[L. 100 | 107] 24 August 1964

It is interesting to read your reactions to the letters I sent you. Sister Vajirā is an extremely passionate and self-willed person, with strong emotions, and, apparently, something of a visionary. In other words, she is totally different, temperamentally, from either of us (though in different ways). Besides, she is a woman. You will see, in her letters, how she alternates between moods—one could almost say attacks—of emotional periods and of admirable clear-headedness. During the former her letters tend to become incoherent, and she assumes that her reader is in a similar state and can fill in all the gaps. But, quite clearly, she is perfectly at home in her emotions, in a way that you and I find difficult to understand: emotion, for her, is quite normal, as it is for nearly all women. And it must not be forgotten that she was living more or less alone with her thoughts, and solitude always has the effect of magnifying and intensifying one's inner life. I do not at all think that Sister Vajirā's emotional manifestations are (or were—since they are now past history) anything to be alarmed at, and far less a sign of mental disorder. Certainly, she does not find them alarming, and even gives due notice to other people in case they do.

One thing must be kept in mind when reading her letters: for about a dozen years she had had the idea that the Buddha taught that nothing really exists, and she had been developing this mistaken notion in solitude. But, being a mistake, it leads nowhere except to a state of exasperation and nervous tension. Furthermore, she was convinced that she had already reached the first magga (though not the phala); and this was the cause of her impatience, bad temper, and extreme conceit. I was quite aware of her discourteous attitude and even bad manners, but I said nothing at that time since I did not want to prejudice the outcome of our correspondence by pulling her up over a matter of secondary importance. We Europeans are much more accustomed to casual manners, and (perhaps wrongly) stand less on our dignity in this matter than Easterners. (The act of vandanā, for me, still keeps a faint air of artificiality—we are not brought up with it.)

About the burning of my letters, I rather think that you must have mis-read what she says. You quote a passage[1] that you (quite rightly) describe as a 'song of victory',[a] but then go on to say that this idea was completely changed for you by the incident of the burning of the letters. From this I gather that you take the burning of the letters to have taken place after her would-be 'victory'. But I think this is a mistake. She herself says that it was after she had burnt my letters that she 'got the result'. The letter in question gives the result first (it was, after all, the important thing) and then goes on to apologize for having burnt the letters in a fit of passion.[2]

Nothing is done in this world, either good or bad, without passion. 'Mental stability' too often means lack of passion. But passion must be disciplined and used intelligently and some people need a teacher to do this for them. 'By means of craving, craving must be abandoned' say the Suttas (A. IV,159: ii,445-46). That, in any case, was how I read it. She had (so I gathered) been wrestling with the meaning of my letters and getting nowhere, until finally, in a fit of exasperation, she had decided that they were all wrong and had consigned them (and me too, by implication) to the flames. It was only then that she grasped the meaning of what I had written—hence her later remorse. From her point of view it was indeed a 'dangerous act'[3] since she had not yet understood them when she destroyed them. But (I am inclined to think) some such act of despair was perhaps necessary to release an accumulation of tension before the meaning of the letters could occur to her. Attainment does not come at the moment when we are making a conscious effort to attain, because at that time we have uddhacca-kukkucca, 'distraction and worry', but rather at the unexpected moment when we relax after an apparently fruitless effort.

For my part I am satisfied (judging solely from the letters) that, however strange her behaviour may have seemed to her well-wishers in Colombo, there was nothing in it to contradict my opinion. What you speak of as the 'breaking point' was (as I see it) no more than the entry into a particularly strong (and pleasurable) emotional state consequent upon the realization (which, at the beginning especially, can be breath-taking) that 'nothing matters any more'. I don't suppose she was within a hundred miles of telling the people who were caring for her what the reason was for her condition. Certainly, her last letter,[4] for all its emotional colouring, gives no suggestion that she is in any way unhappy or distressed, or even that she has any doubts about her new state. And you will observe that I am quietly but firmly dismissed at the end of the letter. Whatever else happened, one thing is certain -- she no longer finds herself in any way dependent upon me. A psycho-analyst, at least, would be gratified with that result!

About paticcasamuppāda. I do not see that it is possible for anyone to reconcile my view of paticcasamuppāda with the three-life view. If anyone says that they are both correct, then I would suggest that he has failed to understand what I have written—though, as I freely admit, that may be because I have failed to make myself clear.

P.S. The word 'sister' (bhaginī) seems to be used in the Suttas as a quite general term or form of address for women, particularly by bhikkhus. In my letters to her I addressed Sister Vajirā as 'Dear Upāsikā'. I do not see that there is any objection to the word 'sister' as used for dasa-sil upāsikā. Laymen used to address bhikkhunīs as ayye, which means 'lady', but an upāsikā is not a bhikkhunī. In the Suttas, bhikkhus used to address bhikkhunīs as bhaginī.


[100.a] I am unable to see that it could have been written by a puthujjana, even if he were trying to deceive. It would never occur to him to add the part about 'losing a dimension of thought'. One must actually have had the experience to know how exactly this describes it. [Back to text]

Editorial notes:

[100.1] a passage: The letter being discussed: SV. 14, 15, 17.