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  1. he who frees himself and "disappears" halfway in his development (antarāparinibbāyin);

  2. he who succeeds in this after the halfway point in his development (upahacca-parinibbā yin);

  1. Cf. R. Guenon, L'Homme et son devenir selon le Vedanta (Paris. 1925), p. 181ff.

  2. Cf. Angutt., 4.124.


  1. he who achieves liberation without an action (asankhāra-parinibbāyin);

  2. he who achieves liberation with an action (sasankhāra-parinibbāyin);

  3. he who proceeds against the current toward the highest gods

(uddhamsota akanittha-gāma).
All these liberations take place in one of the spheres of "pure forms" (rupa-laboka) or in one of the spheres free from form (arupa-loka) making up, together, the "pure abodes" or "pure fields" (suddhāvāsā) whose equivalent, in the ancient Western Aryan traditions, were the "Elysian Fields" or "Seat of the Heroes."33 The order in which we have just given these cases is one that descends from the highest forms to the lowest. They are all, however, qualified by the term anāgāmin, "a nonreturner," one who does not pass again to another form of conditioned and manifested exist­ence, since he has entirely conquered any force that could lead to this against his will. The term is the same as that used in the Upanisads for one who, after death, does not tread the lunar and ancestral path (pitr-yāna) but who treads, instead, the "divine path" (deva-yāna).

It may be easier to understand the sense of these various possibilities by refer-ring to a simile given by a text that makes use of the example of lighted chips flung into the air.34 One such chip may get cold even before it touches the earth-and this would be the case with one who liberates or "extinguishes" himself before or after the halfway point of his path (cases 1 and 2); or it may fall to the ground and imme­diately find a patch of dry grass that goes up in flames, and the chip may only get cold after this fire has died out-the case of liberating oneself without an action; or, again, it may land in a large pile of wood or hay. set it alight, and get cold only when this much larger lire has ceased-the case of liberating oneself by means of an action; or, finally, the chip may fall directly into a forest, and the fire continues until the other side of the forest itself is reached, where there is running water or a field of green grass or rocks-the case of going against the current toward the highest gods.

By way of clarifying this phenomenology of the various posthumous develop­ments possible for ascetic consciousness, the following remarks will suffice. The heat of the lighted chip, that is capable of starting a fresh fire, clearly represents the residual thirst for, and pleasure in, satisfaction still existing in the new current. Al-ready extinguished as regards the forms of earthly existence, this residual potential heat can he finally eliminated while going along the path, before the end of a particular development, "before falling to earth," that is to say, before the complete

33. Angutt.. 7.16-17; 9.12; 10.63; 3.85-86; Puggala-Pannarti. 40-46; Visuddhi-magga, 23 (W. 391).

34. Angutt.. 7.52.


transformation of state that follows death, and could result in the adoption of a new residence. This then, corresponds to cases 1 and 2. In case 3 this potential heat comes again into contact with combustible material and produces a fresh flame: conscious­ness rearisen in a celestial state of existence, where rapture and "supersensible joy" may promote new forms of identification, of greater or less duration. The extrasamsāric and sidereal force that has already been awakened will, however, sooner or later, lead onwards-whereas a "son of the world" is always liable to degenerate again, to pass, even, into a state lower than that from which he started, although he has expe­rienced for a time these supersensible states.35 In case 3 craving is exhausted by a natural process; in case 4, however, a certain active intervention must be made, which is spoken of in the texts sometimes as "effort," sometimes as "deepening of knowledge." The most unfavorable case is the fifth, which in the simile corresponds to a fire that, little by little, spreads to an entire forest and does not stop until it has reached the natural limit of the forest itself. The potentiality of heat and of attach­ment, here, is such that it resumes, one after another, in ascending order (against the current), the various possibilities of superhuman life. This case could be compared to "deferred liberation," the fundamental idea of which, as Guenon has rightly pointed out.' is to be found in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic symbolism of the `"Universal Judgment." The final experience takes place at the moment in which an end is made, in obedience to the cyclical laws, to the celestial forms of existence themselves, and there occurs, in order of precedence, the dissolution of each manifested form into its respective unmanifested principle. It is on such an occasion-almost a reproduction, mutatis mutandis, of the possibility offered by physical death (cf. p. 46)-that final extinction may be achieved at the exhaustion of a cosmic cycle of manifestation.

