Post-sotapatti [CtP]

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Ekam samayam Ñanaviro...

[L. 1 | 1] 27 June 1959
Nanavira announces his attainment of sotapatti (the first stage of enlightenment) on 27/06/1959. “Whatever has the nature of arising, all that has the nature of ceasing”.

 

to Mr. N. Q. Dias

[L. 2 | 2] 27 March 1962
Describes what is the meaning of ‘awareness’, how this is to be practised, and what are the advantages of awareness. Emphasises that awareness of what one is doing while one is doing it, is essential to an understanding of the Buddha’s Teaching.

 

to Mrs. Irene Quittner

[L. 3 | 9] 11 January 1964
Explains why, in order to encourage a correct approach to the Buddha’s Teaching, it is necessary for Notes on Dhamma to reject the Commentarial tradition.

[L. 4 | 10] 12 April 1964
Argues that there is only one Dependent Arising formulation. Discusses commonalities between the Buddha’s Teaching and Western philosophies, but that the former goes a lot further than the latter.

[L. 5 | 11] 14 July 1964
Confirms that the laws of logic apply in the Dhamma the same as elsewhere. This is contrary to the views of mystics and is critical to an understanding that ‘impermanence’ refers to the concept of ‘self’ and not ‘universal flux’.

 

to Mr. Wijerama

[L. 6 | 12] 4 March 1964
Discussion on the notion of ‘flux’ and continuous change. Points out philosophical and experiential difficulties of these concepts and argues that change, at one level or another, is always absolute. Contrary to the Mahayanist view, this is especially significant to the notion of ‘self’ and is the key to the Buddha’s teaching on suffering.

[L. 7 | 13] 20 March 1964
Discussion of points in FH Bradley’s Principles of Logic.

[L. 8 | 14] 2 May 1964
Further discussion about the structure of change, with various examples given. Argues that the scientific notion of ‘flux’ is not relevant (and is in fact antithetical) to an understanding of the Buddha’s teaching about change.

 

to Dr. M. R. de Silva

[L. 9 | 15] 5 September 1961
Comments about how the notion of ‘rebirth’ should be approached. Argues that the Western scientific approach cannot help in this regard at all – one needs to take an existential/phenomenological approach involving direct reflexion.

[L. 10 | 16] 10 December 1961
Writes of the need to be aware of an order of things beyond the scientific world-view if one is to understand the Dhamma.

[L. 11 | 17] 13 January 1961
Comments on attempts to explain ESP phenomena.

[L. 12 | 18] 26 March 1962
Contrasts the approach of Western science to the question of ‘consciousness’ with that of the Buddha. Science is unable to explain phenomena such as sensation and feelings.

[L. 13 | 19] 25 May 1962
Looks at drug addiction and how a person can break out of the cycle of addictive behaviour. This is very hard and requires intelligence and insight – exactly what the Buddha teaches in order to give up our various addictions, especially to ‘self’.

[L. 14 | 20] 6 June 1962
Talks of his amoebiasis and of how stomach troubles prevent the practice of meditation. Discusses two alternative ways to live one’s life unselfishly – but only the Buddha shows how to resolve this problem for ever.

[L. 15 | 21] 19 June 1962
Comments on articles in a newspaper cutting: first, regarding problems with theories of cybernetics; and second, problems with viewing good bodily health as something to be celebrated (without proper insight).

[L. 16 | 22 - postcard] 20 June 1962
Clarification of Sutta passage emphasising the danger of celebrating good bodily health.

[L. 17 | 23] 6 July 1962
Short letter describing nervous system problem that is a distraction to his practice, and seeking medical relief.

[L. 18 | 25] 12 July 1962
Letter discussing possible links between leading an unhealthy lifestyle and resultant sickness.

[L. 19 | 26] 11 December 1962
Letter describing the author’s ‘satyriasis’ and the options that lay open to him.

[L. 20 | 27] 21 December 1962
Author discusses the possibility of suicide. He reviews the various methods and affirms that starvation would be the best. While suicide is a “matter of indifference to him”, he acknowledges that it shocks and upsets other people.

[L. 21 | 28] 4 January 1963
Further discussion of suicide. Reviews Buddhist thinking on this, but confirms that it is the best (and only) option for him in his present situation.

[L. 22 | 29] 15 January 1963
The discussion of suicide leads Nanavira to look at how other people view oneself. This, he says, is always difficult to do. The letter goes on to discuss how people fail to understand the reflexive man, who lacks the ‘positive’ qualities that society admires. For such a person, life is an eternal repetition of unanswerable questions – this is the beginning of philosophy and of the Buddha’s Teaching.

[L. 23 | 30] 22 January 1963
Discusses the difficulties caused by his amoebiasis.

