mardi 9 juillet 2024

Dwelling in a spiritual womb...

Buddha statue, Sarnath (photo: Peter Bredeveld)

Unlike Platonism and Jainism, Buddhism, initially, didn’t believe in a self (ātman), a soul (jiva), a person (pudgala). Jainism and Buddhism believed in the existence of a demiurge (Brāhma) and gods (“daimons”), but these were, initially, not required for the liberation of the cycle of existence. Jainism and Buddhism, initially, didn’t believe in the existence of a “God” (Highest Reality, paramārtha, diversely defined). Their object was one of purification, and there was no final (re)unification or identification with the Highest Reality. Platonism (like Pythagorism), Jainism and Buddhism believed in metempsychosis and the cycle of becoming. All three shared the goal of freeing “themselves” from the body they were born into, or of stripping “themselves” of karma, kleśas and other defaults (s. mala), and thus chasing ignorance (avidyā, ajñāna) through knowledge (jñāna). Buddhism, initially, wasn’t clear about “what” exactly freed “itself” from the body and from the cycle of becoming. The Buddha would probably have said (like in the Phagguna Sutta), that to askwhatis freed was not the proper question… For Platonism, Jainism and Buddhism “manliness” (g. andreia, s. pauruṣa), virtues (l. virtus), and ascesis (willpower) were essential associated “male” qualities required to free oneself. For Platonism, Jainism and Buddhism, the “liberated” (souls?) can be found in “heavenly realms”. In Jainism, liberated souls that have achieved mokṣa (liberation) from the cycle of becoming are called “siddhas” and dwell in the highest heavenly realms. Emancipation (mokṣa) is essentially achieved through knowledge (g. episteme, s. jñāna), and as such that knowledge can be called gnosis.

In Kashmir Śaivism, “Lack of knowledge” (s. a-jñāna) is knowledge (jñāna) covered by defaults (āṇava-mala), like the tathāgatagarbha is covered with veils (āvaraṇa). Lack of knowledge can be of two types: spiritual ignorance (pauruṣa-ajñāna) and intellectual lack of knowledge (bauddha-ajñāna). Intellectual lack of knowledge is remedied through acquiring intellectual knowledge. Lack of knowledge of the true Self (Pauruṣa-ajñāna) is remedied through knowledge of the true Self (Puruṣa-jñāna).
The spiritual [pauruṣa] processes such as dīkṣā (initiation) and the like lead to the removal of the spiritual ignorance [pauruṣa-ajñāna]. In the presence of intellectual ignorance, the removal of spiritual ignorance is unable to produce jivanmukti or emancipation [of the soul] during life. True emancipation in this case takes place on the fall of the present body. If, however, in the meantime the intellectual ignorance has disappeared on account of the rise of intellectual enlightenment through yoga and other processes, the soul attains to a sense of its identity with the Supreme Reality and consequent emancipation in that very condition of embodied existence (i.e. jivanmukti).[1]
In Buddhism, there initially was no “emancipated soul” that continued to live in a body until the death of that body. The emancipation from the identification with the five aggregates of clinging (skandhas) was achieved through getting rid of ten fetters (saṃyojana) chaining sentient beings to becoming (saṃsāra). Such an individual, who can be seen as a jivanmukti was called an arhat. After death there would be no more becoming (parinirvāṇa) for an arhat.

For Kashmir Śaivism and other monist/theistic traditions, identification with the Highest Reality is the goal. Jivanmukti is a saint with a liberated (mukti) soul (jiva), a “disembodied” soul or “person”, capable of ascension to the “heavenly realms. In Yogācāra, Tathāgatagarbha and Tantric Buddhism, the “Great Self” can fulfill everything for which a soul, a self, a person (pudgala), or puruṣa would be required. Tantric Buddhism gives access to initiations (abhiṣeka, dīkṣā etc.) and their progressive stages (krama) of deification or “siddhafication” through sādhana.

Bodhisattvayāna makes a distinction between the nirvāṇa with remainder (five skandhas, and vāsanā, sopadiśeṣa-nirvāṇa) and the final nirvāṇa without remainder (nir-upadhiśeṣa-nirvāṇa) of the arhats, and the non-established nirvāṇa (apratiṣṭhāna-nirvāṇa) of bodhisattvas[2], achieved through the bodhisattva practice of apratiṣṭhāna. Unlike the original dualistic nirvāṇa (as the emancipation from becoming, saṃsāra), this is a non-dualistic nirvāṇa, also called “mahānirvāṇa” obtained through non-dualistic practice.

