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moment when this experience occurs, the obstacle formed by one's own individual­ity and by the "five bonds" is removed, the power of the āsava is neutralized, and the passage of the mind to the apprehension of the states free from form, or of pure forms, is made easier.4



The so-called light kasina is appreciably different; it is indicated in the texts thus: "The ascetic fixes his attention on perception of light, he fixes his mind on the perception of day: as by day so by night, as by night so by day. Thus he trains himself, with his mind aware, untroubled, in the contemplation of light." Correctly and con­stantly practiced, this exercise should ease the opening of the "eye of wisdom."5

Another process of "emptying" is more mental in character and is based on successive abstractions. Forgetting oneself and one's connection with common hu­man existence, one allows only the image "forest," for example, to remain, as if it were the only thing in the world that existed, until the spirit is relaxed, made firm, and freed. This produces a feeling of "voidness," of "real, inviolable vacancy"-sunnatā. One then drops the idea of forest, leaving as the only object for the mind the idea of "earth," putting aside, however, all its characteristics; "as the hide of a bull is well cleaned with a scraper, and its wrinkles smoothed out," there exists nothing but "earth" in the world. And one apprehends the same feeling of liberty, or voidness, in conceiving that only the idea "earth" persists as support of the mind. From "earth" one finally moves to the idea "infinite space"-with which one achieves the passage to the object of the first arupa and meditation, that is to say, of the first of the medita­tions beyond form.

Before going any further, we must forestall any misunderstandings that may arise regarding the implications of these forms of approach that are based on what is almost a hypnotic technique. It is quite possible that those idle people who go in search of "occult exercises," of short-cuts by which to reach the supersensible without effort, may believe that they have found something on these lines in the color and light kasina, they may then mistakenly believe that by practicing a form of hypnosis they can do without any renunciation, discipline, or spiritual effort. This would be a grave mistake. These material procedures mean very little in themselves: their only purpose is to neu­tralize peripheral sensitivity. It is then a question of seeing, firstly, if something of con­sciousness still remains, once the neutralization has been achieved; and secondly, if it does, what is the nature of any experience that may result. Everyone knows that pro­cedures similar to those of the color and light kasina have been used both in the prac­tice of magic and by visionaries, and in modem times, among forms of experimental hypnosis. The technique of the "magic mirror" will be familiar to some, a technique


  1. Visuddhi-magga. 4 (W. 293 ff.); Angutt.. 1.20; cf. WO., 77.

  2. Angutt., 4.41.

  3. Majjh., 12I.

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that consists of gazing at a luminous point reflected by a curved mirror: others will be acquainted with the practice of "divination," based on fixing the sight on a mirror or water or on the fire. We can see from this that the technique of the kasina, in itself, is neutral, and may produce one or another result, without in itself determining which. Thus, except for cases of privileged and exceptional predispositions, anyone with suf­ficient power of concentration will find that the effect of staring at the colored discs or at the discs of light will be merely hypnotic, that is to say, that he will descend to a semisomnambulistic state of reduced consciousness like that of people who are hyp­notized. In others, "complexes" of all descriptions may emerge and he projected, re­sulting in inconclusive visions that may even be dangerous, because not only do they not lead beyond individuality, but they may even disclose and bring up a psychic "sub-soil" and so open the way to the manifestation of obscure influences.' Yet, others, once they have mastered the exercise, or if they have special natural gifts, may utilize the state of trance into which they pass for the purpose of divining or magic. Lastly, the best that can happen is that apparitions of "divine forms" may occur, of forms belong­ing to the rupa-loka that, however, as we have already said, is itself left behind by the path of awakening of the Ariya.

For the effective use of the technique in question, the first condition is that con­sciousness should be already concentrated and detached and capable of maintaining itself by its own efforts: only then, when the peripheral sensitivity has been neutral­ized, can one keep one's feet, can one go up rather than down, can one set out to attain a purified superconsciousness instead of sinking into the morass of the vision­ary or low-grade medium. In the second place one needs, as we said, adequate spiri­tual tension, pervaded by the idea of awakening, almost like the state of a com­pressed spring on the point of release. In this connection a text states that, as a man with a robust digestion swallows and consumes a spoonful of rice without difficulty, so one who aspires to transcendental wisdom goes beyond the initial act of concen­tration on the image, absorbs it and transcends it, and achieves the state at which he aims.' No one, then, should nourish any illusions about the techniques we have dis­cussed by thinking that they are capable of producing, in the way of genuine spiritual realization, anything more than he has already. They can only create, quickly and conveniently, conditions that favor a particular action that, in itself, presupposes a high development of ascetic, "holy," or initiatic consciousness. The same is also true, although in a lesser degree, of the other, less mechanical forms of approach of which we have spoken: when we are dealing with the path of awakening of the


  1. It is what, in other ways. nearly always happens in the "mediumistic" states cultivated by modem spiritu­alism and metapsychics. Cf. our critical studies in Maschera e volto dello spiritualismo contemporaneo, 2nd edn. (Bari. 1949).