On the subject of symbolism, we may sec, in the greater or less quantity of fire that bums again in the posthumous states and that must be allowed to die out before an advance can be made, the deeper significance of what Christian mythology calls "purgatory." We must remember, however, in making this comparison, that this ex­perience is by no means common to all, but only to those who, through a virtual mastery of the human condition and of the samsāric bonds, have indeed gained the chance of consciously surviving physical death and of taking themselves further, into superterrestrial states of existence.

Finally, the mention of liberation with or without action gives us the opportunity of remembering that, not only at the point of death, but also in the successive changes of state and in the various phases of the "celestial voyage," much may depend. ac-cording to the traditional teaching, on a spiritual initiative that is naturally connected

  1. Ibid., 3.1 14.

  2. L'Homme el son devenir, p. 187.


with the accumulation of knowledge achieved and realized on earth as a man. We can only talk of quasi-automatic and predestined posthumous developments in the case of the ordinary man; but, as we have said, to speak of his "survival" is merely to be euphemistic. On the matter of this transcendental initiative, we refer the reader to the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which we have quoted earlier, and to what, on the basis of this hook, we have discussed at greater length in the second edition of our hook, The Yoga of Power (appendix 1).


Signs of the Nonpareil

There is, in original Buddhism, a well-known negative expression for the highest point of the Ariyan ascesis, nibbāna (Skt.: nirvana). Its etymology is rather intricate. The Pāli term is related to the root vān and includes the idea of a "vanishing." The Sanskrit term seems to have a different root, vā, to blow, with the negative prefix nit, and is best translated, in fact, by "extinction," but also with reference to "vanishing." Extinction of what? It has been rightly pointed out' that the same root vā appears in the terms vana, vani, which mean, "to wish," "to crave," "to desire," "to rave," "to dote." Nibbāna expresses the cessation of the state described by these terms: a fact that is confirmed by the whole Ariyan ascesis, in its comprehensive significance, particularly as nibbāna is attained at the moment in which the āsavā and tanhā, that is to say, the intoxicating manias and craving, are completely neutralized. We do not, therefore, propose to put forward a learned argument designed to confute the ideas of those who hold the nibbāna is "nothingness." It could only occur to a chronic drunkard that the ending of intoxication was also the end of existence; so, only some-one who knew nothing but the state of thirst and of mania could think that the cessa­tion of this state meant the end of all life, "nothingness." Besides, if "ignorance" and "mania" are a negation-and normal beings can hardly think otherwise-then nibbāna can only be described, after the manner of Hegel. as a "negation of the negation," and therefore as a restoration, as something that, taken in conjunction with a nega­tive designation. indicates an entirely positive reality. The fact of the matter is that modern man has moved so far from the world of spirituality and of metaphysical reality that, when faced with this kind of experienced achievement, he finds himself totally unprovided with points of reference and with organs of comprehension.

I . Dc Lorenzo, in his edition of Majjh., vol. I, p. 7.


"Awakening" is the keystone and the symbol of the whole Buddhist ascesis: to think that "awakening" and "nothingness" can be equivalent is an extravagance that should he obvious to everyone. Nor should the notion of "vanishing," applied in a well-known simile of nibbāna to the fire that disappears when the flame is extinguished, be a source of misconception. It has been said with justice' that, in similes of this sort, one must always have in mind the general Indo-Aryan concept that indicates that the extinguishing of the fire is not its annihilation, but its return to the invisible, pure, supersensible state in which it was before it manifested itself through a combustible in a given place and in given circumstances.

