Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 3: China, Japan, Tibet

China, Japan, Tibet

General notes on China

Whereas the Indian schools sought liberation from the misery of birth and rebirths, the Chinese schools sought happy peace, a joyous mind.

The Chinese temperament was too realistic to follow the Indian into a merely metaphysical view of life and too practical to run away with it into an escapist view. Indeed, the very name of the principal religion of China--Confucianism--is the Doctrine of the Mean, the Mean being the middle point between two extremes, the balance between two sides. Even the two most celebrated Chinese mystics exhibited their national tendencies in their writing and philosophically united the idea of real being with the idea of illusory being. Such were Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Like the Indians, the Chinese were ready to find out what other-worldliness had to offer them; but unlike the Indians, they were not ready permanently to forsake the worldly life while doing so. Even the Buddhist school, which has lasted longest and remained strongest in China, is the one named "The Round Doctrine"--meaning that it is widely rounded to include both the spiritual and the material. This is the "Tendai" school.

In Chinese philosophy to maintain an even balance is called "the Mean." This calm is considered essential if his glimpses are not to be ended by a man's return to his self-centered desires.

The Chinese have always sought and insisted upon a practical (which includes ethical) application of any line of thought, religion, philosophy. In this they differ from the Indians, whose tendency to lose themselves in empty abstractions and mere verbalisms they rejected.

He was richly garbed, but as he bowed before me, his almost obsequious manner gave me the conviction that he was a servant. And I was right.

He raised his fingers to his lips and made a few signs which I instantly perceived to mean that he was dumb. Then he slipped his hand into his bosom, to withdraw it a moment later and hand me a letter enclosed in a strong parchment with a heavy seal on the back. The seal bore some Chinese characters grouped in a circle around a picture showing a man holding a flaming torch in his left hand, and a sharp sword in this right.

I opened, and this is what I read: "The Lord of the Dragon sends thee greetings and awaits thy coming at the House of the Hundred Lamps. Follow the speechless one."

I was led to the House of the Hundred Lamps. Even such things as the window-frames were painted with peach-coloured lacquer. . . . Almost one expected to hear the patter of tiny feet across the floor and, looking up, to see a little Chinese princess, with slanting eyes and flowerlike face, pass through the room like a wraith.

If China for so many centuries had her strong group tendency, there was still a minority, much smaller in number but elite in character, which valued and upheld the individual and fortified him against conformity where conformity led to abasing the Ideal, which prized solitude as a means to deeper thought and spiritual contemplation as against pressure of family, tribe, and over-neighbourliness. These "ingoing" sects, notably the students and disciples of Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, produced hermits, it is true; but they also produced useful citizens who kept a proper balance between city and country, world and self, activity and withdrawal. They prized their moment of silence for the enlightenment it brought them, or the healing it gave them.

If the mosques of Near and Middle Eastern lands are architecturally well suited to a priestless and bishopless faith, as well as being aesthetically pleasing, the temples of prewar China were the same. Their tiled roofs, winged by painted black, green, or vermillion eaves, were supported by lacquered and gilded pillars.

I think eagerly of those tightly curled tiny leaves unfolding in the stimulus of hot bubbling water, soon to give their aromatic refreshing liquor to my waiting cup. This too was China's gift to me, along with the Ch'an tenets and that precious, all-too-short text, Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu.

The Communists have made determined attempts to wipe out all the Taoist societies and to enfeeble the Buddhist ones. Taoist leaders were viciously executed, Buddhist monasteries were seized and confiscated, and Buddhist temples were converted into so-called workers' culture centres, that is, Communist propaganda centres.

The modern Chinese Buddhist movement called Wei Shih taught as its fundamental tenet the principle of mentalism. The teachings are identical with and probably derived from the Sanskrit Yogacara school. Its chief centre was at Nanking, and from the doors of its "China Inner Knowledge College" there went forth a number of well-instructed disciples--both monks and laymen--some of whom I had the pleasure of meeting before the war. What has become of so essentially spiritual an institution under the atheistic dominance of present conditions? If it has met the fate of so many others, the balancing contribution which it could make to the new China is alas! no longer available. Some pilgrimages to such centres have been stopped, others discouraged. Some temples have been turned into secular schools. Large numbers of monks have been forced to discard their robes and have been driven back into civilian life. I know that Buddhism generally is regarded as a mere superstition by the Western-science-worshipping minds of today's Chinese youth and leadership. This attitude is both dangerous and fallacious. Although the Buddha, for his own monk-catching reasons, and because of the times and conditions in which he lived, emphasized the pessimistic world-view, and thus presented a one-sided teaching, he was in himself one of the most illumined men who ever lived.

The Indians who brought Buddhism to China brought also their tendency to overweight their doctrines with metaphysics and intellectual, logical or theological spinning out of ideas. The Chinese eventually revolted against this tendency, which was completely contrary to their own practical and somewhat earthy outlook. They put all their emphasis on personal inner experience, on the discovery of truth by sudden enlightenment. This was the beginning of Zen.

The old China, with its charming pergolas and interesting pagodas, is being forced to travel on the road to extinction. The old China honoured a philosopher like Lao Tzu by naming a beautiful flower after his eyebrows, but the new China despises his "unpractical mysticism."

In China conservatism was carried to the extreme, so that people could only converse in platitudes and clichés, in conventional and expected phrases. No departure from this rigid formulation was permitted. After a thousand years this bred its own evils. The Empire, and its civilization, fell apart. Changes came in quickening succession. Then came the climax--Mao Tse-tung's brand of Communism, with its own special kind of changes.

It is interesting to remember that these Chinese ancestral portraits had not only a sentimental interest, were honoured not only through egoistic family attachment but also because religious faith accepted their continued, though psychic, existence and looked to them for counsel or help. By gazing at a parent's or grandparent's painted face, it was thought, the attitude of approval or disapproval would be revealed.

Chinese wisdom, developed among a people who were more earthy than the Indians, could not lose sight of the realities of Nature because it was able to see the realities of contemplation. It brought both into its picture, coupled Yin with Yang--the evil and suffering, the terror and destruction that seem fused into the universe itself along with the serenity and bliss, the beauty and harmony at the very heart of things.

In ancient China, one entered the physical presence of a sage quite differently from the way one entered it in ancient India. In Cathay it was impolite to stare at his face, whereas in Hindustan it was considered a religious duty to do so.

The painted gate was one day to open to my step and admit upon the most guarded and exclusive threshold in all this great Eastern city. The possession of wealth is generally known to be a well-fitting key to most of our aristocratic and humbler mansions, but none could pass the porch of this high-born Chinaman unless possessed of that invisible and spiritual emblem which he first required.

The civilized Chinaman is dignified and mannered and was so for thousands of years. Today, with the downfall of ancient codes, with everything reduced to lower mass levels, he is disappearing, and a generation steeped in vulgarity and coarseness is taking his place.

The dragon is the Chinese esoteric symbol for Divine Wisdom and the exoteric symbol for supreme power.

But excessive worship of the past--which resulted, in practice, from Confucian study--and excessive resistance to what was new and different had a suffocating effect: the reaction, which began with the birth of the Republic and expanded with the Communist take-over, was inevitable.

Chinese thought had a strong appreciation of this paradox, that life and the world were in the hands of pairs of opposites. Yin and Yang, God and Devil, Luck and Fate were coupled together.

