The few sentences given in the text from one of Gautama Buddha’s secret teachings show how uncalled for is the epithet of “Materialist” when applied to One Whom two-thirds of those who are looked upon as great Adepts and Occultists in Asia recognize as their Master, whether under the name of Buddha or that of Samkarâchârya. The reader will remember the just-quoted words are what Buddha Sanggyas (or Pho) is alleged by the Tibetan Occultists to have taught: there are three eternal things in the Universe—the Law, Nirvâna, and Space. The Buddhists of the Southern Church claim, on the other hand, that Buddha held only two things as eternal—Âkâsa and Nirvâna. But Âkâsa being the same as Aditi,* and both being translated “Space,” there is no discrepancy so far, since Nirvâna as well as Moksha, is a state. Then in both cases the great Kapilavastu Sage unifies the two, as well as the three, into one eternal Element, and ends by saying that even “that One is a Mâyâ” to one who is not a Dang-ma, a perfectly purified Soul.
The whole question hangs upon materialistic misconceptions and ignorance of Occult Metaphysics. To the man of Science who regards Space as simply a mental representation, a conception of something existing pro forma, and having no real being outside our mind, Space per se is verily an illusion. He may fill the boundless interstellar space with an “imaginary” ether, nevertheless Space for him is an abstraction. Most of the Metaphysicians of Europe are so wide of the mark, from the purely Occult standpoint, of a correct comprehension of “Space,” as are the Materialists, though the erroneous conceptions of both of course differ widely.
If, bearing in mind the philosophical views of the Ancients upon this question, we compare them with what is now termed exact physical Science, it will be found that the two disagree
* Aditi is, according to the Rig-Veda, “the Father and Mother of all the Gods;” and Âkâsa is held by Southern Buddhism as the Root of all, whence everything in the Universe came out, in obedience to a law of motion inherent in it; and this is the Tibetan “Space” (Tho-og).
only in inferences and names, and that their postulates are the same when reduced to their most simple expression. From the beginning of the human Aeôns, from the very dawn of Occult Wisdom, the regions that the men of Science fill with ether have been explored by the Seers of every age. That which the world regards simply as cosmic Space, an abstract representation, the Hindu Rishi, the Chaldaean Magus, the Egyptian Hierophant held, each and all, as the one eternal Root of all, the playground of all the Forces in Nature. It is the fountainhead of all terrestrial life, and the abode of those (to us) invisible swarms of existences—of real beings, as of the shadows only thereof, conscious and unconscious, intelligent and senseless—that surround us on all sides, that interpenetrate the atoms of our Kosmos, and see us not, as we do not either see or sense them through our physical organisms. For the Occultist “Space” and “Universe” are synonyms. In Space there is not Matter, Force, nor Spirit, but all that and much more. It is the One Element, and that one the Anima Mundi—Space, Âkâśa, Astral Light—the Root of Life which, in its eternal, ceaseless motion, like the out- and in-breathing of one boundless ocean, evolves but to reabsorb all that lives and feels and thinks and has its being in it. As said of the Universe in Isis Unveiled, it is:
. . . the combination of a thousand elements, and yet the expression of a single Spirit—a chaos to the sense, a Cosmos to the reason.
Such were the views upon the subject of all the great ancient Philosophers, from Manu down to Pythagoras, from Plato to Paul.
“When the dissolution [Pralaya] had arrived at its term, the great Being [Param-Âtma, or Para-Purusha], the Lord existing through himself, out of whom and through whom all things were, and are, and will be, . . . resolved to emanate from his own substance the various creatures.”*
The mystic Dekad [of Pythagoras] (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10) is a way of expressing this idea. The One is God;† the Two, Matter, the Three,
* Mânava-Dharma-Sâstra, Bk. I, Slokas 6-8.
† The “God” of Pythagoras, the disciple of the Âryan Sages, is no personal God. Let it be remembered that he taught as a cardinal tenet that there exists a permanent Principle of Unity beneath all forms, changes, and other phenomena of the Universe.
combining Monad and Duad, and partaking of the nature of both, is the phenomenal world; the Tetrad, or form of perfection, expresses the emptiness of all; and the Dekad, or sum of all, involves the entire Cosmos.*
Plato’s “God” is the “Universal Ideation,” and Paul [Rom. xi, 36.] saying “Out of him, and through him, and in him, all things are,” had surely a Principle—never a Jehovah—in his profound mind. The key to the Pythagorean dogmas is the key to every great Philosophy. It is the general formula of unity in multiplicity, the One evolving the many and pervading the All. It is the archaic doctrine of Emanation in a few words.
