[L. 132 | 142] 2 November 1964

I am always glad to find possible points of contact between the Suttas and Western philosophy, since a first reading of the texts—particularly in the light of the traditional interpretation—seems to suggest that there are none. But this is perhaps due in some measure to the particularly futile stuff turned out of recent times in British philosophy—I am thinking of the logical positivists and the linguistic analysts—which really has singularly little connexion with the business of existing as a human being. (The English, I think, in general don't like to inquire too closely into the question of existence—even in present fiction it seems to be taken for granted, the emphasis being always towards 'a quickened sympathy in personal relations'.[a] But perhaps my reading is too limited.) In any case, by way of contrast to the atmosphere of current British philosophy[b] here is the opening passage of Jean Grenier's book Absolu et Choix (p. 3):

We do not belong to the world: that is the first thought which sets philosophy in motion. Not belonging to the world and yet in the world, living, happy to live, acting, happy to act. It is not that the world seems bad to us, but that it seems alien. Pessimism is not necessarily the starting point of philosophical reflection, and it is not always when considering evil, old age, and death that we start asking ourselves the questions which are most important for us. It is a more general feeling, a feeling of estrangement. Pursued to its very end, this feeling sometimes becomes not only the source but also the goal of philosophy: to exist.
Grenier goes on to say:
The philosophical state is a state of breaking with the world, in contrast to the state of communion where live the child, and the man who innocently enjoys his senses.
But is the philosopher, then, guilty? You will remember that Joseph K. in Kafka's Trial wakes up one fine morning to find that a serious charge has been brought against him. He is charged with guilt. But what is he said to be guilty of? That we are not told—or rather, since Joseph K. himself makes no effort to find out but devotes his energies to defending himself, we gather that he is guilty of guilt. And what does this mean? Simply that he has come to know that he exists ('innocence' is also spelt 'ignorance'), and that he finds himself faced with the pressing need to justify his existence.

In the end he fails; but he comes to recognize that his existence is unjustifiable and accepts his sentence with equanimity (actually, in recognizing his guilt, he condemns himself to die to immediacy in the world—he is dépaysé, an exile). So then, the philosopher is guilty, guilty of self-knowledge, of ravishing himself (Adam's fall comes with his knowledge of good and evil, when he knows his wife Eve—and you may recall Durrell's Clea wanting to be rid of her 'blasted virginity', to become a mature artist).

But, this being the case, is not the acquisition of 'knowledge' a pure loss, being a fall from innocence into guilt? That will depend. Kierkegaard speaks of the acquired virgin purity of ethical passion, compared with which the purity of childhood is but an amiable joke; and knowledge of his crime of existing can put this within the philosopher's reach (that is, if he will persist—but see the Notes, KAMMA). Kierkegaard is harder on the artist, remarking that it is a commoner practice than is generally supposed to sell one's soul to the devil for the sake of producing masterpieces (Marlowe knew all about that!). But the artist, though guilty of self-knowledge, is still something of a juvenile delinquent.


[132.a] Not necessarily a bad thing—sensibility is not taught in English schools, and we could do with more of it (how often have I not, abroad, felt hot with shame at my own boorishness!). But sensibility is not the answer—witness Chamfort: 'Quand on a été bien tourmenté, bien fatigué par sa propre sensibilité on s'aperçoit qu'il faut vivre au jour le jour, oublier beaucoup, enfin éponger la vie ā mesure qu'elle s'écoule.'[1] [Back to text]

[132.b] And also by way of comment on Toynbee's view that the Buddha's going forth from home into the homelessness was a direct consequence of the widespread social unrest of his time—which Toynbee has deduced from the Buddha's going into homelessness (or literally, exile) and then used to account for it. [Back to text]


Editorial note:

[132.1] Chamfort: 'When one has been sufficiently tormented, sufficiently wearied by one's own sensibility, one finds out that it is necessary to live from day to day, forget a lot, in brief, suck up life as it flows by' (quoted in French on p. 46 of The Unquiet Grave). [Back to text]