Issue 31 – 12 July 2017 – rattuos
When dealing with enlightenment we might find it helpful to know more about the origin of this term and the history of it. In the west we had ‘saints’ but no real concept of ‘enlightenment’ even though there was contact with the east. For thousands of years our major religions have not really welcomed an understanding of their competitors, but over the last 150 years things changed.
After Jesus the Christian Church split east (Greek/Russian Orthodox) and west (Roman Catholic). There were also a few small isolated sects like the Coptics. Eventually the Catholic side split too with the Protestants but even before that there were splits over major concepts. Arianism for example was expelled in 321AD. That was the concept that Jesus, considered the son of God, was separate from God the father. They had already expelled the concept that Jesus was an ordinary man. The mainstream acceptance is now that he and God the Father are one and the same which is called Homoosion.
After Gautama Buddha died, perhaps around 480BC, there was an immediate split called the Great Schism in the new Buddhist religion. The two main strands are now Mahayana and Theravada and they have a few differences in doctrine too. Blavatski brought her own doctored interpretation of Mahayana Buddhism to the west which includes the understanding that enlightenment is possible in a person’s lifetime. Just out of interest there is also the Bon religion of Tibet that claims to follow an earlier Buddha and to be a more ancient religion although it seems to have arisen many centuries after both.
Islam also had a major schism after Muhammad died with the Shiites claiming that Ali, his son in law and cousin, should have taken over and the Sunnis not in agreement with that lineage and insisting that Abu Bakr, the prophet’s advisor, was the rightful Caliph. They also have differences in doctrine.
So it is that there is no complete agreement on ‘enlightenment’. In theory a person who attains enlightenment on their own is a buddha. One who has a teacher and attains it is called an arhat or arahant. And what we might see in that is the ancient Indian tradition of individual wandering ascetics as opposed to the temple tradition of monks, nuns and abbots. Gautama Buddha did have teachers but eventually rejected the teachings of extreme asceticism for his middle way. In a sense he made it on his own and is a buddha. But he left behind him a religion that now consists of temples all over the world, and his teachings which were subsequently orally handed down until written down. There is no complete agreement on what he actually taught and what was eventually written down but the Theravada side are very conservative and follow what they call Pali Canon (ie written in Pali, a sacred Hindu language). This they maintain is exactly what Buddha taught and does not include subsequent commentaries and additions by others.
Complicating all of this are the other splits over what is essentially the path to enlightenment. There is one view that individual enlightenment is possible and desirable. Another that there is no individual at that level. Another that what is sought is no less than enlightenment for all. Some consider the buddha to be in us anyway, others that we create this. I must point out that there are also major differences in how to achieve it. There is for example the Tantric path, all manner of disciplines like yoga and meditation, the study of many texts, empowerments and of course the fact that some people are seen as the reincarnations of great teachers.
There is some agreement that we are in the age of Gautama Buddha who briefly mentioned a future when Truth or Dharma would be forgotten until the future Maitreya Buddha arrived. These are supposedly his actual words:
““At that period, brethren, there will arise in the world an Exalted One named Maitreya, Fully Awakened, abounding in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as a guide to mortals willing to be led, a teacher for gods and men, an Exalted One, a Buddha, even as I am now. He, by himself, will thoroughly know and see, as it were face to face, this universe, with Its worlds of the spirits, Its Brahmas and Its Maras, and Its world of recluses and Brahmins, of princes and peoples, even as I now, by myself, thoroughly know and see them” (Digha Nikaya, 26).”
So there are Maitreya sects too. One dispute over this is to do with what we call the future as some insist that at the level of Buddha there is no such thing. But we find something about this in all the major religions. The bible does not really say that we should be expecting a future messiah but that is how it is interpreted. The Koran does not mention the mahdi but Islamic traditions do and he is expected at some future time connected to the Day of Judgement. And somehow following on from these impressions Blavatski sparked interest in all things eastern and we have developed them in our soteriology (study of saviours).
I have mentioned Benjamin Crème. He was a Scottish artist who in true Blavatski style claimed to be in touch with the hidden masters. These told him that the Maitreya was living in London in the 1970’s. Benjamin used to hold meetings in London around that time and often showed a photograph of some man with a beard and white robes that was supposedly this maitreya attending a meeting in Kenya. Benjamin went on to found Share International. He died last September.
