The incredible story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn

Must a religious story be confirmed as a true fact to be effective and inspiring?

Wu Hsin

Credit: Public Domain (Wu Hsin) and / 165186040 (YinYang Pendant) via Adobe Stock
  • Wu Hsin is an allegedly ancient Chinese sage whose inspiring teachings were brought to light by an obscure character named Roy Melvyn.
  • Wu Hsin's teachings have inspired millions of people across the globe — even if all evidence indicates that he never existed and was made up by Melvyn.
  • The remarkable story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn explores the conflict between the nature of faith and literal or interpretative readings of religious texts.

Last week, a renowned and highly respected Brazilian journalist emailed me a link to a YouTube video. The video, she said, was about the teachings of Wu Hsin, an obscure Chinese sage that presumably lived about one hundred years after Confucius, some time between 403 and 221 BCE. In a book that collects his writings, translated and edited by Roy Melvyn, Wu Hsin is a teacher of non-dualism, credited with being the bridge between Taoism and Confucianism and what later became Zen Buddhism in China and Japan.

The power of religious faith is not in it being based on established facts but on it being believed and, through the strength of this belief, being effective and inspiring.

My journalist friend urged me to watch the video, especially because "some of the ideas resonate so clearly with yours." The video, in Portuguese and currently with over 700,000 views, was beautifully edited in black and white, with a narration filled with deep and meaningful teachings attributed to Wu Hsin. I was mesmerized. I ordered the book immediately and started researching this enigmatic figure. In the back of my mind, though, was an uncomfortable feeling. If Wu Hsin is so wise and so historically essential, how come I never heard of him?

The teachings of Wu Hsin

"Here, we admit the distinction between what is and what appears to be," the video opens. "And so, we must let go of the belief that our imagination is reality." Wu Hsin literally means "No Mind" in Chinese. And, as I dug deeper into the story, the distinction between what is and what appears to be became more and more blurred.

I went back to YouTube to search for videos about Wu Hsin in English. There were quite a few, but none as beautifully edited as the one in Portuguese. Still, between the books and the videos, millions of people are clearly aware of Wu Hsin's teachings:

  • The desire for salvation is the elixir of fools. The only "saving" one needs is to be saved from one's imagination.
  • Words are not facts but only ideas about facts.
  • Whatever one perceives is not one's own. It is merely an appearance in the field of knowing that one is.
  • Clarity does not provide answers; it dissolves questions.
  • Beyond the mind, all distinctions cease.
  • The entire world is merely a play performed on your stage while you are seated in the front row.
  • Consciousness is the antecedent condition of all perception.

The appearance of a separate "I" is an illusion of the mind that divides everything into a subject (the "I") and an "object" (the world outside of the "I"). This apparent duality, this feeling of being apart from everything else, is the ultimate source of unhappiness.

I asked my 13.8 partner Adam Frank and my friend, the philosopher Evan Thompson — both experts on Eastern religions — about Wu Hsin. "Never heard of him," said Adam. "Wu Hsin is a fictional character likely invented by Roy Melvyn. No historical evidence of any such person. It's kind of an ancient Chinese version of Carlos Castañeda's Don Juan," said Thompson.

Does it matter if Wu Hsin was real?

Credit: Hintha via Wikipedia and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

I explored a little deeper and discovered some very strange allegations against Roy Melvyn, the man who gave voice to Wu Hsin. There is no Wikipedia entry about Wu Hsin, the Chinese sage. I then found an online discussion platform where people pondered about Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn. Opinions diverged, with some people stating something that I found fascinating: it doesn't matter whether Roy Melvyn made Wu Hsin up or not; the teachings are still powerful and useful.

A more alarming entry in the same discussion board claimed that Roy Melvyn's name is actually Roy Melvyn Sidewitz in Brooklyn, with a criminal record to boot and offering a link to the court case. According to this link, Roy M. Sidewitz was convicted of illicit trading by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). I noted that the full name Roy Melvyn Sidewitz was never mentioned in the report, only Roy M. Sidewitz. Are Roy Melvyn and Roy M. Sidewitz the same person? I couldn't find out.

The strange story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn goes to the heart of the debate between literal and nonliteral interpretations of religious texts and figures. To what extent is it necessary to attribute real existence to a religious historical figure to be inspired by his or her teachings? A video with more of Wu Hsin's teachings (in English) on YouTube makes this clear: "Whether Wu Hsin is fictional or not and those are Roy Melvyn's writings is none of my concern. I just happen to like them. That's all there is to it."

The YouTube channel belongs to an anonymous "Unself yourself." Could it be another one of Melvyn's outlets, trying to justify his actions? Who knows? We remain lost in the fog of not knowing, the truth veiled under the anonymity of the web. "Seeking ends when the fish understands the folly of searching for the ocean."

Will the real Roy Melvyn please stand up?

Maybe Roy Melvyn had something meaningful to say and knew quite well that unless he invented a story connecting his sayings to an obscure ancient sage no one would listen. The fact is that the real Melvyn never came forward with concrete proof of finding any original writings by Wu Hsin. That simple gesture would, of course, solve everything (assuming the documents weren't forged, but that could be determined by experts).

Although we live in a world where thousands of people believe that mediums can channel wisdom from alien intelligences, the story of Wu Hsin and Roy Melvyn goes much farther. Melvyn is sharing and repackaging inspiring Eastern teachings about finding inner peace through detachment and embracing the impossibility of ever understanding the deepest reaches of reality. "What is known is sustained by the unknown which, in turn, is sustained by the unknowable."

    The power of religious faith is not in it being based on established facts but on it being believed and, through the strength of this belief, being effective and inspiring. I think of Dante's Divine Comedy and Michelangelo's David or Moses. If the power of faith redeems so many apocryphal religious narratives, should it redeem Melvyn?

    More From Marcelo Gleiser
    Related Articles

    Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

    The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

    Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
    Technology & Innovation

    This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

    In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

    The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

    Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

    Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

    Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

    A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

    Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

    Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

    Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

    "(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

    Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

    "This is going to evolve fast!"

    If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

    The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

    Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

    Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

    "This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

    How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

    How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

    Sponsored by Pfizer
    • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
    • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
    • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet:

    Keep reading Show less

    Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

    Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

    Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
    Surprising Science

    This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

    An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

    Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

    These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

    The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

    This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

    The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

    "The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

    "This just hasn't been possible before."

    Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

    New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

    "For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

    "While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

    Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

    Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

    "We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."