  2. Dhamma-sangani, trans. C. A. F. Rhys Davids (London, 1900), note on p. 59.

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Ariya, a "nobility" and a special internal initiative are always presupposed. Even the continued contemplation of light can lead to little more than hallucinations, instead of to the opening of the "eye of wisdom," if we do not have a living and, in a manner of speaking, intellectualized sensation of this light (intellectual light). There is con­firmation of this in the fact that the same practice is sometimes advised for wholly contingent purposes, for example, as an antidote to sleep and torpor.'

As the starting point for the five jhāna free from form we have, on the one hand. objective detachment from the perceptions of the six senses and, on the other, "pure, clear, ductile, flexible, resplendent indifference" in which the series of jhāna we have already considered as well as the series of irradiant contemplations, both cul­minate. Having made this clear, this is how the texts refer to the contemplative states.

First phase: "Completely transcending perceptions of form, making the reflex images vanish, reducing every perception of multiplicity, the ascetic thinks: 'infinite ether' and reaches the plane of infinite ether."

Second phase: "After completely transcending the plane of infinite ether, in the thought: 'infinity of consciousness the ascetic reaches the plane of infinity of con­sciousness."

Third phase: "After completely transcending the plane of infinity of conscious­ness, in the thought: 'non-existence' the ascetic reaches the plane of non-existence."

Fourth phase: "After completely transcending the plane of non-existence, the ascetic reaches the plane beyond consciousness and non-consciousness."

Fifth phase: "After completely transcending the plane beyond consciousness and non-consciousness, the ascetic reaches the cessation of the determined."10 At this point, it is said, the "mania" of the illuminated ascetic is destroyed, the āsava are dissolved, there subsists no longer any "gross or subtle bond"; there is, on the contrary, a flash of absolute liberating knowledge. For this interior vision, which destroys at the root any possibility of conditioned existence, the canonical formula is this: "'This is agitation' (dukkha), so comprehends the ascetic, knowing the truth; 'This is the genesis of agita­tion'; 'This is the destruction of agitation': 'This is the path which leads to the destruc­tion of agitation.' 'This is mania' (āsava), so comprehends the ascetic, conforming to truth, This is the genesis of mania'; 'This is the destruction of mania'; 'This is the path which leads to the destruction of mania' so he sees, conforming to the truth. Thus know­ing, thus seeing, his spirit becomes freed from the mania of desire [kāmāsava], from the mania of existence [bhavā-sava], from the mania of ignorance [avijjāsava]. 'ln the liberated one is liberation,' this knowledge arises. 'Exhausted is life, the divine path realised, that which had to be done has been done, this world no longer exists' does he



  1. Angutt., 7.58.

  2. E.g.. Majjh.. 13; 66.

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then comprehend.' The culmination is reached, reintegration has been carried out, life and death are overcome, every thirst is ended, the primordial anguish-the trem­bling and the burning-is destroyed.

A few words of explanation on these transcendental phases of the ascesis: in the formula of the first arupa -jhāna the perceptions of form that are to be overcome are indicated by the term patighasannā, which contains the idea of something that re­sists. This relates in some degree to experience governed by the law of opposition of object to subject, feeling oneself "1" by contraposition to a non-I, to an object-um, to a Gegen-stand (something that stands against me, that opposes me). This confirms the idea that, in order to enter into the world that is free from form, one must be capable of really abandoning this consciousness of self as an individual "I," condi­tioned by a particular "name-and-form," which endures just because of this law. And since all that is individual in an immediate and effective sense is supposed already to have been overcome by means of the preceding catharsis, there remains to he elimi­nated only the subtle residue of "I" that persists, as one text says, in the same way as the scent remains even when the flower that has produced it is no longer there.12 As for the "reflex images" that have also to be eliminated in this phase, these refer to the secondary reflected images, void of form, subtle and wholly intellectual, that are obtained by the color and light kasina. When this reflex image is also suppressed, in the state of "voidness" that comes to be present, the thought "infinite ether" leads to the apprehension of the plane of infinite ether.

Akāsa (Skt.: akasa) is frequently translated as "space" instead of as "ether."


