Book: The Doctrine of Awakening

The Doctrine of Awakening

The Doctrine of Awakening

The Doctrine of Awakening









Inner Traditions

Rochester. Vermont

Inner Traditions International One Park

Street Rochester, Vermont 05767

Originally published in Italian as La dottrina del risveglio

Copyright © 1995 by Ediziοni M editerranee

English-language edition copyright © 1996 by Inner Traditions International

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by

any means, electronic or mechanicaΙ, including photocopying, recording, or by any

information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the



Evola, Julius, 1898-1974.

[La dottrina del risveglio. English]

The doctrine of awakening the attainment of sell-mastery according to the

earliest Buddhist texts / Julius Evola translated by H. E. M usson. ρ, cm.

Includes index.

ISBN 0-89281-553-1

1. Spiritual life—Buddhism. 2. Buddhism—Doctrines. I. M usson, H. E.

ΒQ4302.Ε96I3 I995

294.3'422—dc20 95-21532


Printed and bound in the United States

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The Doctrine of Awakening

A Note on Sources

In this work we have, apart from the two last chapters, based ourselves exclusively upon

the Sutta-piţaka, which contains the most important and most ancient portion of Pāli


M any of the Buddhist teachings are set forth in the form of leitmotif, that is to say, of passages that recur in various texts, almost in identical form. Wherever possible we have

referred to these motifs in their contexts in the Majjhima-nikāya. There was moreover a specific reason for this, namely, that there is accessible to the talian public a really first-class translation of this text, and which is also a noteworthy work of art, made by K- E.

Neumann and G. de Lorenzo (1 discorsi di Buddho [Bari, 1916--27] 3 vols.). We have

done our best to make the maximum use of this translation. For the other texts we give the

reader the following references should he or she wish to refer to them.

Dīghat-nikilya in Sacred Books of the Buddhists, trans. T. W. Rhys Davids (Lon-don, 1899-1910). For the sutta no. 16, which is the M ahāparinibbāna-sutta, we have also made

use of the Chinese version, translated into Italian by C. Puini (Lanciano. 1919).

Samyutta-nikāya, trans. C. A. F. Rhys Davids and F. L. Woodward. Pali text edition

(London, 1922-24), 4 vols,

Anguttarā-nikāyā, ed. Nyānatiloka (Die Reden des Buddhas) [M unich and Neubiberg,


Of the Dhāmmāpāda there exists the Italian translation by P. E. Pavolini, Lanciano, ed. Cultura dell 'anima.

The quotations from these, as from other texts, follow the paragraphing of the

originals. Concerning those that have been made available by H. C. Warren, Buddhism in

Translations (Cambridge, M ass.. 1909. first published 1896), we have given in brackets the letter W.

For the Vinava-piţaka, see Sacred Books of the East, vol. 13, Dhamma-sangani, trans.

C- A. F, Rhys Davids (London, 1900).


The Doctrine of Awakening


Translator's Foreword


Preface xi

Introduction xvii


1. Varieties of Ascesis


2. The Aryan-ness of the Doctrine of Awakening


3. The Historical Context of the Doctrine of Awakening


4. Destruction of the Demon of Dialectics


5. The Flame and Samsāric Consciousness


6. Conditioned Genesis


7. Determination of the Vocations



8. The Qualities of the Combatant and the "Departure"


9. Defense and Consolidation


10. Rightness


11. Sidereal Awareness: The Wounds Close


12. The Four Jhāna: The "Irradiant Contemplations"


13. The States Free from Form and the Extinction


14. Discrimination Between the "Powers"


15. Phenomenology of the Great Liberation


16. Signs of the Nonpareil


17. The Void: "If the M ind Does Not Break"


18. Up to Zen


19. The Ariya Are Still Gathered on the Vulture's Peak


Translator's Foreword

Of the many books published in Italy and Germany by Julius Evola, this is the first to be

translated into English. The book needs no apology; the subject—Buddhism—is sufficient

guarantee of that. But the author has, it seems to me, recaptured the spirit of Buddhism in its original form, and his schematic and uncompromising approach will have rendered an

inestimable service even if it does no more than clear away some of the woolly ideas that

have gathered round the central figure, Prince Siddhattha, and round the doctrine that he


The real significance of the book, however, lies not in its value as a weapon in a dusty

battle between scholars, but in its encouragement of a practical application of the doctrine it discusses. The author has not only examined the principles on which Buddhism was

originally based, but he has also described in some detail the actual process of "ascesis" or self-training that was practiced by the early Buddhists. This study, moreover, does not

stop here; it maintains throughout that the doctrine of the Buddha is capable of application even today by any Western person who really has the vocation. But the undertaking was

never easy, and the number who, in this modern world, will succeed in pursuing it to its

conclusion is not likely to be large.

H. E. M . [1948]



In his autobiography il cammino del cinabro (The Cinnabar Path), Julius Evola re-called:

"During the last years of the 1930s 1 devoted myself to working on two of

my most important books of Eastern wisdom; I completely revised L'uomo

come potenza [M an As Power], which was given a new title, Lo yoga della

potenza [The Yoga of Power', and wrote a systematic work concerning

primitive Buddhism entitled La dottrina del risveglio [ The Doctrine of


The recent discovery of the correspondence between Evola and his publisher allows us to

specify the sequence of events and modify it, at least in part. In a letter dated October 20.

1942, Evola wrote to Laterza with a proposal:

"It is a new book entitled La dottrina del risveglio. carrying the subtitle Saggio sull'ascesi buddista [Essay on Buddhist Asceticism]. This is a work

that I have almost completed concerning the practical and virile aspect of

Buddhist teachings, with particular emphasis on the striving after the

Unconditioned. 1 believe that my book's exposition of Buddhist teachings

on this basis. explained in a way that everybody will understand,

constitutes something original and will be of interest to more than a

handful of specialized scholars.

After Laterza accepted this project, the final manuscript was mailed on November 30,

1942. It was sent to press in February 1943, and the last revisions were made during the

first ten days of August. The book was finally printed in September 1943 during a period

of radical political and military upheaval. The author was able to see a copy of La dottrina only after the war was over.



About his book, Evola wrote, "I have paid a debt that I had toward Buddha's doctrine,"

which had "a definite influence in helping me overcome the inner crisis f experienced

right after World War I." He also added:

Later on, I made a practical and rewarding use of Buddhist texts, in order

to strengthen a detached awareness of the principle of "being." He who

was a prince of the Sākya pointed out a series of inner disciplines that I

felt were very congenial to my spirit, just as I felt religious, and especially

Christian. asceticism totally alien to me.

Evola was neither a Buddhist nor a Buddhist scholar, and always considered it a

misunderstanding that some would classify him as such. Buddhism was a "way." one

among other "ways" available to people who live in the last age, the Kali Yuga. In his autobiography Evola explained his need to explore and to point out to others the various

spiritual paths that could be found in Eastern and Western traditions: these paths, he

believed, helped one to remain steady in this "age of dissolution." After expounding the

"wet path," the path "of affirmation, of the assumption, use, and transformation of immanent forces that are freed until Sakti's awakening, which is the power root of every

vital energy and especially of sex" in the Yoga of Power, in The Doctrine of Awakening he indicated a "dry path," an intellectual approach of pure detachment. Some people have thought of these paths as opposites, but Evola explicitly declared them to be "equivalent, as far as the final goal is concerned, provided they are followed to the end, though one

may be preferred to the other depending on the circumstances, one's own nature. and

inner, existential dispositions." These words need to be emphasized. They were written in 1963 and express the same point of view as twenty years earlier. Evola noted then that his

hook was

the counterpart to some of my previous works in which I have popularized

doctrines that have indicated different ways to achieve the same goal,

namely, the deconditioning of the human being, enlightened awakening,

and the initiatory opening of one's consciousness.

This is the underlying theme of Evola's multiform and apparently contradictory (to a

superficial reader) literary production: to indicate paths of inner salvation avail-able to those who live in the fourth age. Evola wrote:

If, on the one hand, this civilization is harvesting more victims than any

other known pagan idol, on the other hand, its nature is such that in it,

even heroism, sacrifice, and struggle display, almost without exception, a

lightless, "elementary," and merely earthly character, due precisely to the

lack of any transcendent reference point.



In these desperate times, Evola has indicated a number of "transcendent reference points"

for us through his works, each one different from the others and adaptable to different

personalities. The techniques of spiritual realization that are part of West-cm Hermeticism are discussed in The Hermetic Tradition (1931; English translation, 1995); the "initiatory content" of the symbolism of medieval knightly literature is covered in The Mystery of the Grail (1937; translation forthcoming); the "esotericism" present in Taoism is discussed in his introductions to the Tao-te-ching (1923 and 1959), which essays have been published in English under the title Taoism: The M agic, the Mysticism (1995); the "path of magic" is the subject of his contributions to Introduzione alla magia (1955); and finally, the "path of sex" is discussed in Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metāphysics of Sex (1958; translation 1983). To these one could add "political" versions of the "wet path" in his Gil uomini e le rovine (1953; [M en amid Ruins]) and the "dry path" in Cāvālcāre la tigre (1961; [Riding the Tiger]). These can be seen as Evola's attempts, at times on the external plane, at other times on the inner plane, to promote a change in the mentality of the Italian man, whom he stereotypes as a mandolin-playing, macaroni-eating fellow who is all

pizza, mafia, and church. Evola proposed both the path of action and the path of

meditation as the means to effect this change. During both the fascist and democratic

regimes this intent always informed his work, though he also knew he was addressing a

country of Catholics. This helps to explain why he introduced the Buddhist "Doctrine of Awakening," since as a system or technique it could be grafted onto any religion without coming into conflict with any specific doctrines.

In The Doctrine of Awākening Evola wove together several traditions. For ex-ample, in the Fulfilled or Awakened One whom he describes we find an echo of the inner and

outer characteristics of his understanding of the "Roman style"; moreover, in primitive Buddhism he finds again the traits of a nontheistic spirituality (that has nothing to do with morality): of self-mastery; and of the achievement of a degree of spirituality that is closer to the divine. According to Evola. Tantrism and primitive Buddhism are like two faces of

the same coin and indicate a "detached path of asceticism that is almost 'Olympian.'"

M oreover, the identification of primitive Buddhism and Tantrism as methods,

systems, or paths available to modern Westerners is owing to the fact that, according to

Evola, they belong to the "cycle in which modern humanity happens to live." M ore exactly, "primitive Buddhism has been formulated in view of an existential condition of man that, though distant from that of Western materialism and the correlative eclipse of

every living traditional wisdom, nevertheless already possessed its warning signs and

seeds." Thus, primitive Buddhism presents itself as a "complete and virile system of asceticism formulated during the cycle to which modem man belongs." In modern man,

whose life is "almost external to himself, semi-

somnambulistic, moving between psychological reflexes and images that hide from him the deepest and purest substance of life," we can see a shift from a purely individual consciousness to a samsāric consciousness that assumes indefinite possibilities of

existence or rebirths (gati).

In regard to the practical actualization of an "ascetic" doctrine that seems to have been conceived for a concrete lifestyle very different from that of the modern Westerner, the

problems can be overcome precisely through the apparently most difficult one, namely,

"detachment from the world." Evola explains that the Pāli texts indicate three types of detachment; physical, mental, and physical-mental To-day the second type is the most viable one:

Once detachment, viveka, is interpreted mainly in this internal sense, it

appears perhaps easier to achieve it today than in a more normal and

traditional civilization. One who is still an "Aryan" spirit in a large Eu-

ropean or American city, with its skyscrapers and asphalt, with its politics

and sport, with its crowds who dance and shout, with its exponents of

secular culture and of soulless science and so on—among all this he may

feel himself more alone and detached and nomad than he would have done

in the rime of the Buddha, in conditions of physical isolation and of actual

wandering. The greatest difficulty, in this respect, lies in giving this sense

of internal isolation, which today may occur to many almost

spontaneously, a positive, full, simple, and transparent character, with

elimination of all traces of aridity, melancholy, discord, or anxiety.

Solitude should not he a burden, something that is suffered, that is borne

involuntarily, or in which refuge is taken by force of circumstances, but

rather, a natural, simple, and free disposition, in a text we read: "Solitude is

called wisdom [ekattam monam akkhatarin], he who is alone will find that

he is happy"; it is an accentuated version of "beata solitudo, sofa

beatitudo." (see p. 103)

This is a theme that Evola will develop in his Cavalcare In tigre, a book conceived and partially written in the early 1950s and published in the 1960s. Cavalcare la tigre points out an "existential path" that, like the "Doctrine of Awakening," is meant for "a very restricted circle of people who are endowed with a not too common inner strength."

Al the center of that work, as in Doctrine, there is the problem of the "inviolability of being" vis à vis the devouring Becoming that surrounds us. The themes of "he who stays by going and goes by staying"; of kaftan karaniyam, "done is what needed to he done," or

"the work has been completed because it had to be, without reasons why or benefits"; of surviving death, which "can logically be conceived only for those few who, as human beings, were able to realize themselves



as more than mere human beings"; of "everybody is lord unto himself, there is no other lord, and by dominating yourself you will have a master the like of whom it is hard to

find" (as is written in the Dhammapāda) are all taken up, developed, and adapted to the theses of Cavalcāre la tigre.

The Prince Siddhartha whom Evola describes is certainly not the one depicted by

Hermann Hesse in his novel, which has become a sort of livre de chevet to many

contemporary readers, especially the young ones. The historical Siddhartha was a prince

of the Sākya, a kşatriya (belonging to the warrior caste), an "ascetic fighter" who opened a path by himself with his own strength. Thus Evola emphasizes the "aristocratic" character of primitive Buddhism, which he defines as having the "presence in it of a virile and

warrior strength (the lion's roar is a designation of Buddha's proclamation) that is applied to a nonmaterial and atemporal plane . . . since it transcends such a plane, leaving it

behind." The "essential nucleus of Buddhism is there-fore metaphysical and initiatory." he wrote, while its interpretation "as a mere moral code based on compassion,

humanitarianism, and escape from life because life is `suffering,' is absolutely extrinsic, profane, and superficial."

Thus, we can understand the number of polemics this "essay on Buddhist asceticism"

generated among the representatives of different interpretations of Buddhism. who

accused Evola of "arbitrariness." Despite their disapproval, a number of British and French Buddhist centers and international scholars of Buddhism have expressed their

esteem for Evola's work.


translated by Guido Stucco



Julius Evola and Buddhism

Evola published his Doctrine of Awakening (La dottrina del risveglio) in 1943, a time when history took a tragic turn, particularly in Italy where the outbreak of a most cruel

civil war occurred in the context of a world conflict that seemed to sentence European

civilization to death. Entire cities, turned into ashes, had ceased to exist, and this was just the prelude to the imminent apocalypse. In this tragic atmosphere, in which intellectuals

were expected to assume a fighting attitude based on the values of action, courage, and

heroism, Evola wrote a book on Buddhism for his readers! Keeping in mind the image

that the West had formed of Eastern traditions, and more specifically, of the teachings of

Sākyamuni, one can see how in Italy, among the numerous potential readers of such an

unexpected work, there were some who saw in this "essay on Buddhist asceticism" a sort of provocation. This was especially so considering that Evola's aristocratic origins did not seem particularly to predispose him to be interested in a religion in which monks,

alienated from the world, played a predominant role.

This reaction to the work was obviously a misunderstanding. It ignores the fact that

the future Buddha was also of noble origins, that he was the son of a king and heir to the

throne and had been raised with the expectation that one day he would inherit the crown.

He had been taught martial arts and the art of government, and having reached the right

age, he had married and had a son. All of these things would be more typical of the

physical and mental formation of a future samurai than of a seminarian ready to take holy

orders, A man like Julius Evola was particularly suit-able to dispel such a misconception.

He did so on two fronts in his Doctrine: on the one hand, he did not cease to re-call

the origins of the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, who was destined to the throne of

Kapilavastu: on the other hand, he attempted to demonstrate that Buddhist


asceticism is not a cowardly resignation before life's vicissitudes, but rather a struggle of a spiritual kind, which is not any less heroic than the struggle of a knight on the battlefield.

As Buddha himself said (Mahavagga, 2.15): "It is better to die fighting than to live as one vanquished." This resolution is in accord with Evola's ideal of overcoming natural

resistances in order to achieve the Awakening through meditation; it should he noted,

however, that the warrior terminology is contained in the oldest writings of Buddhism,

which are those that best reflect the living teaching of the master. Evola works tirelessly in his hook to erase the Western view of a languid and dull doctrine that in fact was

originally regarded as aristocratic and reserved for real "champions."

After Schopenhauer, the unfounded idea arose in Western culture that Buddhism

involved a renunciation of the world and the adoption of a passive attitude: "Let things go their way; who cares anyway." Since in this inferior world "every-thing is evil," the wise person is the one who, like Simeon the Stylite, withdraws, if not to the top of a pillar; at least to an isolated place of meditation. M oreover, the most widespread view of Buddhists

is that of monks dressed in orange robes, begging for their food; people suppose that the

only activity these monks are devoted to is reciting memorized texts, since they shun

prayers; thus, their religion appears to an outsider as a form of atheism.

Evola successfully demonstrates that this view is profoundly distorted by a series of

prejudices. Passivity? Inaction? On the contrary, Buddha never tired of exhorting his

disciples to "work toward victory"; he himself, at the end of his life, said with pride: katam karaniyam, "done is what needed to he done!" Pessimism? It is true that Buddha, picking up a formula of Brahmanism, the religion in which he had been raised prior to his

departure from Kapilavastu, affirmed that everything on earth is "suffering." But he also clarified for us that this is the case because we are always yearning to reap concrete

benefits from our actions. For example, warriors risk their lives because they long for the pleasure of victory and for the spoils, and yet. in the end they are always disappointed: the pillaging is never enough and what has been gained is quickly squandered. Also, the taste

of victory soon fades away. But if one becomes aware of this state of affairs (this is one

aspect of the Awakening), the pessimism is dispelled since reality is what it is, neither

good nor bad in itself; reality is inscribed in Becoming, which cannot be interrupted.

Thus, one must live and act with the awareness that the only thing that matters is each and every moment. Thus, duty (dhamma) is claimed to be the only valid reference point: "Do your duty," that is. "let your every action he totally disinterested."

Evola demonstrated that this ideal was also shared by the itinerant knights of the

Western M iddle Ages, who put their swords at the service of every noble cause


without looking for any compensation. They fought because they prepared all their lives

to offer their services and not because they wanted to become rich by looting their

enemies. Were they pessimists? Certainly not. At the end of their lives they too could say, like Buddha, "done is what needed to be done." Nor were they optimists, since the principle "everything is working for the better, and in the best possible way" is not any less illusory than its opposite.

Finally, the tern "asceticism" is also susceptible to being misunderstood by those who view Buddhism from the outside. Evola reminds his readers that the original meaning of

the. term asceticism is "practical exercise," or "discipline"—one could even say

"learning." t certainly does not mean, as some are inclined to think, a willingness to mortify the body that derives from the idea of penance, and even leads to the practice of

self-flagellation, since it is believed that one must suffer in order to expiate one's sins.

Asceticism is rather a school of the will, a pure heroism (that is, it is disinterested) that Evola, a real expert in this subject, compares to the efforts of a mountain climber. To the layman, mountain climbing may he a pointless effort, but to the climber it is a challenge

in which the test of courage, perseverance, and hero-ism is its only purpose. In this we

recognize an attitude that Brahmanism knew under certain forms of yoga and Tantrism. A

few years earlier Evola had devoted his book L' uomo come potenza ([M an As Power) 1926) to celebrating such an attitude.

In the spiritual domain, the procedure is the same. Buddha, as we know, was tempted

early in his life by a form of asceticism that was similar to that of a hermit living in the desert. This approach involved prolonged fasts and techniques aimed at breaking the

body's resistance. Siddhartha, however, realized himself and achieved the Awakening

only when he understood this type of asceticism to be a dead end. Turning away from the

indignant protests of his early companions, he stopped mortifying his body, ate to placate

his hunger, and returned to the world of human beings. But it was then that his

detachment started to develop: the world no longer had a grasp on him, since he had

become a "hero," or like the ancient Greeks would have said, a "god."

This is the profound meaning of Prince Siddhartha's teachings, of he who be-came the

"Enlightened One" (Buddha) or the "ascetic of the regal dynasty of the Sākya"

(Sākyamuni). The value of Evola's book lies in his clarification of this authentic

Buddhism. Evola utilized a great number of original sources, especially those that were

gathered in the Pali canon (Pali being the language employed by Buddha in his teaching

career). And yet, Evola's erudition is not running with his pen: his learning is not an end in itself, but rather fulfills its essential but subordinate role as a demonstrative means.

Evola's work, as he himself indicated in his original subtitle, is an "essay," a summary, and not a summa. t is not a history of primitive Buddhism,

but a reflection on the real nature of Buddhist asceticism and on its possible integration in the modem world.

Who knows what Evola was thinking when he wrote this book? For my part., I am

inclined to believe that, having a foreboding of the imminent tragedy ahead of him, he

wished to illustrate the virtue of perseverance and faithfulness, even if it meant fighting in a no-win situation. And when in 1945 in Vienna he received the terrible wound that

paralyzed him for the remaining thirty years of his life, we can believe that, overcoming

his pain and the disappointment of no longer being able to climb the peaks that had

always attracted him. he must have said to himself that having been horn in that time and

place, he had done what he needed to do, that is, give witness to Truth. And if in this dark age, in which the universe is approaching the end of one of its cycles (a necessary thing if a new world is to appear, according to the cyclical view of time), people are not able to

receive such a testimony, so what? As Buddha himself said: "He who has awakened is

like the lion who roars to the four directions." Who knows where and how this roar will echo? In any event, it is the roar of a victor, and this is the only thing that matters,


translated by Guido Stucco





Varieties of Ascesis

The original meaning of the term ascesis—from άσλέω, "to train"--was simply "training"

and, in a Roman sense, discipline, The corresponding Indo-Aryan term is tapas (tapa or tapo in Pāli) and it has a like significance: except that, from the root tap, which means "to be hot" or "to glow," it also contains the idea of an intensive concentration, of glowing, almost of fire.

With the development of Western civilization, however, the term ascesis (or its

derivatives) has, as we know, taken on a particular meaning that differs from the original.

Not only has it assumed an exclusively religious sense, but from the general tone of the

faith that has come to predominate among Western peoples, a asceticism is bound up with

ideas of mortification of the flesh and of painful renunciation of the world: it has thus

come to represent the method that this faith usually advocates as the most suitable for

gaining "salvation" and the reconciliation of man, weighed down by original sin, with his Creator. As early as the beginnings of Christianity the name "ascetic" was applied to those who practiced mortification by flagellation of the body.

Thus, with the growth of modem civilization. all that asceticism stood for gradually

and inevitably became the object of strong dislike. If even Luther, with the resentment of

one unable to understand or tolerate monastic disciplines, could refuse to recognize the

necessity, value, and usefulness of any ascesis, and could substitute it by exaltation of

pure faith, then humanism, immanency. and the new life cult were brought from their

standpoint to heap discredit and scorn upon asceticism, broadly associating such

tendencies with "medieval obscurantism" and with the aberrations of "historically outdated ages." And even when asceticism was not dismissed out of hand as pathological or as a

kind of sublimated masochism, all sorts of incompatibilities to our ways of life were

affirmed. The best known and most overworked of these is the antithesis supposed to exist

between the ascetic, static, and emasculated


Orient, renouncer and enemy of the world, and the dynamic, positive, heroic, and progressive Western civilization.

Unfortunate prejudices such as these have succeeded in gaining a foothold in people's

minds; even Friedrich Nietzsche sometimes seriously believed that asceticism only attracted the "pallid enemies of life," the weak and disinherited, and those who, in their hatred of themselves and the world, undermine with their ideas the civilizations created

by a superior humanity. Furthermore, recent attempts have been made to provide

"climatic" explanations of asceticism. Thus, according to Gunther, the Indo-Germans, under the influence of an enervating and unaccustomed climate in the Asiatic lands they

had conquered, came slowly to regard the world as suffering, turning their energies away from affirmation of life and toward a seeking for "liberation" by means of various ascetic disciplines. We need hardly discuss the low level to which asceticism has been brought

by recent "psychoanalytical" interpretations.

In the West, then, a tight net of misunderstanding and prejudice has been drawn

round asceticism. The one-sided meaning given to asceticism by Christianity, through its

frequent association therein with entirely misguided forms of spiritual life, has produced

inevitable reactions: these have usually—and not without a certain antitraditional and

antireligious bias---stressed only the negative side of what one kind of ascesis has to offer the "modern" spirit.

Our own contemporaries, however. as though the position were inverted, are now

again using expressions of this nature in the original sense, though adapting them to their own entirely materialistic plane. Thus we hear of a "mystique of progress," a "mystique of science," a "mystique of labor" and so on, and likewise of an ascesis of sport, an ascesis of social service and even of an ascesis of capitalism. In spite of the confusion of ideas, there is definitely to be found here a certain element of the original meaning of the word ascesis: this modern use of the word or its derivatives does, in fact, imply the simple idea of training, of intensive application of energy, not without a certain

impersonality and neutralization of the purely individual and hedonistic element.

Be that as it may, it is important at the present time that intelligent people should

once again understand the value of asceticism in a comprehensive view of the uni-

verse and thus what it may signify at successive spiritual levels, independently of the

mere religious concepts of a Christian type as well its of the modern distinctions; for

which they should refer to the fundamental traditions and the highest metaphysical

concepts of the Aryan races. As we wished to discuss asceticism in this sense, we asked

ourselves: what example can history furnish as the best suited for examination as a

comprehensive and universal ascetic system that is clear and uidiluted, well tried and

well set out, in tune with the spirit of Aryan man and yet prevailing in the modern age?

We eventually decided that the answer to our question could only be found in


the "Doctrine of Awakening," which, in its original form, satisfies all these conditions.

The "Doctrine of Awakening" is the real signification of what is commonly known as Buddhism. The term Buddhism is derived from the Pali designation Buddha (Sanskrit: Buddha) given to its founder; it is, however, not so much a name as a title. Buddha, from the root budh, "to awaken," means the "Awakened One": it is thus a designation applied to one who attains the spiritual realization, likened to an "arousing" or to an "awakening,"

which Prince Siddhattha announced to the Indo-Aryan world. Buddhism, in its original

form—the so-called Pali Buddhism—shows us, as do very few other doctrines, the

characteristics we want: (1) it contains a complete ascetic system; (2) it is universally

valid and it is realistic; (3) it is purely Aryan in spirit; (4) it is accessible in the general conditions of the historical cycle to which present-day humankind also belongs.

We have implied that asceticism, when considered as a whole, can assume various

meanings at successive spiritual levels. Simply defined, that is to say as "training" or discipline, an ascesis aims at placing all the energies of the human being under the control of a central principle. In this respect we can, properly speaking, talk of a technique that has, in common with that of modem scientific achievements. the characteristics of

objectivity and impersonality. Thus an eye, trained to distinguish the accessory from the

essential, can easily recognize a "constant" beyond the multiple variety of ascetic forms adopted by this or that tradition.

In the first place, we can consider as accessory all the particular religious conceptions

or the particular ethical interpretations with which, in very many cases, asceticism is

associated. Beyond all this, however, it is possible to conceive of and to work out what we may call a pure ascesis, that is to say, one made up of techniques for developing an

interior force, the use of which, to begin with, remains undetermined, like the use of the

arms and machines produced by modem industrial techniques. Thus, while "ascetic"

reinforcement of the personality is the foundation of every transcendental realization,

whether in the form of one historical tradition or another, it can likewise be of great value on the level of the temporal aspirations and struggles that absorb practically all the

energies of modern Western people. Further-more, we could even conceive of an "ascesis of evil," for the technical conditions, as we may call them, needed to achieve any positive success in the direction of the "evil" are not different in kind from those needed, for example, to attain sainthood. Nietzsche himself, as we have already pointed out, partly

shared the modern wide-spread prejudice against asceticism: when dealing with his

"Superman" and when formulating the Wille zur Macht, did he not take into account various disciplines and forms of self-control that are clearly of an ascetic nature? Thus, at least within certain limits, we can quote the words of an old medieval tradition: "One the Art, One the M aterial, One the Crucible."



Now, few other great historical traditions allow us ro isolate so easily the elements of

a pure ascesis as does the 'Doctrine of Awakening," that is to say, Buddhism. t has been justly said of Buddhism that in it the ascetic problems "have been stated and resolved so clearly and, one could almost say, so logically that, in comparison, other forms of

mysticism seem incomplete, fragmentary and inconclusive"; and that, far from being

weighed down by every kind of emotional and sentimental element, an austere and

objective style of intellectual clarity so much predominates that one is almost forced to compare it with the modem scientific mentality.' In this respect two points must be


First, the Buddhist ascesis is conscious, in the sense that in many forms of asceti-

cism—and in the case of Christian asceticism almost without exception—the acces sory is

inextricably tied tip with the essential, and ascetic realizations are, one might say, indirect because they resulr from impulses and workings of the mind determined by religious

suggestions or raptures; while in Buddhism there is direct action, based on knowledge,

conscious of its aim and developing throughout in controlled stages. "Just as a practiced turner or turner's apprentice, when turning quickly, knows 'I am turning quickly,' and

when turning slowly, knows 'I am turning slowly"'; and "as a practiced butcher or butcher's apprentice who butchers a cow, takes it to the market-place and dissects it piece by piece; he knows these parts, he looks at them and examines them well and then sits

down"—here are two trenchant similes, chosen from many, and typical of the style of

consciousness of every ascetic or contemplative procedure in the Doctrine of Awakening.'

Another image is furnished by clear and transparent water through which can he seen

everything lying on the bottom: symbolical of a mind that has left behind all unrest and

disturbance.3 And it will be seen that this style persists throughout, on every level of

Buddhist discipline. It has been well said that "this path through consciousness and

awakening is as clearly described as a road on an accurate map, along which every tree,

every bridge and every house is marked."'4

Second, Buddhism is almost the only system that avoids confusion between asceticism

and morality, and in which the purely instrumental value of the latter in the interests of the former is consciously realized. Every ethical precept is measured against an independent

scale, that is, according to the positive "ascetic" effects that result from following these precepts or failing to follow them. From this it can be seen that not only have all religious mythologies been surpassed, but also all ethical

I. B. Jansilk. La mistica del buddismo (Turin, 1925). p. 304.

2. M ajjhima-nikāya, 10.

3. Cf., e.g., Jātaka, 185.

4. E. Reinhoitd. in the introduction to the works of K. E. Neumann. quoted by (i. de

Lorenzo, I discord di Buddho (Bari. 1925), vol. 2, p. 15.


mythologies. In Buddhism, the elements of silt, that is, of "right conduct," are considered purely as "instruments of the mind":5 it is not a question of "values" but of "instruments,"

instruments of a virtus, not in the moralistic sense but in the ancient sense of virile energy.

Here we have the well-known parable of the raft: a man, wishing to cross a dangerous

river and having built a raft for this purpose, would indeed be a fool if, when he had

crossed, he were to put the raft on his shoulders and take it with him on his journey. This must be the attitude—Buddhism teaches—to all that is labeled by ethical views as good or

evil, just or unjust.6

Thus we can fairly claim that in Buddhism—as also in yoga—asceticism is raised to

the dignity and impersonality of a science: what is elsewhere fragmentary here becomes

systematic; what is instinct becomes conscious technique; the spiritual labyrinth of those

minds that achieve a real elevation through the workings of some "grace" (since it is only accidentally and by means of suggestions, fears, hopes, and raptures that they discover the right way) is replaced by a calm and uniform light, present even in abysmal depths, and

by a method that has no need of external means.

All this, however, refers only to the first aspect of asceticism, the most elementary in

the ascetic hierarchy. When an ascesis is understood as a technique for the conscious

creation of a force that can be applied, in the first place, at any level, then the disciplines taught by the Doctrine of Awakening can be recognized as those that incorporate the

highest degree of crystallinity and independence. However, we en-counter inside the

system a distinction between the disciplines that "suffice for this life" and those that are necessary to take one beyond.' Ascetic achievement in Buddhism is exploited essentially

in an upward direction. This is how the sense of such achievements is expressed in the

canon: "And he reaches the admirable path discovered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the will, the admirable path discovered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the energy, the admirable path discovered by the intensity, the

constancy and the concentration of the spirit, the admirable path discovered by the

intensity, the constancy and the concentration of investigation—with a heroic spirit as the fifth." And this continues: "And thus attaining these fifteen heroic qualities, he is able, O

disciples, to achieve liberation, to achieve awakening. to attain the incomparable

sureness."8 In this connection another text considers a double possibility: "Either certainty in life, or no return after death."9 If, on the highest level, "sureness" is linked with the state of "awakening," the alternatives can he similarly interpreted on a lower level, and we 5. Majjh., 53.

6. Ibid.. 22.

7. Cf., e.g., Majjh., 53.

8. Majjh., 16.

9. Ibid.. 10.


may think of a more relative sureness in life, created by a preliminary group of ascetic

disciplines and able to prove its value in all fields of life, and yet that is essentially a foundation for an ascesis of a higher nature. It is in this sense that we can talk of an

"intensive application." which is considered to be the keystone of the whole system and which, when "developed and constantly practised, leads to two-fold health, health in the present and health in the future.'" "Sureness," in ascetic development—bhāvanā—is associated with unshakable calm—samatha—which may be considered as the highest aim

of a "neutral" discipline, and which can be pursued by one who yet remains essentially a

"son of the world"—putthujjana. Beyond this there is an unshakable calm—samatha—

which is associated with knowledge—vipassanā—and which then leads to "liberation."

Here we have, then, a new conception of the ascesis, on a higher plane than the last,

and taking us to a level above normal perception and individual experience; and at the

same time it becomes clear why Buddhism, on this higher level also, gives us positive

points of reference such as we find in few other traditions. The fact is that Buddhism in its original form carefully avoids anything that savors of simple "religion." of mysticism in its most generally accepted sense, of systems of "faith" or devotion, or of dogmatic rigidity. And even when we consider that which is no longer of that life, that which is

"more than life," Buddhism, as the Doctrine of Awakening, offers us those very traits of severity and nudity that characterize the monumental, and features of clarity and strength

that may he called, in a general sense, "classical"; a virile and courageous attitude that would seem Promethean were it not in-deed essentially Olympian. But before this can be

appreciated, once again various prejudices must be removed. And here it is well to discuss

two points.

It has been claimed that Buddhism, in its essentials, and leaving out of account its later

popular forms, entirely centered as they were on a deified concept of its founder, is not a religion. This is true. We must, however, he quite clear as to what we mean when we say

this. The peoples of the West are so inured to the religion that has come to predominate in their countries that they consider it as a kind of unit of measure and as a model for every other religion: they are near denying the dignity of true religion to any concept of the

supersensory and to man's relationship to it, when the concept in any way differs from the

Judeo-Christian type. The result of this has been that the most ancient traditions of the

West itself—beginning with the Aryo-Hellenic and the Aryo-Roman—are no longer

understood in their real significance

10. Anguttara-nikāya, 3.65: 1(1.15. Cf. Samyutt., 35.198, where the disciplines are stated

to be valid for this life since, in it, they create self-possession, and yet build the firm foundations for the destruction of the asava. that is, for the task of following the

upward path.

II. In Angutt., 4.170 it is said that the bonds give way and the path opens when samatha is combined with vipassana.


or effective value;12 so it is easy to imagine what happened to older and often more

remote traditions, particularly to those created by the Aryan races in Asia. But, in-deed,

this attitude should be reversed: and just as "modem" civilization is an anomaly when compared with what has always been true civilization," so the significance and the value of the Christian religion should be measured according to that part of its content that is

consonant with a vaster, more Aryan, and more primordial concept of the supersensory.

We need not dwell on this point since we have already dealt with it elsewhere;

Dahlke sums up the matter, saying that one characteristic of Western superficiality is the

tendency always to identify religion as a whole with religion based on faith.14 Beyond

those who "believe" are those who "know," and to these the purely "mythological"

character of many simply religious, devotional, and even scholastically theological

concepts is quite clear. It is largely a question of different degrees of knowledge.

Religion, from religo, is, as the word itself indicates, a reconnecting and, more

specifically, a reconnecting of a creature to a Creator with the eventual introduction of a mediator or of an expiator. On the basis of this central idea can be built up a whole

system of faith, devotion, and even mysticism that, admittedly, is capable of carrying an

individual to a certain level of spiritual realization. However, it does so to a large extent passively since it is based essentially on sentiment, emotion, and suggestion. In such a system no amount of scholastic explaining will ever completely resolve the irrational and

subintellectual element.

We can easily understand that in some cases such "religious" forms are neces sary; and even the East, in later periods, has known something of the kind, for in-stance, the

way of devotion—bhakti-marga (from bhaj, "to adore")—of Ramānuja and certain forms of the Sakti cult: but we must also realize that there may be some who have no need of

them and who, by race and by calling, desire a way free from "religious" mythologies, a way based on clear knowledge, realization, and awakening. An ascetic, whose energies

are employed in this direction, achieves the highest form of ascesis; and Buddhism gives

us an example of an ascesis that is outstanding of its kind—in saying "of its kind" we wish to point out that Buddhism represents a great historical tradition with texts and

teachings available to all; it is not an esoteric school with its knowledge reserved for a

restricted number of initiates.

In this sense we can, and indeed we must, state that Buddhism—referring al-ways to

original Buddhism—is not a religion. This does not mean that it denies supernatural and metaphysical reality, but only that it has nothing to do with the way of


Cf. W. F. Otto, Die Getter Griechenlands (1935), 1, 2, and passim.


Cf. R. Guenon. Orient e t Occident (Paris, 1924): La Crise du monde moderne (Paris, 1925). [English translations: East and West (London. 1941). and The Crisis of the Modern World (London, 1943)].

14. P.


Buddhismus als Religion and Moral (M unich and Neubiberg, 1923), p.



regarding one's relationship with this reality that we know more or less as "religion." The validity of these statements would in no way be altered were one to set out in greater

detail to defend the excellence of the theistic point of view against Buddhism, by charging the Doctrine of Awakening with more or less declared atheism. This brings us to the

second point for discussion, but which we need only touch upon here as it is dealt with at

length later in this work.

We have admitted that a "religiously" conceived system can carry an individual to a certain level of spiritual realization. The fact that this system is based on a theistic concept determines this level. The theistic concept, however, is by no means either unique or even

the highest "religious" relationship such as the Hindu bhakti or the predominant faiths in the Western or Arab world. Whatever one may think of it, the theistic concept represents

an incomplete view of the world, since it lacks the extreme hierarchic apex. From a

metaphysical and (in the higher sense) traditional point of view, the notion on which

theism is based of representing "being" in a personal form even when theologically sublimated, can never claim to be the ultimate ideal. The concept and the realization of the extreme apex or, in other words, of that which is beyond both such a "being" and its opposite, "nonbeing," was and is natural to the Aryan spirit. It does not deny the theistic point of view but recognizes it in its rightful hierarchic place and subordinates it to a truly transcendental concept.

It is freely admitted that things are less simple than they seem in Western theology,

especially in the realm of mysticism, and more particularly where it is concerned with so-

called "negative theology." Also in the West the notion of a personal God occasionally merges into the idea of an ineffable essence, of an abysmal divinity, as the έν conceived by the Neoplatonists beyond the όν, as the Gottheit in the neuter beyond the Gott, which, after Dionysius the Areopagite, appeared frequently in German mysticism and which

exactly corresponds with the neuter Brahman above the theistic Brahmā of Hindu speculation. But in the West it is more a notion wrapped in a confused mystical cloud than

a precise doctrinal and dogmatic definition con-forming to a comprehensive cosmic

system. And this notion, in point of fact, has had little or no effect on the "religious" bias prevalent in the Western mind: its only result has been to carry a few men, confused in

their occasional intuitions and visions, beyond the frontiers of "orthodoxy."

That very apex that Christian theology loses in a confused background is. in-stead,

very often placed consciously in the foreground by the Aryo-Oriental traditions. To talk in this respect of atheism or even of pantheism betrays ignorance, an ignorance shared by those who spend their time unearthing oppositions and anti-theses. The truth is that the

traditions of the Aryans who settled in the East retain and conserve much of what the later traditions of races of the same root who settled in the West have lost or no longer understand or retain only fragmentarily. A contribut-10

ing factor here is the undoubted influence on European faiths of concepts of Semitic and

Asiatic-M editerranean origin. Thus to accuse of atheism the older traditions, particularly the Doctrine of Awakening, and also other Western traditions that reflect the same spirit,

only betrays an attempt to expose and discredit a higher point of view on the part of a

lower one: an attempt that, had circumstances been reversed, would have been qualified

out of hand by the religious West as Satanic. And, in fact, we shall see that it was exactly thus that it appeared to the doctrine of the Buddha (cf. p. 85-86).

The recognition of that which is "beyond both 'being' and 'nonbeing'" opens to ascetic realization possibilities unknown to the world of theism. The fact of reaching the apex, in which the distinction between "Creator" and "creature" becomes meta-physically meaningless, allows of a whole system of spiritual realizations that, since it leaves behind the categories of "religious" thought, is not easily understood: and, above all, it permits a direct ascent, that is, an ascent up the bare mountainside, without support and without

useless excursions to one side or another. This is the exact meaning of the Buddhist

ascesis; it is no longer a system of disciplines de-signed to generate strength, sureness,

and unshakable calm, but a system of spiritual realization. Buddhism—and again later we

shall see this distinctly—carries the will for the unconditioned to a limit that is almost

beyond the imagination of the modem Westerner. And in this ascent beside the abyss the

climber rejects all "mythologies," he proceeds by means of pure strength, he ignores all mirages, he rids himself of any residual human weakness, he acts only according to pure

knowledge. Thus the Awakened One (Buddha), the Victor (Jina) could be called he

whose way was unknown to men, angels, and to Brahma himself (the Sanskrit name for

the theistic god). Admittedly, this path is not without dangers, yet it is the path open to the virile mind— viriya-magga. The texts clearly state that the doctrine is "for the wise man, the ex-pert, not for the ignorant, the inexpert."15 The simile of the cutting grass is used: "As kusa grass when wrongly grasped cuts the hand, so the ascetic life wrongly

practised leads to infernal torments."' The simile of the serpent is used: "As a man who wants serpents goes out for serpents, looks for serpents, and finding a powerful serpent

grasps it by the body or by the tail; and the serpent striking at him bites his hand or arm or other part so that he suffers death or mortal anguish—and why is this? Be-cause he

wrongly grasped the serpent—so there are men who are harmed by the doctrines. And

why is this? Because they wrongly grasped the doctrines.'

It must be thus quite clear that the Doctrine of Awakening is not itself one par-

15. Majjh..



Dhammapada, 311.

17. Majjh.,



ticular religion that is opposed to other religions. Even in the world in which it grew, it respected the various divinities and the popular cults of religious type that were attached to them. It understood the value of "works." Virtuous and devout men go to "heaven"—

but a different path is taken by the Awakened Ones.' They go beyond as "a fire which,

little by little, consumes every bond," both human and divine. And it is fundamentally an innate attribute of the Aryan soul that causes us never to meet in the Buddhist texts any

sign of departure from consciousness, of sentimentalism or devout effusion, or of semi-

intimate conversation with a God, although throughout there is a sense of strength

inexorably directed toward the unconditioned.

We have now elaborated the first three reasons why Buddhism in particular is so

suitable as a base for an exposition of a complete ascesis. Summing up: the first is the

possibility of extracting easily from Buddhism the elements of an ascesis considered as

an objective technique for the achievement of calm, strength, and detached superiority,

capable in themselves of being used in all directions. The second is that in Buddhism the

ascesis has also the superior signification of a path of spiritual realization quite free from any mythology, whether religious, theological, or ethical. The third reason, finally, is that the last stretch of such a path corresponds to the Supreme in a truly metaphysical concept

of the universe, to a real transcendency well beyond the purely theistic concept. Thus

while the Buddha considers the tendency to dogmatize as a bond, and opposes the empty

sufficiency of those who proclaim: "Only this is truth, foolishness is the rest,"20 yet he maintains firmly the knowledge of his own dignity: "Perhaps you may wish, disciples,

thus knowing, thus understanding, to re-turn for your salvation to the rites and the

fantasies of the ordinary penitent or priest?" "No, indeed," is the answer. "Is it thus then, disciples: that you speak only of that on which you yourselves have meditated, which you

yourselves have known, which you yourselves have understood?" "Even so, M aster."

"This is well, disciples. Re-main, then, endowed with this doctrine, which is visible in this life, timeless, inviting, leading onward, intelligible to all intelligent men. If this has been said, for this reason has it been said."21 And again: "There are penitents and priests who exalt liberation. They speak in various manners glorifying liberation. But as for that

which concerns the most noble, the highest liberation, I know that none equals me, let

alone that 1 may he surpassed."22 This has been called, in the tradition, "the lion's roar."


Dhammapada, 126.

19. Ibid.,



Cf., e.g., Suttanipata, 4.12; 13.17—19.

21. Majjh,



Dīgha-nikāya. 8.21.



The Aryan-ness of

the Doctrine of Awakening

We have yet to say something of the "Aryan-ness" of the Buddhist doctrine.

Our use of the term Aryan in connection with this doctrine is primarily justified by direct reference to the texts. The term ariya (Skt.: ārya), which in fact means "Aryan,"

recurs throughout the canon. The path of awakening is called Aryan—ariya magga: the

four fundamental truths are Aryan ariya-saccāni; the mode of knowledge is Aryan—ariya-

naya; the teaching is called Aryan (particularly that which considers the contingency of

the world') and is, in turn, addressed to the āriyā; the doctrine is spoken of as accessible and intelligible, not to the common crowd, but only to the ariya. The term ariya has sometimes been translated as "saint." This, however, is an incomplete translation; it is even discordant when we consider the notable divergence between what is concerned and

all that "saintliness" means to a Western man. Nor is the translation of ariya as "noble" or

"sublime" any more satisfactory. They are all later meanings of the word, and they do not convey the fullness of the original nor the spiritual, aristocratic, and racial significance that, nevertheless, is largely preserved in Buddhism. This is why Orientalists, such as

Rhys Davids and Woodward, have maintained that it is better not to translate the term at

all, and they have left ariya wherever it occurs in the texts, either as an adjective or as a noun meaning a certain class of individuals. In the texts of the canon the ariya are the

Awakened Ones, those who have achieved Liberation and those who are united to them

since they understand, accept, and follow the ariya Doctrine of Awakening:

It is necessary, however, that we should emphasize the Aryan-ness of the Buddhist

doctrine for various reasons, In the first place, we must anticipate those who

1. Cf. Samyutta-nikātya. 35,84; 42.12.

2. The racial significance of the term ariya is clear in certain texts. e.g.. where it is considered as a difficult birth to achieve and where it is a privilege to he born in the land of the Aryans (Anguttara. 6.96).



will put forward the argument of Asiatic exclusiveness, saying that Buddhism is remote

from "our" traditions and "our" races. We have to remember that behind the various caprices of modern historical theories, and as a more profound and primordial reality,

there stands the unity of blood and spirit of the white races who created the greatest

civilizations both of the East and West, the Iranian and Hindu as well as the ancient Greek and Roman and the Germanic. Buddhism has the right to call itself Aryan both because it

reflects in great measure the spirit of common origins and since it has preserved important parts of a heritage that, as we have already said, Western man has little by little forgotten, not only by reason of involved processes of intermarriage, but also since he himself—to a

far greater extent than the Eastern Aryans—has come under foreign influences.

particularly in the religious field. As we have pointed out, Buddhist asceticism, when

certain supplementary elements have been removed, is truly "classical" in its clarity, realism, precision, and firm and articulate structure; we may say it reflects the noblest

style of the ancient Aryo-M editerranean world.

Furthermore, it is not only a question of form. The ascesis proclaimed by Prince

Siddhattha is suffused throughout with an intimate congeniality and with an accentuation

of the intellectual and Olympian element that is the mark of Platonism, Neoplatonism, and

Roman Stoicism. Other points of contact are to be found where Christianity has been

rectified by a transfusion of Aryan blood that had remained comparatively pure—that is to

say, in what we know as German mysticism: there is M eister Eckhart's sermon on

detachment, on Abgeschiedenheit, and his theory of the "noble mind," and we must not forget Tauter and Silesius, To insist here, as in every other field of thought, on the

antithesis between East and West is pure dilettantism. The real contrast exists in the first place between concepts of a modern kind and those of a traditional kind, whether the

latter are Eastern or Western; and secondly, between the real creations of the Aryan spirit and blood and those which, in East and West alike, have resulted from the admixture of

non-Aryan influences. As Dahlke has justly said, "Among the principal ways of thought

in ancient times, Buddhism can best claim to be of pure Aryan origin."'

This is true also more specifically. Although we can apply the term Aryan as a

generalization to the mass of Indo-European races as regards their common origin (the

original homeland of such races, the ariyānem-vaējō, according to the memory

consciously preserved in the ancient Iranian tradition, was a hyperborean region or, more

generally, northwestern),' yet, later, it became a designation of caste. Ā rya

3. P. Dahlke, Buddhismus als Weltanschauung (M unich and Neubiberg, undated). p. 35.

[English transla tion. Buddhism and Science (London. t913). p. 29.]

4. In this connection cf. our works: Rivolta contra il mondo modem° (M ilan, 1934)

!English translation, Revolt A gainst the M odem World (Rochester. Vt., 1995)]; Sintesi di dottrina delft razza (M ilan, t941).



stood essentially for an aristocracy opposed, both in mind and body, not only to obscure,

bastard, "demoniacal" races among which must be included the Kosalian and Dravidian strains found by the Hyperboreans in the Asiatic lands they conquered, but also, more

generally, to that substrafum that corresponds to what we would probably call today the

proletarian and plebeian masses born in the normal way to serve, and that in India as in

Rome were excluded from the bright cults characteristic of the higher patrician, warrior,

and priestly castes.

Buddhism can claim to be called Aryan in this more particular social sense also,

notwithstanding the attitude, of which we shall have more to say later, that it adopted

toward the castes of those times.

The man who was later known as the Awakened One, thaf is, the Buddha, was the

Prince Siddhattha. According to some, he was the son of a king; according to ofhers, at

least of the most ancient warrior nobility of the Sākiya race, proverbial for its pride: there was a saying, "Proud as a Sākiya."5 This race claimed descent, like the most illustrious and ancient Hindu dynasties, from the so-called solar race—sūrya vamsa—and from the very

ancient king Ikśvāku.6 "He, of the solar race," one reads of the Buddha.' He says so himself: "I am descended from the solar dynasty and I was born a Sākiya,"8 and by becoming an ascetic who has renounced the world he vindicates his royal dignity, the

dignity of an Aryan king.'' Tradition has it that his person appeared as "a form adorned with all the signs of beauty and surrounded by a radiant aureole."10 To a sovereign who meets him and does not know who he is, he immediately gives the impression of an equal:

"Thou hast a perfect body, thou art resplendent, well born, of noble aspect, thou hast a golden colour and white teeth, thou art strong. All the signs that thou art of noble birfh are in thy form, all the marks of a superior man."11 The most fearsome bandit, meeting him, asks himself in amazement who might be "this ascetic who comes alone with no

companions, like a

5. H.


Buddha (Sturtgart and Beritin. 1923). p. 1(1). Prince Siddhattha

seems to retain his pride even when he is the Buddha uttering such words as these: "In the world of angels. of demons and of gods, among the ranks of ascerics and of priests,

I do not see. O Brāhman. any one whom I shoutd respectfutity salute nor before whom

I should rise for him ro be seated" (Anguttara-nikāya. 8.111.

6. Suttanipāta. 3.6.31. It is worth noting that Ikśvāku was conceived as rhe son of M anu, that is. of the primordial legislator of the Indo-Aryan races, and that these

references in Buddhism are significanr: in fact, the same royal and solar origin is

attribured to the doctrine expounded in the Bhagavadgītā (4.1-2); a doctrine that was

reveaited after a period of obtivion to a ksatriya, that is, to an exponent of warrior nobiitity, and that shows us how the path of detachment can also produce an

unconditioned and irresisrible fotm of heroism; cf. Revolt Agajnst the M odern World.

7. Samyutt.,


8. Suttanipāta, 3.1.t9.

9. Ibid.,


10. Jātaka, I.

11. Suttanipāta, 3.7.1—2; 5-6.



conqueror." - And not only do we find in his body and hearing the characteristics of a khattiya, of a noble warrior of high lineage, but tradition has it that he was endowed with the "thirty-two attributes" that according to an ancient brahmanical doctrine were the mark of the "superior man"—mahāpurisa-lakkhana—for whom "exist only two possibilities, without a third": either, to remain in the world and to become a cakkavatti, that is, a king of kings, a "universal sovereign," the Aryan prototype of the "Lord of the Earth," or else to renounce the world and to become perfectly awakened, the Sambuddha, "one who has

removed the veil.'" Legend tells us that in a prophetic vision of a whirling wheel an

imperial destiny was foretold for Prince Siddhattha; a destiny that, however, he rejected in favor of the other path.14 It is equally significant that, according to tradition, the Buddha directed that his funeral rite should not be that of an ascetic, but of an imperial sovereign, a cakkavatti.15 In spite of the aittitude of Buddhism toward the caste problem, it was generally held that the bodhisatta, those who may one day become awakened, are never

horn into a peasant or servile caste but into a warrior or Brāhman caste, that is to say, into the two purest and highest of the Aryan castes: indeed, in the conditions then prevailing,

the warrior caste, the khattiya, was said to be the more favored.'

This Aryan nobility and this warrior spirit are reflected in the Doctrine of Awakening itself. Analogies between the Buddhist ascesis and war, between the qualities of an ascetic and the virtues of a warrior and of a hero recur frequently in the canonical texts: "a struggling ascetic with fighting breast," "an advance with a fighter's steps," "hero, victor of the battle," "supreme triumph of the battle," "favorable conditions for the combat,"

qualifies of "a warrior becoming to a king, well worthy of a king, attributes of a king,"

etc."—and in such maxims as: "to die in battle is better than to live defeated." As for

"nobility," it is bound up here with aspiration toward superhumanly inspired liberty. "As a bull, I have broken every bond"—says Prince Siddhattha.19 "Having laid aside the burden, he has destroyed the bonds of existence": this is a theme that continually recurs in the texts, and refers to one who follows the path they indicate. As "summits hard to climb, like solitary lions" the enlightened are described.2° The Awakened One is "a proud saint who has climbed


M a jib., 86.

13. Suttanipāta, 3.S; 5.1.25—28; Majjh., 91; Dīgha, 3.1,5. etc.'. Suttanipāta, 3.).16, 19.

A raciait detaiit, not without interest, is thar among the disringuishing marks inctuded a

dark blue color of the eyes.

14. Jātaka, inrr. (W. 64).

15, Digha. 16.5.11; 17.1.8.

16. Jāta ka, inrr. (W. 40—4 I).

7, Cf. M ajjh., 53; 26; Angutt., 4.151. 196; 5.90. 73 ff.

18, Suttanipāta, 3.2.16.

9. Ibid., 1.2.12.

20. Majjh.. 92; Suttanipāta. 3.7.25.


the most sublime mountain peaks, who has penetrated the remotest forests, who has

descended into profound abysses."21 He himself said, "I serve no man, l have no need to serve any man";22 an idea that recalls the "autonomous and immaterial race," the race

"without a king" (αβασίλεντος)—being itself kingly—a race that is also mentioned in the West 23 He is "ascetic, pure, the knower, free, sovereign."24

These, which are frequent even in the oldest texts, are some of the attributes. not only

of the Buddha, but also of those who travel along the same path. The natural exaggeration

of some of these attributes does not alter their significance at least as symbols and

indications of the nature of the path and ideal indicated by Prince Siddhattha, and of his

spiritual race. The Buddha is an outstanding example of a royal ascetic; his natural

counterpart in dignity is a sovereign who, like a Caesar, could claim that his race

comprehended the majesty of kings as well as the sacredness of the gods who hold even

the rulers of men in their power 2 We have seen that the ancient tradition has this precise significance when it speaks of the essential nature of individuals who can only be either

imperial or perfectly awakened. We are close to the summits of the Aryan spiritual world.

A particular characteristic of the Aryan-ness of the original Buddhist teaching is the

absence of those proselytizing manias that exist, almost without exception, in direct

proportion to the plebeian and anti-aristocratic character of a belief. An Aryan mind has

too much respect for other people, and its sense of its own dignity is too pronounced to

allow it to impose its own ideas upon others, even when it knows that its ideas are correct.

Accordingly, in the original cycle of Aryan civilizations, both Eastern and Western, there

is not the smallest trace of divine figures being so concerned with mankind as to come

near to pursuing them in order to gain their adherence and to "save" them. The so-called salvationist religions—the Erlösungsreligionen, in German—make their appearance both in Europe and Asia at a later date, together with a lessening of the preceding spiritual

tension, with a fall from Olympian consciousness and, not least, with influxes of inferior

ethnic and social elements. That the divinities can do little for men, that man is

fundamentally the artificer of his own destiny, even of his development beyond this

world—this characteristic view held by original Buddhism demonstrates its difference

from some later forms, especially of the M ahāyāna schools, into which infiltrated the idea of a

21. M ajjh.,


22. Suttanipāta, 1.2.8,


Zosimus, text in Berthelot, Collection des alchimistes grecques (Paris. 1887). vol.

2. p. 213

24. Majjh.,


25. Suetonius,

De vita Caesarum. 6, The equivalence of the two types is indicated, for

exampite. by Angul13. (2.44), where it is said that two beings appear in the world fot

the heaitth of many. for the good of gods and men: the perfect Awakened One and the

cakkavatti or "universal sovereign."


power from on high busying itself with mankind in order to lead each individual to


In point of method and teaching, in the original texts we see that the Buddha expounds

the truth as he has discovered it, without imposing himself on anyone and without

employing outside means to persuade or "convert." "He who has eyes will see"—is a much repeated saying of the texts. "Let an intelligent man come to me"—we read26—"a man without a tortuous mind, without hypocrisy, an upright man: I will instruct him, I will expound the doctrine. If he follows the instruction, after a short while he himself will

recognize, he himself will see, that thus indeed one liberates oneself from the bonds, the

bonds, that is, of ignorance." Here follows a simile of an infant freeing itself gradually from its early limitations; this image exactly corresponds to the Platonic simile of the

expert midwife and the art of aiding births. Again: "I will not force you, as the potter his raw clay. By reproving I will instruct, and by urging you. He who is sound will endure."27'

Besides, the original intention of Prince Siddhattha was, having once achieved his

knowledge of truth, to communicate it to no one, not from ill-mindedness, but because he

realized its profundity and foresaw that few would understand it. Having then recognized

the existence of a few individuals of a nobler nature with clearer vision, he expounded the doctrine out of compassion, maintaining, however, his distance, his detachment, and his

dignity. Whether disciples come to him or not, whether or not they follow his ascetic

precepts, "always he remains the same."28 This is his manner: "Know persuasion and know dissuasion; knowing persuasion and knowing dissuasion do not persuade and do not

dissuade: expound only reality."29 "It is wonderful"—says another text30—"it is astonishing that no one exalts his own teaching and no one despises the teaching of

another in an order where there are so many guides to show the doctrine."

This, too, is typically Aryan. It is true that the spiritual power that the Buddha

possessed could not but show itself sometimes almost automatically, demanding

immediate recognition. We read, for example, of the incident described as "the first

footprint of the elephant," where wise men and expert dialecticians wait for fhe Buddha at a ford seeking an opportunity to defeat him with their arguments, but when they see him

they ask only to hear the doctrine;" or of another where, when the Buddha enters a

discussion, his words destroy all opposition "like a furious elephant or a blazing fire."32

There is the account of his former companions who, be-

26. M ajjh.,


27. Ibid.,



Ibid.. 49; 137.

29. Ibid.,



Ibid., 76, I. Ibid.. 27.

32. Ibid., 35.


lieving him to have left the road of asceticism, propose among themselves not to greet

him, but who when immediately they see him go to meet him; and there is the story of the

fierce bandit Angulimāla who is awed by the Buddha's majestic figure. In any case, it is

certain that the Buddha, in his Aryan superiority, always abstained from using indirect

methods of persuasion and, in particular, never used any that appealed to the irrational,

sentimental, or emotional element in a human being. This rule too is definite: "You must not, 0 disciples, show to laymen the miracle of the super-normal powers. He who does

this is guilty of an offence of wrongdoing." The individual is put on one side: "In truth, the noble sons declare their higher knowledge in such a manner, that they state the truth

without any reference whatsoever to their own person."'34 "Why is this?"—says the Buddha to one who has eagerly waited for a long time to see him--"He who sees the law

sees me and he who sees me sees the law. In truth, by seeing the law I am seen and by

seeing me the law is seen."35 Being himself awakened. the Buddha wishes only to

encourage an awakening in those who are capable of it: an awakening, in the first place,

of a sense of dignity and of vocation, and in the second, of intellectual intuition. A man

who is incapable of intuition, it is said, cannot approve.36 The noble miracle "conforming to the Aryan nature" (ariya-iddhi) as opposed to prodigies based on extranormal

phenomena, and considered to be non-Aryan (anariya-iddhi) is concerned with this very point. The "miracle of the teaching" stirs the faculty of discernment and furnishes a new and accurate measure of all values;" the most typical of the canonical expressions for this is: '"There is this'—he understands—'There is the common and there is the excellent, and there is a higher escape beyond this perception of the senses. "'38 Here is a characteristic passage describing the awakening of intuition: "His the disciple's] heart suddenly feels pervaded with sacred enthusiasm and his whole mind is revealed pure, clear, shining as

the luminous disc of the moon: and the truth appears to him in its completeness.'" This is the foundation of the only "faith," of the only "right confidence" considered by the order of the Aryans, "an active confidence, rooted in insight, firm"; a confidence that "no penitent or priest, no god or devil, no angel nor anyone else in the world can destroy."41'

Perhaps it is worth briefly discussing a final point. The fact that the Buddha, normally,

does not appear in the Pāli texts as a supernatural being descended to

33. Vinaya.2.112.

34. Angutt.,


35. Samyatt.,


36. Majjh.,



Digha, 113-S.

38. Majjh.,



M ahāparinirv., 52-56.

40. Majjh..



earth to broadcast a "revelation," but as a man who expounds a truth that he himself has seen and who indicates a path that he himself has trodden, as a man who, having himself

crossed by his own unaided efforts" to the other bank of the river, helps others fo cross over42—this fact must not lead us to make the figure of the Buddha too human. Even if

we omit the Bodhisatta theory that so often suffers from infiltration of fabulous elements

and that only came into being at a later period, the concept in the early texts of what is

known as kolankola makes us seek in the Buddha the reemergence of a luminous

principle already kindled in preceding generations: this is an idea that agrees perfectly

with what we are about to say on the historical significance of the Buddhist Doctrine of

Awakening. In any ease, whatever his antecedents, it is extremely difficult to draw a line between what is human and what is not, when we are dealing with a being who has

inwardly attained deathlessness (amata) and who is presented as the living incarnation of

a law hound up with that which is transcendental and that can be "confined" by nothing—

apariyā-panna. The question of race comes in here, too. If a being feels himself remote

from metaphysical reality, then he will imagine any strength that he may acquire as a

"grace," knowledge will appear as "revelation" in its accepted meaning in the West since the time of the Hebrew prophets, and the announcer of a law may assume for him "divine" proportions rather than be justly regarded as one who has destroyed ignorance and who has become "awakened." This separation from metaphysical reality masks the

dignity and the spiritual level of a teaching and wraps the person of the teacher himself in an impenetrable fog. One thing is certain: ideas of "revelations" and of men-gods can only sound foreign to an Aryan spirit and fo a "noble son" (kula-putta), particularly in periods when the mind of humanity had not yet entirely lost the memory of its own

origins. This introduces us to the next chapter, where we shall say some-thing of the

meaning and of the function of the doctrine of Prince Siddhattha in the general setting of

the ancient Indo-Aryan world.


Ibid . 26.


Suttanipātā. 3, 6.



The Historical Context

of the Doctrine of Awakening

First. a word about method. From the "traditional" point of view fhat we follow in this work, the great historical traditions are to be considered neither as "original" nor as arbitrary. In every tradition worthy of the name, elements are always present, in one form

or another, of a "knowledge" that, being rooted in a superindividual reality, is objective.

Furthermore, each tradition contains its own special mode of interpretation and cannot be

considered as arbitrary or as proceeding from extrinsic or purely human factors. This

particular element tends to vary with the prevailing historical and spiritual climate; and we can find in it the reason for the existence of certain formulations, adaptations, or

limitations of the one knowledge—and the nonexistence of others. No one individual,

suddenly, and as if inspired haphazardly by some outside agency, ever proclaimed the

theory of the ātmā, for example, or invented nirvāna or the Islamic theories. On the contrary, all traditions or doctrines obey, even without seeming to do so, a profound logic-

-discoverable by means of an adequate metaphysical interpretation of history.

Accordingly, this shall be our standpoint when we deal with these aspects of Buddhism:

this is also why we consider that critic to be fundamentally mistaken who tries at all costs to pin the label "original" on Buddhism or, indeed, on any great tradition. and who argues that "otherwise" such a tradition would in no way differ from others. A difference there is, as there is also an element in common with what has gone before; but both are

determined—as we have said—by objective reasons, even though they may not always

have been seen clearly by the individual exponents of particular historical trends.

Having said this, we must go back to the pre-Buddhist Indo-Aryan traditions in

order to find the precise implications of the Buddhist doctrine, and in them we must

distinguish between two fundamental phases: the Vedic and the Brāhmana Upanisad.

With regard to the Vedas. which constitute the essential foundation of the entire


tradition in question, it would not be correct to talk either of "religion" or of "philosophy." To begin with, the term veda—from the root vid, which is equivalent to the, Greek id (whence we have, for example. cant) and which means "I see," "I have seen"—refers to a doctrine based not on faith or "revelation," but on a higher knowledge attained through a process of seeing. The Vedas were "seen": they were seen by the rshi, by the "seers" of the earliest times. Throughout the tradition their essence has never been regarded as a

"faith" but rather as a "sacred science."

Thus it is frivolous to see in the Vedas, as many people do, the expression of a

"purely naturalistic religion." As in other great systems, impurities may be present, particularly where foreign matter has crept in, and very noticeably, for example, in the

Atharva Vedā. But what the essential and most ancient part of the Vedas reflects is a cosmic stage of the Indo-Aryan spirit. t is not a question of theories or of theologies, but of hymns containing a magnificent reflection of a consciousness that is still so harnessed

to the cosmos and to metaphysical reality that the various "gods" of the Vedas are more than religious images; they are projections of the experience of significances and forces

directly perceived in man, in nature, or beyond through a cosmic, heroic, and "sacrificial"

concept, freely and almost "triumphantly.'

Although they were written considerably later. the fundamental thought contained in

such epic poems as the M ahābhārata goes back to the same epoch. M en, heroes, and

divine figures appear side by side; and as Kerényi said when referring to the Olympian-

Homeric phase of the Aryo-Hellenic tradition, men could "see the gods and be seen by

them," and could "stand with them in the original state of existence."' The Olympian clement is reflected also in a typical group of Vedic divinities: in Dyaus (from div, "to shine"—a root that is also found in Zeus and Deus), for example, lord of the heavenly

light, the origin of splendor, strength, and knowledge; in Varuna, also a symbol of

celestial and regal power, and connected with the idea of pā, that is to say, of the cosmos, of a cosmic order, of a natural and supernatural law; while in M itra there is, in addition, the idea of a god of the specifically Aryan virtues, truth and fidelity. We also have Surya, the flaming sun from whom, as from the Olympian νονς, nothing is hidden, who destroys

every infirmity and who, in the form of Savitar, is the light that is exalted in the first daily rite of all the Aryan castes as the principle of awakening and intellectual animation: or

there is Usas, the dawn, eternally young, who opens the way for the sun, who gives life

and who is the "token of immortality." In lndra we find the incarnation of the heroic and metaphysical impulse of the first Hyperborean conquerors: lndra is "he, without whom

men cannot win," he is the "son of force," the lightning god of war, valor, and victory, the annihi-1. To some extent we can here refer to what K. Kerényi has written on the "sense of

festivity" in La religione antica nelle sue lin ee fondamentali (Boitogna. 1940). chap. 2.

2. Cf. ibid., chaps. 4 and 5.


lator of the enemies of the Aryans. of the black Dasyu, and, consequently, of all the

tortuous and titanic forces that "attempt to climb the heavens"; while at the same time he appears as the consolidator, as "he who has consolidated the world." The same spirit is reflected, in varying degrees, in minor Vedic divinities, even in those tied to the most

conditioned forms of existence.

In the Vedas we find that this cosmic experience is evoked through the agency of

sacrificial action. The sacrifice rite extends human experience into the non-human, and

provokes and establishes communion between the two worlds in such a manner that the

sacrificer, a figure as austere and majestic as the Roman lamen dialis, assumes the traits of a god on earth (bhū-deva, bhū-sura). As for life after death, the Vedic solution is fully consonant with the oldest Aryo-Hellenic spirit: images of obscure hells are almost entirely absent from the most ancient parts of the Vedas; the crisis of death is hardly noticed as

such—in the Atharva Veda it is even considered as the effect of a hostile and demoniacal force that, with suitable rites, can be repulsed. The dead pass into an existence of splendor that is also a "return," and in which they once again take up their form: "Having laid aside all defects, return home: full of splendour unite thyself to [thy] form"3—and again: "We drank the soma [symbol of a sacred enthusiasm], we became immortal, we reached the

light."4 The symbolic Vedic rite of "wiping out the tracks," so that the dead will not return among the living, well shows how the idea of reincarnation was almost totally absent in

this period; such a possibility was ignored in the light of the high degree of heroical, sacrificial, and metaphysical tension belonging to that epoch. There is no trace in the

Vedas of the later significance of Yama as god of death and hell; rather, he retains the

outlines of his Irano-Aryan equivalent, Yima, sun king of the primordial age: son of the

"Sun." Yama is the first of the mortals and he "who first found the road [to the hereafter]";5 thus, broadly speaking, the Vedic "hereafter" is bound up in great measure with the idea of a reintegration of the primordial state.