Yet, the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra[3] goes much farther than the practice of non-establishment (apratiṣṭhāna). It brings in a “Great Self”, which is far more than a non-dualist transcendence of both self and non-self. A Monist (“emptiness-certified”) Self, that remains dualistically “misogynistic”.
The text first recites a screed of misogynist complaints against women: they are a cause for all things evil (chos ma yin pa, *adharma); their lust, especially, is insatiable; they “guzzle” (’thung bar byed pa) the wealth, desires, and vital fluids of men. Basing itself on an apparent equation between masculinity and tathāgatagarbha, the text then claims that a pious follower will reject womanhood and seek masculinity. The gender juggling of the resulting passage is especially mind-bending if we keep the primary meaning of garbha [womb] at the forefront of our minds:
Thus, gentle sir, when you have heard this *Mahāparinirvāṇa, you should adopt a frame of mind that is not attached to womanhood; you should adopt a frame of mind [conducive to] transformation to masculinity (skyes pa’i rang bzhin, *pauruṣam). This is because this sūtra is a complete instruction in tathāgatagarbha-[cum-]masculinity (*pauruṣatathāgatagarbha-saṃdarśana). [??] is not to be taken as masculinity(??); it is tathāgatagarbha that is the “man” (*puruṣa). Any men (*puruṣa) that there are in the world, because they do not know that there is tathāgatagarbha in the/their self (bdag nyid la), are not [in fact] masculine. I [the Buddha, who is speaking] say that anyone who does not know tathāgatagarbha is a woman. Those who do know that there is tathāgatagarbha in the/their self, by contrast – they are to be counted among the supreme men (skyes pa’i mchog, *puruṣottama); even though they be women, they are to be counted among the supreme men.”
Thus, by the logic of the text, the ultimate man is one who knows that he has a “womb” or “embryo” in his body (a better kind of “womb”, of course). Not only that, but should a mere woman be lucky enough to win the same insight, she too will earn the honour of being considered an ultimate man!" (Michael Radich, 2015[4])
A “spiritual womb”, in which a Tathāgata dwells, is better than a “flesh womb”. The spiritual womb offers the possibility to free oneself from reincarnation in another flesh body, or a body in one of the realms of saṃsāra, and to eternally dwell in the highest “heavenly realms” in a luminous god-like body. The good news (evangelion) of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra is that the Buddha didn’t really die. He wasnt even biologically conceived and born. All this (the twelve great deeds) was merely a show (see Fascicle IV, Blum 2013) put up for the sake of sentient beings. “Buddhas are not really as they appear” (Radich).
Radich suggests that within this frame, tathāgatagarbha doctrine was articulated as just such a soteriologically-oriented positive substitute for one particularly troubling dimension of the Buddha’s ordinary human embodiment: the fact that he had a flesh-and-blood human mother, with all the distressing impurity and degradation which that fact implied.” (Michael Radich, 2015, Introduction by Michael Zimmermann)
Michael Radich, argues for a “docetic[5] Buddhology” and offers a perspective on how some early Mahāyāna Buddhists might have struggled with reconciling the human and divine aspects of the Buddha. The concept of Tathāgatagarbha was one of the bridges to an eternal divine Buddha. “The Tathāgata is permanently abiding and immutable” (Blum, 2013). A (future) Buddha is not born on earth, he manifests himself as such (Mahāvastu), it’s all a show, although the misogyny seems pretty real...
I have also manifested myself in Jambudvīpa as someone who attained buddhahood in a woman’s body. The many people who saw this all spoke of how rare it was for a woman to be able to attain anuttarā samyaksaṃbodhi. Tathāgatas cannot accept a woman’s body in perpetuity but out of a desire to tame a great many living beings they do manifest themselves in female form. Out of empathy for all living beings I have also appeared in various colored forms.” (Blum, 2013)
PM Modi, "not biologically born"

The Buddha of Yogācāra Buddhism, is one that teaches in Sanskrit to a “gṛhapati” elite (“A Few Good Men”), such as in the Ugraparipṛcchā (t. ‘phags pa drag shul can gyis zhus pa chen po’i mdo). often brahmins and kṣatriyas, with a strong conscience of hierarchy, caste and purity, ready to receive teachings adapted to their status and conditioning. They’re not into that non-self and impermanence nonsense. They prefer a Buddha who is a divine avatar, merely appearing here as a manifestation, like Narendra Modi[6]… “not biological” and “sent by God”.
I have also manifested such things as liquid and solid defecation, and inhaling and exhaling. Those around me expected me to have liquid and solid defecation and inhaling and exhaling; however, what has been attained in this body is a state entirely without such things as defecation or breathing. I was only displaying this behavior because it was in accordance with the ways of the world. I also showed myself accepting faithful donations [of food] from people, even though this body of mine has no hunger or thirst at all. I put on this display to conform to the world.” (Blum, 2013)
Instead of becoming arhats and attaining a nirvāṇa initially with remainder, and, after death, without remainder, and transcending even a non-dualist non-established nirvāṇa, followers of Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha etc. can themselves become like a “permanently abiding and immutable” divine Buddha, dwelling in "spiritual wombs", merely manifesting themselves in saṃsāra to save others and help them become divine Buddhas too, until nobody will be biologically conceived and born anymore.