This can only cause a misunderstanding. In the Indo-Aryan tradition, ākāsa means
essentially what "Quintessence," the "Fifth Element," the "Ether-Light," the aor and
so on meant in the ancient Western traditions. It is not three-dimensional physical
and mathematical space, but something that stands in relation to it as does spirit to
body. Even etymologically the word ākāsa evokes the idea of "light." In a Upanisad,
the brahman is understood as being identical with the "ether" both outside and inside
the man.'' The ether is, rather, called the internal, essential side (ātma), while light is
called the external side.'' In the jhāna in question the idea "infinity of space" can
only serve as a basis for the evocation of space in its aspect of ākāsa, live and luminous infinite ether, and as a preliminary to the transformation of consciousness into
ether, which is the first broadening out of pure "being," beyond the sphere of Brahma.
Having thus considered the object of the first āyatana, the passage to the second,
whose object is "infinity of consciousness," is quite natural. It is, in fact, a question of

  1. E.g.. ibid., 27.

  2. Samyutt.. 22.89.

  3. Chandogya Upanisad. 3.12.7-8.

  4. Ibid., 3.14.2.

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overcoming the residue of outsideness and of "cosmicity" present in the experience of ākāsa. The term used is vinnānāncāyatana and it is related to the second nidāna of the descending series, in the sense of being a "purification" of it. We have conceived the nidāna "consciousness" in terms of a determined manifestation. To cut off the bond that it represents, we must pass over to the third āyatana or arupa-jhāna, whose object is experience of the sphere of "nonexistence." This sphere must be understood as the negative counterpart of "consciousness," that is, the power of nonmanifestation cor­relative to that of manifestation, whose principle is "consciousness." The experience of the āyatana can also he denoted by the formula "nothing exists," since to penetrate the power of nonmanifestation means to apprehend in everything the possibility of its nonexistence, the lack of its own reality, even in the case of him "in virtue of who everything that exists is." For this reason, some have conceived the experience in ques­tion as a liberation from Etwas-heit, from objectivity in general, extended even to the supercelestial spheres. The state of the fourth āyatana is nevasannā-nāsannā or that which is neither consciousness (second āyatana) nor nonconsciousness or nonbeing (third āyatana), that is to say, the element that is anterior to and higher than the two spheres previously realised. It is the "purification" of that which in the descending se­ries corresponds to the "sankhāra"nidāna, that is to say, to the impulse that leads to "conception" in general, to the differentiation of possibility, insofar as it is a passive impulse.

The last āyatana leads to the ultimate point of the άπλωσις, of the transcenden­tal simplification or purification. Its state is denoted by the term sannā-vedayita-nirodha, which refers to "cessation" not only of the element "consciousness," but also of that which, on the plane of psychology, would correspond to perception. to perceptibility or elementary determinableness. It is a matter of going beyond the double category of being (manifestation, consciousness) and of nonbeing (non-manifestation) in order to attain every conceivable potentiality, conceivable, that is to say, beyond this double sphere of manifestation and nonmanifestation. One achieves, then, the state of consciousness (to continue to use this term, although it has become quite inappropriate at this point) that is absolutely unchained, simple, and intact, the state that in the chain of nidāna precedes the primordial form of any determinableness whatsoever: we have quite clearly, therefore, the immediate an­tecedent of the complete destruction of the āsava and of "ignorance," and therefore the herald of the realization of extinction.

It is hardly necessary to say that, although each realization may be conceived on various planes and in varying degrees, here, even more than in the case of the four jhāna of the world of forms, any "psychologistic" interpretation must be resolutely re­jected. We can hardly take seriously the suggestion that we are dealing here with delvings into the semiconscious or into the "subliminal." until we reach an "oscillation

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about a zero-point in consciousness" (C. A. F. Rhys Davids).15 Reference even to the Leibnizian petites perceptions is entirely inadequate since the fact is that we are deal­ing with a "voyage" in superindividual and, in some ways, presamsāric states (anterior to association with a particular samsāric heredity), in which the transcendental causes of every conditioned existence are rooted. For this reason the Buddhist teaching has "places" (Ioka) or "worlds" or "earths" (bhumikā) that correspond to the five āyatana, and it is held that one will rearise in this or that one of them at the level at which ascetic achievement has been arrested, instead of progressing to extinction and absolute illu­mination.''



With regard to the canonical formula for liberation, the term "Exhausted is life" implies the impossibility of any further form of conditioned existence, and not merely of "rebirth" in the grossly reincarnational sense. Similar also is the significance of the formula itthattāyāti pajānāti that, following Neumann and de Lorenzo, we have rendered as "He apprehends `this world no longer exists"'-the world here being understood as the sum total of manifested forms, and therefore also as all that is implied in the Indo-Aryan doctrine by the "threefold world." As for the term bhavāsava, that is to say, āsava or "mania" of existence, this almost brings us to the same point, if by bhava we understand the "becoming" inherent in a "birth," and in the assuming of a conditioned form. But, in a broader and deeper sense, we may see in the destruction of this āsava the equivalent of what Germanic mysticism called Entwerdung the overcoming of "becoming" in general. The realization of the Ariya leads beyond both "being" and "becoming." Together with "ignorance" and "crav­ing"-the other two āsava-the bond of "becoming" is destroyed at the roots by the clear vision that arrives as a sudden flash of knowledge in face of dukkha, the pri­mordial agitation and contingency, and which gives realization of the "incomparable safety," of the state wherein there is no more "becoming," which is the "end of the world," the end of "going," the end of birth and of death. Finally, the formula katam karanīyam, "that which had to be done has been done," is the extreme expression of the Ariyan nobility. The whole work has been done because it had to be done. There are no reasons. There are no rewards. It is natural for the man whose spirit is Ariyan to feel these values, to desire this undertaking. The right state, in the highest sense, is that of a being who no longer thirsts, who has extinguished craving, who has made his own the Olympian and sidereal nature, as in the origins.

