The Two Hands of God by Alan Watts - Book Review

British born philosopher, author and speaker, Alan Watts, has made a big impact on our world here at frequencyRiser. We are constantly amazed by his ability to convey deeper truths and clarify multiple layers of meaning in the realm of spirituality and Eastern philosophy. When we heard about his newly re-released (Sept. 8, 2020) title of The Two Hands of God (originally published in 1963), we were very excited to read this gem that had eluded us all these years. We then found out that Watts, when writing this book was friends with another of our favorite authors, famed mythologist Joseph Campbell, which piqued our interest even further. Campbell lent his expertise by sharing notes and feedback on several chapters.

The Two Hands of God by Alan Watts available from frequencyRiser

This is "Alan Watts's forgotten book on world mythology -- myths of light and darkness, good and evil, and the mystical unity that sees the transcendent whole behind apparent opposites." Needless to say, this book does not disappoint. 

Watts begins the book by discussing the "Primordial Pair" found in mythologies around the world by examining the term polarity. Many people have the impression that polarity simply means duality or opposition. "For to say that opposites are polar is to say much more than that they are far apart: it is to say that they are related and joined - that they are the terms, ends, or extremities of a single whole. Polar opposites are therefore inseparable opposites, like the poles of the earth or of a magnet, or the ends of a stick or the faces of a coin." This concept of the "Primordial Pair" is found in mythologies around the world including the Chinese concepts of yin-yang, the I Ching and Taoism to Egyptian philosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, as well as the Greek philosophy of Heraclitus. Watts skillfully weaves stories from a wide range of religious thought to convey how the "Cosmic Dance" of the "Primordial Pair" takes place in each mythology.

The center section of The Two Hands of God includes a collection of black and white photographs (Plates) referencing ancient statues, artwork, and reliefs from architecture that illustrate recurring themes inherent in mythologies from around the world. 

Watts notes that "Joseph Campbell has pointed out a curious contrast between the creation myths of the East and the West, namely, that in the East there is a primordial splitting apart of the Creator whereas, in the West, the Creator remains entire and the split transpires within the creature. Actually, this split and nonsplit situation of the Creator corresponds with what in Vedanta philosophy, is called the nirguna Brahman and the saguana Brahman - the Godhead without differentiated qualities and the Godhead with such qualities, or the unmanifest and manifest aspects of the supreme Self. The Godhead is simultaneously involved and not involved in the production of the world, responsible and not responsible for the mystery of iniquity, omnipotently controlling everything and yet open to surprise, granting the creature freedom of will." With this concept in mind, we are all aspects of the Creator. Watts further elaborates that "the sage seems to be insane because he does not take the choosing seriously. Life is not a matter of life or death; it is a matter of life and death, and ultimately there is nothing to be dreaded. There is nothing outside the universe, against which it can crash. The "I" experience, which is just as much you as it is myself, keeps on playing hide-and-seek with itself in the darkness like the coming and going of myriads of stars - one and yet many, immortal and yet endlessly varied, able to continue because delivered from boredom by incessant death. And the sage does not see himself as a little thing thrown into a vast and alien space: for him, the thing-space is a unity as inseparable as life-death, up-down, back-front, or inside-outside. Because, then, he does not fundamentally and seriously take sides, he has to be regarded as a dreamer or a madman; otherwise the paint on our masks would begin to peel."

The publisher makes a beautiful statement about the final chapter titled "Dismemberment Remembered", that brings the reader back - "through the separation of opposites - to their eternally implicit union. Fans of Alan Watts will not be surprised that one of the final takeaways of this book is that consciousness can transcend perceived opposites, and those who can hold the nonduality of life will know themselves to be one with the cosmos."

This book is a feast to behold. By challenging conventional notions of good and evil, Watts illustrates the commonality in the mythologies of religious and philosophical thought found around the world that will frame life for the reader in a beautiful new, unifying and life changing way.

stephen herrington
stephen herrington


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.