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  1. Prajnāpār.. 22.129.

  2. Ibid., 16.98.

  3. Vajracchedikā, 13.

  4. Ibid., 8; cf. 13, 26-in this last short chapter the formula is extended to the thirty-two attributes of a superior man (cf. p. 16): these are said really to be such when they cease to be so, as opposed to others. Cf. 26: "One who wished to see me by seeing my form or hear me by hearing my voice would struggle in vain and would not see me. A Buddha must he seen by seeing the law, because the Lords [the Buddhas] have their body made of the law [dharmakāya-on this "body made of law" Mahāyāna has a vast doc­trine] and the nature of the law cannot be understood, nor was it made to he understood."

  5. Prajnāpār.. 1.56.


shell of his mind is destroyed, he becomes free from all fear, he is carried beyond the world of change and attains the ultimate nirvāna."19 And if one asks: "Is there any-thing that has been announced by the Tathāgata'?" the answer, definite as it is dis­concerting, is: "No, nothing has been announced by the Tathāgata.' Again: "1 someone were to say that the Tathāgata goes or comes, stands or sits or lies, he would not have understood the meaning of my teaching. Why? Because the word Tathāgata says that he is going nowhere, that he is coming from nowhere-and for this reason is he called the Tathāgata, the blessed and perfect Illuminated One."

It is thus that we arrive at the paradoxical equation of the most extreme Mahāyāna schools: nirvāna and samsāra, the unconditioned and the conditioned, the "end of the world" and the "world" are without duality, without plurality, they do not make duad: they are one and the same thing. "Form is the void and the void is form. The void is not different from form. Form is not different from the void.... Thus al beings have the character of the void, they have no beginning, they have no end they are perfect and they are not perfect."22 The central theme of the Lankāvatāra sutra is, in fact, the need of taking oneself beyond notions of being and of nonbeing of cutting oneself off from all residue of dual thought (vikalpa) of overcoming the attitude that seeks nirvāna outside samsāra and samsāra outside nirvāna. Thus, the attitude of the "negativistic" schools themselves is rejected. "All texts that affirm the unreality of things belong to imperfect doctrine," as is said in the Mahābheri- hārakaparivarta-sutra. Another adds that this same doctrine of unreality is, in the Mahāyāna, something that obstructs, it is like a gate."

Nirvāna = samsāra. This means that nirvāna is not an "other"; it is the absolute dimension (superior both to samsāra and to itself, if it is understood in opposition to samsāra) through which the "this," the world can be lived and essayed. And it is only thus, as a function of that which, like the ether, is infinite, ungraspable, like the nonpareil, imponderable, not susceptible to contamination by anything that is con taminated, immobile in any movement-it is only thus that the "world" no longer really exists, that in forms, which ensure one who is ruled by "ignorance," it is no more substantial than an apparition, an echo, or a mirage traced in the limpidity o the open sky.24 In its existence it does not exist, in its nonexistence it exists: this is true both for the world and for one who is liberated, for the Tathāgata. This is the meaning of the recurring formula of the Vajracchedikā: "That which has been de

  1. Prajnapāramitā-hrdaya-sutra, in Sacred Books of the East, part 2, pp. 147-48.

  2. Vajracchedikā, 13.

  3. Ibid., 29.

  4. Prajnāpāramita-sutra, op. cit.

  5. Quoted in K. Nukariya. The Religion of the Samurai (London, 1913), p. 137.

  6. Cf. our Fenomenologia dell'individuo assoluto (Turin, 1930), para. 30.


clared as existing, that very thing has been declared as not existing and it is thus that it has been declared to exist." At this point it is said: "If, indeed, by this doctrine, by this exposition, the mind of one who aspires to illumination is not cast down, does not feel the abyss [does not sink], does not feel anguish, if his spirit is not seized, if he is not as though with a broken hack, is not alarmed, does not feel terror-then such a one is to be instructed in the fullness of transcendent knowledge."25 He will become one of those who are said to he "not comparable with men, not like them," "because unthinkable qualities are the gifts of the Tathāgata, of the Venerable Ones (arhant), of the Perfectly Illuminated Ones."26

Such is the attitude of the esoteric, "supreme truth" in the teaching (paramārtha). To stand up to it, "one needs a threefold cuirass." The profane, when it faces them, tremble and cry: "Rather samsāra! (varam samsāra evāvasthanam)."27

  1. Prajnāpār.. I.35; cf. 44.

  2. Ibid.. 22.127.

  3. Bodhicaryāvatāratikā, 9.53. In their turn. these Mahāyāna views have constituted one of the premises of Buddhist Tantrism. of the "path of lightning and of the diamond" with its development into a magic outlook on the world; on which, see our work already quoted. The Yoga of Power.