The point is that Buddhism has very largely adopted the method of "negative theology," which seeks to give the sense of the absolute by means of an indication, not as to what it is-a task that is considered to he absurd-but as to what it is not. We may say, rather, that Buddhism has gone further still: it has refused to use the category of nonbeing and has understood that even to define the unconditioned by negation would, in fact, make it conditioned. This has been rightly noted by Oldenberg:3 when the contrast between the contingent world and the eternal world is pushed to the extreme limit of Buddhism, it is no longer possible to imagine any logical relation whatsoever between the two terms. All we can do is to use as a symbol, as an allusive sign, a word, that is to say, nibbāna. Zen Buddhism would say: reality is to the word and to the doctrine as the moon is to the hand of the man who shows its direction.

One thing, in any event, is quite sure: the theory that claims that one who has destroyed the manias has also "broken himself and will perish, not surviving the death of the body" is regarded by Buddhism as a heresy, born of ignorance.' But the demon of dialectics must not. in this way, be resurrected. When it is asked if the Awakened One exists after death, the answer is: No. Does not he, then, exist after death? The same answer. Does he both exist and not exist after death? Again, no. Does he neither exist nor not exist after death? Once more, the reply is no. And should the questioner ask what, after all, does this mean, then the answer is that such things were not revealed by Prince Siddhattha, that they cannot be discussed since they are transcendent-abhikkanta-since nothing intelligent can be said about a state in which everything that might have been included in any concept or in any category whatsoever has been destroyed.5 Nibbāna, indeed, "has nothing that is like it."'

  1. A. B. Keith, Buddhist Philosophy (London. 1923), pp. 65-66; de la Vallee-Poussin, Nirvāna, pp. 145-46.

  2. Buddha, p. 269.

  3. Samyutt.. 22.55.

  4. Ibid., 44.1.11.

  5. Milindapanha. 315 ff.


"This has not been revealed," "this cannot be discussed," "this is nonpareil." But where concept and word fail us, the evocative power of the simile may take their place. The simile is one of vastness, depth, immeasurableness, ocean-size. The king who asked the questions in the first place, is now questioned: "Have you an accoun­tant or reckoner who is able to number all the grains of sand in the Ganges?" The reply is naturally negative. He is then told that it would be a similar undertaking to try to define the Accomplished One. "He is deep, unbounded, immeasurable, inscru­table, just like the mighty ocean. Thus it may not be said that he exists, nor that he does not exist, nor that he exists and does not exist, nor that he neither exists nor does not exist after death."' From each of the five components that make up common personality an Accomplished One is free: from material form, from feeling, from perception, from the formations and from finite consciousness-all this that was in him has been made like "a palm tree, that is cut off at the root so that it can germinate no longer, no more redevelop." It is quite useless for those who, in trying to under-stand, refer to one or other of these components. to set themselves the problem of what an Accomplished One is or of where he is going.8 Since that of which we might say "is" or "is not" is absent, there is no definition or discussion possible 9 The funda­mental point is that the Awakened One, while still alive, is not to be considered as material form, feeling, perception, formations, or consciousness, nor as living in these groups of the person, nor as distinct from them, nor as one deprived of them. if, then, while he is still in this life, the Accomplished One cannot he considered as really "existing," there is no logical category that can enable us to understand the state of pure nibbāna, of total extinction.10 "For one who has disappeared from here, there is no more form: that of which we say 'it exists' is no longer his; when all the dhammā are cut away. then all the elements on which discursive thought is based also van­ish." We may then justly say: "it is as difficult to follow the path of those whose dwelling is void and whose liberation is without sign, as it is to follow that of the birds through the air."12 The Accomplished Ones, those who have "entered the current," the anāgāmin in general, are also likened to powerful animals of the deep water of the sea.13 "Deep"-says a Mahāyāna text14-"is the denomination of the `void': of thhe 'signless,' of the 'without tendency,' of the not-come, of the not-gone-out, of the

