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  1. Suttanipāta, 5.11.1-4. Cf. Uttarajjhavana-sutta. 13.81: It is a nearby place. but arduous to reach, where decay, death and disease do not exist."

  2. Milindapanha, 319.

  3. Majjh.. 26; Mahāvagga (Vin.), 1.1.5. 7; Samyutt. 12.33.

  4. Mahāvagga (Vin.), 7.23.6.

  5. Majjh.. 115.

  6. Cf., e.g.. Angutt.. 5.61; 8.74: 9.36; 10.56; 7.45; Dhammapada. 374.

  7. Dīgha. 16. 2.2-3; 4.2.

  8. Cf. Malik. 73.

  9. Milindapanha, 323.
    36. Mahrīparinirv.. 4.6. Cf. Majjh..


recurring theme that urges the ascetic continually onward, even beyond the most abstract form of contemplation because "that is compounded, that is generated, that is conditioned."37 The result of this is to endow nibbāna-the state beyond which one cannot go-with the character of unconditioned and ungenerated simplicity:" the term asankhata, "not made, not performed, not produced," is continually applied to nibbāna, and so is svayambhu, which indicates the quality of that which rests on itself or-in Mahāyāna terms-of that which rests on the not-resting. A limiting function is ascribed to the three āsava-they make beings "finite," it is said." For this very reason, the state that no longer knows the āsava must he the unconditioned and infinite state; since dukkha has been overcome, it can only be the state of a supreme supernatural calm, and of "incomparable sureness" (anuttaram yoga­khemam). The "trembling" is ended, the irrational "recirculation" is ended. Terms such as: "become cold."40 should no more be a source of misunderstanding than "ex­tinct": the burning, which no longer exists, is to be understood as that of one who is fevered, of one who is burning with thirst, of one who is weakened by samsāric fire. It is the absence of heat in the pure Uranian flame-flamma non urens- of sidereal natures: of the Olympian principle of pure light.

"Only that which has no birth does not perish"-it is said in one text41-"Mount Meru will crumble, the gods will decline in heaven. How great, how wonderful, then. is the eternal essence that is not subject to birth and to death!" Still with reference to nibbāna: "To go out from this state [means to find another] state that is calm, beyond thought, stable, not horn, not formed, detached from pain, detached from passion, a joy that puts an end to all contingency and that destroys for ever every mania.' And again: "There is, 0 disciples, an abode where there exists neither earth nor water nor light nor air nor infinity of ether nor infinity of consciousness nor any essence at all nor that which lies beyond representation and beyond nonrepresentation nor this world nor another nor Moon nor Sun. This do I call. 0 disciples, neither coming nor going nor staying nor birth nor death; it is without base, without change, without pause; it is the end of agitation."43

We have already had occasion to mention some of the traits attributed by the texts to those who, while still in this life, have achieved the perfect awakening, the supreme liberation-beginning with the son of the Sākya. With the end of identification they are free. Having destroyed the roots of the mania of the "I," for them the net of illusion

