[L. 127 | 137] 16 July 1964

It was a disappointment to me, too, not to see you last Sunday, not merely because I should have been interested to meet some intelligent twenty-year-old Britons (how many light-years away from them am I?), but rather because I find you a very pleasant person to talk to, and though I feel no need of a confidant (I have kept my own counsel all my life, and indeed now find that I have no alternative) it is an unaccustomed luxury for me to be able to talk about myself (sometimes perhaps indirectly) with little feeling of constraint.

In my letter to you about Zaehner and, more particularly, in letting you see Sister Vajirā's correspondence, I hoped to be able to convey to you that the Buddha's Teaching is very far from being understood in the West. Zaehner's misapprehension about the nature of our concentration (samādhi) is quite understandable, and one need only do some personal practice (mindfulness of one's breathing, for example) to see his mistake. But the Sister Vajirā correspondence is another matter: though I do not know your latest reactions on rereading the letters, it seemed to me that your first reaction was one of bewilderment. And this is quite in order—it is a matter for bewilderment, and if you had produced some facile interpretation I should have felt that it was a mistake to show you the letters. Their significance for you personally is, I think, that loss of faith in the Christian Myth[a] is no reason for despair. (I could, of course, say this more emphatically, but you might not then accept it.)

About the books that I have borrowed from you I am still bothered by a daily temperature of 99° or so, and in spite of (I think) William James' remark that spiritual truths, for aught we know, might flourish much better at, say, a temperature of 103° than at normal blood heat, I find that even one degree's rise in temperature makes the reading of plain philosophy an almost impossible undertaking. So I have not made much headway in this department, though I can perhaps expect my temperature to settle by and by.

As for the novels and drama, there is really a great deal to say, and at another time, I might take pleasure in saying it. But for the present I shall only remark that Huxley's 'Buddhism' in Island is in almost complete contradiction, point for point, with what the Buddha actually taught. In particular, there is absolutely no justification at all to be found in the Suttas for the idea that the way to salvation is through sex (however mystically conceived). The Buddha is quite explicit on this point—without giving up attachment (let alone sex) there is no putting an end to suffering. The view that 'there is no harm in sensuality' (M. 45: i,305) fills the charnel grounds (i.e. it leads to repeated birth and death). Durrell's attitude is better: for the artist, love is justified as providing the raw material of suffering out of which the artist produces his masterpiece. But the question still remains 'What is there to justify the artist?'

Certainly, one might reply that the artist is justified by the existence of suffering, of the limitations of the human condition; but the Buddha removes suffering, and the artist's position is undermined. Laclos[1] is really the only consistent one, since he offers no justification at all.

P.S. Huxley speaks of the pain of bereavement as right and proper, for if we did not feel it we should be less than human beings. How, then, can he approve the Buddha's Teaching, which leads to the end of suffering—to the end, that is, of 'sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair'? Just as the arahat has no need of art, so he is incapable of grief; it is all one and the same thing. But Huxley wants the Buddha without the arahat—impossible!


[127.a] How far you have lost it, I am not sure; it remains implicit, anyway, in the Western cultural tradition—even Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger accepts the church bells as valid for the 'next world'. [Back to text]

Editorial note:

[127.1] Laclos: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Choderlos de Laclos. [Back to text]