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Recognition of this discontinuity of the state of absolute illumination does not, however, prevent us from considering a series of cases corresponding to various approximations of the point from which the jump in the transcendental direction may


  1. Angutt., 3.25. In this text the spirit of the man who, still alive, has destroyed mania and has achieved liberation is also likened to a diamond. The Sanskrit term vajra (Tibetan: dorje) includes both these meanings-lightning or diamond-and has been particularly used in Tibetan Buddhism to designate the essence of illumination and the nature of one who is made of illumination. AI the same time, it also designates the scepter of the supreme representatives of Lamaist spiritual authority. This symbolism would take us much further in terms of comparative mythology-as far as the lightning-force symbolized by prehistoric hyperborean axes and the symbolism of the lightning that always accompanied divine "Olympian" figures of the Aryan civilizations. The "path of the vajra." or the "path of the diamond and of lightning (vajra-yana), is the designation of Tantric and magic Buddhism, on which cf. The Yoga of Power.

  2. Cf. Majjh., 10: 85. On this subject we can recall the words attributed to the Buddha by the Vajrasamādhi­sutra, when he said that the passage of fifty years did not represent a period of time, but only the awaken­ing of a thought (apud Suzuki).

  3. Prajnāpāramita, texts in M. Walleser (Gottingen, 1914), 19, p. 120.

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be achieved, provided the necessary energy has been acquired. Even the ancient Buddhist texts discuss, in this connection, various possibilities that should not be interpreted without reference to the general Indo-Aryan views on the hereafter and on the various forms of liberation.

The highest degree is that where, while yet a living man, one has completely achieved extinction through having destroyed-without leaving residue or possibil­ity for fresh germination-avijjā, the primordial ignorance, tanhā. thirst, the āsava, the transcendental intoxications. A relapse, a passing to any conditioned form of existence whatsoever, is as impossible for him as it is for the Ganges to flow toward the west.' Even the "mania," through which he might have rearisen as a god, is "extinct, cut down to the roots, made like the stump of a palm tree which cannot sprout again, can no more reproduce itself."10 He is called the noncombatant, one who has no further need of fighting in the threefold realm of right living, of contem­plation, of transcendental knowledge. besides that of the powers." That "he should let attachment be joined again to his body or that his heart should beat again: this cannot he."' Powerful and impalpable being, there is nothing that can reach him, alter him, or threaten him. With regard to all that he can still "do," we may quote the simile of the uninjured hand: "he whose hand is without wound may touch poison: poison cannot enter where there is no wound."' Whether "he walks or is still or sleeps or wakes," in him the perfect clarity of knowledge conforming to reality, that "mania is exhausted in me." is always present, just as in a man whose feet and hands had been cut off there would always be present the knowledge: "My feet and hands have been cut off.' The term nirupadhi is also used here; it means destruction of the "substratum" (upadhi). This substratum (which in its turn is related to the sankhāra and to kamma. Skt.: karma) corresponds, in general, to the "entity of craving" that every life that is not liberated strengthens and nourishes so that it creates the possi­bility of a new arising, of a fresh bursting into flame after the material offered by that life is exhausted. In the "perfectly Awakened One" this substratum no longer exists: being an obscure and oblique form horn of ignorance and of "sleep," it is destroyed and dissolved by the steady naked light that he has kindled within himself.

Jarā, therefore, the exhaustion of the possibilities of life, the "fulfillment of time" and the dissociation of the aggregates that make up the individual being, for the Awakened One means final dissolution. He can say: "The outward form of one who

9. Samyutt., 35.203.

10. Angutt., 436.

11. Ibid., 11.11. Cf. Jātaka. 70: "Not a good victory is that, after which you may still he beaten. A good victory is that through which you become invincible."



  1. Majjh., 105.

  2. Dhammapada, 124.

  3. Ma jib.. 76.

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has achieved truth stands before you, but that which binds him to existence has been cut off ... at the dissolution of the body neither gods nor men will again see him."15 With physical death, there collapses something that had only an automatic exist­ence, conditioned in a positive sense-conditioned, that is to say, by the pure will, devoid of craving, of the Fulfilled One: that is what is known as khandha-parinibbāna which, in any case, is a wholly contingent occurrence, without consequences for a state that, by definition, has "neither increase, nor diminution, nor composition." The term parinibbuta, "completely extinct," is applied, in various texts, to the living Bud­dha. Material, physical death only dissolves the last material elements, without leaving any remnants, of a being who is already dead to the world.16