About the tenth century B.C. new developments began: they found expression in the

Brāhmana texts on the one hand, and on the other in the Upanisad texts. Both go hack to

the tradition of the Vedas: yet there is a noteworthy change of perspective. We are slowly

approaching "philosophy" and "theology."

The speculation of the Brāhmana texts rests chiefly on that part of the Vedas that

refers to ritual and sacrificial action. Ritual, in all the traditional civilizations, was

conceived neither as an empty ceremony nor as a sentimental and, at the same time,

formal act of praising and supplicating a God, but rather as an operation with real effects, as a process capable not only of establishing contacts with the

3. Rg

Veda. 10.t4.8.

4. Ibid.,


5. Ibid..



rranscendent world, but of imposing itself upon supersensible forces and, through their

mediation, eventually influencing even the natural forces. As such, ritual pre-supposes not only knowledge of certain laws, but also, and more essentially, the existence of a power.

The term brahman (in the neuter, not to be confused with Brahmā in die masculine, which designates the theistically conceived divinity) originally signified this particular energy, this kind of magic power, this fluid or life force, upon which the ritual rests.

In the Brāhmana texts this ritual aspect of the Vedic tradition was enlarged and

formalized. Ritual became the center of everything and the object of a fastidious science

that often became a formalism destitute of any vital content. Oldenberg, referring to the

period of Prince Siddhattha, talks in this connection of "an idiotic science knows

everything and explains everything, and sits enthroned, satisfied, amongst its extravagant

creations.'"' This judgment is excessive, but it is not entirely unjustified. In the Buddha's time there existed a caste of theologi philosophantes who administered the remnants of the ancient tradition, trying with all the means in their power to establish a prestige that did not always correspond to their human qualifications or to their race—if not their

physical race. which was well eared for by the caste system, at least their spiritual race.

We have used the word "theologists" since the concept of brahman in these circles gradually became generalized and, in a manner of speaking, substantialized, to such an

extent that the brahman finally no longer signified the mysterious force that,

fundamentally, only made sense in terms of ritual and magic experience; it came to mean

the soul of the world, the supreme force-substance of the universe, the substratum,

indeterminate in itself, of every being and of every phenomenon. It thus became an almost

theological concept.

The Upanisads, on the other hand, concentrated mainly on the doctrine of the ātmā,

which largely reflected the original cosmic and solar sentiment of the earliest Aryan

consciousness, insofar as it stressed the reality of the "I" as the superindividual, unchanging, and immortal principle of the personality, as opposed to the multiple variety

of the phenomena and forces of nature. The ātmā is defined by neti netj ("not so, not so"), that is to say, by the idea that it does not belong to nature or, more generally, to the

conditioned world.

In India the speculative current of the Brāhmana and that of the Upanisads gradually

converged; this convergence resulted in the identification of the brahman with the ātmā:

the "I," in its superindividual aspect, and the force-substance of the cosmos be-came one and the same thing. This was a turning point of the greatest importance in the spiritual

history of the lndo-Aryan civilization. The doctrine of the identity of the ātmā with the

brahman did, in fact, constitute a metaphysical achievement but, at the

6. Oldenburg, Buddha. p. 21


same time, it initiated a process of breaking up and of spiritual dissolution. This process was bound to take place as shadows began to cloud the luminosity of the original heroic

and cosmic experience of Vedic man and as foreign influences gained ground.

Originally the doctrine of the Upanisads was considered as "secret," as a knowledge to be transmitted only to the few—the term Upānisad itself conveyed this idea. But in point of fact the philosophical and speculative tendencies became uppermost. This

resulted in divergencies of opinion even in the oldest Upanisad—the Chāndogya—and

the Brhadāranyāka Upānisad—as to the plane of consciousness to be used as the

reference point for the doctrine. Is the ātmā object of immediate experience or is it not? t is both one and the other at the same time. Its substantial identity with the "I" of the individual is affirmed but, at the same time, we often see the unity of the individual with the ātmā-brahman postponed till after death; and not only this, but conditions are postulated under which it will happen. and the case is considered in which the "1," or rather the elements of the person. may not leave the cycle of finite and mortal existences.

n the ancient Upanisads, in fact, no precise solution is ever reached of the problem of the actual relationship existing between the individual "1" of which everyone can talk, and the ātmā-brahman. We do not consider that this was accidental: it was a circumstance

that corresponded to an al-ready uncertain state of consciousness, to the fact that, while

for the adepts of the "secret doctrine" the "I" could be equated effectively with the ātmā, for the general consciousness the ātmā was becoming a simple speculative concept, an

almost theological assumption, since the original spiritual level was beginning to be lost.

Furthermore, the danger of pantheistic confusions showed itself. This danger did not

exist in theory since, in the Upanisads, following the Vedic concept, the supreme principle was not only conceived as the substance of the world and of all beings, but also as that

which transcends them "by three quarters," existing as "the immortal in the heavens."' n the same Upanisads, however, prominence is also given to the identity of the ātmā-

brahman with elements of all kinds in the naturalistic world, so that the practical possibility of a pantheistic deviation encouraged by the assimilation of the ātmā with the

brahman was real: particularly so. if we take into account the process of man's gradual regression, of which we can find evidence in the teaching of all traditions, including the

ndo-Aryan, where the theory of the four yuga corresponds exactly to the classical theory of the four ages and of man's descent to the last of them, the Iron Age, equivalent to the

"Dark Age" (kāli-yuga) of the Indo-Aryans. If, during the period of these speculations, the original cosmic and uranic consciousness of the Vedic origins had already suffered in this

way a certain overclouding, then the formulation of the theory of the identity of the ātmā

with the

Rg Veda. 10.903; Chāndogya Upanisad. 3.t2.6.


brahman provided a dangerous incentive toward evasion. toward a confused self-

identificafion with the spirituality of everything. at the very moment when a particularly

energetic reaction by way of a tendency toward concentration. detachment, and

awakening was needed.

Altogether, the germs of decadence. which were already showing themselves in the

post-Vedic period and which were to become quite evident in the Buddha's day (sixth

century B.C.), are as follows above all, a stereotyped ritualism: then the demon of

speculation. whose effect was that what ought to have remained "secret doctrine."

upanisad, rahasya. became partly rationalized, with the result that there eventually

appealed a tumultuous crowd of divergent theories, sects, and schools, which the Buddhist

texts often vividly describe.' In the thud place, we find a "religious" transformation of many divinities who in the Vedic period were as we have said simply cosmically

transfigured states of consciousness; these have now be-come objects of popular cults.' We have already spoken of the pantheistic danger. In addition to these points we have yet to

consider the effect of foreign. non-Aryan influences, to which we believe are attributable

in no small degree the formation and diffusion of the theory of reincarnation.

As we have said, there is no trace of this theory in the early Vedic period: this is

because it is quite incompatible with an Olympian and heroic vision of the world, being as

it is a "truth" of non-Aryan races that are tellurically and matriarchally adjusted in outlook. Reincarnation in fact, is conceivable only by one who feels himself to be a "son of the earth." who has no knowledge of a reality transcending the naturalistic order, bound as he is to a female-maternal divinity found alike in the pre-Aryan M editerranean world, and in the pre Aryan Hindu civilization. such as the Dravidian and Kosalian. Into the

source from which as an ephemeral being he has stoning. the individual. when he dies,

must return, only to reappear in fresh terrestrial truths. in an ines capable and interminable cycle. This is the ultimate sense of the theory of reincarnation, a theory that begins to

infiltrate as early as the period of Upanisad speculations; it gives place gradually to mixed forms that we can use as a measure, of the change in the original Aryan consciousness to which we have referred.

While in the Vedas only a single fate after death is considered, as in ancient Hellas, in

the Brahmana texts the theory of the double way already appears: "[Only] he who knows

and practices ritual action rises again in life and obtains immortal life:

8. Cf. Digh a, 1.1.29 ff.; Suttanipata, 4.12, 13.

9. It is essentially of these gods that we must think when we see them assume, in Buddhist

texts, quite modest and subordinate parts, transforming themselves sometimes almost

into quasi disciples who receive revelation of the doctrine from the Buddha. We are

dealing, that is, with the degradation of the ancient gods: and the doctrine revealed by

the Awakened One corresponds, basically, with what they once signified, but which at

this period, had been forgotten.


fhe others who neither know nor practise ritual action will continue to be born anew, as nourishment for death."10 In the Upanisads, however, a s the relationship between the real

"I" and the atma oscillates, so does their teaching of what happens after death They speak of the "dyke, beyond which even night becomes day, sine the world of the b rahman is unchangeable light"; a dyke constituted by the atma against which neither decay, nor

death, nor pain, nor good action. nor bad action can prevail.11 They speak of the "way of the gods" (deva-yana) that leads one after death to the unconditioned whence "there is no return." But at the same time another road is considered. the pitr-yana, along which "one returns," the individual after death being little by little "sacrificed" to various divinities for whom he becomes "food." finally to reappear on the earth12 In the oldest texts the possibility of a liberation is not considered for those who go an this second road they speak instead of the "causal law." of the karma, which determines a man's subsequent existence co the basis of what he hits done in the preceding one. We have now arrived at what we shall call fhe samsaric consciousness (from samsara). which is the keystone of

the Buddhist vision of life: the secret knowledge. confided privately by the wise

Yajnavalkya to the king Artabhaga, is that after death the individual elements of man dissolve in the corresponding cosmic elements including the at ma, which returns to the

"efher," and that which is left is only the karma. that is, the action, the impersonal fume, bound to the life of one being, that will goon to determine a new heirs)'

In all nits can he seen, then, more fhan just the effect of "free" metaphysical speculation: it is, rather, a sign of a consciousness that begins to consider itself terres trial or. at the most. pantheistically (cosmic, and that now centers itself on that part of the

human being that may really be concerned with death and rebirth and indefinite

wandering across various forms of conditioned existence': we say "various" since the horizons gradually widened and it was even thought that one might re-arise in this or that world of gods, according to one's actions In any case, in the epoch in which Buddhism

appeared the theories of reincarnation and of transmigration were al-ready an integral pan

of the ideas acquired by the predominant mentality. Some times, and even in the

Upanisads, different outlooks became indiscriminately combined so that on the one side

was conceived an atma that, although divorced from any concrete experience. was

supposed to be permanently and intangibly present in evetyone. and on the other side

there was the interminable wandering of man in various lives

It is on fhese lines that practical and realistic currents gradually established

10 Satapatha Brahmana, 10.4.3,10.

11. Chandogya upanisad, 8.4.1-2.

12. Ibid., 3-10; Brhadarany aka Upanisad, 6.2.9-16.

13. Brhadarany aka Upanisad, 3.2.13..


themselves in opposition to the speculative currents. We can include Sāmkhya, which

opposed to the pantheistic danger a rigid dualism and in which the reality of the "I" or ātmā—called here purusā—as the supernatural, intangible, and unalterable principle is

opposed to all the forms, forces, and phenomena of a natural and material order. But more

important in this respect are the trends of yoga. Based both on Sāmkhya and on ascetic

tendencies already coming to the fore in opposition to ritualistic and speculative

Brahmanism, these recognized more or less explicitly the new state of affairs, which was

that in speaking of "l" one could no longer concretely understand the ātmā, the unconditioned principle; that it appeared no longer as direct consciousness; and that

therefore, apart from speculation, it could only be considered as an end, as the limit of a process of reintegration with action as its basis. As the immediate real datum there was

substituted instead what we call "samsāric" consciousness and existence, consciousness bound to the "current"—and the tennam samsāra (which thus only makes a relatively late appearance) means precisely "current"—it is the current of becoming.

it is not out of place to consider another point. The brāhmana caste is habitually thought of in the West as a "sacerdotal" caste. This is true only up to a certain point. In the Vedic origins the type of Brahman or "sacrificer" bears little resemblance to that of the

"priest" as our contemporaries think of him: he was, rather, a figure both virile and awful and, as we have said, a kind of visible incarnation in the human world of the superhuman

(b hu-deva). Furthermore, we often find in the early texts a point where the distinction between the brāhman—the "sacerdotal" caste—and the ksatram or rājam—the warrior or regal caste—did not exist; a feature that we see in the earliest stages of all traditional

civilizations, including the Greek, Roman, and German. The two types only began to

differ in a later period, this being another aspect of the process of regression that we have mentioned. Besides, there are many who maintain that in Aryan ndia the doctrine of the

ātmā was originally confuted almost exclusively to the warrior caste, and that the doctrine of brahman as an undifferentiated cosmic force was formulated mainly by the sacerdotal

caste. There is probably some truth in this view. In any case, it is a fact that in many texts we see a king or a ksatriya (a member of the warrior nobility) vying in knowledge with

and sometimes even instructing members of the Brahman caste; and that, according to

tradition, primordial knowledge was handed down. starting from iksvāku, in regal

succession;14 the same "solar dynasty" (surya-varmsa) that we mentioned in connection with the Buddha's family, also figures here, We should have the following picture; in the

Indo-Aryan post-Vedic world, while the warrior caste held a more realistic and virile view

and put emphasis on the doctrine of the atma as the unchangeable and immortal principle

of human personality, the Brahman caste was becoming,

14 Cf. Bhagavadgita, 4.1-2.


little by Little, "sacerdotal" and, instead of facing the reality, was moving among ritual and stereotyped exegeses and speculations. Simultaneously, in another way, the character

of the first Vedic period was becoming overgrown with a tropical and chaotic vegetation

of myths and popular religious images, even of semidevotional practices seeking the

attainment of this, that, or the other divine "rebirth" on the basis of views on reincarnation and transmigration that, as we have said, had already infiltrated into the less illuminated Indo-Aryan mentalities. Leaving yoga apart, it is worth noting that it was the warrior

nobility—the ksatram—that furnished the principal support not only of the Sāmkhya

system, which is regarded as representing a clear reaction against speculative "idealism,"

but also of Jainism, the so-called doctrine of the conquerors (from jina, "conqueror"), which laid emphasis, though with a tendency to extremism, on necessity for ascetic


All this is necessary for our understanding of the historical place of Buddhism and of

the reasons of its most characteristic views.

From the point of view of universal history, Buddhism arose in a period marked by a

crisis running through a whole series of traditional civilizations. This crisis some-times

resolved itself positively thanks to opportune reforms and revisions, and some-times

negatively with the effect of inducing further phases of regression or spiritual decadence.

This period, called by some the "climacteric" of civilization, falls approximately between the eighth and the fifth centuries B.C. It is in this period that the doctrines of Lao-tzu and Kung Fu-tzu (Confucius) were taking root in China, representing a renewal of elements of

the most ancient tradition on the metaphysical plane on the one hand, and on the ethical-

social on the other. In the same period it is said that "Zarathustra" appeared, through whom a similar return took place in the Persian tradition. And in India the same function

was performed by Buddhism, also representing a reaction and, at the same time, a re-

elevation. On the other hand, as we have often pointed ouf elsewhere, it seems that in the

West processes of decadence mainly prevailed. The period of which we are now talking

is, in fact, that in which the ancient aristocratic and hieratic Hellas declined; in which the religion of Isis along with other popular and spurious forms of mysticism superseded the

solar and regal Egyptian civilization; it is that in which Israelite prophetism started the most dangerous ferments of corruption and subversion in the M editerranean world. The

only positive counterpart in the West seems in fact to have been Rome, which was born in

that period and which for a certain cycle was a creation of universal importance, animated

in high measure by an Olympian and heroic spirit.15

Coming to Buddhism, it was not conceived, as many who unilaterally take the

Brāhman point of view like to claim, as an antitraditional revolution, similar, in its

15. On rhis significance of Rome as a "rebirth" of a primordiat Aryan heritage cf. our Revolt Against the Modern World, part 2.


own way, to what the Lutheran heresy was to Catholicism;16 and still less as a "new"

doctrine, the result of an isolated speculation that succeeded in taking root. It represented, rather, a particular adaptation of the original Indo-Aryan tradition, an adaptation that kept in mind the prevailing conditions and limited itself accordingly, while freshly and

differently formulating preexistent teachings: at the same time Buddhism closely adhered

to the ksatriya (in Pāli, khattiya) spirit, the spirit of the warrior caste. We have already seen that the Buddha was born of the most ancient Aryan nobility; but this is not the end

of the matter, as a text informs us of the particular aversion nourished by his people for

the Brāhman caste: "The Sākiya" (Skt.: Sākiya)--we read17—"do not esteem the priests, they do not respect the priests, they do not honour the priests, they do not venerate the

priests, they do not hold the priests of account." The same tendency is maintained by

Prince Siddhattha, but with the aim of restoring, of reaffirming, the pure will for the

unconditioned, to which in the most recent times the "regal" line had often been more faithful than the priestly caste that was already divided within itself.

There are, besides, many signs that the Buddhist doctrine laid no claim to originality

but regarded itself as being, in a way, universal and having a traditional character in a

superior sense. The Buddha himself says, for example: "Thus it is: those who, in times past, were saints, Perfect Awakened Ones, these sublime men also have rightly directed

their disciples fo such an end. as now disciples are rightly directly here by me; and those who in future times will he saints, Perfect Awakened Ones, also these sublime men will

rightly direct their disciples, as now disciples are rightly directed here by me."18 The same is repeated in regard to purification of thought, word, and action;19 it is repeated

about tight knowledge of decay and death, of their origin, of their cessation and of the

way that leads to their cessation: and it is repeated about the doctrine of the "void" or

"emptiness," sunnatā, 20 The doctrine and the "divine life" proclaimed by Prince Siddhattha are repeatedly called "timeless," akāliko.21 "Ancient saints, Perfecf Awakened Ones" are spoken of;22- and a traditional fheme occurs in connection with a place (here called "the Gorge of the Seer") where a


This is the point of view held by R. Guenon, L'Homme et son devenir selon le

Vedanta (Paris, 1925), p. 111 ff., with which we cannot—"according to truth"—agree

[(English Irans.: Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta, [London, I945)].

M ore correct are the views of A. K. Coomaraswamy, H induism and Buddhism (New

York, t941). atthough in this hook is apparent the tendency to emphasize onity what in

Buddhism is valuabite from the brāhmana standpoint, with disregard of rhe specific functional meaning he possesses as compared to Hindu tradition.


Digha. 3. 1.12.

18. Majjh., 51.

19. Ibid.. 61.

20. Samyutt.,


21. Majjh.,



Ibid., 75; cf. 81.


whole series of Paccekabuddhas are supposed to have vanished in the past, a series, that

is, of beings who, by their own unaided and isolated efforts, have reached the superhuman

state and the same perfect awakening as did Prince Siddhattha him-self.23 Those who are

"without faith, without devotion, without tradition''24 are reproached. A repeated saying is:

"What for the world of the sages is not, of that I say: 'It is not', and what for the world of sages is, of that I say: 'Ii is."'25 An interesting point is the mention in a text of "extinction,"

the aim of the Buddhist ascesis, as something that "leads back to the origins."26 This is sirpported by the symbolism of a great forest where "an ancient path, a path of men of olden times" is discovered. Following it, the Buddha finds a royal city; and he asks that it should be restored." hi another text the significance of this is explained by the Buddha in a most explicit way: "I have seen the ancient path, the path trodden by all the Perfected Awakened Ones of olden times. This is the path I follow."28

It is quite clear, then, that in Buddhism we are not dealing with a negation of the

principle of spiritual authority but rather with a revolt against a caste that claimed to

monopolize this authority while its representatives no longer preserved its dignity and had lost their qualifications. The Brāhmans, against whom Prince Siddhattha turns, are those

who say they know, but who know nothing,29 who for many generations have lost the

faculty of direct vision, without which they cannot even say: "Only this is truth,

foolishness is the rest,"30 and who now resemble "a file of blind men, in which the first cannot see, the one in the middle cannot see and the last cannot see."31 Very different from the men of the original period—from the brāhmana who re-membered the ancient

rule, who guarded the door of the senses, who had entirely controlled their impulses, and

who were ascetics, rich only in knowledge, inviolable and invincible, made strong by

truth (dhammā)—were their worldly successors, who were wrapped up in ritualism or

intent on vain fasting and who had abandoned the ancient laws.32 Of these "there is not one who has seen Brahmā face to face," whence it is impossible that "these brāhmana, versed in the science of the threefold Vedas,


Ibid., 116: cf. 123.

24. Ibid..



Samyutt., 22.94.


Mahāparinirv., 52-53 (this is the Chinese version of the rexr, however).

27. Samyutt.,


26. Ibid.. 3.t06. It is interesting that according to the myth, Buddba attained the awakening under the Tree of

Life placed in the naveit of the earth where aitso aitit the previous Buddhas reached

transcendent knowi tedge. This is a reference to th e " Center of the Woritd ," which is to be considered, in its way, as a chrism of traditinnaitity and initiatic of orthodoxy whenever a contact with the origins was restored.

29. Majjh.,



Ibid.. 95,

3I. Digha, 13.15; Majjh..95; 99.

32. Suttanipāta. 2.7.1-16.


are capable of indicating the way to a state of companionship with that which they neither

know nor have seen."" The Buddha is opposed to one who knows "only by hearsay," to one who knows "the truth only by repetition, and who, with this traditionally heard truth, as a coffer handed down from hand to hand, transmits the doctrine," the integrity of

which, however, it is impossible to guarantee in such circumstances:" A distinction is therefore made between the ascetics and Brahmans who "only by their own creed profess

to have reached the highest perfection of knowledge of the world: such are the reasoners and the disputers," and other ascetics and Brahmans who, "in things never before heard, recognise clearly in themselves the fruth, and profess to have reached the highest

perfection of knowledge of the world."

It is to these latter that Prince Siddhattha claims to belong, and this is the type that he indicates to his disciples:35 "only when he knows does he say that he knows, only when he has seen does he say that he has seen."36 Regarded from this stand-point Buddhism

does not deny the concept of brāhmana; on the contrary the texts use the word frequently

and call the ascetic life brahmacariya, their intention being simply to indicate the fundamental qualities in virtue of which the dignity of the true brāhmana can be confirmed.37

Here, with the aim being essentially one of reintegration, the qualities of the true

brāhmana and of the ascetic become identified. These notions had previously been

distinct, particularly when the Asrama teaching of the Aryan code, according to which a

man of Brāhman caste was obliged to graduate to a completely detached life, vānaprashta or yati, had practically and with but few exceptions disappeared. By understanding this point we can also understand the Buddha's true attitude to the problem of caste. Even in

the preceding tradition ascetic achievement had been considered as above all caste and

free from obligations to any of them. This is the Buddha's point of view, expressed in a.

simile: as one who desires fire does not ask the type of wood that in fact produces it, so

from any caste may arise an ascetic or an Awakened One.38 The castes appeared to Prince

Siddhattha, as they did to every traditional mind, as perfectly natural and furthermore,

justified transcendentally, since in following the doctrine of the Upanisads he understood

that birth in one caste or another and inequality in general were not accidental but the

effect of a particular preceding action. This he was never concerned with upsetting the

caste system on the ethnic, political, or social plane; on the contrary, it is laid down that a man should not omit any of the obligations inherent in his station in life,39 and it is never said that


Majjh., 100.


Ibid.. 77.

37. Ibid„


Dhammapada, 383 ff.: Suttanipāta, 3.4. passim; 9.27. passim; t.7.


Majjh. 93: 90.

39, M ahāparinirv., 6-11.


a servant—sudda (Skt.: sudra)—or a vessa (Skt.: vaisya) should not obey higher Aryan castes. The problem only concerns the spiritual apex of the Aryan hierarchy, where

historical conditions required discrimination and revision of the matter: it was necessary

that the "lists" should be reviewed and reconstructed, with the traditional dignities being considered real only on "the merits of the individual cases."40 The decisive point was the identification of the true Brāhman with the ascetic and, thence, the emphasis placed on

what in fact is evidenced by action. Thus the principle was proclaimed: "Not by caste is one a pariah, not by caste is one a brāhmana; by actions is one a pariah, by actions is one a brāhmāna."41 In respect of the "flame that is sustained by virtue, and lighted by training,"

as in respect of liberation, the four castes are equal.42 And again: as it is not to he expected in answer to a man's invocations, prayers, and praises, so it is not to be expected that the brāhmana who, al-though they are instructed in the triple Veda yet "omit the practise of those qualities that make a man a true brāhmana can, by calling upon ndira, Soma, Varuna and other gods, acquire those qualities that really make a man a non-brāhmana."43 If they have not destroyed desire for the five stems of sense experience, they can as little expect to unite themselves after death with Brahmā as a man, swimming, can

expect to reach the other bank with his arms tied to his body.44 To unite himself with

Brahmā a man must develop in himself qualities similar to Brahmā.45 This, however, in no

way prevents the consideration in the texts of the ideal brāhmana, in whom the purity of

the Aryan lineage is joined with qualities which make him like a god or a divine being;46

and the texts even go so far as to reprove the contemporary Brahmans not only for their

desertion of ancient customs and for their interest in gold and riches, but also for their

betrayal of the laws of marriage within the caste, for they are accused of frequenting non-

Brahman women at all times from mere desire "like dogs."47 The general principle of any right hierarchy is confirmed with these words: "In serving a man, if for this service one becomes worse, not better, this man, I say, one ought not to serve. In serving a man, on the other hand, if for this service one becomes better, not worse, this man. I say, one ought to serve"48

This shows that there is no question here of equalitarian subversion under spiri tual pretexts, but of rectification and operation of the existing hierarchy. Prince

40. M ajjh., 84.

4t Suttanipatu, 1.7.2t

42 Majjh., 90.

43. Digha.13.24—25.


Ibid. 13.26, 28; Suttanipāta, 2.2.11 .

45. Digha,

13.33 38.


46. Angutt., 5.t92.


Ibid., 5.191 (vol. 3, p 22t f.).

48. Majjh.,



Siddhattha has so little sympathy for the masses that in one of the oldest texts he speaks of the "common crowd" as a "heap of rubbish," where there takes place the miraculous flowering of the Awakened One.49 Beyond the ancient division into castes, Buddhism

affirms another that, deeper and more intimate, mutatis mutandis, is not unlike the one that originally existed between the Aryans, those "twice-born" (dvīja) and other beings!

on one side stand the Ariya and the "noble sons moved by confidence," to whom the Doctrine of Awakening is accessible; on the other, "the common men, without

understanding for what is saintly, remote from the saintly doctrine, not accessible to the

saintly doctrine; without understanding for what is noble, remote from the doctrine of the

noble ones, not accessible by the doctrine of the noble ones."50 If, on the one hand, as rivers "when they reach the ocean lose their former names and are reckoned only as

ocean, so the members of the four castes, when they take up the law of the Buddha, lose

their fanner characteristics"—yet on the other they form a well-defined company, thè"sons of the Sākiya's son."51 We can see that the effective aim of Buddhism was to discriminate between different natures, for which the touchstone was the Doctrine of

Awakening itself: a discrimination that could not do other than stimulate the spiritual

bases that originally had themselves been the sole justification of the Aryan hierarchy. In confirmation of this is the fact thaf the establishment and diffusion of Buddhism never in

later centuries caused dissolution of the caste system—even today in Ceylon this system

continues undisturbed side by side with Buddhism; while, in Japan, Buddhism lives in

harmony with hierarchical, traditional, national, and warrior concepts. Only in certain

West-ern misconceptions is Buddhism--considered in later and corrupted forms—

presented as a doctrine of universal compassion encouraging humanitarianism and

democratic equality.

The only point we must take with a grain of salt in the texts is the affirmation that in

individuals of all castes all possible potentialities, both positive and negative, exist in equal measure." But the Buddhist theory of sankhāra, that is, of prenatal predispositions, is enough to rectify this point. The exclusiveness of caste, race, and tradition in a

hierarchical system results in the individual possessing hereditary pre-dispositions for his development in a particular direction; (his ensures an organic and harmonious character in

his development, as opposed to the cases in which an at-tempt is made to reach the same

point with a kind of violence, by starting from a naturally unfavorable base. Four ways are considered in some Buddhist texts,53 in


Dhammapada. 59-59.

50. Majjh.,



Angutt, 8.t9. §I4; 10.96.

52. Majjh.,


53. .Angutt.,



three of which either the road or the achievement of knowledge is difficult, or both are

difficult; the fourth way offers an easy road and easy attainment of knowledge; this way is called the "path of the elect," and it is reserved for those who enjoy the advantages bestowed by a good birth. At least it would have been so had circumstances been normal.

But, let us repeat, Buddhism appeared in abnormal conditions in a particular traditional

civilization: it is for this reason that Buddhism placed emphasis on the aspect of action

and of individual achievement; and it is also for this reason that the support offered by

tradition, in its most restricted sense, was held of little account. Prince Siddhattha stated that he himself had attained knowledge through his own efforts, without a master to show

him the way; so, in the original Doctrine of Awakening. each individual has to rely on

himself, and on his own exertions, just as a soldier who is lost must rely on himself alone to rejoin the marching army.

Thus Buddhism, if a comparison of various traditions were being made, could

legitimately take its place with the race that elsewhere we have called heroic, in the sense of the Hesiodic teaching on the "Four Ages."54 We mean a type of man in which the spirituality belonging to the primordial state is no longer taken for granted as something

natural, for this tradition is no longer itself an adequate foundation. Spirituality has

become an aim to him, the object of a reconquest, the final limit of a reintegration to be

carried out by one's own virile efforts.

This ends our account of the historical place of Buddhism, an essential prerequisite for

understanding the meaning of its principal teachings and the reasons for their existence.

Before going on to discuss the doctrine and the practise we must return to a point we

have already mentioned, that is, that Buddhism belongs to a cycle thar modem man can

also comprehend.

Although in the epoch in which Prince Siddhattha lived there was already a certain

clouding over of spiritual consciousness and of metaphysical vision of the world such as

was possessed by ancient Indo-Aryan man, the later course of his tory—and particularly of

Western history—has produced an increasing amount of regression, materialism, and

individualism together with a corresponding loss of direct contact with metaphysical and,

generally speaking, supersensible reality. With the "modern" world we have come to a point beyond which it would be difficult to go. The object of direct knowledge for modem

man is exclusively the material world, with its counterpart, the purely psychological

sphere of his subjectivity. His philosophical speculations and his religion stand apart, the first are purely cerebral creations, the second is based essentially on faith.

It is not entirely a case of Western religion, as opposed to the highest traditions

54. Cr. Revolt Against the M adam World. chap. 22.


of the most ancient time, having centered itself on faith, thereby hoping to save what yet

could be saved. It is, rather, a counsel of despair: a man who has long since lost all direct contact with the metaphysical world can only adopt one possible form of religio, of reconnection, namely, that provided by belief or faith, It is in this way that we can also

come to understand the real significance of Protestantism as compared with Catholicism.

Protestantism took root in a period when humanism and naturalism were ushering in a

phase of "secularization" of European man, a process that went much further than the normal regression of the epoch in which Christianity in general arose; and at the same

time decadence and corruption appeared among the representatives of the Catholic

tradition, to whom had been entrusted the task of support and mediation. These being the

real circumstances and the rift having thus grown wider, the principle of the pure faith

was emphasized and opposed to any hierarchical organization and mediation; a distrust of

"works" (even the Christian monastic asceticism was included in this) was nourished; these are tendencies that are characteristic of Protestantism.

The present crisis of Western religions based on "belief' is known to all, and we need not point out the complefely secular, materialistic and samsāric character of the mentality predominant in our confemporaries. We are entitled to ask ourselves. under these

circumstances, what a system. based rigorously on knowledge, free from elements of both

faith and intellectualism, not tied to local organized tradition, but in reality directed

toward the unconditioned, may have to offer. It is evident rhat this path is only suited to a very small minority, gifted with exceptional interior strength. Original Buddhism, in this

respect, can be recommended as can few other doctrines, particularly because when it was

fotmulafed the condition of mankind, although still far from the straits of Western

materialism and the subsequent eclipse of any living traditional knowledge, nevertheless

manifested some of these signs and symptoms. Nor must we forget that Buddhism, as we

have said, is a practical and realistic adaptation of traditional ideas, an adaptation that is mainly in the spirit of the ksātriya. of the Aryan warrior caste; it should he remembered especially since Western man's line of development has been warlike rather than a

sacerdotal, while his inclination for clarity, for realism, and for exact knowledge, applied on the material plane, has produced the most typical achievements of his civilization.

Other metaphysical and ascetic systems might appear more attractive than Buddhism

and might offer a deeper gratification for a mind anxiously trying to penetrate the

mysteries of the world and of existence. Yet they tend proportionately to provide modern

man with opportunities for illusions and misconceptions; the reason being that genuinely

traditional systems, such as the Vedānta. if they are to be fully under-stood and realized, presuppose a degree of spirituality that has disappeared long ago


in the vast majority of men, Buddhism, on the other hand, poses a total problem, without

any loopholes. As someone has rightly said, it is "no milk for babies,"55 nor does it provide metaphysical feasts for lovers of intellectual speculation.56 It states: "M an. this is what you have become and this is what your experience has become. Know it. There is a

Way which leads beyond. This is its direction, these are its mile-stones, these are the

means for following it. t rests with you to discover your true vocation and to measure your strength." "Do not persuade, do not dissuade: knowing persuasion, knowing dissuasion, neither persuade, nor dissuade, expound only reality"—we have already seen that this is the fundamental precept of the Awakened Ones.

Thus, in describing the historical place of Buddhism, we have also explained the last

of the reasons we adopted to justify the choice of Buddhism as a basis for a study of a

complete and virile ascesis. formulated with regard to the cycle that also includes

contemporary man.


[In English in the original.—Trans.].

56. Rhys



Buddhism (London, 1908), p. 7.




of the Demon of Dialectics

The premise from which the Buddhist Doctrine of Awakening starts is the destruction of

the demon of dialectics; the renunciation of the various constructions of thought and

speculation, which are simply an expression of opinion, and of the profusion of theories,

which are projections of a fundamental restlessness in which a mind that has not yet found

in itself its own principle seeks for support.

This applies not only to cosmological speculation, but also to problems concerned

with man, his nature and destiny, and even to any conceptual determination of the

ultimate aim of asceticism. "Have I ever existed in past epochs? Or have I never existed?

What was I in past epochs? And how did I come to be what I was? Shall I exist in future

epochs? Or shall I not exist? What shall I be in future epochs? And how shall I become

what I shall be? And even the present fills [the common man] with doubts: Do I indeed exist? Or do I not exist? What am 1? And how am I? This being here, whence has it really

come? And whither will it go?" All these for Buddhism are but "vain thoughts": "This is called the blind alley of opinions, the gorge of opinions, the bramble of opinions, the

thicket of opinions, the net of opinions," caught up and lost in which "fhe ignorant worldling cannot free himself from birth, decay and death."' And again: "'I am' is an opinion; Ì am this' is an opinion; 'I shall be' is an opinion; Ì shall not be' is an opinion; 'I shall he in the worlds of [pure] form' is an opinion; Ì shall be in the worlds free from

form' is an opinion; `Conscious, I shall be' is an opinion; Ùnconscious, I shall be' is an

opinion; `Neither conscious nor unconscious. I shall he' is an opinion. Opinion, O

disciples, is a dis ease; opinion is a tumour: opinion is a sore. He who has overcome all

opinion, O disciples, is called a saint, one who knows."2

1. M ajjh., 2.38.

2. Ibid., t40.


It is the same with the cosmological order: "'The world is eternal,' 'The world is not eternal,' 'The world is fmite,' 'The world is infinite,' 'The life-principle and the body are the same,' 'The life-principle is one thing, the body another,' 'The Accomplished One is

after death,' 'The Accomplished One is not after death," The Accomplished One both is

and is not after death,' 'The Accomplished One neither is nor is not after death'---this is a blind alley of opinions, a thicket of opinions, a wood of opinions, a tangle of opinions, a labyrinth of opinions, painful. desperate, tortuous, not leading to detachment, not leading to progress, not leading to vision, not leading to awakening, not leading to extinction."'

The doctrine of the Accomplished Ones is described as that which "destroys to the

foundations every attachment to and satisfaction in false theories, dogmas and systems"

and which therefore cuts off both fear and hope.' The reply to the question asked of the

Buddha: "Perhaps Lord Gotama [this is the Prince Siddhattha's family name] has some

opinion?" is categorical: "Opinion: that is remote from the Accomplished One. The Accomplished One has seen."5

This reply indicates the fundamental point. It is not that Buddhism intended to

exclude the possibility of obtaining some answer to these problems—for by doing so it

would fall into contradiction, since the texts offer, where necessary, fairly precise

teachings with regard to certain of them, It has, rather, wished to oppose the demon of

dialectics and has rejected every "truth" that is based only on discursive intellect—

vitakka—and that can only have the value of "opinion," of δόςα. t keeps its distance from

"reasoners and disputers" for they "can reason well and reason badly, they can say thus and they can also say otherwise,"6 and they deal with theories that are only their own excogitations. And the αφηλε πάντα, the "take away all" of the Buddhist ascesis is by no means a sacrifcium intellectus in favor of faith, as in some forms of Christian mysticism.

t is, rather, a preliminary catharsis, an opuspurgationis justified by a superior type or criterion of certainty, which is rooted in an actual knowledge, acquired—as in the early

Vedic tradition—by immediate vision. t is a criterion of direct experience. Once "cut off from faith, from inclinations, from hear-say, from scholastic arguments, from

ratiocinations and from reasoning, from plea-sure in speculation," the same criterion

serves the Buddha when deciding the existence or nonexistence of a thing, as it serves a

man who judges the existence of pleasure, pain, or delusion on the basis of having

himself experienced these states.' Besides, much knowledge, discursive knowledge that

is, leaves an individual as he is: it does not contribute at all to the removal of the "triple bond" necessary to

3 Ibid.. 72.

4. Ibid.. 22.

5. Ihid.. 72.

6. Ibid., 76.

7. Samyutt, 35,152.


advance toward superior knowledge' Already master in fact of "deep psychology," the Buddha recognized that vain speculation and the posing of numberless problems reflect a

state or restlessness and anguish, that is, the very state that must first be put behind him by one going along the "path of the ariya." That is why, in the parable of the hunter,' the inclination of a disciple at a certain point in his development to set himself the usual

problems concerning the soul and the world is considered as a step backward: it is one of

the baits laid down by the Enemy and any man who feeds on it falls back into his power.

"To know by seeing, to become cognition, to become truth, to become vision"—this is the ideal: knowing-seeing in conformity to realty—yathā-bhtuta-nāna-dassana: direct

intellectual intuition, far beyond all discussion and closely bound up with ascetic

realization. "Recognizing the poverty of philosophical opinions, not adhering to any of them, seeking the truth, I saw."10 A recurring passage in the Pali canon is: "He [the Accomplished One] shows this world with its angels, its good and bad spirits, its ranks of

ascetics and Brāhmans, of gods and men, after he himself has known and apprehended it,"

etc_ There are even more radical expressions. "I affirm," says Prince Siddhattha," "that I can expound the law concerning this or that region in such a manner that he who acts in

conformity therewith will recognise the existing as existing and the not-existing as nor-

existing, the vulgar as vulgar and the noble as noble, the super-able as superable and the

insuperable as insuperable, the possible as possible and the impossible as impossible; that he will know, understand and apprehend this exactly as it is to be known, understood and

apprehended. The supreme form of knowledge is knowledge conforming to reālity. A higher and more sublime knowledge does not exist. I say." And again: "'A perfect

Awakened One you call yourself, it is true; but these things you have not known': that an

ascetic or a Brāhman, a god or a demon, Brahma or anyone else in the world can thus

accuse me justly, this possibility," says Prince Siddhattha, "does not exist:''12 The wise man, the Ariya, is not a follower of systems, he does not recognise dogmas, and having

penetrated the opinions current among the people and being indifferent in face of

speculation, he leaves it to others, he remains calm among the agitated, he does not take

part in the verbal battles of those who maintain: "This only is the truth," he does not consider himself equal to others, nor superior, nor inferior.13 In the canonical texts, after a description of the morass of contemporary philosophical opinions, we meet with this

passage: "The Accomplished One knows other things well beyond [such speculations] and

having such knowledge he dues not

8. M ajjh.. 113; cf. Suttanipāra. 5.8.2.

9. M ajjh., 25; cf. Samyutt.. 35.207.


Suttanipāta, 4.92.

11. Angutt., 9.22.


Ibid.. 4.8; M ajjh,. 12.

13. Suttanipāta, 4.5.4; 13.10-19


become proud, he remains impassive, he realizes in his mind the path that leads beyond....

There are, 0 disciples, other things, profound things, things difficult to apprehend, hard to understand, but that beget calm; joyful things, things not to be grasped simply by

discursive thought, things that only the wise man can understand. These things are

expounded by the Accomplished One, after he himself has known them, after he himself

has seen them." 14

We already know that the title Buddha, given to Prince Siddhattha and then ex-tended

to all those who have followed his path, means `"awakened." t takes us to the same point, to the same criterion of certainty. The doctrine of the Ariya is called "beyond

imagination"15 and not susceptible of assimilation by any process of ratiocination. The term atakkāvacara often recurs, a term that means just that which cannot be apprehended by logic. Instead the doctrine is presented in an "awakening" and as an "awakening." One can sec at once the correspondence between this mode of knowing and Plato's view of

anamnesis, "reminiscence" or `recollection" overcoming the state of oblivion; exactly as Buddhism aims to overcome the state produced by the ā sava, by the "intoxicants," by the manias, by the fever. These terms, "reminiscence" and "awakening," however, should not represent more than the manner in which knowledge appears, than recognition and

appraisal of something as directly evident, like a man who remembers or who wakes and

sees something. This is the reason for the recurrence in later Buddhist literature of the

term sphota, which has a similar meaning: it is knowledge manifested as in an unveiling—

as if an eye, after undergoing an operation, were to reopen and see. Dhamma-Cakkhtnna,

the "eye of truth" or of "reality," cakkhumant, "to be gifted with the eye" are normal Buddhist expressions, just as the technical term for "conversion" is: "his eye of truth opened." Where the Buddha speaks of his own experiences we often find references to the pure presentation of knowledge, either directly or "in similes never before heard or

thought of."16 Here is another leitmotiv of the texts: "As something never heard of before, vision arose in me, knowledge arose in me, intuition arose in me, wisdom arose in me,

light arose in me";17 this is called "the true excellence, conforming with the ariya quality of knowledge." This recalls the qualities of the νονς, of the Olympian mind, a mind that, according to the most ancient Aryo-Hellenic tradition, is strictly related to "being" and that is manifested in a "knowledge by seeing": the νονς is proof against deception, is "firm and tranquil as a mirror, it discovers everything without seeking, or rather, everything

discovers itself in it," whereas the Titanic spirit is "restless, inventive and always in search of something, cunning and curious."'8 Vision conceived as


Digha. 1.t.28—37.

15. Majjh.,



E.g., Majjh., K5.


Samyutt., 36.24; 12.10.

I8. Cf. Kerenyi, La religionae antica pp. 104, 167.


"transparency" is the Buddhist ideal: "as one sees through limpid water, the sand, the gravel, and the color of the pebbles, simply by reason of its transparency, so one who seeks the path of liberation must have just such a limpid mind."19 The image that illustrates the manner in which an ascetic apprehends the four truths of the Ariya is this: "If at the edge of an alpine lake of clear, transparent and pure water there were to stand a man

with keen sight looking at the shells and shellfish, the gravel and the sand and the fish,

watching how they swim and how they rest; this thought would come to him: 'This alpine

lake is clear, transparent, and pure; I see the shells and shellfish, the gravel, the sand and the fish, how they swim and rest."' In this same manner an ascetic apprehends "in conformity with truth" the supreme object of the doctrine .' The formula "in conformity with truth" or "with reality" (yathābhutam) is a recurrent theme in the texts, like the attributes, "eye of the world," or "become eye," or "become knowledge," of the Awakened Ones.

This is naturally an achievement only fhrough a gradual process. "As an ocean

deepens gradually, declines gradually, shelves gradually without sudden precipices, so in

this law and discipline there is a gradual training, a gradual action, a gradual unfolding, and no sudden apprehension of supreme knowledge."21 A gain; "One cannot, I say. attain supreme knowledge all at once; only by a gradual training, a gradual action, a gradual

unfolding, does one attain perfect knowledge. In what manner'? A man comes, moved by

confidence; having come, he joins [the order of the Ariya; having joined. he listens;

listening, he receives the doctrine; having received the doctrine, he remembers it; he

examines the sense of the things remembered; from examining the sense, the things are

approved of; having approved, desire is born; he ponders; pondering, he eagerly trains

himself; and eagerly training himself, he mentally realizes the highest truth itself and,

penetrating it by means of wisdom, he sees."22 These are the milestones of the

development. It is hardly worth saying that the placing of "confidence" at the beginning of the series does not signify a falling back into "belief": in the first place, the texts always consider that confidence is prompted by the inspiring stature and the ex-ample of a

master;23 in the second place, as we can see clearly from the development of the series, it is a matter of a provisional admission only; the real adherence comes when, with

examination and practice, the faculty of direct apprehension, of intellectual intuition,

absolutely independent of its antecedents, has become possible. Therefore it is said: "He who cannot strenuously train himself, cannot achieve truth; through strenuous training (an

ascetic) achieves truth: there-

19. Angutt,

t.5: Mahāparinirv., 64.


Majjh., 39. 2 t . Angutt.,


22. M ajjh.,


23. Ibid.,



fore strenuous training is the most important thing for the achieving of truth."24

Naturally, there is here an implicit assumption, which we shall discuss before long in

detail, an assumption, that is to say, that the men to whom the doctrine was directed were

not entirely in the state of brute beasts: that they recognised, not as an intellectual

opinion, but through a natural and innate sense, the existence of a reality superior to that of the senses. For the "common man," one who thinks in his heart: "There is no giving, no offering, no alms, there is no resut of good and bad actions, there is no this world,

there, is no other world, there is no spiritual rebirth, there are not in the world ascetics or Brāhmans who are perfect and fulfilled and who, having with their own understanding

comprehended, and realised this world and the other world, make known their

knowledge"—for such the doctrine was not considered to have been expounded, since

they lack the elementary quality of "confidence" that defines the "noble son" and that is the first member of the series we have mentioned, Such men, according to an apt textual

illustration, are as "arrows shot by night."

As for the preeminence accorded, in a pragmatic and anti-intellectualistic spirit, to

action in the Doctrine of Awakening, we quote another Buddhist simile. A man struck by

a poisoned arrow, for whom his friends and companions wish to fetch a surgeon, refuses

to have the arrow extracted before learning who struck him, what his name might he,

who his people are, what his appearance, if his bow was great or small, of what wood it

was made, with what it was strung, and so on. This man would not succeed in learning

enough to satisfy him before he died. Just so—says the text26—would a man behave who

followed the Sublime One only on the condition that the latter gave him answers to

various speculative problems, telling him if the world was eternal or not, if body and the

life-principle are distinct or not, what happens to the Accomplished One after death, and

so on. None of this—says the Buddha—has been explained by me. "And why has it not

been explained by me? Because this is not salutary, it is not truly ascetic, it does not lead to disgust, it does not lead to detachment, it does not lead to dispassion, it does not lead to calmness, it does not lead to contemplation, it does not lead to awakening, it does not

lead to extinction: therefore has this not been explained by me."27

In the opposing theories regarding the world and regarding man, characteristically

reminiscent of the Kantian antinomies, either one opposite or the other might he true.

One thing is certain, however: the state in which man actually finds himself, and the

possibility of his training himself, during his lifetime, to achieve the destruction of this state.28

24. Ibid.


Dhammapada. 304.

26. Majjh.,



Digha, 9.28; Majjh.. 63.

28. 63.



The Flame

and Samsāric Consciousness

In order to understand the Buddhist teaching we must start from the idea that to the man it had in mind the ātma-brahman, the immortal and immutable "I" identical with the supreme essence of the universe, would not he a concept "conforming to reality" (vathā-

bhutarh), based, that is to say, on the actual evidence of experience, but rather that it would be only a speculation, a creation of philosophy or theology. The Doctrine of

Awakening aims at being entirely realistic. From the realistic point of view, the immediate evidence for such a man is what we have already called "samsāric consciousness."

Buddhism proceeds to analyze this consciousness and to determine the "truth"

corresponding to it, summarized in the theory of universal impermanence and

insubstantiality (anattā ).

n previous speculation, the first term of the binomial ātma-samsāra—that is, the

immutable, transcendent "I" and the current of becoming—stood in the fore-ground. In the teaching that serves as the point of departure for the Buddhist ascesis emphasis is placed

instead almost exclusively on the second term, samsāra, and the consciousness associated

with it. This second term, however, is considered in all those aspects of contingency,

relativity, and irrationality that can only proceed from a comparison with the metaphysical reality already directly intuited. This reality itself therefore remains tacitly presupposed, even if, for practical reasons, it is not mentioned in the argument.

The world of "becoming" is thus, in a manner of speaking, the truth Buddhism uses from the start. n the becoming nothing remains identical, there is nothing substantial, and nothing permanent. t is the becoming of experience itself, consuming itself in its own

momentary content. Ceaseless and limitless, it is also conceived as nothing more than a

succession of states that give place one to another according to an impersonal law, as in an eternal circle. We can here see an exact parallel of the


Hellenic concept of the "cycle of generation" κύκλος της γενέσεως, and the "wheel of necessity." εί ψαρψένης.

The Buddhist term designating a particular reality or individual life or phenomenon is

khandha or santāna. Khandha literally means "a group," "a heap"---to be understood as a bundle or aggregation—and santāna means "current." In the flux of becoming there form vortices or currents of psychophysical elements and of allied states—called dhammā—

which persist as long as the conditions and the force remain that have made them come

together and pile up. After this they dissolve and, in their becoming (samsāra) they form

similar conglomerations elsewhere, no less contingent than the preceding ones. Thus it is

said: "All the elements of existence are transitory"—"All things are without individuality or substance (sabbe dhammā anattā 'ti).' The law of samsāric consciousness is expressed by this formula: sunnam idam atrena va attaniyena vā ti—void of "I" or of anything that resembles "I," void of substance. Another expression: everything is "compounded"

(sankhata), "compounded" being the equivalent here of "conditioned."2."Ìn samsāra there are only conditioned states of existence and consciousness.

This view is valid both for external and internal experience. We must emphasize that

the dhammā, the primary elements of existence, are considered by Buddhism—and

particularly its later forms—to be simple contents of consciousness, and not abstract

explanatory principles created by thought, as, for example, the atoms of the ancient

schools of physics. Thus we shall find that the doctrine of anattā, of insubstantiality, when applied to external experience will tend more and more to-ward pure empiricism. As the

external world directly appears, so it is. We should not say "this object has this form, this color, this taste, etc.," but: "this object is this form, this color, this taste, etc."—there is nothing behind sensible evidence to which it must be referred.' As we would say in

modem terms, there only exists and is real the continuum of lived experience.

The same point of view is adopted with coherence—we might even say, with surgical

directness—toward internal and personal experience. As the legitimacy of speaking "in

conformity with reality" of a permanent substance behind individual phenomena—and

even behind all nature, as the Brahmanical theory had it—is con-tested by Buddhism, so it

challenges the idea of a substantial, immortal, and unchangeable principle of the person,

such as the ātmā of the Upanisads. Even the person—sakkāya--is khandha and santāna, an aggregate and a current of elements and of impermanent, "compounded," and conditioned states. It is also sankhata. Its

I. Dhammapada, 277, 279.

2. Dhamma-sangani. IS .

3. Cf. T. Stcherbatsky. The Central Conception of Buddhism (London. 1923), pp. 26-27.


unity and reality are purely nominal, at the most "functional." If is said: as the word

"wagon" is used when the various parts of a wagon are found together, so when the various elements making up human individuality are present, we speak of a "per-son." "As the joining together of the various parts makes up the concept of a wagon, so the

aggregation or series of states gives name to a living being.'" The wagon is a functional unity of elements, not a substance; so with the person and the "mind"—"in the same way the words 'living being' and Ì' are only a way of speaking of the fivefold stem of

attachment."5 When the conditions that have determined the combination of elements and states in that stem are no longer effective, the person as such—that is, as the particular

person—dissolves. But even while he endures, the person is not a "being" but a flowing, a

"current" (santāna) or rather a section of a "current," since santāna is thought of as something that is neither started by birth nor interrupted by death

The positive basis of this view—not very encouraging for our everyday "spiritu-

alists"—is that the only consciousness of which the overwhelming majority of modern

men can speak truthfully, yāthā-bhutam, is "become" and "formed" conscious ness: consciousness determined and conditioned by content, which are, however, impermanent,

Consciousness and perception are inseparable: "these two things are joined, not separate, and it is impossible to dissociate them so as to differentiate between them: since of what

one has a perception of that one is conscious and that of which one is conscious, of that

one has a perception."7 As it is meaningless to talk of fire in general, since a fire is only of logs, dung, faggots, or grass, and so on, so we cannot talk of consciousness in general, but only of a consciousness that is visual, or aural, or olfactive, or gustative, or tactile, or mental—according to the case in question.' "Through the eye, the object and visual

consciousness, sight originates; so for hearing, so for smelling, taste, and touch; and so

through the mind and mental states, thought originates, These sensory states, then, derive

their origins from other causes and can claim no substantial beginning."9 "It is in relation to body that the idea Ì am' arises, and not otherwise. And similarly with feeling,

perception, the formations, and consciousness—in relation to such causes the idea Ì am'

arises, and not otherwise"; but these causes are, however, impermanent.10 Looking at

things in this manner, it

4. M ilindapanha, 28.

5. Visuddhi-magga, 8.

a. The notion of "current" appears as early as Digha, 3.105, and Samyuttt., 3.143: "This current is like a phantasmagoria void of substance": beyond it the ascetic, going as "on whose head is on fire." seeks "rhe unshakable sbade."

7. Majjh„ 43.

8. Ibid.. 38.

9. Milindapanhs,54—57.

10. Samyutt.,



becomes quite evident that the idea of an ātmā . of a substantial unconditioned "I" cannot he accepted. Consciousness is thus "void of '1'," since consciousness always atises in the presence of any sensory or psychic content." M ore generally, the real "I" experienced by everyone, not the theoretical "1" of the philosophers, is conditioned by "name-and-form."

This expression, taken by Buddhism from the Vedic tradition, designates the

psychophysical individual: "that part of this aggregate, which is gross and material"—it is said'—"is form; that part which is subtle and mental is name," and between the one and the other there is an interdependent relationship. Bound to "name-and-form," the "soul"

follows its fated changes, and for this reason as we shall see, anguish and trepidation

belong to the deepest stratum of every human and, more generally, samāric life.13

Finally, individual consciousness and "name-and-form" condition each other. One cannot stand without the other as, according to a textual simile, two planks cannot stand without

one leaning against the other, This is the same as saying that person is considered as a

"functional" whole to which the becoming is not accidental but is his very substance.

"One state ends and another begins: and the succession is such that it is almost possible to say that nothing pre-cedes and nothing follows."14

All this can be considered as a general introduction to the theory of the "four truths of the Ariya" (cāttāri ariya-saccāni) and of "conditioned genesis" (paticca-samuppāda). The view of insubstantiality, as already discussed, does not go beyond a phenomenalistic

consideration of the inward and outward world. To go further, we must adopt a different

point of view in order to discover—in terms of direct experience—the deeper meaning

and the law of this flowing, of this succession of states. The first two truths of the Ariya corresponding to the terms dukkha and tanhā, then appear.

Already at this point of our investigations we have to undertake the task of separating the core of the Buddhist teaching from its accessory elements and from its popular

adaptations; and, furthermore, we have to contend with a terminology whose precise

significance is extremely difficult to formulate in Western languages, particularly as the

meaning of a term often changes even in the course of a single text. While the terms of

modern Western languages have strictly precise meanings, due to their being based for

the most part on verbal and conceptual abstractions, the terms of Indo-Aryan languages

have, on the other hand, essentially

11. Ibid,


12. M ilindapanha, 49.


Ibid., 49; cf. Visuddhi-magga. 17 (W., 184). The same idea is expressed with the

following simile: if the oil and the wick or a light are impermanent, then it cannot be.

thought that the light is permanent or eternal {Majjh., 146).


Milindapanha, 40-41.


variable meanings as they have to express the richness of direcr experience.

The term dukkha is frequently translated as "pain," whence the stereotyped notion that the essence of Buddhist teaching is simply that the world is pain. But this is the most

popular and, we might almost say, profane interpretation of the Buddhist doctrine. It is

quite true that dukkha in the texts also refers to such things as growing old, being ill,

undergoing what one wishes to avoid and being deprived of what one desires, and so on;

all of which can in general be considered as pain or suffering. Yet, for example, the idea

that birth itself is dukkha should make us pause, and particularly as the same term refers to nonhuman, "celestial" or "divine" states of consciousness that certainly cannot be considered as subject to "pain" in the ordinary sense of the word. The deeper, doctrinal, and nonpopular significance of the term dukkha is a state of agitation, of restlessness, or of "commotion''' rather than "suffering." We can describe it as the lived counterpart of what is expressed in the theory of universal impermanence and insubstantiality, of anicca

and of anattā. And it is for this reason that, in the texts, dukkha, anicca, and anattā when they do not actually appear as synonyms,16 are always found in close relationship. This

interpretation is confirmed if we consider dukkha in the light of its opposite. that is, of the states of "liberation"; dukkha now appears as the antithesis of unshakable calm, which is superior not only to pain, but also to pleasure; as the opposite of the "incomparable

safety," the state in which there is no more "restless wandering," no more "coming and going," and where fear and anguish are destroyed. In order really to understand the

implications of dukkha, the first truth of the Ariya, and therefore to grasp the deepest significance of samsāric existence, we must associate the notion of "anguish" with that of

"commotion" and "agitation." The Buddha saw in the world: "A race which trembles"—

men trembling, attached to their persons. "like fish in a stream that is almosr dry."17 "This world is fallen into agitation" is the thought that came to him while he was still striving to achieve illumination,' "in truth, this world has been overcome by agitation. We are horn, we die, we pass away from one state, we arise in another. And from this sorrow, from this

decay and death, no one knows the escape."' Therefore it is a question of something far deeper and larger than anything the usual notion of pain can designate.

We now come to the second truth of the Ariya, which deals with samudaya, that is,

with origin. From what does this experience of ours, which manifests itself as dukkha, as agitation, as anguished becoming, originate; from where does it draw nourishment


Cr. Stcherbatsky, Central Conception. p, 48.


Jansink, M istica del buddismo. p. 95.


Suttanipāta, 4.2.5—6.


Samyutt„ 12.t0.

19. Digha . 14.2.18.


and what maintains it? The answer is tanhā (Skt,: trsna) that is to say, craving or thirst:

"thirst for life for ever renewing itself, which, when it is joined to the pleasure of satisfaction and gratifies itself here and there, is thirst for sensual pleasure, thirst for existence, thirst for becoming." This is the central force of samsāric existence, this is the principle that determines the anatta, that is, the nonaseity of any thing and any life whatsoever and that endows all life with alteration and death. Thirst, craving, burning, according to the

Buddhist teaching, stand not only at the root of all states of mind, but also of experience in general, of the forms of feeling, perception, and observation that are most nearly

considered to he neutral and mechanical. Thus we get the suggestive symbolism of the

"burning world" "The whole world is in flames, the whole world is consumed by fire, the whole world trembles."20 All is in flames. And what is the all that is in flames? The eye is burning, what is visible is burning, consciousness of the visible is burning, contact of the eye with what is visible is burning, the feeling—be it pleasure or pain, or neither pain nor pleasure—which arises from the contact with what is visible is burning. And with what is

it burning? With the fire of desire, with the fire of aversion, with the fire of delusion"--and the same theme is repeated separately for what is heard, for what is tasted, touched, and

smelled, and for what is thought;21 and again there is the same theme for the

pancakkhandhā, the fivefold stem of the personality: materiality, feeling, perception, the

formations, consciousness.22 This flame butns not only in desire, aversion, and delusion,

but also in birth and death, in decay, in every kind of pain and suffering?

Such is the second truth of the Ariya, the truth about "origin." To understand it we must go beyond the most superficial plane of consciousness: since although everyone will

probably concede that desire is the root of a large number of human actions, practically

none will ever understand intuitively that it is the substance of his own bodily form, the

root of his very individuality, the base of his every experience, even of that of a color or a sound, to which he is indifferent, This holds good to a certain extent for the first truth

also, since it is most improbable that everyone will understand that beneath his joy lies

dukkha, that is, agitation, suffering, and restlessness. The fact is that these two truths are already, in a certain measure, related to the "other shore," being directly evident only to those who have already crossed over and can comprehend objectively and fully the nature

of the state in which they previously found themselves? In this particular connection the

texts provide an

20..Samyutt., 1.133.

21. M ahavagga

(Vinaya), 121.2 3; Samyutt..35.28.

22. Samyutt,


23. Ibid..

35.28: Mahavagga (Vin.), 1.21.2-3.


In M ajjh., 80. it is, in tact, explicitly stated rhat only those who have arrived at the

goal. have laid aside tbe burden, have done what was to he dome. and who have freed themselves from the bonds of existence, can understand what craving and thirst for craving are.


illuminating simile, that of the leper. Those who, "driven by desire, consumed by the thirst of desire, burned by the fever of desire, delight in desire," are like those lepers, their bodies covered with sores, ulcerated. eaten by worms, who, in scratching their sores and

scorching their limbs, feel a morbid delight. But one who frees himself from leprosy,

feels cured, heathy, and independent, "master of where he would go"; this man would then understand "according to reality" the morbid delight of the leper, and should anyone attempt to drag him by force toward the fire in which he formerly found delight, he

would struggle in every manner possible to withdraw his body. 25

Apart from this, fhe symbolism of the flame and of the fire is enough to help us to

understand approximately the law of conditioned existence and of becoming as "craving"

or "thirst." Besides, let us take as an illustration physical thirst or, in general, nourishment. Instinct induces an organism to satisfy itself by assimilating and consuming

something for maintenance, M aintenance, however, implies that there is later a fresh

feeling of hunger or thirst, because of the law of the organism that has been strengthened

through the very satisfaction of the need. It is stated thus in the Gospels: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of

water springing up into everlasting life."26 Still more appropriate is the symbolism of the flame and of the processes of combustion, We owe to Dahlke an account of it that allows

us to penetrate into the secret of samsaric life. Having likened craving to a fire, every

living being appears, not as an "I," but as a process of combustion since. at the level on which we are talking, we cannot say that a being has craving, but rather that he himself is craving. There is then---latent in everyone---a will to bum, to become a flame consuming

some particular material. The fuel stimulates this will and starts the fire in a process of combustion that, how-ever, results in a greater degree of heat, that is, in a fresh will to burn, thus starting a new combustion, and so on, endlessly. From this point of view it is a process that generates and sustains itself; and at each instant the flame represents a

particular degree of heat that, as such, is the potentiality for a new combustion as soon as contact is made with some fresh inflammable material.27 In this way the text we have

been following considers every contact, every perception, vision, or thought as a species

of "burning." The fire is the craving that the will induces toward this or that contact, in which it spreads and sharpens itself, feeding itself, in a manner of speaking, on itself and provoking itself in the very act of satisfaction and of consuming its fuel. The "I" as santana, or "current," is none other than the continuity of this fire that

25. M aim.. 75.

26. John 4:13-14.

27.Dahlke, Buddhismus als Weltanschauung. pp. 50-57 [Buddhism and Science, pp. 47 -

561; Buddhismus als Religion and Moral. pp. 102 f f.


dies down and s molders among the ashes when the supply of material grows short yet

ready to blaze forth at every fresh contact, The process of samsāric life is thought of as a flame attached to burning material or rather as a flame that is itself its own material. The contacts develop through attachment, upādāna.. This occurs above all in the fivefold stem that makes up the person in general: materiality, feeling, perception, formations,

individuated consciousness. Burning potentially in this stem, thirst develops in each one

of its five parts through the series of contacts furnished by the outside world; the world

itself appears to the will to burn and to be burning as a kind of varied fuel, a fuel that

incites greater combustion in proportion to the delusive satisfaction it affords this will.

The theory of anattā, of "not-I," thus has this meaning: the "I" does not exist outside the process of burning, it is this very process—were a halt really made, the "I," the illusion of being "I" would collapse. Here, then, is the reason for the anguish and for the primordial

"agitation" of which we have already spoken, here is the profound source of the "triple fire of sensuality, hate, and delusion" and of the will that "causes the search for other worlds." The samsāric "I" has its foundation in craving, without which it would collapse.

Even in suffering and in pain there works a variety of this profound fire, of the will of

conditioned beings for existence, which involves a fundamental abdication.

On this basis the Buddhist theory of samsāra has been able to develop as far as the

theory of "instantaneousness" or "instantaneous existence," khana. If existence and the sense of "I" are conditioned by contacts, this existence must resolve itself into the point series of these same contacts. In this sense, strictly speaking, life is instantaneous, just as, in the Buddhist image of the wheel of a wagon whose movement is continuous, but

which, moving or at rest, touches the ground at only one point. "In the same way the life of beings has only the duration of a thought: the being of the past moment has lived, but

does not live and will not live; the being of the future moment will live, but does not live and has not lived; the being of the present moment lives, but has not lived and will not


This is the coup de grace delivered to the Brahmanical theory of ātmā. And even if we ignore the later and more extreme expressions of the theory of "instantaneous

existence." however coherent, this way of thinking is enough to destroy the theory of

reincarnation that we considered to be largely in Hinduism the effect of foreign

influences. In fact, we have already seen that the preoccupation with knowledge of what

one was and of what one will be beyond this life is considered by fhe Buddha to be an

opining and a rambling that is a disease, a thorn, a sore. a forest, a tumor, a labyrinth. In any case, the idea that "this consciousness persists

28. Thus


Angutt., 5.69 he who desrroys tanhā, craving. is called "he who destroys

the support."


Visuddhi-magga. 8 (W., 150).



unchangeable through the cycle of changing existences" is expressly stated to he "false opinion, not spoken of by the Buddha," the idea of' "a fool,"30 a judgment in which the order of disciples, after questioning by Prince Siddhattha, agrees' The fundamental

argument here is that it is impossible in practice to refer the possibility of having already existed to any evidence of consciousness," and in the second place. that "the nature of consciousness is conditioned"33---conditioned above all by "name-and-form"; a real continuity of consciousness is inconceivable where "name-and-form" is liable to change, where new khandha. new and different psychophysical aggregates may he produced in the current. in fact, "it is not the same name-and-form that re-arises."34 When, with the cessation of a life, "name-and-form," that is to say individuality, ceases, it does not go on to exist elsewhere as the same aggregate. We must imagine it, tattier, as the sound of a

lute that comes into being without ever having existed elsewhere and that does not pass on

to another place when the musician has ceased playing." A continuity does indeed exist, but it is impersonal, it is the continuity of craving, of the "current," of the will to hum in order to he; when this force has exhausted, like fuel, one life it leaps like a flame to attach itself to another stem and to blaze forth in it. According to one text,36 it remains in the intermediate stages as a flame that consumes itself, that is, as pure calorific potential.

Strictly speaking we should here refer to a continuum from which both absolute diversity

and absolute identity are excluded. A simile used in this connection is that of the flames of the three watches of the night: the torch of the first watch, which, when it is about to die out, lights another torch, and this in its turn, lights a third. These three flames cannot be called either the same or different. One has lighted another, one has the fire of another, but they are all different from each other, and the flame is in each case the flame (life,

consciousness) of a different torch. Another simile is that of milk that turns into curd and then into butter and then into cheese. We are dealing with the same substance, but any

change of state makes the use of the same name improper, and we cannot say that curd is

milk or that butter is curd.' In changing the


30. Majjh., 38.

31. ibid.

32. Ibid.,


33. Ibid..


34. Milindapanha, 46.


Visuddhi-magga, 20 (W., 186), Tantric Buddhism (majra-yana), a bell and a

scepter are the two symbolic objects used in magicat operations. The bell (ghantā) is the symbol of "knowtedge" of the phenom enal world, where every reality, as the sound of a bell. is perceptible bu13 evanescent; the scepter, on the other hand. symbotises the

mule principle of the vajra, of the diamond-lightning. of which the spirit of every

"Awakened One" is composed.


Samyut., 44.9. The text, in fact, says this: "as fuel is necessary for rhe ftame, so a new existence needs a

substance." It is asked, however, what is 13he substance when 13he flame us carried by the wind. The Buddha's

reply in due wind itsetf. It is then asked: when a being leaves one body and arises in

another. what is the

fuel indieated by the Lord Gotama? The reply is: "In this case, in tru13h. the fuel is the craving itself."

37. M iliadapanha, 40-41.


state--in having a different "name-and-form" (philosophically we might say: a different principium individuationis)—it is well to change also the denomination.

The only real continuity is a causal connection, a kind of impersonal heredity, The

flame that, in a given being, is the life of that being, assumes in the course of that life a certain quality, a certain ha hit us that will last and manifest itself in successive

combustions. From this we derive the notion of what are called the sankhārā (the

formations) that correspond to the directions adopted by desire and that constitute one of

the five groups of the personality; while for the genera] determining law whereby this

fundamental force gathers together its particular group of dhamma, or the elements, when

manifesting itself, the Upanisad term karma (Pāli: kamma) is used, especially in later

Buddhist texts. Thus kamma is spoken of as a "matrix of beings"—kammayoni—and the principle is formulated that "according to the actions of a being, there arises fresh

becoming; what one does causes one to become again. Re-become, contacts touch one

[that is, the new process of combustion is started]. Beings, then. are the heirs of

actions."38 From this kind of concept, however, we must not again presume the

continuity of an individual substratum, of an "I"; we should bear in mind, rather, the idea of a flame that moves from one branch (of a tree) to another, and we should take into

special account only the particular quality assumed by the tire in the one combustion that

transfers itself to the next. This is why there is no answer in the texts to the quesrion: Is it the same individual who feels the effects of a preceding existence or is it another

individual? The only answer we can give is to refer to "conditioned genesis," that is, to the process that, in general, leads to samsāric consciousness.39 To the question: Is it the same name-and-form that arises in a new existence'? the answer is: "t is not the same

name-and-form that arises in the next existence; but with this name-and-form good or

bad actions are done, by means of which a new name-and-form arises in a future

existence."40 The text concludes: "The effects arise in a series from which both absolute identity and absolute diversity are excluded, whence one cannot say if they are created by

the same being or by something different:"41 M ore radically, we could give the

illustration of the billiard ball that moves after receiving both force and direction from

another billiard ball, distinct, of course, from the first one—had not this same animated

world of ours already provided us with a perfect analogy in the phenomenon of

generation and biological heredity: for although distinct from his parent, in the new

animal we find the life, the tendencies, the instincts, and often even the blemishes of his forebears.

