Theravāda budističko društvo

New Approaches to Buddhism

New Approaches to Buddhism —
The Hard Way

Bhikkhu Nanajivako

Samo za besplatnu distribuciju, kao dar Dhamme

Human kind cannot bear very much reality.
(T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral)

Nearly half a century ago, at a time when the conscience-stricken intelligentsia in Europe, especially in the Christian idealogical camp, after the First World War and in the eve of the Second, became apprehensive of the "fascist" hybrid inoculated on their deeply wounded Christian stem, and of its rapid growth in the militant ranks of youth-movements — it was the poet T. S. Eliot, one of the coolest rationalists among Christian philosophers of his time, master of the well-pondered language of the High Scholastic, who felt the urge to formulate the following warning on the occasion of a congress of Christian leaders in England (1931):

There is no good in making Christianity easy and pleasant. "Youth", or the better part of it, is more likely to come to a difficult religion than to an easy one… The way of discipline and asceticism must be emphasised. [1]

Once more, at the end of the same tragic decade, on the eve of the War in 1939, he emphasised the same view-point in The Idea of a Christian Society:

And what is worst of all is to advocate Christianity not because it is true, but because it might be beneficial…To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion.

Eliot's deep interest in Asian, particularly in Indian religiosity influenced his following statement:

A Christian society only becomes acceptable after you have fairly examined the alternatives… If we are to accept it, we must treat Christianity with a great deal more intellectual respect than it is our wont; we must treat it as being for the individual a matter primarily of thought and not of feeling. [2]

It seems to me that we are becoming aware of the same predicament in Buddhism only now, considering the consequences of a third intercontinental revolutionary war on Asian ground.

Over ten years ago four bhikkhus were ordained on the same day at the Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka. (The hermitage was founded in 1911 by the German bhikkhu Nyanatiloka). The first who pushed his way in the small sima (chapter house) crowded with Sinhalese, Burmese and German bhikkhus, was the worst of the hippies, who coming from the Wild West in the middle sixties tried to invade Sri Lanka and her maha-sangho. (Most of them disappeared in 1971, at the time of political disturbances provoked by anarchistic youth of that country.)

The last in the queue was Ñanananda, a young Sinhalese lecturer of Pali who resigned his post at the Peradeniya University, Kandy, in order to retreat into meditative life. To his work will be dedicated the rest of this section. I was the second in the same row. Only two of us remained there until now, Ñananada and I.

Bhikkhu Ñanananda lived in the Island Hermitage for about three years and used the Founder's rich library (already half rotten in the unhealthy jungle climate) to continue and conclude some of his research work, and to write down, in a scholarly way, the essential motives of his response to the ascetic vocation. In 1972 he retreated into a deeper solitude in a hermitage for meditating monks. Since then he has also renounced writing.

At the time he joined the Order bhikkhu Ñanananda was still working on a thesis for his academic career, Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought, published in 1971 by the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy (now in its second edition). This work was done still under a considerable influence of semanticist positivism imposed by the academic trend of his teachers. In the early sixties the embargo against "Continental" European philosophies was still more rigid here than in India. In the provincial atmosphere of ex-colonies, at least on academic levels, cultural dictatorship of the big metropolitan schools for "advocates of lost causes" continued to dominate unnoticed and indisturbed for nearly twenty years after political independence was granted to the sub-continent whose "blessed pearl" Sri Lanka traditionally had been throughout centuries. Buddhist scholars were expected to contribute to the "positive message" for "the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number" in the greatest Empire in the world. Their religion, in order to become easily acceptable, had to be brought down to the standards of utilitarianism, pragmaticism and empiricism. It seemed as if since J. S. Mill nobody ever dared to ask again the perennial question: How could any religion or philosophy ever have appeared in this world without antecedent questions of a metaphysical and eschatological order of values evident in themselves and a a priori, or questions about the essential value of "being-in-the-world", uncritically assumed as "Reality".

The analysis of "the word that kills" the vivifying spirit by restricting its "meaning" to "patterns" and sets of "propositions", looking for "semantic differentials" instead of essential integrity of the creative thought, has been the notorious traditionalist method of Indian pandits "since times immemorial", corroding the root-texts (mulam) in treasuries of the creative spirit of Indian culture. The Buddhist heritage remained not only unprotected against the danger of this "canker", but it was necessary already for the Buddho himself to complain and to warn on some occasions against it:

In the Sangarava-suttam (M 100) the Buddho complains among other of teachers who are takkl-vimamsi or, literally, "logical analysts" of texts, whose "perfection of knowledge" is based on "mere faith alone", and who are not "knowing directly by themselves alone", "here and now".

While working under the duresse of his academic career, Ñanananda certainly could not have quoted such texts in his Concept and Reality. However, he was not any longer the first among the thera-vado pandits of our time who dared express his doubts "about what ought to be doubted" (A III 65).

