AVALOKITESVARA — THE DIVINE PRESENCE
(See Letter No. LIX, pages 343-345)
Mahayana Buddhism, which is mainly the form studied in Tibet today, as it has been for centuries past, recognises three distinct entities or hierarchical Logoi in the Buddhists" hierarchy of spirit. They are the Buddha Amitabha or the Buddha of Boundless Light, then Alaya, then Avalokitesvara. Alaya means the spirit-source of all, the garment or clothing of the boundless light; matter cosmic or infinitesimal in nature. Out of it spring the multitudinous rays, as rays of light leave the sun for instance; and each ray is itself a being.
Avalokitesvara does not mean "the Lord looking down," as Rhys Davids translates it, in direct violation of the elementary rules of Sanskrit grammar. Ava means "down," lokita is the past participle passive of the Sanskrit verbal root lok, "to see," hence meaning "seen." Iswara means "Lord." So Avalokitesvara means, paraphrased somewhat, "the Lord who is beheld everywhere," the cosmic light, the cosmic spirit, in which we live and move and have our being, whose very essence, whose very light, thrills and burns in every human soul, the spark within every human being. It is the immanence or the constant presence of divinity around us, in everything, seen down here in all its works, pre-eminently for humans in man, the most evolved vehicle of this divine presence.
Compare this wonderful Buddhist triad of Tibet, which is likewise our own, with the Christian trinity, degenerated and grossly transmogrified as this latter is through centuries of theologic and scholastic mishandling because of misunderstanding. We find that Amitabha, the Boundless Light, corresponds to the Father in the Christian Trinity, the Cosmic Father or Abstract Spirit, the Pythagorean monad of monads, the source — in silence to us, and darkness to us — of all the monads emanating from it, streaming from it, born from it through the second logos, Alaya, the Spirit, which in original Christian teaching was feminine, the productive and generative power in nature, in spiritual matters as well as material, the mother of all, the fosterer of all, the preserver of all. And Avalokitesvara corresponds to the original third Person of the Christian Trinity, the Son, the cosmic or Third Logos. In Brahmanism the triad runs: Parabrahman or Brahman, Pradhana or Mulaprakriti, Mahat. When manifesting in individual monads such as a human being, the trinity is Amitabha, Atman; Alaya or Mahakasa, Buddhi; Avalokitesvara, Manas; for Manas is a direct ray from the cosmic Alaya, and our Atman, a direct ray from the Paramatman, the cosmic Atman, or Brahman or Parabrahman, or the Father.
Thus we have Father, Spirit or Holy Ghost, and Son — the original Christian trinity which the Latin Church finally succeeded in turning around into Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, making the Son or Logos precede the Mother from which it is born!
So, as the Masters pointed out in the last part of the letter we have been studying, Avalokitesvara has its temple in the Universe around us. It is the creative Logos, the Third Logos, the one closest to us as it were, from which we all spring as rays from a cosmic sun, which is the divine presence in nature, which is the divine presence in the human manasic part, emanating of course from Atman or Amitabha; for the Son, is he not the Son of his Father? Is not Manas through Buddhi the offspring of Atman? Is not Mahat through Alaya or Mahakasa or Pradhana — all names for the same thing — the offspring of Adi-Buddha, or if you wish Paramatman or Brahman or Parabrahman?
So Avalokitesvara is the divine presence around us everywhere, which every sensitive human soul can feel continuously, day and night, even when we are in dreamland or when imbodied on Earth. And that same divine presence is in the human breast, because the human breast, even the human body, is a microcosmical representation on this plane of the universe. No wonder the ancients had their Holy of Holies in every temple — originally a beautiful metaphor and a suggestive one when understood by those who came to the temple to worship the divine in purity of heart and with utmost reverence — wherein as in the universe, the divine presence dwells. It was a symbol; so that when one approached the Holy of Holies, shoes were cast from the feet, the garments were wiped, the heart was raised, the mind was elevated; for the worshipers in their reverent raising of their own spirits upwards entered into the Presence, even the Presence Divine.
