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Rg Veda. 10.903; Chāndogya Upanisad. 3.t2.6.

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brahman provided a dangerous incentive toward evasion. toward a confused self-identificafion with the spirituality of everything. at the very moment when a particu­larly energetic reaction by way of a tendency toward concentration. detachment, and awakening was needed.

Altogether, the germs of decadence. which were already showing themselves in the post-Vedic period and which were to become quite evident in the Buddha's day (sixth century B.C.), are as follows above all, a stereotyped ritualism: then the demon of speculation. whose effect was that what ought to have remained "secret doctrine." upanisad, rahasya. became partly rationalized, with the result that there eventually appealed a tumultuous crowd of divergent theories, sects, and schools, which the Buddhist texts often vividly describe.' In the thud place, we find a "religious" transformation of many divinities who in the Vedic period were as we have said simply cosmically transfigured states of consciousness; these have now be-come objects of popular cults.' We have already spoken of the pantheistic danger. In addition to these points we have yet to consider the effect of foreign. non-Aryan influences, to which we believe are attributable in no small degree the formation and diffusion of the theory of reincarnation.

As we have said, there is no trace of this theory in the early Vedic period: this is because it is quite incompatible with an Olympian and heroic vision of the world, be­ing as it is a "truth" of non-Aryan races that are tellurically and matriarchally adjusted in outlook. Reincarnation in fact, is conceivable only by one who feels himself to be a "son of the earth." who has no knowledge of a reality transcending the naturalistic order, bound as he is to a female-maternal divinity found alike in the pre-Aryan Medi­terranean world, and in the pre Aryan Hindu civilization. such as the Dravidian and Kosalian. Into the source from which as an ephemeral being he has stoning. the indi­vidual. when he dies, must return, only to reappear in fresh terrestrial truths. in an ines­capable and interminable cycle. This is the ultimate sense of the theory of reincarnation, a theory that begins to infiltrate as early as the period of Upanisad speculations; it gives place gradually to mixed forms that we can use as a measure, of the change in the original Aryan consciousness to which we have referred.

While in the Vedas only a single fate after death is considered, as in ancient Hellas, in the Brahmana texts the theory of the double way already appears: "[Only] he who knows and practices ritual action rises again in life and obtains immortal life:

8. Cf. Digha, 1.1.29 ff.; Suttanipata, 4.12, 13.

9. It is essentially of these gods that we must think when we see them assume, in Buddhist texts, quite modest and subordinate parts, transforming themselves sometimes almost into quasi disciples who receive revelation of the doctrine from the Buddha. We are dealing, that is, with the degradation of the ancient gods: and the doctrine revealed by the Awakened One corresponds, basically, with what they once signified, but which at this period, had been forgotten.

2ti
fhe others who neither know nor practise ritual action will continue to be born anew, as nourishment for death."10 In the Upanisads, however, as the relationship between the real "I" and the atma oscillates, so does their teaching of what happens after death They speak of the "dyke, beyond which even night becomes day, sine the world of the brahman is unchangeable light"; a dyke constituted by the atma against which neither decay, nor death, nor pain, nor good action. nor bad action can prevail.11 They speak of the "way of the gods" (deva-yana) that leads one after death to the unconditioned whence "there is no return." But at the same time another road is considered. the pitr-yana, along which "one returns," the individual after death be­ing little by little "sacrificed" to various divinities for whom he becomes "food." finally to reappear on the earth12 In the oldest texts the possibility of a liberation is not considered for those who go an this second road they speak instead of the "causal law." of the karma, which determines a man's subsequent existence co the basis of what he hits done in the preceding one. We have now arrived at what we shall call fhe samsaric consciousness (from samsara). which is the keystone of the Buddhist vision of life: the secret knowledge. confided privately by the wise Yajnavalkya to the king Artabhaga, is that after death the individual elements of man dissolve in the corresponding cosmic elements including the atma, which returns to the "efher," and that which is left is only the karma. that is, the action, the impersonal fume, bound to the life of one being, that will goon to determine a new heirs)'