Discussing the commentarial definition of the word ditthi in the Brahma-jala-suttam, Ñanananda singled out (p. 36) the "tendency evident in the commentaries, which, while defining tanha and mana in a more elementary form as to be comprehensive, take great care to be more specific in the case of ditthi. This may be due partly… also to a desire to safeguard 'Right-view' (samma-ditthi). But it appears that this commentarial definition has created new problems… Besides, the tendency towards ditthi in the sense of dogmatic involvement in concepts, can also become manifest through Samma Ditthi in its theoretical aspect. It can assume the form of attachment to concepts which constitute Samma Ditthi. It is precisely this danger that the Buddho forewarns against, in the 'Parable of the Raft'…"

With reference to Udanam 9, Ñanananda points out "facts which seem to have been overlooked by the commentator Dhammapala" for whom terms referring to the 'Nibbana-element' "assume a certain degree of grossness and banality", and whose explanation ultimately "exposes the inadequacy of his interpretation" (op. cit. p. 56).

In order to be qualified to criticise such "commentarial developments” of a basic teaching, one first has to extend the acquaintance with individual authors and layers in the historical course of their deterioration. In his first scholarly book Ñanananda has sufficiently displayed his competence to treat his subject on an up to date level of academic pandits.

In his second book, The Magic of the Mind: An Exposition of the Kalakarama Sutta, written in 1972 [3] Ñanananda demonstrated how his first scholarly work has served him for a further delicate task and service to the living spirit of the Buddha-dhammo.

The acknowledgement of the historical factor in the method of the logic of cultural sciences (in contradistinction to the statical attitude of formal logics applied to the scientific objectification of "nature", mainly in its obsolete Newtonian meaning) has become in the course of the 20th century characteristic also for modern efforts to save from stagnation the perennial values (sanatana-dhammo) of the ancient Asian wisdom. In his Introduction on the "Historical Background" of the short root-text (mulam) selected for his existential interpretation in The Magic of the Mind (A II, Kalakarama-suttam) Ñanananda states first that "the discourse… does contain some marvellous aspects of the Tathagata's transcendental wisdom" [4]. Among tabu terms on which he wishes to put a new stress we find, on the next page 2, also the statement that "beneath that dryness and that strangeness in formulation there lie vast resources for a perennial philosophy". The author's sensitivity for the actual value of the dimension of historicality (as Heidegger's translators would call it) and his interest in comparative philosophy is affirmed, in the same introductory frame, in the following statement:

The Sutta gains a high degree of historical importance owing to the tradition handed down by the commentaries and chronicles, that it was preached by the venerable Maharakkhita Thera to convert the country of the 'Yonakas' during the great missionary movement which took place in the reign of the Emperor Asoka. If the identification of the 'Yonakas' with Greeks is correct, the choice of this deeply philosophical discourse for such a significant occasion, could not have been a mere coincidence. It might have been prompted by the consideration that the philosophically mature minds of the Greeks would be able to receive it well.

As for the interpretation of this short text (covering together with traditional commentarial notes less than 5 out of 88 pages in the slender volume) along the lines of modern comparative philosophy, as far as it goes it remains implicit though not less suggestive and symptomatic for that reason. And "that reason" should be properly understood and exposed despite the author's shyness: Nomina sunt odiosa.

In 1963 the Buddhist Publication Society (Wheel No. 52/53) published four essays from the posthumous papers of Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, Pathways of Buddhist Thought. From an Editor's Note (p. 19) and from sections ending with dots it is visible that these papers were not yet ready for print at the time of their author's death in 1960. This might explain in a few cases the lack of references to authors whose specific ideas are quoted and discussed in the booklet. However, among a considerable number of authors quoted and mentioned from page to page, the shortcoming of specific reference, even to the name of the author referred to under quotation marks, becomes conspicuous only in the case of one author whose influence appears predominant in the whole booklet, at least from page 16 on. This author is J. P. Sartre. Numerous references, even under quotation marks, are from his main philosophical work, Being and Nothingness. There can be no question [of Ñanamoli’s intention to conceal this predominate influence] which most probably had inspired the whole intention of his unfinished work. This is obvious already from the explicit quotation on p. 16, which in its edited form reads as follows:

'If bad faith is possible at all' says a modern writer 'it is because it is an immediate and constant threat to every human project, it is because consciousness hides within its very being a permanent risk of bad faith.' Bad faith, however, is not a lie, since 'the essence of a lie implies that the liar is completely aware of the truth which he dissembles… One no longer lies when one deceives oneself. Bad faith, in short, both refuses to face all one knows and vetoes any investigation into whether the faith is well placed or not.

Other numerous references throughout the booklet are to not less famous theses and headlines from Sartre's philosophical master-work: to "horror" or "nausea" (p. 32), or to the whole set of problems discussed under the typically existentialist title "Consciousness and Being". On p. 40 he discusses the "negativity (of Being) as to itself" quoting Sartre:

And so, instead of being said to appear, it should rather be called 'that negativeness or "decompression of being" which makes the appearance of life, movement, behaviour, etc., and their opposites possible in "things" and "persons"'.

On the next page Ñanamoli seems to be thrilled (duly using many quotation marks) with Sartre's wistful analysis of "peeping through a key hole". Ultimately (on p. 44) he comes to the most serious eschatological problem of "consciousness of deprivation, of an 'abyss of nothingness."

Thus the first Buddhist book on Sartre passed unnoticed and unidentified in its historical subject even to those who published it. The embargo regulation still prevailed: Nomina sunt odiosa.

Still, the obvious prima facie relevance of the Buddho's teaching on dukkham (or "anguish", the typical existentialist equivalent with which already I. B. Horner translated it) for modern philosophies of existence, and vice versa, could not remain concealed much longer, not even for the "average reader" of such remote sub-continents and continents as India and Australia with their geographic appendices.

