Remember Alan Watts

Alan Watts (1915-1973) was a speaker of over 400 talks and wrote 25 books in his lifetime, most concerning eastern thought and philosophy. He was was profoundly influenced by the East Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism, and by Taoist thought, which is reflected in Zen poetry and the arts of China and Japan. Alan Watts taught at the Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, and gave regular radio talks on KPFA, the Berkeley free radio station. In 1957, he published his bestselling Way of Zen which started his rise in popularity. He was an early subject in pioneering psychedelic trials, and, after recording two seasons of the public television series Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life, traveled to Japan several times and became a foremost interpreter of Eastern thought for the West.

On Gifts and Santa

Dear Bob,

Public university students are on strike here. No classes and no wages for most of us teachers due to the nature of our contract with the university. Tenure is rare in regional branches. There is a union, but you have to pay quite a lot to belong and then as your contract is just for a semester, the university could very well decide not to hire back a “problematic” teacher, so many teachers shy away from fighting to get paid. The union rep says all teachers should be paid because otherwise is unconstitutional. But Mr. Duque, our president says: no hours taught no wages earned. I support the students’ cause of course. Education has become a big business and it is necessary that the state guarantees a quality education for all, no only for those able to pay the private institutions.  Universidad Nacional, a recognized and magnificent university has buildings collapsing. It is a shame. The strike continues as the government, students and teachers have a round of talks to see if they come to an agreement. Summing up: no money for gifts this holiday season.  But that should not be an excuse for not offering gifts. Because a gift is such a nice thing when it is really a gift. I have some memories of unforgettable gifts. I remember that for Christmas 1972 I got this kid-size rocking-chair and a big doll which I adored. I would sit in my chair to hold and pamper my doll for hours. Then I remember a friend in Florida gave me a flute he has made and then sewed a cute pouch for it. It was completely unexpected and completely lacked any requirement for a counterpart. These two examples are examples of gifts because the givers (my parents, my friend) were not requiring anything in return of course. But the first case was special because it was something I really wanted and in the second case it was special because it made me happy that someone thought of me and decided to give me a cute thing just for the joy of it. I guess this is what I mean when I said “…it is really a gift”. Something is really a gift because it is something I covet and is given to me, or it is something more of a sentimental value, perhaps even made especially for me with absolutely no requirement of payment. Maybe I should not argue against the simple definition of gift. If somebody gives me a pair of brand-new shoes because she didn’t like them and says: “here, have them. I just don’t like them and I don’t know anybody else with this size buy you. It is a gift”, I should not deny that this is a gift.

But there is a difference, right?

One of my cousins always preaches that God has given us a gift: Jesus, his son, who sacrificed his life so our sins were forgiven and we gained salvation. But this is no gift. He absolutely expects something in return: our faith and devotion.  No, I don’t think so. The most important factor is not asking for anything in return.

When the holiday season comes we have to think about giving gifts to many people. This is because the spirit of the season is precisely the spirit of sharing and giving. But we know that when so many things are bought and discarded, the planet starts asking to slow down the spirit because it is killing her. Nowadays, not only we have to think about the person we are offering a gift and what she would like and how I could make her happy, but also, how my gift is going to impact this poor planet earth. More clothes? More shoes? More plastic? More creams and perfumes? More paper? More tech gear? Whatever it is, hopefully it does not mean that something else goes in the garbage or some other tree falls in the amazon. This season is beautiful but it puts a lot of stress on the earth (and on people too!)

It would be nice that the Santa Claus story was true: one factory location without taking up any planet earth’s resources, no contamination, delivered by zero-emission vehicles.  By the way, I wonder who came out with the idea that some saint was a gift giver for children. Why to build this fantasy?  Is it just because it is more mysterious and exciting for a child to get it from some fantastic man?  Or was it a way to get children to believe in saints?

Can you tell me a story about a gift you received? Have you ever hand-made a gift? Do you see any problems with gifts?

Love to all this holiday season and I hope everyone gets a nice meaningful gift and can also offer a meaningful gift to somebody else. This way the happiness circle is complete.

Laura.