Entries from the Theosophical Glossary


General | Schools & Sects | Characters & Historical Figures | Mythical Figures | Literature

Buddhism. Buddhism is now split into two distinct Churches: the Southern and the Northern Church. The former is said to be the purer form, as having preserved more religiously the original teachings of the Lord Buddha. It is the religion of Ceylon, Siam, Burmah and other places, while Northern Buddhism is confined to Tibet, China and Nepaul. Such a distinction, however, is incorrect. If the Southern Church is nearer, in that it has not departed, except perhaps in some trifling dogmas due to the many councils held after the death of the Master, from the public or exoteric teachings of Sâkyamuni—the Northern Church is the outcome of Siddhârta Buddha’s esoteric teachings which he confined to his elect Bhikshus and Arhats. In fact, Buddhism in the present age, cannot he justly judged either by one or the other of its exoteric popular forms. Real Buddhism can be appreciated only by blending the philosophy of the Southern Church and the metaphysics of the Northern Schools. If one seems too iconoclastic and stero:, and the other too metaphysical and transcendental, even to being overgrown with the weeds of Indian exotericism—many of the gods of its Pantheon having been transplanted under new names to Tibetan soil—it is entirely due to the popular expression of Buddhism in both Churches. Correspondentially they stand in their relation to each other as Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. Both err by an excess of zeal and erroneous interpretations, though neither the Southern nor the Northern Buddhist clergy have ever departed from truth consciously, still less have they acted under the dictates of priestocracy, ambition, or with an eye to personal gain and power, as the two Christian Churches have.

Buddha (Sk.). Lit., “The Enlightened”. The highest degree of knowledge. To become a Buddha one has to break through the bondage of sense and personality; to acquire a complete perception of the real self and learn not to separate it from all other selves; to learn by experience the utter unreality of all phenomena of the visible Kosmos foremost of all; to reach a complete detachment from all that is evanescent and finite, and live while yet on Earth in the immortal and the everlasting alone, in a supreme state of holiness.

Buddha Siddhârta (Sk.). The name given to Gautama, the Prince of Kapilavastu, at his birth. It is an abbreviation of sarvârtthasiddha and means, the “realization of all desires”. Gautama, which means, on earth (gâu) the most victorious (tama) “was the sacerdotal name of the Sâkya family, the kingly patronymic of the dynasty to which the father of Gautama, the King Suddhodhana of Kapilavastu, belonged. Kapilavastu was an ancient city, the birth-place of the Great Reformer and was destroyed during his life time. In the title Sâkyamuni, the last component, muni, is rendered as meaning one mighty in charity, isolation and silence”, and the former Sâkya is the family name. Every Orientalist or Pundit knows by heart the story of Gautama, the Buddha, 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. Yet the detailed account of these, and the statement that during them he worked his way up through every stage of transmigration from the lowest animate and inanimate atom and insect, up to the highest—or man, contains simply the well-known occult aphorism: “a stone becomes a plant, a plant an animal, and an animal a man”. Every human being who has ever existed, has passed through the same evolution. But the hidden symbolism in the sequence of these re-births (jâtaka) 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 their nomenclature, viz., that 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 Chinese Chronology in 1024 b.c.; but according to the Singhalese chronicles, on the 8th day of the second (or fourth) moon 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, be decided upon striking out 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. The Orientalists, however, have decided upon several other dates. All the rest is allegorical. He attained the state of Bodhisattva on earth when in the personality called Prabhâpala. Tushita stands for a place on this globe, not for a paradise in the invisible regions. The selection of the Sâkya family and his mother Mâyâ, as “the purest on earth,” is in accordance with the model of the nativity of every Saviour, God or deified Reformer. The tale about his entering his mother’s bosom in the shape of a white elephant is an allusion to his innate wisdom, the elephant of that colour being a symbol of every Bodhisattva. The statements that at Gautama’s birth, the newly born babe walked seven steps in four directions, that an Udumbara flower bloomed in all its rare beauty and that the Nâga kings forthwith proceeded ”to baptise him “, are all so many allegories in the phraseology of the Initiates and well-understood by every Eastern Occultist. The whole events of his noble life are given in occult numbers, and every so-called miraculous event—so deplored by Orientalists as confusing the narrative and making it impossible to extricate truth from fiction—is simply the allegorical veiling of the truth, it is as comprehensible to an Occultist learned in symbolism, as it is difficult to understand for a European scholar ignorant of Occultism. Every detail of the narrative after his death and before cremation is a chapter of facts written in a language which must be studied before it is understood, otherwise its dead letter will lead one into absurd contradictions. For instance, having reminded his disciples of the immortality of Dharmakâya, Buddha is said to have passed into Samâdhi, and lost himself in Nirvâna—from which none can return., and yet, notwithstanding this, the Buddha is shown bursting open the lid of the coffin, and stepping out of it; saluting with folded hands his mother Mâyâ who had suddenly appeared in the air, though she had died seven days after his birth, &c., &c. As Buddha. was a Chakravartti (he who turns the wheel of the Law), his body at its cremation could not be consumed by common fire. What happens Suddenly a jet of flame burst out of the Swastica on his breast, and reduced his body to ashes. Space prevents giving more instances. As to his being one of the true and undeniable Saviours of the World, suffice it to say that the most rabid orthodox missionary, unless he is hopelessly insane, or has not the least regard even for historical truth, cannot find one smallest accusation against the life and personal character of Gautama, the “Buddha”. Without any claim to divinity, allowing his followers to fall into atheism, rather than into the degrading superstition of deva or idol-worship, his walk in life is from the beginning to the end, holy and divine. During the 45 years of his mission it is blameless and pure as that of a god—or as the latter should be. He is a perfect example of a divine, godly man. He reached Buddhaship—i.e., complete enlightenment—entirely by his own merit and owing to his own individual exertions, no god being supposed to have any personal merit in the exercise of goodness and holiness. Esoteric teachings claim that he renounced Nirvâna and gave up the Dharmakâya vesture to remain a “Buddha of compassion” within the reach of the miseries of this 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 he. No persecutions, and enforcement 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 he adopted by mankind at large, then indeed an era of bliss and peace would dawn on Humanity.

Gautama (Sk.). The Prince of Kapilavastu, son of Sudhôdana, the Sâkya king of a small realm on the borders of Nepaul, born in the seventh century b.c., now called the “Saviour of the World”. Gautama or Gôtama was the sacerdotal name of the Sâkya family, and Sidhârtha was Buddha’s name before he became a Buddha. Sâkya Muni, means the Saint of the Sâkya family. Born a simple mortal he rose to Buddhaship through his own personal and unaided merit. A man—verily greater than any god!

Sâkya (Sk.). A patronymic of Gautama Buddha.

Sâkyamuni Buddha (Sk.). A name of the founder of Buddhism, the great Sage, the Lord Gautama.

Samma Sambuddha (Pali). A title of the Lord Buddha, the “Lord of meekness and resignation”; it means “perfect illumination”.

Samyaksambuddha (Sk.). or Sammâsambuddha as pronounced in Ceylon. Lit., the Buddha of correct and harmonious knowledge, and the third of the ten titles of Sâkyamuni.

Sarvada (Sk.). Lit., “all-sacrificing “A title of Buddha, who in a former Jâtaha (birth) sacrificed his kingdom, liberty, and even life, to save others.

Siddhârtha (Sk.). A name given to Gautama Buddha.

Sugata (Sk.). One of the Lord Buddha’s titles, having many meanings.


Abhijñâ (Sk.). Six phenomenal (or “supernatural”) gifts which Sâkyamuni Buddha acquired in the night on which he reached Buddhaship. This is the “fourth” degree of Dhyâna (the seventh in esoteric teachings) which has to be attained by every true Arhat. In China, the initiated Buddhist ascetics reckon six such powers, but in Ceylon they reckon only five. The first Abhijñâ is Divyachakchus, the instantaneous view of anything one wills to see; the second, is Divyasrotra, the power of comprehending any sound whatever, etc., etc.

Âdi-Buddha (Sk.). The First and Supreme Buddha—not recognised in the Southern Church. The Eternal Light.

Amdo (Tib.). A sacred locality, the birthplace of Tson-kha-pa, the great Tibetan reformer and the founder of the Gelukpa (yellow caps), who is regarded as an Avatar of Amita-buddha.

Arahat (Sk.). Also pronounced and written Arhat, Arhan, Rahat, &c., “the worthy one”, lit., “deserving divine honours”. This was the name first given to the Jain and subsequently to the Buddhist holy men initiated into the esoteric mysteries. The Arhat is one who has entered the best and highest path, and is thus emancipated from rebirth.

Avâivartika (Sk.). An epithet of every Buddha: lit., one who turns no more back; who goes straight to Nirvâna.

Bhadra Vihara (Sk.). Lit., “the Monastery of the Sages or Bodhisattvas”. A certain Vihara or Matham in Kanyâkubdja.

Bhadrakalpa (Sk.). Lit., “The Kalpa of the Sages”. Our present period is a Bhadra Kalpa, and the exoteric teaching makes it last 236 million years. It is “so called because 1,000 Buddhas or sages appear in the course of it”. (Sanskrit Chinese Dict.) “Four Buddhas have already appeared” it adds; but as out of the 236 millions, over 151 million years have already elapsed, it does seem a rather uneven distribution of Buddhas. This is the way exoteric or popular religions confuse everything. Esoteric philosophy teaches us that every Root-race has its chief Buddha or Reformer, who appears also in the seven sub-races as a Bodhisattva (q.v.). Gautama Sakyamuni was the fourth, and also the fifth Buddha: the fifth, because we are the fifth root-race; the fourth, as the chief Buddha in this fourth Round. The Bhadra Kalpa, or the “period of stability”, is the name of our present Round, esoterically—its duration applying, of course, only to our globe (D), the “1,000” Buddhas being thus in reality limited to but forty-nine in all.

Bhikshu (Sk.). In Pâli Bihkhu. The name given to the first followers of Sâkyamuni Buddha. Lit., “mendicant scholar”. The Sanskrit Chinese Dictionary explains the term correctly by dividing Bhikshus into two classes of Sramanas (Buddhist monks and priests), viz., “esoteric mendicants who control their nature by the (religious) law, and exoteric mendicants who control their nature by diet;” and it adds, less correctly: “every true Bhikshu is supposed to work miracles”.

Bhutan. A country of heretical Buddhists and Lamaists beyond Sikkhim, where rules the Dharma Raja, a nominal vassal of the Dalaï Lama.

Bodhi Druma (Sk.). The Bo or Bodhi tree; the tree of “knowledge the Pippala or ficus religiosa in botany. It is the tree under which Sâkymuni meditated for seven years and then reached Buddhaship. It was originally 400 feet high, it is claimed; but when Hiouen-Tsang saw it, about the year 640 of our era, it was only 50 feet high. Its cuttings have been carried all over the Buddhist world and are planted in front of almost every Vihâra or temple of fame in China, Siam, Ceylon, and Tibet.

Bodhidharma (Sk.). Wisdom-religion; or the wisdom contained in Dharma (ethics). Also the name of a great Arhat Kshatriya (one of the warrior-caste), the son of a king. It was Panyatara, his guru, who “gave him the name Bodhidharma to mark his understanding (bodhi) of the Law (dharma) of Buddha”. (Chin. San. Dict.). Bodhidharma, who flourished in the sixth century, travelled to China, whereto he brought a precious relic, namely, the almsbowl of the Lord Buddha.

Bodhisattva (Sk). Lit., “he, whose essence (sattva) has become intelligence (bodhi)”; those who need but one more incarnation to become perfect Buddhas, i.e., to be entitled to Nirvâna. This, as applied to Manushi (terrestrial) Buddhas. In the metaphysical sense, Bodhisattva is a title given to the sons of the celestial Dhyâni Buddhas.

Bodhyanga (Sk.). Lit., the seven branches of knowledge or understanding. One of the 37 categories of the Bodhi pakchika dharma, comprehending seven degrees of intelligence (esoterically, seven states of consciousness), and these are (1) Smriti “memory”; (2) Dharma pravitchaya, “correct understanding” or discrimination of the Law; (3) Virya, “energy”; (4) Priti, “spiritual joy”; (5) Prasrabdhi, “tranquillity” or quietude; (6) Samâdhi, “ecstatic contemplation”; and (7) Upeksha “absolute indifference”.

Buddhachhâyâ (Sk.). Lit., “the shadow of Buddha”. It is said to become visible at certain great events, and during some imposing ceremonies performed at Temples in commemoration of glorious acts of Buddhâ’s life. Hiouen-tseng, the Chinese traveller, names a certain cave where it occasionally appears on the wall, but adds that only he whose mind is perfectly pure”, can see it.

Buddhaphala (Sk) Lit., “the fruit of Buddha”, the fruition of Arahattvaphalla, or Arhatship.

Chadâyatana (Sk.). Lit., the six dwellings or gates in man for the reception of sensations; thus, on the physical plane, the eyes, nose, ear, tongue, body (or touch) and mind, as a product of the physical brain and on the mental plane (esoterically), spiritual sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch and perception, the whole synthesized by the Buddhi-atmic element. Chadâyatana is one of the 12 Nidânas, which form the chain of incessant causation and effect.

Chutuktu (Tib.) An incarnation of Buddha or of some Bodhisattva, as believed in Tibet, where there are generally five manifesting and two secret Chutuktus among the high Lamas.

Dâgoba (Sk.), or Stûpa. Lit: a sacred mound or tower for Buddhist holy relics. These are pyramidal-looking mounds scattered all over India and Buddhist countries, such as Ceylon, Burmah, Central Asia, etc. They are of various sizes, and generally contain some small relics of Saints or those claimed to have belonged to Gautama, the Buddha. As the human body is supposed to consist of 84,000 dhâtus (organic cells with definite vital functions in them), Asoka is said for this reason to have built 84,000 dhâtu-gopas or Dâgobas in honour of every cell of the Buddha’s body, each of which has now become a dhârmadhâtu or holy relic. There is in Ceylon a Dhâtu-gopa at Anurâdhapura said to date from 160 years b.c. They are now built pyramid-like, but the primitive Dâgobas were all shaped like towers with a cupola and several tchhatra (umbrellas) over them. Eitel states that the Chinese Dagobas have all from 7 to 14 tchhatras over them, a number which is symbolical of the human body.

Daladâ (Sk.)A very precious relic of Gautama the Buddha; viz., his supposed left canine tooth preserved at the great temple at Kandy, Ceylon. Unfortunately, the relic shown is not genuine. The latter has been securely secreted for several hundred years, ever since the shameful and bigoted attempt by the Portuguese (the then ruling power in Ceylon) to steal and make away with the real relic. That which is shown in the place of the real thing is the monstrous tooth of some animal.

Dâna (Sk.). Almsgiving to mendicants, lit., “charity”, the first of the six Paramîtas in Buddhism.

Dasa-sil (Pali.) The ten obligations or commandments taken by and binding upon the priests of Buddha; the five obligations or Pansil are taken by laymen.

Demerit. In Occult and Buddhistic parlance, a constituent of Karma. It is through avidya or ignorance of vidya, divine illumination, that merit and demerit are produced. Once an Arhat obtains full illumination and perfect control over his personality and lower nature, he ceases to create “merit and demerit”.

Dharma (Sk.). The sacred Law; the Buddhist Canon.

Dharmachakra (Sk.). Lit., The turning of the “wheel of the Law”. The emblem of Buddhism as a system of cycles and rebirths or reincarnations.

Dharmakâya (Sk). Lit., “the glorified spiritual body” called the “Vesture of Bliss”. The third, or highest of the Trikâya (Three Bodies), the attribute developed by every “Buddha”, i.e., every initiate who has crossed or reached the end of what is called the “fourth Path” (in esotericism the sixth “portal” prior to his entry on the seventh). The highest of the Trikâya, it is the fourth of the Buddhakchêtra, or Buddhic planes of consciousness, represented figuratively in Buddhist asceticism as a robe or vesture of luminous Spirituality. In popular Northern Buddhism these vestures or robes are: (1) Nirmanakâya (2) Sambhogakâya (3) and Dharmakâya, the last being the highest and most sublimated of all, as it places the ascetic on the threshold of Nirvâna. (See, however, the Voice of the Silence, page 96, Glossary, for the true esoteric meaning.)

Dhâtu (Pali). Relics of Buddha’s body collected after his cremation.

Dhyâna (Sk.). In Buddhism one of the six Paramitas of perfection, a state of abstraction which carries the ascetic practising it far above this plane of sensuous perception and out of the world of matter. Lit., “contemplation”. The six stages of Dhyan differ only in the degrees of abstraction of the personal Ego from sensuous life.

Dhyani Bodhisattyas (Sk.). In Buddhism, the five sons of the Dhyani-Buddhas. They have a mystic meaning in Esoteric Philosophy.

Dhyani Buddhas (Sk.). They “of the Merciful Heart”; worshipped especially in Nepaul. These have again a secret meaning.

Djâti (Sk.). One of the twelve “Nidanas” (q.v.); the cause and the effect in the mode of birth taking place according to the “Chatur Yoni” (q.v.), when in each case a being, whether man or animal, is placed in one of the six (esoteric seven) Gâtî or paths of sentient existence, which esoterically, counting downward, are: (1) the highest Dhyani (Anupadaka); (2) Devas; (3) Men; (4) Elementals or Nature Spirits; (5) Animals; (6) lower Elementals; (7) organic Germs. These are in the popular or exoteric nomenclature, Devas, Men, Asûras, Beings in Hells, Prêtas (hungry demons), and Animals.

Dorjesempa (Tib.). The “Diamond Soul”, a name of the celestial Buddha.

Dorjeshang (Tib.). A title of Buddha in his highest aspect; a name of the supreme Buddha; also Dorje.

Esoteric Bodhism. Secret wisdom or intelligence from the Greek esotericos “inner”, and the Sanskrit Bodhi, “knowledge”, intelligence—in contradistinction to Buddhi, “the faculty of knowledge or intelligence”, and Buddhism, the philosophy or Law of Buddha (the Enlightened). Also written “Budhism”, from Budha (Intelligence and Wisdom) the Son of Soma.

Eyes (divine). The “eyes” the Lord Buddha developed in him at the twentieth hour of his vigil when sitting under the Bô-tree, when he was attaining Buddhaship. They are the eyes of the glorified Spirit, to which matter is no longer a physical impediment, and which have the power of seeing all things within the space of the limitless Universe. 0n the following morning of that night, at the close of the third watch, the “Merciful One” attained the Supreme Knowledge.

Foh-tchou (Chin.). Lit., “Buddha’s Lord”, meaning, however, simply the teacher of the doctrines of Buddha. Foh means a Guru who lives generally in a temple of Sakyamuni Buddha—the Foh-Maeyu.

Gayâ (Sk.). Ancient city of Magadha, a little north-west of the modern Gayah. It is at the former that Sakyamuni reached his Buddha-ship, under the famous Bodhi-tree, Bodhidruma.

Gems, Three precious. In Southern Buddhism these are the sacred books, the Buddhas and the priesthood. In Northern Buddhism and its secret schools, the Buddha, his sacred teachings, and the Narjols (Buddhas of Compassion).

Kapilavastu (Sk.). The birth-place of the Lord Buddha; called “the yellow dwelling”: the capital of the monarch who was the father of Gautama Buddha.

Karma (Sk.). Physically, action: metaphysically, the Law Of Retribution, the Law of cause and effect or Ethical Causation. Nemesis, only in one sense, that of bad Karma. It is the eleventh Nidana in the concatenation of causes and effects in orthodox Buddhism; yet it is the power that controls all things, the resultant of moral action, the meta physical Samskâra, or the moral effect of an act committed for the attainment of something which gratifies a personal desire. There is the Karma of merit and the Karma of demerit. Karma neither punishes nor rewards, it is simply the one Universal Law which guides unerringly, and, so to say, blindly, all other laws productive of certain effects along the grooves of their respective causations. When Buddhism teaches that “Karma is that moral kernel (of any being) which alone survives death and continues in transmigration ‘ or reincarnation, it simply means that there remains nought after each Personality but the causes produced by it; causes which are undying, i.e., which cannot be eliminated from the Universe until replaced by their legitimate effects, and wiped out by them, so to speak, and such causes—unless compensated during the life of the person who produced them with adequate effects, will follow the reincarnated Ego, and reach it in its subsequent reincarnation until a harmony between effects and causes is fully reestablished. No “personality”—a mere bundle of material atoms and of instinctual and mental characteristics—can of course continue, as such, in the world of pure Spirit. Only that which is immortal in its very nature and divine in its essence, namely, the Ego, can exist for ever. And as it is that Ego which chooses the personality it will inform, after each Devachan, and which receives through these personalities the effects of the Karmic causes produced, it is therefore the Ego, that self which is the “moral kernel” referred to and embodied karma, “which alone survives death.”

Kshanti (Sk.). Patience, one of the Paramîtas of perfection.

Khubilkhan (Mong.), or Shabrong. In Tibet the names given to the supposed incarnations of Buddha. Elect Saints.

Kounboum (Tib.). The sacred Tree of Tibet, the “tree of the 10,000 images” as Huc gives it. It grows in an enclosure on the Monastery lands of the Lamasery of the same name, and is well cared for. Tradition has it that it grew out of the hair of Tson-ka-pa, who was buried on that spot. This “Lama” was the great Reformer of the Buddhism of Tibet, and is regarded as an incarnation of Amita Buddha. In the words of the Abbé Huc, who lived several months with another missionary named Gabet near this phenomenal tree: “Each of its leaves, in opening, bears either a letter or a religious sentence, written in sacred characters, and these letters are, of their kind, of such a perfection that the type-foundries of Didot contain nothing to excel them. Open the leaves, which vegetation is about to unroll, and you will there discover, on the point of appearing, the letters or the distinct words which are the marvel of this unique tree! Turn your attention from the leaves of the plant to the bark of its branches, and new characters will meet your eyes! Do not allow your interest to flag; raise the layers of this bark, and still other characters will show themselves below those whose beauty had surprised you. For, do not fancy that these super posed layers repeat the same printing. No, quite the contrary; for each lamina you lift presents to view its distinct type. How, then, can we suspect jugglery? I have done my best in that direction to discover the slightest trace of human trick, and my baffled mind could not retain the slightest suspicion.” Yet promptly the kind French Abbé suspects the Devil.

Kusînara (Sk.). The city near which Buddha died. It is near Delhi, though some Orientalists would locate it in Assam.

Lakshana (Sk.). The thirty-two bodily signs of a Buddha, marks by which he is recognised.

Lama (Tib.). Written “Clama”. The title, if correctly applied, belongs only to the priests of superior grades, those who can hold office as gurus in the monasteries. Unfortunately every common member of the gedun (clergy) calls himself or allows himself to be called “Lama”. A real Lama is an ordained and thrice ordained Gelong. Since the reform produced by Tsong-ka-pa, many abuses have again crept into the theocracy of the land. There are “Lama-astrologers”, the Chakhan, or common Tsikhan (from tsigan, “gypsy”), and Lama-soothsayers, even such as are allowed to marry and do not belong to the clergy at all. They are very scarce, however, in Eastern Tibet, belonging principally to Western Tibet and to sects which have nought to do with the Gelukpas (yellow caps). Unfortunately, Orientalists knowing next to nothing of the true state of affairs in Tibet, confuse the Choichong, of the Gurmakhayas Lamasery (Lhassa)—the Initiated Esotericists, with the Charlatans and Dugpas (sorcerers) of the Bhon sects. No wonder if—as Schagintweit says in his Buddhism in Tibet—“though the images of King Choichong (the “god of astrology”) are met with in most monasteries of Western Tibet and the Himalayas, my brothers never saw a Lama Choichong”. This is but natural. Neither the Choichong, nor the Kubilkhan (q.v.) overrun the country. As to the “God” or “King Choichong” he is no more a “god of astrology” than any other “Planetary” Dhyan Chohan.

Magadha (Sk.). An ancient country in India, under Buddhist Kings.

Mahârâjahs, The Four (Sk.). The four great Karmic deities with the Northern Buddhists placed at the four cardinal points to watch mankind.

Manushi or Manushi Buddhas (Sk.). Human Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or incarnated Dhyan Chohans.

Morya (Sk.). One of the royal Buddhist houses of Magadha; to which belonged Chandragupta and Asoka his grandson; also the name of a Rajpoot tribe.

Namah (Sk.). In Pali Namo. The first word of a daily invocation among Buddhists, meaning “I humbly trust, or adore, or acknowledge” the Lord; as: “Namo tasso Bhagavato Arahato” etc., addressed to Lord Buddha. The priests are called “Masters of Namah”—both Buddhist and Taoist, because this word is used in liturgy and prayers, in the invocation of the Triratna (q.v.), and with a slight change in the occult incantations to the Bodhisvattvas and Nirmânakâyas.

Nidâna (Sk.). The 12 causes of existence, or a chain of causation, “a concatenation of cause and effect in the whole range of existence through 12 links”. This is the fundamental dogma of Buddhist thought, “the understanding of which solves the riddle of life, revealing the inanity of existence and preparing the mind for Nirvâna”. (Eitel’s Sans. Chin. Dict.) The 12 links stand thus in their enumeration. (1) Jâti, or birth, according to one of the four modes of entering the stream of life and reincarnation—or Chatur Yoni (q.v.), each mode placing the being born in one of the six Gâti (q.v.). (2) Jarâmarana, or decrepitude and death, following the maturity of the Skandhas (q.v.). (3) Bhava, the Karmic agent which leads every new sentient being to be born in this or another mode of existence in the Trailokya and Gâti. (4) Upâdâna, the creative cause of Bhava which thus becomes the cause of Jâti which is the effect; and this creative cause is the clinging to life. (5) Trishnâ, love, whether pure or impure. (6) Vêdâna, or sensation; perception by the senses, it is the 5th Skandha. (7) Sparsa, the sense of touch. (8) Chadâyatana, the organs of sensation. (9) Nâmarûpa, personality, i.e., a form with a name to it, the symbol of the unreality of material phenomenal appearances. (10) Vijnâna, the perfect knowledge of every perceptible thing and of all objects in their concatenation and unity. (11) Samskâra, action on the plane of illusion. (12) Avidyâ, lack of true perception, or ignorance. The Nidânas belonging to the most subtle and abstruse doctrines of the Eastern metaphysical system, it is impossible to go into the subject at any greater length.

Nirmânakâya (Sk.). Something entirely different in esoteric philosophy from the popular meaning attached to it, and from the fancies of the Orientalists. Some call the Nirmânakâya body “Nirvana with remains” (Schlagintweit, etc.) on the supposition, probably, that it is a kind of Nirvânic condition during which consciousness and form are retained. Others say that it is one of the Trikâya (three bodies), with the “power of assuming any form of appearance in order to propagate Buddhism” (Eitel’s idea); again, that “it is the incarnate avatara of a deity” (ibid.), and so on. Occultism, on the other hand, says: that Nirmânakâya, although meaning literally a transformed “body”, is a state. The form is that of the adept or yogi who enters, or chooses, that post mortem condition in preference to the Dharmakâya or absolute Nirvânic state. He does this because the latter kâya separates him for ever from the world of form, conferring upon him a state of selfish bliss, in which no other living being can participate, the adept being thus precluded from the possibility of helping humanity, or even devas. As a Nirmânakâya, however, the man leaves behind him only his physical body, and retains every other “principle” save the Kamic—for he has crushed this out for ever from his nature, during life, and it can never resurrect in his post mortem state. Thus, instead of going into selfish bliss, he chooses a life of self-sacrifice, an existence which ends only with the life-cycle, in order to be enabled to help mankind in an invisible yet most effective manner. (See The Voice of the Silence, third treatise, “The Seven Portals”.) Thus a Nirmânakâya is not, as popularly believed, the body “in which a Buddha or a Bodhisattva appears on earth”, but verily one, who whether a Chutuktu or a Khubilkhan, an adept or a yogi during life, has since become a member of that invisible Host which ever protects and watches over Humanity within Karmic limits. Mistaken often for a “Spirit”, a Deva, God himself, &c., a Nirmânakâya is ever a protecting, compassionate, verily a guardian angel, to him who becomes worthy of his help. Whatever objection may be brought forward against this doctrine; however much it is denied, because, forsooth, it has never been hitherto made public in Europe and therefore since it is unknown to Orientalists, it must needs be “a myth of modern invention”—no one will be bold enough to say that this idea of helping suffering mankind at the price of one’s own almost interminable self-sacrifice, is not one of the grandest and noblest that was ever evolved from human brain.

Nirvâna (Sk.). According to the Orientalists, the entire “blowing out”, like the flame of a candle, the utter extinction of existence. But in the esoteric explanations it is the state of absolute existence and absolute consciousness, into which the Ego of a man who has reached the highest degree of perfection and holiness during life goes, after the body dies, and occasionally, as in the case of Gautama Buddha and others, during life. (See “Nirvâni”.)

Nirvâni (Sk.). One who has attained Nirvâna—an emancipated soul. That Nirvâna means nothing of the kind asserted by Orientalists every scholar who has visited China, India and Japan is well aware. It is “escape from misery” but only from that of matter, freedom from Klêsha, or Kâma, and the complete extinction of animal desires. If we are told that Abidharma defines Nirvâna “as a state of absolute annihilation”, we concur, adding to the last word the qualification “of everything connected with matter or the physical world”, and this simply because the latter (as also all in it) is illusion, mâyâ. Sâkya-mûni Buddha said in the last moments of his life that “the spiritual body is immortal” (See Sans. Chin. Dict.). As Mr. Eitel, the scholarly Sinologist, explains it: “The popular exoteric systems agree in defining Nirvâna negatively as a state of absolute exemption from the circle of transmigration; as a state of entire freedom from all forms of existence; to begin with, freedom from all passion and exertion; a state of indifference to all sensibility”—and he might have added “death of all compassion for the world of suffering”. And this is why the Bodhisattvas who prefer the Nirmânakâya to the Dharmakâya vesture, stand higher in the popular estimation than the Nirvânîs. But the same scholar adds that: “Positively (and esoterically) they define Nirvâna as the highest state of spiritual bliss, as absolute immortality through absorption of the soul (spirit rather) into itself, but preserving individuality so that, e.g., Buddhas, after entering Nirvâna, may reappear on earth”—i.e., in the future Manvantara.

Pâli. The ancient language of Magadha, one that preceded the more refined Sanskrit. The Buddhist Scriptures are all written in this language.

Pratisamvid (Sk.). The four “unlimited forms of wisdom” attained by an Arhat; the last of which is the absolute knowledge of and power over the twelve Nidânas. See “Nidâna”.)

Pratyêka Buddha (S.k). The same as “Pasi-Buddha”. The Pratyêka Buddha is a degree which belongs exclusively to the Yogâchârya school, yet it is only one of high intellectual development with no true spirituality. It is the dead-letter of the Yoga laws, in which intellect and comprehension play the greatest part, added to the strict carrying out of the rules of the inner development. It is one of the three paths to Nirvâna, and the lowest, in which a Yogi—“without teacher and without saving others”—by the mere force of will and technical observances, attains to a kind of nominal Buddhaship individually; doing no good to anyone, but working selfishly for his own salvation and himself alone. The Pratyêkas are respected outwardly but are despised inwardly by those of keen or spiritual appreciation. A Pratyêka is generally compared to a “Khadga” or solitary rhinoceros and called Ekashringa Rishi, a selfish solitary Rishi (or saint). “As crossing Sansâra (‘the ocean of birth and death’ or the series of incarnations), suppressing errors, and yet not attaining to absolute perfection, the Pratyêka Buddha is compared with a horse which crosses a river swimming, without touching the ground.” (Sanskrit-Chinese Dict.) He is far below a true “Buddha of Compassion”. He strives only for the reaching of Nirvâna.

Râjagriha (Sk.). A city in Magadha famous for its conversion to Buddhism in the days of the Buddhist kings. It was their residence from Bimbisara to Asoka, and was the seat of the first Synod, or Buddhist Council, held 510 b.c.

Rohinilâ (Sk.). The ancient name of a monastery visited by Buddha Sâkyamuni, now called Roynallah, near Balgada, in Eastern Behar.

Sâmanêra. A novice; a postulant for the Buddhist priesthood.

Samanta Bhadra (Sk.). Lit., “Universal Sage”. The name of one of the four Bodhisattvas of the Yogâchârya School, of the Mâhâyana (the Great Vehicle) of Wisdom of that system. There are four terrestrial and three celestial Bodhisattvas: the first four only act in the present races, but in the middle of the fifth Root-race appeared the fifth Bodhisattva, who, according to an esoteric legend, was Gautama Buddha, but who, having appeared too early, had to disappear bodily from the world for a while.

Sâmanta Prabhâsa (Sk.). Lit., “universal brightness” or dazzling light. The name under which each of the 500 perfected Arhats reappears on earth as Buddha.

Sambhogakâya (Sk.). One of the three “Vestures” of glory, or bodies, obtained by ascetics on the “Path”. Some sects hold it as the second, while others as the third of the Buddhahshêtras; or forms of Buddha. Lit., the “Body of Compensation” (See Voice of the Silence, Glossary iii). Of such Buddhakshêtras there are seven, those of Nirmânakâya, Sambhogakâya and Dharmakâya, belonging to the Trikâya, or three-fold quality.

Samkhara (Pali). One of the five Shandhas or attributes in Buddhism.

Samkhara (Pali). “Tendencies of mind” (See “Skandhas”).

Sapta Buddhaka (Sk.). An account in Mahânidâna Sûtra of Sapta Buddha, the seven Buddhas of our Round, of which Gautama Sâkyamuni is esoterically the fifth, and exoterically, as a blind, the seventh.

Sapta Tathâgata (Sk.). The chief seven Nirmânakâyas among the numberless ancient world-guardians. Their names are inscribed on a heptagonal pillar kept in a secret chamber in almost all Buddhist temples in China and Tibet. The Orientalists are wrong in thinking that these are “the seven Buddhist substitutes for the Rishis of the Brahmans.” (See “Tathâgata-gupta”).

Sattva (Sk.). Understanding; quiescence in divine knowledge. It follows generally the word Bodhi when used as a compound word, e.g., “Bodhisattva”.

Shaberon (Tib.). The Mongolian Shaberon or Khubilgan (or Khubilkhans) are the reincarnations of Buddha, according to the Lamaïsts; great Saints and Avatars, so to say.

Shîla (Pali). The second virtue of the ten Pâramitâs of perfection. Perfect harmony in words and acts.

Sramana (Sk.). Buddhist priests, ascetics and postulants for Nirvâna, “they who have to place a restraint on their thoughts”. The word Saman, now “Shaman” is a corruption of this primitive word.

Srâvaka (Sk.). Lit., “he who causes to hear”; a preacher. But in Buddhism it denotes a disciple or chela.

Sri-pâda (Sk.). The impression of Buddha’s foot. Lit., “the step or foot of the Master or exalted Lord”.

Svabhâvat (Sk.). Explained by the Orientalists as “plastic substance”, which is an inadequate definition. Svabhâvat is the world-substance and stuff, or rather that which is behind it—the spirit and essence of substance. The name comes from Subhâva and is composed of three words—su, good, perfect, fair, handsome; sva, self; and bkâva, being, or state of being. From it all nature proceeds and into it all returns at the end of the life-cycles. In Esotericism it is called “Father-Mother”. It is the plastic essence of matter.

Talapoin (Siam.). A Buddhist monk and ascetic in Siam; some of these ascetics are credited with great magic powers.

Tassissudun (Tib.). Lit., “the holy city of the doctrine” inhabited, nevertheless, by more Dugpas than Saints. It is the residential capital in Bhutan of the ecclesiastical Head of the Bhons—the Dharma Râjâ. The latter, though professedly a Northern Buddhist, is simply a worshipper of the old demon-gods of the aborigines, the nature-sprites or elementals, worshipped in the land before the introduction of Buddhism. All strangers are prevented from penetrating into Eastern or Great Tibet, and the few scholars who venture on their travels into those forbidden regions, are permitted to penetrate no further than the border-lands of the land of Bod. They journey about Bhutan, Sikkhim, and elsewhere on the frontiers of the country, but can learn or know nothing of true Tibet; hence, nothing of the true Northern Buddhism or Lamaism of Tsong-kha-pa. And yet, while describing no more than the rites and beliefs of the Bhons and the travelling Shamans, they assure the world they are giving it the pure Northern Buddhism, and comment on its great fall from its pristine purity!

Tathâgata (Sk.). “One who is like the coming”; he who is, like his predecessors (the Buddhas) and successors, the coming future Buddha or World-Saviour. One of the titles of Gautama Buddha, and the highest epithet, since the first and the last Buddhas were the direct immediate avatars of the One Deity.

Tathâgatagupta (Sk.). Secret or concealed Tathâgata, or the “guardian” protecting Buddhas: used of the Nirmânakâyas.

Tchaitya (Sk.). Any locality made sacred through some event in the life of Buddha; a term signifying the same in relation to gods, and any kind of place or object of worship.

Thero (Pali). A priest of Buddha. Therunnanse, also.

Tope. An artificial mound covering relics of Buddha or some other great Arhat. The Topes are also called Dâgobas.

Trikâya (Sk) Lit., three bodies, or forms. This is a most abstruse teaching which, however, once understood, explains the mystery of every triad or trinity, and is a true key to every three-fold metaphysical symbol. In its most simple and comprehensive form it is found in the human Entity in its triple division into spirit, soul, and body, and in the universe, regarded pantheistically, as a unity composed of a Deific, purely spiritual Principle, Supernal Beings—its direct rays—and Humanity. The origin of this is found in the teachings of the pre historic Wisdom Religion, or Esoteric Philosophy. The grand Pantheistic ideal, of the unknown and unknowable Essence being transformed first into subjective, and then into objective matter, is at the root of all these triads and triplets. Thus we find in philosophical Northern Buddhism (1) Âdi-Buddha (or Primordial Universal Wisdom); (2) the Dhyâni-Buddhas (or Bodhisattvas); (3) the Mânushi (Human) Buddhas. In European conceptions we find the same: God, Angels and Humanity symbolized theologically by the God-Man. The Brahmanical Trimûrti and also the three-fold body of Shiva, in Shaivism, have both been conceived on the same basis, if not altogether running on the lines of Esoteric teachings. Hence, no wonder if one finds this conception of the triple body—or the vestures of Nirmânakâya, Sambhogakâya and Dharmakâya, the grandest of the doctrines of Esoteric Philosophy—accepted in a more or less disfigured form by every religious sect, and explained quite incorrectly by the Orientalists. Thus, in its general application, the three-fold body symbolizes Buddha’s statue, his teachings and his stûpas; in the priestly conceptions it applies to the Buddhist profession of faith called the Triratna, which is the formula of taking “refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha”. Popular fancy makes Buddha ubiquitous, placing him thereby on a par with an anthropomorphic god, and lowering him to the level of a tribal deity; and, as a result, it falls into flat contradictions, as in Tibet and China. Thus the exoteric doctrine seems to teach that while in his Nirmâkâya body (which passed through 100,000 kotis of transformations on earth), he, Buddha, is at the same time a Lochana (a heavenly Dhyâni-Bodhisattva), in his Sambhogakâya “robe of absolute completeness”, and in Dhyâna, or a state which must cut him off from the world and all its connections; and finally and lastly he is, besides being a Nirmânakâya and a Sambhogakâya, also a Dharmakâya “of absolute purity”, a Vairotchana or Dhyâni-Buddha in full Nirvâna! (See Eitel’s Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary.) This is the jumble of contradictions, impossible to reconcile, which is given out by missionaries and certain Orientalists as the philosophical dogmas of Northern Buddhism. If not an intentional confusion of a philosophy dreaded by the upholders of a religion based on inextricable contradictions and guarded “mysteries”, then it is the product of ignorance. As the Trailokya, the Trikâya, and the Triratna are the three aspects of the same conceptions, and have to be, so to say, blended in one, the subject is further explained under each of these terms. (See also in this relation the term “Trisharana”.)

Tripitaka (Sk.). Lit., “the three baskets”; the name of the Buddhist canon. It is composed of three divisions: (1) the doctrine; (2) the rules and laws for the priesthood and ascetics; (3) the philosophical dissertations and metaphysics: to wit, the Abhidharma, defined by Buddhaghosa as that law (dharma) which goes beyond (abhi) the law. The Abhidharma contains the most profoundly metaphysical and philosophical teachings, and is the store-house whence the Mahâyâna and Hinayâna Schools got their fundamental doctrines. There is a fourth division—the Samyakta Pitaka. But as it is a later addition by the Chinese Buddhists, it is not accepted by the Southern Church of Siam and Ceylon.

Triratna, or Ratnatraya (Sk) The Three Jewels, the technical term for the well-known formula “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” (or Samgha), the two latter terms meaning, in modern interpretation, “religious law” (Dharma), and the “priesthood” (Sangha). Esoteric Philosophy, however, would regard this as a very loose rendering. The words “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, ought to be pronounced as in the days of Gautama, the Lord Buddha, namely “Bodhi, Dharma and Sangha and interpreted to mean “Wisdom, its laws and priests”, the latter in the sense of “spiritual exponents”, or adepts. Buddha, however, being regarded as personified “Bodhi” on earth, a true avatar of Âdi-Buddha, Dharma gradually came to be regarded as his own particular law, and Sangha as his own special priesthood. Nevertheless, it is the profane of the later (now modern) teachings who have shown a greater degree of natural intuition than the actual interpreters of Dharma, the Buddhist priests. The people see the Triratna in the three statues of Amitâbha, Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya Buddha; i.e., in Boundless Light” or Universal Wisdom, an impersonal principle which is the correct meaning of Âdi-Buddha; in the “Supreme Lord” of the Bodhisattvas, or Avalokiteshvara; and in Maitreya Buddha, the symbol of the terrestrial and human Buddha, the “Mânushi Buddha “. Thus, even though the uninitiated do call these three statues “the Buddhas of the Past, the Present and the Future”, still every follower of true philosophical Buddhism—called “atheistical” by Mr. Eitel—would explain the term Triratna correctly. The philosopher of the Yogâchârya School would say—as well he could—“Dharma is not a person but an unconditioned and underived entity, combining in itself the spiritual and material principles of the universe, whilst from Dharma proceeded, by emanation, Buddha [‘reflected’ Bodhi rather], as the creative energy which produced, in conjunction with Dharma, the third factor in the trinity, viz., ‘Samgha’, which is the comprehensive sum total of all real life.” Samgha, then, is not and cannot be that which it is now understood to be, namely, the actual “priesthood”; for the latter is not the sum total of all real life, but only of religious life. The real primitive significance of the word Samgha or “Sangha” applies to the Arhats or Bhikshus, or the “initiates”, alone, that is to say to the real exponents of Dharma—the divine law and wisdom, coming to them as a reflex light from the one “boundless light”. Such is its philosophical meaning. And yet, far from satisfying the scholars of the Western races, this seems only to irritate them; for E. J. Eitel, of Hongkong, remarks, as to the above: “Thus the dogma of a Triratna, originating from three primitive articles of faith, and at one time culminating in the conception of three persons, a trinity in unity, has degenerated into a metaphysical theory of the evolution of three abstract principles”! And if one of the ablest European scholars will sacrifice every philosophical ideal to gross anthropomorphism, then what can Buddhism with its subtle metaphysics expect at the hands of ignorant missionaries?

Trisharana (Sk.). The same as “Triratna” and accepted by both the Northern and Southern Churches of Buddhism. After the death of the Buddha it was adopted by the councils as a mere kind of formula fidei, enjoining “to take refuge in Buddha”, “to take refuge in Dharma”, and “to take refuge in Sangha”, or his Church, in the sense in which it is now interpreted; but it is not in this sense that the “Light of Asia” would have taught the formula. Of Trikâya, Mr. E. J. Eitel, of Hongkong, tells us in his Handbook of Chinese Buddhism that this “tricho-tomism was taught with regard to the nature of all Buddhas. Bodhi being the characteristic of a Buddha”—a distinction was made between “essential Bodhi” as the attribute of the Dharmakâya, i.e., “essential body”; “reflected Bodhi” as the attribute of Sambhogakâya; and “practical Bodhi” as the attribute of Nirmânakâya. Buddha combining in himself these three conditions of existence, was said to be living at the same time in three different spheres. Now, this shows how greatly misunderstood is the purely pantheistical and philosophical teaching. Without stopping to enquire how even a Dharmakâya vesture can have any “attribute” in Nirvâna, which state is shown, in philosophical Brahmanism as much as in Buddhism, to be absolutely devoid of any attribute as conceived by human finite thought—it will be sufficient to point to the following:—(1) the Nirmânakâya vesture is preferred by the “Buddhas of Compassion” to that of the Dharmakâya state, precisely because the latter precludes him who attains it from any communication or relation with the finite, i.e., with humanity; (2) it is not Buddha (Gautama, the mortal man, or any other personal Buddha) who lives ubiquitously in “three different spheres, at the same time”, but Bodhi, the universal and abstract principle of divine wisdom, symbolised in philosophy by Âdi-Buddha. It is the latter that is ubiquitous because it is the universal essence or principle. It is Bodhi, or the spirit of Buddhaship, which, having resolved itself into its primordial homogeneous essence and merged into it, as Brahmâ (the universe) merges into Parabrahm, the absoluteness—that is meant under the name of “essential Bodhi”. For the Nirvanee, or Dhyani Buddha, must be supposed—by living in Arûpadhâtu, the formless state, and in Dharmakâya—to be that “essential Bodhi” itself. It is the Dhyâni Bodhisattvas, the primordial rays of the universal Bodhi, who live in “reflected Bodhi” in Rûpadhâtu, or the world of subjective “forms”; and it is the Nirmânakâyas (plural) who upon ceasing their lives of “practical Bodhi”, in the “enlightened” or Buddha forms, remain voluntarily in the Kâmadhâtu (the world of desire), whether in objective forms on earth or in subjective states in its sphere (the second Buddhakshetra). This they do in order to watch over, protect and help mankind. Thus, it is neither one Buddha who is meant, nor any particular avatar of the collective Dhyâni Buddhas, but verily Âdi-Bodhi—the first Logos, whose primordial ray is Mahâbuddhi, the Universal Soul, Alaya, whose flame is ubiquitous, and whose influence has a different sphere in each of the three forms of existence, because, once again, it is Universal Being itself or the reflex of the Absolute. Hence, if it is philosophical to speak of Bodhi, which “as Dhyâni Buddha rules in the domain of the spiritual” (fourth Buddhakshetra or region of Buddha); and of the Dhyâni Bodhisattvas “ruling in the third Buddhakshetra “or the domain of ideation; and even of the Mânushi Buddhas, who are in the second Buddhakshetra as Nirmânakâyas—to apply the “idea of a unity in trinity” to three personalities—is highly unphilosophical.

Trishnâ (Sk.). The fourth Nidâna; spiritual love.

Trividha Dvâra (Sk.). Lit., the “three gates”, which are body, mouth, and mind; or purity of body, purity of speech, purity of thought—the three virtues requisite for becoming a Buddha.

Triyâna (Sk.). “The three vehicles” across Sansâra—the ocean of births, deaths, and rebirths—are the vehicles called Sravaka, Pratyeka Buddha and Bodhisattva, or the three degrees of Yogaship. The term Triyâna is also used to denote the three schools of mysticism—the Mahâyâna, Madhyimâyâna and Hinayâna schools; of which the first is the “Greater”, the second the “Middle”, and the last the “Lesser” Vehicle. All and every system between the Greater and the Lesser Vehicles are considered “useless”. Therefore the Pratyeka Buddha is made to correspond with the Madhyimâyâna. For, as explained, “this (the Pratyeka Buddha state) refers to him who lives all for himself and very little for others, occupying the middle of the vehicle, filling it all and leaving no room for others”. Such is the selfish candidate for Nirvâna.

Uchnîcha, also Buddhôchnîcha (Sk.). Explained as “a protuberance on Buddha’s cranium, forming a hair-tuft”. This curious description is given by the Orientalists, varied by another which states that Uchnicha was “originally a conical or flame-shaped hair tuft on the crown of a Buddha, in later ages represented as a fleshy excrescence on the skull itself”. This ought to read quite the reverse; for esoteric philosophy would say: Originally an orb with the third eye in it, which degenerated later in the human race into a fleshy protuberance, to disappear gradually, leaving in its place but an occasional flame-coloured aura, perceived only through clairvoyance, and when the exuberance of spiritual energy causes the (now concealed) “third eye” to radiate its superfluous magnetic power. At this period of our racial development, it is of course the “Buddhas” or Initiates alone who enjoy in full the faculty of the “third eye”, as it is more or less atrophied in everyone else.