Birth of Karmapa Thaye Dorje's son (photo:

What would be the real difference between this Buddhism and e.g. Platonism or other theistic traditions? I personally can’t see any, apart from Buddhist history, culture, jargon and iconography. Because “the ways of the world” are such, Buddhas will always "manifest" showing “the ways of the world”, such as hierarchy, inequality, misogyny, slavery, exploitation, tyrannie, capital punishment etc. etc., often associated with “manliness”, and they will go along, and manifest as anything it takes to influence those in power. Their compassion boils down to saving sentient beings from saṃsāra and from their impermanent mortal bodies, and offering them the opportunity to return to their soul's original home and final destination [ ] among the gods in perpetual contemplation of intelligible reality”. How would we know this compassion genuinely bears fruit and is justified to put all its bets on the afterlife? I will end with a quote by the Buddha from the Aggaññasutta.
Actually, Vāseṭṭha, the brahmins are forgetting their tradition when they say this to you. For brahmin women are seen menstruating, being pregnant, giving birth, and breast-feeding. Yet even though they’re born from a brahmin womb they say: ‘Only brahmins are the best class; other classes are inferior. Only brahmins are the light class; other classes are dark. Only brahmins are purified, not others. Only brahmins are Brahmā’s true-born sons, born from his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of Brahmā.’ They misrepresent the brahmins, speak falsely, and create much wickedness." (tr. Bhikkhu Sujato)

[1]When the Supreme Reality by the free exercise of its own autonomous will elects to submerge its pervasion of identity and adopts differentiation of itself, its powers of will, and the like, though unrestricted, appear to be restricted and it appears in the role of an individuated self caught in the meshes of transmigration." The selfchosen diminution of will-power is the imperfection called aṇava-mala -the dirt inducing atomicity. Under its influence the unchecked freedom of will suffers attrition in scope and intensity and induces a sense of incompleteness and imperfection (apūrṇammanyata). When the infinite knowledge-power of the Supreme Reality likewise undergoes progressive contraction and diminution it loses the character of omniscience and deteriorates into a limited capacity for knowledge of limited objects, and the climax is reached when the knowledge-power is reduced to the status of the inner sense (the mind) and the external senses of cognition. The consequence of this stage is the appearance of objects as numerically different from the subject and this is called mayiya-mala.” From: Studies in Jaina Philosophy, Nathmal Tatia, Jain Cultural Research Society

[2] t. Mi gnas pa'i mya ngan las 'das pa. Also see Asanga's Mahāyānasaṃgraha.
There apparently is a fourth nirvāṇa called “natural nirvāṇa”.

[3] BDK English Tripiṭaka Series, THE NIRVANA SŪTRA (MAHĀPARINIRVĀṆA-SŪTRA) VOLUME I (Taishō Volume 12, Number 374) Translated from the Chinese by Mark L. Blum, BDK America, Inc. 2013

[4] Radich, M. (2015). The "Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra" and the Emergence of "Tathāgatagarbha" Doctrine (Bde. 5). Hamburg University Press.

[5] Docetic: Derived from the Greek word "dokein" meaning "to seem" or "to appear." Docetism is a general term used in religious studies to describe beliefs that a divine being didn't truly experience the limitations of the physical world.

[6]Until my mother was alive, I used to think I was born biologically. After her demise, when I look at my experiences, I am convinced that I was sent by god. This strength is not from my body. It has been given to me by god. That's why god also gave me the ability, strength, pure heartedness, and also the inspiration to do this. I'm nothing but an instrument that god has sent.” The News Minute, 23 May 2024

samedi 6 juillet 2024

Platonic deification sprinkled with manliness

The Beatic Vision of Vajrayoginī's Pure Realm (detail HA11162)

When reading Chapter 2 The development of the soul in Jordan Bradley Koffman’s dissertation Truth and Tradition in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists (Queen’s University Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2009), I was struck by similarities with Mahāyāna Buddhist ideas, in particular Yogācāra and Buddha Nature. Plato can be read and interpreted philosophically, epistemologically and theologically, as does JB Koffman here, but also mythologically, soteriologically, gnostically and practically (e.g. theurgy and self-deification).

Plato’s ideas on the development of the soul, as exposed in Koffman’s dissertation, could also be viewed through theories and practices of Indo-Tibetan Mahāyāna Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism. And that is what I had at the back of my mind reading the following selection of excerpts. Plato believed in the transmigration of the soul (metempsychosis) and in the immortality of the soul (Phaedo). Buddhists believe in transmigration, but not in the immortality of a soul, i.e. a Self (s.ātman). Yet, Buddhism developed ideas that evolved into concepts (Storehouse Consciousness, alaya-vijñana) that with time could hardly be separated from a “self” and a “soul”, in spite of continuing to be qualified as "dependently originated" (s. pratītyasamutpatti) and empty (s. śūnya). The associated Yogācāra and Tantric practices go much further. If we “retro-engineered” Yogācāra and Tantric practices, the corresponding doctrines would certainly posit a transmigrating self or luminous soul on its way to reunite with a luminous divine reality.

