Was T.S Eliot a Buddhist?

tibetan buddhist mandala

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot – Four Quartets

Several years ago I taught a Buddhist class on the profound subject of emptiness, and I used this quote to illustrate what I felt was our true goal in life  – to consciously return home.

Not home in the sense of an external place, but as an internal place of perfect inner peace and connectedness – a state which Buddhists enticingly call the union of bliss and emptiness.

Bliss refers to our most subtle and clear-seeing level of mind, an intoxicating place existing deep down beneath the turbulence of our conceptions.

Emptiness is a little trickier. Essentially it is the theory of how things don’t exist – that is, they are empty of existing independently, either from all other phenomena, or from the minds that perceive them. Which is not the same as saying that things do not exist at all! Just that they do not exist in the way they appear to.

Of course this may sound rather strange – our world certainly appears to be a very solid and independent place, doesn’t it? It feels very much as if it’s existing ‘out there’, quite separate from our mind, which exists ‘in here’.

But as Buddha, and now quantum physicists have discovered, appearances are nearly always deceptive, and our reality is far from ‘real’. Like a dream, a mirage, a magician’s illusion… while things do exist, it is only just, and not in the solid way they appear to.

With our mind we make the world

 Buddha said, and while this in itself is not a problem (in fact in the end it is the key to the solution) failing to understanding the world’s illusory nature is.

For when we fail to recognize the intimate connection between mind and its projections, we find ourselves searching through all  the world’s places for the answer to our problems.  Not understanding the true internal origination of our pleasure and pain, we expect more from life than it can realistically deliver, and are left constantly, heartbreakingly wanting…

Spiritual paths (of all descriptions) take us in the opposite direction. Buddhist means ‘inner being’ and its practises take you on an internal journey, returning you to your very source, your own true nature, emptiness.

As we meditate we delve deeper and deeper inside our own minds, exploring down through ever more subtle levels and challenging ourselves to redefine who we think we are.

We try to bring our conscious awareness to this process, even during times of sleep and death, for it is at these times of least external distraction that we have the greatest opportunity to access the most clear seeing level of mind – the clear light of  bliss.

When this blissful state is manifest our mind is naturally unclouded by the stories it habitually creates about our world, ourselves and others. During these moments we have a powerful opportunity to understand our own true nature and to reunite with our true ‘home’. Tragically, for most, this opportunity is missed.

Like a tourist lulled into unconsciousness on a train, we sleep through what  passes by outside the window of our perceptions, never fully aware, and therefore never fully able to experience it. Night after night, life after life, our internal explorations naturally take us ‘home’, but time and again we fail to recognize it clearly – for what it is, or for who we are.

Hoodwinked by the dream of our own projections, we grasp instead onto what is not (was never) really there, except in our own minds making…

As Albert Einstein said,

Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.

Our search for happiness (or satisfaction, peace, home, enlightenment) in all its myriad expressions (as urgings for love, sex, drugs, shoes, money, success) is really all about this divine drive for union with our true selves.

As Eliot pointed out in the Four Quartets, this is our real job, our highest purpose – to return to that primordial union of bliss and emptiness (or God, he would call it) and to consciously know that state for the first time.  To recognize ourselves as we really are – free of race, gender, job, social status, ego; what’s left after all these are gone is what there is.

But this is at least a lifetimes work, perhaps many lifetimes…

Was T. S. Eliot a Buddhist?  Being a Christian, I’m sure he would not have said so.  And yet, unsurprisingly, it seems our shared purpose is the same.

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Author: Michele Seminara

Poet, critic and managing editor of Verity La creative arts journal. http://verityla.com/

16 thoughts on “Was T.S Eliot a Buddhist?”

  1. Michele, as a practising Christian I have learned these same lessons from both Christian readings and Buddhist readings…I think we are all on the same path…to connect with what is our inner most being, our truth. Thanks for this lovely post. Leanne

  2. Michele, You are so knowledgeable and enlightened. I have been on a more spiritual path in my thirties and now forties. I was raised Catholic, but found I was distracted by all of the doctrine. I do believe we are all on a similar path, but I respond better to the simpler truths found in the Buddhist teachings. I love how you remind us that “our search for happiness is …the divine union with our true selves.” That is the truth I seek. Beautifully written. Thank you!

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for that, I really appreciate your comments. I also really enjoyed your last post around the subject of death – we Buddhists are big on death! Keep writing about the real stuff. Michele

  3. SImplied for better understanding of Buddhism yet more importantly highlights the true pursuit of life. Having said that, I must confess, I haven’t read the Bible. It’s a defense mechanism of sorts. Many a stories I overhear is about God’s wrath if one doesn’t comply, similar to Quran. Maybe this ain’t true nevertheless I agree our true journey, seeking has to be inwards.
    On the lighter side, shoes was a brilliant input.

  4. “we expect more from life than it can realistically deliver…” You are so right (!) – and yet – at the same time our imaginations can’t begin to grasp all it has to offer. Great writing and insights Michele.

    1. Thanks for reading this one Chris, it’s become a bit buried amongst all the poems! For me the belief is that once we realise our own minds are the creators of this projection we call life, then we can develop the mental tools to recreate it in the most wonderful way possible. You’re spot on I think – when our understanding becomes unlimited, so too will our imaginations, and our lives.

  5. A lovely post Michele… I loved the question – the Four Quartets being one of my favorite poems, and also, feeling that I knew what Eliot meant when I was high at the end of some powerful personal growth courses.
    Like many of your commenters I feel that the highest reaches of all religions move beyond dogma into spirituality and there discover the same universal truths … there we are all mystics, Buddhists, Sufis, and all those lovely states of being …

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