Udumbara (Sk.). A lotus of gigantic size, sacred to Buddha: the Nila Udumbara or “blue lotus”, regarded as a supernatural omen when ever it blossoms, for it flowers but once every three thousand years. One such, it is said, burst forth before the birth of Gautama, another, near a lake at the foot of the Himalayas, in the fourteenth century, just before the birth of Tsong-kha-pa, etc., etc. The same is said of the Udumbara tree (ficus glomerata) because it flowers at intervals of long centuries, as does also a kind of cactus, which blossoms only at extra ordinary altitudes and opens at midnight.

Vaihara (Sk.). The name of a cave-temple near Râjagriha, whereinto the Lord Buddha usually retired for meditation.

Vajrâchârya (Sk.). The spiritual achârya (guru, teacher) of the Yogâchâryas, The “Supreme Master of the Vajra”.

Vajradhara (Sk.). The Supreme Buddha with the Northern Buddhists.

Vajrapâni (Sk.), or Manjushrî, the Dhyâni-Bodhisattva (as the spiritual reflex, or the son of the Dhyâni-Buddhas, on earth) born directly from the subjective form of existence; a deity worshipped by the profane as a god, and by Initiates as a subjective Force, the real nature of which is known only to, and explained by, the highest Initiates of the Yogâchârya School.

Vajrasattva (Sk.). The name of the sixth Dhyâni-Buddha (of whom there are but five in the popular Northern Buddhism)—in the Yogâchârya school, the latter counting seven Dhyâni-Buddhas and as many Bodhisattvas—the “mind-sons” of the former. Hence, the Orientalists refer to Vajrasattva as “a fictitious Bodhisattva”.

Vedanâ (Sk.). The second of the five Shandhas (perceptions, senses). The sixth Nidâna.

Vihâra (Sk.). Any place inhabited by Buddhist priests or ascetics; a Buddhist temple, generally a rock-temple or cave. A monastery, or a nunnery also. One finds in these days Vihâras built in the enclosures of monasteries and academies for Buddhist training in towns and cities; but in days of yore they were to be met with only in unfrequented wild jungles, on mountain tops, and in the most deserted places.

Schools & Sects

Dugpas (Tib.). Lit., “Red Caps,” a sect in Tibet. Before the advent of Tsong-ka-pa in the fourteenth century, the Tibetans, whose Buddhism had deteriorated and been dreadfully adulterated with the tenets of the old Bhon religion,—were all Dugpas. From that century, however, and after the rigid laws imposed upon the Gelukpas (yellow caps) and the general reform and purification of Buddhism (or Lamaism), the Dugpas have given themselves over more than ever to sorcery, immorality, and drunkenness. Since then the word Dugpa has become a synonym of “sorcerer”, “adept of black magic” and everything vile. There are few, if any, Dugpas in Eastern Tibet, but they congregate in Bhutan, Sikkim, and the borderlands generally. Europeans not being permitted to penetrate further than those borders, the Orientalists never having studied Buddho-Lamaism in Tibet proper, but judging of it on hearsay and from what Cosmo di Köros, Schlagintweit, and a few others have learnt of it from Dugpas, confuse both religions and bring them under one head. They thus give out to the public pure Dugpaism instead of Buddho-Lamaism. In short Northern Buddhism in its purified, metaphysical form is almost entirely unknown.

Gelukpa (Tib.) “Yellow Caps” literally; the highest and most orthodox Buddhist sect in Tibet, the antithesis of the Dugpa (”Red Caps”), the old “devil worshippers”.

Hinayana (Sk.). The “Smaller Vehicle”; a Scripture and a School of the Northern Buddhists, opposed to the Mahayana, “the Greater Vehicle”, in Tibet. Both schools are mystical. (See “Mahayana”.) Also in exoteric superstition the lowest form of transmigration.

Mâdhyamikas (Sk.). A sect mentioned in the Vishnu Purâna. Agreeably to the Orientalists, a “Buddhist sect, which is an anachronism. It was probably at first a sect of Hindu atheists. A later school of that name, teaching a system of sophistic nihilism, that reduces every proposition into a thesis and its antithesis, and then denies both, has been started in Tibet and China. It adopts a few principles of Nâgârjuna, who was one of the founders of the esoteric Mahayâna systems, not their exoteric travesties. The allegory that regarded Nâgârjuna’s “Paramârtha” as a gift from the Nâgas (Serpents) shows that he received his teachings from the secret school of adepts, and that the real tenets are therefore kept secret.

Mahayâna (Pal.). A school; lit., “the great vehicle”. A mystical system founded by Nâgârjuna. Its books were written in the second century b.c.

Prasanga Madhyamika (Sk.). A Buddhist school of philosophy in Tibet. it follows, like the Yogâchârya system, the Mahâyâna or “Great Vehicle” of precepts; but, having been founded far later than the Yogâchârya, it is not half so rigid and severe. It is a semi-exoteric and very popular system among the literati and laymen.

Sthâvirâh, or Sthâviranikaya (Sk.). One of the earliest philosophical contemplative schools, founded 300 b.c. In the year 247 before the Christian era, it split into three divisions: the Mahâvihâra Vâsinâh (School of the great monasteries), Jêtavaniyâh, and Abhayagiri Vâsinâh. It is one of the four branches of the Vaibhâchika School founded by Kâtyâyana, one of the great disciples of Lord Gautama Buddha, the author of the Abhidharma Jnâna Prasthâna Shâstra, who is expected to reappear as a Buddha. (See “Abhayagiri”, etc.) All these schools are highly mystical. Lit., Stâviranikaya is translated the “School of the Chairman” or “President” (Chohan).

Svâbhâvika (Sk.). The oldest existing school of Buddhism. They assigned the manifestation of the universe and physical phenomena to Svabhâva or respective nature of things. According to Wilson the Svabhâvas of things are “the inherent properties of the qualities by which they act, as soothing, terrific or stupefying, and the forms Swarûpas are the distinction of biped, quadruped, brute, fish, animal and the like”.

Yogâchârya (Sk.). (1) A mystic school. (2) Lit., a teacher (âchârya) of Yoga, one who has mastered the doctrines and practices of ecstatic meditation—the culmination of which are the Mahâsiddhis. It is incorrect to confuse this school with the Tantra, or Mahâtantra school founded by Samantabhadra, for there are two Yogâchârya Schools, one esoteric, the other popular. The doctrines of the latter were compiled and glossed by Asamgha in the sixth century of our era, and his mystic tantras and mantras, his formularies, litanies, spells and mudrâs would certainly, if attempted without a Guru, serve rather purposes of sorcery and black magic than real Yoga. Those who undertake to write upon the subject are generally learned missionaries and haters of Eastern philosophy in general. From these no unbiassed views can be expected. Thus when we read in the Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary of Eitel, that the reciting of mantras (which he calls “spells” !) “should be accompanied by music and distortions of the fingers (mudrâ), that a state of mental fixity (Samâdhi) might he reached”—one acquainted, however slightly, with the real practice of Yoga can only shrug his shoulders. These distortions of the fingers or mudrâ are necessary, the author thinks, for the reaching of Samâdhi, “characterized by there being neither thought nor annihilation of thought, and consisting of six-fold bodily (sic) and mental happiness (yogi) whence would result endowment with supernatural miracle-working power”. Theosophists cannot be too much warned against such fantastic and prejudiced explanations.

Characters & Historical Figures

Amitâbha. The Chinese perversion of the Sanskrit Amrita Buddha, or the “Immortal Enlightened”, a name of Gautama Buddha. The name has such variations as Amita, Abida, Amitaya, etc., and. is explained as meaning both “Boundless Age” and “Boundless Light”. The original conception of the ideal of an impersonal divine light has been anthropomorphized with time.

Ânanda (Sk.). Bliss, joy, felicity, happiness. A name of the favourite disciple of Gautama, the Lord Buddha.

Âryasangha (Sk.). The Founder of the first Yogâchârya School. This Arhat, a direct disciple of Gautama, the Buddha, is most unaccountably mixed up and confounded with a personage of the same name, who is said to have lived in Ayôdhya (Oude) about the fifth or sixth century of our era, and taught Tântrika worship in addition to the Yogâchârya system. Those who sought to make it popular, claimed that he was the same Âryasangha, that had been a follower of Sâkyamuni, and that he was 1,000 years old. Internal evidence alone is sufficient to show that the works written by him and translated about the year 600 of our era, works full of Tantra worship, ritualism, and tenets followed now considerably by the “red-cap” sects in Sikhim, Bhutan, and Little Tibet, cannot be the same as the lofty system of the early Yogâchârya school of pure Buddhism, which is neither northern nor southern, but absolutely esoteric. Though none of the genunine Yogâchârya books (the Narjol chodpa) have ever been made public or marketable, yet one finds in the Yogâchârya Bhûmi Shâstra of the pseudo-Âryasangha a great deal from the older system, into the tenets of which he may have been initiated. It is, however, so mixed up with Sivaism and Tantrika magic and superstitions, that the work defeats its own end, notwithstanding its remarkable dialectical subtilty. How unreliable are the conclusions at which our Orientalists arrive, and how contradictory the dates assigned by them, may be seen in the case in hand. While Csoma de Körös (who, by-the-bye, never became acquainted with the Gelukpa (yellow-caps), but got all his information from “red-cap” lamas of the Borderland), places the pseudo-Âryasangha in the seventh century of our era; Wassiljew, who passed most of his life in China, proves him to have lived much earlier; and Wilson (see Roy. As. Soc., Vol. VI., p. 240), speaking of the period when Âryasangha’s works, which are still extant in Sanskrit, were written, believes it now “established, that they have been written at the latest, from a century and a half before, to as much after, the era of Christianity”. At all events since it is beyond dispute that the Mahayana religious works were all written far before Âryasangha’s time—whether he lived in the “second century b.c.”, or the “seventh a.d.”—and that these contain all and far more of the fundamental tenets of the Yogâchârya system, so disfigured by the Ayôdhyan imitator—the inference is that there must exist somewhere a genuine rendering free from popular Sivaism and left-hand magic.

Asoka (Sk.). A celebrated Indian king of the Môrya dynasty which reigned at Magadha. There were two Asokas in reality, according to the chronicles of Northern Buddhism, though the first Asoka—the grand father of the second, named by Prof. Max Müller the “Constantine of India”, was better known by his name of Chandragupta. It is the former who was called, Piadasi (Pali) “the beautiful”, and Devânam-piya “the beloved of the gods”, and also Kâlâsoka; while the name of his grandson was Dharmâsôkâ—the Asoka of the good law-—on account of his devotion to Buddhism. Moreover, according to the same source, the second Asoka had never followed the Brahmanical faith, but was a Buddhist born. It was his grandsire who had been first converted to the new faith, after which he had a number of edicts inscribed on pillars and rocks, a custom followed also by his grandson. But it was the second Asoka who was the most zealous supporter of Buddhism; he, who maintained in his palace from 60 to 70,000 monks and priests, who erected 84,000 topes and stupas throughout India, reigned 36 years, and sent missions to Ceylon, and throughout the world. The inscriptions of various edicts published by him display most noble ethical sentiments, especially the edict at Allahahad, on the so-called “Asoka’s column”, in the Fort. The sentiments are lofty and poetical, breathing tenderness for animals as well as men, and a lofty view of a king’s mission with regard to his people, that might be followed with great success in the present age of cruel wars and barbarous vivisection.

Bhadrasena (Sk.). A Buddhist king of Magadha.

Boodhasp (Chald.). An alleged Chaldean; but in esoteric teaching a Buddhist (a Bodhisattva), from the East, who was the founder of the esoteric school of Neo-Sabeism, and whose secret rite of baptism passed bodily into the Christian rite of the same name. For almost three centuries before our era, Buddhist monks overran the whole country of Syria, made their way into the Mesopotamian valley and visited even Ireland. The name Ferho and Faho of the Codex Nazaraeus is but a corruption of Fho, Fo and Pho, the name which the Chinese, Tibetans and even Nepaulese often give to Buddha.

Buddhochinga (Sk) The name of a great Indian Arhat who went to China in the 4th century to propagate Buddhism and converted masses of people by means of miracles and most wonderful magic feats.

Chandragupta (Sk.). The first Buddhist King in India, the grand-sire of Asoka; the Sandracottus of the all-bungling Greek writers who went to India in Alexander’s time. (See “Asoka”.)

Chhanmûka (Sk) A great Bodhisattva with the Northern Buddhists, famous for his ardent love of Humanity; regarded in the esoteric schools as a Nirmanakâya.

Dharmâsôka (Sk.). The name given to the first Asoka after his conversion to Buddhism,—King Chandragupta, who served all his long life “Dharma”, or the law of Buddha. King Asoka (the second) was not converted, but was born a Buddhist.

Fahian (Chin.). A Chinese traveller and writer in the early centuries of Christianity, who wrote on Buddhism.

Hiouen Thsang. A great Chinese writer and philosopher who travelled in India in the sixth century, in order to learn more about Buddhism, to which he was devoted.

Kanishka (Sk.). A King of the Tochari, who flourished when the third Buddhist Synod met in Kashmir, i.e., about the middle of the last century b.c., a great patron of Buddhism, he built the finest stûpas or dagobas in Northern India and Kabulistan.

Nâgârjuna (Sk.). An Arhat, a hermit (a native of Western India) converted to Buddhism by Kapimala and the fourteenth Patriarch, and now regarded as a Bodhisattva-Nirmanakaya. He was famous for his dialectical subtlety in metaphysical arguments; and was the first teacher of the Amitâbha doctrine and a representative of the Mahâyâna School. Viewed as the greatest philosopher of the Buddhists, he was referred to as “one of the four suns which illumine the world”. He was born 223 b.c., and going to China after his conversion converted in his turn the whole country to Buddhism.

Omito-Fo (Chin.). The name of Amita-Buddha, in China.

Pîyadasi (Pali). “The beautiful”, a title of King Chandragupta (the “Sandracottus” of the Greeks) and of Asoka the Buddhist king, his grandson. They both reigned in Central India between the fourth and third centuries b.c., called also Devânâmpiya, “the beloved of the gods”.

Rahula (Sk.). The name of Gautama Buddha’s son.

Son-kha-pa (Tib.). Written also Tsong-kha-pa. A famous Tibetan reformer of the fourteenth century, who introduced a purified Buddhism into his country. He was a great Adept, who being unable to witness any longer the desecration of Buddhist philosophy by the false priests who made of it a marketable commodity, put a forcible stop thereto by a timely revolution and the exile of 40,000 sham monks and Lamas from the country. He is regarded as an Avatar of Buddha, and is the founder of the Gelukpa (“yellow-cap”) Sect, and of the mystic Brotherhood connected with its chiefs. The “tree of the 10,000 images” (khoom boom) has, it is said, sprung from the long hair of this ascetic, who leaving it behind him disappeared for ever from the view of the profane.

Suddhodana (Sk.). The King of Kapilavastu; the father of Gautama Lord Buddha.

Tchandragupta, or Chandragupta (Sk.). The son of Nanda, the first Buddhist King of the Morya Dynasty, the grandfather of King Asoka, “the beloved of the gods” (Piyadasi).

Thothori Nyan Tsan (Tib.) A King of Tibet in the fourth century. It is narrated that during his reign he was visited by five mysterious strangers, who revealed to him how he might use for his country’s welfare four precious things which had fallen down from heaven, in 331 a.d., in a golden casket and “the use of which no one knew”. These were (1) hands folded as the Buddhist ascetics fold them; (2) a be-jewelled Shorten (a Stupa built over a receptacle for relics); (3) a gem inscribed with the “Aum mani padme hum”; and (4) the Zamotog, a religious work on ethics, a part of the Kanjur. A voice from heaven then told the King that after a certain number of generations everyone would learn how precious these four things were. The number of generations stated carried the world to the seventh century, when Buddhism became the accepted religion of Tibet. Making an allowance for legendary licence, the four things fallen from heaven, the voice, and the five mysterious strangers, may be easily seen to have been historical facts. They were without any doubt five Arhats or Bhikshus from India, on their proselytising tour. Many were the Indian. sages who, persecuted in India for their new faith, betook themselves to Tibet and China.

Thsang Thisrong tsan (Tib.). A king who flourished between the years 728 and 787, and who invited from Bengal Pandit Rakshit, called for his great learning Bodhisattva, to come and settle in Tibet, in order to teach Buddhist philosophy to his priests.

Udayana Râjâ (Sk.). A king of Kausâmbi, called Vatsarâjâ, who was the first to have a statue of Buddha made before his death; in consequence of which, say the Roman Catholics, who build statues of Madonnas and Saints at every street corner—he “became the originator of Buddhist idolatry”.

Vaisâkha (Sk.). A celebrated female ascetic, born at Srâvasti, and called Sudatta, “virtuous donor”. She was the mother-abbess of a Vihâra, or convent of female Upâsikâs, and is known as the builder of a Vihâra for Sâkyamuni Buddha. She is regarded as the patroness of all the Buddhist female ascetics.

Mythical Figures

Avalokiteswara (Sk.). “The on-looking Lord” In the exoteric interpretation, he is Padmapâni (the lotus bearer and the lotus-born) in Tibet, the first divine ancestor of the Tibetans, the complete incarnation or Avatar of Avalokiteswara; but in esoteric philosophy Avaloki, the “on-looker”, is the Higher Self, while Padmapâni is the Higher Ego or Manas. The mystic formula “Om mani padme hum” is specially used to invoke their joint help. While popular fancy claims for Avalokiteswara many incarnations on earth, and sees in him, not very wrongly, the spiritual guide of every believer, the esoteric interpretation sees in him the Logos, both celestial and human. Therefore, when the Yogâchârya School has declared Avalokiteswara as Padmâpani “to be the Dhyâni Bodhisattva of Amitâbha Buddha”, it is indeed, because the former is the spiritual reflex in the world of forms of the latter, both being one—one in heaven, the other on earth.

Chenresi (Tib.) The Tibetan Avalokitesvara. The Bodhisattva Padmâpani, a divine Buddha.

Dharmaprabhasa (Sk). The name of the Buddha who will appear during the seventh Root-race. (See “Ratnâvabhâsa Kalpa”, when sexes will exist no longer).

Dîpamkara (Sk.). Lit., “the Buddha of fixed light”; a predecessor of Gautama, the Buddha.

Kwan-shai-yîn (Chin.). The male logos of the Northern Buddhists and those of China; the “manifested god”.

Kwan-yin (Chin.). The female logos, the “Mother of Mercy”.

Kwan-yin-tien (Chin.). The heaven where Kwan-yin and the other logoi dwell.

Maitreya Buddha (Sk.). The same as the Kalki Avatar of Vishnu (the “White Horse” Avatar), and of Sosiosh and other Messiahs. The only difference lies in the dates of their appearances. Thus, while Vishnu is expected to appear on his white horse at the end of the present Kali Yuga age “for the final destruction of the wicked, the renovation of creation and the restoration of purity”, Maitreya is expected earlier. Exoteric or popular teaching making slight variations on the esoteric doctrine states that Sakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) visited him in Tushita (a celestial abode) and commissioned him to issue thence on earth as his successor at the expiration of five thousand years after his (Buddha’s) death. This would be in less than 3,000 years hence. Esoteric philosophy teaches that the next Buddha will appear during the seventh (sub) race of this Round. The fact is that Maitreya was a follower of Buddha, a well-known Arhat, though not his direct disciple, and that he was the founder of an esoteric philosophical school. As shown by Eitel (Sanskrit-Chinese Dict.), “statues were erected in his honour as early as b.c. 350”.

Mâra (Sk.). The god of Temptation, the Seducer who tried to turn away Buddha from his Path. He is called the “Destroyer” and “Death” (of the Soul). One of the names of Kâma, God of love.

Nâgarâjas (Sk.). The usual name given to all the supposed “guardian Spirits” of lakes and rivers, meaning literally “Dragon Kings”. All of these are shown in the Buddhist chronicles as having been converted to the Buddhist monastic life: i.e, as becoming Arhats from the Yogis that they were before.

Pu-tsi K’iun-ling (Chin.). Lit., “the Universal Saviour of all beings”. A title of Avalokiteswara, and also of Buddha.


Adbhuta Dharma (Sk.). The “law” of things never heard before. A class of Buddhist works on miraculous or phenomenal events.

Abhidharma (Sk.). The metaphysical (third) part of Tripitaka, a very philosophical Buddhist work by Kâtyâyana.

Dammâpadan (Pali.) A Buddhist work containing moral precepts. [dhammapada]

Lalita Vistara (Sk.). A celebrated biography of Sakya Muni, the Lord Buddha, by Dharmarakcha, a.d. 308.

Lamrin (Tib.). A sacred volume of precepts and rules, written by Tson-kha-pa, “for the advancement of knowledge”.

Lang-Shu (Chin.). The title of the translation of Nagarjuna’s work, the Ekasloka-Shastra.

Mahâ Parinibbâna Sutta (Pali.). One of the most authoritative of the Buddhist sacred writings.

Mahavanso (Pali.). A Buddhist historical work written by Bhikshu Mohânâma, the uncle of King Dhatusma. An authority on the history of Buddhism and its spread in the island of Ceylon.

Samyattaka Nikaya (Pali). A Buddhist work composed mostly of dialogues between Buddha and his disciples.

Tanjur (Tib.). A collection of Buddhist works translated from the Sanskrit into Tibetan and Mongolian. It is the more voluminous canon, comprising 225 large volumes on miscellaneous subjects. The Kanjur, which contains the commandments or the “Word of the Buddha”, has only 108 volumes.

Udâna (Sk) Extemporaneous speeches; also Sûtras. In philosophy the term applies to the physical organs of speech, such as tongue, mouth, voice, etc. In sacred literature in general, it is the name of those Sûtras which contain extemporaneous discourses, in distinction to the Sûtras that contain only that subject matter which is introduced by questions put to Gautama the Buddha and his replies.

See also: Abhaya, Abhayagiri, Âdi-budhi, Chakna-padma-karpo, Dambulla, Dhâranî, Hair, Ila, Mahâ Mâyâ, Mârîchi, Mudra, Myalba, Nâga, Om, Omkâra, Sacha Kiriya, Sakwala, S’ambhala, Sanaka, Saptaparna, Sighra, Stûpa, Surukâya, Sûtra, Svastika, Trailokya, Tushita, Vairochana, Vajra,


The Dhammapada

The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhisattvacharyavatara)

The Diamond Sutra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra)

Lam Rim Chen Mo, by Tsong Kha Pa

Lam Rim Chen Mo

The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment

(English Translation)

Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3

The Buddhist Catechism, by Henry S. Olcott

Complete Buddhist Sutra Collection

Extensive Collection of Buddhist Texts on SacredTexts.org

Buddhist eLibrary (a digital resource library)

BuddhaNet eBooks (collection of Buddhist eBooks)

Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon

The Pali Text Society

See Also:

Bibliography entry for General Buddhism (especially Mahayana), from the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies

The Works of Maitreya: English Translations

The Works of Tsongkhapa: English Translations

Jonangpa and Shentong: A Bibliography of English Language Materials

Notable Books:

The Atman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism, by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya (2015); English translation of L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien (1973) [see also: “Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition” by Nancy Reigle]


The Noble Teachings of Lord Buddha (pdf)

Articles from The Path


The Nature and Office of Buddha’s Religion

Two Systems — Of Lust And Sorrow

A Buddhist Doctrine

Japanese Buddhist Sects

Buddha and a Deva

The Nature and Office of Buddha’s Religion

From a dissertation by the Rt. Rev. H. Sumangala, High Priest of Adam’s Peak, Ceylon. 1

What must a religion chiefly reveal? A religion, as such, must for the most part propound what is not generally seen and felt in the nature of sentient beings. It must also proclaim “the ways and means” by which the good of the world is attained. These teachings are essential to a religion, or it would, at best, become only a system of philosophy or a science of nature. We find these two essentials fully treated in the religion of Buddha.

Buddha says: 2 “The world has mounted on the passions and is suspended therefrom — that is, the thoughts of men are hanging down from the lusts and other evils. The whole world is encompassed by decay; and Death overwhelms us all, (consumption and decay ever slowly but steadily creep in and eat into each and everything in existence, and it is here likened to something like land encircled by sea). Nature has subjected us to birth, decay, and death, and the deeds of our past lives are covered by the terrors of death from our view, although the time of their action is not very far removed from our present state of existence. Hence it is that we do not view the scenes of our past births. Human life before it arrives at its final destiny is ever inseparable from Jati, Jara, Marana, etc., (birth, infirmities, death, etc.). As we are at present we are in sorrow and pain, and we have not yet obtained the highest object of our being. It behooves us, therefore, to exert ourselves everytime and by all means to attain to our summum ultimum, and we have to use and practice ‘the ways and means’ shown in religion in earnestness and integrity.”

Now what are they as set forth in Buddhism? “The man who is ever fully in the observance of the precepts of morality; who sees and understands things well and truly; who has perfect and serene command over his thoughts; and who has his mind fixed well in proper contemplation. I say that such a man alone will safely pass over the dreadful torrent of metempsychosis, which is indeed hard to be gone over safely and without meeting with great obstacles and difficulties.”

The way to holiness of being, to destruction of sorrows, pain, and sufferings, and to the path to Nirvana and to its attainment, is the starting of memory, on the body, on sensation, on mind, and on the true doctrines, largely discoursed on by the Lord Gautama Buddha. “Men are sanctified by their deeds, their learning, their religious behavior, their morals, and by leading a holy life; they do not become holy by race or wealth.” 3

Buddha has opened up to us a supreme path for sanctification, described in detail in many verses of His Dharma. 4 He says: “Oh Bhikkus! what is the holy path which ought to be walked over to destroy pain and sorrows! It is the ariya path, consisting of eight members or component parts, which are: Right Seeing or correct belief; right Thinking; right Words; right Actions; right Living; right Exertions; right Recollecting; and right Composing of Mind — the practice of Yoga.”

Of all the paths this, the eight membered one, is the Supremest; of the Truths, the fourfold one is the highest; of all classes of knowledge, that of Nirvana is the most excellent, and of all bipeds Buddha is the highest and most supremely exalted and enlightened.

I. Right seeing is the correct and full comprehension of the four facts or divisions, which are: Sorrows, the origin of sorrows, the destruction of sorrows, and the ways and means to be used for that destruction. Now this Right seeing may be viewed in two ways, (1) worldly, (2) over worldly, or above the worldly way. The first is understanding, while still we have not overcome our lusts, passions, and desires, the effects of good and bad actions, and that such acts alone brought about the effects; the second is brought about by destroying lust, anger, &c., and rightly comprehending what are known as the “four supreme verities.”

II. Right thinking includes pondering on the abandoning of all merely worldly happiness, bad desires, anger, &c., and the cherishing of thoughts to live separated from them all; loathing to take life, and the continued mental exercise of the determination not to hurt a sentient being.

III. Right Speech avoids lying, slandering, uttering rough or vulgar words, and vain babbling or empty talk.

IV. Right Actions is sanctifying the body by refraining from killing, stealing, enjoying unlawful sexual intercourse, &c.

V. Right Living is obtaining a livelihood by being worthily employed, supporting one’s self.

VI. Right Exertion is to labor willingly and earnestly to prevent evil thoughts from arising in the mind, nipping even the buds of such thoughts already sprung, and by nourishing good thoughts and by creating morally virtuous ideas when heart and mind are vacant and empty of them.

VII. The seventh is the four above mentioned — in possession.

VIII. The last member includes the four dhyanas. Samma Samadhi, or Right Meditation, is the last member of the Supreme Path. In religion Samadhis are of various natures, but now we will confine ourselves to one particular Samadhi.

It is that state of mind in which dispersed thoughts are brought together and concentrated on one particular object. The chief feature is composure of the mind, and its essential characteristic is the restriction of thoughts from dispersion. Stability aids its sustentation, and undisturbed happiness is its natural result.

The primary stage of this state of mind is known as Upachara Samadhi; 5 the second, or advanced stage, as Uppana Samadhi. 6

It is also divided into two classes. Lokiya, 7 which any one may enter into; and Lokuttara 8 which can be entered into only by those who are free from worldly desires. The first is a preliminary step to the attainment of the second. For the first, the devotee must give himself up to devotion in the manner prescribed in 3d, 4th, and 5th angas of the Arya astangikamarga chatuparisuddhi silas, and then free himself from the ten worldly troubles, which arise: from building houses; connections with family; excessive gains; the duties of a teacher; from manual work; journeys for another or for one’s own gain; sickness of teacher, pupils, and parents; bodily sufferings; constant study, and worldly power and its loss. Being free from these, he must then be acquainted with the systematic process of meditation, instructed by a friend or an eminent preceptor.

Meditation is of two classes. First, that wherein the devotee exercises universal love of mankind, reflects that death is close at hand, and that the human body, being liable to decay, is not to be regarded with consideration. The second is that which applies to a man according to his moral nature. 9 These are forty in number. Taking one let us see how meditation should be practiced.

Man’s moral nature is divided into six classes: Sensuous, irascible, ignorant, faithful, discreet, reflective. The first three are evil, and the last three good qualities. If in any man’s nature an evil and virtue combine, that which predominates will influence his moral character. The process of meditation, then, is to be decided by the preceptor according to the tendency of the moral character as thus influenced. 10 The devotee then seeks retirement resigned to Buddha.


1. See Vol. 1, Theosophist.

2. Tanhaya uddito loko; jaraya pari varato; Maccuna pihito loko; Dukkhe loko patitthito.

3. Kammam vijja dhammoca; Silam jivita muttamam; Etena macca sujjhianti; Na-gottena dhanenava.

4. Code of laws.

5. Restraining thoughts from being dispersed.

6. Effecting complete reconciliation and composure of mind.

7. Worldly.

8. Superhuman.

9. This means the particular kind which each man, because of heredity, education, and class exercises. It is also known as using the path pertaining to the Lodge or Ray, to which the one meditating belongs. — [ED.]

10. See Bhagavad-Gita, c. 14. — [ED.]

— The Path, April 1886

Two Systems — Of Lust And Sorrow

The great Buddha referred to two systems for the government of life which he said were each ignoble, and one both ignoble and evil. One is the System of Lust, which is devotion to the enervating pleasures of sense; it was said by him to be vile, vulgar, unsound, ignominious, and productive of evil. Yet it is that which governs the lives of most people in these days.

The other extreme is the System of Sorrow. It consists of mortification of the flesh and of self torture in order to acquire knowledge and powers. This was extensively practised by Hindu ascetics in Buddha’s time, and is today pursued to some extent. The Indian books are full of stories of the great powers over nature acquired by saints through the practise of austerities. Not ten years ago there died in India a certain Swami — or holy man — who was known as the Swami of Akalkot. He did many wonderful things, and nearly all of them known to young and old in India today. His powers were obtained through the use of the System of Sorrow. In the Bhagavad-Gita this practise is spoken of by Krishna, who declares that it is not the best method, although productive of great results.

Both of these systems were known practically to Gautama. As the Prince Siddhartha, he was surrounded by his father’s order with every luxury to tempt the senses. There were gardens, flowers, jewels, music, animals, servants, and the most beautiful women. There are so many stories told of the magnificent things collected about him that we must infer for his youth a complete realisation of the System of Lust, or sensation, even if it was of the finer and more noble quality. This at last, pleased him not, and he entered on the practice of the System of Sorrow, which he declared, after he had obtained Nirvana, to be ignoble and unworthy of a true man. This he continued in until he had tried all the varieties. It was then that he decided on the middle path from which comes attainment to truth and Nirvana.

It is a well-known doctrine in the occult lodges of India that the same result can be obtained in two ways, by one extreme or the other. But in order to reach the end in those ways, great power is required, — more power than men in general possess. The reason is that, from the action of a law which may be roughly called The Law of Tendency, the extreme practice warps the being in such a manner that success is prevented. So, when one follows the System of Sorrow, he will indeed acquire great powers, such as those possessed by Viswamitra, Vasishta, and others, but with the greater number of cases it will all end at last in confusion.

The System of Lust has the same end and with no exception. For its tendency being downward, an impulse is set up that sends the man lower and lower with no hope of salvation.

In pursuing the middle course — that of moderation — Buddha did not ignore any department of his nature, for he says, “By five means have I seen these truths, — by the mental eye, by understanding, by wisdom, by science, and by intuition.” Herein he agrees with the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita, which tells us not to eat too much nor too little, not to oversleep nor to refuse proper sleep. Krishna says further, “Do necessary acts, ever remembering me. Fix your mind on me. Treat every creature as my tabernacle. This is the best devotion. In this path there is no ruggedness, no defeat.”

The System of Moderation, then, is the best, for it clears the inner eye and strengthens every part of the nature, Theosophists, whether they are Buddhists or not, should remember this. Some are inclined to pursue an extreme course in one direction or another. Some say that the mental powers only are to be developed; others ignore those and claim that the spiritual alone should have attention. The latter err as well as the former. It is true that the spirit is the greater. But it is also true that the mental plane and powers cannot be obliterated unless we obliterate the Universe in the Night of Brahma. If we do not use the mental eye as Buddha directs, some day we will meet on the mental plane a new experience for which we are unprepared, and defeat shall be our portion. The true practice would prevent this. There are numerous instances of such disasters being thus caused. Ascetics of extraordinary powers have been brought into sin and contempt through experiences which were new to them because they lived forever on a plane where others of a different sort had place. It is only when salvation has been obtained that we can hope to be above the influence of all Karma.

“Such is the Law * * *
The heart of it is love; the end of it
Is peace and consummation sweet. Obey!”

— A Buddhist, The Path, November 1888

A Buddhist Doctrine

There are twelve principal Buddhist sects in Japan. These are: Ku-Sha-Shiu, Jo-Jitsu-Shiu, Ris-Shiu, Ho-so-Shiu, San-Ron-Shiu, Ke-Gon-Shiu, Ten-Dai-Shiu, Shin-Gon-Shiu, Jo-Do-Shiu, Zen-Shiu, Shin-Shiu, and Nichi-Ren-Shiu. It is of a tenet of the Shin-Shiu that I propose to speak. The student can learn much of the others by consulting the works of Mr. Bunyiu Nanjio, M. A., and other authorities.

The last four of those mentioned may be called the modern ones. Gen-Ku founded the Jo-Do in 1174 A. D.; the Zen-Shiu was started by Ei-Sai in 1191 A. D.; the Shin-Shiu was founded in 1224 A. D. by Shin-Ran; and in 1253 A. D., Nichi-Ren established that one named for him. This last is more frequently called by the founder’s name because, although he adopted what is called the Saddharmapundarika as the principal Sutra of it, he altered the substance of the doctrine. For that reason it is called, paraphrastically, “Nichi-Ren’s Saddharmapundarika sect.”

The essential difference between the Shin-Shiu and the others may be seen by placing its doctrine and that of the Zen-Shu side by side. In the latter the disciple is to see the nature of Buddha by his own thought, free from the influence of the eighty-four thousand different doctrines, while the Shin-Shiu teaches that we attain salvation “by the power of another” who is Amita Buddha.

The Zen-Shiu is said to have originated from the incident, well known to Buddhists, of Gotama Buddha’s taking from the heavenly king a flower of golden color and holding it in his hand in silence. The disciples could not understand the meaning of this, except Mahakasyapa, who, although he knew, only smiled and remained also silent. Thereupon Buddha said to him, “I have the wonderful thought of Nirvana.” This was called “the doctrine of thought transmitted by thought.” Ananda received it from Kasyapa, and so on down a long list of patriarchs in the church. The twenty-eighth patriarch, Bodhidharma, a king’s son, crossed over into China. In that country he attempted to teach the Emperor the secret of the doctrine, but the pupil could not understand it, and Bodhidharma entered a monastery where he pursued the practice of sitting in meditation gazing at a wall for nine years, after which he gained disciples. He was called “the wall-gazing Brahmana.” A later devotee in 729 A. D, came from China to Japan and established a form of the doctrine of Zen-Shiu. In this school, as distinguished from the Shin-Shiu, the disciple exercises his own thought independent of doctrine, while in the latter a doctrine is relied upon. The words of the Indian poem Bhagavad-Gita may be profitably remembered here, where it says that “he who pursues the unmanifested path has a more difficult task [than any other] to perform.” 1

The other sects, except the Shin-Shiu, have various doctrines for the attainment of the end in view, but the followers of the Shin-Shiu declare that all these are “expedients.” They do not exclude the Zen-Shiu, although it would appear perhaps to the aggressive mind of the Englishman or American that to tell a man he can attain Nirvana by his own power is not laying a mere expedient before him.

It is because of these doctrines of expediency in other sects that the Shin-shiu call themselves “the True Sect of Buddhists.”

The doctrine of the sect is also called by them “the Doctrine of the Pure Land.” The pure land referred to is the Land of Amida Buddha [Amitabha]: the object is to be born into that land, that is, to obtain salvation. It has been otherwise stated in this manner:

“Among those who follow the doctrine of the Pure Land, there are several different systems of teaching, which are as follows: — ‘Some say that we should practise various good works, bring our stock of merits to maturity, and be born in the Pure Land. Others say that we should repeat only the name of Amitabha Buddha in order to be born in his Pure Land, by the merit produced from such repetition.’ These doctrines are all considered as yet the temporary expedients. To rely upon the power of the original prayer of Amitabha Buddha with the whole heart and give up all idea of Ji-Riki or ‘self-power’ is called the truth. This truth is the doctrine of this sect.” 2

The eighteenth of the forty-eight prayers of Amita Buddha is the prayer referred to. It is:” If any of living beings of the ten regions who have believed in me with true thoughts and desire to be born in my country, and have even to ten times repeated the thought of my name, should not be born there, then may I not obtain the perfect knowledge.” This prayer was made by him because of his great desire to deliver all beings from suffering. It was a prayer which he first uttered long before he himself obtained salvation, but he continued for ages after that to work to the end that he might be able to make the prayer of force and value to any one who should use it. It follows, of course, that he accomplished his desire, and the Shin-Shin sect accordingly claims that this prayer or vow has a peculiar effect of its own, and has strength to enable whoever uses it to reach salvation.

The claims made for this prayer are in accordance with certain views that are held in the East about the force that resides in the vows of a wise or great saint. They are said to have an actual dynamic effect upon the minds and hearts of all persons who shall use them, even after the saint has died. It is claimed that the power has to do with magnetism. And it is said by the followers of Shin-Shiu that, when one begins to repeat and rely upon the prayer of Amita Buddha, he at once connects himself with the whole body of real believers, and as well with the power of Amita himself.

In its essence the doctrine is one of salvation by faith, but at the same time the sect does not claim — as the Christian does for his dogma — that there is no other way to be saved. They admit that a person may be saved “by his own power” — if he has the requisite strength to hold out —, but they think that in general men have not the power to resist evil for a time sufficient to permit the accomplishment of the result; and they assert that besides the lack of strength there will be doubt, for, “Faith by one’s own power cannot afford rest to the heart. It is said, ‘Shall I surely attain salvation or shall I not?’ and thus what is called faith is in reality doubt,” but “Faith by the power of another affords rest to the heart. It is said —: ‘I am born by the power of that vow; I shall certainly attain salvation.’ There is not the smallest doubt in the heart.” Another Sutra says: “Those who follow the method of ‘self power’ believe in many other Buddhas; those who follow the method of ‘another’s power’ believe only in the one Buddha, as a faithful servant does not serve two masters.”

In a compilation made by direction of the Eastern Hongwanji of Japan it is said

“The appellations ‘true’ and ‘popular’ are an important matter. Our sect terms the attaining of the rest of the heart the True System; the observation of the relations of life the Popular System. Our sect has granted the permission to marry. Hence the five relations of life necessarily exist. Where the five relations of life exist, the duties involved in them must be observed. This is termed ‘the popular system.’

“It is said in the Sutra: ‘The living beings in the ten regions, be they householders or houseless.’ * * * Shall the holy path be different for them? Although the sins of the unenlightened be many, if these are contrasted with the power of the vow they are not as the millet seed to the ocean. * * * The sins of the unenlightened are heavy; if you precipitate them on the three worlds they inevitably sink; but if you place them on the ship of the vow they assuredly become light. The merit of living beings is full of leaks. Mida’s land of reward has no leaks. With the merit which is full of leaks you cannot be born into the land where there are no leaks.”

From a later part of the same compilation:

“Our Founder said: ‘brothers within the four seas.‘ Faith by the power of another proceeds from Mida. Thus Mida is father and mother; all within the four seas are brothers. The Chinese call foreigners barbarians; foreigners call China uncivilized. Both, we consider, are wrong. Those who do not observe the relations of life are the barbarians, without distinction of ‘home’ or ‘foreign.’ Throughout all that the heaven covers, wherever sun and moon shine, what is there that we shall call barbarian or uncivilized? When the heart is wide as heaven and earth, the discourse clear as sun and moon, then first is attained the equitable and just. Between heaven and earth there is no one to be disassociated, no spot not to be reached. The kindly relations of intercourse make the friend; two persons the same mind; their spirit is as disseparated gold. One country the same mind; as a golden bowl without defect. All countries the same mind; then first is attained the perfect equitability. The foundation of the same mind is the calling to remembrance of the one Buddha.” * * *

“Zendo has said: ‘We are truly like this: unenlightened we are subject to the evil of birth and death; for long Kalpas we revolve, sinking and floating in the sea of existence; there seems no cause of escape’ * * * But He, Amida Buddha, long kalpas ago putting forth a heart of great compassion, planning through five kalpas, having accomplished the long kalpas, perfected his vow.

Hence we find the sect without spells or supplications for the avoiding of trouble. They hold that the trouble and misery of our life are due to causes originated either in long past existence or in the present incarnation. These last are to be carefully avoided, and the “popular system” gives the various rules to follow. But the causes that lie rooted in prior incarnations cannot be provided for in any way. This stored-up Karma it is useless to regret or try to avoid. It will have its course. But we must submit cheerfully, knowing that, by relying on the power of Buddha’s sublime vow and by joining right practice to it, in time all Karma, good and bad, will be exhausted. Hence there are no spells, talismans, or supplications used by the Shin-Shiu. All its followers must follow and imitate the Buddha in his great love and compassion, and they hold that, if this were the practice in every part of the world, harmony would prevail and prosperity come to all with peace and joy.


1. See Bhagavad-Gita. — [Ed.]

2. 12 Japanese Buddhist Sects, by Bunyiu Nanjio.

— Eusebio Urban [William Quan Judge], The Path, September 1888

Japanese Buddhist Sects – I

In Japan there are twelve principal Buddhist sects, all of them having different names and with different reasons for their inception. The chief priests of these met with Col. Olcott last year in friendly union for the purpose of seeing what could be done in the way of healing the differences which exist between the two great divisions of the church, and a short account of them it is thought will be of interest and value to the American theosophists.

I will name them in order and then tell of their different ideas in small space. They are:

The Ku-sha-shu, the Jo-jitsu-shu, the Ris-shu, the Hosso-shu, the San-ron-shu, the Ke-gon-shu, the Tendai-shu, the Shingon-shu, the Jo-do-shu, the Zen-shu, the Shin-shu, the Nichi-ren-shu. Many of these rely upon a certain book or books which give them their names.

The Ku-sha-shu is so called from the Book of the treasury of metaphysics which was composed by Vasubandhu or Se-shin. They have several other books, among which may be mentioned one which it is said was composed by five hundred Arhats or perfect men and is by name Dai-bi-ba-sha-ron. The various divisions of the inner man are given, and among them is a very peculiar property assigned to him and called Mu-hyo-shikin, which means “unapparent form”. Though it is said to be formless, yet it is called form, and it means that when an action is done something relating to it is formed in the actor. The analysis of the faculties and other parts of man is very detailed. They say that all things are brought about by Karma except two, which are Space and Nirvana. It is also said that those who wish to be enlightened fully may be so in three births if they are assiduous, but if not, then it will take them sixty kalpas.

The Jo-jitsu-shu has a book entitled “The perfection of the truth”. It has explanations of the Tripitaka as preached by Buddha, and is said to have been written by a Hindu who was a disciple of Kumarila Batta. The book is said to unite the best of many other schools of Buddhism. One peculiar view which deserves notice is that the past and future are unreal, but that as to things the present only is real. By meditation on the unreal character of things, even including the person himself, one obtains enlightenment upon the destruction of passion. They have many books, and of these there is one commentary of 23 volumes and another in two.

The Ris-shu was founded about 617 A.D., it is said, by Do-sen from China. Its basis may be understood from a quotation taken from one of the works of the founder. He says, “If a man does not practise the Dhyana and Samhadi, that is, meditation and contemplation, he cannot understand the truth”.

The Hosso-shu divides the whole mass of the doctrines of the Buddha into the following: “existence, emptiness, and the middle path,” and they say that the doctrines of the Mahayana school to the number of 80, 000 can be put in these divisions. The sect is said to study as to the real nature of things, and its divisions are so very numerous as not to be admitted here. According to them a man has to live for countless kalpas in the right way before he can become a Buddha.

The San-ron-shu is named from their having three shastras or books which cover the whole teachings of Buddha during his life. They think that, as the object of Buddha was to teach people according to their several and different abilities to take the truth, therefore any shastra that will teach them may be preached from. But of course they only use the Buddhist shastras.

Next comes the Ke-gon-shu, and it like some others takes its name from a book, the Ke-gon-gyo. They think their sutra was preached by Buddha soon after his enlightenment, and that by right thought on perfect enlightenment a man will reach it. Other rules are those common to all Buddhism. The name of the sect may be also Great-square-wide-Buddha-flower-adornment.

Ten-dai-shu, or the sect founded on the mount of TENDAI in China, preaches the doctrine of “completion and suddenness”. This of course sounds singular to ears not accustomed to these terms, but it means the completion of enlightenment and the immediacy of that state to all men. They say that if the disciple properly understands the secrets as to form and reason, he will become Buddha in this life even.

Shin-gon-shu sect also teaches that a man may reach to perfect enlightenment even in this life if he follows their doctrine, which is called the secret mantra. This latter is in respect to body, speech, and thought. A very notable method of this sect is this: if the doctrines are read lengthwise from top to bottom as in the writing of that country, then the apparent doctrine is known; but if the table of doctrines be read across the lines of writing, then the secret doctrine becomes known. This seems to be a very peculiar sort of cipher. This hidden doctrine is communicated to the disciples by the teacher. Lengthwise the gradual improvement of thought is explained, and crosswise the circle of the state of things is fully explained, and this is the secret doctrine. Without going into this it may be said to be a method of teaching very like that of Patanjali, in which the several sorts of thought are classified and directed to be got rid of, one by one, until the state of pure thought is reached. Thus the apparent doctrine drives away the dust of outer thought, and the secret one shows the inner truth. The final object is to know the source and bottom of one’s thoughts, and thus to be able to reach the state of Buddha. There are many secret and curious things in the doctrine of this sect which it would be impossible to set down here from their great length.

(To be continued.)

— Kyo-Ryo-Va-Sha, The Path, November 1890

Japanese Buddhist Sects – II

To continue about the sect of Shin-gon. It would not be possible to fully explain their doctrines in one book, much less in one article. These are merely notes. They speak of three secrets and call them those of “body, speech, and mind,” that is, the actions of those. The apparent form of all things is that of the five elements, and that is the secret of body. In the Hindu school of Patanjali we find an aphorism relating to the disappearance of the body, or, more properly, of the power to make another unable to see it, and this comes when one has found out the secret of form. 1 The Shin-gon-shu say that this secret is only understood by a Buddha.

Nichi-ren-shu was founded by Nichi-ren, who gave out for his followers the doctrines found in the Suddharma-pundarika. They believe that Buddha taught people gradually by expedients and different methods, although he had all the time but one means or vehicle. They have three great secret laws which have reference to the three great bodies of Buddha. and those are by name, Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. 2 The chief object of worship is the great Mandala of the ten worlds, and it represents the original Buddha of remote times. The wisdom, virtue, and knowledge of all men and sages of every region are the powers of this Buddha, who dwells in every place, is free from birth and death, and is the Buddha of permanence. Sakyamuni said he was this original Buddha and also that we ourselves are the same, and thus we are to meditate on this chief object of worship for our salvation. 3 A man should remember that his own body is that of the original Buddha, that his dwelling place is the Pure Land of constantly calm light, and his thought the Good law. The weak man may enter on the path by this teaching. 4

The Shin-shu calls itself the True Sect of the Pure Land. The object is to be born in the pure land of Amitabha, a Buddha who in the very remote time made a vow and prayer like this: ” If any of the living beings in the ten regions who have believed in me with true thoughts and desire to be born in my land and have even to ten times repeated the thought of my name should not be born there, then may I not obtain the perfect knowledge.” With this prayer in view he lived for many kalpas for the purpose of perfecting his merit, so that any one who made use of his name might be thereby eventually saved. It is held that men in general have not enough power of their own to enable them to reach over death, yet at the same time it is allowed that there are some such men out of whom at last come the Buddhas. The common man who repeats this name will at last be led to virtue, and from that to wisdom and finally perfection.

