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Nonduality

DON QUIXOTE

from ZEN IN ENGLISH LITERATURE (1941)

R.H. BLYTH

special thanks to Bob Bays for sending this material

"The life of Don Quixote was a life of Zen; indifferent to the opinions of his fellows, without a single thought of self, of self-aggrandisement or self-expression. he Lived twenty four hours every day, following his instincts (his ideals) as wholeheartedly, as truly, as naturally, as the blooming flowers in spring, as the falling of leaves in autumn." Blythe



Zen is the most precious possession of Asia. With its beginnings in India, development in China, and final practical application in Japan, it is today the strongest power in the world. It is a world-power, for in so far as men live at all, they live by Zen. Wherever there is a poetical action, a religious aspiration, a heroic thought, a union of the Nature within a man and the Nature without, there is Zen.


Speaking generally, in world culture we find Zen most clearly and significantly in the following: in the ancient worthies of Chinese Zen, for instance, Eno and Ummon; in the practical men of affairs of Japan, Hojo Tokumune, for example, and in the poet Basho; in Christ; in Eckehart, and in the music of Bach; in Shakespeare and Wordsworth. 'Zen in English Litarature' embraces the literature of Zen in Chinese and Japanese, the Chinese and Japanese classics, and the whole extent of English literature, with numerous quotations from German, French, Italian and Spanish literatures. Don Quixote has a chapter all to himself; he is for the first time, I believe, satisfactorily explained. He is the purest example, in the whole of world literature, of the man who lives by Zen; but Sancho Panza also is not so far from the Kingdom of Heaven as perhaps even his author supposed.


...though Don Quixote has taken his place with Hamlet, Joseph, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver, Mr. Pecksniff, and Alice, his true character is not yet recognised either in his own country or that of his adoption. Of the work of Cervantes more than that of any other, are Goethe's words true, that a poet has to be taught his own meaning. The genius is hardly aware of the significance of his performance, since so much of it is the God that speaks through him as a mouthpiece. In the case of Don Quixote this is further complicated by the fact that Cervantes, in the Second Part of Don Quixote, destroys, unconsciously, his own creation in the First Part.


Not only Don Quixote but Sancho Panza also, is utterly different in the two parts. This is to some extent due to the fact that the Second Part was written (as an after-thought?) nine years after the first... In Don Quixote the importance lies entirely in the character of Don Quixote, the man himself and his ideals; and the change of character means that the two Parts are two entirely different books and are about two entirely different people of the same name.... In Don Quixote we have ... sudden degeneration, the sudden putrefaction before our eyes of a personality. The explanation of this apparent disentigration, this metamorphosis of a butterfly into a grub is that Cervantes did not himself understand clearly what he had done in the First Part, what kind of being he had created. Cervantes' conscious and uncouscious intentions in writing the First Part were opposed. Cervantes tells us ad nauseam that the Romances of Chivalry were the cause of Quixote's madness. He seems to have approved of the burning of them by the curate and the barber, not on the ground that they made people go on crazy adventures, but because they were poor as literature, at once unrealistic and inartistic. At the end of Part II, Quixote recovers from his madness and declares:


"I am now enemy of Amadis of Gaul and all his tribe: all the profane histories of Knight errantry are hateful to me. I now realise the danger and peril into which I fell by reading them. By mercy of God, I learned by my own experience, abhor them."


On the other hand, as I shall show later in quotations, the Don Quixote of the First Part is the quintessence of all the chivalry of the Romances, all the knighthood of the Middle Ages, together with spiritual and noble qualities derived from Cervantes himself. His madness is partly his idealism (of which we sane people have so little) partly an overstrung imagination at the service of this same idealism.

The Don Quixote of Part II is a kind of travelling lecturer, whose senility is taken advantage of in the most odious way by a couple of impudent, sophisticated creatures, the Duke and Duchess. He analyzes himself and his illusions:


"Doubtless, Senor de Diego de Miranda, you look on me as a crazy, mad fellow. And it may well seem so, for my conduct testifies to this alone. Yet, for all that, let me tell you that I am not so crazy and half-witted as you take me for."


and discourses on the probabilities of the veracity of the romances of chivalry:


"There is much to be said," replied don Quixote, "both for and against the truth of the romances of Knight Errantry."


