Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wei Wu Wei

Between the years 1958 and 1974 a series of eight books appeared attributed to the mysterious 'Wei Wu Wei'. In addition to these texts there were pieces contributed to various periodicals during the 1960's, including 'The Mountain Path', a periodical dedicated to the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, 'The Middle Way', the U.K. Buddhist Society's journal, and 'Etre Libre', a French-language periodical published in Brussels. These works draw on a variety of sources, including Taoism, specifically the texts attributed to Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, Buddhism, especially The Heart, Diamond and Lankavatara Sutras, and Chan Buddhism as taught by Hui Neng, Huang Po, Hui Hai, etc., as well as the teachings of Padma Sambhava and Sri Ramana Maharshi, among others.

The identity of 'Wei Wu Wei' was not revealed at the time of publication for reasons outlined in the Preface to the first book 'Fingers Pointing Towards the Moon' (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958). This well-considered anonymity will be respected here, though a few background details may help to put the writings into context. 'Wei Wu Wei' was born in 1895 into a well-established Irish family, was raised on an estate outside Cambridge, England, and received a thorough education, including studies at Oxford University. Early in life he pursued an interest in Egyptology which culminated in the publication of two books on ancient Egyptian history and culture in 1923. This was followed by a period of involvement in the arts in Britain in the 20's and 30's as a theorist, theatrical producer, creator of radical 'dance-dramas', publisher of several related magazines and author of two related books. He was a major influence on many noted dramatists, poets and dancers of the day, including his cousin Ninette de Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet (which in fact had its origin's in his own dance troupe at the Cambridge Festival Theatre which he leased from 1926-33).

After he had apparently exhausted his interest in this field to a large extent, his thoughts turned towards philosophy and metaphysics. This led to a period of travel throughout Asia, including time spent at Sri Ramana Maharshi's ashram in Tiruvannamalai, India. In 1958, at the age of 63, he saw the first of the 'Wei Wu Wei' titles published. The next 16 years saw the appearance of seven subsequent books, including his final work under the further pseudonym 'O.O.O.' in 1974. During most of this later period he maintained a residence with his wife in Monaco. He is believed to have known, among others, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Dr. Hubert Benoit, John Blofeld, Douglas Harding, Robert Linssen, Arthur Osborne, Robert Powell and Dr. D. T. Suzuki. He died in 1986 at the age of 90.

'Wei Wu Wei's influence, while never widespread, has been profound upon many of those who knew him personally, upon those with whom he corresponded, among them British mathematician and author G. Spencer-Brown and Galen Sharp (see 'Links'), as well as upon many who have read his works, including Ramesh Balsekar.

It is apparent from his writings that 'Wei Wu Wei' had studied in some depth both Eastern and Western philosophy and metaphysics, as well as the more esoteric teachings of all the great religions. It can also be understood from the writings that he regarded himself as merely one of many seeking so-called 'liberation', the works themselves being seen in part as a record of this quest.

The attitude adopted towards the writings is perhaps best indicated by the following quote from an introductory note to 'Open Secret' (Hong Kong University Press, 1965):

'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.'

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