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It is true that Buddha, picking up a formula of Brahmanism, the religion in which he had been raised prior to his departure from Kapilavastu, affirmed that everything on earth is "suffering." But he also clarified for us that this is the case because we are always yearning to reap concrete benefits from our actions. For example, warriors risk their lives because they long for the pleasure of victory and for the spoils, and yet in the end they are always disappointed: the pillaging is never enough and what has been gained is quickly squandered. Also, the taste of victory soon fades away. But if one becomes aware of this state of affairs (this is one aspect of the Awaken­ing), the pessimism is dispelled since reality is what it is, neither good nor bad in itself; reality is inscribed in Becoming, which cannot be interrupted. Thus, one must live and act with the awareness that the only thing that matters is each and every moment. Thus, duty (dhamma) is claimed to be the only valid reference point: "Do your duty," that is. "let your every action he totally disinterested."

Evola demonstrated that this ideal was also shared by the itinerant knights of the Western Middle Ages, who put their swords at the service of every noble cause without looking for any compensation. They fought because they prepared all their lives to offer their services and not because they wanted to become rich by looting their enemies. Were they pessimists? Certainly not. At the end of their lives they too could say, like Buddha, "done is what needed to be done." Nor were they optimists, since the principle "everything is working for the better, and in the best possible way" is not any less illusory than its opposite.

Finally, the tern "asceticism" is also susceptible to being misunderstood by those who view Buddhism from the outside. Evola reminds his readers that the original meaning of the term asceticism is "practical exercise," or "discipline" – one could even say "learning." It certainly does not mean, as some are inclined to think, a willingness to mortify the body that derives from the idea of penance, and even leads to the practice of self-flagellation, since it is believed that one must suffer in order to expiate one's sins. Asceticism is rather a school of the will, a pure heroism (that is, it is disinterested) that Evola, a real expert in this subject, compares to the efforts of a mountain climber. To the layman, mountain climbing may be a pointless effort, but to the climber it is a challenge in which the test of courage, perseverance, and hero-ism is its only purpose. In this we recognize an attitude that Brahmanism knew under certain forms of yoga and Tantrism. A few years earlier Evola had devoted his book L'uomo come potenza ([Man As Power] 1926) to celebrating such an attitude.

In the spiritual domain, the procedure is the same. Buddha, as we know, was tempted early in his life by a form of asceticism that was similar to that of a hermit living in the desert. This approach involved prolonged fasts and techniques aimed at breaking the body's resistance. Siddhartha, however, realized himself and achieved the Awakening only when he understood this type of asceticism to be a dead end. Turning away from the indignant protests of his early companions, he stopped mor­tifying his body, ate to placate his hunger, and returned to the world of human beings. But it was then that his detachment started to develop: the world no longer had a grasp on him, since he had become a "hero," or like the ancient Greeks would have said, a "god."

This is the profound meaning of Prince Siddhartha's teachings, of he who became the "Enlightened One" (Buddha) or the "ascetic of the regal dynasty of the Sākya" (Sākyamuni). The value of Evola's book lies in his clarification of this au­thentic Buddhism. Evola utilized a great number of original sources, especially those that were gathered in the Pali canon (Pali being the language employed by Buddha in his teaching career). And yet, Evola's erudition is not running with his pen: his learning is not an end in itself, but rather fulfills its essential but subordinate role as a demonstrative means. Evola's work, as he himself indicated in his original subtitle, is an "essay," a summary, and not a summa. It is not a history of primitive Buddhism, but a reflection on the real nature of Buddhist asceticism and on its possible integra­tion in the modem world.

Who knows what Evola was thinking when he wrote this book? For my part., I am inclined to believe that, having a foreboding of the imminent tragedy ahead of him, he wished to illustrate the virtue of perseverance and faithfulness, even if it meant fighting in a no-win situation. And when in 1945 in Vienna he received the terrible wound that paralyzed him for the remaining thirty years of his life, we can believe that, overcoming his pain and the disappointment of no longer being able to climb the peaks that had always attracted him, he must have said to himself that having been born in that time and place, he had done what he needed to do, that is, give witness to Truth. And if in this dark age, in which the universe is approaching the end of one of its cycles (a necessary thing if a new world is to appear, according to the cyclical view of time), people are not able to receive such a testimony, so what? As Buddha himself said: "He who has awakened is like the lion who roars to the four directions." Who knows where and how this roar will echo? In any event, it is the roar of a victor, and this is the only thing that matters,

JEAN VARENNE

translated by Guido Stucco

xx

PART I



Principles

1

Varieties of Ascesis



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

With the development of Western civilization, however, the term ascesis (or its derivatives) has, as we know, taken on a particular meaning that differs from the original. Not only has it assumed an exclusively religious sense, but from the general tone of the faith that has come to predominate among Western peoples, a asceticism is bound up with ideas of mortification of the flesh and of painful renunciation of the world: it has thus come to represent the method that this faith usually advocates as the most suitable for gaining "salvation" and the reconciliation of man, weighed down by original sin, with his Creator. As early as the beginnings of Christianity the name "ascetic" was applied to those who practiced mortification by flagellation of the body.

