BASICS OF BUDDHISM
* A Theosophical Perspective *
* GAUTAMA BUDDHA
“Buddha” means “Enlightened” or “Awakened.” His actual name was Siddhartha Gautama and he was an Indian and a Hindu, the Prince of Kapilavastu. He lived 2,600 years ago and thus preceded Christ and Christianity. There is no record of Buddha ever expressing any desire to start a new religion but rather that his public aim was to be a reformer of Hinduism. He and his followers received persecution from the Brahmin priests of Hinduism because Buddha exposed them as exploitative and as purposely keeping the common people in ignorance and in dependence on priestly rites and ceremonies. Buddhism survived in India for only 400-500 years at the most after Gautama Buddha’s death, due to the constant persecution and opposition by the Brahmins. Although it almost completely died out in India, it soon quickly spread all across Asia.
“As to his being one of the true and undeniable SAVIOURS of the World, suffice it to say that the most rabid orthodox missionary, unless he is hopelessly insane, or has not the least regard even for historical truth, cannot find one smallest accusation against the life and personal character of Gautama, the ‘Buddha.’ Without any claim to divinity, allowing his followers to fall into atheism, rather than into the degrading superstition of deva or idol-worship, his walk in life is from the beginning to the end, holy and divine. During the 45 years of his mission it is blameless and pure as that of a god – or as the latter should be. He is a perfect example of a divine, godly man. He reached Buddhaship – i.e. complete enlightenment – entirely by his own merit and owing to his own individual exertions, no god being supposed to have any personal merit in the exercise of goodness and holiness. Esoteric teachings claim that he renounced Nirvana and gave up the Dharmakaya vesture to remain a “Buddha of compassion” within the reach of the miseries of this world. And the religious philosophy he left to it has produced for over 2,000 years generations of good and unselfish men. His is the only absolutely bloodless religion among all the existing religions: tolerant and liberal, teaching universal compassion and charity, love and self-sacrifice, poverty and contentment with one’s lot, whatever it may be. No persecutions, and enforcement of faith by fire and sword, have ever disgraced it. No thunder-and-lightning-vomiting god has interfered with its chaste commandments; and if the simple, humane and philosophical code of daily life left to us by the greatest Man-Reformer ever known, should ever come to be adopted by mankind at large, then indeed an era of bliss and peace would dawn on Humanity.” – H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary
* THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
With so much suffering in the world today – on an individual level as well as nationally and globally – wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could discover and point out to us the actual CAUSE of all suffering so that we could eliminate the cause and thus perhaps eliminate suffering itself, making the world a much happier and more peaceful place in the process?
2,600 years ago in India, someone did discover and point out – clearly and repeatedly – the actual cause of all suffering and the way to freedom from suffering. His name was Siddhartha Gautama and he is better known to us today as Buddha (meaning “The Enlightened One”), the founder of the spiritual philosophy known as Buddhism.
The main essence of his teachings, and the very foundation of Buddhism, is encapsulated within what he called the Four Noble Truths. Madame Blavatsky wrote that if humanity at large would ever accept the Four Noble Truths and live their lives accordingly, then “indeed an era of bliss and peace would dawn on Humanity.”
These are the Four Noble Truths that Buddha presented:
1. Suffering is the unavoidable accompaniment of physical existence.
2. All suffering is caused by desire.
3. All personal desire and ambition must be extinguished by the person who wishes freedom from suffering and it can be extinguished by walking the Path.
4. The Path which leads to freedom from suffering is a narrow path.
A clear illustration of how Buddhism is misrepresented and misunderstood in the West today is the fact that many Western Buddhists (or so-called Buddhists) have never even heard of the Four Noble Truths and are not at all aware of Buddha having been so anti-desire. There are many in the West today who, either through ignorance or ulterior motives, present Buddhism as being a sort of “anything goes” path and even try to claim that Buddha’s teachings are aligned with the so-called “Law of Attraction” teachings of today, which purport that desire is divine and that we can and should manifest our personal desires through positive thinking and visualisation, etc. Still others, under the guise of Buddhism, encourage their followers to chant certain mantras in order to become rich and successful.
These things are of course the very antithesis of Buddhism and the teachings of its Founder and no-one who has read Buddha’s teachings for themselves (or who know anything of his life story) could fall prey to such delusional and even dangerous notions. I call them “dangerous” because, according to Buddha himself, the continuation and intensification of desire brings about the continuation and intensification of suffering.
It is becoming increasingly popular for people to call themselves Buddhists and usually without any knowledge at all of Buddha’s teachings. This is a great shame because it causes Buddhism to be misrepresented and it is in Buddhism that the cause and cure of suffering are most clearly and perfectly delineated.
