THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 4, February, 1955
(Pages 170-177; Size: 23K)


"... where Mara wields his strongest arms -- there lies a great reward immediately beyond."
WHEN we use the term Buddhists, we do not mean to imply by it either the exoteric Buddhism instituted by the followers of Gautama-Buddha, nor the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni. This, in its essence, is a doctrine identical with the ancient wisdom-religion of the sanctuary, the pre-Vedic Brahmanism. By Buddhism is meant that religion signifying literally the doctrine of wisdom, and which by many ages antedates the metaphysical philosophy of Siddhârtha Sakyamuni. It is clear that the son of the King of Kapilavastu, and the descendant of the first Sakya (the family name) through his father -- who was of the Kshatriya or warrior-caste -- did not invent the philosophy. Philanthropist by nature, his ideas were developed and matured while under the tuition of Tir-thankara, the famous guru of the Jaïna sect. The latter claim the present Buddhism as a diverging branch of their own philosophy, and themselves, as the only followers of the first Buddha who were allowed to remain in India -- after the expulsion by the Brahmans of all other Buddhists, probably because they had made a compromise, and admitted some of the Brahmanic notions.

The doctrine of God being the universal mind diffused through all things, underlies all ancient philosophies. The Buddhistic tenets, which can never be better comprehended than when studying the Pythagorean philosophy -- its faithful reflection -- are derived from this source, as well as the Brahmanical religion and early Christianity. It is by the spirit of the teachings of both Buddha and Pythagoras, that we can so easily recognize the identity of their doctrines. The all-pervading, universal soul, the Anima Mundi, is Nirvana; and Buddha, as a generic name, is the anthropomorphized monad of Pythagoras. When resting in Nirvana, the final bliss, Buddha is the silent monad, dwelling in darkness and silence. He is also the formless Brahm, the sublime but unknowable Deity which pervades invisibly the whole universe. Whenever it is manifested, desiring to impress itself upon humanity in a shape intelligible to our intellect, whether we call it an avatar, or a King Messiah, or a permutation of Divine Spirit, Logos, Christos, it is all one and the same thing. In each case it is "the Father," who is in the Son, and the Son in "the Father."

Many of our eminent antiquarians trace the Gnostic philosophies right back to Buddhism. We can assert with entire plausibility that of those sects immediately preceding the Christian era -- Kabalism, Judaism, and our present Christianity included -- not one but sprung from the two main branches of the one mother-trunk, the once universal religion which antedated the Vedic ages -- we speak of that prehistoric Buddhism which merged later into Brahmanism. The religion which the primitive teaching of the early few apostles most resembled -- a religion preached by Jesus himself -- is the elder of these two, Buddhism. The latter as taught in its primitive purity, and carried to perfection by the last of the Buddhas, Gautama, based its moral ethics on three fundamental principles. It alleged: that everything existing, exists from natural causes; that virtue brings its own reward, and vice and sin their own punishment; and that the state of man in this world is probationary. We might add that on these three principles rested the universal foundation of every religious creed; God, and individual immortality for every man -- if he could but win it. Buddha's esoteric teachings were the Gupta Vidya (secret knowledge) of the ancient Brahmans, the key to which their modern successors have, with few exceptions, lost. And this Vidya has passed into what is now known as the inner teachings of the Mahayana school of Northern Buddhism. The ethics of Theosophy and those taught by Buddha are identical. These ethics are the soul of the Wisdom Religion and were once the common property of the initiates of all nations. But Buddha was the first to embody these lofty ethics in his public teachings and to make them the foundation and the very essence of his public system. It is herein that lies the immense difference between Buddhism and every other religion. For while in other religions ritualism and dogma hold the first and most important place, in Buddhism it is the ethics which have always been the most insisted upon.