38. Majjh., 57

39. Sarhyuti.,



Milindapadha, 46.6-9. Also in Samyutt., 1237, where it is said that this body is considered neither as one's own, nor as someone etse's, hut as derermined by a

preceding action, That is, by the energy produced by preceding actions, either mental

or physical.


M ilindapanha. 46--49; Visuddhr-magga, 17 (W. 238-40).


However, we deem that one should think less of a linear continuity of individual

existences, than of so many appearances of a single stem of craving. This, while in the

process of combustion, is every single life, every single individual; it is the desire that composes that life, that individual, but that at the same time transcends it and, after

returning to a latent state, moves on to emerge elsewhere and to establish itself mainly

according to the force and the direction that it has already given itself in its preceding life (or lives).

With this doctrine the compromise inherent in the Upanisadic concept—oscillating

between truth relative to ātmā consciousness and truth relative to samsaric

consciousness—is overcome, and at the same time a severely realistic point of view is

established, void of "idealisms" and attenuations. The result is certainly not a consoling view. The Buddha, in a manner of speaking, by speeding up the rhythm has set forth

what amounts to the limiting-form of the fall or regression, because it is only in this way that a total reaction can be provoked and the necessity for the ascesis demanded by the

path of Awakening undetstood.

Here it will he well to add the following consideration. We have already said that the

first two truths of the Ariya, with particular reference to the doctrine of thirst and of fire, may not be directly evident to modem man. He may be able to under-stand them fully

only in special or critical moments, because the life he normally leads is as if outside

himself; half sleepwalking, he moves between psychological reflexes and images that

hide from him the deepest and most fearful substance of existence. Only in particular

circumstances is the veil of what is, fundamentally, a providential illusion torn aside. For example, in all moments of sudden danger, on the point of being threatened either by the

vanishing of ground from under one's feet through the opening of a chasm or glacier

crevasse, or in touching inadvertently a glowing coal or an electrified object, an

instantaneous reaction takes place. This reaction does not proceed from the "will,"

consciousness, nor from the "1." since this part follows only after the initial reaction is complete; in the flrst moment it is pre-ceded by something more profound, more rapid,

and more absolute. During extreme hunger. panic, fear, sensual craving, or extreme pain

and terror the same force again shows itself—and he who can comprehend it directly in

these moments likewise creates for himself the faculty of perceiving it gradually as the

invisible substratum of all waking life. The subterranean roots of inclinations, faiths,

atavisms, of invincible and irrational convictions, habits, and character, all that lives as animality, as biological race, all the urges of the body—all this goes hack to the same

principle. Compared with it, rhe "will of the 'I"' has, normally, a liberty equivalent to that of a dog tied to a fairly long chain that he does not notice until he has passed a certain

limit. If one goes beyond that limit, the profound force is not slow to awaken, either to

supplant the "I" or to mislead it, making it believe that it wills that which, in fact, 54

the force itself wills. The wild force of imagination and of suggestion takes us to the

same point: to that where according to the so-called law of "converse effort," one does something the more strongly the more one "wills" against it—as sleep eludes one the more one "wills" it, or as the suggestion that one will fall into an abyss will certainly cause one to fall if one "wills" against it.

This force, which is connected with the emotive and irrational energies, gradually

identifies itself as the very force that rules the profound functions of physical life, over which the "will," the "mind," and the "I" have very little influence, to which they arc external and on which they live parasitically, extracting the essential fluids yet without

having to go down for them into the heart of the trunk. Thus one must ask oneself: What,

of this "my" body, can be justifiably thought of as subject to "my" will? Do "I" will "my'

breath or the mixtures of the digestive juices by which food is digested? Do "I" will my form, my flesh, or my being this man who is conditioned thus and nof otherwise? Can he

who asks himself this not go on even further and ask himself: My "will" itself, my consciousness, my "I"—do I will these, or simply is it that they are?

We shall see that the Doctrine of Awakening actually asks questions of this kind. And

he who is strong enough to force himself, in this sense, to go beyond illusion, cannot help arriving at this disconcefting conclusion: "You are not life in yourself. You do not exist.

You cannot say 'mine' of anything. You do not possess life—it is life that possesses you.

You suffer it. And the possibility of immortal survival of this phantom 'I' at the

dissolution of the body is only a mirage, since every-thing tells you that its correlation

with this body is essential to you and a trauma, an indisposition, a fainting fit, or any kind of accident has a definite influence over all its faculties, however 'spiritual' and 'superior'

they may be."

There are some who, at certain moments, are able to become detached from

themselves, get beneath the surface, down into the dark depths of the force that rules their body, and where this force loses name and identity. They have the sensation of this force

expanding and including "1" and "not-I." pervading all nature, substantiating time, supporting myriad beings as if they were drunk or hallucinated, reestablishing itself in a

thousand forms, irresistible, untamed, inexhaustible, ceaseless, limit-less, burning with

eternal insufftciency and hunger. He who reaches this fearful perception, like an abyss

suddenly opening, grasps the mystery of samsara and of samsāric consciousness and

understands and fully lives anatta, the doctrine of nonaseity, of "not-I." The passage from purely individual consciousness to this samsāric consciousness that includes indefinite

possibilities of existence, both "infernal" and celes tial—this, fundamentally, is the basis of the whole Doctrine of Awakening. We are not dealing here with a "philosophy" hut with an experience that, to tell the truth, is not the sole property of Buddhism. Traces and echoes of it are also to he found in


other traditions, both Eastern and Wesrern: in the West, particularly in terms of secret

knowledge and of initiatory experience. The theory of universal pain, of life as pain, does not represent, in this respect, anything other than something completely external and, as

we have already said, profane. Where it has been widely diffused it refers only to the

forms of a popular exposition.

From the point of view of Western mentality, as a general outlook, two forms or

degrees of existence and samsāric consciousness can be distinguished: one is truly

samsāric, the other is limited to the time and the space of a single individual existence.

The consciousness prevalent in the modern West is this second one. But this only

represents a part, a section of a consciousness or a samsāric existence that stretches out

across time, and that, as we have just poinfed out, may also include states free from the

temporal law that we know. In the ancient Eastern world there still existed, in great

measure, this much vaster samsāric consciousness. And the initiatory-ascetic path

considered as an essential first phase the passage from the particular consciousness that is hound to a single life and defined by the illusion of the individual "I" to truly samsāric consciousness: a concept to which the notion of santāna, of the "1" as flux, current or indefinite series of insubstantial states deter-mined by dukkha, also corresponds, Only after mastering this phase can a passage be found to what is really unconditioned and

extra-samsaric. But, as we shall soon see when we speak of the vocations, it is very rare

in the West to find anyone who does not confuse the unconditioned, the absolute, with

what are only higher states of samsāric consciousness.



Conditioned Genesis

The problem of "origin," corresponding to the second truth of the Ariya, is investigated more deeply in what is known as doctrine of dependent origination or "conditioned

genesis" (paticca-samuppada), which makes a separate study of the stages and states by which conditioned existence is arrived at. "Profound, hard to perceive, hard to understand, peaceful, elevated, not reducible to discursive thought, subtle, accessible (only) to the

wise" this doctrine is called.' It seems that it may have been due to the common man's difficulties in understanding it. that Prince Siddhattha at first hesitated to reveal it: "a doctrine that leads on against the current, internal and profound, it will he invisible to

those who are ensnared by craving, wrapped up in the shadow of ignorance."2 This should be borne in mind by all who, in this matter, like to advance a "caveat against reading profound metaphysical concepts into this old series."3 Indeed, we are dealing here with the results of a transcendental investigation, realized—according to tradition—in states of consciousness corresponding to the three watches of the night, during which Prince

Siddhattha's spiritual activity brought him to superrational illumination, to bodhi.4 We

must therefore also anticipate the objection that this discourse on transcendental states, in spite of the declared ostracism of all speculation, is based on simple philosophical

hypotheses. Buddhism belongs to a civilization that accepted as a principle the possibility of insight "with which not only this world but also the world beyond is seen"5 and thence the possibility of discovering in certain conditions, both the states that precede the


1. Samyutt., 6.1.

2 Majjh., 2h.

3. C. A. F. Rhys Davids in (he introduction to Kindred Sayings (the translation of Samyutta-nikaya London. 19221), vol. 2, p. 6.

4. Mahavagga (Vin.). 1.1.2; Majjh., 4.

5. Digha, 19. I5: Majjh., 34.


of a man in a bodily existence and those that occur when this form of manifestation is

exhausted.' The horizons of our contemporaries are naturally very different, and for this

reason the impression that we are dealing here simply with theories cannot he entirely


However, in one way or another, it is still necessary to penetrate this knowledge, since

it is fundamental both for the doctrinal and the practical part of the Buddhist teaching. "He who sees conditioned genesis"—it is said'—"sees the truth (dhamma) and he who sees the truth sees conditioned genesis." And again: "Of all things which proceed from cause, the Accomplished One has explained the cause and also its destruction. This is the doctrine of

the great ascetic."8 It serves as the immediate basis for practical action, and it is the generator of "tranquillity" (the opposite state to dukkha), because its meaning is this: "If that is, this comes of it; with the origin of that this originates; if that is not, this does not come of it; with the end of that this ends."' By knowing what are the causes in virtue of which we come to a stale of samsāric existence, we also know that their removal also

removes this same state of samsāric existence. For this reason the doctrine of paticca-

samuppada constirutes the premise for the two remaining truths of the Ariya: namely, the

third truth concerning nirodha, that is, the possibility of the destruction of the state marked by dukkha; and the fourth truth concerning magga, or the methods to be followed in order to achieve such a destruction.

The paticca-samuppāda—which literally means "conditioned genesis" or "for-

mation"—considers a series of twelve conditioned states. The term used is paccaya, condition, and not hew, cause: it is a question of conditionality and not of true causality.

We may here return to the simile of a substance that, in being transformed. passes through

various states, each of which contains the potentiality of giving place, in appropriate

circumstances, to the next, or, if neutralized, of suspending the next. On what Ievel does

this causal series develop?

Oriental commentators and, naturally, still more, European Orientalists have often

held discordant opinions on this point. This is due to their not having realized that the

same series is susceptible of two different interpretations, neither of which excludes or

contradicts the other since each refers to a distinct plane. According to the first

interpretation—followed unanimously by those on guard against "metaphysics"—the

entire series develops on the plane of samsāric existence and provides a

6. For this second form of knowledge, cf. Bantu Thodol (The Tibetan Bonk of the Dead).

trans W. Y. Evans-'Wentz [London, 1927]. Cf. also Majjh., t36, where ir is said that tbrough cetosamadhi the ascetic perceives the posthumous destiny of beings.

7. Majjh., 28.

8. Mahavegga (Vin.), 1.23.10

9. Samyutt., 12.21.41.


detailed account of the process, which is one developing in time—let us say: in a

horizontal direction. Accordingly, a single finite existence is determined by others

preceding it, while it, in its turn. determines a successive existence or a number of

successive existences. It is thus at the same time an effect in one respect and a cause in


But above and beyond this there is a much more profound interpretation, which really

concerns the origins and which is a higher form of knowledge than the "four truths."

According to this interpretation, the series is not only to he considered in temporal

terms, but also in transcendental terms; it develops, that is to say, not horizontally but

essentially in a vertical manner, starting from preindividual and prenatal states and

finishing on the plane of samsaric existence, in which the "horizontal" series considered by the first interpretation develops. Since in the texts these nidāna or causal "nexuses" are quite obviously considered now from one point of view and now from the other, there has

been opportunity for confusion and for divergent interpretations wherever general

doctrine principles have been left out of account.

Here we have particularly to consider the paţicca-samuppada in the sense of a

transcendental, vertical, and descending series that even if it finishes by entering time, is not in itself temporal.

1. The basic element of the whole series is a vijjā, that is to say, "ignorance," unawareness. The significance of this term in Buddhism is not essentially different from its

significance in other branches of the Indo-Aryan tradition, the Samkhya or the Vedānta doctrines, for example, and where it might be figuratively illustrated by saying: man is a

god who is unaware that he is such—it is his unawareness (a vijja) alone that makes him a man. t is a question, then, of a state of "oblivion," of deliquescence, by which the primary motive for identification with one or other form of finite and conditioned existence is

determined. We must not therefore think of an abstract discernible condition, but rather of something that also includes a disposition, a tendency, a virtual movement. Thus we can

think of this state simultaneously as "infatuation," "intoxication, "mania"—and, in fact, we find in some texts that "ignorance" and "mania" condition each other: it is said, for example: "the origin of ignorance determines the origin of mania" and, at the same time.

"the origin of mania determines the origin of ignorance"—mania here being considered as tripartite, thaf is, as "mania of desire. mania of existence, mania of ignorance—kāmāsava, bhavāsava, avijjāsava."10 Following Neumann and de Lorenzo, we have translated the

term āsava as "mania." It has been rendered by Orientalists in various ways: sometimes as

"passions" (Nyanatiloka), sometimes as "toxins"—deadly floods, intoxicants (Rhys Davids) or as

I t). Majjh., 9.


"depravities" (Warren) or "drugs"' (Woodward), ferments or stupefacients—or by effluvia, impure emanations, suppurations—unreine Ausflusse (Walleser), etc. The literal

sense is exactly the idea of an intoxicant drug that can alter and pervade an entire

organism with a disturbance or a "mania," We must imagine a state of drunkenness that makes a man forget himself and, at the same time. makes an irrational action possible.

The close relātion of avijja, ignorance, to āsava, mania, is confirmed not only by the Fact that, as we have seen, this same ignorance is described as an āsava-avijjasava—but still

more by the fact that the state of intuitive knowledge or wisdom, panna, as opposed to

that of ignorance, is very frequently said to he, attained when the āsavā have been neutralized or destroyed.

Here we must touch on the problem of the degree in which "ignorance" can be

considered as something absolutely original. Various views are possible, according to the

point of reference. In itself, the Buddhist teaching does not go back beyond avijjā. And, for all practical ascetic purposes, it is not even necessary to go further hack than the

transcendental Fact. the mysterious crisis that in the mythological form of an original

"fall" or "descent" or "fault" or "alteration" appears to some extent in the teachings of all peoples. Doctrinally, however, things are somewhat different. It is stated that "an anterior limit, in which ignorance has not been in some degree, but only after which ignorance

has been, if is not possible to find"12; this idea refers, however, not to the transcendental series, but to the horizontal and temporal series of samsāric existence, about which it is, in fact, stated in the same text: "Samsāra does not lead towards what is free from death.

And it is not possible to chart the first point of the journey of beings who are hindered by ignorance and hound by craving.' 13 t would, indeed, be an absurdity to attempt, as some

do, to make ignorance the absolute prius in the order of conditioned genesis: it would certainly endow Buddhism with an "originality," but only to condemn it to every form of contradiction and incoherence. Craving might possibly be conceived as something

absolutely fundamental; hut certainty not ignorance that already, as such, presupposes

knowledge. Nor would it be sensible to talk of an awakening, for obviously one cannot

awake if one has not been sleeping, and if there is nothing that shines beyond the cloud of oblivion. And, finally, the very substance of the Buddhist doctrine, that is, the ascesis,

would be fundamentally prejudiced: For it would not he possible to understand whence

one derives the impetus for resisting, for detaching oneself from samsāra, for destroying

the whole chain of the nidāna by following it in reverse or backward, and for extin-

guishing mania without leaving any residue, unless ignorance signified something

additional: an intoxication, a darkness, and a drunkenness that, however profound,

11. [These terms in English in the original.--- Trans.].

12. Samyutt.,


13. Ibid.,



yet still presuppose an antecedent state, and that are not capable of irretrievably

paralyzing all energy connected with this state. That the Buddhist teaching agrees with

this point of view can be seen in this passage: "There is, 0 disciples, an unborn, not become, not compounded, not constructed. If there were not this unborn, not become,

not compounded. not constructed, no escape could be seen here from that which is born,

become, compounded, constructed. But since there is an unborn, not become, not

compounded, not constructed, so an escape is possible from what is born, become,

compounded, constructed."14

In the view of the most celebrated commentator on the texts,15 moreover, ignorance

is, and at the same time is not the prime cause; "it is the principal element, but not the beginning." It is not the beginning from the point of view of samsāric existence, of

which it is said that there never was a time in which ignorance was not, since this

existence has ignorance and craving as its double root and coessential substratum. But it

is the beginning from the higher point of view of the origins. According to this view, it

seems that the āsava themselves are conditioned by ignorance and that it is because of

this that they lead to a determined form of existence on the subhuman, human, or

"divine" plane,16 On the samsāric plane, and therefore according to the temporal

interpretation, an ignorant man is described as one who, having descended into birth,

cannot apprehend that the law of the world is dukkha, cannot see its origin, nor

deliverance from it nor the path by which this deliverance is obtained: ignorance is thus

ignorance of the four truths of the ariyan. Having been determined by the āsava, by intoxication or mania, this particular ignorance establishes the samsāric state of

existence and determines the substratum (upadhi) that protracts it.

2. In the connected series, after avijja follow the sankhāra. This term also has been variously interpreted. Literally, sankhāra means a formation or predisposition in regard

to a particular aim. We are dealing, that is to say, with a state in which the potential

motion of the first nidāna has already assumed a certain direction and has entered on the path that later development will follow. To translate sankhāra by "distinctions"

(Neumann) is, to some extent, exact, seeing that we cannot choose a direction without

first having defined it and thus distinguished it from other possible directions. We must,

however, bear in mind the volitional and active factor (sankhāra as kamma-cetanā) and the "conceptional" factor, n this connection, Burnouf recorded the exegesis according to which sankhār a is "the passion which includes desire, aversion, fear and joy," noting, however, that the terms desire and passion are here too much restricted. n a commentary

quoted by Hodgson, we read: "The belief of a sensible incorporeal principle in the reality of that which is only a mirage, is accompanied


Udana, 8. 1-3.


Visuddhi-magga, 17 (W., 171 -75).

16. Angutt.,



by a desire for this mirage and by a conviction of its value and reality: this desire is called sankhāra."17 T o which Burnouf added: "The sankhārā are thus the things guile fingit animus. that is, which the spirit creates, makes, imagines (sankharoti); they are, in a word, the products of the faculty which it has of conceiving, of imagining."18 It is in such terms that the object of the "mania" begins to manifest itself and that a particular current, santāna, begins to define itself in the descent toward samsāric existence. We can, moreover, relate the sankhāra to kamma (Skt.: karma) in a double sense: in the vertical chain, by taking kamma in the general meaning of action and as the general principle

accounting for the difference of beings;19 and in the samsaric, temporal, and horizontal chain, by seeking in kamma, rather, the roofs of the character, the predispositions, the innate tendencies, as well as all fresh ones that develop and which, when rhey are

established and incorporated in the body of craving, pass from being to being. In this

second sense we shall see that the sankhara are considered to be one of the five groups making up the personality. But, ultimately, the root of these sankhāra on the conditioned,

samsāric plane, goes back, in everyone, to the sankhāra that make up the second nidāna

of the vertical series.

3. The sankhara, through the distinction or individuation that they imply, give place to

the third nidāna, to vinnana or "consciousness," understood as distinctive consciousness.

That is to say, it is the germ of all that will eventually appear as individuality, as

individual consciousness or consciousness of "I," in the general sense of the Sanskrit term ahamkāra, and which also includes forms of individuality differing from what is usually understood as human individuality.

4. The fourth nidāna is nāma-rupa or `"name-and-form." This has already been discussed in some detail. All that is necessary here is to extend the concept once again,

thinking of the general combination of both material elements ("matter") and immaterial or mental elements ("mind") that vinnāna, or individual consciousness in general, needs as a base. On the level of the fourth nidāna occurs the meeting of the vertical direction

with the horizontal, and which leads to the conception and the generation of a being. At

this point the transcendental dispositions are incorporated in the elements of samsaric

heredity that, whenever the series turns toward a human birth, show them-selves, to a

large extent, in the material of the biological heredity of the parents.

To orient ourselves on this point we must consider Buddhism in the light of a

17. Cf.

Corpus Hemeticum, 1.1: "Seeing his own form in the water, he conceived a

desire for it and wished ro possess it. The act accompanied the desire and the irrationat

form was conceived. Nature took possession of her lover. sutrounded him and they

joined in mutual love. This is why, alone amongst the beings thar tive on the earth,

man is twofold. mor13al in the body, immortal in essence .. Superior to sleep (=

avijjā), he is dominated by sleep."


E. Burnouf, Introduction a l'histoire du bo uddhisme indien (Paris, 1576), pp. 448-



Cf. Visuddhi-magga, 17.


more general teaching. Three factors come together in the birth of' a human being. The

first is of a transcendental nature and is connected with the first three nidana: "ignorance,"

mania, and sankhāra must, in the first place, have determined a darkening and a

descending current that, through the second nidana, has already been given its direction,

and through the third, already tends toward an individuated form having an "F-

consciousness. The second factor, on the other hand, is connected with forces and

influences that are already organized, with a will that is already deter-mined. thus

corresponding to one of those processes of "combustion" that constitute samsāra, and of which we have already spoken. These influences and this will can he considered

comprehensively as a form of entity sui generis, which we may call "samsāric entity" or entity of craving." It is a "life" that does not exhaust itself within the limits of the individual but which is thought of, rather, as the "life" of this life and which is associated with the notions of "daemon," "double," and "genius," of ka, fravashi, and fylgya, etc., which occur in other traditions and which, in the Indo-Aryan tradition, already existed as, for example, the linga-sarira or "subtle body" of Samkhya, or as that entity—gandharva (Pali: gandhabba)—whose presence a text of the earliest Buddhist canon records as

necessary, in addition to the parents. for a birth to occur, In the Abhidharmakosa. that is to say, in the theoretical system of Buddhism, this entity receives the name of

antarabhava; it is thought that it has a pre- and internatal existence; nourished by "desire"

and carried by impulses fed by other lives, it seeks to manifest itself in a new existence.21

This, then. is the second factor, already potentially corresponding to a largely

predetermined"name-and-form." On the level of this nidāna—mama-rapa--occurs the

meeting of the principle that is obscured by ignorance with the antarābhava, or samsāric

daemon, or entity of craving: the first, in a manner of speaking, joins with the second,

inserting itself in this way into a particular group of samsāric heredity.

We have now to consider the third factor. In one of' the texts we have just mentioned it says that the supersensible eye sees the daemon wandering about until an opportunity

for a new "combustion" presents itself on the occasion of the meeting of a man and a woman who may be suitable as its father and mother, that is to say, who may present it

with a heredity in accordance with its cravings. A thing then occurs, with reference to

which the doctrine in question is singularly in agreement with what "psychoanalysis"—

even with its various deformations and exaggerations—has presented to our modern eyes

in the guise of theories of the libido and of the "Oedipus" or "Electra complex." The doctrine speaks, in fact, of a desire that this entity may conceive either for the future

mother or for the future father, according to the sex to

20. Majjh., 38; Jataka. 330: Milindapanha, 123.

21. Abhidharmakosa, 3.12; cf. L. de la Vallee-Poussin, Nirvana (Path, t925), p. 28.


which it belonged in its previous and now exhausted life, and of a corresponding aversion

for the other parent.22 An identification follows through the infatuation and delight of the pair, by means of which the entity enters the womb and conception takes place.

Immediately the various khandha, the germinal chain of factors that will form the basis of the personality, condense around it, and from this point there follows that physiological

process of embryonic development that, in its exterior aspects, is known to contemporary

medicine, Its internal development is determined by the various remaining nidana, of

which we yet have to speak,"

Thus. finally, there are present in the human being three principles or entities, which

are called in Sāmkhya, kārana, linga, and sthula-sarīra. These are also known to the ancient Western traditions as nous, psyche, and some. or as mens, anima, and corpus. In connection with these last, we should remember the strict relationship that was conceived

between the spirit as daemon or double, and the "genius" as life and memory of a

particular blood and a particular stock; a concept which, in its turn goes hack to the

Upanisadic "way of the fathers"---pitr-yana, to the path that continually leads back to birth according to the law of craving and the nature of samsāric existence. The anima,

according to the original concept, belongs to this very plane, it combines more or less with the "daemon" as an irrational entity; and even in the Buddhist texts dealing with the prajnā-pāramita, the person or anima (pudgala) is often confused with this preformed principle that takes on existence as the life of a determined life, and holds together its

elements; a principle that yet maintains itself as a separate energy, not hound to these

elements, and that transmits itself through various lives.

In the texts of the oldest Buddhist canon (which is in Pāli), things are often presented

in such a manner that rhe daemon or samsāric entity seems to be equivalent to vinnāna.

that is, to "consciousness," the third nidāna, In reality, the two things, as we have said, are quite distinct: the identification is explained by rhe fact that, through what we may call an elective affinity or a convergence, an identification is made between the force from above

that is carried down by ignorance, and this entity made of desire: this identification is

entirely analogous to the identification of the same entity with the material that the future parents offer for its new manifestation of craving. "Consciousness," vinnāna, is not the

"daemon"; it meets the "daemon," however, and identifies and joins itself with it at the moment when it achieves one of its individuations and incarnations; this requires, in fact, an already specified life-force and its craving. Thus, in the human compound there

certainly exists a "daemon" that is the scat of a more than individual samsāric

consciousness and to which

22. It was, moreover, already a Vedic idea (Rg Veda, 10.85 40) that the gandharva, the

genius or doubte. found the wife before the husband.

23 L. de la Vallee-Poussin, Bouddhismo: Etudes et materiaux (Paris, 1909), pp. 25 ff.


there may also be attached memories, instincts, and causes of remote origin and this is the signification of the so-called alayavinnāna, the "containing-consciousness" that receives all impressions both conscious and unconscious of a certain stock or current; yet there

also exists in the human being a higher principle, but which ignorance and the āsavā have

bewildered and obscured. This is a fundamental point, and if it is not kept in mind, large

parts of the Buddhist ascesis will remain unintelligible.

It is said that at the point when the antarābhava, the daemon, enters the womb, and

when the regrouping and solidification of the material elements begins around it, it

"dies."24 By this we must understand the cessation of the continuity of consciousness, and this means that one does not in the ordinary way remember prenatal and preconceptional

states either samsāric or transcendental. It is a kind of rupture, for, starting from this point, the fourth nidāna, the interdependent correlation between consciousness and the

psychophysical unity (nāma-rupa) that individuates it, is established. For if consciousness, vinnana, must enfer the mother's womb in order that "name-and-form" can originate, then there must, at the same time, he "name-andform" so that consciousness can exist."

In the texts we find the following simile for the relationship existing between the three

principles: the seed is vinnāna, consciousness, the earth is kamma, and the water that

makes the seed grow into a plant is thirst. [Comma here is the force, al-ready determined

by the sankhāra, that corresponds to the "samsāric entity," into which the descending principle (seed) enters and is brought to a fresh existence because there is craving. Only in cases of exceptional "descents," "fatidic" in nature, of beings who, having removed ignorance to a certain degree, arc in their substance mainly composed of "illumination"

(bodhi—this is the literal sense of the expression bodhisattva), is the "vehicle" they use in place of the antarābha va or entity of craving, a "celestial body" or "body of splendor"

(tnsita-kaya). I n these cases birth takes place without any dissolution of the continuity of consciousness; the individual is in perfect possession of himself, he is imperturbable and

has vision; and for his nativity he has a choice of the place, the time, and the mother.26

Such views naturally reduce the implications of earthly biological heredity to merely

relative importance. Heredity is considered here as something much vaster: as not only

that which one inherits from one's ancestors, but also as that which comes from oneself'

and from antecedent identifications. Indeed, taking heredity comprehensively, only the

latter is essential as far as the core of the human personality is concerned. From a higher point of view, to leave this heredity out of account would

24. Cf.


Trice. Il buddhismo (Foligno. 1926). p. 75.


Cf. Digha, t5.2t—22.

26. Cit..


Majjh., 123; Digha. t4.1.17: Bardo Thodot, p. 191; Angutt., 8.70.


he as absurd as thinking that chicks of different species are born only from eggs, without a corresponding animal heredity.27 Returning to the symbolism of burning: if we wish to

find the origin of the fire that burns with some particular log, it would be absurd to trace the origin of the log to the tree from which it came, and that to the forest to which it

belonged, and so on—at the most we could only discover the quality of the fuel. The

origin of the fire must, instead, be sought in the nature of the fire irself, not in rhat of the wood, by tracing the spark that lit the flame, and then the flame from which the spark

came, and so on. Equally, the most essential and truly "direct" heredity of a being is not found in the genealogy of its earthly parents. For beings are heirs and sons of action and

not of father and mother." Besides one's own heredity of body and soma, there is samāric heredity and, finally, there is one's heredity that is the principle "from above" clouded by


5. Returning to the chain of conditioned genesis, the states or nidāna that follow

"name-and-form" refer to the internal side of embryonic development. As the fifth Link of the series we have sad-āyatana, that is (the assumption of) the sixfold base. By this is

meant the sensory fields or strands in which, through "contact," the various sense impressions and the various images of the mind will hum. In the Indo-Aryan tradition

there are always considered to be six senses, the five that we know, with the addition of

,nano (Ski.: mamas), mind or thought. Far from being synonymous with "spirit," as many of our contemporaries believe, thought, subjective thought tied to the brain, is here

considered as a sense sui generis, ranking more or less with the others. While it is not limited to coordinating and organizing the impressions derived from the senses, it is held

that thought originates from special and subtle forms of "contact."

6 -7. With the sixth nidāna, phassu, we pass from potentiality to actuality. Phassa literally means "contact" or `"touch." It refers to all experience that, under particular stimuli, begins to burn or blaze up in each of the six sensory fields we have mentioned.

For this reason the next nidāna is vedanā, feeling, the affective coloring of the perceptions, sensation as a whole. Here a new development begins, which we may regard

as the manifestation, the igniting, of the, so to speak, transcendental mania that appears in the guise of that particular desire or attachment forming the substratum of a given being's experience in given surroundings.

8. The nidāna that immediately follows feeling is therefore thirst, tanha. This awakens in the various sensory fields, and is nourished by contact, exactly like the flame that—

according to a text we have quoted—burns in every sense and includes the object, the

sense organ, the contact, and the impression that follows from it, even when it is neither

pleasurable nor painful but neutral.

27. Cr. H. C. Warren, Buddhism in Translations (Cambridge. M ass.,

1909). p. 212.

28, Dahtke, Buddh, als Weltansch., p. 61 [ [Buddhism, and Science. p.



9. And as "to burn" on this level is the same as "to be," but since the flame, in order to burn, needs material and depends on material and must have material, there follows the

ninth nidāna, upādāna. The term, literally, means "to embrace": it is an acceptance, a coming into possession in the sense of attachment or dependence. Thus many have

translated the word by "will" or by "affirmation" (anunayo), which is the opposite of detachment or rejection (vinayo). Therefore, just at this point the ahamkāra, the general category of the "belonging to self," adhyatmika (Pāli: ajjhattika). arises and comes into being: there arises the feeling of "I" or of the "per-son" (sakkāya) defined, by reference to this or that object, by the formula "this is mine, 1 am this, this is my self": here, then, take place the aggregations, the formation of the personality based on the five groups, which

are once again: the group of materiality (rupa ), including all that falls under the

dominion of the senses; the group of feeling (vedanā); the group of perceptions or representations or mental forms (sannā); the group of formations, tendencies, and, in

general, volition (sankhāra); finally, the group of consciousness itself, in so far as it is determined, conditioned, and individuated (vinnana). It is said: "Attachment (upādāna) is not the same as the five groups of attachment; and neither is attachment outside the five

groups of attachment. That which, in the five groups, is the cause of will, is affirmation, that is attachment."29 Thus samsāric personality is not made up of these five groups, but of that which in them is "craving of will,"30 of that which proceeds as the result of the fundamental element of the whole process, namely, thirst. This now joins with the

craving of the "daemon," and, at the moment of satisfying itself through the contacts, determines dependence; while from dependence, in turn, proceed the anguish, the

restlessness, and the fundamental fear of those who have not in themselves their own

principle and who desperately cling to sakkāya, to the person, to the "1." On the subject of "attachment," there is said to exist a kind of brooding and watch over the feelings that are experienced, be they pleasant, unpleasant, or neither unpleasant nor pleasant, and a

clinging to them. With this brooding and watch over the feelings and with this adherence

to them, there arises satisfaction (in a special, transcendental sense for, as we have seen, the feelings may be entirely neutral); this satisfying of the feelings is attachment.

Through this attachment originates "becoming."31

10. In fact, all the necessary conditions for the establishment of the person are


M a h.. 109.

30. Ibid..



Ibid., 38. In this connection we may here explain two important Buddhist notions!

that of s āsavā and that of prāpti (Skt.). Sāsavā, from āsava, means the co-intoxicant, or everything that lends itself to a development of "mania" or original "intoxicarion"; it is extended lo inctude both "good" and "had" states, and only "that which is not Included" and is not cointoxicant. and has the nature of pure transcendency (cf.

Dhammasang.. 1103. 1104). As for prāpti, this signifies assumption or incorporation: it is the primary adhesion by which a tendency that one has acquired exists potentially,

only awaiting the opportunity for appearing again, even when. through satisfaction, it

seemed to have disappeared. Cf. betow. p. t97-98.


now present, and with its actual becoming there occurs the act of synthesis for its definite solidification as an individual being, and of its "existence" in a literal sense: to stand or come out in an exteriorized existence. This constitutes the tenth nidāna, bhava, which literally means "becoming" and which has as its counterpart the next nidāna.

11. Birth, jāti, is often thought of also as a "descent."32 From the fifth to the tenth nidāna we are concerned with states that develop in a complementary manner to

embryonic life, starting from conception, with the determination of what in modern

philosophy would be called the a priori categories of experience, that is, the modes in

which this experience develops in space and time or in other conditions of existence. t is

noteworthy that the doctrine in question does not limit itself to the case of human and

terrestrial birth. Although it is evident that Buddhism has formulated the theory of

conditioned genesis for this case in particular, yet, in general, the possibility of a birth—

jati, the eleventh nidāna—must be considered not only on the plane of animal generation,

but also on that of "pure forms" (rupa) or on the plane "free from form" (arupa).33 In dealing with these cases, however, a modification of the preceding exposition is necessary

here and there so as to conform to the different circumstances. It must be emphasized,

however, that the Buddhist doctrine, like every really metaphysical teaching, goes far

beyond the singular narrowness of outlook prevalent in the West, and considers that the

human being is only one of many possible states of conditioned existence, just as

individual human existence is only one of many possible forms of individual existence

and, in itself, is simply a section of a current, of a santāna.

12. The last nidāna is jarāmarana, that is, decay (jarā). in this particular case meaning

"old age") and death (marana). The inseparable complement to birth (jāti) is decay and death. Omnia orta occidunt et aucta senescunt: "becoming generates, the become grows old and dies."34 According to the texts, not theoretically, but by direct experience, by an absolute liberating vision, the "clear, immaculate eye of truth" apprehends at a particular moment the meaning hidden in these words; "All that has origin has also an end.""

The chain of conditioned genesis has now gradually brought us to the world of

contingency, of eternal impermanence, of agitation, of individuality, which is an illusion

and purely a name, of life, which is mixed with death and which is parched by anguish

and by radical privation or insufficiency; to the world in which there is no liberty, in

which beings, in the grip of craving, either "leap hither and thither like


Samyutt., t2.2.


Cf., e.g.. Majjh., 9.

34. Ibid.,



Ibid.. 56; 74; Digha, 2t.2.10 .


hares caught in a snare,"36 or are lost, as "arrows shot by night." In these terms, he who declared that he was able to "explain all life from its foundations"37 has ex-pressed the teaching that comprises the first two truths of the Ariya, that is dukkha, agitation as the root of all suffering, and its underlying tanhā, craving or desire.

Now that we have referred to the various possibilities of "birth," we must emphasize that while Buddhism recognizes the existence of another world, or rather, of other worlds,

of other conditions of existence beyond this world, these celestial worlds are also

considered subject to dukkha. Divine entities (deva) exist in their hierarchies like those of the angels of Western theology, but they are not immortal beings. Although their

existence may he indefinitely long compared with the life of a man (devia dīghāyukā) yet

even for them there will be jarāmarana, decline and dying. This is to be understood in the

sense of the general Hindu teaching on the cyclical laws of the cosmic periods in which

was put forward the alternate reabsorption and emanation of all manifested forms,

including the highest, into the unmanifested principle, superior and anterior to them all.

We know also that the ancient Western traditions, with their doctrine of the aeons, of the

saecula and of the cosmic years, were acquainted with similar views.

In passing, it is worth mentioning that there occurs in Buddhism a personification of

the princeps hujus mundi in the shape of M āra. If M āra is etymologically derived from M rtyu, the ancient god of death, here he appears as the power that stands at the root of the whole samsāric existence, asserting himself wherever there is passive identification,

attachment, bond of desire, satisfaction, on whatever plane of existence or in whatever

"world," even, therefore, in the spiritual world,38 Māra, who has three daughters—Tanha, Rati, and Arati, that craving, love, and hate—is he who sows the pastures where beings,

once enticed, satisfy themselves; hut in the moment of their satisfaction they fall into his power39 and, paralyzed by mania, reenter without rest the flux of transient existence."

M āra is also an incarnation of the ephemeral character of samsāric existence, and

therefore, as the god of death, when the moment comes he surprises people and carries

them off, while they are busy with this or that, "like the inundation of a sleeping

village.' 41 Māra is closely related to "ignorance." He can act so long as he remains unknown. "This man knows me not"—this is the condition under which he works. The

moment the unclouded eye perceives him, however, his power becomes paralyzed.42

36. Dhammapada.


37. Majjh.,


3g. Samyutt., 22.63: 35.t14: M ahavagga (Vin.). 1.11.


Itivuttaka, 14.

40. Majjh.,


41 Dhammapada, 287

42. M ahāvagga (Vin.). 1.11.2; 1.13.2; M ajjh., 49, etc.


The great practical significance of the doctrine of paticca-samuppāda lies in the fact

that, through it we see that the conditioned and contingent world does not exist as

something absolute, but is itself, in its turn, conditioned, contingent; it is the effect of a process in which extraneous causes do not figure; a change, therefore, or a removal or a

destruction ts always possible.43 Created by deeds, the conditioned forms of existence

can be dissolved by deeds. Buddhist teaching considers, besides the descending series of

the "formations" from ignorance—called the "false road"----the ascending series of the dissolutions, called the "right road."''' While in the first series, resulting from ignorance the sankhāra are formed, and from these, "conscious ness," from consciousness, "name-and-form," and so on to both, decline, suffering, and death—in the second series, when

"ignorance" is destroyed, the ,sankhāra are destroyed; when the ,sankhāra are destroyed,

"consciousness" is destroyed, and so on to the conditioned removal of the ultimate effects, that is, of birth, decline, suffering, and death, or in other words, the law of

samsāric existence.45

t can now be understood why the attainment of the truth of conditioned genesis by

Prince Siddhattha—the truth, that is, that samsāra "is" not, but "is become"—was conceived of by him as a liberating illumination: "'t is become, it is become': as

something never heard before, this knowledge arose in me, vision arose in me, intuition

arose in me, wisdom arose in me, light arose in me." And it was also said on this same occasion: "When the real nature of things is made clear to the ardent, meditating ascetic, then all his doubts fall away, having realized what this nature is and what is it cause."46

And again: "When the real nature of things is made clear to the ardent, meditating

ascetic, he arises and scatters the ranks of Māra, like the sun which lights the sky."47 At this point the samsāric demonism comes to an end.

Now that the descending chain of the twelve nidāna has taken us to the plane of

samsaric existence lived by a finite being, we can consider the other interpretation of

these same nidāna that we have called "horizontal." We must now subdivide the twelve nidāna into four groups and refer them to more than one individual existence. The first group will then consist of the first two nidāna (avijja and sankhāra), which correspond to a samsāric heredity come to a particular being from another life. Avijjā, unawareness,

then refers to the "four truths," and it means the unawareness both of the contingency of the world and of the way out of it, while the sankhāra arc the predispositions created in a previous life lived in this ignorance. The second group refers, instead, to present

existence and includes the three nidāna, "consciousness,"


Samy utt., 12.1ff,20


Ibid., 12.3.


M ahāvagga (Vin.), 1.t.2.


Ibid., 1.1.3.


Ibid., 1.1.7.


"name-and-form," and "base of the six senses." all connected with the formation and development of the new life that takes on this heredity. The third group consists of the

four nidāna: "contact,''sensations, " "thirst," and "attachment" and refers to the normal life of the average man insofar as this confirms the samsāric state of existence by nourishing

the preexisting craving on further craving and by generating, through thoughts and

actions, energies that will appear in a new life. Finally, the last three nidāna: "(new) becoming," "birth," and "decay and death" refer to this new life being, as it were, effects.48 In regard to this interpretation, individual explanations of some of the nidāna are as follows: ignorance is ignorance of the four truths; the ,sankhāra are the formations or predispositions manifesting in the three fields of deed, word. and thought;

consciousness—vinnana—is the consciousness that relates to the sixfold base (to the six

senses); "name-and-form" is the psychophysical whole of the living man; contacts and feeling again refer to sensory experience; finally, upādāna is attachment to desire, or opinions, or belief in the "I," or belief in the miraculous efficacy of rules and rites.49

Although this "horizontal" interpretation should be kept in mind in order to clarify certain canonical contexts, it must be remembered that in character it is lower and more

external than the other vertical and transcendental interpretation, since it refers

exclusively to the samsāric plane; nor can it claim to be completely coherent. For

example, it is difficult to see why "becoming," "birth," and "decay and death" are not included in the middle group, which refers to present existence, but apply instead to a

successive existence, almost as if they were not valid either for the present life or for that in which ignorance and the sankhāra are placed; as if the successive existence did not again contain ignorance and the .sankhāra, conscious ness, sixfold base, etc., that is, the nidāna that are referred only to a previous existence or to the present existence that takes its heredity from the previous existence. The fact that the majority of Orientalists, in spite of this, have halted at this second interpretation without becoming aware of these

incoherencies, only shows the superficiality of their minds and their complete lack of

metaphysical sensibility.

Once the doctrine of paţicca-samuppāda has been understood as indicating the

conditioned nature of samsāric existence, then, as we have said, the third and fourth

truths of the Ariya follow directly. The third postulates the possibility of destroying the state generated through the twelve nidana; and the fourth concerns the method by which

this possibility can be realized and leads up to the achievement of awakening and


As a practical ascetic presupposition, the principle of immanence is valid here.


This is the interpretarion mainty followed by Nyanatiloka in his edition of the

Anguttara-nikāya, vot. I. p 29 I.

49. Samyutt..



It is suggestively expressed in an allegorical story about the "world's end." One of the Buddha's interlocutors says that he was once carried—with magical rapidity—further and

further on without succeeding in reaching the end of the world. The Buddha replies: "One can not, by walking, reach the end of the world"—and immediately passes to the

symbolical significance by adding: "where there is no birth nor decadence nor death nor rising nor perishing." By walking, by going—that is, along samsāra--one does not find the end of the world. For it is in oneself. The world ends when the intoxications or manias,

the āsava, are destroyed. And here the principle is stated; "In this fathom-length body, furnished with perception and consciousness, there is contained the world, the arising of

the world the end of the world, and the path which leads to the end of the world."50 The body taken as a whole is the concrete center of the samsāric experience of the world, yet

both in its physical and in its invisible, hidden sides all the nidāna are immanent. We can, however, find the roots of this experience and, furthermore, the powers that can

eventually cut off these roots, and are thus enabled to transform one mode of being into


In this connection the power of the "mind" is often emphasized; mind, that is, in a general sense, and not just psychological faculties. "What we are is the result of our thoughts mind is the foundation of all our conditions; they are mind-made."51 "The world is guided by consciousness, drawn along by consciousness, subject to the power of

consciousness that has arisen."52 It is the mind that "deceives man and kills his body."

Because of it, there "exists all that has a form." "The mind, our destiny, and our life, these three things are closely connected. The mind directs and guides, and determines our

destiny here below, on which depends our life: thus, in a mutual perennial succession."53

But the mind depends on the man: it may lead him to the world of agitation and

impermanence, yet to it Prince Siddhattha owed his awakening. his becoming a Buddha.54

We have now discussed all the necessary assumptions for the Buddhist ascesis, both

as ascesis in general and as the Ariyan Doctrine of Awakening.

50. Angutt


4.46; 9.33.


Dhammapada, I.

52. Angutt.,

4.186; Samyutt., t.7.

53. Mahaparinirv.,


54. Ibid.



Determination of the Vocations

The Buddhist Way, as a whole, is signposted by samatha and vipassanā. Samatha mu st be understood as an unshakable calm, which is gained with the help of various disciplines,

particularly of mental concentration and control of thought and conduct; in attaining it, we still remain in the domain of an ascesis which, as we have said, need not in itself imply

any transcendental realization and which, therefore, may also be regarded as a form of

mastery and as an acquisition of strength for one who remains and acts in the world.

Vipassanā, on the other hand, indicates "knowledge"—clear perception, making for

detachment, of the essence of samsaric life and of its contingency and irrationality: the

noble, penetrating knowledge "which perceives rise and fall." If to this "knowledge" is added the calm and the control of samatha, then its development is assured and

transfigured, and the resut is the ascesis that leads to awakening. In any case, these two

factors are such that they reciprocally integrate each other.' Vipassanā is the indispensable condition for liberation.

The point of departure therefore consists in arousing this "knowledge" to some extent.

In this connection we can speak of a real and positive determination of vocations. It is a

widely held opinion that Buddhist "preaching" had a "universal. character, This is an error—it may he true superfīcially, and of later and altered forms of the doctrine, but not of essentials. Buddhism is essentially aristocrafic. We can see this in the legendary story in the canonical texts where the divinity Brahma Sahampati, in order to induce Prince

Siddhattha not to keep to himself the knowledge he had obtained, points out to him the

existence of "beings of a nobler kind" capable of understanding it. The Buddha himself finally recognizes this, in these terms: "And I saw, looking at the world with the

awakened eye, beings of noble kind and of common kind, acute of mind and obtuse of

mind, well endowed and ill endowed, quick to

I. Cf. Angutt., .5.92-94


understand and slow to understand, and many who consider that enthusiasm for other

worlds is bad." There foflows a simile: as some lotus flowers grow in deep. muddy water, as others push up toward the surface of the water, yet others "emerge from the water and stand up, free from the water"—thus there are, in contrast to the mass of people, beings of a nobler kind .2 They are, in other words, those who hold fast, who have not been entirely blinded by "ignorance." but who preserve a memory of the origins. Water, moreover, is a general traditional symbol of inferior nature that is bound to passion and becoming—

whence, be it noted in passing, is derived the symbolism used by Buddhism of the man

who walks on the "waters" without sinking down in them, or of the man who crosses the waters.

It is, then to an elite that Buddhism originally addressed its Doctrine of Awakening; a

doctrine that is, in fact, a touchstone. Only the "noble natures," the "noble sons" react positively. This is now the place to discuss the problem of the "vocations."

Let irs consider first the idea of "renunciation,. which is. in some ways, the key to the whole ascesis. "Renunciation" may have many different meanings, depending on

circumstances. There is a renunciation of an inferior kind, which is the one that—as we

said at the beginning—recurs in the ascetic forms that have developed in the West since

the decline of the ancient classical and Aryan world. This renunciation signifies

"mortification"; it means painful separation from things and pleasures that are still desired; it is a kind of masochism, of taste for suffering not entirely unmixed with an ill-concealed resentment against all forms of health, strength, wisdom, and virility. This kind of renunciation, in fact, has often been the strength. born of necessity, of the world's

disinherited, of those who do not fit in with their surroundings or with their own body or

with their own race or tradition and who hope, by means of renunciation, to assure For

themselves a future world where, to use a Nietzschean expression, the inversion of all

values will occur. En other cases, the motive for renunciation is mainly supplied by a

religious vision: the "love of God" induces renunciation and detachment from the joys of the world; a detachment that even here keeps, in the most favorable circumstances, its

painful and almost violent character with regard to all that one would naturally tend to

wish and desire. The fact that asceticism is generally associated, in the West, with such

attitudes is one of the many consequences of the low level to which, as we have already

mentioned, the "Dark Age," kali-yuga, had fallen.

The Ariya type of renunciation, presupposed by the Buddhist Doctrine of Awakening,

is of a very different character. Even the term normally used—pa viveka, viveka—means

detachment, scission, separation, aloofness, without any particular

2. Maijjh., 26: Mahāvagga (Vin.), 13.2-12; Angutt., 4.3a. where the simite is apptied to the Awakened One himsetf and is continued with the foltowing addition: "Thus I atso, born

in the wortd, grown up in rhe wortd, have overcome the wortd and stand. untouched by

the world."


affective tone.' Apart from this, the example of the Buddha himself is decisive. He left the world and took to the ascetic road, not as one forced to reject the world through necessity, indigence, or dangers', but as the son of a king, a prince, "in the first flower of life,"

healthy, endowed with "happy youth," possessing all that he could desire.' Neither religious visions of any description, nor hopes of a hereafter played any part in his

decision: it came inevitably from the firm reaction of a "noble spirit" to the lived experience of samsāric existence. One text, here, is quite definite: it says that, on the path of the Ariya renunciation is not made by reason of the "four misfortunes": disease, disasters, old age, or the loss of dear ones—but by reason of the knowledge that the world

is contingent, that one is alone and without help in it, that it is not one's own, and finally, that it is in the grip of an eternal insufficiency, unsated and burning with thirst.6

t is now easy to see how exoteric and popular are some of the views ascribed to the

doctrine. Such views have led some Westerners to the conclusion that Buddhism begins

and ends by showing that "the world is pain" and hence appealing to man's natural tendency to flee pain until he is induced to prefer the "nothing." For fhe same reason the legend of the four meetings—according to which Prince Siddhattha was persuaded to

renounce the world after seeing a newborn baby, a sick man, an old man, and a dead

man—is to be taken with great reserve. Causes such as these can only occasionally

produce a reaction, which in any case will eventually transcend them. And the same must

be said of the more general theme of the "divine messengers"—consisting likewise of new-birth, disease, old age, and death: through failure to understand their message one

would be destined to the "infernal regions..'

This is only superstructure. The essential, rather, is to confront a man with a relentless

analysis of himself, of the conditioned nature of common existence in this world, or any

other world, and to ask him: "Can you say: this am I? Can you really identify yourself with this? Is it fhis that you wish?" This is the moment of fundamental testing, this is the touchstone for distinguishing the "noble beings" from average


Cf. Angutt., 3.92. It should be noted in this passage how detachment oceurs as a

resutr of the presence or a positive element—it states: since one's own conduct is rigbt.

false conduct is got rid of: since one possesses true understanding, false understanding

is got rid of; since the manias are shut out, the manias are got rid of.


M aj jh., 68.

5. Ibid.; this describes all that Prince Siddhattha is supposed to have enjoyed. atthough

with an intenrionat exaggeration, et. Angutt, 3.38.


Majjh., 75; 82,


Majjh., 130; Angutt., 3.35. It is easy to see that (he references to the infernat regions that are found in tbese texts are simply popular references, without logical

connection with the central ideas expressed there. The "divine messengers" can only impress on the mind that terresrrial life is finite and contingent; One cannot sec why

those who either do nor see the messengets or who limit themselves to taking note of

that truth without deducing any special consequence, that is, by accepting contingent

life as such, shoutd be punished with atl sorts of fantas13ic torments hereafter.


beings; it is here that they are separated according to their natures; it is thus that their vocations are decided. The test in Buddhism has various stages: from the most immediate

forms of experience the disciple proceeds to higher levels, to supersensible horizons, to

universality, to celestial worlds," where the question is repeated: Are you this? Can you identify yourself with this? Can you satisfy yourself in this? Is this all rhat you wish? The noble being always ends by answering in the negative. And then the "revolution" occurs.

The disciple leaves his home, renounces the world, and takes the ascetic path.

This clearly shows the significance of the other renunciation, the Ariya renunciation.

This is based on "knowledge" and is accompanied by a gesture of disdain and a feeling of transcendental dignity; it is qualified by the superior man's will for the unconditioned, by the will, that is, of a man of a quite special "race of spirit," Such a man, then, does not reject life—life that is interwoven with death—for "mortification." thereby doing violence to his own being, but because it is too little for him, and when he remembers himself, he

feels it to be inadequate to his real nature. At such a moment it is natural to renounce, to cut oneself off, to stop taking part in the game. The only feeling there can be is one of

scorn, when a man becomes aware that he has been deceived and finally discovers the

author of the deception: it is like the blind man who, while seeking a clean white cloak,

but, being unable to see, is given and accepts a discolored and filthy one, and who, when

his eyes are opened, is horrified and turns against the man who had made him wear it and

who had profited by his blindness. "For a long time, indeed, I was deluded, deceived, and defrauded by my heart."9 On the path of awakening, the point of departure is positive: it is not the forcible bending of a human being who is only conscious of being a man, aided

and abetted by religious images and apocalyptic, messianic, or superterrestrial visions; it is rather, an impulse that springs from the supernatural element in oneself that—although

it has been obscured during the passage of time—still survives in "noble beings" beyond their samsāric nature, like the lotus that, poised above the water, is free from the water.

These are the beings who, according to a text, gradually realize that the world unveiled by ascesis is their natural place, "the land of their fathers," and that the other world—this world—is, instead, a foreign land to them.10

A short time ago we referred to a "quite special race of spirit," We must explain this point and, together with it. the specific place of the Ariya. The touchstone, as we have

said, is the vision of universal impermanence, of dukkha and anattā, Now, it is not said that the realization that something is impermanent is eo ipso a motive for detachment

from and renunciation of it. This depends, rather, on what we have else-

8. For the series of objects of possibte identification see M ajjh.,


9 . Majjh., 75; Dhammapada, 153-54.

10. Jataka, 168.


where called the "race of the spirit," which is at least as important as that of the body."

Here are some examples. A "telluric" spirit may consider as quite natural a dark self-identification with becoming and with its elementary forces. to such an extent that it does not even become aware of its tragic aspect—as sometimes occurs among the Negroes,

savage peoples, and even among certain Slays. A "Dionysian" spirit may consider

universal impermanence of little account, opposing to it carpe diem, the joy of the moment, the rapture of a corruptible being who enjoys from instant to instant corruptible

things, a joy so much the more acute hi that—as fhe well-known song of the Renaissance

has it—"di doman non v'ecertezza." A "lunar" spirit, religiously inclined, may in its turn see in the contingency of life an atonement or a test, in face of which it should behave

with humility and resignation, having faith in the impenetrable divine will and

maintaining the feeling of being a "creature. created by it out of nothing. By others still this death of ours is considered as a completely natural and final phenomenon, the

thought of which should not for a moment disturb a life turned toward earthly aspirations.

Finally, a "Faustian," "titanic," or Nietzschean spirit may profess "tragic heroism," may desire becoming, and may even desire the "eternal return." And so on. From these

examples, it is easily seen that "knowledge" produces "detachment. only in the case of a particular race of spirit, of that which in a special sense we have called "heroic" and which is not unconnected with the theory of the bodhisatta. Only in those in whom this

race survives and who wish it, can the spectacle of universal contingency be the principle

of awakening, can it determine the choice of the vocations, can it arouse the reaction that follows from "No, I want no more of it," from "This does not belong to me, I am not this, this is not my self' extended to all states of samsāric existence. The work, then, has one

single justification: it must be done, that is to say, for the noble and heroic spirit there is no other alternative. Katam karanīyam—"that which has to be done has been done"—this is the universally recurring formula that refers to the Ariya who have destroyed the āsava

and achieved awakening.

At this point anattā, the doctrine that denies the reality of the "I,. shows us a further aspect. The meaning of this doctrine here is simply that in the "current" and in the contingent aggregation of states and functions which are normally considered as "I," it is impossible to recognize the true self, the supersensible ātmā of the pre-ceding Upanisadic

speculation; this true self is considered as practically nonexistent for the common man.

Buddhism does not say: the "I" does not exist—but rather: one thing only is certain, that nothing belonging to samsaric existence and personality has the nature of "I." This is explicifly stated in the texts.

11. On the theory of the "races of rhe spirit," see our Sintesi di dotrina della razza (M itan, 1941), pp. 1t3-70) from whieh is taken the terminology of the phrases to



This is the scheme. The Buddha repeatedly makes his questioner recognize that the

bases of common personality—materiality, feeling, perception, the formations,

consciousness—are changeable, impermanent, and nonsubstantial. After which, the

question is asked: Can what is impermanent, changeable, and nonsubstantial be con-

sidered thus: this is mine, this am I, this is my self? The answer is always the same—as if it were perfectly natural and obvious—Certainly not, Lord. The conclusion is then more

or less of this type: "All matter, all feeling, all perception, all formations, all

consciousness, past, present, or future, internal or external, gross or subtle, low or high, far or near, all should be considered, in conformity with reality and with perfect wisdom,

thus: `This is not mine, this am I not, this is not my self.' Thus considering, the wise,

noble disciple does not identify himself with materiality, does not identify himself with

feeling, does not identify himself with perception, does not identify himself with the

formations, does not identify himself with consciousness. Not identifying himself, he is

detached. Being detached, he is freed."12 The same theme has several variations in the carton, but the sense and the scheme are always the same. t is quite clear: that all the

probative force of reason is a function of this implicit presmise: that by "1" we can only understand the unconditioned, that is to say, something that has nothing whatsoever to do

with samsaric consciousness or with its formations. Only then do the texts become clear

and logical. Only then can it be seen, for ex-ample, how it is that what is impermanent

should always appear also as painful, and how this latter correlation is established: "That which is painful is void of that which is void of Ì,' I am not, it is not mine, it is not my self—thus it is apprehended, in conformity with reality and with perfect wisdom."13 Only in this way can we understand the passage from the ascertainment to a reaction and an

imperative: recognizing the impermanence of the elements, of the groups of craving, of

the senses, being convinced that they are not "1," being convinced that "they are in flames," the "wise Ariyan disciple. feels dis gust; disgusted, he becomes detached; being detached, he is freed: he has had enough of form, of finite consciousness, of feelings, of

the other khandha, of objects, of contacts, of the emotive states that proceed from them, whether they are pleasant, painful, or neutral: he becomes indifferent in face of them and

he seeks their ending.14 Here is a saying: What is impermanent, what is anatta, what is

compounded and conditioned, this does not belong to you, you should not desire it. you

should put it away—"the putting away of it will be greatly to your benefit, will lead to your well being": there can he no joy in it nor desire for it.15 It is clear thaf all this will not be sufficient evidence for everyone, The tacit but indis-12.

Majjh., 22: 109.


Samyutt.. 22.15; cf. 16 and 17. 49, 59.76; 35.2, 3.

14. Ibid.,


9: 35 3, 12; Mahāvagga (Vin.). 1.21.4.


Samyutt., 22.33; 23.25—33.


pensable prerequisite is a higher consciousness_ When this dawns, then in an entirely

natural manner, not from painful renunciation or "mortification," hut almost accompanied by an Olympian bearing of the spirit. there occurs viveka, detachment.16 Realizing this higher consciousness, it is said that one who attempts to find an "I" or something similar to the "I" (attena vā attaniyena) in the sphere of the senses is like a man who, when looking for heartwood, approaches a large tree and cuts it down hut who, although not

taking the trunk or new wood or branches, takes only the bark where there is no core and

certainly none of the hard wood that he is seeking." The "I," then, is like this hard primordial essential substance, and this "I" is the fundamental point of reference for Buddhism.

There is more to it than this. In speaking of "Olympian bearing" and of detachment we should not think of something like the indifference of a badly understood Stoicism. The

Ariyan "renunciation" is fundamentally based on a will for the unconditioned considered also as liberty and power. This is apparent from the texts. The Buddha, while challenging

the opinion that the stems of ordinary personality are self, asks his interlocutor if a

powerful sovereign wishing to execute or proscribe one of his subjects could do so. The

answer is naturally, yes. Then the Buddha asks: "You who say: 'materiality is my self,' do you now think that you have this power over materiality: `Thus let my materiality be, thus

let my materiality not be'?"—and the question is repeated for the other elements of the personality. The interlocutor is forced to answer no, and thus this view that the "I" is materiality, feeling, and so on comes to he confuted." The basic idea is in no doubt here: not only the simple fact that body, feeling, consciousness, etc.. are changeable, but that

this changeability is independent of the "I," that it is such that, in the normal way, in samsaric existence, the "I" has little or no control over it—it is this fact that demands the statement "I am not this, this is not mine, this is not my self.. On this is based the saying:

"Renounce what does not belong to you."19 This argument recurs in other passages. In particular it occurs in the second exposition of the doctrine given by Prince Siddhattha at Benares: "If materiality were the Ì,' it would not be subject to disease, and regarding it one could say: `Let my materiality be thus, let my materiality not be thus.' But since

materiality is subject to disease, and since, one cannot say regarding it: `Let my

materiality be thus, let my materiality not be thus,' therefore materiality is not the 'I"';20

and the same formula is repeated for the other khandha. Elsewhere we find the attributes

"power-less," "falling." "feeble," "infirm" associated with impermanence, anicca. t is by 16.

Cf. Majjh., t06.


Ibid., 29.

18. Majjh.,


19. Ibid., 22.

20. Mahavagga (Vin.) 1.6.38, 39-41: Samyutt., 22.59,


considering these particular characteristics that attachment vanishes and the identification provoked by mania is interrupted.21

The correspondence of the Buddhist view with that of archaic Greece should be noted

here. It is the eternal ""privation" (οτέ ησις), the eternal impotence of things that become, that "Lae and are not," that brings about renunciation. "By recognizing that matter is impotent, unsatisfied, miserable, and that so are feeling, perception, the formations, and

consciousness, by perceiving that in them that determines the clinging tendencies of the

mind: by reflecting, destroying, abandoning it and by be-coming detached from it, I know

that the mind is liberated"—so says the ascetic." One who considers materiality as self or materiality as belonging to self, or self as in materiality, or materiality as in self—

continues the text—is like a man, carried off by a powerful alpine torrent, who believes he can save himself by grasping the grass or weak rushes on the banks.23 He will he dragged


On these grounds we can speak, in connection with Buddhist realization, of a will not

only for liberation, but also for liberty, unconditionedness and unbreakability. One of the more common descriptions of an ascetic is that he is a man who, having broken each and

every bond, is free. The ascetic is one who avoids the snare, as does a wild beast, and so

does not fall into the power of the hunter, but "can go where he will"—while the others, those who are subject to craving, "can be called lost, ruined, fallen into the power of harm."24 The ascetic is one who has gained mastery over himself, who "has his heart in his power, and is not himself in the power of his heart."25 He is the master of his thoughts. "Whatever thought he desires, that thought will he think, whatever thought he does not desire, that thought will he not think."26 As a perfectly tamed elephant, led by his mahout, will go in any direction; as an expert charioteer, with a chariot ready on good ground at a crossroad and harnessed to a thoroughbred team, can guide the chariot where

he wishes; or as a king or a prince with a chest full of clothes, may freely choose the

garment that most pleases him for the morning, the afternoon, or the evening—so the

ascetic can direct his mind and his being toward one state or another with perfecf

freedom.27 Here are a few more similes: the ascetic is like a man burdened with debts, yet

he not only pays them off but manages to gain a surplus on which to build his own life; or

he is like a man enfeebled by disease, his body without strength, but who succeeds in

removing the disease and regaining his strength; or, he is like a slave, dependent on

others, but


Cf. Majjh., 75; 74.


Majjh.. 112.

23.Samyutt., 22.93.

24. M ajjh., 25.

25. Ibid.,



Angutt., 4.35; Majjh . 20.


M ajjh.. tt9; 32.


who is able to free himself from his slavery and feel master of himself, independent of

others, a free man who can go where he will; or, again, he is like a man traveling through

desert places, full of snares and dangers, who yet arrives safe and sound at his destination without losing anything.28 To complete the list of what a noble spirit regards as valuable, let us remember these other epithets of the Awakened One: "he who has laid down the

burden." the "unshackled one," the "unhooked one,. the "es caped one," the "unhinger," the

"remover of the arrow," the "leveller of the trench," "he who escapes from the whirlwind."

The whirlwind is a synonym for the faculties of craving;29 the arrow should be understood

as the burning, the thirst for living, which has deeply wounded and poisoned the higher

principle; the trench is samsāra, which appears here with the same meaning that

"becoming" and "matter" possessed in the ancient Hellenic concept: Penia, perennial insufficiency and "privation," in-ability of self-fulfillment, or, in the symbolism of Oknos: a cord that while being woven is continually consumed."

t is thus that "the noble sons moved by confidence" recognize their vocation and come to apprehend the "Ariyan quest": "Thus, 0 disciples, a man, himself subject to birth, observing the misery of this law of nature, seeks that which is without birth, the incomparable safety, extinction; himself subject to decay, observing the misery of this law of nature, seeks that which is without decay, the incomparable safety, extinction; himself

subject to death, observing the misery of this law of nature, seeks that which is without

death, the incomparable safety, extinction; himself subject to pain and to agitation,

observing the misery of this law of nature, seeks that which is without pain, the without-

agitation, the incomparable safety, extinction; himself subject to stain, observing the

misery of this law of nature, seeks that which is without stain, the incomparable safety,

extinction. This, 0 disciples, in the Ariyan quest.'

Returning to the problem of the determination of the vocations, we have said that the touchstone consists in the identilication or nonidentification of oneself with a whole

hierarchy of modes of being, and the point of departure—anatta--has already been

implicitly indicated. Nonidentification of oneself not only with materiality, with feeling, with perception, with the formations, but nonidentification also with consciousness itself, if regarded as individuated consciousness—that is to say, the overcoming of the belief in

"pefsonality," attanuditthi , and in its persistency—this is the first test put to the noble nature.32 To remain in this belief is a sign of a form of "ignorance" (the "ignorance" whose transcendental base, in the conditioned

28. Ibid..


29. Samyutt.,


30. M ajjh.,


31. Ibid..



Majjh, 44; 64


genesis, is vinnana) and of being subject to one of the "five lower fetters."33 One places oneself at a distance until there is a feeling that one's own person is a simple instrument of expression, something contingent that in due course will dissolve and disappear in the

samāric current, without the supermundane, Olympian nucleus in ourselves being in the

slightest degree prejudiced. The doctrine of the inessentiality of the person, of the psychological and passional "I," must then result in a mind that becomes pacified, serene, uplifted, clarified,34 It should not be a cause of dismay, but a source of superior strength.

It is said that only the man who has experienced this doctrine has strength enough to cross the eddying current and to reach the further shore in safety; a weak man, who is incapable

of this, is one whose mind has not been liberated by the working of the doctrine.35

Therefore; consciousness must not be considered as one's self, nor one's self as possessed

of consciousness, nor consciousness as in one's self, nor one's self as in consciousness—

any more than one should so consider the other khandha: feeling, perception, and the formations.36

Second point: The road toward any pantheistic promiscuity, any naturalisfic

mysticism, any confusion with the universe, any variety of immanency, must be resolutely

barred. The aim of this further test of the noble spirit is to set it definitely at a distance from the confused spiritual world that is characteristic of many Western minds, decayed

from all that is classical, clear, Doric, virile. It is a singular fact that, in the modern world, this pantheistic disintegration, this return of man to a state of mind confused by total

reality or by "Life," is habitually considered to be a characteristic of the Eastern mentality, particularly of the Hindu. The fact of the existence and diffusion in the East of the

Buddhist Doctrine of Awakening is sufficient to confute this opinion. Even if in pre-

Buddhist India—and particularly with the later speculation on the Brahman—this false

development was to a certain degree prevalent (and it occurs again, later, in some popular

forms of Hinduism)--yet it is to be considered as an anomaly, against which Buddhism

together with Sāmkhya afforded a salutary reaction. Similar phenomena occur, moreover,

in the ancient M editerranean world with the decline of the earlier Olympian and heroic

traditions. This is a general phenomenon, and talk of "Oriental pantheism" should he left either to the uninstructed or to people of had faith.

Therefore: antipantheisrn. "To take nature as nature, to think nature, to think of nature, to think `nature is mine"' is to exult in it: to take unity or multiplicity, this or that cosmic or elemental force. and finally to take all as all, to think all, to think of all, to think "all is mine" is to exult in it—this pantheistic identification is, for Buddhism,

33. Ibid.,


34. Samyutt.,


35. M ajjh.,


36. Ibid.,



yet another sign of "ignorance," a mark of one who "has known nothing," of one who is

"a common man, without understanding for the doctrine of the Ariya, inaccessible by the doctrine of the Ariya.""

On this basis we can say more generally that the Buddhist Doctrine of Awakening

demands an antimystical vocation. It is true that the tern mystikos—from µυηιν, "to

close," "to lock" (in particular, the lips)—originally referred to the Mysteries and alluded to what is secret, hidden, not to be spoken. The current sense of the term is, however,

quite different: today mysticism is used for the tendency toward confused identifications,

with emphasis on the moment of feeling and with none on the element of "knowledge"

and "clarity"; "experience" is certainly accentuated (usually in the face of dogma and tradition), but here it is prevalently an experience in which the sidereal and absolute

nucleus in the being is dissolved, submerged, or "trans-ported." For this reason, mystical ineffability, far from being connected with a really transcendental knowledge, is of those

who—to use Schelling's apt expression in fheir confused identification with one state or

another, not only do not explain experience, but become themselves subjects in need of

explanation. Thus, the mystical element, rather than being superrational, is often

subrational. We are in the play-ground of the spiritual adventures that take place on the

borders either of the devotional religions or of pantheistic evasions, whose manner is the

opposite of that of a strict ascesis and of the path of awakening of the Ariya.