Speusippus and Xenocrates held, like their great Master, Plato, that:
The anima mundi, or world-soul, was not the Deity, but a manifestation. Those philosophers never conceived of the One as an animate nature. The original One did not exist, as we understand the term.† Not till he (it) had united with the many— emanated existence (the Monad and Duad) —was a being produced. The (“honoured”), the something manifested, dwells in the centre as in the circumference, but it is only the reflection of the Deity—the World-Soul.‡ In this doctrine we find the spirit of esoteric Buddhism.§
And it is that of Esoteric Brâhmanism and of the Vedântin Advaitîs. The two modern philosophers, Schopenhauer and von Hartmann, teach the same ideas. The Occultists say that:
The psychic and ectenic forces, the “ideo-motor” and “electro-biological powers”; “latent thought,” and even “unconcious cerebration” theories can be condensed in two words: the Kabalistic ASTRAL LIGHT.||
Schopenhauer only synthesized all this by calling it Will, and contradicted the men of Science in their materialistic views, as von Hartmann did later on. The author of the Philosophy of the Unconscious calls their views “an instinctual prejudice.”
Furthermore, he demonstrates that no experimenter can have anything
* Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p. xvi.
† Plato, Parmenides, 141 E.
‡ Cf. Stobaeus, Eclogue, I, 862.
§ Isis Unveiled, I, xviii.
|| Op. cit., I, 58.
to do with matter properly termed, but only with the forces into which he divides it. The visible effects of matter are but the effects of force. He concludes thereby that that which is now called matter is nothing but the aggregation of atomic forces, to express which the word matter is used; outside of that, for science matter is but a word void of sense.*
As much, it is to be feared, as those other terms with which we are now concerned, “Space,” “Nirvâna,” and so on.
The bold theories and opinions expressed in Schopenhauer’s works differ widely from those of the majority of our orthodox scientists.† “In reality,” remarks this daring speculator, “there is neither matter nor spirit. . . . The tendency to gravitation in a stone is as unexplainable as thought in human brain.. If matter can—no one knows why—fall to the ground, then it can also—no one knows why—think. . . . . . . . As soon, even in mechanics, as we trespass beyond the purely mathematical, as soon as we reach the inscrutable, adhesion, gravitation,. . . we are faced by phenomena which are to our senses as mysterious as the WILL and THOUGHT in man—we find ourselves facing the incomprehensible, for such is every force in nature. Where is then that matter which you all pretend to know so well; and from which—being so familiar with it—you draw all your conclusions and explanations, and attribute to it all things? . . . That, which can be fully realized by our reason and senses, is but the superficial; they can never reach the true inner substance of things. Such was the opinion of Kant. If you consider that there is in a human head . . . some sort of a spirit‚ then you are obliged to concede the same to a stone. If your dead and utterly passive matter can manifest a tendency toward gravitation, or, like electricity, attract and repel, and send out sparks—then, as well as the brain, it can also think. In short, every particle of the so-called spirit, we can replace with an equivalent of matter, and every particle of matter replace with spirit. . . . Thus, it is not the Cartesian division of all things into matter and spirit that can ever be found philosophically exact; but only if we divide them into will and manifestation, which form of division has naught to do with the former, for it spiritualizes everything: all that, which is in the first instance real and objective—body and matter—it transforms into a representation, and every manifestation into will.”‡
The matter of science may be for all objective purposes a
* Op. cit., I, 59.
† While they are to a great extent identical with those of Esoteric Buddhism, the Secret Doctrine of the East.
‡ Parerga and Paralipomena, II, pp. 89, 90. Berlin, 1851. Cf. Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, p. 58.
“dead and utterly passive matter”; to the Occultist not an atom of it can be dead—“Life is ever present in it.” We send the reader who would know more about it to our article, “Transmigration of Life-Atoms.”* What we are now concerned with is the doctrine of Nirvâna.
