John Blofeld Meets Dorje Rinpoche

“I sucked in my breath…surely he could not be dealing with the subject of my very first question, allowing it to be such, at a time when I had given no hint as to what it would be?”


John Blofeld (1913 – 1987)

The Wheel of Life

pp. 40-48


John Blofeld

Journal of The Siam Society, Volume 75 (1987)

Among the rarities from whom the Siam Society has benefitted over the years is an
English Chinese Buddhist of the Vajarayana school whose passing at the age of 74
on 17 June 1987 is the occasion for this memorial.

John Calthorpe Blofeld also known by his Chinese name, P’u Lutao, was born in
England on 2 April 1913. Responding to his calling, he left Cambridge University in
1933 before finishing to begin a total immersion in Chinese ways interrupted when
the Second World War broke out in 1939. He then joined the British Army with the
rank of captain but at the time there were so few Englishmen who knew Mandarin
he was moved from the War Office to the diplomatic service to serve as Cultural
Attache in Chungking from 1942 to 1945. He returned to Cambridge University in
1945-6 to obtain his degree and immediately afterwards returned to China until the
victory of the Communists in 1949 led him to leave for Hongkong where he taught at
a high school until 1951.

Mr. Blofeld was then persuaded to seek the more congenial Buddhist atmosphere of
Thailand and he settled here in 1951. In Thailand, he taught English language and
literature at Chulalongkorn University from 1951 to 1961, was Chief of Editorial
Services with ECAFE, now ESCAP,from 1961 to 1974 and for the next five years
again taught English at Kasetsart and Chulalongkorn Universities. Then free of the
need to make a living, Mr. Blofeld devoted himself entirely to his Chinese studies, to
lecturing in the United States and Canada and giving seminars on Taoism and
Buddhism and to writing. Shortly before his death he completed his autobiography
in Chinese now being published in Hongkong and was, until almost the last day ,
working in Chinese on a collection of old tales recalled from his early days in China.
The Siam Society had the privilege of the membership of Mr. Blofeld in December
1978. Even before joining he had led the Society on a tour of Chinese temples in
Bangkok followed by a Chinese lunch reflecting two of his many Chinese interests:
religion and food, and had lectured on 8 November 1977 on TAOISM, THE
WISDOM OF INACTIVITY. Subsequently, from time to time , he led the Society
on tours of Chinese temples in the provinces and in Bangkok.

Mr. Blofeld’s achievements, spiritual and cultural, are reflected in the many books
he has written, most of them while he was in Thailand. The major works are listed
below. In the second edition of his spiritual autobiography THE WHEEL OF LIFE
written when he was 59 he summarized as follows the great experiences of his life
which in their content and the felicitous manner of their expression give an insight
into the warmth of character and sincerity of this extraordinary person :

My friendship with Tahai and all that emerged from it, including
my first initiation at the hands of the Lama we used to call in
Chinese Dorje Joonjay;
My holiday on Mount Wu T’ai with its fantastic peaks and flower
carpeted plateau where stood a whole galaxy of temples and
monasteries inhabited by colourful throngs of recluses belonging
to an age gone by;

The months of ardent meditation spent in the palatial halls of
Hua T’ing Ssu which, standing amidst the forests of the Western
Hills, looked out across the lake to the mediaeval walls and
towers of the city of Kunming;

The ceremony in the gloomy Temple of the War God during
which I took the oath of blood-brotherhood to Chin P’ eishan of
the Imperial Clan of Ai-hsin-chieh-lu;

My pilgrimage to the conical mountain of Tashiding, where the
roar of the waters and reverberations of the lama’s drums merged
in the mantra of never-ending sound;

The winter spent in Kalimpong with the Nyingma Lamas and
with John Driver, King Punchok and a nearly invisible dog;
My glimpse of Mongolia’s lovely land, where Buddhist herdsmen
still dwell amidst their herds of yak and horses on the limitless
plains of Central Asia, still largely undisturbed by the crudeness
of modern man;

My reception by the Dalai Lama, his warmth and sweetness, the
scenic grandeur of the mountains and noble courage of the
Tibetan exiles.

Towards the end of his life Mr. Blofeld became noticeably more Chinese. His maner
became even more courtly and courteous, he dressed nearly always in Chinese
fashion and his sparse white beard grew wispy and with his good humour and ready
laugh he gave the impression of a sage rather far along the road to spiritual
enlightenment. Except for his felicity of expression in English and f<)~dness for an
occasional European meal, there was not much of the Englishman left. By then he
was spending hours a night studying old Chinese texts and working on his last two
works in Chinese. As a Buddhist, death held no fear for him. He was sceptical of
what the next life would bring but thought as so many of the Buddhist insights
turned out in his experience to be true, those on death and what comes after-Wards
are likely to be true as well. Having had a full life and having known the
inconveniences of old age he accepted the end with equanimity, ready to make the
dash for nirvana. John Blofeld was cremated at Wat Hualampong after 7 days of
Thai, Chinese and Tibetan rites on 25 July 1987.


I. The Jewel in the Lotus- Sidgewick & Jackson. London
An outline of prcsentday Chinese Buddhism
2. Red China in Perspective- Wyndgate, London
An attempt to explain the reasons for communist success in China.
3. The Wheel of Life- Rider. London; and Shambhala. USA
Autobiographical, largely about China and Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.
4. People of the Sun – Hutchinson, London
Life in Siam
5. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po- Rider, London; and Grove press, USA
Translation of an 8th century Buddhist classic from Chinese
6. The City of Lingering Splendour- Hutchinson, London
Life in pre-war Peking
7. The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai- Rider, London; and Grove Press, USA
Translation of an 8th century Buddhist classic from Chinese
8. The Book of Change- Allen & Unwin. London; and Dutton, USA
A new translation of the most ancient existing book in the world.
9. The Way of Power- Allen & Unwin, London; and Dutton, USA
Tibetan Buddhism with emphasis on meditational techniques
10. The World of Buddhism- Siam Society, Bangkok
Damnern Garden

A pictorial album illustrating Buddhist practice in five groups of countries-Theravadin, Mahayana.
Vajrayana, formerly Buddhist countries and those where Buddhism is taking root.
II. King Maha MongkutofSiam – Asia Pacific Press, Singapore
12. TheSecretandSublime- Allen &Unwin,London;andDutton,USA
13. Beyond the Gods- Allen & Unwin, London;and Dutton, USA
Taoist and Buddhist ways of living
14. Mantras- Allen & Unwin, London;andShambhala, USA
15. Compassionate Yoga- Allen & Unwin,London;andShambhala, USA
A story of Kuan Yin (Chinese ‘Goddess of Mercy’)
16. Taoism:Questforlmmortality- Allen & Unwin,London;Shambhala, USA
All aspects of Taoism
17. GatewaytoWisdom- Allen & Unwin,London;andShambhala,USA
Taoist and Buddhist meditation pra..:tices
18. TheChineseArtofTea- Allen & Unwin, London;Shambhala, USA