  1. Cf. Majjh.. 52.

  2. Cf. Dhammapada, 383.

  3. Samyutt.. 41.7: Jātaka, 203.

  4. Cf. Angutt.. 3.34.

  5. Dīgha, 16.3.48.

  6. Itivuttaka. 43.

  7. Udāna, 8.1.


has been burned, their hearts are transparent with light, they are divine beings, im­mune from intoxication, untouched by the world. As the "lion's roar" their word sounds: "Supreme are those who are awakened!"44 "Invincible and intact" beings, they appear as "sublime supermen";45 lions who have left behind fear and terror,' they see the past, they see heavens and hells,47 they know this world and that world, the kingdom of death and the kingdom free from death, time, and eternity." They are "like tigers, like bulls, like lions in a mountain cavern," and are yet "beings without vanity, appearing in the world for the good of the many, for the health of the many, through compassion for the world, for the benefit, the good and the well-being of gods and of men."49 "l have overcome the bramble of opinions, I have gained mastery over myself, I have followed the path. I possess the knowledge and! have no one else as my guide"-thus says the Awakened One of himself.50 The Awakened One is he who is detached from life and death and who knows the way up and the way down,51 he is "bold, not know­ing hesitation, a sure leader, pure of passion, resplendent as the light of the sun, re­splendent without arrogance, heroic"; he is the Knower "whom no mania dazzles, no trouble conquers, no victory tempts, no spot stains"; he is one "who asks no more, and who, as a man, has mastered the ascetic art": he is the "great being, who lives strenu­ously, free from every bond, no longer slave to any servitude"; he is "the Valiant One, who watches over himself, constant in his step, ready to the call, who guards himself within and without, to nothing inclined, from nothing disinclined, the Sublime One whose spirit is powerful and impassible"; he is the "Awakened One whom no thirst burns, no smoke veils, no mist clouds: a spirit who honors sacrifice and who, like no other, towers in majesty."52 Unconquered, supreme, he has laid down his burden, he has no "home" and he has no desires. Passion, pride, and falsity have fallen from him like a mustard seed from the point of a needle. Beyond good. beyond evil, he is loosed from both these bonds and, detached from pain, detached from pleasure, he is puri­fied. Since he knows, he no longer asks "how?" He has touched the depths of the ele­ment free from death. He has abandoned the human bond and has overcome the di-vine bond and he is freed from all bonds. The path of him, who can be conquered by none in the world and whose dominion is the infinite, is not known to the gods, nor to the angels, nor to men."

  1. Samyutt.. 22.76.

  2. Majjh., 116.

  3. Suttanipāta, 3.6.37.

  4. Samyutt., 3.58-59: Dhammapada, 422-23.

  5. Majjh.. 34.

  6. Ibid., 4.

  7. Suttanipata. 1.3.21.

  8. Majjh.. 91.

  9. Ibid., 56.

  10. Dhammapada, 402-20, passim, 179: Majjh.. 98.


In these terms with timeless grandeur, the supreme ideal of the purest Aryan spirit is continually reaffirmed. The contacts are reestablished, there is indeed an awakening. a return to the primordial state whose echo we find in the cosmicity of the Vedic hymns and in the supernatural framing of the deeds of the first Indo-Aryan epics. Nibbāna is, in fact. announced as a state of which nothing had been heard for a very long time." Beyond both the labyrinths of speculation and the poverty of all human sentiment, beyond the samsāric world that "burns," and beyond every phan­tasmagoria of demoniac. titanic, or celestial existences. there is affirmed the knowl­edge of a nature that, for its purity and power, could be called Olympian and regal, were it not that, at the same time, it indicates absolute transcendency. it is inherently ungraspable, not to be qualified by "this." nor by "here," nor by "there."

Such is the goal of the "noble path" or "path of the Ariya" (ariyamagga) that some have chosen to regard as "quietism" induced by an "enervating tropical cli­mate" and leading, as though through an ultimate collapse of the vital force, toward "nothingness."

54. Mahāvagga (Vin.). 1. The period, actually given here, for myriad kalpa." is typical of the tendency toward fabulous exaggeration.


The Void: "If the Mind Does Not Break"

We have already quoted a text that sees in the "void," in the "signless," and in the "without tendency" the characteristics of the "contacts" of those who emerge from the contemplations free from form. And we have also shown that the Dhammapada. in its reference to those "whose path is as difficult to follow as that of the birds through the air." associates "void" and "signless" with viveka, aloofness or detachment. These are not the only places where the concept of "void" (sunna or sunnatā) appears in the texts of early Buddhism. One who is detached from pleasure and from desire, from predi­lection and from thirst, from fever and from craving is called "void."1 Elsewhere the texts speak of a "superior man" dwelling principally in the state of "real, inviolable, pure voidness"2-it is in this state that Prince Siddhatthha receives and speaks to kings.' He has said that the perceptions no longer cling to those who know, who are troubled by nothing in the world, who ask no more questions, who have rooted out every loath­ing, and who crave neither existence nor nonexistence.' As one who is detached he experiences every kind of perception or sensation or feeling.' With particular refer­ence to the triad "void," "signless," "without tendency." all this is associated with the form of experience-either internal and psychological or of the outside world-of one who continues to live with the center of his own being in the state of nibbāna or in one or other of the higher contemplations; and the Buddha said of himself that he could dwell without effort or difficulty in one of the four jhāna or in one of the irradiant con­templations, walking or standing, sitting or lying.6 It is thus considered that the realiza-

  1. Samyutt., 22.3.

  2. Majjh.. 151.

  3. Ibid., 122.

  4. Ibid., 18.

  5. Ibid., 140.

  6. Angutt., 3.63.


tions of the Ariya are not only superhuman forms of consciousness but are also kinds of profundity wherein we can comprehend the multiple variety of the dhammā, that is to say, the various elements of internal and external experience.