[L. 24 | 31] 28 January 1963
A slight improvement in the author’s health and well-being.

[L. 25 | 32] 9 February 1963
A return to a situation of ill-health.

[L. 26 | 33] 1 March 1963
Continuing comments about the state of the author’s health.

[L. 27 | 34] 7 March 1963
Discusses the relative importance of both the ‘tragic’ and the ‘comic’ in a person’s experience. The Buddha teaches release from this by showing that our notion of ‘self’ is dependent upon the impossible control over (impermanent) objects – and thus removes both tragedy and comedy.

[L. 28 | 35] 16 April 1963
Short note regarding the writings that the author is compiling.

[L. 29 | 36] 22 April 1963
Further discussion about the possibility of suicide.

[L. 30 | 37] 25 April 1963
Writes that, if one is going to commit suicide, it should be done when one is in the “best possible frame of mind – calm, unmoved, serene”.

[L. 31 | 38] 9 June 1963
Discusses his likely impending death and the publication of his writings.

[L. 32 | 39] 23 November 1963
Discusses his impending book, Notes on Dhamma, and of how other people will perceive this.

[L. 33 | 40] 13 February 1964
Reviews philosophical developments in Europe since the realization that ‘God is dead’. This instils a profound anxiety in people as there are no longer any easy answers.

[L. 34 | 41] 19 August 1964
Short letter confirming that people find it hard to make changes in their lives.

 

to Mr. R. G. de S. Wettimuny

[L. 35 | 42] 12 May 1962
Letter to fellow author arguing that he hopes to find the author’s thinking is a “single, articulated, consistent whole” (whether it is right or wrong). A person who simply collects ideas is not thinking at all and cannot be corrected.

[L. 36 | 43] 29 June 1962
Says that he has read the author’s book but that he is “dealing with a false problem; and the solution proposed …. is actually beside the point”. The Buddha’s teaching is not dealing with the “question of a thing’s self-identity” but rather with ‘self’ as subject (‘I’).

[L. 37 | 44] 8 July 1962
Letter clarifying the concepts of ‘grasping’ and ‘intention’. The Arahat’s actions show intentionality, but they do not show (as they do for the lay-person) any holding or grasping to the notion of self or ‘I’. This distinction, according to Nanavira, is essential for an understanding of the Buddha’s Teaching.

[L. 38 | 45] 18 July 1962
Confirms differences in his and the author’s points of view. Shows how a proper understanding can only develop when the person develops proper insight.

 

to the Honourable Lionel Samaratunga

[L. 39 | 46] 3 March 1963
Letter written to the person who has offered to help publish Notes on Dhamma. Nanavira explains how he rejects all Commentarial writings and knows that his views are “contrary to the accepted traditional interpretation of the Dhamma”. Nanavira reviews how he expects his book will be received by various people and says that he will answer the expected criticisms.

[L. 40 | 47] 8 March 1963
Nanavira confirms the type of publication he has in mind for Notes on Dhamma and how it should be presented.

[L. 41 | 48] 9 March 1963
Discusses why he does not feel the need for an index in Notes on Dhamma. Nanavira argues that the book is “intended to be read and digested as a single whole, with each separate note …. presenting a different facet of the same central theme.” An index might encourage the casual reader to select only those parts he was interested in and thus “neglect its essential relationship to every other part of the book”.

[L. 42 | 49] 22 March 1963
Reviews recent journal article on Buddhism by three academics. Using the writings of Kierkegaard, he points out the problems they have by approaching the Buddha’s Teachings from an historical perspective, as this fails to recognise the personal and urgent work that each of us needs to perform. Again using Kierkegaard, Nanavira criticises another writer who treats the 4 Noble Truths not as ‘things’, but as facts that can be discussed but do not have to be acted on. Against these academics, Nanavira applauds Kierkegaard’s “sustained polemic against objective speculative philosophy” which has nothing to do with the Buddha’s Teaching.
Nanavira also notes how post-1960, his writings underwent a change and that his earlier writings should be treated with caution as they may contain errors.

[L. 43 | 50] 1 April 1963
Nanavira writes that the publication of Notes on Dhamma is “not a matter of personal importance” to him. He would prefer to practise, than write about, the Dhamma but his health does not allow this.
Nanavira says he is happy to clarify queries and encourages his correspondent not to worry about appearing foolish.