The author of The Magic of the Mind was well acquainted with Ñanamoli's voluminous literary heritage created one decade earlier in the same famous international hermitage. He could not miss the feeling of the intimate connection of the Pathways with the much less cryptic and locally much more discussed Motes on Dhamma by Ñanavira Thera.

Ñanavira was Ñanamoli's closest friend since the War when they were together in military service in Italy. There he came across one of the best new books on Buddhism written in those tragic times by G. Evola (La Dottrina del Risveglio, Bari 1943), which he later translated and published in England as The Doctrine of Awakening. A study on the Buddhist Ascesis (London 1952). When Ñanamoli decided to become a Buddhist monk in Asia (it was just at the time of the Chinese occupation of Tibet where he first intended to go), Ñanavira followed him to their ultimate destination in Sri Lanka. They were ordained at the Island Hermitage.

Before Ñanavira's tragical death (in 1965, by suicide, due to incurable painful disease and drug addiction connected with neglected and improper treatment) his Notes appeared in a private cyclostyled edition in 1963, and have not been printed until today, though they have been retyped several times, even, as far as I happen to know, by Ph. D. research workers, and discussed in seminars in countries so distant and different in their spiritual and academic interests as India and Yugoslavia. One day, I believe, this small book will deserve to have its own Don Quixotic history written down by some research expert on "modern" Buddhist hagiography.

In the Preface to his Notes on Dhamma Nanavira states in an open and bold confession that his approach will be from the standpoint of an up to date "existential philosophy".

The scholar's essentially horizontal view of things… disqualifies him from any possibility of understanding a Dhamma that the Buddha himself has called akalika, 'timeless'. Only in a vertical view, straight down into the abyss of his own personal existence, is a man capable of apprehending the perilous insecurity of his situation… There have always been a few, however, who have not drawn back, and some of them have described what they saw. These men are known nowadays as existential philosophers…

He quotes this lineage of modern thinkers, beginning with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Gabriel Marcel from a pocket-book selection, H. J. Black-ham, Six Existentialist Thinkers (1952).

Ñanavira, who had no regular school training in philosophy, dedicated the last years of his life to a fervent study of contemporary European (i.e. "Continental") philosophies from first hand sources, mainly in the basic works of Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre.

In his Notes he undertook to demonstrate the possibility of a "vertical view" which proceeds by the rational method of focussing an extensive range of documentary material, definitions of epistemological key-terms from the Sutta-pitakam converging upon the most complex structure in the archaic formulation of categorial interdependence of mental functions – paticca-samuppado — within the transcendental limitation of pure reason by metaphysical nescience — avijja. (The terminological adequation to basic standards of Kantian philosophy is mine.)

Avijja, the primordial term and phenomenological source of Indian metaphysics of knowledge since the earliest upanisads, [5] points in Ñanavira's interpretation (though the point remains implicit) to the ultimate metaphysical justification of "the philosophical faith" (cf. Jaspers' formulation of Der philosophise he Glaube), and still more clearly to the decisive for existential inseparability of religion-and-philosophy against the false scholastic dilemma formulated in our case in the sophisticated question: "Is Buddhism a religion OR a philosophy?" [6]:

In order to put an end to avijja, which is a matter of recognising avijja as avijja, it is necessary to accept on trust from the Buddha a Teaching that contradicts the immediate evidence of the puthujjana's reflexion. This is why the Dhamma is patisotagami (…) or 'going against the stream'. (P. 22-3)

Ñanavira did not elaborate any further the false dilemma of a religion vivisected from philosophy. Ñanamoli in his Pathways (in the first essay, "Buddhism — a Religion or a philosophy?") enters into the discussion of this dilemma, taking uncritically for granted its scholastic limits and overlooking the deeper implication revealed by the existential reorientation of contemporary philosophies of religion. As for the rest of the existential "chain" of paticca-samuppado, conceived as categorical (i.e. mental) structure of interdependent factors determining existential events, here are a few salient points, summarised most clearly in one of he "Shorter Notes" on this subject:

Paticcasamuppada has nothing to do with temporal succession (cause-and-effect). Precedence in paticcasamuppada is structural not temporal: paticcasamuppada is not the description of a process. For as long as paticcasamuppada is thought to involve temporal succession (as it is, notably, in the traditional 'three-life' interpretation), so long is it liable to be regarded as some kind of hypothesis (that there is re-birth and that it is caused by avijja) to be verified (or not) in the course of time (like any hypothesis of the natural sciences), and so long are people liable to think that the necessary and sufficient criterion of a 'Buddhist' is the acceptance of this hypothesis on trust… But the Buddha tells us (…) that paticcasamuppada is sanditthiko akaliko ehipassiko opanayiko paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi. [7] What temporal succession is akaliko? (…) For an ariyasavaka paticcasamuppada is a matter of direct reflexive certainty. (P. 66-8)

Ñanavira is however aware that, even if understood in this way as a categorical structure on which the awareness of the mind of its existential temporality is dependent, paticca-samuppado can be condensed to an encompassing single act of intensive consciousness focussed on its pure present, in the momentariness of "the eternal now" (as we might say with or without reference to the abhidhammika khanika-vado). Yet this cannot satisfy his intention to raise the whole ontological import of this basic problem from the level of temporal (empirical) being to the essential level of ideal being-within-the-consciousness (cf. Husserl's noema):

