[L. 103 | 110] 29 September 1964

I quite realized that you used the words 'unstable mind' only in connexion with a certain incident (and in any case under a misapprehension), and my reason for pursuing the matter was simply that I happened to come across the passage in Huxley—certainly not in any criticism of your use of the words.

You are quite right to doubt the value of the 'stable-mindedness' of the irresponsible politicians (though I sometimes wonder whether politicians can really be regarded as having a mind at all), and it has to be emphasized (as I think Huxley does) that unstable-mindedness is just as likely to do evil as it is to do good. Obviously it will depend on one's situation as well as on one's character whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to be unstable-minded. If you are a follower of the Buddha and unstable-mindedness leads you to become a Christian or a Muslim, then it is clearly better to be stable-minded; but if it leads you to abandon the home life and become a bhikkhu, then your unstable-mindedness is good. Here, as almost everywhere else, it is necessary to discriminate.

The episode of the Ven. Ānanda Thera and the love charms is not in the Suttas, but I think I recall reading it myself somewhere in the Commentaries.[1] But we do find in the Suttas several instances of the Ven. Ānanda Thera's championing (though that word is too strong) the cause of women (it was on his initiative—as you will remember—that the Buddha was persuaded to allow women to become bhikkhunīs[2]). It was perhaps this tendency to speak up on behalf of women that led commentators and later writers (including some Europeans) to describe the Ven. Ānanda Thera as a rather simple and weak-minded person (Prof. Rhys Davids uses the word 'childlike'), which in point of fact he most certainly was not. But he came in for some criticism at the First Council, even though he was then arahat. (This is to be found in the Vinaya Cūlavagga towards the end.[3])

Generally speaking, it is the first business of anyone who gets ordained to learn Pali and find out what the Dhamma is all about, and not to rely on faulty European translations; but perhaps Ven. S.[4] will be spending his time better practising samatha (which can be done without a knowledge of Pali) than doing nothing. On the other hand he should really still be living with his teacher and getting instruction from him. But his teacher seems to be otherwise occupied. Anyway I do not propose to become his teacher, though I am prepared to help him if he asks for help.

Editorial notes:

[103.1] love charms: The story is not found even in the Commentaries: it occurs first, apparently, in the Sanskrit Divyāvadāna, of the Sarvāstivādin school. A partial version is also found in the Sūrangama Sūtra, in Chinese only. [Back to text]

[103.2] bhikkhunīs: Vin. ii,253: A. VII,51: iv,274-79. [Back to text]

[103.3] towards the end: Kh. XI: Vin. ii,289. [Back to text]

[103.4] Ven. S.: The reference is to a newly-ordained Western monk who had just settled into a kuti about one-half mile from the Ven. Ñānavīra and who remained there for several years before disrobing and returning home. To informally give help is one thing; to become a teacher is (in terms of Vinaya) a formal undertaking of responsibility. It is this responsibility that the Ven. Ñānavīra declines. [Back to text]