If most monks in East and West use prayer remembrancers, mostly rosaries, a few in prewar China used other articles, such as a couple of polished walnuts.

No civilization has ever remained static and changeless, even those ancient ones who came closest to this condition--such as China.

This statement appeared in The China Quarterly in 1961: "Neither inside the monastery nor outside it is there now leisure for meditation and prayer. The simple piety of the common people is discouraged along with the material support they provided monks. The basic policy is to let Buddhism die. In twenty years from now, two thousand years after it arrived in China, Buddhism will be dead."

What chance did the rickshaw coolie of the prewar decades have of absorbing the higher culture, of instruction in the higher truth? Even his bodily life was greatly shortened then; but the tricycle rickshaw of today must be less laborious.

Any officer above a certain rank in the service of the emperor of China was called a mandarin.

China traded with the Roman Empire, which eagerly bought its silken figured garments. It was mostly done through intermediary merchants who travelled in caravans or sailed the seas.

The mandarin class of prewar China were recognizable not only by their dress but also by their faces. Their noses were either aquiline or more prominent than the flat ones of the lower classes.

The Chinese had their own kind of fatalism. One should resign oneself to the course of events and not struggle against them in vain. One should follow a policy of adaptation and expediency and opportunism, so as to incur the least possible trouble or hurt. There is no room here for principles.

The old-fashioned Chinaman of the pre-Communist era and of that long 1500-year period when the writings of Confucius were the lore of the land would not dream of accompanying his spoken greetings with a handshake. He would make at most a dignified bow or at the least a nod of the head. To him the shaking of hands was a polluting thing.

Chinese historical chronicles go back to ten thousand years ago.

The ancestry of the Yang-chi school, as the Yoga school is called among the Chinese, can be traced back to India.

Ku Yen-wu: "Forgetting that the whole country is afflicted with distress and poverty, they say nothing of this but spend their whole time in expatiating upon `the lofty,' `the essence,' and `the unity.'"


The Chinese Taoists ascribed most of our suffering to man and most of our happiness to Nature.

The name Lao Tzu means "the old master."

The I-Ching must only be used when all other ways fail: it is for extreme cases only.

Kuo Hsiang: "When a man is empty and without bias, everyone will contribute his wisdom to him."

Tao is a term which according to context stands for variable meanings: the Truth, the Way, the Moral Order, the Reason or Intelligence (not intellect), "That which is above form." It is a curious experience to compare the declaration of Jesus, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life," with the Confucian statement, "The Tao is rooted in one's own person."

The basic principle and practical method of Taoism is Wu Wei--"Do Nothing." This puzzles the ordinary Western mind until it is explained as equivalent to the Psalmist's "Be Still." Stop the ego's constant physical and mental activity to let the Overself in!

Tao Teh Ching is most correctly translated as "The Book of the Way and its Mystic Power."

The Book of Changes says Tao is the successor of Yin and Yang, of what comes first and what afterward, of beginning and end, movement and quiescence, darkness and light, above and below, advance and withdrawal, going and coming, opening and closing, fullness and emptiness, waxing and waning, exterior and interior, attraction and repulsion, preservation and destruction, activity and hibernation.

The first chapter of Lao Tzu's little book is the most important; but the last one is the strangest, for it deals with the paradox of existence.

To Lao Tzu the Void was the essential, the real, the substantial, that which mattered most to the Taoist Sage.

Lao Tzu, which is a title of honour (the Old Sage) and not a personal name (the surname was Li), called the higher power "the Great Tao." He wrote, "How still the Tao is!"

When Lao Tzu vanished forever beyond the mountain pass, he left a legacy behind him for which all questers are beholden.

Where will you find a book as short as Lao Tzu's Tao Teh Ching and yet as wise?

The Chinese Taoists called their contemplative practices "sitting in forgetfulness."

There is no escape from this dilemma. Even Lao Tzu, who wrote, "He who knows speaks not. He who speaks knows not," falsified his own assertion by writing the few thousand words with which he composed the Tao Teh Ching. Hence the philosopher is not committed either to silence or to speech. In the Absolute, both are the same. Lao Tzu's celebrated phrase would have held more correctness and less exaggeration if it had been slightly modified to read: "He who speaks, may not know. He who knows, may not freely speak."

The better translation of Lao Tzu's famous phrase "He who knows Tao does not care to speak of it; and he who is ever willing to speak of it does not know it" should be substituted for the more familiar one, "He who knows the Tao does not speak; he who speaks does not know." For what did Lao Tzu himself do but try to speak and describe the Tao? What did Buddha and Jesus and all the host of vocal and literary mystics do when they delivered their gospels?

Some centuries before the first teachings of meditation were brought from India to China, Lao Tzu had known, practised, and bequeathed them to his fellow countrymen.

Lao Tzu was not the first promulgator of the wisdom of Tao in China, even though the names of his predecessors have been lost. Truth is timeless.

Just as in Indian Vedanta there is the school of Advaita and the school of Dvaita--that is, nonduality and duality--so in Chinese Taoism there is a school which attributes everything to Tao alone and another which attributes the working of the universe to Yin and Yang--that is, the nondualist and the dualist schools.

Taoists hold that nonattachment to results means "letting intuitive decisions carry one whither they will and regardless of their results."

The Taoist adept, Lu Yen, who flourished in the eighth century, is the authority for the following sayings, which reveal the profound wisdom to be discovered in Chinese lore: "When the light circulates, the powers of the whole body arrange themselves before the throne, just as when a king has taken possession of the capital and has laid down the fundamental rules of order, all the states approach with tribute. The light is the master." "The light of Heaven cannot be seen. It is contained in the two eyes." "The secret of the magic of life consists in using action in order to achieve non-action." "All changes of spiritual consciousness depend upon the heart." "When a man can let his heart die, then the primordial spirit wakes to life."

Tao means the Way or Course of Nature.

The odd (the Yang) and the even (the Yin) search for one another, and go through their (successive) transformations without end.

All that Lao Tzu had to say was put into these few pages, these precious drops of distilled wisdom.

The expression "Wei-Wu-Wei" is usually translated as non-action, in the sense I think Vivekananda used in his phrase "actionless-action." But it appears there are other meanings attributed to this phrase. One is the power acquired through meditation when it reaches the trance state--presumably mystical or occult power, but also ordinary power, in relation with other humans and animals. A further meaning attributed to it is stilling of the mind. And finally: the sage does nothing yet achieves everything (this meaning I believe is from Lao Tzu).

Comments on excerpts from Arthur Waley's translation of Lao Tzu's book, Tao Teh Ching:

l. The sage relies on actionless activity, carries on wordless teaching, but the myriad creatures are worked upon by him; he does not disown them.

He rears them but does not lay claim to them, controls them but does not call attention to what he does.

2. Heaven and earth [Nature--P.B.] are ruthless.

3. The sage remains outside but is always there.

4. When your work is done, then withdraw; only by knowing when it is time to stop can danger be avoided.

5. Hold fast to the Unity and never quit it.

6. Return to the root is called Quietness; Quietness is called submission to Fate; what has submitted to Fate has become part of the always-so.

To know the always-so is to be illumined; not to know it means to go blindly to disaster.