Some excerpts from Koffman's Dissertation with my comments.
According to the myth in the Phaedrus [246b-249d], the soul's original home and final destination is among the gods in perpetual contemplation of intelligible reality. To reach this goal, one is to 'become like god' to the fullest extent possible in this life, in preparation for the release of the soul from the body in death. One achieves divinity by becoming virtuous and wise; this, in turn, requires realizing one's essential nature as a purely cognitive agent, unburdened by the demands of sensuousness and worldliness. Since one begins this earthly life identifying oneself with the lower powers of one's soul, believing that one's good lies in pleasure, reputation, or power, the realization of our essence is possible only through a philosophical purification of the soul, through which one comes increasingly to desire the absolute and unchanging good. One must learn that those transient goods which satisfy our vanity and our desire for pleasure are only apparent goods; our true end and happiness consist, rather, in being in direct intellectual contact with 'the really real' [to ontos on]: the eternal and purely intelligible basis of all [Sophist, 248a].”
The gradual return to “the soul's original home and final destination” requires a sort of self-deification. First, the lower “powers of one's soul” are to be trained through virtue (e.g. pāramitā, upāya) and wisdom (prajñā). Wisdom is ultimately the access to self-awarenessor reflexive awareness (s. svasaṃvedana).
Therefore, the experience is of cognition [and] is of nature of cognition; it is not of anything else whatsoever. The fact that the [cognition] is the nature of the experience is what [constitutes it as] that which is directly, individually-experienced. And because the [cognition] is the nature of that [experience], it [reflexively] illuminates itself. Hence, it is also said to be “illuminating of itself,” like light.” Yiannopoulos (2020), Dissertation, The Structure of Dharmakirtis Philosophy.
Wisdom is both illuminating and self-illuminating. Its metaphorical “luminous” nature is essential in Yogācāra and Tantric Buddhism. It is the “true reality” of both itself and its “eternal and purely intelligible basis” that becomes the goal. The knowledge (jñāna) of this “true reality” is a positive knowledge, a "direct Yogic perception".
For Plato, ethics is therefore ultimately a practice of self-transformation, whereby one identifies oneself increasingly with one's intellect-with that power which makes it possible to identify oneself in any way at all. But since the goal is to become pure intellect, which has only universal objects, becoming one's 'true self' involves an overcoming of precisely what we ordinarily think of as 'the self', which is the preoccupation with the idiosyncratic interests and tastes of the individual. The reification of the latter into a unified concept (the 'ego') is a only a passing moment, as it were, in the intellect's process of self-recognition as the essence of life and as a force which is fully active in knowing the unchanging ideas. That is, in self-knowing thought, one knows oneself not as a thing, but as actively participating in the divine principle.”
This philosophical (or spiritual) approach can be supported by deity practice, the transformation of body, speech and mind into the Buddha’s triple kāya. Koffman follows Lloyd Gerson's argument from his book Knowing Persons[1] and shows how a “person internally divided between desire and intellect (or reason) [can become] unified, [as a] divine self".
[Gerson] calls the internally divided soul an 'endowment' of ours, while the unification of its parts is an 'achievement' for us.”
For Plato, the development of the soul consists of three modes of being: simple unity [immediacy], internal division [self-antagonism], and the inner reconciliation of opposing parts, “the model for a reconciled soul is the divine mind”. These three modes of being correspond to three stages of human life.
Specifically, it seems to be implied [in the Laches] that childhood is the time of immediacy, adolescence is marked by self-antagonism, while proper adulthood or manhood is characterized by internal reconciliation-despite the fact that few men actually achieve this.”
Men” because this is aman's world... and requires Andreia (ἀνδρεία), courage, bravery and fortitude. The corresponding Sanskrit term is Pauruṣa, in Tibetan skyes pa’i rang bzhin[2].
Specifically, to the first mode of being, which I will generally call 'immediacy', corresponds an unreflective sort of sophrosyne (σωφροσύνη) and andreia (ἀνδρεία). The second mode of being, i.e., that of inner division or self-antagonism, is characterized by either 'self-mastery' (enkrateia) or 'weakness of will' (akrateia). In both cases, the intellect has been distinguished from the rest of the soul, but is at odds with it; it then either rules the lower parts of the soul by force or succumbs to their pressure. The final mode of being is internal reconciliation or harmonization, and to it corresponds virtue as an achievement; this, in turn, may occur with or without comprehensive knowledge-i.e., in a 'manly' or in a 'godly' form of virtue respectively.

