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vol. 3, p. 162
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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< Of the Ways to Perfection (continued from page 3-161) >

oppressive that we can scarcely bear it with a tolerable amount of patience. Look at birth; examine existence during its duration, consider the senses, the organs of our life. In every direction our eyes will meet with an accumulation of pain, sufferings, and miseries; on every side we are beset with dangers, difficulties, and calamities; no where are lasting joy or permanent rest to be found. In vain do we go in quest of lasting health or happiness; both are chimerical: objects, no where to be met with. But everywhere do we find afflictions.”

And of illusion, or anatta, he speaks thus:

“If we consider this world with some attention, we shall never be able to discover in it anything but name and form; and, as a necessary consequence, all that exists is illusion. This is the manner in which we must carry on our reasoning. The things that I see and know are not myself, nor from myself, nor in myself. What seems to be myself is really neither myself nor belongs to myself. They are but illusions, or as nothing relatively to me. The form is not a form; the attributes of a living being are not attributes; beings are not beings. All is but an aggregate of the four elements, and these again are but form and name, and these only illusion, destitute of all reality. In a being, then, there are but two attributes, form and sensation, that appear to have a little more consistency than the rest; yet these have no reality; their very nature and condition is to be destitute alike of reality and stability. Penetrated with the absolute truth of these considerations, the sage declares at once that all things are neither himself, nor belong to himself. Nothing therefore appears worthy of his notice; he divorces himself from the world, and all that is therein. He would fain have nothing to do with it He holds it in supreme contempt, disgust, and aversion. He who hath reached this lofty pinnacle of sublime science is at once secure from the snares of seduction and the path of error. He will escape from the whirlpool of miseries, and infallibly reach the rest of Nirwana, The most perfect are so taken up with this view of Nirwana that they tend thither without effort.”

Christ does not say so clearly as Buddha did all this, yet his words imply a good deal thereof. He had to do with a lower, a less philosophical, a more degraded type of humanity. “Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven." “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto the mountains,” etc. So also St. Paul: "For the whole creation groaneth and travaileth, is made subject to vanity, i.e. illusion," etc. “God made man in his own image"—a purely spiritual being; when man fell, he died to the spiritual world, i. e. he lost his spiritual attributes, and the first symptoms of this death—his false perception of his body—at once led God to diagnose his fall; “Who told thee that thou hadst a body requiring to be clothed? Hast thou eaten of the tree?" The serpent’s words were a quibble. He did not die materially, but he died spiritually; before he knew only good, he then came to know evil, i.e. pain, change, illusion, also. He became subject to the law of merit and demerit. Matter, time, and space are all delusions consequent on this spiritual death; false or relative perceptions, dependent on tseit, or state. Spirit, Eternity, and Infinity are the only realities perceptible only to the twice born man.

Buddhism and Spiritualism

Of Maha Brahma, or the Supreme God

I had quite intended that my last paper should have closed the series of these articles; but having, since writing it, fallen in with an excellent lecture on “Buddhist Nihilism," by Prof. Max Muller, a very high authority, I find that I have still some words to say upon the subject, which will, I trust, be of interest to many.

Professor Max Muller takes the same view that I have taken of the exact meaning of the state Nirwana. He points out that where in the Buddhist canon we find contradictions, we should attribute all views that seem opposed to Buddha’s general character and teaching to modern innovation. The same might probably be said with truth of the Christian canon, and of that of every other religion of long standing. Nihilism is opposed to the spirit of Buddha's teaching, and to many views undoubtedly expressed by him, and to some facts reported of him; it is therefore probably an innovation. The creed of the ordinary Buddhist everywhere is, that Nirwana is a state of perfect rest and bliss, of freedom from all passion, and of extinction of the selfhood. It is only by one large section of Buddhist divines that it is held to be—unless we misunderstand them—utter extinction. Max Muller says:

“Nirwana certainly means extinction. But Nirwana occurs also in Brahmanic writings as synonymous with Moksha, Nioritti, and other words, all designating the highest stage of spiritual liberty and bliss, but not annihilation. Nirwana may mean the extinction of many things—of selfishness, desire, and sin—without going so far as the extinctions of subjective consciousness. Further, if we consider that Buddha himself, after he had already seen Nirwana, still remains on earth until his body falls a prey to death; that Buddha appears, in the legends, to his disciples even after his death, it seems to me that all these circumstances are hardly reconcilable with the orthodox metaphysical doctrine of Nirwana.”