* THE MIDDLE WAY & THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
This “Path” mentioned in the Four Noble Truths is the Middle Path or Middle Way. In Buddha’s first discourse, he presented the Middle Way as a path of illumination which avoids the two extremes of sensuality and self-mortifying asceticism. The Middle Way has eight parts or components to it, which is why it is called the Noble Eightfold Path. The use of the word “right” in each of the components of the Noble Eightfold Path is equivalent to the term “highest,” meaning the most perfect form possible of that particular quality. The eight aspects can be taken simply and on their most basic level but Buddha taught them specifically at a deep level which is interlinked with his entire philosophy.
This consists of the practice of…
#1. Right Views
Right Views or Right Understanding “covers an intellectual grasp of the Teaching of the Dhamma [Dharma], a realization of the Three Signs of Being, the Noble Truths, the nature of self and the law of Karma.”
#2. Right Aspirations
Right Aspirations or Right Attitude of Mind, “covers motive, the use to which all subsequent development should be put – the helping of our fellow man. It is Right Desire, the path of altruism and the slaying of self.”
#3. Right Speech
“Its essence is control, until our every word is courteous, considerate and true. All idle gossip and unprofitable talk must be stamped out. Silence should be so respected that the words which break it must leave the world the better for their birth,” explains Christmas Humphreys (a late English Theosophist who was founder of the world famous London Buddhist Society and co-founder of The Blavatsky Trust) in his excellent book simply titled “Buddhism” which I am quoting from in this section. Buddha stated that truth is the speech of inward purity and thus when we speak an untruth it indicates that there is impurity within us.
#4. Right Conduct
Right Conduct or Right Action “is the keynote of the Eightfold Path, for Buddhism is a religion of action, not belief. Action is twofold; positive, or what we do; negative, or what we refrain from doing. The negative aspect is expressed in Pancha Sila, the Five Precepts or vows to abstain from killing, stealing, sensuality, lying and intoxicating liquors or drugs. But the Buddha laid down in terms that these Precepts apply equally to the mind. Murder is none the less murder in that it never left the heart, and a slanderous thought is as harmful to its thinker and his enemies as any spoken word. Again, it is possible to get drunk on excitement; theft is no less theft because it wears the cloak of custom; and a lustful thought befouls its owner’s purity.”
It may be on this point of Right Conduct that many would-be Buddhists here in the West stumble and try to convince themselves that Buddha didn’t actually mean what he said or that certain things he said are no longer applicable, just because they wish that they were no longer applicable. But Buddha made it very clear in his teachings that alcohol is unnecessary and detrimental and that it should be strictly avoided, especially by the person on a spiritual path. He also taught the great importance of vegetarianism and stressed that no animal flesh whatsoever should be eaten and that a spiritual life of compassion is incompatible with meat eating.
#5. Right Livelihood
Right Means of Livelihood “consists in following a trade or occupation compatible with the above.”
#6. Right Effort
There is no room in Buddhism for lazy people and this “indeed could not be otherwise in a faith which teaches men to rely for salvation upon their own individual effort, and denies them all help from any outside source except such as is to be found in the sympathy and kindly goodwill of fellow pilgrims upon the same journey.” Right Effort has been described as fourfold: “To prevent new evil entering one’s mind; to remove all evil that is there; to develop such good as is in one’s mind; to acquire still more unceasingly.”
#7. Right Mindfulness
Right Mindfulness or Right Concentration “is the beginning of the final stage. Having acquired some degree of moral and physical control the Buddhist approaches Bhavana, the control and evolution of the mind. So little is its need and nature understood in the West that the emphasis which every Eastern school of practical philosophy has laid upon it since the dawn of history may puzzle those to whom true culture is unknown.” It is said that “mind-control in its widest sense is a vital factor in the treading of the Eightfold Path” and that “In the West man is still the slave of his mind; in the East, he controls and uses it.” Buddha famously taught that with our thoughts we create the world because our thoughts invariably determine our actions and thus our destiny and Karma, which potentially affects all of mankind and not just ourselves. “Hence the necessity for learning the art of concentration and control of thought [particularly in meditation but also in every moment of daily life] before we approach the final stage.”
#8. Right Contemplation
This doesn’t merely mean simple contemplation of things although of course that is important and worthwhile but it is Samma Samadhi, “a state of mind in which the waves of confusion aroused by thought are stilled. It is far more than trance, or mere psychic ecstasy; it is awareness of ‘the still centre of the turning world’. This eighth step, being mind-development carried to heights beyond our normal understanding, any further attempt to describe its nature would serve no useful purpose.”
And this Noble Eightfold Path briefly outlined above is, according to Buddha, the Path which leads to freedom from suffering and ultimately liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Why did he describe it as a narrow path? Because it is the Path of Desirelessness. He said, “And yet it is not good conduct that helps you upon the way, nor ritual, nor book learning, nor withdrawal into the Self, nor deep meditation. None of these confers mastery or joy.” That is not to say that these are not beneficial or worthwhile but that in themselves they cannot result in spiritual self-mastery and true joy and peace. It is desirelessness that does it. Buddha says, “The way is eightfold. There are four truths. All virtue lies in detachment. The master has an open eye. This is the only way, the only way to the opening of the eye. Follow it. Outwit desire. Follow it to the end of sorrow.”