It is sometimes thought possible to modify this interpretation of paticcasamuppada, [8] confining its application to the present life. Instead of temporal succession we have continuous becoming, which introduces the notion of a flux, where the effect cannot be clearly distinguished from the cause — the cause becomes the effect. But this does not get rid of the temporal element… The problem lies in the present, which is always with us; and any attempt to consider past or future without first settling the present problem can only beg the question — ...Any interpretation of paticca-samuppada that involves time is an attempt to solve the present problem by referring to past or future, and is therefore necessarily mistaken. (P. 68-70)

This seems to summarise, from the stand-point of the modern transcendental philosophy, the gist of Ñanavira's essentialism.

Thus Ñanavira has broken through the barrier of takki-vimamsi sterile word-vivisection and "commentarial development", aggravated in its modern version (as "logical positivism") by the aftermath of the post-colonial embargo on imports from deeper layers of philosophical culture that on the European Continent had survived a series of brutal white-washings by all sorts of military governments.

After the breach through the rotten rampart on whose historical site a Don Quixotic monument has been erected to the memory of Ñanavira's feat in a jungle shrine by a handful of fanatical hippie devotees — there remains the problem of a new modus vivendi sought in terms of a "middle path" of reconciliation with academic and quasi-academic religious authorities confronted with a less dramatic challenge from the backwaters (symbolised by the Island Hermitage) of much wider social and political turmoils provoked by the actual change of generations.

Within its academic framework Ñanananda's Magic of the Mind marks this conciliative intention, though conscious of the changed situation among the international Buddhist intelligentsia to whom this farewell message of an escapee to the "Ideal Solitude" [9] of more rigorous eremitic life is addressed. A closer analysis of the turning points in this direction in The Magic of the Mind would be almost impossible within the too wide frame of this review. A few hints may suffice with reference to the symbol suggested by its title.

What is challenged here is "Reality" in its uncritical meaning mentioned at the beginning of this section. Reality is a magician's trick. As soon as you succeed to look at the performance (described with vivid naivete in the Prologue) from "some concealed corner" in the backstage, you get disillusioned and disgusted; you wish to leave the show, to “give God his ticket back" (as in the Negro spiritual quoted somewhere by Sartre), or, without much metaphorical art, to escape the actual danger of "being-in-the-world" (Heidegger), to escape from reality. There is no "Escape to Reality" as the puthujjano, the believer in the 'bliss-of-ignorance' [10] imagines it, because beyond the magician's show there is nothing — and that is all:

The world…looks as though it would last
But to him who sees there's naught. [11]

In Ñanananda's words, supported by an elaborate many-sided evidence: [12]

…he sees plainly where exactly the secret of the magic lies — that is, in his own psychological mainsprings of lust, hatred and delusion. He realises that, apart from them, there is no reality in the articles and artifices involved in the magic show of consciousness, and is now in a position to appreciate the Buddha's statement in the Kalakarama Sutta: "Thus, monks, a Tathagata does not conceive of a visible thing as apart from sight, he does not conceive of an unseen; he does not conceive of a 'thing-worth-seeing'; he does not conceive about a seer…"

Ñannanda's shyness to confirm explicitly the arguments of his very eloquent documentation on subjects of decisive importance for a deeper essential understanding of the Buddha-dhammo appears perhaps most symptomatically in his hesitation, at the end of the book, to take a resolute stand in discussing the 'meaning of the word' nibbanam: [13]

Despite obvious canonical evidence there is a hesitation to recognise the fact that it essentially signifies an 'extinguishing' (if not 'extinction' — the dismal word!). There is something traumatic in one's response to the so-called 'negative definitions' and hence we usually leave the word nibbana untranslated, though its more 'sociable' companions fare better in this respect. This tendency becomes more marked when, for instance, Nibbana is clearly defined in the Suttas as the destruction of lust, hatred and delusion (n. S IV 251), and even the commentary (SA) is rather apologetic.

The "sociable companions" mentioned above and misused especially in "modern" Western interpretations for the purpose of applying "sematic differentials" in order to scatter and to explain away rather than to focus the attention on the integrity of the unique essential significance — those 'companions' (which certainly are not strictly speaking connotations) are specified in a footnote to the quoted passage as "thirty three epithets given at S IV 368ff".

If not only his documentation but also his obviously better insight would not run against the due respect for his teachers and teacher's teachers… (Nomina sunt ominosa), I cannot imagine for what other reason he should remain reluctant to discuss explicitly the problem of Buddho's sunna-vado or teaching on nothingness, in contradistinction to the scholastic exaggeration and artificiality of the so-called uccheda-vado, hastily dubbed by "modern" interpreters as "annihilationism" — ergo "nihilism", a scare-crow word, while the doctrinal meaning of uccheda-vado is just the opposite: It is a brutal materialistic belief in substantial destruction, or destructibility of "things" conceived as atomic conglomerations of an eternally resurging matter, while actual nihilism presupposed an idealistic disbelief in the ontical reality of matter and requires explanation of it "nihilation" (as Sartre defined it) instead of its "being", or even "Being" in an "Absolute" significance — exactly as the Buddho states it in standard formulation against Yamako's "annihilationism" (S XXII 85) and on several other occasions.