Up to Zen

Since our aim has been to give the original Doctrine of Awakening as it appears from a study of the Pali texts, we have no need to deal in detail with the changes and transformations of Buddhism in later epochs: besides, this would be more in the province of history than in that of doctrine. We shall confine ourselves, then, to a few short notes.

We have already said that Buddhism, in its true essence, is of an eminently aristo­cratic nature. At the beginning, Buddhism was the truth understood by those few, who alone had really achieved illumination and who appeared as bhikkhu or wandering ascetics. Then, around these, the upāsaka, lay followers, collected and increased and who. according to the canonical formula, had taken refuge in the Buddha, the doctrine, and the order. The order, however, did not resemble a church and the doctrine still less a religion. Women were originally excluded. The unity of the order was essentially due to a strict style of life. It was only later, and with a decadence fully recognized as such by the ancient texts, that precepts and rules multiplied.

The decadence of Buddhism was inevitable once it began to spread: for the Ariya Doctrine of Awakening is closer than any other to a path of initiation that may be understood and trodden only by the few in whom, together with exceptional strength, there is present a lively aspiration for the unconditioned. And even racial and caste influences played their part: not for nothing have we insisted on the "Aryan" quality of the doctrine under discussion. Frontiers to comprehension exist in the nor­mal way, and they are conditioned by the race of spirit and, in part, by the body itself. As soon as Buddhism was adopted by the masses and not only passed to levels where foreign influences survived or were rearoused, but spread even to peoples of notably different stock, changes and alterations became inevitable.

After the original period, the two principal streams of Buddhism have been, as we have said, Hinayāna and Mahāyāna. There is probably more formal purity in the former than in the latter. Hinayāna remained the custodian of the canonical Pāli


texts, which every Buddhist recognizes as "Scripture," and made them the base of its orthodoxy. But, as we said a few pages back, this stream eventually developed a prevalently ethical-ascetic interpretation of the Doctrine of Awakening on a pessi­mistic and claustral foundation; an interpretation that represented, in fact, a fall in level. Yet Hinayāna retained more traces of the clarity, simplicity, and austerity that reflect the original Ariyan style.

Things went differently in Mahāyāna, which developed in Northern India, Tibet, and Nepal, where the presence of Mongolian elements mixed with even more ancient ethnic strains was noteworthy. Mahāyāna presents a particularly com­plex and composite picture, which it is not always easy to analyze. On the one hand its metaphysical level is undeniably much higher; on the other, cracks and changes in the structure become equally evident.

If we look at the negative elements, we must in the first place note that, in Mahāyāna the Doctrine of Awakening from being the heritage of an elite of true ascetics, degenerated into a "religion" with an extensive mythology. Mahāyāna is aware of the aspects that do not allow the Buddha to be considered simply as a man. Mahāyāna, in fact, emphasized the cosmic and supernatural significance of the Awakened Ones and of the bodhisattva, who advance toward awakening. But, on the other hand, it allowed the deification in a religious sense of the Buddha, who here ceases to be one who is liberated and instead becomes a god, the object of a cult and of devout adoration that Brahmanic Hinduism tried to arrogate to itself by mak­ing him one of the avatārā, the manifestations of Visnu. In these aspects of Mahāyāna, feeling and imagination get the better of the purely intellectual and virile principle. As opposed to the Doric bareness of original Buddhism, we have here what is really a fabulous and kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of thousands of divinities and bodhisattva, of beings who are the mythological personifications of the various states of contemplation, of symbols, worlds, heavens, and marvels. The Buddha becomes a transcendent being in the person of Amitābha, whose name means "infinite splen­dor," and with whom primordial memory is enigmatically associated. Amitābha reigns in the "blessed land of the West," Sukhāvatī, where neither impurity, nor death, nor destruction exist; this has the same traits as those of similar lands in the ancient Aryan-Western traditions, in ancient Egypt, and the myth of Gilgamesh itself. These are mythical transpositions of the memory of the original western (or northwestern) home of the "divine race."1 Between Amitābha and the world of men stands Avalokitesvara, with the traits of a divine mediator, the "Lord who looks down," moved by love and compassion for all creatures.