Thus, with the growth of modem civilization. all that asceticism stood for gradu­ally and inevitably became the object of strong dislike. If even Luther, with the resentment of one unable to understand or tolerate monastic disciplines, could refuse to recognize the necessity, value, and usefulness of any ascesis, and could substitute it by exaltation of pure faith, then humanism, immanency, and the new life cult were brought from their standpoint to heap discredit and scorn upon asceticism, broadly associating such tendencies with "medieval obscurantism" and with the aberrations of "historically outdated ages." And even when asceticism was not dismissed out of hand as pathological or as a kind of sublimated masochism, all sorts of incompatibili­ties to our ways of life were affirmed. The best known and most overworked of these is the antithesis supposed to exist between the ascetic, static, and emasculated Orient, renouncer and enemy of the world, and the dynamic, positive, heroic, and progressive Western civilization.

Unfortunate prejudices such as these have succeeded in gaining a foothold in people's minds; even Friedrich Nietzsche sometimes seriously believed that asceti­cism only attracted the "pallid enemies of life," the weak and disinherited, and those who, in their hatred of themselves and the world, undermine with their ideas the civi­lizations created by a superior humanity. Furthermore, recent attempts have been made to provide "climatic" explanations of asceticism. Thus, according to Gunther, the Indo-Germans, under the influence of an enervating and unaccustomed climate in the Asiatic lands they had conquered, came slowly to regard the world as suffering, turn­ing their energies away from affirmation of life and toward a seeking for "liberation" by means of various ascetic disciplines. We need hardly discuss the low level to which asceticism has been brought by recent "psychoanalytical" interpretations.

In the West, then, a tight net of misunderstanding and prejudice has been drawn round asceticism. The one-sided meaning given to asceticism by Christianity, through its frequent association therein with entirely misguided forms of spiritual life, has produced inevitable reactions: these have usually – and not without a certain anti-tra­ditional and antireligious bias – stressed only the negative side of what one kind of ascesis has to offer the "modern" spirit.

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

Be that as it may, it is important at the present time that intelligent people should
once again understand the value of asceticism in a comprehensive view of the universe and thus what it may signify at successive spiritual levels, independently of the
mere religious concepts of a Christian type as well its of the modern distinctions; for
which they should refer to the fundamental traditions and the highest metaphysical
concepts of the Aryan races. As we wished to discuss asceticism in this sense, we asked
ourselves: what example can history furnish as the best suited for examination as a
comprehensive and universal ascetic system that is clear and undiluted, well tried and
well set out, in tune with the spirit of Aryan man and yet prevailing in the modern age?
We eventually decided that the answer to our question could only be found in
4

the "Doctrine of Awakening," which, in its original form, satisfies all these condi­tions. The "Doctrine of Awakening" is the real signification of what is commonly known as Buddhism. The term Buddhism is derived from the Pali designation Buddha (Sanskrit: Buddha) given to its founder; it is, however, not so much a name as a title. Buddha, from the root budh, "to awaken," means the "Awakened One": it is thus a designation applied to one who attains the spiritual realization, likened to an "arousing" or to an "awakening," which Prince Siddhattha announced to the Indo-Aryan world. Buddhism, in its original form-the so-called Pali Buddhism-shows us, as do very few other doctrines, the characteristics we want: (1) it contains a complete ascetic system; (2) it is universally valid and it is realistic; (3) it is purely Aryan in spirit; (4) it is accessible in the general conditions of the historical cycle to which present-day humankind also belongs.

We have implied that asceticism, when considered as a whole, can assume vari­ous meanings at successive spiritual levels. Simply defined, that is to say as "train­ing" or discipline, an ascesis aims at placing all the energies of the human being under the control of a central principle. In this respect we can, properly speaking, talk of a technique that has, in common with that of modem scientific achievements. the characteristics of objectivity and impersonality. Thus an eye, trained to distin­guish the accessory from the essential, can easily recognize a "constant" beyond the multiple variety of ascetic forms adopted by this or that tradition.