That Presence is Avalokitesvara; and its ray in us through the Atman is the Higher Manas, illuminated by Buddhi, Buddhi in its turn infilled with the divine light of Atman. For the Father dwelleth in the Mother, and the Mother giveth birth to the Holy Son, and the three are one and yet three, each distinct from the other. Very simple to understand, but amazingly difficult to attain a deeper realization of that marvel! Yet it is wonderful to know and to strive upwards towards. Would that every man and woman realized that every human breast is such a Holy of Holies; for when the man, through his own self-discipline and cultivation of the highest within him by forgetting himself in service to all others, thus sinking the unit into the all, thus becoming even then relatively divine, becomes so overpowerfully strong that nothing less than It will ever satisfy, then he yearns upward, he opens the portals of his holier being, and the light streams in and fills the Holy of Holies within his breast. Then the man is transfigured, he is a Christ, he is a Bodhisattva, for the time being.
That was the effect of successful initiation, just that. Sometimes the aura of the event remained with the man for days, it may be weeks, and his very body at the time was surrounded with light. He was spoken of as being clothed with the solar splendor, the sun being a symbol of Atman, as he is in his kingdom; and our own inner God being the sun, the inner God of our own divinity, our Father in Heaven, that ray from the cosmic Avalokitesvara.
I think it is just here that we find the reason why the Tibetan esoterics and mystics, Initiates, and the common people — by that I mean the mass of the people, the hard working, kindly, good-natured, loving, aspiring men of the multitude — why they all look upon the Bodhisattvas with deeper reverence and a more fervent love than they do even upon the Buddhas. For the Buddhas have achieved, they have left these spheres. Behind them remains their glory as a spiritual influence. But the Bodhisattvas are still men, not yet Buddhas, men whose life is consecrated to making Avalokitesvara a living power in the world through themselves. This is why it is the Bodhisattvas that the multitudes love. They deeply revere the Buddhas as having gone on and shown the way, but they love with an exalted human devotion the Bodhisattvas who remain behind with arms outstretched to help in pity. No wonder they love the Bodhisattvas, for he who brings Avalokitesvara to live in this Holy of Holies in the human breast, becomes more than man. No wonder he is loved and revered and trusted. I think these thoughts are beautiful beyond description. Their sublimity does not blind us, for it is like divinity clothing itself in human habiliments, in human apparel, and therefore becoming understandable to us humans. It is like seeing humanity clothed with divinity. The Bodhisattvas are not so abstract, so seemingly far away, as are the Buddhas.
So true is this psychology that to it is due, to it alone I believe, all the success of early Christianity, that it taught the very ancient doctrine which had become almost forgotten in the so-called pagan world, and it was this: that a man lived who had been infilled with divinity, and that he came amongst us and taught and showed the way and loved us all so greatly that he laid down his life and all that was in him so that others seeing might follow on the path — the typical Bodhisattva, the typical Christ. I think that one thing alone captured for Christianity those who joined the Christian Church.
But how very old is this doctrine of beauty and inspiration! The Christians received it from the Orient. It is far older than the so-called enduring mountains, for when they were still sea-slime, not yet having been raised, these doctrines were taught among men in other continents, in other ages, in other Root-Races, these same wondrous teachings of cosmic origin.
See the difference between the Christian theological idea of Avalokitesvara as wrongly translated by Rhys Davids and others as being the "Lord who looks down," something "up there" and apart and away, as compared with the real meaning: The Lord here amongst us, the Lord of pity, human and yet divine, the Divine Presence surrounding us everywhere, which makes the human breast recognising this the human Holy of Holies.
Christians too have that intuition. Let me close with a poem that illustrates the point and which I learned when I was a boy. I have several times recited it here. It was written many years ago by a Christian clergyman, and I think I quote accurately:
A Parish priest of austerity
Climbed up in a high church steeple
To be nearer God, so that he might
Hand down God's word to his people.
In sermon script he daily wrote
What he thought was sent from heaven;
And he cast this down on his peoples" heads
Twice one day in seven.
In his age God cried: "Come down and die."
And he cried out from the steeple,
"Where art thou, Lord?" And the Lord replied,
"Down here among my people."