[L. 98 | 105] 6 August 1964

Sati, in a loose sense, can certainly be translated as 'memory'; but memory is normally memory of the past, whereas in the eight-factored path sati is more particularly concerned with the present. In so far as one can speak of memory of the present, this translation will do, but memory of the present -- i.e. calling to mind the present -- is less confusingly translated as 'mindfulness'. In MANO [a] you will find two Sutta passages illustrating these two meanings of sati: in the first passage sati is 'memory', and in the second it is 'mindfulness'.

About the 'over-stimulation', I certainly agree that there is nothing abnormal about it in the sense that it is something unnatural -- indeed, as a layman I should have been very glad of this degree of 'virility', but it is hardly likely that I should have been able to decide to become a monk. It is abnormal only in this, that it is something to which I am quite unaccustomed. I have had it (in this strength, I mean) for only two years, and its onset was quite abrupt. It is like having a daily dose of cantharides! You are quite right in saying that it is more obtrusive in one who has been practising sati than in one who lives unmindfully, and that is because the unmindful person does not find it a nuisance and may positively welcome it. But when the task is to get rid of it then it becomes burdensome. It does not disgust me (I have never found sex disgusting), but it is a most unwelcome affliction.

I have been sent Huxley's last novel -- Island. It is a most unsatisfactory book. Since Huxley had visited Ceylon shortly before writing the book, and since the inhabitants of the Island are Buddhists, it has been thought that the Island is Ceylon. But this is clearly a mistake. The Island is undoubtedly Bali (Huxley calls it Pala), both from its geographical and political environment, and the women wear nothing above the waist (which is -- or was -- the case in Ceylon, I believe, only with Rodiyas)[1]. Besides, the people are Mahāyāna Buddhists (Tantric to boot) with a strong admixture of Shiva worship. The book is a kind of Brave New World turned inside out -- it describes a Utopia of which he approves. It is based almost entirely on maithuna and mescalin (one of the characters quotes a Tantric Buddhist saying that Buddhahood is in the yoni -- a very convenient doctrine!), which in combination (so it seems) are capable of producing the Earthly Paradise. The awkward fact of rebirth is eliminated with the statement that the Buddha discouraged speculation on such questions (whereas, in fact, the Buddha said quite bluntly throughout the Suttas that there is rebirth: the speculation that the Buddha discouraged was whether the Tathāgata [or arahat] exists after death, which is quite another question).[a] And precisely, the worst feature of the book is the persistent misinterpretation (or even perversion) of the Buddha's Teaching.

It is probable that Huxley picked up a certain amount of information on the Dhamma while he was in Ceylon but, being antipathetic to Theravāda (this is evident in his earlier books), he has not scrupled to interpret his information to suit his own ideas. We find, for example, that according to Freudian doctrine Mucalinda Nāgarāja (Udāna 11: 10) is a phallic symbol, being a serpent. So 'meditating under the Mucalinda tree' means sexual intercourse. And this in complete defiance of the verses at the end of the Sutta:

Sukhā virāgatā loke
kāmānam samatikkamo
Asmimānassa yo vinayo
etam va paramam sukham.

Dispassion for worldly pleasure,
getting beyond sensuality,
putting away the conceit 'I am',
-- this indeed is the highest pleasure.[2]

In short, the book is a complete misrepresentation of the Buddha's Teaching in a popular form that is likely to be widely read. Huxley, of course, is sincere in his views and no doubt means well; but that does not make the book any the less unfortunate.


[98.a] To ask these questions is to assume that before death at least the arahat does exist. But even in this very life there is, strictly, no arahat to be found. [Back to text]

Editorial notes:

[98.1] Rodiyas: Caste is not as important among Sinhalese as it is among Indians, but it exists. The Rodiyas are outcaste. [Back to text]

[98.2] Udāna 11: This verse might better be rendered:

Pleasurable is dispassion in the world,
The getting beyond sensuality.
But the putting away of the conceit 'I am'
-- this is the highest pleasure.
[Back to text]