In the first place, we can consider as accessory all the particular religious con­ceptions or the particular ethical interpretations with which, in very many cases, asceticism is associated. Beyond all this, however, it is possible to conceive of and to work out what we may call a pure ascesis, that is to say, one made up of techniques for developing an interior force, the use of which, to begin with, remains undeter­mined, like the use of the arms and machines produced by modem industrial tech­niques. Thus, while "ascetic" reinforcement of the personality is the foundation of every transcendental realization, whether in the form of one historical tradition or another, it can likewise be of great value on the level of the temporal aspirations and struggles that absorb practically all the energies of modern Western people. Further-more, we could even conceive of an "ascesis of evil," for the technical conditions, as we may call them, needed to achieve any positive success in the direction of the "evil" are not different in kind from those needed, for example, to attain sainthood. Nietzsche himself, as we have already pointed out, partly shared the modern wide-spread prejudice against asceticism: when dealing with his "Superman" and when formulating the Wille zur Macht, did he not take into account various disciplines and forms of self-control that are clearly of an ascetic nature? Thus, at least within cer­tain limits, we can quote the words of an old medieval tradition: "One the Art, One the Material, One the Crucible."


5

PRINCIPLES

Now, few other great historical traditions allow us ro isolate so easily the ele­ments of a pure ascesis as does the 'Doctrine of Awakening," that is to say, Bud­dhism. t has been justly said of Buddhism that in it the ascetic problems "have been stated and resolved so clearly and, one could almost say, so logically that, in com­parison, other forms of mysticism seem incomplete, fragmentary and inconclusive"; and that, far from being weighed down by every kind of emotional and sentimental element, an austere and objective style of intellectual clarity so much predominates that one is almost forced to compare it with the modem scientific mentality.' In this respect two points must be emphasized.

First, the Buddhist ascesis is conscious, in the sense that in many forms of asceti­cism-and in the case of Christian asceticism almost without exception-the acces­sory is inextricably tied tip with the essential, and ascetic realizations are, one might say, indirect because they resulr from impulses and workings of the mind determined by religious suggestions or raptures; while in Buddhism there is direct action, based on knowledge, conscious of its aim and developing throughout in controlled stages. "Just as a practiced turner or turner's apprentice, when turning quickly, knows 'I am turning quickly,' and when turning slowly, knows 'I am turning slowly"'; and "as a practiced butcher or butcher's apprentice who butchers a cow, takes it to the market-place and dissects it piece by piece; he knows these parts, he looks at them and examines them well and then sits down"-here are two trenchant similes, chosen from many, and typical of the style of consciousness of every ascetic or contempla­tive procedure in the Doctrine of Awakening.' Another image is furnished by clear and transparent water through which can he seen everything lying on the bottom: symbolical of a mind that has left behind all unrest and disturbance.3 And it will be seen that this style persists throughout, on every level of Buddhist discipline. It has been well said that "this path through consciousness and awakening is as clearly described as a road on an accurate map, along which every tree, every bridge and every house is marked."'4

Second, Buddhism is almost the only system that avoids confusion between as­ceticism and morality, and in which the purely instrumental value of the latter in the interests of the former is consciously realized. Every ethical precept is measured against an independent scale, that is, according to the positive "ascetic" effects that result from following these precepts or failing to follow them. From this it can be seen that not only have all religious mythologies been surpassed, but also all ethical

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

2. Majjhima-nikāya, 10.

3. Cf., e.g., Jātaka, 185.

4. E. Reinhoitd. in the introduction to the works of K. E. Neumann. quoted by (i. de Lorenzo, I discord di Buddho (Bari. 1925), vol. 2, p. 15.
6

mythologies. In Buddhism, the elements of silt, that is, of "right conduct," are con­sidered purely as "instruments of the mind":5 it is not a question of "values" but of "instruments," instruments of a virtus, not in the moralistic sense but in the ancient sense of virile energy. Here we have the well-known parable of the raft: a man, wishing to cross a dangerous river and having built a raft for this purpose, would indeed be a fool if, when he had crossed, he were to put the raft on his shoulders and take it with him on his journey. This must be the attitude-Buddhism teaches-to all that is labeled by ethical views as good or evil, just or unjust.6

Thus we can fairly claim that in Buddhism-as also in yoga-asceticism is raised to the dignity and impersonality of a science: what is elsewhere fragmentary here becomes systematic; what is instinct becomes conscious technique; the spiritual laby­rinth of those minds that achieve a real elevation through the workings of some "grace" (since it is only accidentally and by means of suggestions, fears, hopes, and raptures that they discover the right way) is replaced by a calm and uniform light, present even in abysmal depths, and by a method that has no need of external means.

