Wei Wu Wei
"Only by creativity and the risk of failure can one succeed." - Paul Cornwell
This month's missal looks at the writing and life of Terence Gray(1895-1986), better known in spiritual circles as Wei Wu Wei. 'Wei Wu Wei' published eight books over a period of about 16 years, all in his own peculiar style of 'Zen Buddhism', drawing heavily on the works of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Chuang, Hui Neng, Huang Po, Hui Hai, etc., as well as the teachings of Padma Sambhava and Sri Ramana Maharshi. His interest in self-knowledge came later in life, though the seeds of his search were well planted early on.
He was born Terence Gray in England to Irish aristocrats, and lived his early years in Cambridge. He became an Egyptologist in the 1920's, publishing books on the subject before becoming involved in dance and the theater. He opened the Festival Theatre in Cambridge in 1926, and became a major influence on the dance and art community of the day, along with his cousin, Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet. A defining moment in his life came along with the end of his artistic empire when in 1933 the Cambridge Footlights, many of whom where his former students, put on a satirical version of Gray's work. Humiliated, he left for France to take care of the family vineyards and to work with their race horses.
Years later, while looking up at the stars, he decided to become a mystic, and in a sense, Wei Wu Wei was born. He traveled through Asia studying various spiritual works and teachers, including a trip to Ramana Maharshi's ashram in India. In 1958, at the age of 63, the first book appeared, Fingers Pointing to the Moon.
He was to write seven more, including many other works appearing in various magazines over the years, but kept to his pseudonym, even using another, 'O. O. O. ' He counted among his friends fellow Englishman Douglas Harding
, and French writer Hubert Benoit.
He died in 1986 at age 90 in Monaco, where he and his wife had lived.
Please be so good as to believe that there is nothing whatever mysterious about this matter. If it were easy, should we not all be Buddhas? No doubt, but the apparent difficulty is due to our conditioning. The apparent mystery, on the other hand, is just obnubilation, an inability to perceive the obvious owing to a conditioned reflex which causes us persistently to look in the wrong direction!
Wei Wu Wei had a consistent message throughout his work, that of dis-identification with the conceptual mind and its imaginings. The trap of conceptual thought, he insisted, was the biggest obstacle to our becoming free. By taking the thinking mind to be the real 'us', and to believe in its ruminations as reality, is the cause of all our problems. He continually brought the reader back to questioning his own thinking. His times of failure and humiliation earlier in his life could have led him to this questioning, and caused him to search for something more than the compensations of the ego in society.
While he writes adamantly about the necessity of transcending the ego and its rationalizations, he does not offer much in the way of method, and did not teach or lecture in person. He kept to his anonymity till the end. Whether he had come to a final realization himself may be questioned, but his work does show a progress from the theoretical to a more personal style as the years went by. He seems to write with more authority in the later books, with less reliance on quoting and conjecture. His main accomplishment may have been to bring the writings of the Chan Masters to the public, and to show that failure in worldly life may not be a bad thing, if we long for something permanent and our aspirations go beyond the apparent.
The writer of these lines has nothing whatsoever to teach anyone; his words are just his contribution to our common discussion of what must inevitably be for us the most important subject which could be discussed by sentient beings.
Quotes by Wei Wu Wei
- Related Sites -
The Wei Wu Wei Archives:
"This site is intended as a resource for those interested in or curious about Buddhist/Taoist philosopher and essayist Wei Wu Wei.
It includes extracts from eight books originally published between 1958 and 1974. It also contains essays published in various periodicals during the same period. The material is primarily metaphysical speculation, and is not representative of any particular sect or tradition, though it draws upon many." The definitive site for Wei Wu Wei material, excellent sources and photographs. http://www.weiwuwei.8k.com/
Hubert Benoit's Supreme Doctrine: Psychological Studies in Zen Thought.
This section of The Self-Discovery Portal
provides an overview of Benoit's work, details of books and related links. Benoit was a friend of WWW's, and his 'The Supreme Doctrine' is cited several times in the earlier books.
"Only by creativity and the risk of failure can one succeed. This book is the first attempt to trace the life of Terence Gray, a man who always wanted to hide behind masks and pseudonyms, whose death, in 1987 at the age of 93, was (therefore) not noted despite a life of great variety and achievement. He is only known today by brief references in theatre books and under his pseudonym of Wei Wu Wei."
Tricks and Traps
Trap: Cage of Conceptual Thought. We may believe that our theoretical understanding is equivalent to our experience. By being able to juggle word-concepts and understand intellectually the resultant meaning, we think we have solved the problem of existence on all levels. Thus such phrases as "All is One", and "there is no doer" lead us into an intellectual trap of belief in concepts as truth, and we pat ourselves on the back at having realized ourselves so easily.
Trick: Retreat from Error through Humiliation. Through careful self-observation, we can honestly see the disconnect between our thought-life and our factual one. This humiliation lessens the grip of the ego-mind, and lets in a bit of light. Though painful, it begins the process of loosening the concept-beliefs we hold unquestioned about our definition.