Third point: n the modem world, those who fight the doctrines of immanence and

who conceive themselves "defenders of the West" against "Oriental pantheism,"

normally take "transcendency" as their point of reference and as their watch-word, Their transcendency is, however, very relative, as it proceeds from the pre-dominant

theological-theistic concept. Even in this Buddhism finds a touchstone for the vocations.

We have already seen that Prince Siddhattha was induced to divulge his knowledge after

recognizing that, side by side with common beings, there are nobler ones and "many

who consider that enthusiasm for other worlds is bad." The Doctrine of Awakening is

presented as a doctrine that teaches men to make them-selves free not only of the

material "I," but also of the immaterial and spiritual "I."38 Any form of moral conduct and any practice or rite whose motive is hope in a posthumous continuation of the

personality is considered to be another of the lower fetters.39 Thus, beyond a rabble of

faint-hearted, restless, obtuse, and unvirile penitents,40 the texts speak of ascetics and

priests who "through fear of existence, through hate of existence, go round and round

existence, almost as a dog, tied with a leash to

37. Majjh,


38. Digha.



Majjh., 16.

40. Ibid.,



a solid column or attached to a post, goes round and round this column or post."41 The words become stronger when they deal with rhose ascetics or priests who "profess

attachment to the hereafter" and who think: "Thus shall we be after death, thus shall we not be after death," just as a merchant, going to market, thinks: "From this 1 shall get that, with this I shall gain that."42 Plotinus, speaking against moralistic concept, said: "Not to be a good man, but to become a god—this is the aim,' 43 but the Doctrine of Awakening

goes still further.

Beyond the human bond is the divine bond, attachment to this or that state, to a state

that is no longer human, corporeal, or terrestrial, but that is still conditioned existence.

These states in the Hindu tradition are personified in the various gods and in their seats; they are equivalent to the seraphic and angelic hierarchies of Judeo-Christian theology,

therefore. to what, in a more popular concept, is called "paradise." The Doctrine of Awakening aims at surmounting these states: it tests the vocations by asking at what point

one can apprehend that these very states are inadequate in the face of a will for fhe

unconditioned, and that to have them as the extreme point of reference and as the supreme

justification of existence is still a bond, an insufficiency, a thirst, a mania. Thus, in the canon, these words appear: "You should feel shame and indignation if ascetics of other schools ask you if it is in order to arise in a divine world that ascetic life is practiced under the ascetic Gotama."44

Nor is this all. The very notion of "existence" is attacked, the stronghold of all theistic theology. Here, as we have said, Buddhism is no more than faithful to the purely

metaphysical, superreligious teachings of the preceding lndo-Aryan tradition. In this, the

personal god, as pure existence, himself belongs to manifestation and cannot therefore be

called absolutely unconditioned. Existence has as its correlative nonexistence. For this

reason only that which is beyond both existence and nonexistence, which is above and

outside these two transcendental categories, can be understood as really unconditioned. So

also for Buddhism this is the extreme point of reference, not the belief in existence, not

the belief in nonexistence. Attachment to one or other of these is a bond, a limitation. "By contemplating, according to reality, the origination and cessation of both of these" one must be capable of over-coming both." Even "universal consciousness" belongs, in the Buddhist teaching, to the samsāric world; it is a variety of samsāric consciousness.

This view is well illustrated in the texts by means of various similes. There is, for

example, the story of one who, wishing to know where the elements are com-

41. Ibid..


42. Ibid.


Plotinus, Enneads. 1.2.4, 7.


Angutt., 3.15.


Majjh., 1 I.

pletely annihilated, goes to the gods and passes from one hierarchy to another, finally

reaching the world of the great Brahma, the supreme god of being. But it is not in the

power of Brahmā to answer him. He sends the ascetic to the Buddha, telling him, in

addition, that he has done ill to have left the Sublime One and to have asked this

knowledge of another, It is the Buddha and not Brahmā who gives the answer. He

indicates the spiritual state of the arahant, invisible, endless, resplendent: here the

elements have nowhere to plant their roots, here "name-and-form" ceases with-out leaving residue.46 But there is a much more striking story, molded with the power of a

M ichelangelo. t is called the "visit to Brahmā."47 The Buddha arrives in the kingdom of Brahmā, of which it is said: "Here is the eternal, here is the persistent, here is the everlasting, here is indissolubility and immutability: here there is no birth nor old age, nor death, nor passing away and reappearance: and another, higher liberation than this there is not." To Brahmā, who affirms this, the Buddha says that Brahma himself is the victim of illusion and infatuation. But here M ara the malign, the god of craving and of death,

intervenes; he enters into one of the celestial beings in Brahmā's retinue and from here

speaks to the Buddha:

0 monk, beware of him. He is Brahma, the omniporent, the invincible, the

all-seeing, rhe sovereign, the lord, the creator, the preserver, the father of

all that has been and of all that will he. Long before you there were in the

world ascetics and priesrs who were enemies of the elements, of nature, of

the gods, of the lord of generation, of Brahma; rhese, at the dissolution of

the body, when their vital strengrh was exhausted, came ro abject forms of

exisrence. And therefore I counsel you, 0 ascetic: beware, O worthy one!

Whar Brahmā has said to you, accept it, lesr you contradict the word of

Brahma. Should you, 0 ascetic, contradict the word of Brahma, it would he

as though a man were to approach a rock and beat on it with a stick, or as

though a man, 0 ascetic. were to fall into an infernal abyss and to seek ro

grasp the earth with his hands and feet: rhus, 0 monk, would it befall you.

And Brahmā joins with M ara the malign, repeating:

1, 0 worrhy one, hold as eternal that which is truly eternal, as persistent, as

perennial, as indissoluble, as immutable that which is truly so; and where

there is no birth and decay, nor death, nor passing away and reappearance,

of rhis I say: here truly there is no birrh, nor decay and dearh, nor passing

away and reappearance; and since there is no other,


Digha, 11.67—85.


M ajjh.. 49; cf. atso Samyutt , t.4.


higher liberation, therefore I say: there is no other, higher liberation.

Therefore, 0 monk, speak if you will: you will certainly not discover

another, higher liberation, try as you wilf. If you take the earth, if you take

the elements as your standpoint, then you have taken me as your

standpoint, you have taken me as your basis, you must obey me, you must

yield to me; if you take, 0 monk, nature, the gods, the lord of generation as

your standpoinr. then you have taken me as your stand-point, you have

taken me as your basis, you must obey me, you must yield to me; if you

take, 0 monk, Brahma as your standpoint, then you have raken me as your

standpoint, you have taken me as your basis, you must obey me, you must

yield to inc.

At this point the antitheses build up to a cosmic and titanic grandeur ending with the

most paradoxical reversal of the point of view that is prevalent in Western religions. In

fact, while the desire of surpassing the very Lord of creation, from this point of view,

appears as something diabolical, the Buddha, instead, finds a diabolical plot in the exact

opposite, that is in the attempt to stop him in the region of being, to make this region an insuperable limit, beyond which it is both absurd and mad to seek a higher liberation,

Here it is the M align One in person who urges the belief that the personal God, the God of being, is the supreme reality, and who threatens the Bud-dim with the damnation that is

supposed already to have claimed other ascetics. And in another text48 his temptation

consists of inducing the Buddha to confine himself to the path of good works, rites and

sacrifices—to the path of theistic religions. But the Buddha discovers the plot, and speaks thus to M āra: "Well I know you, M align One, abandon your hope: 'He knows me not'; you are M ara, the M align. Arid this Brahma here, 0 M align One, these gods of Brahma: they

are all in your hand, they are all in your power, You. O M align One, certainly think: 'He

also must he in my hand, in my power!' I, however, 0 M align One, am not in your hand, I

am not in your power."

There follows a symbolical test. The personal God, the Hebraic "I am that I am," the God of being, whose essence is his existence, as such, cannot not be, that is, he is bound

to being, he is passive with respect to being. He has not the power to go beyond being. It

is here that the test occurs. Who can "disappear'? That is, who is lord both of being and of nonbeing? Who rests neither on the one nor on the other? Brahmā cannot disappear.

Instead, the Buddha disappears. All the world of Brahmā is amazed and recognizes "the

high power, the high might of the ascetic Gotama." Limitation is removed. The dignity of the atideva, of one who goes beyond the world of existence itself, not to mention the

"celestial" worlds, is demonstrated. t is only

48. Suttanipata,


49. Majjh..



left to M ara the malign to try in vain to dissuade the Buddha from spreading the doctrine

49 Here, then, is one of the extreme points in the test of the vocations: not to crave even the highest of all lives"—not only to pass from this shore to the other, but to apprehend that which lies beyond both.50 The words of the Awakened One are: "Nature, the gods,

the lord of generation, Brahmā, the Resplendent Ones, the Powerful Ones, the

Ultrapowerful Ones, all things, I have known, how unsatisfying are all things: this have I

recognized and 1 have renounced all things, abdicated from all things. detached myself

from all things, forsworn all things, disdained all things. And in this. 0 Brahma, not only am I your equal in knowledge, not only am I not less than you. but I am far greater than

you,"51 And the words: "This is not mine, This am I not, this is not my self" must be said by the "noble son" for the whole of that world too.52 It is still "samsāra."

Is a higher limit than this conceivable? For the Ariya it is conceivable. Attachment,

dependence, and enjoyment are to be eradicated also in respect of the supreme goal of the

Buddhist ascesis, that is to say, of extinction. Here is the final temptation and the final victory. Here the will for the unconditioned approaches the paradoxical. The ultimate

truth of the series is this: he who thinks extinction, he who thinks of extinction, he who

thinks "extinction is mine" and who rejoices in extinction—this man does not know extinction, does not know the path, is not to be counted among the "noble disciples."53

Even in this region to feel desire and attachment—it maybe a sublimated one—means not

to realize the place and signification of real liberation.

At the instant of understanding this one apprehends and intuits supermundane safety

and the end of anguish. One who thinks no longer either of existence or of nonexistence

and thus who is not attached to anything beyond, now trembles no more but reaches the

supermundane and supreme "security of calm."' He does not tremble and so does not crave—"not trembling, why should he crave?"55 This summit must be apprehended by

the "noble son," it must be his purpose. The strength and sureness of those who know no more anguish or fear is described as something that has a vertiginous and fearful effect

on others, both human and superhuman; when they are faced by those who have

conquered, and when they hear their truth, they become aware of their own unsuspected

contingency, and the primordial anguish bursts forth unchecked. They see the abyss.

50. Dhammapada, 383-85.

51. M ajjh., 49.

52. Ibid., 22.

53. Ibid., 1; 102.

54. Ibid., 140.

55. Ibid.


When a man is capable of experiencing all these meanings, then his vocation is

proved, he is on the road of personal revolution, he can attempt to follow the path that

was rediscovered by Prince Siddhattha. But in this connection there must be no illusion, particularly in modem man. This point must be quite clear: development in accordance with the Doctrine of Awakening implies something akin to a rupture or a halt. The symbolism we have discussed should be remembered: as long as one "goes" it is

impossible to reach the point where "the world ends." One must stop oneself dead. In some way an extra-samsāric element, called in Buddhism panna (Skt.: prajnā), the

opposite to avijja, must manifest itself. This element, with its presence, arrests the

"current," in the same way as the element avijja, unawareness, the state of mania and of

"intoxication," confirmed it. At this point already there occurs it pannatial or virtual suspension of all the elements influenced by a vii-I; it is not only a matter of a suspension, but also of an inversion of the current: the flux or vortex that had generated

the common man starts to generate a superior being, uttamapurisa: pannā becomes the

central element that transforms and purifies all the constituent forces of the personality, removing and destroying in them the element avijja" and the influence of the āsava.56

For this reason, the texts speak also of a special strength beyond knowledge, of a

"superior and powerful energy" (viriya), which differs from the normal human energies and which alone works the miracle of "liberation of the will by means of the will";57 it provides the strength for endurance and allows of advance toward supreme liberations.58

One of the aspects of M ahāyana Buddhism that represents a decline from the original

is the supposition that this element pannā (prajnā) is present in everyone; it considers each individual as a potential bodhisatta (Skt.: bodhisattva), that is, as a being capable of becoming a Buddha. Whatever from the standpoint of the doctrine may be said about it,

this view cannot in practice be said to be at all "in conformity with reality" (yatha-bhutam). The manifestation of this knowledge and of this strength, particularly in modern Western man, can rightly be called a kind of a "grace," in view of its marked

discontinuity when compared to all faculties and forms of consciousness, not only in

normal individuals but even in the most gifted of our contemporaries. The example of

Prince Siddhattha—that is to say, the fact that he had no need of masters, transmitted

doctrines, or initiations, to open the way to liberation, since the direct reaction of a noble spirit confronted with the spectacle of the contingency and burning of the world was

enough for the purpose—this example should lead no one to repeat the adventure of

Baron M unchhausen when he attempted to raise himself in the air by pulling himself

upwards by his hair. n one way or another


Cf .Stcherbatsky, Centrat Conception, pp. 50, 73-74.


,Samyutt, vot. 5, p. 272 (Pali Texr Society cdn.).


Mahāparinirv.. 16.


something must happen: a kind of profound crisis or break, or the receiving "grace," such as to provide a positive opportunity and a base for a "new life." It cannot he repeated often enough that the man of today, constitutionally, is profoundly different from the man of the ancient Aryan civilizations of the East. Views, such as that of M ahayana Buddhism

already mentioned, are better ignored if we do not wish to deceive ourselves or others.

In Buddhism, the importance of the moment is stressed in every way. "Knowledge," in a text, is likened to a flash of lightning. One is exhorted to "rise and awaken" when one perceives one's own passiveness, one's own indolence, "with-out letting the moment

pass"—if rhe right moment is allowed to pass, that moment when one would have been

able to overcome the force to which both men and gods are subject, the demon of death

will reassert his power.59 "Battle must be joined to-day---to-morrow we may he no more.

There is no truce for us with the great army of death. Only one who lives thus, struggling

untiringly day and night, achieves beatitude and is called a blessed sage."60 The

following simile is used to illustrate this state of mind: what would a king do, to whom it was announced that the mountains were crumbling and moving and overthrowing all

before them, closing in on his kingdom from the east, from the west, from the south, and

from the north, and who knew clearly how difficult it is to achieve the human state of


To conclude this section, we shall refer again to the attitude of the Doctrine of

Awakening toward the form of ascesis that is unilaterally connected with practices of

mortification and penance.

Buddhism opposes all forms of painful ascesis. Having considered the "many kinds of

intensive, painful bodily disciplines," Buddhism maintains that those who practice them,

"at the dissolution of the body after death, go down by evil paths to suffering and

perdition," since this is a "mode of living which brings present ill and future ill."62 The methods of "painful self-mortification," according to the doctrine of the Buddha, are useless, not only for the purpose of "extinction," but also for one who aspires to achieve some form of "celestial" existence.63 There are striking sketches of types of ascetics and of monks not unlike those who are found in Western asceticism and monasticism:

"Shrivelled, arid, ugly, pallid. emaciated [men], who present no attractions to the eye that sees them." They are afflicted by the "disease of constraint," since they lead this life, in point of fact, against their will, through a

59. Suttanipata. 2.10.t—3.

60. M ajjh., 131.

61 Samyutt., 3.3.

62. Majjh„ 45.

63. Ibid., 71.


false vocation, lacking the support of a higher consciousness 64 Fasting, mortification,

sacrifices, prayers, and oblations, none of these purifies a mortal who has not conquered

doubt and who has not overcome desire.65 Two extremes are avoided by those who

detach themselves from the world: "the pleasure of desire, low, vulgar, unworthy of the nature of the Ariya, harmful; self mortification, painful, unworthy of the nature of the

Ariya, harmful. Avoiding these two extremes, the middle way has been discovered by the

Accomplished One, the way which gives insight, which gives wisdom, which leads to

calm, to supernormal consciousness, to illumination, to extinction-'""6 In distinguishing what is praiseworthy from what is worthy of reproof, even in cases where saintly

knowledge has been attained, the fact of having attained it by means of self-torment is

declared to be reprehensible.°

The texts often give some account of the life led by Prince Siddhattha before his

perfect awakening. He too, ""before the perfect awakening, as yet imperfectly awakened, still only striving towards awakening," had had the thought: "Pleasure cannot be

conquered by pleasure: pleasure can be conquered by pain."68 And thus, having

abandoned his home against the wishes of his family, still "radiant, with black hair, in the flush of joyous youth, in the flower of manhood," unsatisfied by the truths taught by the various teachers of asceticism to whom he had in the first instance turned (these appear to have been followers of Sāmkhya), he devoted himself to extreme forms of painful

mortification. Having bent his will in all ways, "as a strong man, seizing another weaker man by the head or by the shoulders, compels him, crushes him, throws him down," he

began with the body and practiced suspension of the breath until he came near to

suffocation.69 Finding that this led nowhere, he practiced fasting, until he grew so thin

that his arms and legs resembled dry sticks, his spine a string of beads, with the vertebrae sticking out: his hair fell off, his eyes sank in, and his pupils shrank almost away, "like reflections in a deep well." He thus arrived at this thought: "All that ascetics or priests in the past have ever experienced in the way of painful, burning, hitter sensations, or that

they may be experiencing in the present or that they will experience in the future is no

more than this; further one cannot go. And yet with all (his bitter ascesis of pain I have

not attained the supermundane, the blessed riches of wisdom." There arose in him the

conviction: There must be another path to awakening, And it was a memory that allowed

him to find it: the memory of a day when, still in the midst of his people, seated in the


64, Ibid.,



Suttanipata, 2.2.1 I: Dhammapada, 14t.

66. Mahavagge (Vin.) 1.6.17; Samyutt., 42.t2: Majjh.. 139.

67. Samyutt., 52.12.

68. Majjh.,85.

69, We must note that here is meant obviously forms of breath retention emptoyed purety

as ascetic practices, not of those special hatha-yoga practices. with initiatory aims, or

which we have spoken in our book, The Yoga of Power (Rochester, Vt., 1992),


shade of a rose-apple tree, he had felt himself in a state of calm, clarity, balance, peace, far from desire, far from disturbing things. Then there arose in him "consciousness in conformity with knowledge: 'This is the way.'

This manner of the Buddha's ascesis is significant: it clearly shows the features of an

ascesis that is Aryan, "classical," clear, balanced, free from "sin" complexes and from

"bad conscience," free from spiritualized and sanctified masochism. In this connection it is worth noting that one of the maxims of Buddhism is that one who, being without

imperfection does not recognize, in conformity with truth: "In me there is no

imperfection," is far worse than one who, on the other hand, knows: "In me there is no imperfection." And a simile follows: a polished and shining bronze vessel that is not used or cleaned would, after a time become dirty and stained; similarly. one who is not aware

of his own uprightness is much more exposed to confusions and deviations of every kind

than one who is so aware.71 There is no question, here, in any way, of pride and self-

conceit; it is a question of a process of purification through a just and dignified

consciousness. This attitude should put in their place those who, through feeling

themselves to he hermits, penitents, poor, clothed in rags or through observing the most

elementary forms of morality, exalt themselves and believe that they are entitled to

despise others." The Ariyan ascesis is as void of vanity and stupid pride (which. as

uddhacca, is considered as a bond), as it is permeated with dignity and calm self-


This does not mean, however, that we should he under any illusion and believe rhat

exceptional inward energies are unnecessary in Buddhism and that the most severe self-

discipline should not be imposed. He who realized that the way of painful asceticism was

not the right one, was yet capable of satisfying himself that he was able to follow it to its extreme limit. Thus, at the moment in which the vocation is determined and one has the

sensation of the emergence of the element panna , one musr also have the strength to make an absolute and inflexible resolution. In the forest of Gosinga, on a clear moonlit

night, when the trees were in full blossom and gave the impression that celestial scents

were being wafted around, various dis ciples of the Buddha asked each other what type of

ascetic could adorn such a forest, and discussed this or that discipline and this or that

power achieved. When the Buddha was asked, he said: "An ascetic who, after the meal,

seats himself with his legs crossed, his body erect and resolves: Ì will not rise from here until my mind is without attachment and free from any mania: Such a monk can adorn the

forest of Gosinga."" In the canonical texts something similar to a "vow" is often mentioned in these terms: "In the confident disciple, who energetically trains himself in the order

70 Cf.. e.g.. Majjh.. 12, 36.


'bid , 5.

72. Ibid.,


73. Ibid.,



of the M aster, there arises this notion: 'Willingly may there remain of my body only skin

and tendons and bones, and let my flesh and my blood dry up: but until that which can be

obtained with human vigour, human strength, human valour has been obtained, l shall

continue to strive."74 Yet another text speaks of the desperate strength with which a man would struggle against a current, knowing that otherwise he would be carried into waters

full of whirlpools and voracious creatures." Struggle, effort, absolute action, iron

determination, all these are essential—but in a special "style." 11 is—let us again repeat—

the style of one who maintains his self-knowledge, who exerts his strength where it should

he exerted, with clear knowledge of cause and effect, paralyzing the irrational movements

of the mind, his fears and hopes and who never loses the calm and composed

consciousness of his nobility and of his superiority. t is in such terms that the Doctrine of Awakening is offered and recommended to those who "still remain steadfast"

74, Samyutt.. 12.22; Angutt., 8.13; 5 Majjh.,70.

75. Itivuttaka. 109.





The Qualities of

the Combatant and the "Departure"

The training or development (bhāvanā) presents in the Buddhist doctrine two stages. In

the first place, there are the kinds of discipline that, not being carried beyond a certain point, serve only for this life; they are distinguished from those that are considered as

"wisdom" and that relate to a more than human experience (uttari-manussa-dhamma).1

More important and more general, however, is the division of the whole ascesis into three sections: the preparatory section of "right conduct" (sila); the section of spiritual concentration and contemplation (samadhi); and finally, the section of "wisdorn" or transcendental knowledge and spiritual illumination (panna); (Skt.: prajnā).2

In what follows we propose to arrange the disciplines referred to in the texts into one

or other of these three sections in the manner most satisfactory for the reader. Our aim is not purely informative; we hope to provide also, for anyone who may he interested, some

practical guidance. The exposition, then, will he accompanied, where necessary, by an

interpretation based on what can be considered as "constant" in a careful comparison of the various traditions.

Before we discuss the instruments of the ascesis we must make some general

observations on the preliminary conditions required of the individual, apart from what has

already been said about the determination of the vocations.

The first point is that in order to aspire to awakening one must be a human being. The

possibility of achieving absolute liberation is offered primarily, according to Buddhism.

only to one who is born a man. Not only those who are in lower conditions of existence

than the human, but also those who are in higher conditions, such as the devil, the celestial or "angelical" beings, do not have this opportunity. While, on the one hand, the human condition is considered to be one of fundamental

1. Majjh., 53; Samyutt., 41.9 2. Cf.

Digha, 10. passim.


contingency and infirmity, on the other it is thought of as a privileged state, obtain-able only with grear difficulty—"it is a hard thing to be born a man."' The supermundane destiny of beings is decided upon earth: the theory of the bodhisattva even considers the

possibility of "descents" to earth of beings who have already achieved very high, "divine"

states of consciousness, in order to complete the work, As we shall see, liberation can

occur also in posthumous states: but even in these cases it is thought of as the

consequence or development of a realization or of a "knowledge" already achieved on earth. M an's privilege, as conceived by Buddhism along such lines, would seem to he one

that is connected with a fundamental liberty. From this point of' view man is potentially

an atideva, he is of a higher nature than the "gods," for the same reason as is found in the hermetic tradition;4 that is, since he contains in himself, not only divine nature to which angels and gods are tied, but also mortal nature, not only existence but also nonexistence: whence he has the opportunity of arriving at the supertheistic summit that we have

discussed, and which is in fact the "great liberation."

Those who desired to enter the order created by Prince Siddhattha were specifically

asked: Are you really a man?5 It is taken as a premise in this case that not all those who

appear to be human are really "men." The views, widespread in ancient ndia as

elsewhere, that in some men anima] beings were reincarnated—or vice versa: that some

men would be "reborn" in this or that "animal womb"—may be understood

symbolically:6 they refer, that is, to human existences whose central element is guided

entirely by one of those elemental forces that externally manifest themselves in the

normal way in one or other animal species. We have, moreover, already spoken of the

limitations arising out of the various "races of the spirit."

A third point is that an original condition imposed by the canon for admission into the

order was that of being of male sex. Eunuchs, hermaphrodites, and women were not

accepted.' The Ariyan road of awakening was considered as substantially and essentially

manly. "It is impossible, it cannot be"—says a canonical text8—"that a woman should arrive at the full enlightenment of a Buddha, or become a universal sovereign

[cakkavatti]"; likewise it is impossible for her to "conquer heaven, nature, and the universe," to "dominate celestial spirits.'"' The Buddha considered women insatiable in respect of Iwo things: sex and motherhood; so insatiable that they can-3. Dhammapada. 182.

4. Cf. Corpus Hermeticum. 9.4: 10.24—25.

5. Mahavagsa (Vin.), 1.76.1.

6. Cf. Bardo Tho dol, p. 54

7. Mahavagga (Vin.). 1.76.1; 2.22.4. It may he observed that the same limitations are considered for the ordination of Catholic priests.

8. M ajjh., 115.

9. Ibid.; Angutt, 1.20.


not free themselves from these cravings before death.10 He repeatedly opposed the entry

of women into the order: when he finally admitted them he declared that, as a flourishing

field of rice prospers no longer when a parasitical grass invades and spreads in the field, so the saintly life in an order does not prosper if it allows women to renounce the world—

and he tried to limit the danger by promulgating opportune rules." Later, however, less intransigent views became widespread: even in the canonical texts—in spite of these

words of the Buddha—there figure women who have entered into the current of

awakening and who expound the doctrine of the Ariya, until in the texts of the

prajnaparamita, instead of the simple mode of address "noble sons," there appears, without further ceremony, "noble sons and noble daughters"—a sign, among others, of the easing of the spiritual tension of original Buddhism.

We have now to discuss what are known as the five qualities of rhe combatant that are

required in the disciple;12 these involve both internal and external conditions. The first is the strength conferred by confidence (saddhabala): confidence, if we refer to historical Buddhism, in the fact that its founder was perfectly awakened and in the truth of its

doctrine; or, more generally, that there are beings who "have reached the summit, the

perfection; that they themselves, with their supramundane power, have apprehended both

this world and the other and are capable of promulgating their knowledge."13 In a simile of an "unconquerable frontier citadel," this confidence of the noble son is likened to the central tower of the stronghold that, with its deep foundations, gives protection against

enemies and strangers_"

Besides confidence, the "combatant" must he endowed with that "knowledge" and wisdom of the Ariya that "perceives rise and fall." Of this we have already spoken at length. Let us remember that, in an entirely general sense, by bodhisatta is meant one who, by means of this very knowledge, is already inwardly transformed, whose core is

already composed of bodhi or pannnā instead of samsaric forces.

Third, one must be genuine, not false, and one must be able to make oneself known

according to truth for what one is to the M aster or to one's intelligent codisciples. To have a pure bean, a free ductile mind—to be, symbolically, like a perfectly white cloth that can easily be dyed the desire., color without showing blemishes or imperfections."

t0. Angutt., 2.6.10.

1 I. Ibid., 8.51; Calla vagga (Vin.). 10.1. Other Buddhist expressions about women:

"seducers and astute, they destroy the noble tife" (Jataka, 263). "They are sensual, had, common. hate. , . Women arc continuatty in the power of the senses. Saturated with an impure and inexorable burning, they resemble fire which consumes all" (Jataka. 61).

And again: "The country dominated by a woman is to be despised. And so to he

despised is rhe being who becomes dominated by the power of a woman" (Jataka, 13).

The original doctrine of the Ariya was firmty antigynaecocratic.


Majjh., 90.


Cf. Samyutt, 42.13.

14. Angutt.,


15. M ajjh., 7; 56, etc.


Fourth we have viriya-bala, or virile energy (the root of viriya is the same as that of the Latin term vie, man in the particular sense, as opposed to homo), a strength of will, which here shows itself as the power of repelling unhealthy tendencies and states and of

promoting the appearance of healthy ones. Above all, one must rely on this strength to

replace delight in craving (kama-sukham) by delight in heroism (vira-sukham);16 a

substitution that is a basic point of the whole ascetic development: one must

fundamentally change one's attitude in such a way that the heroic pleasure becomes the

highest and most intense pleasure that the mind enjoys. Buddhism teaches: "Each man is master of himself—there is no other master: by ruling your-self you will find a rare and

precious master,"17 and again: "Not by others can one be purified";18 "alone you are in the world, and without help."19 Here again the viriya-bala provides the strength for

standing firm in face of all this, n Buddhism, there are no masters in the true sense of the word guru; there are only those who can point out the road that has to be followed entirely by one's own efforts: "t is for you your-selves to carry out the work: the Buddhas (only) instruct."20

The fifth quality of the Ariyan combatant: he "is firm, vigorous, well set up, neither depressed nor exated, balanced, fit to win the battle." The presence of blindness, deafness, or any incurable disease was, in the canon, a reason for nonadmission to the order.21 To

be old, ill, or needy are "unfavourable conditions for the battle.' "M anias to overcome by avoidance" is the heading given to those unfavorable states that arise in one who does not look after his own health and who does not take necessary measures to avoid physical

disturbances and troubles caused by surroundings.23 The loss of one's strength through

excessive abstinence is considered as one of the possible causes—to be avoided—of the

loss of tranquillity of spirit, and of eventually falling a victim in one of the many pastures sown with bait by the M align One.24 We have already spoken of the negative attitude of

Buddhism toward the path of "mortification": training in privation and pain is salutary, but only up to a certain point; in the same way, a craftsman heats an arrow between two fires

in order to make it flexible and straight, but he ceases when his purpose has been

achieved." Both excessive tension and excessive slackness must be avoided: "the strings must be neither too


Cf. ibid., 139.


Dhammapada. 160

15. ibid.. 165.

t9. M ajjh., 82.

20. Dhammapada.


21. M ahav agga (Vin). 1.76.1.

22. Angutt.,


23, M ajjh,.


24, Ibid.,


2.5. Ibid., t01.


slack nor too taut." One's energies must be balanced.26 The mania of self-exaltation must be overcome, just as the mania of self-humiliation, of self-vilification, must be overcome

2' Even-minded, fully conscious, one must consider oneself as neither equal, inferior, nor

superior to others, one must not place oneself among the middle people, nor among the

lower people, nor among the higher people."

In speaking of the point of departure, therefore, we can talk of a state of "inward

neutrality": "Do not let your own imperturbable mind be troubled by pain, and do not reject a just pleasure, persist in it without auachment.''29 "Craving does ill and aversion does ill; and there is a middle way by which to avoid craving and by which to avoid

aversion: a way which gives sight and vision, which conduces to calm, which leads to

clear vision."'" We often meet with the term satisarn-pajanna, which refers to the state of one who maintains perfect awareness by the strength of his clear vision. Let us remember

what has been said on the recurrent theme: "to see in conformity with reality, with perfect wisdom."

Already in connection with the elementary stages the destruction of vain imaginings,

past or future, is taughf. "What is before you put to one side. Behind you leave nothing.

To what lies in between do not become attached. And in this calm you will progress." One who would tread the path of awakening must cultivate such a simplicity in his mind. An

end must be made to the whole world of psychological complications, of "subjectivity," of hopes and of remorse—in the same way as the demon of dialectics is silenced. Become

used to interior concentration: "the insight which is varied and is based on variety, this one renounces; the insight which is single and based on unity, wherein every attachment

to worldly enticements is completely vanished, this insight one cultivates."32 Here are some expressions that occur in the canonical texts and that deal with what the symbolism

of the alchemists would call the "process of fire"—that is, the manner or rhythm of the interior effort: "To persevere steadfastly without wavering, the mind clear and

unbewildered, the senses tranquil and undisturbed, consciousness concentrated and

unified." "With tireless and unremitting energy. with knowledge present and unshakable, with serene, untroubled body, with consciousness concentrated and unified."'33 "To persist alone, detached, tireless, strenuous, with fervid. intimate earnestness"—this is the general formula used in the texts for the discipline of those who, having understood the

26. Angell.,


27. Ibid.,



Cf., e.g., ibid., 6.49; Suttanipāta, 4.10.8; 4.15.20,


Majjh., 101.

30. Ibid.,


31. Cf. Ibid.. 106; Dhammapada, 385.

32. M ajjh., 54.

33. Majjh.. 4; Angutt.. 3.40, M ajjh., 19.


doctrine, go on to achieve its supreme end. We are dealing here with predispositions, with qualities and at the same time with achievements—we shall see that among these qualities

there are some which, in their turn, are the aim of particular ascetic practices to achieve.

As we have discussed the quality of objective vision, we should also mention—in

passing—the style in which many of the oldest Buddhist texts are set out, a style that has

been called "quite intolerable" because of its continued repetitions. What is the purpose of these repetitions? The usual interpretation of the Orientalists, that they are a mnemonic

aid, is the most superficial. There are other reasons. In the first place, some ideas have been given a particular rhythm so that they are not arrested at the level of simple

discursive intellect, but can reach a deeper and more subtle zone of the human being and

there stir corresponding impulses. This agrees with the more general aim, explicitly stated in the texts, of permeating the entire body with certain states of consciousness, so as to

cause certain forms of knowledge or certain visions to be experienced "bodily." Rhythm—

both mental and, more important, that connected with breathing—is one of the most

effective methods of achieving this. The modern intellectual, only interested in grasping

an idea or a "theory" as quickly as possible in the form of a schematic and cerebral concept will entirely miss the point of the repetitions of the Buddhist texts—and it is

natural for him to judge this as "fhe most intolerable of all styles."

But the repetitions—at least a certain class of them, particularly those in the

Majjhima-nikaya—have also another aim: that of encouraging a certain degree of'

objective, impersonal, and strictly realistic thought. It is, in fact, easy to see that the repetitions form connected series in which the reality or fact, the thought that is

formulated in grasping it, or the thought that is aroused from hearing them, the verbal

expression of this thought or the exposition of the fact, are found in exact logical

sequence. This is how the structure of the repetitions is built up: first of all the text

describes the fact (objective phase); next, there appears the person who takes note of it

and who comments on it, using the same words as those in which it was given in the first

place by the text (subjective phase): thirdly, the person may refer the fact to others, in the same words once again, as a pure reflection of a thought conforming to reality. It may also happen that a second person normally, the Buddha himself—asks others if the fact

referred to is true, and we meet the same words for the fourth time. Stylistically, this is an absurdly tedious process. Spiritually, it is a rhythm of Sachbezogenheit, as one would say in German: it is the pure transparent passage of the same element from reality to thought,

from objectivity to subjectivity, and from one subjectivity to another without any

alterations. We must understand the attitude and the purpose with which texts of this kind

are read. A patient reading of them can be a discipline: they give an example of

impersonality and of crystallinity of thought


that may themselves work formatively on the spirit of the reader, giving him much more

than simple "concepts."

The first major action on the ascetic path is indicated by the term pabbajja, meaning

literally "departure." According to the scheme of the texts, one who hears the doctrine and discovers its deeper significance, and who thus arrives at "confidence," acquires a conviction expressed by this formula: "Home is a prison, a dusty place. The life of a

hermit is in the open. One cannot, by remaining at home, fulfil point by point the

completely purified, completely illumined ascesis." Comprehending this, the "noble son"

after short time shakes off attachment to things and persons, leaves home and devotes

himself to the life of a wandering ascetic.

We have translated the term bhikkhu, which designated the followers of the Buddha

by "wandering ascetic," although it literally means a "mendicant," one who begs.

Originally the bhikkhus were a kind of wandering and begging monks: the

semiconventual nature of the Buddhist organizations only appeared at a later period. The

term we have used possibly allows of fewer misunderstandings. For example, when we speak of "begging" it must be borne in mind that the circumstances included a society in which the acceptance—by an ascetic or a Brāhman--of some-thing from an ordinary man

was not a humiliation but a kind of grace. It was thought that an ascetic—by acting as a

point of contact between the visible and the invisible—fultilled a supremely useful, if

intangible, function, a benefit even to those taking part in normal life. Giving--dāna—in these circumstances was conceived as an action that would produce benefits of the same

kind as "right conduct" and contemplative development.' Thus—a thing that seems

paradoxical today—as a sign of contempt or as a penalty, Buddhist assemblies in solemn

conclave would indicate families or individuals from which the bhikkhu should refuse to accept anything, by symbolically reversing the receptacle or bowl he carried with him.35

These details apart, the bhikkhus originally were a kind of free order with a head, rather like an ascetic equivalent of the Western medieval orders consisting of the

"knights-errant" and, later, the Rosicrucians with their "imperator." The Buddha recommended that two disciples should not take the same road.36 The essential point, in any

case, was the absence of bonds and of the desire for company, a liking for solirude, a

freedom—also physical where possible—like that of the air, of the open sky. "Flee society as a heavy burden, seek solitude above all."' Having much to do, being busy with many things, avoiding solitude, living with people at home and in worldly

34. Cf.

Angeutt.. 8.30. As a reference Suttanipata, 3.5.15: "Those who go through the world with themselves as their tighr. attached to nothing, entirely liberated—to those, in

due time, men may offer alms."

35. Angutt,


36. M ahava gga (Vin.). 1.11.1.

37. M ajjh., 3



surroundings—these are so many more "unfavorable conditions for the battle.' One who is not free from the bond of famiily-it is said in particular—may certainly go to heaven, but

will not achieve awakening.39 "Let the ascetic be alone: it is enough that he has to fight with himself."40 "Only of an ascetic who dwells alone, without company, is it to be expected that he will possess pleasure in renunciation, pleasure in solitude, pleasure in clam, pleasure in awakening, that he will possess this pleasure easily, without difficulty, without pain.'' And again: "He who enjoys society cannot find joy in solitary detachment.

If joy is not found in solitary detachment, one cannot concentrate firmly on the things of

Eli e spirit; if this power of concentration is lacking, one cannot perfectly achieve right knowledge--or the things that proceed from it." The detachment and the solitude implicit in pablhajja, the "departure," are naturally fo be understood both under the physicaI and under the spiritual aspect; detachment from the world and detachment, above all, from

thoughts of the world.43 Therefore, do not let people's talk affect you, do not pay too much attention to words.44 Do not dispute with the world, but judge it for what it is. that is to say, impermanent.45 The texts speak of "being to oneself an island, of seeking refuge in oneself and in the law, and in nothing else 46 If a man cannot find a wise. upright, and

constant companion with whom he may advance in step, "he walks alone, as one who has

renounced his kingdom, as a proud animal in the forest, calm, doing ill to none."47 Here are some other illustrative expressions: "Strenuous in his determination to achieve the supreme goal, his mind free from attachment, fleeing idleness, firm, endowed with bodily

and mental strength, let [the ascetic] go alone like a rhinoceras. Like a lion which does not tremble at any noise, like wind which is held by no net. like a lotus leaf untouched by

water, let him go alone like a rhinoceros."48 And again: a true ascetic is "he who proceeds alone and contemplative, on whom neither blame nor praise have effect, who, like a lion,

feels no fear at the noises [of the world]. who, Iike a lotus leaf. is not touched by water, who guides others, but whom others know not how to guide,"49

Anyone who considers the problem of the adaptability of the ascesis of the Ariya to

modem times, will ask himself to what extent the precept of "departure" as a real 38. Angutt,,


39. M ajjh



M ahaparinirv.. 6-8.


Majjh., t22.

42. Angara,


43. Ibid.,


44. Maijjh, t39.

45, Mahaparinirv., 2.1.

46. Samyutt., 22.43.

47, M ajjh., 128; Dhammapada. 328, 329.

48. Suttanipāta, 13.14, 37.

49. Ibid.,



abandonment of home and of the world, and as the isolation of a hermit, must be taken

literally. The texts sometimes consider a triple detachment, one physical, an-other mental, and the third both physical and mental.'" If the last naturally represents the most perfect form—at least so long as the struggle lasts—it is the second that should claim the

particular attention of most people today and that, moreover, was given greater emphasis

in M ahāyāna developments, including Zen Buddhism. Be-sides, even the canonical texts

mention the possibility of an interpretation of the concept of "departure" that is mainly symbolical; thus "home" is considered, for example, to he equivalent to the elements that make up common personality—and similar interpretations are given for wandering and

for property," A variation of a text we have quoted, says that "solitary life is well achieved in all respects when what is past is put aside, what is future abandoned, and when will and passion, in the present, are entirely under control";" elsewhere it is said that a man wanders like a bhikkhu justly through the world, when he has subjugated past and future

time and possesses a pure understanding,53 when he "has left behind him both the pleasant and the unpleasant, clinging to nothing, in all ways independent and without attachments"

and so on. Similar expressions recur throughout; they largely refer, more-over, to the

principal tasks of ascetic preparation and purification.54

Once detachment, viveka, is interpreted mainly in this internal sense, it appears

perhaps easier to achieve it today than in a more normal and traditional civilization. One

who is still an "Aryan" spirit in a large European or American city, with its skyscrapers and asphalt, with its politics and sport, with its crowds who dance and shout, with its

exponents of secular culture and of soulless science and so on—among all this he may

feel himself more alone and detached and nomad than he would have clone in the time of

the Buddha, in conditions of physical isolation and of actual wandering. The greatest

difficulty, in this respect, lies in giving this sense of internal isolation, which today may occur to many almost spontaneously, a positive, full, simple, and transparent character,

with elimination of all traces of aridity, melancholy, discord, or anxiety. Solitude should not be a burden, something that is suffered, that is borne involuntarily, or in which refuge is taken by force of circumstances, but rather, a natural, simple, and free disposition. n a text we road: "Solitude is called wisdom fekattam monam akkhātam] he who is alone will find that he is happy";" ii is an accentuated version of "beata solitudo, sola beatitudo, "

From the external and social aspect also, it is interior liberty that counts; this,

50. Angutt,


51. E.g.,



52. ibid.,


53. Suttanipata,



Ibid.. 2.13.54); cf. 3.6.28.

55. Suttanipāta, 3.t1.40.


however, must lead no one to deceive himself. Thus, in the matter of bonds, the man of

today must beware more of little attachments than of great ones—that is, of attachments

connected with conventional and "normal" life, of habits, inclinations, and sentimental supports that, by making their own often unconscious excuses, are judged as being too

irrelevant to be confronted. In this connection, there is a striking simile in the texts, that of the quail. t is addressed particularly to those who say: "What can come of this

insignificant matted" and who do not notice that in this way they establish "a strong bond, a firm bond, a bond without weakness, a heavy fetter." If a quail, caught in a noose of weak thread, thereby goes to perdition, captivity, or death, only a fool would then say:

"That noose of weak thread in which the quail is caught and whereby it goes to perdition, captivity, or death, is not a strong bond for it, but a weak bond, a frail bond, an

insignificant bond." The opposite case is that of a royal elephant "with large tusks, trained to attack, trained for the battle, tied with strong ropes and bonds" that, however, "by moving the body only a little snaps and breaks those bonds and goes where he will." Here again, only a fool would say: "Those strong ropes and bonds which tie the large-tusked royal elephant, trained to attack, trained for the battle, those bonds which he, by moving

the body only a little, snaps and breaks and goes where he will, are a strong bond for him, a firm bond, a tough bond, a bond without weakness, a heavy fetter."' This simile well emphasizes the danger and the insidious character of many little ties—in connection with

the modem world, we have cited those of a conventional and sentimental nature—whose

apparent insignificance offer material for self-indulgence.

Detachment or interior freedom is further understood in the sense of a species of

ductility—and we shall see that it is more and more developed in this very sense in course

of the discipline. It is the opposite condition to that of the man who "clings with both hands and who is only removed with difficulty." We again remember the frequent simile

of the perfectly trained thoroughbred that immediately takes the de-sired direction.

The detached life, thought of us free as air compared with "home" life, is thus

connected with a feeling of being "satisfied with knowledge and experience." This spirit is open to everything, to every impression—and is, for this very reason, elusive. Here is the

inward equivalent of the state of mind that the texts liken to a bird that "wherever it flies, flies only with the weight of its feathers"; an image that refers to the purified

contentedness of the ascetic who is satisfied with the simplicity of his life and needs. It is once again evident that right at the beginning there must be present something that, in its ideal and absolute form, is represented at the final state: the sense of sunna or sunnatā, the

"void," which in

56. M ajjh., 66.


M ahayana literature ends by being synonymous with the state of nirvana itself, can already be seen in the various similarities between the earlier state of the spirit and the later.

The disciplines that, in the path of awakening, are considered as preparatory and that

consist of the two sections of samādhi and of sīla, can be outlined as follows. On the one

hand we have instructions that are of an entirely technical nature and refer to actions that the mind has to perform on the mind, in the form of concentration and meditation without

special conditions or intermediaries. On the other hand, we have rules of conduct that

could be called "ethical" but which, in reality--considering what "ethical" normally means today—are not, since their value lies entirely in their instrumental usefulness.

Although the instructions of the first type can be carried out by themselves, for the

purpose of the "neutral ascesis" we have mentioned, nevertheless the states of mind produced by sila, by "right conduct," furnish more favorable conditions for this purpose.

Both these forms of disciplines in the Buddhist path of awakening are animated by

"insight," vipassana, and are designed with liberation in view: "As the ocean is pervaded by a single taste, that of salt, so this law and this discipline are pervaded by a single taste, that of liberation."57

From the technical point of view, the tasks of ascetic action can he described thus.

We have said that the stirring and eventual determining of the "heroic vocation" in the individual is already evidence of the awakening also of an extrasamsaric element, panna or bodhi. A world of defense must be undertaken immediately: the most common mental

processes must be mastered so that the new growth is not stifled or uprooted. Then the

central element must be separated from any adulteration by the contents of experience,

internal or external, so that the various processes of "combustion" through contact, thirst, and attachment are suspended; this should also fortify the extrasamsāric—or, let us say,

"sidereal"—principle, so as to make it independent and capable of proceeding freely, if it wishes, in the "ascending" direction, toward more and more unconditioned states, and the region where the nidana of the transcendental, preconceptional, and prenatal series act,

The initial phase could he compared to what in the symbolism of alchemy is called

the work of "dissociation of the mixtures," of the isolation of the "grain of incombustible sulphur" and of the "extraction and fixation of mercury"58—"mercury," that shining, evasive, and elusive substance, being the mind, the "mixtures" being the experience with which the "incombustible grain of sulphur," the sidereal, extrasamsaric principle is mixed. This naturally suggests a cathartic

57. Angutt.,



Cf. J, Evola , The Hermetic Tradition (Rochester. Vt., 1995).


action of gradual elimination of the power of the "intoxicants" and of the manias—of the āsava--that can be defined as follows: do not be held back by, attached to, inebriated by

enjoyment (in a general sense, therefore also in relation to neutral states), so that in the

"five groups of attachment" thirst does not become established, much less embittered;59

"completely banish, extinguish that which in the desires is clinging to desire, snare of desire, vertigo of desire, thirst of desire, fever of desire,"60 and this concerns both the direct evidence of consciousness and the unconscious tendencies, the upadhi and the sankhara. The more external forms of this catharsis are connected with "right conduct"

(sila); the more internal ones, dealing with the potentialities, the roots, and the groups of samsāric being, are operafed through special ascetic and contemplative exercises, the

jhana. This cathartic development of consolidation and, in a manner of speaking, of

"siderealization" of one's own energies leads to the limit of individual consciousness, a limit that includes also the virtual possibility of self-identification with being, that is, with the theistically conceived divinity. If this identification is rejected, one passes into the realm of panna (the third step) in which the liberated and dehumanized energy is

gradually taken beyond "pure forms" (rupa-loka) to the unconditioned, to the nonincluded (apariyāpannam) where mania is extinct and "ignorance" is removed, not only in the case of the being who was once a man but also of any other form of


59. M ajjh.,


60. Ibid.,




Defense and Consolidation

By way of immediate action, a stand must first be made against thought, against mental

processes. "I do not know"—it is said1—"anything which, when unbridled, uncontrolled, unwatched, untamed, brings such ruin as thought—and I do not know anything which,

when bridled, controlled, watched, tamed, brings such benefits as thought." Thought,

which everyone lightly says is "mine," is, in reality, only to a very small degree in our power. In the majority of cases, instead of "to think" it would be correct to say "we are thought" or "thought takes place in me." In the normal way, the characteristic of thought is its instability. "Incorporeal"—it is said2—"it walks by itself": it "runs hither and thither like an untamed bull."' Hard to check, unstable, it runs where it pleases.4 In general, it is said that, while this body may persist one year, two years, three years or even up to a

hundred years and more in its present form, "what we call thought, what we call mind,

what we call consciousness arises in one manner, ceases in another; incessantly, night and

day"; "it is like a monkey who goes through the forest, and who progresses by seizing one branch, letting go of it, taking hold of another, and so on."5 The task is to "arrest" thought: to master it and to strengthen the attention;6 to he able then to say: "Once this thought wandered at its fancy, at its pleasure, as it liked: I today shall hold it completely bridled, as a mahout holds a rut-elephant with his goad."' "As a fletcher straightens his arrow, so a wise man straightens his flickering and unstable thought, which is difficult to guard,

difficult to hold."8 In the

L Angutt., t.4.

2. Dhammapada, 37.

3. Angutt., 1.20.

4. Dhammapada.35.

5. Samyutt., 12.61.

6. Suttanipata, 3.1.20.

7. Dhammapada, 326. 5. Ibid., 33.


asceticism is not a cowardly resignation before life's vicissitudes, but rather a struggle of a spiritual kind, which is not any less heroic than the struggle of a knight on the battlefield.

As Buddha himself said (Mahāvagga, 2.15); "It is better to die fighting than to live as one vanquished." This resolution is in accord with Evola's ideal of overcoming natural

resistances in order to achieve the Awakening through meditation; it should he noted,

however, that the warrior terminology is contained in the oldest writings of Buddhism,

which are those that best reflect the living teaching of the master. Evola works tirelessly in his hook to erase the Western view of-a languid and dull doctrine that in fact was

originally regarded as aristocratic and reserved for real "champions."

After Schopenhauer, the unfounded idea arose in Western culture that Buddhism

involved a renunciation of the world and the adoption of a passive attitude: "Let things go their way; who cares anyway." Since in this inferior world "every-thing is evil," the wise person is the one who, like Simeon the Stylite, withdraws, if not to the top of a pillar; at least to an isolated place of meditation. M oreover, the most widespread view of Buddhists

is that of monks dressed in orange robes, begging for their food: people suppose that the

only activity these monks are devoted to is reciting memorized texts, since they shun

prayers; thus, their religion appears to an outsider as a form of atheism.

Evola successfully demonstrates that this view is profoundly distorted by a series of

prejudices. Passivity? Inaction? On the contrary, Buddha never tired of exhorting his

disciples to "work toward victory"; he himself', at the end of his life, said with pride: katam karaniyam. "done is what needed to be done!" Pessimism? t is true that Buddha, picking up a formula of Brahmanism, the religion in which he had been raised prior to his

departure from Kapilavastu, affirmed that everything on earth is "suffering." But he also clarified for us that this is the case because we are always yearning to reap concrete

benefits from our actions. For example, warriors risk their lives because they long for the pleasure of victory and for the spoils, and yet, in the end they are always disappointed: the pillaging is never enough and what has been gained is quickly squandered. Also, the taste

of victory soon fades away. But if one becomes aware of this state of affairs (this is one

aspect of the Awakening), the pessimism is dispelled since reality is what it is, neither

good nor bad in itself; reality is inscribed in Becoming, which cannot he interrupted.

Thus, one must live and act with the awareness that the only thing thar matters is each and every moment. Thus, duty (dhamma) is claimed to he the only valid reference point: "Do your duty," that is, "let your every action be totally disinterested."

Evola demonstrated that this ideal was also shared by the itinerant knights of the

Western M iddle Ages, who put their swords at the service of every noble cause

same text two considerations arc of importance; first, the Upanisadic teaching is recalled

in which the seat of true thought is not the bruin but is hidden in the "cavern of the heart";" secondly, this simile is used: "As a fish taken from his world of water and thrown on dry land, so our thought flutters at the instant of escaping the dominion of M ara."'" In point of fact it is a matter of reversing the relationship: in recognizing the fragility of the body, which yet shows itself much more stable than thought, thought itself is made firm as

a fortress."

A few explanations, If one day normal conditions were to return, few civilizations

would seem as odd as the present one, in which every form of power and do-minion over

material things is sought, while mastery over one's own mind, one's own emotions and

psychic life in general is entirely overlooked. For this reason, many of our

contemporaries—particularly our so-called "men of action"—really resemble those

crustaceans that are as hard-shelled outside with scabrous incrustations as they are soft

and spineless within, It is true that many achievements of mod-em civilization have been

made possible by methodically applied and rigorously controlled thought. This, however,

does not alter the fact that most of the "private" mental life of every average and more-than-average man develops today in that passive manner of thought that, as the Buddhist

text we have just quoted strikingly puts it, "walks by itself," while, half-unconscious, we look on. Anyone can convince himself of this by trying to observe what goes on in his

mind, for example, when leaving his house: he thinks of why he is going out but, at the

door, his thoughts turn to the postman and thence to a certain friend from whom news is

awaited, to the news itself, to the foreign country where his friend lives and which, in

turn, makes him remember that he must do something about his own passport: but his eye

notices a passing woman and starts a fresh train of thought, which again changes when he

sees an advertisement, and these thoughts are replaced by the various feelings and

associations that chase each other during a ride through the town. His thought has moved

exactly like a monkey that jumps from branch to branch, without even keeping a fixed

direction. Let us try, after a quarter of an hour, to remember what we have thought-.--or,

rather, what has been thought in us—and we shall see how difficult it is. This means that

in all these processes and disordered associations our consciousness has been dazed or

"absent." Having seen this, let us undertake to follow, without disturbing them, the various mental associations. After only a minute or two we shall find ourselves distracted by a

flood of thoughts that have invaded us and

9, Ibid., 37. It is worth noting that in Chinese translations of the Buddhist texts "thought"

is rendered by the character hsin, which atso means "heart," There is an analogy in the ancient Egyptian tradition. Atso Dante (Vita Nuova, 1.2) speaks of the inretlect which is situated in the "most secret chamber at the heart."

10. Dhammapada, 34.

1 1 . 40.


that are quite out of control. Thought does not like being watched, does not like being

seen, Now this irrational and parasitical development of thought takes up a large part of

our normal psychic life, and produces corresponding areas of reduced activity and of

reduced self-presence. The state of passivity is accentuated when our thought is no longer

merely "spontaneous" and when the mind is agitated by some emotion, some worry, hope, or fear. The degree of consciousness is certainly greater in these cases—but so, at the

same time, is that of our passivity.

These considerations may throw some light on the task that is set when one "ceases to

go"; one reacts, one aims at being the master in the world of one's own mind. t now seems quite incomprehensible that nearly all men have long since been accustomed to consider

as normal and natural this state of irrationality and passivity, where thought goes where it will—instead of being an instrument that enters into action only when necessary and in

the required direction, just as we can speak when we wish to, and with a purpose, and

otherwise remain silent. In comprehending this "according to reality," we must each decide whether we will continue to put up with this state of affairs.

In its fluid. changeable. and inconsistent character, normal thought reflects, more-

over, the general law of samsāric consciousness. This is why mental control is considered

as the first urgent measure to be taken by one who opposes the "current." In undertaking this task, however, we must not be under any illusions. The dynamis, the subtle force that

determines and carries our trains of thought, works from the subconscious. For this

reason, to attempt to dominate the thought completely by means of the will, which is

bound to thought itself, would almost he like trying to cut air with a sword or to drown an echo by raising the voice. The doctrine, which declares that thought is located in the

"cavern of the heart," refers, among other things, to thought considered "organically" and not to its mental and psychological offshoots. M astery of thought cannot, therefore, be

merely the object of a form of mental gymnastics: rather, one must, simultaneously,

proceed to an act of conversion of the will and of the spirit; interior calm must be created, and one must be pervaded by intimate, sincere earnestness.

The "fluttering" of thought mentioned in our text is more than a mere simile: it is related to the primordial anguish, to the dark substratum of samsāric life that comes out

and reacts since, as soon as it feels that it is seen, it becomes aware of the danger; the

condition of passivity and unconsciousness is essential for the development of samsāric

being and for the establishment of its existence. This simile illustrates an experience that, in one form or another, is even encountered on the ascetic path.

The discipline of constant control of the thought, with the elimination of its automatic

forms, gradually achieves what in the texts is called appamada, a term variously translated as "attention," "earnestness," "vigilance," "diligence," or "reflection." It is, in point of fact, the opposite state to that of "letting oneself think,"


it is the first form of entry into oneself, of an earnestness and of a fervid, austere

concentration. When it is understood in this sense, as M ax M uller has said,12- appamāda constitutes the base of every virtue—ye keel kusalā dhammā sabbe te appamādamulakā. It is also said: "This intensive earnestness is the path that leads toward the deathless, in the same way that unreflective thought leads, instead, to death. He who possesses that

earnestness does not die, while those who have unstable thought are as if already dead."13

An ascetic "who delights in appamāda—in this austere concentration—and who guards

against mental laxity, will advance like a fire, burning every bond, both great and

small."14 He "cannot err." And when, thanks to this energy, all negligence is gone and he is calm, from his heights of wisdom he will look down on vain and agitated beings, as one

who lives on a mountaintop looks down on those who live in the plains.'

The struggle now begins, The symbolism connected with the Khattiya, the warriors, is

again used. The texts speak first of a fourfold, just striving (cattāro sammappadhāna) to be won by bringing to bear viriya-bala, the heroic force of will,16 which has already been considered as a requisite for the Ariyan disciple or combat-ant. Once the previously

deserted center of the being has been reoccupied, and thought has been put under control,

action must be taken against the tendencies that spring up. This is done in a fourfold

manner: "Summon the will, arm the spirit, bravely struggle, tight, do battle" (1) to

"prevent bad, not good things, yet unarisen, from arising"; (2) to repel them if they have arisen; (3) to encourage the arising of good things as yet unarisen; (4) to make them

endure, increase, unfold, develop. and be-come perfect when they have arisen.'

Understood in their fullness, these battles also concern further special phases and

disciplines that will be discussed later—for example, the first and the second are related to the "watch over the senses" (cf. p. 139–40); the third is related to the "seven awakenings"

(cf. p. 142); the fourth to the four contemplations.' But, at this stage, we are dealing with a general form of action, in connection with which the texts offer a series of instruments.

An image or a simile is normally associated with each one of them. The reader should pay

particular attention to these similes— as indeed to most of those with which every ancient

Buddhist text is liberally sprinkled. Their value is not simply poetic ornament or an aid to understanding; they often have besides a magic value, By this, we mean that when they

are considered in the right state of mind they can act on something


M ax M uller in the edition of the Dhammapada found in the Sacred Books of the East, vot. t0, p. 9.


Dhammapada, 21.

14. Ibid..31.







t7. Ibid., 4.13-t4; Majjh., 75.

18. Angutt.. 4.14.


deeper than the mere intelligence and can produce a certain interior realization.

The first instrument is substitution. When, in conceiving a particular idea, "there arise harmful and unworthy thoughts images of craving, of aversion, of blindness" (these are—

let us remember—the three principal modes of manifestation of the

āsava), then we must make this idea give place to another, beneficial idea. And in giving

place to this beneficial idea it is possible that those deliberations and images will dissolve and that by this victory "the intimate spirit will be fortified, will become calm, united, and strong." Here is the simile; "Even as a skilled builder with a thin wedge is able to extract, raise up, expel a thicker one," just so, the immediate substitution of one image by another has the power of dispersing and dissolving the tendencies and the mental associations that

the first was in course of determining or of arousing. What is "unworthy," in one text, is defined like this; "That, whereby fresh mania of desire sprouts and the old mania is

reinforced; fresh mania of existence sprouts and the old mania is reinforced; fresh mania

of error sprouts and the old mania is reinforced." We are not dealing with moralistic

aspects but with what may he described as ontological or existential references. It is a

matter of overcoming and obstructing samsāric nature, of neutralizing the possibilities of

fresh "combustions" in oneself. Particular aid is given by the idea of the harmfulness of certain thoughts; upon the appearance of a "thought of ill will or cruelty," one must summon "wisdom conforming to reality" and then formulate this thought: "There is now arisen in me this thought of ill will or cruelty; it leads to my own harm, it leads to others'

harm, it leads to the harm of both, it uproots wisdom, it brings vexation, it does not lead to extinction, it leads to self-limitation." If this thought is formulated and apprehended with sufficient intensity and sincerity, the bad thought dissolves. 20

This leads us immediately to the second instrument: expulsion through horror or

contempt. If, in the effort of passing from one image to another as the first method

proscribes, unworthy thoughts, images of craving, aversion, or blindness still arise, then

the unworthiness, the irrationality, and the misery they represent must be brought to mind.

This is the simile: "Just as a woman or a man, young. flourishing and charming, round

whose neck were tied the carcass of a snake, or the carcass of a dog, or a human carcass,

would be filled with fear, horror, and loathing," so, the perception of the unworthy

character of those images or thoughts should produce an immediate and instinctive act of

expulsion, from which their dispersion or neutralization would follow. Whenever an

affective chord is touched, then by making an effort one must be able to feel contempt,

shame, and dis gust for the enjoyment or dislike that has arisen!'

In order to employ this ascetic instrument of defense to its best advantage we

19. M. Majjh.. 2.

20. Ibid.. 19.

2t . Ibid.. 152.



have to presuppose in the individual an acute form of interior sensibility and a capacity for immediately projecting the qualities that arouse instinctive repulsion onto the image of

what is to be eliminated or neutralized. Hindus have the myth of Siva, the great ascetic of the mountaintops, who with one glance of his frontal eye—the eye of knowIedge--reduced

Kama, the demon of desire, to ashes when he tried to disturb his mind. hi reality, we must

take account of the existence of "serpentine" processes of interior seduction—serpentine, because they develop in the subconscious and the semiconscious, trusting entirely that no

one is looking, and that a particular "con-tact," which will eventually produce the thought in the mind, is riot noticed. To be able to turn round immediately arid see will paralyze

these processes. But seeing implies detachment, an instinctive and ready reaction that

causes immediate withdrawal as soon as the contact and the infiltration arc noticed. Other

illustrations are given in the texts: as the man who inadvertently touches burning coals

with his hand or with his foot immediately recoils:" or as when two or three drops of

water land on a while hot iron vessel: those. drops fall slowly, but they vanish very

rapidly. If this reaction is to be effective, one's experience of the intrusion of undesired inclinations and emotional formations must proceed in a similar manner.23

To discuss "cravings": when training this sensibility and instinct we must not forget the "wisdom" that measures the significance of "cravings" from the point of view of the unconditioned, of the extrasamsāric. The fundamental theme here is that "the cravings are insatiable" precisely because each satisfaction only goes to in-flame the cravings and to charge the individual with a fresh potentiality for desire. The texts provide detailed

similes: cravings are like dry bones, without flesh and only with a smear of blood, and

however much a dog may gnaw them they well never drive away his hunger and fatigue;

they are like a flaming torch of straw carried by a man against the wind, and if he does not immediately throw it away, it will burn his hand, his arm, his body; they are like alluring dream visions that vanish when the sleeper awakes; they are like joy over a treasure

amassed from things borrowed from other people who, sooner or later, will come and

reclaim them; they are like the points of lances or the blades of swords that cut into and

wound the inner being; and there are many more such similes." According to the degree to which this steady and lived knowledge, conforming to reality, truly pervades the mind of

the man who trains himself, so the possibilities of this second instrument, and also of the others. will multiply and the defense will increase in strength.

The third instrument is dissociation. When undesired images and thoughts arise, they

must remain meaningless and be ignored. The simile is: as a man with good sight,

22. Ibid., 48.


Ibid., 152; 66 Samyutt ., 35.203

24. Majjh.,

14; 22: 54.


who does not wish to observe what comes into his field of view at a particular moment

can close his eyes or look elsewhere, When attention is resolutely withheld, the images or

the tendencies are again restrained. The simile we have just quoted brings out clearly what we have said about the state of passivity in which man finds himself during most of his

mental and emotive life: has he, indeed, this power of looking or of withdrawing his sight

at will'? Images, psychoaffective aggregates of fear, desire, hope. despair, and so on,

fascinate or hypnotize his mind, subtly tying it, they "manipulate" it by their influence and feed on its energies like vampires. It is essential that this ascetic instrument not he

confused with the common and simple process of "chasing away" a thought, a practice that often has the opposite effect, that is, of forcing it back, strengthened, into the

subconscious, according to the psychological law of "converse effort." t is rather a matter of destroying by not seeing, by neutralizing the disposition and by leaving the image

alone. The preceding instrument, also, should be regarded in this light: it is riot repulsion by one who is struggling, but a reaction arising from a superior state of awareness and

from an earnestly lived sense of the "indignity" and irrationality of the images and inclinations that appear.

The fourth instrument is gradual dismemberment. M ake the thoughts vanish one after

another successively. The relevant simile gives the idea of the technique very clearly:

"Just as a man walking in haste might think: 'Why am I walking in haste? let me go more slowly' and, walking more slowly, might think: `But why am I walking at all? I wish to

stand still' and, standing still, might think: 'For what reason am I standing up? I will sit down' and, sitting down, might think: 'Why must I only sit'? I wish to lie down' and might

lie down: just so if harmful and unworthy thoughts, images of craving, of aversion and of

blindness, again arise in an ascetic in spite of his contempt and rejection of them, he must make these thoughts successively vanish one after another." This method of making the

infatuation disappear by separating its constituent parts one by one in a gradual series and considering them with a calm and objective eye one after another, provides, in the

preparatory stage of the ascesis, an example of the very method of the whole process. And

image corresponds to image. The state of one who achieves extinction is, in fact, likened

to that of the man who runs parched and feverish under the scorching sun and who finally

finds an alpine lake with fresh water in which he can bathe, and shade where he can relax

and rest." Another simile is given by the texts, still in connection with the method of dismemberment. t speaks of the pain that a man would feel in seeing a woman he favored

flirt with others. He arrives, however, at this thought: "What if I were to abandon this favoring?"—in the same spirit as he might say: "Why do I run? what if I were to walk calmly instead?" and then were to walk calmly. Having thus

25. Samyutt, 1 2.68. Majjh.. 40.


banished his inclination, that man can now witness the sight that pained him before with

calm and indifference.26 The texts also speak of the conditioned nature of de-sire: desire

is formed only because of a preoccupation of the mind that, in turn, is established only "if there is present something which we may call an obsession, a possession [papanca-sanna]."27 This is the theoretical basis of the method of neutralization by means of

gradual dismemberment.

It is possible, however, that fhe mind in its irrationality may not be subdued even by

this method. In that case one must pass to direct action, that is, one must come to grips

with oneself. Whence, the last instrument: if, while making the thoughts gradually

disappear one after another, irrational impulses and unworthy images continue to arise,

then, "with clenched teeth and tongue pressed hard against the palate, with the will you must crush, compel, heat down the mind." The simile is: "as a strong man, seizing another weaker man by the head or by the shoulders, compels him, crushes him, throws him

down." Again, for real success in this direct form, of struggle one must be able to call upon the illumination, the energy, and the superiority that proceed from what is outside

the simple "current." Only then is there no danger that the victory will be merely exterior and apparent, and that the enemy, instead of being destroyed, has disengaged and

entrenched himself in the subconscious.28

In order to clarify the various stages of this subtle war, an author has adopted the

following simile. t is not possible to avoid the appearance of images and inclinations in

the mind: this occurs spontaneously and automatically until what is called voidness,

sunna, is reached. To the disciple, to the fighting ascetic, some of these images are like

strange and indifferent people whom we meet on the road and who pass by without

attracting our attention. Others are like people we meet who wish to stop us: but since we

see no point in it, we ourselves withdraw attention and pass on. Other images, however,

are like people we meet and with whom we ourselves wish to walk, in the face of all

reason. In this case we have to react and assert ourselves: the tendency of our will must be opposed from the start.

In the Buddhist text to which we referred above, the result of this work of defense by

means of dissolving rhe irrational deliberations and images that reawaken the threefold

intoxicating force of the asava is invariably expressed thus: "the mind becomes inwardly firm, becomes calm, becomes united and concentrated." This is the path—it is said—

along which an ascetic becomes "master of his thoughts": "What-ever thought he desires, that thought will he think, whatever thought he does not desire, that thought will he not

think. He has extinguished thirst, he has shaken off the bonds.'°' These disciplines,

however, can also be used in an ascesis iii a general

26. Majjh.. 10t.

27. Digha,

21 2.

28. All


is in Majjh., 20.

29. Ibid.


sense, that is, independently of a supermundane end, To use them in this manner an easy

adaptation of details is enough.

In terms of "fighting," one is naturally advised to take the initiative in attacking what one intends to overcome. The expression is: "renounce a tendency or a thought, drive it away, root it out, suffocate it before it grows."30 There is also the simile of the herdsman who takes good care to destroy the eggs or the young of insects and parasites that might

harm the animals entrusted to him.31 n these circumstances, the methods of the wedge

and of repulsion, as if some filthy thing had been hung round one's neck, can he

particularly effective.

All this naturally demands the degree of mastery of the logos in us that enables our discriminating exactly between our thoughts.32 Those that can he organized and used in

the required direction should be consolidated and established, working on the principle

that the mind inclines toward what has been considered and pondered for a long time.33

In this respect, however, nothing can equal the benefits that come from a sense of innate

dignity, as of a special race of spirit: then a reliable instinct will act and very little

uncertainty will he felt in the task of "renouncing the low impulses of the mind."34 When this sense is weak, consolidation may be effected through reaction by means of what is

known as the "justification" method, which consists of awakening the sense of one's own dignity by calmly contrasting one's conduct with that of others. There is a whole series of formulae dealing with this, of which we have chosen the following: "Others may lie, we shall not"; "Others may be egotists, we shall not"; "Others may be malicious, we shall not"; "Others may he yield, we shall persist"; "The mind of others may become clouded, our mind will remain serene"; "Others may waver, hut we shall he sure of our purpose";

"Others may he provoked, but we shall not he provoked"; "Others may concern

themselves only with what is before their eyes, they may grasp it with both hands, they

may become detached from it with difficulty, but we shall not concern ourselves only

with what is before our eyes, we may not grasp it with both hands, we shall easily

become detached from it," etc. What Islam calls nyya, the decision of the mind, is important and should be strengthened by the use of these formulae and of this style of

thought." These instruments can naturally also be used as supports in the building up of sila. that is, of "rightness."