A “system of atheism” it may be justly called, since it recognizes neither God nor Gods—least of all a Creator, as it entirely rejects creation. The fecit ex nihilo is as incomprehensible to the Occult metaphysical Scientist as it is to the scientific Materialist. It is at this point that all agreement stops between the two. But if such be the sin of the Buddhist and Brahman Occultist, then Pantheists and Atheists, and also theistical Jews—the Kabalists—must also plead “guilty” to it; yet no one would ever think of calling the Hebrews of the Kabalah “Atheists. “ Except the Talmudistic and Christian exoteric systems, there never was a religious Philosophy, whether in the ancient or modern world, but rejected a priori the ex nihilo hypothesis, simply because Matter was always co-eternalized with Spirit.
Nirvâna, as well as the Moksha of the Vedântins, is regarded by most of the Orientalists as a synonym of annihilation; yet no more glaring injustice could be done, and this capital error must be pointed out and disproved. On this most important tenet of the Brâhmo-Buddhistic system—the Alpha and Omega of “Being” or “Non-Being”—rests the whole edifice of Occult Metaphysics. Now the rectification of the great error concerning Nirvâna may be very easily accomplished with relation to the philosophically inclined, to those who,
In the glass of things temporal see the image of things spiritual.
On the other hand, to that reader who could never soar beyond the details of tangible material form, our explanation will appear meaningless. He may comprehend and even accept the logical inferences from the reasons given—the true spirit will ever escape his intuitions. The word “nihil” having been misconceived from the first, it is continually used as a sledge
* [B.C.W. Vol. V, pp. 109-17.]
hammer in the matter of Esoteric Philosophy. Nevertheless it is the duty of the Occultist to try and explain it.
Nirvâna and Moksha, then, as said before, have their being in non-being, if such a paradox be permitted to illustrate the meaning the better. Nirvâna, as some illustrious Orientalists have attempted to prove, does mean the “blowing-out”* of all sentient existence. It is like the flame of a candle burnt out to its last atom, and then suddenly extinguished. Quite so. Nevertheless, as the old Arhat Nâgasena affirmed before the king who taunted him: “Nirvâna is”—and Nirvâna is eternal. But the Orientalists deny this, and say it is not so. In their opinion Nirvâna is not a re-absorption in the Universal Force, not eternal bliss and rest, but it means literally “the blowing-out, the extinction, complete annihilation, and not absorption.” The Lankâvatâra [section] quoted in support of their arguments by some Sanskritists, and which gives the different interpretations of Nirvâna by the Tîrthika-Brâhmans, is no authority to one who goes to primeval sources for information, namely, to the Buddha who taught the doctrine.† As well quote the Chârvâka Materialists in their support.
If we bring as an argument the sacred Jaina books, wherein the dying Gautama Buddha is thus addressed: “Arise into Nirvi [Nirvâna] from this decrepit body into which thou hast been sent. . . . Ascend into thy former abode, O blessed Avatâra”; and if we add that this seems to us the very opposite of nihilism, we may be told that so far it may only prove a contradiction, one more discrepancy in the Buddhist faith. If again we remind the reader that since Gautama is believed to appear
* Prof. Max Müller, in a letter to The Times (April, 1857), maintained most vehemently that Nirvâna meant annihilation in the fullest sense of the word. (Chips from a German Workshop, I, 287.) But in 1869, in a lecture before the General Meeting of the Association of German Philologists at Kiel, “he distinctly declares his belief that the Nihilism attributed to Buddha’s teaching forms no part of his doctrine, and that it is wholly wrong to suppose that Nirvâna means annihilation.” (Trübner’s Amer. and Oriental Lit. Rec., Oct. 16th, 1869.)
† [For Buddha’s refutation of these views, see sections 18, 38 & 53 of D.T. Suzuki’s tr. of The Lankâvatâra Sûtra, London, Routledge, 1932 & rprs.—Compiler.]
occasionally, re-descending from his “former abode” for the good of humanity and His faithful congregation, thus making it incontestable that Buddhism does not teach final annihilation, we shall be referred to authorities to whom such teaching is ascribed. And let us say at once: Men are no authority for us in questions of conscience, nor ought they to be for anyone else. If anyone holds to Buddha’s Philosophy, let him do and say as Buddha did and said; if a man calls himself a Christian, let him follow the commandments of Christ—not the interpretations of His many dissenting priests and sects.
