Praised by the Wise

Famous men and women comment on the Buddha and his teachings

Compiled by Venerable S. Dhammika

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It was when I was up at Oxford in the early 1970’s that I became interested in Buddhism. My life was full of confusion and distress of every kind, and I found in Buddhist philosophy a way of thought that enthralled me by its calm and radical analysis of desire, its rejection of all the self-dramatising intensities by which I lived, and its promise of a possible strong and unsentimental sincerity.

Andrew Harvey (1952-)

British author, poet and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford

Buddhism is the most colossal example in the history of applied metaphysics.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

British mathematician and philosopher

The more I studied satipathana*, (Buddhist meditation) the more impressed I became with it as a system of mind training. It is in line with our Western scientific attitude of mind in that it is unprejudiced, objective and analytical. It relies on personal, direct experience, and not on anyone else’s ideas or opinions. It is exceedingly simple and makes use of ‘bare attention’ basically as simple as a sustained ‘ah look’ but within a carefully chosen and disciplined system. It therefore explores all premature judgments, all talking ‘about it and about’, all arguments, discussions and such waste of time as we in the West are inclined to be fond of. In fact, it gets you out of the rut and bondage of yourself, your prejudices, your cliches, your blindness and your selfopinionatedness, to set you free to see and prove a real world.

Dr E. Graham Howe (1897-1975)

MB. BS. DPM Eminent British physician

The way of Buddhism is a Middle Way between all extremes. This is no weak compromise, but a sweet reasonableness which avoids fanaticism and laziness with equal care, and marches onward without that haste which brings its own reaction, but without ceasing. The Buddha called it the Noble Eightfold Path to Nirvana, and it may be regarded as the noblest course of spiritual training yet presented, in such a simple form, to man.

Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor ‘escapist’. It is a system of thought, a religion, a spiritual science and a way of life which is reasonable, practical and all-embracing. For 2,500 years it has satisfied the spiritual needs of nearly one third of mankind. It appeals to those in search of truth because it has no dogmas, satisfies the reason and the heart alike, insists on self-reliance coupled with tolerance for other points of view, embraces science, religion, philosophy, psychology, mysticism, ethics and art, and points to man alone as the creator of his present life and sole designer of his destiny.

Justice Christmas Humphreys (1901-1983)

Eminent British judge

It is a remarkable indication of the subtlety of Indian speculation that Gautama should have seen deeper than the greatest of modern idealists. The tendency of enlightened thought of today all the world over is not towards theology but philosophy and psychology. The bark of theological dualism is drifting into danger. The fundamental principles of evolution and monism are being accepted by the thoughtful.

Prof Julian Huxley (1887-1975)

British author, zoologist and Director General of U.N.E.S. C.O.

The period between the seventh and fifth century B.C., was a time of spiritual searching throughout the ancient world. It saw the beginning of Greek philosophy, the rise of the prophets of Israel, Confucius in China and (according to Parsi tradition) the time of Zoroaster in Persia. This period saw the birth of the Jain and Ajivika teachings, with the greatest of all, ‘the Light of Asia’ Gautama the Buddha . . . A doctrine of annihilation* (Annihilation of greed, hatred and delusion) in which an omnipotent God has no place, might seem one of profound pessimism, yet Buddhism was saved from being negative by the emphasis placed on free-will and humility. The importance of compassion, of charity and alms giving, all combined to generate a religion of warmth and love. Together with Jainism, Buddhism helped to create a revolutionary concept, that of ‘ahimsa’ or harmlessness; the idea of respect for others which evolves from a self-respect.

Prof Hugh Tinker (1921-2000)

Professor of government and politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University

Paul couples love with faith and hope, and his conception of love involves faith and hope: “Love,” he says, “believes all things, hopes all things.” The love I mean does not believe all things and hope all things. It survives disillusionment and persists in despair. Love is not love that ceases without hope or faith. As long as faith and hope support it, it is hardly more than puppy love. That love is pleasant is a fashionable myth, or, to be more charitable about it, an exception. The Buddha knew that love brings “hurt and misery, suffering, grief and despair” and he advised detachment. The love I consider a virtue is not a blind love of the lovers or the trusting, hopeful love of Paul, but the love that knows what the Buddha knew and still loves, with open eyes.