1. Cf. our Revolt Against the Modem World. On Sukhāvatī. cf. the two Sukhāvati-vyāha in Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49.


While these creatures are, on the one hand, led along the path of bhakti, of religious "devotion"-and in some cases Avalokitesvara even changes sex, and be-comes a maternal divinity, the Kuan Yin of Chinese Buddhism-on the other, they are each given the quality of bodhi, which is the extrasamsāric element capable of producing the miracle of illumination. Not only in each man, but-according to the more popular forms of this faith (since we must now call it a faith)-in every living being generally, a potential Buddha had to be seen. And here, naturally, we find a resurgence of particularly virulent forms of reincarnational fantasies that sometimes assume ridiculous shapes as the counterpart of a doctrine of "merits." From life to life, by accumulating "merits" of all descriptions, living beings gradually become Awakened Ones. They are helped, besides, by the bodhisattva, who here become semicelestial beings, losing, at the same time, a large part of their Olympian traits: for, not only are men now no longer left to their own efforts to achieve awakening, as they were in the original austere and virile doctrine, but the bodhisattva are con­cerned with universal salvation. They now go to the aid of men, and make a vow not to enter nirvāna themselves until, with their help, all living beings have arrived there too. These doctrines are certainly "generous" in the equalitarian and, we were al-most going to say, Christian sense, but they have little of the Aryan or the really traditional style about them. We no longer have before us the Ariyan Doctrine of Awakening, but a religion put together for the satisfaction of the faith and sentiments of the masses, to the detriment of the knowledge and clear vision that conforms to reality.

A second aspect of the degeneration of Buddhism is the philosophical one. Al-ready the later part of the Pāli canon, the Abhidhamma, often shows the same ste­reotyped, unalive, and rationalistic profile that belongs chiefly to our own medieval Scholasticism. In Mahāyāna, thought certainly has broader play, but it gives place to the misunderstanding we have already discussed. The great merit of Mahāyāna lies in this: that it has taken as its foundation the point of view, not of a samsāric being, but of an Awakened One, not of an ordinary man who strives, but of a Buddha, a Tathāgata, not the terminus a quo but the terminus ad quem. That which for the former cannot help being something negative and indefinite-nirvāna-and which Hinayāna, too, considered essentially as being evanescently distant, in Mahāyāna assumes, instead, undeniably positive features. Here is a question not so much of nirvāna as of its counterpart, illumination, prajnā, or bodhi. In its highest aspects, Mahāyāna is certainly a doctrine of illumination; but unfortunately the demon of speculation managed to find a way in. Mahāyāna often transforms that which, in its nature, is something superrational and inexpressible, comprehensible only on the basis of a direct transcendent experience, into a speculative concept, and it becomes the organ of a system of thought. The "void" (sunna) and the intangible tathatā con-


dense, in spite of themselves, into concepts of spiritual theory of knowledge and of the world. We have, thus, the equivalents-anticipated by many centuries-of West-ern absolute idealism. Things only exist as creations of the mind. Mind is the original and permanent substance (bhutatathatā) intact and identical with itself in any phe­nomenon. Earthly or celestial apparitions, samsāra, men, gods, Buddhas, all origi­nate only in the mind. Mind is like the water of the ocean, phenomena are like the waves that wrinkle its surfaces: mind and phenomena are of the same substance. Outside the mind, nothing has real existence. So we arrive at Nāgārjuna's system.

These ideas, which, as philosophical views, have nothing to do with higher knowl­edge, contain, nevertheless, a reflection of it, and are thus not without a certain cathartic power. The fall of level that they represent was halted in Mahāyāna by the presence of a genuine esoterism that was capable, in a restricted circle of qualified individuals, of rectifying such theories and restoring them to the higher plane to which they belong, and also of discovering the secret knowledge hidden behind the mythological form of the various beings and divinities in the religious aspect of Mahāyāna. This same "idealistic" or "unrealistic" theory, we must admit, was val­ued less from a theoretical point of view than from a practical one, as it was used as a kind of medicine for the purpose of purification. The misery of beings derives from their taking as reality things that exist only as creations of their mind: deceived by the false appearances of real beings and qualities, and of different natures and val­ues, action takes them ever further away from true reality, nourishes "ignorance," creates ever stronger bonds and perpetuates the irrational round that the living pur­sue. One who steeps himself, instead, in the reality of the "void," in the unreality of everything that, in heaven or earth, seems objective, leaves his intoxication little by little behind him, feels a loftier calm, detaches himself from action that is due to craving and abandons vulgar interests, hate, and anger. He has now made his mind ready to receive a higher knowledge. It is in this sense that the idealism or unrealism of Mahāyāna, which possesses not a few points of contact with that of the Vedānta, had, and still has, a cathartic value.

