Copyright © 2011 by Theosophical University Press
Buddham saranam gacchami
dharmam saranam gacchami
samgham saranam gacchami
"I take my refuge in the Buddha; I take my refuge in the light of his teachings; I take my refuge in the company of the Holy Ones."
This paraphrase of the Sanskrit "Confession of Faith" contains the substantial core of Buddhism, a threefold formula which is likewise known under the titles Tri-ratna, "Three Gems," and Tri-saranam, "Three Refuges." This formula of devotion or allegiance, accepted by both the northern and the southern schools of Buddhism, is universally taken by almost the entire Buddhist world in a rather pragmatical manner, following the literal meaning of the words, to wit: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma or Law; I take refuge in the Company or Congregation" — the Congregation signifying the Buddhist priesthood, or in a still larger sense, the whole body of professing Buddhists. Yet this is but an exoteric form of what was originally intended by the esoteric initiates who drew up this formula, for it has suffered the same deterioration in meaning that has happened in all the great religions: the words originally having a highly mystical and philosophical significance finally lose it and are taken at their mere face meaning.
The original sense of this formula then was extremely profound and beautiful, and conveyed a threefold teaching: the Buddha has reference to Adi-Buddha, the First or Unmanifest Logos or Primeval Spirit in the universe, manifesting throughout the universe in a sublime hierarchy of spiritual beings emanating from itself, and extending from the highest even to the human spheres — called in the Esoteric Philosophy the Hierarchy of Compassion. It is this Hierarchy of Compassion or the Sons of Light composing it, and ranging from the dhyani-buddhas downwards through intermediate grades to the manushya-buddhas, which form the samgha or company or congregation, this being the third of the Refuges. The wisdom that is taught by them on the different planes of the universe and to the different ranges of world-spheres, and mystically and traditionally handed down from the highest dhyani-buddhas to human disciples, is the second Refuge, called in this formula the Dharma.
We have thus an outline of the structural framework of all the teaching of the wisdom of the gods. Summarizing briefly: we have under the one term Buddha the entire line of spiritual beings, reaching from the Cosmic Spirit through all intermediate ranges of the universe down to the manushya-buddhas or human buddhas and their human disciples, who in their aggregate form the so-called Congregation; and all teaching the divine wisdom sprung forth in its origin from the highest gods themselves, and of which every buddha on earth is an exponent.
Corresponding to the same threefold division of the buddhas, their Law, and their hierarchy, we have the three forms of "vestures" or appearances in which this hierarchy of beings express themselves: first and highest, the dharmakaya, that of the highest cosmic spirits or dhyani-buddhas; second, the sambhogakaya, the vesture of the intermediate grades of spiritual beings in this hierarchy; and finally, the nirmanakayas, the vesture of those spiritual beings and great adepts who are closest to and therefore are the guardians of mankind and all beings on earth.
Corresponding with these three vestures again, we have the third general division above alluded to: the arupa-dhatu, or so-called formless world or worlds, the mystical abode of the dhyani-buddhas or chohans, etc.; second, the rupa-dhatu, or so-called manifested or "form world" or worlds, the abode of the beings living in the sambhogakaya vesture or condition; and third, the kama-dhatu, or so-called worlds or "world of desire," wherein reside beings still heavily involved in the attractions and conditions of material existence.
Thus, as the mystical Buddhism of the north teaches, there is in every entity, not only in man but in the gods and in the beings beneath man, a threefold essence — or perhaps more accurately three interblending essences, nevertheless having a common identic substance, which they describe as, (a) a celestial or dhyani-buddha; (b) a bodhisattva, "son" of the celestial or dhyani-buddha; and (c) a manushya-buddha or human buddha; and it was in order to awaken this living threefold buddhic consciousness in the constitution of every human being that the Buddha taught his noble Law, which perhaps has held more human minds in fealty and devotion than any other religio-philosophic system known to the human race.
