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We have already discussed the difference between "prodigies" of the noble,


Ariyan type and those not noble, non-Ariyan-anariya-iddhi. We must add that, by Buddhism as by any traditional doctrine, both the quest after the "powers" in them-selves, and worse, the quest after them for temporal and individual ends, more or less in the spirit with which technology and the power associated therewith have been developed today. were considered not only as having nothing to do with ascetic and spiritual development, but even as being positively harmful to this development. The practice of the "powers" was held to he dangerous.' "My instruction," says the Buddha, "is not this: Come, 0 ascetics, and acquire powers which surpass those of ordinary men."2 The life that is led in the order of the Accomplished One is not directed to the acquisition of powers that produce clairvoyance or clairaudience but has a higher aim, namely, liberation.' This, however, does not prevent the transcen­dental forms of experience and detachment that we have considered from being capable of giving rise to extranormal modes of action and of vision. And when there is adequate cause, an Awakened One may use such faculties, much as an ordinary man uses his speech or his arms.

The iddhi are divided. in the Buddhist teaching, into three sections: "magical" powers, powers that reveal what for the ordinary man remains hidden (powers of "manifestation"), and finally, powers that work in the miracle of the doctrine and of right discernment. The last are considered as the most noble and august of them all. They are the ones to which we referred when we spoke earlier of the "miracle" whereby there may arise in the samsāric consciousness an extrasamsāric force and vocation, a will that is no longer the normal will, a will that overcomes the normal will and arrests the "flux." a vision that can now discern what is noble and what is common, the rational and the irrational, the unconditioned and the conditioned. Together with the power of achieving this "miracle," the Awakened Ones-it is said-also compre­hend and acquire those of the first two sections, which we shall shortly discuss;' but they fully realize that, in themselves, they have very little value. If anyone should be tempted to show them off or brag about them, he should remember that it is possible to arrive at analogous results by means of certain forms of sorcery.' Thus the iddhi, the extranormal powers, are never used, in the tradition of the Ariya, even to astonish and convert men of low intellectual capacity; the miraculous phenomenology that occurs in some later Buddhist texts is clearly of a fabulous, allegorical, or symbolical type, just like the stories of the multiple existences. The attitude of the pure doctrine of the Ariya is almost exactly that which the last exponents of the Aryan and aristocratic Roman tradition assumed. in the person of Celsus, in opposition to certain forms of

1. Dīgha, 11.5-7.

  1. Ibid., 11.1.

  2. Ibid.. 6.1-13.

  3. Dīgha. 11.3; Angutt., 3.60.

  4. Digha, 11.5-7.


Christianism. Celsus, in fact, asked what the Christians were trying to prove with all their excitement about this "miracle" or that, since it was well known that anyone with a taste for such things and wishing to produce similar phenomena had only to go to Egypt and learn about them from the specialists.

With this in mind, let us see how we are to understand these powers that are mentioned in the texts of the oldest canon. As the starting point for the iddhi of "manifestation" the texts postulate the purified, ductile, malleable, compact, unblem­ished mind, isolated from peripheral sensitivity, which is also presupposed for the achievement of the "three knowings" in the threefold watch. Free from the bond of the senses and of samsāric individuality, neutral, extremely balanced, this conscious­ness, aroused in one or other of the jhāna, can directly realize the object whose image is evoked, by producing either telepathic knowledge, or objective penetration of the mind of others, or, finally, vision of distant things.6 In this connection we can recall a simile already quoted: just as it is enough to tip a vessel that is brimful, in a particular direction, for the water to overflow in that direction, "so also if he has devoted himself to, developed, often practised, established and brought to its just fulfilment the right, fivefold contemplation of the Ariya [here is meant the four jhāna after being integrated by the vision-projection of one's self-cf. p. I74-75], then if he directs his mind to any element whatsoever that is susceptible of being the object of a higher knowledge [the ascetic] can apprehend this element in wisdom, provided he has developed the faculty, and provided the right conditions are present.