[Comment by P.B.: The "always-so" is also translated elsewhere as the "ever-so."]

[Another comment on the previous extract: By passing on and on through successive stages of his own consciousness back to the initial unity, a man can arrive at the Tao, the Way, which controls the universe. This ecstasy, called far-away-wandering, is also known as the far-away-passing-on.]

7. There was something formless yet complete that existed before heaven and earth; its true name we do not know.

[Comment: This means we do not know to what class of things it belongs.]

8. The further one travels the less one knows.

9. Learning consists in adding to one's stock day-by-day; [note: similar to Bible's "much learning is much sorrow."]

The practice of Tao consists in subtracting day-by-day, but by this very inactivity everything can be activated. Those who evolved won the adherence of all who live under heaven, all did so by not interfering.

10. Shut the doors, and till the end your strength shall not fail.

11. If the sage, though he controls, does not lead when he has achieved his aim, does not linger, it is because he does not wish to reveal himself as better than others.

[Comment: To allow oneself to be regarded so as superior is to lose one's power.]

The old Chinese book Hsun Tzu comments on the mystic Chuang Tzu that he was stopped from fully discerning what man is because he was too preoccupied with what heaven is.

In the Chinese texts the name "Heaven" represents both an invisible blissful world and the Higher Power--God.

The T'ai Chi figure unites both forces in their play: each, unmanifested, is contained in the other.

Yin-Yang's correlative in Hindu creeds is: Prakriti=Feminine principle, Purusha=Masculine principle.

Heaven rules Yang=Sun; Earth rules Yin=earth. Heaven=father; Earth=mother. These two produce phenomena and creatures.

Chinese Taoist mystics reduced their intake of ordinary food and replaced the deficient portion by eating substances believed to contain or to crystallize a high proportion of Tao: these were gold, jade, pearls, mica, cinnabar, and silver. The mixtures containing them were regarded as elixirs of life.

Lao Tzu's trip to the West was traditionally supposed to be intended to convert the barbarians.

Wei Shu, a Taoist book written about the middle of the sixth century, states: "Since the people on the earth find the practising of the doctrine very difficult, merely have them erect altars and shrines where they may worship morning and evening. Altars and shrines serve as a refuge from worldly concerns."

Yang and Yin: in Chinese hexagrams the broken line is yin, the unbroken one, yang.

The ancient Chinese mystical work, the Chieto Tao Lun, says that the teacher should observe the behaviour and speech of the new candidate for studentship for several days and only then prescribe a course suitable to his disposition.

The Chinese Emperor Hwangti retired from the world for three months in order to prepare himself to receive a glimpse of the Tao from an adept named Kwang Shantaze.

"Clearness within makes it possible to investigate the facts exactly," states the ancient Chinese Book of Changes. But such clearness cannot be attained by the mind which is excessively partisan, charging the opposite group or their doctrine with too much evil while claiming too much good for its own.

It was fitting that when Confucius met Lao Tzu he should treat the older man with respect. And this was so not only because Lao Tzu was two decades older but also, and more, because he was one to whom "Heaven was made clear." Therefore the recognition and respect were shown by Confucius.

The paradoxical teaching of Lao Tzu is more easily understood through the teaching of his most important disciple Chuang Tzu. The style of one is terse and succinct whereas that of the other is diffuse and extended.

From Lao Tzu's address to Confucius on "Simplicity": "The chaff from winnowing will blind a man. Mosquitoes will bite a man and keep him awake all night, and so it is with all the talk of yours about charity and duty to one's neighbour. It drives one crazy. Sir, strive to keep the world in its original simplicity--why so much fuss? The wind blows as it listeth, so let virtue establish itself. The swan is white without a daily bath and the raven is black without dyeing itself. When the pond is dry and the fishes are gasping for breath it is of no use to moisten them with a little water or a little sprinkling. Compared to their original and simple condition in the pond and the rivers it is nothing."

The Heavens are still; no sound.
Where then shall God be found?
Search not in distant skies,
In man's own Heart he lies.
--Shao Yung
(ancient Chinese poet and mystic)

When Lao Tzu saw that Chou was breaking up, he left the kingdom.

"Who knows man, has discernment. Who knows himself, has illumination."--Lao Tzu

"Without error there could be no such thing as Truth," runs an old Chinese proverb.

Confucius, Confucianism, neo-Confucianism

Too often Confucius is dismissed as being merely a teacher of ethics; it is denied that he is also a spiritual teacher. But he taught self-control. Such control lessens a man's attachment to, and service of, his ego. Is not suppression of egoism an important part of all spiritual teaching?

Confucius lived 2500 years ago yet for 1500 years his wisdom was highly prized throughout China. He described a standard and ideal to be sought for human behaviour and human social intercourse. Character and conduct need to be disciplined and polished, he affirmed, and proper decorum must enter into one's relations with others. Proper respect must be shown to those entitled to it. The Chinese rightly considered him a sage who knew the ultimate significance of life, who was enlightened and understood the hidden meaning and the higher purpose of human existence. For these reasons I also advocate that this matter of refined behaviour be regarded in a totally new light as a form of spiritual expression and development.

If Confucius was an ethical thinker, he did not stop there. He wanted an urbane, civilized, literate society.

Confucius presented an ethical system of which a code of etiquette was a part and around which no religious tradition enwrapped itself.

I am an admirer of Confucius because he set up a standard which he called that of the superior man, the self-disciplined man, the cultured man with a trained precise mind and yet a man who did not neglect the arts, the finer feelings, but cultivated them too.

Confucius often inculcated the reverential spirit and musical responsiveness. It is a mistake to believe he taught only a dry wooden ceremonialism.

Confucius is reported to have met and talked with Lao Tzu, whom he thereafter called "the dragon."

Confucius recommended gentlemanly conduct and polished propriety, refined manners and a cultured mind. It is true that he was primarily a social lawgiver, but he was also a sage. It was not only that he sought to provide a fixed pattern for keeping the society of his time peaceful and orderly. His wisdom was not merely worldly wisdom. But its spiritual depth will not be recognized by ordinary persons.

What happened to Confucius is what happened to other great teachers. His doctrines were crystallized so rigidly that they prevented further new creativity, denied mental freedom, and restricted adaptability to contemporary needs.

Balanced outward living together with an unperturbed nature was the ideal set up by Confucius. This was his "Doctrine of the Mean."

We moderns do not have to go along with all Confucius' teachings; his support of the practice of elaborate costly rituals during funerals and prolonged mourning after them is regrettable.

Confucius expressed in his own actions what he taught others. He embodied his teaching.

Kung Fu-tze (Confucius): In certain circles, mostly the young, the rebellious, and the protesters, there are sceptical sneers at the ascription or the term gentleman. To them it connotes inherited or acquired wealth used to secure privileged status and denotes a superior arrogant attitude toward lower castes.

Confucius did not deny the existence of spiritual worlds but taught that they should be left to take care of themselves, that men should concentrate on their practical duties here and now.

"To be sincere, courteous, and calm is the foundation of the practice of love."--Chu Hsi (1130-1200)

The courtesy expressed in polite living and the virtue expressed in good living--this is the acquirement which makes "the Better Man," in Confucius' phrase, and this is what he bade us cultivate.