The overcoming of fear in all its fours deserves a special word. t is achieved by

firmly maintaining the feeling of one's own rightness and detachment in face of all

denials by one's imagination. There is nothing to hope, there is nothing to fear. The

30. Ibid.,


31. Angutt..



Majjh., 19.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid.,


35. Ibid.,



heart must no longer tremble, either through fear or through hope. There is no god or

demon who can instill fear in the man who is internally detached both from this world

and from the other. Whence it is said: "Whatever fears may arise, they arise in the foolish man, not in the wise; whatever [sense of] danger may arise, it arises in the foolish man,

not in the wise": only the former offers material in which the fire can start and spread.'

One text speaks of a discipline against fear. The Buddha himself recalls how, after well

establishing the feeling of his rightness—in Latin it would be called innocentia and

vacate culpu—he chose remote and wild places where fear might come at any moment.

and how he awaited these moments in order to challenge and destroy any feeling of fear.

This is the method; if one is walking, continue to walk, if one is standing, continue to

stand. if one is sitting down, continue to sit down, if one is lying down, continue to lie

down until the mind has overcome and banished the fear," These disciplines must not be dismissed with the idea that fear only arises in children or in timid women. There are

profound, organic forms of fear, forms that may almost be called transcendental since

they are not confined to simple psychological states of an individual but which come

from certain abysmal contacts. To he incapable of feeling fear in these cases may even he

a sign of deadness or of spiritual flatness. it is said that when Prince Siddhattha was

sitting under the "tree of illumination," resolved not to move until he had reached transcendental knowledge, he underwent an attack by the demoniacal forces of Māra,

who was determined to move him from there, in the form of flames, whirlwinds,

tempests, and fearful apparitions_ But Prince Siddhattha remained unshakable and all

these apparitions finally vanished.' Here we can see a variant of an idea that is found,

even with the same symbols (e.g., the tree), in several other traditions—but we can also

see something more, something beyond a mythical and legendary revival. Anyone who is

familiar with ancient literature of the mysteries will recall similar experiences that appear as so many tests for the man who wishes to reach the light. In whatever form they may

appear, they still deal with the emergence of profound forces of the being rather than of

simply individual or even human ones—and "destruction of fear" is possibly the best term to describe positive victory over them. When a " Yakkha spirit" makes himself "felt"

by the Buddha and asks if he has fear, the reply is: "I have no fear: I merely feel you contaminating contact"—and later in the same text these words are put into the Buddha's mouth: "I do not see, O friend, either in this world together with the world of angels, of bad and good spirits, or amongst the ranks of ascetics and priests, of gods and men,

anyone who can scatter my thoughts or break my mind."39 The attainment of such

unshakability calls, however, for more

36. Ibid.,


Angutt„ 3.1.

37. M ajjh.,


38. Lalitavīstara. 19-21.


Suttanipnta. 2.5, passim.


extreme states of interior discipline than those we have assumed for the present dis-

cussion about fear. n this last respect a few words of emphasis may not he out of place.

Where a text states that these two are not frightened at a sudden flash of lightning: one

being he who has overcome mania and the other. the noble "elephant."' the commentary warns us that these are two quite different cases: fear gains no access in the first case

because there does not exist an "I," in the second case because the "I" is extremely strong. This should eliminate any "titanic" interpretation of the discipline in question. We are not dealing with the development of almost animal strength and courage, but with

elusiveness. The bond by which anguish might have arisen has been destroyed. There is

nothing so rigid that it cannot he broken: but water cannot be compressed.

By striving with the "fourfold, just endeavor" and by using these instruments of

defense, the personality—the extrasamsāric element appearing in the personality—is

gradually integrated by a fourfold strength, to which corresponds, in the texts, the

technical term cattāro iddhipādā. We have, in the first place, the power that confirms the

renunciation in its aspect of detachment from every form of desire, with the pure element

of "will" giving support. In the second place we have the power of inflexibility, of perseverance in training, of paying no attention to defeats, of being able to start again

with renewed energy. In the third place there is the power of supporting the mind, of

recollecting it, of unifying it, of defending it both from states of exaltation and from

states of depression, states that, on a path like this, could be entirely avoided only with the greatest difficulty. Finally there is the power of "perception," to be understood as a kind of intellectual integration of the preceding one such that it becomes impossible for

the mind to accept false or vain theories. This fourfold power is to some extent summed

up by a text we have already quoted: "and he [the ascetic] reaches the admirable path

discovered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the will, by the

intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the energy, by the intensity, the

constancy and the concentration of the mind, by the intensity, the constancy and the

concentration of investigation—with a heroic spirit as the fifth." The term iddhi (Skt.: siddhi) normally refers to powers of a supernormal character. Here it must he understood

especially in relation to energies that are associated with warlike discipline—

hatthisippādīni—without forgetting, however, that, on the path of awakening at least, we

are dealing at the same time with forces on which the bodhi or panna element confers a

quality that is not only human and that is not comparable to any that samsāra can offer,

since it contains something of the "incomparable sureness" (anuttarassa yogakkhemassa).

40. Angutt.. 2.6.6.

41.M ajjh.,16.




We must now deal with ,sīla, that is to say, with "right conduct," which is complementary to the disciplines we have discussed, insofar as they lead to consolidation of the spirit. We are translating the term samma, which figures as the general attribute of the virtues

included in the so-called eightfold path of the Ariya (ariya atthangika magga) by

"upright" or "right" because of the intrinsic evocative power of this word: upright is the position of things that stand, as opposed to that of things that have been knocked over or

have fallen. In primordial symbolism the upright position, represented by the vertical I,

belongs to virility and fire, while the horizontal position.—, corresponds to the feminine

element and to the "waters." Thus, by "rightness" we must understand more than an accepted morality: it is rather an internal mode, a capacity for standing fast at all times without deviating or wavering, by eliminating every trace of tortuousness. The only point

of reference here is, fundamentally, one-self: the "virtues" are essentially so many duties to oneself that the reawakened interior sensibility brings to light: but once they have been put into practice, they encourage, strengthen, and establish a state of calm. of transparency of mind and of spirit, of balance and of "justice" by which every other discipline or technique is made easier.

We have already said that there is a complete absence of any moralistic mythology in

Buddhism, since it is a creation of the pure Aryan spirit. Moralistic and moralizing

obsession is another of the signs of the low level of the modern world. It is even thought

now that religions only exist in order to support moral precepts; precepts that,

incidentally, only tend to chain the human animal socially. This attitude is in-deed an

aberration. The fact is, and we must state it categorically, that every moral system, in

itself, is completely void of any spiritual value. In the traditional world, each ethical

system drew its true justification from a supramundane purpose (which


must not be unthinkingly considered as being a kind of do ut des, or as being inspired by the idea of sanctions or rewards that await the soul after death) and from the objective and impersonal fact that to follow or not to follow a particular line of con-duct produces

corresponding modifications in the essential nature of the individual. M orality, as it is

thought of today, is only secularized religion and, as such, purely contingent; this is so

much the case, that we are almost always forced to refer, in order to justify it, to the

factual conditions of a particular historical society. But even on this level the words of one Buddhist text that discusses the order of bhikkhus are still valid: that when beings

deteriorate and the true doctrine decays then there are more rules and fewer men live


In Buddhism then, as in every truly traditional teaching, ethics have a purely

instrumental value and are therefore conditioned. They are not imposed on anyone: they

are advocated purely from the point of view of knowledge. It is a question of knowing

objectively what effect on the human being will result from following or not following

certain principles and, having discovered this, of behaving accordingly. There is a context that clearly states the matter: "The fire has never thought, Ì wish to destroy the foolish man'—but the foolish man who wishes to embrace the burning lire destroys himself."2

We must speak, then, of stupidity or foolishness, and not of "sin"; of knowledge, and not of "good" and "evil." We have already quoted the Buddhist simile of the raft: as a man once he has crossed a river, will leave behind the raft that was built for that purpose. so we must leave behind the reference points of "good and evil" that served to encourage right conduct, once this conduct has been achieved. That the world of true spirituality has nothing to do with "good and evil" was also, moreover, a basic concept in the preceding lndo-Aryan tradition.

Having made this clear, let us now consider the various parts of sila. SiIa is divided

into three grades. The lowest, cudo -sīla, prescribes a mode of conduct that is expressed

by this fixed canonical formula:

(I) [The ascetic] has ceased from killing, he keeps himself far from killing.

Without a staff, without a sword, tender-hearted, full of sympathy, he

inculcates love and compassion for all living beings. (2) He has ceased

taking what is not given, he keeps himself far from taking what is not

given. He does not take what is not given him, he accepts only what is

given, without thought of theft, with a heart become pure. (31 He has

ceased from lust, he lives chaste, faithful to his renunciation, far from the

vulgar habit of copulation. (4) He has ceased from lying. he

1. Majjh.. 65.

2. Ibid., 50.


keeps himself far from falsehood. He tells the truth, he is devoted to the

truth, upright, trustworthy, neither hypocrite nor flatterer of the world. (5)

He has ceased from malicious speaking, he holds himself far from

malicious speaking. What he has heard here he does not repeat there, and

what he has heard there he does not repeat here, and thus divide one person

from another. He joins the divided, he rejoices in agreement, his words

unite, (6) He has ceased from rough words. he holds himself tar from rough

words. Words that are without offense, cordial and urbane that delight.

many. that encourage many: such words he speaks. (7) He has ceased from

idle words. He speaks in due time. according to fact, careful of his

meaning, with a discourse full of con-tent, adorned on occasion with

similes, clear and pertinent, adequate for its purpose)

In connection with not taking what is not given, another text adds: "not even a blade

of grass" and gives this simile: "as a leaf plucked from a branch cannot again become green, so a disciple who takes what is not given is not an ascetic and is not a follower of the son of the Sākya."4 Elsewhere, a characteristic example is cited: that of a man who sees a gold coin on the ground and who neither picks it up nor pays any attention to it.

Referring to sexual abstinence, this other simile is given: "As a man whose head has been cut off cannot continue to live amongst others with only his trunk, so one who does not

practise sexual abstinence is not an ascetic and is not a follower of the son of the Sākya."5

Finally, one who intentionally takes the life of another is likened to a block that has been split in half and cannot be put together again.°

All this constitutes the "lower sīla." The precepts of majjhima-sīla or the "middle sīla"

deal with a kind of spartanization of life: reduction of needs, cutting away of the bond

formed by a life of comfort, with particular reference to eating, sleeping, and drowsing.

There are also precepts that come under the heading of a "departure," of a physical or literal leaving of the world: for example, avoidance of business or undertakings,

nonacceptance of gifts, abandonment of possessions and refusal to assume fresh ones, and

so on, Included in this part of "right conduct" is abstention from dilectical discussions and speculation—this takes us back to the neutralization of the demon of intellectualism (cf. p.


The last part of right discipline, maha-sīla, concerns not only abstention from

practicing divination, astrology, or mere magic, but also from abandoning oneself to

3. Digha, 1.1.8 ff.

4. Mahavagga (Vin), 1.78.3.

5. Ibid., 1.78.2.

6. Ibid., t.78.4.


the cult of some divinity or other. One can therefore speak in some measure of sur-

mounting the bond of religion in the sense of a bond that makes one lead the saintly life

with the notion: "By means of these rites, vows, mortifications, or renunciations I wish to become a god or a divine being." But it is evident that this includes some elements that are supposed to have been already removed in the determination of the vocations.'

In any case, it will be as well to discuss the elements of "right conduct" as a whole, so that we may see them in perspective. It is clear that some refer exclusively to an absolute form of "departure." that is to say, of a material as well as a purely interior or spiritual detachment from the world; that is to say, to the asceticism of the monk or anchorite. The

degree to which they are strictly to be obser v ed today depends, then, on what each individual may decide is necessary. A good number of the elements of the middle and

higher sila can, however, be applied with simple adaptation to an asceticism that is

practicable to some extent in the "world": thus, the precepts dealing with astrology, divination, and the like, could easily refer to the mod-em debased practices of like nature in the form of "occultism," spiritualism, and so on. M easured with the ideal of awakening all this has thus the character of a dangerous straying.8

Of greater importance are the precepts of "right conduct" that belong to the lower sīla.

They are widely applicable, independent of particular historical conditions. And that

some of them clearly correspond to the principles of Ariyan morality, to the morality of a

well-born man, is plain enough. The following may be taken as a general maxim of sīla:

"Though I be hurled head down into the infernal regions, I will do nothing that is

ignoble."9 Such is the case, in the first place, with the precept of not taking what is not given—"not even a blade of grass"—of wholly eliminating all intention to steal. Among the ancient Aryan peoples theft was considered a much graver offense than it is today,

since they had in mind the inward rather than the material and "social" aspect of the matter. For this reason there is no question of degree: as regards taking what is not given, it is just as dishonorable to do so by taking a cigarette from a companion—to refer to

modern times- or a paper from one's office, as it is to stage a full-scale bank robbery and carry off a large sum of money.

n the second place, the rule of speaking the truth, the absolute inability to lie, is

specifically Aryan. Nothing, among the Aryan people, was considered so ignominious

and degrading as falsehood, especially from the point of one's own relations with oneself

and of the duties that one owes first and foremost to one's self and to


Digha. 1.1.8 ff.


Cf. J. Evola, Maschera e voIto dello spiritualismo contemporaneo, 2nd edn. (Bari, 1949).


Jataka, 40.


one's own interior dignity. "In one who has no shame in conscious falsehood, no evil thing is impossible"—so runs a text—whence the firm determination of the ascetic: "Not even for a joke will I lie"; this is the exact equivalent of the saying attributed by Western Aryan antiquity to the figure of Epaminondas: ne joco quidem mentiebatur. In this text there is also a simile: only when a man has made up his mind can he be said to be committed

definitely, just as when it is seen that a royal elephant that has been trained for battle is using his trunk one can say: "This royal elephant has renounced his life: nothing is now impossible for the royal elephant."10 Another text: "I would not tell a falsehood even if the mountains were moved by the wind, even if the moon and sun were to fall to earth and the

rivers were to run backward." This, in fact, is an essential point in all practice of rightness, it is essential for the man who would be upright and integral, not tortuous, not oblique, not masked. In an Aryo-Persian text it is even said that killing is not as serious as lying.

Avoidance of malicious speaking needs no special comment. Whether we give vent. to

rough words or not obviously depends on the degree to which we allow other people to

put us in a temper, to reach our spirit and wound it as if it can be wounded. It is, then,

essentially a problem of interior mastery and of awareness. Besides, only an individual

who is not carried away by anger or irritated by insults can succeed in putting a

presumptuous man in his place. Buddhism, indeed, would agree with the ancient Roman

maxim that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one, that one should not react to evil by producing more evil in one's turn. These precepts are essentially designed to

overcome the bond of the personality, and we shall return shortly to a discussion of their

interpretation when we come to deal with the precept against killing. They are valid,

naturally, for the practice of asceticism and not for life in the world.

Control of the tongue is emphasized and the absolute elimination of all useless,

disordered, hasty, inconclusive, indefinite, illogical, or empty speech. There is some-thing of the classical style here in speech that is suited to the subject, sober, clear and

determined, timely, free from effusions and uncontrolled expansiveness; something of the

style of Tacitus. t is with silence that Prince Siddhattha often replies. Little streams of water—it is said1 2—make a noise between their steep and narrow hanks: the vast ocean, instead, is silent. "He who is insufficient makes a noise; he who is complete in himself is calm." We shall see that an Accomplished One maintains a similar style in his gestures and behavior.

One of the aims of situ is to create a state of harmony and equilibrium both with

oneself and with the outside world. This is how we must interpret the precepts of


Majjh., 61.

11. Jataka.

12. Suttanipata,



cordiality, of abstention from malicious speaking, of not contributing to the creation of

discords, of contributing instead to the uniting of those who are disunited. This leads to

the precept of not killing intentionally, a precept that, in the later forms of Buddhism,

became much exaggerated—the respect for life was extended to even worms and insects.

Originally, however, it referred particularly to the killing of human beings. However,

even with this limitation, some people wish to interpret this precept as a kind of

humanitarianism, little in harmony with the spirit of the Aryan Khattiya, or warrior

tradition; a tradition to which Prince Siddhattha had belonged, and which, in the

Bhagavadgitā produced an entirely metaphysical justification for the heroism that spares neither one's own life nor the life of others in a just war. The fact is that this precept of not killing must he understood as having a particular interior and ascetic aim; and

therefore, like all the others, it has only a conditioned value. Already on the plane of sīla a certain impersonalization and universalization of the "I" is to be aimed at. When one has to do with other people one must try to anticipate the state of consciousness in which

another person is felt as being oneself, not in the Christian, humanitarian, or democratic

sense, however, but with reference to a superindividual consciousness. Seen from this

height it becomes evident that "I" is one of the many forms that, in certain conditions, may variously clothe the extrasamsaric principle; a principle that may appear in the

person of this or that being and there become manifest. We are dealing, then, with

something very different from the respect of one "creature" for another "creature." The other "creature" is considered, instead, from a higher point of view, from the point of view of a "totality." This being so, it would obviously he abnormal to act or react against a part unless one felt oneself to be only a part. For this reason, the precept of not killing and of not causing others to kill is associated, in a text13 with the formula of

identification: "As I am, so arc they, as they are, so am 1" and we have already quoted the simile of the split block for one who kills. A gain, we arc simply dealing with a discipline that may produce an orientation of pragmatic value and subordinate to the higher aim_

This same significance will be found again both in the "fourfold irradiant contemplation,"

which also includes love, and also when we come to discuss pubbe-nivāsa-nana, that is to say, superindividual insight that penetrates multiple existences.

The last of the precepts of the cula-sīla, that which relates to chastity, leads us to a short discussion of the sexual problem. Its solutions vary according to the degree of

absoluteness to which ascetic practice is to be carried. Originally in Buddhism, for those

who were not, properly speaking, bhikkhus but only "followers," only adultery was forbidden. Regarding adultery we must not forget that in the Aryan East every man

belonging to a higher caste had several women at his disposal, but whose status

13. Sittanipāta, 3.11.27.


was really more that of objects of use than "wives" in the Western sense, especially with those "ladies" or "life companions" who nevertheless allow themselves today to take the initiative and gain emancipation or divorce. In this state of affairs adultery simply came

under the heading of taking what was not given and as such was considered to be


M ore generally, as regards relations between the two sexes, it is evident that one who

wishes to achieve the basic condition for awakening, that is to say, calm detachment and

interior sufficiency, must train himself in such a manner that he will continually feel less need of a woman. The physical need, to some extent, is still allowable, like that of eating or of other animal functions. It is the "spiritual" need that must be eliminated at an early stage, since this affects a much deeper element that has nothing to do with the body and

since it testifies to deficiency and to inconsistency of spirit. The danger that a woman

represents, particularly today, is not so much her female aspect as the fact that she

encourages the need for support, for reliance upon someone else who may be a weak soul

unable to find in himself a meaning for his life. A story is told of the men who were

searching for a fleeing woman and who were asked by the Buddha: "What think you, 0

youths, which is better for you, that you seek a woman or your selves?" The reply is; "For us, Lord, it is better that we go in search of our selves." And the Buddha says: "If that is so, 0 youths, seat yourselves, and I will expound the doctrine for you."14 The same Indo-Aryan tradition records a saying attributed to a yogin, an ascetic: "What need have I of an external woman? I have an internal woman within me"—meaning that he had within

himself the element of self-completion, of fulfillment, an element that the common man

confusedly seeks, instead, in woman.15 In this respect too we find our-selves today in

completely abnormal conditions. M odern men mostly little know what spiritual virility

and internal sufficiency mean; through "soul" and "sentiment" they descend to the level of women who, often enough today, and without appearing to he so, are the directors of

man's life.

The precept of chastity must he considered on a higher level of the discipline. In

Buddhism, as in all really traditional teaching, it has a purely technical justification. Only religions noticeably affected by the Semitic spirit have carnal ethics; this is now so much the ease that sexual matters have almost become the measure of sin and virtue. And

Buddhist texts opportunely censure incomplete, impure, and murky forms of chastity,

including that followed by those who aim at a celestial world.' The precept of chastity for those who follow the path of awakening with all their energies has nothing to do with

such an order of things; it has the transcendental

14. Mahāvagga (Vin.), 1.14.2- 3.

15. Cf our work The Yoga of Power.

16. Angutt., 7.47.


,justification, which takes us bey ond the field of sila, of "r ight conduct" p ure and simp le.

The fact is that, in a being subject to "craving," sexual energy is, in some ways, the radical energy. Through it one enters samsaric life and through it the life-spark of one

being is lit by another. The ancient esoteric teachings therefore considered that the

suspension and change of polarity of this force was a fundamental condition for

effectually "stopping the current" and "reversing it." In fact, there even existed a precise and direct technique for acting on the force that normally appears as sexual energy and

sexual desire, and for diverting it to another state where it could serve as the basis for a birth, not in time, but in what is beyond time.17 There is no mention

at least in

original Buddhism—of such direct methods that have a connection and with Dionysism

and sexual magic. It can be said, however, that the whole Buddhist ascesis is a process

that will itself act in this way on the sexual energy, now no longer dissipated thanks to

the discipline of chastity.

In speaking of sexual abstinence we must not, however, forget the Buddhist precept of

the gradualness of each aspect of discipline, nor the simile of the serpent that twists round and bites if it is not grasped in the correct manner. Christian mysticism provides good

examples of the lethal effects that are produced by a unilateral and unenlightened

suppression of every sex impulse. These are the energies that, when they are simply

repressed—verdrangt, to use the classical term of the psychoanalysts—pass, reinforced,

into the subconscious and produce all sorts of upsets, hysteria, and anxieties. We must

never act "dictatorially" in dealing with such matters, but always by degrees, so that every achievement is of an organic nature, gradually increasing. Equally, we must beware of

unconscious "transpositions" of the sexual impulses, of the system of compensations and supercompensations to which they may give rise, thereby fooling the conscious mind that

wrongly believed it had gained mastery through a mere veto. This last observation will

also serve to put us on our guard against the exclusively psychoanalytical and Freudian

interpretation that, in dealing with sexual impulses and, in general, the libido, admits of no other action than either "repression" ( Verdrangung) that creates hysteria and neuroses, or alter-natively "transposition" and "sublimation." A high ascesis is neither one nor the other, and we must be very careful that during development we maintain a

just balance and that the central force, spiritually virile and awakened and strengthened

by the various disciplines, gradually absorbs the whole of the energies that call for ex-

pression once the road to animal generation is barred. Only one who feels that the interior process is developing in this manner can keep without danger the precept of complete

sexual abstinence. Otherwise it is far better to wait than to force the pace

17.This is, for example, the sense of the so-called kundalini-yoga and of the Tantric pancatattva with Tantric maithuna, on which cf. The Yoga of Power.


always provided that we are not being misled by pretexts provided for the conscious

personality by the entity of craving. How important it is to divert the basic energy of life from subjection to the samsaric law of craving and thirst, which is clearly dominant in the field of sex, is clearly illustrated, moreover, by the Buddhist simile that states that one who does not keep this precept of sīla is like a man who would try to go on living among others with his head cut off.

A particular rule of si/a, of which we have not yet spoken, is abstention from "strong"

or intoxicating substances, especially from alcoholic drinks," This precept, too, has a technical origin. Such substances produce a state of inebriation that, in the case of ancient man rather than in the man of today, might even produce a favorable condition when the

accompanying "exaltation" (piti) was made to act in the right way. This would, however, he a "conditioned" exaltation that would harm the "I

where one's own energy ought to have acted an exterior force has intervened, so that the

corresponding state is infected, fundamentally and from the outset, by renunciation of

initiative and passivity. Somehow or another, a "debt" has been created and we find ourselves bound by an obscure "pact"—this is a thing that happens, thought() a greater extent in all forms of what is known as ceremonial magic. Both in ndia, in the case of

Tantrism, and in the West, among the pre-Orphic Dionysians, the possibility was

considered of mingling activity and passivity in a state of exaltation (not unrelated to the sexual energies), and this was carried to a point where, by means of ecstasy, the

antecedents became of no further account.19 Such methods, however, would not befit the

path of clear and "Olympian" ascesis that the teaching of original Buddhism represents.

As we are examining these elements whose power sīla, as a whole, should diminish,

we will take this opportunity of referring to the theory of the five bonds that plays an

important part in the Buddhist teaching, particularly as regards the various degrees of

achievement and their consequences. These bonds, which bind the "ignorant common

man, insensible to what is Ariya, remote from the doctrine of the Ariya, inaccessible by

the doctrine of the Ariya," arc: firstly, attachment to the "I," the illusion of individualism (attanditthi or sakkāyaditthi);2 0 secondly, doubt (vicikicchā), doubt regarding the doctrine and the M aster, and also, more generally, about the past or the future;21 it is also doubt about the vocation existing in oneself, the road that one is following and what may result

from the states of aridity, depression, and

It. Cf.. e.g.. Mahavagga (Vin.), 1.56

19. We


also spoken of these rituals in our honk. The Yoga of Power. 'They were

used in that farm of

Tantric Buddhism known as vajra-yana. "the road of the diamond and of the lightning."


The term sakkaya may possibly derive front sat-kaya. which deals with the illusion of a man who believes

that the person insofar as it consists of the body is a reality (sat).

21. Dhamma-sangani, 1004.


nostalgia, which are inevitable in the early phases of a life of detachment; thirdly, belief in the efficacy of simple conformity, of rites and ceremonies (sīlubbata- parāmasa);22

fourthly, sexual desire and all bodily pleasure and craving (kāma or raga); finally, there is ill will, aversion (patigha). If they are not neutralized, if they are strengthened through conduct dominated by "ignorance," these bonds "lead down-ward" toward the lowest and darkest forms of samsāric existence?23 As we have said, at this stage it is a matter of

limiting the power of these negative inclinations in their more external and immediate

forms. Their complete annihilation occurs in more advanced stages of the ascesis, where

the "five bonds" appear related to the so-called "five impurities of the spirit" (cf. p. 141).

As for the positive side of the general work of consolidation and its developments, we

have the well-known and rather stereotyped formula of the eightfold path of the Ariya

(ariya atthangika magga). This deals with eight virtues, to each of which is applied the

term sammā, "right," a term to be understood mainly in the sense we have already

indicated, that is to say, as the attribute of one who "stands," who holds himself erect, as opposed to the oblique or horizontal direction of those who "are driven." First: right vision, which consists of keeping in sight the "four truths," of being aware both of the contingency of existence and of the way in which, by following a particular method, it can

he overcome. Second: right intention (in Pāli, sammasankappo), which refers to active

determination, volition, or des ire, and is, therefore, the determination of one who opposes the "flux" and who proceeds on the upward path. Third: right speech, which is inflexible sincerity, open speech, abstention from malicious words and gossip, as has already been

stated. Fourth: right conduct, which is conduct conforming to the aforesaid precepts of not taking what is not given, of not killing intentionally, of abstinence from lust. Fifth: right life, which is a fife supported by blameless means, is sober and avoids pampering, extravagance, and luxury. Sixth: right effort, which is interpreted essentially as the "four just endeavours" (cf. p. 110). Seventh: right meditation, of which we shall speak later as it deals essentially with what is known as "perpetual clear consciousness" (cf. p. 131-32).

The term used here is sammāsari. Sari literally means "memory," that is to say, continual practice of mindfulness of oneself; and of self-awareness. Eighth: right contemplation,

which brings us to the "samādhi"section with which we shall deal later (p. 146), since it is essentially concerned with the four jhāna, by which the catharsis leads to the limit of conditioned consciousness.24

22. Ibid, 1005 specifies thus. "It is the theory, held by ascetics and priests foreign to our doctrine, which claims that pu rification is achieved by precepts of conduct, or by rites, or by precepts of conduct and rites."

23. M ajjh., 64.

24. Cf.. e g. Dīgha, 22.21.


t can be seen that this formula serves as a schematic representation. Returning to sīla,

we sec that it aims at further consolidation: it eliminates much material that might

rekindle and reestablish the samsāric flame. The "virtues" of sīla are said to be "praised by the Ariya, inflexible, integral, immaculate, unsullied, conferring liberty, appreciated by

the intelligent; virtues that are inaccessible [by craving and delusion. that lead to

concentration of the mind."25 The fixed formula that, in the canonical texts, accompanies the exposition of sīla is: "With the accomplishment of these noble precepts of virtue [the ascetic] feels an intimate, immaculate joy." When this feeling arises it must be mastered, fixed and established, as it is a precious foundation for further progress. This is naturally not possible without a precise effort. But, in this respect. Buddhism has further

instruments of defense by prevention.

The texts speak, for example, of the conditions for achieving power over the body and

over the mind. The principle is that pleasant feeling that arises in the body binds the mind through the impotence of the body; painful feeling, however, hinds the mind through the

impotence. of the mind itself. Experiencing a pleasant feeling. "the ignorant common man craves for pleasure, falls a prey to craving for pleasure"—and it is here that one must intervene and bar the way leading from the body, not in the sense of excluding the

pleasant feeling, but of preventing it from binding one and carrying one away. Thus the

impotence of the body is remedied. When painful feeling arises, such a man "becomes sad and overwhelmed, he laments and falls a prey to despair." Here one must act directly on the mind, for it is now the mind that shows itself to be impotent. In this way one begins to gain power over both the body and the mind, and interior balance is strengthened.

This form of effort . is more successful when aided by the necessary discipline. A

particular experience may provoke pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling, or feeling that is

neither unpleasant nor pleasant. This is how one must then train oneself: "Let me, during what is unpleasant, remain with a pleasant perception," or: "Let me, during what is pleasant, remain with an unpleasant perception," or lastly: "Pleasant and unpleasant, avoiding the one and the other, let me remain indifferent, collected, present to myself."26

A variation of the same discipline concerns the repugnant and the attractive. From time to

time one should consider the attractive as repugnant. in order to lessen desire or

inclination (for places, foods, person, etc.); and the repugnant as attractive (in order to allay feelings of repulsion, irritation, or intolerance); and what is neither repugnant nor attractive as either repugnant or attractive; and, finally, one should be able to maintain a balanced, watchful mind, aware of oneself above states of either kind." Any real progress in such disciplines naturally depends

25. Angutt.,


Samyutt.. 40.10.


Majjh., 36.152.


Samyutt., 54.8.


upon all aspects as a whole and, above all, upon exercises aiming directly at

nonidentification, which we shall now consider.

In a commentary on the Anguttara-nikāya28 we read: "When confidence is tied to vision and vision to confidence, when the will is joined to concentration and concentration to the will, the balance of the forces can be considered as achieved. Self-awareness [sari]

is, however, essential always. It must always be energetically cultivated." The discipline called satipatthāna aims at this in particular.

28. Angutt., 6.55. Also on p. 86 of the edition of Die Reden des Buddhas by Nyānaliloka

(M unich, 1922-23).



Sidereal Awareness: The Wounds Close

The term satipatthāna is made up of the word sari, which we have already explained as memory, or self-awareness, and pattana, which means "to construct," "set up,"

"establish." In English this term is normally translated by "setting-up of mindfulness"

(Rhys Davids), and in German by Pfeiler der Geistesklarheit —whence the expression

used by de Lorenzo: pilastri del sapere (pillars of knowledge—in the sense of self-

knowledge). The whole formula of the text is: parimukham satim upaţţhapeti,1 which could he rendered thus: "to place the memory of oneself before oneself." The aim of the discipline with which we shall now deal is. in fact, to begin to disengage the central

principle of one's own being by means of an objective and detached consideration, both

of what makes up one's own personality and also of the general content of one's own

experience. The very fact of standing apart from all this, as if it were something external or foreign, purifies and stimulates the consciousness, brings one back to oneself and

further develops impassive calm. In this sense the four principal groups of objects that

are considered in this discipline serve as so many supports for "knowledge"; they represent something solid for a reaction leading to an unfettering of oneself, to a return to oneself. The four groups of the satipatthāna refer to the body (kāya), to the emotions or feelings (vedana), to the mind (cilia), and lastly to the dhammā, a general term that here includes phenomena and states brought about by the ascetic discipline itself in its higher


1. Contemplation of the body. To quote the canonical formula, the ascetic, after

overcoming the cares and desires of the world, devotes himself in the first place "with a mind clear and fully conscious" to contemplation of the body. This procedure is carried out in various stages.

(a) To begin with, the ascetic practices conscious breathing or self-awareness

1. Di gha. 22.2.


while breathing (ānāpāna-sati); this is said to be one of the most rapid methods of

attaining unshakable calm.' The ascetic must choose a quiet and secluded place and there

practice consciousness of breathing in and out. He breathes in deeply and knows: "I am breathing in deeply," he breathes out deeply and knows: "I am breathing out deeply"; he does the same with short breaths. He then practices thus: "I wish to breathe in feeling the whole body," "I wish to breathe out feeling the whole body," "I wish to breathe in calming this bodily combination."" I wish to breathe out calming this bodily

combination." And so on. A simile that shows what a perfect awareness is required in this exercise states: just as an expert and careful turner, when turning quickly, knows; "I am turning quickly," and. when turning slowly, knows: "1 am turning slowly,"3

Exercises of this kind are particularly important since, according to the lndo-Aryan

teaching, breathing is connected with the subtle force of life—pi-aria—that forms a

substratum to all the psychophysical functions of a man. The whole organism is animated

and pervaded by subtle currents----nādī (a term usually translated rather primitively by

"winds")—whose source is located in prāna and in the breath. Thus an Upanisad says:

"As the spokes of a wheel rest on the nave, so all [In the organism) rests on the prāna."4

These teachings derive from knowledge of the breath that is not understood by modem

man and that he can only revive through a special effort. When, however, the breath or

respiration comes to be felt as prāna, it can then be made to serve as a "way through": when the breath has been made conscious, when clear consciousness has been grafted

onto the breathing, one is able to discover the "life of one's own life" and to control the organism and the mind in many ways that are quite impossible for the ordinary

consciousness and will. Furthermore, by taking the rhythm of the breath as a "vehicle," it is possible to render certain states of consciousness "corporeal" and "organic," to make them, that is to say, act upon the life-forces of the samsāric entity in such a way as on the one hand to stabilize and consolidate them, and on the other to modify the samsāric stuff

accordingly. Further developments of the discipline of breathing are dealt with by

Buddhism. From purely bodily mastery, we pass to psychic mastery, and formulae like

these are used: "I wish to breathe in feeling joy, I wish to breathe out feeling joy"; "I wish to breathe in feeling the mind, l wish to breathe out feeling the mind"; "I wish to breathe in gladdening the mind, I wish to breathe out gladdening the mind"; "I wish to breathe in concentrating the mind, I wish to breathe out concentrating the mind": and the same for relaxing. Finally, conscious breathing is practiced with other contemplations and states; it confers a rhythm on them and is itself a channel through which they become

2. Angutt., 5.96.

3. Digha. 22.2.

4. Chāndogya Upanisad, 7.15.1.


united with the subtle counterpart of the human make-up. t is said that when the breathing

is thus watched and practiced, "even the last breaths cease mindfully, not unmindfully."5

In the Upanisad it had already been said: "Truly these beings arrive in the wake of the breath, depart in the wake of the breath."6

At this stage, however, the aim of the practice is only contemplative. t is a matter of

making the breath unautomatic at certain moments, of making it conscious, of placing

oneself before one's breathing and one's breathing before oneself, by experiencing the

breath essentially as prana, as the life-force of the body.

(b) In the second place, we have contemplation of the body and of all its parts, with

the coolness and the precision of a surgeon at an autopsy. The canonical formula is:

"Behold, this body bears a scalp of hair, it has body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, stomach, intestines,

membranes, feces, bile, phlegm, pus. blood, sweat, lymph, tears, grease, saliva, mucus,

articular fluid, urine." And the Following simile is given in order to show how to perform the operation: as though a man with good eyesight having a sack full of mixed grain might

untie the sack and carefully examining the contents might say: "This is rice, these are beans, this is sesamum." Naturally, the best thing that can be done by anyone wishing to follow these disciplines is to go to a morgue or to be present at an autopsy: he will thus

obtain particular vivid and effective images as a basis for such meditations. The purpose is always the same: to disidentify oneself, to create a gap: "This am I, this is my body, it is made thus and thus, composed of these parts, of these elements."' There are some texts that pre-scribe, as an additional fortifying exercise, contemplation of the various diseases to which the body is exposed.'

(c) For the third exercise, the body is considered to be a function of the four "great elements" that are present in it. Whether he is moving or still, the ascetic tnust consider the body that he bears as a function of these elements: "This body consists of the earth element, of the water element, of the fire element, of the air elements." This kind of meditation had a somewhat different significance for ancient man from what it may have

today. Ancient man, in fact. regarded the "great element," mahābhuta, not merely as

"states of material," but rather as manifestations of cosmic forces such as the elements that were taught by the ancient and medieval West-ern traditions. In any case, the aim of the

meditation is to comprehend the body as a function of the impersonal forces of the world

that follow their laws with complete

5. Majjh., 62: 118: Angutt., 10.60.

6. Chandogya Upanisad, 7.15.1.

7. Dīgha, 22,5.

8. Angutt., 10.60.

9. Digha. 22.6.


indifference to our person. ha the second place, we have to understand that these "great elements" also are subject to the laws of change and dissolution. Thus some texts

advocate the practice of calling vividly to mind the periods both of power and of decline

and dissolution of the cosmic manifestations of the four elements, so that we come to this

conclusion: if change and cessation befall even these powers of the world, why should

they not also befall this body, "less than eight spans high, produced by thirst for

existence"? Are "I," "mine," or "I am" its real attributes? In actual fact, "It has nothing."10 According to a simile for this third operation: in recognizing in the body this or that element one must proceed in the same manner as a man who, butchering a cow,

separates the various parts and considers them well, takes them to the market and then

sits down—that is to say, one must return to oneself, one must finally become aware of

oneself. By arousing the knowledge that the organism, though still alive and "ours,"

follows the objective and elementary laws of the great elementary forces, quite

independent of the world of the "I"; by awakening this sense, the body once again provides the basis for a reaction, for a detached and free realization of the extrasamsaric factor in man.

(d) M aranānussati, contemplatio mortis. Here one has to imagine a corpse in all the

phases of its decomposition: stiff, then swollen up and rotting. then stripped of flesh with only the tendons left, then without either flesh or tendons, then as scattered bone, as

bones heaped up and mixed with others, and finally as bones rotting away and as bones

crumbled to dust. With this, one has to comprehend: "My body, too, has a like nature, so will it become, it cannot avoid coming this fate,"11 These similes should awaken

particularly vivid feelings without, however, arousing Hamlet-like reflections nor those

of the Semitic minstrel with his vanitas vanitatum. The decay of the body, in all its crudity, is here considered as helpful to progress because, rather than depress the mind, it should awaken a detached consciousness capable of imagining with perfect calm and

dispassion the fate of one's own body after death. It is, once again, a matter of

consolidating the sidereal, extrasamsāric element. Should these meditations result in a

feeling of pessimistic depression, of desolation, of Leopardian shipwreck, then they have

been quite wrongly carried out. They are performed correctly when they result in a state

of mind where one can consider a disaster overtaking one's body, and even physical death

itself, as though another's body were concerned. This state may even transform itself into

a force capable, in certain circumstances, of acting positively on the organism. Thus the

texts speak of a sick ascetic who recovered his strength and overcame his disease at the

moment of understanding and apprehending the teaching about the perfect meditation on


10. Cf. Majjh.. 28; 140. 11 . Di gha,

22.7 10.


holy.' It is said: "If the body is ill, the mind shall not he ill—thus have you to train yourselves. The Ariya are not obsessed by the idea: Ì am materiality, materiality is mine,

materiality is my self.' and for this reason they do not change when the material body

changes and grows old" or when the same fate overtakes the otherconstituents that make up the personality*

This is the fourfold form of the Buddhist contemplation of the body, which con-

stitutes the first support. Its importance in regard to the goal, which we have already

discussed, is confirmed by the statement that this contemplation, well practiced. well

exercised, gives a foretaste of amata (Skt.: amrta), that is to say, of the deathless.14

2. Contemplation of the feelings. After the body, the feelings (vedana) form the basis for the sidereal awareness of oneself. The canonical formula is: "Among the feelings

within, the ascetic watches over the feelings; among the feelings without, he watches

over the feelings; among the feelings within and without, he watches over the feelings.

He sees how the feelings arise, how the feelings pass away, how the feelings arise and

pass away. This is feeling'—such knowledge becomes his support because it leads to

wisdom, it leads to reflection."15 Such exercises can be correlated with what is called the control of the six internal-external sensory realms, although this latter is normally

included in the fourth section, namely, that concerning the dhamma. Here we are dealing with the sphere of the senses, including the mental organ. The formula is: "The ascetic understands the eye, he understands visual forms and he understands that all

combinations resulting from both are bonds. He knows when these combinations occur,

he knows when the combination that has occurred ceases and he knows when the

combination that has occurred will no longer appear in the future." The same formula is repeated for the ear and sounds, for the tongue and tastes, for the touch and contacts, for the mind and mental objects.'' To begin with we may not understand the action that is to

be performed: how do we obtain this separate knowing of the sensible faculties and of

their objects, as if we were complete strangers to both, and what is the purpose of tracing their combinations in the same spirit as a chemist follows the process of the combining

of two substances? We should understand the meaning of the discipline in this way: that

we must make ourselves aware of the nature of common experience, and of how it

exhausts itself in the "flux." What we have already said about a passive way of thinking is mainly true in the case of the various senses. In reality, to say "I see," "I taste," "I hear" is, in samsaric existence, rather a euphemism. Indeed there exists

12. Angutt., 10.60

13. Samyutt. 22.1.8.

14. Angutt., 1.21.47; Milinadapanha. 3.36; M ajjh.,


15. M ajjh.10.

16. Digha, 22.15.


here only the fact of vision, the fact of hearing, the fact of taste and so on, which arise from the promiscuous contact of object and subject, and which proceed from the

elementary self-identification of consciousness with its experience in processes of

"combustion." The discipline we are discussing aims at dissociating this irrational mixture until one can truly say: "I see," "I taste," "I hear," "I touch," "I smell," "I think"—with the same clarity and self-awareness as one who grasps an object in his hand or lets it fall and who knows: "1 am grasping this object, 1 am letting it fall." When we consider the domains of the senses and of the mind itself, we must seek to cultivate a real feeling that they are actual organs that are consciously used, but always at a certain "distance": I am here, the thing seen or felt or tasted is there, and the result is the experience, and the

"combination" of the two as an elementary fact or "bond," is also just as clearly before me. The texts provide a simile: "As from the contact of two pieces of wood when they are rubbed together heat is born and fire springs up, and as the heat formerly produced by

them ceases, becomes extinguished when they are separated": just so, must we clearly

come to understand that "This feeling is arisen," "this feeling is extinguished." The texts add, with particular reference to the general aim of these contemplations: "There remains only passiveness which is pure, clear, ductile, flexible, resplendent."17 As an example of this contemplation, on an everyday level, let us take the case of a meal: the mouthful is

put into the mouth, it is consciously circulated in the mouth so that none remains

unmasticated and so that none remains in the mouth when it is swallowed; when it has

been swallowed, the next mouthful is taken; "the ascetic feels the taste whilst he takes the food, but he does not derive pleasure from it":18 one must taste with awareness and yet remain detached. A considerable inward effort is necessary to extend this kind of control

beyond occasional moments of practice: it is, in fact. a case, not only of substituting one habit for another, but of coming to grips with the blind force of identification that acts in the former habit. The natural development of this contemplation is what is known as the

"watch over the senses" or the "curing of the wounds" of which we shall say more below (p. 139).

3. Contemplation of the mind. The term vedana can mean not only feeling, but also emotion or sentiment, and we can pass naturally from the sphere of the second

contemplation to that of the third, which aims at awakening "knowledge" in the presence of all states and changes of one's mind. The canonical formula is: "An ascetic knows the craving mind as craving and the non-craving mind as non-craving; the hateful mind as

hateful and the non-hateful mind as non-hateful: the deluded mind as deluded and the

undeluded mind as undeluded; the concentrated mind as concentrated

17. Majjh., 140.

18. Ibid., 91.


and the distracted mind as distracted; the upward-tending mind as upward tending and the

mind of low feeling as of low feeling; the noble mind as noble and the common mind as

common; the tranquil mind as tranquil and the anxious mind as anxious—he knows the

liberated mind as liberated and the hound mind as bound."19 This means that, in the first place, one must cultivate an attitude of absolute. inflexible sincerity and objectivity with regard to one's interior, psychological, and emotive life. In the second place, we are again concerned with the energy that is aroused by the disidentifying "insight." The sign that progress has been achieved on this road is one's ability to regard one's own emotions,

feelings, states of mind, and passions as if they were another's—as though, naturally, they were taking place in someone about whom one were quite indifferent and who served

merely as an object of observation. Once again, the aim is an active form of

depersonalization. A text reads: "As the clouds arise, pass, become transformed and

dissolve in the open sky, so also is it with the passions in the mind of the wise man." n its liberty and intangibility, the mind of the wise man is thus; likened to the sky. As its clarity is unaltered by the changing vicissitudes of the clouds, so his mind is unchanged by the

passions and emotions that form, transform, and pass away there according to their laws.

As the Bhagavadgitā 20 speaks of one who "does not desire desire, into whom, instead, all desires flow as the waters flow into the sea which, [continually] refilled, [yet] remains

unchanged," so in Buddhism the idea] state is likened to the "depths of the ocean, where no waves arise, but where calm reigns."21 We shall find other cosmic and elemental

images of liberty and intangibility when we discuss (he "irradiant contemplations." Here, this serves but as a signpost to point out the way of contemplation.

4. Contemplation of the dhamma. The term dharmmā has a wide meaning, as we have

said, and this section includes contemplation not only of phenomena and states of

consciousness of various kinds, but also of the ascetic processes themselves. Thus it is

said that awareness is to be practiced in regard to the "five hindrances," that is to say: craving. aversion, slothful laziness, pride and impatience, doubtful uncertainty.22 And it

must he practical as well in regard to the estimation of their absence, or of their

development, or of their disappearance at the moment of intervention by the dissolving

action of which we shall treat below. The same awareness is practiced in order to observe

the manifestation and the cessation of attachment in each of the five groups of personality in turn—we are dealing, in other words, with variations of the contemplation of states of

the mind. Further disciplines take as their object higher states of ascetic consciousness,

such as the "seven spiritual awakenings" or

19. Dīgha, 22.12.

20. Bhagavadgita.



Suttanipata. 4.14.6.


Digha. 22.13.


bojjhanga,23 and the direct supermundane apprehension of the "four truths."24 In this further region recurs the necessity for maintaining a perfect, detached state of

consciousness even in the development of the higher ascesis, as well as the necessity for

avoiding identification even with supersensible experiences and for emphasizing at all

times the absolute sidereal and extrasamsaric element in such experiences. Loss of

control and "agitations" must never take place, a calm and steady light must shine on every experience and on every action. At the very limit of the supreme realization, the

pure and detached element of consciousness--sati—must constitute, in a manner of

speaking, a higher "dimension" than the content of any ordinary experience.

This is the fourfold form of satipatthāna. As we have said, what is realized in

individual exercises should be developed into the form of a habitus of clear con-

sciousness maintained at all moments of daily life. This, in fact, is considered in the texts as a development of the first contemplation, and is expressed in this formula: "The

ascetic knows when he is walking, Ì am walking,' he knows when he is standing, am

standing,' he knows when he is in this or that position that he is in this or that position."

In a word, he ends by literally hearing his own body. In a commentary on the texts. in

this connection, the characteristic question is asked: "Who is walking?" The answer being: "It is not the "I" that is walking": "Whose walking is it?" "t is not of an Ì'"; "Who determines the walking?" "An act of the mind, transmitted and assumed by the breath (prāna) which pervades the body and moves it.

The texts further specify: the ascetic is clearly conscious in coming and in going, in

looking and in detaching his gaze, in bending and in raising himself, in wearing his robe,

in eating and in drinking, in masticating and tasting, in defecating and urinating, in

walking and standing and sitting, in falling asleep and waking, in speaking and in

keeping silent."26 As in a mirror, he "looks at himself again and again before performing an action; he looks at himself again and again before saying a word; he looks at himself

again and again before harboring a thought."" t can easily be seen that by following such a path a man naturally transforms himself into a kind of living statue made up of

awareness, into a figure pervaded by composedness, decorum, and dignity, a figure that

inevitably calls to mind not only the whole style of the ancient Aryan aristocracy but also that made famous by the ancient Roman tradition in the original type of the senator, the

pater laminas, and the maiores nostri. In reality, there is a natural relationship between

these effects of the discipline of

23. Ibid.,


24. Ibid.,



On Digha (W. 357).


Digha. 22.3-4.


Majjh.. 61.


self-awareness and the traits that, together with the "thirty-two signs of the superior man,"

tradition has bestowed on the enlightened Ariya in the following terms: "As an

Accomplished One speaks, so does he act and as he acts so does he spear";28 he goes

neither too fast nor too slowly; the lower part of his body, while he walks, neither swings nor moves through the effort of the body. In seeing, he looks in one direction: straight

ahead, not upwards nor downwards, nor does he walk glancing here and there. He always

sits composedly, not lolling his body, nor making useless movements with his hands, nor

crossing his legs, nor resting his chin on his hand. He remains calm, "girded with

isolation."29 Calm, sidereal self-awareness cannot help but result in stylization since it acts on the irrational, oblique, and hidden part of the human being, rather in the way that the

calm and severe glance of the schoolmaster is enough to quell the prankishness of the

pupil who thought himself unobserved. So we can say that the substitution of energies that

is the essential aim of the whole ascesis of the Ariya has already begun to have its effect externally. Whereas, be-fore, every movement and every action of the individual was

motivated by an irrational vital force or samsāric element, now this element is replaced by pure awareness, which cannot but bring about—as we have said—an increase of

simplicity, composedness, and dignity in the manner and the outward appearance of one

who seriously follows this path. One might even discern a certain aspect of racial cathar-

sis, too, in these disciplines, since, as we have just said, these elements of a style of life existed naturally, aborigine, among people of a higher racial type, whose characteristics

various factors, above all crossbreeding, have successively altered and encroached upon.30

Let us see where we have arrived in our exposition. When defenses against the most

immediate forms of mental disturbance have been raised, the assimilation of the principles

of "right conduct" arouses in the mind an "intimate, unalloyed joy" joined with the stability and sureness of one who feels himself in a state of "justice." For which we are given the simile of a lawfully crowned king who knows that his enemies are routed and

that there is no threat of any kind to his sovereignty.31 We have also acquired the

strengthened "neutrality" or "sidereality" of the mind that, thanks to the fourfold contemplation, has further freed itself and is now at the center of all its experience, both internal and external. At this point we undertake the really cathartic action whose aim is to neutralize, by degrees, any possibility of "combustion" and of self-abandonment to the multiple variety of "contacts." Contacts wound;

28. Angutt.,



M ajjh., 140. It is said of the assembly of the fathers of the order: "it does not

gossip, it does not speak. it consists of essentiality, it is the blessed scat for the world"

(ibid.. 118).


Cf. our Sintesi di dottrina della razza (M ilan. 1941).

31. Dīgha, 2.63.


contacts consume by exciting the fire that burns the body and the mind, which nourishes

the samsaric stem and prostrates the higher principle. "The fool, struck by force, perishes; the wise man, when struck, does not tremble," he remains intact, remains unshakable,

remains elusive;32 we must become like the wise man. It is a question, then, of dealing a

blow at the transcendental "desire" that lurks in the visual and other senses, in the khandha (the groups of the personality), in the elements, and which is corruption, disease, suppuration.33 All this must naturally take place, not on the psychological or moral plane, but on the existential and metaphysical one. The beginning of the process of alteration lies in the senses, which are likened to so many "wounds."34 They present us with forms or sounds or tastes or smells or tactile sensations, "desired, loved, delightful, pleasant, associated with craving, alluring," whence, "in the five cords of desire, in one or other seat of the senses, may arise inclination of the mind" or assent.35 We have used this word to translate the term anunayo, which Woodward renders as "lurking tendency"' and which can actually be likened to the attitude of someone who spies, who waits ready to identify

himself, in this case, with pleasure, if there is a pleasant feeling, or with pain, if instead the feeling is painful, or with opaque indifference (with "ignorance"), if the feeling is neither pleasant nor painful." And here, naturally, the reference is also to the primordial anguish that lies at the base of samsāric existence and that produces attachment. In this

way there arise formations or combinations that attach themselves to one or other of the

five groups of the personality, that is to say, to the groups of materiality, of feeling, of perception, of the formations, of individuated consciousness. This being so, in order to

"bandage the wounds" and neutralize the infection provoked by contacts, we must ensure that "the internal sight, the internal smelling, the internal hearing, the internal tasting, the internal touching, the internal thinking are not distracted," that is to say, that we are present in the sixfold seat of the senses in such a way that we can immediately prevent

any self-relaxation, self-attachment, self-intoxication, any luring of ourselves by

enjoyment. There will be, then, no further building of combinations, at first in the

fundamental stem of the will, and then in the five stems of the personality." This is the essence of the new work of catharsis.

This work is based on what is known as the "watch over the doors of the senses," for which the canonical formula is: "Upon perceiving a form with the eye, the ascetic


M ajjh., 82; ct. ltivurtaka, 28; Angara., 6 55.


Samyutt.. 27.1—I0; 35.90.


Majjh.. 33; 105.

35. Ibid..


36. [ln English in the original.—Trans.]

37. Samyutt.,



Majjh., 28; 1 49.


conceives no inclination, no interest. Since craving and aversion and damaging and

harmful thoughts soon overcome the man who lives with the eye unguarded, he remains

vigilant, he guards the eye, he remains vigilant over the eye." Upon hearing a sound with the ear, upon smelling an odor with the nose, upon tasting a flavor with the tongue, upon

touching a contact with the body, upon representing to himself a mental state with the

mind, he conceives no inclination, he conceives no interest. Since craving and aversion

and damaging and harmful thoughts soon overcome the man who lives with his mind

unguarded, he remains vigilant, he guards the mind, he remains vigilant over the mind."39

To fail in this vigilance at some point is to suffer the fate of the tortoise: when the tortoise unthinkingly put out one of its limbs a jackal seized it by that limb and carried it off to its ruin.40 In this matter then, we have to come to grips with the samsaric entity with which

we are associated and that constitutes our double, composed of thirst. A continually

tightening circle closes round it. It is effectively likened to an enemy who, knowing that

he cannot openly defeat his adversary, gets himself employed by him as a servant and

gains his confidence so that he may then defeat him by treachery: this—it is said—is the

part that the illusory "I," created by identification, plays in us until the time of initiation into the doctrine of the Ariya.41 That the discipline of the watch over the senses or binding the wounds leads to a higher liberation is shown by the simile of the man who has at a

crossroads a thoroughbred team and can guide them wherever he pleases.42 The man who

does not know or who forgets this practice is dominated by forms, sounds, smells, tastes,

contacts, and thoughts, instead of being their master.43

In another way this discipline can also he summed up by the word silentium: "to gird

oneself with silence," silence in the technical and initiatory sense, in the sense of the Eleusinian σιωπή, Impressions are arrested at the periphery, at the limit of the senses.

Between them and the "1" there is now a distance, a zone of "silence." We thus become endowed with that form of silence that consists of not pronouncing either the exterior

word or the interior word, and this in turn implies not hearing, not seeing, not imagining.

This theme has also been expressed in a popular form. It is, in fact, the deeper, hidden

significance of the well-known statuette of the three sacred monkeys of Benares, one with

the ears closed, one with the mouth closed, and one with the eyes closed: speak not, hear

not, see not. And we may here also recall the curious hermetical formula: "Who has cars, let him open them tin the sense of a close watch on every impression], who has a mouth,

let him


Dīgha. 2,64.

40. Samyutt.,

35.190; cf. 202.

41. Ibid.,


42. Ibid.


43. [hid.,



keep it shut [in the sense of the aforesaid silence, of calm. intangible 'neutrality']."

It is thus that the conditions for further liberation and then for awakening the

extrasamsāric principle are consolidated. We shall see that development in this sense is

directly continued in the four jhānas.

As the natural counterpart of the watch on the doors of the senses, a world of

disintoxication is carried out within the zone that is now isolated, in order to eliminate or reduce those internal smoldering embers of agitation and self-identification that may be

made to burst into life by external contacts. This is what is known as the removal of the

five nīvarana, a term that means a "dross," a "hindrance," or an "impediment." The five nīvarana are: desire (kāmacchanda); hate or anger (vyāpāda); slothful idleness (thīna-middha); pride and impatience (uddhacca- kukkucca); doubtful uncertainty (vicikicchā).

The action of these five hindrances is clearly indicated by the following similes: it is like trying to look at one's reflection in water wherein all kinds of colors are mixed (desire), or in boiling water (hate and anger), or in water full of mud and moss (slothful idleness), or in water agitated by the wind (pride and impatience), or finally, in dark and murky water

(doubt).' Removal is effected by direct action of the mind on the mind, together with

accurate and calm self-examination. The discipline is described in the texts in the

following manner. The ascetic finds a solitary place and begins to meditate. A well-known

yoga position is counseled: sit with legs crossed and body straight upright. This traditional Indo-Aryan position is, however, only suitable if one is so accustomed to it that it is quite natural and requires no special effort and does not produce fatigue. In general, the position recommended for this, as for other contemplations, must be one of equilibrium, which

does not have to be changed; it must have a kind of symbolical meaning of self-awareness

and it must not demand efforts that would distract the mind. This is the formula for the

meditation: "The ascetic has given up worldly craving and now rests with his mind free from craving, he purifies his mind of craving. He has given up hate and now rests with his

mind free from hate, he purifies his mind of hate. He has given up inertia and accidie;

lover of the light, clearly conscious, he purifies his mind of inertia and accidie. He has given up pride and restlessness, with his mind inwardly tranquil he purifies his mind of

pride and restlessness. He has given up wavering, he has crossed over from doubtful

uncertainty; he has no doubts about what is bene-ficial, he purifies his mind of

wavering."45 It is fundamentally a more advanced development of the states already

induced by sīla or "right con-duct." The aim here is obviously to bring us to a deeper zone by means of the strengthened power of internal vision that we have gained through the

preceding disciplines. It is a matter of attacking, to some degree, the sankhara, that is to say, the innate and

44. Angutt.,



Digha, 2.68-74: Angutt., 1.2.


congenital tendencies that come. in part, from the extra-individual heredity that we have


Here, too, the purity achieved at certain moments comes to be developed until it has

almost attained a state of permanency. This is how we must understand what is known as

the "threefold watch": "by day, walking and sitting, turn the mind away from disturbing things; in the first watch of the night, walking and sitting, turn the mind away from

disturbing things; in the middle watch of the night, lie down on the right side, like the

lion, one foot on the other, bringing to mind the hour of waking; in the last watch of the

night, after arising, walking or sitting. turn the mind away from disturbing things."46 This is a kind of continuous examination of consciousness. The yama, the watches of the night

that are recognized in this discipline consist, according to the Buddhist tradition, of four hours each; the first runs from six until ten in the evening, the second from ten until two in the morning, the third from two to six in the morning. Thus, strictly speaking, the period

of true sleep or of the state that in the common man would correspond to sleep (cf, p. 181) is restricted to four hours only, from ten in the evening until two in the morning. In this we must not see an "ascetic" discipline in the Western sense of mortification: on the contrary, it is natural that in advancing along the road of illumination the need for sleep is considerably reduced, and this reduction produces no ill effect. Here, too, a unilateral

"authoritarian" intervention would only serve to create states of fatigue and inattention unfavorable for spiritual life by day.

With attentive care of the "wounds" and with action taken against the hindrances or impediments, the zone of "silence" is strengthened, and a gradual interior in-crease of the extrasamsāric quality takes place therein; this increase should he aided by illuminated

effort and it is related to the aforesaid "seven awakenings"—bojjhanga. These

"awakenings" are the positive counterpart of the cathartic or prophylactic action, that is to say, they are a "defence against intoxication produced by action." The canonical formula is: "[The ascetic] rightly causes the awakening of mindfulness derived from detachment, derived from dispassion, derived from cessation [of the flux], ending in renunciation, he

causes the awakening of investigation—of in-flexible energy—of enthusiasm—of calm—

of concentration—of equanimity, of these awakenings derived from detachment, derived

from dispassion, derived from cessation, ending in renunciation."47 Various interpretations of the place of these awakenings in the whole development are, nevertheless, possible.

Their sense as a whole, indeed, reflects that of the four jhānas, of the contemplation that is to be performed in complete detachment from external experience. Here, however, we

may under-

46. Majjh. 53, Samyutt., 35.120.

47. Majjh.. 77.


stand them on a more relative plane, as a kind of transfiguration and liberation of faculties that are already pervaded by the element of bodhi, whence the expression bojjhanga. It must be realized that we are not dealing with a simple schematic enumeration, but rather

with a series in which the meditation whereby they are apprehended should pursue an

intimate causal linking of the single terms so that we are naturally led on from one to the next, and so that in the one we see the integration and resolution of its predecessors. Thus, we must first achieve nondistracted meditation: then we must awaken the state of

"mindfulness," fix it in the mind, develop it, master it, and see how this state leads to the second awakening and passes into "investigation," which may find support in some

element of the doctrine; this inves tigation, when developed, fixed, extended, and mastered must lead on to the awakening of "inflexible energy," whose perfect conquest should herald a state of special, purified "enthusiasm," of purified joy. By further developing the meditation, we should realize that this enthusiasm, this joy, awakened and perfectly

developed in a body that is becoming calm, in a mind that is becoming calm, will become

resolved and liberated in the next awakening, which is that of "calm." When calm has been developed, extended, fixed, and mastered, "concentration" awakens; this, in its turn, when completely developed, becomes established and shines forth in the "equanimity"

that is the seventh awakening.4 8 These form a series of landmarks in meditation that is concerned with realization and they are connected by an inherent continuity. Through

these, one is led in another way to the confirmation of what was already becoming

established in the satipatthāna, the fourfold contemplation of detachment, that is to say,

one is led to that impassibility that is qualified as "pure, clear, ductile, flexible, resplendent," but which has nothing to do—it should be noted—with the indifference of a blunt mind, with the indifference "of a fool, of an ignorant man, of an inexpert common man."49 For our part, we think it opportune to add that the state in question must on no account be confused with apathy or atony, and that it develops together with a feeling of

purified intellectualized and heroic joy, although this may at first seem difficult to

understand. The Bhagavadgītā says: "When the mind, lamed by ascesis, becomes quiet;

when [the ascetic], seeing the self in the self, rejoices in himself, knows that boundless joy which, transcending the senses, can only be apprehended by the intellect and, when fixed

in it, does not stir from the truth ... he knows that this detachment from union with pain is called yoga." 50 At the same time, Buddhism speaks of a pleasure that is "like dung" when compared to that based on detachment, calm, and illumination.51 Furthermore, such

sequences as these are

4S. Ibid., 118. 49. Ibid.. 137.

50. Bhagavadgīta, 6.20-23.


frequent: "In the ascetic joy arises; this joy makes him blissful; being blissful, his body becomes calm: with the body calmed, serenity arises; in this serenity the mind comes to

rest, becomes concentrated"; this is a preparation for the four jhāna.52 This is another sequence that has the character of a connected series, developing in an upward sense, not

unlike that which, through the twelve nidana, led us downward to samsāric existence (cf.

p. 57). The point of departure of this new series is, in fact, the state of suffering, of

agitation, of contingency, which corresponds to the last nidāna of the descending path.

Beyond it, there is the state of confidence; this leads to purified joy

pāmujja; then

follows serenity, which gives place to bliss, passing on to equanimity—the term used here

literally means also to vanish, to cease being in a place: it is a question of detached

equilibrium, and for this reason pāmujja also some-times figures as the antecedent of

extinction." In this text the supreme realization has behind it a linked series in which special states of liberated joy play a particular part: a kind of joy that Plato contrasted with all 'nixed and conditioned forms of joy or of pleasure. Let us quote another text that

represents the state at which we may reckon to have arrived at this point of our exposition:

"Concentration which knows neither increase nor decrease, which is not based on

wearisome subjugation, which, because of its detached nature is constant, because of its

constancy is full of bliss, because of its bliss cannot be destroyed—such concentration has supreme wisdom as its result."54

This should destroy the idea that the path of awakening is arid and desolate, that it

kills all joy, that it offers only renunciation and destruction. That everyone whose furthest horizon is still within the effective, samsarically conditioned world should have this idea is quite natural but is of very little account. A text reminds us that only an Awakened One can comprehend the Awakened One. An expressive simile demonstrates this: two

companions leave a city together and reach a rock that one of them climbs. He says to the

other: "I see from up here a wonderful view of gardens, woods, fields, and lakes," but the other retorts: "It is impossible, it is inadmissible, friend, that from up there you can see all that." Then the companion standing on the


Angutt., 8.86; cf. 2.7.1—5, where two kinds of joy are considered and contrasted.

the one bound to life in the world, to mania, to enjoyment, the other to ascesis or to

ultramundane states of detachment and of freedom from mania; and it is said that the

second is the higher joy. "Extinction—it is sad ( Majjh., 75)— is the greatest joy." With reference to the state of the first jhana (cf. p. 148—49). it is said that. were the idea of lust to arise in the ascetic, he would feel it "as sickness (abadha), as suffering like pain which torments a healthy man" (Angutt., 4.114). It is in order to possess a higher joy that those who find pleasure in the burning of desire are not envied (M ajjh.. 75); it is

through finding that a joy beyond theirs—"heroic joy"—is better, that craving and aversion are abandoned (Majjh., 14). Joy. in many Buddhist sequences. comes, in fact, after "energy."

52. Digha,


53. Samyutt.,


54. Angutt.,



rock conies down, takes the other by the arm, makes him climb up on the rock and. after

he has recovered his breath, asks him: "What do you then see, friend, standing on the

rock?" The other replies: "I see a wonderful view of gardens, woods, fields, and lakes."

"And your previous opinion?" "While I was obstructed by this great rock, I could not see what is now visible." It concludes: it is impossible that what is know-able, discernible, capable of achievement, capable of realization through detachment. can be known,

discerned, achieved, realized by one who lives among desires and who is consumed by

desires." Quite apart from the higher "sidereal" principle. the Buddhist also knows the kind of joy that is contentedness, rejoicing, jubilation, enthusiasm, exultation, transport of the spirit and that, among others, is considered as "a factor of the great awakening"---pīti-sambojjhango.56

55. Majjh., 125.

56. Dhamrna-sangani, 285. Countering those who believe that the Buddhist road is one of

desolation and aridity. L. de la Vallee-Poussin (Nrrvāna [ Paris, 19251. p. 62i most opportunely writes: "We must, rather, recognise that India is difficult when it conies to being and bliss; that as she puts being beyond existence. so she puts bliss beyond




The Four Jhāna:

The "Irradiant Contemplations"

We have so far dealt with the two sections of the whole system of disciplines called sila

and samadhi. This last term has, in original Buddhism, a different meaning from that

which it has in the general Indo-Aryan tradition, where it usually designates actual states of enlightening contemplation; in Buddhism samdhi refers, instead, to the cultivation of consolidation, catharsis, and preliminary liberation, all of which are integrated by the

results of "right conduct." of sila. There are, however, some texts in which the four jhāna, the contemplations of which we are about to speak, are included in the "samādhi" section.'

The fact is that these contemplations can he apprehended and performed with varying

intensity and in a varying spirit. On a lower level they continue the action of purification.

When they are carried out with greater vehemence they lead to supersensible states, to the

limit of individual consciousness, since they are equivalent in their results to the four "it-radiant contemplations" that determine the possibility of a state of union with the theistic god.

In any case, by passing into the realm of the jhāna, as we shall now do, we find that

ascetic realization removes those horizons that limit the Stoical doctrines as well as all

"superman" theories. Let us briefly discuss this point. The limit of Stoical ascesis is apatheia, the destruction of any possibility of disturbance of the spirit through passions or outside contingencies. A well-known symbol is the rock that remains firm and still while

stormy waves break against it. 2 To this is added tranquility of mind based on

consciousness of one's own rectitude and a certain amor fati, that is to say, a confidence in cosmic order. From this standpoint, the irrelevancy of all that is

1. Cf, e.g., Digha, 10.2.1—20.

2. This simile is found in M arcus Aurelius. 4.49, and it is entirely similar to that of

.Angutt.. 6.6.55 (Dharmmapada. 81), which speaks of a mountain rock, uncracked. all of one piece, which does not shake n or tremble nor move as a result of the storms and tempests that strike it from all directions.


purely individual and terrestrial is considered and experienced. As for the doctrines of the

"superman," they are based on the reinforcement of the vital energies and of the "I" such as will produce invincibility and superiority to all tragedy, to all misfortune, to all human weakness, a pure force that, though it may be bent, cannot he broken, a will to power that

defies men and gods.

In the sphere of the Buddhist jhāna, both of these forms of ascesis are surpassed since the human condition in general tends to disappear. Only if the discipline of the Ariya were to stop at .sīla and samadhi could its achievements he likened to that of the most enlightened Stoicism. But Buddhism—like all initiations-has higher and freer realizations,

and so, instead of the rock against which stormy waves uselessly break, the simile of air

that one may try in vain to capture in a net or cut with a sword is far more appropriate.

