[L. 4 | 10] 12 April 1964

Many thanks for your letter. If you feel like it, and if I am still about the place, by all means come and see me when you next visit Ceylon. I shall be only too happy to discuss things with you; but, at the same time, I rather fancy that I am less proficient at talking than at writing. Although earlier I did discourage both visitors and correspondents, the situation has since changed. My chronic digestive disorder has worsened and has now been joined by a nervous complaint (caused, ironically enough, by a drug prescribed to cure the amoebiasis), and the combination drastically reduces the time I can devote to practice: in consequence of this I have to get through my day as best I can with thinking, reading, and writing (it is only on this account that the Notes have made their appearance). So outside disturbances are now sometimes positively welcome.

Possibly the Ven. monk, in saying that paticcasamuppāda is taught in the present by Burmese and Siamese meditation masters, was referring to the Vibhanga or Patisambhidā interpretations mentioned at the foot of p. 676 (Ch. XVII, n. 48) of the Ven. Ñānamoli Thera's Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga translation).[1] I admit that I have not investigated these, but from all accounts they are unsatisfactory. In any case, the paticcasamuppāda formulation (as I see it) does not admit of alternative interpretations—there is one and one only. I do not see that anyone offering a number of different interpretations as equally valid can possibly be right in any of them. (It is quite possible that someone actually reaching sotāpatti, and therefore seeing paticcasamuppāda for himself, might still hesitate before deciding on the meaning of the expanded—twelve term—formulation, since what he sees for himself is Imasmim sati idam hoti,[2] etc., and not its expansion in terms—avijjā, sankhārā, and so on—whose meaning he may not know. But one thing is certain: whatever interpretation he gives will be in conformity with his private knowledge, Imasmim sati..., and since he has already grasped the essence of the matter he will not look around for alternative interpretations.) But the Ven. Thera may have had something else in mind when he spoke.

There are several new references to, and quotations from, Bradley. I had already referred to him in ANICCA [a] without having read him, and merely on the strength of what others have said about him. But now I am actually in the course of reading his Principles of Logic, and I find that the reference was fully justified. It is satisfactory (and satisfying) to find someone else who has had the same thoughts (within limits, naturally) as oneself, particularly after the singularly depressing experience of reading some of the more recent English philosophers (Bertrand Russell & Co.). Bradley's idealism won't do, of course; but it is incomparably better than the current realism.

I am always pleased when I find a connexion between the Suttas and outside philosophies: it is not, to be sure, that the former can be reduced to the latter—the Dhamma is not just one way of thinking amongst others --, but rather that the Buddha has seen all that these philosophers have seen, and he has also seen what they could not see; and to discover this is extraordinarily exhilarating. Nobody can say to the Buddha, 'There is this or that that you have not taken into account'[3]: it is all taken into account, and still more. The Suttas give not the slightest pretext for the famous Sacrifice of the Intellect—Ignatius Loyola and Bodhidharma are strange bedfellows, indeed. Certainly there is more to the Dhamma than intellect (and this is sometimes hard for Europeans to understand), but there is nothing to justify the wilful abandonment of the Principle of Identity.

People, mostly, seem to be finding it difficult to make very much of the Notes (I, too, find it difficult sometimes, so I cannot say that I am astonished). The university professors who have had copies are silent except one from America who (very politely) attributes their unintelligibility to his ignorance of Pali, but whether this excuses me or him is not quite clear. Few bhikkhus have had copies, but one has remarked that 'they contain a lot of mistakes'—which, from the traditional point of view, is quite true. This would probably be the opinion of the great majority, who, however, would perhaps add that, in a foreigner, it is excusable. Laymen here are sometimes interested, and at all events not hostile (except for one, who has been provoked to a fit of indiscriminate xenophobic fury, embracing Dahlke and the Ven. Nyānatiloka Mahāthera[4] as well as myself—also strange bedfellows!). Expressions of approval have come from Germany and 'Les Amis du Bouddhisme' of Paris, I am pleased to learn, are enthusiastic. About thirty copies went to England, but (apart from a bare acknowledgement from Nottingham, and a brief note from a personal acquaintance) yours has been the only comment we have received. Of course, it is not easy to know to whom to send, and the choice of addresses is largely a matter of chance.

Editorial notes:

[4.1] Path of Purification, p. 676, note 48:

The Dependent Origination, or Structure of Conditions, appears as a flexible formula with the intention of describing the ordinary human situation of a man in his world (or indeed any conscious event where ignorance and craving have not entirely ceased). ...each member has to be examined as to its nature in order to determine what its relations to the others are.... A purely cause-and-effect chain would not represent the pattern of a situation that is always complex, always subjective-objective, static-dynamic, positive-negative, and so on. Again, there is no evidence of any historical development in the various forms given within the limits of the Sutta Pitaka (leaving aside the Patisambhidāmagga), and historical treatment within that particular limit is likely to mislead, if it is hypothesis with no foundation.
     In this work...the Dependent Origination is considered from only one standpoint, namely, as applicable to a period embracing a minimum of three lives. But this is not the only application. With suitable modifications it is also used in the Vibhanga to describe the structure of the Complex in each one of the 89 single type-consciousnesses laid down in the Dhammasangani; and Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa says 'This Structure of Conditions is present not only in (a continuity period consisting of) multiple consciousness but also in each consciousness singly as well' (VbhA 199-200). Also the Patisambhidāmagga gives five expositions, four describing dependent origination in one life, the fifth being made to present a special inductive generalization to extend what is observable in this life (the fact that consciousness is always preceded by consciousness...i.e. that it always has a past and is inconceivable without one) back beyond birth, and (since craving and ignorance ensure its expected continuance) on after death. There are, besides, various other, differing, applications indicated by the variant forms given in the Suttas themselves. [Back to text]

[4.2] Imasmim sati idam hoti: 'When there is this this is'—see A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA. [Back to text]

[4.3] 'Nobody can say...': See A. VII,55: iv,83: 'Monks, the Tathāgata is one whose Teaching is well-proclaimed. Herein, monks, I see no sign that any recluse or divine or Evil One or Divinity or anyone else in the world should rightly reprove me: "In this way you are one whose Teaching is not well-proclaimed." And, monks, seeing no such sign, I dwell attained to security, attained to fearlessness, attained to confidence.' [Back to text]

[4.4] Dahlke...: The Ven. Nyānatiloka Mahāthera (1878-1957), a prolific Buddhist scholar, was a follower of the traditional Commentarial view. Paul Dahlke was a more independent-minded German writer and lay-leader. [Back to text]