These modes of being are presented, albeit fairly obliquely, in the Charmides and the Laches.”]”
Manly” forms seem to correspond to daimonicmodels, with the possibility of “daimonification”. Mahāsiddhas, Yogis, Herukas could be such models. The domination of the lower parts of the soul require virile qualities, virtues. The word “virtue” comes from the Latin word “virtus”, "manliness, bravery, worth, moral excellence." Virtues are a “heroic” matter; dominating the lower parts of the soul (self-mastery) is not the end goal. Just like the five pāramitās, the virtues need to be unified through sophia [prajñā]. The soul needs to be wholly directed towards the good.
The second comment concerns the thesis of the unity of the virtues. The position that I am assuming is that virtue is ultimately a single mode of being which can be described in various ways: if speaking only of the state of the intellect in this mode of being, then one calls it sophia; if one is speaking of how knowledge is active in the lower parts of the soul, directing them towards the good, then one may call it andreia in circumstances such as war, and sophrosyne at, say, a drinking-party; and if one is speaking of the general arrangement and orderliness of the soul, which leads to right and noble action, one calls it dikaiosune [equity]. Virtue is thus a complex unity.”
Immediacy”/self-knowledge to resolve the inner war (self-antagonism[3]) is also a “manly” matter.
[W]hen asked to observe this quality within himself, Charmides' resourcefulness is not very extensive [ Laches, 194b]. He does, admittedly, engage in a "manly effort at self-examination" [andreia tēs autoexetáseōs]: he observes what is "in him" by something akin to direct perception, and from this basis forms an opinion about the virtue [Laches 160e; 159a].”

[T]he mode of immediacy is distinguished from self- antagonism [in the Charmides] in that there is no hesitation between one's initial impulse to act and the action itself. Whether it be instinctively or by habituation, one simply reacts to one's situation without any intervening thought [nirvikalpa]. In self-antagonism, by contrast, there is at least a moment of interruption in which the question arises as to what ought to be done. But the intellect and the lower parts of the soul-or reason and inclination-are at odds here: one either acts according to the 'ought' reluctantly by forcing oneself to do so, or one follows one's inclination in spite of the knowledge or sense that one ought not to. To jump ahead for a moment, when one is self-reconciled, one's action follows practical reasoning without hesitation.”
Immediacy” is a quality sometimes attributed to children. “Like a small child looking (at the paintings of deities) in a temple”. The inner war is a manly matter, and inner self-reconciliation is achieved by “few men” only. “The model for a reconciled soul is the divine mind”. It is achieved through “Self- knowledge”, that consists of two components, an objective knowledge of various kinds and the “self-reflexivity of the activity of knowing”. For comparison in Atiśa's A Lamp for the Path:
What is Insight? [322a] It is either innate [sahaja], or comes from study, or from reflection, or from contemplation - or as scripture says:
"He who penetrates to what is changeless In the words and states of all activity,
Let his be proclaimed as 'Insight of the Diamond Mind

One who combines mastery of the means
With a true cultivation of insight,
Will swiftly attain enlightenment, but
Not by cultivating merely non-self. [Stanza 46]
Koffman further specifies true knowledge (bold added for emphasis):
Taking, as Gerson does, true knowledge to be a direct cognition of intellectual objects, what this definition of sophrosyne means is that one is directly cognizing both the intellectual objects and the subjective state of cognition. In short, it is a reflexive cognition of the relation between knowing subject and known object.

Among those in the Charmides, this definition is the one that comes closest to describing the ideal state of virtue, which, since it is the true ideal, belongs to a pure, disembodied mind. As Gerson explains, “an immaterial person is the only sort of thing capable of knowledge as Plato understands it. This is because an immaterial person is the only thing capable of self-reflexivity. It is the only sort of thing wherein that which knows is identical with the subject of the state that is known. Further, the ideal for a person is to be exclusively in such a state of knowing. In this way, achieving knowledge can be seen as the core result and meaning of authentic self-transformation. Finally, insofar as knowledge is the ideal cognitive state, the nec plus ultra of cognition, all other cognitive states have to be understood as defective or at least derivative versions of the ideal. The possibility thus presents itself that for embodied persons, unqualified --i.e. actual and self-reflexive-- knowledge is not available.

Insofar as it contains the components of actuality and self-reflexivity, the formula "knowledge of other knowledges and of itself" stands for the ideal form of knowledge, and is similar to Aristotle's description of the divine mind in Metaphysics .("knowing that is knowing of knowing")
Only the “desembodied” “divine mind” “directly cogniz[es] both the intellectual objects and the subjective state of cognition”, i.e. true knowledge, and constitutes an “authentic self-transformation”, a sort of self-deification. Compared to that knowledge “all other cognitive states” are defective or derivative. Saṃsāra is embodied existence and nirvāṇa is "extinguishing" or "blowing out", “unbinding”, without “self-reflexive knowledge” or locked into it as in a bubble. In Buddhism, Yogācāra, Buddha Nature and Tantrism claim to be the only ones that help achieve the return of the soul to its original home and to its final destination (Ground Path Result), “among the gods in perpetual contemplation of intelligible reality”.