This experience is itself liberated thereby, and the threefold category de-fined by the expressions "void" (sunnatā), "signless" (animitta), "without inclina­tion or tendency" (appanihita) refers to the very essence of this liberation or transfiguration. The category marks the "perfection of knowledge" or of illumina­tion, the knowledge "that has gone beyond," the prajnāpāramitā, a term that also designates a series of later Buddhist texts of distinctly Mahayana character. Those three terms must then he understood essentially sub specie interioritatis, beyond any speculative construction.

The "void" defines the mood of an experience free from the "I," and therefore disindividualized, whose substratum may, analogically, he compared to infinite space, to the ether-ākāsa. Its fulfillment is, among other things, given by formulae such as this: liberation from the "I" (ajjhattam vimokkha) the destruction of all attachments produces a mental clarity that paralyzes every āsava and removes belief in the personality.7 And again: "Since the world is without 'I' and without things having the na­ture of 'I,' therefore the world has been called void."' -This is the calm, this is the supreme point, the end of all formations, the freeing from all substrate of existence, the overcoming of thirst, the final change, the ultimate solution, extinction.' In this manner the ascetic may achieve a state such that when confronted with earth he is without perception of earth, so with water, tire, wind, infinity of space, infinity of con­sciousness, non-existence, the region beyond perception and non-perception, and such that when confronted with this world he is without perception of the world; confronted with the other world, with what he has seen, heard, felt, cognised, attained and sought in the mind, even when confronted with this he is without perception, yet possesses perception."9 Thus, a cycle is completed. The beginning corresponds to the end. The void, the "I"-lessness, which we had found to he the final truth of samsāric existence, where all individuality or substantiality is ephemeral and pure flux, and where thirst for eternal rebirth is the final instance, this "void" also marks the limit of ascetic expe­rience where, however, it reverses its significance: here it expresses the absolute, the superessential, the supercosmic consciousness, freed without residue and become illu­mination, where no forms nor perceptions nor feelings nor any other dhammā can take root any more, or gain a foothold. That which is identical, then, is simultaneously the absolute opposite. To the "I"-lessness of samsāric consciousness we may contrast the "I"-lessness of the state of nibbāna and of perfect illumination: sunnatā.

  1. Samyutt, 12.32.

  2. Ibid.. 25.85.

  3. Angutt. 11.8; cf. 11.10: Samyutt.. 22.89.


The second category. the "signless" (animitta) expresses what, in fact, was known in Vedāntic speculation as the "supreme identity." It is the nondifferentiation of char­acteristics (nimitta) on account of which normal consciousness cannot help distin­guishing among beings, states, and things. Not that things lose all their characteris­tics: it is simply that, in a manner of speaking, their varying weights, their varying distances in relation to liberated consciousness, come to disappear. Each becomes the extreme case of itself. Thus, in their very diversity they appear identical, as distinct places in space become identical if they are not referred to particular coordi­nates, but are considered from the point of view of space itself, of something simple, limitless, and homogeneous. Beings, states, or things are "signless," then, if they are lived as a function of "void"; and this now takes us on to the deeper significance of the third category, appanihita. We have translated this term as "without tendency." While the bond of an "I" still existed, all things "spoke" to this "I": all things partici­pated in subjectivity and nourished the illusion of "tendency," of "intention." Man projects his soul on the world and makes it personal, he endows the world with feel­ings, desires, and aims: he projects onto it a pathos, he gives it values and distinc­tions, all of which, in one way or another, inevitably lead back to the force that supports his life, to appetite, aversion, and ignorance. Man does not know the bare world, undisguised nature, precisely because his perception is itself a "burning," a self-identification, a continual self-binding, which takes place in a simultaneous pro­cess of consuming and being consumed. But such a state has been surmounted. Thirst is exhausted, the mist of impurity is dispersed. All nature, every perception, every phenomenon, the entirety of the dhammā that make up "internal experience," the "content of the psyche," are freed from "subjectivity," separated from what is "hu­man," and appear pure, without words, without affects, without intentions, in a fresh­ness, an orginality and an innocence that a Western man might call the innocence of the first day of creation. This, then, is the meaning of appanihita, "without tendency," as a form of the experience of those who are liberated, as the third allusive element beyond the "void" and the "signless."