Prof Walter Kaufmann (1921-1980)

American philosopher and author

He read widely and deeply in Buddhist text, translated sutras from French, and even wrote a biography of the Buddha. But at the root of his absorption in Buddhism was the fact that he felt it offered him direct philosophical consolation for the disappointment in his life . . . Jack embraced the first law of Buddhism above all others, the statement that “All life is suffering” . . . It was as if the words had been written for him.

Ann Charters comments on American author and poet Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

The idea of unity-in-diversity can be followed all the way back to the Pythagorean ‘Harmony of the Sphere’ and the Hippocratic’s ‘sympathy of all things: ‘there is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy’. The doctrine that everything in the universe hangs together partly by mechanical causes but mainly by hidden affinities (which also accounts for apparent coincidences), provides not only the foundation for sympathetic magic, astrology and alchemy: it also runs as a leit-motif through the teachings of Taoism and Buddhism, the neo-Platonists, and the philosophers of the early Renaissance.

Arthur Koestler (1905-1983)

Hungarian novelist and journalist

Buddhism has conquered China as a philosophy and as a religion, as a philosophy for the scholars and a religion for the common people. Whereas Confucianism has only a philosophy of moral conduct, Buddhism possesses a logical method, a metaphysics and a theory of knowledge. Besides, it is fortunate in having a high tradition of scholarship in the translation of Buddhist classics, and the language of these translations, so succinct and often so distinguished by a beautiful lucidity of language and reasoning, cannot but attract the scholar with a philosophical bias. Hence, Buddhism has always enjoyed a prestige among Chinese scholars, which so far Christianity has failed to achieve.

Lin Yutang (1895-1976)

Chinese writer, thinker. journalist and playwright

The message of the Buddha is a message of joy. He found a treasure and he wants us to follow the path that leads us to the treasure. He tells man that he is in deep darkness, but he also tells him that there is a path that leads to light. He wants us to arise from a life of dreams into a higher life where man loves and does not hate, where a man helps and does not hurt. His appeal is universal, because he appeals to reason and to the universal is us all: ‘It is you who must make the effort. The Great of the past only show the way.’ He achieved a superior harmony of vision and wisdom by placing spiritual truth on the crucial test of experience; and only experience can satisfy the mind of modern man. He wants us to watch and be awake and he wants us to seek and to find.

Juan Mascaró (1897-1987)

Spanish academic and educationalist, lecturer at Cambridge University

I have so often tried to isolate the quality of “Zen” * (The Japanese meditation tradition) which attracted me so powerfully to its literature and later to the practice of zazen. But (meditation) since the essence of Zen might well be what one teacher called the moment-by-moment awakening of mind, there is little that may sensibly be said about it without succumbing to that breathless, mystery-ridden prose that drives so many sincere aspirants in the other direction. In zazen, one may hope to penetrate the ringing stillness of the universal mind.

Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014)

American novelist, naturalist and explorer Winner of the National Book Award in 1979

Maugham’s interest in mysticism and Eastern philosophy is not a sudden development of his later life. Although his early questioning of Christianity culminated in the atheism represented in Philip Carey, he continued his examination of the religions of the East and his enquiries into mysticism. ‘Faith’ a short story published in 1899, considers sympathetically the dilemma of a young monk who loses the ability to believe in God. ‘The Painted Veil’ treated in however a superficial manner, the serenity of the belief in ‘The Way’. In the ‘Gentlemen in the Parlour’, Maugham discusses the philosophy of Buddha, and he confessed to finding considerable attraction in the belief in the transmigration of souls . . . Because of the impact which the ‘Razor’s Edge’ made in 1944, it has generally been overlooked that in the ‘Narrow Corner’, Maugham had already treated in considerable depth the philosophy of Indian religion. In this understated serious novel there is extensive discussion of Buddhism, and the progress of the story is a movement in the direction of that belief by the central figure.

R. L. Calde’'s comments on the works of English novelist W Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

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