[L. 44 | 51] 11 April 1963
Discusses how the note Fundamental Structure is like a chess-board. On this board can be played either traditional ‘dispassionate chess’ or ‘passionate chess’, where the pieces are “subject to various passions having the effect of modifying their moves”. The former describes the Arahat, while the latter is the lay-person.
Goes on to describe the necessity of seeing the ‘negative’ in immediate experience. The negative is what distinguishes the experience of man from that of a stone, for while the stone is “already fully and completely a stone”, man (for example a waiter) is determined “not so much by what he actually is doing, but by all the things he is not doing, but that he recognises it is his duty to do”.
Nanavira discusses what constitutes an ‘experience’ in consciousness and how this precedes all its constituent elements.

[L. 45 | 52] 28 April 1963
Reviews Buddhist views of suicide and confirms that, in the absence of anyone else, he has to rely in this matter on his own judgement.

[L. 46 | 53] 2 May 1963
Confirms Kierkegaard’s argument that in the present age, people cling to “collective or universal safeguards by which they are assured of an identity” (such as party memberships etc) for fear that they would otherwise “altogether cease to exist”. This clinging to social roles is an example of what Heidegger calls ‘inauthenticity’ and Sartre ‘bad faith’.

[L. 47 | 54] 4 May 1963
Clarifies that, for a monk, the Buddha says that suicide is preferable to disrobing. Acknowledges that this is hard for lay people to understand or accept.

[L. 48 | 55] 15 May 1963
Discusses some people’s fascination with, and curiosity about, strange and extreme psychological experiences. He says that this is of no great importance – what is important is (as the phenomenologists do) to study what is common to all experience.

[L. 49 | 56] 16 May 1963
Confirms that it is inevitable that he will take his own life at some stage.

[L. 50 | 57] 19 May 1963
Comments on the state of Buddhism in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time. It is trapped in its own traditions and people have no sense of what a ‘true’ Buddhist is, or is capable of. For Nanavira, the practice of Dhamma is all he wants to do. He wishes to communicate the urgency of this to others – which leads to his deliberately provocative style.

[L. 51 | 58] 29 May 1963
Confirms that he views the Abhidhamma Pitaka as a misleading and untrustworthy document, which is better avoided.

[L. 52 | 59] 11 June 1963
Explains why he spends more time discussing ‘reflexion’ than is found in the Suttas. Nanavira says that this is because today people expect to have things explained to them first, before trying it. This was not the case in the Buddha’s time.

[L. 53 | 60] 22 June 1963
Discussion of whether ‘impermanence’ in the Dhamma refers to things regarded objectively or subjectively. Nanavira emphasises that, while science describes the former, only Buddhism deals with the latter – hence the focus on ‘suffering’.

[L. 54 | 61] 27 June 1963
Describes the unlikelihood of a publisher for Notes on Dhamma being found. Suggests that it be cyclostyled (mimeographed) instead, and offers assistance with this.

[L. 55 | 62] 3 July 1963
In a short discussion of the writings of Aldous Huxley, Nanavira asserts that “Mahayana is not the Buddha’s teaching”.

[L. 56 | 63] 6 July 1963
Discussion of Huxley’s book Doors of Perception where he argues that hallucinogenic drugs offer a short-cut to mystical experiences. Nanavira points out the many faults in this argument and says that it has nothing to do with the Buddha’s Teaching. Rather than seeking ‘Ultimate Realities’ (as per Mahayana), the Arahat sees the same things as the lay-person but without the significance due to lust, hate and delusion.

[L. 57 | 64] 10 July 1963
Discusses who the readers of Notes on Dhamma might be and where copies of the book should be sent.

[L. 58 | 65] 13 July 1963
Discusses whether he should personally sign each copy of Notes on Dhamma.

[L. 59 | 66] 23 July 1963
Discusses to what degree a person needs an intellectual grasp of the Note on Dependent Arising in order to attain the path. Nanavira says that the important issue is that the person “should understand that he does not understand” and that this is what he wants the book to help achieve.
Discusses books by the author Franz Kafka, who Nanavira says is an ethical writer. His books (like life) have no formal order or grand conclusion.

[L. 60 | 67] 2 August 1963
Discusses the difference in outlook between Europeans and Asians. Claims that “In Europe, intellectualism takes precedence over tradition” and that the European “tends to reject what he cannot understand, even if it is true”. On the contrary, the Asian favours tradition over intellectualism which “leads him to accept anything ancient, even if it is false”. Nanavira claims that Ceylon needs an increase of intellectualism and that Notes on Dhamma attempts to provide this in terms of an understanding of the Suttas.

[L. 61 | 68] 20 August 1963
Claims that Europeans may affirm or deny God but that they cannot ignore God. “The (Buddhist) idea of a moral but Godless universe is quite foreign to European thought”.

[L. 62 | 69] 25 August 1963
Discussion of some of the writings of Kafka and Albert Camus – both of whom epitomise the Absurd which is “the essential ambiguity of man’s situation in the world”.

