Glossary entry for
Humphreys, Christmas

Christmas Humphreys was born in London in 1901, and originally trained as a lawyer. He made quite a career for himself, serving as Senior Prosecuting Counsel at the Old Bailey, the London criminal courts, and eventually sitting as a Circuit Judge from 1968 until his retirement in 1975. Parallel with this carrier he cultivated his interest in Buddhism, and as early as 1924 founded the Buddhist Society, London. As a publisher to the Society, he was responsible for its wide range of publications, including six of his own.

His interest is in world Buddhism as distinct from any of its various schools, and he believes that only in a combination of all schools can the full grandour of Buddhist thought be found. In 1945 he expressed the consensus of such doctrines in Twelve Principles of Buddhism, which has been translated into fourteen languages.

In his book Buddhism from 1951, he says the following about Zen:

Zen is the apotheosis of Buddhism. This direct assault upon the Citadel of Truth, without reliance upon concepts (of God or soul or salvation), or the use of Scripture, ritual or vow, is unique.

In Zen the familiar props of religions are cast away. An image may be used for devotional purposes, but if the room is cold it may be flung into the fire; the Scriptures are useful on the foothills of our understanding, but as soon as they are seen as so much paper they are better put to useful purposes... Here is a man's religion, and he climbs best who carries the lightest load.

The purpose of Zen is to pass beyond the intellect. All that we know, we know but about. The expert, a wit has said, learns more and more about less and less; Zen wearies of learning about it and about, and strives to KNOW. For this a new faculty is needed, the power of immediate perception, the intuitive awareness which comes when the perceiver and the perceived are merged into one.

What is the goal of Zen? The answer is Satori, the Zen term for Enlightenment. As Satori lies beyond the intellect, which alone can define and describe, one cannot define Enlightenment. It is that condition of consciousness wherein the pendulum of the Opposites has come to rest, where both sides of the coin are equally valued and immediately seen. Silence alone can describe it, the silence of the mystic, of the saint, of the artist in the presence of great beauty; of the lover and the poet when the fetters of time and space have for the moment fallen away.
(All quotes Christmas Humphreys, Buddhism, Pelican Books, ISBN 0 1402.0228 5 pp. 179-186)

Humphreys wrote a number of books on Zen (available through, including:

Contributed by Bent Sorensen

More information is available at:

Van references in:

Part of the unofficial website