Since in this very life a tathagato is not met with as existing in truth, in reality, is it proper to assert… (that) he perishes when body is broken up, he exists not after death?

Ñanananda comes closest to the problem of the so-called abhidharmika 'atomism' and feels the necessity of its refutation in the following observation referring to one of the clearest texts on the transcendental idealism of the Buddho (A V 106 f, op. cit. p. 58):

Here the Buddha uses the generic term dhamma which, for all practical purposes, may be rendered by 'things'. But that reference is to thoughts and concepts is clearly revealed… by venerable Sariputta…

The only outstanding Buddhist philosopher in the 20th century, whose original contribution to world philosophy of his time has been recognised at an international academic level, was the Japanese Professor Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945). The title of his best known work, translated in German and later in English [14], is Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness. Since its appearance, at least in Japan, the problem of sunyata-vada has been widely treated, especially in connection with Hegelian and existentialist philosophies, as the problem of nothingness. [15]

H. V. Guenther, now best known as interpreter and translator of Tibetan texts of philosophical interest, since an early German work in which he tried to explain Pali Buddhism in terms of C. G. Jung's Depth Psychology, has continued to apply basic terminology of different systems of contemporary European philosophy to their analogies in Asian Buddhist systems. In his book, Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and Practice [16], he has come to the conclusion (though explicitly stated only in a footnote) that the Western habit to use the word 'empty' for sunyam (Pali suññam) and its equivalents in Buddhist philosophy in other Asian languages has to be rejected as essentially inadequate:

The rejection of the translation of stong-pa-nyid (sunyata) by 'emptiness' or 'void' is based on the following consideration: sunyata is not a container that can be emptied nor is there anything that could be taken out of sunyata. The choice of the term 'emptiness' dates back to the time when under the influence of idealism mind was conceived as a container of ideas, and when the ideal seemed to be to leave an empty blankness.

In Ñanananda's confrontation with this problem, obviously of no lesser importance for his interpretation of The Magic of the Mind, it is easy to detect the implicit tendency of his shyness in restricting the explicit reference to the notion of nothingness to the alternative Pali term, whose meaning could be less exposed to the sophistication of takki-vlmamsi pandits under westernised influences. It is the unadulterable Pali word akincannam, which Ñanananda prefers to translate with a poetical equivalent from classical English poetry: 'naught' (taken probably from E. M. Hare's translation of Sutta-nipato) instead of the up to date term 'nothingness', designating the topic of central interest in the prohibited European philosophies of existence. But, as cautious as this transposition on a poetical level may appear, [17] the intention certainly could not have been to protect the puthujjano reader from the predicament of 'nihilism' On the contrary, this limitation in terms can only confirm the nihilistic authenticity of the apparent vagueness of the presumably wider range of sunnata. The etymological advantage of akincannam consists in the fact that the Latin word nihil contains nothing more than a faithful calcographic imprint of the Pali akincannam in another linguistic medium.

At the end of the first year of my stay in the Island Hermitage I sent, as a greeting for the New Year 1967, to a score of old friends and relations in Yugoslavia a cyclostyled copy of my translation of the Khaggavisana-suttam (the poem on "the horn of a rhinoceros").

No introduction or commentary was added to the plain translation. There was only the aesthetical ambition of the translator to find the closest possible literary suggestive form in one of the living languages which still today, in several grammatical and lexical forms, are closer to Sanskrit than Pali was to Sanskrit more than 2000 years ago. I consider this poem as the greatest masterpiece of archaic Buddhist art. In order to make it clear to my abandoned friends, who could not understand what pabbajja or escape from dangers and collectively enforced stupidity of their manifold worlds meant for me, I wished to convey the subjective importance of the following salient points, enhanced by the whole poem, from its beginning, its middle, and its end: [18]

Put aside the rod, and do not harm any living being.
Do not wish a son and still less a friend.
Go alone as the rhinoceros.


Renounce son and wife, father and mother,
property and income, relations,
and all the pleasures as limitations.
Go alone as the rhinoceros.


Enduring cold and heat, hunger and thirst,
wind, sun, insects and snakes,
go alone as the rhinoceros.

……………… Men are dirty.
Go alone as the rhinoceros.

The effect this New Year's greeting made on a much wider circle of readers than those to whom it was first sent, confirmed not only their understanding of my intimate feeling that this was the basic text for my personal approach to Buddhism, but revealed also a widespread agreement in the understanding of the same existential situation by many other listeners to the voice "crying from the wilderness and refusing to come out of it" (Camus, The Fall). Some astonishing and even spectacular reactions came from fellows of my own generation, but the impact of the appeal on the young, postwar generation has visibly been much wider. The original private edition was reprinted, before I heard anything about it, in a weekly literary magazine. Even before that the before that the editor of the literary supplement of a popular daily newspaper made another cyclostyled edition for a selected circle of the intelligentsia. The "spectacular" effect culminated in the inspiration the "Rhinoceros" gave to one of the best known avant-garde painters in Yugoslavia (Peđa Milosavljević) who on that occasion exhibited his skill in Far Eastern techniques. His exhibition in 1968 was dominated by the "Rhinoceros" motive. The poem was reprinted in the catalogue, while the painter, on the eve of his exhibition, said in the interview to a popular newspaper:

The poem is wonderful. It speaks of man's solitariness… It is stirring with a Shakespearean power. Visitors to my exhibition will be given the opportunity to read it, and it has been printed on the poster.