[L. 63 | 70] 2 September 1963
Short note on final preparations for Notes.

[L. 64 | 71] 7 September 1963
Discusses the feelings of fear and helplessness that people feel at certain times. The best way to deal with this is by practising mindfulness. It is important to practise mindfulness while you can, in preparation for when you need it at the time when one (thinks one) is going to die – ie. “rehearsing one’s death before one is faced with it”.

[L. 65 | 72] 12 September 1963
Short note on publishing Notes.

[L. 66 | 73] 21 September 1963
Short note on dealing with the expected hostility and criticism that Notes is likely to attract.

[L. 67 | 74] 28 September 1963
Discussion of the writings of Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley and Edward Gibbon.
Also discussion about various Victorian psychic researchers.

[L. 68 | 75] 3 November 1963
Discussion of Kafka’s book The Trial – Nanavira feels that the central character is guilty of the crime of ‘existing’, for which the inevitable (and only) sentence is death.

[L. 69 | 76] 6 November 1963
Further discussion of The Trial – Nanavira says the main character uses women to try to justify his existence.

[L. 70 | 77] 14 November 1963
Discussion of how to deal with responses to Notes on Dhamma.

[L. 71 | 78] 18 November 1963
Discusses the writer Cyril Connolly as another example of a European who sees no alternative but to despair at the contemporary existential situation – this is the beginning point of the Buddha’s Teaching.

[L. 72 | 79] 24 November 1963
Discussion of how to prepare for feedback following publication of Notes.

[L. 73 | 80] 30 November 1963
Reviews a book by Bertrand Russell, whose philosophy Nanavira disapproves of. Nanavira discusses his earlier interest in quantum mechanics, which led to the development of Fundamental Structure. This, he says, shows the structure of reflexion and re-inserts the subject, which (objective) science has removed.

[L. 74 | 81] 8 December 1963
Says that he is re-reading Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and noting where they agree and disagree. “The basic point of disagreement is that Sartre takes the existence of the subject (‘self’) for granted, and identifies it with consciousness”.

[L. 75 | 82] 15 December 1963
Reviews the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Stresses the importance of keeping to the ‘3 Laws of Thought’ of logic, and shows how both the ‘rationalist’ and the ‘mystic’ strike difficulties with reference to the existence of the thinker himself. Only the Buddha’s Teaching resolves this dilemma.
Ends by saying that the Notes indicate the “proper interpretation of the Suttas. As soon as they have performed that service for any given individual, and not before, they are, for him, complete”.

[L. 76 | 83] 17 December 1963
Nanavira responds to various criticisms of material in the Notes, particularly to do with his interpretation of ‘intentions’ and ‘determinations’. He feels that much of this, especially when from monks, is coming with little insight and simply because he is breaking with tradition.

[L. 77 | 84] 18 December 1963
Short note from Nanavira, wondering if some of the criticism of the Notes is serious, or not.

[L. 78 | 85] 24 December 1963
Nanavira writes to his publisher who is concerned at all the criticism of the Notes – “If you are going to champion the Notes you must be prepared to feel a little lonely upon occasion”.

[L. 79 | 86] 29 December 1963
Letter where Nanavira reviews Commentarial writings and traditions, points out their difficulties and claims people hold to them for their own vested interest. These writings are not the teaching of the Buddha and do not lead to enlightenment.

[L. 80 | 87] 31 December 1963
Nanavira stresses that, contrary to general practice, he is not interested in having a dialogue with the reader and letting him or her make up their own mind. “No, the Notes are designed to be an invitation, a provocation, a challenge, to the reader to come and share the author’s point of view …..At all costs the reader must be prevented from fraternizing with the author”.

[L. 81 | 88] 1 January 1964
Nanavira discusses an article by Huxley who says that today most of us get most of our ideas about life from ‘abstract’ sources such as TV, books, movies etc. Nanavira agrees with Huxley that, to counter this, we should encourage ‘concrete’ thinking, which is reflexion and mindfulness. The advantage of this is that “if one is thinking (or being mindful) of something while it is actually present, no mistake is possible, and one is directly in touch with reality”.

[L. 82 | 89] 3 January 1964
Nanavira queries Abhidhamma Pitaka traditions.

[L. 83 | 90] 4 January 1964
Further commentary on Abhidhamma Pitaka traditions.

[L. 84 | 91] 12 January 1964
Nanavira explains why he is not prepared to give reasons in Notes why he rejects the AP tradition – this is not the purpose for which the Notes were written. To the contrary, the Notes were written in the “hope that a few individuals ….will have a private transformation of their way of thinking as a result of reading them”.