Buddhism has at times been called a religion of pessimism, simply because its profound intellectual reaches and its proper placing of the values of the material side of life have not been understood. To teach that a man is an impermanent composite of elements of varying ethereality, and that when he dies this composite is dissolved and the component parts then enter into the respective spheres of nature, signifies to the Occidental mind that such a doctrine teaches utter annihilation of the compounded entity as an entity; for, consciously or unconsciously, such critics ignore the unifying and binding root of being of every such entity which brings at periodical intervals this compound together again out of the identic life-atoms that composed it in former existences. Yet this very root or element or individualizing energy which brought these samskaras — psychomental attributes of man — together, is a unifying and therefore individualizing force which remains after the dissolution of the compound, and likewise has its own cosmic reservoir or kingdom to which it returns.
There was a time not so long ago when the teaching of nirvana was considered by Occidental scholars to mean that annihilation, utter and complete, was the end of every living conscious being, when that being had attained unto the stage of inner growth where it entered into this nirvanic state; and they pointed, naturally enough, to the Sanskrit meaning of this compound word: nir, "out," and vana, from the root va, "to blow." Hence they sagely and logically enough said: Nirvana means "blown out," as a candle flame is "blown out" by the breath! So it does. But what is it that is "blown out"? What is it that ceases to exist? Is it the unifying spiritual force which brings this compound entity into being anew in a serial line of succession which has no known beginning, and which the Buddhist teaching itself shows to be something which reproduces itself in this series of illusory, because compounded, vehicles? This is impossible, because if this individualizing or unifying energy were blown out, annihilated, it obviously could not continue to reproduce itself as the inspiriting energy of newly compounded bodies. What is blown out is the samskaras, the compounds, resulting from or born or produced by the karma of the individual. This karma is the individual himself; because the Buddhist teaching is that what is reproduced is the karma of the preceding individual, that any composite entity changes from instant to instant, and that at each new instant the change is the resultant or effect of the preceding instant of change. Thus then, the individual is his own karma at any instant in time, because that karma is the totality of what he is himself. When a man's composite parts are "blown out," "enter nirvana," are "extinguished," then all the rest of the being — that deathless center of unifying and individualizing spiritual force around which these composites or samskaras periodically gather — lives as a buddha.
As far as it goes this is exactly the teaching of the Esoteric Tradition. All the lower parts of us must be wiped out, "annihilated" if you like; in other words the karma that produced these illusory composites must be caused to cease; and new composites, nobler ones — the products or effects of the preceding composites — those henceforth joined to the buddhic essence of the being, that spiritual force which is the inner buddha, will then continue and on its own high plane live, because no longer controlled by the veils of maya, illusion, the worlds of impermanent structural composites. The being thus becomes a buddha, because of its delivery from enshrouding veils has now reached the condition of passing out of the impermanence of all manifested existence into the utter permanence of cosmic Reality.
Far from being a religion of pessimism, the religion of the Buddha is one of extraordinary hope. The word optimism is not here used, because unthinking optimism is as foolish in its way as is unthinking pessimism. Neither is wise, because each is an extreme. The teaching of the Buddha showed to men a pathway which went neither to the right nor to the left, but chose the Middle Way. All extremes are unreal, no matter what they may be, because unphilosophical; and it is the great subtlety of the Tathagata's teachings which has rendered it so difficult to understand. One often reads essays printed by Westerners who have become Buddhists. The letter of the scriptures has been grasped, more or less, but the spirit, the Buddha's "heart," is rarely understood. The Eye-doctrine is comprehended to a certain extent; but the Heart-doctrine, the esoteric part, is grasped intuitively only at the rarest intervals.