In all nits can he seen, then, more fhan just the effect of "free" metaphysical speculation: it is, rather, a sign of a consciousness that begins to consider itself terres­trial or. at the most. pantheistically (cosmic, and that now centers itself on that part of the human being that may really be concerned with death and rebirth and indefinite wandering across various forms of conditioned existence': we say "various" since the horizons gradually widened and it was even thought that one might re-arise in this or that world of gods, according to one's actions In any case, in the epoch in which Buddhism appeared the theories of reincarnation and of transmigration were al-ready an integral pan of the ideas acquired by the predominant mentality. Some times, and even in the Upanisads, different outlooks became indiscriminately com­bined so that on the one side was conceived an atma that, although divorced from any concrete experience. was supposed to be permanently and intangibly present in evetyone. and on the other side there was the interminable wandering of man in various lives

It is on fhese lines that practical and realistic currents gradually established



10 Satapatha Brahmana, 10.4.3,10.

11. Chandogya upanisad, 8.4.1-2.

12. Ibid., 3-10; Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 6.2.9-16.

13. Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 3.2.13..

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themselves in opposition to the speculative currents. We can include Sāmkhya, which opposed to the pantheistic danger a rigid dualism and in which the reality of the "I" or ātmā-called here purusā-as the supernatural, intangible, and unalterable prin­ciple is opposed to all the forms, forces, and phenomena of a natural and material order. But more important in this respect are the trends of yoga. Based both on Sāmkhya and on ascetic tendencies already coming to the fore in opposition to ritu­alistic and speculative Brahmanism, these recognized more or less explicitly the new state of affairs, which was that in speaking of "l" one could no longer concretely understand the ātmā, the unconditioned principle; that it appeared no longer as direct consciousness; and that therefore, apart from speculation, it could only be consid­ered as an end, as the limit of a process of reintegration with action as its basis. As the immediate real datum there was substituted instead what we call "samsāric" consciousness and existence, consciousness bound to the "current"-and the tennam samsāra (which thus only makes a relatively late appearance) means precisely "cur­rent"-it is the current of becoming.

it is not out of place to consider another point. The brāhmana caste is habitually thought of in the West as a "sacerdotal" caste. This is true only up to a certain point. In the Vedic origins the type of Brahman or "sacrificer" bears little resemblance to that of the "priest" as our contemporaries think of him: he was, rather, a figure both virile and awful and, as we have said, a kind of visible incarnation in the human world of the superhuman (bhu-deva). Furthermore, we often find in the early texts a point where the distinction between the brāhman-the "sacerdotal" caste-and the ksatram or rājam-the warrior or regal caste-did not exist; a feature that we see in the earliest stages of all traditional civilizations, including the Greek, Roman, and German. The two types only began to differ in a later period, this being another aspect of the process of regression that we have mentioned. Besides, there are many who maintain that in Aryan India the doctrine of the ātmā was originally confuted almost exclusively to the warrior caste, and that the doctrine of brahman as an undif­ferentiated cosmic force was formulated mainly by the sacerdotal caste. There is probably some truth in this view. In any case, it is a fact that in many texts we see a king or a ksatriya (a member of the warrior nobility) vying in knowledge with and sometimes even instructing members of the Brahman caste; and that, according to tradition, primordial knowledge was handed down. starting from iksvāku, in regal succession;14 the same "solar dynasty" (surya-varmsa) that we mentioned in connection with the Buddha's family, also figures here, We should have the following picture; in the Indo-Aryan post-Vedic world, while the warrior caste held a more realistic and virile view and put emphasis on the doctrine of the atma as the unchangeable and immortal principle of human personality, the Brahman caste was becoming,

14 Cf. Bhagavadgita, 4.1-2.

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little by Little, "sacerdotal" and, instead of facing the reality, was moving among ritual and stereotyped exegeses and speculations. Simultaneously, in another way, the character of the first Vedic period was becoming overgrown with a tropical and chaotic vegetation of myths and popular religious images, even of semidevotional practices seeking the attainment of this, that, or the other divine "rebirth" on the basis of views on reincarnation and transmigration that, as we have said, had already infiltrated into the less illuminated Indo-Aryan mentalities. Leaving yoga apart, it is worth noting that it was the warrior nobility-the ksatram-that furnished the princi­pal support not only of the Sāmkhya system, which is regarded as representing a clear reaction against speculative "idealism," but also of Jainism, the so-called doc­trine of the conquerors (from jina, "conqueror"), which laid emphasis, though with a tendency to extremism, on necessity for ascetic action.