I have not seen his posters. One of the rhinoceroses, however, won the highest prize for 1968 and was bought for the state gallery of modern art in Belgrade.

In April 1976 I met at the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy a young Dutch scholar from Utrecht University, Dr Ria Kloppenborg. Her Ph.D. thesis, The Paccekabuddha, A Buddhist Ascetic (Leiden 1974) was received as sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati (the gift of truth which excells all gifts). It will remain a basic scholarly elaboration of source material for any further work on "Khaggavisana Buddhism" as I understand it. A new designation has been added to it by identifying this archetypal pre-Buddhirt and pre-Aryan model (often met with in the oldest Jain tradition [19]) with the ideal personality of a pacceka-buddho. Trying to define this ideal in the Introduction, Dr Kloppenborg had to start with the statement of the following facts:

The paccekabuddha has received little detailed attention in the study of Buddhism.

The paccekabuddha is rarely dealt with in the secondary literature.

To find an adequate English equivalent of the term paccekabuddha (…) is almost impossible… It has the meaning of: "one who is enlightened by himself, or for himself", and also of: "an enlightened one who is single, who is on his own".

In the concluding Fourth chapter of the book the Khaggavisana archetype as described in the famous poem of the Sutta-nipato is identified with the Buddhist ideal of human personality described in those rare texts, neglected by institutional religion, referring to the aristocratic values of a pacceka-buddho. The 41 verses of the Khaggavisana-suttam are translated not only with a remarkable scholarly pedantism, but also in a sober, literary up to date, clear and not pleonastic English language. The included parts of the commentary to each verse relate "in detail of lives, behaviour, hardships and attainments of the paccekabuddhas, who briefly speak in the verses of their own way…"

In my view the scholarly performed task of this book requires now a philosophical counterpart of essential straining and sifting of the actual value of this ideal archetype of ascetic life for the revival of the hard way of non-confessional, purely introvert and strictly personal "philosophical faith", in response to the urgent need of those whose "turban is burning" now, and who therefore are looking for an escape (pabbaja) from a world where one has not only no personal freedom to die, but also no personal freedom to live.

The commentary of the Khaggavisana-suttam vivisects first the whole poem into 41 single "sayings" ascribed to various paccekabuddhas, setting each "saying" into some naive hagiography, mainly of mythological "kings of Benares". Once they have attained their pacceka-bodhi, they are disposed off by a collective transfer to a specific bhumi ("ground") between heaven and earth, a mythical area called the Nandamiilaka-slope of Mount Gandhamadana "beyond the seven mountains" of the Himalays.

A pacceka-buddho is a "silent sage" or muni (as still today Jain monks are called [20]). Consequently the only possible way of instructing which is followed by them by personal example without intention to be a model for others.

The way of instructing which is followed by paccekabuddhas is typical for them: most times it is done indirectly by means of an example, a few clever remarks or a gesture, by which a person who is able to understand the deeper meaning of this, is helped to take an object of meditation. In this connection the paccake-buddha's teaching is called 'by means of the body' (kayika) and not 'by means of words' (vaciki). [21]

This "shortcoming" has been used by commentators first of all to deduce for the sake of the popular tradition the inferiority of the pacceka-buddho ideal in the hierarchical order of institutional religion.

…it is clear that even if a paccekabuddha intends to teach, he is thought not to be capable of revealing the essence, i.e. to teach what he thinks is unteachable. [22]

Having taken this dogmatic position the commentary proceeds to obliterate one by one the specific differences distinguishing the noble silence (aryo tunhibhdvo) and meditative solitariness (viveko) of the ideal muni. Pacceka-buddhas have to be ordained, instructed by a guru, and even to preach as ordinary mendicant monks or loquentes (in medievaL Christian terminology). Their misfortune consists only in having been born in some dark "period in which no buddha exists".

Then let us take it today as our own predicament (or nearly so, because dogmatic orthodoxy would not yet allow us to take it quite so pessimistically as e.g. Kant described it from the standpoint of his "Religion, within the limits of bare Reason" [23]).

What will remain for us of the ideal distinction of the noble personality of a pacceka-buddho after careful elimination of all the common virtues praised by serial clergymen and "high priests" preaching Dhammo in their tropical exuberance of feeling for "the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number" of their fold; after sifting the professional preacher's words through the filter of Lao-tse's criterion: "Who knows does not talk, who talks, does not know"?

The purpose of Dr Kloppenborg's thesis was not to encourage further exploration of its existential actuality. If this should be undertaken now, another volume of the same size might hardly suffice to exhaust the philosophical counterpart on the background of this exegetic analysis. Let us, however, try to summarize the range of this essential notion in a more modest, personally limited way:

In the first place, the classification of various sorts of buddhas in and for the ranks and files of any institutional religion should be discarded. Neither a lower rank nor a tendency towards irrational disintegration of what was so perfectly conceived as "those Dhamma-teachings which the awakened ones have themselves discovered", is essential for the ideal personality of a pacceka-buddho, but on the contrary, the disclosure of specific aspects relevant for each single (paccattam) personal and historical situation that a pacceka-buddho is able to face directly out of his own experience.