Welcoming beings to the Land of Ultimate Bliss (photo: Seven Jewels Gallery)


[1] Lloyd P. Gerson, Knowing persons : a study in Plato. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003

[2]The [Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra] first recites a screed of misogynist complaints against women: they are a cause for all things evil (chos ma yin pa, *adharma); their lust, especially, is insatiable; they “guzzle” (’thung bar byed pa) the wealth, desires, and vital fluids of men. Basing itself on an apparent equation between masculinity and tathāgatagarbha, the text then claims that a pious follower will reject womanhood and seek masculinity. The gender juggling of the resulting passage is especially mind-bending if we keep the primary meaning of garbha [womb] at the forefront of our minds:
Thus, gentle sir, when you have heard this *Mahāparinirvāṇa, you should adopt a frame of mind that is not attached to womanhood; you should adopt a frame of mind [conducive to] transformation to masculinity (skyes pa’i rang bzhin, *pauruṣam). This is because this sūtra is a complete instruction in tathāgatagarbha-[cum-]masculinity (*pauruṣatathāgatagarbha-saṃdarśana). [??] is not to be taken as masculinity(??); it is tathāgatagarbha that is the “man” (*puruṣa). Any men (*puruṣa) that there are in the world, because they do not know that there is tathāgatagarbha in the/their self (bdag nyid la), are not [in fact] masculine. I [the Buddha, who is speaking] say that anyone who does not know tathāgatagarbha is a woman. Those who do know that there is tathāgatagarbha in the/their self, by contrast – they are to be counted among the supreme men (skyes pa’i mchog, *puruṣottama); even though they be women, they are to be counted among the supreme men.
Michael Radich, The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine, 2015, Hamburg Buddhist Studies 5 Series editor: Michael Zimmermann
"I argue further that the elaboration of tathāgatagarbha doctrine in MPNMS is part of a much wider pattern of docetic Buddhology and its corollaries. In particular, the claim that all sentient beings have a garbha (“womb” or “embryo”) of the Tathāgata within them, I suggest, was elaborated as a type of soteriologically-oriented, positive substitute for the idea that Buddhas could have their genesis in an ordinary, fleshly human womb, which was unacceptable to docetic thinking." From Michael Radich's Introduction.

[3]For now, the mode of self-antagonism is generally characterized by a conflict within the soul about what to do. That action follows without practical necessity indicates that both sides in the conflict remain at odds, despite the resolution to act. As in any conflict where one side overpowers the other, instead of being genuinely reconciled to one another, the soul is left in a state of agony, lacking quietude and equanimity. Plato (somewhat ironically) calls the two possibilities within this mode 'self-superior' and 'self-inferior' [ Laws, 626d; Republic, 430e]. “ When the soul is 'self-superior', the 'better desires' end up determining the will rather than the 'worse desires' ".

[4] A Lamp For The Path And Commentary Of Atisha Tr. Richard Sherburne S. J., 1983, ‎ Allen & Unwin.

lundi 1 juillet 2024

Words of Creation

Illustration Les amis d'Hermes

In many traditions creation power through words is mostly attributed to God, gods, daimons, angels, etc., but it can also exist in cultures without a creator god, a demiurg, but this may be a later evolution. Language, Words, “the Verb” brings order where there is chaos, or what is perceived as chaos. Order comes with an ideology. By what ideology do certain words have “creation” power, power to establish order in what is perceived as chaos. Isn’t power always a “creation” depending on multiple factors in the sense that it is operational in an ideology, creating it, maintaining it, dis-empowering or reinterpreting it?

Buddhism and Daoism are sometimes considered as non-theistic traditions, without at least an anthropomorphic creator god/demiurg. Yet gods and daimons are found in both traditions, perhaps because they emerged in societies with older traditions, “before the invention of heaven”? They certainly were societies with an animated and enchanted Nature, maintained by Natural agents. Rather than to eliminate earlier traditions they integrated and used parts of them. “Skilfully” (upāyena) in Buddhism. Whether that is indeed possible, because we live by metaphors, is another question.

Nāgārjuna’s Ratnavāli (1.3 and 1.4) declares:
In one who first practices high status (s. abhyudaya t. mngon mtho)
Definite goodness (s. naiḥśreyasa t. legs pa) arises later,
For having attained high status,
One comes gradually to definite goodness. (1.3)

High status is considered to be happiness (s. sukha),
Definite goodness is liberation (mokṣa).
The quintessence of their means (asya sādhanasaṃkṣepaḥ)
Is briefly faith (śraddhā) and wisdom (prajñā)
[1]. (1.4)
High status”, abhyudaya, refers to worldly success, prosperity, or happiness. It encompasses desirable attainments in this life, such as good health, wealth, and comfortable living conditions. Good karma and merit (s. puṇya) are said to “trans-existentially” lead to “high status”, allowing one to obtain the proper conditions to attain liberation (s. mokṣa). “High status” is obtained through following the ways of the world (s. prāgdharmā). Good health, wealth, fertility, comfort and longevity, etc. can be boosted by appealing to the agents of Nature. A Buddhist would that “skilfully”, because the final main objective remains liberation. In the meantime there is no harm in creating the best possible conditions through supernatural sciences, including using astrology, divination, magic, etc. from other, earlier, non-Buddhist traditions. These sciences became an integral part of Buddhism and other Indian religions. “High status” furthermore allows Buddhists to support the Buddhist clergy and institutions.

The magic of earlier theist or “enchanted” traditions uses consecrations, sacred, formula, incantations, spells, charms, paritta, yantras, amulets, dhāraṇīs, mantras, etc., spoken or written words considered to have “creation power” and efficiency” for the required “status goals”. Since these words were often thought to have been initially uttered by divine or daimonic entities with “creation power”, they were moreover thought to have the power to change the effects of karma, attenuating negative karma and boosting and multiplying positive karma. This also implies, in Buddhist circles, that mere causality was not the highest authority.