[L. 85 | 92] 24 January 1964
Commenting on the response of a professional philosopher, Nanavira writes that this man fails to understand that Notes is written for those who are concerned for their own welfare – this man would find such a notion incomprehensible.

[L. 86 | 93] 25 January 1964
Nanavira explains the infinite hierarchy of consciousness, one on top of the other. The hierarchy of consciousness is demonstrated by movement (for example, the falling of a leaf) “Because a movement takes place in time (past, present and future), and yet we are conscious of the movement of the falling leaf as a present movement”.
Consciousness is consciousness of name-and-matter (nama-rupa), “Consciousness is the presence of the phenomenon, of what is manifested in experience”.

[L. 87 | 94] 21 February 1964
Short note including a comment on a previous book written many years ago by Nanavira.

[L. 88 | 95] 9 March 1964
Nanavira announces that he has prepared a Pali-English glossary and English translation of the Pali passages given in Notes on Dhamma. This is to make the book more accessible to people, especially those who are new to the Dhamma.

[L. 89 | 96] 15 March 1964
Nanavira comments on a variety of philosophies and philosophical points – he argues that a “study of wrong views (can) be an advantage rather than a disadvantage” especially when “studied against a background of right view”.

[L. 90 | 97] 25 March 1964
Comments on Bradley’s Principles of Logic, which he is reading. Nanavira finds many commonalities in their writings, to the point where he realises he could be accused of copying (the earlier) Bradley (which he denies).
Nanavira says that he is “given a sobering reminder that nobody has ever thought anything that somebody else has not already thought before him – and this is true even of the Buddhas, who re-discover what has already been discovered …..by their predecessors”.

[L. 91 | 98] 4 April 1964
Reflects on how followers of the Buddha can divide into those who put greater emphasis on either understanding (panna), faith (saddha) or concentration (samadhi). Developing powers of concentration (through meditation for example) is common in the East, but almost unknown in the West (where it is associated with mysticism and God).

[L. 92 | 99] 24 April 1964
Further discussion about people who have greater strengths in either understanding, faith or concentration and of how these can be developed to achieve enlightenment.

[L. 93 | 100] 30 April 1964
Short note discussing reactions in Colombo to a letter written by Nanavira.

[L. 94 | 101] 1 May 1964
Discussion by Nanavira of his disclosure of contemplating suicide and the reaction of other people. Nanavira gives reasons for his decision and explains why (ultimately) other people’s views are irrelevant or fail to understand his predicament.

[L. 95 | 102] 6 May 1964
Nanavira describes an embarrassing episode when he was an eighteen year-old giving English lessons to a young Italian lady.

[L. 96 | 103] 19 May 1964
Comments about literature, philosophy and responses to Notes. As regards some of the novels and poetry, Nanavira writes that “I prefer ideas to images”.
Nanavira also says “There is no-one I abhor more than the man who says ‘all religions are the same’”.

[L. 97 | 104] 24 July 1964
Nanavira writes after a stay in Colombo and about the release of a letter announcing his attainment of sotapatti. Although this information was private, it was somehow divulged and he wonders how it will be viewed and what effect it will have.

[L. 98 | 105] 6 August 1964
Discusses Huxley’s book Island which claims to contain Buddhist elements and describes an “Earthly Paradise’. Nanavira says this is all completely mistaken and has nothing to do with the Buddha’s Teaching.

[L. 99 | 106] 15 August 1964
Nanavira has sent some letters between himself and Sr Vajira to his correspondent. He provides the history and background to these letters and of the effect they had on Sr Vajira, who went through a huge emotional change. This caused some concerns and she was removed and sent back to her country of origin.
Nanavira believes the change in Sr Vajira is authentic and permanent. He went through something similar himself and stopped his long and ongoing correspondence with the Ven Nanamoli as “There was no longer anything for me to discuss with him, since the former relationship of parity between us regarding the Dhamma had suddenly come to an end”.

[L. 100 | 107] 24 August 1964
Nanavira gives more of his opinion about the changes that Sr Vajira underwent. He stresses that she is a very emotional person and that she had previously followed a (false) philosophy “that the Buddha taught that nothing really exists”. Sr Vajira achieved enormous relief upon burning Nanavira’s letters – Nanavira writes that “attainment does not come at the moment when we are making a conscious effort to attain ….but rather at the unexpected moment when we relax after an apparently fruitless effort”. Nanavira is confident that Sr Vajira’s attainment is genuine.

[L. 101 | 108] 30 August 1964
Nanavira describes a passage in a book by Huxley that discusses the radical ‘unstable-minded’ person who disrupts the normal social conventions. He sees himself as one of these people, but notes the irony that in Buddhist Ceylon, he is seen as a most respectable person.