The Don Quixote of the First Part os Zen incarnate, of the Second, a sententious buffoon. Sancho Panza also suffers a complete change. In the First Part he is the ordinary man, self-seeking, fond of money, fond of his belly, stupid, a coward, yet not altogether devoid of some natural Zen and faith in his master which lifts him, like Babbit, above the entirly material. In the Second Part he becomes a just, benevolent, disinterested, clever judge and faithful servant, and at times the foolish knave of the First Part, but disbelieving his master's visions and helping to make a fool of him. The Second Part is better writen, it is true; more cultivated, more urbane. It is a book. The First Part is not a book, it is life itself with its medley of gentleness and brutality, humour and pain, nobility and vulgarity, all united by the vision of Don Quixote himself, into a meaningful whole. The words of Byron in 'Don Juan', though devoid of poetical merit, need to be pondered over once more:


I should be very willing to redress Men's wrongs, and rather check than punish crimes, Had not Cervantes, in that too true tale Of Quixote, shown how all such efforts fail.


Of all tales 'tis the saddest -- and more sad, Because it makes us smile; his hero's right, And still pursues the right; - to curb the bad His only object, and 'gainst all odds to fight His guerdon: 'tis his virtue makes him mad!
But his adventures form a sorry sight;-- A sorrier still is the great moral taught By that real epic unto all who have thought.


Redressing injury, revenging wrong, To aid the damsel and destroy the chaff; Opposing singly the united strong, From foreign yoke to free the helpless native:-- Alas! must noblest views, like an old song, Be for mere fancy's sport a theme creative, A jest, a riddle, Fame through thick and thin sought!
And Socrates himself but Wisdom's Quixote?


Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away; A single laugh demolish'd the right arm Of his own country;--seldom since that day Has Spain had heroes. While Romance could charm, The world gave ground before that bright array; And therefore have his volumes done such harm, That all their glory, as a composition, Was dearly purchased by his land's perdition.


"All such efforts fail." It does not need Cervantes to tell us that, and anyway, what does it matter? "Of all tales 'tis the saddest." The only sad tales are those of men who renounce their ideals as Don Quixote does at the end of the Second Part. "His Virtue makes him mad." There is a profound truth in this. It was their virtue that made Christ, St. Francis, Blake, Daruma, all mad, mad as hatters, compared to sane people like you and me. Which is a sorrier sight, his life or ours? Again, what is "the great moral taught," which is such a sorry thing? "Noblest views" are not "mere fancy's sport:" here Byron's sense of humour is defective, laughing at Quixote is one thing, laughing with him is another.


"Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away." Cervantes coud not do such a thing. You might as well try to smile the pyramids away, smile death away. Byron could not laugh religion away in Cain and the Vision of Judgement. The chivalry which is made fun of in Don Quixote was already dead. The chivalry which Don Quixote embodied is as eternal as the faithfulness of Oishi-Yoshiio, the leader of the 47 Ronin. As to the later decadence of Spain, if it be ascribed to loss of Romance, that is to loss of idealism, to the loss of power to love the better more than the good, this means the loss of power to distinguish the essential from the unessential in Don Quixote and this cannot be perversely blamed upon Don Quixote itself, except in so far as Cervantes defaces his original in the Second Part and confuses the issues.


What was wrong with Spain, what is wrong with every nation, every individual, is the lack of the true spirit of Don Quixote. Professor Suzuki, in his 'Zen Buddhism and its Influence on Japanese Culture,' gives an example of Zen in a bullfighter. No doubt it is correct in its way, though the bull would afford an equally good example, at the same level of intelligence of intelligence and morality. But the man who in the history of the world exemplifies all that is best in Zen, the man who surpasses Hakuin, Rinzai, Eno, Daruma and Shakamuni himself is Don Quixote de la Mancha, Knight Errant.


What is Knight Errantry?


"The Knight-errant searches all the corners of the world, enters the most complicated labyrinths, accomplishes at every step the impossible, endures the fierce rays of the sun in uninhabited deserts, the inclemency of wind and ice in winter: lions cannot daunt him nor demons affright, nor dragons, for to seek, assault, and overcome such is the whole business of his life, and true office." (Part Two, ch.
XVII.)


But all this is not mere self-development, born of a desire to be an Arhat. The object of a Knight Errant, what he lives for, is

"...to defend maidens, protect widows, assist orphans and relieve the distressed." (Part One, ch. XI.)