When it is applied to the persons, the minds, and the hearts of other people that the Awakened One is able to observe with the same clarity and with no greater effort than every one of us can observe his own features in a mirror,8 such power may be regarded as an elementary grade of the first and the second "knowing," which em-brace multiple "lives" and multiple samsāric groups. In some texts, indeed, this two-fold "knowing" is listed among the abhinnā or supernormal faculties, some of which are also called iddhi.9 In this case, however, we must distinguish between ascetic ex­periences proper, in which those "knowings" are the concomitants of liberation, and these powers of vision in themselves, when they are used for a particular purpose. We must not, in any case, forget that it is the "celestial, supermundane eye" (dibba-cakkhu) with which the Awakened One perceives the whereabouts of others of whom he is thinking, sees into the heart and mind of his interlocutors as well as of people at a distance, and perceives that a particular being, to whom he has directed his thought, is dead, and so on.10

  1. Ibid.. 2.91-2.

  2. Angutt.. 5.28.

  3. Dīgha.2.92.

  4. Ibid., 2.93-96.

  5. Majjh.. 4; 6; 26; 27; 36; 76; 85; 109, etc.


The counterpart of this latter iddhi is the faculty of supernormal hearing (dibba-sota). The Awakened One is able to perceive two kinds of sound, "the divine and the human, the far and the near." To understand the "divine" or "immaterial" sounds, we must refer back to the traditional teachings that had already served as the basis for the Vedic doctrine of ritual and that, occurring as wisdom in the mantras, were particularly developed in some forms of yoga, and then, in the tantras. We have already discussed this elsewhere. To hear the "immaterial sounds" is not to perceive an indeterminate and almost mystico-aesthetic "harmony of the spheres," but rather to arrive at a special form of perception of the formative forces of things and of elements, a perception that, in its working, is distantly analogous to what the com­mon man experiences as sound. The man who is really capable of perceiving and grasping the "divine sounds" is then also capable of pronouncing the word that is power, the mantra. a thing that, among others, lies at the root of every liturgical practise that has not been reduced to a mere recitation.12

Other iddhi considered by the texts consist of appearing and disappearing, of walking on water without sinking, of moving great distances in a moment, of "wield­ing power over one's body right up to the world of Brahma.' In order to understand that such phenomena are possible we must start from the production of the body "made of mind" (manomaya) that we have already mentioned. In the text to which we are principally referring this state occurs immediately after the contemplation-projection of one's own person (cf. p. 174-75) and is given in the following terms: "With this firm, purified, tense, sincere, unblemished, malleable, ductile, compact, incorruptible mind, he [the ascetic] turns toward the production of a body made of mind. From his body he extracts another body having all its organs and all its facul­ties, furnished with form, but supersensible, made of mind." To illustrate this there are similes of a man drawing a sword from its scabbard, removing the pith from a rush, or a snake from a basket.14 An important detail that warns us not to confuse this experience with a simple act of magic is that we are here-it is said-in the realm of transcendental knowledge, pannā.15 Besides we have seen that the practise in ques­tion comes immediately after the apprehension of one's own person as that of an-other by means of the eye that has opened in the jhāna. We have mentioned the transformation of the sensation that one normally has of the body: it is a matter of taking this process further by achieving an ever more detached and disindividualized consciousness, on the one hand, and on the other, by penetrating down into the deep. "vital"-in a superbiological sense-forces that rule the organism and that make up

  1. Cf. our The Yoga of Power. and J. W Woodroffe, The Garland of Letters (Madras, 1922).

  2. Digha, 2.87.

  3. Ibid.. 2.86; Majjh., 77.

  4. Cf.. e.g., Digha, 2.20-26.


the "double," or "daemon," and the samsāric being in us. Here the transcendental knowledge cannot do other than produce a special transformation, if only by de­grees. The transfigured mind, in this profundity, works almost, one might say, as a catalyst; it transmits its own nature to the group of forces with which it comes in contact, so that eventually the half vital and half opaque sensation that one has of one's bodiliness clarifies into the sensation of a transparent and luminous "form." It is luminous or radiant since, actually, these experiences happen in a condition corre­sponding to taijasa, that is, in the condition of luminosity or radiance that, for the Awakened One, takes the place of the state of dreaming. This is the true sense of the "extraction of the body made of mind," which is not "another" body, but a particular experience of the power of which the body is the sensible manifestation.

