[L. 52 | 59] 11 June 1963

Mr. Perera came this evening and showed me a money order that you had sent him asking him to buy me a knife to replace the missing one. If I had even remotely thought that you were going to do this, I should by no means have sent you the postcard.

What happened was this. When you and your party first arrived the knife was borrowed to cut up some oranges and was then returned to me. Then you all went down to your car, leaving me to take my dāna. Shortly afterwards, the boy from the village whom you brought with you came and asked me for the knife. Assuming that you had sent him in order to borrow it again, I gave it to him and thought no more about it. When I did not find it after your departure I thought that, inadvertently, you had probably taken it with you. Hence the postcard. But it may be that the boy wanted it for himself and took this opportunity of asking for it. My command of Sinhala, however, is by no means equal to the task of questioning him about it, even if I felt inclined to do so (which I don't). The village boys frequently ask me for things, and I can never make out whether they want them on loan or as a gift; but once I have given something, even on loan, I find it distasteful to press for its return. Indeed, I now feel rather ashamed at having sent you the postcard at all. In any case, very much merit to you.

When you were here, you remarked that I say much more about reflexion in the Notes than is to be found in the Suttas. This, I think, is rather deceptive. Certainly I discuss it more explicitly than the Suttas; but it has to be remembered that every time the Suttas mention sati, or mindfulness, they are speaking of reflexion; and out of the thirty-seven bodhipakkhiyā dhammā, no less than eight are sati (in one form or another—four satipatthāna, one satindriya, one satibala, one satisambojjhangha, one sammāsati [magganga]).

Most of the Suttas were addressed to monks, not laymen (see the Anāthapindikovāda Sutta, late in the Majjhima,[1] where Anāthapindika bursts into tears); and monks, in the Buddha's day, were familiar with reflexion through their practice of samādhi, or mental concentration (there is no concentration without mindfulness), and they did not need to have the matter explained to them (a swimming instructor can talk more about swimming than a fish, but there is no doubt that a fish can swim better).

But times have changed: people no longer practise mental concentration (not even bhikkhus); on the other hand they now read books, which they did not in the Buddha's day. Formerly, people accepted on trust that the practice of concentration and reflexion was possible and had beneficial results, and without more ado they set themselves to practise. Now, however, people want to understand all about things before they actually do them—a change of attitude for which the invention of printing is responsible. (This new attitude has its advantages and its disadvantages. On the one hand, there is now no Buddha to give infallible guidance, and it is necessary to use one's intelligence and think out matters for oneself if one is to discover the right path; but on the other hand, to think out matters for oneself takes time, and this means that one may easily put off starting the actual practice until it is too late in life to make the necessary progress.)

If people today (I am thinking more particularly of Europeans or those with a European education) are going to be got to practise reflexion (and thence concentration) they will ask for information about it first; and it is rather with this in mind that I have discussed the matter so explicitly in the Notes. (One of the principal reasons for including FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE, which is not directly Dhamma, is the fact that it offers a formal justification for the assumption that reflexion is at least possible. Without such intellectual justification—which, incidentally, requires some actual experience of reflexion [not necessarily done in awareness of the fact][a] to grasp—many people will not even make the attempt to see if they can do it.)

I am quite prepared to admit that this explicit treatment may perhaps actually hold up certain people, who would get along faster without it—people, that is to say, with good saddhā in the Buddha, and who are prepared to sit down at once and practise. From this point of view it will be seen that, far from being an advance on the Suttas (as one might hastily think upon observing that the Suttas omit it), this explicit treatment is really a step backwards: a formal discussion of what the Suttas take for granted as already understood is a retreat to a more elementary stage (this should be clear from the fact that the existential philosophers understand and practise reflexion, but do not understand the essence of the Buddha's Teaching—the Four Noble Truths).


[52.a] If this were not so, it would fail to be a justification, since the form of such a communication must exemplify the content, or quidquid cognoscitur, per modum cognoscentis cognoscitur. (See FUNDAMENTAL STRUCTURE [g].) [Back to text]

Editorial note:

[52.1] late in the Majjhima: M. 143: iii,258-63. [Back to text]