Gautama, no less than all other great reformers, had a doctrine for his "elect" and another for the outside masses, although the main object of his reform consisted in initiating all, so far as it was permissible and prudent to do -- without distinction of caste or wealth -- to the great truths hitherto kept so secret by the selfish Brahmanical class. It is not true, for instance, that Gautama never taught anything concerning a future life, or that he denied the immortality of the soul. Ask any intelligent Buddhist his ideas on Nirvana, and he will unquestionably express himself as did the well-known Wong Chin-Fu, the Chinese orator, in a conversation about Niepang (Nirvana) . "This condition," he remarked, "we all understand to mean a final reünion with God, coincident with the perfection of the human spirit by its ultimate disembarrassment of matter. Nirvana is the very opposite of personal annihilation." Gautama-Buddha it was whom we see the first in the world's history, moved by that generous feeling which locks the whole humanity within one embrace, inviting the "poor," the "lame," and the "blind" to the King's festival table, from which he excluded those who had hitherto sat alone, in haughty seclusion. It was he who, with a bold hand, first opened the door of the sanctuary to the pariah, the fallen one, and to all those "afflicted by men" clothed in gold and purple, often far less worthy than the outcast to whom their finger was scornfully pointing. All this did Siddhârtha six centuries before another reformer, as noble and as loving, though less favored by opportunity, in another land.

In the religion of Sakya-Muni, which learned commentators have delighted so much to set down as purely nihilistic, the doctrine of immortality is very clearly defined, notwithstanding the European or rather Christian ideas about Nirvana. In the sacred Jaïna books, of Patuna, the dying Gautama-Buddha is thus addressed: "Arise into Nirvi (Nirvana) from this decrepit body into which thou hast been sent. Ascend into thy former abode, O blessed Avatar!" This seems to us the very opposite of Nihilism. If Gautama is invited to reâscend into "his former abode," and this abode is Nirvana, then it is incontestable that Buddhistic philosophy does not teach final annihilation. As Jesus is alleged to have appeared to his disciples after death, so to the present day is Gautama believed to descend from Nirvana. And if he has an existence there, then this state cannot be a synonym for annihilation. It is not in the dead letter of Buddhistical sacred literature that scholars may hope to find the true solution of its metaphysical subtleties. The latter weary the power of thought by the inconceivable profundity of its ratiocination; and the student is never farther from the truth than when he believes himself nearest its discovery. The mastery of every doctrine of the perplexing Buddhist system can be attained only by proceeding strictly according to the Pythagorean and Platonic method; from universals down to particulars. The key to it lies in the refined and mystical tenets of the spiritual influx of divine life. "Whoever is unacquainted with my law," says Buddha, "and dies in that state, must return to the earth till he becomes a perfect Samanean (or Bodhisattva). To achieve this object, he must destroy within himself the trinity of Maya (matter in its triple manifestation). He must extinguish his passions, unite and identify himself with the law (the teaching of the secret doctrine), and comprehend the religion of annihilation."

Here, annihilation refers but to matter, that of the visible as well as of the invisible body; for the astral soul (perisprit) is still matter, however sublimated. The same book says that what Fo (Buddha) meant to say was, that "the primitive substance is eternal and unchangeable." Its highest revelation is the pure, luminous ether, the boundless infinite space, not a void resulting from the absence of forms, but on the contrary the foundation of all forms, and anterior to them. "But the very presence of forms denotes it to be the creation of Maya, and all her works are as nothing before the uncreated being, SPIRIT, in whose profound and sacred repose all motion must cease forever." Thus annihilation means, with the Buddhistical philosophy, only a dispersion of matter, in whatever form or semblance of form it may be; for everything that bears a shape was created, and thus must sooner or later perish, i.e., change that shape. Therefore, as something temporary, though seeming to be permanent, it is but an illusion, Maya; for, as eternity has neither beginning nor end, the more or less prolonged duration of some particular form passes, as it were, like an instantaneous flash of lightning. Before we have time to realize that we have seen it, it is gone and passed away for ever. Hence, even our astral bodies, pure ether, are but illusions of matter, so long as they retain their terrestrial outline. The latter changes, says the Buddhist, according to the merits or demerits of the person during his lifetime, and this is metempsychosis. The purifying process of transmigrations -- the metempsychoses -- however grossly anthropomorphized at a later period, must only be regarded as a supplementary doctrine, disfigured by theological sophistry with the object of getting a firmer hold upon believers through a popular superstition. Neither Gautama Buddha nor Pythagoras intended to teach this purely metaphysical allegory literally. Esoterically, it relates to the purely spiritual peregrinations of the human soul.