The great Hindu reformer and initiate, Gautama the Buddha, had indeed a secret or esoteric doctrine, which he kept for those qualified to receive it. As H. P. Blavatsky writes in The Secret Doctrine:
Indeed, the secret portions of the "Dan" or "Jan-na" ("Dhyan") of Gautama's metaphysics — grand as they appear to one unacquainted with the tenets of the Wisdom Religion of antiquity — are but a very small portion of the whole. The Hindu Reformer limited his public teachings to the purely moral and physiological aspect of the Wisdom-Religion, to Ethics and man alone. Things "unseen and incorporeal," the mystery of Being outside our terrestrial sphere, the great Teacher left entirely untouched in his public lectures, reserving the hidden Truths for a select circle of his Arhats . . . Unable to teach all that had been imparted to him — owing to his pledges — though he taught a philosophy built upon the ground-work of the true esoteric knowledge, the Buddha gave to the world only its outward material body and kept its soul for his Elect. — 1:xxi
When skeptical Occidental scholars are asked: Did the Buddha have an esoteric school, or does his Law contain an esoteric teaching, they almost invariably point to a statement by the Buddha himself, which they believe proves that he himself denied it. This is found in the Maha-Parinibbana-Sutta, or the teaching of the "Great and Ultimate Nirvana," otherwise the "Great Passing":
Now very soon after the Blessed One began to recover; when he had quite got rid of the sickness, he went out from the monastery, and sat down behind the monastery on a seat spread out there. And the venerable Ananda [his favorite disciple] went to the place where the Blessed One was, and saluted him, and took a seat respectfully on one side, and addressed the Blessed One, and said: "I have beheld, Lord, how the Blessed One was in health, and I have beheld how the Blessed One had to suffer. And though at the sight of the sickness of the Blessed One my body became weak as a creeper, and the horizon became dim to me, and my faculties were no longer clear, yet notwithstanding I took some little comfort from the thought that the Blessed One would not pass away from existence until at least he had left instructions as touching the order."
"What, then, Ananda? Does the order expect that of me? I have preached the truth without making any distinction between exoteric and esoteric doctrine: for in respect of the truths, Ananda, Tathagata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher, who keeps some things back. Surely, Ananda, should there be any one who harbors the thought, 'It is I who will lead the brotherhood,' or, 'The order is dependent upon me,' it is he who should lay down instructions in any matter concerning the order. Now the Tathagata, Ananda, thinks not that it is he who should lead the brotherhood, or that the order is dependent upon him. Why then should he leave instructions in any matter concerning the order? I too, O Ananda, am now grown old, and full of years, my journey is drawing to its close, I have reached my sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out cart, Ananda, can only with much additional care be made to move along, so, methinks, the body of the Tathagata can only be kept going with much additional care. . . .
"Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. . . . " — ch. ii, vv. 31-3 (trans. Rhys Davids, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI)
At first reading, it does indeed sound as if the Lord Buddha declared to his disciples that he had no esoteric doctrine. Is this, however, what he actually said? It most certainly is not. Ananda's plea was: "Leave us instructions, Lord, as to the conduct of the Order, before thou passest on"; and the Buddha refused, saying essentially: "I have told you all that is necessary for the conduct of the Order, and I have kept naught back. I am not like a teacher who tells you some things as to your own conduct and the conduct of the Brotherhood, and secretly hides other things in his 'closed fist.' I have told you all that is necessary for the conduct of the Order that will bring success in the saving of man; but should there be anyone who arises in the Order and who points out what is required for its proper care and leading, then it is he who should lay down instructions in any such emergency concerning the Order. You will soon find out in such case whether he be a true teacher or a false; for the rules that I myself have given unto you are the fundamental rules for guidance and conduct both of yourselves and of the Order, and they are sufficient. I have spoken."
There is no small number of passages in the different Buddhist scriptures of the two great schools, which, both by direct statement or by indirection, declare plainly that the Buddha had not revealed all the truths that he knew.
Two instances, both of the southern school, should suffice in illustration. The first states that Sakyamuni took a handful of the leaves of the Sinsapa and, pointing to them, explained that just as this bunch of leaves in his hand, so few in number, were not all the leaves of the tree from which they were taken, just so the truths that he himself as teacher had announced were by no means all that he knew (Samyutta-Nikaya, vi, 31). The other instance is one in which the great teacher explains his refusal to describe whether a buddha lives after death or not (Chula-Malunkyaputta-Sutta, i, 426). Both illustrate the reserve in teaching and reticence in delivery thereof, which are so universally characteristic of the transmitters of the Esoteric Tradition.