In A Buddhist Catechism the question is asked:
Are there any dogmas in Buddhism which we are required to accept on faith?
A. No. we are earnestly enjoined to accept nothing whatever on faith; whether it be written in books, handed down from our ancestors, or taught by the sages. Our Lord Buddha has said that we must not believe in a thing said merely because it is said; nor in traditions because they have been handed down from antiquity; nor rumors, as such; nor writings by sages, because sages wrote them; nor fancies that we may suspect to have been inspired in us by a deva (that is, in presumed spiritual inspiration); nor from inferences drawn from some haphazard assumption we may have made; nor because of what seems an analogical necessity; nor on the mere authority of our teachers or masters. But we are to believe when the writing, doctrine, or saying is corroborated by our own reason and consciousness. “For this,” says he, in concluding, “I taught you not to believe merely because you have heard, but when you believed of your consciousness, then to act accordingly and abundantly.”*
That Nirvâna, or rather, that state in which we are in Nirvâna, is quite the reverse of annihilation is suggested to us by our “reason and consciousness,” and that is sufficient for us personally. At the same time, this fact being inadequate and very ill-adapted for the general reader, something more efficient may be added.
Without resorting to sources unsympathetic to Occultism, the Kabalah furnishes us with the most luminous and clear proofs
* See the Kalama Sutta of the Anguttaranikâya, as quoted in A Buddhist Catechism, by H. S. Olcott, President of the Theosophical Society, pp. 55, 56, Colombo, Ceylon, 1881. [Quest Miniature ed., pp. 62-63.]
that the term “nihil” in the minds of the Ancient Philosophers had a meaning quite different from that it has now received at the hands of Materialists. It means certainly “nothing”—or “no-thing.” F. Kircher, in his work on the Kabalah and the Egyptian Mysteries* explains the term admirably. He tells his readers that in the Zohar the first of the Sephîrôth† has a name the significance of which is “the Infinite,” but which was translated indifferently by the Kabalists as “Ens” and “Non-Ens” (“Being” and “Non-Being”); a Being, inasmuch as it is the root and source of all other beings; Non-Being because it [Ain-Soph—the Boundless and the Causeless, the Unconscious and the Passive Principle] resembles nought else in the Universe.
The author adds:
This is the reason why St. Denis did not hesitate to call it nihil.
“Nihil” therefore stands—even with some Christian theologians and thinkers, especially with the earlier ones who lived but a few removes from the profound Philosophy of the initiated Pagans—as a synonym for the impersonal, divine Principle, the Infinite All, which is no Being or thing—the Ain-Soph, the Parabrahman of the Vedânta. Now St. Denys was a pupil of St. Paul—an Initiate— and this fact makes everything clear.
The “Nihil” is in esse the Absolute Deity itself, the hidden Power or Omnipresence degraded by Monotheism into an anthropomorphic Being, with all the passions of a mortal on a grand scale. Union with That is not annihilation in the sense understood in Europe.‡ In the East annihilation in Nirvâna
* Oedipus Aegyptiacus, Vol. II, Pt. I, p. 291.
† Sephir, or Aditi (mystic Space). The Sephîrôth, be it understood, are identical with the Hindu Prajâpatis, the Dhyâni-Chohans of Esoteric Buddhism, the Zoroastrian Amshâspends, and finally with the Elôhîm —the “Seven Angels of the Presence” of the Roman Catholic Church.
‡ According to the Eastern idea, the All comes out from the One, and returns to it again. Absolute annihilation is simply unthinkable. Nor can eternal Matter be annihilated. Form may be annihilated; co-relations may change. That is all. There can be no such thing as annihilation—in the European sense—in the Universe.
refers but to matter: that of the visible as well as the invisible body, for the astral body, the personal double, is still matter, however sublimated. Buddha taught that the primitive Substance is eternal and unchangeable. Its vehicle is the pure, luminous ether, the boundless, infinite Space.
