Charles Bukowski and Alan Watts on How to Live a Good Life

charles bukowski alan watts

Both Alan Watts and Charles Bukowski spent their lives contemplating the meaning of human existence, how to lead an authentic life against whatever the odds may be, and they shared their insights through their masterful use of language.

Watts was one of the key figures to popularize Eastern religion in the West. He wrote numerous books, including The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of AnxietyThe Way of ZenIn My Own Way: An Autobiography.

Bukowski also had an affinity for Buddhism toward the end of his life, often visiting a Japanese zen garden regularly, and meditating during his battle with leukemia. His funeral was even officiated by Buddhist monks.

Related: A Visit to Bukowski’s Grave

Both Watts and Bukowski believed in living the life you feel called to life, instead of allowing yourself to be controlled by social conditioning to abandon the path your soul calls you to follow.

The video below offers both men sharing their vision for a life well lived. A transcript follows.

The audio of Watts comes from some of his many lectures, and the audio and video of Bukowski comes from his interview with filmmaker Barbet Schroeder, found in the film The Bukowski Tapes. Schroeder also directed Barfly, the only film Bukowski ever wrote.

Transcript of video:

Alan Watts: What I would call a really swinging human being is a person who lives on two levels at once. He’s able to live on the level of being his ordinary ego, his everyday personality, and play his role in life and to observe all the rules and so on that go with that.


alan watts painting

But if he’s only on that level, if he’s only playing that kind of thing, and thinks that’s all there is, it becomes a drag. And he starts being the king of person who feels he’s just got to go on surviving, see? It’s terribly important to go on surviving, to live. And he works at that, and his children learn the same attitude from him.


He says, “Well, I’ve got to survive because I’ve got all these children I want to support, and so on, so forth.” And then they take the same attitude, and they breed up children, and they feel compulsive about supporting them because they’ve got to go on.


And so nobody, really has any fun. It’s just ugh, ugh, ugh, we’ve got to make this thing! And you don’t have to.


We have a whole system of preparation of the child for life, which always is preparation and never actually gets there.


In other words, we have a system of school that starts with grades, and we get this little creature into the thing with a kind of, “Come on, kitty, kitty, kitty.”


alan watts quoteAnd we’re always preparing for something that’s going to happen. So you go into nursery school as preparation for Kindergarten. You go into Kindergarten as preparation for the first grade. And then you go up the grades until you get to high school, and then comes the time when maybe if we can get you fascinated enough with this system you go to college.


And then when you go on to college, if you’re smart, you go to graduate student and stay a perpetual student. And go back to be a professor, just go round and round in the system.


But in the ordinary way, they don’t encourage quite that. They want you to after graduate school, or after graduation, commencement it’s called, beginning – to get out into the World, with a capital “W.”


You’ve been trained for this, and now you have arrived.


alan watts paintingBut when you get out into the world, at your first sales meeting, they’ve got the same thing going again. Because they want you to make that quota, and if you do make it they give you a higher quota. And come about 45 years of age, maybe you’re vice president, and suddenly it dawns on you that you’ve arrived, with a certain sense of being cheated.


Because life feels the same as it always felt, and you are conditioned to be in desperate need of a future.


So the final goal that this culture prepares for us is for retirement, when you will be a senior citizen and you will have the wealth and the leisure to do what you always wanted. But at the same time you will have impotence, a rotten prostate, and false teeth, and no energy.


So the whole thing, from beginning to end is a hoax.

Charles Bukowski: Generally speaking, you’re free till you’re about four years old, five, around. Then you go to grammar school, and then you start becoming demented and solved, and orientated and shoved into areas.


You lose what individualism you have. If you have enough, of course, you retain some of it. But most don’t have enough.

bukowski quote art

So you become a watcher of game shows, you know, things like that. And you work the eight hour job with almost a feeling of goodness, like you’re doing something.


And you get married like marriage is a victory, and you have children like children is a victory. But most things most people do are a total grind: Marriage, birth, children.


It’s something they have to do because there’s nothing else to do. There’s no glory in it, there’s no steam, there’s no fire, it’s very, very flat. And the earth is full of them.


Sorry, but, that’s the way I see it.

Charles Bukowski Art



Leave a Reply