[L. 102 | 109] 31 August 1964
Nanavira discusses a Sutta passage that, amongst other things, discusses the monk craving to become an Arahat. Anyone thinking about himself along these lines fails to understand what it means to be an Arahat “since being an Arahat means not thinking in terms of ‘I’”. Nanavira believes Sr Vajira went through a similar experience – once she realised properly what the Arahat is, she succeeded in her attainment.

[L. 103 | 110] 29 September 1964
Comments from Nanavira about the usefulness of ‘unstable-mindedness’ and the need to use appropriate discretion.

[L. 104 | 111] 3 November 1964
Comments about the absurdity of monks receiving official recognition from governments – triggered by Sartre’s refusal of the Nobel Prize.

[L. 105 | 112] 23 November 1964
Discusses criticism of his view of Dependent Arising (by someone favouring the ‘Three Life Interpretation’).
Discusses a press-cutting in which Sartre says that feeding the poor should have priority over writing books. Nanavira queries this saying, amongst other things, that “it assumes ….that this life is the only one, that we did not exist before we were born, and shall not exist after we die”.
Nanavira also points out that the Buddha’s Teaching is only for a select few at any one time – “those who are fortunate enough to have the intelligence to grasp it” – and notes the trend (on the part of Sartre and others) to assume that the majority must always be right – “that truth is to be decided by appeal to the ballot-box”.

[L. 106 | 114] 30 November 1964
Nanavira comments on a letter he is writing to a critic of Notes. This person has “a good knowledge of the Suttas …..and a very poor understanding of the Dhamma”.

[L. 107 | 113] 29 November 1964
Response from Nanavira to his critic. Nanavira argues that everyone comes to the Canon with a different personal background, which causes each of us to interpret things differently. “Without such a background nothing would ever appear to us with any meaning at all – a spoken or written word would remain a pure presentation, a bare sound or mark without significance”. Ultimately “unless we first introduced our own ideas we should never find that the Canon had any meaning to be deduced”.

[L. 108 | 115] 14 December 1964
Comments on letters he has written to another correspondent who inclines towards mysticism and “rather likes the idea of God”.

[L. 109 | 116] 30 December 1964
Nanavira comments on dying and how to handle sexual temptation. He then discusses a book by Albert Camus, who raises the question of how and why a modern person (without God) should be ethical. Nanavira claims that “so long as we believe in God it is not possible to become a saint” as “if I believe in God, I shall not myself feel responsible for my actions, and so I shall have no motive for behaving well rather than badly”.

[L. 110 | 117] 10 January 1965
Nanavira is visited by some English travellers – this led to a number of articles and publications featuring the story of the ‘English monk living in the jungle in Ceylon’.
Nanavira also comments on the Sinhalese lunar month.

[L. 111 | 118] 21 January 1965
Nanavira comments on the meaning of various Pali terms.

[L. 112 | 119] 12 February 1965
Comments on James Joyce’s Ulysses.

[L. 113 | 120] 28 February 1965
Further discussion about Joyce’s Ulysses.

[L. 114 | 121] 7 April 1965
More comments about Ulysses – Nanavira says that when he read it as a young man, it confirmed his feelings that “there is no point in life” and that “all our actions ….are determined by present pleasure and present pain”. This prepared him well for the Buddha’s Teaching, when he later came across this.
Nanvira also discusses his recent experience of viewing a human corpse (a man crushed by an elephant).

[L. 115 | 122] 1 May 1965
Comments on bodily pains and problems, in response to his correspondent’s ill-health.

[L. 116 | 123] 29 May 1965
Nanavira is reading Heidegger’s Being and Time, which he recommends as the best book of Western philosophy to help approach the Buddha’s teaching.

 

to Mr. Garriet Bandy

[L. 107a | 124] 8 December 1964
Letter clarifying a point made in previous correspondence – for the Arahat, consciousness is no longer determined by the notion of ‘mine’.

 

to Ven. Kheminda Thera

[L. 93a | 125] [undated]
Letter clarifying and describing the author’s predicament of ill-health and inability to properly practise meditation. Under the circumstances, rather than disrobe, he feels that it would be best if he ended his life.

[L. 93b | 126] [undated]
Nanavira realizes that ordinary people cannot understand his reasons for preferring death to disrobing.

 

to Mr. Ananda Pereira

[L. 117 | 127] 29 April 1964
Letter discussing concerns and suggestions from a correspondent worried about Nanavira’s description of his difficulties and decision to eventually take his own life.

[L. 118 | 128] 4 May 1964
Further discussion of the issues facing Nanavira and his comments on other people’s suggestions.