He asserted that the second coming prophesied by many religions would come in the form of Maitreya the World Teacher. Maitreya is the name Buddhists use for the future Buddha, but Creme claimed that Maitreya is the teacher that all religions point towards and hope for. Other names for him, according to Creme, are the Christ, the Imam Mahdi, Krishna, and the Messiah. Creme claimed Maitreya is the “Avatar for the Aquarian Age” and has lived in London since 19 July 1977” Wikipedia
The Theosophists were always on the lookout for the ‘world teacher’ that they expected in the last quarter of the 20th century. They even tried to make one for us which was Krishnamurti, an Indian boy brought up and educated by them. But they also had their schisms and these hidden masters were occasionally telling one member or another that they had been let down by them after the failure of one initiative or another, or the disgrace of some leading light.
Now something we can read into all of this is the difference between ‘individual enlightenment’ and ‘enlightenment for all’ which is hoped for with the arrival of the new Buddha. However the prophecy, if that is what it is, suggests it happens after the disaster strikes according to subsequent teachings on this, teachings which have grown, as they do, ever more fantastic. There will only be a small remnant of humanity some say and
“Maitreya will be the fifth Buddha of the bhadrakalpa, and his arrival will occur after the teachings of Gautama Buddha are no longer practiced.
The coming of Maitreya will be characterized by a number of physical events. The oceans are predicted to decrease in size, allowing Maitreya to traverse them freely. Maitreya will then reintroduce true dharma to the world.
His arrival will signify the end of the middle time, the time between the fourth Buddha, Gautama Buddha, and the fifth Buddha, Maitreya, which is viewed as a low point of human existence. According to the Cakkavatti Sutta: The Wheel-turning Emperor, Digha Nikaya 26 of the Sutta Pitaka of the Pāli Canon), Maitreya Buddha will be born in a time when humans will live to an age of eighty thousand years, in the city of Ketumatī (present Varanasi), whose king will be the Cakkavattī Sankha. Sankha will live in the palace where once dwelt King Mahāpanadā, but later he will give the palace away and will himself become a follower of Maitreya Buddha” Wikipedia.
(I might add that some of the prophecies concerning the future Mahdi were made well over a thousand years ago and included the fact the people at his time could see and speak to each other from different countries, which of course they now can)
But even if there seems to be some madness perhaps there is a bit more than meets the eye. I have written how we can have bad teachers or gurus but still attain virtues that our teachers only pretend to possess. This is really evidenced in nature. We take a rotten crop and create compost, nutritious soil, from it. This is best if the worms help break it down. And then we find a new crop which on a particular day reaches perfection. In Japan for example there is the annual phenomenon of the cherry blossom which their ancient artists found perfect, but only for a day or two. So it is with us. We have a prime just as racehorses and their jockeys do. It is that prime which defines us, not the growing to it nor the decay after it. Incidentally some strands of Buddhism distinguish between lotus buds and the open flower as far as enlightenment is concerned. And so it is with humanity as a whole. The point about our species is whether we have reached it. Plato told us the golden age was long before Greece’s empire even arose which he described as the tawdry age of bronze following the silver age. But we always hope it is coming and in theory it could be. We have always been governed by psychopaths, greedy men and women whose interests do not coincide with the entire species nor even the demands of nature. There have of course been exceptions but many of them have been given a cosmetic treatment. Our world is governed by illusion and these days the illusion is that ‘democracy’ is the ideal. But for many buddhists the ideal was perhaps to be governed by an enlightened teacher and for humanity to find enlightenment together. That is far from government by the masses with their eyes firmly closed, or government by people they elect who keep them closed. Let alone government by the children of children of some former ruler.
But I will stay on the subject of the bad guru. This brings me to one of Blavatski’s disciples. He was Japanese and spent some years at the Theosophy headquarters in India. He was as responsible for bringing ‘Zen’ to the west as Blavatsky who brought her version of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism. Alan Watts who died in 1976 was another influence on us:
“Watts and Conze
British philosopher and Buddhist author Watts at the age of 15 years became a member of the Buddhist Lodge of the Theosophical Society in London. His first book, The Spirit of Zen came out when he was 19 years old.
An active member of the TS was also Conze, who later became a famous buddhologist.
- Suzuki and B. Suzuki
The famous Buddhist philosopher and popularizer of Zen, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki and his wife Beatrice Suzuki became a members of the Theosophical Society in Tokyo in 1920. List of members of the Society, which was sent to Adyar May 12, 1920, contained twenty-one names, including D. Suzuki and B. Suzuki. After moving to Kyoto in 1924, the married Suzukis formed a new branch of the Theosophical Society, which was called the Mahayana Lodge. Most of the Lodge members were university professors. In 1937 Jinarajadasa, future president of the Theosophical Society, read in Tokyo two lectures which were translated into Japanese by D. Suzuki…..