The Jo-do-shu is also a sect of the pure land, and I cannot perceive much difference between it and the other of the same view, as the differences which exist between them are small. They had a teacher who taught about the belief in Amitabha, and Ryu-ju said that “in the great sea of the law of Buddha faith is the only means to enter.”

Zen-shu is the sect of contemplation, and is thought to derive its name from the Sanscrit word Dhyana, or contemplation. They think that besides all the various and great doctrines there is as well another which may be called the secret doctrine, and that comes through one line of transmission and is not dependent on any one’s utterances. This must mean that the truth comes to one as the result of his own thought.

After all this it must be plain to anyone who may read this that there is in fact very little difference between any of the sects of which I have been permitted here to speak, and that their existence is due to the fact that Buddha did, as all know well, teach in many different ways, so that he might make an entry into the many different kinds of minds which men possess. For one man will have a mind that by nature is always in the state of contemplation, and another will not be able to do more than have great longing for the things of the spirit, and hence this latter sort of man would not be able to understand the abstruse parts of the doctrines of the great Lord. And so in the history of the life of Buddha we find that the time came when he made up his mind that he would tell the disciples that there was really only one way in which to look at the problems of life, although he had taught them in many another way for many years. Then some of the disciples who were not able to understand this rose, and, after saluting him, left the assembly. The learned Buddhist knows that it is karma which makes these differences, working together with the law of reincarnation, so that one man has only reached to a certain place in his spiritual learning and is not in any way able to understand those things that relate to a longer practise of right thought in other lives. Other men, however, have gone through all of this and are fitted to clearly grasp even the most abstruse doctrines of the Master. And yet, indeed, there is a great mystery here which will be apprehended by some, and that is that there is no man in any region who may not, if he will, grasp even the more difficult part of the law, but he has to have a faith which is perfect and live a life which is pure in all its parts.

The doctrine of the Pure-Land Sect is one that is meant to help all the common men, for it looks like a way of being freed from sin by the virtue of another being, yet it also is capable of another interpretation, and it is only one of the expedients of the great Lord to make men take advantage by an easy way of their own hidden natural powers. It is quite true that if any one will call on the name of this Buddha he will I e saved, for the act of so calling and aspiring has the effect of bringing to the surface the whole spiritual life and experience of the man from out of the dim and almost forgotten past. So even with this doctrine the man does in fact save himself, which is the true law of the Buddha and the one that underlies his whole teachings. As the years roll by and as the Kali yuga rushes further on, it will be found that the teachings of Buddha are great, wide, square, full of adornment, all comprehending, easy to under-stand, capable of taking us out of the ocean of rebirth in any of the ten different ways, and that in the course of time the Buddha will come again and will make perfect the imperfect renderings of his law which he alone is able to give to the world in a perfect state.

Let us remember the mystery of body, speech, and thought!


1. On page 705 of the 2nd vol. of the Secret Doctrine is this: “till our human form came into being, in which all things are comprised and which contains all forms,” and in the note to it: “this sentence contains a dual sense and mystery which if and when known confer tremendous powers upon the adept to change his visible form.” (Ed.)

2. See the Voice of the Silence where these are explained. (Ed.)

3. In the Bhagavad Gita the same is said in effect. (Ed.)

4. This sect certainly preaches the doctrine of non-separateness. (Ed.)

— Kyo-Ryo-Va-Sha, The Path, December 1890

Buddha and a Deva 1

Thus I have heard. On a certain day the Blessed one (Buddha) dwelt at Srasvati, at the Jeta grove, in the garden of Anatapindaka. When the night was far advanced, a radiant celestial one (Deva), whose countenance was exceedingly sublime and whose refulgent splendor illuminated the whole of the grove, approached the Bhagavat (Buddha) and worshipped him, standing aside. He then addressed the Bhagavat in verse — What is the sharpest sword? What the deadliest poison? What the fiercest fire? What the grossest darkness?

Bhagavat replied in verse — A harsh word is the sharpest word; covetousness, the deadliest poison; anger, the fiercest fire; ignorance, the grossest darkness.

The Deva asked: Who does gain the greatest benefit? Who does lose the most? What is the most invulnerable armor? What the best weapon?

Bhagavat replied: He is the greatest gainer who gives to other, and he loses the most who receives from other. Patience is the most invulnerable armor; wisdom the best weapon.

Deva: Who is a thief? What is the most precious treasure for the wise? Who is a robber (not only on the earth, but also in the heaven)?

Bhagavat: Evil thought is a stealer; virtue, the most precious treasure for the wise. Immorality is a robber, not only on the earth but also in the heaven.

Deva: Who enjoys the greatest happiness? Who is the richest? Who is the noblest? Who the most ignoble?

Bhagavat: He whose desires are moderate is most happy; he is richest who is contented; the virtuous is noblest; the vicious is basest.

Deva: What is that which is attractive? What is that which is disgusting? What is the most horrible pain? What is the greatest enjoyment?

Bhagavad: Good is attractive; evil, disgusting. Of all the pains, the hell is the most tormenting; the deliverance from rebirth is the height of bliss.

Deva: What wish is right and proper? What wish is wrong and improper? What is the most violent fever? Who the best physician?

Bhagavat: Emancipation from transmigratory existence is right and proper to wish for; but not all the evil desires. Concupiscence is the most violent fever; Buddha, the best physician.

Deva: What power is able to ruin all the world? By what influence is all the world confused? What makes us forsake our friends? What does prevent our being born in the heaven?

Bhagavat: It is by ignorance that all the world is ruined, and by sceptics that it is confused. A cruel, covetous heart causes us to forsake our friends. Our attachment to agreeable objects renders it impossible for us to be born in the heaven.

Deva: What is it that neither fire can burn, nor water corrode, nor wind crush down, but that is able to make good the whole world? What was secure from the attack of a malefactor who would come to take it away?

Bhagavat: Blessing!

Deva then asked and said: Now I have only one doubt left to be resolved; pray clear it away for me: — Who has been, is, and will be the greatest self-deceiver?

Bhagavat answered and said: Whoever possesses great riches, and yet fails to use them for promoting his blessings, has been, is, and will be the greatest self-deceiver.

The Deva, having heard the words of the Bhagavat, was full of exceeding joy, and worshipped him, throwing himself down at his feet. And he disappeared suddenly from the presence of the Bhagavat.


1. A Sutra, translated from the Chinese by M. Matzuyama. From Tracts of Buddhist Prop. Soc. of Kyoto, Japan.

— The Path, January 1894

Articles from Theosophy Magazine


The Buddhist Doctrine

Doctrine of Subjective Existence

The Buddhist Doctrine

Article collated from Theosophical Works

If we try, as Krishna directs, to find the divine in everything, we will soon learn not to judge by appearances. —WILLIAM Q. JUDGE

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, or the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni, which in its essence is certainly identical with the ancient Wisdom-Religion of the sanctuary, the pre-Vedic Brahmanism. Neither Buddha, Pythagoras, Orpheus, Socrates, nor even Jesus, left behind them any writings. The esoteric teachings of Buddha were the Gupta Vidya (secret knowledge) of the ancient Brahmins, the key to which their modern successors have, with few exceptions, completely lost. And this Vidya has passed into what is now known as the inner teachings of the Mahayana school of Northern Buddhism.

In fact, Buddhism in the present age, cannot be justly judged by one or the other of its exoteric popular forms. Real Buddhism can be appreciated only by blending the philosophy of the Southern Church and the metaphysics of the Northern Schools. If one seems too iconoclastic and stern, and the other too metaphysical and transcendental, even to being overgrown with the weeds of Indian exotericism — many of the gods of its Pantheon having been transplanted under new names to Tibetan soil — it is entirely due to the popular expression of Buddhism in both Churches. The Hindu Reformer limited his public teachings to the purely moral and physiological aspect of the Wisdom-Religion, to Ethics and MAN alone. Things “unseen and incorporeal,” the mystery of Being outside our terrestrial sphere, the great Teacher left entirely untouched in his public lectures, reserving the hidden Truths for a select circle of his Arhats.

Time and imagination made short work of the purity and philosophy of these teachings, once that they were transplanted from the secret and sacred circle of the Arhats, during the course of their work of proselytism, into a soil less prepared for metaphysical conceptions than India; i.e., once they were transferred into China, Japan, Siam, and Burma. How the pristine purity of these grand revelations was dealt with may be seen in studying some of the so-called “esoteric” Buddhist schools of antiquity in their modern garb, not only in China and other Buddhist countries in general, but even in not a few schools in Tibet, left to the care of uninitiated Lamas and Mongolian innovators.

One great distinction between Theosophy and exoteric Buddhism is that the latter, represented by the Southern Church [Theravada], entirely denies (a) the existence of any Deity, and (b) any conscious post-mortem life, or even any self-conscious surviving individuality in man. Such at least is the teaching of the Siamese sect, not considered the purest form of exoteric Buddhism. And it is so, if we refer only to Buddha’s public teachings. The schools of the Northern Buddhist Church, established in those countries to which his initiated Arhats retired after the Master’s death, teach all that is now called Theosophical doctrines, because they form part of the knowledge of the initiates — thus proving how the truth has been sacrificed to the dead-letter by the too-zealous orthodoxy of Southern Buddhism. But how much grander and more noble, more philosophical and scientific, even in its dead-letter, is this teaching than that of any other Church or religion.

“The one Universal Light, which to Man is Darkness, is ever existent,” says the Chaldean “Book of Numbers.” From it proceeds periodically the ENERGY, which is reflected in the “Deep” or Chaos, the storehouse of future worlds, and, once awakened, stirs up and fructifies the latent Forces, which are the ever present eternal potentialities in it. Then awake anew the Brahmas and Buddhas — the co-eternal Forces — and a new Universe springs into being. … The doctrine of God being the Universal Mind diffused through all things, underlies all ancient philosophies. The Buddhist tenets which can never be better comprehended than when studying Pythagorean philosophy — its faithful reflection — are derived from this source as well as the Brahmanical religion and early Christianity. Archaic Occultism would remain incomprehensible to all, if it were rendered otherwise than through the more familiar channels of Buddhism and Hinduism. For the former is the emanation of the latter; and both are the children of one mother — ancient Lemuro-Atlantean Wisdom.

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 intelligent 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.” 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.

In the esoteric, and even exoteric Buddhism of the North, Adi Buddha, the One unknown, without beginning or end, identical with Parabrahm and Ain-Soph, emits a bright ray from its darkness. This is the Logos (the first), or Vajradhara, the Supreme Buddha. As the Lord of all Mysteries he cannot manifest, but sends into the world of manifestation his heart — the “diamond heart,” Vajrasattva. This is the second logos of creation, from whom emanate the seven Dhyani Buddhas, called the Anupadaka, “the parentless.” These Buddhas are the primeval monads from the world of incorporeal being, the Arupa world, wherein the Intelligences (on that plane only) have neither shape nor name, in the exoteric system, but have their distinct seven names in esoteric philosophy. These Dhyani Buddhas emanate, or create from themselves, by virtue of Dhyana, celestial Selves — the superhuman Bodhisattvas. These incarnating at the beginning of every human cycle on earth as mortal men, become occasionally, owing to their personal merit, Bodhisattvas among the Sons of Humanity, after which they may re-appear as Manushi (human) Buddhas. The Anupadaka (or Dhyani Buddhas) are thus identical with the Brahmanical Manasaputra, “mind-born sons” — whether of Brahma or either of the other two Trimurtian Hypostases, hence identical also with the Rishis and Prajapatis.

As the reader is supposed not to be acquainted with the Dhyani-Buddhas, it is as well to say at once that, according to the Orientalists, there are five Dhyanis who are the “celestial” Buddhas, of whom the human Buddhas are the manifestations in the world of form and matter. Esoterically, however, the Dhyani-Buddhas are seven, of whom five only have hitherto manifested, and two are to come in the sixth and seventh Root-races. They are, so to speak, the eternal prototypes of the Buddhas who appear on this earth, each of whom has his particular divine prototype. So, for instance, Amitabha is the Dhyani-Buddha of Gautama Sakyamuni, manifesting through him whenever this great Soul incarnates on earth as He did in Tzon-kha-pa [who was] the first and greatest Reformer who founded the “Yellow-Caps,” Gyalugpas. He was born in the year 1355 A.D. in Amdo, and was the Avatar of Amitabha, the celestial name of Gautama Buddha.

The term Anupadaka, “parentless,” or without progenitors, is a mystical designation having several meanings in the philosophy. By this name celestial beings, the Dhyan-Chohans or Dhyani-Buddhas, are generally meant. But as these correspond mystically to the human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, known as the “Manushi (or human) Buddhas,” the latter are also designated “Anupadaka,” once that their whole personality is merged in their compound sixth and seventh principles — or Atma-Buddhi, and that they have become “diamond-souled” (Vajrasattvas), the full Mahatmas. The mystery in the hierarchy of the Anupadaka is great, its apex being the universal Spirit-Soul, and the lower rung the Manushi-Buddha; and even every Soul-endowed man is an Anupadaka in a latent state.

As the synthesis of the seven Dhyani-Buddhas, Avalokiteswara was the first Buddha (the Logos), so Amitabha is the inner “God” of Gautama, who, in China, is called Amita(-Buddha). They are, as Mr. Rhys Davids correctly states, “the glorious counterparts in the mystic world, free from the debasing conditions of this material life” of every earthly mortal Buddha — the liberated Manushi-Buddhas appointed to govern the Earth in this Round. They are the “Buddhas of Contemplation,” and are all Anupadaka (parentless), i.e., self-born of divine essence. The exoteric teaching which says that every Dhyani-Buddha has the faculty of creating from himself, an equally celestial son — a Dhyani-Bodhisattva — who, after the decease of the Manushi (human) Buddha, has to carry out the work of the latter, rests on the fact that owing to the highest initiation performed by one overshadowed by the “Spirit of Buddha” a candidate becomes virtually a Bodhisattva, created such by the High Initiator.

As to Gautama’s being one of the true and undeniable SAVIOURS of the World, suffice it to say that the most rabid orthodox missionary, unless he is hopelessly insane, or has not the least regard for historical truth, cannot find one smallest accusation against the life and personal character of the “Buddha.” Without any claim to divinity, allowing his followers to fall into atheism rather than into the degrading superstition of deva or idol-worship, his walk in life is from beginning to the end, holy and divine. During the forty-five years of his mission, it is as blameless and pure as that of a god — or as the latter should be. He is a perfect example of a divine, godly man. He reached Buddhaship — i.e., complete enlightenment — entirely by his own merit and owing to his own individual exertions, no god being supposed to have any personal merit in the exercise of goodness and holiness. 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 enforcement 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, human 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.

To become a Buddha one has to reach a complete detachment from all that is evanescent and finite, and live while yet on Earth in the immortal and everlasting alone, in a supreme state of holiness. To become a Buddha one has to break through the bondage of sense and personality; to acquire a complete perception of the REAL SELF and learn not to separate it from all other selves; to learn by experience the utter unreality of all phenomena of the visible Kosmos foremost of all. When the spiritual entity breaks loose for ever from every particle of matter, then only it enters upon the eternal and unchanging Nirvana. He exists in spirit, in nothing; as a form, a shape, a semblance, he is completely annihilated, and thus will die no more, for spirit alone is no Maya, but the only REALITY in an illusionary universe of ever-passing forms. Esoteric teachings claim that Buddha renounced Nirvana and gave up the Dharmakaya vesture to remain a “Buddha of Compassion” within the reach of the miseries of this world. And the religious philosophy he left to it has produced for over 2,000 years generations of good and unselfish men.

Every Orientalist and Pundit knows by heart the story of Gautama, the Buddha, 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 Lalitavistara tells the tale, but abstains from hinting at the truth. The 5,000 Jatakas, 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. Yet the detailed account of these, and the statement that during them he worked his way up through every stage of transmigration from the lowest animate and inanimate atom and insect, up to the highest — or man, — contains simply the well-known occult aphorism, “a stone becomes a plant, a plant an animal, and an animal a man.” Every human being who has ever existed has passed through the same evolution. But the hidden symbolism in the sequence of these rebirths (jatakas) 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 their nomenclature, viz., that as soon as Gautama had reached the human form he began exhibiting in every personality the utmost unselfishness, self-sacrifice and charity. The name “Gautama” means — “on earth (gau) the most victorious (tama).”

The ethics of Theosophy are identical with those taught by Buddha, being the soul of the Wisdom-Religion, and 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 the exoteric 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. Christianity becomes every day more a religion of pure emotionalism; the root philosophy of both Adwaita and Buddhist scholars is identical, and both have the same respect for animal life, for both believe that every creature on earth, however small and humble, “is an immortal portion of the immortal matter” — for matter with them has quite another significance than it has with either Christian or materialist — and that every creature is subject to Karma.

— THEOSOPHY, October, 1965 & September, 1986

Doctrine of Subjective Existence

“… 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.

— THEOSOPHY, February, 1955

Articles from Sunrise Magazine


Buddhism: The Path of Compassion

Tsong-kha-pa: Wisdom for Today

The Heart Sutra: Prajnaparamita-Hridaya-Sutra

Hui-neng — Patriarch of Zen Buddhism

Buddhism: The Path of Compassion

Buddhism is known as a religion of enlightenment and emancipation or freedom. Buddha is a generic name given to one who has realized enlightenment or bodhi, and is derived from the root budh, “to awaken, to perceive, to understand.” In Chinese its form is usually Fo, or Chiao-che, the Awakened One, or Chih-che, the Learned One. In Japanese it is Butsu, Butsuda, or Hotoku. In Tibetan it is rendered as Sans-Rggas (pronounced Sangyas), the One who woke up.
Gautama the Buddha never claimed to have founded the Dharma (truth or doctrine), but only to have reestablished knowledge of it as the old path followed by “ancient Buddhas” who had preceded him, and it will be restated again and again by those who follow him. His life work was an act of compassion, and his teaching of the Middle Way or road to enlightenment between extremes was offered to all mankind.
Among the different ways to consider Buddha, let us first view him historically as a man. Prince Siddhartha was born about 2,500 years ago in Kapilavastu, the son of Suddhodana, a maharaja who ruled over a kingdom in Northern India. It was predicted that the prince could become either a world conqueror or a sage of great renown. As his ancestors had all belonged to the warrior caste, Suddhodana expected that his son would follow this tradition, but it had also been foretold that, should the prince behold the sorrows of old age, disease, and death, he would seek the forest to follow the holy life. To circumvent this the king vowed that his son should never behold these three sights.
As a youth Siddhartha excelled in all fields of endeavor. He married and had a son, and though all that surrounded him was perfection, there were moments when he seemed withdrawn, occupied with thoughts far from the luxurious conditions about him. This was of growing concern to his wife, Yasodhara, and to his father. They decided that other palaces should be built allowing greater range for the interests of Gautama, as the young prince later was called.
One day Siddhartha asked his father if he might visit the new palace not yet completed. Though every precaution had been taken by the maharaja and his men, a man of extreme old age met the procession on the road, as though by divine intervention. The prince was shocked and did not continue his outing. Subsequently, he was confronted by a man riddled with disease; and on another occasion by death. Siddhartha became most agitated that people and all living beings should have to endure such suffering. After prolonged thought he determined to leave the palace and set forth to discover a means whereby mankind might overcome the trials of old age, disease, and death.
He left the palace at night and journeyed to the forest where he met the great Brahman teachers, Alara and Uddaka. He became their student and with incredible swiftness comprehended the Vedas and Upanishads. Eventually when the other disciples asked him to become their teacher he realized that, though he had reached the acme of available learning about man and cosmos, he had not discovered the answer to his search for release from samsara — the chain of births and deaths. He left his Brahman teachers and became an ascetic, mortifying his body in the hope that if he lessened its hold upon his spirit he might attain his goal.
After six long years, near death from fasting and meditating, he concluded that he would not find his answer in this manner and accepted rice and milk from a kind woman. Slowly his strength returned and, upon beholding a holy fig-tree he seated himself beneath it to resume his inward search. Through the night he pursued his flight in consciousness to ever greater spiritual heights until he attained final enlightenment, when he might leave earthly existence forever if he wished.
He saw all his past existences and realized this moment as the consummation of them — each one following the other by karma. He viewed the birth and death of all creatures in all worlds and understood the recurring cycle of existence and the causes of old age, disease, and death. Freed from the confines of illusion, in his enlightenment he beheld the world as it truly is. He had reached the unfathomable source of Truth. Having become Buddha, and while still not accepting nirvana, Siddhartha mused that if he were to return to the world and its ways, where people seek only that which gratifies their desires, no one would listen to the Law. “Surely I am lost,” he reflected, “I and all my fellow creatures.” But Divine Thought entered his mind: “O Perfect One! Let thy Great Law be uttered!” Casting his vision forth he saw that there would be a few who would hear and understand and he said, “Yea! I preach! Whoso will listen let him learn the Law.”
Buddha spoke the first words of the Teaching of the Law (Dharma) in the Deer Park of Isipatana near Benares where he set forth the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. These Noble Truths, briefly, are:

1. existence is full of misery;
2. the cause of this misery is desire;
3. this desire can be destroyed;
4. the means of destroying this desire is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path comprises:

1. right belief or insight;
2. right thought or aspiration;
3. right speech;
4. right action;
5. right means of livelihood;
6. right exertion;
7. right remembrance;
8. right meditation or concentration.

The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are the centerpiece of the Buddha’s presentation of the Dharma, a presentation that is concerned mainly with ethics, with living, with ideas that can be applied to end the suffering people experience in the world. The term dharma is used in many ways and with different meanings. It may be translated as law, justice, doctrine, nature, truth, morality, and good conduct — the foundation and spiritual support of all things.
Buddha Sakyamuni (sage of the Sakya clan) traveled from place to place teaching and establishing the Samgha or Monastic Order. He sent forth the monks to impart as much of the Dharma as they had found to be true. His ministry lasted 45 years, but it would be four centuries before his teachings were written down. It is said that shortly after his death the monks held a council to determine which teachings attributed to Sakyamuni were truly his utterances, and to try to remember his exact words as closely as possible. Around a hundred years later another council was held in case any further information should have come to light; only a few changes were made at that time.
The Buddha’s life is in itself an example of the compassionate path, of love for all beings, of sacrifice. Theologically speaking, Buddha as a historical figure excites little interest. The concern is not so much who Buddha was, as what is meant by the term buddha. The early texts mention seven Buddhas of whom Buddha Sakyamuni was the seventh. Later texts allude to many more Buddhas in this and other worlds, not only of the past but yet to come. The concept of the Buddha began to shift from the historic Gautama to the cosmic principle which finds expression in all Buddhas. The Encyclopaedia of Buddhism sums it up neatly thus:

The historical Buddha is a provisional (avatara), phenomenal (rupakaya) Buddha while the basic Buddha is the Buddha of Truth and Essence, i. e., the Dharma. . . . It is indeed through the realization of this Dharma that the Buddhas of the past, present and future attain Enlightenment. Consequently, the Dharma is the original Buddha and the Buddha is the Dharma personified. In other words, the Dharma is revealed through the personal form of a human Buddha.

We can express the thought differently. The unselfish man, motivated by compassion to help all creatures along the evolutionary way, on reaching enlightenment calls forth an equally compassionate response from the cosmic buddhic principle. Then the man becomes its embodiment and for the time he is a god on earth, a buddha.
There are those who become Buddha and return no more to this world. There are others who reach the state of nirvana and by renouncing it become Bodhisattvas and work for the salvation of all lives. Again, there are those chosen few Buddhas, as was the case with Gautama, who appear at certain cycles among mankind as the embodiment of an aspect of the cosmic principle, Adi-Buddha or Buddha-Essence, and guide the destiny of humanity for long periods of time. On the death of Gautama Buddha, his physical body was cast aside, but Buddha Sakyamuni remained in the inner worlds as a nirmanakaya — i.e., a complete man in possession of all his faculties though not embodied. In this form he continues his compassionate mission to watch over and protect mankind, until he is replaced by the one who is destined to follow him. From this idea arises the concept of some Buddhist schools that Buddha’s sayings and teachings continued to be given forth after his death.
During the centuries that followed Gautama’s death the Buddhist monks divided into two principal schools — the Southern or Theravada and related schools, and the Northern or Mahayana with its various divisions. The Theravada or Hinayana Buddhists accept as canon only the teachings approved in the early centuries after Buddha’s death. They hold that one should accept nirvana and no longer be subject to samsara, or the round of births and deaths. Moreover, it was not stated that all could become Buddha. Thus a line came to be drawn between arhatship and buddhahood, and to become an arhat, a worthy one, emerged as the ultimate goal — a relative nirvana.
Mahayana Buddhists on the other hand have been flexible as to their canon, and their teaching has variously been reexpressed as it became a part of the culture of the countries accepting it. Some philosophical terms have developed diverse shades of meaning in different schools, and sometimes new methods of training have been accented, as in Zen. A second difference lies in the Mahayana idea that, as the essential nature of Buddha is Dharma, and that as Dharma or Buddha-nature is inherent in all beings, it is possible for all sentient life to become Buddha. Therefore the fundamental concept of the Bodhisattva arose, that of compassion and love for all creatures and altruistic sacrifice on their behalf.
Buddhism spread north and south while it virtually disappeared from India. The Theravada traveled to the southern countries of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Indo-China, Java and Sumatra; while the Mahayana teachings moved into China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet more or less in that order.
The Buddhism first presented to the Western world was the Theravada or Southern School. Its rigid interpretation of the canon and striving for individual escape from this world of sorrows caused most European scholars to consider Buddhism as pessimistic, negative, and atheistic. This view was held for years until the Mahayana spread its beliefs in the Occident, and simultaneously appeared books primarily on Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. With this awakening of the Western public to the existence of Mahayana came the concept of compassion, its portrayal of love, service, and personal sacrifice, and its absolute tolerance of other religions.
The path of enlightenment is the heart of every savior’s message, though few religious faiths stress spiritual attainment for all living beings. Where does the path begin? All lives follow it as the natural course of universal evolution. For man, because of his consciousness of self, there comes a particular moment when he realizes that he can self-direct his evolution. The discipline is not out of reach of the least of us. All can learn to love and forgive; indeed, ignorance of this truth is the tragedy of our present age. The sorrows arising from selfishness and greed, which lead to separateness, have become almost overwhelming. But breaking these chains we have forged — narrow and limited phases of ourselves — brings joy and understanding as effects of the awakening Buddha-nature within us. To govern our lives in concert with the growth and becoming of all creatures is the compassionate path lighted by successive Buddhas from dawn till twilight of universal existence.

— Kirby Van Mater, Sunrise magazine, April/May 1986

Tsong-kha-pa: Wisdom for Today

Review Article

Of the many works of the Tibetan master Tsong-kha-pa, few compare in terms of popularity and breadth of influence with his Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo), which has been treasured by practitioners and scholars alike for centuries. What distinguishes it as one of the principal texts of Mahayana Buddhism is its scope and clarity. It expounds the entire path, from the way one should rely on a spiritual teacher, which is the very root, right up to the attainment of Buddhahood, which is the final fruit. The various stages of the path are presented so clearly and systematically that they can be easily understood and are inspiring to put into practice.— H. H. the Dalai Lama

The translation into English of Tsong-kha-pa’s The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Volume 1, trans. by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY, 2000; 434 pages, ISBN 1559391529, cloth, $29.95) is a significant event. Little known outside of Tibet and Mongolia for most of its 600 years, it is now being published for the first time in its entirety in a Western language. Judging by the first volume, it is no wonder that over the centuries this work has captured the minds of Tibetans from every walk of life. Exceptional and accessible, one can jump into it at any point and enjoy it.

Buddhism was imported to Tibet from India, but by the 8th century CE, after nearly a hundred years, it had yet to take hold of the Tibetan mind. The country retained a warlike culture, with an empire stretching across Central Asia, and a widespread and unrestrained taste for developing mystical powers. On the advice of a Buddhist teacher, Emperor Trisong Detsen sent for the great Indian master Padmasambhava, who transformed Tibetan history and civilization by redirecting the people’s thinking toward Buddhist wisdom and compassion (The Dalai Lama’s Secret Temple, Ian Baker and Thomas Laird, p. 49). As time passed, however, people’s interest waned and their thoughts turned once again toward nature spirits and paranormal powers, causing Buddhism to coalesce with the native Bhon religion.

Not until the 14th century did the greatest Buddhist teacher known in Tibet begin his lifework: Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), founder of the now-dominant Gelugpa (Yellow Cap) sect and the originating focus of the Dalai and Panchen Lama traditions. He is said to have received in visionary experiences many personal instructions from Manjusri (Sanskrit for “the holy, beautiful one”), a name commonly associated with Buddha consciousness and also with the spiritual guardians of the various inner and outer dimensions of the earth. This statement implies that Tsong-kha-pa at times embodied power and consciousness of the highest spiritual order. Consequently, he is greatly revered and his teachings inspire the highest regard.

In 1991 the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center committed itself to making his Great Treatise available in its entirety in English, and brought together a group of qualified translators. This first of three volumes (the concluding two to be published next year) covers the nature of the student, the teachings and the teacher, meditation, mindfulness of death, karma, ethical behavior, suffering, and refuge in the three jewels. In his Foreword, Robert A. F. Thurman calls it

the concentrated quintessence of the entirety of the Buddhist path from all the ocean of its literature, concentrated by its integration with the supreme esoteric teachings of the Tantras every single step of the way. . . . without exposing the uninitiated practitioner to the danger of formal tantric performance. The way transcendence is taught, the way compassion and the spirit of enlightenment are taught, and even the way wisdom is taught as the inexorable indivisibility of voidness and relativity — all this makes the power of Tantra accessible in a generous, transformative, and dynamic, but safe and sound, perhaps we could say fail-safe, way. This is the genius of the Great Treatise. — pp. 14-15

The simple yet powerful vision it embodies can be life altering.

Tsong-kha-pa’s presentation relies on tradition; he quotes from many Buddhist sources, which the translators name in full. The sections on the teachings and the teacher may even appear sectarian:

Therefore, for something to be a pure personal instruction, it must bestow certain knowledge of the classic texts. No matter how well you learn it, a personal instruction is only something to be cast aside if it cannot bestow certain knowledge of the meaning of the Buddha’s words and the great commentaries on their intent, or if it teaches a path incompatible with these. — p. 50

Nonetheless, it contains principles applicable within any great religious tradition. Tsong-kha-pa covers teachings from three major Buddhist schools — the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana — always with an emphasis upon the six perfections or paramitas of the Bodhisattva path:

The path of the perfections is like the center post for the path that leads to buddhahood. Hence, it is unsuitable to cast it aside. As this is said many times even in the Vajrayana, the path of the perfections is the path common to both sutra and tantra. . . . if you cast aside the paths shared with the perfection vehicle, you make a great mistake. — p. 49

While no portion of The Great Treatise is more significant than another, the sections on “The Meditation Session,” “Refuting Misconceptions about Meditation,” and “Mindfulness of Death” are likely to be of immediate interest to contemporary readers. The discussion of preparation for meditation, for example, provides an expansive vision:

Do not take as your object of meditation the buddhas of a single direction in the universe or of a single time. Rather, take all the conquerors who reside in all ten directions as well as those who have already visited this world previously, will visit here in the future, and are appearing at present. . . . Imagine all the conquerors abiding in all directions and times as if you are actually perceiving them as objects of your mind. Also, as you bow down, imagine duplicate images of your body emanating from your body in a number equal to the minute particles of the buddhas’ realms. . . .

. . . Buddhas are seated even upon each of the most minute particles and are equal in number to all of those particles. Each buddha is surrounded by bodhisattva disciples. . . .

. . . imagine that immeasurable heads emanate from each of your immeasurable bodies and that immeasurable tongues emanate from each head. Vocal obeisance is expressing with pleasant song the inexhaustible praises of the buddhas’ good qualities. — pp. 95-6

There follows a description of actual meditation, and how to sustain and conclude it, along with various reasons and hints. Meditation, he says,

is the act of sustaining an object of meditation and specific subjective aspects by repeatedly focusing your mind upon a virtuous object of meditation. The purpose of this is as follows. From beginningless time you have been under the control of your mind; your mind has not been under your control. Furthermore, your mind tended to be obscured by the afflictions and so forth. Thus, meditation aims to bring this mind, which gives rise to all faults and flaws, under control and then it aims to make it serviceable. Serviceability means that you can direct your mind as you wish toward a virtuous object of meditation. — p. 99

Even between meditation sessions, the student is advised to

look at teachings that reveal the meaning of your object of meditation, and recollect it again and again. Accumulate, by many means, the collections, which are favorable conditions for producing good qualities. Also, clear away, by many means, the obscurations, which are unfavorable conditions. By applying what you know, strive at whatever vow you have promised to observe, as this is the basis of everything. — p. 101

The way to begin is to

first study with someone what you intend to practice, and come to know it secondhand. Next, use scripture and reasoning to properly reflect on the meaning of what you have studied, coming to know it firsthand. Once you determine the meaning of what you originally intended to practice with this kind of study and reflection and you have no doubts, then familiarize yourself with it repeatedly. We call this repeated familiarization “meditation.” Thus, you need both repeated analytical meditation and nonanalytical stabilizing meditation, because meditation involves both nonanalytical stabilization and the meaning of what you originally intended to practice that was determined through study and reflection and the use of discerning wisdom to analyze this meaning. — pp. 109-10

Perhaps no subject is as important to living as is death. In The Great Treatise the discussion is practical and profound:

in the case of your coarse impermanence, which is your death, the avenue of injury is the very thought, “I will not die.” Everyone has the idea that death will come later, at the end. However, with each passing day people think, “I will not die today; I will not die today,” clinging to this thought until the moment of death. If you are obstructed by such an attitude and do not bring its remedy to mind, you will continue to think that you will remain in this life.

. . .

In brief, the only time to accomplish the aims of beings is now, when you have attained a special life of leisure and opportunity. . . . Even when you have gained the circumstances allowing for practice, the reason that you do not practice the teachings properly is the thought, “I will not die yet.” Therefore, the thought that you will not die is the source of all deterioration, and the remedy for this is mindfulness of death, the source of all that is excellent.

. . .

Even if you could live for the longest period explained . . . it would be wrong to think that you have time. Much of your life has already been wasted. Half of what is left will be spent in sleep, and many of your waking hours will be wasted with other distractions. Further, as youth fades, the time of aging arrives. Your physical and mental strength deteriorate such that even if you want to practice religion, you lack the capacity to do so. Consequently, you have no more than a few chances to practice the teachings. — pp. 145, 147, 152-3

For some, Buddhism’s focus on suffering has been a great deterrent; after all, for many the “pursuit of happiness” is the focus of their lives. Throughout The Great Treatise, however, Tsong-kha-pa asks us to consider what is real and what is not. By real, he means lasting, and clearly nothing lasts — not our possessions, our friends, our positions. In acknowledging this impermanence, we discover that we have put our faith in things that will disappear even when we think they will not. When they do, we suffer. We need to acknowledge that suffering and happiness go hand in hand when we choose to believe the unreal is the real.

Throughout the treatise we are constantly reminded that the bodhisattva path and compassion are our goals. It is not what is said, nor how it is said that is so moving, but rather that one feels as though he or she were sitting before a great teacher, where lessons and benefits become as countless as the minute particles of the buddhas’ realms.

— Alan E. Donant, Sunrise magazine, October/November 2001

The Heart Sutra: Prajnaparamita-Hridaya-Sutra

Book Review

At the heart of each of us, whatever our imperfections, there exists a silent pulse of perfect rhythm, a complex of wave forms and resonances, which is absolutely individual and unique, and yet which connects us to everything in the universe. The act of getting in touch with this pulse can transform our personal experience and in some way alter the world around us. — George Leonard, The Silent Pulse, p. xii

More and more we see examples of the convergence of science and mysticism, Western thought meeting Eastern thought. Mu Soeng Sunim’s Heart Sutra provides a very detailed, yet simple to follow, explanation of one of the pillars of Buddhism: the Heart Sutra. (Heart Sutra: Ancient Buddhist Wisdom in the Light of Quantum Reality, Primary Point Press, Cumberland, Rhode Island, 1991; ISBN 0-942795-04-0, 70 pages, paper $10.95.) This ancient scripture from the Mahayana school gives an insight into the nature of ultimate reality through intuitive wisdom. Quantum physics, presented in the book as the paradigm denoting the Western way of thought, shares some interesting parallels. The author makes it clear that although he views the insights of Mahayana Buddhism in the light of quantum physics, the two are not necessarily complementary or interchangeable. They are two entirely different orders of reality, each with its own unique underlying processes which happen to converge. Yet it is interesting to note that although they come from different orders of reality, they support one another in the large picture. After this coming together, they separate again and their underlying processes take their own paths. The author attempts to describe this convergence in a creative light, writing from the point of view of a Zen practitioner, striving to create a radical new understanding of the Heart Sutra and the core teaching of Mahayana Buddhism along with its parallels to a new model of the universe as set forth by quantum physics.

The Heart Sutra, or Maha-Prajnaparamita-Hridaya-Sutra as written in Sanskrit, means “the Great Heart of Perfect Wisdom” or “the Heart of Great Transcendent Wisdom.” Sunim quotes the Sutra (a sermon of only nine verses, attributed to the Buddha) line for line with a detailed explanation of its meaning. Interjected into these explanations are comparisons, where applicable, to the understanding brought to us by quantum physics. The Heart Sutra is dedicated to the teaching of sunyata, translated as the “void” or “emptiness,” but sunyata is not easily translated into English. The author attempts to describe how the scientist’s notion of the building blocks of matter and all life being solid indestructible particles has evolved to the realization by subatomic physicists that there are no objects, only ever-changing processes, “a continuous dance of energy.” Sunim shows a parallel between this observation and the experience of one in meditation who in his silence comes to see that all that exist in the world are but brief moments of consciousness. He says, “no form exists without being infused by this universal energy; form and energy interpenetrate each other endlessly in an ever-changing dance of the molecules, creating our universe.”

Sunim concludes with the thought that if we can wisely learn from the Mahayana mystics and the findings of quantum theory, we can help the world evolve toward connectedness and our own acceptance of personal responsibility. In the words of a contemporary Zen master, “When you practice sitting meditation, if you enjoy even one moment of your sitting, if you establish serenity and happiness inside yourself, you provide the world with a solid base of peace. If you do not give yourself peace, how can you share it with others?”

By presenting the reader with two different approaches to the understanding of reality, Sunim offers a powerful contemporary explanation of the Heart Sutra and its primary message of sunyata. One cannot help but visualize more clearly the deep connectedness between all forms of consciousness and the impact and influence that each individual has on the whole. In conclusion, the state of sunyata, which has the consequence of a release from suffering, is elegantly expressed in the Heart Sutra mantra: Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha, “Homage to the Awakened Mind which has gone over to the other shore.”

— Andrea Walsh, Sunrise magazine, December 1996/January 1997

Commentary on the Heart Sutra

This scripture has always been held in the greatest veneration in Mahayana countries. In China and Japan there are at least twenty-eight different recensions of this sacred bible of the Buddhist schools. The Prajnaparamita-Sutra is regarded as the holy mother that feeds the bodhisattva with the amrita (nectar) of prajna (transcendental wisdom), and guides him to paramita (the other shore). It is the “utmost great perfection” which gives full enlightenment to the bodhisattva after he has successfully completed the other five paramitas: dana (charity), sila (morality), ksanti (patience, forbearance), virya (energy), and dhyana (concentration).

Linguists who had only an etymological mastery of Sanskrit without even a rudimentary understanding of Buddhist thought have done much harm to the dissemination of esoteric Buddhism in Europe and America. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Samuel Beal published the first English rendition of the Prajnaparamita in his Catena of Buddhist Scriptures. Next appeared the English translation by Max Muller in the Sacred Books of the East series, Vol. XLIX. In the eighteenth century, although there already existed several Japanese renditions based on Chinese texts, Hion Shon translated it into Japanese direct from the Sanskrit. Tibetan Buddhists believe Boom or Bum (Prajnaparamita) to be the most infallible text to arouse them from the illusion of samsara (round of births and deaths). Various French and German translations are also in circulation, based on partial Chinese versions or on fragmentary Sanskrit texts.

Prajnaparamita-Hridayam (hridaya means heart) — the most condensed recension of the Sutra — was rendered into Chinese in the year 400 AD by the famous Indian scholar and Buddhist missionary, the Venerable Kumarajiva, and even today is used as a protective spell or charm by all Buddhists of Tibet, China, and Japan, monks and laymen alike. It was translated into English by D. T. Suzuki of Japan in 1934, by Edward Conze of England in 1958, and in America by Dwight Goddard in 1969. My verbatim translation, which follows, is made directly from the original Sanskrit.

The complete text of the Large Sutra of Prajnaparamita was ruthlessly destroyed by Muslim incendiaries in the conflagration of the Buddhist University of Nalanda. Millions of Buddhist and Hindu manuscripts were burnt in this great fire along with the monks and artifacts. Because the original Prajnaparamita is reputed to have consisted of a hundred thousand stanzas it was called Satasahasrika Prajna-paramita. It is primarily intended for memorizing, and is believed to protect the aspirant who knows it by heart.

The Heart Sutra: Prajnaparamita-Hridaya-Sutra

English rendition by Dr. Harischandra Kaviratna.

Om namo bhagavatyai arya-prajnaparamitayai!

Om! Salutation to the blessed and noble one! (who has reached the other shore of the most excellent transcendental wisdom).

(In this invocation the perfection of transcendental wisdom is personified as the compassionate mother of bodhi — wisdom — who bestows enlightenment upon the bodhisattvas who had vigilantly followed the course prescribed for the aspirant to full enlightenment — samyak sambodhi.)

Verse 1

arya-avalokitesvaro bodhisattvo gambhiram prajnaparamitacaryam caramano vyavalokayati sma: panca-skandhas tams ca svabhavasunyan pasyati sma.

The noble bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara, being engaged in practicing the deep transcendental wisdom-discipline, looked down from above upon the five skandhas (aggregates), and saw that in their svabhava (self-being) they are devoid of substance.

Verse 2

iha sariputra rupam sunyata sunyataiva rupam, rupan na prithak sunyata sunyataya na prithag rupam, yad rupam sa sunyata ya sunyata tad rupam; evam eva vedana-samjna-samskara-vijnanam.

Here, O Sariputra, bodily-form is voidness; verily, voidness is bodily-form. Apart from bodily-form there is no voidness; so apart from voidness there is no bodily-form. That which is voidness is bodily-form; that which is bodily-form is voidness. Likewise (the four aggregates) feeling, perception, mental imaging, and consciousness (are devoid of substance).

Verse 3

iha sariputra sarva-dharmah sunyata-laksala, anutpanna aniruddha, amala avimala, anuna aparipurnah.

Here, O Sariputra, all phenomena of existence are characterized by voidness: neither born nor annihilated, neither blemished nor immaculate, neither deficient nor overfilled.

Verse 4

tasmac chariputra sunyatayam na rupam na vedana na samjna na samskarah na vijnanam. na caksuh-srotra-ghrana-jihva-kaya-manamsi. na rupa-sabda-gandha-rasa-sprastavya-dharmah. na caksur-dhatur yavan na manovijnana-dhatuh. na-avidya na-avidya-ksayo yavan na jaramaranam na jara-marana-ksayo. na duhkha-samudaya-nirodha-marga. na jnanam, na praptir na-apraptih.

Therefore, O Sariputra, in voidness there is no bodily-form, no feeling, no mental imaging, no consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind; no sense objects of bodily-form, sound, smell, taste, or touchable states; no visual element, and so forth, until one comes to no mind-cognition element. There is no ignorance, nor extinction of ignorance, until we come to: no aging and death, nor extinction of aging and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no cessation, no path; there is no higher knowledge, no attainment (of nirvana), no nonattainment.

Verse 5

tasmac chariputra apraptitvad bodhisattvasya prajnaparamitam asritya vibaraty acittavaranah. cittavarana-nastitvad atrasto viparyasa-ati-kranto nistha-nirvana-praptah.

Therefore, O Sariputra, by reason of his nonattainment (of nirvana), the bodhisattva, having resorted to prajnaparamita (transcendental wisdom), dwells serenely with perfect mental freedom. By his non-possession of mental impediments (the bodhisattva) without fear, having surpassed all perversions, attains the unattainable (bliss of) nirvana.

Verse 6

tryadhva-vyavasthitah sarva-buddhah prajnaparamitam asritya-anut-taram samyaksambodhim abhisambuddhah.

All Buddhas, self-appointed to appear in the three periods of time (past, present, and future), having resorted to the incomparable prajnaparamita, have become fully awake to samyak sambodhi (absolute perfect enlightenment).

Verse 7

tasmaj jnatavyam: prajnaparamita maha-mantro mahavidya-mantro ‘nuttara-mantro samasama-mantrah, sarva-duhkha-prasamanah, satyam amithyatvat. prajnaparamitayam ukto mantrah. tadyatha: gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. iti prajnaparamita-hridayam sa-maptam.

Therefore prajnaparamita should be recognized as the great mantra, the mantra of great wisdom, the most sublime mantra, the incomparable mantra and the alleviator of all suffering; it is truth by reason of its being nonfalsehood. This is the mantra proclaimed in prajnaparamita. It is:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!

Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond (to the other shore)! O enlightenment! Be it so! Hail!

This concludes Prajnaparamita-Hridaya-Sutra.

— Harischandra Kaviratna, Sunrise magazine, December 1996/January 1997

Hui-neng — Patriarch of Zen Buddhism

Artists and writers often portray world saviors and heroes with such beauty that we tend to admire these creations rather than the individuals commemorated. This was not the case in China. Their drawings and stories of spiritual arhats tend to reflect their lifetimes-long struggles and conquests of the “villains and thieves” of their lower nature that robbed them of truth and hindered their progress.

But, we wonder, when one attains enlightenment would he not become godlike in appearance? Wouldn’t such illumination change his whole life for the better? “Not much,” a Zen Master once said. “His head is covered with ashes and his face smeared with mud,” implying that while inwardly there is a great transformation, outwardly one’s life may continue unchanged. This idea is borne out in the story of Hui-neng (638-713 AD), considered to be the father of Zen tradition, who perpetuated Gautama Buddha’s teachings while giving them a characteristically Chinese quality. His story, like that of many spiritual figures of the distant past, is a legend in the sense that the incidents related are largely suggestive and symbolic. At times it reflects conflicts between the two main divisions of Ch’an Buddhism, the Sudden Enlightenment and the Gradualist schools, which did not begin until years after his death and continued for several centuries between their respective followers. Behind these elements, however, we can still discern the life of an enlightened soul and the ideas of the tradition he represents.

Hui-neng Cutting Bamboo, by Liang K’ai

Hui-neng was but a lad when his father died and, forced to forego an education, he provided for his mother and himself by gathering firewood and selling it in the markets of Canton. It was at one of these markets that he heard a verse from the Diamond Sutra — “Let your mind flow freely without dwelling on anything” — that illumined his mind and set his soul afire. Asking where he could learn more, he was referred to the Tung-tsan Monastery, five hundred miles to the north. By unexpected good fortune he was soon able to provide for his mother, and so set out for the monastery. When he arrived, the Fifth Patriarch, Hung-jen, came to greet him and inquired: “How can you, an uneducated commoner from the South, possibly hope to attain buddhahood?”

Hui-neng answered him, “Although people are distinguished as Northerners and Southerners, there is neither north nor south in buddha-nature. In physical appearance, barbarians and monks may look different, but what difference is there in their buddha-nature?” By way of response, the Patriarch sent him off to the granary, where he was put to work hulling rice and splitting wood. He labored there for many months, until he heard something that disturbed him. The scholar and head monk Shen-hsiu had written a verse on a corridor wall in response to a request by the aged Patriarch:

Our body is the Bodhi Tree,
And our mind is a bright mirror.
At all times diligently wipe them,
So that they will be free from dust.

What disturbed Hui-neng was the statement that our minds collect dust and need to be continually wiped clean; to him our mind, being part of our spiritual nature, is always pure and above delusion. Putting this thought into verse, he asked a visitor to write on the wall:

The Tree of Perfect Wisdom is originally no tree.
Nor has the bright mirror any frame.
Buddha-nature is forever clear and pure.
Where is there any dust?

When the Patriarch read this, he realized that the illiterate lay-brother Hui-neng had “entered the door of enlightenment” and was worthy of succeeding him.

