[L. 101 | 108] 30 August 1964

You said that, in your view, the incident of the burning of the letters was the act of an unstable mind. To this I replied that nothing is done in the world, either good or bad, without passion; and I said that 'mental stability', too often, is simply lack of passion. As it happens, I was reading yesterday one of Huxley's earlier books of essays (Proper Studies, 1927) and I came across a passage that discusses this very point. Perhaps it will make my own statement clearer. Here it is:

The man who will lightly sacrifice a long-formed mental habit is exceptional. The vast majority of human beings dislike and even actually dread all notions with which they are not familiar. Trotter, in his admirable Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, has called them the 'stable-minded,' and has set over against them a minority of 'unstable-minded people,' fond of innovation for its own sake.... The tendency of the stable-minded man... will always be to find that 'whatever is, is right.' Less subject to the habits of thought formed in youth, the unstable-minded naturally take pleasure in all that is new and revolutionary. It is to the unstable-minded that we owe progress in all its forms, as well as all forms of destructive revolution. The stable-minded, by their reluctance to accept change, give to the social structure its durable solidity. There are many more stable- than unstable-minded people in the world (if the proportions were changed we should live in a chaos); and at all but very exceptional moments they possess power and wealth more than proportionate to their numbers. Hence it comes about that at their first appearance innovators have generally been persecuted and always derided as fools and madmen. A heretic, according to the admirable definition of Bossuet, is one who 'emits a singular opinion'—that is to say, an opinion of his own, as opposed to one that has been sanctified by general acceptance. That he is a scoundrel goes without saying. He is also an imbecile—a 'dog' and a 'devil,' in the words of St. Paul, who utters 'profane and vain babblings.' No heretic (and the orthodoxy from which he departs need not necessarily be a religious orthodoxy; it may be philosophic, ethical, artistic, economic), no emitter of singular opinions, is ever reasonable in the eyes of the stable-minded majority. For the reasonable is the familiar, is that which the stable-minded are in the habit of thinking at the moment when the heretic utters his singular opinion. To use the intelligence in any other than the habitual way is not to use the intelligence; it is to be irrational, to rave like a madman. (pp. 71-2)
Amongst people of Buddhist countries it is, I think, not properly understood (quite naturally) that, generally speaking, Europeans who become Buddhists belong necessarily to the 'unstable-minded' and not to the 'stable-minded'. The Buddha's Teaching is quite alien to the European tradition, and a European who adopts it is a rebel. A 'stable-minded' European is a Christian (or at least he accepts the Christian tradition: religion for him—whether he accepts it or not—, means Christianity; and a Buddhist European is not even 'religious'—he is simply a lunatic).

But in a Buddhist country, naturally, to be a Buddhist is to be 'stable-minded', since one is, as it were, 'born a Buddhist'. And 'born-Buddhists' find it difficult to understand the unstable-minded European Buddhist, who treats the Buddha's Teaching as a wonderful new discovery and then proposes, seriously, to practise it.[a] The stable-minded traditional Buddhist cannot make out what the unstable-minded European Buddhist is making such a fuss about.[b]

I am not, naturally, speaking in praise of odd behaviour for its own sake (the Buddha always took into account the prejudices and superstitions of the mass of laymen, and legislated as far as possible to avoid scandal), but I do say that it is wrong to regard odd behaviour as bad simply because it is odd. I myself am in a very ambiguous situation: here, in Buddhist Ceylon, I find that I am regarded as a most respectable person—complete strangers show me deference, and uncover their head as they pass—; but my relatives in England, and no doubt most of my former friends too, think that I am a freak and a case for the psychiatrist, and if they were to take off their hat when they saw me that could only be to humour my madness. Actually, however respectable and stable-minded I may appear (if we choose to ignore a deplorable tendency to suicide), I do not feel in the least respectable (I don't care tuppence for the durable solidity of the social structure) and I certainly count myself amongst the 'unstable-minded' (which does not mean, of course, that I am mentally fickle). But although the passage from Huxley is quite good, I really mean something rather more subtle than the mere expression of unorthodox opinions.


[101.a] It often happens, of course, that he has got it upside-down and inside-out; but at least he has enthusiasm (at any rate to begin with). [Back to text]

[101.b] And so it is not in the least astonishing that Sister Vajirā's supporters are scandalized when she 'goes off her head' for a fortnight with joy (which is my view of what happened). [Back to text]