[L. 80 | 87] 31 December 1963

The Notes seem to have struck Mrs. Quittner[1] with considerable impact, and her immediate reaction is all that could be desired. What disturbs her is the fact that statements are made throughout the Notes 'without any reasons' being given for them, on the 'take it or leave it' principle. What the self-respecting reader wants is to have his opinion consulted by the author, who is expected to allow him to make up his own mind about the points at issue, and thus either to agree or to disagree with what is said in the book. If the author does not do this (by failing to give his reasons) he insults the reader (and particularly the feminine reader) by seeming to assume that he (or she) has no opinion worth consulting.

But the one thing I want to avoid is to have readers make up their own mind about the book; for once they have objectively decided whether they agree or disagree with the author's arguments they will shut the book, forget it, and pass on to the next one. No, the Notes are designed to be an invitation, a provocation, a challenge, to the reader to come and share the author's point of view; and if the book starts off by democratically assuming that the reader's opinion is as good as the author's, it will simply defeat its own purpose. At all costs the reader must be prevented from fraternizing with the author.

Consider, for example, Mrs. Quittner's complaint that with a few strokes of the author's pen 'we are reduced from three to two baskets and this without giving any reasons for his statement'. (The reference is evidently to note (a) of the Preface.) If I had provided a discussion of my reasons for doubting the authenticity of the Abhidhamma Pitaka (on the lines, perhaps, of what I said in my last letter to you), at once people would have had something positive to seize hold of, and learned controversy might have started up leading more and more passionately away from the point at issue. As Kierkegaard says,

In general, all that is needed to make the question simple and easy is the exercise of a certain dietetic circumspection, the renunciation of every learned interpolation or subordinate consideration, which in a trice might degenerate into a century-long parenthesis. (CUP, pp. 29-30)
As things are, the reader is informed bluntly (condescendingly?) at the beginning of the Notes which canonical books the author proposes to regard as unquestionably correct, so that there will be no room for confusion in the matter. Then, if the reader wants to know the reason for the author's rejection of certain books (the Abhidhamma Pitaka, for example), he must make the effort to understand the Notes and see things as the author sees them. When he has done this, the reason for the rejection of these books will be self-evident.

Mrs. Quittner's 'arrogant, scathing, and condescending' is a clear indication that she has been provoked by the Notes, and the fact that she has already read the NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA no less than five times seems to confirm it. If people are going to take this much interest in the Notes they are welcome to use whatever strong language about them as they please. I shall only start worrying when people begin calling them 'insipid, flatulent, and platitudinous'.

Her remark on the difficulties of NĀMA is probably justified. I am well aware that too much is said in too short a space, and that a longer discussion would be desirable. But (i) there is some amplification of what is said here in certain other notes, (ii) to do it justice a whole book would be necessary (as suggested recently by you), and I do not feel inclined to write it, or even capable of doing so, and (iii) there is no harm in letting people make the effort of expanding it (and perhaps correcting it) on their own account—they must not rely wholly on parato ghoso, but must exercise themselves also in yoniso manasikāro.[2] In any case, there is more said here than is found in the Suttas, so it is already something of a concession to mental laziness (though that applies, I suppose, to the whole book). Time will perhaps make it clearer.

Editorial notes:

[80.1] Mrs. Quittner: Section II, L. 3 , 4 , 5 . [Back to text]

[80.2] parato ghoso; yoniso manasikāro: See the opening quotation to Notes on Dhamma. [Back to text]