In this connection arises the problem of the extent to which a knowledge that, because it refers to transcendent summits, should be inarticulate, while being able, in general, to provide directional "suggestions" and to encourage moments of illumination.

In this very connection, and to end our exposition, we wish to say something about what is known as Zen Buddhism. Zen is one of the most important streams of esoteric Buddhism transplanted into China and Japan and is still in existence. Ac-cording to tradition, it is actually based on a secret doctrine transmitted from spirit to spirit by Prince Siddhattha to his disciple Mahākassapa. Preserved through an unin­terrupted chain of masters, it was carried, at the beginning of the sixth century A.D.,


into China by Bodhidharma, third son of a powerful Brāhman king of southwest India. From China, Zen passed to Japan, where it grew powerful roots and had im­portant developments. We are dealing, in substance, with a branch of Mahāyāna esoterism, which found, in certain Taoist views (particularly in Lao-tzu's doctrine of the "void") and in certain tendencies of the Chinese mind (above all, in its feeling for nature), congenial elements with which it combined. As for the term Zen, it is itself the abbreviation of the Sino-Japanese term that corresponds to the Sanskrit dhyāna and to the Pāli jhāna. But here this term must be understood in a wider sense than we have previously given it. In general, it expresses a form of contemplation developed under the sign of the "void."

Zen is not, as a few have claimed, a "Chinese anomaly" of Buddhism; it is essentially a renewal of the exigency that originally gave life to Buddhism in the face of Brahmanic speculation and ritualism. In fact, at one period there had taken place in Buddhism, but using different terms, the same phenomenon of decay, of scholastic formalization and of traditional and ritualistic survival, as in post-Vedic India. Zen appears to have represented as strong a reaction against all this as, in its own time, original Buddhism did against its own background of circumstances. Zen will have nothing to do with speculations, canonical writings, rites, or religious aber­rations. It is even positively iconoclastic. It does not, like Nāgārjuna, discuss tran­scendental truth, but desires to create, through a direct action of the mind on the mind, the conditions for its actual realization.'

"The Scriptures are nothing more than useless paper," says Rin-zai, a Zen mas­ter. Another thus reprimands one who was burning Confucian hooks: "You would have done better to have burned the hooks in your mind and your heart, rather than these written in black and white." Texts, dogmas, precepts are so many bonds or so many crutches, to he put aside that one may advance on one's own. The Buddhist canonical literature itself is likened to a window, from which one contemplates the great scene of nature: but to live in this scene you must jump outside the window. There is also the simile of the finger and the moon: to indicate the position of the moon, a finger is necessary: but woe to those who mistake the finger for the moon. We must think the same of transcendental knowledge and achievement. As nature hates a vacuum-it is said-so Zen abhors everything that may come between real­ity and ourselves. Reap, if you can, the allusions contained in the doctrines: but beware of binding yourself to words and concepts. The idea of a special passing-on of the true knowledge independently of the texts is the cornerstone of one of the principal schools of Zen. The state of a Buddha-it is maintained-can only he un-

2. The data and the quotations from texts, in what follows, are taken from Kaiten Nukariya, The Religion of the Sumarai. and D. T. Suzuki. Essais sui le bouddhisme Zen (Paris, 1940).


derstood by one who is himself a Buddha. To describe it in words is a task that would have been beyond the power of the son of the Sākyā himself.

To illustrate the teaching of inward independence, an anecdote is told of a Zen master who, to warm himself one icy morning, chopped to pieces a consecrated statue of the Buddha and put it on the fire with the remark: "The Buddha would have offered not the wood of his statue, but even his very life to help another." The Bud­dha, he who has taught how to cut off every bond and how to subsist without support, must not become a bond and a support. With regard to the boundary that separates vision from mental expression, and to the consequent necessity of an act starting from within, we find in Zen some episodes that are downright drastic. A disciple who finally asked his master to reveal to him the fundamental principle of the Buddhist doctrine, is sent to another master. The question is repeated, and the answer is a slap in the face. Referring the matter to his first master, the disciple is again sent to the second. He asks the same question and the answer is no different: a slap in the face. He is sent a third time. This time the disciple, as soon as he is in the presence of the master, without a word, himself gives the other a blow on the face. The master, smiling, then tells him: "You have understood." Another Zen master told a prince who was debating with him: "We ask nothing of the Buddha, of the Law, or of the Order." The prince then says: "If you ask nothing of the Buddha, of the Law, or of the Order, what, then, is the aim of your cult?" Here, again, the answer is simply a slap in the face.