All this is necessary for our understanding of the historical place of Buddhism and of the reasons of its most characteristic views.

From the point of view of universal history, Buddhism arose in a period marked by a crisis running through a whole series of traditional civilizations. This crisis some-times resolved itself positively thanks to opportune reforms and revisions, and some-times negatively with the effect of inducing further phases of regression or spiritual decadence. This period, called by some the "climacteric" of civilization, falls ap­proximately between the eighth and the fifth centuries B.C. It is in this period that the doctrines of Lao-tzu and Kung Fu-tzu (Confucius) were taking root in China, repre­senting a renewal of elements of the most ancient tradition on the metaphysical plane on the one hand, and on the ethical-social on the other. In the same period it is said that "Zarathustra" appeared, through whom a similar return took place in the Persian tradition. And in India the same function was performed by Buddhism, also representing a reaction and, at the same time, a re-elevation. On the other hand, as we have often pointed ouf elsewhere, it seems that in the West processes of deca­dence mainly prevailed. The period of which we are now talking is, in fact, that in which the ancient aristocratic and hieratic Hellas declined; in which the religion of Isis along with other popular and spurious forms of mysticism superseded the solar and regal Egyptian civilization; it is that in which Israelite prophetism started the most dangerous ferments of corruption and subversion in the Mediterranean world. The only positive counterpart in the West seems in fact to have been Rome, which was born in that period and which for a certain cycle was a creation of universal importance, animated in high measure by an Olympian and heroic spirit.15

Coming to Buddhism, it was not conceived, as many who unilaterally take the Brāhman point of view like to claim, as an antitraditional revolution, similar, in its

15. On rhis significance of Rome as a "rebirth" of a primordiat Aryan heritage cf. our Revolt Against the Modern World, part 2.



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own way, to what the Lutheran heresy was to Catholicism;16 and still less as a "new" doctrine, the result of an isolated speculation that succeeded in taking root. It repre­sented, rather, a particular adaptation of the original Indo-Aryan tradition, an adap­tation that kept in mind the prevailing conditions and limited itself accordingly, while freshly and differently formulating preexistent teachings: at the same time Buddhism closely adhered to the ksatriya (in Pāli, khattiya) spirit, the spirit of the warrior caste. We have already seen that the Buddha was born of the most ancient Aryan nobility; but this is not the end of the matter, as a text informs us of the particular aversion nourished by his people for the Brāhman caste: "The Sākiya" (Skt.: Sākiya)--we read17-"do not esteem the priests, they do not respect the priests, they do not honour the priests, they do not venerate the priests, they do not hold the priests of account." The same tendency is maintained by Prince Siddhattha, but with the aim of restor­ing, of reaffirming, the pure will for the unconditioned, to which in the most recent times the "regal" line had often been more faithful than the priestly caste that was already divided within itself.

There are, besides, many signs that the Buddhist doctrine laid no claim to original­ity but regarded itself as being, in a way, universal and having a traditional character in a superior sense. The Buddha himself says, for example: "Thus it is: those who, in times past, were saints, Perfect Awakened Ones, these sublime men also have rightly directed their disciples fo such an end. as now disciples are rightly directly here by me; and those who in future times will he saints, Perfect Awakened Ones, also these sublime men will rightly direct their disciples, as now disciples are rightly directed here by me."18 The same is repeated in regard to purification of thought, word, and action;19 it is repeated about tight knowledge of decay and death, of their origin, of their cessation and of the way that leads to their cessation: and it is repeated about the doctrine of the "void" or "emptiness," sunnatā,20 The doctrine and the "divine life" proclaimed by Prince Siddhattha are repeatedly called "timeless," akāliko.21 "Ancient saints, Perfecf Awakened Ones" are spoken of;22- and a traditional fheme occurs in connection with a place (here called "the Gorge of the Seer") where a


