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

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