Zen Buddhism scholar D. T. Suzuki wrote about Blavatsky’s book The Voice of the Silence: “Undoubtedly Madame Blavatsky had in some way been initiated into the deeper side of Mahayana teaching and then gave out what she deemed wise to the Western world.” He also commented: “Here is the real Mahayana Buddhism.”
In 1927 the staff of the 9th Panchen Lama Tub-ten Cho-gyi Nyima helped Theosophists put out the “Peking Edition” of The Voice of the Silence.
The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso wrote in the preface to the 1989 Centenary edition of The Voice of the Silence, “I believe that this book has strongly influenced many sincere seekers and aspirants to the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva Path.”
Extracted from Wikipedia
There was also a book published called ‘The real H P Blavatski’ by William Kingsland who wrote:
“From the Preface: In speaking of the Real H. P. Blavatsky I use the term first of all as correcting the false representations and misconceptions which have been so commonly and so lightly accepted by the world at large; and, secondly, as signifying-what in fact each of us possesses-an inner Self, a real Self as distinguished from the fluctuating, changing personality; a Self which, in the majority of us, is only very feebly active in or through the temporary personality. This distinction between the higher and the lower Self is a fundamental one, not merely in Theosophy but also in all Mysticism, both philosophical and devotional. . . . Yet, even when we have done this, the fact remains that it is not the personality of H. P. Blavatsky that matters at all, either in its outer or its inner aspects. What really matters is the message which she gave to the world. And perhaps the giver of that message can only be appreciated in proportion as the message itself is received. Where it is not received: where it runs counter to hard and fast conventions, prejudices, beliefs or dogmas, one can hardly expect in the present state of society, or the present characteristics of human nature, that the moral law Judge not, that ye be not judged will be respected any more in the case of H. P. Blavatsky than it is in other cases. Nevertheless, I may possibly hope in the following pages to do something towards correcting many of the misrepresentations and slanders to which the detractors of Theosophy have so freely lent themselves. This work is, therefore, as much a study of Theosophy as a Memoir of H. P. Blavatsky. -William Kingsland.”
There is more to add about Mr Suzuki however.
“Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (鈴木 大拙 貞太郎 Suzuki Daisetsu Teitarō; he rendered his name “Daisetz” in 1894; 18 October 1870 – 12 July 1966) was a Japanese author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen (Chan) and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin (and Far Eastern philosophy in general) to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. Suzuki spent several lengthy stretches teaching or lecturing at Western universities, and devoted many years to a professorship at Ōtani University, a Japanese Buddhist school.
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963.…
In 1911, Suzuki married Beatrice Erskine Lane, a Radcliffe graduate and Theosophist with multiple contacts with the Bahá’í Faith both in America and in Japan. Later Suzuki himself joined the Theosophical Society Adyar and was an active Theosophist….
Suzuki’s Zen master, Soyen Shaku, who also wrote a book published in the United States (English translation by Suzuki), had emphasized the Mahayana Buddhist roots of the Zen tradition. Suzuki’s contrasting view was that, in its centuries of development in China, Zen (or Chan) had absorbed much from indigenous Chinese Taoism. Suzuki believed that the Far Eastern peoples were more sensitive, or attuned, to nature than either the people of Europe or those of Northern India.
Suzuki subscribed to the idea that religions are each a sort of organism, which is (through time) subject to “irritation” and having a capacity to change or evolve.
It was Suzuki’s contention that a Zen satori (awakening) was the goal of the tradition’s training, but that what distinguished the tradition as it developed through the centuries in China was a way of life radically different from that of Indian Buddhists. In India, the tradition of the mendicant (holy beggar, bhikku in Pali) prevailed, but in China social circumstances led to the development of a temple and training-center system in which the abbot and the monks all performed mundane tasks. These included food gardening or farming, carpentry, architecture, housekeeping, administration (or community direction), and the practice of folk medicine. Consequently, the enlightenment sought in Zen had to stand up well to the demands and potential frustrations of everyday life….
Later in life Suzuki was more inclined to Jodo Shin (True Pure Land) practice on a personal level, seeing in the doctrine of Tariki, or other power as opposed to self power, an abandonment of self that is entirely complementary to Zen practice and yet to his mind even less willful than traditional Zen. In his book Buddha of Infinite Light (2002), (originally titled, Shin Buddhism) Suzuki declared that, “Of all the developments that Mahayana Buddhism has achieved in East Asia, the most remarkable one is the Shin teaching of Pure Land Buddhism.”
This ‘pure land’ teaching is another part of this which needs looking at too. Suzuki was however a controversial teacher in many ways and this next part is very disturbing:
“Brian Victoria delivered lectures in Germany in 2012 in which he revealed evidence of Suzuki’s sympathy for the Nazi regime. Victoria writes,
“D. T. Suzuki left a record of his early view of the Nazi movement that was included in a series of articles published in the Japanese Buddhist newspaper, Chūgai Nippō, on October 3, 4, 6, 11, and 13, 1936.” In this Suzuki expresses his agreement with Hitler’s policies as explained to him by a relative living in Germany.
