The Theosophical Forum – February 1936



In resuming our consideration of Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz's Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines (1), a work which contains much information hitherto entirely unknown to Western scholars, we must draw special attention to the "general Introduction" to the subject of Mahayana or Northern Buddhism. Dr. Evans-Wentz gives a concise and sympathetic outline of the teaching, which is shown as the most systematic, philosophical and logical form. He points out that without the Mahayana the Southern or Pali canon would be very difficult to understand, as it contains so many obscure passages and doctrines. As outlined in his brief analysis, the Mahayana Buddhism is very closely akin to the philosophic and devotional teaching of Theosophy as presented by H. P. Blavatsky.

We regret that there is not room here to quote the first twenty-one pages of the "General Introduction," which with very slight alteration would make an excellent introductory handbook to Theosophy. The supreme aim of Buddhism, according to our author, is the Deliverance of the Mind from ignorance, illusion, and thereby the attainment of Nirvana — or perhaps more properly, of the right to enter Nirvana — for the Lord Buddha taught, above all, the Great Renunciation — never finally to pass out of the Samsara or phenomenal world into the ineffable Bliss of Nirvana until the weary pilgrims in all the worlds have reached "the Other Shore."

According to the deepest teaching given in the Seven Treatises translated from the Tibetan and contained in Dr Evans-Wentz's scholarly work, the emancipated yogi reaches actual perception of the unity of the Universe, the consciousness that Samsara, the phenomenal, and Nirvana, the noumenal, are really One. Of this supreme attainment, the author writes with justified enthusiasm:

The Conqueror of Maya becomes a master of life and death, a Light in the Darkness, a Guide to the Bewildered, a Freer of the Enslaved. In the transcendent language of the Great Path, the Mahayana, no longer is there for Him any distinction between the Sangsara and Nirvana Like an unbridled lion roaming free among the mountain ranges, He roams at will through the Existences. [See page 12 of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett ]

Samsara is the state of conditioned being, the realm of phenomena, of impermanence; while Nirvana is beyond lower "Nature," beyond all "paradises" and "hells." It is "the Other Shore." As Shelley intuitively divined, we have to wake from "this dream of life." The Tibetan-Yoga use of dreams is very different from that of the Freudians. By studying them and controlling their content it is seen that they are mere playthings of the mind, and from this a further step in yoga-training shows that the essential nature of "name and form" is equally unreal, and that the Reality must be looked for outside this or any other phenomenal world.

Many of the more profound and less familiar teachings of the Ancient Wisdom, to which in recent years Dr de Purucker has drawn attention, are referred to in these Treatises. One of these is the problem of Renunciation and the Pratyeka-Buddhas, about which there has been much confusion in some places. Dr. Evans-Wentz says:

Self-Enlightened (Skt. Pratyeka) Buddhas do not teach the Doctrine publicly, but merely do good to those who come into personal contact with Them, whereas Omniscient Buddhas, of Whom was the Buddha Gautama, preach the Doctrine widely, both to gods and to men . . .The Gurus of the Great Symbol School . . . .teach that Nirvana is not to be regarded as a final state, wherein its realizer selfishly abides in absolute bliss and rest. That is to say, Nirvana is not a state to be realized for one's own good alone, but for the sake of the greater good which will accrue to every sentient thing merely in virtue of a realization of it. Thus it is that in Tibet all aspirants for the Divine Wisdom, for the Full Enlightenment known as Nirvana, take the vow to attain the state of the Bodhisattva, or Great Teacher. The vow implies that the Nirvanic State will not be finally entered, by the one taking the vow, until all beings, from the lowest in subhuman kingdoms on this and every other planet to the highest of unenlightened gods in many heaven-worlds, and the most fallen of dwellers in hell-worlds are safely led across the Ocean of the Sangsara to the Other Shore. Southern Buddhists are inclined to regard Nirvana, at least when attained by Pratyeka (or Non-teaching) Buddhas, as a state of finality. Mahayanists, however, say that Nirvana is a state of mind reached as a result of evolutionary spiritual unfoldment, and that It cannot, therefore, be regarded as a final state, inasmuch as evolution has no conceivable ending, being an eternal progression.

Students of Dr. de Purucker's recent answers to questions, etc, on the paradoxical question of the Pratyeka-Buddhas and Nirvanic Bliss, will see the way to harmonize these conflicting opinions. The "Selfishness" of the Pratyeka-Buddha, spoken of in several places by H. P Blavatsky, is not the ordinary kind of selfishness but, as she says, a "Spiritual" kind. Efforts have been made by ill-advised editors to suppress H. P. Blavatsky's remarks about Pratyeka-Buddhas by leaving them out of The Voice of the Silence in certain editions. They apparently forget that she gave half a page to the subject in her Theosophical Glossary! Her observations should be carefully studied, as they are very practical.

The first of the Seven Treatises is called "The Supreme Path of Discipleship: the Precepts of the Gurus" and it consists of 290 aphorisms for the use of those who enter the career of the yogi. Some are strictly practical, and some are not easily comprehended but are open to misconstruction unless explained by the guru, but the majority are clear. Among these are definite teachings in regard to the Nirmanakaya Path of the Great Renunciation, the highest spiritual ideal possible to man. Many of these texts closely resemble those translated by H. P. Blavatsky for The Voice of the Silence, though, as presented, they lack the exquisitely poetical rhythm and loftiness of diction that distinguishes that immortal textbook for aspirants. Here are a few, selected from the more ethical part:

Unless the mind be trained to selflessness and infinite compassion, one is apt to fall into the error of seeking liberation for self alone.