Dhāraṇīs were initially “mnemonic codes”. Later they were used as “power words” as well, like mantras. In Buddhist Tantras mantras were thought to have been uttered by a Buddha, but may have another origin. Sometimes dhāraṇīs and mantras were offered to him by supernatural entities in order to protect the Buddha and his students against obstacles. The Buddha is said to have generally spoken in prakrit (pāli), whereas mantras are often in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the language of the Veda and the gods, and prakrit the language of humans.
Two monks, brothers, brahmans by birth, of fine language and fine speech, came to the Buddha and said: Lord, here monks of miscellaneous origin (literally, of various names, clan-names, races or castes, and families) are corrupting (dūsenti) the Buddha's words by (repeating them in) their own dialects; let us put them into Vedic. The Lord Buddha rebuked them: Deluded men, how can you say this? This will not lead to the conversion of the unconverted... And he delivered a sermon and commanded (all) the monks: You are not to put the Buddha's words into Vedic. Who does so would commit a sin. I authorize you, monks, to learn the Buddha's words each in his own dialect[2].” (Cullavagga 5.33; Vin. ii.139.1 ff.)
Sanskrit mantras need to be correctly pronounced and used under the right circumstances and by the right people. When Buddhist texts, written in Sanskrit, contain incantations and mantras in Sanskrit, they need to be transcribed in translations. The text may be translated, e.g. in Tibetan, but the mantras must remain in Sanskrit phonetics, otherwise they won’t be efficient, their magic won’t operate… The origin of a mantra is the uttering in Sanskrit by a supernatural entity belonging to Indian mythology. The creation (both śuddha and aśuddha) power of the mantra is that of this entity, expressed in words in the language of gods. The explanation of a Sanskrit mantra’s vibration that resonates with specific energies when pronounced accurately is probably a later interpretation. It diminishes the role of a mythological or supernatural being’s utterance.

Moreover, later, the correct Sanskrit pronunciation of a mantra mattered less, and its transmission through a guru-śiṣya parampara became crucial. Faith matters more than orthopraxy and orthodoxy, and always has the right vibration… between heart and Heart. Moreover specific mantras are pronounced at the end of a ritual to apologize for possible mispronunciations and to repair mistakes. Faith is the key.

If we look at the form of a Tibetan sādhana, the ritual acts (the first meaning of karma) are fully described in Tibetan, but captured in Sanskrit mantra formulas so as to produce the right effect, together with a consecrated hand gesture (mudrā). Moreover the mantras to be recited remain in Sanskrit, in the original divine language of its first utterance. By carrying out the ritual properly, the creative power of the Sanskrit mantras allow practitioners to (re)create the pure realm (maṇḍala) of the deity and access pure vision or sacred outlook (t. dag snang). “Conceptual” ritual gestures, words and thoughts are transformed (empty and luminous), to make them compatible with the eternal pure (nonconceptual) realm of saṃbhogakāya and its entities. The two (samayavatta and jñānasattva), conceptual and nonconceptual are united.

This notion of the creative power of words can be found back too in other traditions. The word Abracadabra comes from the Arameic, and is often (wrongly) translated as “As I speak I create”, but this seems to be folk etymology. The Roman scholar Serenus Sammonicus (early 3rd century AD) used "Abracadabra" in his "Liber Medicinalis". In this book he prescribes to write out the word repeatedly, removing one letter each time, until the letter A, to form a triangle shape. This amulet was then worn by the patient as a cure for their ailments. Possibly an allegorical use of amulets, or "placebo effect"?

Another folk etymology word is Hocus Pocus (Pilatus Pas). Following this etymology "Hoc est corpus meum" (This is my body) pronounced during Latin mass became “Hocus Pocus”, and "sub Pontio Pilato passus est" (suffered under Pontius Pilate) became “Pilatus Pas”. Probably a joke, but it shows that Divine words of creation, here to realize the consubstantiation, can be creatively used for other purposes, often magical. If he indeed did, Jesus probably pronounced these words in Aramaic, which would then have been first translated into Greek and then into Latin. The original Aramaeic seems not to be required for its efficiency during the consubstantiation.

Buddhist Tantras were a way to integrate these older traditions and to have them pronounced and authenticated by the Buddha appearing as a Buddhist deity, and to use mantras not only for “higher status”, but for Deification and Buddhafication as well, and to consecrate the Vajra Body, including through mantric power. These practices really took off when the Buddhist scholastic nominalism of Madhyamaka definitely lost out to Yogācāra. A similar phenomenon took place in Europe during approximately the same period.
"The attitude of the first Christians towards [conjuring formulas] is relatively ambiguous. The Copts of Egypt commonly used them to drive out demons and cure illnesses, and the structural form they gave them has hardly changed to this day. Origen does not take a position: he merely considers that an incantation translated into another language loses its power. Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom denounced those who used enchantments to heal illnesses, although the latter did not deny the efficacy of the name of Jesus and the virtue of the sign of the cross in healing wounds. Severe condemnations of these practices were issued by Eligius (St Eloi) at the Council of Noyon and repeated by the Council of Rome in 721.