Mencius, who interpreted or expounded or applied Confucius' teaching, wrote: "Wheresoever the Superior Man abides, there is a spiritualizing influence." This alone shows that Confucius was more than a moralizer.

Roughly, it may be said that Lao Tzu favoured the idea of sudden enlightenment whereas Confucius favoured that of "enlightenment by degrees."

The way to Godliness is open to all: the humblest peasant may become holy. But to those who understand that there is an evolution at work among human beings, such a condition, though welcome, is not enough. Confucius perceived this and left it to others to preach religion and mysticism. He added the further ideal of the well-behaved refined and cultivated person.

Confucius' "Superior Person" ideal was a well-equilibrated being living in a well-ordered equilibrated society.

There were good things in the Code of Ethics drawn up by Confucius to guide his fellow Chinese. It was good to respect ancestors and what was sound in tradition; to respect parents and older, more experienced people; to be kind to children, servants, and animals; and, in the face of trouble or death, to keep an unbroken fortitude.

What a man does in his private domestic or family life was to Confucius no less important than what he did in public, although the sage dealt more with the latter.

Confucius' model was the man who was righteous, benevolent, well-behaved, and wise.

The Confucian ideal of perfect manners, superior character, obedience to authority and protocol, respect for tradition and elders, scholarship, loyalty to the family ancestors and the state worked well for over a thousand years but was set up when conditions were tremendously different from today's.

Another reason why Confucius put formal etiquette forward was because it kept society orderly.

Arrogant self-sufficiency is not included in Confucius' true gentlemanliness.

It is not title, rank, wealth, or other outer flummery which makes the real gentleman. And yet all can contribute towards it by their accompanying obligations.

Confucius did not encourage some of those sports which infatuate the Western youth. Indeed the exploration of mountains and ravines was strictly banned. Any unnecessary activity which endangered life or risked injury was not allowed as possibly doing violence to the body. To the extent of disapproving of invasive wars and aggressive attacks, Lao Tzu was a pacifist; but he approved of a people's right to defend themselves against aggressors.

Confucianism was predominant in China. It got from Buddhism a cosmology and a philosophy which it lacked itself.

"I am transmitting, not creating," confessed Confucius.

The Confucian ideal of the Superior Man is useful to follow but incomplete to contemplate. This is the man whose emotions are governed by reason and whose reason is guided by the Good.

It is the Confucian ideal to do what is right and to refrain from doing what is wrong, irrespective of whether or not it is pleasing to his natural selfishness.

The good manners which Confucian teaching brought into middle and higher classes of the Chinese people for 1500 years included a dislike of excitement and anger, which were considered quite vulgar.

The name of Confucius is too often associated with imprisonment in a stiff formalism.

What Chou Tun-Yi--the Master Chou, as he was affectionately called--created was a movement which vitally renewed, greatly expanded, and vigorously reshaped what had been Confucianism, a movement which was later established as the "Mind School" by Lu Hsiang Shan and still later reached its climax with Wang Yang-ming, who produced an effective synthesis in which Buddhist and Taoistic elements are noticeable, along with the fundamental Confucian ones and with his own personal contributions.

Chou Tun-Yi's ideas were partly based on The Doctrine of the Mean, a small book written by Confucius' grandson Tzu Szu. It now forms Chapter 28 of the Confucian classic Book of Rites.

Chou Tun-Yi was the pioneer who worked out the starting point of the Neo-Confucian system, the "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate," which shows the universe's evolution.

Chou Tun-Yi wrote one book titled The Diagram of the Ultimate Explained and another titled Comprehensive Unity.

Master Chou Tun-Yi (1017-1073): Chou Tun-Yi was a native of the present town of Ning-Yuan in Hunan province. He was a pioneer, the first of the Neo-Confucianists belonging to their second revival, which was in the Sung dynasty. Wang Yang-ming was a still later member of this group but of the later Ming Dynasty (l368-l644).

Chou Tun-Yi has a chapter in J. Percy Bruce's Chu Hsi and his Masters, London, 1923. On the latter book see also E.R. Hughes' The Great Learning and the Mean-in-Action, New York, 1943.

Chou Tun-Yi was praised by Wang Yang-ming for his "rare peaceable-mindedness."

The Supreme Ultimate, a term Chou Tun-Yi took from the Book of Changes is infinite and imperishable, and the source of the cosmos. It provides the ethics, the Moral Order, the Law for all things, yet it equates with the Ultimateless (explained later).

For Chou Tun-Yi, Law = the controlling non-physical principle of every object and creature.

Tao has one meaning for Confucians as the "Standard of human conduct" but for the Taoists another meaning as the reality behind the cosmos.

Yin and Yang are evolved out of the Supreme Ultimate. They are the negative and positive, the quiescent and active, female and male, soft and hard, dark and bright principle. Through their interaction they bring about all phenomena. Sometimes one prevails, sometimes the other, but at no time is either ever absent.

The Five Elements are produced by Yin and Yang.

These five stages are successively cyclical and involutionary from spirit down to matter. Ether, though invisible, is considered material.

Neo-Confucians reject the Buddhist view that the world is illusory.

The term Ultimateless was used by Lao Tzu, who also called it the Limitless.

Chou Tun-Yi was influenced by a learned scholar of the classics, Mu Hsiu, who received his ideas from a hermit Chung Fang, who was a disciple of famous Taoist, Chen Tuan.

Chou Tun-Yi's works were published by his pupils, the brothers Cheng, who taught Yang Shih, who was a source of ideas for Lu Hsiang-shan.

Chou Tun-Yi was known as the Master of Lien Hsi (1017-1073). His official post was as Prefect of Nanchang, in Kiangsi. He built a mountain retreat near Kuling which he called the Lien Hsi Studio.

Out of the great No-thing, which is the Void, arises that which is symbolically and mathematically the single point. It is the first appearance within space and time.

This point turns itself into the line, whose two ends oppose and complement each other. This is the cosmic symbol of universal polarity, called by the Chinese Yin-Yang, or masculine-feminine, positive and negative, projective and receptive, creation and disintegration.

The next phase of this dynamic active process is, still speaking symbolically, the development which spreads itself out into the entire Cosmos itself, like a fan, moving by itself as if by magic.

Out of their own thinking the Greeks developed somewhat similar mystical, metaphysical, and mathematical ideas whose geometry is based on the point, the line, the plane, and the solid.

"If I can develop my mind completely, I become identified with Heaven," declared Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193). This exactly explains the message of philosophy to every man. No education which ignores this can therefore be called a full education, perhaps not even a true one.

Chou Tun-Yi wrote, "The way of the sage is nothing but love, righteousness, the Mean, and correctness. Preserve it, and it will be ennobling. Practise it, and it will be beneficial. Prolong it, and it will match Heaven and Earth. Is it not easy and simple? Is it hard to know? If so, it is because we do not preserve, practise, and prolong it."

Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193) originated a school of philosophy boldly developed from the Neo-Confucianist one of the Sung Dynasty (960-1280). His teaching, a Monistic Idealism, reached its culmination with Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529), who expounded and developed it.