Besides, since we have seen that the Buddhist ascesis is not limited to detach­ment. but goes on to penetrate and control the deepest energies of the bodily mani­festation, the death of an Awakened One is always of a voluntary nature, at least in the sense of assent, of nonintervention. It has rightly been said that "in order to die, a Buddha must wish to die, otherwise no infirmity can kill him." The true death of Prince Siddhattha took place when, some time before his actual decease, he con­sciously decided not to live any longer. "From that moment he knows and repeatedly predicts the hour and the minute, the place and the couch in which his breath will cease for ever. The death of the body becomes so much a secondary fact, a thing of no account, that it matters very little what may cause it."17

Buddhism, like Stoicism, does not condemn suicide. "Taking arms"-that is, killing oneself-is not proscribed by the doctrine of the Ariya. always provided that the person in question has actually achieved extinction. In vain, Mara, the demon not only of this world, but equally of the world of Brahmā, seeks the spirit of the ascetic Channa who had "used the knife."18 In this case, it is not a question, in fact, of seek­ing death as a result of any weakness in face of life, of any form of despair, attach­ment, or pain. We already know that the premise of extinction is to have conquered desire even for extinction itself, to have achieved the state of one who is free and who has no desire either for existence or for leaving existence.19 The taking of one's own life, here, is no more than a wholly irrelevant act, rather like that of someone who, sitting in one position, decides at a certain moment to change it, or who finally



  1. Dīgha. 13.73.

  2. Samyutt., 3.119.

  3. C. Formichi. Apologia del buddhismo (Rome. 1925). p. 29. The Buddha had declared that, had he so wished, he could even have lived for aeons (cf. Dīgha. 16.3.3). On the power of the Buddhas and of certain Ariya of prolonging life or of dissolving the vital energies, cf. Abhidharmakosa, 2.10; 7.41.

  4. Samyutt.. 35.87. Majjh. 144.

  5. Suttanipata. 4.10.9. Ct. Udāna (3.10): "Those who believe that they can go out of existence by means of nonexistence will not free themselves from existence." Buddhism condemns both thirst for existence and thirst for nonexistence (bhava-vibhava-tanhā).

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chases away an insect that had been buzzing ceaselessly around him and that he had suffered with calm. This, like any other act of an Awakened One, does not create sankhāra: in no way does it alter the realization he has achieved, nor does it give rise to causes for future effects.

We must remember, however, that the spiritual stature of an Awakened One is such that the moment he may choose for leaving his human form of appearance cannot be arbitrary nor can it depend on accidental considerations. There is a text that, in declaring against voluntary death. sets forth not only all the positive elements of an Awakened One's life, but also everything that, by continuing to live, he can give to beings in need of guidance An Awakened One will always have, to some extent-an extent that Mahāyāna considerably exaggerates-the sense of a mission on which will depend the course and the moment of the end of his life. Prince Siddhattha declared the he would not finally enter nibbāna, disappear from the physical world. or agree to die before the doctrine, by means of the existence of a group of worthy and illuminated disciples who had apprehended it, had been established and well-proclaimed in the world of men and of celestial beings.21 At this point, the Ac­complished One, with perfect consciousness and clarity, "laid aside his will to live" and, "concentrated and inwardly joyful," destroyed his personality "as one shatters a cuirass."22 To this decease, legend has added cosmic signs and portents not unlike those connected with the death of the Christ.' Some texts speak of the movements of the mind of an Accomplished One at the moment of death: it passes upward through the four jhāna and, beyond these, enters the planes of the first four realizations free from form, that is to say, it passes up to the state beyond consciousness and nonconsciousness. From this height the spirit then descends by degrees to the first jhāna, and then passes up to the fourth jhāna that, as we have seen, corresponds to the limit of individuated consciousness as "name-and-form"; and from there, under the impulse of this power come from the world beyond form, it detaches itself, it passes beyond, it "departs no more to return.'

All this, then, concerns the highest form of liberation, the liberation achieved in life while still a man: it corresponds exactly with what, in the general Indo-Aryan tradition, is called jīvan-mukti, which means, in fact, "liberated while alive." As well as the case of jīvan-mukti, the same tradition also contemplates what is known as videha-mukti, where liberation is achieved at the moment of physical death. Death. in this case, unlike the first, affords an opportunity for full realization of liberation and



  1. Milindapanha, 195. I ff. (W. 436).

  2. Angutt., 8.70.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Digha, 16.6.10.

  5. Ibid., 16.6.8-9; Samyutt., 6.5.

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illumination already virtually gained during life. This possibility also is considered by Buddhism: the mental faculties, it is said, can become completely clear, and the eye of supreme knowledge open at the moment of death. The end of physical life then coin­cides with the end of mania, with the final destruction of the āsava. Such a case is known as samasīsī. This supreme transformation is supposed to be facilitated if either an Awakened One or a disciple of the Awakened One is present to recall the doctrine to the one who is dying, unless one has the strength to recall it oneself at this moment.25 We have already said that awareness of breathing constantly practised and properly understood, is considered to be one of the best means of maintaining a clear aware­ness up to the last moments of earthly existence. For our part, we may add that the condition of modern Western man is such that, in the vast majority of cases, the possi­bility of liberation can only he conceived in this form; it can only take place, that is to say, in the state produced by that act of disruption that is the dissolution of the aggre­gates of the personality: this, of course, assumes that one's entire existence has been devoted to the focusing of every energy of one's own being, including those that lie deepest and that are hardly perceptible, in the direction of transcendency.