  1. Samyutt., 44.1.

  2. Majjh., 72.

  3. Suttanipāta.5.7.6-8.

  4. Samyutt., 22.85, 86: 44.2.

  5. Suttanipata, 5.7.8.

  6. Dhammapada, 92.

  7. Angutt., 8.19. In Milindapanha, 320, there is this simile: "As the sea is the abode of great portentous beings. so also nibbāna is the abode of great and portentous beings, such as the arahant. those who have achieved extinction."

  8. Prajnāpāramitā. 8.106.


not-issued, of the not-being, of the passionless, of the destruction, of the extinction, of the coming-out, the denomination thereof is profundity."

Besides all this, two reasons of a historical nature have, in Buddhism, im­posed silence on all superontological and supertheistic references to the state where thirst no longer exists. Here we must turn back to the considerations that we discussed in the first part of this study. It will be remembered, in the first place, that the doctrine of Prince Siddhattha arose, in contrast to every form of abstract speculation, as an essentially practical and spiritually progressive guid­ance; in the second, that it had in mind a type of human being for whom the ātmā, the "unconditioned" of the preceding Indo-Aryan metaphysics, had already ceased to correspond to any real experience. This absolute, which could no longer stand for anything according to the only criterion that was decisive for the Indo-Aryan tradition-yathā-bhutam, the "vision conforming to realityy"-and which could therefore also be denied or profaned by the skeptical or philosophizing manner of thought that had already pervaded a large variety of disputing sects and schools-this absolute becomes, in Buddhism. the object of a single demonstrative organ: action itself, ascesis, bhāvanā. As a result of this, silence about the problem of the nature of the state of nibbāna and of the destiny of an Awakened One after death was imposed for a practical reason also. Any ideas on the subject could only be "opinion" (δόξα) and, as such, useless and vain, if not positively harmful. Whence the justification for the absence of any reply from the Buddha: "This has not been declared by the Sublime One, because it does not belong to the fundamental principles of a divine life, because it does not lead to renunciation, to detachment, to cessation, to calm, to transcendent knowledge, to illumination, to extinction."15 In this connection, too, one must cut back the agitation and the imagining of an inconsistent mind: "I am," "I am this," "I shall be," "T shall not he," "I shall be with body," "I shall be without body," "I shall have consciousness," "I shall not have consciousness," and so on-all this, it is said, is a wavering, a sore, a vain imagining. It is the effect of craving, it is a tumor, it is the point of the arrow. "Therefore," says the Buddha, "you must cherish this purpose: `I wish to dwell with a mind that does not waver, that is not obsessed, with a mind that has destroyed these vain imaginings.' Thus, 0 disciples, must you train yourselves."16

There are those who have held that one reason for not admitting that the state of nibbāna might correspond to the unconditioned ātmā of the preceding Upanisadic tra­dition lies in the fact that, in the latter, there was always an inseperable connection between this same ātmā and the brahman, the universal subject, the root of cosmic life."

  1. Samyutt.. 16.12; Majjh.. 62.

  2. Samyutt.. 35.207.

  3. M. Walleser. Prajnāpāramitā. p. 9.


Buddhism, on the other hand, as a doctrine of purification and restoration that is princi­pally Aryan in spirit, is especially characterized by its overcoming of this relationship. With regard to the supreme term of the ascesis, we certainly find in the Buddhist texts a number of passages that can be referred back to the doctrine of the ātmā but not one that can be reconciled with the theory of the brahman: and this is because Buddhism was resolutely opposed to any pantheistic deviation and cosmic identifications, and because its ideal was an absolutely complete detachment from any form of "nature," either material or divine; it therefore carried the purifying, implacable fire of disidentifying ascesis to almost inconceivable heights. And it is on this account that ev­ery bridge falls down and every word, every conception, seems vain and impotent. Less than in any other doctrine, is it possible to establish, at this point, any relationship at all between samsāral-or contingent existence, which for Buddhism embraces every mani­fested state of being-and that for which nibbāna is only a negative designation.