In the Buddhist texts the negative is treated as essential existence. Annihilation comes under a similar exegesis. The positive state is essential being but no manifestation as such. When the spirit, in Buddhistic parlance, entered Nirvana, it lost objective existence but retained subjective. To objective minds this is becoming absolute nothing, to subjective, nothing to be displayed to sense. Nirvana means the certitude of personal immortality in Spirit, not in Soul, which, as a finite emanation, must certainly disintegrate its particles which are a compound of human sensations, passions, and yearning for some objective kind of existence, before the immortal spirit of the Ego is quite freed and henceforth secure against further transmigration in any form. And how can man ever reach this state so long as the Upadana, that state of longing for life, more life, does not disappear from the sentient being, from the Ahankara clothed, however, in a sublimated body? It is the "Upadana" or the intense desire which produces WILL, and it is will which develops force, or an object having form. Thus the Ego, through this sole undying desire in him, unconsciously furnishes the conditions of his successive self-procreations in various forms, which depend on his mental state and Karma, the good and bad deeds of his preceding existence, commonly called "merit and demerit."

"What is that which has no body, no form; which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible; that which exists and yet is not?" ask the Buddhists. "It is Nirvana," is the answer. It is NOTHING, not a region, but rather a state. When once Nirvana is reached man is exempt from the effects of the "four truths"; for an effect can only be produced through a certain cause, and every cause is annihilated in this state. These "four truths" are the foundation of the whole Buddhistic doctrine of Nirvana. They are, says the book "Perfection of Wisdom" (Pradjna Paramita): the existence of pain; the production of pain; the annihilation of pain; and the way to the annihilation of pain. What is the source of pain? It is existence. Birth existing, decrepitude and death ensue, for wherever there is a form there is cause for pain and suffering. Spirit alone has no form and therefore cannot be said to exist. Whenever man (the ethereal, inner man) reaches that point when he becomes utterly spiritual, hence formless, he has reached that state of perfect bliss. MAN as an objective being becomes annihilated, but the spiritual entity with its subjective life will live forever, for spirit is incorruptible and immortal.

We ought to understand, with the Buddhist metaphysicians, that though the individual human spirits are numberless, collectively they are one, as every drop of water drawn out of the ocean, metaphorically speaking, may have an individual existence and still be one with the rest of the drops going to form the ocean. For each human spirit is a scintilla of the one all-pervading Light. This divine spirit animates the flower, the particle of granite on the mountainside, the lion, the man. The immortal spirit overshadows the mortal man. It enters into him, and pervading his whole being, makes of him a god, who descends into his earthly tabernacle. Every man may become a Buddha, says the doctrine. And so throughout the interminable series of ages we find now and then men who more or less succeed in uniting themselves "with God," as the expression goes -- with their own spirit, as we ought to translate. This is why the "Master" recommended to his mendicants the cultivation of the four degrees of Dhyana, the noble "Path of the Four Truths," or the gradual acquirement of stoical indifference for either life or death. This is the state of spiritual self-contemplation during which man utterly loses sight of his physical and dual personality, composed of soul and body; he unites himself with his third and higher immortal self, the real heavenly man merging so to say into the divine Essence, whence his own spirit proceeded like a spark from the common hearth. The Buddhists call such a man Arhat. An Arhat is next to a Buddha, and none is equal to him in infused science, or miraculous powers. Thus the Arhat, the holy mendicant, can reach Nirvana while yet on earth; and his spirit, totally freed from the trammels of the "psychical, terrestrial, devilish wisdom," as James calls it, and being in its own nature omniscient and omnipotent, can on earth, through the sole power of his thought produce the greatest of phenomena.

The Buddhas are not gods, but simply individuals overshadowed by the spirit of Buddha -- the divine ray. Buddha means literally "the Enlightened," the highest degree of knowledge. Esoteric teachings claim that Gautama Buddha renounced Nirvana and gave up the Dharmakaya vesture to remain a "Buddha of compassion" within the reach of the miseries of the world. And the religious philosophy he left to it has produced for over 2,000 years generations of good and unselfish men. His is the only absolutely bloodless religion among all the existing religions: tolerant and liberal, teaching universal compassion and charity, love and self-sacrifice, poverty and contentment with one's lot, whatever it may be. No persecutions, and enforcements of faith by fire and sword, have ever disgraced it. No thunder-and-lightning-vomiting god has interfered with its chaste commandments; and if the simple, humane and philosophical code of daily life left to us by the greatest Man-Reformer ever known, should ever come to be adopted by mankind at large, then indeed an era of bliss and peace would dawn on Humanity. But dreary and sad were the ways, and blood-covered the tortuous paths by which the world of the Christians was driven to embrace the Irenæan and Eusebian Christianity. And yet, unless we accept the views of the ancient Pagans, what claim has our generation to having solved any of the mysteries of the "kingdom of heaven," i.e., Nirvana? What more does the most pious and learned of Christians know of the future destiny and progress of our immortal spirits than the heathen philosopher of old, or the modern "Pagan" beyond the Himalaya? Can he even boast that he knows as much, although he works in the full blaze of "divine" revelation?

