BL. W. B. Yeats

42. Introduction to Aphorisms of Yôga, by Bhagwân Shree Patanjali. London: Faber & Faber, 1938.

Includes one of Yeats’s few published accounts of his understanding of Zen (pp. 16-17), linked here with the Samâdhi (Jpn.: satori) of Vedic teaching. ‘That experience’, Yeats writes, ‘has become the central experience  . . . perhaps of all Far-Eastern civilisation’, and while the ‘technique’ may differ in India, China, and Japan, the experience is the same. ‘Some years ago’, he continues, ‘that I might understand its influence upon Chinese and Japanese landscape painting, I sought that method in vain through encyclopedias and histories; it certainly prepared an escape from all that the intellect holds true, and that escape, as described in the Scriptures and the legends of Zen Buddhism, is precipitated by a shock, often produced artificially by the teacher’. The story Yeats recounts in some detail following this, of the monk whose finger was cut off by the Abbot that the former might gain enlightenment, takes some liberties with an anecdote from the Hekiganroku, and with Suzuki’s retelling of it in his first series of Essays in Zen Buddhism, which would have been Yeats’s source for the story (see D28). Placed and dated Dublin, 1937.





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