All this, however, refers only to the first aspect of asceticism, the most elemen­tary in the ascetic hierarchy. When an ascesis is understood as a technique for the conscious creation of a force that can be applied, in the first place, at any level, then the disciplines taught by the Doctrine of Awakening can be recognized as those that incorporate the highest degree of crystallinity and independence. However, we en-counter inside the system a distinction between the disciplines that "suffice for this life" and those that are necessary to take one beyond.' Ascetic achievement in Bud­dhism is exploited essentially in an upward direction. This is how the sense of such achievements is expressed in the canon: "And he reaches the admirable path discov­ered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the will, the admirable path discovered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the energy, the admirable path discovered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of the spirit, the admirable path discovered by the intensity, the constancy and the concentration of investigation-with a heroic spirit as the fifth." And this continues: "And thus attaining these fifteen heroic qualities, he is able, O disciples, to achieve liberation, to achieve awakening. to attain the incomparable sureness."8 In this con­nection another text considers a double possibility: "Either certainty in life, or no return after death."9 If, on the highest level, "sureness" is linked with the state of "awakening," the alternatives can he similarly interpreted on a lower level, and we




  1. Majjh., 53.

  2. Ibid.. 22.

  3. Cf., e.g., Majjh., 53.

  4. Majjh., 16.

  5. Ibid.. 10.

7
may think of a more relative sureness in life, created by a preliminary group of ascetic disciplines and able to prove its value in all fields of life, and yet that is essentially a foundation for an ascesis of a higher nature. It is in this sense that we can talk of an "intensive application." which is considered to be the keystone of the whole system and which, when "developed and constantly practised, leads to two-fold health, health in the present and health in the future.'" "Sureness," in ascetic development-bhāvanā-is associated with unshakable calm-samathha-which may be considered as the highest aim of a "neutral" discipline, and which can be pursued by one who yet remains essentially a "son of the world"-putthujjana. Be­yond this there is an unshakable calm-samatha-which is associated with knowl­edge-vipassanā-and which then leads to "liberation."

Here we have, then, a new conception of the ascesis, on a higher plane than the last, and taking us to a level above normal perception and individual experience; and at the same time it becomes clear why Buddhism, on this higher level also, gives us positive points of reference such as we find in few other traditions. The fact is that Buddhism in its original form carefully avoids anything that savors of simple "reli­gion." of mysticism in its most generally accepted sense, of systems of "faith" or devotion, or of dogmatic rigidity. And even when we consider that which is no longer of that life, that which is "more than life," Buddhism, as the Doctrine of Awakening, offers us those very traits of severity and nudity that characterize the monumental, and features of clarity and strength that may he called, in a general sense, "classi­cal"; a virile and courageous attitude that would seem Promethean were it not in-deed essentially Olympian. But before this can be appreciated, once again various prejudices must be removed. And here it is well to discuss two points.

It has been claimed that Buddhism, in its essentials, and leaving out of account its later popular forms, entirely centered as they were on a deified concept of its founder, is not a religion. This is true. We must, however, he quite clear as to what we mean when we say this. The peoples of the West are so inured to the religion that has come to predominate in their countries that they consider it as a kind of unit of measure and as a model for every other religion: they are near denying the dignity of true religion to any concept of the supersensory and to man's relationship to it, when the concept in any way differs from the Judeo-Christian type. The result of this has been that the most ancient traditions of the West itself-beginning with the Aryo-Hellenic and the Aryo-Roman-are no longer understood in their real significance

10. Anguttara-nikāya, 3.65: 1(1.15. Cf. Samyutt., 35.198, where the disciplines are stated to be valid for this life since, in it, they create self-possession, and yet build the firm foundations for the destruction of the asava. that is, for the task of following the upward path.

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

8

or effective value;12 so it is easy to imagine what happened to older and often more remote traditions, particularly to those created by the Aryan races in Asia. But, in-deed, this attitude should be reversed: and just as "modem" civilization is an anomaly when compared with what has always been true civilization," so the significance and the value of the Christian religion should be measured according to that part of its content that is consonant with a vaster, more Aryan, and more primordial concept of the supersensory.



We need not dwell on this point since we have already dealt with it elsewhere; Dahlke sums up the matter, saying that one characteristic of Western superficiality is the tendency always to identify religion as a whole with religion based on faith.14 Beyond those who "believe" are those who "know," and to these the purely "mytho­logical" character of many simply religious, devotional, and even scholastically theo­logical concepts is quite clear. It is largely a question of different degrees of knowl­edge. Religion, from religo, is, as the word itself indicates, a reconnecting and, more specifically, a reconnecting of a creature to a Creator with the eventual introduction of a mediator or of an expiator. On the basis of this central idea can be built up a whole system of faith, devotion, and even mysticism that, admittedly, is capable of carrying an individual to a certain level of spiritual realization. However, it does so to a large extent passively since it is based essentially on sentiment, emotion, and suggestion. In such a system no amount of scholastic explaining will ever completely resolve the irrational and subintellectual element.

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