[L. 116 | 123] 29 May 1965

I am glad to hear that you have recovered your health and are no longer standing uncomfortably undecided with one foot in the bath and one on the bath mat. To have one ailment is bad enough; to have two is worse; but when they require contrary treatment it can be infuriating. For the past month I have been busy with Heidegger, and it will still take me two or three weeks to reach the end. But he is really first class: once I can discover through his rather difficult language (which translation does not make any easier) what he is actually saying then I find him beautifully perspicacious. Sartre has criticized him in many places (though he is very greatly indebted to him), but I now find that nearly always Heidegger is in the right (naturally, within the limits of the puthujjana's field).

In a general way, if I had to name any single Western philosopher who could profitably be read as affording a way of approach to the Buddha's Teaching, I would choose Heidegger (but not in his later writings—only Being and Time). I do not mean that the Buddha's Teaching is a continuation or development of Heidegger's; by no means; but rather that Heidegger clears the ground for all those misconceptions that can be cleared away—indeed must be cleared away, if they are present—before a start can be made on the Suttas.

Of course, I now find it not so excessively difficult going because I have already spent much time over Sartre and have read two separate summaries of the book, and probably I tend to under-estimate the difficulties that it presents to a reader approaching it with no knowledge at all of what it is about. And also, it may well be that I tend to over-emphasize the importance of a philosophical approach to the Suttas; but I do think that, if one is not able to get a living teacher who can give the necessary guidance and orientation, a consideration of some of these existentialist thinkers can be helpful. Even Bradley (you may remember how much I was enjoying his Principles of Logic a year ago) can give certain indications, at least of a negative kind. But there must always come a time when one asks oneself, 'These philosophers are all very well, but they don't get me out. What is it, precisely, that the Buddha sees and that these thinkers fail to see? Where is it that they go wrong?'

The situation about the printing of the enlarged edition of the Notes is simply that we are more or less back where we started—that is to say, that both typescript copies are now here with me and that there is no proposal on foot to have it printed.

Yes, the Ven. Thera is quite right, and so are you. It is a personal book. But then, what other kind of book is worth writing? Palinurus, as you may remember, says—perhaps pushing matters to extremes—'None but the truths which have been extracted under mental torture appeal to us'; and any good novel is drawn from the author's own experience. (This, however, is not always to the author's advantage, since a good many writers seek for experiences in order to write about them. If you want to write a good book about life in a brothel or about addiction to opium, the best way to set about it is to go and live in a brothel or become an opium-addict. As Kierkegaard says somewhere,[1] there are many artists who sell their souls to the devil in order to produce a first-rate work of art.)

At the other extreme, it is possible to regard the Suttas as the product of the Buddha's 'personal' experience. The Buddha is dhammabhūta, 'become Dhamma', and the Suttas are an account of Dhamma. In the Suttas, however (unlike in a novel, where the emphasis is in the other direction, upon the particular), the Buddha expresses, for the most part, what is universal in his experience—i.e. what can be experienced by anyone who makes the appropriate effort in the appropriate conditions. So it is that the Buddha says 'He who sees the Dhamma sees me' (and this, I take it, is what Sister Vajirā meant when she wrote, 'I saw the Buddha as paticcasamuppāda').

A few days ago Ananda Pereira wrote to me and asked if I could throw any light on the relation (if any) between humour and Buddhism. 'Obviously there is dukkha' he says 'and its cause is tanhā. The picture is ever so given and one feels one should be deadly serious. But, one cannot be.... Why, besides being meaningless and often tragic, is life also funny? I do not think it is ignorance—or only ignorance—of life's true nature that makes one laugh. On the contrary, I have found that consistently solemn people are invariably stupid and lacking in sympathy. They see less, not more than the laughers.' In reply to this I sent back (not entirely without malice aforethought) between five and six thousand words, heavily weighted with quotations from Kierkegaard and Heidegger.

Editorial note:

[116.1] CUP, p. 349:

Aesthetically it would be in order for a man to sell his soul to the devil, to use a strong expression which recalls what is perhaps still done more often than is ordinarily supposed—but also to produce miracles of art. Ethically it would perhaps be the highest pathos to renounce the glittering artistic career without saying a single word.