Second, the attainment of a pacceka-buddho should be understood essentially as a "truth that cannot be repeated" but refers always to "one's own" existential condition.

Third, the pedagogic value "for others" (pararthah in Dharmakirtis logic) of a pacceka-buddho's pointers towards the intimate depth-dimension of "one's own" truth should not be reduced to the superficial point of view (ditthi) of "absolute irrationalism" and despising of all reasoning, method and even "teachnique". Such irrationalism, in disregarding the critical analysis of transcendental limitations (=avijja) of phenomenal consciousness yatha bhutam, or in its direct givenness, would sacrifice a priori the most important premise of culture and cultivation, understood in all Indian systems of spiritual development as bhavana, a term more appropriate to its basic meaning than its European substitute "meditation" (Even in the case of zen I am reluctant to understand it either as "irrational" or, still less, as purely "pragmatic", despite the relatively late scholastic accessory structure of quasi-rationalised koans. [24])

Fourth, a "bodily" (kayika) example disclosing the rational perfection of an ideal personality in its paradigmatic nature [25] is in my understanding the very opposite of those who keep their irrational secret "esoterically" closed "in a clenched fist".

Fifth, instead of an institutional (or still worse, "popular") religion the pacceka-bodhi-dhamma should represent only one exclusive aspect of religiosity to be defined as visuddhi-maggo or the Path of Purification. In the following section, to conclude with, I shall try to say why I am inclined at this moment to give a short answer to a pertinent question:

— Where will this path lead us?
— To the forest.

*    *    *

This answer reached me as a distant echo to my quest from a book received unexpectedly just now:

Forest Dhamma by Phra Maha Boowa Nanasampanno, translated from the Thai language and published for free distribution in Bangkok 1973 (distributed by Suksit Siam, 1715 Rama IV Road, Bangkok, Thailand).

The best way to present this book of direct inspiration within the frame of the present review may be to try to convey its authentic flavour in a few first hand quotations, selected as subjectively as possible: [26]

The direction in which the Lord Buddha and the savakas went is a way along which worldly minded people do not like to go, so the Lord Buddha and the savakas differed from others in the world… This way is trodden with difficulty and hardship because it is associated with the use of constraint in going anywhere, in staying anywhere… Apart from this there is also the constraint of the heart (citta), like a fence, to enclose and surround it. (P. 134)

Nobody can live at ease once they have a physical body of this nature. It displays its nature to be such that it is bound to give rise to unbearable anxieties so that we cannot live at ease… We live in a world of cannot… this world is a "world of cannot" where if we want to live at ease we cannot… The world became a world of "cannot", entirely in the heart of the Lord (Buddha) — "What world is there that is a 'world' of can?" So he investigated reviewing and searching for reason. — "There is only the Lokuttara dhamma"…(P. 61)

Then the most suitable place for raising the citta out of the place of imprisonment (which is the kilesa) is that which follows the example of the Lord Buddha — in other words, the forest… for the purpose of becoming peaceful in our hearts and gaining freedom by not returning to this "hole of urine and faeces" again. (P. 143)

But in particular, those who also dwell in the forest which is always quiet and secluded have the best chance of all to put forward diligent effort for attaining the wealth of sila, samadhi, pañña, vimutti and vimuttiñanadassana, for arousing them and developing them stage by stage from the grossest stages right up to the most subtle.

For sila and Dhamma of all stages are developed for the state of spotless purity… and generally speaking this is likely to depend on living in a quiet place away from the crowds, both of lay people and those who are ordained in the Sangha… — for Dhamma likes to arise in quiet places.

If it is still not quiet both externally and within one's heart, Dhamma will not arise… In other words, slla will start to become pure, samddhi will begin to appear in his heart and develop in the stages of samddhi, and paflhd will begin to rise up and move as soon as samddhi starts to appear and it will develop in the stages of pannd step by step…

Summarising the above, Dhamma likes to arise in quiet place and at quiet times. (P. 122-3)

(From a sermon at Mahamakut Buddhist University, Bangkok:)

If our hearts never have time to rest and attain calm, they are not fundamentally different from those of animals… If we can attain a state of calm we will have reached the first stage of Dhamma which leads steadily onwards…

In listening to a talk of Dhamma, it is not necessary to go out and fix your attention on any external thing, such as upon the person who is delivering the talk. But you should instead fix your attention on your heart while the talk is being delivered, for when one sets one's heart in a good and healthy state, controlling it with mindfulness and just letting a state of clear awareness remain there, the subject of the Dhamma talk… is bound to enter and touch the heart which has been thus established in a good state.

Having attained a state of calm, one's heart becomes fresh, cool and strong. (P. 71-2)

Wherever sati is established. Dhamma is sure to arise there, but if one has no sati then Dhamma will never arise, for sati is the important thing in the practice of diligent effort. It should always be realised that to let the heart relax, and become calm by itself alone is impossible… (P. 114-115)

Instead, one must determine that one will be really mindful in the practice, and one must not arrange sila, samadhi and pañña in any special order, nor let them go away from the heart, because the defilements (kilesa) of passion, hate, delusion and the rest, dwell in the heart and nobody has arranged them in order… One does not decide nor arrange that this one will come earlier, and that one later, for if it is a defilement immediately one thinks wrongly, and whatever type it is, so it arises, and they all make one troubled or passionate in the same way. The defilements are always bound to be of this nature, and it is of no consequence in which order they arise for all of them are able to make one troubled and passionate.