Lu Hsiang-shan lectured for several years at Elephant Mountain in Kiangsi, so called himself "the old man of Elephant Mountain." He married at twenty-nine to a cultured woman. In the national examination for governmental posts, his paper stood out as distinctive among several thousand. He was given an official post in the Imperial Academy. His lectures were so eloquent as to attract large crowds. When the celebrated Chu Hsi asserted that width of knowledge should be considered the foundation of virtue, Lu replied that discovery of the Original Mind should precede it. When he became a magistrate, he proved himself to be as practical in worldly matters as he was penetrating in metaphysical ones. He rebuilt the crumbling city walls, eliminated official extravagance, reduced corruption, cut down crime, and quickened legal proceedings. Yet later he declined promotion, for, with all this activity, he continued to lecture whenever possible. He died peacefully after telling his family, "I am going to die," and sitting in meditation for several hours. Some of his sayings and his few writings were collected together and it was this book that Wang Yang-ming republished in 1521, so highly did he esteem it.

One should cultivate the feeling of Reverence, taught Lu. He writes: "It is incorrect to explain that the Mind of man is equivalent to desire and the Mind of Spirit to Heavenly Law. How can man have two Minds? Mind and Law do not admit of dualism. . . . This Mind has no beginning or end; it permeates everywhere. Evil is an inescapable fact and a practical experience. A scholarly man must first make firm his will.

"People of the present generation . . . even though they are engaged the whole day with the books of the sages, when we ask what is the lodging-place of their will [we find] they are rushing in a direction opposite to that of the sages."

Chan Fou-min, a pupil of Lu, wrote: "I sat quietly with closed eyes, exerting myself to hold fast and preserve (my Mind). Through the night into the following day, I did this for half a month. Suddenly I realized that my Mind had been restored to its purity and brightness, and was standing in the Mean (chung) (that is, without inclination or deflection). I went to the teacher, who met me with his eyes and said `This Law has already been manifested in you.'"

Lu: "Establish yourself, sit straight, fold hands, collect your forces, and become lord over yourself. . . . Be without thought, immovable, silent, without action, practise non-assertion (wu wei)."

"The whole day you rely on external opinions, and have already become entangled in superficial doctrines and empty theories."

"The true Law under Heaven does not admit of duality."

"The universe is my Mind."

Lu rejected the pessimism and asceticism of Buddhism but accepted other features of Zen.

Lu regards goodness as innate in man, while his evil is acquired through circumstances and hides it.

If, a hundred thousand generations hence, sages were to appear, they would have this same Mind. If in the East, the West, the South, or the North, there were to appear sages, they too would have this same Mind. . . . Mind is only one Mind. The Mind of any given person, or of a sage a thousand generations ago, their Minds are all one like this. . . . All men have this Mind.

Mind is the same as the Law, World's governing Principle, Virtue, or Moral Order inherent in the Cosmic Order.

Po Min said: "Evil and depravity are things I have never dared to commit." Lu replied: "It is only because of rigid control in this respect. But there are some things which cannot be controlled, and such will in future also require effort. That is why one must get knowledge of what Heaven has bestowed upon us. If we succeed in developing what Heaven has thus bestowed, so rich and noble, then one will automatically keep away from evil and depravity. One will only adhere to the upright and, furthermore, will understand that with which we have been innately endowed."

Lu regards the possibilities for evil in man that are brought out by environment history and experiences as inherent but incidental, hence foredoomed to pass away and vanish, whereas his original goodness is indestructible.

Lu teaches that Original Mind can be known and understood.

Lu Hsiang-shan was a famous advocate and eloquent expounder of the mentalist teaching in twelfth-century China. Students came to his lectures in crowds from all districts in Eastern Cathay. Yet his ardent conviction of mentalism's truth did not diminish in any way his capability and efficiency as a government official. On the contrary, so satisfied were his superiors with his practical performance in minor positions that he was appointed governor and magistrate of the city of Ching-Men-Hsien, where he was highly successful in fulfilling all his responsibilities. He was offered a still higher promotion but refused it, for in between his duties and in leisure hours he also found time to teach students and give lectures.

It was the special contribution of the Wang Yang-ming school to synthesize the subtlest mentalism with the most practical routine of daily life, the holiness of fervent religion with the obligations to society, the discipline of self with the freedom of undogmatic mind.

The thought developed by Lu Hsiang-shan and later led to its logical end by Wang Yang-ming is called the Lu-Wang School, or Mind School. They are not "Subjective Idealists" in a solipsistic sense, for they hold there is one Universal Mind under the finite ones.

Wang expounds Monistic Idealism, the oneness of the universe and its representation, with all phenomena, in the Mind; that space (extension) and time (succession) exist only in the Mind.

After nearly one thousand years of useful existence, Confucianism had sunk to a low level; it had become feeble, corrupt. Wang Yang-ming was the man who aroused it to new life and strength and inspired it afresh.

Wang's concept of Intuitive Knowledge makes it calm, unaffected by suggestions, opinions, or influences from outside: it exists in equilibrium, bestowed by Mind. Its full development leads to the highest Good. But the development can happen only if applied to practical action and moral conduct.

If I admire Wang Yang-ming so greatly it is because he combined in his person qualities and capacities which proved that it is possible to live the philosophic life to the full. He was in his fifty-seven years of life a successful military commander, an excellent magistrate, a talented poet, a discriminating analyst of religions, a cultivator of intuition, a practiser of meditation, and a teacher of philosophy. He not only brought together the best in Confucius' teaching, in Buddhism and Taoism, but made valuable contributions of his own to this synthesis. It is however needful to explain to Western students that Wang's teaching of the unity of Knowledge and Conduct does not refer to intellectual knowledge but to intuitive Knowledge. To this union or Mutuality of KNOWING and DOING he gave the name of "SINCERITY." The theory learnt from books or lectures does not of itself necessarily have power to move the will; but intuition developed in the course of time by practising mental quiet, emotional calm, and personal detachment has this power. What the Indian gurus called detachment is really the same as what the Chinese philosophers like Lao Tzu called "non-action," and this is the term Wang used. It does not mean doing nothing but keeping to a certain emotional dis-involvement while doing things, an attitude itself arising from, or helped by, the quiescence practice. Another definition of "Sincerity" is harmony with the Principle of the Universe.

Wang Yang-ming was born in the town of Yu-yao, in Chekiang province. Lu's great influence on him was in insisting that virtue is abstract until made concrete in Action.

Wang is considered the greatest philosopher of the Ming dynasty.

When, with the passage of time, Confucian teaching and practice became stiff, formal, and hollow, when correct outward appearance of virtue took the place of its inner existence, then hypocrisy ruled and the reforms which Chou Tun-Yi initiated and Wang Yang-ming completed became essential.

Wang left seventy disciples after his death. They were in different provinces, and in varied situations.

Wang wrote a preface to the collected works of Lu Hsiang-shan.

Wang Yang-ming was at the end of an interesting period of development which opened with Chou Tun-Yi (1017-1073) and moved away from the stiff narrow thought of Confucius to a flexible, wider wisdom.

Wang Yang-ming is pictured on my scroll in the formal prescribed robe of a mandarin. His face is stern but not sombre; his mouth, reticent and not often opened, is thinly fringed all around with grey hair.

P.B.'s painting of Wang Yang-ming showed him in a different hat from the print which was copied from a book on him. This is because both were official hats of office (status) and differ at different stages of his career, as he rose from lower to higher appointments.

