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But this "knowing," at present, only serves as a preparatory phase. This same "firm, purified, tense, sincere, unblemished, malleable, ductile, compact, incorrupt­ible" mind is directed toward a further "knowing," toward the vision of "previous forms of existence." There arises the memory-vision of "many previous forms of existence, of one life, of two lives, of three lives" and so back through whole series of lives in the periods both of the coming-to-be and of the dissolution of worlds. "There was 1, I had such a name, I belonged to such a people, such was my state, such my office; this good and this evil I experienced, thus was the end of my life. Having passed on from there, I entered again into existence." hi such a manner, the ascetic recalls multiple forms of existence, each with its own characteristics, each with its own special relationships. A simile is given: as if a man were to go from one village to another and from there to another and finally were to return home and, in recollecting, should think thus: "I, then, went from one village to another, where I stood thus, 1 sat thus, I spoke thus, T kept silent thus; from that village I went to another, where I did thus and thus, and finally I returned to my village ('the country of the ancestors')." This is the first "knowing"-the precise term is pubbe-nivāsanāna-a revealing vision having as counterpart an interior liberation, a defi­nite self-elevation beyond the samsāric group to which a given particular individual existence belongs, and which now appears as a mere episode.
18. Angutt., 5.28.


The next experience concerns a "celestial, clarified, superhuman eye," it is called dibba-cakkhu-nāna, which develops the vision, no longer of one's "own" existences, but of other samsāric groups, of the appearance and disappearance of beings in the sequence that is determined by the law of action, of kamma. "With this celestial, clarified, superhuman eye the ascetic sees beings disappear and appear, beings that are common and noble, ugly and beautiful, happy and unhappy, and he apprehends that beings always appear in life according to their actions." Here, too, we have a simile: as if there were two buildings with doors, and a man with good sight, standing between them, were to see people leaving one house and entering the other, going and coming.

This power of vision, by means of which the contingency of the various forms of existence is directly contemplated from a universal, "celestial" standpoint, provides the final catharsis, leads to pannā or bodhi, to liberation, illumination, and extinction, to the same culmination that crowned and resolved the series of the five āyatana, of the five reintegrations in the sphere beyond form. We have, then, as the third and last "knowing," the vision of the "conditioned genesis" that determines the "round of rebirth" of beings, the vision of that which lies at the root of the genesis, of that which is its end and of the states that lead to this end. At this point the āsava disappear; there occurs the "redemption of the mind without manias," and again we have the formula: "Exhausted is life, the divine path achieved, that which had to be done has been done, this world no longer exists." There is a final simile, dealing with the crystallinity, the absolute transparency and clarity of this vision that brings to an end the entire catharsis: as if a man with good sight were to stand on the banks of an alpine valley lake and, completely aware, were to consider the shells and the snails, the gravel and the sand and the schools of fish, how they dart about or lie still.19

Apart from the initial "projection" of oneself, this second path has thus three stages. It is important to emphasize that in some canonical texts they are related, respectively, to the three watches (yama) of the night. Thus, the Buddha says: "This knowing [that is, the first, the vision of one's own multiple, previous states of exist­ence] I first apprehended in the first watch of the night, I dispersed ignorance, I apprehended wisdom. I dispersed obscurity. I apprehended light, whilst I dwelt striv­ing ardently, watchful and strenuous." The same formula is repeated for the other two "knowings." The disappearance and reappearance of beings is the second "know­ing" to be apprehended, in the middle watch of the night, and the final, liberating vision is the third to he achieved, in the last watch of the night.20 In one text, it is said: "When the dawn is about to break, at the moment in which sleep is so profound and

  1. On all this see Dighā, 2.93-98; cf. Majjh., 77.

  2. Angutt., 8.11; Majjh., 4. In particular. on the experience, in the watches of the night, of the conditioned genesis and of the conditioned removal of its effects, cf. Mahavagga (Vin.), 1.1.2.


to wake so difficult." Another point: the three "knowings" have also been related to so many immaterial births (opapātika). There is the simile of the hen that has completely incubated her eggs and is waiting for them to hatch and for the new being to arise from them, safe and sound. The warmth that nourishes this symbolical birth is that of ascesis, tapas. At the moment in which the "knowing" of the various previous tales of existence is apprehended, the ascetic-it is said-"is for the first time dis. closed, like the chick come out of the shell." This first birth-beyond physical, samsāric birth-is the growth beyond one's own individuality; a growth that is bound up with the ability to gaze beyond the temporal limits of an individual existence, to see the whole group to which it belongs. A second opening is achieved with the "knowing' of the passing and uprising of beings and, finally, a third when the sudden flash of knowledge destroys the āsavā and determines the state of nibbāna.21 Each of the three "transcendental knowings" is, then, an awakening, an "opening," a change o state, the passage from one mode of being to another, from one "world" to another Thus we find in Buddhism a traditional symbolism that is used in many forms o initiation, probably in connection with similar experiences. Besides these three births which are of a real nature, there is a birth that is symbolical and, above all, moral, the "rebirth with the birth of the Ariya" or the "blessed birth," referred to the man who makes the break, who achieves "departure," and who devotes himself to the path of awakening.22

We must give an explanation of this new group of transcendental experiences also. It is essential here to distinguish between the deepest content of the doctrine and that which refers to the popular exposition and that cannot he taken in an absolute sense (paramatthavasena).