Therefore in curing the defilements, one must not wait to develop sila first, then samadhi second, and pañña third… — for this is always in the past and future and one would never be able to attain calm and happiness. (P. 13-14)

…we should have a basis of reason to back us up and unable us to diminish the gladness and sorrow so that they are not overpowering. (P. 49)


[1] Points of View, Faber, London 1942, p. 137. [Natrag]

[2] Op. cit., pp. 148f, 135, 129. [Natrag]

[3] Published in 1974 by the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy. [Natrag]

[4] Underlinings in following quotations are mine. [Natrag]

[5] Kant's criticist confrontation of pure rationalism and pure empiricism, with a view to reveal the limitation and deficiency (or avidya in Indian terminology) of the transcendental structure of "pure reason", seems to have found its archetypal expression already in the pregnant art of Isa Upanisad:

andham tamah pravisanti yo' (a-) vidydrn updsate
tato bhuya iva te tamo ya 11 vidydyam ratdh

(Into blinding darkness enter those who worship nescience, and those who
delight in science enter into still greater darkness)

The theme of the Kena Upanisad the impotence of gods (especially if confronted with its Buddhist analogy in Kevaddha-suttam, D 11), a subject rebecome actual for modern philosophies of existence (Heidegger), in the opening verse of the Upanisad may appear in the same light to foreshadow the epistemological intention of Kant's "Copernican turning" from the object to the subject of knowledge:

kenesitam patati presitam manah...

(By whom missioned falls the mind shot to its mark… — Sri Aurobindo'a translation [Natrag]

[6] On this subject see also my paper, "Why is Buddhism a Religion?" in Indian Philosophical Annual, Vol. 6, 1970 (University of Madras). [Natrag]

[7] In Ñanamoli's translation of Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification, Ch. VII, 76-85): visible here and now, it has no delay (lit. takes no time), inviting of inspection, onward-leading, directly experiencable by the wise. [Natrag]

[8] In its traditional dogmatic interpretation divided in three parts referring to "the previous existence", "thee present existence" and "the subsequent existence". [Natrag]

[9] Suggeston is made to the Litle of a minor booklet by Bhikkhu Ñanananda, dedicated to "An exposition of the Bhaddekaratta Sutta" (Wheel Publication No. 188. B PS, Kandy 1973). [Natrag]

[10] Cf. The Magic of the Mind, p. 7. [Natrag]

[11] Ud. 79, quoted in The Magic…, p. 79. [Natrag]

[12] Op. cit. p. 38. [Natrag]

[13] Op. cit. p. 87. Under linings here and in the continuation are partly mine. [Natrag]

[14] Transl. by R. Schinzinger, Maruzen, Tokyo 1958. [Natrag]

[15] One of the best known names in later Japanese philosophy, also in this connection, is Shien-ichi Hisamatsu, Professor of ohilosoohy and religion, Kyoto, author of an essay on "The Characteristics of Oriental Nothingness" in Philosophical Studies of Japan II (UNESCO 1960). [Natrag]

[16] Penguin ed. 1972, p. 224. [Natrag]

[17] Cf. op. cit. pp. 65, 79 and 52. [Natrag]

[18] The following quotation is from my essay, "'The Philosophy of Disgust — Buddho and Nietzsche" in Schopenhauer Jahrbuch 1977 (Frankfurt,M.). [Natrag]

[19] The rhinoceros was the emblem of the 11th tirthakarah Sreyamsah. The virtue of "going alone as rhinoceros" (khaggivisanam va ekacce) is praised e.g. in the biography of Mahavira in the Kappa-suttam 118, and as a characteristic of a mini in general in the Suyagada-suttam, II, 2, 70. (Cf. in H. Jacobi's transl. of Jaina Sutras, SBE Vol. 22 and 45, Part I, The Kalpa Sutra, p. 261, and Part II, The Sutrakritanga Sutra, p. 378.) [Natrag]

[20] Cf. in the Sutta-nipato in the same opening chapter (Uragavaggo) with the Khaggavisana-suttam its pendant in the last poem (12) Muni-suttam describing the same ideal of the silent sage. [Natrag]

[21] Kloppenborg, op. cit. p. 78. [Natrag]

[22] Id. p. 77. [Natrag]

[23] Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der hlossen Vernunft (beginning) "The lamentation about the miserable condition of the world is as old as the history, even more, as the still older poetry; as-old as the oldest of all poems, those preserved in the religion of priests…. The happiness (of the primeval golden age) vanishes as a dream, so that now (and this now is as old as history) we live in the last period; the doomsday and the destruction of the world are imminent, so that in some parts of India they worship the judge of the world and its destroyer Rudra, called also Shiva, as the god who has already taken over the government, after the world's maintainer Vishnu, too tired of his work, which was transfered to him from the creator Brahma, had abandoned this duty many centuries ago." [Natrag]

[24] On "The systematisation of the koan" see D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. [Natrag]

[25] In the meaning in which K. Jaspers presented Socrates, Buddha, Confucius and Jesus in The Great Philosopher' (Rupert Hart-Davis, London (1962). [Natrag]

[26] Underlinings are in part mine. [Natrag]