John Blofeld (1913-1987) was a renowned English scholar, a writer-translator specializing in Buddhism and Taoism. Blofeld spent much of his adult life living and traveling in the Far East. He died of cancer at age 74 in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had a residence.

Searching for Nirvana

Excerpt from a lecture by John Blofeld in San Francisco, 1978

We can realize that our spiritual development is bringing us closer and closer together and that concepts don’t matter too much, because any concept is far behind the reality which it represents: the unnameable, unthinkable reality lying beyond.

As for methods, I think it’s very good, at the beginning of our spiritual quest, when we first come to feel that life has a meaning and that we should embark on some kind of spiritual path, to experiment with many kinds of paths. Sooner or later we will find that one path suits us individually more than others. Then, let us take that one, but never in the spirit of “I am now on the right path and everybody else is on the wrong path.” No, we follow our own path, but we accept the validity of other people’s paths.

The further we go, the less the different methods will matter. Ulti­mately, all methods converge. In Tibetan Buddhism, we have four lower ones involving all kinds of rituals and the use of mantras, mudras, visualizations and meditations. By the time you reach the highest level, you abandon all methods and all practices. So when we start off we are following entirely different paths; we have different practices, different beliefs, different concepts. But the nearer we get to the truth, the less those differences will matter.

I think of it sometimes as a Sugarloaf Mountain. You start from this side, I start from that side. We all want to get to the top of the mountain. You go straight up, Zen style, to the top—if you can. I, being a poor mountaineer, climb round and round the mountain. But when we reach the top we are all in the same place. So we followed very different paths. You went straight up like a rocket, I went round and round like a snake. But ultimately we arrived at the truth, and there can only be one truth. There can be many levels of truth, but ultimate truth is only one. We can find it.

If we are loving and helpful to others, if we truly desire to behold the face of truth, then whatever god may be out there or in here will surely forgive our ignorance and account us good men.

Once an Episcopal priest, when my children were born, said, “Look here, John Blofeld, you are an Englishman, but you have become a Buddhist. I’m very sorry for that, although I like you as a man. Don’t condemn your children; let them be baptized, and they can ultimately decide if they want to become Buddhists.” I said to this priest, “Is your God so cruel that if I don’t have my children baptized he is going to punish them for the pig-headedness of their father?” And he saw the point at once.

So if the Christian God is everything He is supposed to be, He is not going to send you and me to Hell because we have conceived of Him in some different way, providing we live our lives, not selfishly for our own aggrandizement, our own pleasure, but for the sake of all living beings.

Then, however many mistakes we make in our concept of God, if He is a God worth having He will surely forgive us. If, on the other hand, there is no God, if God is an impersonal Tao which is not conscious of its own creativity, the Tao certainly doesn’t want any recognition from us. If we fail to give it recognition, that’s fine; if we give it recognition, that’s fine too…

We have found in our modern world no way to happiness through materialism. This is only the outer aspect of life. There is some secret. If we could solve that, if we could find that secret, then we would see that this is a beautiful universe in which we live, that every stone of this universe, every grain of sand, is in itself nirvana.

This is what we look for. We use our different ways. We don’t foolishly try to combine the uncombinable. But we go along in fellowship with one another. We cannot all belong to the same religion, but we can all unite in our struggle against the materialism that will otherwise rob our children and our grandchildren of their birthright as sentient beings.


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Book to Hang Out With

The Wheel of Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist by John Blofeld

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The Wheel of Life is the spiritual autobiography of John Blofeld (1913-1987), a world-renowned British scholar and writer who devoted his life to the study of Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism and Taoism. With wit, honesty, and humility, Blofeld portrays his search for wisdom and his discovery of a genuine spiritual path. He describes in vivid detail his life in Peking and his travels in Tibet, Mongolia, China, India, and Burma: the worlds of remote mountain monasteries, the sacred inner chambers of sages and yogis, and the inspired lives of simple, ordinary people. The book is particularly valuable for its sensitive picture of a world that no longer exists. As Huston Smith remarks in his Foreword, “Blofeld encountered Chinese Buddhism and Taosim at a very special moment in history, the final moment before they came under Communist onslaught. To have his intimate glimpses into what they were like as still-living traditions is historically important.”

Order the book via Amazon here.