* THE TWELVE NIDANAS
“This is the fundamental dogma of Buddhist thought, ‘the understanding of which solves the riddle of life, revealing the inanity of existence and preparing the mind for Nirvana.’ The Nidanas belong to the most subtle and abstruse doctrine of the Eastern metaphysical system…” – H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary
“It is Maya, illusion or ignorance, which awakens Nidanas; and the cause or causes having been produced, the effects follow according to Karmic law. To take an instance: we all regard ourselves as Units, although essentially we are one indivisible Unit, drops in the ocean of Being, not to be distinguished from other drops. Having then produced this cause, the whole discord of life follows immediately as an effect; in reality it is the endeavour of nature to restore harmony and maintain equilibrium. It is this sense of separateness which is the root of all evil.” – H.P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, Volume 10
“Our lamas accept food, never money, and it is in those temples that the origin of evil is preached and impressed upon the people. There they are taught the four noble truths – ariya sakka, and the chain of causation, (the 12 nidanas) gives them a solution of the problem of the origin and destruction of suffering.” – Master Koot Hoomi, The Mahatma Letters
Based upon the Four Noble Truths, the Twelve Nidanas are the CHIEF CAUSES which – when set in motion by the individual – result in the ongoing continuity of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, according to the Law of Karma. They are symbolically represented as the twelve spokes of the ever-turning wheel of birth, death, and rebirth, or Samsara. They can be considered downwards from Avidya to Jaramarana or looked at from our immediate human circumstances of Jaramarana upwards to Avidya, which is the cause of all of it. We should always keep in mind that the Nidanas are the Chain of Causation, in that Samskara proceeds from Avidya, Vijnana proceeds from Samskara, and so on and so on. They are…
1. AVIDYA – IGNORANCE – Lack of proper perception of the real nature of things.
2. SAMSKARA – COMPOUNDED ACTION – Action (physical, verbal, or mental), i.e. creating Karma, on the illusory plane of objective life.
3. VIJNANA – MENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS
4. NAMA-RUPA – NAME & FORM – The “personality,” the personal nature or lower self.
5. SADAYATANA – THE 6 SENSE SPHERES – The six senses belonging to the organs of sensation.
6. SPARSHA – CONTACT: PHYSICAL SENSE CONSCIOUSNESS – The actual contact or touch of the senses.
7. VEDANA – FEELING – The perception of sensation (as the result of touching/feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, etc).
8. TRISHNA (TANHA in Pali) – ATTACHMENT/DESIRE – The thirst for physical, objective, sensual existence (includes lust or Kama).
9. UPADANA – GRASPING – Clinging to life.
10. BHAVA – EXISTENCE – Existence, as the Karmic effect of causes set in motion.
11. JATI – BIRTH – Being born into this world. Birth is the direct door to sickness, aging, and death.
12. JARAMARANA – AGING & DEATH – Old age and death.
* THE SKANDHAS
Our “present personality” or persona in each new reincarnation is comprised of the five Skandhas, literally meaning “bundles” or “groups” of attributes and vibratory impressions – carried over from the previous incarnation and reuniting at the subsequent one according to the Law of Karma. We have the ability to gradually alter and transform our Skandhas – our latent personal attributes and tendencies of character – for future lifetimes, by the way we think, act, and live, for these are areas where we always have the power to change and improve.
“These unite at the birth of man and constitute his personality. After the maturity of these Skandhas [they mature and develop during his lifetime, while he is in the process of living], they begin to separate and weaken, and this is followed by jaramarana, or decrepitude and death [and then this process repeats itself all over again].” – H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary, italicised words mine
“The Karmic effects of the past life must follow, for the man in his next birth must pick up the Skandhas or vibratory impressions that he left in the Astral Light, since nothing comes from nothing in Occultism, and there must be a link between the lives. New Skandhas are born from their old parents.” – H.P. Blavatsky, The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky
“The new personality in each succeeding re-birth is the aggregrate of ‘Skandhas’, or the attributes, of the old personality.” – H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy
The five Skandhas are as follows…
#1. RUPA – FORM
The material properties or attributes.
#2. VEDANA – PERCEPTION
Sensations and perceptions of sensations.
#3. SAMJNA – CONSCIOUSNESS
#4. SAMSKARA – ACTION
Tendencies, both physical and mental.
#5. VIJNANA – KNOWLEDGE
Mental powers; the mental, physical, and moral predispositions.