But with this we have already passed from the tradition of original Buddhism to the fundamental views of the texts of the Prajnāpāramitā and of the school of the "Greater Vehicle" itself, the Mahāyāna: our transition must, under the circumstances, be considered quite natural, and we shall therefore say a few words about the doc­trine in question.

The theme of a double truth (satya-dvaya) spoken of by the Buddha, is here particularly stressed: the school of the Mādhyamika, especially, placed in contrast to the truth that corresponds to normal consciousness (vyavahāra-satya). a higher. meta-physical truth (paramārtha-satya), about which, however, many misunderstandings arose. Often, in fact, a speculative system was made to correspond to it, a system


where the true point of reference should have been an experience or a state. After the early period of Buddhism, there occurred in the two principal schools to which it gave place (Hinayāna and Mahāyāna) a definite twofold process of regression and of degeneration. Although the nucleus of the original doctrine of the Ariya was made up of ascesis and of experience, and therefore had nothing to do either with morality or with speculation, yet these same two elements eventually became paramount in the two schools. In Hinayāna the ascesis frequently became weakened through the prevalence of the ethical-monastic element that even then evinced a certain similar­ity to Western monasticism; in addition, a pessimistic interpretation of the world was usual, dukkha being commonly understood only as "universal pain" and nirvāna as a beyond rigidly contrasted with samsāra. In Mahāyāna, on the other hand, the philo­sophical element came to prevail, in the sense that-quite apart from the religious aspect, of which we shall speak in a moment-there was a paradoxical attempt to make use of the view of the world attributed to a consciousness that was liberated and become illumination, as the basis for a philosophical system that some have compared to Western "idealistic" philosophy. This comparison is, however, largely invalid. There is a fundamental difference: for Western idealistic philosophies are simply products of the mind and their authors and followers are, and remain, men as samsāric and as devoid of all superrational and superindividual illumination as any of their contemporaries ignorant of university philosophy. The "idealism" of the specu­lative Mahāyāna Buddhism is, on the other hand. an attempt at a rational systemati­zation of superrational experience behind and above it. Without the dominating fig­ure of Prince Siddhattha. not even the speculative idealism of Nāgārjuna could have made its appearance, yet the existence of such figures as Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, and the like is conceivable without any such antecedent; at most. no more is required than the background of a particular historical phase in Western critical and philo­sophical thought.

We can now go on to discuss the views that in Mahāyāna are more closely con­nected with our last considerations. Here, a single term marks the ultimate essence of every state, object, or phenomenon of internal or external experience: tathatā, a term as difficult to translate as it is to express the state of rarefied illumina­tion from which it takes its sense. The English translators use, for tathatā, the term "thatness" or "suchness. " the German, Solicit. The word denotes the "this," the qual­ity of that which is perceived, insofar as it is directly and evidentially perceived, as a subject of pure experience, of simplicity, of impersonal transparency. This quality, moreover, understood to be its own substratum, devoid of conditions and of genera­tion that is expressed by the term svayambhu. frequently associated in the texts with tathatā. Tathatā appears as a primary clement, beyond every qualification of expe­rience as world of "I" or of non-"1."


In these texts, the normal designation used for an Awakened One, or a Buddha, is tathāgata, a word that in the ancient books of the canon could be translated as "Accomplished One" but that here assumes a more special sense. The Tathāgata is one who "has thus gone," becoming the "this." The "this" is the equivalent of his actual illumination, conceived as an inexpressible and simple existential state. The Awakened One is not an "I" and he does not "have" illumination: he is the tathatā, the very substance of the knowledge "that goes beyond," the prajnāpāramitā.

