I was very pleased to get a letter from you, but I confess I was much distressed when I came to read it. I had heard reports that your operation had been successful after all, but now it seems that this cannot altogether be taken for granted. If sympathy could cure, you would at once be recovered; but, as it is, if your surgeon can't help, and you can't help, then I very much fear that I can't help either. Someone once said 'the important thing is not to get cured, but to live with one's ills'; and so it is. Cure may be out of reach, but we do something difficult when we endure patiently.
As to myself, if I am to say anything I shall have to say rather a lot. But since you specifically ask me, and I have the time, paper, and ink to spare, I shall try to give you some account of my condition.
You know of course that since my early amoebiasis my guts have continued to give me trouble. This, however, had not become worse, and I was able to make some progress in spite of it. But in 1960 and 1962 I had fresh infections, and my condition deteriorated. In particular there was increased wind, constipation, and general intestinal discomfort, together with lassitude and debility, especially in bad weather. All these things I am long since accustomed to, and I mention them only to give you the background to what follows.
In June 1962, then, I found myself once more with live amoebiasis (blood and mucus and the rest), and so I wrote to Dr. de Silva, who kindly sent me a box of pills to take. After two or three days I began experiencing a violent erotic stimulation, as if I had taken a very strong aphrodisiac. If I lay down on the bed I at once started to enter upon an orgasm that could only be checked by a prodigious effort ofattention to the breath, or else by standing up. Even after stopping the course of treatment this persisted, so I decided to go to the Hermitage for Vas, to be within reach of Colombo for treatment if necessary. Dr. de Silva sent me some medicines, saying that he thought I would return to normal in due course. At the end of three months the intensity of the stimulation was certainly much less, but it was still very far from normal; and it did not seem to be improving any further.
This state of affairs, of course, was hardly satisfactory; and I decided, since there seemed to be no further promise of improvement, that the best course would be to rid myself of this body (I had already had vague thoughts of such a thing when my stomach was particularly bad). Accordingly, shortly after I returned here, I attempted suicide, but, as no doubt you will observe, without success (lack of experience, no doubt: it is not as easy as one might think to reach the point of making the attempt in earnest, and even then there remains the practical difficulty of actually killing oneself: sleeping tablets, if one has them, are all very well, but then one does not die mindfully). I wrote and told Dr. de Silva of the attempt, and said that unless there was some likelihood of getting a substantial improvement in my condition it was quite possible that I should make a further attempt. Dr. de Silva did not offer me any assurance that effective treatment was available, but after consultation with a specialist, sent me a tranquillising drug which, in fact, does give relief for a week or ten days, but thereafter loses its effectiveness and cannot again be used for about two months.
By now (February 1963) the weather had improved, and I succeeded in achieving a certain degree of concentration (with ānāpānasati); which, as I found, temporarily removed the affliction. Indeed, if only I did not have the chronic intestinal disorder to contend with, I have no doubt but that I could altogether overcome this nuisance; but, as it is, even if I get three or four days' resonable concentration, it is immediately brought to an end by my guts or by a change in the weather (to which I am now very sensitive) and I find myself once more lying on the bed feeling good for nothing and invaded by lustful thoughts that I have neither the inclination nor the energy to resist.
From the very start, naturally, I have been much exercised about the Vinaya situation; and I took good care to study the relevant passages in the first sanghādisesa (which, fortunately, Miss Horner has left in Pali, so I am not dependent upon her fanciful translations). I was determined not to fall into a sanghādisesa āpatti, and, in fact, I am not aware that I have done so; and for this reason I have not thought it necessary to come to Colombo to discuss the situation. (I may say that, except with my late venerable teacher, who always gave a definite answer 'yes' or 'no', I have more often than not found myself in greater doubt after discussion of Vinaya questions in Colombo than before; and in the present critical situation I cannot afford to have the ambiguous answer 'No, but...', which only increases worry. I do not want to add to my present difficulties by being made to feel morally obliged to undertake a vinayakamma that is not necessary.)
The situation is, in fact, precarious. Perhaps I shall be asked, 'Have you never heard of indriyasamvara?' Certainly I have; but at this point I have to confess my weakness. If it is a question of restraining my faculties (especially the mind) for a limited period, a week or a month say, then no doubt I can make the effort and do it; but this is not the question here. I have to decide how much restraint I can manage to practise as a normal rule, and then to consider on that basis the best course to follow. And I find, in fact, that with the persistent erotic stimulation and the persistent intestinal discomfort (a very demoralizing combination) I can manage only so much and no more.
