The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are explores an unrecognised but mighty taboo – our tacit conspiracy to ignore who, or what, we really are. Alan Watts, key thinker of Western Zen Buddhism, explains how to reconsider our relationship with the world.
We are in urgent need of a sense of our own existence, which is in accord with the physical facts and which overcomes our feeling of alienation from the universe. In The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts asks what causes the illusion of the self as a separate ego which confronts a universe of physical objects that are alien to it. Rather, a person's identity binds them to the physical universe, creating a relationship with their environment and other people. The separation of the self and the physical world leads to the misuse of technology and the attempt to violently subjugate man's natural environment, leading to its destruction.
Watts urges against the idea that we are separate from the world. Nowhere is this idea more apparent than in the concept of cultural taboos. The biggest taboo of all is knowing who we really are behind the mask of our self as presented to the world. Through our focus on ourselves and the world as it affects us, we have developed narrowed perception. Alan Watts tells us how to open our eyes and see ourselves not as coming into the world but from it. In understanding the individual's real place in the universe, Watts presents a critique of Western culture and a healing alternative.