Having dealt with this point, it only remains for us to consider a few elements that are simply of value as indicating marks.

First of all, we can see without difficulty from the texts that the Buddhist ascesis sets itself a precise task: to overcome and destroy death, to achieve amata (Skt.: amrta), that is, the "deathless." We have already said that Māra, the eternal antagonist of the Ariyan ascetic, is one of the forms under which Mrtyu, the demon of death, appears.' Throughout the Dhammapada there are references to the struggle to be fought against the demon of death, against the "finisher" (antaka). "Let Māra not break you again and again, as the torrent breaks the reeds."19 "Victor of death," is the Awakened One called,' " giver of immortality."21 Texts speak of a battle against the great army of death,22 of a conquering or crossing of the torrent or kingdom of death that is achieved by few,23 of a contemplation on the deathless element.' It is toward this element that the eightfold path of the Ariya leads.25 One who is born subject to death, goes on to achieve "the death-less, the incomparable sureness, extinction."26 Nibbāna is called the "incomparable island, in which every thing vanishes and all attachment ceases, where there is destruction of decay and of death"; it is an island for those who "find themselves in the midst of the waters, in the fearful torrent that has formed and whereby they become subject to decay

  1. Explicit identification of Māra with the demon of death occurs in Mahāvagga (Vin.), 1.1; 2.2.

  2. Dhammapada, 337; cf. 37, 40, 46.

  3. Majjh., 92.

  4. Ibid., 18.

  5. Ibid., 131.

  6. Angutt., 10.117; Majjh., 34; Dhammapada. 85.

  7. Ma jib., 64.

  8. Ibid., 26, 75.

  9. Ibid., 52.


and to death."' "As medicine opposes death, so nibbāna opposes death."28 The Buddha's announcement is: "The immortal has been found." "Let the gate of the death-less open: he who has ears to hear, let him come and hear."29 "Yes, I have achieved the death-less," declares Sāriputta.30 "Clarion of immortality, supreme triumph in the battle" is the doctrine of the Ariya called.' Allusions to revealing and beneficial contemplations or images, "having as base and as aim the death-less," are very frequent.32 But that is not all: we must remember that the term amata, "nondeath," "deathless," which is etymologically the same as the Greek word αμβροσία, has in the lndo-Aryan tradition a different meaning to the weak­ened form current in the West. In the West we normally find that immortality is interchangeable with that very different thing, survival. At best, it may refer to the continuation of individual existence, though still conditioned, in "celestial" or "an­gelic" states that, according to the Aryo-Oriental view, though they may be of indefinite duration, occupying may aeons, yet have nothing of the really eternal, of the "deathless" in an absolute sense. That is why in Buddhism, one speaks of cutting back the roots not only of death, but of life itself, of a path of health that leads beyond the dominion of death and of life:" by "life," here, we have to understand any possibility whatsoever of rearising in any conditioned form, even in those that are called, in the West, "immortal" or "paradisal." This may possibly confuse the ideas of those who have not grasped the limitations inherent in the more recent of Western religious conceptions; but, in any case, this should do away with the absurd supposition that an ascesis thus attuned to the "deathless" can possibly end in "nothingness."

Stability is one of the properties of nibbāna. As a great river inclines toward the sea, descends to the sea, flows out into the sea, and, having arrived at the sea, stays still: so does the life of those who proceed toward extinction unroll." As the high mountain, on which no grass grows, is still and unshakable, so, likewise, nibbāna, in which no passions or mania are born, is still and unshakable." As men's houses, with the passage of time, become ruins, but the ground whereon they rested remains, so the mind of an Awakened One remains and knows no alteration.36 We remember the

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