For a religious devotee to try to reform others instead of reforming himself is a grievous mistake.

The smallest amount of merit dedicated to the good of others is more precious than any amount of merit devoted to one's own good.

If only the good of others be sought in all that one doeth, no need is there to seek benefit for oneself.

For him who hath attained the Sublime Wisdom, it is the same whether he be able to exercise miraculous powers or not.

The fact that there are Those who have attained Bodhic Enlightenment and are able to return to the world as Divine Incarnations and work for the deliverance of mankind and of all living things till the dissolution of the physical universe showeth the virtue of the Holy Dharma.

Having acquired practical knowledge of spiritual things and made the Great Renunciation, permit not the body, speech, or mind to become unruly, but observe the three vows, of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

One text is decidedly "practical" and worth the attention of some would-be ascetics:

One who professeth religion and is unable to live in solitude in his own company and yet knoweth not how to make himself agreeable in the company of others showeth weakness.

A sense of humor is not absent in Tibet:

To preach religion and not practise it is to be like a parrot saying a prayer; and this is a grievous failure.

Dr. Evans-Wentz prefaces these "Precepts of the Gurus" by a page from H. P. Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence, though he does not mention her name. While the subject-matter of the aphorisms in both is closely alike in parts, the impression produced by the Kargyutpa precepts is not so inspiring; the latter do not radiate the magnificent Buddhic compassion for all that breathes with the fervor that inspires the noble teaching given in The Voice of the Silence.

Much of great interest in this remarkable book cannot even be mentioned here, especially the exceedingly useful notes which explain the original text. Very many of the most difficult teachings of Theosophy are shown to be stated in the Treatises, or in the oral explanations of obscure passages given by the Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup. It is not surprising that he immediately recognised that H. P. Blavatsky's books contained proof that she was acquainted with the deeper teachings. To the Western scholar the book will be a revelation of something new — the fact that the Orient has made overwhelming discoveries in human psychology beside which much Western psychology is almost infantile. The author quotes the following from the eminent English philosopher Dr. C. D. Broad:

[Progress] depends upon our getting an adequate knowledge and control of life and mind before the combination of ignorance on these subjects with knowledge of physics and chemistry wrecks the whole social system. Which of the runners in this very interesting race will win, it is impossible to foretell. But physics and death have a long start over psychology and life.

And, as Dr. Evan-Wentz adds:

Is Occidental man for much longer to be content with the study of the external universe, and not know himself?

In place of psychoanalysing dreams, trying crude experiments with hypnotism, studying the reactions of mentally sick patients, and so forth, the Oriental psychologist boldly plunges within himself and tries to find something greater than his surface-personality, namely, a Universal Self. In this process he discovers unthought-of "magical" powers, but as already mentioned they fade into nothingness when the greater goal is glimpsed. In fact, in many cases they are hindrances.

In this process the Oriental has found that true psychology is not a cold, intellectual study, such as can be learned in classrooms, but that it deals with the highest and most spiritual parts of man — begins there, in fact. Without self-sacrificing devotion to the interests of others, the sense of universal brotherhood and the burning desire to lift the heavy burdens of the world, all intellectual knowledge, all development of personal psychic powers, turns to dust and ashes. Dr. Evans-Wentz never loses sight of the spiritual basis of Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Yoga, and he would be the last to advocate yoga as a means to attain personal occult powers, to satisfy cold intellectual curiosity, or for other selfish ends; but here and there in the Treatises passages occur which might be construed or misconstrued as leading that way. One of these occurs on page 326, as the author himself points out.

This book should do much to awaken Western scholars and anthropologists from their ignorance of man's nature, and to arouse a proper respect for Oriental science, but it is difficult to appraise its value to the Theosophist who already has his glorious yoga-teachings in H. P. Blavatsky's Voice of the Silence, and elsewhere. These are the principles and practices that the world needs for its salvation, and the work of the Theosophical disciple is well marked out therein. As H. P. Blavatsky says, "Occultism is the Science of Life, the Art of Living." And, "It is altruism, not ego-ism even in its most legal and noble conception, that can lead the unit to merge its little Self in the Universal Selves." It may be, and probably is, an excellent provision of Nature that scientific Tibetan Yoga, even on a lower level than the highest Atma-Vidya of the Masters of the Great Lodge, and more or less entangled with inferior practices, should be kept alive by a small section of that remarkable, isolated race; but, except as an intellectual study for Western scholars, useful in breaking up the false view of Oriental "superstition" so-called, it does not seem that its introduction in any widespread form in the West would be advantageous. In this hotbed of personal ambitions, personal desires, unrest and emotionalism, the results would be dangerous in the extreme. Already the craze for so-called "occultism" has done much harm in the West. At best, under present conditions here, the Tibetan semi-esoteric yoga would produce Pratyeka-occultists, while the probability of making proficients in Black Magic is almost infinitely great. The wise words of W. Q. Judge express what is the real need of the West:

What then is the panacea finally, the royal talisman? It is Duty, Selflessness. Duty persistently followed is the highest yoga. . . . If you can do no more than duty it will bring you to the goal. . . . It is that boundless charity of love that led Buddha to say: "Let the sins of this dark age fall on me that the world may be saved," and not a desire to escape or for knowledge. It is expressed in the words: The first step in true magic is devotion to the interests of others.


1. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines, or Seven Books of Wisdom of the Great Path, according to the late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English rendering. Arranged and Edited with Introductions and Annotations to serve as a Commentary by W. Y. Evans-Wentz. Oxford University Press. $6.00. pp. 385. (return to text)

Theosophical University Press Online Edition