Ch'an Buddhism

We have only to look in any Japanese drawing or Chinese painting at the dark fierce face and glaring eyes of Bodhidharma to feel that any teaching coming from this man must be abrupt, terse, direct, likely to shock, and certain to surprise.

When the ten fingers are folded together, they form symbolically the two aspects (active and passive) of the One Reality. When outspread they symbolize ten aspects of its human expression, thus: Left hand: little finger=benevolence, next=virtue, middle finger=submission, resignation, calmness, index=strength, thumb=meditation; Right hand: little finger=comprehension, understanding, next=practical method used, middle finger=ideals, index finger=power and thumb=highest knowledge. This plan was drawn up by Chinese Mahayana.

It was a thirteenth-century Ch'an Buddhist, Liu Ping-chuang, who came out of his retirement for meditation to guide the celebrated Mongol emperor Kublai Khan in getting rid of the chaos into which the administration of China had fallen. His practical reforms were successful and the emperor admired him as a statesman, trusted him as an adviser, and valued his help. Nor was he narrowly limited in his spiritual studies: the ethics and social political ideas of Confucius, the monkish disciplines and contemplations of Buddhism, and the mysteries of Taoism were all embraced and synthesized. He had no official title until after his death, but wanted none. After twenty-six years of such capable and distinguished service he again retired to seclusion and spent the last six years of his life in Taoistic study, practices, and meditation.

In a Chinese Zen ninth-century text by Hsi Yun we find the scathing words addressed to the many sectarian babblers: "Speak not of the Absolute with a mind like an ape."

Zen is not a Japanese-invented product but a Japanese-dressed Chinese product. As Ch'an, it was fully developed in China before the Japanese got hold of it.

Shen Hui (Chinese Zen Master): "Without practising [yoga], by attaining to correct understanding alone, and by deeply impregnating yourself with it, all the chief entanglements and deceptive ideas will gradually fall away."

In Japan Shen Hui rejected the way of watching the mind to concentrate it to enter meditation. He taught that such forms need not be used. To have no thoughts was enough to let the Pure Original Mind appear. The attitude of goodwill, the practice of self-denial is the first rule. Shen Hui further claimed his was the School of Sudden Enlightenment. It is like childbirth, which is a sudden affair but the child requires a long process of nurture and education before attaining its full bodily and intellectual growth. He derided all the books in the world and himself wrote none.

The dhyana of Sanskrit became the ch'an or ch'anting of Chinese and the zazen of Japanese. All mean contemplation.

Garma C.C. Chang said, "What the Zen Masters have done is to point out our delusions in thinking of the non-existent as existent and the existent as non-existent." He means non-existent as matter but existent as Mind.

Sixth Zen Patriarch: "You should first cast aside all mental activity and let no thoughts arise in you. Then I shall preach the Dharma for you." After a long interval of silence the Patriarch continued, "Not thinking of good or evil, right at this very moment that is your original face!" Hui Ming was immediately enlightened.

Hua-shang, a Chinese Mahayanist leader and tutor of the King of Tibet in the early beginnings of Buddhism there, taught that attainment does not take place slowly as a result of protracted and onerous struggle, but suddenly and intuitively: "The man who thinks of nothing, who turns his attention to nothing, will free himself from Samsara." This of course became a Ch'an school tenet.


Whereas Indian Buddhist and Vedantic thought deplored life's brevity, Japanese thought, while also deploring it, refused to follow them in denouncing the body as an obstacle, much less into denying its existence. Zen Master Dogen asserted that we ought to respect the body, since it is through this life and this body that we have the opportunity to practise the "Good Law."

The following are equivalent terms for one and the same thing: Original Pure Mind of Zen Buddhism, Pure Consciousness of Vedanta, Alaya of Mahayana Buddhism.

D.T. Suzuki was a lay disciple of Soyen Shaku, a roshi (guru) at Engaku-ji Temple who went on invitation to attend the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 held at Chicago--the same one at which Vivekananda spoke. D.T. Suzuki travelled with him to act as translator and later remained in the U.S.A. alone. Thus was Zen launched in the West, but it was Suzuki's steady unremitting work which continued the impulse given by Soyen. He did this by lectures, translations of texts, a periodical journal, and finally books. The reward of marked attention did not come however until World War II ended, when the interest in Zen suddenly erupted.

Too many Westerners interested in Japanese Zen assume that the work on riddles, called koans, is its principal way. This is not so. It is not accepted or practised by the other important branch of Zen, the Soto. The non-logical koan method is not recommended for those on a philosophical path and does not ally harmoniously with it.

It was not till a thousand years had passed since the introduction of Buddhism into China, and not till four hundred years after Bodhidharma had brought the Zen form of it there, that the koan technique assumed any prominence at all among the methods of meditation. Even to this day one of the two Japanese Zen schools, the Soto, makes only little use of koans.

The essence of Chinese Ch'an was adapted by the Japanese, and even altered, to suit their own national character. It became their Zen.

Zen Buddhism is a form of mysticism, perhaps one of its highest if most puzzling forms, and not a philosophy. Therefore it is incomplete, one-sided. The evidence for this is inherent in itself for it disdains metaphysics, study, reason, and stakes everything on a flash intuition got by meditation. There is here no such check on the correctness completeness and finality of such an intuition as is provided by philosophy. A further evidence lies in the history of its own founder. Bodhidharma admittedly travelled to China to give out his teaching yet, after his arrival, he contented himself with sitting in complete solitude for nine years at Sung-Shan, waiting for a prospective disciple to approach him. Had he been a sage, however, he would surely have filled those nine years with making his knowledge readily available to whoever was ready for it, and if there existed no such elite, he would in that case have helped the masses with simpler if more indirect forms of truth.

In Japan the Zen teaching took different forms. Some were incredibly Godless but others had Gods. Some--among them ones which Suzuki considered of high attainment--rejected all forms. Moreover this was regarded as the secret teaching of the Buddha himself!

Zen koan exercises: These really are insoluble, hence the pupil reaches a point where he has to give it up as an insoluble riddle; with this, he gives up the intellect and ego, and gets illumination.

It is an error to believe that the koan is an invention of the Japanese mind; however, that mind may have recast it. Kung-an was already part, although a later part, of the Ch'an doctrine in China before it was taken up by the island neighbours.

Those who believe that a permanent and stable enlightenment can be got from the koan practices of Zen without any other sort of preparation can find no support for their belief in the higher truth of India--the original fountainhead--or any other Buddhist land. The koan cannot by itself bring more than a temporary glimpse that at best will necessarily fade away.

Those who care for koans will wander about in circles and in the end come back with empty hands. They will have to start afresh on a new road having learnt that wisdom is not hidden in lunacy--except for minds already confused or distorted.

It is not sufficiently realized by Western students of Zen Buddhism that there are various schools of Zen, and that it is a great error to identify it solely with the Koan School, although this is the one that has been much favoured by them. Indeed the Soto Zen School, one of the most important and widespread, rejects the koan practice entirely. As for the fierce, almost frenzied concentration on a koan which so often prevails, the Soto founder, Master Dogen, pointed out that it was far better to wait in silence, patiently, until a glimpse is received.

Zen prescribes freedom from dogmatizing--hence keeping a fresh mind. It calls for quickness of reflexes and reactions--hence superb self-control.