Let us turn to one of the Mahayana sutras of the northern school, the Saddharma-Pundarika (ch. v):
You are astonished, Kasyapa, that you cannot fathom the mystery expounded by the Tathagata. It is, Kasyapa, because the mystery expounded by the Tathagatas, the Arhats, etc., is difficult to be understood.
And on that occasion, the more fully to explain the same subject, the Lord uttered the following stanzas:
1. I am the Dharmaraja, born in the world as the destroyer of existence. I declare the law to all beings after discriminating [examining] their dispositions.
2. Superior men of wise understanding guard the word, guard the mystery, and do not reveal it to living beings.
3. That science is difficult to be understood; the simple, if hearing it on a sudden, would be perplexed; they would in their ignorance fall out of the way and go astray.
4. I speak according to their reach and faculty; by means of various meanings I accommodate my view (or the theory).
Such teaching of restriction could not have arisen nor have been so widely accepted had there not been current throughout northern Buddhism a strong flow of esoteric thought which traces back even to the days of the Buddha himself. Otherwise, the probability is that any invention or mystical speculations of a later date would have been found highly unacceptable, and would have been peremptorily rejected, when the first attempts were made to promulgate them. The history of mystical thought shows clearly enough that the esotericism of the respective founder of each great system gradually faded out after his death, and its place was taken by mere orthodoxy, in which the traditional or written scriptures became sacrosanct, untouchable, and often clothed with an atmosphere of holiness which forbade any adding or substantial change. This is clearly shown, for instance, in the literature and mystical history of Christianity.
All that the Lord Buddha taught was true in essentials, but he most certainly did not teach everything to all men. He taught all that was needed for the promulgation of the philosophic and religious doctrine. The whole system of the Mahayana in all its various schools, every one of them teaching an esoteric doctrine, provides convincing proof that an esotericism existed in Buddhism from the earliest times, and by the logic of history and the well-known traits of human nature must be traced back to the great founder himself.
Lest it be inferred that the Buddha taught no need of any teachers following him, the existence of legitimate successors following each other in century after century was universally recognized, although obviously none was ever considered to be equal to the great master himself. His unique standing as teacher is indeed one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, which states that buddhas appear only at long intervals and in periods governed by cyclic time, thus reechoing the Brahmanical teaching of a succession of doctors of the Law which Krishna alludes to in the Bhagavad-Gita in the words: "Whenever there is a decline of righteousness in the world, . . . then I reproduce myself" (4:7).
Examination of the historical facts will show that minor sages and seers have sprung up from time to time in Buddhism, such as Nagarjuna and Aryasanga, founding schools, or taking them over from their predecessors; teaching each one a new version of the ancient Buddhist wisdom, yet all faithful followers of the Lord Buddha; and whatever their differences as individuals may have been, all these various schools look to the great master as the fountainhead of their respective and more-or-less differing wisdoms. Most, if not all, of the great men who succeeded the Buddha as heads of the different Buddhist schools were genuine initiates, profound, thoughtful, and high-minded men who, because of their own spiritual and intellectual and psychical degree of evolution, developed in their respective fields the teachings of the Buddha-Gautama dealing with different parts of the widely inclusive range of Buddhist philosophy.
In the Dhammapada, dealing in general with the matter of the Self, we find the following suggestive thoughts:
The Self is the master of self — for who else could be its lord? With the self [the compound aggregate] thoroughly controlled, the man finds a Master such as cannot elsewhere be found. — 12:160
Here is a pointed statement of the existence in the human constitution of the governing, controlling, root-Self — the essential atman or fundamental Self, which lives and manifests its transcendent powers in and through the lower self or soul, the latter being naught but the "compound aggregate" of elements, which is the man in his ordinary being. When it is remembered that the Dhammapada is one of the most authoritative and respected scriptures of the southern school, one can appreciate the force of this statement, the more so as this school is always cited, and wrongly so, as teaching nihilism — so often brought against Buddhism in support of its being a pessimistic system without spiritual basis or import.