To begin with, at this point we must forestall the idea that not only is the theory of reincarnation assumed by the Buddhist teaching, but that it is, in fact, demonstrated by a direct form of transcendental knowledge in the shape of an actual memory It might seem, that is to say, that the situation were thus: that one single being having lived several lives or, at least, several forms of existence, could, at a particular moment, see retrospectively. Such an interpretation, in spite of all appearances, would be mistaken.

In order to understand the true sense of these experiences, we must always remember their point of departure, that is, nāpa-dassana, the vision or "projection' of one's own person that allows of its consideration as a thing or as the person o another. In this there occurs, in a manner of speaking, the fulfillment of all the litho of severance from one's own "I," from one's own individuality, which has beet

  1. Angutt., 8.11: Majjh.. 53: Samyutt., 22.101.

  2. Majjh.. 86. We also find the image of the snake that sloughs its old skin-cf. Suttanipata. 1.1.1 if.


carried out in the preceding ascesis. This means that one has become integrated in a new dimension or at a new level, an integration that is inevitably accompanied by a "loosening." Consciousness is no longer tied to a particular "name-and-form," it can move, it can take on the person of other people, both in space and in time. This is the foundation of the first two "transcendental knowings," the vision of many preceding forms of existence (superindividuality in time) and the vision of the disappearance and reappearance of other beings (superindividuality in space, that is to say, with regard to various individual lives copresent in space).

With reference to the first experience, we could speak, in a certain sense, of "memory," but not as though it were one particular "I" that remembered having lived other lives or, more generally having passed through other forms of existence. We can see that this would be absurd for the simple reason that the condition for achieving such a "memory" is no longer to be an "1," to he free from "I" or from the consciousness connected with a particular "name-and-form" and with a particular life. We are no longer dealing with the memory of an "I" but with the emergence, in the individual consciousness, of samsāric consciousness, with the "memory" associ­ated with the groups of craving, or daemon, or antarabhāva with which one was identified: for-as we saw-one does not adopt a "name-and-form," a physiopsychical organism drawn from nowhere, but a more or less preformed samsāric force carrying with it a heredity, a complex of tendencies, which continue from the dead lives in which this force was previously active. The continuity and therefore also the basis of "memory" is contained in this force: it is not contained in an identical and permanent "I" to which Buddhism rightly denies an existence on the samsāric plane. At the moment when consciousness becomes disindividualized, breaks the bond of the samsāric "I" and becomes universal, this same samsāric memory is spread out clearly before it. The very moment of one's dissociation from the "daemon," or "double," is the moment in which one comes to know it. This is the deeper meaning of the first "knowing," of the "memory of preceding forms of existence."

In the second "knowing" there is an increase in the power of the disindividualized consciousness, a consciousness that now extends not only along time and along the group of that particular entity of craving with which it was identified, but also in space, since it becomes capable of identifying itself also with other beings and of examining the samsāric heredity that determines them, the will of craving in which they live and where are determined the causes, when the material of one life is consumed, for the same flame to flare up elsewhere in strict accordance with its antecedents.

Thus it is that, in these experiences, we can see the counterpart of liberations that are exactly similar to those of the ascetic who advances through the live planes free from form. In fact, it is not by chance that we have spoken not of "multiple


lives," but rather of "multiple states of existence." The assumption of the person of other people, which we have mentioned, is by no means restricted to human lives in space and time, but includes also extraterrestrial lines of existence and of heredity. Now, all this is possible only if one reaches a dimension to he compared to the depths of the ocean, where all the insular and continental parts emerging from the water as separate things are unified in a single mass. We are thus brought back to images of immensity, vastness, immeasurableness, indiscernibility. About such images we shall have more to say later. And it is natural that the texts refuse to apply to the Accom­plished One, who has followed this path to the end, any category whatsoever that, in common speech, takes its meaning from the existence or nonexistence, from the life or death of an individual being.