We have yet to see how far this power has been "purified," to what extent the disindividualized sidereal principle has divested itself of its samsāric nature and directly controls this force. Bodily manifestation depends on this power: depends. in the same sense that speech depends on the faculty of speaking, the faculty by which it has been forged, that directs it, and that can either change it or reabsorb it into itself. If the catharsis has been taken as far as it will go, this force, which here ap­pears as "supersensible body made of mind," plays the same part in relation to the manifested bodily form. It follows from this that anyone who realizes and controls his body as a "supersensible body," has, virtually, also this twofold power: of extract­ing or projecting from the same trunk another bodily image, either the same as or different from his own; or else of reabsorbing the whole manifested form into the energy from which it came, in order to reproject it completely elsewhere. The first of these powers is that of ubiquity, and it may be developed up to the capacity, recorded in the texts, for "appearing as many, being one sole person, and of returning to he one sole person, having been many." Here, the real, physical person of the agent is always supposed to persist in a particular place, while the other forms are only pro­jected images, extracted from the agent's own subtle form which we can call the matrix of corporeality. The second implies the faculty of appearance or disappear­ance. of passing through "solid barriers, walls and mountains without hindrance, as if they were air," of walking on water or of passing through the air. The simile com­monly used by the texts for this extranormal and, in an Awakened One, supernormal phenomenology is: as a strong man stretches his bent arm or bends his stretched arm, so the ascetic disappears from one place and reappears in another: and this other may well signify a condition of existence differing from the terrestrial.

We must forestall the mistake that would be made by anyone who. in attempt­ing to explain such phenomena, were to entertain the idea of "dematerialization." This would presuppose the existence of a "material" that, in the current modern sense, is quite unknown to the traditional teachings. Material existence is only


manifested existence, a form of manifested existence. It is not, then, a question of "dematerialization" but rather of reabsorbing a manifested form into its unmanifested principle in order to reproject it elsewhere: one should not, therefore, even think of it as a kind of voyage through matter, from one place to another, but as a withdrawal of the manifested form, that is, of the bodily figure, at a particular place, to make it reemerge, newly visible, elsewhere. This occurs by "passing underneath," that is by the means of a principle that, since it is outside and above manifestation, is free of the condition of space and that may therefore be said to be everywhere and, at the same time, nowhere. As the mind is now the center of the body, the image of a place, adequately fixed in the mind under the right conditions, determines eo ipso the phe­nomenon, quite irrespective of distance, so that it is said that projection in a nearby place needs the same "time" as projection in a very distant place, since the mental act of evoking either has the same duration.16

All this may possibly help to clarify the internal logic of the phenomena that are recorded in the Buddhist texts; phenomena which, although extremely rare in the modern world on account of the ever more intense "physicalization" and "samsarization" of the human being, are, nonetheless, quite real. We have, here, referred to phenomena that are "real" in a specific sense, distinguishing them from phenomena, which can be produced quite cheaply by means of collective or indi­vidual suggestive devices. Finally, we must consider the possibility that these same phenomena, rather than originating in the metaphysical and ascetic way we have discussed, are achieved along more or less shadowy paths through certain contacts with elemental forces. The Buddha touches on this point when he says, for example, that the forms of supernormal vision that he and many Awakened Ones also have, are created by mental concentration and are not those that are related to inferior practices or contacts with spirits or angels."