One more instance, drawn this time from the Mahayana, and due to one who in Buddhism has always been recognized as being a bodhisattva — Nagarjuna, one of the most devoted of the Buddha-Gautama's later followers. In his commentary on the sutra or scripture of the famous Buddhist work Prajnaparamita, he states the following:
Sometimes the Tathagata taught that the Atman verily exists, and yet at other times he taught that the Atman does not exist. — Chinese recension of Yuan Chuang
Just so. Are we then to suppose that the Buddha deliberately taught contradictions in order to befuddle and to mystify his hearers? Hardly, for the idea is ludicrous. What has already been said about the compound constitution of man through which the eternal Self or atman (in this case the dhyani-buddha) works through its wayward lower self, should explain that the various meanings of "self" were as keenly recognized in ancient Buddhist thought as they are today. The meaning of the Buddha was obvious enough, that the atman as the essential self, or the dhyani-buddha in the human constitution, exists and evolves perennially, is ever-enduring; but that the lower self or inferior selfhood of a man is merely the feeble reflection of it, the soul, and hence does not exist as an enduring entity. The same play upon the word "self" (atman) is distinctly perceptible in the previous citation from the Dhammapada where the Self as master is the lord of the lower self as mere man. Although there are many passages in Buddhist scriptures concerning the non-existence of the atman as the human self or soul — the doctrine of anatta in the Pali writings — the truth is that these passages cannot be considered alone and apart from other teachings distinctly stating that the atman is.
Probably the main reason for the widespread misunderstanding of the essential nature of the Buddhistic teaching as first delivered, was that Buddha-Gautama threw open some of the hitherto fast-closed doors of Brahman philosophy, and instantly gained the opposition and ill-will of the larger part of the Brahmans of his time. In the eyes of the Buddha, man is a pilgrim, child of the universe, who at times is blinded by mahamaya or the "great illusion" of cosmic existence, and therefore needs to be shown the Way or Law called the Dharma, pointing to the fact that only by becoming rather than by mere being could man become the greater man which he is in his essential constitution.
The substantial burden of the Buddha's message was the emphasis placed upon his doctrine of becoming. By his progress from stage to stage in evolutionary changes which are continuous and uninterrupted, a man may raise himself as high as the highest gods, or may debase himself through his willing and doing to the low and dread levels of the beings in the so-called hells of which so much is found in Buddhistic literature.
In this teaching of becoming, we find the rationale of the many statements in Buddhism and elsewhere that every man has it within his power in the course of ages to become a Buddha. Much useless controversy has raged in the past as to whether Buddhism does or does not teach the annihilation of the human compound at death. Most Western Buddhist scholars of former days seem to have believed that one proof of the so-called pessimism of Buddhism was that it taught that with the dissolution of the human compound entity at death, the entity vanished, was completely annihilated; this in the face of reiterated statements that what survived dissolution of the compound entity was its karma, the consequences of what the compound entity itself was at the moment of dissolution. It would seem evident that the word karma thus used must have a technical significance, because it is obvious that results or consequences cannot survive the death of their originator, for the reason that if results or consequences do not inhere in, or are not portions of an entity, they have no existence in themselves. An "act" cannot survive, nor can a "consequence," except in the modern scientific sense of impressions made on surrounding material. This is not the meaning of the Buddha's teaching because both the Mahayana and the southern schools are replete with instances of entities, "compound aggregates," which nevertheless after death, and after a certain period of other existence in other worlds, are reborn as men on earth.
