In Taoist thought there are warnings against trying to teach the unteachable6 min read

There are certain rules for the transmission of the Holy Truth. One set of traditions is concerned with the passing on from teacher to pupil in a face-to-face relation, and another set is concerned with what might be called broadcasting it to groups. The face-to-face relationship was in India called Upanishad, which means literally “sitting near”. The implication is that the teachings were passed on to one person only, in privacy where no one else could hear. The passing on of the secrets often took place without any formality, and was not dependent on outward circumstances. This meant that there were no fixed centres where alone the instruction could be given. It could be given in ceremonial form but that was not essential. In times of persecution under some fanatical ruler such as the blood thirsty Aurangzeb of 17th century India, it was not possible for the ruler to find centres that he could destroy.

The case was similar in 9th century  China when the Emperor Wu tried to stamp out Buddhism. Most of the traditional sects had a richly endowed temples as there headquarters, often enshrining relics of their Indian founder. The rule was that a new priest had to be ordained in the presence of these relics. So when the emperor destroyed both temples and relics no new priests could be created either in public or in secret because he would not have been properly ordained. Thus the great Buddhist sects of China were mostly destroyed by the persecution, and after it had passed they were unable to resurrect themselves.

Only the Zen sect did not have the necessity of formal transmission. They had temples but Master and pupil could be working side by side as labourers in the fields, and the transmission could take place in a face to face relation there. Thus after the persecution the Zen lines of transmission could again become open, and become thriving centres where the teachers allowed it. The only other sect that survived was the Pure Land devotional sect which also was independent of fixed centres.

As regards broadcasting this was done in India in the form of public lectures and debates, sometimes conducted by wandering ascetics. In general, the instruction was on Karma Yoga which comprises performance of ones proper role in life as determined by the natural endowments and abilities specified in the Gita, for instance:

learning, piety, goodwill, and higher aspiration for the Brahmin class;
generosity, authority, bravery for the warrior class,
commercial and organising ability for farmers and traders;
and the spirit of public or private service for the forth class.

This system of classes later degenerated into a hereditary one, but the Gita nowhere says that a Brahmin is simply the son of two Brahmin parents. It says that the Brahmin is one who seeks Brahma, or Truth.

One thing which is common to both the Upanishad and the broadcasting traditions is that no attempt may be made to force acceptance. The mass murders by the fanatical Kyril, the crusaders with their cry of “the Cross or the sword”, the Moslem horsemen who rode into the great University of Narlanda and slaughtered the unarmed Buddhist monks there – these were semi-lunatics.

Even in civilised debate, no attempt must be made to override oppostion by forceful means – for instance, by pressing advantages of wealth, power, education or personal persuasiveness. Objections are to be met rationally, and ones own points are not to be irrationally insisted on.

There are many cases where the taking of evasive action is apparent.

In Britain, if people are told: “Yoga teaches that in everyone there are almost infinite potentialities and creativity”, they are liable to say: ”
Oh, really?” and then talk about the weather.

Such an evasion can be used against strong pressure as I observed in an incident at the British Broadcasting Corporation during my 24 years there.

During the cold war the BBC World Service and the services in Russian and other East European languages were jammed. The jamming could not be complete and the services were listened to, transcribed, duplicated on little home-based machines and widely circulated in the Soviet dominated territories. Of course there was very little direct feedback but the BBC could infer a fairly wide audience. Only after Gorbachev’s opening up did the true extent of that audience become clear. One of the leading broadcasters, Anitol Goldberg, when he was able to make a trip to his home country Russia found that he was famous there. He and others had been a brilliantly successful team for many years.

They were experts in their own fields such as international politics and world affairs. But as it happened hardly any of them new anything about the technology of short-wave transmission. The BBC directorate had inaugurated a policy that its broadcasters be made aware of how their broadcasts actually reached the listeners. They arranged a series of lectures in which an engineer explained to senior broadcasters and managers how it worked. Most of the foreign services attended the lectures as a routine chore. But when it came to the East European services they refused. “We are in a continuos crisis situation in this cold war,” they argued, “and it is simply pointless to know how our material is getting across. If reception is more favourable when darkness covers the path what does that matter to us. The timing of the broadcasts is for the engineers. Our job is to provide the material not to think about how it gets there.”

They refused to be persuaded and in the end the management had to issue a direct order, as a result of which a group of about 20 of these brilliant broadcasters sat sulkily in a large room in front of various screens and overhead projectors and diagrams. The talk was given by a young and talented deputy head engineer, used to explaining radio to laymen. He gave a clear and attractive exposition: he described the radio waves and the transmitting towers and the ionosphere and how the effect of jamming could be minimised and so on, with all the charts and props. The representative of management was impressed and highly pleased.

Precisely at the end of the allotted forty minutes the young engineer wound up the talk and asked for questions. There was dead silence. The management man said, “Please don’t be hesitant, ask any questions, any questions at all.” Still silence. He leant forward and addressed one of them whom he knew slightly: “Tosco, please, please ask a question, you must have a question.”

Forced to say something, Tosco waved a hand in the air. “These, err, waves – they are electric?”
It was as if the lecture had not been given and the management representative rose swiftly to his feet, thanked the lecturer and ushered the sniggering audience out. He was a Roman Catholic, and perhaps he recognised what is called in theology Invincible Ignorance.

In Taoist thought there are warnings against trying to teach the unteachable. However exalting the teachings they will have no effect, as the holy text says:
Don’t Use Precious Stones to Pelt the Thieving Sparrows.

© Trevor Leggett