Readers familiar with the verse in H. P. Blavatsky’s Voice of the Silence — “For mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of Soul-Wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions” (p. 26) — may wonder whether the verse of Shen-hsiu or of Hui-neng was closer to the truth. Both are! At our present stage of development our minds do gather the “dust” of vagrant thoughts and feelings and need “the gentle breezes of soul wisdom” to clear away illusions. But on a higher level where mind and spirit blend, duality disappears, forms and attachments dissolve before the oneness that transcends illusions. As William Q. Judge wrote: “The Higher Self needs no concentration because it is always pure, free, unconditioned” (Echoes of the Orient 3:316). To reach this higher state The Voice of the Silence suggests:

Thy Soul-gaze centre on the One Pure Light, the Light that is free from affection, . . .

The more thou dost become at one with it, thy being melted in its BEING, the more thy Soul unites with that which IS, the more thou wilt become Compassion Absolute. — pp. 58, 70

Achieving enlightenment is one of the principal aims of Zen Buddhism: the word buddha, from the root budh, means “to awaken, to enlighten.” According to tradition, when the Patriarch came upon Hui-neng’s verse, he erased it. But late that night he summoned Hui-neng and, while others slept, imparted to him the sacred Law (Dharma). Coming to the line in the Diamond Sutra, “One should use one’s mind in such a way that it will be free from any attachment,” Hui-neng exclaimed with delight: “Who could have conceived that mind-essence is intrinsically free from becoming and annihilating! That mind-essence is intrinsically self-sufficient, and free from change! Who could have conceived that all things are manifestations of mind-essence!”

Certain now of the youth, the Patriarch gave him, as he himself had so long ago been given, the robe which symbolized successorship, and declared: “Hui-neng, you are now the Sixth Patriarch. Guard well these teachings and deliver them to as many as possible.” Then he explained how, since the Indian monk Bodhidharma had brought it to China, this sacred Law has been transmitted heart-mind to heart-mind from one patriarch to another. This is reminiscent of the way Buddha Sakyamuni had passed it to his disciple Kasyapa when, instead of speaking to an assembled multitude, he had held up a flower. While the audience awaited teachings, Kasyapa alone had grasped the essence of the Law.

As the night grew on, the Patriarch became increasingly concerned for the safety of his young successor. Finally he got up and escorted Hui-neng to the river where, as they got into a boat together, he picked up the oars. When Hui-neng offered to row, his teacher replied, “No, it is only right for me to get you across the river” — an allusion to Buddhist teachers helping their disciples reach the “other shore” of spirituality. But the young patriarch insisted: “I have had the honor to inherit the Dharma from you; since I am now enlightened, it is only right for me to cross the sea of birth and death by my own effort to realize my own essence of mind.” Whereupon Hung-jen gave him the oars, and they reached the far shore safely. There they bade each other farewell, the Patriarch confident that his teachings would now be preserved.

Many tales are told of Hui-neng’s later life. In one, as he made his way southward, he heard footsteps approaching. Throwing down his Dharma-robe, he turned to face his pursuer only to discover that it was a hot-tempered monk, Hui-ming, who demanded not the robe, but to be taught the Dharma. Hui-neng began by telling him to concentrate, to keep his mind perfectly empty and receptive. After a while he asked Hui-ming, “When you are thinking of neither good nor evil, return to what you were before your father and mother were born.” Instantly, the monk’s mind opened, enlightened.

This story illustrates the basic Buddhist concept that our higher or buddha-mind is always present: we need but drop off the blinders of sense and mind-born illusions to see it. Or as Hui-neng often said: “Buddha-mind is here! Awake and behold it!” However, before Hui-ming departed he confessed that he still wanted to know Buddha’s esoteric teachings. “These,” Hui-neng declared, “I cannot give you. Each must discover them in himself.” This thought, echoing Buddha’s final commandment, “Be lamps unto yourselves!” filled Hui-ming with light. Bowing in homage, he declared that henceforth he was Hui-neng’s devoted disciple.

Continuing his journey to spread his teachings, Hui-neng eventually arrived in Canton. There he came upon a monastery in which its Master was speaking on the Mahaparinirvana Sutra. Intrigued, he stayed to listen and volunteered his thoughts on the subject. The dharma master was impressed, recognized him as a dharma-successor, and invited him to join them and be initiated in their Order. Hui-neng did this, for he had not yet officially become a Buddhist.

There, and wherever he later traveled, his humility, good humor, and insight inspired those who heard him or read his writings. One of his often repeated themes was that enlightenment is a “turning” inwards, an awakening to one’s buddha-nature, which he insisted requires neither formal meditation nor philosophical discussion, only doing what is kind and helpful for all living creatures. This “buddha-nature” corresponds to the theosophical atma-buddhic consciousness which, when our hearts and minds open to its light, lets us vision things as they are. This is a spiritually transforming experience similar to what Christians and Hindus refer to as being “born again” or becoming “twice born.”

It was the method of obtaining this illumination that distinguished Hui-neng’s teachings from Shen-hsiu’s. While both emphasized teachings of the Mahayana School, Shen-hsiu advocated a process of gradual enlightenment attained by formal meditation, rituals, and the study and practice of scriptures, while Hui-neng, although recognizing the value of discipline and sustained effort, insisted that enlightenment comes spontaneously when we open ourselves to our innate and everlasting buddha-nature.

When asked “What is the best way to attain liberation?” Hui-neng explained that the attainment of samadhi does not depend on the cross-legged position, or on any position, nor does it depend on a teacher or rituals — which are but aids for the deluded. Actually, he declared, there is no such thing as attaining liberation:

From the point of ordinary men, enlightenment and ignorance are two separate things. Wise men who thoroughly realize Mind-essence, know that they are of the same nature. This sameness of nature, that is, this non-duality of nature, is what is called “true nature”; neither decreases nor increases; it is undisturbed in an annoying situation and is calm in samadhi. It is neither eternal, nor not-eternal . . . It is beyond existence and non-existence . . .

He elaborated his ideas with such clarity and wit that they not only have brought enlightenment to many, but have had a far-reaching influence on Chinese culture. For Hui-neng and his followers successfully adapted what was still essentially an Indian system to the Chinese character, giving it a practical emphasis and incorporating elements from Chinese traditions, particularly Taoism. According to Chinese historian Huai-chin Nan, this influence transcends any differences that originally existed between the Northern and Southern schools.

Shortly before his death, Hui-neng called his disciples together and told them he would not be with them much longer, adding

Do your best each of you; go wherever circumstances lead you.
With those who are sympathetic
You may have discussion about Buddhism.
As to those whose point of view differs from ours,
Treat them politely and try to make them happy.
Disputes are alien to our school,
They are incompatible with its spirit.

Greatly saddened at his impending death, one inquired if he had chosen a successor. The Patriarch explained that he expected all of his disciples to succeed him in transmitting the Dharma to others. Later, after saying good-bye to each in turn and reminding them to seek to become one with their own buddha-nature, his soul left his body. In due time his body was embalmed and placed in a stupa, and by Imperial Decree tablets were erected to commemorate his life. The main points mentioned were: the Patriarch inherited the robe when he was 24, was ordained at 39, and died at the age of 76. For 37 years he preached for the benefit of all sentient beings; 43 of his disciples inherited the Dharma, while those who had attained a measure of enlightenment were too many to be numbered. The robe which had been transmitted from the First Patriarch, as well as other sacred objects, were placed in the Po-lam Monastery and carefully preserved. His teachings were published and circulated and are treasured today by both scholars and the uneducated, by rich and poor. Thus is recorded the life of an enlightened soul who was for a time housed in the humblest of abodes.


A Buddhist Bible, Dwight Goddard, editor and publisher, Thetford, VT, 1938.

Manual of Zen Buddhism, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, The Eastern Buddhist Society, Kyoto, 1935.

The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, notes and trans. Philip B. Yampolsky, Columbia University Press, New York, 1967.

Sources of Chinese Tradition, comps. William Theodore de Bary, Wing-tsit Chan, Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, New York, 1960.

The Zen Teachings of Huang Po, trans. John Blofeld, Rider & Company, London, 1958.

— By Eloise Hart, Sunrise magazine, June/July 2001

Articles from Universal Brotherhood Path


For this is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; but how shall we love our brothers if we are content to hold them as heathen and strange, without trying to understand them?

The literatures, sacred and profane, of all countries are illuminated in many places by pictures of noble and lofty characters, of which contemplation alone must elevate and purify the human mind. Carlyle has declared that “we cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain which it is good and pleasant to be near, he is the light which enlightens, and has enlightened, the darkness of the world. And this, not as a kindled lamp only, but as a natural luminary, shining by the gift of Heaven — a flowing light-fountain in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them.” Among the loftiest of such characters, it seems to me that of Gautama Buddha stands forth as being the perfect, the ideal impersonation or manifestation of Divine Compassion. “Scrupulously to avoid all evil actions, reverently to perform all virtuous ones, to purify intentions from all selfish ends — such is the doctrine of all Buddhas.” says one of the sacred books. But of this Buddha it has been said: “Who that has heard of him but yearns with love?”

As nearly as we can determine from varying statements, Buddha was born near the border of Nepaul in Northern India about the sixth century before our era. The history of his birth and early life is wrapped in myth and legend, told with all the rich symbolic imagery natural to Oriental peoples, but so difficult for us to understand or interpret. His mother Alaya, so the story runs, was a Virgin, most beautiful and perfect among women. “When the time came for his birth all Nature lent itself to fitting preparation. The palace where his mother lived swept itself sweet and clean; beautiful birds flocked from all quarters with joyous song’s; gardens burst into sudden bloom and fragrance; flowers of the sacred Lotus floated above the waters of lake and river; magical food, store of which no eating could diminish, appeared upon the tables; fairy music breathed from untouched strings; fountains played with perfumed waters, and an unearthly radiance wrapped the whole palace, while Gods and Goddesses came to adore the new-born child.

The child grew, and grew so beautiful and wise that, when he was presented at the temples, the Images prostrated themselves before him and sang hymns of praise.

Does this all seem but an extravagance of fervid imagination? Many of the same and kindred things are retold in the New Testament, and the books rejected from it, about Jesus, another Avatar. This seems strange! Is there not an inner meaning to all this seeming hyperbole — a meaning which will yield itself only to the unbiased, untiring seeker after Truth and Unity? This Child-Prince grew toward manhood excelling in all manly accomplishments; excelling, in still greater degree, in mental power. Later he was married to a woman, wise, tender-hearted, beautiful, — a very pearl of pearls — in whom he found loving companion, comforter and friend. The king, his father, cherished him as his one great treasure, marking each changing light upon his face, and sought, with all his love and power, to make life pass to Buddha like a blissful dream. But as the years rolled on that great Heart felt too much his unity with all to rest in selfish ease while any suffered, and his consciousness embraced the misery of the world. He saw the poor, the sick, the old, the dead, and found that such was the common lot and end of all. He saw the instability of things, the ceaseless change, the seeming nothingness of life. He saw that all the joyousness and strength of youth, and happy love, earth’s beauty and its brightness, were but like flitting shadows which the sunbeams cast before life’s sun has set.

He saw that none knew anything of Life, none had an answer to his ceaseless “whither,” “whence”‘ and “why.” He saw the very Gods they worshipped were unpitying and dumb. Morning and noon and night he sought. Was there no answer? Was there no light, no rest, no peace, no reality beyond?

The sorrows of the whole world beat upon him: not the mighty woes of humanity alone, but of the lower kingdoms, too, where beast and bird and tiny insect preyed upon its weaker fellow. He must find answer for himself and them. At length he determined to leave his kingdom and his people, leave wife and father, and bodily ease and luxury and in far solitudes and silent meditation, where were no things of sense to lead his mind astray, seek for some light, some method of deliverance for the world. He said: —

“This will I do because the woeful cry
Of life and all flesh living cometh up
Into my ears, and all my soul is full
Of pity for the sickness of the world;
Which I will heal, if healing may be found
By uttermost renouncing and strong strife.”

So he left off his princely robes and jewels and journeyed in his beggar garb away into the forests, where during long years he suffered his temptation and hunger in the wilderness, fought his great battle and won the victory! The books tell how from all quarters of the world, during these years, demons conspired against him, putting on every form and aspect that might allure him or dismay. Finally all joined together in one terrible assault upon this serenely steadfast soul. All was in vain. Buddha had conquered. Enlightenment had come. Then all the dread weapons the opposing hosts had hurled against him turned into wreaths of flowers that hung about his head.

“Then he arose, radiant, rejoicing, strong, beneath the tree, and lifting high his voice spake this in hearing of all times and worlds: —

” ‘Many a house of Life
Hath held me — seeking ever him who wrought
These prisons of the senses, sorrow-fraught.
Sore was my ceaseless strife.
But now, thou builder of this Tabernacle — Thou!
I know thee! Never shalt thou build again these walls of Pain,
Nor raise the rooftree of deceits, nor lay fresh rafters on the clay;
Broken thy house is, and the ridge-pole split — Delusion fashioned it!
Safe pass I thence — deliverance to obtain.’ “

And now this soul so pitiful, turned from the forests when his quest was ended, and hastened to bring his tidings to the world. He saw that man’s deliverance from the miseries of rebirth, old age, disease and death lay in enlightenment as to its cause, and that through man’s advance the lower kingdoms might be raised. Nor was he satisfied to let such knowledge rest with the intellectual, priestly class alone, while the masses of the people in their ignorance and weakness continued to be broken on the cruel wheel of Life. He wished all men to share his wisdom, so he began to teach them “The Four Noble Truths”: — That sorrow exists; that it grows from and feeds upon desire for things of sense; that sorrow may be destroyed by entering upon the Four Paths, which are Right Faith, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Act (and this is the doctrine of man’s perfectibility). The reaching of freedom and perfection, he taught, were not dependent upon set forms or ceremonies or observances, but upon purification of the mind from all unholy passions and desires; that advance toward perfection was based upon self-conquest, self-devotion, self-renunciation. He showed that it was ignorance which led men to take the empty shows of life for real things; to thirst for them, and cling, and clinging suffer when they passed.

Buddha taught these lessons with such power and sweetness it was little wonder that all who heard of him were drawn toward this radiant center of Love and Light, that they sat at his feet and wept with joy, listened and embraced his doctrines as far as they could understand. For it is said Buddha saw men like flowers in a Lotus tank, some just keeping above the mud, some in the midst of the water and some above the water reaching up toward the sunshine ready to burst into bloom, and knew they were not all alike ready for the highest teachings.

Through its code of ethics Buddhism suffers in comparison with none. And for each of the commandments it lays down it gives its reason and philosophy. ”Thou shalt not kill,” enjoins Christianity; and Buddhism says, “Thou shalt not kill even the smallest creeping thing,” because All Life is One and sacred, and any tiny form in which the One Life manifests is part of a stupendous whole, which rises along its cycles to its destiny after a perfect plan under the perfect Law. In this plan the tiniest, as the greatest, has its place and purpose, hence “do not kill” means do not disturb the relations of the parts, since in their perfect harmony alone can you Know true life. Thus it is with the whole Decalogue, and if it be complained that the Buddhist Church to-day has fallen below such teaching, we may ask, What church to-day does follow in the path the Master showed? No one can rightly claim the Christian Church obeys the precepts of the gentle Nazarene whom it calls “Master.” Creed and dogma have come between the Master and the man, veiling in part, and part distorting, the truths He brought again.

Therefore it is that sickness again has fallen upon the world. Men in this sickness seek they know not what. They neither know their ailment nor where the healing lies. They think they cannot stand upon the wind-swept heights nor breathe in the celestial air where Christ and Buddha stood and breathed. They wander in the caves below waiting for one to lead and help and prop them where they stand, curing their aches and pains, making them pure and beautiful and strong in some mysterious way by supernatural power. This is delusion, too. There is no power can save them from themselves but that which lies in their own unselfish endeavor, but there is healing in their native air upon the mountain top which they must climb.

The central core of Buddhism is Nirvana and the Law — “all that total of a soul which is the things it did, the thoughts it had, the self it wove.”

This is the Law whose mysterious workings in our daily life we find ourselves so often trying to trace. It is Karma, the Law which leads a man to the reaping of what he himself has sown, as Jesus and Paul taught. A law that no man can hope to understand apart from Reincarnation, which doctrine Jesus also taught.

But Nirvana — who of us can grasp the real meaning of Nirvana? The Encyclopedias, the Missionaries, the Orientalists, with a few happy exceptions, declare it means annihilation, nihilism, entire negation. They use many learned arguments to support this view, but to me it seems opposed to common sense, to all influences drawn from Buddha’s life and actions and to all his teachings. The goal of all high endeavor and attainment to be oblivion! A very little insight would, I think, show that with the Buddhist Nirvana stands for a state of consciousness beyond anything we are yet able to conceive. There are no words to express it or describe it, and if such words were, to us they would mean nothing. The idea is too high, too far beyond. The Buddhist only tries to tell what it is not. In Nirvana.” says one, “there is no longer either birth or death, only the essence of Life remains.”

The Books tell that Buddha entered Nirvana before he came back from the forests to teach the world. They also speak of Para-Nirvana — a state beyond Nirvana — still more unspeakable, more inconceivable. Even this is not the end, for in Buddhistic philosophy there is no finality. In Edwin Arnold’s words, Buddha says:

“If ye lay bound upon the wheel of change,
And no way were of breaking from the chain
The heart of Boundless Being is a curse,
The soul of things fell Pain.
Ye are not bound: the Soul of things is sweet.
The Heart of Being is Celestial Rest.
. . . That which was Good
Doth pass to better — best.”

Nirvana is surely this inconceivable Celestial Rest, the Heart of Being from which we pass on to that still more inconceivable better. Buddha continues:

“Ye suffer from yourselves, none else compels.
None other holds you, that ye live and die
And whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss its spokes of Agony,
Its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness.
Behold, I show you Truth.”

If we believe that this is truth, it seems to me there is but one question in the world worth asking and studying over, that is: — How can we break away from this whirling wheel toward that center of Celestial Rest! General directions have been given again and again to different peoples at different times in sacred books, by Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and by our Teachers in these last years, but each man must find his own way himself by realizing his unity with all. Krishna has said: “Some time all men shall come into my path,” and this is the only plan of Salvation which seems broad enough to content the heart of man. This appears to mean by natural process of evolution, but Buddha and other great compassionate Souls on reaching Enlightenment have sought to aid man and to save him from long ages of self-inflicted torture. They have returned from Bliss to be the Helpers of the Race. They have sought in every possible way to show him that the only true path to happiness is the service of humanity, love to all creatures, purity of life, right thought, right speech, right action — and this was the teaching of Buddha.

— V. M. F., Universal Brotherhood Path, July 1900

Articles from Theosophy/Universal Brotherhood Magazines


Buddha’s Renunciation: I

Buddha’s Renunciation: II

Buddha’s Renunciation: III

The Nativity of Buddha

Buddha’s Renunciation: I (Ashvaghosha’s Buddha-Charita)

Translation by Charles Johnston

Being an Original Translation from the Sanskrit of Ashvaghosha’s Buddha-Charita.

It is not quite certain when the poem, from which is taken this story of The Great Renunciation, was written; but we shall go near the truth if we say it dates from about two thousand years ago. So famous was this life of the Redeemer of Asia, and so great was the honor in which its author was held, that, when the Good Law passed beyond the barrier of the Snowy Mountains that hem in India like a wall, this book, carried with them by the Buddha’s followers, was translated into the tongues of northern lands, and versions of it, in both Chinese and Tibetan, are well known at the present day. These versions were made when Buddha’s doctrine first penetrated to the north, and from them, more than from any other book, the ideal of Buddha, as it lives among the disciples beyond the Himalayas, was formed and confirmed.

The manuscripts of this life of Buddha, which have been brought to the west, are copies of a single original, preserved in the library at Khatmandu, the capital of Nepal; and from the same place came our earliest knowledge of Buddha’s teaching, and our earliest copies of Buddhist books. Looking back to our first acquaintance with Buddhism, and calling to mind the numberless books that have been written of recent years concerning Buddha’s doctrine, we cannot refrain from marvelling at the persistence with which a teaching so simple and so full of light has been so grievously misunderstood. The truth seems to be that our linguists are no philosophers, and that our philosophers are no linguists; and so, between them, they have done the doctrine of the Buddha much wrong, painting it either as a pessimism so dreary and full of gloom that we are forced to wonder whether it was worth the prince’s while to leave the pleasures of his palace, even though they had begun to taste bitter-sweet in his mouth, in order to discover so lugubrious an evangel; or giving us instead, as his authentic doctrine, a nihilism so complete that it could never have brought hope or light to the most miserable wretch that breathed, and from which even its expounders turn away repelled. In short, to hear his western prophets, the Buddha’s mission was a ghastly failure, his glad tidings were something darker than our darkest fears, his gospel of hope, a confession of utter hopelessness, his renunciation made in vain.

But it is very certain that to no such doctrine as this would half the world have gladly turned, nor, in all the long years of his ministry, could one, bringing only such a message, have raised hope in a single sorrowing human heart, much less drawn after him those countless followers, the story of whose glad conversion is told in the annals of his faith.

To rid ourselves of these nightmare views of Buddhism, there is nothing like the teachings of Buddha himself, and the study of the books that have inspired his followers for twenty centuries. And in doing this, we shall be well-advised to turn first to this old Life of Buddha, written, as we have said, some two thousand years ago. Of all our western books on Buddhism, none has even rivalled the success of The Light of Asia, and this because the teaching put forth in it does really speak of hope and healing; does really appeal to the heart of man, as, the old traditions tell us, the spoken words of Buddha had appealed, when he first delivered his great Message, two and a half milleniums ago. The life of Buddha, one chapter of which we here translate, offers numberless most interesting points of comparison with The Light of Asia, and it is no disparagement of the modern poet, if we award the palm to the more ancient, as having a deeper grasp of the great Teacher’s thought, a more philosophic insight, and, withal, a richer and more abundant wealth of poetry, finer beauty of imagery, and a purer and robuster style. How easy, for instance, it would have been, for a lesser poet, to have fallen into faults of corruption in that last, splendidly colored scene of Buddha’s revulsion from the pleasures of life, and the supreme temptation of sensuous things. But the best comment on the poem is the poem itself.


So he, the Shaky a sovereign’s son, unenslaved by things of sense, even those that are full of allurement, did not delight in them nor find contentment in his heart, like a lion pierced by a poisoned arrow. And, once on a time, with a following of the sons of the courtiers, most skillful, and of his companions eloquent, led by the desire to see the forest, and seeking pleasure there, he set forthwith the permission of the King. He was mounted on his steed, Kanthaka, decked with a bridle of new gold, with tinkling bells, and adorned with waving yaktails, set in fair gold, as the moon might mount a comet. And led by the charm of the forest, he wandered on to the border of the wood, desiring to behold the beauty of the earth. And he beheld the fruitful earth being ploughed, as the path of the share divided the soil like the waves of the sea; and he saw also how, when the grassy sods were cut and thrown aside by the plough, the numberless lives of minute creatures were scattered and slain. Viewing the earth thus, he greatly grieved, as for the death of his own kin. Watching the men who were ploughing also, and how they were stained and parched by the sun and the wind and the dust, and seeing the draught oxen galled by the burden of the yoke, he, noblest of all, was full of pity. Thereupon, dismounting from his horse’s back, he wandered slowly away, penetrated by grief; thinking on the birth and the passing away of the world. “Pitiful, indeed, is this!” he said, oppressed by sadness. Desiring, therefore, loneliness in his spirit, he sent back his friends that would have followed him, and sat down in a solitary place at the root of a rose-apple tree, heavily laden with luscious leaves; and he rested there on the earth, carpeted with grass and flowers, enameled as with precious stones.

And meditating there on the coming into being, and the passing away again of the world, he sought for a firm pathway for his mind; and when he had reached a firm resting-place for his mind, the desire for things of sense, and all longing towards them, suddenly left him. He reached the first meditation, discernment with clear reason, full of peace, and of nature altogether free from fault. And reaching this, he passed on to the soul-vision born of discernment, which is happy with supreme delight; and he went forward in thought from this to the path of the world, understanding it perfectly.

“Pitiful is it, in truth, that man born thus, to sickness, to waste away, to perish, the life-sap sinking out of him, should despise another, oppressed by old age, full of sickness or stricken with death, blinded by desire; but if I also, being such as they, should despise another, then that were against the nature of my being. Nor may such a thing as this be possible for me, who know the higher law.”

As he thus spoke, beholding the world’s dark shadows, sickness and age and misfortune, in the full activity of his life and youth and force, the joy in them that had filled his heart, faded suddenly away. Nor was he thereby overcome with astonishment, nor did remorse overtake him, nor did he fall into doubt, nor into faintness and oblivion. Nor was his mind inflamed by the allurements of desire, nor did he hate or despise anyone. So this wisdom grew in him, free from every stain and pure, in him mighty-souled.

Then, unbeheld of other men, one drew near to him, in the garment of a wanderer; and that son of the king of the people questioned him, speaking thus:

“Say what man thou art!” thus he commanded him. And he made answer:

“Thou leader of the herd of men, I am a wanderer, oppressed by the fear of birth and death, a pilgrim seeking after liberation; I wander forth seeking to be free, in this world whose very nature it is to fade; and so I seek a blessed resting-place, unfading. No more akin to other men, I am equal-minded, turned back from sin and rage after things of sense. I rest wherever it may chance, at the root of a tree, or in some desert dwelling; or among the mountains, or in the forest. So I move through the world, without lust of possession, without hope or fear, a pilgrim to the highest goal.”

And as the king’s son thus beheld him, speaking these things he ascended again into heaven, for he was indeed a dweller of the celestials, who had taken that form to rouse the prince to memory, seeing that his thought was deeper than his mien. And when he had passed away through the air, like a bird of the air, he, the best of men was astonished, and marveled greatly. Then understanding what should be, he prepared his soul for the battle, knowing well the law. So king over his senses, like the king of the gods, he mounted his steed most excellent.

Turning back his steed, that looked towards his followers, and thinking on the pleasant forest, he found no delight in the city, free from desire for it, as the king of the elephants enters the circle of the yard from the forest-land.

“Happy and blessed is that woman whose husband is even such as thou art, large-eyed one!” thus spoke the king’s daughter, seeing him enter the long pathway to the palace; and he, whose voice was like the sound of the wind, heard this; he found therein great joy. Hearing that word of hers, of “happiness,” he set his mind on the way to supreme liberation. So the prince, whose body was like the pinnacle of a mount of gold, whose arm was in strength like an elephant, whose voice was as the deep voice of the wind, whose eye was keen as a bull, entered the dwelling, the desire of the imperishable law born within him, his face radiant as the moon, and lion-like in valor. Advancing, stately like the king of the forest, he approached the king of the people, who was sitting there, in the midst of the host of his counsellors, as the mind-born son of the Creator might draw near to the king of heaven, naming in the midst of the powers of the breath. And making obeisance to him, with palms joined, he thus addressed him:

“O sovereign of the people, grant me this request! I would set forth a pilgrim, seeking for liberation, for certain is the dissolution of mankind here below.” The king, hearing this speech of his, shivered, as shivers a tree when an elephant strikes it. And clasping those two hands of his, lotus-like, he spoke to him this word, his voice choked with tears:

“Put away from thee, beloved, this mind of thine, for the time is not yet come for thee to enter on the pilgrimage of the law. In the first age of life, when the mind is still unstable, they say it is a grievous fault to enter thus on the path of the law. For the heart of a young man, whose appetites are yet eager for the things of sense, infirm in the keeping of vows, and who cannot remain steadily determined, the mind of him, still without wisdom, wanders from the forest to the things of unwisdom. But mine, O lover of the law, is it now to seek the law instead of thee, giving up all my wealth to thy desire. O thou of certain valor, this law of thine would become great lawlessness, if thou turnest back from thy master. Therefore putting away this determination of thine, be thou devoted yet for a while to the duties of a householder. And after thou hast enjoyed the pleasures of manhood, thou wilt find truer delight in the forest and forgetfulness of the world.”

Hearing this word of the king’s he made answer in a voice modulated and low:

“If thou wilt become my surety in four things, king, then will I not seek the forest and renunciation: that this life of mine shall not turn toward death; that sickness shall never steal upon my health; that old-age shall not cast down the glory of my youth; and that calamity shall not rob me of my prosperity.”

The king of the Shakyas made answer to his son, thus putting upon him such a heavy quest:

“Abandon thou this mind of thine, set upon going forth, and this plan of thine, worthy of ridicule, and full of wilfulness.”

And so he, who was the lord of the world, spoke thus to his lord:

“If thou doest not as I have said, then is my course not to be hindered. For he who would escape from a dwelling that is being consumed by fierce flames, cannot be kept back. And as in the world separation is certain, but not in the Law; then better separation lest death carry me away, powerless to resist, with my mission unfulfilled, my peace unwon.”

The king of the land, hearing this speech of his son, eager to set out on the search for freedom, thinking: “he shall not go!” set a strong guard upon him, and most excellent allurements. And he, escorted by the ministers, as was fitting, with much honor and obeisance as the scripture teaches, thus forbidden by his father to depart, returned to his dwelling, greatly grieved. There he was waited on by fair women, their faces kissed by trembling earrings, their breasts rising and falling in gentle breathing, their eyes furtive, like the eyes of a fawn in the forest. And he, shining like a golden mountain, stirring the hearts of those fair-formed ones with passion, held captive their ears by the sweetness of his voice, their bodies by the gentleness of his touch, their eyes by his beauty, and their very hearts by his many graces. Then when the day was gone, lighting up the palace by his beauty like the sun, he slew the darkness by the shining of his presence, as when the day-star rises on the peak of the holy mountain. When the lamp was lit that sparkled with gold, and was filled with the excellent scent of the black aloe, he rested on his golden couch, very beautiful, whose divisions were splendid with diamonds. And then, in the gloom of evening, those fair women drew round him most fair, with sweet-sounding instruments, as they might draw near to Indra, king of the gods. Or as, on the crest of the Himalaya, on the snowy summit, the singers of the celestials might gather round the wealth -god’s son; yet he found no joy in them, nor any delight at all.

For of him, the blessed one, the desire of renunciation, for the joy of the supreme goal, was the cause that he found no delight in them. Then, through the power of the gods that watch over holiness, suddenly a deep sleep fell upon them, woven of enchantments, and, as it came upon them, they were entranced, and the power of motion left their limbs. And one of them lay there, sleeping, her cheek resting on her tender hand; letting fall her lute, well-loved, and decked with foil of gold, as though in anger; and so it lay, beside her body. And another of them gleamed there, the flute clasped in her hands, the white robe fallen from her breast, as she lay; and her hands were like two lotuses, joined by a straight line of dark-bodied bees, and her breast was like a river, fringed with the white water’s foam. And another of them slept there, her two arms tender, like the new buds of the lotus, with bracelets interlinked of gleaming gold, her arms wound round her tabor, as though it were her wellbeloved. Others decked with adornments of new gold, and robed in robes of the topaz color, lay helpless there, in that enchanted sleep, like the branches of the forest tree, that the elephants have broken. And another lay there, leaning on the lattice, her body resting on her bended arm, and gleamed there, bright with pendant pearls, stooping like the curve of an arch in the palace. So the lotus-face of another, adorned with a necklet of gems, and scented with sandal, was bent forward, and shone like the curve of a lotus-stem in the river, where the birds sport in the water. And others lay, as the enchanted sleep had come upon them, with bosoms pendant, in attitudes of little grace; and they gleamed there, linking each other in the meshes of their arms, the golden circlets heavy upon them. One of them had sunk to sleep, her arms woven round her lute of seven strings; as though it were her well-beloved companion; and she stirred the lute, tremulous in her hands, and her face with its golden earrings gleamed. Another damsel lay there, caressing her drum, that had slipped from the curve of her arm, holding it on her knees, like the head of a lover, wearied with the subtle sweetness of her allurements. Another fair one shone not, even though her eyes were large, and her brows were beautiful: for her eyes were closed like the lotus-blooms, their petals all crushed together, when the sun has set. So another, her hair all falling in loosened tresses, her robe and adornments fallen in disorder, lay there, the jewels of her necklet all dishevelled, prone like a tree uprooted by an elephant. And others, powerless in that trance, no longer kept the bounds of grace, even though they were of well-ordered minds, and endowed with every bodily beauty; for they reclined there, breathing deep and yawning openly, their arms tossed about, as they lay. Others, their gems and garments fallen from them, the folds of their robes all tumbled, without consciousness, with wide eyes staring and unmoved, shone not in beauty, lying there, bereft of will. The veils had fallen from their faces, their bodies were crowded together, their wide-open lips were wet, their garments fallen in disarray. And another, as though wine had overcome her, lay there, her form all changed, and powerless.

And he, the prince, of fascinating beauty, rested there, quite otherwise, full of seemliness and becoming grace, and bore his form like a lake, when the wind not even stirs the lotuses on its waters. And seeing them lying there, their forms all changed, powerless in their young beauty, even though they had every charm of body, and shone in their endowments, the heart of the prince was repelled within him;

“Unholy and unseemly, in this world of men, are the charms of these enchanting women; and a man becomes impassioned of a woman’s beauty, deceived by her fair robes and adornments. If a man should consider the nature of women, thus overcome, and changed by sleep, it is certain that his passion would grow no longer, but he falls into passion, his will overcome by their allurements.”

So to him, thus beholding them, the desire of renunciation came suddenly there, in the night. And he straightway perceived that the door was set wide open by the gods. So he went forth, descending from the roof of the palace, his mind turned in repulsion from those fair women, lying there in sleep; and so, all fear laid aside, he crossed the first courtyard of the house, and went forth; and awaking the keeper of his steed, the swift Chhandaka, he thus addressed him:

“Bring hither quickly my steed, Kanthaka, for the desire has come upon me to go forth to seek immortality. And as this happiness is born in my heart today, and as this mission of mine is fixed irrevocably, so I have now a lord, even in the wilderness, and the goal that I have longed for, is surely before my face. For, as these youthful beauties, putting away all shame and sense of reverence, fell into this trance, before my eyes, and as the doors were opened of their own accord, so it is certain that the hour is come for me to go forth after that which no sickness overtakes.”

Obedient then to his master’s command, even though he saw that this was the matter of the king’s decree, as though moved in mind by the will of another, he set his thoughts to the bringing of the swift-going steed. So he led up that most excellent horse to his master with the golden bridle fitted in its mouth, and its back scarce touched by the light-lying bed — the horse endowed with force and excellence and swift speed, and beautiful with long tail, short ears curved back and breast and sides. And he, strong breasted, mounting it, and soothing it with his lotus-hand, quieted it with his voice as sweet as honey, as though he were getting ready to enter the midst of the army:

“Many are the foes that are turned back in the battle, by the king mounted on thee, and, as I am to seek supreme immortality, so acquit thyself, my steed most excellent! For very easy to find, in truth, are companions, when happiness is sought in things of sense, and when wealth is abundant. But hard to find are companions, for a man who has fallen into misfortune, or who has taken his refuge in the higher law. And they who were my companions in the darkness, in the law, when I take refuge in the law, the truth comes to my heart within me, that they also certainly have their part therein. So understanding this, my search after the law, and knowing that my purpose is set for the weal of the world, do thou, my excellent steed, strive well with thy speed and valor, for thine own welfare, and the world’s welfare too.”

Thus addressing that best of steeds, as though he were instructing a well-loved companion, he, best of men, longing to go forth to the forest, mounted his white horse, as the sun mounts an autumn cloud lighting up the darkness of the way, and full of beauty.

Then the excellent steed neighed not lest the rest might hear him. And the sound of his neighing restrained and all in silence he set forth, with hurrying and uncertain footsteps. And as he went the gnomes, that are the courtiers of the treasure-god, bending their bodies before him, strewed lotuses in the way, their arms decked with golden bracelets, lotus-like; and with their hands held up the hoofs of him, going timidly. And as the king’s son went, the gateways of the city, whose doors were held by heavy bars, such as could not be lightly lifted away, even by elephants, opened before him, noiselessly, of their own accord. So the prince left behind him his father, well-disposed towards him, his child, his beloved people, and his unequalled fortune, firm in mind, and looking not behind him; thus he departed from his father’s city. Then viewing the city, with eyes like full-blown lotus-flowers, he sounded the lion note:

“Until I shall have beheld the further shore of birth and death. I shall return no more to Kapilavastu.”

Hearing this word of his, the gnomes that wait on the wealth -god rejoiced, and the hosts of the gods, glad at heart, wished him well, in the task he had undertaken. And in their bodies of flame others of the dwellers of the celestials, seeing that what he had undertaken was very hard to accomplish, made a brightness on the midnight path, as when the footsteps of the moon break through the openings of the clouds. And the good steed, swift as the swift steeds of the gods, went forward, as though moved of an inward power, covering many a long league, until the red dawn barred the sky with gold.

Theosophy, August 1897

Buddha’s Renunciation: II (Ashvaghosha’s Buddha-Charita)

Translation by Charles Johnston

Being an original translation from the Sanskrit of Ashvaghosha’s Buddha-Charita.



Thereupon, when the sun had risen, the shining eye of the world, that lord of men, came to the place of the hermitage of Bhrigu’s son. And he beheld the deer there resting in quiet trust, and the birds of the air, that had come there to dwell.

And seeing it, his heart grew light, as one who had gained what he sought. He descended from his horse’s back, to put an end to their wandering, and to show respect for their devotion, and his own kinship of spirit with them. And dismounting, he stroked his steed, as who should say that all is well; then he spoke to Chandaka, his attendant, full of kindness and with gentle tenderness in his eyes:

“Good friend, as thou hast followed this sun-swift steed of mine, thou hast shown thy love toward me, and thine own strength and speed. For though my thoughts are wholly full of other things, yet thou hast held me in thy heart. For thy love for thy master is not less than thy power to serve him. For there are those that love not, though they have the power to serve; and there are those, full of love, who yet avail nothing. But one who is full of love, with power to serve as well — such a one as thee, — is hard to find, through all the world. Therefore my heart is gladdened by this most excellent deed of thine; for thy love for me is manifest, even though thou seest that I have turned my face back from all rewards. For many a man will set his face towards one who may reward him, but even one’s own kin will become as strangers to him who has fallen in fortune. A son is held dear, that the family may not fail from the land; a father is served because he is the giver of food; the world is kind to us, through hope of favors; there is no unselfishness without its cause. But why need I speak all this to thee? For a word suffices to say that thou hast done what was dear to my heart. Return, therefore, taking my horse with thee.”

Speaking thus, the strong armed hero, wishing to show him gentle courtesy, taking off his princely ornaments, gave them to sorrow-stricken Chandaka. And holding the shining jewel that was set as a lamp in his diadem he stood there speaking words like these, like Mount Mandara, when the sun rests on its peak.

“Taking this jewel, my Chanda, bear it to the King, saluting him with lowly reverence. Speak to him, that his sorrow may cease, while yet he loses not his trust in me. Say that I have come to this forest of holy hermits, to make an end of old age and death; yet not through any lust of paradise, nor through lack of heart’s love, nor through resentment. Let him not, therefore, deign to grieve over me, who have set forth on such a quest as this. For even had I remained beside him, our union could never have lasted throughout all time. For separation is as fixed as fate, therefore I have set my heart wholly. For a man must be divided again and again, even from his own kinsmen and friends. Therefore let him not deign to grieve for me, set forth to make an end of grief. One may rightly grieve for those whose hearts are set on desires that must bring grief; but this determination of mine is fixed and sure, as of those who went before me in the path. Nor let him that shall inherit from me grieve, that I have entered on the path; for there are those that, at a man’s surcease, shall inherit his riches, but throughout the whole earth those who shall inherit his part in the law are few, or none. And even should my father say that this going-forth of mine is untimely, let him know that no hour is untimely for the law, since life is unstable as water. Therefore even today I must seek the better part, and thus is my firm determination. For who can hold his faith in life, while death stands there, as our enemy. Speak thus, and other words like these, good friend, to my lord the King; and do thy endeavor that even his memory of me may fade. Thou shalt even tell him all of me that is evil, for love ceases from the sense of evil, and when love ceases, there is no more grief.”

And hearing him speak thus, good Chanda, altogether broken down with grief, made answer to him with palms humbly joined, and his speech was heavy with tears:

“My heart sinks within me, lord, at this mind of thine, that brings such sorrow to thy friends, — sinks like an elephant in the morass of some great river. And who would not succumb to sorrow, knowing this fixed purpose of thine, — even if his heart were iron; how, then, if it be full of love?

“And how shall it be with my lord’s tender body, worthy to rest delicately in a palace, — how shall it be with the hard earth of this penitential forest, and the coarse fibres of kusha grass that cover it? And truly when I first heard of thy resolve, and brought thy horse, I did it through some power above my own, and fate indeed compelled me to it. And how could I, knowing thy resolve, of my own free will bring back thy horse, Kapilavastu’s grief?” Deign not, mighty armed one, to leave thy lord the King, devoted to his son, well-loved, and old, — as an unbeliever might desert the holy law. Deign not to leave thy second mother, — she who is worn out with caring for thee; my lord, forget her not, as one who, ingrate, forgets a benefit. And thy fair princess with her infant son, with all her virtues, bringing glory to her house, and heartily vowed to her lord, abandon her not, as some craven heart abandons fortune won.

“And even if thy mind is fixed to leave thy kin, to leave thy kingdom, oh, my lord, desert not me, for my goings are before thy feet. I cannot go back again to the city, for my heart is all on fire; I cannot leave thee in the forest, as Sumitra left the son of Raghu’s race. For what will the King say, if I return to the city without thee? And what shall I say to the dwellers in thy palace, — I who should be a bringer of good tidings? And again thou sayest I should speak ill of thee, in the presence of my lord the King; but what evil can I speak of one who is a very saint for sinlessness? And even if, with heart full of shame, with tongue cleaving to my mouth’s roof, I should bring myself to speak that evil — who would credit it? Only he who would speak of the moon’s beams as fierce, and who would believe that, spoken, — only such a one would speak evil of thee; only such would believe it, spoken. And thou who art ever compassionate, whose heart is ever full of gentle pity, — is it well for thee to desert thy friends? Turn back, then, and have pity on me.”

And when he heard these words of Chandaka’s and saw his utter sorrow, the best of those who speak made answer, self-possessed, and very firm.

“Give up this grieving, Chanda, for thy separation from me; for change is inevitable for those who are possessed of bodies, in their various births. And even if, through natural love, I should not leave my kin to seek for freedom, Death will certainly tear us asunder from each other, helpless to resist. And she who bore me, full of bitter thirst and pain, where am I, in regard to her, my mother, who suffered for me fruitlessly? For as birds come together to a tree to roost, and separate again in the morn, not less certain is it that the coining together of all beings must end in separation. And as clouds, meeting together, drift away again, so I deem the meetings and partings of living men to be also. And as all this world is subject to separation, how then may we say that we possess a union that is but a dream. For as even trees lose the inborn greenness of their leaves, how should there not be separation of those who are already divided from each other. Since this is so, give over grieving, my good friend, and go; or if love altogether overcomes thee, then go, and again return. Say to the people of Kapilavastu, who are full of loyalty to me, that they shall cease from their love of me, and that they shall hearken to my firm determination. ‘Either he will come again quickly, having made an end of age and death, or, failing of his aim, and all hope, he shall go to his destruction.'”

Hearing him speak thus, the best of steeds, Kanthaka, licked the prince’s feet with his tongue, and let hot tears fall. And the prince stroked him with his gentle hand, bearing the swastika mark in the palm, with the circle in its midst; and stroking him, spoke to him as to a friend.

“Shed no more tears, my Kanthaka, for thou art already known for a noble steed; for what thou hast now done will quickly bear its fruit.”

Then firmly taking the keen sword, set with gems, from the hand of Chandaka, and drawing from its scabbard the blade decked with inlaid gold, as who should draw a serpent from his lair, raising it, he cut off his diadem and his long hair, dark as the petal of the blue lotus; he cast it, with its muslin folds undone, to the empty air, as a swan going forth on a lake; and, behold, the celestial dwellers plucked it up, longing to pay it reverence, with great honor. And the hosts of heaven-dwellers worshipped it, ascending thus to the sky, with signal worship.

And putting off that robe of his, bright with all adornments, and the kingly splendor from his head, and seeing his muslin headdress floating away, like a golden swan, that sage desired a forest garment. Thereupon, a hunter of wild beasts in form, one of the heaven-dwellers of perfect purity appeared there, close at hand, wearing a garment of dull red, and the Shakya prince addressed him thus:

“Auspicious is this dull red robe of thine, like the robe of a devotee: but thy injurious bow becomes thee not. Therefore, good friend, if thou settest no special treasure by it, give this garment to me, and take thou mine.”

And the hunter spoke:

“O thou fulfiller of desires, this garment has fulfilled my desires, since giving them confidence through it, I have slain the deer; but if it has any worth for thee, who art like a king of the gods, accept it from me, and give me that white robe of thine.”

With much delight, then, he took the forest garment, and put off his own white linen robe, and the hunter, taking to him his divine form again, ascended to the celestials, bearing the white robe with him.

Thereupon the prince, and the groom also, fell into a great wonder, as he departed thus; and they quickly showed reverence to him who had worn the forest garment. Then dismissing the tear-stained Chanda, he of the mighty heart, whose glory was hid in the dull red robe of the hunter, went forth thither, where the hermitage was, like a mighty mountain, wrapped in the red clouds of evening.

And as his master, spurning his splendid kingdom, went forth to the forest of penances, in a faded robe, Chaudaka tossed his arms in the air, and, weeping bitterly, threw himself on the ground. And looking after him, he again cried out aloud, wrapping his arms about the good steed Kanthaka. And hopelessly lamenting again and again, his body went to the city, but his heart remained behind.

And awhile he was lost in thought, and awhile he cried aloud; and again he stumbled in the pathway, and again he fell. And so going and tormented by the might of his love, he did many strange things as he went his way.

Thus dismissing wet-eyed, weeping Chanda, and entering the forest according to his desire, with his purpose gained, his splendor set aside, he entered the hermitage like the home of perfection. The prince, walking, like the lion, king over the beasts of the forest, entered the dwelling of the deer, himself gentle as a deer. And though he had cast away his splendor, he yet held the eyes of all by the splendor of his beauty.

And those who had come in chariots, with their wives, stopped their steeds in delight and watched him, in form like the king of the gods, their heads bent lowly towards him in reverence. And the men of priestly birth who had gone forth for fuel, coming with the kindling wood, or flowers, or the sacred kusha grass in their hands, even though they had gone through many disciplines, and had learned to rule their thoughts, were overcome with the desire to look at him, and did not go on to their dwellings.

And the peacocks cried out shrilly in their joy, as if they had seen a dark-blue rain cloud coming. And leaving the luscious grass, the deer stood there large-eyed, their heads turned towards him, and those who kept the deer. And seeing the kingly descendant of the children of the sun, flaming there like the sun uprisen, the cows, though they had been milked already, so great was their delight, gave milk again as a holy oblation.

“This is one of the eight Gods of the breath, or haply of the twin physicians of the celestials”; thus resounded the voices of the saints, full of wonderment. For he shone like the form of the king of the gods, like a second refuge of the moving and unmoving world, and lit up the whole forest, as though the sun had come there for his good pleasure.

Thereupon saluted and greeted with all courtesy by those dwellers in the hermitage, he saluted them in return, according to the gentle law, his voice like the voice of a water-bearing cloud in the season of the rains. And accompanied by those pious folk who were full of longing for paradise, he, who longed for freedom only, went onward into the hermitage, to behold their various penances. And he, noble-hearted, beheld there the varied forms of penances of those who were fulfilling penances in that forest of penances. And to one of those men of penances, who was walking beside him, desiring to know how the matter stood, he spoke these words:

“This is the first time that I come to this hermitage, and therefore I know not the rule of the law. Therefore let thy worthiness deign to declare to me what your fixed purpose is, and to what end?”

Thereupon the practiser of penances made answer to that bull of the Shakyas, a very bull in valor; telling him the whole matter step by step, and the way of penances, and the fruit of the way. How some lived on wild food, coming from the river, and leaves and water, and fruit and roots; how this was the life of the saints, and how some of them lived apart, and others ceased from penances. How others live like the birds of the air, on the grain they pick up; and others like the deer, on the green herbs of the earth. And how others, as if turned into ant hills, live on air, with the snakes. How others live on what they wring forth effortfully from the rocks, and others on grain that their own teeth have ground. And some, after cooking for others, eat of the remnants themselves, if any be left. Others, with hair knotted and wet with water, twice offer the sacred fire, with chanted hymns. Some dwell plunged in the water, like fish, till the tortoises scratch their bodies.