We shall now go on to discuss the possibilities that are considered by the Bud­dhist texts for those who tread the path of the Ariya and who do not reach liberation while alive, nor at the moment of death.

The class of beings that we are now discussing comes under the heading of sotāpanna. that is to say: "one who has entered into the current." They are the "noble sons" who have so acted that the fundamental force of their life is pervaded by what is beyond life, and they have therefore quite eliminated the danger of taking a "de­scending path." More specifically, to "enter the current" is to nourish an unshakable faith in the doctrine, to have an eye trained to recognize each phenomenon accord­ing to its conditioned genesis, and to maintain five of the fundamental precepts of "right conduct": abstention from killing, from taking what is not given, from lust, from lying, from the use of intoxicants.26 Other texts have a slightly different view: those who have entered the current are principally those who have overcome three of the five bonds, namely, mania of the "1," doubt, and the blind practice of rites and precepts for the sake of a divine hereafter. Two other bonds, however-desire and aversion-although weakened, continue to persist, and for this reason those in the category in question do not achieve extinction either during earthly life or at its end. Such a being may, however, be sure that his destiny is already decided. The enemy forces will not prevail. He is already established in the right law, he is not exposed to permanent lapses, he has a higher knowledge. He has escaped perdition, he pos­sesses sureness, he may he certain that he will put an end to the state of dukkha and



  1. Angutt., 10.92.

  2. Ibid.

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that he will achieve illumination and perfect awakening.27 The simile provided here is that of the firstborn son of a warrior king legitimately crowned, who is certain of one day ascending the throne: the same feeling is possessed by an ascetic who is a "blessed warrior," who has trodden the path of the Ariya, and who, inwardly unshak­able, waits for the supreme liberation."

The future course of one who, in the deepest nucleus of his own being, no longer belongs to the world of becoming, depends on the strength of the sankhāra that corre­spond to the two bonds that have not yet been dissolved. Some texts, which deal with what we may call the pessimistic solution, envisage one who expects a single rebirth in the sense-world (ekabijin): one who expects repeated rebirths (kolankola) reap­pearing, in due course, two or three times in noble families; or, finally one who ex­pects to reappear, at the most seven times, in states that are not all necessarily human (sattakkhattu-parama). After this, the condition of dukkha will have been destroyed once and for all.29 These references in the texts are very schematic, and one cannot therefore be quite sure of the true sense of the doctrine. Since such possibilities are distinguished from others, shortly to be discussed, which refer unquestionably to ex­tinction achieved in one of the worlds of "pure form" or "free from form," it would seem that we are here dealing with reappearances in the kāma-loka, that is, in the subcelestial sphere to which the human condition essentially belongs. Are we again faced with an idea of "reincarnation"? Perhaps one who "has entered the current" will appear again as a man? We must here refer to a viewpoint that is rather different from the simple idea of the multiple earthly lives of an "I" that is supposed to pass from one to another; a view, to which the term "shoot forth again," or "germinate," of the text offers a way of approach. One who "has entered the current" has transformed the root from which he sprang into life: in the "current" of which he is made, we now find the element bodhi, something that is extrasamsāric, which is destined to determine a new line of heredity-if thus we may call it-and, above all, a certain kind of continuity that-as we have already seen-is not possible in one who belongs to the world of becoming and of ignorance. We can thus think of a superindividual matrix or root, no longer exclusively samsāric, of existences that tend toward liberation, as it were in a series of attacks (corresponding to each life) and that are destined finally, in one of the existences, the last of the series, to triumph. If one of these does not produce success. there appears another, taking over the attributes of the first, in order to carry it further: the duration of this process is determined by certain cyclical laws and is hound up with the number seven, whose importance in the field of all that concerns development is known even in profane science. We no longer have the absurd idea of a single "1" that


  1. Cf. Ibid.; 6.97; Majjh., 68.

  2. Angutt., 4.87.

  3. Ibid., 3.86.

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returns or that travels from existence to existence but, rather, of various manifesta­tions of one same principle that is already superindividual, but not yet fully conscious: manifestations that are ruled by the extrasamsāric force that has already been awak­ened and that is destined. sooner or later, to produce the perfectly illuminated being with which it will "pass beyond," by completely releasing itself. From two books by Meyrink, which are more than just novels-Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster and Der weisse Domenikaner-the reader may, perhaps, get a more intuitive idea of this kind of process.