In one of his letters published in “The Mahatma Letters” the Master Koot Hoomi has this to say about the Skandhas…
“Karma is the guiding power, and Trishna (in Pali Tanha) the thirst or desire to sentiently live – the proximate force or energy, the resultant of human (or animal) action, which, out of the old Skandhas produce the new group that
form the new being and control the nature of the birth itself. Or to make it still clearer, the new being, is rewarded and punished for the meritorious acts and misdeeds of the old one; Karma representing an Entry Book, in which all the acts of man, good, bad, or indifferent, are carefully recorded to his debit and credit – by himself, so to say, or rather by these very actions of his. There, where Christian poetical fiction created, and sees a ‘Recording’ Guardian Angel, stern and realistic Buddhist logic, perceiving the necessity that every cause should have its effect – shows its real presence. The opponents of Buddhism have laid great stress upon the alleged injustice that the doer should escape and an innocent victim be made to suffer, – since the doer and the sufferer are different beings. The fact is, that while in one sense they may be so considered, yet in another they are identical. The ‘old being’ is the sole parent – father and mother at once – of the ‘new being.’ It is the former who is the creator and fashioner, of the latter, in reality; and far more so in plain truth, than any father in flesh. And once that you have well mastered the meaning of Skandhas you will see what I mean.
“It is the group of Skandhas, that form and constitute the physical and mental individuality we call man (or any being). This group consists (in the exoteric teaching) of five Skandhas, namely: Rupa – the material properties or attributes; Vedana – sensations; Sanna – abstract ideas; Sankhara – tendencies both physical and mental; and Vinnana – mental powers, an amplification of the fourth – meaning the mental, physical and moral predispositions. We add to them two more, the nature and names of which you may learn hereafter. Suffice for the present to let you know that they are connected with, and productive of Sakkayaditthi, the ‘heresy or delusion of individuality’ and of Attavada ‘the doctrine of Self,’ both of which (in the case of the fifth principle the soul) lead to the maya of heresy and belief in the efficacy of vain rites and ceremonies; in prayers and intercession.”
* TWO MAIN FORMS OF BUDDHISM
It is important to realise that there are two main forms of Buddhism, the Mahayana and the Theravada. The basic fundamental teachings of both are the same but they differ greatly from one another in quite a number of other aspects. Mahayana Buddhism is also known as Northern Buddhism and, in various forms and expressions, is the Buddhism of such countries as Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, China, etc. This is the more metaphysical, transcendental, complex type of Buddhism.
Theravada Buddhism is also known as Southern Buddhism and is the Buddhism of countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore. This is the more “stern, cold, blank” form of Buddhism and has no esoteric side to it but it is often said to have preserved more faithfully the original public teachings of the Lord Buddha. Vietnamese Buddhism shows both a strong Mahayana and Theravada influence and cannot really be definitely categorised as either. Zen, which originated in China but blossomed in Japan, is an offshoot of Mahayana but is said by some to have more in common with Theravada.
In actuality, Theravada Buddhism is the outcome of the Buddha’s public and exoteric teachings while Mahayana Buddhism is the outcome of his esoteric teachings which he confined to his closest inner circle and Arhats. Madame Blavatsky, who was recently said by a modern expert on Buddhism to have known and understood its “content and philosophical import better than any Western contemporary,” wrote in The Key to Theosophy that “REAL Buddhism can be appreciated only by blending the philosophy of the Southern Church and the metaphysics of the Northern Schools.”
* THE BODHISATTVA PATH
Buddhism is renowned for its constant emphasis on selflessness and the destruction of every last trace of selfishness. It is certainly the most selfless and wholly altruistic religion in the world. Liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth is presented as being the great goal and it is stated that this cannot be achieved without reaching a state of complete and utter desirelessness…but is this merely a way to escape from this earth, disappear forever, merge completely into the Absoluteness of Nirvana, and never have to be bothered about earthly things again?
As is said in “The Voice of The Silence,” translated by Madame Blavatsky from the Book of The Golden Precepts – “Shalt thou be saved and enter into Nirvana while the whole world cries with pain?” The highest goal presented in Mahayana Buddhism is to become a Bodhisattva; one who pursues the path of spiritual development and advancement solely for the sake of being of the utmost help and service to humanity and who, upon eventually reaching to the very threshold of Nirvana, renounces its eternal bliss in order to keep consciously reincarnating on earth so as to help and serve others and to help guide them along the way too.
A Tibetan Buddhist would say that anything other than this is selfishness. And, really, who could disagree?
* THE PARAMITAS
In “The Voice of The Silence” mentioned above, there is a verse which says, “To live to benefit mankind is the first step. To practise the six glorious virtues is the second.” These six glorious virtues, also known as “perfections” and “transcendental virtues” are the Paramitas which are described in Mahayana Buddhism as Dana (charity and love immortal), Shila (harmony in word and act), Kshanti (perfect unwavering patience), Virya (dauntless energy which keeps pressing on toward the goal), Dhyana (meditation and inner contemplation), and Prajna (the highest perception and consciousness; supreme Wisdom).
The esoteric Tibetan Mahayana teachings represented in Theosophy add the virtue of Viraga (Vairagya, which is dispassion, detachment, and complete indifference to pain, pleasure, and the things of matter) between Kshanti and Virya. This makes a perfect total of seven or of the six leading to the seventh, which is the ultimate goal.