In this he is not to judge men, not to think of their goodness or badness, but only of their misfortunes:


"It is for him to succour them as being needy, looking on their distresses, not on their crimes." (Part One, ch. XXX.)


and this applies to all men and women equally; old and young, rich and poor, good and bad,

"for it may be said of Knight-errantry what is said of love:
that it makes all things equal." (Part One, ch. XI.)


(In a footnote, Bltyh says: "Knight-errantry, death, love,
-- these have something in common, Zen.")


His attitude to other people is that of the sane man to madmen. To him food, money, clothes, are nothing. Don Quixote himself quotes from an old romance:


"My wants, arms alone, My rest is war; My bed the hard woes, My sleep an eternal vigil." (Part One, ch. II.)


Don Quixote quoting with approval the old Spanish proverb, "Where one door shuts, another opens," reminds us of the Emersonian doctrine of Compensation. Even pleasant things and happy times many contain something good and profitable for the soul. This attitude to life, of willing acceptance of all that comes, or rather, all that we come to, for our attitude to life must be active and not passive, is expressed as follows, when Don Quixote first sallies forth in search of adventure, taking no thought for the morrow:


"He rode on his way, going where it pleased his horse to carry him, for he believed that in this consisted the very soul of adventures." (Part One, ch. II.)


Even pleasant things and happy times may contain something good and profitable for the soul. This attitude to life, of willing acceptance of all that comes, or rather, all that we come to, for our attitude to life must be active and not passive, is expressed as follows, when Don Quixote first sallies forth in search of adventure, taking no thought for the morrow:


The same attitude of mind is shown in Chapter 50 of the First Part: we see before us

"...a vast lake of boiling pitch, in which a great number of snakes, serpents, crocodiles and many other ferocious and fearful creatures are wallowing about: a voice wails from the middle of the lake, 'Whosoever thou art, O Knight, who surveyest this horrible mere, if thou wishest to obtain the blessing that lies beneath these gloomy waters, show the might of they valorous breast, and throw thyself into these black, burning waves; doest thou not so, thou art not worthy to see the great wonders of the seven castles and their seven fairies, that lie beneath these lugubrous surges.' No sooner have these awful words ceased than without a moment's consideration, without a thought of the danger he runs, without even taking off his massive arms, commending himself to God and to his mistress, he dashes into the middle of the boiling lake. And just when he does not know what will happen to him, he finds himself among flowery fields beyond those of Eliseum."


Everything depends on the mind. It is the mind which decides whether a thing is a basin or a helmet. The mind is a conjurer, a magician, a wizard which can change one thing into another.


"So it is that what looks to you like a barber's basin, I see clearly to be Mambrino's helmet, and another man may take it for something else." Part One, Ch. 25)


The mind can change day to night, grief to joy, hell to heaven.


"'Let God grant it thus,' answered Don Quixote, 'as I desire and you have need, and may he be a wretch who thinks himself one.'" (Part One, Ch. 21)


This freedom of the mind, freedom of the will, consists in following one's instincts, disdaining all causes and effects, all rationalizing, to act like life itself which lives the life of life.


"'This is a good point,' replied Don Quixote, 'this is the essence of my manner of life; for a knight errant to run mad for some actual reason or other -- there would be nothing praiseworthy or meritorious in that! The perfection of it consists in running mad without the least constraint or necessity.'" (Part One, Ch, 25)


But for all this talking and boasting there is nothing of egotism in Don Quixote. He is in a state of Muga, a state in which he himself is nothing, he seeks nothing for himself, his personality is always dissolved in the valour and glory of the action itself. So when Sancho says,

"'These are more than twenty, and we only two, or rather one and a half.' 'I am worth a hundred', replied Don Quixote."


and we feel that this is an understatement. Don Quixote underestimates himself; he is worth more than a hundred in any combat. But all this spiritual strength does not derive from Don Quixote himself but from his ideal as embodied in Dulcinea, and so he tells the doubting Sancho Panza with great fury:


"'Do you not know, you vulgar rascal, you rogue, that were it not for the valour she infuses into my arm, I would not have the strength to kill a flea? Tell me, viper-tongued villain, who has regained the kingdom, beheaded the giant, and made you marquis (for all this is to me as done and finished) but the power of Dulcinea which uses my arm as instrument of her deeds? She fights in me, she is victorious in me, and I live and breathe in her, receive life and being itself from her.'" (Part One, Ch. 30)


Yet Cervantes does not commit the error of making Don Quixote superhuman. He is a man of like passions with ourselves, who feels the pangs of hunger and the smaller pains of the body. Like Christ, he is often peevish, unreasonable, expecting too much of human nature, and himself finds often that discretion is the better part of valor. Yet for all he can say of himself, as Christ also could have said, a wilful wrong

"voluntarily and knowingly I never committed to anyone."
(Part One Ch. 47).