However, it seems that the Christianisation of conjuring formulas enabled them to be partially integrated into medico-religious customs from the Middle Ages until around the twelfth century. St Hildegard of Bingen used incantations to prepare her remedies. This suggests that the intellectual elite of the time remained aware of their intrinsic value.

With the triumph of scholasticism, the Roman Church continued to severely criticise the use of conjuring spells, although priests and monks continued to use them frequently. They are still used today in some rural parishes
See my blog Realist Revolution: "How the Occult Transformed Philosophy & Spirituality" on the ongoing struggle between scholastic nominalism and realism, and the sustainable return of realism as the occult from the 15th century onwards.

Buddhist Tantras were a way to integrate pre-Buddhist traditions and to have them taught and authenticated by the Buddha appearing as a Tantric Buddhist deity (heruka), and to use mantras not only for "higher status", but moreover for Deification and Buddhafication, and to consecrate the Vajra Body, including through mantric power.

In spite of everything it takes to uphold the “vehicle of mantras” and the techniques of the Vajra Body, these are still considered as “nonconceptual” methods, because they operate in a true Luminous reality, that doesn’t need “mind”, the intellect, sensorial perception etc. to "directly" access it. The same goes for the Luminous reality of the subtle “Light Body” and the “Luminous Self”. These are by definition “nonconceptual”, because they are “luminous” and pre-exist before body and mind, and will continue after their dissolution. This Luminous reality and its Luminous Body can be reconnected with through nonconceptual Luminous practice. Visualisations, mantras and yoga serve as a link.

Mainstream Buddhist “conceptual” practice (threefold training triśikṣā) is replaced by “nonconceptual” practice, or rather practice that is said to result in direct access to the nonconceptual true Luminous reality. Since there is a continuity of Ground Path and Result, the nonconceptuality of the Result is already present in the Ground and permeates Ground Path and Result. Sounds a bit like scholasticism, doesn’t it?



[1] English translation on the zensite. Internet Archive, tra. Jeffrey Hopkins (2007)

The Precious Garland of Advice for a King by the great master, the Superior Nagarjuna, is translated by the Indian professor Vidyakaraprabha and the Tibetan translator and monastic Bel-dzek. Consulting three Sanskrit editions, the Indian professor Kanakavarman and the Tibetan monastic Ba-tsap Nyi-ma-drak corrected translations and other points that did not accord with the unique thought of the Superior [Nagarjuna] and his spiritual son [Aryadeva]. It was printed at the great publishing house below [the Potala in Hla-sa]

[2] EDGERTON, F. (1953). Buddhist hybrid sanskrit grammar and dictionary 2. 2. New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, p. 1

[3] “L'attitude des premiers chrétiens à leur égard est relativement ambiguë. Les Coptes d'Egypte s'en serviront couramment pour chasser les démons et guérir les maladies et la forme structurelle qu'ils leur donneront ne variera plus guère jusqu'à nos jours. Origène ne prend pas position: il considère seulement qu'une incantation traduite dans une autre langue perd son pouvoir. Saint Augustin et saint Jean Chrysostome dénoncent ceux qui se servent d'enchantements pour la guérison des maladies, ce dernier ne niant pas toutefois l'efficacité du nom de Jésus et la vertu du signe de croix pour guérir les blessures. De sévères condamnations de ces pratiques sont prononcées par Eligius (St Eloi) au concile de Noyon et reprises par le concile de Rome en 721.

Cependant, il semble que la Christianisation des formules de conjuration ait permis une intégration partielle de celles-ci dans les mœurs médico-religieuses, du Moyen-Age jusqu'au XII siècle environ. Sainte Hildegarde de Bingen fait usage d'incantations pour la préparation de ses remèdes. Ceci laisse à penser que l'élite intellectuelle de l'époque reste consciente de leur valeur intrinsèque.

Avec le triomphe du courant scolastique, l'Eglise romaine ne cessera de critiquer sévèrement l'emploi des formules de conjurations, bien que prêtres et moines aient continué d'en user fréquemment. L'emploi s'est maintenu jusqu'à nos jours dans certaines paroisses rurales.”

“Inquisiteurs et démonologues de la Renaissance dénoncèrent constamment la pratique des charmes, enchantements et conjurations. Jean Wier, dans son Histoire, disputes et discours des illusions et impostures des diables, magiciens et sorciers... parue en 1579, en cite un certain nombre, auquel il n'accorde d'ailleurs aucun crédit, ce qui lui vaudra pourtant d'être considéré comme sectateur du démon puisque, au travers de sa publication, il diffusait de paroles que l'on considérait comme directement inspirées par lui.”

Hugues Berton, Formes et structures des thérapeutiques traditionnelles : Convergences et divergences en regard de la programmation neuro-linguistique, 1999 p. 127