  1. This is the point of view held by R. Guenon, L'Homme et son devenir selon le Vedanta (Paris, 1925), p. 111 ff., with which we cannot-"according to truth"-agree [(English Irans.: Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta, [London, I945)]. More correct are the views of A. K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism (New York, t941). atthough in this hook is apparent the tendency to emphasize onity what in Buddhism is valuabite from the brāhmana standpoint, with disregard of rhe specific functional meaning he possesses as compared to Hindu tradition.

  2. Digha. 3.1.12.

18. Majjh., 51.

19. Ibid.. 61.



  1. Samyutt., t2.33.

  2. Majjh., 7.

  3. Ibid., 75; cf. 81.

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whole series of Paccekabuddhas are supposed to have vanished in the past, a series, that is, of beings who, by their own unaided and isolated efforts, have reached the superhuman state and the same perfect awakening as did Prince Siddhattha him-self.23 Those who are "without faith, without devotion, without tradition''24 are re­proached. A repeated saying is: "What for the world of the sages is not, of that I say: 'It is not', and what for the world of sages is, of that I say: 'Ii is."'25 An interesting point is the mention in a text of "extinction," the aim of the Buddhist ascesis, as something that "leads back to the origins."26 This is sirpported by the symbolism of a great forest where "an ancient path, a path of men of olden times" is discovered. Following it, the Buddha finds a royal city; and he asks that it should be restored." hi another text the significance of this is explained by the Buddha in a most explicit way: "I have seen the ancient path, the path trodden by all the Perfected Awakened Ones of olden times. This is the path I follow."28

It is quite clear, then, that in Buddhism we are not dealing with a negation of the principle of spiritual authority but rather with a revolt against a caste that claimed to monopolize this authority while its representatives no longer preserved its dignity and had lost their qualifications. The Brāhmans, against whom Prince Siddhattha turns, are those who say they know, but who know nothing,29 who for many genera­tions have lost the faculty of direct vision, without which they cannot even say: "Only this is truth, foolishness is the rest,"30 and who now resemble "a file of blind men, in which the first cannot see, the one in the middle cannot see and the last cannot see."31 Very different from the men of the original period-from the brāhmana who re-membered the ancient rule, who guarded the door of the senses, who had entirely controlled their impulses, and who were ascetics, rich only in knowledge, inviolable and invincible, made strong by truth (dhammā)-were their worldly successors, who were wrapped up in ritualism or intent on vain fasting and who had abandoned the ancient laws.32 Of these "there is not one who has seen Brahmā face to face," whence it is impossible that "these brāhmana, versed in the science of the threefold Vedas,



  1. Ibid., 116: cf. 123.

  2. Ibid.. 102.

  3. Samyutt., 22.94.

  4. Mahāparinirv., 52-53 (this is the Chinese version of the rexr, however).

  5. Samyutt., 12.65.

26. Ibid.. 3.t06. It is interesting that according to the myth, Buddba attained the awakening under the Tree of

Life placed in the naveit of the earth where aitso aitit the previous Buddhas reached transcendent knowitedge. This is a reference to the "Center of the Woritd," which is to be considered, in its way, as a chrism of traditinnaitity and initiatic of orthodoxy whenever a contact with the origins was restored.



  1. Majjh., 93.

  2. Ibid.. 95,

3I. Digha, 13.15; Majjh..95; 99.

32. Suttanipāta. 2.7.1-16.

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are capable of indicating the way to a state of companionship with that which they neither know nor have seen."" The Buddha is opposed to one who knows "only by hearsay," to one who knows "the truth only by repetition, and who, with this tradi­tionally heard truth, as a coffer handed down from hand to hand, transmits the doc­trine," the integrity of which, however, it is impossible to guarantee in such circum­stances:" A distinction is therefore made between the ascetics and Brahmans who "only by their own creed profess to have reached the highest perfection of knowl­edge of the world: such are the reasoners and the disputers," and other ascetics and Brahmans who, "in things never before heard, recognise clearly in themselves the fruth, and profess to have reached the highest perfection of knowledge of the world."