In karate, to perform a difficult feat such as breaking a brick by a sharp blow with the edge of the hand, the mind must first be briefly made completely blank. The blow is then spontaneous, immediate, delivered by force, and unhindered by calculating thought. Opponents do not look into each other's eyes. Why? Because if the intention to make the next move arises, the thought will reveal itself by the slightest loss of balance when thought tends to affect the body's muscles. The opponent divines the intention by gazing into the eyes, so they look down to the chest.

An example of this symbolic but enigmatic form of expression may be taken from Japanese Zen. The phrase "original face" means "seeing the fundamental self-nature."

Dhyana is pronounced "Jan." H.P. Blavatsky writes: "Dhyana, Dan, Janna, Dzan, Djan, (Japanese, Zen, hence the Book of Dzyan), in modern Chinese and Tibetan phonetics Ch'an, is the general term for the esoteric schools and their literature. In the old books Janna is defined as `reforming oneself by meditation and knowledge,' a second inner birth."

The Japanese Zen Buddhists were spiritually sensitive enough and aesthetically cultured enough to recognize the higher values of tea-drinking.

The tea ceremony was started in China one thousand years ago by Zen priests and spread into Japan a couple of centuries later. Whereas Chinese priests started it to ward off drowsiness in meditation the Japanese laity made it popular. Slowly it changed until the sixteenth century, when the present rite was finalized by Zen priests. The greatest possible economy of movements is aimed at. The rite is an exercise in refinement, gracefulness, and calm. But surprising humility is also embodied in it in a way strangely reminiscent of the Egyptian Great Pyramid, for like the entrance to the King's Chamber, the entry to the Tea-Chamber is through an opening so small and so low in the wall that a visitor is forced to bend down and almost crawl through.

Except for our first meeting, tea seems to be associated with my contacts with Professor D.T. Suzuki. He invited me to help myself from the ever bubbling samovar of the light-coloured weak-tasting green tea which was the national Japanese drink. This was at the Engaku-ji Monastery, Temple, and Academy in those far-off years before the war. This was the fitting place, the pertinent atmosphere, in which to talk quietly about Zen. Then we met again, about a decade later, after the war, at the Los Angeles Japanese Buddhist Temple where he was staying as a guest. He offered some little round rice-cakes this time to eat with the tea. I noticed that he now put a lump of sugar between his front teeth and held it there while he drank. The third time he asked me to tea was a couple of years later at Columbia University, where he again was a guest. There we had Western-style toasted rolls as the accompaniment. After his secretary-assistant removed the trays, we went at great length and in much detail into a comparison of Indian yoga, philosophy, and texts with Zen Chinese and Japanese meditation methods, philosophy, and texts. I was amazed at his extraordinary erudition, for he not only knew exactly where the references supporting his statements could be found, but his ability to read Sanskrit and Chinese, along with his native Japanese and early-acquired English, gave a width and authority which few other men possessed. His basic point was that whereas Zen sought and achieved direct penetration to reality, Indian yoga sought and achieved mental stillness--not necessarily the same and certainly inferior. We were unable to come to a full agreement, so we gradually drifted away from the matter and he talked confidentially with touching humbleness of his own spiritual status. "They consider me a master," he said finally, "but I consider myself a student." Then before leaving I suggested that we meditate together, communing in the silent way that was well-understood in both Japan and India. "But I only meditate in private, alone," he protested, "or in the assembly of a zendo (monastic hall for group meditation). Nobody has ever asked me to do this before." But in the end he yielded, and there we sat with the grey university walls of Columbia all around, the warm summer sunshine coming in through the windows.

It was a Japanese saint of the thirteenth century, Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren Shu sect of Buddhism and still worshipped by a few million Japanese, who denounced the Zen sects as "devils"! But it is interesting to note that the Nichiren is more concerned with practical affairs, with reorganizing secular life in the world, than with philosophy and mysticism, which preoccupy Zennists.

Suzuki: "One thing characterizing Zen temples and monasteries is that they are clean and in good order, and the monks are ready to take up manual work."

If the Greeks are individualistic, the Japanese are not: they are joiners. The Japanese needs the reassuring sense of belonging to a group, the larger the better. He needs the moral support gained from identifying himself with an organized section of society.

Goto Roshi, contemporary Zen guru, claimed that "Zen has been misinterpreted to the West because the interpreters have not finished their training. So they have talked of goals instead of the method." (By method he meant zazen, sitting still in meditation--P.B.) See Paul Menpahl, The Matter of Zen, New York University Press.

When invading soldiers burnt down the room in which they had locked Kaisen, Master of a Zen monastery in Japan, he said, "The practice of Zen does not necessarily require the beauty of landscape. When one puts out all thoughts even fire is cool to him."

The Orient has changed enough, alas! and is still fast changing its inward character and outward conditions. Tokyo, when I first saw Japan, was already well on the way to becoming a Chicago, but Kyoto was still a largely unspoiled artistic intellectual cultural centre. Now, more than forty years later, I am told it has kept much of its charm still but is fast adding enough industry to make anyone wonder what will survive by the end of the next forty years.

Master Dogen (thirteenth-century founder of Soto Zen sect) was an extremist in metaphysical and ethical ideas and especially in social ones.

The blows delivered by these Japanese Zen masters which are reported to be followed by sudden enlightenment represent a form of initiation unknown to India, where almost every possible form has been thought of and used. But it was left to Japan to think of, and use, physical violence for such a sacred purpose!

The ecstatic raptures of a Saint Teresa do not appear in the calm insights of a Zen sage.

The Zen layman, living in the world and not in a monastery, tries to transcend whatever enters his life.

Suzuki told someone that his own Zen master was the last of the great Zen masters. Since his death the present Kali Yuga masters are from this point of view only so-called ones.

When, during our visit to Japan, we sought for the footprints of Zen, we found all that was worthwhile in it now belonged to a dead past and only a minute handful of earnest but ignored scholars kept its bookish memory alive, aside from a handful of monks and priests who had lost its old vital spirit and lacked its keen intellectualism. Zen had become in fact a mere museum-piece among the people of the Rising Sun.


Lake Manazowar, Tibet: The storm-swept lake is also profoundly sacred in their eyes. The mountain rises abruptly from the trackless plain not far from the frontier. There is nothing but bleak, height-bordered wilderness for hundreds of miles in every other direction, with only an occasional hill-perched Buddhist monastery or temporary tent-village to relieve it as it broods unchanged over this snowy fastness, and civilization is still absent.

Here is a region which has always been shrouded in mystery, which remains even in this twentieth century aloof, like a hermit among the world's places. The ground everywhere is hard and frozen; keen and violent winds descend into the glaciers and cut relentlessly across their surfaces. The climatic rigours of excessive cold and piled snow render it nearly inaccessible to the traveller for nearly three-fourths of the year. I have lived at various points along the Indo-Tibetan border and sampled a mite of the atmosphere which surrounds the Himalayan region. Dizzy heights and rugged precipices topped by the continuous snowy line of Himalaya meet one's gaze everywhere.

One might walk on foot or ride on horseback along the thread-like trails for miles without meeting a soul. Silence rules all day like a sovereign, until the afternoon thunder growls across the ridges and valleys and pinnacles of the mountains like the detonation of a high explosive. Most evenings are heralded by lightning.