[L. 119 | 129] 18 May 1965
Long letter on humour. Nanavira suggests that humour is a way of dealing with fear and danger, and also anxiety. This links in with Heidegger’s notion of ‘inauthenticity’, whereby man seeks escape from his personal ‘angst’ by losing himself in the anonymous crowd and having his views and values ready-made.
It is only the authentic man who will show interest in the Buddha’s Teaching, which can help him unravel the problems and remove the fear and anxiety. The need for forced humour then also subsides.

[L. 120 | 130] 24 May 1965
Further comments about humour and the contradictory nature of tragedy and comedy – how when a man “finds the tragic aspect threatening he will laugh ….. and if he finds the comic aspect threatening he will weep”.

[L. 121 | 131] 2 June 1965
More discussion of laughter, including how and why children laugh.
Nanavira reflects on the relevance and usefulness of a familiarity with existentialist writings in helping to understand the Buddha’s teaching. He compares passages from both sets of texts, but points out that only the Buddha tells us how to reach extinction. This is when “in the seen there shall be just the seen, and so with the heard, the senses, and the cognized. And when in the seen is there just the seen? When the seen is no longer seen as ‘mine’ ….. or as ‘I’ ….. or as myself ….: in brief, when there is no longer, in connexion with the senses, the conceit ‘I am’, by which ‘I am a conceiver of the world’”.

 

to Mr. Robert Brady

[L. 122 | 132] 18 March 1964
Requests information about philosophical journals.

[L. 123 | 133] 23 April 1964
Nanavira welcomes books to read in his present situation.

[L. 124 | 134] 6 May 1964
Welcomes a visit by his correspondent.

[L. 125 | 135] 10 May 1964
Acknowledges receipt of journals.

[L. 126 | 136] 26 May 1964
Nanavira reviews a book on comparative religion by RC Zaehner. Nanavira disagrees completely with what this book has to say about Theravada Buddhism. The achievement of meditation practice is not ‘mystical experiences’ but rather an increasing calmness and focus. Ultimately this leads to a clear understanding and comprehension about the nature of the ambiguities of ‘self’ and ‘I’, which eventually enables this ambiguity to subside once for all.

[L. 127 | 137] 16 July 1964
More comments on Zaehner and other authors. All have wrong views of one sort or another – only the Buddha shows the way to end all suffering. Ultimately “Just as the arahat has no need of art, so he is incapable of grief”.

[L. 128 | 138] 26 July 1964
Nanavira writes that existence is gratuitous and cannot be justified in any way. Pursuing sex and other pleasures only compounds the problem and certainly does not resolve it.

[L. 129 | 139] 27 July 1964
Quotes passage from Camus, celebrating a more ‘innocent’ sensuality (which Nanavira cannot share).

[L. 130 | 140] 2 August 1964
Points out differences between the ‘nibbana’ of Theravada and equivalent concepts in Hinduism and Mahayana. Unlike those, Theravada Buddhism does not seek to “overcome the world” via mystical union, but rather to remove the desire and craving for the things of the world – “this leaves the variety of the world intact, except that affectively the variety is now uniformly indifferent”.

[L. 131 | 141] 20 September 1964
A letter explaining how “there is desire and desire and there is also desire to end desire”. Nanavira comments on those who treat Buddhism with a “chaste rational disinterestedness”. On the contrary, Nanavira claims that “you cannot understand the Buddha unless you practise his teaching”. He also writes that “nothing can be done in this world, either good or bad, without passion”.

[L. 132 | 142] 2 November 1964
Comments on a range of Western descriptions of man’s existential situation and of the responses to this.

[L. 133 | 143] 19 November 1964
Comments on the difficulties of finding a publisher for Notes. Compares a more ‘marketable’ product such as the Kama Sutra, and writes that while the Kama Sutra “suggests only that we should abandon morality; the Notes suggest that we should abandon humanity”. Hence perhaps its lack of popularity.

[L. 134 | 144] 3 December 1964
Nanavira says that, unlike his correspondent, he has no interest in visiting the main Buddhist holy sites. He says that “from the Western point-of-view, I am not a religious person” (associated, as that is, with mysticism etc). Nanavira realizes this makes it hard for people to appreciate/understand him.

[L. 135 | 145] 8 December 1964
Explains to the correspondent how one should deal with the question of ‘God’ and numinous experience. Explains that one needs to be careful to walk a ‘middle way’ between affirming and denying the existence of God. Only the Buddha resolves this problem, effectively by removing it. Contrary to Hinduism, the “Buddha says …. that the self is illusory and the empirical world is real, whereas with the Vedantists it is the other way round”.

[L. 136 | 146] 25 December 1964
Explains how he prefers to read a good book of philosophy than novels or poetry.

