The fist number of L. refer to the standard CtP edition published in 1987. The following number shows correspondence between letters in the new 2010 edition. Note that on this website CtP is available only 1987 edition with minor additions.

[L. 131 | 141] 20 September 1964

Your question about the propriety of sending good wishes ('Is not wishing desire, and so to be shunned?') can be answered, though not in one word. There is desire and desire, and there is also desire to end desire. There is desire that involves self-assertion (love, hate) and desire that does not (the arahat's desire to eat when hungry, for example), and the former can be either self-perpetuating (unrestrained passion) or self-destructive (restrained passion). Self-destructive desire is bad in so far as it is passionate, and therefore good in so far as, translated into action, it brings itself to an end. (By 'translated into action' I mean that the desire for restraint does not remain abstractly in evidence only when one is not giving way to passion, but is concretely operative when there is actually occasion for it, when one is actually in a rage. To begin with, of course, it is not easy to bring them together, but with practice desire for restraint arises at the same time as the passion, and the combination is self-destructive. The Suttas say clearly that craving is to be eliminated by means of craving [A. IV,159: ii,145-46]; and you yourself are already quite well aware that nothing can be done in this world, either good or bad, without passion—and the achievement of dispassion is no exception. But passion must be intelligently directed.) Since an arahat is capable of desiring the welfare of others, good wishes are evidently not essentially connected with self-assertion, and so are quite comme il faut.

I had actually written you a long letter, mostly about Toynbee and Graves, but decided that it was intolerably prosy and not worth sending. My mind, of late, has been rather turbid—ideas are there, but will not crystallize out—perhaps as a result of reading The White Goddess. I found myself in much the same sort of fantastic wonderland as when reading Dirac's Principles of Quantum Mechanics a few years ago: in both I encountered a wholly compelling argument from wholly unacceptable premises.

I have been busy re-typing my Notes on Dhamma. But will anyone care to publish it? I don't think anyone would describe the Notes as a 'popular' work: in the first place because it is specialized and assumes in the reader some acquaintance (or at least a willingness to become acquainted) with the Suttas on the one hand and with modern philosophical ideas on the other; and in the second place because it is openly hostile to the disengaged critical attitude of the scholar, and so is hardly likely to be popular amongst the pundits, at least if they are no more than that. (In my own way, I am just as much 'engaged' as Graves is in his; and I am at one with him in his scathing remarks in the Goddess about scholars, having also myself had experience of the conspiracy of silence with which they habitually greet the unfamiliar or the unorthodox. No doubt you will recall Samuel Butler with his professors at the Colleges of Unreason:

It seemed to be counted the perfection of scholarship and good breeding among them not to have—much less to express—an opinion on any subject on which it might prove later that they had been mistaken. [Erewhon, Ch. 22]
'The scholars' says Graves [p. 21] 'can be counted upon to refrain from any comment whatsoever'.)[a]

So then, assuming that there are people in England (there are, certainly, a few in Germany and perhaps France), neither stuffy scholars nor yet silly sheep, who might read the Notes, what is needed is a publisher who is prepared to accept a work that is both unpopular (learned) and unpopular (unorthodox). But is the Notes respectable enough? I have sprinkled it with references to reputable philosophers, but I can't be sure that the cloven hoof is not still showing through this disguise. (Take Zaehner, for example. He has his own ideas about Pali Buddhism, holding, in spite of the Pali Buddhists, that it can be included under the general heading of 'Mysticism'. Is he, or is he not, one of those who, according to Samuel Butler, 'devote themselves to the avoidance of every opinion with which they are not perfectly familiar, and regard their own brains as a sort of sanctuary, to which, if an opinion has once resorted, none other is to attack it'? Would he or his colleagues approve of publishing the Notes?)

But perhaps it would be a waste of time to try and get such a book published in England—it is, as Graves said about his White Goddess, 'a very difficult book, as well as a very queer one, to be avoided by anyone with a distracted, tired, or rigidly scientific mind'. (p. 9) Besides, I have never heard the book criticized, and it may be, for all I know, a bad book (I mean as regards form and style and so on: I myself am prepared to answer for the content—except, perhaps, for the last part, which is my own speculative effort, and for which I can cite neither chapter nor verse in support). I am certainly more than half inclined to make no effort to get it published, particularly if it is going to encounter difficulties. (I think I told you earlier that both the P.T.S. and the Buddhist Society have been sent copies of the cyclostyled edition of the Notes and have 'refrained from any comment whatsoever'. It is hardly likely, though for different reasons, that they will have approved of the book.)

I hope that your leave is passing pleasantly for you—that is, I do not hope that it is passing, but that it is pleasantin its passing: whether I hope or do not hope, it will pass, alas! like all good things, save one. But that one thing—again alas!—is not to be had simply by wishing.

Jātijarāmaranadhammānam āvuso sattānam evam icchā uppajjati: Aho vata mayam na jātijarāmaranadhammā assāma, na ca vata no jātijarāmaranam āgaccheyyā ti. Na kho pan'etam icchāya pattabbam; idam pi yam p'iccham na labbhati, tam pi dukkham. (D. 22: ii,307)

In creatures subject to birth, ageing, and death, friends, there arises such a wish as 'O that we were not subject to birth, ageing, and death! O that birth, ageing, and death might not come nigh us!' But that is not to be attained by wishing; and in this, too, not to get what one wishes is to suffer.

 With all best wishes, including this (that is, if you would wish it for yourself).[1]


[131.a] The real trouble is not the mere difference of opinion, as between one scholar and another, but the fact that Graves (like myself) refuses to treat his subject as dead. A scholar only feels secure if he is sure that the subject of his study is not one day going to get up and look him between the eyes; and nothing could be in worse taste than a suggestion that anything more is required of him than a chaste rational disinterestedness. Both the Buddha and the White Goddess, it is felt, have been safely dead these two thousand years and more, and the professors of these subjects congratulate themselves on having chosen such admirably extinct fields of study. (Quite the last thing that a professor of Buddhism would dream of doing is to profess Buddhism—that is left to mere amateurs like myself.) But what happens? Here comes Graves and myself shouting out one, that you cannot know the Goddess unless you worship her—and in the flesh, to boot (or, should I say, to buskin?)—, and, the other, that you cannot understand the Buddha unless you practise his teaching—in the jungle, preferably, and barefoot. If I have my way, these comfortable scholars will have to exchange the fleshpots of Oxford for the almsbowl of India; and if Graves has his, their dutiful wives will become Bassarids, dancing naked with Dionysian fury on Boar's Hill, and tearing the Vice-Chancellor to pieces and devouring him raw at the summer solstice. And that would never do, would it? [Back to text]


Editorial note:

[131.1] The author's usual closing salutation was 'With best wishes'. See L. 20. [Back to text]