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
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."
36. Mahavagga (Vin.). 1.11.1.
37. Majjh., 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
45, Mahaparinirv., 2.1.
46. Samyutt., 22.43.
47, Majjh., 128; Dhammapada. 328, 329.
Suttanipāta, 13.14, 37.
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 Mahāyāna 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,
E.g., Sumyutt., 22,3.
Ibid.. 2.13.54); cf. 3.6.28.
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. Majjh., 66.
Mahayana 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
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 manifestation.
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.
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. Moreover, 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 Middle 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 Mara."'" 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.