And, by such penances as these that fill their time, they seek the heavenly world; and by yet others, the world of mortal men. By a painful way they seek happiness; for pain, they say, is the root of the law.

Hearing this story told, and the word of the man of penances, that son of the King of men was not greatly delighted with them, even though he knew not yet the perfect truth; he spoke, therefore, this thought that had come into his heart:

“Many a penance here is hard enough and painful enough, yet heaven is set as the reward of penance. Yet heaven and all the worlds are doomed to change; of little worth, in sooth, is the toil of all these hermitages. And they who, abandoning fortune and friends and wealth, perform this penitential law for the sake of heaven, they indeed, after all their sacrifices, desire to go to a second penitential forest, and a greater. And he who, led on by desire, seeks for another existence, through penances and torturing of his body, he, indeed, altogether failing to understand the turning circle of birth, grievously follows after grief. All men fear death for ever, yet they effortfully strive for a new life; when that new life is come, death follows certain with it; and sunk there verily, they are slaves to fear. Some enter upon pains for this world’s sake, and some for the sake of heaven undergo much toil. In the search for happiness, this world of men is pitiful, indeed, in its hopes, fails of its end, and falls into helplessness. Not indeed is that effort to be despised, which, giving up the less, follows after the better; wise men should strive strongly for that which, done once, is not to do again.

“But if pain of the body is virtue in the world, then bodily happiness is vice. Yet by virtue they hope to gain this happiness in another world; therefore vice is the fruit of virtue.

“Since the body moves, or ceases to move, through the power of the mind, the right way is to control the mind, for without thought, the body is like a log of wood.

“If holiness is to be gained by purity of food, then the deer also attain to holiness. And the wealthy are therefore wealthy through fortune’s fault, since such are the fruits of wealth.

“And if, in sorrow, attachment to it is a cause of holiness, why should there not be the same attachment to joy? If the rule is that there should be no attachment in happiness, should there not also be unattachment in pain?

“And there are those who go to holy shrines to bathe in the waters and wash away their sins; yet their satisfaction of heart is indeed empty, for water cannot wash away sin.

“That water is holy where the righteous dwell; therefore righteousness is the true place of pilgrimage, and water without doubt is only water.”

Thus he spoke, with wisdom and eloquence, until the Sun went down; and then he entered the wood, whose trees were stained with the smoke of sacrifices, though the penances were now ceased. And the evening oblation was offered on the kindled fire, by the men of piety, after they had anointed themselves.

Theosophy, September 1897

Buddha’s Renunciation: III (Ashvagosha’s Buddha-Charita)

Translated by Charles Johnston


And certain nights he remained there, bright as the lord of night, observing well their penances. Then considering the penances as vain, and leaving them, he set forth from the region of that place of penances. Then the folk of the hermitage set forth after him, their thoughts gone out to the splendor of his beauty; they went forth as the great masters do, following the departing law, when the land is overrun by baser men.

And he beheld them, astir with their hair bound up in top-knots, as is the wont of devotees, and clothed in the bark of trees; and meditating on their penances, he stood there, hard by a great, wide-spreading forest tree. And all the men of the hermitage, coming up, gathered around that most excellent of men, and stood there, near him. And their elder, paying all courtesy and honor, spake thus to him with voice modulated as in the holy chant:

“When thou earnest, this hermitage became as though filled and completed; but if thou goest, it will be empty indeed. Therefore graciously refuse to leave it, lingering like the well-loved life in the body of one who longs to live. For close by is Mount Shailas, of the Himalay, where dwell masters of priestly birth, masters of royal birth, and masters of birth divine; and from their nearness, the penances of our devotees are multiplied. And there are holy refuges around us, that are very stairways to the doors of heaven. And there dwell masters divine and mighty masters, whose spirits are at one with the law, who are full of the spirit. And moreover this northern country is most fit for worship, since the law dwells here in its excellence. For it is not fitting for one who is awakened, to take even one step hence, toward the south.

“But if, in this wood of penance, thou hast beheld any remiss in holy rites, or falling short of the law, or failed from purity, and if therefore thou hast set thy mind to depart, then tell it, that thy dwelling-place may be made according to thy desire. For those who dwell here earnestly desire such a one as thee, for companion in their penances, since thou hast such a wealth of holiness. For to dwell with thee, who art like the king of the gods, will surely bring us a sunrise of godlike wisdom.”

Then he, who was the chiefest in wisdom, thus addressed by the chief of the men of the hermitage, and standing in the midst of the devotees, — he who had promised to make an end of birth and death, spoke thus his hidden thought: Through these kindly affectionate thoughts of righteous men, fulfillers of the Law, and saints, desiring to shew me hospitality, as to one of themselves, a great love and friendship is born in me; I am, as it were, washed clean altogether by these loving words, that find their way to my heart. My passion has faded altogether away, though I have but newly sought the law; and it grieves me that I must leave you, after ye have thus dealt with me, giving me shelter, and shewing me such strong affection; it grieves me, as though I had to leave my kinsmen, and men of my own blood.

“But this law of yours makes for heaven, while my longing desire is for the ceasing of birth and death. And I do not desire to dwell in this wood, for that the law of ceasing is apart from the activities of these penances. Yet it is from no lack of love, nor from any haughtiness towards others, that I go forth hence, from the forest; for ye all are like the mighty masters, standing firm in the law that has come down from the days of old.”

Hearing the prince’s word, very kindly, of firm purpose, very gentle, and luminous, and full of dignity, the men of the hermitage honored him with signal honor. And a certain man among them, who had passed through the rites of second birth, who was smeared with ashes, of great fervor, his locks bound in a topknot, his dress made of the bark of trees, fiery-eyed, keen-nosed, and holding a water-pot in his hand, spoke to him this word:

“Sage, this resolve of thine is noble, in that, being still young, thou hast seen the evil of life. For, judging between heaven and liberation, he whose mind is set on liberation is truly wise. For it is through passion that they seek the way to heaven, through penances, and sacrifices, and religious rites; but fighting passion as the chiefest foe, they who follow peace seek the way to freedom.

“Then if thy mind be set as thou hast said, let my lord go without delay to the refuge among the Vindhya mountains; for there dwells the Saint Aradas, who has gained the intuition of the better way of freedom from desire. From him shalt thou hear the way of truth, and shalt even enter on it, if so be thy will. But as I see, this thought of thine will enter his mind also, stirring it with a great commotion. For beholding thy face, with nose well-formed, as of a well-born steed; with large, long eyes; full red lower lip; teeth keen and white, — this mouth of thine, and thy red tongue will drink up the ocean of the knowable, altogether. And that matchless profundity of thine, and thy brightness, and all thy well-marked gifts, will gain for thee a place as teacher of the world, such as was held by the masters, in the ages that are gone.”

So the King’s son made answer once more to the sages assembled there, and took leave of them, in gentle courtesy. And the men of the hermitage returned again to the forest of penances.

Meanwhile Chhanda, the guardian of the prince’s steed, very despondent that his master had renounced all to dwell in the forest, strove greatly, along the way, to contain his grief, yet his tears fell, and ceased not. And the way that he had gone at the command of the prince, in a single night, with the self-same steed, he now retraced slowly, thinking all the while of his master’s loss, — the self-same way, in eight full days. And yet the horse went swiftly, but there was no fire in him, and his heart was heavy; and for all that he was decked with bright adornments, he was as though shorn of his glory, when his prince was gone.

And turning his face back towards the wood of penances, he neighed pitifully, again and again; and though hunger was heavy on him, he tasted neither grass nor water as of old, along the way, nor found any pleasure in them. So they two made their way towards the city of Kapilavastu, robbed now of that mighty-souled well-wisher of the world; slowly they came towards the city, as though it were empty, like the sky robbed of the lord of day.

And the self-same garden of the palace, even though it shone with lotuses, and was adorned with fair waters and trees laden with flowers, was yet no fairer than the wilderness, for the glory was gone from the grass. And hindered, as it were, by the people of the city wandering in their way, with miserable minds, the fire gone out of them, their eyes all worn with tears, they two slowly entered the town, downcast and covered with dust. And seeing them, worn, and going onward in bodily weariness, because they had left the bull of the Shaky a clan behind, the townspeople shed tears in the path, as when of old the chariot of Rama came back empty. And they spoke thus to Chhanda, full of grief, and shedding many tears:

“Where is the King’s son, who should make great the glory of his race, stolen away by thee?” — thus asking, they followed him.

Thereupon he answered them in their love:

“I abandoned not the son of the lord of men; for weeping I was thrust aside by him, in the unpeopled wood, and his householder’s robe as well.”

Hearing this word of his, the people went away, saying: “Hard, in truth, is this decision; “nor kept they the grief-born drops within their eyes, and blaming within themselves their own greed of wealth. “So,” said they, “let us too enter the forest whither has gone the prince’s might; for we love not life without him, as the soul loves not the body, whose vigor is departed. This fair city without him, is a wilderness; and the wilderness, where he dwells, is a city. The city shines no more for us, now he is gone, as the sky shines not, when the rain-clouds bind it up in storms.”

And the women, gathering round the latticed windows, cried out that the prince had come back again; but when they saw the riderless horse, they clung to the windows, weeping.

And at the time of the sacrifice, the lord of the people prayed beside the altar of the gods, making vows for the recovery of his son, his heart heavy with great grief. And there he performed whatever rites were deemed of efficacy. And there Chhanda, his eyes overflowing with bitter tears, taking the horse, entered the palace, downcast and full of grief, — the palace that was stricken as though its lord had been captured by the foe. And he went towards the King’s apartments, searching for him with eyes full of tears. And the good steed Kanthaka neighed with a heavy neigh, as though telling the news of evil to the people.

Thereupon the birds, that dwelt among the houses, and the swift, strong steeds, that were near, sent forth a cry, echoing to the horse’s cry, woe begone at the departure of the prince. And the people, deceived into too great exultation, hurrying towards the inner dwelling of the lord of the people, thought, from the neighing of the horse, that the prince had come again. And from that exultation, they fainted into grief, their eyes longing to behold the King’s son once more. And the women came forth from the houses that sheltered them, as the lightning flashes forth from an autumn cloud. Their garments drooping, their robes and vestures stained with dust, their faces pale, their eyes heavy with weeping. They were faint and colorless, and without lustre, like the stars, at dawning, when the red day comes.

Their feet were stripped of the anklets of red gold; they wore no bracelets; their earrings were laid aside. Their well-rounded waists were decked with no bright girdles; their breasts were as though robbed of the pearl-chains that had adorned them. Thus they look forth at Chhanda and the steed, at Chhanda, desolate, his eyes all worn with tears; and their faces were pale, and they cried aloud, like kine lowing in the forest, when the leader of the herd is gone. Then full of lamentation, the monarch’s chiefest spouse, majestic Gautami, who had lost her child, as a buffalo loses its calf, clasping her hands together, fell, like a gold-stemmed silk-cotton tree, with shivering leaves.

Yet others, their beauty dimmed, their arms and bodies chilled, robbed of all feeling by their grief, neither cried, nor wept, nor sighed, unconscious, standing like statues. Yet others, heavy-laden at the loss of their lord, sprinkled their breasts, no longer adorned with sandal, with the bright drops that fell from their eyes, as the mountain is sprinkled with opals. Their faces gleamed so with bright tears, that the palace shone with the gleaming of them, like a lake, at a time of the beginning of the rains, when every red lotus flower is bright with water drops. And with their fair-fingered hands, no longer hidden under their adornments, their heads covered in grief, they beat their breasts, with those lotus hands of theirs, as the climbing plants of the forest beat their stems, with branches moving in the wind. And striking thus their breasts with their fair hands, they were like streams when the lotuses that deck them are driven hither and thither by the storm-wind of the forest. And the blows that their hands inflicted on their breasts, their breasts inflicted equally on their soft hands. So their gentle hands and breasts pitilessly wounded each other in their pain.

Then indeed Yashodhara, her eyes red with anger, with bitter sobbing and desolation, her bosom torn with sighs, her tears springing up from unfathomable grief, spoke thus:

“Where is my beloved gone, O Chhanda, leaving me thus in the night time, asleep and powerless to hold him? My heart is as vexed by thy coming back thus with the prince’s steed, as it was when all three went away. This act of thine was ignoble, unloving, unfriendly, O base one; how then canst thou return today with lamentations? Cease from these tears, for thine heart must be glad, nor do thy tears consort well with such an act as thine. For through thy means, — who art his friend, his follower, his good companion and helper, his well wisher — is the prince gone forth to return no more. Rejoice, for thou hast done thy work well! Truly a man’s keen enemy is better than a friend, dull, ignorant and awkward. At thy hands, who hast called thyself a friend, and through thy folly, has our house suffered dire eclipse. And these women here, how greatly are they to be pitied, that their bright adornments are set aside, the sockets of their eyes all red with weeping, as though widowed, and all their glory lost, though their lord stands firm as the earth or the Himalayan mountain. And the palaces in their rows seem to utter lamentation, their dovecotes like arms thrown up, while the doves moan incessantly; losing him, they have lost all that could console them.

“And Kanthaka, did not even he desire my destruction, since he has carried off my jewel, while the people slept, like some thief of gold? Kanthaka, brave steed that could withstand the fierce onslaught of arrows, much more a whip lash, — how could fear of the whip, then, compel him to rob me of my heart and happiness? Now base and ignoble, he fills the palace with his mournful neighings; but while he bore away my beloved, this evil steed was dumb. If he had neighed so that the people were awakened, or the noise of his hoofs, or the sound of his jaws had alarmed them, then this heavy grief had not fallen upon me.”

Hearing the lamentations of the princess, her words choked by tears and sorrow, Chhanda made answer thus, his voice broken with tears, his head bent, his hands clasped in supplication:

“Nay, princess, lay not the blame on Kanthaka, nor put forth thy anger against me! — for we are indeed free from blame, — for that god amongst men departed like a god. For though I knew well the word of the King, I was as though compelled by a higher power, and so brought the swift steed to him quickly, and followed him unwearied on the way. And the good steed too, as he went, struck not the ground even with the edges of his hoofs, as though some bore him up, and fate kept close his jaws, so that he made no sound. And when the prince would leave the city, the gate flew open, of its own accord, and the dark night was lit up, as by the sun; so we can know of a surety that this was fate. And even after the king had set thousands of watchful guards in palace and city, deep sleep fell on them at that very hour, so we may know of a surety that this was fate. And when such a robe as they should wear, who dwell in hermitages, came down for him out of heaven, and the muslin head dress, that he cast away, was carried up instead, so we may know of a surety, that this was fate. Think not then, princess, that we two are guilty, in his departure, for we acted not freely, but as though compelled to follow a god.”

And when the women heard this wondrous tale of how their prince went forth, their grief changed to marveling; but when they thought of him as dwelling in the forest, they broke out into lamentation again. And the queen mother Gautami, her eyes sorrow-filled, grief-torn like an eagle whose young are lost, was stricken with weakness, and cried out, weeping, thus:

“Those locks of his, beautiful, soft, dark, and firm-rooted, that a royal diadem should encircle, are not cast on the ground. Can a hero of mighty arms, of lion stride, his eye like a bull’s, his voice like a drum or a storm-cloud, — can such a one become a forest-dweller? This land, indeed, is unworthy of this high doer of noble deeds, for he has left it; for the people’s worthiness brings forth the King. And how can those soft feet of his, the toes well joined, the ankles hidden, soft as a blue lotus, a circle marked on either sole, how can they tread the stony forest ground? And his body, befitting well a palace, with its costly robes, sandal, and perfumes, how can that fair form withstand, in the forest, the force of frost and heat and rain? He who was gifted in birth, in virtue, and power, and force, and learning, in youth and beauty, — he who gave ever, nor asked again, — how can he now beg alms from others? He who, resting on a bright couch of gold, heard through the night the symphony of sweet music, how will he now rest on the bare earth, with but a cloth to guard him?”

And the women, hearing this sorrowful lamentation, linking their arms together, let their tears flow afresh, as the climbing plants, shaken by the wind, distil honey from their blossoms. Then Yashodhara fell to the earth, like a swan robbed of her mate, and, given over altogether to sorrow, spoke thus, her voice choked with sobs: .

“If he desires now to follow a life of holiness, leaving me his consort, as a widow, what holiness is that, in which his spouse is left behind? Has he not heard of the great kings of old, his own forefathers, Mahasudarsha and others, how they went to the forest, taking their wives, too, that he thus seeks holiness, abandoning me? Can he not see that husband and wife are together consecrated in the sacrifice, that the Vedic rites purify both, that both are to reap the same holy fruit, — that he robs me of my part in his holy work? Surely it must be that this devotee of holiness, thinking that I was set against him in my heart, has fearlessly left me sorrowing, hoping thus to win the heavenly beauties of the gods. Yet what foolish thought is this of mine? For these women here have every beauty’s charm, — yet through them he has gone to the forest, leaving behind his kingdom and my love. I long not so greatly for the joy of heaven, nor is that a hard task even for common men, who are resolved; but this one thing I desire, — that my beloved may not leave me here, or in the other world. But if I am not worthy to look on the face of my lord, shall our child Rahula never rest on his father’s knee? Cruel, indeed, is that hero’s heart for all his gentle beauty; for who with a heart could leave a prattling child, who would win the love even of an enemy? But my heart, too, must be hard as his, hard as stone or iron, that it breaks not now, when my lord has gone to the forest, shorn and orphaned of his royal glory, instead of the happiness that should be his lot.”

So the princess, weak and wailing, wept and thought and wept again; and though of nature queenlike, yet now she forgot her pride and felt no shame. And seeing Yashodhara thus distraught with sorrow, and hearing her wild grief, as she cast herself on the earth, all her attendants wept too, their faces gleaming like rain-beaten lotuses.

Universal Brotherhood, November 1897

The Nativity of Buddha (Buddha Charita)

Translation by Charles Johnston

(From the Buddha Charita of Ashva Ghosha.)


OM! Reverence to Him who Knoweth all things; — He hath provided for us a higher joy than Providence itself, — He who, in driving away our darkness, hath outshone the sun, — He who, allaying our hot passion, hath out-charmed the silver moon, — Him, the Worthy One I praise, who never had his like on earth.

There was a city, the dwelling place of the holy man of old, Kapila; surrounded on all sides by a fair, broad upland, set in hills that girt it round like clouds. The lofty pinnacles of the city soared towards heaven; and its rule was a white mountain of holiness, — that might draw away the clouds from the snowy peaks, misleading them, yet repaying all their hopes by its beauty. And darkness and misery found no refuge there, for the bright shining, and wealth of the city. And smiling Fortune dwelt there gladly, amid such worthy dwellers. And, for that nowhere throughout the whole earth was seen the like of it, for gardens and arches and jeweled spires, the city could vie only with itself, one palace striving with another.

And the women of the city were fair in face as the moon, more lovely than lotuses, so that the sun, even in setting, could not forget them, but hastened towards the west to slake his hot longing for them in the waters of the ocean.

And seeing that even the King of the old-world gods was eclipsed by the gathered splendors of the Shakya nation, the people strove to wash away even the memory of him, with their flags and bright-waving banners. By night, the rays of the moon, that fell on the silver cupolas were like the whiteness of a fullblown lotus; and by day the sunlight gleaming on the golden domes was like the brightness of yellow water-lilies.


And the king of the city was Shuddhodana, of the Solar line, anointed chieftest monarch of the world; and he adorned the city, ruling over it as the sun adorns a full-blown lotus. And the king, though ruler of all, yet listened to counsel; though liberal, he was not lavish; though master, he yet shewed equal justice; though full of graciousness, he was yet mighty in valor. By his arm had been slain the war-elephants of the enemy, in the field of battle; their heads all decked with jewels, scattered now, had bowed down before his might, like worshippers that scatter offerings of flowers.

And he shook the enemy with the fiery might of his valor, as the hot sun shakes off the darkness of eclipse. And he shone forth over the people, lighting them in all their ways.

Under his rule, though holiness and wealth and pleasure each had its own aim, yet the outward face of them was the same; and vying against each other, each shone brighter in their triumphant course. And the king, full of glory, yet drew glory from his noble counsellors; as the moon shines not less brightly for the shining of the stars.


And Maya the queen, like the Mother of the Worlds on earth, was not less in high honor than the high honor of the king; she was radiant as the sun, driving away the darkness by her majesty, — a goddess more glorious than the multitude of the heavenly host. And the people loved her as a mother, while the great folk esteemed her as one beloved.

And she, who was to bring great joy into the world, shone like goddess Fortune in the family of the king. And though a woman’s lot loves best seclusion, yet when that lot fell on her, it shone more brightly; so night is no longer dark when it falls on the brightly shining moon.


“This nether world cannot perceive me, so far above their human sight,” — thus spoke the Law Divine, and laying aside his heavenly form, took upon himself a shape visible to outward eyes. And descending thus from his heavenly dwelling place, lighting up the three worlds, that Being of Wisdom entered the womb of the queen, — as the king of the Serpents enters the cave of joy — taking that form whose symbol is the sacred elephant, 1 white as the snows of Himalay, six-tusked, and full of welldoing. So he entered the womb of King Shuddhodana’s queen, to take away the sorrows of the world.

And the Sovereigns of the Spheres came down from heaven, to worship him, who was the one Lord of all the world; so the moonbeams, that shine on all things, yet shine more brightly on the Holy Mountain. Queen Maya also, perceiving that he had entered her womb, like a flash of heavenly light, blessing all the world, made the misery of the poor to cease by a rain of gifts upon the people.

And as she, goddess-like, surrounded by the courtiers of the palace, best among those that bear children, went once to the garden with the permission of the king, that Being of Wisdom came forth from her womb, as she was resting on the bough of a tree, heavily laden with blossoms.


Thus a blessing came upon the world’s dark age, and thus a son was born to that fair lady, all her vows performed, — a son who should bring joy to the world, nor did she suffer sorrow or sickness. As the morning sun comes forth from the clouds, so he came forth into birth, from his mother’s womb.

And as the sun pours forth its shining rays, that slay the darkness, he filled the world full of golden light.

And the king of the old-world gods, well pleased, received the new-born child, bright as a pillar of gold, and from the heavens upon his head descended twin streams of pure water, with flowers of the scarlet coral-tree.

And held by the chiefest of the heavenly host, he shone back on them, with the magical rays that came forth from his form, and by his brightness excelled the new moon, framed in the glory of the twilight clouds.

And new-born he shone as one who had descended from heaven, not passed through the gates of birth; he who had manifested himself in many an age, already full of understanding, was not dismayed.

And by his brightness, his firmness and his beauty the boy shone, illumining the world, thus descending into birth. And he held the eyes of those that looked on him, as the bright moon does, such was his luminous glory.

For by the brightness of his body he robbed all other lights of their glory, as the sun does; for he was in color like to fair gold, and illumined all the lands of the earth with his shining. And taking seven steps, fearless, bright as the moon, firmly planted, full of valor, and steadfast, shining like the seven stars, he spoke:


“Born am I for Wisdom, and the welfare of the world, and this is my final birth”: thus spoke he, whose going was like the lion, looking forth through the four worlds; thus he spoke, declaring the purpose of what was to come.

And two streams of water, shining like the rays of the moon, flowed down from heaven, soft as falling dew; and they descended on his moon-like head, for the gladdening of his body, who had no equal.

And as he lay there on a couch, whose feet were of lapis-lazuli, whose body was of sparkling gold, whose covering was rich and beautiful, the genii of the earth stood round him as his courtiers, with yellow lotuses in their hands. And at the majesty of him, born thus of queen Maya, the heavenly dwellers, with heads bowed in reverence, came to him bearing a snow-white canopy, bringing blessings for him who was thus born for Wisdom.

And great Serpents who had done honor to the Buddhas of ages gone by, drew near to him through love of the great Law, their eyes full of devotion, and strewed the scarlet coral-flowers upon him. They rejoiced at the birth of him, who came as the Others had come, they dwellers in the pure worlds, Beings of purity.

The gods rejoiced, even though their chiefest was gone, descending into birth for the good of this world sunk in woe; at whose birth the earth trembled, like a ship struck by the wind, the earth adorned by the king of mountains. And from the cloudless sky fell a rain of lotus-buds, sandal-scented. And the winds breathed soft, with loving touch, descending from their dwellings in the sky; and the Sun shone out with exceeding brightness; the fire-lord flamed with rays of beauty, unconstrained.

And in the neighborhood of his dwelling-place a stream of pure water burst forth, and the palace was astonished at it, and it became as a shrine for holy acts. And the spring of water received virtue from the hosts of divine beings who came there, longing for the Law, and seeking to behold it.

And they shewed joyful reverence, bringing branches of scented flowers. And the flowering trees blossomed forth of themselves, showering their scented blooms on every side, full of the murmur of bees, and the scented air was breathed by the assembled serpents. And on all sides the place was gladdened by the tinkling of women’s tabors, and the soft sounds of the lute, and many-voiced instruments giving forth sweet music melodious.


Is it not written in the holy books of old, that what Bhrgu and Augiras could not accomplish, that the sons of these two sages, founders of noble lines attained, — their two sons, Shukra and Vrhaspati. And the son of Sarasvati gave out again the lost Doctrine, which they of old had not beheld, — Vyasa, the sage, accomplishing what Vasishta, with all his knowledge, could not accomplish.

And Valmiki, likewise, made such a song as Chyavana the mighty seer could never make; and what Atri could not attain to, that the. son of Atri afterwards performed. And the honor of second birth, which Kushika did not reach, that his son successfully obtained. And the sons of Ikshvaku were able to set such limits to the ocean as Sagara had tried to set, and failed.

And Janaka reached a fame as teacher in the mystic lore, which had not been reached by any others of the twice-born. And many are the doings recorded, which great heroes were unable to compass, — but which yet were compassed by the heroes’ sons. Hence it is manifest that neither age nor time avail for preeminence in the world; the deeds that kings and sages set their hearts upon, — these things have been done by their sons, which had not been done by those who went before them.

Thus was the king consoled by his trusted counsellors from among the twice-born, and even made glad. And he put away unwished-for fear from his mind, and even rejoiced with great rejoicing. And well pleased with those excellent twice-born men, he gave them gifts and shewed them hospitality, saying: “Let him indeed become king of the earth, as has been declared, and, in old age, let him depart to the forest.”


Thereupon, learning by heavenly signs, and through the power of his magic knowledge, that he was born who should make an end of birth, the mighty sage, Asita, came to the palace of the Shakya king, full of thirst for the Good Law.

Him gleaming with holy radiance, and radiance magical, the king’s own Teacher led within the king’s abode, — himself a knower of truth eminent among truth-knowers, — with reverence and hospitality. And the mighty Sage drew near to the inner chamber of the king, where all was rejoicing at the young prince’s birth; he came full of dignity through his magical power, and the force of his mystic knowledge, and the sense that old age was upon him.

Thereupon the king, shewing the saint all due honor, and setting him upon a seat, and causing water to be brought, to wash his feet, welcomed him, as of old Antideva welcomed Vashishta: “Happy am I, and favored is my race, in that thy greatness has come to visit me; oh august one, order what I am to do, for I am thy disciple; deign thou, then, to shew confidence in me.”

Thus, verily, welcomed by the king, with every honor, as was fit, the saint spoke these deep, wise words, his eyes opened wide with wonder.


“In thee, magnanimous, is this well and seemly, that thy mind is so full of affection towards me, — whose desire is the Law, who practice renunciation, — as to a beloved guest, in accordance with thy goodness, wisdom, and age. It is thus that kingly sages, casting away from them perishable riches according to the Law, and renouncing them altogether, grew rich in mystic power, though poor in outward substance. But hear thou now the cause of my coming, and draw great gladness from it.

“For by me, on the heavenly path, was heard a heavenly voice: that a son had been born to thee, for Wisdom. Hearing the voice, therefore, and having set my mind to it, and understanding it by heavenly signs, I came hither, full of the desire to behold him who shall raise aloft the banner of the Shakyas, as they raise the banner of Indra at the festival.”


And when the king heard this speech of the sage, with swift and joyful step he went and took the boy from the nurse’s arms, and shewed him to the saint, rich in magical power. And the mighty sage with great wonder beheld the prince, his soles marked with the sacred disc; his palms and feet with joining membranes; the circle of hair between his brows; his body vigorous as an elephant.

And beholding him, in the arms of his nurse, like the son of the Fire-lord in the arms of his mother, the tears came, hanging to his eyelashes, and sighing deeply, he was as one who gazes into paradise. And seeing Asita, his eyes suffused with tears, the king trembled, for love of his son. And, his throat choked with tears, he asked, sobbing, bending suppliant before the saint:

“Why, O wise one, beholding him whose form is almost like a god’s, — whose birth was marvelous and full of light, — whose future, thou sayest, is most excellent, — why, beholding him, dost thou weep?

“Is it, sage, that this prince is destined for long life, or is he born for my sorrow? And after taking up water in my hand, shall I not have time to drink it? Is the treasure of my glory also secure, or is the strength of my family certain? Shall I go forth happily to the next world, with the unwinking eye of the gods, while my son is asleep? Or shall my race be without a flower? Are the descendants of my family destined to wither away? Tell me quickly, Master, for I have no peace; for thou knowest the love of kindred toward a son.”


The saint thus replied to the king, thus overcome with faintness at the thought of misfortune:

“Let not thy belief be changed, O King, for what I have declared is fixed and sure. Nor indeed was it on his account or for any change in him, but for my own misfortune, that I grieved.

For my time has come; and he, the teacher who shall put an end to birth, who is hard to find, is but newly born; he who, giving up his kingdom, and unallured by things of sense, shall reach the Truth by fierce striving.

For he shall blaze forth as a sun, to slay the world’s darkness of delusion, — by full knowledge.

From the ocean of sorrow, whose foam is sickness, wide-spread, whose waves are weakness, and whose swift tide is death, shall he save the deluded and afflicted world, on the raft of wisdom.

The thirsty world shall drink his river of the Law, flowing forth most excellent, whose swift waters are wisdom, whose banks are firm righteousness, the birds on whose waves are vows.

He shall declare the way of freedom to those who have lost their way, and wandered from the road, to those who are worn out with sorrow, shewing them the path from this rough highway of necessity, hemmed in by objects of sense.

He shall bring joy to the people in the world, burnt up by the fire of passsion, whose fuel is material life; he shall bring them the glad moisture of the Law, as the great cloud brings rain allaying the burning heat.

He shall break open the prison house whose bars are lust, and whose doors are darkness and delusion, for the freeing of the people; he shall break it open with blows of the good Law, excellent, irresisitble.

He, as king of the Law, shall make a freeing from bondage for the people who are fettered by the bonds of their own delusions; who are wrapped round with sorrow; who have no place of refuge.

Therefore grieve not for this grief of mine; for he is to be grieved for, in this grievous human world, who shall not hear thy son’s strong Law, whether through delusion, or the allurement of desire, or strong fascination. And therefore, lost are my meditations, and failed of their aim; since I shall not hear him. I esteem even dwelling in paradise as a misfortune.”


When the king heard this his heart was glad, and he put away from him despondency; “Thus, indeed, shall my son be,” he thought, his grief assuaged; “on the Noble Path shall he go,” he thought within his heart. Nor indeed was he unfriendly to the Law, yet he saw in this a fear of his son’s loss. Thus the sage Asita, having told the truth to the king, fearing for his son, departed again as he had come, by the pathways of the wind, greatly honored, and reverenced by all.


1. The symbol of Esoteric wisdom.

Universal Brotherhood, January 1898

Articles from the Theosophical Forum


The Language of the Buddhist Scriptures: Pali

Gautama, The Lord Buddha, and His Teachings

The Divine Discontent of Gautama the Buddha

The Tibetan Buddhist Tradition

The Language of the Buddhist Scriptures: Pali

Pali is the name that has been given to the language spoken in the north of India, from and before the 7th century b. c. to about the 5th century of the Christian Era. It is still the literary sacred language of Burma, Siam, and Ceylon, although its use is said to be decreasing. In other words, in the lands where Southern Buddhism flourishes (to use the term in a geographical sense), the language now known by the name of Pali is still used in the religious observances of the Buddhists, as their canon was written in this language.

There were two principal reasons which made Pali one of the most important literary languages of the world: first, a political factor: the rising and the welding together of the Kosala-power into a kingdom, during the seventh century b. c. It is the opinion of scholars that the Aryan influx into the land now generally termed ‘India’ occurred through three main routes, and that minor settlements were left along the route; and it is held that the language of these isolated groups or communities bore the same relation to the Vedic language as the present-day Italian bears to ancient Latin. In other words the language was closely akin to Sanskrit; but it was a spoken language, whereas Sanskrit was a ‘sacred language’ — the language of the sacred scriptures, the Vedas. The language that was spoken at Savatthi, the capital of the Kosala kingdom, in Nepal, soon became the form of speech which was generally adopted. A comparison may be drawn in what occurred in England during the welding process of Angles and Saxons which finally resulted in the ‘Anglo-Saxon language’ (now known as ‘English’).

The second factor was of a religious nature. Gautama the Buddha was a Kosalan by birth, and it is very probable that he used the Pali language in giving forth his teachings, and therefore the subsequent philosophical writings of his disciples were similarly couched in this language. All the early Buddhist scriptures that have come down to our day are in Pali, although many later Buddhistic writings are in Sanskrit.

The etymology of the word Pali is uncertain. It probably means ‘row, line, canon,’ and is used, in its exact technical sense, of the language of the canon, containing the documents of the Buddhist faith. But when Pali first became known to Europeans it was already used also, by those who wrote in Pali, of the language of the later writings, which bear the same relation to the standard literary Pali of the canonical texts as medieval does to classical Latin. — Encyclopaedia Britannica

But C. J. Joshi, M.A., formerly Professor of Pali and Marathi at Baroda College, India, writes in his A Manual of Pali:

The Pali language was derived from ancient Sanskrit; its former name was magadhi, the dialect of the Magadha country, now called Bihar. Magadhi received its new name Pali from the Sanskrit word pali (a line), which has the secondary meaning, the text, as distinguished from the commentary. The commentaries refer to the original Magadhi Tripitaka as pali; gradually the connotation of the word was enlarged and it came to be applied to every composition in Magadhi and consequently to the language itself.

The language was the Vernacular of ancient Magadha, in which the great Buddha preached his Doctrine to the people, and Asoka inscribed his immortal messages to generations.

Scholars have also drawn attention to the fact that Pali may be divided into three classes or stages: (1) the language before the writing of the Buddhist canon; (2) the language of the canon itself; (3) the later developments and minor variations arising after the period of the canon. However, the term Pali is generally applied to the three classes enumerated.

Professor Otto Franke, in his Pali und Sanskrit, shows that in the 3rd century b. c. the language used throughout northern India was practically one, and that it was derived directly from the speech of the Vedic Aryans, retaining many Vedic forms lost in the later classical Sanskrit. The basis of the language used in the Buddhist canon, or sacred texts, was that used in Ujjayini the capital of the Avanti district.

To those familiar with the Sanskrit alphabet and the Devanagari characters, it will be of interest to know that the Pali alphabet uses the same letters, and that it is the same as the Sanskrit except for a very few modifications.

As regards the literature: three works are extant in the pre-canonical Pali (i. e., what is referred to above as class one), namely the Milinda-panha (a religious romance translated by Rhys Davids under the title Questions of King Milinda, which originated from the north-west of India); the Netti Pakarana and the Petaka Upadesa(from the center of India). These two were believed to have been written by a disciple of the Buddha, but scholars now place them as belonging to the era preceding the Buddha.

The works containing the Buddhist doctrine are known under the name of Pitakas — an interesting word, for its meaning is a ‘basket’; not a basket in which things are stored as in a box or chest, but the basket which the Indian workers use at excavations for filling with earth and handing from one worker to another. In this word the meaning is clearly given as to the intention of the Pitakas, i. e., that the doctrine should be handed on from one disciple to another. The Pitakas are simply collections of the scriptures available at the time of their gathering, and are divided into three sections: (1) the rules of the Buddhist order, known as Vinaya; (2) the writings setting forth the doctrine of Buddhism, generally called Suttas (Sanskrit, Sutras); (3) analytical exercises in the system upon which the doctrine is based — the Abhidhamma.

The Suttas form the part that is of the greatest interest to us, for in these are found the teachings of Gautama the Buddha. They are small tracts, rather than a complete text or scripture, each sutta containing a single aspect of a teaching or doctrine, set down briefly in writing, amounting to only a page or two, with the intention of its being an aid to the memory; those expounding the doctrine or acting as teachers to disciples, carrying on a running commentary upon the particular text in hand. When several of these suttas treating on the same subject were gathered together thus forming the basis of a dialog, such collection was termed a suttanta. A collection of these suttantas then formed a Nikaya, of which there are four main ones. Another interesting series of anecdotes is gathered together in the collection known as the Jatakas (or ‘birth-stories’).

Of all the various Suttas, the one of greatest importance may be said to be the Dhammachakka, often called ‘the Wheel of the Law’ (a literal translation of the words — or more freely rendered, ‘the Proclamation of the Law of the World-Order’). This Sutta opens with what is termed the first sermon, addressed by the Tathagata to his five former associates in the practice of yoga, in the Mrigadava forest (near Kasi), in which the Buddha declared the Noble Eightfold Path — the Middle Way which avoids the two extremes — consisting in the practice of: Right views; right thoughts; right words; right actions; right living; right exertion; right recollection; right meditation.

The work known as the Buddhist textbook, the Dhammapada (‘the Path of the Law’) was compiled at a later date than the Suttas. It consists of a gathering together of gems of thought uttered by the Tathagatha, amounting to 423 verses, each subject (of which there are 26, each being a chapter or section) containing from ten to twenty stanzas. It is unquestionably the loftiest exposition of the Buddhist moral and ethical code.

One of the methods of relating anecdotes about Gautama the Buddha (Pali, Gotama), at the same time illustrating his teaching, may be given. A young mother was distraught because of the death of her little boy, who had just reached the age when he was commencing to run. With the dead child clasped to her bosom, she went from house to house seeking for medicine to revive her little one. At one of the dwellings, one who had entered upon the first steps of the Way as enunciated by the Teacher, replied to her entreaty: “No medicine can I give to thee, there is one alone who can do that.”

“Do tell me, I pray thee, who he is,” said the young mother, Kisagotami.

“Seek thou the Lion of the Law, the Lord of Mercy; he alone can give thee medicine.”

Kisagotami speedily sought out the Buddha, and asked what herbs should she bring him for the medicine (as it was then the custom for the patients themselves to gather the herbs that were used for the making of the remedy).

“Bring me some mustard seed,” said the Teacher, “but it must be obtained from a house where no son has perished, where no husband, where no parents, where no slave has perished!”

Overjoyed with the thought of obtaining so easy a remedy as mustard seed, Kisagotami hastened away, asking from house to house for the mustard seed, still clasping her child.

“Why, yes, here is mustard seed,” said her neighbors, “take it!” But before taking it she would ask: “Has son, or husband, parents or slave died in this house?” “Alas, yes,” was the constant reply. At one abode she was told, “Lady, what is it that you ask? The living are few, but the dead are many.”

Not finding a single house that could supply her with the mustard seed, a light dawned upon Kisagotami. She buried her child in the forest, and returned to the Buddha, paying reverent homage.

“Have you the mustard seed?”

“No, Lord. The people say that the dead are many and the living few.”

“It is even so.” And the Buddha discoursed upon the impermanency of all aggregated beings, till the doubts of Kisagotami were cleared away and her grief assuaged. She accepted her lot and became a disciple, straightway entering ‘the first path.

— G. Barborka, The Theosophical Forum, June 1936

Gautama, The Lord Buddha, and His Teachings

“Buddhism teaches an evolution or development of this x-factor of consciousness and will [the Karman, the Dhyani-Buddha, or the Reincarnating Ego or Monad of Theosophy] slowly followed through many rebirths, through repeated imbodiments, bringing about constantly increasing faculty and power, until finally the entity whose evolving destiny is thus traced, becomes a man; and after becoming a man finally becomes a Bodhisattva — one filled with the spirit of the inner Buddha, or rather of the Buddhic principle, the Bodhi, the principle and fountain-head of utter wisdom. Furthermore, that taking the Buddha-Gautama as an example or illustration of such an evolving entity, in his last incarnation on earth he was born the human Bodhisattva-Siddhartha, later called Sakyamuni, in the year 643 b. c, and that when he was eighty years of age, after having passed through manifold experiences and trials, and after he had gathered together and taught his disciples and had sent them abroad in order to proclaim the Good Law, he then entered the Nirvana, with an entering which left naught behind save his Dharma — the Law, i. e., the Truth that he taught.” — The Esoteric Tradition, p. 120

Gautama the Lord Buddha was born into the royal family of the Clan of Sakya, in a town at the foot of the Himalayas, a fact which explains his title of Sakyamuni, or Sage of the Sakyas. His father’s name, Suddhodana, means ‘pure flow,’ and Maya or Mayadevi, his mother’s name, ‘illusion.’ They called this noble boy Siddhartha, ‘one who has achieved his objective,’ and he later took as wife, Yasodhara, ‘holder of glory’ or ‘splendor.’ What a mystic background the symbology of these names gives to the design of the last earth-life of the Buddha! Yet there is no reason to suppose that these were not the actual names of the parents and wife of Siddhartha, or that any part of the story of his life is entirely symbolic.

Many were the wondrous circumstances and conditions which surrounded the advent of this child. He came, as do all the Great Teachers, at that point in the cycle of progress when spiritual perception ebbs and material attractions find response in the bewildered hearts and minds of men, and when the spiritual nostalgia of all Nature surged forth in welcome at his coming. Rare and exquisite blossoms strewed the earth with their petals, and scented the air with their fragrance; countless birds, befeathered in the hues of the rainbow, hovered in benediction; and men’s minds were hushed, and filled with reverent aspiration and devotion. The child, Siddhartha, so lavishly welcomed, bore upon him all the signs of a highly evolved being, one worthy to bear his heritage of compassion and service. Those chosen to instruct him found themselves instructed; and it was predicted that he would either become a Buddha and move the hearts of men with his teachings, or rule as a Chakravartin, a ‘great World-King.’ The years of his childhood and early manhood were passed in the secluded, if somewhat enforced, protection of his father’s palaces and gardens, where he was surrounded by chosen companions and all the delights of the high culture of his day. All that might sadden or disturb the even tenor of his life, was kept from him, but ‘the holy germ that sprouts and grows unseen in the disciple’s soul’ waxed ever stronger with the rising tide of his destiny, until one day, the legend tells us, he came upon the ‘three awakening sights’; an old, bent man, a beggar, diseased and suffering, and a corpse being borne to the funeral pyre. His peace was rent asunder; thereafter there could be neither rest nor solace for the soul of Siddhartha. Leaving his wife and baby son, he set out to seek the panacea for human misery and woe.

He sought wisdom of the Brahmanas, the wisest of his time, but sought in vain. The hermit-life of an ascetic with its rigors of self-discipline and self-chastisement he proved to be useless for his mission of compassion, until with the speeding years, the hour of his enlightenment approached, and one day, at the time of the Spring Equinox, he seated himself under the Bodhi-tree, vowing never to rise until he had found the cure for the ills which beset mankind. What took place under those spreading branches is tenderly left to the intuitive imagination of the true student — but it is said that the leaves of the Bodhi-tree have never since ceased to quiver with the ecstasy which pervaded life when that flawless Spirit of Compassion entered into Samadhi, when the Tathagata attained Buddhahood. Thereafter the Buddha gave his entire life to teaching. He lived solely to impart his message of self-regeneration to all beings, in a world which, despite its great dissimilarity, yet has important lessons to teach us.

The Theosophist, in his study of the teachings of the Buddha-Gautama, goes to the records of India, for it was the children of Brahmanical India for and to whom they were first interpreted and given. These, in the light of Theosophy, prove that into a thought-atmosphere of great subtilty of reasoning and conception, the Buddha implanted a religious system as wide in its sympathy as it is profound and comprehensive in philosophic scope; a system, moreover, whose values are neither crippled by pessimism nor falsified by baseless optimism, but founded on the purest Wisdom — a foundation which has held the devotion and active allegiance of numberless adherents, and one, which, perhaps because of its subtilty, bears the fewest signs of degeneration. These facts, when properly understood, will explain why Buddhism has been so greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted by the West and lead us on to a discussion of some of the key-ideas which have given to it such marked vitality and strength.

Professor Daisetz Suzuki writes to the effect that the Dharma (the Law of Buddhism) is ever maturing because it is mysteriously creative, and the Theosophist finds this perfectly just statement explained in the fact that to the Buddhist mind, faith and the inquiring spirit are complementary and mutually conditioning, yet in no wise antagonistic. It is this inquiring spirit — ‘the wings that bear one on to the goal’ — which, more than any other, perhaps, has preserved to Buddhism its pristine vitality, has kept it a constantly evolving stream of spiritual life, based as this spirit of inquiry is on the sound philosophic doctrines taught by the Lord Buddha.

Another universal postulate inheres in the Buddhist conception of ‘Being.’ This term would seem to be synonymous with Be-ness as it is frequently used in standard Theosophical literature, and the Buddhist argues that that which is cannot change; that since all things are composite, and all composites transient, things become or exist, but are not. What then is? THAT. Wisdom and ignorance are then seen to be opposite states or conditions of evolving consciousnesses or beings; wisdom is not the acquisition of knowledge, or culture, but the recognition of the inherent unity of all and the unreality of the transient, the outer manifestation — in other words, the state of being perfectly at home in the Universe — while ignorance is the condition of one, who, separating himself from his unifying center, is a wanderer, an exile from home. And it is through enlightenment that he returns home, attains Wisdom. Thus man is not ‘born in sin,’ but is a prodigal son, who, since he of his own choice set out from his spiritual home, has taken upon himself his own regeneration, and through tribulation wends his way homewards.

What is this ‘home,’ this ‘other shore,’ the goal of all Buddhist endeavor: Nirvana? Has there ever been a doctrine more completely misunderstood? The doctrine of Nirvana describes the state which the consciousness of a highly evolved entity — a Bodhisattva — enjoys when all limitations of imperfection in individuality and personality have been transmuted, when the lost has found itself, in the deathless, unifying, and ineffable essence of humanhood; hence, the use of a word whose definition is simply ‘extinguished,’ ‘blown out.’ Nirvana is a condition of pure monadic consciousness, a state which may be entered during life, and which, when attained by a Buddha of Compassion, is renounced so that he may remain in the world of men and serve human need. This state is not, relatively speaking, everlasting even when entered by the Pratyeka-Buddha, for he too must emerge eventually and take up his evolutionary course once more. Nirvana, therefore, means Being, not annihilation.

It has been truly said that the life and spirit of Buddhism has its source in the inner life and spirit of the Buddha, and Dr. de Purucker writes in The Esoteric Tradition:

that what the Buddha aimed at more than anything else was the bringing to”men of a greater light, a larger hope, and a wider spiritual vision. . . . The objective of the great Teacher’s Wisdom was the improving, or better still unfolding, of human intellectual faculty and spiritual power, as demonstrated by his insistence, emphatic, reiterated and unceasing, on what one may term the Doctrine of Becoming. In the eyes of the Buddha-Gautama, man is a Pilgrim, Child of the Universe, who at times is blinded by Mahamaya or the Great Illusion of cosmic existence, and at such times therefore needs to be shown the Way or Law, called the Dharma, pointing to a realization of the fact that only by becoming rather than by mere being could man become the Greater Man which he is in his essential constitution. — p. 111

In this Doctrine of Becoming, the only true Yoga as taught albeit secretly by the Buddha, is to be found the law of all being. It teaches that man is a compound entity composed of one SELF and a host of minor children-selves, each of which is in evolution through its own sphere of consciousness. Through the SELF a Buddhic principle manifests in a trinity comprising a Dhyani-Buddha or Buddha of Meditation, a Dhyani-Bodhisattva, the offspring of the former, and a Manushya-Buddha, or Human Buddha. This is the core of the essential man, the Buddha which is and KNOWS.

‘Man gets precisely and exactly what he himself desires!’ From the Buddha within, the sun of his being, man receives all that is sublime in his development, and towards union with it every center of his being, because in itself a spark of the central fire, yearns in aspiration; but man must desire and claim his own. The man himself — his karman — is, because he becomes such, that particular focussing point in his composite nature which he yearns towards. In other words, a man’s karman or ‘consequence’ is himself, because he is precisely and exactly that which he has previously desired, willed and become. Furthermore, it is this manifested consciousness which, as an entitative force, endures and reimbodies itself throughout the ages, collecting and uniting to itself its composite vehicles of past and present evolving. It is when the human entity — a prodigal son of the Buddhic principle for the period of material manifestation — raises its consciousness until the entire being is of the nature of Wisdom, and then passes beyond, that the man becomes a Buddha, ‘an awakened one.’