. . . not a void resulting from the absence of forms, but, on the contrary, the foundation of all forms . . . [This] denotes it to be the creation of Mâyâ, and all her works are as nothing before the uncreated being, SPIRIT, in whose profound and sacred repose all motion must cease for ever.”*
Motion here refers only to illusive objects, to their change as opposed to perpetuity, rest—perpetual motion being the Eternal Law, the ceaseless Breath of the Absolute.
The mastery of Buddhistic dogmas can be attained only according to the Platonic method: from universals to particulars. The key to it lies in the refined and mystical tenets of spiritual influx and divine life.
Whoever is unacquainted with my Law,† and dies in that state, must return to the earth till he becomes a perfect Samana [ascetic]. To achieve this object, he must destroy within himself the trinity of Mâyâ.‡ He must extinguish his passions, unite and identify himself with the Law ‘the teaching of the Secret Doctrine’, and comprehend the religion of annihilation. §
No, it is not in the dead-letter of Buddhistical literature that scholars may ever hope to find the true solution of its metaphysical subtleties. Alone in all antiquity the Pythagoreans understood them perfectly, and it is on the (to the average Orientalist and the Materialist) incomprehensible abstractions of Buddhism that Pythagoras grounded the principal tenets of his Philosophy.
* Isis Unveiled, I, 289.
† The Secret Law, the “Doctrine of the Heart,” so called in contrast to the “Doctrine of the Eye,” or exoteric Buddhism.
‡ “Illusion; matter in its triple manifestation in the earthly, and the astral or fontal Soul, or the body, and the Platonian dual Soul—the rational and the irrational one.”
§ Isis Unveiled, I, 289.
Thus annihilation means, with the Buddhistical philosophy, only a dispersion of matter, in whatever form or semblance of form it may be; for everything that bears a shape was created, and thus must sooner or later perish, i.e., change that shape; therefore, as something temporary, though seeming to be permanent, it is but an illusion, Mâyâ; for, as eternity has neither beginning nor end, the more or less prolonged duration of some particular form passes, as it were, like an instantaneous flash of lightning. Before we have the time to realize that we have seen it, it is gone and passed away for ever; hence, even our astral bodies, pure ether, are but illusions of matter, so long as they retain their terrestrial outline. The latter changes, says the Buddhist, according to the merits or demerits of the person during his lifetime, and this is metempsychosis. When the spiritual entity breaks loose for ever from every particle of matter, then only it enters upon the eternal and unchangeable Nirvâna. He exists in Spirit, in nothing; as a form, a shape, a semblance, he is completely annihilated, and thus will die no more, for Spirit alone is no Mâyâ, but the only REALITY in an illusionary universe of ever-passing forms.
It is upon this Buddhist doctrine that the Pythagoreans grounded the principal tenets of their philosophy. “Can that Spirit, which gives life and motion, and partakes of the nature of light, be reduced to nonentity?” they ask. “Can that sensitive Spirit in brutes which exercises memory, one of the rational faculties, die, and become nothing?” And Whitelocke Bulstrode, in his able defence of Pythagoras, expounds this doctrine by adding: “If you say, they [the brutes] breathe their Spirits into the air, and there vanish, that is all that I contend for. The air, indeed, is the proper place to receive them, being according to Laertius, full of souls; and according to Epicurus, full of atoms. . . . the Principle of all things. For even this place wherein we walk and birds fly. . . is thus much of a spiritual nature, that it is invisible; therefore, may well be the receiver of forms, since the forms of all bodies are so; we can only hear and see its effects; the air itself is too fine, and above the capacity of the eye. What then is the aether that is in the region above. And what are the influences of forms that descend from thence?”* The Spirits of creatures, the Pythagoreans hold, who are emanations of the most sublimated portions of ether— emanations, BREATHS, but not forms. Ether is incorruptible,
* [An Essay of Transmigration, etc., pp. 29-30; 1692.]
all philosophers agree in that; and what is incorruptible is so far from being annihilated when it gets rid of the form, that it lays a good claim to IMMORTALITY.
“But what is that which has no body, no form; which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible, that which exists, and yet is not?” ask the Buddhists. “It is Nirvâna,” is the answer. It is NOTHING, not a region, but rather a state.*
* Isis Unveiled, I, 290.