For successive manifestations, Buddhism has laws that are not unlike those dis­covered by Mendel for physical heredity. We know that, according to Mendelian laws, some elements of a heredity may, through a series of generations, have a "recessive" character while others are "dominant": they seem to disappear although they are only latent and ready to reemerge and to reestablish themselves once the power that pre-dominated before has been weakened or, as in the present case, once the material needed for renewed burning is present. This, according to Buddhism, is true both for the positive and for the negative elements that, at the end of a life, will represent an upadhi, a substratum of existence. Illusory forms of liberation are therefore possible; illusory because they are paramount only until the negative residues, which had ap­parently disappeared, reestablish themselves and lead to conditional forms of exist­ence. The opposite may well happen: a principle of liberation and illumination may be well established, but it can only blossom and act fully after the total exhaustion of the power of unresolved negative and samsāric elements. These elements sometimes seem to predominate when, in fact, their roots have already been cut off.30 This should he borne in mind when we consider the case of discontinuous reappearances in a series of births (the isolated emergence of superior, extrasamsāric types, with intervals of qui-

30. Cf. Angutt.. 10.206; 3.98. With regard to the sankhAra and to the upādhi. that is, to the potentialities of a possible fresh combustion, normal psychological consciousness must not be taken as the final criterion. It may be that with ageing and decay of the organs, a tendency or craving that was alive and unmastered before. may no longer make itself felt. But as a sankhāra. it has not therefore vanished: it has only returned to its latent state, and is wailing for a fresh occasion. The Buddhist doctrine of the "possessions" (prāpti) refers to this. When, for example, a desire has been satisfied and seems to be exhausted, it has not therefore been eliminated.--on the contrary, it remains united to thhe "I" and to the stem to which it belongs. Nonexistent in act, it subsists in potentiality. And the "possession" (prāpti) will lead, sooner or later, to remanifestation (sammukhībhāva), (cf. de la Vallee-Poussin, Nirvāna. p. 164). We must also. eventually, take into account forces that are not fully manifested or "spent" and that, in certain cases, we must lead to consummation, even at the cost of causing ourselves as individuals and other men to suffer (heir natural effects. Something of the sort was intuited by the Carpocratian Gnostics. Cf. also the image given in Golem by G. Meyrink, chap. 18: "Man is like a tube of glass in which many-colored halls are running. In the life of most men. there is only one hall. If it is red we say that the man is 'bad.' If it is yellow we say he is 'good.' If there are two balls-one red and one yellow-- he has an 'unstable charac­ter.' We, who have been 'bitten by the serpent.' live in our life that which normally happens to the whole race in an entire age: the many-colored balls cross the tube of glass in a mad rush, one behind another, and, finite as they are-we have become prophets-images of the divinity."

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escence) and also as what may appear as a "spontaneous initiation." But the same idea also applies in the cases we have yet to consider and, as we said, this will refer to liberations that are to be later but inevitably achieved in posthumous "celestial" states.



Even for these cases we can find an equivalent in the general Indo-Aryan tradi­tion, where it takes into account so-called "deferred liberation" or "liberation by de­grees" (Krama-mukti).31 In order thus to attain the state of nirvāna in modes of being that cannot be called human, it is necessary to have also virtually cut off the two bonds of craving and aversion, which constitute the elementary differentiations of the pri­mordial mania. And if this mastery is not to be of an entirely psychological character, and therefore ephemeral, the ascetic must, in his earthly existence, have developed to a high degree both the contemplations that produce a superior calm (samatha) and the "wisdom" that is closely connected with the will for the unconditioned, which leads to change of heart and detachment, and that brings realization of the nonsubstantiality of all that is samsāric (vipassanā).32 When these conditions have been fulfilled, one pos­sesses the principle of a supreme "neutrality" beyond any craving desire, beyond any aversion, and the "divine" world itself may be overcome; the bond of the "I," which has already been cut off as regards the human state of existence by the one who "en­ters the current," is now also cut off as regards any individuated and conditioned form of existence whatsoever, not excluding the highest and most resplendent. In the "cur-rent," then, a force operates that will prevent any lingering on the "celestial voyage"-spoken of, with varying symbolism, in all traditions including the Dantesque-from being taken as the final destination; this force guarantees that, by definitively bringing to an end every attachment, one will gain, in superhuman states of existence, the op­portunity for extinction that could not be achieved in the human condition, not even at the moment of death. The ascetic has here created the conditions for a real survival of death, for a survival that various religions, notably the Christian, imagine is achieved by all beings; whereas it is only logically thinkable for those few who, as men, have been able to conceive of themselves as more than men and who have taken part, in full awareness-even if only through some flash of insight-in states that are free of the condition of the individual.

We are now in a position to give the various possible cases of liberation beyond death that are considered by Buddhist teaching:

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