago, I subscribed to a free Watts podcast that presented highlights from many of his talks. I checked to see if it still existed today. Apparently it does, but it appears that it has only recently been relaunched or refreshed. There is only one available episode which was published just a few days ago.

I was surprised to see that the people behind the podcast and the audio collections (the primary being Mark Watts, son of Alan Watts) also offer an iOS app which, while also pricey, does include 21 hours of lectures. I admit that I’ve added this app to my ‘maybe someday’ list. I also own a lengthy audiobook that I think is worth the price of admission, given that I’ve listened to parts of it many times. Final note: looks like the nonprofit behind all of this Watts merch, curiously called the ‘Electronic University,’ has big plans for the future. At least we know they aren’t spending it on pizza and beer.