Among many others, there is one especial point of resemblance between Don Quixote and Blake. Just as in his visions Blake saw and talked with many of the ancient worthies, so Don Quixote describes the face, figure and character of the persons of the Romances:


"'This is another mistake,' replied Don Quixote, 'into which many have fallen, not believing that such knights-errant ever existed in this world. The truth is as certain that I may say I have seen Amadis of Gaul with those my own eyes. He was of great stature, fair of face, a well-clipped beard,...his face at once fierce and gently, of few words, slow to anger and easily pacified.'"


A small but interesting example of Sancho's Zen, quite accidental and natural, of course, but none the less the real thing, is given in the 2nd Part of Don Quixote, Chapter 28, after Sancho has been soundly beaten in the previous chapter, by the townsmen of Reloxa. The pain is so great that he turns on his master and for a whole page pours out a torrent of vituperation on his own folly for following him, with no profit and every kind of loss imaginable. Don Quixote then says (remember this is the Don Quixote of the Second Part who is here simply Cervantes speaking,)


"'I'll wager,' said Don Quixote, 'that at this moment while you are going on like this at pleasure, that you don't feel a bit of pain anywhere.'"


We feel pain when we think of it; while we forget it, from danger, anger, or any other reason, we feel no pain whatever. So Blake says,


"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction."


It was the power of Zen that enabled Latimer to "receive the flame as it were embracing him. After he had stroked his face with his hands, and (as it were) bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died (as it appeared) with very little pain or none." It was the power of Zen that enabled Drake to finish his game of bowls and then defeat the Armada.


The humour of Don Quixote, its pathos, -- in what does it consist? Lockhart says:


"He is the type of a more universal madness -- he is the symbol of Imagination continually struggling and contrasted with Reality -- he represents the eternal warfare between Enthusiasm and Necessity -- the eternal discrepancy between the aspirations and the occupations of Man -- the omnipotence and the vanity of human dreams."


With such a view of life, a kind of spiritual Zoroastrianism, we can understand nothing at all. We cannot understand the spider catching the fly, the shining of the sun, the fall of the spow, -- not even the simplest things are comprehensible by this kind of dualism, let alone such a lofty creation as Don Quixote.


Once we divide the world into ideal and real, imagination and reality, everything becomes a meaningless struggle, there is no central unity to be seen, it is simply a vast tragedy of Nature making a fool of Man. The humour of Don Quixote is the contrast between Reality and Unreality, between the ideals (that is to say the vision of Truth, the apprehension of Eternal values,) and the inadequate methods of Don Quixote takes to put them into practice. It is a contrast between Wisdom and Folly, between Perfection of motive and Imperfection of means, between good aims and bad judgement.


Notice that these opposites are not dualistic in character, though they sound so. Reality and Unreality, Wisdom and Folly, are names for the same one thing. We use them to explain the humour of Don Quixote, as lying in the contrast between Pure Truth and Impure Application, but actually these two are one. Defect of application means defect of vision. When a man sees the Truth of things, all his actions are perfect. Perfection means, not perfect actions in a perfect world, but appropriate actions in an imperfect one. Don Quixote's are inappropriate, but not, as in our case, as a result of defect of will, but of defect of judgement. He lacks the Confucian virtue of Prudence, the balance of the powers of mind.


The pathos of Don Quixote derives from the same source as the humour, but with the addition that we ourselves, as we read the book, have an underlying sense of shame that our lives are directed to the acquisition of all the things Don Quixote so rightly despised. No man can read Don Quixote without a feeling of self-contempt. To forget this, many laugh at him that they may not weep at themselves.


The life of Don Quixote was a life of Zen; indifferent to the opinions of his fellows, without a single thought of self, of self-aggrandisement or self-expression, he LIVED twenty four hours every day, following his instincts (his ideals) as wholeheartedly, as truly, as naturally, as the blooming of flowers in spring, as the falling of leaves in autumn.\

 
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