Clearing the Path
Clearing the Path contains the text of Ñāṇavīra's revised Notes on Dhamma (1960-1965) together with 149 letters of varying lengths written by Ñāṇavīra to nine correspondents, which serve (as the author himself stated) as a commentary on the Notes. The texts are scrupulously edited, extensively annotated and cross-referenced by means of a comprehensive index.
Notes on Dhamma has been variously described as ‘arrogant, scathing, and condescending’, as ‘a fantastic system’, and as ‘the best and most important book on Buddhism ever written by a Westerner’. Ñanavira Thera himself remarked of the book that ‘it is vain to hope that it is going to win general approval … but I do allow myself to hope that a few individuals … will have private transformations of their way of thinking as a result of reading [the Notes]’.
And indeed, the influence of Notes on Dhamma on Buddhist thinkers continues to increase more than a quarter of a century after its publication. Inasmuch as the first edition, long out of print, consisted of only 250 copies, how is it that this book has aroused such extraordinary interest and controversy? The answer, it seems, is to be discovered not only in the specific content of the Notes but in their general attitude, their view and direction. In describing that attitude their author wrote of the Notes that they ‘attempt to provide an intellectual basis for the understanding of the Suttas (the Buddhist texts) without abandoning saddha (faith)’; that they ‘have been written with the purpose of clearing away a mass of dead matter which is choking the Suttas’; and that, above all, ‘the Notes are designed to be an invitation to the reader to come and share the author’s point of view’.
That point of view—achieved by Ñanavira through dedicated self-investigation using the Buddha’s Teaching as a guide—is described unflinchingly in the Notes, which assume that ‘the reader’s sole interest in the Pali Suttas is a concern for his own welfare’. However, the Notes, with their admitted intellectual and conceptual difficulties, are not the only way to discuss right view or to offer right view guidance. The letters which are collected here are not only ‘something of a commentary on the Notes’; they are, independently, a lucid discussion of how an individual concerned fundamentally with self-disclosure deals with the dilemma of finding himself in an intolerable situation, where the least undesirable alternative is suicide.