It is clear, then, what is Max Muller's opinion—as an eminent oriental scholar—upon this much vexed question. As to the Atheism charged upon Buddha, the Professor seems to think that this also is due to the disquisition of modern divines, and that Buddha was not an atheist. Buddha states that there is a cause, a Great First Cause of all things that exist, of course including the formless worlds and Nirwana, but that this cause is utterly beyond our ken and reach. Whatever it may be, it has not chosen to reveal itself, and therefore it is in vain for us to seek for it, nor is it indeed a matter with which we can have any concern. This appears to me to be the spirit in which Buddha speaks of the great first cause, and this appears to be also Max Muller's view of the matter.

Again: Buddhist laymen are not practically atheists; they do pray to God—not to Buddha—in trouble and need. They do call upon Maha Brahma. Neither docs atheism appear to be the orthodox creed in Thibet, since the Grand Lama is represented as spending most of his solitary life in prayer for the faithful; while F. D. Maurice quotes in “Religions of the World,” a beautiful prayer of his to God—not to Buddha.

Now the Grand Lama is a sort of Pope as regards Buddhism, and his authority is acknowledged all throughout China, if not in India. The Thibetians appear to look upon him as a very exalted, pure, and wise spirit, who is constantly reincarnated in successive fleshly tabernacles for that very office. It is, however, perfectly true that the bulk of Buddhist divines do teach absolute atheism, and that whilst they acknowledge the existence of the Gods of Brabminism, and of all other gods that men have ever worshipped—indeed in most Buddhist temples in Ceylon images of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are to be seen—they yet absolutely deny the existence of any Supreme Deity. They even attribute to Buddha an explanation of the origin of the belief in Maha in the mind of man. Max Muller characterizes this explanation as too bitterly ironical to be to keeping with Buddha’s character. It is as follows:

A Kalpa is a period of time so long, that if one took a rack of cubic form, fourteen miles on each edge, and touched it lightly once in a hundred years with a piece of the finest muslin, when the rock by this attrition warn entirely worn away, the end of a kalpa would have arrived. At the end of each kalpa, Buddha taught that the universe is destroyed, but this destruction does not reach higher than the third Brahma loka. The higher Brahma worlds remain inviolate. Then one of the spirits from the fourth Brahma world, after the world has been again reformed, but is still uninhabited, descends to it by reason of some demerit. Here he first dwells alone, but by and by he desires company; soon, thereafter, another spirit from the same sphere descends by accident. Then the thought originated with the first spirit. I am the Brahma, the great Brahma; the highest, the unconquerable, the omniscient Lord and King of all. I am the Creator of all things, the Father of all. This being has also been created by me; for as soon as I desired not to remain alone, my desire brought forth this second being.” The other beings, as they gradually descended from the higher worlds, likewise believed that the first comer had been the creator, for was he not older and wiser and handsomer than they?

In the course of time, by reason of demerit, one of these beings was born lower and lower; she same process going on through the remaining two new-formed Brahma worlds, then through the six Dewa lokas, till at length one of them was born as a man on the new formed earth. There, by penances and deep meditation—which impart this power—he got to be able to remember his former existences. He remembered then the above narrated occurrences in the newly created third Brahma world, and announced to mankind that there was a Supreme God, a Creator, a Maha Brahma, who had been in existence before all other beings; that the Creator was eternal and immutable, whilst all other beings were mutable and mortal. From the earliest ages, books have existed in the Buddhist canon which have been regarded as heterodox; so that we can no more be sure that we are right in attributing all that we find in the canon to Buddha, than we ire in attributing all we find in the Gospels to Christ; in both cases we probably err. Buddha declared that all the worlds but those above the third Brahma loka perished utterly at the end of every kalpa, bet even the superior Brahma lokas did not last forever—not even the formless worlds; nothing at all was eternal but Nirwana, and those who had attained Nirwana.

Editor's notes

  1. Buddhism and Spiritualism by Don Fulano, Spiritual Scientist, v. 5, No. 10, November 9, 1876, p. 112