Imperturbability and calm fixedness (samatha) equivalent to the Stoical apatheia, along the path of awakening is, in fact, considered at a certain point as a bond from which one

frees oneself in order to approach the domain of "nonexistence.' At the same time, the

"sidereal" element here encourages such detachment as will induce Olympian quality in all higher states of consciousness and destroys in that detachment any residue of hybris, of pride or of will for power attached to the "person." To "life"—even at its summits—

Buddhism opposes that which is "more than life." The term superman


-also figures in Buddhism as an epithet of the Ariya ascetics. But this ideal is here

transfigured, it is carried effectively onto a supersensible plane in which the dark tragedy that is always hid-den in the "titan" and the "superman" is completely resolved. We shall sec almost at once that in order to achieve such an ideal a special enlightened use of

sentiments such as love and compassion is even employed: a technique that carries us far

beyond the plane of the contradictions against which fought without hope, for example,

the soul of Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky. We mentioned this in dealing with the two ways

of overcoming fear (cf. p. 116).

The term jhāna is translated by some as "deepening self-examination"

(Selbstvertiefung), a rendering that should be remembered: indeed, in the disciplines of

which we shall speak, we shall be dealing with a descent through successive purifications

and simplifications into the deeper layers of one's own being, where, in the common man,

we find the kingdom of the subconscious. We then tread the very same path that is marked

by the hermetic and alchemic maxim: Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invienies

occultum lapidem, veram medicinam.5 Less happy,

3. Majjh.. 105. Cf. M alik, 106, where it is said that by loving and esteeming indifference, by letting consciousness rest there and become attached to it, the supreme aim of the

ascesis is not achieved

4. Cf, e.g., Samyutt., 22.57; Dhammapada, 97.

5, Cf. our work, The Hermetic Tradition.


however, is the translation of jhāna as Versenkungen ("sinking below") and still worse as

"trances" or "raptures" since the normal meaning of these terms is just the opposite of what we are dealing with here. The term, "trance," makes us think at once of the state of a

"medium,"6 a passive state of subconsciousness, of subpersonality and of obsession, whereas the Aryan ascesis is hallmarked by superconsciousness, by full activity and self-awareness. Equally, the term "rapture" implies an idea of ecstatic passivity and has a mystico-religious flavor, neither of which has much to do with the states in question. It is, therefore, preferable to retain the Pali term jhāna (Skt.: dhyāna) after we have become quite certain of its connotations. States of "trance," of confused thinking or of "possession"

can only occur in one who has been unable to resist the challenge offered by such


It happens that in the texts the jhāna are given immediately after the four con-

templations which are designed to create self-awareness and the girdle of isolation from

internal and external experience.' This being so, their meaning can be explained as follows. With the disciplines we have already discussed, contained in the samādhi section, one isolates oneself, one cuts oneself off, one detaches oneself. Even the "seven

awakenings" refer to the appearance, after this, of a positive force from within, which is related to the states achieved in the jhāna. These states radiate from the now isolated

center and proceed to reoccupy, in a manner of speaking, the abandoned zones, so that

contingent elements are there reduced and these areas are reclaimed from the dominion of

samsāra. It is, in fact, prescribed that these states, after they have been perfectly achieved by the mind, should be transmitted to the whole of one's being, even to the bodily

structure itself. For this reason, it is said that "death" finds access to one who does not practice the jhāna and penetrates him as a heavy stone ball thrown on a mass of moist clay; "death" finds the way barred, on the other hand, by one who has achieved the jhāna, and his attempts are likened to a light clew of thread hurled at a planed block of hard


The first jhāna is defined by this fixed formula: "The ascetic, far from desires, far from any disturbing state of mind, maintaining feeling and thought, in a state of serenity

born of detachment and pervaded with fervor and bliss, reaches the first contemplation

(jhāna)." This has the same significance as: "to dwell in the body watching the body, without thinking any thought connected with the body; to dwell in the feelings watching

the feelings, without thinking any thought connected with the feelings; to dwell in the

mind watching the mind, without thinking any thought connected with the mind; to dwell

in the mental states (dhamma) watching the mental

6. [These terms in English in the original.—Trans.]

7. M ajjh., 119.

8. Ibid.


states, without thinking any thought connected with the mental states."9 This, in a manner of speaking, is a summary of all that has been achieved in the preceding phases. All the

waves are calmed. Serenity pervades the entire being and unifies it, while there is clarity, detachment, and silence in every sensation that may arise or image that may present itself.

In the first jhāna consciousness is still resting on feeling and thinking, on perception and representation—vita and vicāra.

These two elements have to disappear in the next jhana, either in a single simpli-

fication process or else in two phases: in the second case sensory impressions are first

silenced and then representations or mental images. (Under these circumstances, there are

sometimes considered to be five rather than four jhāna, with the one we are now

discussing counted as two.) The fixed canonical formula is: "After having achieved feeling and thinking, the ascetic attains serene inward calm, intellectual simplicity arises which is free from perceptions and images, born of concentration, pervaded with fervour

and bliss, he reaches the second contemplation." By "having achieved feeling and

thinking," we must understand a state of perfect equilibrium of these faculties so that they can, in a manner of speaking, be left to themselves and can eventually be overcome and

abandoned. The term we have given as "intellectual simplicity" is ekodibhāva. Some have translated it by: "the mind emerges alone and simple," others "the mind grows calm and sure, dwelling on high," whose corresponding state is said to be "self-evolved": yet others use the expression "single-mindedness" or "one-pointedness";10' finally, some authorities speak of spiritual unity—Einheit des Geistes. It seems to us that our expression

"intellectual simplicity" is nearest to the sense of the state in question; at the same time, it recalls equivalent terms figuring in ancient West-ern asceticism, particularly in Plotinus, Iamblichus. Proclus, and in the hermetic texts. It is a manifestation of the mind as a

unique and simple essence no longer dependent upon psychical functions, sensations, or

formed images and thoughts. This achievement results from the power and intensity of

self-concentration that has been developed to a point where, as in the episode referred to

by a text, not even the noise produced by a large number of wagons is in any way

noticed." It is, in fact, much more a kind of "growing" of awakening than any form of direct "emptying" action that in many cases, to use two similes of Zen Buddhism, is like trying to drown an echo by raising the voice or trying to chase away one's shadow by

running after it: we can thus see the error of certain modem theosophical trends with their ideas of "making a vacuum" in a purely mental sense. Furthermore, we must emphasize that to be able to dismiss the

9. Ibid., 125.


The second, fourth. and fifth phrases are in English in the original.—Trans.]


According to Buddhaghosa's commentary, the concentration of the second, jhāna

is identical with that citt' ekaggatā, which produces the arrest of the mental flux and

with the collection of the mind in a single point, which is dealt with in yoga (quoted by

T. W. Rhys Davids. The Yogavacara's Manual. p. xxvii).


supports of consciousness, namely, sensations and representations (vitakka and vicāra), without passing into the subconscious or into sleep, and by participating, instead, in the

miracle of the separation and manifestation of the pure intellectual substance, comes only

as the result of a very special inward strength. Unity of the mind—unity that is almost

organically felt—is necessary, as well as effort nourished by sīla, by "right con-duet."

Therefore, it is said that, just as it is not possible to gain mastery over the sphere of

transcendental knowledge (pannā) without having first mastered the sphere of con-

centration, so it is not possible to master the sphere of concentration without having first gained mastery over the sphere of right life (sila), without which right concentration has

no foundation.12 One must possess power—simply a "mental" power—of self-mastery

and of cairn practiced in detachment, confirmed by inward simplification and

consolidated by the disidentifying contemplations, in order to furnish within oneself a

support for consciousness and self-awareness when the "silence" is absolute and sensations or images no longer present themselves. Thus the term ekodibhāva has not unjustly been compared with "simplicity of the will without thoughts." The "intellectual simplicity" that is the center of the second jhāna is not a simple mental state, but rather the point in which a pure will power concentrates and frees itself, an inwardly directed

willpower having itself both as its object and as its base.

In the third jhāna: "The ascetic, dwelling even-minded, clearly conscious, con-trolled, having eliminated fervor and bliss, feels arising in his body the felicity of which the Ariya say: 'The even-minded wise one lives in felicity.' Thus he reaches the third

contemplation." As in the second jhāna feeling and thought having been brought to a state of perfect transparency and equilibrium by the first jhāna, were left behind, so here we

leave behind the element of "fervor and bliss," which in the second jhāna comes to be felt as an impurity, as a disturbance, as something "compounded" and conditioned. It is not a contradiction that as a result of this further simplification there yet arises something that might almost seem to be a feeling. We can take it that there occurs in the third jhāna the removal of the general bodily sensation and its substitution by the "intellectual felicity" of which we have spoken. This appears to be the transformation that takes place when the

pure intellectual consciousness, aroused in the second jhāna and now still further purified, comes into contact, almost as a "reagent," with "coenesthesia," or the general sensitivity of the body. We can connect this state—at least in some measure—with the "perfect serenity which, when it ascends from this body and arrives at the supreme light, appears in

its true aspect," with that light that exists within the body, a glimpse of which may he known to have been gained when, upon making contact with the body heat is


Angutt.. 5.22, 24.

13. Chandogya Upanisad, 8.3.4; 3.13.7—8.


felt in it—a state referred to by the Upanisads.13 Special strength is required for this

realization too; in order to prevent what is to be absorbed and transfigured from itself

absorbing and submerging the sidereal element, in which case the experience would

resolve itself in organic sensations, and one would fall into a state of trance or sleep. 11

should, in fact, he maintained that the first three jhāna are developed in an internal zone that, in the life of an ordinary man, would correspond to periods of fantasy, reverie, or

sleep. This is shown by the fact that in the following phase, the fourth jhāna, there may occur, according to the texts, the suspension not only of discursive thought (of "words"), feelings, images, and emotive states themselves, however purified they may be, but also

of the rhythm of the vital force, that is to say, of the breath, whose movement is now

become an impurity and a disturbance:" this is a state that outwardly resembles death. We shall have more to say on this subject since this and similar phenomena really appear on

the scene in the later phase of the contemplations that are without form, and they only

occur in the jhāna when these are realized and experienced with special intensity.

The fourth jhāna: "After detachment from pleasure and pain, after disappearance of

previous joy and sorrow, the ascetic passes into a state beyond sorrow, beyond joy, into a

state of equanimity, of purity and of illumination—into the fourth contemplation."15 Here we have arrived at the extreme summit of individuated consciousness. The catharsis or

simplification must be capable of removing even the sensation of pure transfigured

intellectual joy so that a state of utter "neutrality" may be achieved, a supreme point of balance, which is without color, without form, completely free of any support

whatsoever. This is the frontier between two worlds, the point beyond which

consciousness, if it still has enough strength and the will for the absolute not to stop, to advance, to destroy all anguish, can no longer he the consciousness of an "I," that is to say, of a particular finite being bound by a particular physical form. It is, in fact, the

threshold of transfiguration in a literal sense, that is to say, the point at which one goes beyond "form," beyond the "person." In the texts, in fact, the fourth jhāna represents the boundary that separates the contemplations bound to "form" from those that are anipa or free from form, not "formal" but "essential."

A few considerations, both on the practice and on the "place" of these four jhana: in order to develop them successively, it is of prime importance that the will for the

unconditioned should completely occupy the mind. Only then will its advance not be

obstructed. Only then, when each single jhāna has been wholly apprehended, can one he aware of what that jhāna still retains that is "compounded," that is

14. Samyutt., 36.11.

15 On the four jhana cf., e.g.: Dīgha, 2.75 82. Samyutt., 28.1-9; Angutt, 3.58.

16. Majjh.. 52.


"conditioned,"16 and thus find a way that leads still further. When contemplating the phenomena proper to each jhāna in their appearance and development, the ascetic must confront them without inclination. without interest, without ties, without being attached,

with his mind not limited by them, and he must apprehend "There is a higher liberty"; and by developing his experience he will, in fact, see: "There is."" The demon of identification and of satisfaction raises its head here also. t must be anticipated and conquered. Every

feeling of enjoyment or of satisfaction that may arise upon the realization of each jhāna is immediately seen as a possible bond for the mind and is to be rejected.18 One must apply

here the general Buddhist principle that all enjoyment through attachment is lethal, be it

either of the "heavens" or of nibbāna itself, since "a fire lighted with sandalwood bums no less fiercely than any other tire." The action must be neutral, absolutely purified and naked. As in the Carmelite symbolism of the ascent of the mountain, the path that does

not become lost, which leads straight up to the summit, is that to which are attributed the words: nada, nada, nada—"nothing, nothing, nothing." The difference is that in (he Ariyan path of awakening there is found no equivalent to the crisis that Saint John of the Cross

called the "dark night of the soul." In the texts the impersonality of the action is evident also from the fact that the four jhāna are given as phases of a development from within, phases that occur normally as a result of the fundamental direction that one's own being

has taken, without "volitional" intervention in a strict personal sense. In the four jhāna, as in the later experiences, one must never think: "It is 1 who am about to achieve this

jhāna," or: "It is [who have now achieved this jhāna." or "t is 1 who am surmounting this jhana." On the contrary, the mind, having rightly been set in motion, should lead from one to the other.19 Any intervention by the normal personal consciousness would only arrest

the process and lead back to the point of departure, in the same way as Narcissus, at the

moment of gazing at his image, pre-pared his own end. The M ahayana saying, "there exist the road and the going, but not he who goes," seems not out of place here. We can also remember the Taoist maxim: "To achieve intentionally the absence of intentions."

Active intervention in the normal sense can only be allowed in the process of

consolidating each of these states so that they may be summoned at will, This pre-

supposes a special scrutiny of each one once they have severally manifested them-selves.

The texts record the following episode: by his supernormal power, the Buddha appeared

to a disciple who, upon coming out of jhāna, found that the perceptions

17. lbid..



Ibid.. 3t: 138.

19. Samyutt., 28.1-9; cf. Angutt.. 10.2, where the principle of graduality and of increase k expressed: "Thus, O disciples, from one phenomenon arises another, one leads to the

taking place of another, so that these very stales of the world finally lead to the goal

beyond the world."


and states he had already overcome were reappearing and reestablishing themselves. The

Buddha taught him how to carry the exercise further so that he might be able to get the

better of all such residual states: every distraction must be eliminated and austere

concentration reinforced; the mind must be composed, completely mastered, and

concentrated in a single point—ekodi-karohi. 20

This brings us to the "place" of the realizations that are represented by the jhāna.

Their "place" depends on the degree of intensity of the realizations themselves and on the extent to which they are animate with "knowledge," vipassanā. In the extreme case, there can occur through them the complete destruction, without residue, of the "manias," of the āsava, and therefore liberation. In other cases, when the action remains more peripheral

and only a part of the samsāric being is thereby neutralized, only some of the bonds are

effectively broken, and liberation does not occur during life; indeed, upon the decease of

the body, one may even rearise in states of existence that, although they may be more

than human, are yet conditioned. We shall discuss these various possibilities in detail in a later chapter (p. 196–97 ff.). The possibility also exists of developing the four jhāna in a

"neutral" manner, on an essentially mental plane, not for the purpose of awakening, but rather as means of acquiring and of exercising certain extranormal faculties (siddhi). 21

While still on the subject of the "place" of the jhāna we must state generally that these realizations, like the others of which we shall speak later, are not to be under-stood as being on a purely "psychological" or abstractly spiritual basis—as simple spiritual states of the individual, but are to be regarded as having a kind of ontological or

existential counterpart. The development must be regarded above all as carrying one

beyond normal consciousness, into prenatal and preconceptional states that normally

correspond to the unconscious that rules in the states of dreaming, sleep, and catalepsy.

In the second place, the idea of "sphere" or of "realm" is frequently found in the texts in connection with the jhāna; that is to say, the jhāna introduce us to one of the "spheres"

that are included in the objective hierarchy of the multiple states of being. There is even mention of "heavens": with the jhāna one is supposed to reach the "heavens of pure forms" or at least to prepare a way that leads to them.22 There is also mention of spirits or gods or angels of one or other jhāna sphere,23 and contacts that ascetics have had with them are discussed. Details are actually given. The bodhisattva, that is to say those who

are advancing toward full illumination, are supposed, to begin with, to perceive a bright

formless splendor; by purifying the "eye of knowledge" form also is


Samyutt., 40.1ff.

21. In

Angutt., 6.29, the acquisition of such powers is directly connected with the

development and frequent. practice of the fourth jhana.


Dhamma-sangani, 160 ff,


Angutt.. 4.123; 3.114.


perceived; at a later stage actual contacts ("to converse together") may even lake place and, furthermore, they may come to recognize the hierarchical place of these beings ("to which celestial world they belong").24 A close study is also made of the causes that lead to the interruption of such experiences, to the "vanishing of the splendor and of the vision of the forms." "In the course of the development of M ahayana Buddhism there appear

outright personifications of the jhāna as so many mythological Buddhas, and divinities of

all kinds take the place of the various planes of contemplative and transcendental

realizations. t is of importance, particularly in connection with this kind of literature, to understand clearly what is the right point of view: on the one hand the "psychologistic"

interpretation must be avoided; when one is in the jhana or in similar states, the center of one's own being, even if only fora time, is "elsewhere." in worlds different from that perceived by the usual waking consciousness and one is not under-going a process that

has a merely subjective value. On the other hand, when the presentation, particularly in

later Buddhism, is objective and almost theological, with reference to divinities and

cosmic or celestial hierarchies, then, stripping off the mythology, the matter must he

understood in its essential form as a function of states of consciousness, of transcendental experiences. This holds good not only of doctrine but also in cases of genuine apparitions.

Such possible apparitions arc only "projections," that is to say, exteriorized forms of particular states that are experienced, and the personification takes place on the basis of images fixed in the mind or in the subconscious of the individual who is practicing. Thus

Tibetan Buddhism goes as far as admitting that, in a particular phase of practice, the

Buddhist can see the Buddha trans-formed into a M ahayana god, just as a Christian will

sec the Christ or a M uslim M uhammad. Everyone supplies the image that he has himself

cultivated or that he has received from his samsāric tradition, as the mode—in the guise of a form, an image or an apparition—in which he experiences a particular state of ascetic or

initiatory consciousness. In connection both with the jhana and with other states of

experience it is, therefore, important to achieve a point of view that is higher than the

ontological-theological as well as the "psychologistic" or "spiritualistic" attitude. Only such a superior point of view can "conforms to reality" and be suffused with taste knowledge. Based on this knowledge, the Buddhist ascesis completely dismisses the

whole ghostly world that is made up of "astral" or "mental" visions, phenomena, apparitions, and so on, and that plays such a great part in the deviations of Western

theosophy and anthroposophy; even the substantialist aspect of strict theology is left

behind. The references in the earliest texts to the gods and to the angels of the various


24. Ibid.,



Majjh., 1 28. Some of the "impurities of mind" that paralyze the vision are doubt, inattention, fear, exultation, excessive effort, relaxed effort, complacency, perception

of diversity.


where they do not represent interpolations and infiltrations of popular beliefs, are entirely schematic. The Ariyan ascetic achieves the various states that are the substance of such

"worlds" and goes beyond, without allowing his attention to be distracted by a

phenomenology that is only made possible when "direct knowledge" wavers and when

one is subject to the play of one's own unconsciously objectivizing imagination. The

world of the original Buddhist contemplation is extremely clear, almost Doric. Such

fantastic creations are entirely foreign to it—and it is for this reason that in some shortsighted people there has arisen the idea that we are here dealing with stales that are merely

"psychological" or, at the most, "mystical."

When intensely experienced, the jhāna transform not only consciousness but also

particular faculties—speech, thought, and breath—"purify" them and take us well beyond the catharsis. We have seen that these faculties remain suspended during practice of the

jhāna; and consequently they become quiet and mastered.26 This suspension means, in fact, that consciousness has been taken beyond their source and that it continues to exist

beyond them. Thus these faculties are brought into virtual subordination, by means of

consciousness, which has now become the essential foundation of the faculties, and passes

on to them the calm that it has achieved in itself. The catharsis of certain conditioned

feelings is also considered,27 and it is emphasized that the force, thus advancing, cuts off not only the bond represented by "evil thoughts" (which disappear in the first jhāna) but also the bond of "good thoughts" (which disappear in the second jhana).28

On emerging from the jhāna, even the general form of experience is not the same as before. In this connection, three modes of "contact" are mentioned, given in some texts also as three "liberations": contact of the "void," contact of the "signless," contact of the

"without tendency"—sunna-, animitta-, appani-hita-phassa.29 We can consider these as new "categories," new modes of experience, which appear, in general, at the moment when the ascetic, after going to the limit of conditioned consciousness, returns to normal

existence. t will be as well, however, to discuss such forms of experience at a later point since they can only be considered in conjunction with the jhāna if we assume that these

latter have been so intensely experienced as almost themselves to lead to liberation, while normally in the texts, after the jhana, there are other transformations of the consciousness that come under the heading of panna, or transcendental knowledge. There are, however,

some texts that consider special forms of contemplation in which the jhāna use the "void,"

the "signless" and


Samyutt.. 36,11.


Angutt., 4.200.

28. Majjh.,


29. [hid.,



the "without tendency" as a base from which to produce a higher degree of "purification,"

characterized, in fact, by those three elements: suddhika-sunnatam, suddhika- animittam, suddhika-appanihitam.30

The perfection of the four jhāna implies their "embodiment," and this also signifies a transformation of the invisible structure of the human organism (with particular emphasis

on the samsāric being which is its root), which is brought about by the pervasion of this

structure by the states corresponding to the jhāna. The texts, in fact, speak of an actual

"bodily reliving in oneself' of "those saintly liberations, which are high above all form.

formless," and this is considered as a higher stage of achievement. Thus. there is a

distinction between one who is "liberated on both sides"—ubhatobhāga-vimutta—and one who is only liberated "as to knowledge"—panna-vi mutta. The second is the case of the man who "has not bodily achieved those blissful liberations that are beyond form,

formless" and in whom the intoxications, the "manias" or āsava, are for this reason only removed in part"

To show this process of "embodiment" of the four jhana, appropriate similes are given throughout; they are important since they also serve to throw further light on the essence

of each of the practices in question.

Here is a simile that concerns the first jhāna: "As an expert bath attendant or bath attendant's apprentice puts soap powder in a bath, soaks it with water, mixes and dissolves it in such a manner that its foam is completely permeated, saturated within and without

with moisture, leaving none over: just so the ascetic pervades and infuses, fills and

saturates his body with the serenity born of detachment, perceptive and thoughtful,

pervaded with fervor and beatitude, so that not the smallest part of his body is left

unsaturated with this serenity born of detachment."

Second jhāna: "As a lake with a subterranean spring; and into this lake there flows no rivulet from east or from west, from north or from south, nor do the clouds pour their rain into it, but only the fresh spring at the bottom wells up and completely pervades it,

infuses, fills, and saturates it, so that not the smallest part of the lake is left unsaturated with fresh water; just so the ascetic pervades and infuses his body with internal serene

calm, born of self-recollection, pervaded with fervor and beatitude." We should note,

here, the simile of the internal spring, the idea of something fresh that spreads out from

the inside and from the "bottom"—from the detached "intellectual simplicity" which has been achieved—unsullied by any influx of out-side currents; that is to say, with all vital

samsaric nourishment neutralized.

Third jhāna: "As in a lake with lotus plants some lotus flowers are born in water,


Dhamma-sangani, 344—53: 505—27.


Majjh , b.

32. [bid,.



develop in the water, remain below the surface of the water, and draw their nourishment

from the depths of the water, and their blooms and their roots are pervaded. infused,

filled, and saturated with fresh water, so that not the smallest part of any lotus flower is left unsaturated with fresh moisture: just so the ascetic persuades and infuses, tills and

saturates his body with purified joy, so that not the smallest part of his body is left

unsaturated with purified joy." While in the preceding phase we spoke only of a deep

internal spring, here we have a further development, we have a state that now encloses,

permeates, and nourishes the entire bodily structure, by transforming the general

sensation that corresponds to it, just as we have already said.

Fourth jhāna: "As a man might cloak himself from head to foot in a white mantle, so that not the smallest part of his body was left uncovered by the white mantle: just so the

ascetic sits, having covered his body with a state of extreme equanimity and purity and

clarity, so that not the smallest part of his body is left uncovered by the state of extreme equanimity and purity and illumination." We are, then, at a third phase: the body is not only pervaded but also covered by the new force, it is enveloped in the force as if the

body did not contain the force but the force contained the body. The ascetic dominates

his body, covers his body."

The similes we have just given are among those that, to a great extent, serve as

"magic keys": they have a power of illumination for those who use them as a starting point when elaborating this phase of embodying the experience corresponding to the four


The path leading through the jhāna is not the only one considered by the Buddhist

teaching. The texts indicate a second path that, from its effects, would seem to be

equivalent. It may be called "path of saintliness" or "wet path," as opposed to the other which is mainly in the nature of a "dry path." While the jhāna are necessarily achieved by way of an intellectual catharsis and spiritual concentration, in the other path, which we shall now briefly discuss, feeling plays a large part, although it is employed in

conjunction with perfect awareness and is used purely instrumentally. This second path

consists of four awakenings that are called brahmavihara-bhav ana, that is, "unfolding of the divine states," or appamannā, "the limitless," the "infinite (states)," We shall use the term irradiant contemplation. The method aims at dissolving the bond of finite

consciousness by means of the irradiation of an ever vaster, more disindividualized and

more universal feeling, so developed that it ends by leading to the same state as the

fourth jhāna, to a state of almost discarnate

33. Digha. 2.82. The white mantle of some western monastic orders that is provided with a hood coveting the head also. in special rites, has a symbolical value That may he

interpreted on these lines: a value that in the Church has been lost.


equanimity and mental clarity. This path entails the recognition that: "Before, this mind of mine was limited and obstructed. But now, it is limitless and unfolded, and no limited

action can still exist in it or maintain itself in it."34 Again we have a catharsis. The four appamanna are conceived as containing, in fact, a "purification"; thus it is said that one who has realized them "has bathed with the inner bathing" and has no further need of external rites of purification.35 They produce "the limitless redemption of mind."36

Here are the formulae that are given by the canon for the four irradiant contemplations:

"The ascetic dwells with his spirit pervaded by love (mettā) and irradiates one direction, a second, a third, a fourth, so across and upward and downward: identifying himself in all

things everywhere, he irradiates the whole world with spirit pervaded by love, with ample,

profound, unlimited mind, free of hate and rancor." The formula is repeated three more times, unchanged except for the term, love, which is replaced in turn by compassion

(karuna), sympathetic joy (mudita), and lastly equanimity, immutability, or stability (upekkhā). After the irradiation of the feeling of love, follow compassion and sympathetic

joy. Through love the ascetic feels himself in all beings, noble or common, happy and

unhappy, both of this world and of every other world; he feels their destiny as though it

were his own, he takes upon himself the contingency of their life, he feels with their

feeling or suffering (compassion)—but he then irradiates joy, as if the darkness in each

being had dissolved, as if the feeling he irradiates were beneficial to the beings and were sustaining, clarifying, and liberating them. Then follows the last irradiation, that of

immutability or stability: the ascetic, still developing this universal consciousness, is as if he willed the "being" of each being. He aims at infusing in every creature that same calm, that same quality of stability and of equanimity that he has developed in him-self, by

projecting in them the quality of "being," that same unshakability or security that he has achieved by completing this process of universalization. In this connection, we may call to mind these words: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world

giveth), give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it he afraid."37 The formula is repeated, changing only, for each contemplation, the quality of the basic

feeling that is to be aroused first in oneself and then to be irradiated: "The ascetic dwells with compassionate—joyful—immutable mind and irradiates one direction, then the

second, then the third, then the fourth, above, be-low, across: identifying himself

everywhere in all things, he dwells irradiating the


Angutt , 10.208.

35 M ajjh.. 7.

36. Ibid., 43.

37. John 14:27; cf. Mahaparinirv., 40 : "The Awakened One 15 peace lo himself and hears peace for the entire world."


whole world with compassionate—joyful—immutable spirit, with ample, profound,

unlimited mind, free of hate and rancor."38

To set free one's heart by unfolding a love that turns to compassion, a compassion that

turns to joy, a joy that turns to unchangeability, to impassible clarity and unshakable

detachment, is the aim of this fourfold contemplation. To achieve it entirely, that is to say, to dissolve all trace of finite and unquiet subjectivity, is, according to Buddhism, to have achieved the condition necessary for a state of union with the theistic god, with Brahma—

brahma-sahayata One text, in connection with the fourth irradiant contemplation, even

states; "Thus, 0 disciples, an ascetic dwells as a god."39 In any case, by this path that, as we have said, is comparable to the "way of saintliness," the anagami-phala or the "fruit of no return" may be achieved: the individual in question, after the dissolution of the body, arises in the world of Brahma, a world, as de Lorenzo has rightly pointed out,40 of which

Dante's whole paradise is but an allegorical representation; a world that for Buddhism,

however, is only a stage to be passed, a world that, when compared with absolute

liberation, appears as something inferior—hina—as something yet conditioned '

As in the jhāna, so also in these irradiant contemplations an interior and invincible force is set free and expands, once the preliminary ascesis has sufficiently barred the roads along which external contingencies might disturb the internal being. The states to be

aroused and irradiated, including unchangeability, acquire the characteris tics of absolute forces--rather than of feelings in the normal sense—which are such that they may even

make themselves objectively felt at a distance," of forces that derive from a cosmic

consciousness that completely dominates feeling and overcomes all suffering and all

reaction of the spirit to an extent almost inconceivable. The irradiant contemplations are

in this way related to the power of patientia, to the capacity for unwavering endurance of

all that can come from the world of men by engulfing it in the vastness of the liberated

mind. Whether people behave with love or with hate, whether their words are kind or

unkind, sincere or false, whether their action tends to produce joy or suffering, the heart of the ascetic who practices the appamannā must remain undisturbed, no evil word must

escape him; he must, instead, remain friendly and compassionate, his spirit must he loving

and without secret malice. With a loving

38. Majjh., 7.

39. Angutt.. 4.I90.

40. G. de Lorenzo, I discorsi di Gotamo Buddho (Bari, 1916-27), footnote to M ajjh., 97.


Cf. M ajjh., 120, where it is said that he who aims al extinction goes beyond all the

divine spheres, "he dues not arise in any place, he does not arise at any point."

Furthermore. the absolutely neutral state in the path of awakening stands higher than

any beatitude, even celestial. When this state wanes. beatitude, formerly overcome

springs up again: ibid., 102.


According to Samyutt., 42.8, the irradiated forces are perceived by all beings like

the sound of a trumpet, blown without effort, in the four regions.


spirit the person who may have acted for good or ill is irradiated; starting from him, the

ascetic will then irradiate the whole world with a loving spirit, with ample, profound,

limitless spirit, free of impurities and rancor. And some cosmic similes are added: with

spirit like the earth, like water, like the air, like fife.

"Like the earth"—says the Buddha—"practice ascesis. Just as upon the earth there is thrown the pure and the impure, excrement and urine, mucus and pus and blood, yet

because of this the earth is not distressed nor saddened nor troubled: so also you, like the earth, must practice ascesis: for if you, like the earth, practice ascesis, your mind, touched by joy or suffering, will not be disturbed." And the same for water: as in water there is washed the pure and the impure, or as in the fire there is burned the pure and the impure,

or as the wind blows on the pure and the impure, or as, lastly, space is not limited by

anything. so must one practice ascesis, like water and fire, like wind and space: and the

mind, touched by joy or suffering, will not be disturbed.43

There is a similar cycle of similes that again point out the cosmic nature of the

feelings to be aroused and irradiated in such contemplations. It is said: "Should a man arrive with a hoe and a box and speak thus: 'I will clear away the earth' and should he hoe here and there. and remove the soil here and there, and throw it here and there and speak

thus: 'You shall be without earth'—what think you now, disciples: Could this man clear

away the earth?—Surely not, Lord," is the answer. "And why not?—The earth, Lord, is very deep and vast, and could certainly not be cleared away however much that man

might toil and labor." And likewise in the case of the air: if a man should come with lac and other colors, and attempt to draw figures in the sky, he would never succeed, since

"the sky is formless and invisible, and a figure could certainly not he drawn there however much that man might toil and labor." Finally, in the case of water: the fool who with a bundle of lighted straw were to try to dry up the Ganges would never achieve his aim.

Thus, with a mind like the earth, like the air, like water, like fire, like space, with ample, profound, unlimited mind, free of hate and rancor, should one irradiate the whole world,

never letting the heart be distressed, never allowing an unkind word to escape, remaining

friendly and compassionate. The extreme example given is this: "Even if, 0 disciples,

brigands and assassins with a two-handed saw were to sever your joints and limbs, one

who for this reason were to become angry would not he carrying out my teaching,

Therefore you must, 0 disciples, thoroughly train yourselves thus: 'Our mind must not be

troubled, no evil word must escape our mouth, we shall remain friendly and

compassionate, with loving mind, without hidden ill-will we shall irradiate that person;

passing on from him we shall then irradiate the whole world with loving mind, with


43. Majjh., 62; Angutt.. 9.11.


profound, unlimited mind, free of hate and rancor.' Thus, 0 disciples, must you thoroughly

train yourselves."44 In the course of this text it is emphasized that the mind must be put to the test at the very moment in which we are faced by injustice: that is to say, we must

neutralize and conquer our reaction also when it has most reason to exist. Naturally, we

are in the field of pure ascesis, of pure discipline, and it would therefore be a great

mistake to attempt to transfer this attitude to the plane of normal life. It should be further noted that there is no question at all of "forgiving"—and still less of `"forgiving" that we may he "forgiven." At a certain point, the whole matter resolves itself into an objective inability to be touched or wounded. The attacker and the unjust find themselves in exactly

the same condition as the man who seriously imagined he could remove the earth with his

hoe or draw figures in the air. For this reason, the nonreaction of the ascetic must be

understood—to use one of Kremmerz's similes45—as the measureless goodwill of a world

boxing champion toward a spindly youth who arrogantly challenges him to a trial of

strength and skill and who hits or kicks him to provoke him. The champion knows that he

could lay out his assailant with no effort at all.

This leads us to a consideration of the part that love—mettā—plays in the Doc-trine of

Awakening. In the first place, it does not appear as an absolute value—as charitas, the

theological attribute "God is love," but rather as an ascetic instrument that. at the fourth stage, gives way to impassibility, to a state of mind that is detached from all beatitude,

that is "neutral" in a higher and sovereign sense. In the second place, it has nothing to do with a human "love for one's neighbor," but rather with the irradiant and almost objective power that proceeds, in a natural way, from an integrated and liberated mind. This is

evident from the Buddhist view that of one who seeks his own health rather than that of

others and the one who seeks the health of others rather than his own, the former is judged to be superior:" this takes us far indeed from "humanitarianism," but likewise from

"egoism." The point is, that he who has not cannot give. Love, here, is not a matter of running after others with cures and solicitude and effusions, but is something that is based on "obtaining one's own health"—that is, one's own spiritual fulfillment until it becomes

"radiant." and like the light of the sun that shines equally, irresistibly, and impersonally upon the good as upon the evil, without any special "affection," without any particular intent.

In this connection, we recall the discrimination made by Christian theology in order to

explain the possibility of loving even those for whom one harbors a natural aversion and

repugnance so strong that one may have to restrain oneself physically


Majjh., 21.

45. Cf.


Kremmerz. Dialoghi sull'ermetismo (Spoleto, 192 ,1). pp. 53-54.


Angutt., 4.95.


from giving expression to it. Here the distinction is between natural and supernatural love, between love based on the senses and love based on will and liberty. The former is, in

fact, conditioned by feeling and is not free. since it does not stir until confronted by an object corresponding to a tendency; for this reason, when the object changes or when the

mind alters its outlook, the love decreases or gives place to another feeling. In this form of love the individual, in fact, only loves himself or, more correctly, it is the samsāric being in him that loves; and this is so not only with lustful love but also with sublimated forms of love and affection. This is all part of the world of dukkha. it is an alteration, a bond, a disturbance of the spirit. The Ariyan path of awakening does not recognize love in this

sense, and regards it in all its forms as a limitation and an imperfection.

Different is amor intellectualis, which, though preserving the characteristics of an affective state sui generis, is based not on sensibility but, as we have said, on will and liberty. In Christian theology this is "loving all creatures in God"; which means that we here remember each individual's transcendental source, liking in him that which he is in

the impersonal, metaphysical sense, and resolutely excluding any like or dislike

proceeding from our particular nature. In this case liberty of spirit triumphs over the

conditioned character of the senses, and love becomes the purer and the sign of higher

liberty the less it depends upon particular satisfactions and attachment to single beings"

Only if we think of love in these terms can we understand that its value is simply

instrumental and cathartic: in the ladder of Buddhist realizations it takes its place simply as the equivalent of the earlier jhāna, that is to say, of the contemplative simplifications designed to remove the limitation of the individual and to neutralize the "five bonds." And we can then understand another thing, which is the magical power attributed by

Buddhism, in certain circumstances, to love. There corresponds to this love, that is deeply experienced in the "intellectual" sense already described, a certain removal of the I-thou relationship, not as combination with or losing oneself in the loved one, but in the sense of establishing a concord between whole and part, between creator ("father") and created ("son"), between the limitless and the limited. In loving, one goes outside oneself, that is to say, beyond the state in which the other person may be "one like us," one creature facing another—one assumes, one makes one's own the being of the other person, who

then finds himself facing a profundity that he himself cannot attain and consequently

against which he is power-less." He loves him, as it were, himself, not finitely, however, but infinitely; it is himself with an extra dimension that is created by the very act of love.

In this man-

47. Cf.

I. Le Masson. Avis spirituels et meditations (Tournai. 1911), p. 23ff.


Cf. J. Evola. Fenomenologia dell'individuo assoluto (Turin, 1930), p. 247ff.


ner, when love is developed into an objective intensity it may give rise to a magic force

that is able to paralyze all unfriendly acts of which the other person may be capable. Thus it is said that one who practises and truly develops love, thereby freeing his mind, also

develops a state such that fire, and poison, and weapons have no longer power over him.49

This same idea is expressed in various Buddhist legends. By irradiating with unlimited

mind, full of love and compassion, vast as the earth, Prince Siddhattha is supposed to have halted the onrush of an elephant set upon him by an enemy. On being told of the death of

a disciple from snakebite, the Buddha says that this would not have happened had the

disciple irradiated the world of snakes with loving mind; and here we have the

confirmation of the very idea we have just discussed: love creates a defense, paralyzes

hostile beings, disarms them and makes them retreat, because it arouses in them the

feeling that their limited selves are facing the limitless. Thus we read, in connection with the irradiant contemplation of love: "Infinite is the Awakened One, infinite is the the doctrine—you, instead, are finite beings. I have created my protection, I have sung my

hymn of defense—let all living beings retreat."50 We can see from this how ignorant of Buddhism are those who practically deny to it the dignity of a proper "religion" since they understand it as a simple ethic of "love" and "compassion" in an adulterated, equalitarian, and humanitarian sense.

Some texts advocate a combination of the irradiant contemplations with the jhāna; in which case, it is in those states of abstraction and internal transparency belonging to the jhāna that, at a later phase of the discipline, the awakenings of the "four divine states"

should be practised through the successive stages of irradiation already described.51 One

kind of "purification" thus raises the other to a higher power; and here we may pause to consider the possibility of the existence of beings who, according to Buddhism, from their

distant, unknown solitudes, irradiate the world with influences far more efficacious and

valuable than those that any visible human action can provide.

As we have said, the four irradiant contemplations are equivalent, in practise, to the

four jhāna. They also lead us to the extreme limit of individuality, to the point beyond which there are the regions "free from form"—arupa-Ioka—or the "supercelestial"

regions, whichever one prefers. As long as one's horizons have not been made to appear

relative by the will for absolute liberation, these states of love and of universalization, up to and including the purity of the fourth "limitless" contemplation, which correspond, one might say, to the mode of pure "being," may


Angutt.. 8.1.63.


Cullavagga (Vin. ), 5.6; cf. Angutt.. 4.67; Jātaka, 203.


Angutt.. 8.63; Dhamma-sangani, 251.


serve as a way to liberation from the self and from finite will, and bring one as far as the unio mystica, that is to say, the brahmā-sahayatā already mentioned. We know already, however, that this is "too little" for the Ariyan vocation. The Awakened One knows the path that leads to the state of unity, which may he realized in life or after death, with the theistic divinity: he even goes so far as to say (a thing that should be noted by certain

Catholic apologetics when it pronounces every kind of foolish judgment upon Buddhism),

that for him to point out such a path as this is as easy as for a man who is a native of a

village to point out the road leading to that village.52 The truth he proclaims is, however, that there exists "a higher liberty." The mania of "saintliness" is to be overcome, in the same way as those of desire and existences.53

Of the four brahma-vihārā, the irradiant contemplations, considered in them-selves, we must say: "this does not lead to turning away, not to cessation, not to calm, not to wisdom, not to awakening, not to extinction—but only to ascension into a world of


52. Majjh.,


53. Angutt., 10.20.

54. Majjh.,




The States Free from Form

and the Extinction

The region of the later realizations of the Ariya, up till the great liberation, corresponds to the arupa world. Having overcome sensible existence (kāma-lupa) having overcome the

possibility of rearising in the world of pure forms (rupa-loka) one still must proceed, if one has the power, to the overcoming of existence free from form (arupa-loka) and of the

"desire" of which it may be the object (arupa-rāga). By arupa- loka, we must understand the sphere in which only that which is "essence" remains, only pure possibility of manifestation, or "meaning": while the formal and manifested aspect, which may, among other ways, manifest itself through the phenomena of supersensory vision, entirely falls

away. From the individual's point of view, this is the space that extends beyond the fourth nidāna, nāma-rupa, that is to say, beyond individuation. Dissociation from the samsāric being occurs when we enter into this higher ascetic and transcendental region, in which

we still have to remove the first three nidāna of the series: firstly, vinnāna, understood as both the general possibility of a definite and dependent existence, and also the absolutely original motus that may lead to such an existence, in its double aspect of "nonwisdom"

(avijjā) and of intoxicated energy, sankhāra and āsava.

In the same way that, after the phase of defense, consolidation and preliminary

detachment, the ascetic was offered two nearly equivalent paths, namely, the four jhāna and the four irradiant contemplations, so, in this final development, a twofold path is

again offered. The first of these is by way of completely abstract contemplations "without form" and is developed, in fact, in the same sense as the aforesaid jhāna; indeed, the term arupa-jhāna is often used here. The other path, on the contrary, is made up of special illuminating visions—abhinna—and is imbued much more with the spirit of the irradiant


Before we deal with these paths, it will he profitable to take the opportunity of


referring to certain initial techniques and instruments that are considered by Buddhism as

auxiliary and preparatory means—parikamma-nimitta—both for the jhāna we have yet to speak of, and for those we have already discussed. The texts speak of eight "liberations"

(vimokkhā), five of which are the āyatana, that is, the contemplative states of the region

"without form," while three are clearly contemplations preliminary to them. In the first of these latter contemplations one considers, in one's own being, the single element "form,"

and one completely concentrates one's mind upon it: this is not entirely unrelated to some

methods known among ancient M editerranean initiations and associated with the formula:

"to go out (from the body, from individual consciousness) through the skin." To feel only the "form" of one's own organism is like feeling its surface, the "skin." According to those ancient mystic teachings, to isolate this sensation of the "form" and almost to lose oneself in it can, in certain cases, be a way of "going out."' And it is a method of Tibetan yoga firstly to identify one's body with that of a divinity and then to apprehend it as empty, as if it were made only of a shining and transparent skin.' The second "liberation" consists of forgetting one's own form, one's own body. and absorbing oneself instead in an outside

form, which alone must engage the mind and the sensibility. This is connected with the

technique of the kasina that we are just about to discuss. The third "liberation" is connected with "splendor" and "beauty"—there are even texts that consider that these two elements only are the supports in the passage to the form-less.' There thus appears on the

scene something that recalls the part played by aesthetic feeling in the Platonist and

Neoplatonist mystiques, namely, a kind of enthusiasm or rapture that acts as a vehicle for

the attaining of the supersensible. The difference is that here we are not dealing with the joy of the artist or of the lover of art, but rather with a quintessential and abstract feeling that is roused, not by an image or a living creature or an aspect of nature, but simply by a pure color, light, brilliance, or fire in a mind that has already been brought to the limit of purely individual and human consciousness as the result of the ascesis we have so far

described. This refers to the kasina themselves.

The term kasina means, literally, "totality." It denotes a procedure that would he described today as "hypnotic," a procedure by means of which consciousness is led to become absorbed by identification in an object, until they form together a


Cf. G. M eyrink, Golem. chap. 18: "The key is found purely and simply in making

oneself aware of the 'form of one's own T,' of one's own skin, I mean, sunk though one

may be in sleep; in discovering the narrow crack through which consciousness finds its

way between the state of wakefulness and that of the deepest sleep." It must he

understood that. in the kasina. the power of concentration produces conditions

analogous to those of sleep.


Texts in W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (London, 1935).

pp. 173-75. 190.


Digha. 15.35; Angutt., 8.66; Majjh., 77.


"wholeness," one single thing. This process of identification produces isolation of the mind not only from physical impressions but also from one's own person: the "five

hindrances" being overcome, the passage to the abstract contemplations is made easier or hastened.

As to technique: one may start with a disc of some perfectly pure color, dark blue,

yellow, red, or white, which is placed in front of the person who is to perform the

exercise. Alternatively, a round opening can be made, through which an area of bright sky

may be seen, or the same can be done in a screen placed in front of a fire in such a manner that a disc of flame is visible. In one way or another, one must arrange to have before one a regular shape occupied by a pure and even color or luminosity. The mind should be

detached from all longing or worry and should warm to the thought of the truth and of the

awakening of the Ariyas. Thus the mind is prepared for concentration and is pervaded by

the thought that the action about to be undertaken will facilitate the grace of the mind's

own liberation. After this is done, one must gaze fixedly at the luminous disc, "with eyes neither too widely open nor half-closed, as one looks at oneself in a mirror," without interruption, without blinking, concentrating wholly on this perception, until there is

created a false image (today we would say, an hallucinatory image) of the shape. One

must then continue to concentrate on this image, with the eyes both open and closed, if

necessary "a hundred or a thousand times," until the mental image is established in such a way that one continues to see it even involuntarily, with the eyes closed or open and with

the gaze removed from the object. The first phase of the operation is complete when the

"reflex," the mental counterpart of the physical image of the disc, called uggaha-nimitta, is equally visible with the eyes open or closed. One can then stop sitting in front of the

disc and pass on to the second phase of the exercise.

In this further phase the "reflex" must, in its turn, serve as the basis for concentration that is now, in a manner of speaking, of the second degree. It is no longer the physical eye that fixes its gaze, but the eye that has been opened by the 7na—jhāna-cakkhu. The procedure, however, is the same: one again has to identify oneself with the mental image,

forgetting everything else, just as was done previously with the image provided by the

senses. If this second concentration on the interior image is rightly carried out, there

finally springs out from this image a new reflex of the second degree, something purely

spiritual—patibhāga-nimitta—"without form, without color." This resembles the melting of a fog, or the shining of the morning star, or the appearance of the moon from behind

clouds, or is like the flash of a mirror taken from its case, or of a perfectly polished gem.

These terms are used to describe the appearance of the new image that "shatters" and annihilates the preceding "hallucinatory" image, and "rises, a hundred, a thousand times more clear." At the


moment when this experience occurs, the obstacle formed by one's own individuality and by the "five bonds" is removed, the power of the āsava is neutralized, and the passage of the mind to the apprehension of the states free from form, or of pure forms, is made


The so-called light kasina is appreciably different; it is indicated in the texts thus:

"The ascetic fixes his attention on perception of light, he fixes his mind on the perception of day: as by day so by night, as by night so by day. Thus he trains himself, with his mind aware, untroubled, in the contemplation of light." Correctly and constantly practiced, this exercise should ease the opening of the "eye of wisdom."5

Another process of "emptying" is more mental in character and is based on successive abstractions. Forgetting oneself and one's connection with common human existence, one

allows only the image "forest," for example, to remain, as if it were the only thing in the world that existed, until the spirit is relaxed, made firm, and freed. This produces a

feeling of "voidness," of "real, inviolable vacancy"—sunnatā. One then drops the idea of forest, leaving as the only object for the mind the idea of "earth," putting aside, however, all its characteristics; "as the hide of a bull is well cleaned with a scraper, and its wrinkles smoothed out," there exists nothing but "earth" in the world. And one apprehends the same feeling of liberty, or voidness, in conceiving that only the idea "earth" persists as support of the mind. From "earth" one finally moves to the idea "infinite space"—with which one achieves the passage to the object of the first arupa and meditation, that is to say, of the first of the meditations beyond form.

Before going any further, we must forestall any misunderstandings that may arise

regarding the implications of these forms of approach that are based on what is almost a

hypnotic technique. It is quite possible that those idle people who go in search of "occult exercises," of short-cuts by which to reach the supersensible without effort, may believe that they have found something on these lines in the color and light kasina, they may then mistakenly believe that by practicing a form of hypnosis they can do without any

renunciation, discipline, or spiritual effort. This would be a grave mistake. These material procedures mean very little in themselves: their only purpose is to neutralize peripheral

sensitivity. It is then a question of seeing, firstly, if something of consciousness still

remains, once the neutralization has been achieved; and secondly, if it does, what is the

nature of any experience that may result. Everyone knows that procedures similar to

those of the color and light kasina have been used both in the practice of magic and by visionaries, and in modem times, among forms of experimental hypnosis. The technique

of the "magic mirror" will be familiar to some, a technique

4. Visuddhi-magga. 4 (W. 293 ff.); Angutt.. 1.20; cf. WO., 77.

5. Angutt., 4.41.

6. Majjh., 12I.


that consists of gazing at a luminous point reflected by a curved mirror: others will be acquainted with the practice of "divination," based on fixing the sight on a mirror or water or on the fire. We can see from this that the technique of the kasina, in itself, is neutral, and may produce one or another result, without in itself determining which.

Thus, except for cases of privileged and exceptional predispositions, anyone with suf-

ficient power of concentration will find that the effect of staring at the colored discs or at the discs of light will be merely hypnotic, that is to say, that he will descend to a

semisomnambulistic state of reduced consciousness like that of people who are hyp-

notized. In others, "complexes" of all descriptions may emerge and he projected, resulting in inconclusive visions that may even be dangerous, because not only do they not

lead beyond individuality, but they may even disclose and bring up a psychic "sub-soil"

and so open the way to the manifestation of obscure influences.' Yet, others, once they

have mastered the exercise, or if they have special natural gifts, may utilize the state of trance into which they pass for the purpose of divining or magic. Lastly, the best that can happen is that apparitions of "divine forms" may occur, of forms belonging to the rupa-loka that, however, as we have already said, is itself left behind by the path of awakening of the Ariya.

For the effective use of the technique in question, the first condition is that con-

sciousness should be already concentrated and detached and capable of maintaining itself

by its own efforts: only then, when the peripheral sensitivity has been neutralized, can

one keep one's feet, can one go up rather than down, can one set out to attain a purified

superconsciousness instead of sinking into the morass of the visionary or low-grade

medium. In the second place one needs, as we said, adequate spiritual tension, pervaded

by the idea of awakening, almost like the state of a compressed spring on the point of

release. In this connection a text states that, as a man with a robust digestion swallows

and consumes a spoonful of rice without difficulty, so one who aspires to transcendental

wisdom goes beyond the initial act of concentration on the image, absorbs it and

transcends it, and achieves the state at which he aims.' No one, then, should nourish any

illusions about the techniques we have discussed by thinking that they are capable of

producing, in the way of genuine spiritual realization, anything more than he has already.

They can only create, quickly and conveniently, conditions that favor a particular action

that, in itself, presupposes a high development of ascetic, "holy," or initiatic

consciousness. The same is also true, although in a lesser degree, of the other, less

mechanical forms of approach of which we have spoken: when we are dealing with the

path of awakening of the

7. It is what, in other ways. nearly always happens in the "mediumistic" states cultivated by modem spiritualism and metapsychics. Cf. our critical studies in Maschera e volto

dello spiritualismo contemporaneo, 2nd edn. (Bari. 1949).

8. Dhamma-sangani, trans. C. A. F. Rhys Davids (London, 1900), note on p. 59.


Ariya, a "nobility" and a special internal initiative are always presupposed. Even the continued contemplation of light can lead to little more than hallucinations, instead of to the opening of the "eye of wisdom," if we do not have a living and, in a manner of speaking, intellectualized sensation of this light (intellectual light). There is confirmation of this in the fact that the same practice is sometimes advised for wholly contingent

purposes, for example, as an antidote to sleep and torpor.'

As the starting point for the five jhāna free from form we have, on the one hand.

objective detachment from the perceptions of the six senses and, on the other, "pure,

clear, ductile, flexible, resplendent indifference" in which the series of jhāna we have already considered as well as the series of irradiant contemplations, both culminate.

Having made this clear, this is how the texts refer to the contemplative states.

First phase: "Completely transcending perceptions of form, making the reflex images vanish, reducing every perception of multiplicity, the ascetic thinks: 'infinite ether' and reaches the plane of infinite ether."

Second phase: "After completely transcending the plane of infinite ether, in the

thought: 'infinity of consciousness the ascetic reaches the plane of infinity of con-


Third phase: "After completely transcending the plane of infinity of consciousness, in the thought: 'non-existence' the ascetic reaches the plane of non-existence."

Fourth phase: "After completely transcending the plane of non-existence, the ascetic

reaches the plane beyond consciousness and non-consciousness."

Fifth phase: "After completely transcending the plane beyond consciousness and non-

consciousness, the ascetic reaches the cessation of the determined."10 At this point, it is said, the "mania" of the illuminated ascetic is destroyed, the āsava are dissolved, there subsists no longer any "gross or subtle bond"; there is, on the contrary, a flash of absolute liberating knowledge. For this interior vision, which destroys at the root any possibility

of conditioned existence, the canonical formula is this: "'This is agitation' (dukkha), so comprehends the ascetic, knowing the truth; 'This is the genesis of agitation'; 'This is the destruction of agitation': 'This is the path which leads to the destruction of agitation.'

'This is mania' (āsava), so comprehends the ascetic, conforming to truth, This is the genesis of mania'; 'This is the destruction of mania'; 'This is the path which leads to the destruction of mania' so he sees, conforming to the truth. Thus knowing, thus seeing, his spirit becomes freed from the mania of desire [kāmāsava], from the mania of existence

[ bhavā-sava], from the mania of ignorance [ avijjāsava]. 'ln the liberated one is liberation,' this knowledge arises. 'Exhausted is life, the divine path realised, that which had to be done has been done, this world no longer exists' does he

9. Angutt., 7.58.

10. E.g..


13; 66.


then comprehend.' The culmination is reached, reintegration has been carried out, life and death are overcome, every thirst is ended, the primordial anguish—the trembling and the

burning—is destroyed.

A few words of explanation on these transcendental phases of the ascesis: in the

formula of the first arupa -jhāna the perceptions of form that are to be overcome are indicated by the term patighasannā, which contains the idea of something that resists.

This relates in some degree to experience governed by the law of opposition of object to

subject, feeling oneself "1" by contraposition to a non-I, to an object-um, to a Gegen-stand (something that stands against me, that opposes me). This confirms the idea that, in order to enter into the world that is free from form, one must be capable of really

abandoning this consciousness of self as an individual "I," conditioned by a particular

"name-and-form," which endures just because of this law. And since all that is individual in an immediate and effective sense is supposed already to have been overcome by means

of the preceding catharsis, there remains to he eliminated only the subtle residue of "I"

that persists, as one text says, in the same way as the scent remains even when the flower

that has produced it is no longer there.12 As for the "reflex images" that have also to be eliminated in this phase, these refer to the secondary reflected images, void of form, subtle and wholly intellectual, that are obtained by the color and light kasina. When this reflex

image is also suppressed, in the state of "voidness" that comes to be present, the thought

"infinite ether" leads to the apprehension of the plane of infinite ether.

Akāsa (Skt.: akasa) is frequently translated as "space" instead of as "ether."

This can only cause a misunderstanding. In the Indo-Aryan tradition, ākāsa means

essentially what "Quintessence," the "Fifth Element," the "Ether-Light," the aor and so on meant in the ancient Western traditions. It is not three-dimensional physical

and mathematical space, but something that stands in relation to it as does spirit to

body. Even etymologically the word ākāsa evokes the idea of "light." In a Upanisad, the brahman is understood as being identical with the "ether" both outside and inside the man.'' The ether is, rather, called the internal, essential side (ātma), while light is called the external side.'' In the jhāna in question the idea "infinity of space" can only serve as a basis for the evocation of space in its aspect of ākāsa, live and luminous

infinite ether, and as a preliminary to the transformation of consciousness into

ether, which is the first broadening out of pure "being," beyond the sphere of Brahma.

Having thus considered the object of the first āyatana, the passage to the second, whose object is "infinity of consciousness," is quite natural. It is, in fact, a question of 11. E.g..



12. Samyutt..



Chandogya Upanisad. 3.12.7-8.

14. Ibid.,



overcoming the residue of outsideness and of "cosmicity" present in the experience of ākāsa. The term used is vinnānāncāyatana and it is related to the second nidāna of the descending series, in the sense of being a "purification" of it. We have conceived the nidāna "consciousness" in terms of a determined manifestation. To cut off the bond that it represents, we must pass over to the third āyatana or arupa-jhāna, whose object is experience of the sphere of "nonexistence." This sphere must be understood as the negative counterpart of "consciousness," that is, the power of nonmanifestation correlative to that of manifestation, whose principle is "consciousness." The experience of the āyatana can also he denoted by the formula "nothing exists," since to penetrate the power of nonmanifestation means to apprehend in everything the possibility of its

nonexistence, the lack of its own reality, even in the case of him "in virtue of who

everything that exists is." For this reason, some have conceived the experience in question as a liberation from Etwas-heit, from objectivity in general, extended even to the supercelestial spheres. The state of the fourth āyatana is nevasannā-nāsannā or that which is neither consciousness (second āyatana) nor nonconsciousness or nonbeing

(third āyatana), that is to say, the element that is anterior to and higher than the two

spheres previously realised. It is the "purification" of that which in the descending series corresponds to the "sankhāra"nidāna, that is to say, to the impulse that leads to

"conception" in general, to the differentiation of possibility, insofar as it is a passive impulse.

The last āyatana leads to the ultimate point of the άπλωσις, of the transcendental simplification or purification. Its state is denoted by the term sannā-vedayita-nirodha, which refers to "cessation" not only of the element "consciousness," but also of that which, on the plane of psychology, would correspond to perception. to perceptibility or

elementary determinableness. It is a matter of going beyond the double category of

being (manifestation, consciousness) and of nonbeing (non-manifestation) in order to

attain every conceivable potentiality, conceivable, that is to say, beyond this double

sphere of manifestation and nonmanifestation. One achieves, then, the state of

consciousness (to continue to use this term, although it has become quite inappropriate

at this point) that is absolutely unchained, simple, and intact, the state that in the chain of nidāna precedes the primordial form of any determinableness whatsoever: we have quite clearly, therefore, the immediate antecedent of the complete destruction of the āsava and

of "ignorance," and therefore the herald of the realization of extinction.

It is hardly necessary to say that, although each realization may be conceived on

various planes and in varying degrees, here, even more than in the case of the four jhāna of the world of forms, any "psychologistic" interpretation must be resolutely rejected.

We can hardly take seriously the suggestion that we are dealing here with delvings into

the semiconscious or into the "subliminal." until we reach an "oscillation


about a zero-point in consciousness" (C. A. F. Rhys Davids).15 Reference even to the Leibnizian petites perceptions is entirely inadequate since the fact is that we are dealing with a "voyage" in superindividual and, in some ways, presamsāric states (anterior to association with a particular samsāric heredity), in which the transcendental causes of

every conditioned existence are rooted. For this reason the Buddhist teaching has

"places" (Ioka) or "worlds" or "earths" (bhumikā) that correspond to the five āyatana, and it is held that one will rearise in this or that one of them at the level at which ascetic

achievement has been arrested, instead of progressing to extinction and absolute illu-


With regard to the canonical formula for liberation, the term "Exhausted is life"

implies the impossibility of any further form of conditioned existence, and not merely of

"rebirth" in the grossly reincarnational sense. Similar also is the significance of the formula itthattāyāti pajānāti that, following Neumann and de Lorenzo, we have rendered as "He apprehends `this world no longer exists"'—the world here being understood as the sum total of manifested forms, and therefore also as all that is implied in the Indo-Aryan

doctrine by the "threefold world." As for the term bhavāsava, that is to say, āsava or

"mania" of existence, this almost brings us to the same point, if by bhava we understand the "becoming" inherent in a "birth," and in the assuming of a conditioned form. But, in a broader and deeper sense, we may see in the destruction of this āsava the equivalent of what Germanic mysticism called Entwerdung the overcoming of "becoming" in general.

The realization of the Ariya leads beyond both "being" and "becoming." Together with

"ignorance" and "craving"—the other two āsava—the bond of "becoming" is destroyed at the roots by the clear vision that arrives as a sudden flash of knowledge in face of

dukkha, the primordial agitation and contingency, and which gives realization of the

"incomparable safety," of the state wherein there is no more "becoming," which is the

"end of the world," the end of "going," the end of birth and of death. Finally, the formula katam karanīyam, "that which had to be done has been done," is the extreme expression of the Ariyan nobility. The whole work has been done because it had to be done. There are no reasons. There are no rewards. It is natural for the man whose spirit is Ariyan to feel these values, to desire this undertaking. The right state, in the highest sense, is that of a being who no longer thirsts, who has extinguished craving, who has made his own the

Olympian and sidereal nature, as in the origins.

In point of practice, what we have said of the character of "totality" of the kasina is valid also for the āyatana. The mind, entirely recollected and unattached, receives the basic idea of each āyatana—infinite ether, infinity of consciousness, etc.—and


Page 75 in the English translation of the Dhamma-satigani.


Majjh., 75.


realizes its content in an experience that brings about the corresponding transformation.

To use a Buddhist simile, the spirit has become like a jar full to the brim with water, so

that it only has to be tipped in one direction or another for the water immediately to

overflow in that direction. Here, in the complete concentration of the inner being that is

detached from the senses and from the bond of the samsaric "I," the images have the power of transformation: to think "infinite ether," "infinity of consciousness,"

"nonexistence," and so on, means to evoke the corresponding state, to transform the mind into that state, so that it undergoes the corresponding "infinitization" and liberation. We can, furthermore, say of the āyatana what we said of the jhāna, with reference both to actions that must have an almost spontaneous character, to the neutralization of any

tendency toward identification, and finally to the burning process that in every state—

even at these heights—discloses something that is conditioned and that may he overcome,

thus urging one ever forward.'

This is about all that can be said of the five states of ascetic realization in the planes

free from form. The indications concerning them in the texts are extremely schematic.

Here begins that silence, which will later be absolute—at least in original Buddhism—

about the essence of the state of extinction, about nibbāna (Skt.: nirvāna), and about the destiny of the Awakened One after death.

We now have shortly to discuss the other path to extinction, the path considered by

another series of texts and that is no longer given as a journey across the world beyond

form, but rather in terms of special visions and corresponding "births."

For our point of departure we must refer back to the state of consciousness

corresponding to the fourth jhāna or to the fourth irradiant contemplation, that is to say. to an extreme, purified equanimity. To the state of mind that the ascetic must assume in

order to operate are attributed qualities similar to those of the "pure, clear, ductile, flexible, resplendent indifference." The fixed canonical formula is: "with firm, purified, tense, sincere, unblemished, malleable, ductile, compact. incorruptible mind." With such a mind one strives first of all for achievement of what is known as nana- dassana, the vision that comes from knowledge, having as its object one's own person, in its totality. It is, as it were, the uncoupling of oneself or, better still, a liberating of oneself by self-division, carried out by contemplation of oneself—both in one's own somatic reality and in one's

subtle reality—as if one were another person or thing. In fact, it is said that after the fourth jhāna one must "hold fast, one must consider in one's mind and penetrate with one's vision the object of self-contemplation— paccavekkhana-nimitta—just as one man might look at another, the one standing look

17. Cf. Majjh., 44; 64; 106; Angutt., 10.29; 9.31; 10.72. The passage from one arupa to another occurs at the moment of feeling, firstly, form and the reflex images as a

"disturbance" and impurity: then the ākāsa or ether element is so felt: then infinity of consciousness; then nonexistence; then the element beyond perception and

nonperception; then determination.


ing at him who sits, the one sitting looking at him who stands."18 It is, then, an extreme intensification of the process that began with the various contemplations on the body and

on the mind during the consolidation phase: a process that now passes on to an objective

stage that is designed to eliminate completely the bond of "I" and that is distinguished by this characteristic: that which now does the contemplating is the al-most ultrahuman mind

of one who has reached the fourth jhāna or who has followed the path that leads to the possibility of a state of union with Brahmā. The formula of the disidentification or

"projection" is: "This is my body, provided with form, made up of the four elements, generated by a father and by a mother, maintained in life by these foods. It is

impermanent, subject to change and decay, break-up and dissolution. And this also is my

vinnāna from which it proceeds and to which it is bound." A simile is given: as though on a cloth there lay a gem, a very pure, resplendent, clear, transparent, perfectly cut and

faceted jewel, wholly excellent; there might he tied to it a thread, blue or yellow, red or white, and as though a man with good sight, taking it in his hand, were to consider it and

see clearly how the one thing was joined to the other. This simile, taken from Sāmkhya,

shows that it is a question of "exteriorizing" one's own person in its entirety: the term vinnāna here refers to the subtle principle that organizes and gives life to bodily form.

But this "knowing," at present, only serves as a preparatory phase. This same "firm, purified, tense, sincere, unblemished, malleable, ductile, compact, incorruptible" mind is directed toward a further "knowing," toward the vision of "previous forms of existence."

There arises the memory-vision of "many previous forms of existence, of one life, of two lives, of three lives" and so back through whole series of lives in the periods both of the coming-to-be and of the dissolution of worlds. "There was 1, I had such a name, I

belonged to such a people, such was my state, such my office; this good and this evil I

experienced, thus was the end of my life. Having passed on from there, I entered again

into existence." hi such a manner, the ascetic recalls multiple forms of existence, each with its own characteristics, each with its own special relationships. A simile is given: as if a man were to go from one village to another and from there to another and finally were

to return home and, in recollecting, should think thus: "I, then, went from one village to another, where I stood thus, 1 sat thus, I spoke thus, T kept silent thus; from that village I went to another, where I did thus and thus, and finally I returned to my village ('the country of the ancestors')." This is the first "knowing"—the precise term is pubbe-nivāsanāna—a revealing vision having as counterpart an interior liberation, a definite self-elevation beyond the samsāric group to which a given particular individual existence

belongs, and which now appears as a mere episode.

18. Angutt., 5.28.


The next experience concerns a "celestial, clarified, superhuman eye," it is called dibba-cakkhu-nāna, which develops the vision, no longer of one's "own" existences, but of other samsāric groups, of the appearance and disappearance of beings in the sequence

that is determined by the law of action, of kamma. "With this celestial, clarified, superhuman eye the ascetic sees beings disappear and appear, beings that are common

and noble, ugly and beautiful, happy and unhappy, and he apprehends that beings always

appear in life according to their actions." Here, too, we have a simile: as if there were two buildings with doors, and a man with good sight, standing between them, were to see

people leaving one house and entering the other, going and coming.

This power of vision, by means of which the contingency of the various forms of

existence is directly contemplated from a universal, "celestial" standpoint, provides the final catharsis, leads to pannā or bodhi, to liberation, illumination, and extinction, to the same culmination that crowned and resolved the series of the five āyatana, of the five reintegrations in the sphere beyond form. We have, then, as the third and last "knowing,"

the vision of the "conditioned genesis" that determines the "round of rebirth" of beings, the vision of that which lies at the root of the genesis, of that which is its end and of the states that lead to this end. At this point the āsava disappear; there occurs the

"redemption of the mind without manias," and again we have the formula: "Exhausted is life, the divine path achieved, that which had to be done has been done, this world no

longer exists." There is a final simile, dealing with the crystallinity, the absolute

transparency and clarity of this vision that brings to an end the entire catharsis: as if a man with good sight were to stand on the banks of an alpine valley lake and, completely

aware, were to consider the shells and the snails, the gravel and the sand and the schools

of fish, how they dart about or lie still.19

Apart from the initial "projection" of oneself, this second path has thus three stages. It is important to emphasize that in some canonical texts they are related, respectively, to

the three watches (yama) of the night. Thus, the Buddha says: "This knowing [that is, the first, the vision of one's own multiple, previous states of existence] I first apprehended in the first watch of the night, I dispersed ignorance, I apprehended wisdom. I dispersed

obscurity. I apprehended light, whilst I dwelt striving ardently, watchful and strenuous."

The same formula is repeated for the other two "knowings." The disappearance and

reappearance of beings is the second "knowing" to be apprehended, in the middle watch of the night, and the final, liberating vision is the third to he achieved, in the last watch of the night.20 In one text, it is said: "When the dawn is about to break, at the moment in which sleep is so profound and


On all this see Dighā, 2.93-98; cf. Majjh., 77.

20. Angutt.,


Majjh., 4. In particular. on the experience, in the watches of the

night, of the conditioned genesis and of the conditioned removal of its effects, cf.

Mahavagga (Vin.), 1.1.2.


to wake so difficult." Another point: the three "knowings" have also been related to so many immaterial births (opapātika). There is the simile of the hen that has completely incubated her eggs and is waiting for them to hatch and for the new being to arise from

them, safe and sound. The warmth that nourishes this symbolical birth is that of ascesis,

tapas. At the moment in which the "knowing" of the various previous tales of existence is apprehended, the ascetic—it is said—"is for the first time dis. closed, like the chick come out of the shell." This first birth—beyond physical, samsāric birth—is the growth beyond one's own individuality; a growth that is bound up with the ability to gaze beyond the

temporal limits of an individual existence, to see the whole group to which it belongs. A

second opening is achieved with the "knowing' of the passing and uprising of beings and, finally, a third when the sudden flash of knowledge destroys the āsavā and determines the

state of nibbāna.21 Each of the three "transcendental knowings" is, then, an awakening, an

"opening," a change o state, the passage from one mode of being to another, from one

"world" to another Thus we find in Buddhism a traditional symbolism that is used in many forms o initiation, probably in connection with similar experiences. Besides these

three births which are of a real nature, there is a birth that is symbolical and, above all, moral, the "rebirth with the birth of the Ariya" or the "blessed birth," referred to the man who makes the break, who achieves "departure," and who devotes himself to the path of awakening.22

We must give an explanation of this new group of transcendental experiences also. It is essential here to distinguish between the deepest content of the doctrine and that which refers to the popular exposition and that cannot he taken in an absolute sense


To begin with, at this point we must forestall the idea that not only is the theory of

reincarnation assumed by the Buddhist teaching, but that it is, in fact, demonstrated by a

direct form of transcendental knowledge in the shape of an actual memory It might seem,

that is to say, that the situation were thus: that one single being having lived several lives or, at least, several forms of existence, could, at a particular moment, see retrospectively.