The stories about the Buddha are luminous illustrations of this, as exemplified in the famous Jataka Tales. These 550 or more "Rebirth" stories describe the alleged repeated reincarnations of the Buddha, and show him rising from lower stages to higher; and, if the "compound aggregate" is annihilated at its death, how can such a non-existing entity be reborn in an unending series of reappearances of such entity's intrinsic karma? The riddle is solved by remembering the teaching of theosophy to the effect that man, equally with every other entity or thing, is his own karma. His karma is himself, for he himself is the results, the fruitage, the production, of every preceding thought, feeling, emotion, or act in the virtually unending series of past rebirths, each such birth automatically reproducing itself as modified by its own willing and doing — to wit, the consciousness acting upon the "compound aggregate" thus producing karma, or modifications in the substance of the man himself. Thus verily a man is his own karma; he is his own child, the offspring of what he formerly willed and made himself now to be; just as at present, in his actual compound constitution he is willing and making himself, through results or consequences produced upon his constitution, to be what in the future he will become.
What is a "person," after all, except a mask, a vehicle, composed of aggregate elements drawn from the surrounding nature through which works and lives the spiritual force — the inner buddha, the dhyani-buddha, the inner god — which, as the Buddha himself taught, man could again become by so living and striving as to bring it into karmic relationship or existence even here on earth.
Question: If there be no surviving entity, what was it that passed from birth to birth in those Jataka stories, which, whatever one may think of them, proclaim the common acceptance by the multitude of Buddhists of there being some kind of x-factor in the complex of skandhas forming the human being which passes from life to life? Or how about the many instances in canonical Buddhist scriptures themselves, which place in the mouth of the great teacher remarks, parables, and references to the preceding births of various individuals? If Buddhism taught no such continuity through repeated imbodiments of something, why all this allusion to reincarnating beings?
What is it then that passes from the humblest of beings through the many and varied gatis or "ways" of existence, through repeated and incessant rebirth, until that something, that x-quantity, becomes a Buddha? The scriptures of South Asia will say that it was results, consequences, karma. But is it thinkable that the loftiest spiritual genius of historic times taught that bare consequences, sheer effects, technically called samskaras or mere collections, can and do pass in entitative fashion from life to life, re-collect themselves after being time after time dispersed as atomic aggregates into the various realms of nature from which they were originally drawn? The answer depends entirely upon the meaning that we give to this term samskaras, and to the term skandhas. If these are mere aggregates of atoms existing on the psychoemotional as well as on the physical plane, and without any internal bond of spiritual-psychological union, then we must infer that this titan intellect taught an impossibility. If, on the other hand, we understand samskaras to mean psychomagnetic and material aggregates of life-atoms attracted to each other because of their intrinsic magnetic vital power, and unified and governed by the repetitive action of the spiritual and intellectual forces which formerly held them in union as an aggregated vehicle, then indeed we have a reasonable and logical teaching consistent with what we know ourselves of the intricate and unitary yet compounded character of our constitution.
While it is perfectly true that the lower portions of a human being, for instance, form a compound or complex, and are consequently mortal and perishable as such compound, which in Buddhism are called the samskaras, nevertheless there is something of a spiritual, intellectual, and psychological character, an x-factor, around which this aggregated compound re-collects itself at each new birth. It is this something by which the compound is re-assembled and during life is held together as an entity. There is here no such teaching as that of the imperishable, immortal soul in the Christian sense, static throughout eternity in unchanging essential characteristics; for such a soul, to be immortal, cannot essentially change, which would mean that it cannot evolve or grow, because if it did, it then no longer is what it was before. Consequently this x-quantity, call it karma if you will, is that vital-psychological something which insures the re-collecting of the samskaras together for the new life, thus reproducing the new man as the fruitage of his past life, and indeed, of all the lives which have preceded.