It is to these latter that Prince Siddhattha claims to belong, and this is the type that he indicates to his disciples:35 "only when he knows does he say that he knows, only when he has seen does he say that he has seen."36 Regarded from this stand-point Buddhism does not deny the concept of brāhmana; on the contrary the texts use the word frequently and call the ascetic life brahmacariya, their intention being sim­ply to indicate the fundamental qualities in virtue of which the dignity of the true brāhmana can be confirmed.37

Here, with the aim being essentially one of reintegration, the qualities of the true brāhmana and of the ascetic become identified. These notions had previously been distinct, particularly when the Asrama teaching of the Aryan code, according to which a man of Brāhman caste was obliged to graduate to a completely detached life, vānaprashta or yati, had practically and with but few exceptions disappeared. By understanding this point we can also understand the Buddha's true attitude to the problem of caste. Even in the preceding tradition ascetic achievement had been considered as above all caste and free from obligations to any of them. This is the Buddha's point of view, expressed in a. simile: as one who desires fire does not ask the type of wood that in fact produces it, so from any caste may arise an ascetic or an Awakened One.38 The castes appeared to Prince Siddhattha, as they did to every traditional mind, as perfectly natural and furthermore, justified transcendentally, since in following the doctrine of the Upanisads he understood that birth in one caste or another and inequality in general were not accidental but the effect of a particular preceding action. This he was never concerned with upsetting the caste system on the ethnic, political, or social plane; on the contrary, it is laid down that a man should not omit any of the obligations inherent in his station in life,39 and it is never said that




  1. Majjh., 100.

  2. Ibid.. 77.

  3. Ibid„ 48: Dhammapada, 383 ff.: Suttanipāta, 3.4. passim; 9.27. passim; t.7.

  4. Majjh. 93: 90.

39, Mahāparinirv., 6-11.

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a servant-sudda (Skt.: sudra)-or a vessa (Skt.: vaisya) should not obey higher Aryan castes. The problem only concerns the spiritual apex of the Aryan hierarchy, where historical conditions required discrimination and revision of the matter: it was necessary that the "lists" should be reviewed and reconstructed, with the traditional dignities being considered real only on "the merits of the individual cases."40 The decisive point was the identification of the true Brāhman with the ascetic and, thence, the emphasis placed on what in fact is evidenced by action. Thus the principle was proclaimed: "Not by caste is one a pariah, not by caste is one a brāhmana; by actions is one a pariah, by actions is one a brāhmāna."41 In respect of the "flame that is sustained by virtue, and lighted by training," as in respect of liberation, the four castes are equal.42 And again: as it is not to he expected in answer to a man's invocations, prayers, and praises, so it is not to be expected that the brāhmana who, al-though they are instructed in the triple Veda yet "omit the practise of those qualities that make a man a true brāhmana can, by calling upon ndira, Soma, Varuna and other gods, acquire those qualities that really make a man a non-brāhmana."43 If they have not destroyed desire for the five stems of sense experience, they can as little expect to unite themselves after death with Brahmā as a man, swimming, can expect to reach the other bank with his arms tied to his body.44 To unite himself with Brahmā a man must develop in himself qualities similar to Brahmā.45 This, however, in no way prevents the consideration in the texts of the ideal brāhmana, in whom the purity of the Aryan lineage is joined with qualities which make him like a god or a divine being;46 and the texts even go so far as to reprove the contemporary Brahmans not only for their desertion of ancient customs and for their interest in gold and riches, but also for their betrayal of the laws of marriage within the caste, for they are accused of frequenting non-Brahman women at all times from mere desire "like dogs."47 The general principle of any right hierarchy is confirmed with these words: "In serving a man, if for this service one becomes worse, not better, this man, I say, one ought not to serve. In serving a man, on the other hand, if for this service one becomes better, not worse, this man. I say, one ought to serve"48

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