Thus the theory of reincarnation is rejected from two points of view: firstly from the point of view of ordinary, samsāric beings, since it is not the same being that has already lived nor that will live again, but rather the groups of craving working in him. On this plane a real substantial "I" does not exist. Secondly, from the point of view of transcendental illumination, since from this point of view the "many existences" can only represent a mirage. The one who contemplates them can no longer be consid­ered as an "I," and he is now also about to break the law that from one samsāric group there must spring a new existence. As we shall see, the Buddhist teaching also considers intermediate cases, that is to say, cases of incomplete extinction: but for further states of existence or for new "lives," in the degree in which extinction is not complete, what we have said about the ordinary man is to a large extent still valid: there is no proper continuity, there are only transformations that affect also the "sub-stratum." Buddhism maintains this view in connection with the "mental body" and with the body "free from form" which various texts attribute to the Accomplished One, the term "body" here being used in a general sense, implying other states and modes of being relative to the "worlds," beyond the physical one, that are reached by the jhāna. The question was asked if such "bodies" exist simultaneously. The answer is negative. But the doctrine goes still further: the passage from one to an-other of these states does not present a true continuity. The transformations are abso­lute, as in the aforesaid simile of the milk that becomes curd and curd that becomes cheese. It is absurd still to call curd milk or cheese curd: in changing the state, it is well also to change the name.23 With still more reason, the idea of an absolute iden­tity of the "I" in the states to which a partial liberation may lead is to be rejected.

On the subject of "reincarnations" and of "many lives." we must remember that, in spite of the opinions held in some circles, such ideas find no place in serious tradi­tional teachings, Eastern or Western, nor therefore in Buddhism. Those passages in
23. Dīgha, 9.39; 47-53.


Buddhism and in the Indo-Aryan traditions in general that would seem to indicate the contrary, do so either because of a too literal reading of the texts or because they are popular forms of exposition that only have a symbolical value, rather like the crude images of the Christian purgatory or hell that are common among simple folk. To ac­cept unquestioningly all that can be found in the Buddhist texts on the subject of pre-ceding existences not only opens the way to all sorts of contradictions and incoher­ences on the doctrinal level, but also breeds doubts as to the efficacy of the historical Buddha's real supernormal vision. The stories in the canon, and particularly in the Jātaka, of the presumed previous existences of Prince Siddhattha, notably in the form of animals, are all evidently of a fabulous nature and, even when their origin is not wholly spurious, it is easy to see that they have been invented or introduced into Bud­dhism from already existing popular traditions for pedagogic use to illustrate and en-liven discourses. We do not find, in the texts, a single serious reference to anything like a "memory." like an actual fact of the past seen by supernormal means and then communicated. Here, also, the Awakened One maintains his silence. In any case, the classical and dryly glittering spirit of original Buddhism, so free of sentimentalism, is rarely found in the later texts, beginning with the Jataka, where not only is there a tropical overgrowth of phantasmagorical and fabulous elements, but also not a few distortions of the original doctrine of the Ariya, particularly on the moral plane. It will be enough to remember-one case will serve for a whole series of others-the story dealing with the preceding life of Prince Siddhattha wherein he is supposed to have been an animal that, upon seeing a hungry tiger, allowed itself to he torn to pieces through "compassion," thus acquiring the "merit" that, through the series of other lives, was little by little to lead him to the grade of Awakened One. Whenever higher wis­dom is not enclosed in the form of rigorous esotericism-true esotericism, not that of contemporary "occultists"-such alterations are almost inevitable and it is for intelli­gent people to discriminate accurately, to pick out the essentials, or to clarify what has become obscure: which can be done only by the guidance of sound principles of a traditional and metaphysical kind.

We must mention another point. We have seen that the three supernormal "knowings" have been related by the texts to the first, second, and third watches of the night, respectively. This is an important fact once we remember the Indo-Aryan teachings on the "four states": the state of individual wakeful consciousness, the state of dreaming, the state of sleep, and finally, the so-called fourth state (caturtha or turīya). In the same "space" in which, when individual wakeful consciousness disappears, the ordinary man starts to dream, passes into the unconsciousness of dreamless sleep, and finally into a state like apparent death, it is possible to achieve, instead, a series of "liberations," of degrees of superconsciousness. In this connec­tion, the state of dreaming (that is to say, what would correspond to dreaming in the


ordinary man) is called by the texts tejo. from tejas, which means "radiant light" and which is related to what we have said about ākāsa, "ether"; the state of deep, dream-less sleep "where there is no knowledge, but the subject of knowledge continues to know," is related to the condition of prajnā (Pāli: pannā) or of "illumination": here "the being reunites with himself in a unity of pure knowledge and beatitude"; here there is "the perfect serenity which, rising up from the body and arriving at the su­preme light, appears in its true aspect"; here we are on the point of crossing that dyke, "beyond which he who was blind is no longer blind, he who was wounded is no longer wounded, he who was ill is no longer ill," where "even night becomes day." The fourth condition corresponds to the unconditioned state, absolutely above all duality, all particular forms of manifestation, beyond both interior consciousness and exterior consciousness, and above both together.24