Let us try to illustrate this very mystical doctrine: consider a child — born from an infinitesimal human life-germ, yet in a few years it grows to be a six-foot man. To do this, it must pass through many and differing stages of growth, of evolution. First, the microscopic germ developing into the embryo, then an infant growing into the lad, the lad changing into the young man, and finally, the man after the maturity and plenitude of his powers enters upon the phase of senescence, decrepitude, and death. Now every one of these phases is a change from the preceding one, each being the karma of the next preceding phase and all preceding phases. Yet the man is the same through all the changes, although the man himself changes because growing likewise.
The boy of six is not the boy of ten; the young man of twenty-five is not the man of forty; and the man of eighty, soon going to his rest and peace, is not the newborn child — yet the entity is the same from the beginning of the cyclic series unto its end, because there is an uninterrupted series of stages of change signifying growth, evolution.
In this example is the key to the Buddhist thought. Precisely as with the birth and development of a child into an adult, so is it with the passage of the karma of an entity from body to body through the different stages of rebirth through the different ages: the passing from low to high of that x-quantity which the theosophist calls the reincarnating ego, and the mystical Buddhists speak of as the shining ray from the Buddha within. The southern school spoke of it as the "karma" of the man growing continuously nobler, greater and more evolved, until the man through these karmic changes finally becomes a bodhisattva; the bodhisattva then becomes a buddha, finally entering the nirvana.
In theosophy this something, this x-factor, is called the monad which, imperishable in essence, and the fountain-head of all consciousness and will, passes from age to age throughout the manvantara and reproduces itself by means of rays from its essence in the various reimbodiments or reincarnations which it thus brings about. In mystical Buddhism, especially of the north, this monad is identic with the dhyani-buddha or inner spiritual "buddha of meditation" which is the heart or core of every reimbodying being. Just as in theosophy each and every monad is a ray of and from the cosmic mahabuddhi; just so in Buddhism, every dhyani-buddha is a ray from Amitabha-buddha, a form or manifestation of Alaya or the Cosmic Spirit.
Thus there is a ray from the celestial buddha within the composite entity called man built of the samskaras; and it is the influence of this ray which first brought these samskaras together, which ray persists throughout the ages thus reproducing through repetitive imbodiments on earth the same karmic entity which formerly existed. The teaching of the south is thus true when it states that what remains of a man after his death is his karma, because this karma is the man himself.
The term "buddha" itself means awakened, from the verbal root budh, signifying "to observe," "to recover consciousness," and therefore, "to awaken"; hence a buddha is one who is fully awake and active in all the ranges of his sevenfold constitution.
The esoteric theosophical teaching is that the Buddha did indeed "die" to all human affairs at the age of eighty years, because then the higher parts of him entered nirvana, and no nirvani can be called a living man if he has attained the seventh degree of this range of nirvana as the Buddha did. Yet the teaching states likewise that in all the remainder of his constitution, in those parts of him beneath the range of the dhyani-buddha within him, he remained alive on earth for twenty years more, teaching his arhats and chosen disciples in secret, giving to them the nobler "doctrines of the heart"; and that finally, in his hundredth year, Gautama-Sakyamuni, the Buddha, cast his physical body aside and thereafter has lived in the inner realms of being as a nirmanakaya.
One must say a little more about a phase of the Buddha's teaching of which exoteric Buddhism, whether of north or south, does not openly tell. The secret wisdom of the Buddha-Gautama, his esoteric Dharma, may be found, although more or less veiled, in the teaching of the great Mahayana schools of Northern and Central Asia. Among its doctrines is the statement that every man is a manifestation on this earth of a buddhic principle belonging to his constitution and manifesting in three degrees or phases: (a) as a celestial or dhyani-Buddha, (b) as a dhyani-Bodhisattva, (c) as a manushya-Buddha; and that all human faculties and powers are, like rays from a spiritual sun, derivatives from this wondrous interior compound Buddhic entity. It is the core of all our being, union with which is the aim of all initiation, for it is the becoming at one with the buddhi principle within us, the seat of abstract bodhi; and when this union is achieved, then a man becomes a buddha. Even the very last words which popular legend ascribes to the master, "Seek out your own perfection," imbody the same fundamental thought of the human being as an imperfect manifestation of the celestial or dhyani-buddha within himself.