In order that the iddhi we have considered may be perfect, it is naturally essen­tial that "ignorance" should have been destroyed without leaving any residue and that there should have been an equally complete resolution of the samsāric being:18 only then is the power over the root from which the body is manifested complete, and only then can all the elements on which the manifestation of the bodily form is based he mastered. In this extreme case, rather than of a "body made of mind, furnished with form" we should speak of the "body made of spirit" and of pure consciousness, free from form (arupa atta patilabha), which is related to the "blessed body" (tusita kāya) in which one who is on the path of awakening will rearise after death,19 and to

  1. Milindapanha. 82 (W. 306).

  2. Angutt., 3.60.

  3. Using the Taoistic terminology, this would he called the complete distillation of the yin to pure yang.

  4. Cf. Majjh., 123; 143.


the "body of transfiguration" that occurs in some Gnostic schools. It is to this that we must clearly turn when the texts deal with the iddhi connected with having one's body in one's own power as far as the world of Brahmā, that is, up to the condition of pure being. Particularly in Mahayana developments of the Buddhist teaching we find extensions of these views, through which we can arrive at the deepest meaning that was, perhaps, hidden in Christian docetism. According to these Mahāyāna con­ceptions, the Accomplished Ones, the Tathāgata, do not actually have a body. In reality, it is not a question of not having a body, but, rather, of completely possessing, on the summit of an absolutely liberated consciousness, all the principles on which its sensible manifestation is based. And here, if it were the place to do so, we could devise interesting interpretations of the true sense of the various traditions that relate to beings who never "died." but who were "carried away." who disappeared from the physical world without leaving a body behind them.20 In any case, the most an­cient Buddhist conception of the twofold "body" beyond the physical one, as well as the Mahāyāna conception of the trikāya, the threefold body of the Buddha, refers to three degrees of the same realization, and is related both to the general Indo-Aryan doctrine of the "three worlds," and to the views (particularly those of Sāmkhya) on the three bodies, material, subtle (or vital), and causative (sţhula-or kariya-linga [or sukshma] and kārana-sarīra). To experience the body as a pure, dominated, free, plastic, intangible instrument of manifestation-this is the extreme limit.

We must briefly discuss one last point on the subject of "miracles." Buddhism states that, if they are not sought for their own sake but occur as natural possibilities in particular stages of awakening, the "powers" may be used where necessary with a pure mind, with the same indifference as the ordinary man uses his senses and his limbs. There are, however, particular cases in which the "prodigy," the extranormal fact, is invested with a "sacred" and "noble"-Ariyan-character: such cases occur when the "marvel" has an illuminating power on account of the phenomenon being a symbol and a manifestation of a transcendental significance, since, in this manner, it produces striking evidence of the dependence of "nature" on a higher order.21 One can find, also in Buddhism, a few references to these true, sacred marvels. For ex-ample, walking on water: when the ascetic, in profound meditation, achieves the state of one who has escaped from the "current," from the "waters"; of one who, like the lotus in a simile we have quoted, arises above the water, untouched by it-then

  1. Cf. on this our work The Hermetic Tradition. There also occurs in Buddhism the "nibbana of fire which leaves no residue." cf. Udāna (8.10): Dabba rises in the air and plunges himself into contemplation of the fiery element. then passes over into nibbana. "Neither grease nor ashes remained of his burned body." This concentration on fire also takes us back to the tantras. Cf. de la Vallee-Poussin, in the translation of the Abhidharmakosa, 4. p. 229.

  2. Cf. our Maschera e volto dello spiritualismo contemporaneo.

in particular circumstances he may reveal a cosmic sign of this achievement, the actual power of walking on water without sinking. One text relates that a marvel of this kind began to he neutralized at the moment when the mind of the ascetic relaxed its spiritual concentration.22 Again, it is well known that the symbol of one who has passed over the current and who, when on the other shore, helps the noble sons to cross, is applied to the Buddha.23 Now, it can occur that at the very moment of the spiritual realization of this a fresh cosmic evidence in the form of a "marvel" is produced: the Buddha and his disciples in the act of crossing a river, find themselves magically carried to the other hank." Another example. When the Buddha meets the feared bandit Angulimāla he prevents the bandit, who is running toward him, from catching up with the Accomplished One, who is standing still. He who stands still walks, he who walks stands still.25 A transcendental significance is once more mani­fested in this marvel: locomotion, which does not take one forward, by which "one does not reach the end of the world," is opposed to being still, in a supernatural stability that, to beings that are carried along by the samsāric current, must appear as a vertiginous, fearful going.