The Tathagata, ‘he who had already arrived safely at the other shore,’ taught that the way to regeneration is the way or law of compassion, of universal love; for love to the Buddhist is compassion, a compassion which encompasses all sentient beings, and which moves its possessor to live for others, even if it be at the loss of his own evolution and yearned-for Nirvana.

The Dharma has been summarized for practical purposes in the Four Noble Truths. They are: the recognition that sorrow and pain exist; that there is a cause for sorrow and pain; that the cause of sorrow and pain may be annulled; and finally, the way to annul the cause of sorrow and pain; and in the Noble Eightfold Path: the Path of right conviction, right resolution, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right endeavor, right alertness of mind, and right absorption.

The seven or ten Paramitas of the Mahayana School are what may be called a more metaphysical paraphrasing of this Noble Eightfold Path. The word Paramita. means ‘to reach or to attain to the other shore.’ They are hereunder given: first, the Sanskrit term, followed by its general definition, and then by a descriptive clause, several of which clauses are those given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Voice of the Silence.

Dana — Charity, the key of charity and love immortal.
Sila — Moral conduct, harmony in word and act.
Kshanti — Forbearance, patience sweet that naught can ruffle.
Viraga — Endurance, indifference to pleasure and pain.
Virya — Zeal, the energy that fights its way to Truth.
Dhyana — Meditation, the gate that leads to Truth.
Prajna — Intuitive perception, that which makes of man a god.
Adhisthana — Courage, an inflexible attitude towards life.
Upeksha. — Discrimination, wisdom in applying the rules to life.
Prabodha or Sambuddhi — union with Buddhi, the awakenment of inner consciousness.

It should be clearly understood that these Paramitas are no mere lip-service or ceremonial procedure, but are the formulated standard of daily living recognised by every earnest student of the archaic Wisdom-Religion from which the Buddha drew his teachings, and are practised more or less faithfully by some four hundred million aspiring human beings.

Buddhahood, godhood, is therefore attained as a result of many lives of individual yearning and willing and doing, these states of consciousness bringing about changes in the aggregated man himself, for

by his progress from stage to stage in evolutionary changes which are continuous and uninterrupted a man among other beings, may raise himself as high as the highest gods, or may debase himself through his willing and doing to the low and dread levels of the beings in the so called hells of which so much is found in Buddhistic literature.

In this teaching of Becoming, just as the same is found in esoteric Theosophy, in the Esoteric Tradition, we find both the reason and the rationale of the many statements both in Buddhism and indeed elsewhere that every man has it within his power, by appropriate spiritual, intellectual, psychical, and ethical willing and doing, himself in the course of ages to become a Buddha — The Esoteric Tradition, pp 112-3

The Buddha-Gautama entered Nirvana when he was eighty years old, but the esoteric records seem to indicate that his actual physical death did not take place until some twenty years later, that during the interim he taught his disciples in seclusion, and that at his passing he entered the inner realms as a Nirmanakaya. Furthermore, the student of penetration will find a marked similarity between the teachings of the Adwaita-Vedanta as given by Sankaracharya, the authentic teachings of Jesus, and those of the Lord Buddha, and in a specially mystical sense which rests on an understanding of the Doctrine of the Avatara, it would probably not be incorrect to state that the entire period from, let us say 623 b.c. to about 200 a.d. fell under the sway of the sublime and majestic influence of the World-Teacher known as the Lord Gautama Buddha.

— Irene R. Ponsonby, The Theosophical Forum, June 1936

The Divine Discontent of Gautama the Buddha

Twenty-five hundred years ago there was born to the royal family of the Sakya clan, a son, the Prince Siddartha, who, through no fault of his own — rather the contrary — caused the King, his father, deep concern. This was because even so many centuries before the coming of the great Christian Teacher, and before the Prince had reached what is commonly termed the age of discretion, he had already discovered the balance of values between the treasures of earth and the Treasures of Heaven. So that although born into one of the best of families, where nobility of character vied with wealth of possession to surround him with all that heart could desire, he seemed often to retire inward to a world unknown to his associates. Handsome he was, and strong, and brave, but he had no interest in the sports that engrossed his cousins, and while they busied themselves in friendly games of contest, he would steal away into the garden, and sitting under his favorite tree try to recapture that elusive thing that haunted him as a half-memory of a purpose in life not yet revealed. The sage Viswamitra, who had charge of his scholastic training, is said to have “picked up his books and departed, marveling.” It was as if no human brain had store of knowledge great enough to instruct him who was destined to become the Buddha.

The case of a Buddha is different from that of a Savior belonging to the Avatara-group, such as Jesus, the Christ. An Avatara is a demonstration to humanity of the keen interest with which superior beings — shall we call them gods? — watch broodingly over the progress of men. For an Avatara is the mysterious union of a divinity with the highly evolved soul of one who has formerly become a Buddha, acting in a pure physical body. And this magical, but not supernatural, appearance of a divinity among men takes place particularly at times of spiritual barrenness in order to encourage those who are seeking the light of truth by showing them glimpses of sublimer heights yet to be climbed in their search. In the case of Avataras it is the teachings which should occupy our fullest attention; the personal life, noble as it is, is relatively unimportant. With the Buddha, however, the study of his life, his trials and testings of teachers and methods, arouse our keenest interest. His procedure is that which every one of us can follow if we will. He started out aeons ago a man, as we are now. According to the stories, it was

A hundred thousand cycles vast
And four immensities ago

that he registered his first vow to reach Enlightenment — Buddhahood. This vow he kept fast in his mind and heart, resolving anew under twenty-four successive Buddhas — a necessary part of the fulfilment of such a vow, we read. On account of the inspiration and example which the life of such a great man is to us, this is well worth our serious thought and study; in fact, it is an essential part of the exposition of his teaching.

Many and fanciful are the tales related of the pre-natal visions entertained by the noble Maya, the one chosen as mother by the Bodhisattva, together with the interpretations put upon them by the Sages of the day, wise Brahmanas versed in true astrology. We read also descriptions of the conditions of existence of the Holy One in the heaven-world where he is represented as teaching the inhabitants thereof in the interim between one earth-life and the next; and there are some 550 ‘Birth-Stories’ said to be episodes in the various incarnations of this aspirant to perfection, dating from the beginning of the world. Significant indeed is the impression we receive that his birth into the Sakya family was a conscious, well-considered act: as imminent Buddha he took this step. His royal father, Suddhodhana, as was the custom of the day, summoned wise men to his court to examine the child and read the signs they saw on him. He possessed all thirty-two marks of divinity, and the prophecies of six of the Sages were unanimous: if he remained in the household life he would rule as became the best of kings; but if he relinquished that life he would become Lord of the Universe, the Awakened One, the Buddha. The seventh Sage, however, a younger man but nevertheless more intuitive than his brethren, saw one course only open to the young Prince: attainment of Buddhahood.

Now the king was a wise and kindly ruler, but he had no understanding of the nature and status of a Buddha. To his mind, human kingship was the destiny above all others that he would choose for his son. So he tried to fill his life with beauty, wealth, happiness, distractions of every pleasurable kind, building for him stately palaces and gardens appropriate to the four seasons of the year, providing for him in marriage the loveliest of his royal cousins, the radiant Yasodhara, and bringing to the court for his delight and entertainment the flower among the dancing and singing maidens of the country. Poor foolish king, to think mere beauty of sight and sound could appease the nostalgia in the soul of a Bodhisattva!

According to the legends, the gods now became impatient. It seemed too long the future Buddha was lingering in the toils of material allurements. So in defiance of the King’s commands that when his son rode abroad he should see naught but youth, health, success, and beauty, the gods provided for him the Three Awakening Sights: an old bent man, hideous with age and deprivation; one stricken with fatal illness; and a corpse being borne to the funeral pyre. Not all at once were these Sights sprung upon the young Prince, but singly during three successive drives, and day by day the power of his resolve gathered momentum. From the time of the seeing of the First Awakening Sight, he began to observe his fellows in a new way, and he found none in whose face he could read signs of the true course of life. At last, after the third Sight, he met a hermit wearing such a look of peace that now he knew and would wait no longer. It was the striking of the karmic hour, and henceforth and for ever there was no possibility of Siddhartha’s succeeding his father as merely a human king. In the dead of night, his beloved wife smiling in her sleep, he bade a silent farewell, fearing lest the pain of parting prove too great for the human will if accompanied with words and tears.

It should be well understood that this breaking of home-ties is not a course of conduct recommended by the Buddha to men in general; in fact, he urged obedience to mother and father, faithful performance of duties owed to others. He once sent back as unready one who hoped to become a devotee of truth without having first observed the loyalties due to the home-circle. In these words he is said to have spoken: “If you would find comfort in my society, the first thing for you to learn is purity of conduct. Go back, therefore, to your home, and learn to obey your parents, recite your prayers, be diligent in your daily occupations. Let no love of ease tempt you to neglect cleanliness of person or decency of dress; and then, having learned this, come back to me, and you may perhaps be allowed to enter into the companionship of my followers.”

Nor were his loved ones unprepared for his leaving. Often he had told both wife and father of his desire to enter the ascetic life in order to seek release for mankind from the ills of sickness, old age, and death, which seemed to make futile all their lofty aspirations and worthy ambitions. He felt that ignorance was the cause of man’s suffering, that there was truth which he was entitled to have, and, balancing the temporary anguish his absence would bring his own family circle, against the liberation of mind and spirit he knew they would gain when he became Buddha and they his faithful disciples — as did happen — he gave up all that men ordinarily hold most dear and began life anew as a hermit.

Six years the Prince, clad in yellow gown and carrying the ascetic’s begging-bowl, studied under various teachers, Rishis and Brahmanas, tried their methods, spared himself not at all, undertook discipline so severe that it was rather self-torture; but still he did not attain the inner illumination he was seeking. At the point of death, and sorely grieved that he had not reached his goal in this life, he decided to break his fast and seek another way. Again the gods are said to have intervened, providing him with pure and nourishing food that restored his wasted tissues and caused the fresh blood to course through his veins. Thus he was ready for the final test which is pictured in allegorical form as his meditation under the Bodhi Tree, where Mara’s hosts, the mighty Powers of Darkness, made their greatest and most prolonged attempt to dissuade the Holy One from his purpose.

Fearful and wonderful was the battle which raged during the watches of the night: on the one hand violence, hate, envy, and all the brood of hideous vice — these the Bodhisattva overcame easily with the peace and tranquillity of mind he had attained; but when Mara, using subtiler wiles, caused apparitions of his wife and father to call to him to return home and ease their distress, it needed more than human strength to resist. Yet this strength too was his. Calm and unperturbed he remained under the Sacred Tree, reiterating once again his ancient vow: “Let the sun and moon fall down to earth, let these snowy mountains be removed from their base, if I do not attain the end of my search: the pearl of the True Law.”

Then indeed he did attain. The Hosts of Darkness vanished away, and morning broke upon the marvel of the Holy One grown at last from Bodhisattva, the promise of a Buddha, into the full flower of Perfected Manhood, the Enlightened One, the Buddha. He sat in contemplation for seven days and nights, seeking the best way to tell mankind what he had learned. Brooding on the mystery of life, on the composite, and therefore impermanent, character of the visible Universe and of man, he wondered if words existed that could tell the truths he knew. And then, picturing to himself lotus-flowers in a pond, and remembering how some of them grow high out of the water, some less high, and others never rise above the surface, and thus they receive varying amounts of sunlight, he thought: Men are like the lotus-flowers, the sun is the truth. The wise do not need my teaching, the stupid would not understand it; but those neither wise nor stupid, who question, seek, but know not where to find, these should receive help. Therefore I will teach. At this the very elements of the Universe joined with the Heavens and the Earth to proclaim their joy upon the arrival of a Buddha of Compassion.

Thereafter for forty-five years Sakyamuni fulfilled his promise. He wandered up and down India, teaching all who would listen to him. Among his earliest disciples were five anchorites who had witnessed in amazement the extremes of asceticism to which his zeal had led him, but who later reviled him when he, as they thought, relapsed into the worldly life. Sitting at their devotions, these five saw approach one whom at a distance they recognised as the monk Gautama, and thinking to show their disapproval of what they thought his treachery to their Order, they conspired to show him courtesy upon his arrival, but no deference. They little knew the transformation that had occurred in the meantime, nor what power it was that drew them to their feet and caused them to do most reverent obeisance. For looking into his face and seeing the glory with which he was transfused, they entreated the Buddha to accept them as his pupils; and because of their sincerity, and their faithfulness to the light of truth as they had seen it, he granted their request. Many an instance is given of similar meetings — even Brahmanas, who were indignant at his refusal to discriminate between the castes and his willingness to impart what they had kept so rigidly secret from the masses of men, and who challenged him with questions which they thought he could not answer, were glad to yield their allegiance to one whose presence and wisdom were so superior to theirs that deference to him became the highest honor they could desire. It is unfortunate for their descendants that more of this learned caste did not come to understand the mission and teachings of the Buddha, for the heart of both Brahmanism and Buddhism is the same; and the Buddha came not as inventor of a new religion, but as illuminator of the old, which had its source in the same Heart of the Universe as all the World-Religions have had.

It is not taking a one-sided view of the situation to speak of the beauties of the teachings of the Buddha and to fail to condemn the deficiencies of modern Buddhism. Whatever may be lacking in the application men today make of religion in their lives is the fault of the men themselves, not of the original teacher of that religion. It would be decidedly unfair were we not to mention that even after twenty-five hundred years Buddhism is still active, and a powerful influence in the lives of millions of people; and that of all the known world-religions of history it has created least disharmony, been the cause of no wars, undertaken no conversions by violence, inaugurated no inquisitions, nor approved any form whatever of mental or physical torture, whether self-inflicted or not. It could well be adopted by men of every race with very slight modifications even today. The cornerstone of it is love for all beings, and its building-bricks all the virtues which, when practised, make life beautiful. Ignorance is a vice not to be tolerated, for truth is in the Universe and is to be had for the taking.

The Buddha concluded his mission among men at the ripe age of eighty years. In full possession of his faculties he gathered his disciples around him for the last time. His farewell speech has been given in varying forms by the translators, but in each the message is the same: Salvation for mankind comes from within; when self-appointed teachers appear, test what they say by the truth you already possess; do not believe without examination everything you hear. Think for yourself. “I have lit the lamp of wisdom. Its rays alone can drive away the gloom that shrouds the world. On your part, be diligent! With virtuous purpose practise well these rules; nourish and cherish a still and peaceful heart. Be lamps unto yourselves. Work out your own salvation. Look within! Exert yourselves to the utmost; give no place to remissness. Earnestly practise every good work.”

— Inez Davenport, The Theosophical Forum, June 1936

The Birth of Zen Buddhism

It is said — and what is tradition but truth in the robes of poetry? — that once, when the Buddha was seated with his Bhikkhus on the Mount of Holy Vulture a Brahma-Raja came to him and, offering him a golden flower, asked him to preach the Dharma. The Blessed One received the flower and, holding it aloft, gazed at it in perfect silence. After a while the Venerable Mahakasyapa smiled. Such, it is said, is the origin of Zen Buddhism. But as Dr. Suzuki points out:

This smile is not an ordinary one such as we often exchange on the plane
of distinction; it came out of the deepest recesses of his nature, where he and
Buddha and all the rest of the audience move and have their being. No words
are needed when this is reached. A direct insight across the abyss of human
understanding is indicated.
Essence of Buddhism, p. 22

It is further said that the Wisdom which this smile revealed was handed down through the centuries by twenty eight successive Patriarchs, the Buddha himself being the first, and the last, the Indian philosopher Bodhidharma, who arrived in China in the middle of the sixth century a.d. and became the founder of the Zen School of Buddhism. Many of the intervening Patriarchs were mighty men in the world of Indian thought and Asvagosha, Nagarjuna and Vasu-bandhu, to name but three, will be honored as long as Indian wisdom is preserved.

The recorded history of Zen Buddhism is less romantic. Its origin, of course, is the Buddha’s Enlightenment, for as the whole of Zen Buddhism exists as a vehicle for this direct Enlightenment, there would without it be no Zen Buddhism and, in this present world of avidya, ignorance, no Zen.

This all but unutterable Wisdom, the fruits of his spiritual experience, the Blessed One taught to his chosen few disciples. Such as they understood they remembered; such as they remembered they handed down. In this state, two hundred years or more after the Passing, the Buddhist Canon began to be written down. But already the Sangha, the followers of the All-Enlightened One, were splitting into manifold sects, the grounds of cleavage being partly doctrinal and partly monastic discipline. Famous pundits are still debating the genesis of these various sects, and the dates at which and the reasons for which the Mahayana or Great Vehicle, as it called itself, began to diverge from the Hinayana, the Small Vehicle as it called the older School, or the Thera Vada, the Teaching of the Elders, as the latter called itself. To students of Zen, however, these niceties of historical research are of little importance, and of none to the man who has once, for a thousandth part of a second, known satori. For the blaze of light which floods the mind from its own eternal inwardness when thoughts of “this” and “that” are for the moment purged away illumines unforgettably one tiny corner of the Real, and history and all that is bound in time has little interest more. It is enough, therefore, that in the course of time the fertile Indian mind began to work on the basic principles of the Ancient Wisdom which the Buddha had once more presented to mankind. The Teaching spread, south to Ceylon, southeast to Burma, Siam, Cambodia, east into China, and thence to Korea and Japan, north into the locked and silent plateau of Tibet.

It seems to have reached China in the first century a. d. In what form it came is by no means clear, but the earliest Buddhist Scriptures to be translated into Chinese were a collection of sayings culled from a number of Sutras, or Discourses, the collection being known is The Sutra of 42 Sections, which may be described as a Hinayana work modified to express the views of Mahayana adherents. This was not Zen. It was, however, a prelude to its birth, for it was the Chinese genius working on the raw material of Indian thought which, with contributions from Confucian and Taoist sources, produced, with Bodhidharma as mid-wife, the essentially Chinese School of Ch’an or, as the Japanese later called it, Zen Buddhism.

Suffice it to say that the two main schools of Buddhism are as the two sides of a coin. All that is relatively stressed in one is discoverable in the other in a less developed form; and the two are one in the sense that men and women are one, two sides of a human being. The Thera Vada, now to be found in Ceylon, Burma, Siam and Cambodia, is certainly the older School. It is more orthodox, clings harder to the wording of its Pali Canon, emphasizes moral philosophy and the prime importance of the individual’s working out his own salvation before he attempts to “save” his neighbor or the world. If it is puritan in its cold insistence on character-building, it is yet suffused with the sweetness of a reasonable, unemotional pursuit of a Way which leads — did not the Blessed One prove it abundantly? — to the heart’s desire, that peace which comes when the heart is empty of desire, and self is dead.

The Mahayana adopted all of this, but added upon these broad and, some say, all sufficient premises a vast erection of emotion-thought which flowered in time in the intuitive white light of Zen. The Indian mind was never satisfied with the teachings, moral and philosophical, of Thera Vada Buddhism; and soon the Precepts of right living were developed into principles of cosmic truth. The Buddha, from a man who attained Enlightenment, came to be viewed as the Principle of Enlightenment which dwells in all. As such his forms were multiplied, and fast on the heels of iconography came ritual; a moral philosophy became a religion. The metaphysical heights of Indian thought were climbed, equaled, and finally surpassed. The Bodhisattva, he who dedicates his life and the fruits of life to his fellow men, replaced the Arhat, he who strives for his perfection before he presumes to lead his brother on the Way. Compassion was raised to equality with Wisdom; the depth of the Thera Vada was turned to an expansion of interest which embraced all living things.

These changes are, so it seems to me, as inevitable as they are right if a system of thought is to claim, as Buddhism claims, to be all embracing, and to supply all human spiritual needs. In the vast field of present Buddhism there is to be found religion, philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism, psychology, and much of the science which is claimed as a western discovery of the last few years. There is also room for the poetry, the love of nature and beauty and the sense of fun which is native to the Chinese character; and behind it all is a vast tradition of spiritual truth only part of which is ever recorded arid little of which has ever appeared in a western tongue. In a general way, and one must generalize in the broadest terms, the Schools are as complementary as the night and day. The austerity of the Southern School is offset by the religious fervor of some of the northern sects, and the intensive-expansive, practical-mystical, developing-preserving, tendencies of the respective points of view are neither good nor bad, pure or impure Buddhism, but parts of an inseverable whole. If in the exuberance of spiritual thought some later teachers of the Mahayana developed methods and technique which seem to run counter to the Teaching of the Buddha as early recorded in the Pali Canon, the tolerant Buddhist mind would at least admit that extremist doctrines, such as those of the Pure Land School, may possibly be true, while reserving the right to hold, as I do hold, that it is difficult to see how they can fairly be labeled Buddhism. Yet the common ground of most of the Schools of Buddhism, North or South, is far, far larger than all their differences, and beyond all complementary emphasis on this or that particular doctrine is the direct, supreme, and to us ineffable Experience of the All-Enlightened One.

When Bodhidharma (Tamo to the Japanese) arrived in China, the Mahayana was still only partly developed, but the initial hostility to Buddhism, so notable on its first arrival, seems to have died down. The Chinese are a practical people and disliked both the celibacy and the begging habits of the Buddhist monks. A man should work for his living, they said, and part of his duty is to provide for the memory of his father and to raise up sons to care for his own. Moreover, they deeply distrusted the metaphysics of Indian thought as displayed in the Sutras already translated, and although some of these Sutras, later found to be closely akin to Zen, such as the Vimalakirti, had already been translated by the famous Indian Buddhist, Kumarajiva, the Chinese needed a transference of Indian thought, itself into the Chinese idiom before Buddhism could be assimilated into their national life. In the result, it was left to the individual Chinese thinker to choose from the wealth of material such Sutras as seemed to him of value; and about such thinkers and their Commentaries upon some favored Sutra sprang up the manifold schools or sects which together in time amounted to Chinese Buddhism. Thus, for example, were the Tendai and the Kegon Schools developed respectively from the Madhyamika and Yogacharya Schools of Indian Buddhism, and thus about the Avatamsaka Sutra, introduced to the Chinese mind in the 5th century by Buddhabhadra, was built up the School which later developed into Zen.

But the Chinese mind, essentially rationalist and humanist, though with its mystical feeling developed in Taoism, produced an immense change in the form of Buddha Dharma. From the luminous heights of Indian thought was developed an emphasis on inner values which at the same time had to express itself and be expressed in action and hard work. Wisdom to the Chinese thinker is never an escape from worldly life. As shown in the famous Cow-herding pictures, when the pilgrim has so controlled his lower self that he has reached the final goal, he does not linger there.

To return to the Origin, to be back at the Source —
already a false step this!
Far better it is to stay home,
. . . he comes out into the market-place;
Daubed with mud and ashes, how broadly he smiles!
There is no need for the miraculous power of the gods,
For he touches, and lo! the dead trees come into full bloom.
Essays in Zen Buddhism, I, 365-6

Hence the exciting statement in that famous Chinese classic, The Secret of the Golden Flower,

The holy science takes as a beginning the knowledge of where to stop, and
as an end, stopping at the highest good. Its beginning is beyond polarity and
it empties again beyond polarity. — p. 66

The concentration upon inner values and processes was soon to pervade all Schools of the Mahayana. As the sixth Chinese Patriarch of Zen in the 7th century taught

Our mind should stand aloof from circumstances and on no account should we allow them to influence the function of our mind.

And again, as illustrating this absolute idealism:

You should know that so far as Buddha-nature is concerned, there is no difference between an enlightened man and an ignorant one. What makes the difference is that one realizes it, while the other is ignorant of it.

A better illustration still, perhaps, is the famous story of the flag.

It happened one day, when a pennant was blown about by the wind, two Bhikkhus entered into dispute as to what it was that was in motion, the wind or the pennant. As they could not settle their difference I submitted to them that it was neither, and that actually what moved was their own mind.
Sutra of Wei Lang, pp. 49, 27, and 24

It was easy, therefore, for the Chinese mind to adopt with enthusiasm the first verse of the Dhammapada, perhaps the most popular Scripture of all the Pali Canon. “All that we are is the result of what we have thought, it is made up of our thoughts. . . .” Man is indeed the product of his own past thought and actions, and it follows that his thoughts and actions today decide his condition tomorrow, and in the larger tomorrows of his later lives on earth.

The Chinese are concerned with processes, rather than with results. Things have their value, but all things are in a state of flux. Contentment of mind, therefore, is to be found in the flow of life itself, not in the buildings, either of hands or thoughts, which house that life for the space of a butterfly day or the brief span of the clay’s mortality. Zen, therefore, with its insistence on direct experience, unmindful of the forms of wisdom from which the life too swiftly ebbs away, was extremely acceptable to the Chinese mind, and if this suitability has been emphasized it is because the Chinese are in a way the British of the East, and most of the attributes above described might as well be applied to the average Englishman.

This Mahayana development was, of course, of gradual growth, and it was in the midst of the process that Bodhidharma, “the bearded barbarian,” arrived from India, and into the cross-currents of the stream of Chinese thought threw the hand-grenade of Zen. His four propositions which, even if the formula was produced later, summarized his purpose and technique, were as follows:

A special transmission outside the Scriptures;
No dependence upon words and letters;
Direct pointing to the soul of man;
Seeing into one’s own nature.

In brief, a direct transmission of the Wisdom without depending on words, and the direct seeing into one’s own nature.

At a time when some of the best brains of the country were translating and writing commentaries on the metaphysical scriptures of Indian Buddhism, this brutal frontal attack on the citadel of truth must have caused an enormous sensation. Hence Dr. Suzuki’s phrase that Zen was the Chinese revolt against Buddhism. Yet it was not until the time of Hui-neng, a hundred and fifty years later, that Zen became a genuinely Chinese form of Buddhism, to have immense effect on the Chinese art of the T’ang Dynasty. It is to be observed, however, that none of this apparent extension of the original teachings was regarded as moving away from them. Bodhidharma claimed to be returning to the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching and if — and this is the very foundation stone of Zen — Buddhism is a record of Buddha’s Enlightenment, he was right. It was those who petrified the flow of truth in the written word of the Scriptures who were slaying the Dharma, and Zen, from this point of view, was the dredging of a stream made foul with ritual and worship, with the niceties of logic and rational philosophy, and the debris of all manner of conceptual thought.

Our knowledge of Bodhidharma is largely derived from The Records of the Transmission of the Lamp, a book which, though written in 1004 a.d., is based on contemporary records now destroyed. Our second authority is Biographies of the High Priests by Tao-hsuan, compiled in 645 a.d. The records differ in detail, but the outline is clear. Bodhidharma will live forever in the annals of Zen Buddhism for introducing into it the element of satori, the immediate experience of truth as distinct from understanding about it. Nor did he merely offer this original contribution to Chinese Buddhism; he lived it. He was born in south India — tradition says in Big Conjeeveram — and studied Buddhism under his teacher, Prajnatara, for forty years. From Prajnatara he acquired by merit the patriarchate of the Dhyana or Zen School, thus becoming the 28th Indian, as he was to become the 1st Chinese, Patriarch. On the death of his Teacher he sailed for China, arriving in 520 a.d. The Emperor Wu at once invited him to his capital, the modern Nanking. On his arrival the Emperor, a most devout Buddhist, began to boast of his good works. “I have built many temples and monasteries,” he said. “I have copied the sacred books of the Buddha. I have converted Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, now what is my merit?” To which this silent, ferocious-looking Indian Buddhist replied, “None whatever, your Majesty!”

The Emperor, taken aback at this brutal answer, tried again. “What is to be considered as the First Principle of the Dharma?” he asked. “Vast Emptiness, and nothing holy therein,” replied the Patriarch. “Who, then,” asked the Emperor, not unreasonably, “now confronts me?” “I have no idea,” said Bodhidharma. Thus, in a brief but historic interview, was laid the foundation of a School which became the dominant sect of China, and is one of the two main schools of Japanese Buddhism, having enormously influenced both countries in their character, culture, art and philosophy.

Bodhidharma, having introduced in his own inimitable style the teaching and technique of Zen, retired to the country, and in the Shao Lin monastery meditated in silence for nine years. Finally there came to him a former Confucian scholar, by name Shen Kuang, who asked to be instructed in the Dharma. The Master took no notice. For seven days and nights the petitioner waited in the snow and finally, to prove to the obdurate teacher the life and death sincerity of his demand, he cut off his arm, and sent it in. The Master saw him. “Pray,” said the exhausted student, “pacify my mind.” “Let me see your mind,” said the Master, “and I will pacify it.” “I cannot produce this mind which troubles me so much,” said the would-be pupil. “Then I have pacified your mind,” said Bodhidharma, and the pupil was at last enlightened.

The truth of the story is immaterial, but as a most dramatic account of the birth in China of Zen principles it is of highest value. And that is nearly all that we know of the founder of Zen Buddhism, whose fierce, aggressive, bearded head has been the theme of a thousand artists from that day to this. Even his end is a matter of mystery, but it is in the true tradition of Zen to believe that he was last seen at a tremendous age returning through the Western Gates of China with one of his sandals on his head. This may be comic; it may have been symbolic; from such a man it was most certainly Zen.

The Confucian monk whose soul had been so swiftly pacified became the 2nd Chinese Patriarch under the name of Hui-ke. To him the Master handed the Lankavatara Sutra as containing an epitome of the secret of Zen; hence the popularity of this Sutra with students of Zen today. It would seem that he was the first Zen martyr, for he was put to death in a.d. 593 for teaching a false doctrine. He spent his life in preaching Zen to the lowest strata of society, and the popularity of this beggar in rags aroused opposition from the forces of well-fed orthodoxy. Before he died, however, he passed on the robe which had come to be the insignia of the Patriarchate to Seng-ts’an, who survives in history as the author of the Hsin Hsin Ming, a metrical rendering of the principles of Zen. A translation of the poem appears in Dr. Suzuki’s Essays in Zen Buddhism, I, 182-7. Here in print is the way to dissolve the Opposites.

The fourth Patriarch was Tao-hsin. He had asked the previous Master, “Pray show me the way to deliverance.” Said the Master, “Who has put you under restraint?” When the enquirer answered, “No one,” the Master enquired in turn, “Then why do you seek deliverance?”

Under Tao-hsin (580-651) Zen Buddhism was divided into two. One part did not survive the passing of its founder. The other branch was headed by Hung-jen, later the fifth Patriarch, who lives today in the famous Sutra of Wei-Lang (Hui-neng), the sixth Patriarch.

Like a famous character in a later religion than Buddhism, Hung-jen prepared the way for another greater than himself. This was Hui-neng whose name, according to a southern dialect, may be pronounced Wei-lang and is better known in the West as such by reason of the late Mr. Wong Mou-lam’s translation of his famous “Platform-Sutra.” Under the fifth Patriarch, Hung-jen, Zen rose from a small retiring sect of earnest students to a position where it was ready to support a full proclamation of Zen. This was Hui-neng’s destiny, and he became the second founder of Zen Buddhism, the mind responsible for developing Zen into a purely Chinese form of Buddhism, both in its teaching and means of expression. He was poorly educated, and was never a scholar in the usual sense of the word. His story is told in his own Sutra, which ranks as one of the classics of eastern literature. In it the close affinities with Taoism are clearly shown, and indeed the words Tao and Dharma are at times with some of the later Masters used synonymously. No student of Zen can fail to study this diamond mine of Zen, or indeed the Commentary upon it which Dr. Suzuki has written under the title of The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind. Here it is sufficient to point out that the failure of Hui-neng’s rival, Shen-hsiu, to receive the robe from the fifth Patriarch caused him to secede from the latter’s following, and to set up a northern school of his own. This Shen-hsiu was an ex-Confucian, and with his school of “gradual” enlightenment, was given Imperial protection and encouragement, but within a hundred years of the founder’s death it had utterly disappeared. The “Sudden” School of Hui-neng prospered mightily. As Dr. Suzuki says,

The latent energy that had been stored up during the time of naturalization suddenly broke out in active work, and Zen had almost a triumphal march through the whole land of Cathay.

Soon after the passing of Hui-neng, who appointed no successor, the Master Hyakujo founded the system, still in use, of the Meditation Hall. In all other schools of Buddhism, and in most other religions, an image of the Founder is the central feature of a temple or a monastery. Only in Zen is the Meditation Hall of paramount importance, and when by the tenth century the koan (for an explanation of which please wait for the chapter on Zen Technique) had come to be the recognized means or “device” for attaining satori, Enlightenment, all the main features of Zen Buddhism were in being, and have hardly varied in the thousand years which separate that period from today. It was in Japan, however, that the tradition was best carried on, for by the 13 th century Zen Buddhism in China had begun to lose its initial impulse. As early as the 7th century Zen had reached Japan, but it was not until the 12th century that a Tendai monk called Eisai crossed into China to study Zen, and returned to found a Zen monastery in Kyoto. But Kyoto was the headquarters of Shingon and Tendai Buddhism, and it was in Kama-kura, under the powerful wing of the Hojo family, that Zen took root in Japan. Eisai founded the Japanese branch of Rinzai Zen. Soto Zen arrived a few years later, in the hands of his pupil, Dogen, while the third of the three sects of Zen, the Obaku, was introduced by Ingen in the 17th century, and is now but a part of Rinzai Zen. The difference between the schools is chiefly the importance given to the koan exercises. In the Rinzai Sect this is still the basis of spiritual development; in the Soto sect it is far less used. Zen was seized by the military class and made its own. The Tendai and Kegon sects of Buddhism, both in a way synthetic philosophies made up from diverse material, were too philosophic for the Japanese knights of the Middle Ages, who were yet most cultured men. Jodo, on the other hand, and its later extremist derivative, the Pure Land School of Shin, needing no learning, and demanding but a constant invocation to the spirit of Buddhahood, were more acceptable to the people. Shingon Buddhism, with its emphasis on ritual, was extremely popular at Court. Zen was a warrior creed. It called for action, for the most rigorous self-discipline, for self-reliance, for contempt of death. So did the iron cult of Bushido, the Way of the Knightly Virtue. The warrior owned but his swords, and his swords were his honor and his life. By the larger he lived: by the smaller he would, at his Lord’s behest or when his honor was injured, die by his own hand. This was a man’s life, and it needed a man’s religion. Zen is “poor,” for the heart must be emptied of all else if the light is to enter. It calls for that loneliness of heart which woos the Absolute, for adaptability to outward circumstance, for contempt of the accidents of changing form, and yet, being as Dr. Suzuki calls it, radical empiricism, it is utterly practical and “lives in facts” to the utter exclusion of ideas. Nought must come between a man and his loyalty to his Lord; nought must intervene between a man and the mind’s experience. To think, when the enemy’s sword is descending, is death; to act, and to act rightly as the result of years of training, here is life, and the flow of life, with no intermediate.

At a later stage we shall see how this virile, stern yet laughing philosophy of life produced in Japan great art, great warriors and a culture second to none. Cradled by a warrior class, it is not surprising that Zen in Japan is violent in the means employed. But are we not all warriors? As the Buddha is given as saying in the Canon of the Southern School,

We wage war, O Bhikkhus; therefore are we called warriors. . . . For lofty Virtue, for high endeavor, for sublime Wisdom, for those do we wage war. Therefore are we called warriors.

We must take the Kingdom of Heaven by storm; only then shall we find that we have never left it.

Buddhism recognizes no authority for a spiritual truth; hence its tolerance. But the transmission of the doctrine is regarded as of great importance. Each Zen Master must be sanctioned by his Master, and he who teaches without such sanction is regarded as heterodox. Thus, through all the changes of Japanese national life, from the feudal system which extended into the 19th century to a modernism based on American patterns, still the tradition is kept high, and if the means of arousing understanding are today less violent, the Roshi or Zen Master is a man of tremendous spiritual development, and claims to be in the direct line of the Buddha’s direct experience. The power of the light within must vary with the individual; the lighting of the lamp is the purpose of Zen Buddhism, and the light is Zen.

If only for the sake of tidiness, I must finish this chapter with a brief description of the coming of Zen to Europe.

In 1906 the Open Court Publishing Company of Chicago published Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku, then the Lord-Abbot of Engaku-Ji at Kamakura, the monastery where Dr. Suzuki, his pupil, is living and writing today. These reported sermons, together with a translation by Dr. Suzuki of the Sutra of 42 Sections, were the first information for the West on the subject of Zen. In the following year Dr. Suzuki wrote a paper for the Journal of the Pali Text Society of London which, so far as I know, was the first presentation to England of the meaning as distinct from the mere existence of Zen Buddhism. In 1913, Luzac and Co. of London published The Religion of the Samurai by Kaiten Nukariya, an admirable textbook about Zen, though purely on the plane of the intellect. E. J. Harrison’s The Fighting Spirit of Japan, published in London in the same year, has a chapter on Zen, but the subject is treated without understanding.

In 1921 Dr. Suzuki founded and edited The Eastern Buddhist, for which he wrote between that date and its final issue in 1939 a great many articles on Zen, many of which were used as the basis for his later books. The circulation in England, however, was never large, and the same presumably applied to a 30-page booklet written by Arthur Waley in 1922 on Zen Buddhism and its Relation to Art. To all intents and purposes, therefore, the general public had only The Religion of the Samurai for their study of Zen until Dr. Suzuki began, in 1927, the publication of his long series of works on Zen which the Buddhist Society, London, are now in the process of re-publishing in England.

The first volume of Essays in Zen Buddhism opened a new world of vision for the many thousands who read it, and the following two volumes, and the later works as listed in the Bibliography at the end of this volume, have now made Zen available, to the extent that it can ever be conveyed in print, to the English-speaking world. It is right to add that Dr. J. B. Pratt, who in 1928 produced his monumental work The Pilgrimage of Buddhism, seems to have acquired his knowledge of Zen without reference to these Essays of Dr. Suzuki’s though as he adds the latter’s name to those who had helped him, it is probable that he had read the volumes of The Eastern Buddhist from which the Essays were more or less compiled. By 1932, the three main Sutras used in Zen were available in English. William Gemmell had translated The Diamond Sutra in 1912. The Sutra of Wei Lang reached England in 1930, and Dr. Suzuki’s Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra and the text, The Lankavatara Sutra appeared in 1930 and 1932 respectively. To these must be added the Huang Po Doctrine of Universal Mind (trans. Chu Ch’an), and other Zen Sutras now being published as fast as members in China can send them in competent translation.

From 1930 onwards books and articles on Zen began to increase in quantity, yet all of them were influenced by, if not entirely based upon the works of Dr. Suzuki. A section in my What is Buddhism? (1928), Mrs. Adams Beck’s very lovely work, The Garden of Vision (1929), Dwight Goddard’s The Buddha’s Golden Path (1930), these and the steady output of Dr. Suzuki made Zen increasingly known. Then came the war, but after it, when I found the Professor, hale and hearty at 76, in his house in Engaku-ji at Kamakura, he told me of eighteen further volumes on Buddhism which he had written during the war, and which were waiting to be translated into English as soon as he or some other competent translator could find the time. Some of these will be published in England in the next few years; his famous “Address to the Emperor of Japan” has already passed into a second edition under the title of The Essence of Buddhism.

And now new writers are beginning to appear. Mr. R. H. Blyth, who is writing the Professor’s life, has himself after sixteen years in a Korean Zen monastery written, as a teacher of English in Japan, a rich compendious work, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics. The Buddhist Society, London, are publishing the collected works, slim though as yet they are, of W. G. Gabb, the author of Beyond the Intellect, and Tales of Tokuzan. I have written a little of Zen in my Studies in the Middle Way, and a brief exordium which I have called Walk On! Material for study is, therefore, available now in western lands, for books have appeared in German, notably Zen, der lebendige Buddhismus in Japan, by Ohasama and Faust, and Dr. Suzuki’s Essays have appeared in French. Yet words are but marks on paper, or noises in the air; in the end it is work, hard work in the practice of direct, immediate living which alone produces the direct, immediate experience of Zen.

(To be continued)

— Christmas Humphreys, The Theosophical Forum, January 1949

The Nature of Zen Buddhism

There are men, and plenty of them, who think that when something has been classified in accordance with the prevailing system of filing, they know more about it. But nothing has happened. Such men know nothing more about a flower to which they have in triumph added a Latin name of fourteen syllables; and they are no nearer to the spiritual experience known as Zen by announcing that Zen is this or that. Zen is, and the noises made in its presence affect it no more than a flower is impressed by its labeling.

Yet questions are asked, and some of these are worth answering.

Is Zen Buddhism a religion? It depends, of course, upon what is meant by religion.

It is not a religion in the sense that the term is popularly understood; for Zen has no God to worship, no ceremonial rites to observe, no future abode to which the dead are destined, and, last of all, Zen has no soul whose welfare is to be looked after by somebody else and whose immortality is a matter of intense concern with some people. Zen is free from all these dogmatic and “religious” encumbrances.
Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Suzuki, p. 14

If, on the other hand, it is as Professor Whitehead conceives it, the answer is otherwise.

It is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within the passing flux of immediate things; something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.
— Quoted in Diagnosis of Man, Walker, p. 100

Much depends on the alleged relationship of the Teacher to the Teaching which is later taught in his name. No Teacher ever founds a religion. He teaches, and men listen to his Teaching. He passes, as all else passes, and about the memory of his Teaching men build up, as a wall about some holy object, a system of thought and doctrine, of ceremonial and worship, which all too soon bears little resemblance to the Teacher’s own attempt to promulgate his spiritual experience. In time, indeed, the religion becomes a substitute for the actual experience, and as such becomes evil. As Dr. Jung points out, “Creeds are codified and dogmatized forms of original religious experience,” and these are easily used as shields against the terrors of direct experience.

What is usually and generally called “religion” is to such an amazing degree a substitute that I ask myself seriously whether this kind of “religion,” which I prefer to call a creed, has not an important function in human society. The substitution has the obvious purpose of replacing immediate experience by a choice of suitable symbols invested in a solidly organized dogma and ritual.
Psychology and Religion, pp. 6 and 52

And as the purpose of Zen is “direct seeing into the heart of man,” anything which stands between a man and such direct experience is evil, to be thrust aside as a barrier which intervenes between the seeker and his goal.

Yet religion can be used as a raft whereby to cross the raging flood of Samsara, and to reach the farther shore. But he is a fool who carries the raft thereafter, and religion is at the best a means to an end, to be cast aside when its purpose is fulfilled. And without doubt religions may be used to heal: “All religions,” says Dr. Jung, “are therapies for the sorrows and disorders of the soul,” for when the part is sick it seeks reunion with the whole, and religion, a re-binding, is a means for effecting, by penance and sacrifice and inward prayer, a re-integration of the soul. And in a way it would seem we are all sick men, for only in a state of consciousness beyond the desires of self lies health or wholeness, and until we find that light within we sit in the darkness of the soul’s dis-ease.

It seems that man must have a religion, even though it should bear a disguise remote from its normal seeming.

Having lost the old faith, they turn eagerly to new ones, and science, psycho-analysis, spiritualism, social reform and nationalism have all in turn acted as substitutes for religion.
Diagnosis of Man, p. 243

Of these the most evil is the State. God, a convenient invention, may at least be a God of love. The State is cold, impersonal, has neither warmth nor love nor mystery: is purely conscious, having no controllable relation with the vast forces of the unconscious mind and being without heart, it rejects the devotee in the moment of his greatest need. Like all things large, it has no meaning, and I for one hate all things large, be it a department store, a limited company or a world society. These lack humanity; they make and are bound by foolish rules; they do not care. But “the race is run by one and one and never by two and two,” and only one man, not a crowd or a nation or a committee, finds deliverance. In the end the Truth is beyond all formulation. Is it not written in the Diamond Sutra:

“Subhuti, what do you think? Has the Tathagata attained the Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment? Has the Tathagata a teaching to enunciate?” And Subhuti answered, “As I understand the Buddha’s meaning there is no formulation of truth called Consummation of Incomparable Enlightenment. Moreover, the Tathagata has no formulated teaching to enunciate. Wherefore? Because the Tathagata has said that truth is uncontainable and inexpressible. It either is or it is not. Thus it is that this unformulated Principle is the foundation of the different systems of all the sages.”
The Jewel of Transcendental Wisdom, p. 32

In brief, although Zen Buddhism is in some sense a religion, Zen itself is the light of all religions; it is not one of them.

Is Zen Buddhism truly a part of Buddhism? Or is it accidental that this fierce, direct approach to reality flowered from the stem of Buddhism, when it might equally have flowered elsewhere? To the extent that “Buddhism” limits Zen, Zen is not Buddhism, for “anything that has the semblance of an external authority is rejected by Zen.” On the other hand, as Dr Suzuki also says, “If Buddhism were to develop in the Far East so as to satisfy the spiritual cravings of its people, it had to grow into Zen,” which accords with his constant statement that Zen was the Chinese way of absorbing and applying Buddhism. (Introduction to Zen Buddhism, pp. 21,9)

Professor Coomaraswamy begins by describing Zen Buddhism as the more philosophical and mystical aspect of the Mahayana, and as essentially indifferent to iconolatry and to scriptural authority.

This phase of Mahayana is little determined by special forms, and can scarcely be said to have any other creed than that the kingdom of heaven is in the heart of man. This school of thought most fully represents the Mahayana as a world religion.
Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism

This is on account of its amazing flexibility. Being bound to no forms using any or no philosophy and all convenient manner of technique, Zen is the flowering of the mind from the seeds of spiritual experience. It is based upon, draws its life from and actually is the Enlightenment which made Prince Siddhartha, Kumar of the Kshattriyas, the Buddha, the Enlightened One. Zen is therefore the Buddh in Buddhism, and “the definition of Buddhism must be that of the life-force which carries forward a spiritual movement called Buddhism.” One may therefore agree with Professor Kaiten Nukariya:

Beyond all doubt Zen belongs to Mahayanism, yet this does not imply that it depends on the scriptural authority of that school, because it does not trouble itself about the Canon, whether it be Hinayana or Mahayana, or whether it was directly spoken by Shakya Muni or written by some later Buddhists.

Or, one might add, written by a small boy on the nursery wall or published in the local railway guide. If it appeals to the intuition it is food for Zen; if not, it has no more value than a speech on politics. Zen Buddhism, in brief, appears in and uses the vehicle built for it called Zen Buddhism; it also appears on the race-course, in the cathedral, and in the w. c.

Within the fold of the Mahayana, Zen Buddhism is often referred to as the Meditation School. It uses meditation and, as already explained, the Zen-Do or Meditation Hall in a Zen monastery is the very heart of the community, but its meditation is far from the meaning of that term in India. There is no deliberate abstraction from the things of sense. Non-attachment, the cure for desire which is the cause of suffering, is an incidental development. Nor does it analyze phenomena, as in the Southern School of Buddhism, with a view to understanding their essential evanescence and “soul-lessness.” Rather it seeks to develop the intuition, which cares not for the opposites and is neither attracted nor repelled. It is the Meditation Sect in that it uses profound meditation, with or without the koan exercise, as a means to the awakening of Buddhi, the intuitive faculty which is the light of Enlightenment. But it is by no means the Contemplative Sect which certain armchair scholars seem to believe. No one who has lived in a Zen Monastery would describe the life of the monks as contemplative in the sense applied to certain Christian Orders. “No work, no food,” was laid down as the rule for the monks one thousand years ago, and the general impression of the daily round is one of strenuous activity. A koan may as well be solved with a spade in the hand as in locked, ecstatic silence, and the humblest chores are carried out with the same efficiency and good will as the longest session of deep meditation in the Zen-Do.

What, then, is the place of Zen Buddhism in the field of the Mahayana? It is a revolt from the formalism inherent in the Japanese character. Outwardly, there are services for the people, with the officiating priests appearing in the most gorgeous robes. Inwardly there is only the silent striving for direct experience, and every “form,” however tenuous, is looked upon as a net to ensnare the awakening consciousness. Like a butterfly it rests on the branch of the tree of Wisdom which men for the moment call Buddhism. If it fluttered away it would still be — what it is.