The Zen texts are rich in anecdotes where the impulse to know intellectually is cut off by an answer that is entirely out of key, or by a brusque action by the master; they are answers or actions, however, that sometimes act in a mature spirit as a catharsis. They may suddenly confront you with an empty chasm into which you must jump, leaving everything behind: your self, your own mind, your theories, even your own preoccupation with liberation. A man. wishing to be initiated into the knowl­edge, knocks at the door of a Zen monastery. The only answer he gets is that the door is shut so brutally in his face that one of his arms is broken. In that instant, illumina­tion flashes over the man. "What is the sacred temple of the Buddha?" asks another. The Zen master replies: "An innocent girl." "And who is the lord of the temple?" "A child in her womb." "What is the true body of the Vairochana Buddha?" The master replies: "Fetch me a jug of water." The disciple does so. The master says: "Take it back to where it was." And this is all. An assembly was called together to hear a lecture, long anticipated, on the essence of the doctrine. The master finally appears and, without speaking, stretches out his arms.

This leads us onto another Zen theme: "the tongue of the inanimate." These are Seigen-Ishin's words: "Before a man studies Zen, for him mountains are mountains and waters are waters. When, thanks to the teaching of a qualified master, he has


attained the inner vision of the truth of Zen, for him mountains are no longer moun­tains and waters are no longer waters. But after this, when he has really reached the haven of calm, once again mountains are, for him, mountains and waters, waters." The second phase evidently corresponds to nirvāna when it is faced by samsāra; the third, to nirvāna that leaves no residue. The "return" must be interpreted on the lines of the liberated experience, where every dualism is resolved, which we discussed in connection with the Mahāyāna doctrine of the "void" and of the tathatā. Zen, how-ever, tends to make nature itself suggest this disindividualized and liberated experi­ence, and to produce moments of illumination such as give a sense of the change of state, in which lies the essence of the path. The mind must come to feel that every-thing becomes manifest and reveals itself according to an absolute and unparalleled perfection: only then will it have intimations also of that nirvāna that leaves nothing behind it, and that corresponds to the mountains that are once again mountains and to the waters that are once more waters. One simile, in this connection, is quite expres­sive: "The shadow follows the body, the echo arises from the voice. He who chases his shadow tires his body. not knowing that it is the body that produces the shadow; and he who raises his voice to drown an echo, does not know that the voice is the cause of the echo." It is also said: "The subject achieves calm when the object van­ishes; the object vanishes when the subject achieves calm." Lao-tzu had already taught: "Abandon in order to obtain." It is a question of creating a state of absolute identity with oneself, without signs, without intentions. Thus, Zen, following the steps of Taoism. speaks of an act that is a noneffort or a nonintention (anabhogā-caryā) and of a corresponding resolution, like a "vow" (anabhogā-pranidhāna). Another saying: "As two flawless mirrors reflect, one in the other, so the concrete fact and the spirit must face each other without any foreign body being interposed." Once again, it is a matter of catharsis from subjectivity, of destruction of "psychology," which had already been the aim of the yathābhutam of ancient Buddhism, the transparent vi­sion conforming to reality. Then nature, in its liberty and impersonality, in its extra­neousness to all that is subjective and affective, is able to intimate the state of illumi­nation. This is why Zen declares that the doctrine is found in simple and natural facts rather than in the texts of the canon, and that the universe is its real Scripture and the body of the Tathāgata. "Trees, grass, mountains, streams, stars, the sea, the moon-with this alphabet the texts of Zen are written." "Can the inanimate preach the doc­trine?" Hui-chung replies: "Yes, it preaches with eloquent words and without ceas­ing." The sun rises. The moon sets. Mountain heights. Ocean depths. Spring flowers. Fresh summer breeze. The large autumnal moon. Winter snowflakes. "These things, perhaps too simple for a common observer to pay them attention, have a deep mean­ing for Zen." "What is the truth?" asks a disciple. As a reply, the master Yo-shan indicates the sky with his finger and then a pitcher of water and says: "Do you see?"


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