In the first place, there is (for obvious reasons) a frequent and pressing invitation to disrobe; but, on the one hand, I did not seek this nervous disorder, and I do not, in my calmer moments, see why it should be allowed to have its own way; and, on the other hand, as I understand the Dhamma and Vinaya, the only valid reason for disrobing is the fear of being pārājika if one does not. Now, I do not see at present that I am likely to become pārājika, and probably not even sanghādisesa (though in this matter I may not always have avoided dukkata); so disrobing does not commend itself at all.
In the second place, at the other extreme, there is suicide. Though I do not say this is good, I will say that, under the circumstances and in the long run, it is better than disrobing. See, for example, the Ven. Sappadāsa Thera's gāthā (Thag. 407). (This, of course, is not the layman's view, and Mr. Samaratunga, when I told him the state of affairs, urged me to disrobe rather than kill myself; but then I pointed out that, whereas it is known that monks have become arahats in the act of suicide, it is nowhere recorded that anyone has ever become arahat in the act of disrobing.)
In the third place, there is the possibility of continuing as I am. But the question here is whether I am doing myself more harm than good in doing so; and this is an extremely difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I am certainly practising more restraint than I should be as a layman in similar circumstances; but, on the other hand, I should really prefer not to be accepting alms in my present state of mind. (Actually, I should be only too happy just quietly to starve to death; but I don't suppose I should be allowed to do it undisturbed.)
In addition to these theoretical considerations about what I had best do under the circumstances, there are practical ones about what I am going to do. As it is, I find myself in a state of delicate equilibrium: even a slight increase of my present burdens (fresh sickness, for example) might well tip the scale in favour of suicide (the thought is constantly with me, though it remains at arm's length), or the presence of some subhanimitta (a chance encounter, perhaps, or change to more worldly surroundings) might easily tip it the other way towards a return to lay life.
Possibly you will be wondering whether I am well advised to go on living here alone as I am doing. The answer seems to be quite simple: here I am as well insulated as I could possibly be against disturbing influences (few visitors, no newspapers, no gossip), and I do find it possible to gain some respite by samatha practice or by reflective thinking. Even at the Hermitage this is not possible—the climate is not good, and there are visitors, newspapers, and people to talk to—and I find myself occupied most of the time with kāmavitakka. And if it is like this at the Hermitage, how much more so would it not be in Colombo! I have so far avoided all visits to Colombo since the trouble started. (As it happens, I have just now been offered a three-month's holiday in England to improve my health, and I am afraid to accept for this very reason—I might quite well decide not to return to Ceylon. But, also, there are other reasons for not accepting; for example, since I cannot manage bread or potatoes what should I eat in England?)
Perhaps, after all this, you may be thinking that I live in a state of depression and gloom. This is not so. I do not say that I am complacent about my situation or that I do not find it difficult. But I am not a person of moods, and also I am aware that it is necessary to accept limitations imposed on one with good grace. I recognize that—unless my bodily condition improves, which is most unlikely—I cannot hope to make any further progress in this life: now is the time to draw a line under the account and add it up, and then see whether it shows profit or loss. And I have to say that, while the sum might have been greater, I have no reason for dissatisfaction. I have done what I did not expect to do, and so I am content. Certainly, the age of forty-four is rather early to close the account, but when I left England at the time of the first Berlin crisis I told myself that if I managed to practise the Dhamma for even one year I should count myself fortunate.
And what, then, of the future—now that I can no longer hope to make progress, what have I to look forward to? At present I find that more or less my only concern is with the Notes; I spend much of my time revising them and adding to them to prepare them for eventual printing. This means that I do a lot of thinking and a certain amount of reading (when I can get the books), and this in itself also helps to keep my trouble at a distance. But publication of the Notes (which I think is desirable, in spite of the fact that they may be unpopular) is, after all, a purely temporal (kālika) aim, and I can only regard it as a device for killing time until I am rid of this disordered body. But this throws me back to the crucial question, whether or not I should do better to abbreviate the process, and instead of killing time, simply to kill the body.