"We get into the trap of thinking that the written and spoken word have answers. - The great danger of the written and spoken word is that you will ingest conclusions without the pain of the growth. You can't do it. It won't work. You start to read in order to learn, but the problem is that we all use the written word as an opiate, as an escape from thinking, as an escape from the pain. It is a dangerous trap because in time you are forced to resolve every issue you ever came to in the mental realm. "
- Jim Burns
"Although sometimes a traumatic event will help shake up the thinking processes, not all traumas are good. Some traumas may permanently impair the thinking faculties, such as memory. Yet some of the best wisdom comes as a result of surprises." - Richard Rose
Success Through Failure?
Many of us find that we didn't really start seeking the Truth in earnest until we suffered some trauma or catastrophe that left us with literally nothing else to do. We had to find out what was going on with our life and who we really were, for the previous experience-based system had collapsed. Why is this so common and seemingly necessary in the search for definition? First, let's back up a step or two and look at how we are built, what our traps are, and then we may see the answer.
The personal ego-mind may be said to be composed of two parts: the emotional and intellectual. This 'self' that we call 'me' is upheld at bottom by the survival urge, which is emotional, to say the least. We usually can't see this far down inside until we are face to face with oblivion itself. Most if not all of our beliefs and actions are emotionally based, and are then carried out and rationalized by the intellect. Few notice this, and many hold the firm belief that they, as intellect or mind, are making their decisions from a rational point of view. But if they looked a little closer, they might see that beneath the veneer of intellectual assuredness they are operating from a combination of fear and desire, which are most assuredly based in emotion. This experience-pattern of intellect fueled by emotion is called 'me' or 'myself', and is the thing we know the least about, having never questioned it in other than a 'self-serving' way. We may berate or praise ourselves, but seldom actually observe same.
This task of self-observation, rather than endless dichotomy, is necessary and darn tricky. It can only be done at first through the memory, second-hand. This is because of the gap of time that exists between the mind and its contents. We may think we are in the 'now', watching ourselves, but usually this 'me' that is watching is itself a mental construct built on an emotional need. The mind is composed of many such constructs, referenced by memory and built with projection, having no part in anything one could call a 'present moment'. Such a present moment, self-contradictory in terms, would only be possible in a dimension of eternity, not in one of time and space. In other words, we may see the thoughts of our intellect as it weighs a situation and then comes to a conclusion, but we may not see the emotional force behind it, or the process of the mind forming the various concepts necessitated by these emotions. We are always a thought behind, acting on the past to build an imaginary future.
Now all of this may sound too complicated to worry with, for it's easier to just believe in whatever theory we've found that flatters us, but the importance in this is the hold it has on our attention. We may think that we are free to point our attention at whatever view we wish, in any direction, but all we really see is the constantly constructed pattern of thoughts built on past experience, fueled by unconscious emotion. This is limited and peculiar to each of us, and completely encompassing.
An event of failure strong enough to change the course of our lives, such as befell Terence Gray, can be a blessing in disguise if we have our feet firmly under us, and have taken the pains necessary to improve our intuition. Then, if we find ourselves unmoored and drifting in a sea of doubt, we will have a chance to look within, for our attention may have been temporarily broken loose from its fixation on our experience pattern, giving us a clear but fleeting moment in which we can turn around, and see what lies within.
This brings up the question of whether one can manufacture trauma for the purpose of finding 'within'. One cannot, for the element of chance that permanent mental damage may occur is too great, if one is not ready. And all of us tend to think we are ready. The best one can do is to find those who have gone before and study their mistakes as well as their successes, while perfecting the intuition and reason. One must become healthy and whole before one can be emptied, for unless one is innocent and of sound mind, what comes to fill one may not be what one needs, for truth and realization.
Another point to be made is that the ego cannot enlighten itself. Any effort it makes will be on its own level, and only serves to further its dichotomy. The best one can do, is to make a commitment to a higher power, to one's inner self, that one will do all one can to further the search. Then one forgets about it. This is to allow the higher power to run the show in the long run, and to not let the ego's scheming interfere. After the commitment is made, and forgotten, we continue to struggle by working on improving the intuition, and doing the best we can with what's available. We begin to understand that we are struggling in paradox, waiting for an accident; and just perhaps, the inner self will grace us with one, one 'we' will not survive.
- Quotes of the Month -
" There seem to two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realising its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure being.
" We do not possess an 'ego'. We are possessed by the idea of one.
" Destroy 'the ego', hound it, beat it, snub it, tell it where it gets off? Great fun, no doubt, but where is it? Must you not find it first? Isn't there a word about catching your goose before you can cook it? The great difficulty here is that there isn't one.
" The only real service we can render to that which we perceive and interpret in phenomenal existence as 'others' is by awakening to universal consciousness ourselves." - Wei Wu Wei
" What do I teach? I teach people how to listen to themselves." - Gurdjieff
" One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real." - Klaus Kinski
" The most propitious use of will is to will for the maximum good for oneself without endangering others." - Richard Rose
'Nearer my tail to thee', the kitten remarked -
as with a final desperate leap she overreached herself
and fell head-over-heels into the pond.
-Wei Wu Wei
"A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest man."
- Willy Wonka
" The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well."
- Joe Ancis
Copyright 2003 - 2007 Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.