Such an interpretation, in spite of all appearances, would be mistaken.

In order to understand the true sense of these experiences, we must always remember

their point of departure, that is, nāpa-dassana, the vision or "projection' of one's own person that allows of its consideration as a thing or as the person o another. In this there occurs, in a manner of speaking, the fulfillment of all the litho of severance from one's

own "I," from one's own individuality, which has beet

21. Angutt.,


Majjh.. 53: Samyutt., 22.101.


Majjh.. 86. We also find the image of the snake that sloughs its old skin—cf.

Suttanipata. 1.1.1 if.


carried out in the preceding ascesis. This means that one has become integrated in a new dimension or at a new level, an integration that is inevitably accompanied by a

"loosening." Consciousness is no longer tied to a particular "name-and-form," it can move, it can take on the person of other people, both in space and in time. This is the

foundation of the first two "transcendental knowings," the vision of many preceding forms of existence (superindividuality in time) and the vision of the disappearance and

reappearance of other beings (superindividuality in space, that is to say, with regard to

various individual lives copresent in space).

With reference to the first experience, we could speak, in a certain sense, of

"memory," but not as though it were one particular "I" that remembered having lived other lives or, more generally having passed through other forms of existence. We can

see that this would be absurd for the simple reason that the condition for achieving such a

"memory" is no longer to be an "1," to he free from "I" or from the consciousness connected with a particular "name-and-form" and with a particular life. We are no longer dealing with the memory of an "I" but with the emergence, in the individual

consciousness, of samsāric consciousness, with the "memory" associated with the groups of craving, or daemon, or antarabhāva with which one was identified: for—as we saw-one does not adopt a "name-and-form," a physiopsychical organism drawn from

nowhere, but a more or less preformed samsāric force carrying with it a heredity, a

complex of tendencies, which continue from the dead lives in which this force was

previously active. The continuity and therefore also the basis of "memory" is contained in this force: it is not contained in an identical and permanent "I" to which Buddhism rightly denies an existence on the samsāric plane. At the moment when consciousness becomes

disindividualized, breaks the bond of the samsāric "I" and becomes universal, this same samsāric memory is spread out clearly before it. The very moment of one's dissociation

from the "daemon," or "double," is the moment in which one comes to know it. This is the deeper meaning of the first "knowing," of the "memory of preceding forms of existence."

In the second "knowing" there is an increase in the power of the disindividualized consciousness, a consciousness that now extends not only along time and along the group

of that particular entity of craving with which it was identified, but also in space, since it becomes capable of identifying itself also with other beings and of examining the

samsāric heredity that determines them, the will of craving in which they live and where

are determined the causes, when the material of one life is consumed, for the same flame

to flare up elsewhere in strict accordance with its antecedents.

Thus it is that, in these experiences, we can see the counterpart of liberations that are

exactly similar to those of the ascetic who advances through the live planes free from

form. In fact, it is not by chance that we have spoken not of "multiple


lives," but rather of "multiple states of existence." The assumption of the person of other people, which we have mentioned, is by no means restricted to human lives in space and

time, but includes also extraterrestrial lines of existence and of heredity. Now, all this is possible only if one reaches a dimension to he compared to the depths of the ocean, where

all the insular and continental parts emerging from the water as separate things are unified in a single mass. We are thus brought back to images of immensity, vastness,

immeasurableness, indiscernibility. About such images we shall have more to say later.

And it is natural that the texts refuse to apply to the Accomplished One, who has followed

this path to the end, any category whatsoever that, in common speech, takes its meaning

from the existence or nonexistence, from the life or death of an individual being.

Thus the theory of reincarnation is rejected from two points of view: firstly from the

point of view of ordinary, samsāric beings, since it is not the same being that has already lived nor that will live again, but rather the groups of craving working in him. On this

plane a real substantial "I" does not exist. Secondly, from the point of view of

transcendental illumination, since from this point of view the "many existences" can only represent a mirage. The one who contemplates them can no longer be considered as an

"I," and he is now also about to break the law that from one samsāric group there must spring a new existence. As we shall see, the Buddhist teaching also considers intermediate

cases, that is to say, cases of incomplete extinction: but for further states of existence or for new "lives," in the degree in which extinction is not complete, what we have said about the ordinary man is to a large extent still valid: there is no proper continuity, there are only transformations that affect also the "sub-stratum." Buddhism maintains this view in connection with the "mental body" and with the body "free from form" which various texts attribute to the Accomplished One, the term "body" here being used in a general sense, implying other states and modes of being relative to the "worlds," beyond the physical one, that are reached by the jhāna. The question was asked if such "bodies" exist simultaneously. The answer is negative. But the doctrine goes still further: the passage

from one to an-other of these states does not present a true continuity. The transformations are absolute, as in the aforesaid simile of the milk that becomes curd and curd that

becomes cheese. It is absurd still to call curd milk or cheese curd: in changing the state, it is well also to change the name.23 With still more reason, the idea of an absolute identity of the "I" in the states to which a partial liberation may lead is to be rejected.

On the subject of "reincarnations" and of "many lives." we must remember that, in spite of the opinions held in some circles, such ideas find no place in serious traditional teachings, Eastern or Western, nor therefore in Buddhism. Those passages in

23. Dīgha, 9.39; 47-53.


Buddhism and in the Indo-Aryan traditions in general that would seem to indicate the contrary, do so either because of a too literal reading of the texts or because they are

popular forms of exposition that only have a symbolical value, rather like the crude images of the Christian purgatory or hell that are common among simple folk. To accept

unquestioningly all that can be found in the Buddhist texts on the subject of pre-ceding

existences not only opens the way to all sorts of contradictions and incoherences on the

doctrinal level, but also breeds doubts as to the efficacy of the historical Buddha's real supernormal vision. The stories in the canon, and particularly in the Jātaka, of the

presumed previous existences of Prince Siddhattha, notably in the form of animals, are all evidently of a fabulous nature and, even when their origin is not wholly spurious, it is

easy to see that they have been invented or introduced into Buddhism from already

existing popular traditions for pedagogic use to illustrate and en-liven discourses. We do

not find, in the texts, a single serious reference to anything like a "memory." like an actual fact of the past seen by supernormal means and then communicated. Here, also,

the Awakened One maintains his silence. In any case, the classical and dryly glittering

spirit of original Buddhism, so free of sentimentalism, is rarely found in the later texts, beginning with the Jataka, where not only is there a tropical overgrowth of

phantasmagorical and fabulous elements, but also not a few distortions of the original

doctrine of the Ariya, particularly on the moral plane. It will be enough to remember—

one case will serve for a whole series of others—the story dealing with the preceding life

of Prince Siddhattha wherein he is supposed to have been an animal that, upon seeing a

hungry tiger, allowed itself to he torn to pieces through "compassion," thus acquiring the

"merit" that, through the series of other lives, was little by little to lead him to the grade of Awakened One. Whenever higher wis dom is not enclosed in the form of rigorous

esotericism—true esotericism, not that of contemporary "occultists"—such alterations are almost inevitable and it is for intelligent people to discriminate accurately, to pick out the essentials, or to clarify what has become obscure: which can be done only by the

guidance of sound principles of a traditional and metaphysical kind.

We must mention another point. We have seen that the three supernormal "knowings"

have been related by the texts to the first, second, and third watches of the night,

respectively. This is an important fact once we remember the Indo-Aryan teachings on

the "four states": the state of individual wakeful consciousness, the state of dreaming, the state of sleep, and finally, the so-called fourth state (caturtha or turīya). In the same

"space" in which, when individual wakeful consciousness disappears, the ordinary man starts to dream, passes into the unconsciousness of dreamless sleep, and finally into a

state like apparent death, it is possible to achieve, instead, a series of "liberations," of degrees of superconsciousness. In this connection, the state of dreaming (that is to say,

what would correspond to dreaming in the


ordinary man) is called by the texts tejo. from tejas, which means "radiant light" and which is related to what we have said about ākāsa, "ether"; the state of deep, dream-less sleep "where there is no knowledge, but the subject of knowledge continues to know," is related to the condition of prajnā (Pāli: pannā) or of "illumination": here "the being reunites with himself in a unity of pure knowledge and beatitude"; here there is "the perfect serenity which, rising up from the body and arriving at the supreme light, appears

in its true aspect"; here we are on the point of crossing that dyke, "beyond which he who was blind is no longer blind, he who was wounded is no longer wounded, he who was ill

is no longer ill," where "even night becomes day." The fourth condition corresponds to the unconditioned state, absolutely above all duality, all particular forms of

manifestation, beyond both interior consciousness and exterior consciousness, and above

both together.24

When we spoke of the jhāna, we considered the possibility of references to

transformations of this sort, and a more exact correspondence can be seen with regard to

the developments in the world free from forn, to the āyatana. Thus, we are not unjustified

in matching the Indo-Aryan traditional doctrine we have just discussed with the

realizations that take place in the three watches of the night: we have a consciousness that,

"like a fire that advances destroying every bond," carries one beyond the state of wakefulness, leaves this state behind, advances to the state that in others would be sleep or profound sleep, and establishes itself there, "dissipating ignorance, achieving wisdom, dissipating the shadows, achieving the light"—just as says the Buddhist formula that

refers to the "supernormal knowing" acquired during the first, second, and third watches of the night. Beyond the "luminous" or "radiant" state of taijasa, beyond the state of pure illumination (prajnā, in Buddhism, would correspond to the opening of the "celestial,

unclouded. superterrestrial eye") there is the unconditioned state. Turīya, the unconditioned state of the ātmā in the general Indo-Aryan tradition, would then

correspond to the state of nirvāna in the Buddhist terminology.25

In such terms, the "vigil" of the Ariya appears in the grandeur of a change in which the night is transformed into day, unconsciousness into superconsciousness; the vision of

an indefinite number of existences dispersed in time spreads out like a memory, and is

left behind. During the last hours of the night, where for the others "sleep is deepest," at the dawning of the physical light, there dawns also that

24. Cf.

Maitrayanī Upanisad, 6.19; 7.11; Māndukya Upanisad, 4—7; Chāndogya

Upanisad, 8.11.1; 12.3; 6.3-5; 4.1-3, etc.

25. There are also specific references with regard to the experiences that take place in

the Awakened One in

the state corresponding to that of sleep. Cf. Sumangala-vilasini (commentary to the Dīgha-nikaya). 1.47

(w. 94-95), where it is said that in the second watch of the night he sleeps and simultaneously enters into

contact with some divinities. In the third watch. arising, with his superterrestrial eye

he perceives those

who have decided to tread the path of awakening.


wisdom, that awakening, in which every mania is destroyed and which towers over all worlds with their ranks of angels, evil and good spirits, gods and men, ascetics and

priests. Thus the Accomplished One, when the final watch of the night changes into light,

returns to the world of men at the moment in which the day once again shines on him,

and awakening corresponds to awakening, the physical and the meta-physical elements

meet, and truly may we use for him a similitude of the texts: that of the sun. "when, in the last month of the rainy season, after it has dissipated and put to flight the rain-swollen

clouds, it rises in the sky and disperses with its rays the mist in the air, and flashes and shines." This is the mighty appearance of the Awakened One among men. "Light of the world," the Buddha has been called—"the light of wisdom becomes light of the world"

;26 the sage, who appears in the world of men and of gods, proceeding alone, in the midst

of the people], dispersing every shadow."27


Therigāthā, 148 (quoted by de Lorenzo in his translation of Majjh., vol. 2, p. 65): cf. Mahāparin., 52-56.


Suttanipāta, 4.16.2.




Between the "Powers"

The Buddhist teaching admits the possibility of acquiring extranormal and supernormal

powers (iddhi) along the path of awakening: this is one of the signs that the Buddhist ascesis does not move toward a state of nothingness, toward a crepuscular frontier

between consciousness and unconsciousness, there to wait for a final "annihilation," but that it is accompanied by ever greater degrees of consciousness, completeness, elevation,

and power.

We have no need to consider the "difficulties of belief" that, with regard to the iddhi.

may arise in the minds of modern "critical" commentators. It is, of course, well known how often these individuals, after denouncing as fabulous all that touches the

supernormal in the history of great figures of the past, are capable of falling into ecstasy before some petty "mediumistic" phenomenon that, in the ancient world, would not have merited the attention of any person of consequence.

The problem of the extranormal and supernormal powers is connected with the view

of the world. When nature is not conceived as an independent reality, but rather as the

outward form in which immaterial forces manifest themselves; when, further-more, one

admits the possibility of removing, under certain conditions, the purely individual,

sensory-cerebral consciousness of a man so as to allow of positive contacts with those

immaterial forces—then, assuming these premises, which are those of every normal and

traditional concept of the world, the general possibility of extranormal powers follows as

a natural consequence.

The true problem does not, then, consist in the reality or otherwise of certain

phenomena—admittedly not capable of being explained by the physical or psychical laws

known today—that in the past boasted a science sui generis, of which many, although fragmentary, traces still remain: the true problem is, rather, the significance and the value to he attached to such phenomena.

We have already discussed the difference between "prodigies" of the noble,


Ariyan type and those not noble, non-Ariyan—anariya-iddhi. We must add that, by Buddhism as by any traditional doctrine, both the quest after the "powers" in them-selves, and worse, the quest after them for temporal and individual ends, more or less in the spirit with which technology and the power associated therewith have been developed today.

were considered not only as having nothing to do with ascetic and spiritual development,

but even as being positively harmful to this development. The practice of the "powers"

was held to he dangerous.' "My instruction," says the Buddha, "is not this: Come, 0

ascetics, and acquire powers which surpass those of ordinary men."2 The life that is led in the order of the Accomplished One is not directed to the acquisition of powers that

produce clairvoyance or clairaudience but has a higher aim, namely, liberation.' This,

however, does not prevent the transcendental forms of experience and detachment that we

have considered from being capable of giving rise to extranormal modes of action and of

vision. And when there is adequate cause, an Awakened One may use such faculties,

much as an ordinary man uses his speech or his arms.

The iddhi are divided. in the Buddhist teaching, into three sections: "magical" powers, powers that reveal what for the ordinary man remains hidden (powers of "manifestation"), and finally, powers that work in the miracle of the doctrine and of right discernment. The

last are considered as the most noble and august of them all. They are the ones to which

we referred when we spoke earlier of the "miracle" whereby there may arise in the samsāric consciousness an extrasamsāric force and vocation, a will that is no longer the

normal will, a will that overcomes the normal will and arrests the "flux." a vision that can now discern what is noble and what is common, the rational and the irrational, the

unconditioned and the conditioned. Together with the power of achieving this "miracle,"

the Awakened Ones—it is said—also comprehend and acquire those of the first two

sections, which we shall shortly discuss;' but they fully realize that, in themselves, they have very little value. If anyone should be tempted to show them off or brag about them,

he should remember that it is possible to arrive at analogous results by means of certain

forms of sorcery.' Thus the iddhi, the extranormal powers, are never used, in the tradition of the Ariya, even to astonish and convert men of low intellectual capacity; the miraculous phenomenology that occurs in some later Buddhist texts is clearly of a fabulous,

allegorical, or symbolical type, just like the stories of the multiple existences. The attitude of the pure doctrine of the Ariya is almost exactly that which the last exponents of the

Aryan and aristocratic Roman tradition assumed. in the person of Celsus, in opposition to

certain forms of

1. Dīgha, 11.5—7.

2. Ibid., 11.1.

3. Ibid.. 6.1—13.

4. Dīgha. 11.3; Angutt., 3.60.

5. Digha, 11.5—7.


Christianism. Celsus, in fact, asked what the Christians were trying to prove with all their excitement about this "miracle" or that, since it was well known that anyone with a taste for such things and wishing to produce similar phenomena had only to go to Egypt and

learn about them from the specialists.

With this in mind, let us see how we are to understand these powers that are

mentioned in the texts of the oldest canon. As the starting point for the iddhi of

"manifestation" the texts postulate the purified, ductile, malleable, compact, unblemished mind, isolated from peripheral sensitivity, which is also presupposed for the achievement

of the "three knowings" in the threefold watch. Free from the bond of the senses and of samsāric individuality, neutral, extremely balanced, this consciousness, aroused in one or

other of the jhāna, can directly realize the object whose image is evoked, by producing either telepathic knowledge, or objective penetration of the mind of others, or, finally,

vision of distant things.6 In this connection we can recall a simile already quoted: just as it is enough to tip a vessel that is brimful, in a particular direction, for the water to overflow in that direction, "so also if he has devoted himself to, developed, often practised, established and brought to its just fulfilment the right, fivefold contemplation of the Ariya

[here is meant the four jhāna after being integrated by the vision-projection of one's self—

cf. p. I74-75], then if he directs his mind to any element whatsoever that is susceptible of being the object of a higher knowledge [the ascetic] can apprehend this element in

wisdom, provided he has developed the faculty, and provided the right conditions are


When it is applied to the persons, the minds, and the hearts of other people that the

Awakened One is able to observe with the same clarity and with no greater effort than

every one of us can observe his own features in a mirror,8 such power may be regarded as

an elementary grade of the first and the second "knowing," which em-brace multiple

"lives" and multiple samsāric groups. In some texts, indeed, this two-fold "knowing" is listed among the abhinnā or supernormal faculties, some of which are also called iddhi.9

In this case, however, we must distinguish between ascetic experiences proper, in which

those "knowings" are the concomitants of liberation, and these powers of vision in themselves, when they are used for a particular purpose. We must not, in any case, forget

that it is the "celestial, supermundane eye" (dibba-cakkhu) with which the Awakened One perceives the whereabouts of others of whom he is thinking, sees into the heart and mind

of his interlocutors as well as of people at a distance, and perceives that a particular being, to whom he has directed his thought, is dead, and so on.10

6. Ibid.. 2.91—2.

7. Angutt.. 5.28.

8. Dīgha.2.92.

9. Ibid., 2.93—96.

10. Majjh.. 4; 6; 26; 27; 36; 76; 85; 109, etc.


The counterpart of this latter iddhi is the faculty of supernormal hearing (dibba-sota).

The Awakened One is able to perceive two kinds of sound, "the divine and the human, the far and the near." To understand the "divine" or "immaterial" sounds, we must refer back to the traditional teachings that had already served as the basis for the Vedic doctrine of ritual and that, occurring as wisdom in the mantras, were particularly developed in some

forms of yoga, and then, in the tantras. We have already discussed this elsewhere. To hear

the "immaterial sounds" is not to perceive an indeterminate and almost mystico-aesthetic

"harmony of the spheres," but rather to arrive at a special form of perception of the formative forces of things and of elements, a perception that, in its working, is distantly analogous to what the common man experiences as sound. The man who is really capable

of perceiving and grasping the "divine sounds" is then also capable of pronouncing the word that is power, the mantra. a thing that, among others, lies at the root of every

liturgical practise that has not been reduced to a mere recitation.12

Other iddhi considered by the texts consist of appearing and disappearing, of walking on water without sinking, of moving great distances in a moment, of "wielding power

over one's body right up to the world of Brahma.' In order to understand that such

phenomena are possible we must start from the production of the body "made of mind"

(manomaya) that we have already mentioned. In the text to which we are principally referring this state occurs immediately after the contemplation-projection of one's own

person (cf. p. 174–75) and is given in the following terms: "With this firm, purified, tense, sincere, unblemished, malleable, ductile, compact, incorruptible mind, he [the ascetic]

turns toward the production of a body made of mind. From his body he extracts another

body having all its organs and all its faculties, furnished with form, but supersensible,

made of mind." To illustrate this there are similes of a man drawing a sword from its

scabbard, removing the pith from a rush, or a snake from a basket.14 An important detail

that warns us not to confuse this experience with a simple act of magic is that we are

here—it is said—in the realm of transcendental knowledge, pannā.15 Besides we have seen that the practise in question comes immediately after the apprehension of one's own

person as that of an-other by means of the eye that has opened in the jhāna. We have mentioned the transformation of the sensation that one normally has of the body: it is a

matter of taking this process further by achieving an ever more detached and

disindividualized consciousness, on the one hand, and on the other, by penetrating down

into the deep. "vital"—in a superbiological sense—forces that rule the organism and that make up

12. Cf.


The Yoga of Power. and J. W Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters (M adras,



Digha, 2.87.

14. Ibid..


Majjh., 77.


Cf.. e.g., Digha, 2.20—26.


the "double," or "daemon," and the samsāric being in us. Here the transcendental knowledge cannot do other than produce a special transformation, if only by degrees. The

transfigured mind, in this profundity, works almost, one might say, as a catalyst; it

transmits its own nature to the group of forces with which it comes in contact, so that

eventually the half vital and half opaque sensation that one has of one's bodiliness clarifies into the sensation of a transparent and luminous "form." It is luminous or radiant since, actually, these experiences happen in a condition corresponding to taijasa, that is, in the condition of luminosity or radiance that, for the Awakened One, takes the place of the

state of dreaming. This is the true sense of the "extraction of the body made of mind,"

which is not "another" body, but a particular experience of the power of which the body is the sensible manifestation.

We have yet to see how far this power has been "purified," to what extent the

disindividualized sidereal principle has divested itself of its samsāric nature and directly controls this force. Bodily manifestation depends on this power: depends. in the same sense that speech depends on the faculty of speaking, the faculty by which it has been

forged, that directs it, and that can either change it or reabsorb it into itself. If the catharsis has been taken as far as it will go, this force, which here appears as "supersensible body made of mind," plays the same part in relation to the manifested bodily form. It follows from this that anyone who realizes and controls his body as a "supersensible body," has, virtually, also this twofold power: of extract ing or projecting from the same trunk another bodily image, either the same as or different from his own; or else of reabsorbing the

whole manifested form into the energy from which it came, in order to reproject it

completely elsewhere. The first of these powers is that of ubiquity, and it may be

developed up to the capacity, recorded in the texts, for "appearing as many, being one sole person, and of returning to he one sole person, having been many." Here, the real,

physical person of the agent is always supposed to persist in a particular place, while the other forms are only projected images, extracted from the agent's own subtle form which

we can call the matrix of corporeality. The second implies the faculty of appearance or

disappearance. of passing through "solid barriers, walls and mountains without hindrance, as if they were air," of walking on water or of passing through the air. The simile commonly used by the texts for this extranormal and, in an Awakened One, supernormal

phenomenology is: as a strong man stretches his bent arm or bends his stretched arm, so

the ascetic disappears from one place and reappears in another: and this other may well

signify a condition of existence differing from the terrestrial.

We must forestall the mistake that would be made by anyone who. in attempting to

explain such phenomena, were to entertain the idea of "dematerialization." This would presuppose the existence of a "material" that, in the current modern sense, is quite unknown to the traditional teachings. M aterial existence is only


manifested existence, a form of manifested existence. It is not, then, a question of

"dematerialization" but rather of reabsorbing a manifested form into its unmanifested principle in order to reproject it elsewhere: one should not, therefore, even think of it as a kind of voyage through matter, from one place to another, but as a withdrawal of the manifested form, that is, of the bodily figure, at a particular place, to make it reemerge, newly visible, elsewhere. This occurs by "passing underneath," that is by the means of a principle that, since it is outside and above manifestation, is free of the condition of space and that may therefore be said to be everywhere and, at the same time, nowhere. As the

mind is now the center of the body, the image of a place, adequately fixed in the mind

under the right conditions, determines eo ipso the phenomenon, quite irrespective of distance, so that it is said that projection in a nearby place needs the same "time" as projection in a very distant place, since the mental act of evoking either has the same


All this may possibly help to clarify the internal logic of the phenomena that are

recorded in the Buddhist texts; phenomena which, although extremely rare in the modern

world on account of the ever more intense "physicalization" and "samsarization" of the human being, are, nonetheless, quite real. We have, here, referred to phenomena that are

"real" in a specific sense, distinguishing them from phenomena, which can be produced quite cheaply by means of collective or individual suggestive devices. Finally, we must

consider the possibility that these same phenomena, rather than originating in the

metaphysical and ascetic way we have discussed, are achieved along more or less

shadowy paths through certain contacts with elemental forces. The Buddha touches on

this point when he says, for example, that the forms of supernormal vision that he and

many Awakened Ones also have, are created by mental concentration and are not those

that are related to inferior practices or contacts with spirits or angels."

In order that the iddhi we have considered may be perfect, it is naturally essential that

"ignorance" should have been destroyed without leaving any residue and that there should have been an equally complete resolution of the samsāric being:18 only then is the power

over the root from which the body is manifested complete, and only then can all the

elements on which the manifestation of the bodily form is based he mastered. In this

extreme case, rather than of a "body made of mind, furnished with form" we should speak of the "body made of spirit" and of pure consciousness, free from form (arupa atta patilabha), which is related to the "blessed body" (tusita kāya) in which one who is on the path of awakening will rearise after death,19 and to


Milindapanha. 82 (W. 306).

17. Angutt.,



Using the Taoistic terminology, this would he called the complete distillation of

the yin to pure yang.

19. Cf.

Majjh., 123; 143.


the "body of transfiguration" that occurs in some Gnostic schools. It is to this that we must clearly turn when the texts deal with the iddhi connected with having one's body in one's own power as far as the world of Brahmā, that is, up to the condition of pure being.

Particularly in M ahayana developments of the Buddhist teaching we find extensions of

these views, through which we can arrive at the deepest meaning that was, perhaps,

hidden in Christian docetism. According to these M ahāyāna conceptions, the

Accomplished Ones, the Tathāgata, do not actually have a body. In reality, it is not a question of not having a body, but, rather, of completely possessing, on the summit of an

absolutely liberated consciousness, all the principles on which its sensible manifestation

is based. And here, if it were the place to do so, we could devise interesting

interpretations of the true sense of the various traditions that relate to beings who never

"died." but who were "carried away." who disappeared from the physical world without leaving a body behind them.20 In any case, the most ancient Buddhist conception of the

twofold "body" beyond the physical one, as well as the M ahāyāna conception of the trikāya, the threefold body of the Buddha, refers to three degrees of the same realization, and is related both to the general Indo-Aryan doctrine of the "three worlds," and to the views (particularly those of Sāmkhya) on the three bodies, material, subtle (or vital), and causative (sţhula—or kariya—linga [or sukshma] and kārana-sarīra). To experience the body as a pure, dominated, free, plastic, intangible instrument of manifestation—this is

the extreme limit.

We must briefly discuss one last point on the subject of "miracles." Buddhism states that, if they are not sought for their own sake but occur as natural possibilities in

particular stages of awakening, the "powers" may be used where necessary with a pure mind, with the same indifference as the ordinary man uses his senses and his limbs.

There are, however, particular cases in which the "prodigy," the extranormal fact, is invested with a "sacred" and "noble"—Ariyan—character: such cases occur when the

"marvel" has an illuminating power on account of the phenomenon being a symbol and a manifestation of a transcendental significance, since, in this manner, it produces striking evidence of the dependence of "nature" on a higher order.21 One can find, also in Buddhism, a few references to these true, sacred marvels. For ex-ample, walking on

water: when the ascetic, in profound meditation, achieves the state of one who has

escaped from the "current," from the "waters"; of one who, like the lotus in a simile we have quoted, arises above the water, untouched by it—then


Cf. on this our work The Hermetic Tradition. There also occurs in Buddhism the

"nibbana of fire which leaves no residue." cf. Udāna (8.10): Dabba rises in the air and plunges himself into contemplation of the fiery element. then passes over into

nibbana. "Neither grease nor ashes remained of his burned body." This concentration on fire also takes us back to the tantras. Cf. de la Vallee-Poussin, in the translation of

the Abhidharmakosa, 4. p. 229.


Cf. our Maschera e volto dello spiritualismo contemporaneo.


in particular circumstances he may reveal a cosmic sign of this achievement, the actual power of walking on water without sinking. One text relates that a marvel of this kind

began to he neutralized at the moment when the mind of the ascetic relaxed its spiritual

concentration.22 Again, it is well known that the symbol of one who has passed over the

current and who, when on the other shore, helps the noble sons to cross, is applied to the

Buddha.23 Now, it can occur that at the very moment of the spiritual realization of this a

fresh cosmic evidence in the form of a "marvel" is produced: the Buddha and his disciples in the act of crossing a river, find themselves magically carried to the other hank."

Another example. When the Buddha meets the feared bandit Angulimāla he prevents the

bandit, who is running toward him, from catching up with the Accomplished One, who is

standing still. He who stands still walks, he who walks stands still.25 A transcendental

significance is once more manifested in this marvel: locomotion, which does not take one

forward, by which "one does not reach the end of the world," is opposed to being still, in a supernatural stability that, to beings that are carried along by the samsāric current, must appear as a vertiginous, fearful going.

Whether or not such irruptions, so full of meaning, of a higher order into the natural

order, ever historically took place, they serve, in the texts, to illustrate the significance of a particular category of "sacred" and "noble" marvels. As for the other extranormal or supernormal phenomena, from what we have just said it is clear that, in Buddhism. they

do not have the character of "miracles," of incomprehensible and irrational happenings, as they do in many popular, and even in some not so popular, forms of religion. They have,

instead, their own logic, they are connected with a particular view of the world, and the

path of awakening, in its various phases, affords the explanation of the fact that they can really take place.


Jataka. 190. In ibid., 263. it ceases as he becomes contaminated with a woman.

23. Suttanipata,


24. Dīgha.16.1.33—34.

25. Majjh..




Phenomenology of the Great Liberation

The pure, original doctrine of the Ariya is explicitly anti-evolutionist. "Becoming" has no significance. The "cycle" of rebirths does not lead to the death-less) There is neither beginning, nor progress, nor end in the succession of the states conditioned by

"ignorance" and by "agitation." It is said that, even as there is no lofty and massive mountain that one day will not crumble, no ocean that one day will not dry up, similarly,

there is no end to the changing undergone by ordinary beings who, through their samsāric

self-identification, pass from one state of existence to another, like a dog that goes round and round, firmly tied to a post or to a column.' Returning to the symbolism of the two

shores, it is said that while few enter the water, fewer still reach the other side, while the great mass of living beings runs up and down on this hank.' Rare is the appearance in the

world of a Perfectly Awakened One.' Such an appearance is like the miraculous

blossoming of a flower close to a pile of dung that represents. in fact, the worthless mass of ordinary beings.'

That Buddhism sees an essential difference between the "sons of the world"

(puthujjana) and the "sons of the Sākya's son" we know already, as we also know that by

"world" Buddhism does not only mean terrestrial existence, but any conditioned form of existence whatsoever, be it higher or lower than the human state. The Ariyan path of

awakening is, then, of an absolutely "vertical" nature, it does not conceive of

"progressivity"; between the state of nibbāna and any other state, demonic, titanic, human, or celestial, it sees a gap. The state of nibbāna cannot be found by "going"; it cannot he found in the horizontal direction of time, nor in the

1. Samyutt., 2.179.

2. Ibid.. 22.99.

3. Angutt., 10.117; Dhammapada, 85.

4. Digha. 16.5.5.

5. Dhammapada, 58—59.


perpetuity, longevity, or indefinite existence that are ascribed to the various angelic and celestial beings and to the theistic god himself, Brahmā". Bodhi, absolute illumination, the

"wisdom" that liberates, is sometimes therefore likened to lightning,6 a description that clearly shows its extratemporal character. Everything, therefore, that is connected with

extrasamsāric development is to be considered from a quite special point of view. The

oldest texts themselves remark on the relativity of the time needed to achieve fulfillment: seven years, seven months, seven days, the very day of hearing the doctrine. In M ahāyāna

and in Zen Buddhism this idea is very much accentuated. In a M ahāyāna text it is said that one should not feel fear or anguish at the thought that "one will awaken late to the

incomparable, perfect knowledge" since this awakening is the work of a single moment,

and is "the extreme [frontier] limit with something that has no past, and which therefore is a non-limit." One must not even formulate the depressing idea: "Great and long is this limit that has no past," since "this limit without a past, and which is therefore not a limit, is connected with a unique spiritual moment.8 By this it means that what, from the point

of view of samsaric consciousness, might seem to be a distant final aim, in reality stands

outside any sequence, so that to apprehend it means to apprehend it also as some-thing

that has not had a past, that has no antecedents, that is without time; whence it may be

said that all that has led up to it is co ipso destroyed. The path, the effort, the gradualness, the "made" (sankrta) all this vanishes, disperses like mist. The Sāmkhya theory relating to the purusa, and the Upanisads and then the Vedānta theory relating to the ātmā, have the same sense: the ātmā, have the same sense: the ātmā or purusa, is eternally present. It is not this that "revolves," that "acts," that strives, that advances. Illumination is the flash in which, beyond all time, this presence without a past is apprehended.

Recognition of this discontinuity of the state of absolute illumination does not,

however, prevent us from considering a series of cases corresponding to various

approximations of the point from which the jump in the transcendental direction may

6. Angutt.,

3.25. In this text the spirit of the man who, still alive, has destroyed mania

and has achieved liberation is also likened to a diamond. The Sanskrit term vajra

(Tibetan: dorje) includes both these meanings—lightning or diamond—and has been

particularly used in Tibetan Buddhism to designate the essence of illumination and the

nature of one who is made of illumination. AI the same time, it also designates the

scepter of the supreme representatives of Lamaist spiritual authority. This symbolism

would take us much further in terms of comparative mythology—as far as the

lightning-force symbolized by prehistoric hyperborean axes and the symbolism of the

lightning that always accompanied divine "Olympian" figures of the Aryan

civilizations. The "path of the vajra." or the "path of the diamond and of lightning (vajra-yana), is the designation of Tantric and magic Buddhism, on which cf. The Yoga of Power.

7. Cf.

Majjh., 10: 85. On this subject we can recall the words attributed to the

Buddha by the Vajrasamādhisutra, when he said that the passage of fifty years did not represent a period of time, but only the awakening of a thought (apud Suzuki).


Prajnāpāramita, texts in M . Walleser (Gottingen, 1914), 19, p. 120.


be achieved, provided the necessary energy has been acquired. Even the ancient Buddhist texts discuss, in this connection, various possibilities that should not be interpreted

without reference to the general Indo-Aryan views on the hereafter and on the various

forms of liberation.

The highest degree is that where, while yet a living man, one has completely achieved

extinction through having destroyed—without leaving residue or possibility for fresh

germination—avijjā, the primordial ignorance, tanhā. thirst, the āsava, the transcendental intoxications. A relapse, a passing to any conditioned form of existence whatsoever, is as

impossible for him as it is for the Ganges to flow toward the west.' Even the "mania,"

through which he might have rearisen as a god, is "extinct, cut down to the roots, made like the stump of a palm tree which cannot sprout again, can no more reproduce itself."10

He is called the noncombatant, one who has no further need of fighting in the threefold

realm of right living, of contemplation, of transcendental knowledge. besides that of the

powers." That "he should let attachment be joined again to his body or that his heart should beat again: this cannot he."' Powerful and impalpable being, there is nothing that can reach him, alter him, or threaten him. With regard to all that he can still "do," we may quote the simile of the uninjured hand: "he whose hand is without wound may touch

poison: poison cannot enter where there is no wound."' Whether "he walks or is still or sleeps or wakes," in him the perfect clarity of knowledge conforming to reality, that

"mania is exhausted in me." is always present, just as in a man whose feet and hands had been cut off there would always be present the knowledge: "My feet and hands have been cut off.' The term nirupadhi is also used here; it means destruction of the "substratum"

(upadhi). This substratum (which in its turn is related to the sankhāra and to kamma.

Skt.: karma) corresponds, in general, to the "entity of craving" that every life that is not liberated strengthens and nourishes so that it creates the possibility of a new arising, of a fresh bursting into flame after the material offered by that life is exhausted. In the

"perfectly Awakened One" this substratum no longer exists: being an obscure and

oblique form horn of ignorance and of "sleep," it is destroyed and dissolved by the steady naked light that he has kindled within himself.

Jarā, therefore, the exhaustion of the possibilities of life, the "fulfillment of time" and the dissociation of the aggregates that make up the individual being, for the Awakened

One means final dissolution. He can say: "The outward form of one who

9. Samyutt., 35.203.

10. Angutt., 436.

11. Ibid., 11.11. Cf. Jātaka. 70: "Not a good victory is that, after which you may still he beaten. A good victory is that through which you become invincible."


Majjh., 105.


Dhammapada, 124.


Ma jib.. 76.


has achieved truth stands before you, but that which binds him to existence has been cut off ... at the dissolution of the body neither gods nor men will again see him."15 With physical death, there collapses something that had only an automatic existence,

conditioned in a positive sense—conditioned, that is to say, by the pure will, devoid of

craving, of the Fulfilled One: that is what is known as khandha-parinibbāna which, in any case, is a wholly contingent occurrence, without consequences for a state that, by

definition, has "neither increase, nor diminution, nor composition." The term parinibbuta,

"completely extinct," is applied, in various texts, to the living Buddha. M aterial, physical death only dissolves the last material elements, without leaving any remnants, of a being

who is already dead to the world.16

Besides, since we have seen that the Buddhist ascesis is not limited to detachment. but

goes on to penetrate and control the deepest energies of the bodily manifestation, the

death of an Awakened One is always of a voluntary nature, at least in the sense of assent,

of nonintervention. It has rightly been said that "in order to die, a Buddha must wish to die, otherwise no infirmity can kill him." The true death of Prince Siddhattha took place when, some time before his actual decease, he consciously decided not to live any longer.

"From that moment he knows and repeatedly predicts the hour and the minute, the place

and the couch in which his breath will cease for ever. The death of the body becomes so

much a secondary fact, a thing of no account, that it matters very little what may cause


Buddhism, like Stoicism, does not condemn suicide. "Taking arms"—that is, killing oneself—is not proscribed by the doctrine of the Ariya. always provided that the person in

question has actually achieved extinction. In vain, M ara, the demon not only of this world, but equally of the world of Brahmā, seeks the spirit of the ascetic Channa who had "used the knife."18 In this case, it is not a question, in fact, of seeking death as a result of any weakness in face of life, of any form of despair, attachment, or pain. We already know

that the premise of extinction is to have conquered desire even for extinction itself, to

have achieved the state of one who is free and who has no desire either for existence or

for leaving existence.19 The taking of one's own life, here, is no more than a wholly

irrelevant act, rather like that of someone who, sitting in one position, decides at a certain moment to change it, or who finally


Dīgha. 13.73.

16. Samyutt.,


17. C. Formichi. Apologia del b uddhismo (Rome. 1925). p. 29. The Buddha had

declared that, had he so wished, he could even have lived for aeons (cf. Dīgha.

16.3.3). On the power of the Buddhas and of certain Ariya of prolonging life or of

dissolving the vital energies, cf. Abhidharmakosa, 2.10; 7.41.

18. Samyutt..

35.87. Majjh. 144.

19. Suttanipata. 4.10.9. Ct. Udāna (3.10): "Those who believe that they can go out of existence by means of nonexistence will not free themselves from existence."

Buddhism condemns both thirst for existence and thirst for nonexistence (bhava-



chases away an insect that had been buzzing ceaselessly around him and that he had suffered with calm. This, like any other act of an Awakened One, does not create

sankhāra: in no way does it alter the realization he has achieved, nor does it give rise to causes for future effects.

We must remember, however, that the spiritual stature of an Awakened One is such

that the moment he may choose for leaving his human form of appearance cannot be

arbitrary nor can it depend on accidental considerations. There is a text that, in declaring against voluntary death. sets forth not only all the positive elements of an Awakened

One's life, but also everything that, by continuing to live, he can give to beings in need of guidance 2° An Awakened One will always have, to some extent—an extent that

M ahāyāna considerably exaggerates—the sense of a mission on which will depend the

course and the moment of the end of his life. Prince Siddhattha declared the he would not

finally enter nibbāna, disappear from the physical world. or agree to die before the doctrine, by means of the existence of a group of worthy and illuminated disciples who

had apprehended it, had been established and well-proclaimed in the world of men and of

celestial beings.21 At this point, the Accomplished One, with perfect consciousness and

clarity, "laid aside his will to live" and, "concentrated and inwardly joyful," destroyed his personality "as one shatters a cuirass."22 To this decease, legend has added cosmic signs and portents not unlike those connected with the death of the Christ.' Some texts speak of

the movements of the mind of an Accomplished One at the moment of death: it passes

upward through the four jhāna and, beyond these, enters the planes of the first four realizations free from form, that is to say, it passes up to the state beyond consciousness and nonconsciousness. From this height the spirit then descends by degrees to the first

jhāna, and then passes up to the fourth jhāna that, as we have seen, corresponds to the limit of individuated consciousness as "name-and-form"; and from there, under the impulse of this power come from the world beyond form, it detaches itself, it passes

beyond, it "departs no more to return.'

All this, then, concerns the highest form of liberation, the liberation achieved in life

while still a man: it corresponds exactly with what, in the general Indo-Aryan tradition, is called jīvan-mukti, which means, in fact, "liberated while alive." As well as the case of jīvan-mukti, the same tradition also contemplates what is known as videha-mukti, where liberation is achieved at the moment of physical death. Death. in this case, unlike the first, affords an opportunity for full realization of liberation and

20. Milindapanha, 195. I ff. (W. 436).


Angutt., 8.70.

22. Ibid.


Digha, 16.6.10.


Ibid., 16.6.8—9; Samyutt., 6.5.


illumination already virtually gained during life. This possibility also is considered by Buddhism: the mental faculties, it is said, can become completely clear, and the eye of

supreme knowledge open at the moment of death. The end of physical life then coincides

with the end of mania, with the final destruction of the āsava. Such a case is known as

samasīsī. This supreme transformation is supposed to be facilitated if either an Awakened One or a disciple of the Awakened One is present to recall the doctrine to the one who is

dying, unless one has the strength to recall it oneself at this moment.25 We have already

said that awareness of breathing constantly practised and properly understood, is

considered to be one of the best means of maintaining a clear awareness up to the last

moments of earthly existence. For our part, we may add that the condition of modern

Western man is such that, in the vast majority of cases, the possibility of liberation can

only he conceived in this form; it can only take place, that is to say, in the state produced by that act of disruption that is the dissolution of the aggregates of the personality: this, of course, assumes that one's entire existence has been devoted to the focusing of every

energy of one's own being, including those that lie deepest and that are hardly perceptible, in the direction of transcendency.

We shall now go on to discuss the possibilities that are considered by the Buddhist

texts for those who tread the path of the Ariya and who do not reach liberation while

alive, nor at the moment of death.

The class of beings that we are now discussing comes under the heading of sotāpanna.

that is to say: "one who has entered into the current." They are the "noble sons" who have so acted that the fundamental force of their life is pervaded by what is beyond life, and

they have therefore quite eliminated the danger of taking a "descending path." M ore specifically, to "enter the current" is to nourish an unshakable faith in the doctrine, to have an eye trained to recognize each phenomenon according to its conditioned genesis, and to

maintain five of the fundamental precepts of "right conduct": abstention from killing, from taking what is not given, from lust, from lying, from the use of intoxicants.26 Other

texts have a slightly different view: those who have entered the current are principally

those who have overcome three of the five bonds, namely, mania of the "1," doubt, and the blind practice of rites and precepts for the sake of a divine hereafter. Two other bonds, however—desire and aversion—although weakened, continue to persist, and for this

reason those in the category in question do not achieve extinction either during earthly life or at its end. Such a being may, however, be sure that his destiny is already decided. The

enemy forces will not prevail. He is already established in the right law, he is not exposed to permanent lapses, he has a higher knowledge. He has escaped perdition, he possesses

sureness, he may he certain that he will put an end to the state of dukkha and


Angutt., 10.92.

26. Ibid.


that he will achieve illumination and perfect awakening.27 The simile provided here is that of the firstborn son of a warrior king legitimately crowned, who is certain of one day ascending the throne: the same feeling is possessed by an ascetic who is a "blessed

warrior," who has trodden the path of the Ariya, and who, inwardly unshakable, waits for the supreme liberation."

The future course of one who, in the deepest nucleus of his own being, no longer

belongs to the world of becoming, depends on the strength of the sankhāra that correspond to the two bonds that have not yet been dissolved. Some texts, which deal with

what we may call the pessimistic solution, envisage one who expects a single rebirth in

the sense-world (ekabijin): one who expects repeated rebirths (kolankola) reappearing, in due course, two or three times in noble families; or, finally one who expects to reappear,

at the most seven times, in states that are not all necessarily human (sattakkhattu-

parama). After this, the condition of dukkha will have been destroyed once and for all.29

These references in the texts are very schematic, and one cannot therefore be quite sure

of the true sense of the doctrine. Since such possibilities are distinguished from others,

shortly to be discussed, which refer unquestionably to extinction achieved in one of the

worlds of "pure form" or "free from form," it would seem that we are here dealing with reappearances in the kāma-loka, that is, in the subcelestial sphere to which the human condition essentially belongs. Are we again faced with an idea of "reincarnation"?

Perhaps one who "has entered the current" will appear again as a man? We must here refer to a viewpoint that is rather different from the simple idea of the multiple earthly

lives of an "I" that is supposed to pass from one to another; a view, to which the term

"shoot forth again," or "germinate," of the text offers a way of approach. One who "has entered the current" has transformed the root from which he sprang into life: in the

"current" of which he is made, we now find the element bodhi, something that is extrasamsāric, which is destined to determine a new line of heredity—if thus we may call

it—and, above all, a certain kind of continuity that—as we have already seen—is not

possible in one who belongs to the world of becoming and of ignorance. We can thus

think of a superindividual matrix or root, no longer exclusively samsāric, of existences

that tend toward liberation, as it were in a series of attacks (corresponding to each life) and that are destined finally, in one of the existences, the last of the series, to triumph. If one of these does not produce success. there appears another, taking over the attributes of the first, in order to carry it further: the duration of this process is determined by certain cyclical laws and is hound up with the number seven, whose importance in the field of all

that concerns development is known even in profane science. We no longer have the

absurd idea of a single "1" that


Cf. Ibid.; 6.97; Majjh., 68.

28. Angutt.,


29. Ibid.,



returns or that travels from existence to existence but, rather, of various manifestations of one same principle that is already superindividual, but not yet fully conscious:

manifestations that are ruled by the extrasamsāric force that has already been awakened

and that is destined. sooner or later, to produce the perfectly illuminated being with

which it will "pass beyond," by completely releasing itself. From two books by M eyrink, which are more than just novels—Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster and Der weisse

Domenikaner—the reader may, perhaps, get a more intuitive idea of this kind of process.

For successive manifestations, Buddhism has laws that are not unlike those discovered

by M endel for physical heredity. We know that, according to M endelian laws, some

elements of a heredity may, through a series of generations, have a "recessive" character while others are "dominant": they seem to disappear although they are only latent and ready to reemerge and to reestablish themselves once the power that pre-dominated before

has been weakened or, as in the present case, once the material needed for renewed

burning is present. This, according to Buddhism, is true both for the positive and for the

negative elements that, at the end of a life, will represent an upadhi, a substratum of existence. Illusory forms of liberation are therefore possible; illusory because they are

paramount only until the negative residues, which had apparently disappeared, reestablish

themselves and lead to conditional forms of existence. The opposite may well happen: a

principle of liberation and illumination may be well established, but it can only blossom

and act fully after the total exhaustion of the power of unresolved negative and samsāric

elements. These elements sometimes seem to predominate when, in fact, their roots have

already been cut off.30 This should he borne in mind when we consider the case of

discontinuous reappearances in a series of births (the isolated emergence of superior,

extrasamsāric types, with intervals of qui-

30. Cf. Angutt.. 10.206; 3.98. With regard to the sankhAra and to the upādhi. that is, to the potentialities of a possible fresh combustion, normal psychological consciousness

must not be taken as the final criterion. It may be that with ageing and decay of the

organs, a tendency or craving that was alive and unmastered before. may no longer

make itself felt. But as a sankhāra. it has not therefore vanished: it has only returned to its latent state, and is wailing for a fresh occasion. The Buddhist doctrine of the

"possessions" (prāpti) refers to this. When, for example, a desire has been satisfied and seems to be exhausted, it has not therefore been eliminated.--on the contrary, it

remains united to the "I" and to the stem to which it belongs. Nonexistent in act, it subsists in potentiality. And the "possession" (prāpti) will lead, sooner or later, to remanifestation (sammukhībhāva), (cf. de la Vallee-Poussin, Nirvāna. p. 164). We

must also. eventually, take into account forces that are not fully manifested or "spent"

and that, in certain cases, we must lead to consummation, even at the cost of causing

ourselves as individuals and other men to suffer (heir natural effects. Something of the

sort was intuited by the Carpocratian Gnostics. Cf. also the image given in Golem by G. M eyrink, chap. 18: "M an is like a tube of glass in which many-colored halls are

running. In the life of most men. there is only one hall. If it is red we say that the man

is 'bad.' If it is yellow we say he is 'good.' If there are two balls—one red and one

yellow-- he has an 'unstable character.' We, who have been 'bitten by the serpent.' live

in our life that which normally happens to the whole race in an entire age: the many-

colored balls cross the tube of glass in a mad rush, one behind another, and, finite as they are—we have become prophets—images of the divinity."


escence) and also as what may appear as a "spontaneous initiation." But the same idea also applies in the cases we have yet to consider and, as we said, this will refer to

liberations that are to be later but inevitably achieved in posthumous "celestial" states.

Even for these cases we can find an equivalent in the general Indo-Aryan tradition,

where it takes into account so-called "deferred liberation" or "liberation by degrees"

(Krama-mukti).31 In order thus to attain the state of nirvāna in modes of being that cannot be called human, it is necessary to have also virtually cut off the two bonds of craving and aversion, which constitute the elementary differentiations of the primordial mania. And if

this mastery is not to be of an entirely psychological character, and therefore ephemeral,

the ascetic must, in his earthly existence, have developed to a high degree both the

contemplations that produce a superior calm (samatha) and the "wisdom" that is closely connected with the will for the unconditioned, which leads to change of heart and

detachment, and that brings realization of the nonsubstantiality of all that is samsāric

(vipassanā).32 When these conditions have been fulfilled, one possesses the principle of a supreme "neutrality" beyond any craving desire, beyond any aversion, and the "divine"

world itself may be overcome; the bond of the "I," which has already been cut off as regards the human state of existence by the one who "enters the current," is now also cut off as regards any individuated and conditioned form of existence whatsoever, not

excluding the highest and most resplendent. In the "cur-rent," then, a force operates that will prevent any lingering on the "celestial voyage"—spoken of, with varying symbolism, in all traditions including the Dantesque—from being taken as the final destination; this

force guarantees that, by definitively bringing to an end every attachment, one will gain,

in superhuman states of existence, the opportunity for extinction that could not be

achieved in the human condition, not even at the moment of death. The ascetic has here

created the conditions for a real survival of death, for a survival that various religions, notably the Christian, imagine is achieved by all beings; whereas it is only logically

thinkable for those few who, as men, have been able to conceive of themselves as more

than men and who have taken part, in full awareness—even if only through some flash of

insight—in states that are free of the condition of the individual.

We are now in a position to give the various possible cases of liberation beyond death

that are considered by Buddhist teaching:

(1) he who frees himself and "disappears" halfway in his development


(2) he who succeeds in this after the halfway point in his development

(upahacca-parinibbā yin);


Cf. R. Guenon, L'Homme et son devenir selon le Vedanta (Paris. 1925), p. 181ff.

32. Cf.

Angutt., 4.124.


(3) he who achieves liberation without an action (asankhāra-parinibbāyin); (4) he who achieves liberation with an action (sasankhāra-parinibbāyin);

(5) he who proceeds against the current toward the highest gods

(uddhamsota akanittha-gāma).

All these liberations take place in one of the spheres of "pure forms" (rupa-laboka) or in one of the spheres free from form (arupa-loka) making up, together, the "pure abodes"

or "pure fields" (suddhāvāsā) whose equivalent, in the ancient Western Aryan traditions, were the "Elysian Fields" or "Seat of the Heroes."33 The order in which we have just given these cases is one that descends from the highest forms to the lowest. They are all,

however, qualified by the term anāgāmin, "a nonreturner," one who does not pass again to another form of conditioned and manifested existence, since he has entirely conquered

any force that could lead to this against his will. The term is the same as that used in the Upanisads for one who, after death, does not tread the lunar and ancestral path (pitr-yāna) but who treads, instead, the "divine path" (deva-yāna).

It may be easier to understand the sense of these various possibilities by refer-ring to a

simile given by a text that makes use of the example of lighted chips flung into the air.34

One such chip may get cold even before it touches the earth—and this would be the case

with one who liberates or "extinguishes" himself before or after the halfway point of his path (cases 1 and 2); or it may fall to the ground and immediately find a patch of dry grass that goes up in flames, and the chip may only get cold after this fire has died out—the

case of liberating oneself without an action; or, again, it may land in a large pile of wood or hay. set it alight, and get cold only when this much larger lire has ceased—the case of

liberating oneself by means of an action; or, finally, the chip may fall directly into a

forest, and the fire continues until the other side of the forest itself is reached, where there is running water or a field of green grass or rocks—the case of going against the current

toward the highest gods.

By way of clarifying this phenomenology of the various posthumous developments

possible for ascetic consciousness, the following remarks will suffice. The heat of the

lighted chip, that is capable of starting a fresh fire, clearly represents the residual thirst for, and pleasure in, satisfaction still existing in the new current. Al-ready extinguished as regards the forms of earthly existence, this residual potential heat can he finally

eliminated while going along the path, before the end of a particular development, "before falling to earth," that is to say, before the complete

33. Angutt.. 7.16—17; 9.12; 10.63; 3.85—86; Puggala-Pannarti. 40—46; Visuddhi-magga, 23 (W. 391).

34. Angutt.. 7.52.


transformation of state that follows death, and could result in the adoption of a new residence. This then, corresponds to cases 1 and 2. In case 3 this potential heat comes

again into contact with combustible material and produces a fresh flame: consciousness

rearisen in a celestial state of existence, where rapture and "supersensible joy" may promote new forms of identification, of greater or less duration. The extrasamsāric and

sidereal force that has already been awakened will, however, sooner or later, lead

onwards—whereas a "son of the world" is always liable to degenerate again, to pass, even, into a state lower than that from which he started, although he has experienced for a time these supersensible states.35 In case 3 craving is exhausted by a natural process; in

case 4, however, a certain active intervention must be made, which is spoken of in the

texts sometimes as "effort," sometimes as "deepening of knowledge." The most unfavorable case is the fifth, which in the simile corresponds to a fire that, little by little, spreads to an entire forest and does not stop until it has reached the natural limit of the forest itself. The potentiality of heat and of attachment, here, is such that it resumes, one after another, in ascending order (against the current), the various possibilities of

superhuman life. This case could be compared to "deferred liberation," the fundamental idea of which, as Guenon has rightly pointed out.' is to be found in the Judeo-Christian

and Islamic symbolism of thè"Universal Judgment." The final experience takes place at the moment in which an end is made, in obedience to the cyclical laws, to the celestial

forms of existence themselves, and there occurs, in order of precedence, the dissolution of each manifested form into its respective unmanifested principle. It is on such an

occasion—almost a reproduction, mutatis mutandis, of the possibility offered by physical death (cf. p. 46)—that final extinction may be achieved at the exhaustion of a cosmic

cycle of manifestation.

On the subject of symbolism, we may sec, in the greater or less quantity of fire that

bums again in the posthumous states and that must be allowed to die out before an

advance can be made, the deeper significance of what Christian mythology calls

"purgatory." We must remember, however, in making this comparison, that this ex-

perience is by no means common to all, but only to those who, through a virtual mastery

of the human condition and of the samsāric bonds, have indeed gained the chance of

consciously surviving physical death and of taking themselves further, into superterrestrial states of existence.

Finally, the mention of liberation with or without action gives us the opportunity of

remembering that, not only at the point of death, but also in the successive changes of

state and in the various phases of the "celestial voyage," much may depend. ac-cording to the traditional teaching, on a spiritual initiative that is naturally connected


Ibid., 3.1 14.


L'Homme el son devenir, p. 187.


with the accumulation of knowledge achieved and realized on earth as a man. We can only talk of quasi-automatic and predestined posthumous developments in the case of the

ordinary man; but, as we have said, to speak of his "survival" is merely to be euphemistic.

On the matter of this transcendental initiative, we refer the reader to the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which we have quoted earlier, and to what, on the basis of this hook, we have discussed at greater length in the second edition of our hook, The Yoga of Power (appendix 1).



Signs of the Nonpareil

There is, in original Buddhism, a well-known negative expression for the highest point of

the Ariyan ascesis, nibbāna (Skt.: nirvana). Its etymology is rather intricate. The Pāli term is related to the root vān and includes the idea of a "vanishing." The Sanskrit term seems to have a different root, vā, to blow, with the negative prefix nit, and is best translated, in fact, by "extinction," but also with reference to "vanishing." Extinction of what? It has been rightly pointed out' that the same root vā appears in the terms vana, vani, which mean, "to wish," "to crave," "to desire," "to rave," "to dote." Nibbāna expresses the cessation of the state described by these terms: a fact that is confirmed by the whole

Ariyan ascesis, in its comprehensive significance, particularly as nibbāna is attained at the moment in which the āsavā and tanhā, that is to say, the intoxicating manias and craving, are completely neutralized. We do not, therefore, propose to put forward a learned

argument designed to confute the ideas of those who hold the nibbāna is "nothingness." It could only occur to a chronic drunkard that the ending of intoxication was also the end of existence; so, only some-one who knew nothing but the state of thirst and of mania could

think that the cessation of this state meant the end of all life, "nothingness." Besides, if

"ignorance" and "mania" are a negation—and normal beings can hardly think otherwise—

then nibbāna can only be described, after the manner of Hegel. as a "negation of the negation," and therefore as a restoration, as something that, taken in conjunction with a negative designation. indicates an entirely positive reality. The fact of the matter is that modern man has moved so far from the world of spirituality and of metaphysical reality

that, when faced with this kind of experienced achievement, he finds himself totally

unprovided with points of reference and with organs of comprehension.

I . Dc Lorenzo, in his edition of Majjh., vol. I, p. 7.


"Awakening" is the keystone and the symbol of the whole Buddhist ascesis: to think that

"awakening" and "nothingness" can be equivalent is an extravagance that should he obvious to everyone. Nor should the notion of "vanishing," applied in a well-known simile of nibbāna to the fire that disappears when the flame is extinguished, be a source of misconception. It has been said with justice' that, in similes of this sort, one must always have in mind the general Indo-Aryan concept that indicates that the extinguishing of the

fire is not its annihilation, but its return to the invisible, pure, supersensible state in which it was before it manifested itself through a combustible in a given place and in given


The point is that Buddhism has very largely adopted the method of "negative

theology," which seeks to give the sense of the absolute by means of an indication, not as to what it is—a task that is considered to he absurd—but as to what it is not. We may say, rather, that Buddhism has gone further still: it has refused to use the category of nonbeing and has understood that even to define the unconditioned by negation would, in fact, make

it conditioned. This has been rightly noted by Oldenberg:3 when the contrast between the

contingent world and the eternal world is pushed to the extreme limit of Buddhism, it is

no longer possible to imagine any logical relation whatsoever between the two terms. All

we can do is to use as a symbol, as an allusive sign, a word, that is to say, nibbāna. Zen Buddhism would say: reality is to the word and to the doctrine as the moon is to the hand

of the man who shows its direction.

One thing, in any event, is quite sure: the theory that claims that one who has

destroyed the manias has also "broken himself and will perish, not surviving the death of the body" is regarded by Buddhism as a heresy, born of ignorance.' But the demon of

dialectics must not. in this way, be resurrected. When it is asked if the Awakened One

exists after death, the answer is: No. Does not he, then, exist after death? The same

answer. Does he both exist and not exist after death? A gain, no. Does he neither exist nor not exist after death? Once more, the reply is no. And should the questioner ask what,

after all, does this mean, then the answer is that such things were not revealed by Prince

Siddhattha, that they cannot be discussed since they are transcendent—abhikkanta—since

nothing intelligent can be said about a state in which everything that might have been

included in any concept or in any category whatsoever has been destroyed.5 Nibbāna,

indeed, "has nothing that is like it. "'

2. A. B. Keith, Buddhist Philosophy (London. 1923), pp. 65-66; de la Vallee-Poussin, Nirvāna, pp. 145-46.

3. Buddha, p. 269.

4. Samyutt.. 22.55.

5. Ibid., 44.1.11.

6. Milindapanha. 315 ff.


"This has not been revealed," "this cannot be discussed," "this is nonpareil." But where concept and word fail us, the evocative power of the simile may take their place.

The simile is one of vastness, depth, immeasurableness, ocean-size. The king who asked

the questions in the first place, is now questioned: "Have you an accountant or reckoner who is able to number all the grains of sand in the Ganges?" The reply is naturally

negative. He is then told that it would be a similar undertaking to try to define the

Accomplished One. "He is deep, unbounded, immeasurable, inscrutable, just like the

mighty ocean. Thus it may not be said that he exists, nor that he does not exist, nor that

he exists and does not exist, nor that he neither exists nor does not exist after death."'

From each of the five components that make up common personality an Accomplished

One is free: from material form, from feeling, from perception, from the formations and

from finite consciousness—all this that was in him has been made like "a palm tree, that is cut off at the root so that it can germinate no longer, no more redevelop." It is quite useless for those who, in trying to under-stand, refer to one or other of these components.

to set themselves the problem of what an Accomplished One is or of where he is going.8

Since that of which we might say "is" or "is not" is absent, there is no definition or discussion possible 9 The fundamental point is that the Awakened One, while still alive,

is not to be considered as material form, feeling, perception, formations, or

consciousness, nor as living in these groups of the person, nor as distinct from them, nor

as one deprived of them. if, then, while he is still in this life, the Accomplished One

cannot he considered as really "existing," there is no logical category that can enable us to understand the state of pure nibbāna, of total extinction.10 "For one who has disappeared from here, there is no more form: that of which we say 'it exists' is no longer his; when all the dhammā are cut away. then all the elements on which discursive thought is based also vanish." We may then justly say: "it is as difficult to follow the path of those whose dwelling is void and whose liberation is without sign, as it is to follow that of the birds through the air."12 The Accomplished Ones, those who have "entered the current,"

the anāgāmin in general, are also likened to powerful animals of the deep water of the sea.13 "Deep"—says a M ahāyāna text14—"is the denomination of thèvoid': of the

'signless,' of the 'without tendency,' of the not-come, of the not-gone-out, of the

7. Samyutt., 44.1.

8. Majjh., 72.

9. Suttanipāta.5.7.6-8.


Samyutt., 22.85, 86: 44.2.

11. Suttanipata,


12. Dhammapada,



Angutt., 8.19. In Milindapanha, 320, there is this simile: "As the sea is the abode of great portentous beings. so also nibbāna is the abode of great and portentous

beings, such as the arahant. those who have achieved extinction."


Prajnāpāramitā. 8.106.


not-issued, of the not-being, of the passionless, of the destruction, of the extinction, of the coming-out, the denomination thereof is profundity."

Besides all this, two reasons of a historical nature have, in Buddhism, imposed

silence on all superontological and supertheistic references to the state where thirst no

longer exists. Here we must turn back to the considerations that we discussed in the first

part of this study. It will be remembered, in the first place, that the doctrine of Prince

Siddhattha arose, in contrast to every form of abstract speculation, as an essentially

practical and spiritually progressive guidance; in the second, that it had in mind a type of human being for whom the ātmā, the "unconditioned" of the preceding Indo-Aryan metaphysics, had already ceased to correspond to any real experience. This absolute,

which could no longer stand for anything according to the only criterion that was decisive

for the Indo-Aryan tradition—yathā-bhutam, the "vision conforming to reality"—and which could therefore also be denied or profaned by the skeptical or philosophizing

manner of thought that had already pervaded a large variety of disputing sects and

schools—this absolute becomes, in Buddhism. the object of a single demonstrative

organ: action itself, ascesis, bhāvanā. As a result of this, silence about the problem of the nature of the state of nibbāna and of the destiny of an Awakened One after death was imposed for a practical reason also. Any ideas on the subject could only be "opinion"

(δόξα) and, as such, useless and vain, if not positively harmful. Whence the justification

for the absence of any reply from the Buddha: "This has not been declared by the

Sublime One, because it does not belong to the fundamental principles of a divine life,

because it does not lead to renunciation, to detachment, to cessation, to calm, to

transcendent knowledge, to illumination, to extinction."15 In this connection, too, one must cut back the agitation and the imagining of an inconsistent mind: "I am," "I am this," "I shall be," "T shall not he," "I shall be with body," "I shall be without body," "I shall have consciousness," "I shall not have consciousness," and so on—all this, it is said, is a wavering, a sore, a vain imagining. It is the effect of craving, it is a tumor, it is the point of the arrow. "Therefore," says the Buddha, "you must cherish this purpose: Ì wish to dwell with a mind that does not waver, that is not obsessed, with a mind that has

destroyed these vain imaginings.' Thus, 0 disciples, must you train yourselves."16

There are those who have held that one reason for not admitting that the state of

nibbāna might correspond to the unconditioned ātmā of the preceding Upanisadic tradition lies in the fact that, in the latter, there was always an inseperable connection

between this same ātmā and the brahman, the universal subject, the root of cosmic life."


Samyutt.. 16.12; M ajjh.. 62.


Samyutt.. 35.207.


M . Walleser. Prajnāpāramitā. p. 9.


Buddhism, on the other hand, as a doctrine of purification and restoration that is principally Aryan in spirit, is especially characterized by its overcoming of this relationship.

With regard to the supreme term of the ascesis, we certainly find in the Buddhist texts a

number of passages that can be referred back to the doctrine of the ātmā but not one that

can be reconciled with the theory of the brahman: and this is because Buddhism was resolutely opposed to any pantheistic deviation and cosmic identifications, and because its ideal was an absolutely complete detachment from any form of "nature," either material or divine; it therefore carried the purifying, implacable fire of disidentifying ascesis to

almost inconceivable heights. And it is on this account that every bridge falls down and

every word, every conception, seems vain and impotent. Less than in any other doctrine,

is it possible to establish, at this point, any relationship at all between samsāral—or

contingent existence, which for Buddhism embraces every manifested state of being—and

that for which nibbāna is only a negative designation.

Having dealt with this point, it only remains for us to consider a few elements that are

simply of value as indicating marks.

First of all, we can see without difficulty from the texts that the Buddhist ascesis sets

itself a precise task: to overcome and destroy death, to achieve amata (Skt.: amrta), that is, the "deathless." We have already said that Māra, the eternal antagonist of the Ariyan ascetic, is one of the forms under which M rtyu, the demon of death, appears.' Throughout

the Dhammapada there are references to the struggle to be fought against the demon of death, against the "finisher" (antaka). "Let M āra not break you again and again, as the torrent breaks the reeds."19 "Victor of death," is the Awakened One called,' " giver of immortality."21 Texts speak of a battle against the great army of death,22 of a conquering or crossing of the torrent or kingdom of death that is achieved by few,23 of a

contemplation on the deathless element.' It is toward this element that the eightfold path

of the Ariya leads.25 One who is born subject to death, goes on to achieve "the death-less, the incomparable sureness, extinction."26 Nibbāna is called the "incomparable island, in which every thing vanishes and all attachment ceases, where there is destruction of decay

and of death"; it is an island for those who "find themselves in the midst of the waters, in the fearful torrent that has formed and whereby they become subject to decay


Explicit identification of Māra with the demon of death occurs in Mahāvagga

(Vin.), 1.1; 2.2.


Dhammapada, 337; cf. 37, 40, 46.

20. Majjh.,


21. Ibid.,


22. Ibid.,


23. Angutt.,

10.117; Majjh., 34; Dhammapada. 85.


Ma jib., 64.


Ibid., 26, 75.


Ibid., 52.


and to death."' "As medicine opposes death, so nibbāna opposes death."28 The Buddha's announcement is: "The immortal has been found." "Let the gate of the death-less open: he who has ears to hear, let him come and hear."29 "Yes, I have achieved the death-less,"

declares Sāriputta.30 "Clarion of immortality, supreme triumph in the battle" is the doctrine of the Ariya called.' Allusions to revealing and beneficial contemplations or

images, "having as base and as aim the death-less," are very frequent.32 But that is not all: we must remember that the term amata, "nondeath," "deathless," which is etymologically the same as the Greek word αµβροσία, has in the lndo-Aryan tradition a different meaning to the weakened form current in the West. In the West we normally find that immortality

is interchangeable with that very different thing, survival. At best, it may refer to the

continuation of individual existence, though still conditioned, in "celestial" or "angelic"

states that, according to the Aryo-Oriental view, though they may be of indefinite

duration, occupying may aeons, yet have nothing of the really eternal, of the "deathless"

in an absolute sense. That is why in Buddhism, one speaks of cutting back the roots not

only of death, but of life itself, of a path of health that leads beyond the dominion of death and of life:" by "life," here, we have to understand any possibility whatsoever of rearising in any conditioned form, even in those that are called, in the West, "immortal" or

"paradisal." This may possibly confuse the ideas of those who have not grasped the limitations inherent in the more recent of Western religious conceptions; but, in any case, this should do away with the absurd supposition that an ascesis thus attuned to the

"deathless" can possibly end in "nothingness."

Stability is one of the properties of nibbāna. As a great river inclines toward the sea, descends to the sea, flows out into the sea, and, having arrived at the sea, stays still: so does the life of those who proceed toward extinction unroll." As the high mountain, on which no grass grows, is still and unshakable, so, likewise, nibbāna, in which no passions or mania are born, is still and unshakable." As men's houses, with the passage of time, become ruins, but the ground whereon they rested remains, so the mind of an Awakened

One remains and knows no alteration.36 We remember the


Suttanipāta, 5.11.1–4. Cf. Uttarajjhavana-sutta. 13.81: It is a nearby place. but arduous to reach, where decay, death and disease do not exist."