* NO GOD, NO PRAYER
It is well known that Buddhism has always been a strictly nontheistic religion. There is no God in Buddhism. Buddha taught that the universe is neither created nor governed by any type of God. It is all governed by absolute, immutable, impersonal Law and not by any Being whatsoever.
The Law of Karma is the outworking of this Law. Since everything proceeds unfailingly according to the Law of Karma (in the past we created our present and in the present we are creating our future), Buddhism teaches that prayer is futile and pointless.
The Law of self-created destiny which is known as Karma (the law of cause and effect, action and reaction, sequence and consequence) is the means whereby the universe maintains its constant balance, harmony, and equilibrium. Nothing can ever happen outside of Karma. Everything that happens to us in life is either karmically destined or karmically permitted. It cannot be otherwise. Thus all petitionary prayer (whether for ourselves or for others) is ultimately vain and futile as Buddha taught. Everything proceeds according to Karma, whether we like it or not, whether we believe and accept it or not, and no amount of praying, crying, pleading, begging, interceding, affirming etc. – regardless of how sincere and filled with faith it may be, or how desperate the situation may seem – can interrupt or interfere with the Law of the Universe. One of many proofs of this is the fact that at least 95% of all prayers go forever unanswered, as any honest and sane religious minister will readily admit.
The Law knows what it is doing and everything proceeds perfectly and in divine order, as it should, although many times it may not appear that way to our currently limited perception.
As Buddha says in the beautiful classic poem “The Light of Asia”:
Pray not! the Darkness will not brighten! Ask
Nought from the Silence, for it cannot speak!
Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains!
Ah! Brothers, Sisters! seek
Nought from the helpless gods by gift and hymn,
Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruits and cakes;
Within yourselves deliverance must be sought;
Each man his prison makes.
Each hath such lordship as the loftiest ones;
Nay, for with Powers above, around, below,
As with all flesh and whatsoever lives,
Act [i.e. Karma] maketh joy and woe.
The main Masters behind Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Movement made it perfectly clear that they are strictly Buddhists – albeit followers of esoteric Buddhism rather than exoteric orthodox Buddhism – and that they hold thoroughly to the nontheistic perspective which has always characterised Buddhism.
“We deny God both as philosophers and as Buddhists,” says the Master Koot Hoomi in the famous Letter #10 of “The Mahatma Letters”. The Esoteric Doctrine teaches that the universe is governed by “absolute immutable Law” which is inseparable from the ONE INFINITE LIFE. This One Life is in everything and it is everything. But to view this as “God” and refer to it as “God” would be to commit a “gigantic error,” according to Master K.H. It would also be grossly misleading, misrepresentative, and swiftly and easily lead to misunderstanding of the teachings. He goes as far as to say that it is the Masters’ “chief aim” to deliver humanity from the belief in God and then “to teach man virtue for its own sake, and to walk in life relying on himself instead of leaning on a theological crutch, that for countless ages was the direct cause of nearly all human misery.” This is pure Buddhism.
* THE DIVINE BUDDHAS
Although there is no actual “God” in Buddhism, there is mention in Tibetan Buddhism – both in its popular exoteric form and in the esoteric teachings of the Masters of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood – of Adibuddha, Avalokiteshvara, and the Dhyani Buddhas.
“The eternity of the Kosmos…is but the periodic and objective manifestation of absolute Eternity Itself, of the forever unknown principle called Parabrahman, Adibuddha, the ‘One and Eternal Wisdom.’” – H.P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, Volume 8
“In the esoteric, and even exoteric Buddhism of the North, Adibuddha (Chogi dangpoi sangye), is the One unknown, without beginning or end, identical with Parabrahman.” – H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine
The term “Adi” can be taken to mean “First,” “Primordial,” and “Supreme” and Adibuddha is simply the Buddhist term for what Hinduism calls Parabrahm or Brahman and what the Kabbalah calls Ein-Soph, “Ein-Soph” literally meaning “The Endless Boundless No-Thing,” that which does not exist, which is not a Being, but rather is Be-ness…Infinite EXISTENCE Itself. Adibuddha is the Causeless Cause and the Rootless Root, the No-Thing which is everything. It cannot even be described as Spirit because both spirit and matter originate from this great undefinable, this great indescribable. Since It is the Absolute and the Infinite, It is entirely impersonal and without qualities, characteristics, attributes, form, appearance, consciousness or unconsciousness, of any kind. It simply IS.
Adibuddha – “The First and Supreme Buddha…the Eternal Light…Supreme Wisdom” – does not think, for It is Absolute Thought; Adibuddha is not omnipresent, for It is Omnipresence Itself; Adibuddha is not omniscient, for It is Omniscience Itself; Adibuddha is not omnipotent, for It is Omnipotence Itself. The universe and everything in it is not made by Adibuddha – it unfolds and emanates out of this Absolute, Infinite, Divine Existence Itself. Perhaps Madame Blavatsky summed it up best when she said, “We believe in a Universal Divine Principle, the root of ALL, from which all proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of Being.”