Christianity becomes every day more a religion of pure emotionalism. The doctrine of Buddha is entirely based on practical works. A general love of all beings, human and animal, is its nucleus. A man who knows that unless he toils for himself he has to starve, and understands that he has no scapegoat to carry the burden of his iniquities for him, is ten times as likely to become a better man than one who is taught that murder, theft, and profligacy can be washed in one instant as white as snow, if he but believes in a God who, to borrow an expression from Volney, "once took food upon earth, and is now himself the food of his people." We have seen a Buddhist holding to the religion of his fathers, both in theory and practice; and however blind may be his faith, however absurd his notions on some particular doctrinal points -- later engraftings of an ambitious clergy -- yet in practical works his Buddhism is far more Christ-like in deed and spirit than the average life of our Christian priests and ministers. The fact alone that his religion commands him to "honor his own faith, but never slander that of other people," is sufficient. It places the Buddhist lama immeasurably higher than any priest or clergyman who deems it his sacred duty to curse the "heathen" to his face, and sentence him and his religion to "eternal damnation."

Every Orientalist and Pundit knows by heart the story of Gautama, the most perfect of mortal men that the world has ever seen, but none of them seem to suspect the esoteric meaning underlying his prenatal biography, i.e., the significance of the popular story. The Lalitavistâra tells the tale, but abstains from hinting at the truth. The 5,000 Jâtakas, or the events of former births (re-incarnations) are taken literally instead of esoterically. Gautama, the Buddha, would not have been a mortal man, had he not passed through hundreds and thousands of births previous to his last. The hidden symbolism in the sequence of these re-births contains a perfect history of the evolution on this earth, pre and post human, and is a scientific exposition of natural facts. One truth not veiled but bare and open is found in the nomenclature of the Jâtakas: As soon as Gautama had reached the human form he began exhibiting in every personality the utmost unselfishness, self-sacrifice and charity. "Buddha Gautama, the fourth of the Sapta (Seven) Buddhas and Sapta Tathâgatas, was born according to the Singhalese chronicles, in the year 621 before our era. He fled from his father's palace to become an ascetic on the night of the 8th day of the second moon, 597 B.C., and having passed six years in ascetic meditation at Gaya, and perceiving that physical self-torture was useless to bring enlightenment, he decided upon striking out on a new path, until he reached the state of Bodhi. He became a full Buddha on the night of the 8th day of the twelfth moon, in the year 592, and finally entered Nirvâna in the year 543, according to Southern Buddhism. ... All the rest of the events are allegorical." But it is recorded also: "Samyak Sambuddha, the Teacher of Perfection, gave up his SELF for the salvation of the World, by stopping at the threshold of Nirvana -- the pure state."

It is well ascertained that Buddhist Arhats began their religious exodus for the purpose of propagating the new faith beyond Kashmir and the Himalayas, as early as the year 300 before our era, and reached China in the year 61 A.D. when "Kashyapa at the invitation of the Emperor Ming-ti went there to acquaint the 'Son of Heaven' with the tenets of Buddhism." Buddhist missionaries made their way to the Mesopotamian Valley, and even went so far west as Ireland. The Arhats began by following the policy of their Master. But the majority of the subsequent priests were not initiated, just as in Christianity. So, little by little the great esoteric truths became almost lost. These truths were the same secret doctrines of the Magi, of the pre-Vedic Buddhists, of the hierophants of the Egyptian Thoth or Hermes, and of the adepts of whatever age and nationality including the Chaldean kabalists and the Jewish nazars. They were identical from the beginning; Gautama-Buddha's philosophy was that taught from the beginning of time in the impenetrable secrecy of the inner sanctuaries of the pagodas.

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(1) NOTE.--Collated from Isis Unveiled and the Theosophical Glossary.
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