For him, every content of experience, every objectivity (dharmatā) becomes resolved into this substance; and therefore, into something existing as pure evidence, that is not susceptible of name, sign, or definition, that is imponderable, that is "like the nonpareil," that is tathatā. These expressions are found thus in one text: "All objects and states (dharmā) are unthinkable, imponderable, immeasurable, uncount­able, like the nonpareil-these are the objects and the states of the Tathāgata [the Awakened One]: unthinkable, because the mind has attained calm [as opposed to dukkha, the state of samsāric agitation]; imponderable, through surmounting the pos­sibility of being weighed. Unthinkable and imponderable are designations for what consciousness comes to attain. Similarly immeasurable, uncountable, like the non­pareil-these are the properties of the Tathāgata [the Awakened One] because of a counting and measuring by peers, who have attained calm and neutrality."" Thus, "perfect illumination (prajnāpāramitā) neither takes nor leaves any object," expe­rience develops, that is to say, as if in an ether-light, that knows no change or motion, like "a flower opening from the abyss." The condition of perfect illumination or of "knowledge that goes beyond" is, in fact, related to ākāsa, the ether, of which we have already spoken (cf. p. 171), and the truth announced by the bodhisattva, by those who are illumination in substance and who move toward perfect awakening, is that form has the nature of ether, feelings, perceptions, tendencies, consciousness have the nature of ether: such is the nature of every thing or state (dharma), they do not come, they do not go, they are like space, like ether, they are resolved in the void, in the signless, in the without tendency: for them, there is no other law.12 In similar terms the nature itself of an Awakened One is defined: "Why the name of Tathāgata? Because it expresses the true tathatā; because it has no origin, because it is the destruction of qualities, because he is one who has no origin, and non-origin is the highest aim."13

At this height, every form or state or phenomenon or element, every dhamma
10. Prajnāpāramitā, 13.83. Quotations from the texts of the Prajnāpāramitā are based on M. Walleser's edi­tion (Gottingen. 1914).

11. Ibid., 8.68.

  1. Ibid.. 15.90.

  2. Vajracchedikā, 17 (text of the Sacred Books of the East, "Mahayana Texts," vol. 49).


appears, through its own nature, as vivikta or "detached"-freed from its individual-

both in the world that was once without and also in the interior of the Accom­plished One. Disindividualization, resolution in the "void," in the "signless," and in the "without tendency" then reaches the highest regions, dissolves them, removes the final limit, and prepares for a unity that, though entirely transcendent, is at the same time entirely immanent. To resolve all residue of duality, to make of the state of nirvāna something that devours all, without residue, to make of it the "end of the world," that which in reality "leaves nothing behind" (anupādhi-sesa), then nirvāna itself and, with it, the Awakened One, the Tathāgata, must be freed from individual­ity, that is, from the signs on account of which it might have an "other" in opposition. The nirvāna, that early Buddhism wished to protect by wrapping it in silence and a refusal to speak of it, is here the target of a speculation that reaches the height of paradox. This is what we read: "The `this' [tathatā] of the Tathāgata [the Awakened One] is the 'this' of every thing, phenomenon or state (dharma), and the `this' of every thing, phenomenon or state is the `this' of the Tathāgata, and the 'this' of every thing, phenomenon or state and the `this of the Tathāgata, that in fact is in its turn the 'this' of the Tathāgata. ... The `this' of the Tathāgata and the 'this' of every thing, phenomenon, or state, that in fact is a single 'this,' without duality, without plurality, is a 'this' devoid of duads."15 And again: "That which has been announced by the Tathāgata as perfect illumination (prajnāpāramitā), is announced by the Tathāgata as not perfect illumination and for this very reason it is called perfect illumination,"16-a theme that is repeated for a whole series of other elements and for the attributes themselves of an Awakened One, of a Buddha: that which has been announced by the Tathāgata as a quality of a Buddha, is announced by him as not a quality of a Buddha and for this very reason it is called a quality of a Buddha.17 To remain in the "void" is to remain in perfect illumination, in transcendent knowledge. In it dwells the bodhisattva: not in the world of the senses, not in a special state of ascetic realization or in its fruits, not even in "Buddha-ness."18 Nor is this all: "There is no knowledge, there is no ignorance, there is no destruction of ignorance]; there is no knowledge, there is no attainment of nirvāna. A man who has [only] approached transcendental knowledge, [still] remains shut in by his mind (citta). But when the
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