The Nirvana that Buddhism speaks so much about IS Adibuddha, Parabrahm – whatever name we may wish to give It. To enter into Nirvana means to be reabsorbed into this and to be literally reunited with It, in both consciousness and fact.
During periods of Manvantara or cyclic manifestation, such as this one we are all presently a part of, and in order to bring these about, Adibuddha reflects and emanates part of Its infinite self as Avalokiteshvara. Madame Blavatsky writes that Avalokiteshvara is “ ‘made in the image and likeness’ of Adibuddha, Parabrahman…Parabrahman or Adibuddha is eternally manifesting itself as Avalokiteshvara.”
Avalokiteshvara is again not a Being or any type of “Divine Person” but is what Theosophical terminology calls the Universal Logos, the Universal Self, the All-Self of the Universe, the Central Spiritual Sun. Adibuddha and Avalokiteshvara are identical with Parabrahman and Narayana, to give one example from Hinduism. The Buddhist Logos is identical with the Hindu Logos; although different names are used, it is the same system and the same Truth and this should hardly be surprising seeing as Buddhism was born out of Hinduism and that some aspects of Buddhist philosophy can be more clearly and accurately understood when we understand the basics of Hindu philosophy.
Avalokiteshvara has two aspects, a Higher Self and a Lower Self, a masculine aspect and a feminine aspect. In Chinese terminology these two aspects are called Kwan-Shi-Yin and Kwan Yin, respectively described in Theosophy as the 1st and the 2nd Logos. Many people are familiar with the name Kwan Yin because “in China, the Buddhist ritualists have degraded its meaning by anthropomorphizing it into a Goddess of the same name, with one thousand hands and eyes, and they call it Kuan-shih-yin Bodhisattva” (HPB, Collected Writings, Volume 14). In another place, Madame Blavatsky writes, “Kuan-yin – this divine power was finally anthropomorphized by the Chinese Buddhist ritualists into a distinct double-sexed deity with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes, and called Kuan-shih-yin Bodhisattva, the Voice-Deity, but in reality meaning the voice of the ever-present latent divine consciousness in man; the voice of his real Self, which can be fully evoked and heard only through great moral purity.”
In the Esoteric Buddhism taught and practiced by the Master Koot Hoomi, the Master Morya, their “Great Chief” the Maha Chohan, and many others, as also in the teachings of Theosophy, there is no place for anthropomorphic deities and it is repeatedly stated that anthropomorphisation is degradation of the Spiritual and Divine. The direst consequences have followed from the personalisation and anthropomorphisation of divine principles and the history of religion is an undeniable and tragic testament to that. Nothing of any enduring worth or value is ever achieved or accomplished by doing do.
In the terminology of Tibetan Buddhism, these two impersonal aspects, the Higher and Lower Self of the Universal Logos Avalokiteshvara, are called Vajradhara and Vajrasattva. Avalokiteshvara is also referred to as Chenrezig in Tibetan Buddhism and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is considered to be a manifestation on earth of Avalokiteshvara/Chenrezig. It is from Vajrasattva that the Dhyani Buddhas emanate and collectively they comprise the 3rd Logos called in Theosophy the “Manifested Logos.”
In another article on this site I wrote…
“According to the exoteric understanding of Tibetan Buddhism there are Five Dhyani Buddhas who are the celestial Buddhas of whom the human Buddhas are the manifestations in the world of form and matter. Esoterically, however, there are Seven Dhyani Buddhas. The number is given exoterically as five because only five have so far manifested, since we are still in the fifth Root Race (the Aryan or Indo-Caucasian Root Race or “Epoch”) and the sixth and seventh are to manifest themselves in the sixth and seventh Root Races respectively.
“The word “Dhyani” comes from “Dhyana,” meaning mystical meditation and the Seven Dhyanis are described as “Buddhas of Contemplation” and “celestial Meditation Buddhas.” They are all Anupadaka (parentless), i.e. self-born of divine essence, and are the “glorious counterparts in the mystic world” of every earthly mortal Buddha. The Seven Dhyanis are the seven sublime Lords, the seven Creative Spirits, appointed to govern the Earth in this Fourth Round.”
H.P. Blavatsky wrote that “Exoterically they are five in number, whereas in the esoteric schools they are seven, and not single entities but Hierarchies…the exoteric and occult significations of the Dhyani-Buddhas are entirely different.” (Collected Writings, Volume 10)These Seven Hierarchies of divine spiritual beings are what we also call the Seven Rays and in fact each one of these Seven Hierarchies is the Ruler of one of the Seven Sacred Planets. These great Hierarchies are also associated with colours, sounds, the seven kingdoms of Nature, the Seven Principles that comprise the constitution of a human being (see “The Sevenfold Nature of Man” – http://secretdoctrine.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/the-sevenfold-nature-of-man/) and much more. The seven Dhyani Buddhas of Buddhism are the same beings as the seven Kumaras of Hinduism, the seven Archangels of Christianity, and the seven Elohim of Judaism. As we said earlier, different names are used but it is ultimately the same system and the same Truth.