Is Zen but a form of pantheism? Yes and no. If pantheism means, as my dictionary suggests, that the whole universe is God, or that every part of the universe is a manifestation of God, then Zen is not pantheism, for Zen would deny the validity of the partial conception of God. The Zen view, borrowed from Buddhist philosophy, is that behind or beyond the manifest is the absolute Void or Emptiness wherein no “thing” essentially exists. Yet there is no duality in the faintest conceivable form. The Void is a Plenum-Void; Samsara, the Wheel of Becoming, is Nirvana. There is no need for the interposition of an outside Reality called God. Human is divine. If there is a God, we are so much part of it and it of us that there is no difference. Why, then, make use of this man-made symbol in the sky? John Donne was near to the Buddhist conception, holding that “God is an angel in an angel, and a stone in a stone and a straw in a straw.” For, as Dr. Suzuki points out,

In Zen each individual is an absolute entity, and as such he is related to all the other individuals, and this nexus of infinite interrelationships is made possible in the realm of Emptiness because they all find their being here even as they are, that is, as individual realities.
Zen Buddhism and its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 220

This and no less is the tremendous theme of the Buddhist philosophy as developed particularly in the Kegon School. As he most reasonably adds to the above passage, “This may be difficult to grasp for those who are not trained in the Buddhist way of thinking.” It is, however, essential to appreciate that the only philosophy of practical use in Zen is that which is based on the intuition. The intellect cannot grasp that the Many is the One without ceasing to be individual things; that the One can be Many and still be One. This is Jiji-Muge, the complete interfusion of opposites and, as such, a stage yet higher than the Brahman’s “Thou art THAT,” for even in THAT, says the Buddhist, thou art not a whit less thou!

Is Zen atheistic? Yes, if “God” is different from any other form of life which moves to its own enlightenment. “Buddhism is what the world is when you look straight at it,” as somebody has said. Why, then, do so through the eyes of an intermediary?

It would, however, be more accurate to say, as Rene Guenon says, that

Buddhism is no more atheistic than it is theistic or pantheistic; all that need be said is that it does not place itself at the point of view where these various terms have any meaning.
— Quoted in Walker’s Diagnosis of Man, p. 184

We cannot know God intellectually; when we have learnt to know him, or the Reality of which he is the anthropomorphic dummy, intuitively, we have passed beyond the need of the conception of God. Even reasonably, the God of the Christians is an absurdity in terms of Zen. If he is good then he must be evil; if he is only good he is opposed to evil; in which case there are two things in the Universe, evil and God. If, on the other hand, God is a term for the absolute ultimate All, why chatter about it? “The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao,” and in the same way,

Every statement about the transcendental ought to be avoided because it is invariably a laughable presumption on the part of the human mind, unconscious of its limitations.
— Jung, Secret of the Golden Flower, p. 135

This is one of the many reasons why Zen hates and strives to avoid abstractions. When a question is put as to the meaning of such terms as Buddha-hood or Reality, the Zen Master invariably turns them down, making the questioner realize that they have no direct hold on life. As an example, the Master Ganto (829-887 a.d.) was asked, “What is the original, eternal reason?” “Moving,” said the original Master. “What about it when moving?”, asked the questioner. “It is no more the, eternal reason,” replied Ganto, who for once “explained” his reply. “When you assert, you are still in the world of the senses; when you do not assert, you sink into the ocean of birth and death.” In Zen, affirmation and denial are equal and opposite, and ultimately both are a waste of time. It is, therefore, wise to wipe out the folly of the pursuit of God, and lo! when the pursuit is finally abandoned he will be found waiting in the lounge.

Is Zen, then, a form of mysticism? Have it as you will, for it depends on what is meant by the much-abused and quite exhausted word. There are many forms of mysticism, which Evelyn Underhill defines as the art of union with Reality. Zen would suggest it were better to have tea, being grossly irreverent in the face of vague abstractions. Yet mysticism is a convenient term for the factor which alone gives life and warmth to all religion, and the lack of which makes mere intellectual reasoning such a cold, unprofitable ploy. It is this vision, this self-communion with the vast unconsciousness which lies about the circle of our conscious life which lifts mere verse into the realm of poetry, fires the imagination, the creative power of the mind, and makes of beauty in all its forms a nobler pursuit than the love of sensuous enjoyment. But it must not be controlled; it must never be fastened or confined. It is “the bloom on the hills at the close of day, the light on the hills at dawn,” and if it be fastened to the mind’s conception of some extra-cosmic God, though it may produce great poetry, with the love of the Beloved as a golden refrain, yet it cannot lead to the heart’s enlightenment. For still the Lover and the Beloved are two, not one, and even in union there is still not an end. For if all things are reduced to the One, to what is the One reduced? Such mysticism may lift the eyes a long way up the hill, but the will o” the wisp of Zen still moves ahead, and its laughter is heard still further up the mountain side.


Early Buddhism stressed the necessity of individual effort. “Irrigators guide the water; fletchers straighten arrows, carpenters bend wood; wise men shape themselves.” Thus the Dhammapada. Again, “Though a man should conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, he who conquers himself is the greatest warrior.” And again, “By oneself evil is done; by oneself one suffers. By oneself evil is left undone; by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity are personal concerns. No one can purify another.” It is therefore strange that into such a noble and dynamic faith, with its clear command to control and purify the lower man until the last stain of personal desire and its consequent suffering is purged away, there should have crept, as late as the 13th century a.d., its very antithesis, the doctrine that effort, however splendid, will never of itself avail, and that faith must supply the deficiency. And the faith was not in the Buddha within, as a guide and teacher, but in Amida, the personified Principle of Buddha-hood who dwells in a conventional heaven. Only by Tariki, this “other Power,” could man be saved; and after a while the middle way of Jodo Buddhism, with a balance of Jiriki, “self-power,” and Tariki, was replaced by the extreme of Shin Buddhism, wherein all morality and the mind’s development was declared to be of no importance so long as faith in Amida was held in the mind and repeated constantly. Thereafter Amida’s vow, to save mankind, was sufficient means to Enlightenment, and all who believed would find themselves in the Pure Land of his All-Compassionate Mind. The basic doctrine of early Buddhism, whereby a man is the product of his thoughts and acts, and the sole creator of his destiny — no God nor all the powers of Heaven having the power to stand between — all this was ended. He who believed would be saved.

If it be argued that faith and love are stronger than the law of Karma, of action-reaction, then it is no law. I prefer the Christian doctrine, “Love is the fulfilling of the law,” and regard it as the finer Buddhism. If it be said, and so it was said to me in Japan, that the original doctrine is too hard for the many, then let the many tread, as in other Buddhist countries, so far as they can up the hillside until they are ready for the noble truths of Buddhism. It seems to me wrong to describe this attitude as Buddhism. Of course, there is more to the Buddha’s Teaching than this law of moral philosophy, of Karma and rebirth, but the element of love, of a wide compassion for all living things, is no monopoly of the Mahayana, and it is a power that comes, as all comes in the end, from within. “Seek in the impersonal for the Eternal Man, and having sought him out look inward — thou art Buddha.” 1 True, this spiritual factor, which of course is Zen, may seem to come from without, and so produce an inner experience, or seem to come from within, in which case it will manifest without. But I cannot accept as Buddhism a School which denies the importance of self-development, nor, I gather, can Dr. Suzuki. “The absolute “other power” doctrine is not psychologically valid, nor metaphysically tenable.” To the extent, therefore, that Zen Buddhism is on one side or other of this Japanese fence, it is undoubterly Jiriki, moving by “self-power” to its own and the world’s Enlightenment. There is a well known story in Zen which may be summarized here. A monk named Dogen, who sought enlightenment, was sent on a very long errand which he thought would interfere with his studies. Sogen, a fellow monk, took pity on him and agreed to accompany him. One evening, when Dogen implored his friend to help him solve the mystery of life, Sogen told him there were five things which he could not do for his friend — to eat and drink for him, to respond to the calls of nature for him, and to carry the “corpse” of his body along the way. Dogen saw the point in a flash, and attained satori. But presumably the truth is some way above and beyond this pair of opposites. Dr. Suzuki himself has written of the inner truth of Tariki Buddhism, and is in fact a Professor of the Otani College of the principal Shin Temple in Kyoto. And it was the Prince Abbot of the twin monastery of the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto who presided, as I have related elsewhere, at the Conference at which I debated this point with his pundits. In the end he announced, “Mr. Humphreys is right; Tariki and Jiriki alike are means.” And that, as I said in my book, 2 “ended the discussion.”

Tariki and Jiriki, then, are both means to an end, another of the opposites which only exist as such on the plane of discrimination. But as Zen is itself above such a plane it must exist in both “means” equally, though its principal vehicle, Zen Buddhism, is unquestionably of the Jiriki School. It is in the degradation of a spiritual truth that evil lies, in teaching the people that morality and character-building are of no importance. A balance must be obtained, and in practice I found that it was so in all but the lowest rank of the Pure Land followers. Thus

Self-hood is revealed in otherness and otherness in self-hood, which means a complete interpenetration of subject and object, Amida and his devotees. And we can see that Buddhism is after all one, and remains so in spite of apparent diversity.
The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. IV, Part 2, p. 32 (of reprint)


The ideal of the Thera Vada was and is the Arhat, he who by his own efforts attains Enlightenment. But as the Mahayana developed, this limited ideal was held to be insufficient.

His object of spiritual discipline does not extend beyond his own interest, however exalted it may be in itself, — the object being the attainment of Arhatship, a solitary saintly life. This is all well as far as it goes, but as we are all living within a most complicately organized communal body, not excepting even a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, we have to think of this side of life. The conception of a Bodhisattva was thus inevitable.
— Suzuki, Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, p. 124

But is it all as simple as all that? “The sages of old got Tao for themselves, then gave it to others,” said the Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu. Or, in the words of the Dhammapada, “Let a wise man first go the right way himself, then teach others.” After all, there is precisely one mind which he can purify, his own; one character to be ennobled, one vision to be widened, his own. How shall he save another from the burning house of desire, that has not saved himself? The change, it would seem, is from depth to width, from the profound study of the few, reaching the whole way to the goal, to a more superficial improvement of the many. As such it may have been an “inevitable conception,” but I cannot lightly accept that the Arhat is the less noble ideal. It is, therefore, to be noted that elsewhere Dr. Suzuki modifies his view.

The Arhat and the Bodhisattva are essentially the same. But the Mahayanists, perceiving a deeper sense in Enlightenment as the most important constituent element in the attainment of the final goal of Buddhism, which is spiritual freedom, . . . did not wish to have it operated in themselves only, but wanted to see it realized in every being, sentient and non sentient.
Essays in Zen Buddhism, I, p. 52

Thus was born the Bodhisattva doctrine which, running as a golden thread through the whole Mahayana, affects Zen Buddhism. The single aim of the Hinayanist became dual. Mahayana stood thereafter on two legs, Maha-Prajna, supreme wisdom, and Maha-Karuna, supreme compassion for all living things. Of these Dr. Suzuki says, in a most illuminating phrase, that “the former sees into the unity of things, and the latter appreciates their diversity.” (Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, p. 229)

He expands this in The Essence of Buddhism, when talking of Jiji-muge.

It is by the Great Compassionate Heart that the Kegon world of Jiji muge moves. If it were just to reflect one individual Ji after another in the mirror of Ri, the world would cease to be a living one, becoming simply an object of contemplation for the hermit or Arhat. It is the Heart indeed that tells us that our own self is a self only to the extent that it disappears into all other selves, non-sentient as well as sentient. . . .
The Essence of Buddhism, p. 55

This mystical sense of union is, of course, found alike in eastern and western philosophy. Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Diary, “Enter into every man’s Inner Self, and let every man enter into thine.” And John Donne’s famous observation is in the same vein. “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

The Bodhisattva, therefore, at first a name reserved for the few who had neared Nirvana, but later applied to all who vowed to live for the benefit of mankind, was raised as a nobler ideal than that of the Arhat, and the latter was covertly regarded as a selfish aim. Yet

in finding fault with the Hinayanist ideal, the Mahayanist failed to realize that a selfish being could not become an arahant, which consisted in a spiritual exaltation which transcended the limitations of temporal individuality. In what intelligible sense can a system which aims at the elimination of the phenomenal ego be described as egoistic? . . . The arahant could not have reached full spiritual development if he had failed to act in accordance with the principle that each man forms a part of a spiritual whole of which all of his fellow men are also parts, and that to serve them is to enrich, while to neglect them is to impoverish, his own higher self.
Buddhist China, R. F. Johnston, p. 73

But whether or not the Arhat is selfish, and whether or not in his narrower objective he avoids the pitfalls of the rival doctrine, including those of over-officiously minding other people’s business, the Bodhisattva ideal does liberate the force of compassion. Every monk in a Mahayana monastery recites at intervals the “Four great Vows.”

However innumerable sentient beings are
I vow to save them;
However inexhaustible the passions are
I vow to extinguish them;
However immeasurable the Dharmas are
I vow to study them;
However incomparable the Buddha-truth is
I vow to attain it.

Thus China and Japan make echo to that noblest of all works of Northern Buddhism, The Voice of the Silence. For depth of spiritual feeling and purity of thought it is in a class of its own. Even the Metta Sutta of the Thera Vada is but the song of human love as against the “pure serene” of this ancient Tibetan fragment.

Let thy Soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun.

Let not the fierce sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye.

But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain; nor ever brush it off until the pain that caused it is removed.

“To live to benefit mankind,” is the first step on the Path, not the last, in this philosophy, and it is dynamic.

Point out the “Way” — however dimly, and lost among the host — as does the evening star to those who tread their path in darkness. . . . Give light and comfort to the toiling pilgrim, and seek out him who knows still less than thou . . . let him hear the Law.

Love is a noble theme, and love itself may be, as Aldous Huxley says, a mode of knowledge,\

and when the love is sufficiently disinterested and sufficiently intense, the knowledge becomes unitive knowledge and so takes on the quality of infallibility.
The Perennial Philosophy, p. 81

There is, indeed, as W. J. Gabb points out, “a kindness of the heart and a kindness of the head. Kindness of the heart prompts us to shake up the pillows of a bed-ridden sufferer, but Jesus told such an one to take up his bed and walk.” (From the MS. of a lecture). Love, to be wise, must be lit with Prajna, Wisdom; and Wisdom cannot be complete that is devoid of Love. Thus once more the pair are a pair of opposites and Zen, that seeks not wisdom nor love, being both on the plane of the opposites, drives straight for the state of consciousness which lies beyond all opposites, where Wisdom and Love, Arhat and Bodhisattva, are one — and at the same time what they severally are.


Where is Zen in relation to morality? This is a vague term, having at least two meanings. It may refer to our relations with our fellow men and other forms of life. As such it equates with ethics, and would scarcely obtain if one were alone on a desert island. It may also refer to the inner life of the mind, and equate with character building, the elimination of low desires and qualities, and their replacement with nobler qualities. What does Zen have to say about either? Does it take the view of Shin Buddhism at its most extreme, that morality is of no importance so long as the mind be concentrated on the light within? Or does it regard the moral cleansing of the mind as an essential preliminary to further growth? Or does it consider that when the kingdom of Heaven is attained, all else shall be added unto you — that right morality is the result rather than the cause of satori, enlightenment?

It seems that Zen adheres to the doctrine of causation as governing the world of duality in which we live. “As ye sow, so shall ye also reap,” is the doctrine known in the East as Karma, action-reaction. Zen, therefore, denies the convenient doctrine of sin-transference, whereby the great ones of the earth apply to those less fortunate, i.e. more lazy, the surplus of their own tremendous merit, acquired from innumerable good deeds. But the law of causation is tempered with compassion, for the love of the loving minds of the earth will affect the incidence of woe, and make the suffering to be borne as the result of folly easier to bear. Moreover, Zen, being of the essence of freedom, resents all rules which hamper and confine the mind. According to Dr. Suzuki, this is one of the reasons for the Japanese preference for art over morality. “Morality is regulative, but art creative. The one is an imposition from without, but the other is an irrepressible expression from within.” (Zen Buddhism and its Influence on Japanese Culture, p. 21) Zen, he concludes, therefore, finds its inevitable association with art, but not with morality. For rigid form is a symptom of departing life.

When the great Tao is lost, spring forth benevolence and righteousness. When Wisdom and sagacity arise, there are great hypocrites. Where Tao is, equilibrium is. When Tao is lost, out come all the differences of things.

This spiritual principle applies specially to the artificial distinctions of “good” and “bad,” and Taoism is at least consistent in its philosophy in that it has no moral code.

The Sage has no self (to call his own). He makes the self of the people his self. To the good I act with goodness; to the bad I also act with goodness.
Tao Te Ching, chs. 18, 49

Why formulate rules unless the original sense of “right” has been somehow paralyzed?

Zen admits that outward conduct should conform with the laws of the state and the customs of the time, but the inner life should be above all rules imposed from without.

Definition is always limitation — the “fixed” and “changeless” are but terms expressive of a stoppage of growth. . . . People are not taught to be really virtuous, but to behave properly.
The Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzo, p. 53

Yet some degree of discipline is needed, and it is useful so long as it comes from within. It is desire which has to be corrected, not action, for we behave according as we will, and it is an old truth that behind will stands desire. And desire will be purified as the higher, intuitive range of mind increasingly gains control. There is danger in the denial of both good and evil as having real validity, for gross immorality can appear thereby. Zen monasteries are therefore run to a discipline, but it is a control shared willingly, as distinct from a set of rules which most, when occasion offers, will be swift to disobey.

In Zen there is one enemy in the path of final enlightenment, and this is self, the self which stands between a man and the sun while he bitterly complains that it is dark. For self is a knot in the flow of life, an obstruction in the flow of becoming. Life walks on and we strive to prevent it. Yet how bitter our complaint when we are hurt thereby!

A Master was asked, “What is the Way?” “What a fine mountain this is,” he said, referring to the mountain where he had his retreat. “I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way.” “As long as you cannot go beyond the mountain you cannot reach the Way,” replied the Master.

The same Master was asked the same question by another monk. “It lies right before your eyes,” said the Master.

Why do I not see it for myself?
You do not, because of your egoistic notion.
If I do not because of my egoistic notion, do you?
So long as you have dualistic views, saying “I don’t” and “You do” and
so on, your eyes are bedimmed by this relativity view.
When there is neither “I” nor “You,” can one see it?
When there is neither “I” nor “You,” who is it that wants to see?
Essays in Zen Buddhism, III, pp. 298-9

The “self may acquire merit unceasingly by virtuous thoughts and actions, but, as Bodhidharma explained to the Chinese Emperor, such merit, though it will by the law of cause-effect improve the character, will have no bearing on the fact of enlightenment. Zen begins where morality leaves off, and its subsequent progress is on a plane where the opposites, like “good” and “bad,” have lost their meaning. As Kaiten Nukariya pithily puts it, “Man is not Good-natured or Bad-natured, but Buddha-natured” (Religion of the Samurai, page 105).

It is not right conduct, therefore, which matters, but right thinking, thought which springs from the Essence of Mind. Right conduct may be performed in obedience to a moral code, and have no relation to the mind. Right thinking, however, liberated from the illusion of the opposites, will automatically produce “right action,” the third step on the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. “Form and virtue and charity, and duty to one’s neighbour, these are accidents of the spiritual,” said the Taoist, Chuang Tzu, having in mind, no doubt, the dull Confucian of his day whose life was bound by rigid obedience to an endless code of equally rigid rules.

Zen ethic, therefore, springs from a sense of the unimportance of self, and is fed by the understanding of this fact which flows from the increasing light of enlightenment. Hence the willingness to help all living things to the same liberation of mind. As the Lama said in Talbot Mundy’s immortal Om,

My son, there is no such thing as sacrifice, except in the imagination. There is opportunity to serve, and he who overlooks it robs himself. Would you call the sun’s light sacrifice?

As a Zen Abbot said to me in Kyoto, “Get Enlightenment; the rest follows,” yet, as Alan Watts points out,

While morality should not be confused with religion, it does take one a certain distance towards the goal; it cannot go the whole way because morality is essentially rigid and limiting, and Zen begins where morality leaves off.
The Spirit of Zen, p. 63

Like the intellect, it must be used and then transcended. Meanwhile, perhaps Aldous Huxley should have the last word of all these quotations.

The relationship between moral action and spiritual knowledge is circular, as it were, and reciprocal. Selfless behaviour makes possible an accession of knowledge, and the accession of knowledge makes possible the performance of further and more genuinely selfless actions, which in their turn enhance the agent’s capacity for knowing.
The Perennial Philosophy, p. 129

And so on, until this pair of opposites is merged in Zen.

(To be continued)


1. The Voice of the Silence, p. 35

2. Via Tokyo, p. 74.

— Christmas Humphreys, The Theosophical Forum, February 1949

In Search of Zen

Asked, “What is Zen?”, there is only one truthful answer, “That’s it!” For Zen is beyond description. It is the life within form and only a form can be described. It refuses to commit itself to any specified pattern of thinking, to conform to the rules of man’s imagining, to fill any mold. “It is a world-power, for in so far as men live at all, they live by Zen.” (Blyth, Zen in English Literature, p. vii). If this be vague it is not the fault of Zen but the fault of the mind’s persistent refusal to focus on truth, preferring the forms of truth. Yet Zen, “though far from indefinite, is by itself indefinable because it is the active principle of life itself” (Ibid., p. 2). Nor is its teaching vague. Coal is black, says Zen. Coal is not black, says Zen. This is clear enough, and both are equally true — or untrue. For Zen slips from the grasp out of either trap, affirmation or denial, both of which limit the boundless, cage the illimitable. Below sense is nonsense, where understanding has not reached the plane of formulated truth. Beyond sense lies non-sense, when the limits of all formulation have been transcended, and only a smile or the lifting of a flower can reveal a shared experience.

Zen is a way of looking at life, a rather unusual way. For it is the direct way, whereby all things are seen just as themselves, and not otherwise, and yet at the same time seen as the interfused aspects of a whole. In Zen all things are ends in themselves, while having no end. To the pure all things are pure; to the Essence of Mind all things just are. And the nearer we are to the Essence of Mind the nearer we are to the things about us which are and yet are not the Essence of Mind. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow . . .” said Jesus. “Consider the flower in the crannied wall,” said Tennyson. Consider anything you please, but just consider it, not as a symbol of eternity, as God in miniature, as a moral lesson or a Great White Hope, but just consider it. “Mysticism uses the object, the finite, as a telescope to look into the infinite. Zen looks at the telescope” (Blyth, p. 216). As the Master Jimyo said, “As soon as one particle of dust is raised, the great earth manifests itself there in its entirety.” It is there, all of it, not symbolically, but actually. There is no need to do more than just to consider it, whatever it may be. The flower is enjoyed for what it is, not otherwise, and he who can rightly look at a flower, without a shadow of aught else intervening, is looking at Zen. Thereafter he is in direct communion with all living things, and who shall hate these toes and fingers of his larger self which lie on the mind’s periphery? For they are God, if you care to call them so, or Reality, and therefore deserving the gesture which a lover of Zen may pay with the raised hands of respect to a landscape or a noble picture or even to his bowl of tea. Or they are brothers, born of the same father, life, out of the same mother, illusion; or they just are.

For those who prefer the language of modern psychology, he who has achieved this power of direct and therefore illumined vision

is no longer preoccupied with the images of things but merely contains them. The fullness of the world which heretofore pressed upon it [his consciousness], loses none of its richness and beauty, but no longer rules consciousness. The magical claim of things has ceased because the primordial interweaving of consciousness with the world has finally been disentangled. The unconscious is not projected any more, and so the primal participation mystique with things is abolished. Therefore, consciousness is no longer preoccupied with compulsive motives, but becomes vision.
Secret of the Golden Flower, Jung, pp. 121-2

Zen is therefore a matter of experience, and if this has been said many times before, there is little else to be said. It has a subject but no object. It is impersonal, undirected, purposeless. There is no reference in the vast literature of recorded satori to union with the Beloved, or of union at all. Zen is a zip-fastener between the opposites. It passes, and they are no more. Yet they are, as none shall deny that once more opens the fastener. Zen is dynamic; it moves and will not wait to be expressed or fastened by the ankle with a phrase. Like Tao,

When one looks at it, one cannot see it;
When one listens to it, one cannot hear it;
But when one uses it, it is inexhaustible.
Tao Te Ching, Chap. 35

Still less can it be the subject of chatter, still less possessed. Said a Master to a pupil who talked about Zen, “You have one trivial fault. You have too much Zen.” “But is it not natural for a student of Zen to talk about Zen?” asked the puzzled student. “Why do you hate talking about Zen?” intervened a fellow student. “Because it turns my stomach,” said the Master. Well?

Zen has no form, and therefore it has no religion or philosophy of its own. It flowers on a hundred stems, and may use any man-made system to climb to its own integrity. Yet whatever it uses is a substitute for Zen, a mere finger pointing to the moon. No thing, no compound of matter or thought or feeling, must be thought to be the moon when it is but the finger. Or is it the moon?

Zen is a state of consciousness beyond the opposites. It is also the way to such a condition. It has no form and destroys the forms which are made for it. “Coal is black” may be true. So, says Zen, is the opposite, that coal is not black. Both statements limit the truth by an intellectual equation between two things of relative existence. Do we know the coal any more by sticking upon it the label “black’?

Yet the mind is partial to clothing for truth, being prudish-minded about her essential nakedness. Even Bodhidharma is said to have laid down the four fundamental principles already set out. Let us consider them.


Is Zen, then, esoteric? Some say yes, that in fact it never had an exoteric form. The Robe was handed down from Patriarch to Patriarch, and for a long time nothing of this “transmission” was written down. In the Samyutta Nijaya of the Pali Canon is the famous story of the simsapa leaves. Taking up a handful of leaves, the Buddha asked his disciples, “What think ye, Brethren, which are the more, these leaves that I hold in my hand or those in the grove above?” The inevitable answer being given, he made his point. “Just so, those things that I know but have not revealed are greater by far than those that I have revealed. . . . And why have I not revealed them? . . . Because they do not conduce to profit, are not concerned with the holy life.” To those who have need of words to communicate experience, there is a limit to what may be taught with profit. Yet those who have opened the “third eye” of the intuition may speak with the Master on his own exalted plane.

A Confucian came to a Master to be initiated into Zen. The Master quoted Confucius, “Do you think I am holding something back from you? Indeed, I have held nothing back!” The Confucian was about to answer, when the Master thundered, “No!” The enquirer was troubled in his mind, but later, when walking in the mountains with the Master, they passed the wild laurel in bloom, and the air was redolent. “Do you smell it?” asked the Master. “There,” he said, when the Confucian agreed, “I have kept back nothing from you!”

There is, therefore, a transmission outside the Scriptures, yet these Scriptures form a remarkable body of literature. All alike must be read with the intuition.

They are direct expressions of spiritual experience, they contain intuitions gained by digging down deeply into the abyss of the Unconscious, and they make no pretension of presenting them through the mediumship of the intellect.
Essays in Zen Buddhism, Suzuki, III, p. 7

None is canonical in the sense that it is authoritative, for Buddhism knows no authority. The most used Scriptures are the Lankavatara Sutra, bequeathed to the fold of Zen by Bodhidharma; the Diamond Sutra, the hearing of which converted the 6th Patriarch, Hui-neng; the Sutra of Hui-neng (Wei-lang) himself, and perhaps the Huang-Po Doctrine of Universal Mind. All these are available in English. Portions of the Avatamsaka Sutra, described by Dr. Suzuki as the consummation of Buddhist thought and Buddhist experience, appear in Mrs. Suzuki’s Mahayana Buddhism. In Zen monasteries in Japan the Prajnaparamita-hridaya Sutra (the Shing-yo), being short, is recited on all occasions, and the Kwannon Sutra, the Japanese name for the Samantamukha-parivarta, appears very frequently. But all these are, as Kaiten Nukariya calls them, “religious currency representing spiritual wealth.” They are substitutes, at the best, for actual experience. Indeed, the scorn of the Zen practitioner for the printed word has at times been carried too far. Even the ability to read and write has been frowned upon, and the utmost ignorance of normal affairs been praised as a virtue. This is the folly of extremes, like the burning of books. Though the finger points to the moon and is not the moon, it is foolish to cut off the finger until the way to the moon is clear. Even if “the Universe is the Scripture of Zen,” as Mr. Nukariya insists, there are volumes in which its learning is made more immediately available. Yet “the man who talks much of the Teaching but does not practise it, is like a cowman counting another’s cattle; he is no disciple of the Blessed One” (Dhammapada, v. 19); or, in the later words of Hui-neng,

Whether Sutra-reciting will enlighten you or not depends on yourself. He who recites the Sutra with the tongue and puts its teaching into actual practice with the mind “turns round” the Sutra. He who recites it without putting it into practice is “turned round” by the Sutra.
Sutra of Wei Lang, pp. 70-1


This seems but an extension of the first, almost the antiphonal principle of the Psalms. Yet it rubs the lesson in. Words are but marks on paper or noises in the air. At the best they are symbols for the truth, substitutes, and poor ones, for another’s experience.

“Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know,” says the Tao Te Ching, yet words are needed to transcend words, and intellection is needed to rise above the intellect, except that this rising must not be made in a dualistic or “escapist” sense, for no such escape is here possible.
The Essence of Buddhism, Suzuki, p. 26

Words are the pins on which the butterflies of life are stuck to a board. They may look pretty, but their raison d’etre has gone. Words exist for their meaning, of which they are but the shadow, and if they enshrine some part of the meaning, they probably obscure still more. Hence the Zen search for other and better ways to convey experience. These methods, a shout, a blow, a joke, a paradox or gesture, silence itself, are more direct as a medium, and

this medium functions “directly” and “at once” as if it were the experience itself — as when deep calls to deep. This direct functioning is compared to one brightly burnished mirror reflecting another which stands facing the first with nothing in between.
Philosophy, East and West, Suzuki, p. 113

Some “devices” are frowned upon in Zen. Images have their value as a focus point for concentration and for the paying of respect to the memory of the Teacher whose Enlightenment is Zen. But not otherwise.

When the Master Tanka was bitterly cold he took a wooden image from the shrine of the temple where he was staying and put it in the fire. The keeper of the shrine was not unnaturally horrified. But Tanka was poking about in the ashes with his stick. “What are you looking for?” asked the keeper. “The holy sariras,” said the Master, referring to the relics said to be found in the ashes of a saint. “But there aren’t any in a wooden Buddha,” said the keeper. “Then give me the other two images,” said Tanka.

Zen is indeed iconoclastic. “Do not linger where the Buddha is, and where he is not, pass on.” When Jo-shu found a monk in the temple worshiping the image of the Buddha he struck him with his staff. “Is there not anything good in the worship of the Buddha?” asked the monk. “Nothing is better than anything good,” was the famous reply.


Zen points, and is what is pointed at. This “soul” or hsin, the Chinese word which covers inmost heart or mind, is the Tao of the Taoist; to the Buddhist, the Buddha within. All that points to it points truly, and according to Zen all things are fingers pointing to the same experience. The way is clear enough; it is a process of dropping the veils which we hold in front of us, all of them, not a carefully selected few. “Straightforwardness is the holy place, the Pure Land,” said Hui-neng, quoting the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. And between the two ends of straightforwardness nothing at all must intervene. Speaking of the folly of definition, a monk asked a Master, “Am I right when I have no idea?” Jyoshu, the Master, answered, “Throw away that idea of yours.” “What can I throw away?” asked the monk. “You are free, of course, to carry about that useless idea of no idea.” The monk, it is said, was enlightened. Then why, if this be true, do we need a library of books wherewith to find ourselves? For fifteen hundred years Zen Masters have “pointed” without them, and as Dr. Suzuki asks, “when a syllable or a wink is enough, why spend one’s life in writing huge books, or building a grandiose cathedral?” — The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. VI, p. 121 (All right — I know, but this is my way of learning Zen.)


This nature is hsin, the personal veil which hides from us the Essence of Mind. It is everywhere and everything, and when anything is suddenly seen for what it is, then hsin is seen, and Zen. Pointing to a stone in front of his temple, To-shi said, “All the Buddhas of the past, the present and the future are living therein.” But this would not have stopped him using the stone as a hammer to crack nuts. When Tennyson plucked the flower from the crannied wall and held it in his hand he realized, “But if I could understand what you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.” But as R. H. Blyth (p. 68) points out, a Zen master might take the flower and crush it and ask, “Now do you know what God and man is?” For the crushing of the flower is like the burning of the text book; it destroys the last veil, in this case of sentiment, which hid from the poet the essence of the flower. Things, in brief, are not symbols, but things, and the whole of Samsara, the manifested Universe, is only the Essence of Mind in reverse. See it “right,” and it is One, though none the less a rose, or a committee meeting, or a pint of beer. Such is the nature of things, and

This Nature is the Mind, and the Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is
the Way, and the Way is Zen. To see directly into one’s original Nature,
this is Zen.
Essays in Zen Buddhism, I, p. 220

What are the symptoms of awakening Zen? They are many, and may be better considered in the chapter relating to Satori. Yet here are three.

There is, first, an increasing serenity, however disturbed at times by the usual gusts of emotion or doubt. There is a sense of certainty, not boastful or aggressive in manifestation, but peaceful, as of a ship which, storm-tossed in a sea still visible, now lies safe-harbored while the storm howls overhead. There is a withdrawal of interest from the manifold means of escape from Reality in which we pass our lives, an increasing intensity of purpose and awareness which yet has lost to a large extent the quality of tension. There is a sense of airiness, of the lightness which comes of dropping the burden of self and its desires, of the health and vigor of youth on the uplands of new thought in the dawn-light of the world. There is a sense of returning, a feeling of having recovered the natural simplicity of life which springs from the rediscovery of our Essence of Mind. There is even a sense of inconsequence, from understanding of the relative unimportance of habitual affairs. Yet at the same time there is a growing awareness of the significance of things and events, impersonal now, but immediate. The humblest act is a sacrament, the humblest thing, mind-made though it is, is now of absolute value. There is, in brief, an increasing sense of balance, a refusal to rest the mind in any of the pairs of opposites, a refusal, indeed, to let the mind rest anywhere at all.

This firm refusal comes from a new-born sense of flow. Asked, “What is Zen?” a Master replied, “Walk on!” For life is like a river, filling each form and bursting its limitations as it moves unceasing on. It is therefore useless to sit down in achievement, or in any concept, even “Zen.” Hsin, (in Japanese, shin) becomes mu-shin, “no mind,” for who shall confine the sunset or the morning wind in a labeled box of thought, however splendid its construction and design? Speaking of Hui-neng, Dr. Suzuki writes,

The Mind or Self-Nature was to be apprehended in the midst of its working or functioning. The object of dhyana (Zen) was thus not to stop the working of Self-Nature but to make us plunge right into its stream and seize it in the very act. His intuitionalism was dynamic. . . . [For] the truth of Zen is the truth of life, and life means to live, to move, to act, not merely to reflect. Is it not the most natural thing for Zen, therefore, that its development should be towards acting or rather living its truth instead of demonstrating or illustrating its truth in words, that is to say, with ideas? In the actual living of life there is no logic, for life is superior to logic . . . Zen is to be explained, if explained it should be, rather dynamically than statically. When I raise the hand thus, there is Zen. But when I assert that I have raised the hand, Zen is no more there.
Essays in Zen Buddhism, Suzuki, 207, 283-4

“Be prepared,” say the Boy Scouts, echoing Hamlet’s

If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come
It will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come:
The readiness is all.

Hence the value of what Geraldine Coster calls “sitting loose to life,” a fluid adaptability to unyielding circumstance, attached to nothing, experiencing all.

He who binds to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the Joy as it flies,
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
— William Blake

Security, to many the principal purpose of life, is seen to be as undesirable as it is impossible of attainment. Emily Dickinson is right.

In insecurity to lie
Is Joy’s insuring quality.

In brief, without thought of security or achievement, or any purpose, much less an ultimate goal, “Walk on!”

A third of the many symptoms of awakening Zen, and the last to be mentioned here, is a sense of “rightness.” “All that happens happens right,” said the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. “I know that the enterprise is worthy. I know that things work well. I have heard no bad news — ” thus Thoreau, and they are brave and splendid words. From the first experience of Zen is born a willingness to let things happen, a diminishing desire to control the Universe, even though the purpose be to “rebuild it, nearer to the heart’s desire.” Action becomes increasingly “right action,” done without haste or delay, without thought of self, without thought of merit or reward.

He who pursues learning will increase every day.
He who pursues Tao will decrease every day.
He will decrease and continue to decrease
Till he comes to non-action;
By non-action everything can be done.
Tao Te Ching, Chap. 48

Yet herein lies the paradox of personality. As self dies out, the true self grows. Of the Tao or Zen it is later said,

When merits are accomplished it does not lay claim to them.
Because it does not lay claim to them, therefore it does not lose them.
Ibid, Chap. 51

The secret lies in action in inaction, or inaction in action, as explained at length in the Bhagavad-Gita. Deeds are done because it is “right” to do them, regardless of consequence, and merit; the results of right action which accrue to the doer as long as there is a “doer” to receive them, are a by-product which comes, like happiness, unsought.

Yet the habit of right action is itself presumably the result of previous lives of merit-producing action, by which the mind, increasingly lightened of the weight of personal desire, is slowly enlarged by the deliberate expansion, in range and depth, of its activity. I found in The Westminster Problems Book (1908), a delightful quatrain by Philip Castle which puts this admirably.

Good Taste

Merit acquired in incarnations past,
And now by the unconscious self held fast;
So the hand strikes the right chord, in the dark,
And, codeless, runs the right flag to the mast.

For the law of Karma, action-reaction, operates unceasingly as long as a self exists to receive the consequences, “good” or “bad” of action. Hence the advice in The Voice of the Silence:

Follow the wheel of life; follow the wheel of duty to race and kin, to friend and foe, and close thy mind to pleasures as to pain. Exhaust the law of karmic retribution. . . .

And the law can only be exhausted, as already set out, by exhausting the selfish desires which keep alive the separate, personal self.

Buddhism in the East is known as the Buddha-Dharma (Pali: Dhamma). The word Dharma has a vast variety of meaning, one of which is “duty.” But duty in English has the unpleasant connotation of compulsion. It is something which ought to be done but which generally speaking, we do not wish to do. Yet in the Buddhist sense it is that which is the next thing to be done, and the emotional labels of dislike or like are not applied. One just does it. In a memorable passage Chuang Tzu says,

To act by means of inaction is Tao. To speak by means of inaction is exemplification of Tao. . . . To follow Tao is to be prepared. [Cf. “The readiness is all.”] And not to run counter to the natural bias of things is perfect. — p. 137

This “natural bias of things” is the rhythm of nature, the rhythm of the Universe.

It connotes acting in harmony with the swing of the Universe — whether spiritually, intellectually or in the least movement of the body — from the physical movements of the dance of happy youth to the dance of the planets about the sun and the systems about the infinite.
The Story of Oriental Philosophy, Adams Beck, p. 413

Alan Watts has much to say of this in The Meaning of Happiness. Talking of the Taoist conception of the significance of the moment, he says that this implies that all things happening now have a definite relation to one another just because they have occurred together in time, if for no other reason.

This is another way of saying that there is a harmony called Tao which blends all events in each moment of the Universe into a perfect chord. The whole situation in and around you at this instant is a harmony with which you have to find your own union if you are to be in accord with Tao.

The right life, therefore, is the natural life, and he who has found and lives in Zen lives naturally. To what extent his new found harmony affects his outward life, to bring his outward mode of living into accord with his inner awareness is a matter of time and the individual, but just as the direct drive of an engine is sweet and without discordant tension, so the right use of action, direct action, is sweet and frictionless. Only self, the desire of self for self intervenes and pulls the machine out of alignment. Alignment becomes the operative word. From the “power-house of the Universe” as Trine calls it, to the individual self the power is direct, and the right means used in the right way at the right time and place make up increasingly the perfect act.

A sense of serenity, a sense of flow, and a sense of rightness in all action, these are three of the symptoms of awakening Zen, and the number of men in whom such a state of awareness flowered in China and Japan between the 6th and 19th centuries produced in their outward influence what may be fairly called the visible fruits of Zen, as manifest in Zen Buddhism.

Christmas Humphreys, The Theosophical Forum, March 1949

The Tibetan Buddhist Tradition

In regard to the work Peaks and Lamas 1 we agree with Dr Coomaraswamy’s appreciation in Asia magazine that this:

is one of those very rare books which it is impossible to overpraise.This is we feel, the book with which every student of Tibet and of Mahayana Buddhism should prepare himself and over and above this it is altogether pertinent to the consideration of the tragic problems with which humanity is faced at the present day, as well in Europe as in Asia.

We would add that to the student of Theosophy it is especially valuable for its confirmation by an unprejudiced and keen observer of the favorable impression of the majority of the people of Tibet and neighborhood given by H P Blavatsky and her Indian Masters as well as by Theosophical scholars like Dr W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and other writers and travelers whose firsthand knowledge of Tibet qualifies them to speak.

Mr Marco Pallis, the author, leader of an English mountain climbing party, came in 1933 into close and friendly contact with certain lamas while he was conducting an expedition to scale the highest peaks of the Ganges-Satlej watershed on the border of Tibet. At Lachhen in Sikkim he received valuable preliminary instruction from a lama-anchorite who seems to be the one mentioned with great respect by Mme David-Neel in her Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Not being able to penetrate into Tibet proper, but seeking more wisdom, Mr. Pallis was advised to travel to the western border of Tibet where later he continued his studies of Tibetan Buddhism under several learned and spiritual-minded lamas.

For some readers his detailed accounts of ascents of the great Himalayan peaks will be the most interesting parts of the book, while others will be attracted by the word-paintings of the sublime mountain and forest scenery. Everyone will enjoy his delightful sketches or studies of the people he met, including high and really holy lamas and hermits as well as distinctly inferior ones, down to the simple peasants and the porters in his expedition. His humor is conspicuous but it never transcends the bounds of kindliness and good taste. In return for the friendliness and consideration shown to all by Mr. Pallis and his associates they received an equal if not greater return in kind. He was so happy as a guest in one monastery in Ladak that he writes under its photograph “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem!” And this reminds us that we must not forget to mention the magnificent and unusual series of photographs of scenery, temples and monasteries, symbolic and other works of art, and interesting people.

During the last few years a number of valuable books about Tibet have appeared, such as Professor Roerich’s Shamballa, F. S. Chapman’s Lhasa: the Holy City, T. Bernard’s The Penthouse of the Gods, Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz’s and Madame David-Neels scholarly works, and others; all of which treat Tibetan religion and the Tibetans from a thoroughly sympathetic point of view. These books have removed much Western prejudice founded on ignorance. Mr. Pallis, tired of being a mere observer, adopted the costume, food, ways of living and, as far as possible, the mentality of the people of the Tibetan borderland, and was thereby able to make close personal and especially spiritual association with them. His tribute to the Tibetan character in general is high. Honesty, goodnature, and cheerfulness in adversity as well as prosperity, tolerance, politeness, and the absence of servile manners became more conspicuous as he approached the Tibetan border. He quotes the well-known French observer, Professor Jacques Bacot:

The Tibetans impress one at once by the dignity of their persons. . . . The Tibetans are not barbarous, not uncultivated; nor for that matter is their country. Under their rough hide they conceal refinements that we lack, much courtesy and philosophy, and the need for beautifying common things, be it a tent, a knife or a stirrup. . . . Moreover they are gay, these Tibetans, and happy as is not the case elsewhere today, more so than our wretched workers in their wretched factories. . . . The more densely the country is populated, the tamer is the wild game1. The Tibetans have long since lost the taste for killing which we still keep. . . . I love their companionship during the long rides, for they are taciturn, or else they only speak with good sense, originality, and a taste for speculative things.

Kindness to animals is the rule, though the blind and literal following of the injunction to avoid hurting living creatures often leads to unintentional cruelty when an injured or sick animal is allowed to suffer. While many “superstitions” are rampant, such as the fear of demons and the widespread belief in charms and the like, Mr. Pallis points out that with Tibetans superstition does not lead to such horrors as the burning of witches, and he absolutely denies that superstition has replaced religion. He found that “the Doctrine had left its mark deeply even on simple inarticulate souls.” In regard to the charge of lack of cleanliness, which, he says, “is a great standby of a certain class of lecturer or writer, when they can find nothing else to say about the people whose hospitality they have enjoyed,” he claims that it is greatly exaggerated. He quotes impartial travelers who make no special complaints. The long bitter winters do not encourage indulgence in cold baths and fuel is scarce. Taking one thing with another, he calls the inhabitants of the Buddhist lands where he traveled, “one of the earth’s most civilized peoples.” Mme Alexandra David-Neel, the famous Orientalist and traveler, agrees with this. Writing in her Magic and Mystery in Tibet, she says: “I had vaguely imagined that beyond the Himalayas the country would become wild, but now I was beginning to realize that on the contrary I was coming into contact with a truly civilized people.” Mr. Pallis often “had to whet his intellect to its keenest edge, trying to keep pace with the descant of some contemplative recluse upon a theme of pure metaphysic,” after having exchanged elegant and truly expressive courtesies. He found a profound respect for learning ingrained in the average Tibetan: can we say this of the West?

In view of such tributes by Mr. Pallis and the other authorities it is interesting to note the opinion of a still more competent observer, who resides in Tibet but who is also not a Tibetan. We refer to the Mahatman Koot Hoomi who wrote: “For ages has been Tibet the last corner of the globe not so entirely corrupted as to preclude the mingling together of the two atmospheres — the physical and the spiritual.” He adds that the Tibetans are a moral, pure-hearted, simple people, untainted with the vices of “civilization.” (See The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, p. 434.)

To the Theosophical or other student who is looking for more important spiritual values than are contained in the mere technical study of “comparative religion” the main interest of this work will be the admirable exposition of the deeper meaning of Tibetan Buddhism which the author acquired under unusually favorable conditions after he abandoned the rarefied air of the snow peaks to seek the more rarefied heights of the spirit.

Mr. Pallis warns us against “the grotesque travesties of doctrines and customs with which certain persons with obvious axes to grind try to saddle the thinkers of India and Tibet.” He strongly protests against the narrowness of too many well-meaning western missionaries in the Orient “whose consciousness of their own righteousness” and of the defects of the “heathen” is still very marked. He contrasts it with the open-minded spirit of the lamas and their followers in general. When he commented on this to Tibetans they told him “we are taught that it is a sin to speak disrespectfully of other religions or to treat their ministers in unfriendly fashion.” This is, of course, nothing new. H. P. Blavatsky mentions it in her article “Lamas and Druses” in The Complete Works of H. P. Blavatsky, Volume III, where she describes the respect shown by the Tibetans to other religions and their representatives. She compares the refined courtesy extended by a very high lama at Kum-Bum to the Abbe Hue and his colleague about a hundred years ago, with the gross impoliteness of the “lamas of Jehovah,” as they called themselves, to the Tibetan prelate, “a poor heathen.” The Abbe describes the unbecoming incident without a qualm, in his Journey through Tartary, Tibet and China.

While Mr. Pallis believes that Christianity has been one of the great “Traditional” 2 avenues for the transmission of the True Doctrine and that the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and that of the Buddha in the Deer Park are practically the same, he claims that his “meetings with a good many missionaries and the perusal of their literature have led me to the opinion that, on the whole, their activities are disruptive and their methods open to severe criticism.”

In saying this Mr. Pallis is not condemning the Christian “Tradition.” On the contrary, he devotes many pages to the demonstration of its fundamental identity with the Tibetan Buddhist “Tradition,” though outward forms differ in many points. In support of this, he quotes passages from medieval orthodox Christian writers which might be taken from the Tibetan Canon. He claims, as does the Theosophist, that all authentic “Traditions” are united by their “Note” of universality, though it has been trammeled more severely in the West by dualistic and “warlike” mentality than in India, China or Tibet. He shows that even the Doctrine of the “Void” or Nirvana was definitely taught in the fourteenth century by the English Benedictine monk, Father Augustine Baker, but he rather drily remarks that today it would be more intelligible to a Tibetan lama than to the monk’s modern Western countrymen!

The “Void” is actual “Knowledge,” Reality; to us it may appear to be empty because it transcends the capacity of our ordinary consciousness. But this Reality may be reached through the illumination obtained by initiation. The Gnostics called it the Pleroma or Fulness. Father Baker evidently realized this when he wrote, as quoted by Mr. Pallis:

The nought . . . is God, to whom the soul may be united when she is nowhere bodily, nor hath in her any image of creatures. And when she is nowhere bodily then she is everywhere spiritually; and being in such condition she is fit to be united with the said nothing, which also is in all places . . . our inner man calls it All. . . .

The “Knowledge” mentioned as the Reality is, as Mr. Pallis points out, superior to Reason. It is the fruit of direct intuitive experience, which is not so much a thing acquired by accretion; rather it is a thing already there from the moment that the obstacles to its realization have ceased to be. Our whole problem is, How shall we clear away the obstacles?