Milindapanha, 319.


Majjh.. 26; Mahāvagga (Vin.), 1.1.5. 7; Samyutt. 12.33.

30. Mahāvagga (Vin.), 7.23.6.


Majjh.. 115.


Cf., e.g.. Angutt.. 5.61; 8.74: 9.36; 10.56; 7.45; Dhammapada. 374.


Dīgha. 16. 2.2-3; 4.2.


Cf. Malik. 73.


Milindapanha, 323.

36. Mahrīparinirv.. 4.6. Cf. Majjh.. 12.


recurring theme that urges the ascetic continually onward, even beyond the most abstract form of contemplation because "that is compounded, that is generated, that is

conditioned."37 The result of this is to endow nibbāna—the state beyond which one

cannot go—with the character of unconditioned and ungenerated simplicity:" the term

asankhata, "not made, not performed, not produced," is continually applied to nibbāna, and so is svayambhu, which indicates the quality of that which rests on itself or—in M ahāyāna terms—of that which rests on the not-resting. A limiting function is ascribed to

the three āsava—they make beings "finite," it is said." For this very reason, the state that no longer knows the āsava must he the unconditioned and infinite state; since dukkha has been overcome, it can only be the state of a supreme supernatural calm, and of

"incomparable sureness" (anuttaram yogakhemam). The "trembling" is ended, the irrational "recirculation" is ended. Terms such as: "become cold."40 should no more be a source of misunderstanding than "extinct": the burning, which no longer exists, is to be understood as that of one who is fevered, of one who is burning with thirst, of one who is

weakened by samsāric fire. It is the absence of heat in the pure Uranian flame—flamma

non urens– of sidereal natures: of the Olympian principle of pure light.

"Only that which has no birth does not perish"—it is said in one text41—"M ount M eru will crumble, the gods will decline in heaven. How great, how wonderful, then. is the

eternal essence that is not subject to birth and to death!" Still with reference to nibbāna:

"To go out from this state [means to find another] state that is calm, beyond thought, stable, not horn, not formed, detached from pain, detached from passion, a joy that puts an end to all contingency and that destroys for ever every mania.' And again: "There is, 0

disciples, an abode where there exists neither earth nor water nor light nor air nor infinity of ether nor infinity of consciousness nor any essence at all nor that which lies beyond

representation and beyond nonrepresentation nor this world nor another nor M oon nor

Sun. This do I call. 0 disciples, neither coming nor going nor staying nor birth nor death; it is without base, without change, without pause; it is the end of agitation."43

We have already had occasion to mention some of the traits attributed by the texts to

those who, while still in this life, have achieved the perfect awakening, the supreme

liberation—beginning with the son of the Sākya. With the end of identification they are

free. Having destroyed the roots of the mania of the "I," for them the net of illusion 37.

Cf. Majjh.. 52.


Cf. Dhammapada, 383.


Samyutt.. 41.7: Jātaka, 203.


Cf. Angutt.. 3.34.


Dīgha, 16.3.48.


Itivuttaka. 43.


Udāna, 8.1.


has been burned, their hearts are transparent with light, they are divine beings, immune from intoxication, untouched by the world. As the "lion's roar" their word sounds:

"Supreme are those who are awakened!"44 "Invincible and intact" beings, they appear as

"sublime supermen";45 lions who have left behind fear and terror,' they see the past, they see heavens and hells,47 they know this world and that world, the kingdom of death and

the kingdom free from death, time, and eternity." They are "like tigers, like bulls, like lions in a mountain cavern," and are yet "beings without vanity, appearing in the world for the good of the many, for the health of the many, through compassion for the world,

for the benefit, the good and the well-being of gods and of men."49 "l have overcome the bramble of opinions, I have gained mastery over myself, I have followed the path. I

possess the knowledge and! have no one else as my guide"—thus says the Awakened

One of himself.50 The Awakened One is he who is detached from life and death and who

knows the way up and the way down,51 he is "bold, not knowing hesitation, a sure

leader, pure of passion, resplendent as the light of the sun, resplendent without arrogance, heroic"; he is the Knower "whom no mania dazzles, no trouble conquers, no victory tempts, no spot stains"; he is one "who asks no more, and who, as a man, has mastered the ascetic art": he is the "great being, who lives strenuously, free from every bond, no longer slave to any servitude"; he is "the Valiant One, who watches over himself, constant in his step, ready to the call, who guards himself within and without, to nothing

inclined, from nothing disinclined, the Sublime One whose spirit is powerful and

impassible"; he is the "Awakened One whom no thirst burns, no smoke veils, no mist clouds: a spirit who honors sacrifice and who, like no other, towers in majesty."52

Unconquered, supreme, he has laid down his burden, he has no "home" and he has no desires. Passion, pride, and falsity have fallen from him like a mustard seed from the

point of a needle. Beyond good. beyond evil, he is loosed from both these bonds and,

detached from pain, detached from pleasure, he is purified. Since he knows, he no longer

asks "how?" He has touched the depths of the element free from death. He has abandoned the human bond and has overcome the di-vine bond and he is freed from all bonds. The

path of him, who can be conquered by none in the world and whose dominion is the

infinite, is not known to the gods, nor to the angels, nor to men."

44. Samyutt..



Majjh., 116.

46. Suttanipāta, 3.6.37.


Samyutt., 3.58-59: Dhammapada, 422-23.


Majjh.. 34.

49. Ibid.,


50. Suttan ipata. 1.3.21.

51. Majjh..



Ibid., 56.

53. Dhammapada,


passim, 179: Majjh.. 98.


In these terms with timeless grandeur, the supreme ideal of the purest Aryan spirit is continually reaffirmed. The contacts are reestablished, there is indeed an awakening. a

return to the primordial state whose echo we find in the cosmicity of the Vedic hymns and

in the supernatural framing of the deeds of the first Indo-Aryan epics. Nibbāna is, in fact.

announced as a state of which nothing had been heard for a very long time." Beyond both the labyrinths of speculation and the poverty of all human sentiment, beyond the samsāric

world that "burns," and beyond every phantasmagoria of demoniac. titanic, or celestial existences. there is affirmed the knowledge of a nature that, for its purity and power,

could be called Olympian and regal, were it not that, at the same time, it indicates absolute transcendency. it is inherently ungraspable, not to be qualified by "this." nor by "here,"

nor by "there."

Such is the goal of the "noble path" or "path of the Ariya" (ariyamagga) that some have chosen to regard as "quietism" induced by an "enervating tropical climate" and leading, as though through an ultimate collapse of the vital force, toward "nothingness."

54. Mahāvagga (Vin.). 1. The period, actually given here, for myriad kalpa." is typical of the tendency toward fabulous exaggeration.



The Void: "If the M ind Does Not Break"

We have already quoted a text that sees in the "void," in the "signless," and in the

"without tendency" the characteristics of the "contacts" of those who emerge from the contemplations free from form. And we have also shown that the Dhammapada. in its

reference to those "whose path is as difficult to follow as that of the birds through the air."

associates "void" and "signless" with viveka, aloofness or detachment. These are not the only places where the concept of "void" (sunna or sunnatā) appears in the texts of early Buddhism. One who is detached from pleasure and from desire, from predilection and

from thirst, from fever and from craving is called "void."1 Elsewhere the texts speak of a

"superior man" dwelling principally in the state of "real, inviolable, pure voidness"2—it is in this state that Prince Siddhattha receives and speaks to kings.' He has said that the

perceptions no longer cling to those who know, who are troubled by nothing in the world,

who ask no more questions, who have rooted out every loathing, and who crave neither

existence nor nonexistence.' As one who is detached he experiences every kind of

perception or sensation or feeling.' With particular reference to the triad "void,"

"signless," "without tendency." all this is associated with the form of experience—either internal and psychological or of the outside world—of one who continues to live with the

center of his own being in the state of nibbāna or in one or other of the higher

contemplations; and the Buddha said of himself that he could dwell without effort or

difficulty in one of the four jhāna or in one of the irradiant contemplations, walking or standing, sitting or lying.6 It is thus considered that the realiza-1. Samyutt., 22.3.

2. Majjh.. 151.

3. Ibid., 122.

4. Ibid., 18.

5. Ibid., 140.

6. Angutt., 3.63.


tions of the Ariya are not only superhuman forms of consciousness but are also kinds of profundity wherein we can comprehend the multiple variety of the dhammā, that is to say, the various elements of internal and external experience.

This experience is itself liberated thereby, and the threefold category de-fined by the

expressions "void" (sunnatā), "signless" (animitta), "without inclination or tendency"

(appanihita) refers to the very essence of this liberation or transfiguration. The category marks the "perfection of knowledge" or of illumination, the knowledge "that has gone beyond," the prajnāpāramitā, a term that also designates a series of later Buddhist texts of distinctly M ahayana character. Those three terms must then he understood essentially sub specie interioritatis, beyond any speculative construction.

The "void" defines the mood of an experience free from the "I," and therefore disindividualized, whose substratum may, analogically, he compared to infinite space, to

the ether—ākāsa. Its fulfillment is, among other things, given by formulae such as this:

liberation from the "I" (ajjhattam vimokkha) the destruction of all attachments produces a mental clarity that paralyzes every āsava and removes belief in the personality.7 And again: "Since the world is without 'I' and without things having the nature of 'I,' therefore the world has been called void."' —This is the calm, this is the supreme point, the end of all formations, the freeing from all substrate of existence, the overcoming of thirst, the

final change, the ultimate solution, extinction.' In this manner the ascetic may achieve a

state such that when confronted with earth he is without perception of earth, so with

water, tire, wind, infinity of space, infinity of consciousness, non-existence, the region

beyond perception and non-perception, and such that when confronted with this world he

is without perception of the world; confronted with the other world, with what he has

seen, heard, felt, cognised, attained and sought in the mind, even when confronted with

this he is without perception, yet possesses perception."9 Thus, a cycle is completed. The beginning corresponds to the end. The void, the "I"-lessness, which we had found to he the final truth of samsāric existence, where all individuality or substantiality is ephemeral and pure flux, and where thirst for eternal rebirth is the final instance, this "void" also marks the limit of ascetic experience where, however, it reverses its significance: here it expresses the absolute, the superessential, the supercosmic consciousness, freed without

residue and become illumination, where no forms nor perceptions nor feelings nor any

other dhammā can take root any more, or gain a foothold. That which is identical, then, is simultaneously the absolute opposite. To the "I"-lessness of samsāric consciousness we may contrast the "I"-lessness of the state of nibbāna and of perfect illumination: sunnatā.

7. Samyutt, 12.32.

8. Ibid.. 25.85.

9. Angutt. 11.8; cf. 11.10: Samyutt.. 22.89.


The second category. the "signless" (animitta) expresses what, in fact, was known in Vedāntic speculation as the "supreme identity." It is the nondifferentiation of characteristics (nimitta) on account of which normal consciousness cannot help distinguishing among beings, states, and things. Not that things lose all their characteris tics: it is simply that, in a manner of speaking, their varying weights, their varying distances in relation to liberated consciousness, come to disappear. Each becomes the extreme case of itself.

Thus, in their very diversity they appear identical, as distinct places in space become identical if they are not referred to particular coordinates, but are considered from the

point of view of space itself, of something simple, limitless, and homogeneous. Beings,

states, or things are "signless," then, if they are lived as a function of "void"; and this now takes us on to the deeper significance of the third category, appanihita. We have

translated this term as "without tendency." While the bond of an "I" still existed, all things

"spoke" to this "I": all things participated in subjectivity and nourished the illusion of

"tendency," of "intention." M an projects his soul on the world and makes it personal, he endows the world with feelings, desires, and aims: he projects onto it a pathos, he gives it values and distinctions, all of which, in one way or another, inevitably lead back to the

force that supports his life, to appetite, aversion, and ignorance. M an does not know the

bare world, undisguised nature, precisely because his perception is itself a "burning," a self-identification, a continual self-binding, which takes place in a simultaneous process

of consuming and being consumed. But such a state has been surmounted. Thirst is

exhausted, the mist of impurity is dispersed. All nature, every perception, every

phenomenon, the entirety of the dhammā that make up "internal experience," the "content of the psyche," are freed from "subjectivity," separated from what is "human," and appear pure, without words, without affects, without intentions, in a freshness, an orginality and an innocence that a Western man might call the innocence of the first day of creation.

This, then, is the meaning of appanihita, "without tendency," as a form of the experience of those who are liberated, as the third allusive element beyond the "void" and the


But with this we have already passed from the tradition of original Buddhism to the

fundamental views of the texts of the Prajnāpāramitā and of the school of the "Greater Vehicle" itself, the M ahāyāna: our transition must, under the circumstances, be considered quite natural, and we shall therefore say a few words about the doctrine in question.

The theme of a double truth (satya-dvaya) spoken of by the Buddha, is here

particularly stressed: the school of the Mādhyamika, especially, placed in contrast to the

truth that corresponds to normal consciousness (vyavahāra-satya). a higher. meta-physical truth (paramārtha-satya), about which, however, many misunderstandings arose. Often, in fact, a speculative system was made to correspond to it, a system


where the true point of reference should have been an experience or a state. After the early period of Buddhism, there occurred in the two principal schools to which it gave place

(Hinayāna and M ahāyāna) a definite twofold process of regression and of degeneration.

Although the nucleus of the original doctrine of the Ariya was made up of ascesis and of

experience, and therefore had nothing to do either with morality or with speculation, yet

these same two elements eventually became paramount in the two schools. In Hinayāna

the ascesis frequently became weakened through the prevalence of the ethical-monastic

element that even then evinced a certain similarity to Western monasticism; in addition, a

pessimistic interpretation of the world was usual, dukkha being commonly understood only as "universal pain" and nirvāna as a beyond rigidly contrasted with samsāra. In M ahāyāna, on the other hand, the philosophical element came to prevail, in the sense

that—quite apart from the religious aspect, of which we shall speak in a moment—there

was a paradoxical attempt to make use of the view of the world attributed to a

consciousness that was liberated and become illumination, as the basis for a philosophical

system that some have compared to Western "idealistic" philosophy. This comparison is, however, largely invalid. There is a fundamental difference: for Western idealistic

philosophies are simply products of the mind and their authors and followers are, and

remain, men as samsāric and as devoid of all superrational and superindividual

illumination as any of their contemporaries ignorant of university philosophy. The

"idealism" of the speculative Mahāyāna Buddhism is, on the other hand. an attempt at a rational systematization of superrational experience behind and above it. Without the

dominating figure of Prince Siddhattha. not even the speculative idealism of Nāgārjuna

could have made its appearance, yet the existence of such figures as Fichte, Hegel,

Schelling, and the like is conceivable without any such antecedent; at most. no more is

required than the background of a particular historical phase in Western critical and philosophical thought.

We can now go on to discuss the views that in M ahāyāna are more closely connected

with our last considerations. Here, a single term marks the ultimate essence of every state, object, or phenomenon of internal or external experience: tathatā, a term as difficult to translate as it is to express the state of rarefied illumination from which it takes its sense.

The English translators use, for tathatā, the term "thatness" or "suchness. " the German, Solicit. The word denotes the "this," the quality of that which is perceived, insofar as it is directly and evidentially perceived, as a subject of pure experience, of simplicity, of

impersonal transparency. This quality, moreover, understood to be its own substratum,

devoid of conditions and of generation that is expressed by the term svayambhu.

frequently associated in the texts with tathatā. Tathatā appears as a primary clement, beyond every qualification of experience as world of "I" or of non-"1."


In these texts, the normal designation used for an Awakened One, or a Buddha, is tathāgata, a word that in the ancient books of the canon could be translated as

"Accomplished One" but that here assumes a more special sense. The Tathāgata is one who "has thus gone," becoming the "this." The "this" is the equivalent of his actual illumination, conceived as an inexpressible and simple existential state. The Awakened

One is not an "I" and he does not "have" illumination: he is the tathatā, the very substance of the knowledge "that goes beyond," the prajnāpāramitā.

For him, every content of experience, every objectivity (dharmatā) becomes resolved into this substance; and therefore, into something existing as pure evidence, that is not

susceptible of name, sign, or definition, that is imponderable, that is "like the nonpareil,"

that is tathatā. These expressions are found thus in one text: "All objects and states (dharmā) are unthinkable, imponderable, immeasurable, uncountable, like the nonpareil—

these are the objects and the states of the Tathāgata [the Awakened One]: unthinkable,

because the mind has attained calm [as opposed to dukkha, the state of samsāric

agitation]; imponderable, through surmounting the possibility of being weighed.

Unthinkable and imponderable are designations for what consciousness comes to attain.

Similarly immeasurable, uncountable, like the nonpareil—these are the properties of the

Tathāgata [the Awakened One] because of a counting and measuring by peers, who have

attained calm and neutrality."" Thus, "perfect illumination (prajnāpāramitā) neither takes nor leaves any object," experience develops, that is to say, as if in an ether-light, that knows no change or motion, like "a flower opening from the abyss." The condition of perfect illumination or of "knowledge that goes beyond" is, in fact, related to ākāsa, the ether, of which we have already spoken (cf. p. 171), and the truth announced by the

bodhisattva, by those who are illumination in substance and who move toward perfect awakening, is that form has the nature of ether, feelings, perceptions, tendencies,

consciousness have the nature of ether: such is the nature of every thing or state (dharma), they do not come, they do not go, they are like space, like ether, they are resolved in the void, in the signless, in the without tendency: for them, there is no other law.12 In similar terms the nature itself of an Awakened One is defined: "Why the name of Tathāgata?

Because it expresses the true tathatā; because it has no origin, because it is the destruction of qualities, because he is one who has no origin, and non-origin is the highest aim."13

At this height, every form or state or phenomenon or element, every dhamma

10. Prajnāpāramitā, 13.83. Quotations from the texts of the Prajnāpāramitā are based on M . Walleser's edition (Gottingen. 1914).

11. Ibid., 8.68.

12. Ibid..



Vajracchedikā, 17 (text of the Sacred Books of the East, "M ahayana Texts," vol.



appears, through its own nature, as vivikta or "detached"—freed from its individual-both in the world that was once without and also in the interior of the Accomplished

One. Disindividualization, resolution in the "void," in the "signless," and in the "without tendency" then reaches the highest regions, dissolves them, removes the final limit, and prepares for a unity that, though entirely transcendent, is at the same time entirely

immanent. To resolve all residue of duality, to make of the state of nirvāna something that devours all, without residue, to make of it the "end of the world," that which in reality

"leaves nothing behind" (anupādhi-sesa), then nirvāna itself and, with it, the Awakened One, the Tathāgata, must be freed from individuality, that is, from the signs on account of which it might have an "other" in opposition. The nirvāna, that early Buddhism wished to protect by wrapping it in silence and a refusal to speak of it, is here the target of a

speculation that reaches the height of paradox. This is what we read: "Thèthis' [tathatā]

of the Tathāgata [the Awakened One] is the 'this' of every thing, phenomenon or state (dharma), and thèthis' of every thing, phenomenon or state is thèthis' of the Tathāgata, and the 'this' of every thing, phenomenon or state and thèthis of the Tathāgata, that in

fact is in its turn the 'this' of the Tathāgata. ... Thèthis' of the Tathāgata and the 'this' of every thing, phenomenon, or state, that in fact is a single 'this,' without duality, without plurality, is a 'this' devoid of duads."15 And again: "That which has been announced by the Tathāgata as perfect illumination (prajnāpāramitā), is announced by the Tathāgata as not perfect illumination and for this very reason it is called perfect illumination,"16—a theme that is repeated for a whole series of other elements and for the attributes

themselves of an Awakened One, of a Buddha: that which has been announced by the

Tathāgata as a quality of a Buddha, is announced by him as not a quality of a Buddha and

for this very reason it is called a quality of a Buddha.17 To remain in the "void" is to remain in perfect illumination, in transcendent knowledge. In it dwells the bodhisattva: not in the world of the senses, not in a special state of ascetic realization or in its fruits, not even in "Buddha-ness."18 Nor is this all: "There is no knowledge, there is no ignorance, there is no destruction of ignorance]; there is no knowledge, there is no

attainment of nirvāna. A man who has [only] approached transcendental knowledge,

[still] remains shut in by his mind (citta). But when the


Prajnāpār.. 22.129.

15. Ibid.,



Vajracchedikā, 13.


Ibid., 8; cf. 13, 26—in this last short chapter the formula is extended to the thirty-

two attributes of a superior man (cf. p. 16): these are said really to be such when they

cease to be so, as opposed to others. Cf. 26: "One who wished to see me by seeing my

form or hear me by hearing my voice would struggle in vain and would not see me. A

Buddha must he seen by seeing the law, because the Lords [the Buddhas] have their

body made of the law [dharmakāya—on this "body made of law" M ahāyāna has a vast

doctrine] and the nature of the law cannot be understood, nor was it made to he



Prajnāpār.. 1.56.


shell of his mind is destroyed, he becomes free from all fear, he is carried beyond the world of change and attains the ultimate nirvāna."19 And if one asks: "Is there any-thing that has been announced by the Tathāgata'?" the answer, definite as it is dis concerting, is:

"No, nothing has been announced by the Tathāgata.' Again: "1 someone were to say that the Tathāgata goes or comes, stands or sits or lies, he would not have understood the

meaning of my teaching. Why? Because the word Tathāgata says that he is going

nowhere, that he is coming from nowhere—and for this reason is he called the Tathāgata,

the blessed and perfect Illuminated One."

It is thus that we arrive at the paradoxical equation of the most extreme M ahāyāna

schools: nirvāna and samsāra, the unconditioned and the conditioned, the "end of the world" and the "world" are without duality, without plurality, they do not make duad: they are one and the same thing. "Form is the void and the void is form. The void is not

different from form. Form is not different from the void.... Thus al beings have the

character of the void, they have no beginning, they have no end they are perfect and they

are not perfect."22 The central theme of the Lankāvatāra sutra is, in fact, the need of taking oneself beyond notions of being and of nonbeing of cutting oneself off from all

residue of dual thought (vikalpa) of overcoming the attitude that seeks nirvāna outside samsāra and samsāra outside nirvāna. Thus, the attitude of the "negativistic" schools themselves is rejected. "All texts that affirm the unreality of things belong to imperfect doctrine," as is said in the Mahābheri- hārakaparivarta-sutra. Another adds that this same doctrine of unreality is, in the M ahāyāna, something that obstructs, it is like a gate."

Nirvāna = samsāra. This means that nirvāna is not an "other"; it is the absolute dimension (superior both to samsāra and to itself, if it is understood in opposition to samsāra) through which the "this," the world can be lived and essayed. And it is only thus, as a function of that which, like the ether, is infinite, ungraspable, like the nonpareil, imponderable, not susceptible to contamination by anything that is con taminated,

immobile in any movement—it is only thus that the "world" no longer really exists, that in forms, which ensure one who is ruled by "ignorance," it is no more substantial than an apparition, an echo, or a mirage traced in the limpidity o the open sky.2 4 In its existence it does not exist, in its nonexistence it exists: this is true both for the world and for one who is liberated, for the Tathāgata. This is the meaning of the recurring formula of the

Vajracchedikā: "That which has been de


Prajnapāramitā-hrdaya-sutra, in Sacred Books of the East, part 2, pp. 147-48.


Vajracchedikā, 13.

21. Ibid.,


22. Prajnāpāramita-sutra, op. cit.


Quoted in K. Nukariya. The Religion of the Samurai (London, 1913), p. 137.


Cf. our Fenomenologia dell'individuo assoluto (Turin, 1930), para. 30.


clared as existing, that very thing has been declared as not existing and it is thus that it has been declared to exist." At this point it is said: "If, indeed, by this doctrine, by this exposition, the mind of one who aspires to illumination is not cast down, does not feel the abyss [does not sink], does not feel anguish, if his spirit is not seized, if he is not as

though with a broken hack, is not alarmed, does not feel terror—then such a one is to be

instructed in the fullness of transcendent knowledge."25 He will become one of those who are said to he "not comparable with men, not like them," "because unthinkable qualities are the gifts of the Tathāgata, of the Venerable Ones (arhant), of the Perfectly Illuminated Ones."26

Such is the attitude of the esoteric, "supreme truth" in the teaching (paramārtha). To stand up to it, "one needs a threefold cuirass." The profane, when it faces them, tremble and cry: "Rather samsāra! (varam samsāra evāvasthanam)."27


Prajnāpār.. I.35; cf. 44.

26. Ibid..


27. Bodhicaryāvatāratikā, 9.53. In their turn. these M ahāyāna views have constituted one of the premises of Buddhist Tantrism. of the "path of lightning and of the

diamond" with its development into a magic outlook on the world; on which, see our

work already quoted. The Yoga of Power.



Up to Zen

Since our aim has been to give the original Doctrine of Awakening as it appears from a

study of the Pali texts, we have no need to deal in detail with the changes and

transformations of Buddhism in later epochs: besides, this would be more in the province

of history than in that of doctrine. We shall confine ourselves, then, to a few short notes.

We have already said that Buddhism, in its true essence, is of an eminently aristocratic

nature. At the beginning, Buddhism was the truth understood by those few, who alone had

really achieved illumination and who appeared as bhikkhu or wandering ascetics. Then, around these, the upāsaka, lay followers, collected and increased and who. according to the canonical formula, had taken refuge in the Buddha, the doctrine, and the order. The

order, however, did not resemble a church and the doctrine still less a religion. Women

were originally excluded. The unity of the order was essentially due to a strict style of life.

It was only later, and with a decadence fully recognized as such by the ancient texts, that precepts and rules multiplied.

The decadence of Buddhism was inevitable once it began to spread: for the Ariya

Doctrine of Awakening is closer than any other to a path of initiation that may be

understood and trodden only by the few in whom, together with exceptional strength,

there is present a lively aspiration for the unconditioned. And even racial and caste

influences played their part: not for nothing have we insisted on the "Aryan" quality of the doctrine under discussion. Frontiers to comprehension exist in the normal way, and they

are conditioned by the race of spirit and, in part, by the body itself. As soon as Buddhism was adopted by the masses and not only passed to levels where foreign influences

survived or were rearoused, but spread even to peoples of notably different stock, changes

and alterations became inevitable.

After the original period, the two principal streams of Buddhism have been, as we

have said, Hinayāna and M ahāyāna. There is probably more formal purity in the former

than in the latter. Hinayāna remained the custodian of the canonical Pāli


texts, which every Buddhist recognizes as "Scripture," and made them the base of its orthodoxy. But, as we said a few pages back, this stream eventually developed a

prevalently ethical-ascetic interpretation of the Doctrine of Awakening on a pessimistic

and claustral foundation; an interpretation that represented, in fact, a fall in level. Yet Hinayāna retained more traces of the clarity, simplicity, and austerity that reflect the

original Ariyan style.

Things went differently in M ahāyāna, which developed in Northern India, Tibet, and

Nepal, where the presence of M ongolian elements mixed with even more ancient ethnic

strains was noteworthy. M ahāyāna presents a particularly complex and composite picture,

which it is not always easy to analyze. On the one hand its metaphysical level is

undeniably much higher; on the other, cracks and changes in the structure become equally


If we look at the negative elements, we must in the first place note that, in M ahāyāna

the Doctrine of Awakening from being the heritage of an elite of true ascetics,

degenerated into a "religion" with an extensive mythology. M ahāyāna is aware of the aspects that do not allow the Buddha to be considered simply as a man. M ahāyāna, in fact,

emphasized the cosmic and supernatural significance of the Awakened Ones and of the

bodhisattva, who advance toward awakening. But, on the other hand, it allowed the

deification in a religious sense of the Buddha, who here ceases to be one who is liberated

and instead becomes a god, the object of a cult and of devout adoration that Brahmanic

Hinduism tried to arrogate to itself by making him one of the avatārā, the manifestations of Visnu. In these aspects of M ahāyāna, feeling and imagination get the better of the

purely intellectual and virile principle. As opposed to the Doric bareness of original

Buddhism, we have here what is really a fabulous and kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of

thousands of divinities and bodhisattva, of beings who are the mythological

personifications of the various states of contemplation, of symbols, worlds, heavens, and

marvels. The Buddha becomes a transcendent being in the person of Amitābha, whose

name means "infinite splendor," and with whom primordial memory is enigmatically

associated. Amitābha reigns in the "blessed land of the West," Sukhāvatī, where neither impurity, nor death, nor destruction exist; this has the same traits as those of similar lands in the ancient Aryan-Western traditions, in ancient Egypt, and the myth of Gilgamesh

itself. These are mythical transpositions of the memory of the original western (or

northwestern) home of the "divine race."1 Between Amitābha and the world of men

stands Avalokitesvara, with the traits of a divine mediator, the "Lord who looks down,"

moved by love and compassion for all creatures.

1. Cf. our Revolt Against the Modem World. On Sukhāvatī. cf. the two Sukhāvati-vyāha in Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49.


While these creatures are, on the one hand, led along the path of bhakti, of religious

"devotion"—and in some cases Avalokitesvara even changes sex, and be-comes a

maternal divinity, the Kuan Yin of Chinese Buddhism—on the other, they are each given the quality of bodhi, which is the extrasamsāric element capable of producing the miracle of illumination. Not only in each man, but—according to the more popular forms of this

faith (since we must now call it a faith)—in every living being generally, a potential

Buddha had to be seen. And here, naturally, we find a resurgence of particularly virulent

forms of reincarnational fantasies that sometimes assume ridiculous shapes as the counterpart of a doctrine of "merits." From life to life, by accumulating "merits" of all descriptions, living beings gradually become Awakened Ones. They are helped, besides,

by the bodhisattva, who here become semicelestial beings, losing, at the same time, a large part of their Olympian traits: for, not only are men now no longer left to their own

efforts to achieve awakening, as they were in the original austere and virile doctrine, but the bodhisattva are concerned with universal salvation. They now go to the aid of men, and make a vow not to enter nirvāna themselves until, with their help, all living beings have arrived there too. These doctrines are certainly "generous" in the equalitarian and, we were al-most going to say, Christian sense, but they have little of the Aryan or the

really traditional style about them. We no longer have before us the Ariyan Doctrine of Awakening, but a religion put together for the satisfaction of the faith and sentiments of

the masses, to the detriment of the knowledge and clear vision that conforms to reality.

A second aspect of the degeneration of Buddhism is the philosophical one. Al-ready

the later part of the Pāli canon, the Abhidhamma, often shows the same stereotyped, unalive, and rationalistic profile that belongs chiefly to our own medieval Scholasticism.

In M ahāyāna, thought certainly has broader play, but it gives place to the

misunderstanding we have already discussed. The great merit of M ahāyāna lies in this:

that it has taken as its foundation the point of view, not of a samsāric being, but of an

Awakened One, not of an ordinary man who strives, but of a Buddha, a Tathāgata, not the

terminus a quo but the terminus ad quem. That which for the former cannot help being something negative and indefinite—nirvāna—and which Hinayāna, too, considered

essentially as being evanescently distant, in M ahāyāna assumes, instead, undeniably

positive features. Here is a question not so much of nirvāna as of its counterpart, illumination, prajnā, or bodhi. In its highest aspects, M ahāyāna is certainly a doctrine of illumination; but unfortunately the demon of speculation managed to find a way in.

M ahāyāna often transforms that which, in its nature, is something superrational and

inexpressible, comprehensible only on the basis of a direct transcendent experience, into a speculative concept, and it becomes the organ of a system of thought. The "void" (sunna) and the intangible tathatā con-222

dense, in spite of themselves, into concepts of spiritual theory of knowledge and of the world. We have, thus, the equivalents—anticipated by many centuries—of West-ern

absolute idealism. Things only exist as creations of the mind. M ind is the original and

permanent substance (bhutatathatā) intact and identical with itself in any phenomenon.

Earthly or celestial apparitions, samsāra, men, gods, Buddhas, all originate only in the mind. M ind is like the water of the ocean, phenomena are like the waves that wrinkle its

surfaces: mind and phenomena are of the same substance. Outside the mind, nothing has

real existence. So we arrive at Nāgārjuna's system.

These ideas, which, as philosophical views, have nothing to do with higher knowl-

edge, contain, nevertheless, a reflection of it, and are thus not without a certain cathartic power. The fall of level that they represent was halted in M ahāyāna by the presence of a

genuine esoterism that was capable, in a restricted circle of qualified individuals, of

rectifying such theories and restoring them to the higher plane to which they belong, and

also of discovering the secret knowledge hidden behind the mythological form of the

various beings and divinities in the religious aspect of M ahāyāna. This same "idealistic"

or "unrealistic" theory, we must admit, was valued less from a theoretical point of view than from a practical one, as it was used as a kind of medicine for the purpose of

purification. The misery of beings derives from their taking as reality things that exist

only as creations of their mind: deceived by the false appearances of real beings and

qualities, and of different natures and values, action takes them ever further away from

true reality, nourishes "ignorance," creates ever stronger bonds and perpetuates the irrational round that the living pursue. One who steeps himself, instead, in the reality of the "void," in the unreality of everything that, in heaven or earth, seems objective, leaves his intoxication little by little behind him, feels a loftier calm, detaches himself from

action that is due to craving and abandons vulgar interests, hate, and anger. He has now

made his mind ready to receive a higher knowledge. It is in this sense that the idealism or unrealism of M ahāyāna, which possesses not a few points of contact with that of the

Vedānta, had, and still has, a cathartic value.

In this connection arises the problem of the extent to which a knowledge that, because

it refers to transcendent summits, should be inarticulate, while being able, in general, to provide directional "suggestions" and to encourage moments of illumination.

In this very connection, and to end our exposition, we wish to say something about

what is known as Zen Buddhism. Zen is one of the most important streams of esoteric

Buddhism transplanted into China and Japan and is still in existence. Ac-cording to

tradition, it is actually based on a secret doctrine transmitted from spirit to spirit by Prince Siddhattha to his disciple M ahākassapa. Preserved through an uninterrupted chain of

masters, it was carried, at the beginning of the sixth century A.D.,


into China by Bodhidharma, third son of a powerful Brāhman king of southwest India.

From China, Zen passed to Japan, where it grew powerful roots and had important

developments. We are dealing, in substance, with a branch of M ahāyāna esoterism,

which found, in certain Taoist views (particularly in Lao-tzu's doctrine of the "void") and in certain tendencies of the Chinese mind (above all, in its feeling for nature), congenial elements with which it combined. As for the term Zen, it is itself the abbreviation of the

Sino-Japanese term that corresponds to the Sanskrit dhyāna and to the Pāli jhāna. But here this term must be understood in a wider sense than we have previously given it. In

general, it expresses a form of contemplation developed under the sign of the "void."

Zen is not, as a few have claimed, a "Chinese anomaly" of Buddhism; it is essentially a renewal of the exigency that originally gave life to Buddhism in the face of Brahmanic

speculation and ritualism. In fact, at one period there had taken place in Buddhism, but

using different terms, the same phenomenon of decay, of scholastic formalization and of

traditional and ritualistic survival, as in post-Vedic India. Zen appears to have

represented as strong a reaction against all this as, in its own time, original Buddhism did against its own background of circumstances. Zen will have nothing to do with

speculations, canonical writings, rites, or religious aberrations. It is even positively

iconoclastic. It does not, like Nāgārjuna, discuss transcendental truth, but desires to

create, through a direct action of the mind on the mind, the conditions for its actual


"The Scriptures are nothing more than useless paper," says Rin-zai, a Zen master.

Another thus reprimands one who was burning Confucian hooks: "You would have done

better to have burned the hooks in your mind and your heart, rather than these written in

black and white." Texts, dogmas, precepts are so many bonds or so many crutches, to he put aside that one may advance on one's own. The Buddhist canonical literature itself is

likened to a window, from which one contemplates the great scene of nature: but to live

in this scene you must jump outside the window. There is also the simile of the finger and

the moon: to indicate the position of the moon, a finger is necessary: but woe to those

who mistake the finger for the moon. We must think the same of transcendental

knowledge and achievement. As nature hates a vacuum—it is said—so Zen abhors

everything that may come between reality and ourselves. Reap, if you can, the allusions

contained in the doctrines: but beware of binding yourself to words and concepts. The

idea of a special passing-on of the true knowledge independently of the texts is the

cornerstone of one of the principal schools of Zen. The state of a Buddha—it is

maintained—can only he un-

2. The data and the quotations from texts, in what follows, are taken from Kaiten

Nukariya, The Religion of the Sumarai. and D. T. Suzuki. Essais sui le bouddhisme Zen (Paris, 1940).


derstood by one who is himself a Buddha. To describe it in words is a task that would have been beyond the power of the son of the Sākyā himself.

To illustrate the teaching of inward independence, an anecdote is told of a Zen master

who, to warm himself one icy morning, chopped to pieces a consecrated statue of the

Buddha and put it on the fire with the remark: "The Buddha would have offered not the

wood of his statue, but even his very life to help another." The Buddha, he who has taught how to cut off every bond and how to subsist without support, must not become a bond

and a support. With regard to the boundary that separates vision from mental expression,

and to the consequent necessity of an act starting from within, we find in Zen some

episodes that are downright drastic. A disciple who finally asked his master to reveal to

him the fundamental principle of the Buddhist doctrine, is sent to another master. The

question is repeated, and the answer is a slap in the face. Referring the matter to his first master, the disciple is again sent to the second. He asks the same question and the answer

is no different: a slap in the face. He is sent a third time. This time the disciple, as soon as he is in the presence of the master, without a word, himself gives the other a blow on the

face. The master, smiling, then tells him: "You have understood." Another Zen master told a prince who was debating with him: "We ask nothing of the Buddha, of the Law, or of the Order." The prince then says: "If you ask nothing of the Buddha, of the Law, or of the Order, what, then, is the aim of your cult?" Here, again, the answer is simply a slap in the face.

The Zen texts are rich in anecdotes where the impulse to know intellectually is cut off

by an answer that is entirely out of key, or by a brusque action by the master; they are

answers or actions, however, that sometimes act in a mature spirit as a catharsis. They

may suddenly confront you with an empty chasm into which you must jump, leaving

everything behind: your self, your own mind, your theories, even your own preoccupation

with liberation. A man. wishing to be initiated into the knowledge, knocks at the door of a Zen monastery. The only answer he gets is that the door is shut so brutally in his face that one of his arms is broken. In that instant, illumination flashes over the man. "What is the sacred temple of the Buddha?" asks another. The Zen master replies: "An innocent girl."

"And who is the lord of the temple?" "A child in her womb." "What is the true body of the Vairochana Buddha?" The master replies: "Fetch me a jug of water." The disciple does so.

The master says: "Take it back to where it was." And this is all. An assembly was called together to hear a lecture, long anticipated, on the essence of the doctrine. The master

finally appears and, without speaking, stretches out his arms.

This leads us onto another Zen theme: "the tongue of the inanimate." These are

Seigen-Ishin's words: "Before a man studies Zen, for him mountains are mountains and

waters are waters. When, thanks to the teaching of a qualified master, he has


attained the inner vision of the truth of Zen, for him mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters. But after this, when he has really reached the haven of

calm, once again mountains are, for him, mountains and waters, waters." The second

phase evidently corresponds to nirvāna when it is faced by samsāra; the third, to nirvāna that leaves no residue. The "return" must be interpreted on the lines of the liberated experience, where every dualism is resolved, which we discussed in connection with the

M ahāyāna doctrine of the "void" and of the tathatā. Zen, how-ever, tends to make nature itself suggest this disindividualized and liberated experience, and to produce moments of

illumination such as give a sense of the change of state, in which lies the essence of the

path. The mind must come to feel that every-thing becomes manifest and reveals itself

according to an absolute and unparalleled perfection: only then will it have intimations

also of that nirvāna that leaves nothing behind it, and that corresponds to the mountains that are once again mountains and to the waters that are once more waters. One simile, in

this connection, is quite expressive: "The shadow follows the body, the echo arises from the voice. He who chases his shadow tires his body. not knowing that it is the body that

produces the shadow; and he who raises his voice to drown an echo, does not know that

the voice is the cause of the echo." It is also said: "The subject achieves calm when the object vanishes; the object vanishes when the subject achieves calm." Lao-tzu had already taught: "Abandon in order to obtain." It is a question of creating a state of absolute identity with oneself, without signs, without intentions. Thus, Zen, following the steps of Taoism. speaks of an act that is a noneffort or a nonintention (anabhogā-caryā) and of a corresponding resolution, like a "vow" (anabhogā-pranidhāna). Another saying: "As two flawless mirrors reflect, one in the other, so the concrete fact and the spirit must face each other without any foreign body being interposed." Once again, it is a matter of catharsis from subjectivity, of destruction of "psychology," which had already been the aim of the yathābhutam of ancient Buddhism, the transparent vision conforming to reality. Then nature, in its liberty and impersonality, in its extraneousness to all that is subjective and affective, is able to intimate the state of illumination. This is why Zen declares that the doctrine is found in simple and natural facts rather than in the texts of the canon, and that the universe is its real Scripture and the body of the Tathāgata. "Trees, grass, mountains, streams, stars, the sea, the moon—with this alphabet the texts of Zen are written." "Can the inanimate preach the doctrine?" Hui-chung replies: "Yes, it preaches with eloquent words and without ceasing." The sun rises. The moon sets. M ountain heights. Ocean

depths. Spring flowers. Fresh summer breeze. The large autumnal moon. Winter

snowflakes. "These things, perhaps too simple for a common observer to pay them

attention, have a deep meaning for Zen." "What is the truth?" asks a disciple. As a reply, the master Yo-shan indicates the sky with his finger and then a pitcher of water and says:

"Do you see?"


The other says: "No." Yo-shan replies: "The cloud in the sky and the water in the pitcher": that is all. Tung-shah says: "How wonderful is the tongue of the inanimate. You cannot hear it with your ears, but you can hear it with your eyes": with the unclosed eye of the mind, not through perception, not with logic, not with metaphysics. Another saying of

Zen: "The leaves that fall, like the flowers that open, reveal for us the blessed law of the Buddha." We must, however, be very careful not to confuse all this with aestheticism sui generis. The Far Eastern simplified and particularly transparent feeling for nature plays its part, as we have said. But the fundamental point is to go up from nature, which is free

from soul and is only itself, free from affects and subjectivity, to the perception where, in fact, "mountains are again mountains and waters, waters." A Zen formula, which in some ways sums up its doctrine, is: "Reflect in yourself and recognize your own face as it was before the world" (Huei-neng).

Together with the message of the inanimate, there is a manner in which signs,

gestures, and symbols take the place of words. We have already mentioned the master of

Zen who, before the assembly of monks collected to hear his discourse, confined himself

to stretching his arms. Another simply raises his finger. Another presents a stick. It is said that M ahākassapa was chosen by the Buddha for the trans-mission of the esoteric doctrine

in similar circumstances: the Buddha, in the midst of his disciples, had raised a bunch of

flowers into the air; only M ahākassapa among those present had smiled and inclined his

head in assent. Words limit. A sign can, however, at a suitable time, cause moments of


From these antecedents, it is not difficult to understand that Zen insists above all on a

spiritual awakening, or change of inner state, that is sudden and discontinuous. The

opening of the third eye. satori, illumination, is a condition that happens suddenly, destroying all that has gone before, appearing to be without origin, without "becoming."

The theme of the Vajracchedikā is echoed in Zen: the Tathāgata is so called because he does not come from anywhere and does not go anywhere. "When he appears, he comes

from nowhere, and when he disappears, he goes nowhere—and this is Zen." And again:

"Where there really is a coming in or a going out, there great contemplation is not. Zen,

[the contemplative state, the state of illumination-awakening] in its essence, is without


At one period, nevertheless, Zen became divided into two different schools: that of

the south (yuga-pad) which lays greater emphasis on the discontinuity of the awakening: and that of the north (krama-vrittya) which, instead, allows of a certain gradualness. But both agree that it is essential, at a particular moment, to know how to "jump out of the

'I'," how to "vomit forth the 'F." This may be brought about also by violent sensations, even by a physical pain, by something, according to a Chinese saying, that "twists the bowels nine times and more." We have already told of the


episode of the broken arm; and there are many like it. It seems that, in some places at the present time, an operation not unlike strangulation is carried out, by means of which the

disciple, who is suitably prepared, is forced forward toward a void into which he cannot

but jump.

As for preparation, the methods of Zen do not differ essentially from what we have

already described as Ariyan ascesis.

First, make oneself master of external objects by substituting a condition of activity

for the usual one of passivity. Realize that wherever a desire pushes a man toward a

thing, it is not he who has the thing, but the thing that has him. "He who takes a liquor believes that he drinks it; whereas it is the liquor that drinks him." Detach oneself.

Discover and love the active principle in oneself.

Second is mastery of the body. Establish one's own authority over the entire

organism. "Imagine that your body is separate from you: if it shouts, make it be silent, as a severe father does his child. If it shows temper, hold it in, as one does a curbed horse. If it is ill, administer to it what is necessary, as a doctor to his patient. If it disobeys,

chastise it, as the master chastises the turbulent pupil." Temper oneself physically.

Establish with oneself a "trial of endurance" by accustoming oneself, for example, to undergoing freezing cold in winter and in summer a torrid heat. And so on.

Third is the control of mental and emotive life in order to promote and consolidate a

state of equilibrium. There is the appeal to one's inner nobility: "It is ridiculous"—it is said in Zen—"that a being endowed with the nature of a Buddha, born to be master of

every material reality, should be enslaved by little cares or frightened by phantasms that

he himself has created, should let his mind he swayed by passions or dissipate his vital

energy in irrelevant things." Anxieties, recriminations, or nostalgias for the past,

imaginings or anticipations for the future, enmity, shame, and disturbance, all these must

be put aside. One may help oneself, eventually, by means of the "idealistic" theory (cf. p.

223)—which may help one to realize the irrationality of so many of the mind's impulses,

and to regaining power over one's heart. Further-more, one must simplify oneself, one

must resolutely cut down the parasitical over-growth of vain and muddled thoughts. To

the question: "How shall I learn the law?" a Zen master, Poh Chang, replied: "Eat when you are hungry and sleep when you are tired." Calm and equilibrium—the samatha that we have frequently mentioned—must become a habit. Here is an anecdote: When

commanding an army in battle, even in his headquarters, O-yo-mei would discuss Zen

doctrines. He was informed, on one occasion, that his advanced troops had been defeated;

he calmly continued his discourse. Shortly after, he was told that, in the later

developments of the battle he had become the victor. The commander remained as calm

as before, and did not, even then, change his discourse. This is how one gradually

apprehends the existence


of a principle that cannot be altered by doubt or fear any more than the light of the sun can be destroyed by fog or clouds.

Fourth: When we come to the aforesaid "throwing out of the mind" or "of the 'I';" we find that we are here faced with some sort of discontinuity, for which there is no means of preparing, because it is an actual change of state. To one who was astonished at the

saying, that the world enters into the mind, a Zen master replied saying that the difficulty consists, rather, in making the mind enter into the world. It is a matter of the breaking of the shell constituted by the mind, of which a M ahāyāna text we have already quoted,

speaks; only then does one have the intuition that nirvāna, when understood as one term of an opposition, is itself an illusion, a bond, the object of an imperfect knowledge.

Zen uses a twofold symbolism for the structure of its discipline: that of the "five

degrees of merit" and that of the vicissitudes of the man and the hull.

The "first degree of merit" corresponds to the "conversion"—similar to pabbajjā, the "departure" of the ancient Buddhist teaching: a man turns from the outer world toward the inner world. The illuminated, extrasamsāric "I" is here portrayed as a king to whom one declares allegiance. The second degree of merit is "service"—that is to say, faithfulness and loyalty to this inner sovereign. The third degree is "valor," what one must show when confronting and combating all opposition to the king. Then there is the "merit of him who cooperates," due to one who is not simply good at defense and fighting, but who is admitted to the positive government of the state. The final degree of merit:

"beyond merit" or "merit that is not merit" (an expression to be understood in the same sense as "acting without acting") is the degree of the king himself, whose nature one assumes. Here action ceases or, if you prefer, action is manifested in the form of

nonaction, of spontaneity. The being and the law are here identical.

And now the second Zen symbolism, made up of ten well-known illustrations

corresponding to ten episodes in the adventures of a drover and a hull. The mind—

represented in the preceding allegory, by the king—or rather, "illumination," the bodhi element, is conceived as a precious stone, always fresh and pure, even when buried in

dust. It has to be found as the drover seeks a bull. The first figure is. in fact, uncertain search. The second is hope: the animal has not yet been seen, but its tracks have been

sighted. Third: the hull is seen in the distance, and a cautious advance toward it is made.

Fourth: the animal is suddenly seized, and it tries in vain to escape. Fifth: the animal is tamed, mastered, and fed, so that finally it follows the drover as if it were his shadow.

Sixth: the drover is carried home by this animal that serves him as a mount. Seventh: "the forgetting of the animal and the remembering of the man." Eighth: "the forgetting both of the bull and of the man"—the corresponding figure gives only a large empty circle: we are at the point of overcoming all dualism in the


"void," in liberated consciousness. Ninth: return to the origins and to the source—we remember the Zen saying: "rediscover your own face as it was before the world." Last figure: going into the town with the hands open; this phase should he compared with that

in which, once again, "mountains are mountains and waters, waters." It is the point at which transcendency becomes the clarity of an immanence that is free from the stain of

the "I"; it is the state in which there is nothing that comes or goes. that enters or leaves.

Asa corollary of this, some Zen masters have declared that self-application and self-

concentration and the seeking of solitary and silent places belong to the heterodox

teachings. "Do not he attached to anything whatsoever: if you understand this, walking or standing, sitting or lying, you will never cease to be in the state of Zen, in the state of contemplation and of illumination."

The Zen masters teach that the blessed order of the ancient Ariya, seated round Prince

Siddhattha, is even now gathered at the Vulture's Peak, that is to say, at the symbolical

place where, in the M ahāyana texts, the Awakened One is supposed most frequently to

have spoken and that expresses the traditional idea of the "center," the "center of the world."



The Ariya Are Still Gathered

on the Vulture's Peak

In this book we have not set out to make Buddhist propaganda but, rather, as we said, to

indicate the fundamental elements of a complete system of ascesis: these elements may be

found in other traditions also, but they appear with particular clarity in the Buddhist

teaching, which lends itself admirably to our purpose for the various reasons that we

discussed at the beginning.

It now remains to suggest the significance that an ascesis of this sort may have at the

present day.

We need hardly stress the fact that the modem world stands, more completely so

perhaps than in any other civilization, at the opposite pole to that of an ascetic view of

life. We are not talking here of the religious problem that, as we have seen, has no direct relationship to higher ascesis. We are speaking of fundamental orientations of the spirit.

It would be hard to deny that "activism," the exaltation and practice of action

understood as force, impetus, becoming, struggle, transformation, perennial research, or

ceaseless movement, is the watchword of the modern world. The world of the "being" is drawing to its close, and this decline has for long been hailed with joy. Not only do we

have today the triumph of activism, but also a philosophy sui generis at its service; a philosophy whose systematic criticism and whose speculative apparatus serve to justify it

in every way while pouring contempt and heaping discredit on all other points of view.

Interest in pure knowledge has become ever more displaced by interest in "living" and in

"doing" or, at any rate, by interest in those departments of knowledge that can he employed in terms of action or practical and temporal realization. Today the nature and

potentialities of pure knowledge, that is to say, knowledge whose peculiar object—as in

the traditional ideal of all periods—is superindividual and superhistorical reality is almost unknown. Our contemporaries grow ever


more accustomed to disregard the "being" aspect of things and concentrate, instead, upon their aspect as "becoming," "life," "movement," "development," or "history."

"Historicism" and "the cult of becoming" beat out the rhythm of activism, even on the cultural plane. Pragmatism, voluntarism, irrationalism, varieties of the religion of "life"

and "actuality," relativism, evolutionism, progressivism, Faustism, are lines of

speculation that, in spite of their different guises, all spring from the same motive. And

this, then, is merely the translation into terms of self-consciousness and intellectual

justification of the central motive of the precipitate life of these times, with its tumult, its agitation, its fever for speed, its mechanization devoted to the shortening of all intervals of space and time, its congestive and breathless rhythm that is. particularly in the New

World, carried to its limit. There the activist theme really reaches paroxysmal and almost

pandemic heights and completely absorbs the whole of life, whose horizons, moreover,

are thereby restricted to the dark and gloom that are natural to wholly temporal and

contingent achievements.

It is too an ominous fact that forces of a collectivist and therefore subpersonal nature

must gain more and more power over beings who have no real traditional support and are

racked by a fundamental restlessness. The activist world is also essentially a featureless

and plebeian world, ruled by the demon of collectivism: it is not only the scene of

triumph of what has been called "the ideal animal," but it is also a world that is essentially "telluric," moved by forces that are hound up with the elements of "mass" and

"quantity," where action, force, strife, and even heroism and sacrifice are seen to become increasingly irrational, devoid of light, "elemental," and altogether earthly.

That which the ancient Indo-Aryan wisdom had denoted by the symbol of samsāric

existence, and which corresponding Western traditions had styled "the Age of Iron," can now he said to be at the height of its career; and there is no lack, either in Buddhism or in similar traditions, of texts in which such characteristics of times to come were predicted

with astonishing accuracy.' We repeat, however, that the main characteristic of our times

is not that life tends to exhaust itself almost exclusively on the samsāric plane, but that our civilization stimulates and exalts this kind of life, and considers it, not so much as a state of fact, but rather as something of value, as something that should be, as something

that is right. It must be unique in all history that samsāra should become the object of a

species of mystique or religion. The new philosophies of life, of becoming, of the elan vital, which flourish on the borders of practical activism, have just this significance and even come to exalt in human existence all that is unconscious spontaneity, pure vitality,

prepersonal biological sub-stratum and which is therefore, essentially prehuman and


1. Cf. Revolt Against the Modern World. appendix.


To think that we can effectively react against such a state of affairs, taken as a whole, would be frivolous, and would mean (unless we are simply dealing with intellectual

reactions) ignoring the remote causes that have gradually led up to it they are causes that cannot be removed in a day. But although success on a large scale, taking into account

the general orientation of the modern world, is at present very remote, yet it might be

achieved locally within the circle of an elite, of a certain number of qualified individuals.

The only possible point of reference, here, is ascetic values, in the fullest, purest, and

strictest meaning of the term. The affirmation of an ascetic vision of life is today

particularly necessary in view of the unparalleled force of the "telluric" and samsāric element in the modern world.

The prejudices that have been created or encouraged by certain quite special,

abnormal, and un-Aryan forms of ascesis we have already removed. Let no one, then,

declare that ascesis means renunciation, flight from the world, inaction, quiet-ism, or

mortification. The affirmation of a background of pure transcendency to balance a world

that is ever more and more the captive of immanency, is the first point and the first task.

But another point, not less important, concerns that very action that lies so close to the

heart of our contemporaries. Indeed, one could justly maintain that those who despise all

asceticism know nothing of what action really is, and what they exalt is merely an

inferior, emasculated, and passive form of action. The sort of activism that consists in

fever, impulsiveness, identification, centerless vertigo, passion, or agitation, far from

testifying power, merely demonstrates impotence. Our own classical world knew this

well: the central theme of the Ciceronian oration Pro M ar-cello is just this: there is no higher power than that of mastery over oneself. Only those who possess this mastery can

know what is the true action, which shows them also to the outside world, not as those

who are acted upon, but as those who truly act. We remember the illuminating Buddhist

saying: he who goes, stands still—he who stands still, goes. For this very reason, in the

traditions springing from the same root all movement, activity, becoming, or change was

referred to the passive and female principle, while to the positive, luminous, masculine

principle were attributed the particular qualities of immobility, unchangeability, and

stability. We can, then, definitely affirm the existence of an ascesis that in no way

signifies quietism but that is, rather, the prerequisite for a higher, aristocratic ideal of activity and virility.

This ideal—let it be noted—is in no way a monopoly of the East. The basic idea with

which we are dealing is traditionally Aryan, whence we can also find it among ourselves.

The same idea was expressed on the metaphysical plane by Plotinus when he spoke of

the becoming that is only "the flight of beings that are and that are not," or by Aristotle when he discussed the "still M over." or, on the ethical plane. by the

2. Cf. ibid., pan 2, passim.


Roman Stoa with its emphasis on the sidereal and unchangeable element of the mind as the basis of all human effort and dignity. One who is the cause and effective master of

motion does not himself move. He inspires motion and directs action, but he himself does

not act, in the sense that he is not transported, he is not involved in action, he is not

action, but is, on the other hand, an impassive, utterly calm and imperative superiority,

from whom action proceeds and on whom it depends. As opposed to this idea of true and

mastered action, which is only thinkable, however, on the basis of purification from the

samsāric element, one who acts while identifying himself with his action, impulsively,

urged by passion. by desire, by the irrational, by restless need or vulgar interest, such a one does not really act, but is acted upon. However paradoxical it may sound. his is a

passive action—he stands under the sign, not of virility, but of femininity. And under the

sign of femininity, the whole modem "telluric" and activist world also stands.' It is only a lower, anti-aristocratic form of action that predominates here. Otherwise, it actually

betrays that half-conscious desire to deafen and distract, that agitation and clamor that

reveal dread of the silence, the internal isolation, the absolute being of higher nature, or it becomes a weapon employed in the revolution of man against the eternal that indeed

marks the limit of the samsāric "ignorance" and intoxication of fallen beings.

All this is generally true of asceticism as a whole. M ore particularly, it is even

possible to demonstrate historically that the ancient Oriental Aryan forms of ascesis are

also capable of this application. We should not forget that. if the East, whether Indo-

European or Asian, has not until now given to a modern man the impression, from certain

aspects, of a civilization that is activistically practical, this is due not to a lack of strength, but to the fact of having absorbed its principal energies in the vertical direction that is beyond becoming and history; few of the well-horn in these civilizations had, or have

even now, much interest in other forms of achievement. But where these achievements,

through external circumstance or through the development of special vocations, have

acquired a certain power of attraction over the spirit, the East has shown, on the same

plane of action, what energy and will can do when they are shaped essentially by the

ascetic view of life. Anyone who objects and points out, for example, the more recent

political state of India, forgets that this country, quite apart from its original epics, had its own imperial cycle under Candragupta and under Asoka, a sovereign who was

profoundly Buddhist. Besides, we know of no Western text in which heroism and warlike

action have received a transcendental justification so precise and a transfiguration so

high, as in the

3. In reality, all the ancient forms of "telluric" civilizations developed in close connection with feminine and promiscuous cults and with the naturalistic-vital

substratum of existence. Cf. J. J. Bachofen. Das Mutterrecht 2nd edn. (Basel, 1897).


Bhagavadgītā;4 while on another level it is well known that of all the troops England gathered in her empire, those provided by India were the best qualified, composed as they

were, not of "soldiers," but of warriors by race and vocation. And it was from warrior stock—as we have seen—that Prince Siddhattha himself came.

But a better example is offered us by Japan. It has been justly stated5 that "the Russo-Japanese War, to the great surprise of most of the European world, showed us how the

supposed èmasculated Oriental immobility' could purposively and heroically fight, on

land and sea, the so-called virile Western mobility. The heroism of the Japanese, educated

for a millennium and a half by Buddhist doctrine, has shown unmistakably that Buddhism

is not the opiate that everyone previously imagined." Anyone with the interests of the West at heart should indeed hope that the future will not create a change of mind in the

Oriental peoples whereby they are led to apply against the West their enormous spiritual

potential; that the power that has been created by a millennial ascetic vision of life, should be directed onto the temporal plane on which most of Europe, having cut itself off from its best traditions, has chosen to concentrate.

It was not entirely unintentional that, at the end of this book, we spoke of Zen

Buddhism. This particularly esoteric form of the Buddhist doctrine has been the most

congenial to the Japanese warrior nobility, and Zen has even been called "the religion of the Samurai." According to the Japanese point of view, if a man is a man, and not an

animal, he can only be a Samurai: courageous, upright, trustworthy, virile, faithful and

full of controlled dignity and ready for any active sacrifice. But the precepts of virility, loyalty, courage, control of the mind, instincts, action, and disdain for a soft life and

empty luxury—all these are elements of Bushido, the ethics of the Samurai warrior

nobility, found in the Zen ascesis, which derived from the Buddhist Doctrine of

Awakening their confirmation, integration, and likewise their transcendent basis."It was thus that the Japanese nobleman was capable of a quite special and unconditioned form of

heroism: not "tragic" but "Olympian," the heroism of one who can give away his complete life without regrets, with a clear vision of the goal in view and with an entire disregard for his own person, because he is not life and is not person, but already partakes of the

superindividual and supertemporal.

These are only examples; and we do not wish to give the idea that we are making a

defense of the East or of the Far East. Let us repeat: we are dealing here with general

views of life, a distinction between East and West does not enter the discussion since the

opposition is one of supernational and supercontinental nature. Our

4. Cf. Revolt Against the Modem World, pp. 120-21.

5. G.

de Lorenzo. India e buddhismo antico, 5th ed. (Bari, 1926), p. 7.

6. Cf.

Nukariya. The Religion of the Samurai, pp. 36-50.


own M iddle Ages also knew a sacred heroism, and its history likewise shows, in majestic strokes, how a heroic cycle—whenever the corresponding vocation is present—can

develop under the influence of an ascetic view of life, even when this view presents

deviations, shortcomings, and limitations of considerable importance as happens in the

case of Christianism. Either as detachment beyond action, or as detachment in action and

for action, there exists a common tradition. We have purposely made considerable use of

the term "Olympian" in order to remind those who might forget. From the ancient

M editerranean "Olympian" world, where the opposition between region of being and region of becoming, between the cycle of generation and the superworld corresponds

exactly to the Indo-Aryan opposition between samsāra and nirvāna, we derive our highest heritage, that which the modem world has forgotten but which still persisted in some

measure among the Germanic and Roman elements of the best of the M iddle Ages. The

Olympian view of life, to which every true ascetic value is intimately hound. is the

highest, most original, and most Aryan of the West. It holds the symbol of all that, in a

higher sense, can be called classical and aristocratic.

A return to ascetic values can, then, be conceived in two forms and in two degrees. A

formation of life newly oriented toward the extrasamsāric and "sidereal" element can, in the first place, teach what real action and mastery are to all those who know only their

most obscure and irrational forms. In the second place, ascesis as affirmation of pure

transcendency, as detachment, not only in action, but beyond action, toward awakening,

can ensure that the immobile is not overturned by the changeable, that forces of centrality, forces of the world of being are set up against forces of becoming. Nor should we think of

this second process as though we had to do with the presence of guests of stone at a

banquet of the agitated and fanatical. To inspire and establish, even in scattered and

unknown beings, extrasamsāric forces, may be an action whose invisible effects, even on

the plane of visible and historical reality, are considerably more important than many

might imagine. It is Buddhist teaching that the Ariya are able to work from a distance, for the good of many, in the human sphere as well as in the "divine,"' and these spheres would be harmed by differences among the Ariya.' It is Buddhist doctrine that when the Ariya, in

their disindividualized consciousness, suffuse the world with the irradiant contemplations, they can liberate forces that go out into it and act invisibly upon distant lands and

destinies. We think it possible that should the course of history, in spite of appearances, not deteriorate further, this may perhaps be due, less to the efforts and direct action of

groups of men and leaders of men, than to the influences proceeding, through

7. Cf., e.g., Majjh., 31.

8. Ibid., 104.


the paths of the spirit, from the secret realizations of a few nameless and remote ascetics, in Tibet or on M ount Athos, among the Zen, or in some Trappist or Carthusian cloister of

Europe. To an awakened eye, to an eye capable of seeing with the sight of one on the

Further Shore, these same realizations would appear as the only steady lights in the

darkness, as the only peaks emerging, calm and sovereign, above the seas of mist down in

the valleys.9 Every true ascetic realization becomes inevitably transformed into a

support—an invisible one, but for all that nonetheless real and efficacious—for those

who, on the visible plane, resist and struggle against the forces of an obscure age.

Lastly, let us say a few words about that special class of reader who is interested in

"spiritualism." We have already, in our Maschera e volto dello spiritualismo

contemporaneo, warned such readers against the errors and confusions that have been set afoot by many modern trends through mistaken aspirations toward the supernatural and

supersensible. Should anyone seriously harbor such aspirations, he must take careful stock

of such errors and confusions and, above all, not deceive himself that true realization of

what lies beyond the human condition is possible without rigorous "ascetic" preparation and consolidation. Given the conditions in which the Westerner now finds himself and

which we have frequently mentioned, such preparation is, today more than ever

indispensable. We should then he under no illusions about the real nature of knowledge or

"occult" discipline, particularly when we are dealing with what our contemporaries put forward. A doctrine, such as the one we have discussed, gives a very good idea of the

possibility of an Aryan and aristocratic path beyond samsāric existence. This path will

have no need of "religious" aids. dogmas, or petty moralities, and it genuinely

corresponds to the will for the unconditioned. But, at the same time, this doctrine shows

no less clearly the preliminary conditions for ascesis and detachment that are absolutely

imperative for any enterprise of a transcendent nature. It also shows that the path of

awakening—identical in its spirit with every true "initiation"—is absolutely irreconcilable with all that is implied by confused mysticism, mediumistic cults, the subconscious,

visionarism, manias for occult phenomena and powers, and neopsychnoanalytical

contaminations. It is well known that interested circles—either confessionalists or

"illumined" in the profane and "critical" sense—rely on such spiritual deviations in their attempt to heap discredit upon the ideals and kinds of wisdom that, in one form or

another, were always recognized as the culminating point of every normal and traditional

civilization. To realize that, as we have indicated, there is similar content in the path

announced by a figure of the dignity and grandeur of Prince Siddhattha.

9. We may here call to mind the words of the Atharva Veda (12.1.1): "The great truth, the powerful order (rta), the initiation, the ascesis, the rite and the sacrifice sustain the earth."


the Buddha—and that this path, even if only in distant and varied reflections. is now related to the faith of more than four hundred million followers—such a realization

should he enough to forestall any attempt by such shortsighted or malicious individuals

to cause error and confusion of thought.

In the opposite field, we must say something in particular about two currents: the one,

followed by those who, though themselves Orientals, apply themselves to "adapting"

ideas of the ancient traditions in their own way and to popularizing them in the West; and

the other, which aims at introducing the concept of a new "modem initiation."

The first case brings to mind the Hindu parable of a man who, when surrounded by

water in a drenching rainstorm, made a great effort to draw some up from a muddy well.

As far as the Oriental traditions go, or rather, the various Oriental forms of the one

tradition, the situation we have to deal with is different from that existing in the West.

Even in the case of transcendent wisdom there exist ancient texts, for the most part

translated and available to all, where we can find, in a purer and more complete form, all

that such people would vulgarize and reduce, at best, to an emasculated reflection of the

original. Anyone who can lay his hands on the Buddhist texts or the Bhagavadgītā or the yoga and Vedānta texts should be able calmly to close the doors on these modem

publishers and commentators and adaptors, leaving himself only the serious task of study

and achievement. But, the true reason for the success of such new expositions is to he

found where they are the most accommodating, least rigid, least severe, most vague, and

ready to come to easy terms with the prejudices and weaknesses of the modem world. Let

everyone have the courage to look deeply into himself and to see what it s that he really


The second current differs from the first in that it makes no attempt to adapt or spread

a kind of wisdom that is either ancient or Oriental. On the contrary it maintains that such forms of knowledge are unsuitable for the man of today who requires an altogether

modern kind of "initiation." This is based upon evolutionism applied to affairs of the spirit. An evolutionary development of the world and of humanity is assumed, and it is

thought that even the spirit should conform to this law and follow this development.

There is no trace of such an idea in the teachings of any school of wisdom. The world is

what it is, samsāra, said the Indo-Aryans; κύκλος της γενέσεως, an eternal cycle of generation, said the ancient Greeks. And in samsāra there is no "evolution," there is no beginning and there is no end. By "going" one does not reach the "end of the world." The direction in which we may find awakening and liberation, the direction of initiation, is

vertical and has nothing to do with the course of history.

Certainly, the condition of modern man is very different from that of ancient


man—and in the course of this study we have repeatedly emphasized this fact. A "fall" or a "descent" has taken place, which is in no way a happening in an evolutional scheme, designed to produce, in a "happy ending," something higher than ever existed before. If this fall has any significance, it is that it shows the terrible power of the liberty of the spirit that can design and bring about even its own negation. There-fore the only thing to

do is to admit that the ancient teachings cannot he used today without due consideration,

and modem man must apply himself to a thankless task of reintegration: he must take

himself back spiritually to the state of mind that has, always and everywhere, been the

point of departure of a way that is essentially unique. There is no room for a "modem

initiation" in a specific sense; by definition all that is modern is the contradiction of anything to do with initiation.

If, when we speak of "modem initiation" we wish to claim for it the characteristics of a "spiritual science," of a discipline that is as clear and exact as regards the supersensible world and the instruments of inward development as modem science is in regard to its

own field and instruments, then we must show where in this respect it does more than

simply state the problem.

It is, rather to traditional doctrines such as the one that we have laid before him in the

present book, that the reader who is attracted by true spirituality should turn, to

understand what a "spiritual science" really is: these doctrines will teach him the clarity of pure knowledge, divorced from all forms of visionary "clairvoyance," joined to a spiritual sovereignty, and to the will to break not only the human bond, but the bond formed by any

other "world." M odem man has not only to fight against materialism, but must also defend himself from the snares and allures of false supernaturalism. His defense will be firm and

effective only if he is capable of returning to the origins, of assimilating the ancient

traditions, and then of relying upon the ascesis to carry out the task of reestablishing his inner condition. For it is through this that these traditions will reveal to him their deepest and perennially real content and show him, step by step, the path. In conclusion, we would

like to repeat the ancient Roman augural formula: quod bonum faustumque sit. We would, that is to say, count it as most fortunate if this further modest contribution of ours to the understanding of premodern spirituality were to serve someone as something more than a

simple reading. Only then could we repeat the formula of the Ariya: katam karani yam—

"done is what was to he done."


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