SEVEN DHYANI BUDDHAS
Amitabha (meaning “Infinite Light”) was and is the specific Dhyani Buddha – the divine prototype and “overshadowing inner God” if you like – of Siddhartha Gautama, the one who we today call the Buddha and the founder of that great system of spiritual thought and practice called Buddhism.
But Buddhism teaches that Gautama is not the one and only Buddha. He is the Fourth Buddha and the Buddha of the Fifth Root Race. The preceding Buddha was Kashyapa, who was the Third Buddha and the Buddha of the Fourth Root Race, which was the Atlantean Root Race. It is taught that Gautama, when in a previous incarnation as Prabhapala during the days of Atlantis, was a disciple of Kashyapa Buddha. Kashyapa was the manifestation of the Dhyani Buddha known as Ratnasambhava.
The next Buddha will be Maitreya, the Fifth Buddha and Buddha of the sixth Root Race, whose Dhyani Buddha is Amoghasiddhi. Maitreya is due to appear during the sixth Root Race at the end of the Kali Yuga. Madame Blavatsky’s “The Secret Doctrine,” in accordance with the calculations of Hinduism, describes the Kali Yuga as a period of 432,000 years which – as of 2013 – has 426,885 years remaining. So Maitreya is not due to appear anytime soon, despite the ever increasing amount of fantastical and deluded claims made by many in the New Age movement and also by many followers of what has been labelled “Neo-Theosophy.” Maitreya’s successor will be Dharmaprabhasa, the Buddha of the seventh Root Race, an incredibly long time from now.
As for the Lord Gautama Buddha – “it is maintained that this Adept of Adepts lives to this day in his spiritual entity as a mysterious, unseen, yet overpowering presence among the Brotherhood of Shamballa, beyond, far beyond, the snowy-capped Himalayas.” – H.P. Blavatsky, Occultism of The Secret Doctrine
* BLAVATSKY AND BUDDHISM
It is often overlooked that H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875, was the first person to bring both Buddhism and Hinduism to the West. Of course, there were orientalists and scholars who had written books about the Eastern religions prior to Blavatsky’s day but these were merely written from the perspective of academic observation and more often than not misrepresented the religions as being primitive, superstitious, and “demonic”, according to the level of prejudice and bigotry of the writer.
Blavatsky, however, presented them as valid and noble spiritual paths and philosophies – indeed as the highest spiritual paths and philosophies – and worked ceaselessly and under much persecution from the Christian elite to show their true nature and real worth and importance. As I have said elsewhere, anyone in the West today whose life has been at all enriched by the concepts, teachings, or practices of Eastern spirituality has – whether they realise it or not – Madame Blavatsky to thank for it. It is a great shame then that many people today refuse to read her writings on the nonsensical grounds that they are “impossible to understand.”
The respected Buddhist expert Richard Taylor has written, “Blavatsky had access to Tibetan Buddhist sources which no other Westerner during her time had. Her works are by no means merely strings of plagiarisms, but rather very cogent arguments, supplemented by masses of data, that her readers should believe Buddhist claims that there is a perennial philosophy, in the possession of Adepts, which explains the origins of the world and leads to salvation from it. … Blavatsky knew what the Buddhist Tantras were, knew their content and philosophical import better than any Western contemporary, and knew bona fide Tibetan traditions surrounding them. This alone gives strong reasons not to dismiss her claims out of hand.”
In 1925 the Panchen Lama of Tibet officially endorsed her book “The Voice of The Silence” and called it the “only true exposition in English of the Heart Doctrine of the Mahayana and its noble ideal of self-sacrifice for humanity.”
When the centenary edition of this book was brought out in 1989, the present Dalai Lama wrote, “I am therefore happy to have this long association with the Theosophists and to learn about the Centenary Edition: THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE which is being brought out this year. I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path. I very much welcome this Centenary Edition and hope that it will benefit many more.”
The world famous Buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki spoke of Blavatsky as “one who had truly attained” and praised her teachings as being “the TRUE Mahayana Buddhism.”
The Lama Kazi Dawa Samdup, who translated the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” with W.Y. Evans-Wentz, said that HPB’s writings clearly indicate “intimate acquaintance with the higher lamaistic teachings.”
Leading representatives of Buddhism in the West, such as Christmas Humphreys, Bhikshu Sangharakshita, Alex Wayman, Evans-Wentz, and Edward Conze have all emphasised that they owed their introduction and interest in Buddhism to the writings of Madame Blavatsky.