When we spoke of the jhāna, we considered the possibility of references to transformations of this sort, and a more exact correspondence can be seen with re­gard to the developments in the world free from forn, to the āyatana. Thus, we are not unjustified in matching the Indo-Aryan traditional doctrine we have just dis­cussed with the realizations that take place in the three watches of the night: we have a consciousness that, "like a fire that advances destroying every bond," carries one beyond the state of wakefulness, leaves this state behind, advances to the state that in others would be sleep or profound sleep, and establishes itself there, "dissi­pating ignorance, achieving wisdom, dissipating the shadows, achieving the light"-just as says the Buddhist formula that refers to the "supernormal knowing" acquired during the first, second, and third watches of the night. Beyond the "luminous" or "radiant" state of taijasa, beyond the state of pure illumination (prajnā, in Buddhism, would correspond to the opening of the "celestial, unclouded. superterrestrial eye") there is the unconditioned state. Turīya, the unconditioned state of the ātmā in the general Indo-Aryan tradition, would then correspond to the state of nirvāna in the Buddhist terminology.25

In such terms, the "vigil" of the Ariya appears in the grandeur of a change in which the night is transformed into day, unconsciousness into superconscious­ness; the vision of an indefinite number of existences dispersed in time spreads out like a memory, and is left behind. During the last hours of the night, where for the others "sleep is deepest," at the dawning of the physical light, there dawns also that

  1. Cf. Maitrayanī Upanisad, 6.19; 7.11; Māndukya Upanisad, 4-7; Chāndogya Upanisad, 8.11.1; 12.3; 6.3-5; 4.1-3, etc.

  2. There are also specific references with regard to the experiences that take place in the Awakened One in

the state corresponding to that of sleep. Cf. Sumangala-vilasini (commentary to the Dīgha-nikaya). 1.47

(w. 94-95), where it is said that in the second watch of the night he sleeps and simultaneously enters into

contact with some divinities. In the third watch. arising, with his superterrestrial eye he perceives those

who have decided to tread the path of awakening.


wisdom, that awakening, in which every mania is destroyed and which towers over all worlds with their ranks of angels, evil and good spirits, gods and men, ascetics and priests. Thus the Accomplished One, when the final watch of the night changes into light, returns to the world of men at the moment in which the day once again shines on him, and awakening corresponds to awakening, the physical and the meta-physical elements meet, and truly may we use for him a similitude of the texts: that of the sun. "when, in the last month of the rainy season, after it has dissipated and put to flight the rain-swollen clouds, it rises in the sky and disperses with its rays the mist in the air, and flashes and shines." This is the mighty appearance of the Awakened One among men. "Light of the world," the Buddha has been called-"the light of wisdom becomes light of the world" ;26 the sage, who appears in the world of men and of gods, proceeding alone, in the midst of the people], dispersing every shadow."27

  1. Therigāthā, 148 (quoted by de Lorenzo in his translation of Majjh., vol. 2, p. 65): cf. Mahāparin., 52-56.

  2. Suttanipāta, 4.16.2.




Between the "Powers"

The Buddhist teaching admits the possibility of acquiring extranormal and supernor­mal powers (iddhi) along the path of awakening: this is one of the signs that the Buddhist ascesis does not move toward a state of nothingness, toward a crepuscular frontier between consciousness and unconsciousness, there to wait for a final "anni­hilation," but that it is accompanied by ever greater degrees of consciousness, com­pleteness, elevation, and power.

We have no need to consider the "difficulties of belief" that, with regard to the iddhi. may arise in the minds of modern "critical" commentators. It is, of course, well known how often these individuals, after denouncing as fabulous all that touches the supernormal in the history of great figures of the past, are capable of falling into ecstasy before some petty "mediumistic" phenomenon that, in the ancient world, would not have merited the attention of any person of consequence.

The problem of the extranormal and supernormal powers is connected with the view of the world. When nature is not conceived as an independent reality, but rather as the outward form in which immaterial forces manifest themselves; when, further-more, one admits the possibility of removing, under certain conditions, the purely individual, sensory-cerebral consciousness of a man so as to allow of positive con­tacts with those immaterial forces-then, assuming these premises, which are those of every normal and traditional concept of the world, the general possibility of extranormal powers follows as a natural consequence.

The true problem does not, then, consist in the reality or otherwise of certain phenomena-admittedly not capable of being explained by the physical or psychical laws known today-that in the past boasted a science sui generis, of which many, although fragmentary, traces still remain: the true problem is, rather, the signifi­cance and the value to he attached to such phenomena.

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