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, whose account of this influence may be read here.
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.'A more comprehensive 'statement of intent' is found in the Foreword to 'All Else Is Bondage; Non-Volitional Living' (Hong Kong University Press, 1964 and Sunstar Publications, 1999).
'There seems never to have been a time at which sentient beings have not escaped from the dungeon of individuality. In the East liberation was elaborated into a fine art, but it may be doubted whether more people made their escape from solitary confinement outside the organised religions than by means of them.
In the West reintegration was sporadic, but in recent years it has become a widespread preoccupation. Unfortunately its technical dependence on oriental literature - sometimes translated by scholars whose knowledge of the language was greater than their understanding of the subject - has proved a barrier which rendered full comprehension laborious and exceedingly long. Therefore it appears to be essential that such teaching as may be transmissible shall be given in a modern idiom and in accordance with our own processes of thought. But this presentation can never be given by the discursive method to which we are used for the acquisition of conceptual knowledge, for the understanding required is not conceptual and therefore is not knowledge.
This may account for the extraordinary popularity of such works as the Tao Te Ching, and in a lesser degree for that of the Diamond and Heart Sutras and Padma Sambhava's Knowing the Mind. For despite the accretion of superfluous verbiage in which the essential doctrine of some of the latter has become embedded, their direct pointing at the truth, instead of explaining it, goes straight to the heart of the matter and allows the mind itself to develop its own vision. An elaborately developed thesis must always defeat its own end where this subject matter is concerned, for only indication could produce this understanding, which requires an intuitional faculty, and it could never be acquired wholesale from without.
It may be doubted, however, whether an entirely modern presentation of oriental or perennial metaphysics would be followed or accepted as trustworthy at present. Probably an intermediate stage is necessary, during which the method should be a presentation in modern idiom supported by the authority of the great Masters, with whose thoughts and technical terms most interested people are at least generally familiar. Moreover the question is bedevilled by the use, which has become a convention, of terms, mostly of Sanskrit origin, the colloquial sense of which, accepted by the early translators, is still employed. Often this sense is considerably different from the technical meaning given these terms in the Chinese texts, and it occasionally implies almost exactly the opposite. These misleading terms are still used, which is a matter of no importance to those few who understand to what they refer, and for whom any word whatsoever would suffice, but are a serious hindrance to the pilgrim struggling to understand.
The inadequacy of the short paragraphs that follow is due to the insufficiency of their expression. They are offered in the hope that the verity which underlies them may penetrate the mist of their presentation and kindle a spark that shall develop into the flame of fulfilment.
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!'W.W.W. (1964)
(Special thanks to Belgian author Robert Linssen for the above photograph of WWW* and to British historian Andrew Duncan (ADUNCAN@ofsted.gov.uk) for providing details about WWW's early life.)
*All archived photographs may be viewed here.
**For those interested in finding out more about the life of WWW, a biography by Paul Cornwell has recently been published and is available online here.