[L. 137 | 147] 1 January 1965
Discussion of the ‘autonomous’ mood in linguistics and how this describes the Arahat’s experience. Unlike the ordinary person who says I feel, I perceive, I determine, I cognize”; for the Arahat “Feeling feels; perception perceives; determinations determine; consciousness cognizes”.

[L. 138 | 148] 22 January 1965
Nanavira describes his apprehension at how a visit by a pair of Englishmen will be promoted in the media.

[L. 139 | 149] 7 February 1965
Reviews writings of Jean Grenier on the nature of ‘God’.

[L. 140 | 150] 2 April 1965
Comments on his reaction to the French writers Paul Claudel and Simone de Beauvoir.

[L. 141 | 151] 8 May 1965
Nanavira comments on his (largely positive) reaction to reading Heidegger’s Being and Time.

[L. 142 | 152] 18 May 1965
Nanavira passes on a passage from a letter he wrote to the Ven Nanamoli in 1957.

[L. 143 | 153] 20 May 1965
Comments on response to Notes.

[L. 144 | 154] 26 June 1965
Discusses the ‘cross-purposes’ that he and the other person are having in their correspondence. The other person clearly has difficulty taking ‘re-birth’ seriously – Nanavira in contrast writes that “before we can even begin to discuss the Dhamma we have to agree whether or not the question ‘Is there re-birth’ can be raised to all, and if so in what sense”.

[L. 145 | 155] 2 July 1965
Nanavira attempts to clarify how an understanding that ‘all things are suffering’ arises in the individual. This involves reflexive experience of intention. Acceptance and understanding of the Buddha’s teaching then enables the person to see the inevitable ‘suffering’ in experience, and with “subsidence of (ideas of) subjectivity” they cease to be a lay-person.

 

to Sister Vajirā

[L. 146 |156] 21 November 1961
Correspondence re. the nature of the Arahat.

[L. 147 | 157] (undated)
Discussion of ‘appearance’ and ‘intention’ in experience. Nanavira writes that, while there is no purpose to existence, “when something exists it is always (negatively) related to other things, ie. it is significant”.

[L. 148 | 158] 27 December 1961
In discussing points with Sr Vajira, Nanavira affirms that he can only speak with certainty about matters that he has experienced (reflexively) himself, and of what he has found in the Suttas. He sees nothing of importance in speculating on other matters.

[L. 149 | 159] 10 January 1962
Another letter to Sr Vajira about the nature of the Arahat. Nanavira makes it clear that he cannot insist, but that Sr Vajira has to see things for herself – the central issue is that “things can be significant without being ‘mine’, that they can be teleological without being appropriated”.

[L. x | 160] 29 January 1962
Final letter from Nanavira to Sr Vajira where he congratulates her on her achievements. He discusses (and dismisses) how Sr Vajira may perceive him and emphasises that the important thing is to achieve understanding of the Dhamma (and not each other).

from Sister Vajirā to Ven. Ñāṇavīra

[SV. 14] 21 January 1962
Letter from Sr Vajira describing her experience of attainment and acknowledging the assistance given by Nanavira’s guidance (in his correspondence).

[SV. 15] 23 January 1962
Further correspondence from Sr Vajira describing her experience of attainment.

[SV. 17] 25 January 1962
Last note from Sr Vajira, still in an emotional state, following her newly achieved insights.

 

to the coroner

[L. 150 | 161] 5 July 1965
Note to the local coroner, found with Nanavira’s body, explaining that he has deliberately put an end to his life.

Pre-sotapatti [StP]

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“...With regard to any of my past writings that you may come across..., I would ask you to treat with great reserve anything dated before 1960, about which time certain of my views underwent a modification. If this is forgotten you may be puzzled by inconsistencies between earlier and later writings....” Ven. Ñānavīra Thera, 22nd March, 1963

Before use is made of these Ven. Ñānavīra Thera’s Early Writings (1950 – 1960), the reader should be familiar with Notes on Dhamma and Collected Writings (1960 – 1965), to which the present collection serves as a supplement. The major portion of this letters are written to late Ven. Ñānamoli Thera. With the manuscript letters, which were preserved by the recipient (tied up in bundles, one of which, containing letters written between August and December 1958, was not found), were found draft copies of some of the replies which were sent to Ven. Ñānavīra Thera. These have been included here; it should be remembered, however, that they are only draft copies and not final versions. Following the letters to Ven. Ñānamoli are few letters written to Ven. Ñānavīra Thera's chief supporters. Mr. And Mrs. Hinton Perera, and two individual letters.

(read-only PDF from Seeking the Path [2010, Path Press Publications])
Letters to Ven. Ñānamoli Thera
Additional Letters