Because Tibet was so long isolated from the influences of modern times, when the pressure of this balancing two-way influence inserted itself in the country's history, the effect was highly painful to the Tibetans. Had it been voluntarily sought and accepted earlier, it would have come in much more gently and easily. But it was stubbornly resisted. So it had to come in forcibly, through the Chinese, and because it came at so late an hour it had so much the more to cover. The compression in time brought the most drastic experiences, the worst sufferings, to the unfortunate ill-led people.

More than thirty years ago (in 1936) I publicly pleaded with the Tibetan Government to renounce their land's total aloofness and to replace it by a discreetly limited aloofness, to prepare for an ineluctable exchange with the outside world. The plea went unheeded. But today (1967) their country is held captive and modernizing changes are being cruelly and ruthlessly enforced. Fifty thousand refugees exist dismally in India, a thousand more live here in Switzerland. [As of 1986, there were 100,000 refuges, 80,000 of them living in India.--Ed.]

Ethiopia isolated herself and her ancient religion for centuries. But Mussolini broke rudely into this by his invasion and conquest. Now Tibet, with an even stricter isolation, has been forced to come into contact with the world--and the old ideas, the old ways, the old peace is going. The old religion will go along with it. Both Ethiopia and Tibet were fully entitled to live as they wished, as quiet hermit kingdoms. They had a moral right to be left alone. But alas! the world holds opposing or aggressive forces, evil matches itself against each individual's good, each nation's good.

"We had to learn the bitter lesson that the world has grown too small for any people to live in harmless isolation."--Dalai Lama, 1962

Atisha, the Indian monk who helped restore and purify Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet, was author of The Lamp of the Right Way.

The weaknesses of Tibetan Buddhism as practised today are the amount of superstition mingled with Gautama's original pure doctrine; the failure to adapt itself to the exigencies, the tendencies, and the conditions of the twentieth century, so far as they are good and proper and ameliorative; and the unwillingness to accept Western learning and science, where these can be beneficially added.

The tragic fate of Tibetan refugees, dying of tuberculosis near Darjeeling or begging for a crust at Buddh Gaya, at the very spot where Gautama got his enlightenment, is commentary enough on those dreamers who would airily dismiss everything including the world, the body, and the events of history as mere maya, unreal and not existent, hence to be ignored.

It was one man's personal and nationalistic ambition, his God-hating materialism, which was largely behind the cruel treatment Tibet recently received from China. This man, being both a militarist and a megalomaniac, has the very opposite outlook to the one inculcated by Buddha. Therefore as soon as his troops entered Tibet they sought to destroy the national religion of Buddhism.

In Tibet they desecrated the monasteries, persecuted the lamas, humiliated the abbots, and tried to eradicate the religion itself.

If we enquire why Communism is now a sort of nemesis to the religion of Tibet and even begins to threaten India, we must remember that the villagers are ruled as much by superstition and fanaticism as by piety and wisdom. They are certainly not guided in their everyday living by the higher philosophic or mystic culture which mostly attracts the interest of foreigners to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Nestorian Christian missionaries from Central Asia were active in Tibet in the seventh century and gained a number of converts. But Buddhism, which came into the country only a little earlier, was adopted by the king and so won the contest. There is no point in speculating what would have happened if Tibet had turned to Jesus' message, instead of Gautama's, and what this strange land would have done with, and to, it.

There come to memory again the narrow gorges, the tall pines of the lower Himalayas and the lofty cedars (called locally deodars) of the higher levels, the black bears searching for food, the little trading post where Tibetans came to exchange their few agricultural or pastoral products.

The lama told with difficulty his story of escape in the retinue of the Dalai Lama. There were only words . . . phrases . . . broken sentences. But it was enough to show what tremendous faith and endurance went into the enterprise of climbing to frozen heights, crossing and descending the Himalayan world by little-used because more rugged ways.

Padma Sambhava (Tibetan Master): "If the seeker, when sought, cannot be found, thereupon is attained the goal of the seeking, the end of the quest itself. Then there is no need to search for anything and there is nothing to be practised."

Milarepa, the Tibetan yogi: "If ye know not the secret and the subtle methods, mere exercise of zeal will make the Pathway long."

The great invocation which the lamas use and inscribe on their temple-flags or by roadside stone, "Om Mani Padme Hum," is also a phrase that holds the minds of yogis throughout India. This mystical phrase when chanted correctly, arrests the alien hearer and captivates his imagination.

Such is the grip of these lamas that a common Tibetan saying runs: "Without a Lama in front, there is no approach to God." And such is the grip of their religion that even professional bandits use the prayer-wheel and rosary, carrying them under their breasts in their sheepskins even when in the very act of threatening their victim with sword or gun.

High Dignitaries of the Tibetan lamaist religion and high abbots of their monasteries and Chinese royalties sat in their granted audiences or performed rites on a high seat or high dais half-veiled by shadows.

There are different kinds of hermits in Tibet: the book hermit, whose object in secluding himself is to attain knowledge; the "good works" hermit, who seeks the goal by diligence in good works and who may be either a lama or a layman; and two other kinds, both of whom aim at acquiring peculiar powers. The book hermit is a lama who shuts himself in a cave in the mountains or in a cell in the lamasery for a term of nine years, nine months, and nine days for the purpose of prayer and study [The length of time may vary, but is now most commonly three years, three months, and three days--Ed.]. He may engage in conversation twice a day--once in the morning and once in the evening--but he does not show himself. His visitors are friends and relatives or, if he is wealthy, businessmen seek instructions about his property. When he is prepared to talk, he rings a bell. He has generally two meals, but sometimes only one. When he has completed his exact term he comes out and thereafter enjoys great repute as a lama of great knowledge and one whom the gods are likely to favour. The good works hermit relies on deeds rather than on knowledge and remains a hermit until he dies. Good works are manifested through six different agencies, namely: through the eyes, by regarding Chojong, lamas' holy mountains; through the ears, by listening to lamas' talks and to the scriptures; through the mouth, by reciting scriptures, by praying, and by good talk; through the body, by fasting and making prostrations; through the hands, by turning prayer-wheels and making prayer-flags; and through the feet, by circumambulating holy mountains and making pilgrimages to the holy places. But it is the mind that matters. If this mind is bad, it is like a lake of poison; if the eyes are bad, they are like pools of blood; if the mouth is bad, it is like the flames of fire; if the hands are bad, they are like swords; and if the feet are bad, they are like lightning, that is to say, as deadly to man's soul as his feet are to innumerable insects. The good works hermit rises three hours after midnight and rings a bell to let the gods know that he is about to pray. All the day is occupied in reading prayer books, praying, and doing good works through the six different agencies; and he has only one meal daily, at mid-day. His method of praying in the evening is as follows: facing the West, he stands with palms together, supposedly enclosing a jewel, and touches, successively, first his forehead, then his lips, then his breast. In touching the forehead, he invokes the body of Buddha, who resides in the crown of the head. In touching the mouth, he invokes Buddha's laws. And in touching the breast, he invokes Buddha's mind. He then kneels down with palms flat on the ground and makes a single kowtow. These two performances are repeated, one after the other, many hundred times; if the lama's physique is very strong, he may repeat this thousands of times. Each day is the same until he dies. He may live thus for thirty years.

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.