Regarding the “Mahatma Letters” written by the Master Morya and Master Koot Hoomi, Humphreys wrote, “Only those who have carefully compared the teachings contained in this great body of literature with that of the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism can testify to the brilliant light which the former throws on the latter, and to the volume of the former which the latter contains. Difficult parables, traditional phrases and obvious hints are suddenly seen as basic principles, which in turn explain much else that escapes the eye of the Western scholar. It becomes easy indeed to accept that part of the Wisdom which speaks of Two Paths, the doctrine of the ‘Eye’ and the doctrine of the ‘Heart’.”
The famous and highly revered Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) has been described as “the leading Buddhist missionary of our time” and “a towering figure in the work for the spiritual resurgence of Asia.” Dharmapala himself attributed all this to Madame Blavatsky, who he said encouraged him to begin his work for Buddhism. Amongst many references to her in his articles and letters, he wrote, “HPB helped me much in my effort. … Until the day of her departure [from Adyar] HPB took care of me. She wrote to me to follow the light that is within me. I have strictly followed her advice, and am glad to testify to her wonderful powers of mystic illumination. … Love to all living beings, small and great, the desire to renounce sensual pleasures that impede the progress in the realm of spirituality and the strenuous effort to do meritorious deeds for the betterment of humanity, forgetting self, have been to me a kind of spiritual pabulum which I have partaken since I came in touch with the wonderful personality of HPB.”
More recently, the Tibetologist David Reigle has discovered and shown the definite esoteric Tibetan Buddhist sources of Madame Blavatsky’s writings, including that the “Secret Book of Dzyan” on which her monumental masterpiece “The Secret Doctrine” is based is in fact the lost Mula Kalachakra Tantra, the esoteric root and source of the more exoteric Kalachakra Tantra, the latter of which has become so widely heard of today thanks to the Dalai Lama.
The Theosophical Movement and its teachings are universal in nature and don’t specifically belong to or represent any one religion. Madame Blavatsky described herself, however, as “a Buddhist by profession of faith.” She once wrote, “It is true that I regard the philosophy of Gautama Buddha as the most sublime system; the purest, and above all, the most logical of all. But the system has been distorted during the centuries by the ambition and fanaticism of the priests and has become a popular religion. … I much prefer to hold to the mother source rather than to depend upon any of the numerous streams that flow from it. … Gautama in his reform and protest against the abuses of the wily Brahmins based himself entirely upon the esoteric meaning of the grand primitive Scriptures.”
* “THE SUREST PATH”
I hope this article has served its purpose of providing an introduction to the basics of Buddhism as taught from a Theosophical perspective. Of the most practical and immediate value are the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. I can obviously only give a brief and thus imperfect outline of things here, so for the person who is interested to know more I recommend:
- Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys
- The Buddhism of H.P. Blavatsky compiled by H.J. Spierenburg
- Buddhism: The Science of Life by Alice Leighton Cleather & Basil Crump
- The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett
- The Voice of The Silence by H.P. Blavatsky
- The Key to Theosophy by H.P. Blavatsky
The topics briefly touched upon in this article – and many other topics besides – are expanded upon in great and fascinating detail in these books. I also recommend the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings of the Buddha which is the basic foundational scripture of Buddhism. The two best translations of the Dhammapada are the one by Thomas Byrom for Shambhala and the one by Theosophy Company. “The Light of Asia” (the life and teachings of Gautama in poem form) by Sir Edwin Arnold and the Bodhicharyavatara or “Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva are perfect accompaniments to this.
The Master Koot Hoomi referred to the Maha Chohan as “the greatest of our living adepts – the Shaberon of Than-La.” This Great Chief of all the Masters of the Great Esoteric Brotherhood in Tibet once stated in a letter that “even exoteric Buddhism is the surest path to lead men toward the one esoteric truth.” I close this article with some further words of the Chohan from his 1881 letter…
“Shall we devote our selves to teaching a few Europeans fed on the fat of the land, many of them loaded with the gifts of blind fortune, the rationale of bell ringing, cup growing, of the spiritual telephone [telepathy] and astral body formation, and leave the teeming millions of the ignorant, of the poor and despised, the lowly and the oppressed, to take care of themselves and of their hereafter the best they know how. Never. Rather perish the Theosophical Society with both its hapless founders than that we should permit it to become no better than an academy of magic and a hall of occultism. That we, the devoted followers of that spirit incarnate of absolute self sacrifice, of philanthropy, divine kindness, as of all the highest virtues attainable on this earth of sorrow, the man of men, Gautama Buddha, should ever allow the Theosophical Society to represent the embodiment of selfishness, the refuge of the few with no thought in them for the many, is a strange idea, my brothers.”
By MW, June 2012 (updated & expanded January 2013)
* SOME RELATED ARTICLES: Desire: The Cause of All Suffering, Who are you, Madame Blavatsky?, The Original Main Aims of the Theosophical Movement, Morya and Kuthumi – Fact not Fiction, A Right Understanding of Karma, A Right Understanding of Reincarnation and Avatars and Buddhas.