All the great spiritual and intellectual human titans, whose vast minds have been the luminaries of the human race, were precisely they who had developed more or less of this buddha-principle within themselves; and the value, philosophic, religious, and ethical, of this teaching lies in the fact that every human being may follow the same path that these great masters have followed, because every human being has in his constitution the same identical cosmic elements that the great ones have.
Even the schools of Southern Asia give as the unquestioned teaching of the Tathagata that a man can attain union with Brahman, as is evidenced by a number of passages in the Pali scriptures. What is the path by which this union may be achieved? In answer, consider the following citation from the Tevijja-Sutta:
"[T]hat the Bhikkhu who is free . . . should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same — such a condition of things is every way possible!"
". . . Then in sooth, . . . the Bhikkhu who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, and master of himself should after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma, who is the same — such a condition of things is every way possible!". . .
"For Brahma, I know, . . . and the world of Brahma, and the path which leadeth unto it. Yea, I know it even as one who has entered the Brahma world, and has been born within it!". . .
"And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of Love, . . . of pity, sympathy, and equanimity, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with [heart of love, with] heart of pity, sympathy, and equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure. . . .
"Verily this . . . is the way to a state of union with Brahma."
— iii, 7-8; i, 43; iii, 1, 3, 4 (trans. Rhys Davids)
Could a more clear-cut statement be made, that there is something of a spiritual-intellectual character which works through the compound aggregate of the skandhas that form the mere man, and which spiritual substance or entity finally must attain union with the Cosmic Spirit here called Brahma — in other words, what the Esoteric Tradition frequently calls the Third or "Creative" Logos? We have here the essence in almost identic formulation of the teaching of the Vedanta of India, that the substantial root of all beings and things is the cosmic Brahman or Cosmic Spirit, reunion with which is, in the long course of ages, finally inevitable; and that there exists a Path by which such reunion may be attained and the aeons-long evolutionary pilgrimage vastly shortened.
Now then, after these conclusive paragraphs from the Tevijja-Sutta, in which the x-quantity, that something, is plainly stated herein as being capable of attaining "a state of union with Brahma," it becomes necessary to point to one of the most pregnant and important teachings which shows that the Buddha-Gautama by no means considered such a state of union with Brahman as the ultimate or ending of the existence of the fortunate jivanmukta or freed monad. Indeed, his teaching ran directly contrary to such erroneous idea; for both implicitly and explicitly, as may be found in the scriptures of both the north and the south, there is the reiterated statement that even beyond the "world of Brahma," are realms of consciousness and being still higher, in which reside the roots of the cosmic tree, and therefore the root of every human being, the offspring of such mystical cosmic tree. What is this mystic root — higher even than Brahma? It is the individualized Adi-Buddha, the Cosmic "Creative" Logos of Adi-Bodhi, or Alaya, the cosmic originant; for even a world of Brahma is a manifested world; and therefore, however high it may be by comparison with our material world, is yet a relatively imperfect sphere of life and lives.
In consequence, the teaching runs that higher even than Brahma there is something else, the rootless Root, reaching back and within, cosmically speaking, into parabrahmic Infinitude. One who is a buddha, one who has become allied in his inmost essence with the cosmic bodhi, thus can enter not only the world of Brahma, but pass out of it and above it and beyond it, higher and higher still to those cosmic reaches of life-consciousness-substance toward which human imagination may aspire, but which, unless we are buddhas in fact — more or less straitly in self-conscious union with the dhyani-buddha — we cannot understand.
A prehistoric Esoteric Tradition is seen thus to be a necessary component part — indeed the best part because the entire background — of the teaching of the Buddha, for toward such background every one of his public teachings points; and when considered collectively rather than distributively, when synthesized after analysis, the impartial student reaches the conclusion that such an esoteric doctrine was in very truth the "heart" and foundation of the great master's teaching and lifework.