In point of practice, what we have said of the character of "totality" of the kasina is valid also for the āyatana. The mind, entirely recollected and unattached, receives the basic idea of each āyatana-infinite ether, infinity of consciousness, etc.-and



  1. Page 75 in the English translation of the Dhamma-satigani.

  2. Majjh., 75.

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realizes its content in an experience that brings about the corresponding transforma­tion. To use a Buddhist simile, the spirit has become like a jar full to the brim with water, so that it only has to be tipped in one direction or another for the water imme­diately to overflow in that direction. Here, in the complete concentration of the inner being that is detached from the senses and from the bond of the samsaric "I," the images have the power of transformation: to think "infinite ether," "infinity of con­sciousness," "nonexistence," and so on, means to evoke the corresponding state, to transform the mind into that state, so that it undergoes the corresponding "infinitization" and liberation. We can, furthermore, say of the āyatana what we said of the jhāna, with reference both to actions that must have an almost spontaneous character, to the neutralization of any tendency toward identification, and finally to the burning pro­cess that in every state-even at these heights-discloses something that is condi­tioned and that may he overcome, thus urging one ever forward.'

This is about all that can be said of the five states of ascetic realization in the planes free from form. The indications concerning them in the texts are extremely schematic. Here begins that silence, which will later be absolute-at least in original Buddhism-about the essence of the state of extinction, about nibbāna (Skt.: nirvāna), and about the destiny of the Awakened One after death.

We now have shortly to discuss the other path to extinction, the path considered by another series of texts and that is no longer given as a journey across the world beyond form, but rather in terms of special visions and corresponding "births."

For our point of departure we must refer back to the state of consciousness corresponding to the fourth jhāna or to the fourth irradiant contemplation, that is to say. to an extreme, purified equanimity. To the state of mind that the ascetic must assume in order to operate are attributed qualities similar to those of the "pure, clear, ductile, flexible, resplendent indifference." The fixed canonical formula is: "with firm, purified, tense, sincere, unblemished, malleable, ductile, compact. incorruptible mind." With such a mind one strives first of all for achievement of what is known as nana-dassana, the vision that comes from knowledge, having as its object one's own person, in its totality. It is, as it were, the uncoupling of oneself or, better still, a liberating of oneself by self-division, carried out by contemplation of oneself-both in one's own somatic reality and in one's subtle reality-as if one were another person or thing. In fact, it is said that after the fourth jhāna one must "hold fast, one must consider in one's mind and penetrate with one's vision the object of self-contemplation-paccavekkhana-nimitta-just as one man might look at another, the one standing look

17. Cf. Majjh., 44; 64; 106; Angutt., 10.29; 9.31; 10.72. The passage from one arupa to another occurs at the moment of feeling, firstly, form and the reflex images as a "disturbance" and impurity: then the ākāsa or ether element is so felt: then infinity of consciousness; then nonexistence; then the element beyond per­ception and nonperception; then determination.



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ing at him who sits, the one sitting looking at him who stands."18 It is, then, an extreme intensification of the process that began with the various contemplations on the body and on the mind during the consolidation phase: a process that now passes on to an objective stage that is designed to eliminate completely the bond of "I" and that is distinguished by this characteristic: that which now does the contemplating is the al-most ultrahuman mind of one who has reached the fourth jhāna or who has followed the path that leads to the possibility of a state of union with Brahmā. The formula of the disidentification or "projection" is: "This is my body, provided with form, made up of the four elements, generated by a father and by a mother, maintained in life by these foods. It is impermanent, subject to change and decay, break-up and dissolution. And this also is my vinnāna from which it proceeds and to which it is bound." A simile is given: as though on a cloth there lay a gem, a very pure, resplendent, clear, transpar­ent, perfectly cut and faceted jewel, wholly excellent; there might he tied to it a thread, blue or yellow, red or white, and as though a man with good sight, taking it in his hand, were to consider it and see clearly how the one thing was joined to the other. This simile, taken from Sāmkhya, shows that it is a question of "exteriorizing" one's own person in its entirety: the term vinnāna here refers to the subtle principle that organizes and gives life to bodily form.

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