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I am particularly fond of Alan Watts. So I was listening to one of his recordings the other day and I haven't been able to figure out what is said at 32:05. It is highly complex to my foreign ears. It might be just as hard for the natives present.

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  • ".. is the which than which there is no whicher". Ie. the most you that you can be. Not the most regular grammar, but a spontaneously coined ideom that makes some sense in context. I'm not the least surprised that it gave you trouble. Apr 16, 2020 at 21:52
  • Interpretation / transliteration / deciphering of audios, lyrics etc is, as regular contributors know, off-topic. Apr 11, 2021 at 11:16

4 Answers 4

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He says "Is the which, than which, there is no whicher."

We can translate this from the metaphysical gobbledygook to "The great thing or being, than which, there is no greater".

Although equally, because of the use of "which", you can substitute "great" for any positive adjective, e.g. kind, wise, powerful, etc., etc.

Alan Watts has coined the nonce word "whicher" as a parallel and for alliteration/assonance (a figure of rhetoric called "repetition") in order to mean "Whatever the attributive adjective was that you give to your god or ideal."

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  • Thanks! What is "metaphysical gobbledygook"?
    – mjfneto
    Apr 17, 2020 at 1:04
  • Both words are in the dictionary...
    – Greybeard
    Apr 17, 2020 at 10:12
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    Quote should be "which than which there is no whicher" - there's nothing gobbledygook about it. But, that in of itself is hilarious to think that's the accepted answer. We all choose our paths. Apr 11, 2021 at 10:49
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It sounds similar to St. Anselm's way of referring to God. In his work The Proslogian, he considers the implications of thinking of God as "That than which nothing greater can be conceived". As an Anselmian myself, I interpret this as a theistic koan. If the idea of God were rejected, then surely that cannot be (G)od, because any God we can conceive and reject could not be that reality that is greater than we can conceive.

Elsewhere in the western tradition, God is conceived as "Being Itself" or "Pure Actuality". These formulations are quite ancient, some reading God's self-descriprion in Exodus as meaning this. When Moses asks who God is, He answers "I Am that I Am". Being above the paygrade of human rationality, God then identifies Himself to Moses in relational terms: "I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob". This allows us to refer to God relationally, but we remain forever unable to articulate His nature. In the words of the great Christian Mystic Nicolas of Cusa, God is behind a great "Cloud of Unknowing".

However, Watts was clearly more influenced by Eastern philosophy. I believe taking this phrase from Watts seriously, if you do and if he meant it seriously, he tried to describe what Anselm did in process-relational terms, rather than evaluative

Again, speaking as an Anselmian, I prefer the Christian traditions approach. But even here, nearly all of the great mystic traditions arrived at similar conclusions. Even for Aquinas, an arch-proponent of Aristotle's theory of substance, would speak of God as "Pure Act" or Pure Actuality.

Many Christians influenced by Indian philosophy have come out with such similar views, the prominent Orthodox scholar of religion David Bentley Hart describes God using Indian terms: San Chit Ananda, or Being(or Truth), Consciousness, and Bliss. That's a brilliant description of the Christian Trinity.

In fact, even Sufis have strikingly similar tripartite analyses that translate identically. There is Allah, the Spirit of Allah, and Allah's eternal Word (expressed in the Quran). As I'm still a Christian and westerner at heart, I think the mystical traditions put the Trinity to fantastic use.

In some sense, even on my view, we are God; or at least all of our being is participation (a process-relational analogy) in the Divine. The only important difference is that our participation is gift-like, but done as an outpouring of God's singular, yet dynamic, act of love.

Watts analysis of Jesus was wrong, IMO. It doesn't take into account our fallen nature, and it doesn't realize that Christian Orthodoxy long ago formulated salvation as "God became Man, so that men may become gods". There's tons of room for cross fertilization between systems. Personally, I think Bhakti Hinduism makes an incredible partner in theological conversation that can highlight the genius of both systems.

For again, even given the fall, our lack of godhood is only provisional in the movement towards divinity--which, considered from eternity, is what we already are--which grounds the Christian insight into the radical value of particularity AND universality.

Anyway, all of this rant is to say that I believe Watts phrase IS deeply intelligible and true, but that it's coherence is best seen in the Christian mystical tradition. Watts was concerned to avoid evaluative and substantial language, but I don't think he's actually pointing to a different reality.

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    Jul 4, 2023 at 0:23
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There's rhymes of perspective to "which than which there is no whicher" and in the jest of humility and enlightenment, riddles and thinking help usher a path of hard workings. But, fear not because even when given the answer it won't be understood since it still requires contemplation.

Here's the context for the quote:

Nevertheless, I know too that this temporary pattern, this process, is a function, a doing, a karma, of all that is and of the "which than which there is no whicher" in just the same way as the sun, the galaxy, or, shall we be bold to say, Jesus Christ or Gautama the Buddha. How can I say this without offense - without seeming proud, haughty, and pretentious? I simply, and even humbly, know that I am The Eternal, even though such supremely enlightened people as Jesus, Buddha, Kabir, Sri Ramakrishna, Hakuin, and Sri Ramana Maharshi may have manifested this knowledge in a more forceful and authoritative style. I would be affecting the most dishonest false modesty if I did not acknowledge this, and yet the idea of my coming on as a messiah or great guru just breaks me up with laughter.

When one tends to think of the cosmos, the self usually arises, then the self may question whom is questioning the self? And thus the recursion arises.

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It sounds like "The Which Than Which There Is No Whicher"; you can find that here for instance.

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