Many true followers of the Lord Buddha employ certain ascetic measures for inner development, but the object of these exercises is not personal salvation per se in its ordinary Western meaning. Nor is it, as mistakenly thought by some, the cultivation of psychic powers or occult arts. The wise disciple seeks the power to rise above personal limitations to the high and serene state of Liberation from which poor ignorant, suffering humanity may be effectively helped. Before you can save others you must have freed yourself from the chains of the lower self. Mr. Pallis says that the spiritually high lamas he met — and there were not a few — were hardworking practical helpers of their people who only retired at times to their solitary hermitages to seek further inner growth in wisdom. Of course there were others whose apparent devotion was merely lip-service for worldly ends, and whose monasteries were ill conducted. He frankly describes such cases, but he did not see many. Mr. Pallis gives many pages to the interpretation of the well-known Buddhist Wheel or Round of Life found in every Buddhist Temple, which he learned from his lama teachers. The study of the Wheel is very desirable in order to understand the meaning of Liberation. Under a quaint but expressive symbolism the divisions of the Wheel represent the processes which “gods,” “demons,” men, and even animals, have to go through while they are bound by illusion. Its “hells” and “heavens” are here and now, and the Agent which keeps this Wheel of Fortune is Karman. (We note that the Sanskrit word Karman is spelt thus in this scholarly though not pedantic work.) The only remedy for the ills caused by seeking happiness in the impermanent and mocking region of Desire is true Knowledge, which of course includes Compassion.

Mr. Pallis, at his first contact with Tibetans and lamas of the Tibetan borderland, found that he “had stepped right out of the circle of influences that had enclosed our lives hitherto,” and the lively temperament, bodily vigor, and kindly serenity of spirit of those he met induced him seriously to study the teachings which were able to produce such results. He found that the lives of the people in general have been powerfully influenced by the sublime teaching of the Great Renunciation, the refusal of the bliss of Nirvana, exemplified in Tibetan Buddhism by the self-sacrifice of (among others) the Bodhisattva Chenrezi (Avalokitesvara in India), “the Good Shepherd, the Savior, sinless and all-knowing who offers himself for the Universe in the supreme sacrifice of redemptive love.”

Deeply impressed by one of the first lamas he met, and referring to the power of Compassion which he radiated, Mr. Pallis writes:

Our lama’s love possessed a note of serenity which seemed to distinguish it from the similarly-named but usually more passionately expressed virtue found among Europeans. I do not believe that this Compassion, said by some to be special to Buddhism, really differs in essence from Christian Charity; but it is . . . consciously linked with a certain intellectual concept, of which it is the corollarya recognition of the relations which exist between all creatures, including man, based on an insight into the true nature of the Universe, and not dependent on a vague emotional appeal. (Italics ours.)

This eternal virtue, Compassion, then, is not an emotional byproduct but is closely linked (or identical) with a scientific understanding of the universe. It is one of the most important teachings of Theosophy that ethics and morality cannot be divorced from other expressions of natural law, because the Kosmos is fundamentally a unity, and as Dr. de Purucker says, “Love is the cement of the universe.” Mr. Pallis points out that loving impulses are less likely to be upset by a swing of the emotional pendulum when they are firmly linked with definite ideas. We may rejoice that he is able to show the world that these Theosophical principles are being taught by the lamas.

Mr. Pallis records a rich harvest of teaching he derived from the spiritually and intellectually qualified lamas under whom he studied. It includes difficult problems such as the true nature of man, of gods and of demons, asceticism, “idol” worship, Karman and Reincarnation, the difference between Knowledge and Reason, the perilous Short or Direct Path of initiation or Liberation, and many other cognate subjects. Whenever he asked for the best way to find the Path, the answer never varied — the first thing of all is to find a Teacher. He was warned that though certain Western translations from the Sanskrit are said to contain “practical methods” for seekers toward Enlightenment, any attempt to apply those methods without the watchful guidance of a real Teacher, an adept, is more than foolish, it is dangerous in the extreme. Even in the purely intellectual study of abstruse and condensed doctrinal texts many a Western savant presumes to pass judgments and to write commentaries, though he is ignorant of the vast amount of detail which is left to be filled in by the word of mouth of the Teacher. This is precisely what Col. H. S. Olcott, under H. P. Blavatsky’s inspiration, brought to the attention of Professor Max Muller, the great Sanskritist, when he denied that within the outer meaning of the Hindu Scriptures lay concealed a hidden and esoteric one. Mme. David-Neel, rather better informed than Max Muller, while insisting that all the Buddhistic doctrines taught in mystic circles can be found in books, admits that in Tibet certain secret information is imparted to a few — “initiates,” she calls them. But she believes that this esoteric teaching merely consists of methods of training the mind or, in lower degrees, of developing psychic or “supernormal” powers. We feel that Mr. Pallis has reached a truer understanding of the kind of “esoteric teaching” given to real disciples, such as H. P. Blavatsky received from her Tibetan Teachers, and which is primarily spiritual and intellectual; not psychic even though occult powers may appear as by-products. She was allowed to give out a few of the hitherto secret teachings in her The Secret Doctrine. Theosophical students of the Hindu sacred literature or the Tibetan Buddhist writings such as the series translated by the Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup and annotated by Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, can see far deeper meanings in such writings than the learned scholars who ignore the key of interpretation she brought from the East.

Considerable misunderstanding has prevailed about certain aspects of Tibetan Buddhist art works, and Mr. Pallis makes praiseworthy efforts to help us understand what the lama artists meant to convey. Everyone knows that the subjects represented in Tibetan religious art are marked by a strong duality. One moiety consists largely of serene and gracious Beings sitting on lotus pedestals in dignified attitudes, the other displays numerous frightful apparitions frenziedly dancing on or torturing men and even animals. The Western traveler or observer of museum pieces who may only be acquainted with medieval pictures of saints and prophets might interpret the Tibetan benign divinities with some approach to accuracy, but, with his recollection of the medieval pictures of Satan and his imps, he would probably misunderstand the symbolism of the Buddhist forms of horror and imagine that the Tibetans worshiped devils and offered sacrifices to them! Mr. Pallis redeems the reputation of the Oriental philosophers and artists by lucidly explaining the significance of this symbolic Duality.

Much confusion has also arisen in regard to the so-called Tibetan “Devil-Dances,” and this is explained. These performances are not entertainment in the ordinary sense, but they are ceremonial dramatizations of religious themes of profound significance to the devout onlookers; in fact they are true Mystery Plays. Mr. Pallis speaks with deep admiration for the beauty and magnificence of some of these spectacles. Very few foreigners have seen them.

The author also discusses the alleged objectionable nature of a certain class of paintings of deities which are seldom shown to travelers. He explains that they are merely symbolic, which is no doubt correct, and that their philosophic meaning is pure and profound; but, to speak plainly, we feel that although in the Orient, as in antiquity, the creative aspect of nature is frankly recognised and treated in art without Occidental reserve, yet far too much emphasis has been placed in the East on its emblems. According to Theosophy, sex is merely a temporary expression of Duality, and its symbolism, however pure and philosophic in intent, is liable to serious abuse. Without defending a false prudery we may well protest against the cruder developments in India, and to a lesser degree perhaps in Tibet, of such pictorial or sculptural symbolism of metaphysical concepts. We deny that they have any place in the presentations of the pure teachings of Buddhism. They are seemingly relics of the dark Bonpa magic and the dangerous worship of nature spirits, which is said to have come from ancient Chaldaea and originally from degenerating Atlantis. Mr. Pallis says that the adherents of the old Bonpa Tradition are still feared for their skill in sorcery, but he charitably suggests that “from all accounts they are really harmless enough people.” Maybe, but other writers think differently.

In regard to magic, black or white, the phenomenon-hunter will find little to gratify his curiosity in this book. The author was too deeply absorbed in real occultism as we understand it, spiritual wisdom, to spend precious time on side-issues. But his references to Mme. David-Neel’s experiences, especially with Tummo, the occult art of keeping oneself warm and comfortable without fuel or winter clothing in the bitterest cold of the ice caves or the frozen wastes, which she studied successfully, and his remarks about the magical doings of the great Tibetan ascetic and poet Mila Repa, show that he does not avoid the subject through ignorance. Moreover, he gives three pages to the mystical subject of the Tulkus, or Incarnations of Heavenly Beings or other Saintly Personages in human personalities which in some cases, such as that of certain Avataras, like Jesus, are acts of White Magic. Mr. Pallis was puzzled by accounts of Tulkus who do not at all times act up to their high reputation; but this is not strange when we learn that the incarnating soul of a superior being, or in some instances a projected Ray, is not always “on deck,” as it were, in its chosen physical vehicle. It may withdraw for a while, or even permanently.

There has been considerable misunderstanding in the West about the supposed “sacrifices” made by Tibetan lamas or yogis who retire for long or short periods to mountain retreats. Mr. Pallis explains from personal observation that the Buddhist conception of asceticism is very different from that of the early Christian anchorites who fled from the temptations of the world to the Egyptian deserts in order to save their own souls from eternal destruction. He says:

There is no idea of mortifying the flesh by painful austerities. The Buddha formally condemned the extremes both of luxury and self-torture. . . . Nothing which is calculated to damage health is encouraged, for with impaired health must come deterioration of mental powers which is an obstacle in the pursuit of Knowledge.

Each monastery (Gompa) owns a number of solitary retreats or cells for meditation and inner development free from distraction. No one is expected to intrude during the period of seclusion, be it long or short, but any suggestion of imprisonment or compulsion would be ridiculous. Mr. Pallis corroborates Mme. David-Neel’s experiences among the genuine ascetics. They do not suffer from the absence of social intercourse during their retreats. Their days are occupied by methodical exercises in spiritual training, meditation on profound philosophical problems, and efforts to reach higher states of consciousness. Passionately interested in these strenuous investigations and introspections, they are too busy to notice their isolation. Members of the Kargyiitpa Order, who follow the teachings of Mila Repa, sometimes withdraw into icy glacier caves in the high mountain solitudes where a cotton cloth is their only garment! They keep warm by the occult process of Tummo already mentioned. But the general practice is to make retreats under sufficiently comfortable conditions.

The author deals with many highly interesting and instructive matters which cannot even be mentioned, and in every case he throws light on his subject. His point of view is original, and even in the rare cases where we may not agree with him, his conclusions demand careful consideration. He has no hesitation in discussing difficult problems, such as the disputed question of the Tantras, which are so frequently confused with the archaic Bon black magic, yet which did not fall into disrepute until about 400 years ago. In regard to the problem of the Tibetan Deities he has much to say of great interest. Do the instructed lamas believe them to be real Divine Personages or merely metaphorical abstractions? Apparently neither, or both! He quotes the great fourteenth century Adept and Reformer, Tsong-kha-pa, to the effect that from the standpoint of the consciousness which lives in the region of “name and form,” to use the technical expression, the conventional Deities do exist, but to the fully Enlightened who understand “Reality” they “simply are not.”

But we must not take the words “are not” too literally. A clue to the deeper meaning may be found in The Secret Doctrine (I, 128-32, etc.) where the Lipika, the Recorders or Agents of Karman, are discussed. Mr. Pallis shows that the Tibetan Judge of the Dead, Shindje, is Karman itself, the law of cause and effect, from which none can escape. Karman is real enough! It is reassuring to find that Mr. Pallis was protected by his lama teachers from falling into the common error of regarding Karman as merely retribution for evil doing. He explains that it is not a process of reward or punishment in the ordinary meaning of those words; it is simply inexorable justice which returns to you exactly what you have called for by your thoughts and deeds, be it pleasant or otherwise. Like other laws of this orderly universe it can be absolutely relied upon. To the evil-doers Shindje, the Karmic Judge of the Dead, is naturally a terrible monster, and in order to warn them while there is time to repent he is depicted as such.

The latter part of this illuminating book deals with the present conditions and the dangers threatening the culture of the lands in which the Tibetan Buddhist “Tradition” still holds its own. Mr. Pallis discusses these profoundly important problems with a breadth of outlook and a sympathetic insight rare indeed in a Western writer. “Advanced” social and educational reformers, so-called, will find much that is new to them and much instruction on lines unfamiliar in the West, presented temperately but convincingly.

Among many cultural phases of the Buddhist “Tradition” discussed, but which we have no room to do more than mention, interesting and important though they be, are vegetarianism, non-resistance, war, education and the meaning of “progress,” crime and punishment, the social conditions and family life, and many others, all of which supply a solid foundation for judgment.

Mr. Pallis eloquently sets forth the high standard of the “Traditional” arts, music, architecture, painting, handwoven textiles and so forth. He greatly dreads the mechanistic commercial irruptions which seriously threaten to injure or destroy the creative inspiration which has developed these fine results. As one example; the native paints with their harmonious colors are being replaced here and there by cruder (and cheaper) commercial importations, and in consequence the appreciation of subtil shades of color is already beginning to degenerate.

In regard to the knowledge of Man, the Buddhist Tradition has much to teach us, as Mr. Pallis quickly found. Our Western scientists, by hard work directed on materialistic lines mostly, have discovered worthwhile information about the brain and its mechanisms, and have developed some rudimentary theories of psychology, a science admittedly in its early infancy. All this from external observation. By harder work and at enormous sacrifice in another direction — mostly internal observation — generations untold of Oriental researchers have discovered an infinitely larger field of study in man’s consciousness and have reduced it to an exact science. Their science has a high moral and spiritual background and aim, which unfortunately ours disregards as of no practical significance. But they get results which the world cannot afford to lose!

The respect for learning is ingrained even among the illiterate, but the learning must have a spiritual motive or background. Mr. Pallis is firmly convinced that the isolation of Tibet has been no misfortune. It has enabled a considerable vestige of the finer atmosphere of the ancient world to survive, a spirit which the West has lost in its competitive race for materialistic commercial domination and in its worship of the Western god of inventive science. He feels that the Tibetans and their neighbors hold something spiritually and intellectually precious in their keeping, and that if they can realize the importance of their trust and preserve it from contamination, it may become the expanding focus from which the Oriental “Tradition” in its purity will spread widely over the earth. But if this fails, he believes, the world may drift into sheer opportunism, out of which it will take almost superhuman efforts to rise. He frankly admits that he would like to reincarnate in Tibet if it remains Tibet and refuses to become a slavish copy of the meretricious civilization of the West!


1. Peaks and Lamas, by Marco Pallis Alfred Knopf, New York 99 illustrations and maps. 428 pp.

2. He employs the word “Tradition” to convey the idea of something wider than any closed system of religion or philosophy Though it includes religion and philosophy “Tradition” embraces a characteristic culture or mode of life, ethical, social and cultural in general, for which such antitheses as “sacred and profane” are meaningless. He prefers to use “the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition” as being more expressive than “Lamaism” which is misleading as well as offensive in its implications.

C. J. Ryan, The Theosophical Forum, November 1940

The Secret Doctrine of Gautama Buddha, from The Esoteric Tradition

The Esoteric Tradition by G. de Purucker

Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press

Chapter 23: The Secret Doctrine of Gautama the Buddha
Part 1

Buddham saranam gacchami
dharmam saranam gacchami
samgham saranam gacchami

“I take my refuge in the Buddha; I take my refuge in the light of his teachings; I take my refuge in the company of the Holy Ones.”

This paraphrase of the Sanskrit “Confession of Faith” contains the substantial core of Buddhism, a threefold formula which is likewise known under the titles Tri-ratna, “Three Gems,” and Tri-saranam, “Three Refuges.” This formula of devotion or allegiance, accepted by both the northern and the southern schools of Buddhism, is universally taken by almost the entire Buddhist world in a rather pragmatical manner, following the literal meaning of the words, to wit: “I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma or Law; I take refuge in the Company or Congregation” — the Congregation signifying the Buddhist priesthood, or in a still larger sense, the whole body of professing Buddhists. Yet this is but an exoteric form of what was originally intended by the esoteric initiates who drew up this formula, for it has suffered the same deterioration in meaning that has happened in all the great religions: the words originally having a highly mystical and philosophical significance finally lose it and are taken at their mere face meaning.

The original sense of this formula then was extremely profound and beautiful, and conveyed a threefold teaching: the Buddha has reference to Adi-Buddha, the First or Unmanifest Logos or Primeval Spirit in the universe, manifesting throughout the universe in a sublime hierarchy of spiritual beings emanating from itself, and extending from the highest even to the human spheres — called in the Esoteric Philosophy the Hierarchy of Compassion. It is this Hierarchy of Compassion or the Sons of Light composing it, and ranging from the dhyani-buddhas downwards through intermediate grades to the manushya-buddhas, which form the samgha or company or congregation, this being the third of the Refuges. The wisdom that is taught by them on the different planes of the universe and to the different ranges of world-spheres, and mystically and traditionally handed down from the highest dhyani-buddhas to human disciples, is the second Refuge, called in this formula the Dharma.

We have thus an outline of the structural framework of all the teaching of the wisdom of the gods. Summarizing briefly: we have under the one term Buddha the entire line of spiritual beings, reaching from the Cosmic Spirit through all intermediate ranges of the universe down to the manushya-buddhas or human buddhas and their human disciples, who in their aggregate form the so-called Congregation; and all teaching the divine wisdom sprung forth in its origin from the highest gods themselves, and of which every buddha on earth is an exponent.

Corresponding to the same threefold division of the buddhas, their Law, and their hierarchy, we have the three forms of “vestures” or appearances in which this hierarchy of beings express themselves: first and highest, the dharmakaya, that of the highest cosmic spirits or dhyani-buddhas; second, the sambhogakaya, the vesture of the intermediate grades of spiritual beings in this hierarchy; and finally, the nirmanakayas, the vesture of those spiritual beings and great adepts who are closest to and therefore are the guardians of mankind and all beings on earth.

Corresponding with these three vestures again, we have the third general division above alluded to: the arupa-dhatu, or so-called formless world or worlds, the mystical abode of the dhyani-buddhas or chohans, etc.; second, the rupa-dhatu, or so-called manifested or “form world” or worlds, the abode of the beings living in the sambhogakaya vesture or condition; and third, the kama-dhatu, or so-called worlds or “world of desire,” wherein reside beings still heavily involved in the attractions and conditions of material existence.

Thus, as the mystical Buddhism of the north teaches, there is in every entity, not only in man but in the gods and in the beings beneath man, a threefold essence — or perhaps more accurately three interblending essences, nevertheless having a common identic substance, which they describe as, (a) a celestial or dhyani-buddha; (b) a bodhisattva, “son” of the celestial or dhyani-buddha; and (c) a manushya-buddha or human buddha; and it was in order to awaken this living threefold buddhic consciousness in the constitution of every human being that the Buddha taught his noble Law, which perhaps has held more human minds in fealty and devotion than any other religio-philosophic system known to the human race.

Buddhism has at times been called a religion of pessimism, simply because its profound intellectual reaches and its proper placing of the values of the material side of life have not been understood. To teach that a man is an impermanent composite of elements of varying ethereality, and that when he dies this composite is dissolved and the component parts then enter into the respective spheres of nature, signifies to the Occidental mind that such a doctrine teaches utter annihilation of the compounded entity as an entity; for, consciously or unconsciously, such critics ignore the unifying and binding root of being of every such entity which brings at periodical intervals this compound together again out of the identic life-atoms that composed it in former existences. Yet this very root or element or individualizing energy which brought these samskaras — psychomental attributes of man — together, is a unifying and therefore individualizing force which remains after the dissolution of the compound, and likewise has its own cosmic reservoir or kingdom to which it returns.

There was a time not so long ago when the teaching of nirvana was considered by Occidental scholars to mean that annihilation, utter and complete, was the end of every living conscious being, when that being had attained unto the stage of inner growth where it entered into this nirvanic state; and they pointed, naturally enough, to the Sanskrit meaning of this compound word: nir, “out,” and vana, from the root va, “to blow.” Hence they sagely and logically enough said: Nirvana means “blown out,” as a candle flame is “blown out” by the breath! So it does. But what is it that is “blown out”? What is it that ceases to exist? Is it the unifying spiritual force which brings this compound entity into being anew in a serial line of succession which has no known beginning, and which the Buddhist teaching itself shows to be something which reproduces itself in this series of illusory, because compounded, vehicles. This is impossible, because if this individualizing or unifying energy were blown out, annihilated, it obviously could not continue to reproduce itself as the inspiriting energy of newly compounded bodies. What is blown out is the samskaras, the compounds, resulting from or born or produced by the karma of the individual. This karma is the individual himself; because the Buddhist teaching is that what is reproduced is the karma of the preceding individual, that any composite entity changes from instant to instant, and that at each new instant the change is the resultant or effect of the preceding instant of change. Thus then, the individual is his own karma at any instant in time, because that karma is the totality of what he is himself. When a man’s composite parts are “blown out,” “enter nirvana,” are “extinguished,” then all the rest of the being — that deathless center of unifying and individualizing spiritual force around which these composites or samskaras periodically gather — lives as a buddha.

As far as it goes this is exactly the teaching of the Esoteric Tradition. All the lower parts of us must be wiped out, “annihilated” if you like; in other words the karma that produced these illusory composites must be caused to cease; and new composites, nobler ones — the products or effects of the preceding composites — those henceforth joined to the buddhic essence of the being, that spiritual force which is the inner buddha, will then continue and on its own high plane live, because no longer controlled by the veils of maya, illusion, the worlds of impermanent structural composites. The being thus becomes a buddha, because of its delivery from enshrouding veils has now reached the condition of passing out of the impermanence of all manifested existence into the utter permanence of cosmic Reality.

Far from being a religion of pessimism, the religion of the Buddha is one of extraordinary hope. The word optimism is not here used, because unthinking optimism is as foolish in its way as is unthinking pessimism. Neither is wise, because each is an extreme. The teaching of the Buddha showed to men a pathway which went neither to the right nor to the left, but chose the Middle Way. All extremes are unreal, no matter what they may be, because unphilosophical; and it is the great subtlety of the Tathagata’s teachings which has rendered it so difficult to understand. One often reads essays printed by Westerners who have become Buddhists. The letter of the scriptures has been grasped, more or less, but the spirit, the Buddha’s “heart,” is rarely understood. The Eye-doctrine is comprehended to a certain extent; but the Heart-doctrine, the esoteric part, is grasped intuitively only at the rarest intervals.

The great Hindu reformer and initiate, Gautama the Buddha, had indeed a secret or esoteric doctrine, which he kept for those qualified to receive it. As H. P. Blavatsky writes in The Secret Doctrine:

Indeed, the secret portions of the “Dan” or “Jan-na” (“Dhyan“) of Gautama’s metaphysics — grand as they appear to one unacquainted with the tenets of the Wisdom Religion of antiquity — are but a very small portion of the whole. The Hindu Reformer limited his public teachings to the purely moral and physiological aspect of the Wisdom-Religion, to Ethics and man alone. Things “unseen and incorporeal,” the mystery of Being outside our terrestrial sphere, the great Teacher left entirely untouched in his public lectures, reserving the hidden Truths for a select circle of his Arhats . . . Unable to teach all that had been imparted to him — owing to his pledges — though he taught a philosophy built upon the ground-work of the true esoteric knowledge, the Buddha gave to the world only its outward material body and kept its soul for his Elect. — I, xxi

When skeptical Occidental scholars are asked: Did the Buddha have an esoteric school, or does his Law contain an esoteric teaching, they almost invariably point to a statement by the Buddha himself, which they believe proves that he himself denied it. This is found in the Maha-Parinibbana-Sutta, or the teaching of the “Great and Ultimate Nirvana,” otherwise the “Great Passing”:

Now very soon after the Blessed One began to recover; when he had quite got rid of the sickness, he went out from the monastery, and sat down behind the monastery on a seat spread out there. And the venerable Ananda [his favorite disciple] went to the place where the Blessed One was, and saluted him, and took a seat respectfully on one side, and addressed the Blessed One, and said: “I have beheld, Lord, how the Blessed One was in health, and I have beheld how the Blessed One had to suffer. And though at the sight of the sickness of the Blessed One my body became weak as a creeper, and the horizon became dim to me, and my faculties were no longer clear, yet notwithstanding I took some little comfort from the thought that the Blessed One would not pass away from existence until at least he had left instructions as touching the order.”

“What, then, Ananda? Does the order expect that of me? I have preached the truth without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine: for in respect of the truths, Ananda, Tathagata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher, who keeps some things back. Surely, Ananda, should there be any one who harbors the thought, ‘It is I who will lead the brotherhood,’ or, ‘The order is dependent upon me,’ it is he who should lay down instructions in any matter concerning the order. Now the Tathagata, Ananda, thinks not that it is he who should lead the brotherhood, or that the order is dependent upon him. Why then should he leave instructions in any matter concerning the order? I too, O Ananda, am now grown old, and full of years, my journey is drawing to its close, I have reached my sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out cart, Ananda, can only with much additional care be made to move along, so, methinks, the body of the Tathagata can only be kept going with much additional care. . . .

“Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. . . . ” — ch. ii, vv. 31-3 (trans. Rhys Davids, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI)

At first reading, it does indeed sound as if the Lord Buddha declared to his disciples that he had no esoteric doctrine. Is this, however, what he actually said? It most certainly is not. Ananda’s plea was: “Leave us instructions, Lord, as to the conduct of the Order, before thou passest on”; and the Buddha refused, saying essentially: “I have told you all that is necessary for the conduct of the Order, and I have kept naught back. I am not like a teacher who tells you some things as to your own conduct and the conduct of the Brotherhood, and secretly hides other things in his ‘closed fist.’ I have told you all that is necessary for the conduct of the Order that will bring success in the saving of man; but should there be anyone who arises in the Order and who points out what is required for its proper care and leading, then it is he who should lay down instructions in any such emergency concerning the Order. You will soon find out in such case whether he be a true teacher or a false; for the rules that I myself have given unto you are the fundamental rules for guidance and conduct both of yourselves and of the Order, and they are sufficient. I have spoken.”

There is no small number of passages in the different Buddhist scriptures of the two great schools, which, both by direct statement or by indirection, declare plainly that the Buddha had not revealed all the truths that he knew.

Two instances, both of the southern school, should suffice in illustration. The first states that Sakyamuni took a handful of the leaves of the Sinsapa, and, pointing to them, explained that just as this bunch of leaves in his hand, so few in number, were not all the leaves of the tree from which they were taken, just so the truths that he himself as teacher had announced were by no means all that he knew (Samyutta-Nikaya, vi, 31). The other instance is one in which the great teacher explains his refusal to describe whether a buddha lives after death or not (Chula-Malunkyaputta-Sutta, i, 426). Both illustrate the reserve in teaching and reticence in delivery thereof, which are so universally characteristic of the transmitters of the Esoteric Tradition.

Let us turn to one of the Mahayana sutras of the northern school, the Saddharma-Pundarika (ch. v):

You are astonished, Kasyapa, that you cannot fathom the mystery expounded by the Tathagata. It is, Kasyapa, because the mystery expounded by the Tathagatas, the Arhats, etc., is difficult to be understood.

And on that occasion, the more fully to explain the same subject, the Lord uttered the following stanzas:

1. I am the Dharmaraja, born in the world as the destroyer of existence. I declare the law to all beings after discriminating [examining] their dispositions.

2. Superior men of wise understanding guard the word, guard the mystery, and do not reveal it to living beings.

3. That science is difficult to be understood; the simple, if hearing it on a sudden, would be perplexed; they would in their ignorance fall out of the way and go astray.

4. I speak according to their reach and faculty; by means of various meanings I accommodate my view (or the theory).

Such teaching of restriction could not have arisen nor have been so widely accepted had there not been current throughout northern Buddhism a strong flow of esoteric thought which traces back even to the days of the Buddha himself. Otherwise, the probability is that any invention or mystical speculations of a later date would have been found highly unacceptable, and would have been peremptorily rejected, when the first attempts were made to promulgate them. The history of mystical thought shows clearly enough that the esotericism of the respective founder of each great system gradually faded out after his death, and its place was taken by mere orthodoxy, in which the traditional or written scriptures became sacrosanct, untouchable, and often clothed with an atmosphere of holiness which forbade any adding or substantial change. This is clearly shown, for instance, in the literature and mystical history of Christianity.

All that the Lord Buddha taught was true in essentials, but he most certainly did not teach everything to all men. He taught all that was needed for the promulgation of the philosophic and religious doctrine. The whole system of the Mahayana in all its various schools, every one of them teaching an esoteric doctrine, provides convincing proof that an esotericism existed in Buddhism from the earliest times, and by the logic of history and the well-known traits of human nature must be traced back to the great founder himself.

Lest it be inferred that the Buddha taught no need of any teachers following him, the existence of legitimate successors following each other in century after century was universally recognized, although obviously none was ever considered to be equal to the great master himself. His unique standing as teacher is indeed one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, which states that buddhas appear only at long intervals and in periods governed by cyclic time, thus reechoing the Brahmanical teaching of a succession of doctors of the Law which Krishna alludes to in the Bhagavad-Gita in the words: “Whenever there is a decline of righteousness in the world, . . . then I reproduce myself” (ch. iv, sl. 7).

Examination of the historical facts will show that minor sages and seers have sprung up from time to time in Buddhism, such as Nagarjuna and Aryasanga, founding schools, or taking them over from their predecessors; teaching each one a new version of the ancient Buddhist wisdom, yet all faithful followers of the Lord Buddha; and whatever their differences as individuals may have been, all these various schools look to the great master as the fountainhead of their respective and more-or-less differing wisdoms. Most, if not all, of the great men who succeeded the Buddha as heads of the different Buddhist schools were genuine initiates, profound, thoughtful, and high-minded men who, because of their own spiritual and intellectual and psychical degree of evolution, developed in their respective fields the teachings of the Buddha-Gautama dealing with different parts of the widely inclusive range of Buddhist philosophy.

Part 2

In the Dhammapada, dealing in general with the matter of the Self, we find the following suggestive thoughts:

The Self is the master of self — for who else could be its lord? With the self [the compound aggregate] thoroughly controlled, the man finds a Master such as cannot elsewhere be found. — ch. xii, v. 160

Here is a pointed statement of the existence in the human constitution of the governing, controlling, root-Self — the essential atman or fundamental Self, which lives and manifests its transcendent powers in and through the lower self or soul, the latter being naught but the “compound aggregate” of elements, which is the man in his ordinary being. When it is remembered that the Dhammapada is one of the most authoritative and respected scriptures of the southern school, one can appreciate the force of this statement, the more so as this school is always cited, and wrongly so, as teaching nihilism — so often brought against Buddhism in support of its being a pessimistic system without spiritual basis or import.

One more instance, drawn this time from the Mahayana, and due to one who in Buddhism has always been recognized as being a bodhisattva — Nagarjuna, one of the most devoted of the Buddha-Gautama’s later followers. In his commentary on the sutra or scripture of the famous Buddhist work Prajnaparamita, he states the following:

Sometimes the Tathagata taught that the Atman verily exists, and yet at other times he taught that the Atman does not exist. — Chinese recension of Yuan Chuang

Just so. Are we then to suppose that the Buddha deliberately taught contradictions in order to befuddle and to mystify his hearers? Hardly, for the idea is ludicrous. What has already been said about the compound constitution of man through which the eternal Self or atman (in this case the dhyani-buddha) works through its wayward lower self, should explain that the various meanings of “self” were as keenly recognized in ancient Buddhist thought as they are today. The meaning of the Buddha was obvious enough, that the atman as the essential self, or the dhyani-buddha in the human constitution, exists and evolves perennially, is ever-enduring; but that the lower self or inferior selfhood of a man is merely the feeble reflection of it, the soul, and hence does not exist as an enduring entity. The same play upon the word “self” (atman) is distinctly perceptible in the previous citation from the Dhammapada where the Self as master is the lord of the lower self as mere man. Although there are many passages in Buddhist scriptures concerning the non-existence of the atman as the human self or soul — the doctrine of anatta in the Pali writings — the truth is that these passages cannot be considered alone and apart from other teachings distinctly stating that the atman is.

Probably the main reason for the widespread misunderstanding of the essential nature of the Buddhistic teaching as first delivered, was that Buddha-Gautama threw open some of the hitherto fast-closed doors of Brahman philosophy, and instantly gained the opposition and ill-will of the larger part of the Brahmans of his time. In the eyes of the Buddha, man is a pilgrim, child of the universe, who at times is blinded by mahamaya or the “great illusion” of cosmic existence, and therefore needs to be shown the Way or Law called the Dharma, pointing to the fact that only by becoming rather than by mere being could man become the greater man which he is in his essential constitution.

The substantial burden of the Buddha’s message was the emphasis placed upon his doctrine of becoming. By his progress from stage to stage in evolutionary changes which are continuous and uninterrupted, a man may raise himself as high as the highest gods, or may debase himself through his willing and doing to the low and dread levels of the beings in the so-called hells of which so much is found in Buddhistic literature.

In this teaching of becoming, we find the rationale of the many statements in Buddhism and elsewhere that every man has it within his power in the course of ages to become a Buddha. Much useless controversy has raged in the past as to whether Buddhism does or does not teach the annihilation of the human compound at death. Most Western Buddhist scholars of former days seem to have believed that one proof of the so-called pessimism of Buddhism was that it taught that with the dissolution of the human compound entity at death, the entity vanished, was completely annihilated; this in the face of reiterated statements that what survived dissolution of the compound entity was its karma, the consequences of what the compound entity itself was at the moment of dissolution. It would seem evident that the word karma thus used must have a technical significance, because it is obvious that results or consequences cannot survive the death of their originator, for the reason that if results or consequences do not inhere in, or are not portions of an entity, they have no existence in themselves. An “act” cannot survive, nor can a “consequence,” except in the modern scientific sense of impressions made on surrounding material. This is not the meaning of the Buddha’s teaching because both the Mahayana and the southern schools are replete with instances of entities, “compound aggregates,” which nevertheless after death, and after a certain period of other existence in other worlds, are reborn as men on earth.

The stories about the Buddha are luminous illustrations of this, as exemplified in the famous Jataka Tales. These 550 or more “Rebirth” stories describe the alleged repeated reincarnations of the Buddha, and show him rising from lower stages to higher; and, if the “compound aggregate” is annihilated at its death, how can such a non-existing entity be reborn in an unending series of reappearances of such entity’s intrinsic karma? The riddle is solved by remembering the teaching of theosophy to the effect that man, equally with every other entity or thing, is his own karma. His karma is himself, for he himself is the results, the fruitage, the production, of every preceding thought, feeling, emotion, or act in the virtually unending series of past rebirths, each such birth automatically reproducing itself as modified by its own willing and doing — to wit, the consciousness acting upon the “compound aggregate” thus producing karma, or modifications in the substance of the man himself. Thus verily a man is his own karma; he is his own child, the offspring of what he formerly willed and made himself now to be; just as at present, in his actual compound constitution he is willing and making himself, through results or consequences produced upon his constitution, to be what in the future he will become.

What is a “person,” after all, except a mask, a vehicle, composed of aggregate elements drawn from the surrounding nature through which works and lives the spiritual force — the inner buddha, the dhyani-buddha, the inner god — which, as the Buddha himself taught, man could again become by so living and striving as to bring it into karmic relationship or existence even here on earth.

Question: If there be no surviving entity, what was it that passed from birth to birth in those Jataka stories, which, whatever one may think of them, proclaim the common acceptance by the multitude of Buddhists of there being some kind of x-factor in the complex of skandhas forming the human being which passes from life to life? Or how about the many instances in canonical Buddhist scriptures themselves, which place in the mouth of the great teacher remarks, parables, and references to the preceding births of various individuals? If Buddhism taught no such continuity through repeated imbodiments of something, why all this allusion to reincarnating beings?

What is it then that passes from the humblest of beings through the many and varied gatis or “ways” of existence, through repeated and incessant rebirth, until that something, that x-quantity, becomes a Buddha? The scriptures of South Asia will say that it was results, consequences, karma. But is it thinkable that the loftiest spiritual genius of historic times taught that bare consequences, sheer effects, technically called samskaras or mere collections, can and do pass in entitative fashion from life to life, re-collect themselves after being time after time dispersed as atomic aggregates into the various realms of nature from which they were originally drawn? The answer depends entirely upon the meaning that we give to this term samskaras, and to the term skandhas. If these are mere aggregates of atoms existing on the psychoemotional as well as on the physical plane, and without any internal bond of spiritual-psychological union, then we must infer that this titan intellect taught an impossibility. If, on the other hand, we understand samskaras to mean psychomagnetic and material aggregates of life-atoms attracted to each other because of their intrinsic magnetic vital power, and unified and governed by the repetitive action of the spiritual and intellectual forces which formerly held them in union as an aggregated vehicle, then indeed we have a reasonable and logical teaching consistent with what we know ourselves of the intricate and unitary yet compounded character of our constitution.

While it is perfectly true that the lower portions of a human being, for instance, form a compound or complex, and are consequently mortal and perishable as such compound, which in Buddhism are called the samskaras, nevertheless there is something of a spiritual, intellectual, and psychological character, an x-factor, around which this aggregated compound re-collects itself at each new birth. It is this something by which the compound is re-assembled and during life is held together as an entity. There is here no such teaching as that of the imperishable, immortal soul in the Christian sense, static throughout eternity in unchanging essential characteristics; for such a soul, to be immortal, cannot essentially change, which would mean that it cannot evolve or grow, because if it did, it then no longer is what it was before. Consequently this x-quantity, call it karma if you will, is that vital-psychological something which insures the re-collecting of the samskaras together for the new life, thus reproducing the new man as the fruitage of his past life, and indeed, of all the lives which have preceded.

Let us try to illustrate this very mystical doctrine: consider a child — born from an infinitesimal human life-germ, yet in a few years it grows to be a six-foot man. To do this, it must pass through many and differing stages of growth, of evolution. First, the microscopic germ developing into the embryo, then an infant growing into the lad, the lad changing into the young man, and finally, the man after the maturity and plenitude of his powers enters upon the phase of senescence, decrepitude, and death. Now every one of these phases is a change from the preceding one, each being the karma of the next preceding phase and all preceding phases. Yet the man is the same through all the changes, although the man himself changes because growing likewise.

The boy of six is not the boy of ten; the young man of twenty-five is not the man of forty; and the man of eighty, soon going to his rest and peace, is not the newborn child — yet the entity is the same from the beginning of the cyclic series unto its end, because there is an uninterrupted series of stages of change signifying growth, evolution.

In this example is the key to the Buddhist thought. Precisely as with the birth and development of a child into an adult, so is it with the passage of the karma of an entity from body to body through the different stages of rebirth through the different ages: the passing from low to high of that x-quantity which the theosophist calls the reincarnating ego, and the mystical Buddhists speak of as the shining ray from the Buddha within. The southern school spoke of it as the “karma” of the man growing continuously nobler, greater and more evolved, until the man through these karmic changes finally becomes a bodhisattva; the bodhisattva then becomes a buddha, finally entering the nirvana.

In theosophy this something, this x-factor, is called the monad which, imperishable in essence, and the fountain-head of all consciousness and will, passes from age to age throughout the manvantara and reproduces itself by means of rays from its essence in the various reimbodiments or reincarnations which it thus brings about. In mystical Buddhism, especially of the north, this monad is identic with the dhyani-buddha or inner spiritual “buddha of meditation” which is the heart or core of every reimbodying being. Just as in theosophy each and every monad is a ray of and from the cosmic mahabuddhi; just so in Buddhism, every dhyani-buddha is a ray from Amitabha-buddha, a form or manifestation of Alaya or the Cosmic Spirit.

Thus there is a ray from the celestial buddha within the composite entity called man built of the samskaras; and it is the influence of this ray which first brought these samskaras together, which ray persists throughout the ages thus reproducing through repetitive imbodiments on earth the same karmic entity which formerly existed. The teaching of the south is thus true when it states that what remains of a man after his death is his karma, because this karma is the man himself.

The term “buddha” itself means awakened, from the verbal root budh, signifying “to observe,” “to recover consciousness,” and therefore, “to awaken”; hence a buddha is one who is fully awake and active in all the ranges of his sevenfold constitution.

The esoteric theosophical teaching is that the Buddha did indeed “die” to all human affairs at the age of eighty years, because then the higher parts of him entered nirvana, and no nirvani can be called a living man if he has attained the seventh degree of this range of nirvana as the Buddha did. Yet the teaching states likewise that in all the remainder of his constitution, in those parts of him beneath the range of the dhyani-buddha within him, he remained alive on earth for twenty years more, teaching his arhats and chosen disciples in secret, giving to them the nobler “doctrines of the heart”; and that finally, in his hundredth year, Gautama-Sakyamuni, the Buddha, cast his physical body aside and thereafter has lived in the inner realms of being as a nirmanakaya.

One must say a little more about a phase of the Buddha’s teaching of which exoteric Buddhism, whether of north or south, does not openly tell. The secret wisdom of the Buddha-Gautama, his esoteric Dharma, may be found, although more or less veiled, in the teaching of the great Mahayana schools of Northern and Central Asia. Among its doctrines is the statement that every man is a manifestation on this earth of a buddhic principle belonging to his constitution and manifesting in three degrees or phases: (a) as a celestial or dhyani-Buddha, (b) as a dhyani-Bodhisattva, (c) as a manushya-Buddha; and that all human faculties and powers are, like rays from a spiritual sun, derivatives from this wondrous interior compound Buddhic entity. It is the core of all our being, union with which is the aim of all initiation, for it is the becoming at one with the buddhi principle within us, the seat of abstract bodhi; and when this union is achieved, then a man becomes a buddha. Even the very last words which popular legend ascribes to the master, “Seek out your own perfection,” imbody the same fundamental thought of the human being as an imperfect manifestation of the celestial or dhyani-buddha within himself.

All the great spiritual and intellectual human titans, whose vast minds have been the luminaries of the human race, were precisely they who had developed more or less of this buddha-principle within themselves; and the value, philosophic, religious, and ethical, of this teaching lies in the fact that every human being may follow the same path that these great masters have followed, because every human being has in his constitution the same identical cosmic elements that the great ones have.

Even the schools of Southern Asia give as the unquestioned teaching of the Tathagata that a man can attain union with Brahman, as is evidenced by a number of passages in the Pali scriptures. What is the path by which this union may be achieved? In answer, consider the following citation from the Tevijja-Sutta:

“[T]hat the Bhikkhu who is free . . . should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same — such a condition of things is every way possible!”

“. . . Then in sooth, . . . the Bhikkhu who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same — such a condition of things is every way possible!”. . .

“For Brahma, I know, . . . and the world of Brahma, and the path which leadeth unto it. Yea, I know it even as one who has entered the Brahma world, and has been born within it!”. . .

“And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, . . . of pity, sympathy, and equanimity, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with [heart of love, with] heart of pity, sympathy, and equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure. . . .

“Verily this . . . is the way to a state of union with Brahma.”
— iii, 7-8; i, 43; iii, 1, 3, 4 (trans. Rhys Davids)

Could a more clear-cut statement be made, that there is something of a spiritual-intellectual character which works through the compound aggregate of the skandhas that form the mere man, and which spiritual substance or entity finally must attain union with the Cosmic Spirit here called Brahma — in other words, what the Esoteric Tradition frequently calls the Third or “Creative” Logos? We have here the essence in almost identic formulation of the teaching of the Vedanta of India, that the substantial root of all beings and things is the cosmic Brahman or Cosmic Spirit, reunion with which is, in the long course of ages, finally inevitable; and that there exists a Path by which such reunion may be attained and the aeons-long evolutionary pilgrimage vastly shortened.

Now then, after these conclusive paragraphs from the Tevijja-Sutta, in which the x-quantity, that something, is plainly stated herein as being capable of attaining “a state of union with Brahma,” it becomes necessary to point to one of the most pregnant and important teachings which shows that the Buddha-Gautama by no means considered such a state of union with Brahman as the ultimate or ending of the existence of the fortunate jivanmukta or freed monad. Indeed, his teaching ran directly contrary to such erroneous idea; for both implicitly and explicitly, as may be found in the scriptures of both the north and the south, there is the reiterated statement that even beyond the “world of Brahma,” are realms of consciousness and being still higher, in which reside the roots of the cosmic tree, and therefore the root of every human being, the offspring of such mystical cosmic tree. What is this mystic root — higher even than Brahma? It is the individualized Adi-Buddha, the Cosmic “Creative” Logos of Adi-Bodhi, or Alaya, the cosmic originant; for even a world of Brahma is a manifested world; and therefore, however high it may be by comparison with our material world, is yet a relatively imperfect sphere of life and lives.

In consequence, the teaching runs that higher even than Brahma there is something else, the rootless Root, reaching back and within, cosmically speaking, into parabrahmic Infinitude. One who is a buddha, one who has become allied in his inmost essence with the cosmic bodhi, thus can enter not only the world of Brahma, but pass out of it and above it and beyond it, higher and higher still to those cosmic reaches of life-consciousness-substance toward which human imagination may aspire, but which, unless we are buddhas in fact — more or less straitly in self-conscious union with the dhyani-buddha — we cannot understand.

A prehistoric Esoteric Tradition is seen thus to be a necessary component part — indeed the best part because the entire background — of the teaching of the Buddha, for toward such background every one of his public teachings points; and when considered collectively rather than distributively, when synthesized after analysis, the impartial student reaches the conclusion that such an esoteric doctrine was in very truth the “heart” and foundation of the great master’s teaching and lifework.

Theosophy and Buddhism

Buddhism, the Fulfilment of Hinduism

Buddhism, The Fulfilment of Hinduism

Swami Vivekananda

26th September, 1893

I am not a Buddhist, as you have heard, and yet I am. If China, or Japan, or Ceylon follow the teachings of the Great Master, India worships him as God incarnate on earth. You have just now heard that I am going to criticise Buddhism, but by that I wish you to understand only this. Far be it from me to criticise him whom I worship as God incarnate on earth. But our views about Buddha are that he was not understood properly by his disciples. The relation between Hinduism (by Hinduism, I mean the religion of the Vedas) and what is called Buddhism at the present day is nearly the same as between Judaism and Christianity. Jesus Christ was a Jew, and Shâkya Muni was a Hindu. The Jews rejected Jesus Christ, nay, crucified him, and the Hindus have accepted Shâkya Muni as God and worship him. But the real difference that we Hindus want to show between modern Buddhism and what we should understand as the teachings of Lord Buddha lies principally in this: Shâkya Muni came to preach nothing new. He also, like Jesus, came to fulfil and not to destroy. Only, in the case of Jesus, it was the old people, the Jews, who did not understand him, while in the case of Buddha, it was his own followers who did not realise the import of his teachings. As the Jew did not understand the fulfilment of the Old Testament, so the Buddhist did not understand the fulfilment of the truths of the Hindu religion. Again, I repeat, Shâkya Muni came not to destroy, but he was the fulfilment, the logical conclusion, the logical development of the religion of the Hindus.

The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts: the ceremonial and the spiritual. The spiritual portion is specially studied by the monks.

In that there is no caste. A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India, and the two castes become equal. In religion there is no caste; caste is simply a social institution. Shâkya Muni himself was a monk, and it was his glory that he had the large-heartedness to bring out the truths from the hidden Vedas and through them broadcast all over the world. He was the first being in the world who brought missionarising into practice — nay, he was the first to conceive the idea of proselytising.

The great glory of the Master lay in his wonderful sympathy for everybody, especially for the ignorant and the poor. Some of his disciples were Brahmins. When Buddha was teaching, Sanskrit was no more the spoken language in India. It was then only in the books of the learned. Some of Buddha’s Brahmins disciples wanted to translate his teachings into Sanskrit, but he distinctly told them, “I am for the poor, for the people; let me speak in the tongue of the people.” And so to this day the great bulk of his teachings are in the vernacular of that day in India.

Whatever may be the position of philosophy, whatever may be the position of metaphysics, so long as there is such a thing as death in the world, so long as there is such a thing as weakness in the human heart, so long as there is a cry going out of the heart of man in his very weakness, there shall be a faith in God.

On the philosophic side the disciples of the Great Master dashed themselves against the eternal rocks of the Vedas and could not crush them, and on the other side they took away from the nation that eternal God to which every one, man or woman, clings so fondly. And the result was that Buddhism had to die a natural death in India. At the present day there is not one who calls oneself a Buddhist in India, the land of its birth.

But at the same time, Brahminism lost something — that reforming zeal, that wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful heaven which Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had rendered Indian society so great that a Greek historian who wrote about India of that time was led to say that no Hindu was known to tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be unchaste.

Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism. Then realise what the separation has shown to us, that the Buddhists cannot stand without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmins, nor the Brahmin without the heart of the Buddhist. This separation between the Buddhists and the Brahmins is the cause of the downfall of India. That is why India is populated by three hundred millions of beggars, and that is why India has been the slave of conquerors for the last thousand years. Let us then join the wonderful intellect of the Brahmins with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanising power of the Great Master.


Gautama Buddha

Aryasanga (and the The Yogācāra School)

Nagarjuna (and the Mādhyamika School)

Tsong Kha Pa

The 14th Dalai Lama


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