Whether or not such irruptions, so full of meaning, of a higher order into the natural order, ever historically took place, they serve, in the texts, to illustrate the significance of a particular category of "sacred" and "noble" marvels. As for the other extranormal or supernormal phenomena, from what we have just said it is clear that, in Buddhism. they do not have the character of "miracles," of incom­prehensible and irrational happenings, as they do in many popular, and even in some not so popular, forms of religion. They have, instead, their own logic, they are connected with a particular view of the world, and the path of awakening, in its various phases, affords the explanation of the fact that they can really take place.

  1. Jataka. 190. In ibid., 263. it ceases as he becomes contaminated with a woman.

  2. Suttanipata, 3.6.36.

  3. Dīgha.16.1.33-34.

  4. Majjh.. 86.


Phenomenology of the Great Liberation

The pure, original doctrine of the Ariya is explicitly anti-evolutionist. "Becoming" has no significance. The "cycle" of rebirths does not lead to the death-less) There is neither beginning, nor progress, nor end in the succession of the states conditioned by "ignorance" and by "agitation." It is said that, even as there is no lofty and mas­sive mountain that one day will not crumble, no ocean that one day will not dry up, similarly, there is no end to the changing undergone by ordinary beings who, through their samsāric self-identification, pass from one state of existence to another, like a dog that goes round and round, firmly tied to a post or to a column.' Returning to the symbolism of the two shores, it is said that while few enter the water, fewer still reach the other side, while the great mass of living beings runs up and down on this hank.' Rare is the appearance in the world of a Perfectly Awakened One.' Such an appearance is like the miraculous blossoming of a flower close to a pile of dung that represents. in fact, the worthless mass of ordinary beings.'

That Buddhism sees an essential difference between the "sons of the world" (puthujjana) and the "sons of the Sākya's son" we know already, as we also know that by "world" Buddhism does not only mean terrestrial existence, but any condi­tioned form of existence whatsoever, be it higher or lower than the human state. The Ariyan path of awakening is, then, of an absolutely "vertical" nature, it does not conceive of "progressivity"; between the state of nibbāna and any other state, de­monic, titanic, human, or celestial, it sees a gap. The state of nibbāna cannot be found by "going"; it cannot he found in the horizontal direction of time, nor in the

1. Samyutt., 2.179.

  1. Ibid.. 22.99.

  2. Angutt., 10.117; Dhammapada, 85.

  3. Digha. 16.5.5.

  4. Dhammapada, 58-59.


perpetuity, longevity, or indefinite existence that are ascribed to the various angelic and celestial beings and to the theistic god himself, Brahmā". Bodhi, absolute illumi­nation, the "wisdom" that liberates, is sometimes therefore likened to lightning,6 a description that clearly shows its extratemporal character. Everything, therefore, that is connected with extrasamsāric development is to be considered from a quite spe­cial point of view. The oldest texts themselves remark on the relativity of the time needed to achieve fulfillment: seven years, seven months, seven days, the very day of hearing the doctrine. In Mahāyāna and in Zen Buddhism this idea is very much accentuated. In a Mahāyāna text it is said that one should not feel fear or anguish at the thought that "one will awaken late to the incomparable, perfect knowledge" since this awakening is the work of a single moment, and is "the extreme [frontier] limit with something that has no past, and which therefore is a non-limit." One must not even formulate the depressing idea: "Great and long is this limit that has no past," since "this limit without a past, and which is therefore not a limit, is connected with a unique spiritual moment.8 By this it means that what, from the point of view of samsaric consciousness, might seem to be a distant final aim, in reality stands outside any sequence, so that to apprehend it means to apprehend it also as some-thing that has not had a past, that has no antecedents, that is without time; whence it may be said that all that has led up to it is co ipso destroyed. The path, the effort, the gradualness, the "made" (sankrta) all this vanishes, disperses like mist. The Sāmkhya theory relating to the purusa, and the Upanisads and then the Vedānta theory relat­ing to the ātmā, have the same sense: the ātmā, have the same sense: the ātmā or purusa, is eternally present. It is not this that "revolves," that "acts," that strives, that advances. Illumination is the flash in which, beyond all time, this presence without a past is apprehended.

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