“While they don’t know much about politics, they have never enjoyed greater peace of mind than they have now. For this alone, they want to cheer Hitler on. This is what my relative told me. It is quite understandable, and I am in agreement with him.” He also expresses agreement with Hitler’s expulsion of the Jews from Germany.
“Changing the topic to Hitler’s expulsion of the Jews, it appears that in this, too, there are a lot of reasons for his actions. While it is a very cruel policy, when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation.”
Suzuki expressed sympathy with individual Jews. “As regards individuals, this is truly a regrettable situation.”
Supporting his own country Japan’s nationalism and war is one thing but his comment above is terrible. This is probably the most worrying side of ‘pure land’ doctrine, that it leads to ethnic cleansing. We might note what this next author has to say:
“The myth of the imaginary retreat of the Rosicrucians and the “Unknown Superiors” certainly influenced the conception of the “Hidden Masters” propounded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), the Russian founder of modern Theosophy. Her chief source of inspiration was her great-grandfather, Prince Pavel Dolgurukii, a member of the Strict Observance lodge. Thus eventually “the Russian Rosicrucianism’s legend of a worldwide network of Masters and a secret link with Tibet was a profound influence on HPB’s development.” Late in the summer of 1875, shortly before founding the Theosophical Society, she noted in her first notebook that she had received the order “to form a society—a secret society like the Rosicrucian Lodge.” She made the preposterous claim that she had spent seven years in Tibet, working with her mysterious hidden masters, who lived there but were not Tibetans. Tibet was their refuge from civilization……
The Western myths of the lands of Shambhala and Agarthi were created in parallel to the “Hidden Masters” myth, and also had wide popularity. Shambhala was indeed part of the belief system in Asia, a land from which a great king would emerge to bring peace to the world, but Agarthi was created from whole cloth to fill a need for a further mysterious realm beyond ordinary human knowledge.
In addition to popularizing the idea of Hidden Masters, Madame Blavatsky was the first to gain a large audience in the West for ideas of a hidden abode of spirituality in the East, and Tibet as a secret site of ancient spiritual knowledge. In The Secret Doctrine of 1888, based on a mysterious ancient text called the Book of Dzyan (probably created by Blavatsky herself), she popularized the first Western version of the Shambhala myth, linking the original Indian myth of Shambhala to other myths of legendary sunken islands (Lemuria, Atlantis) to produce a creation myth marked by esoteric and racist elements in which chosen survivors “had taken shelter on the sacred Island (now the ‘fabled’ Shamballah, in the Gobi Desert).”
Which needs some explanation:
“Jōdo Shinshū (浄土真宗 “The True Essence of the Pure Land Teaching”), also known as Shin Buddhism, is a school of Pure Land Buddhism. It was founded by the former Tendai Japanese monk Shinran. Shin Buddhism is considered the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan” Wikipedia
This doctrine extends throughout Buddhism in various ways. The Maitreya for example is said to dwell in a pure land. When someone becomes a Buddha they create a pure land.
“Pure Land oriented practices and concepts are found within basic Mahāyāna Buddhist cosmology, and form an important component of the Mahāyāna Buddhist traditions of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Tibet. The term “Pure Land Buddhism” is used to describe both the Pure Land soteriology of Mahāyāna Buddhism, which may be better understood as “Pure Land traditions” or “Pure Land teachings,” and the separate Pure Land sects that developed in Japan
…..Contemporary Pure Land traditions see Amitābha expounding the Dharma in his buddha-field (Skt. buddhakṣetra), or “pure land” (Ch. 净土, Jìngtu), a region offering respite from karmic transmigration. Amitābha’s pure land of Sukhāvatī is described in the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra as a land of beauty that surpasses all other realms. It is said to be inhabited by many gods, men, flowers, fruits, and adorned with wish-granting trees where rare birds come to rest. In Pure Land traditions, entering the Pure Land is popularly perceived as equivalent to the attainment of enlightenment. Upon entry into the Pure Land, the practitioner is then instructed by Amitābha Buddha and numerous bodhisattvas until full and complete enlightenment is reached. This person then has the choice of returning at any time as a bodhisattva to any of the six realms of existence in order to help all sentient beings in saṃsāra, or to stay the whole duration, reach Buddhahood, and subsequently deliver beings to the shore of liberation”
The real and indeed original pure land was an Ancient Egyptian concept – the field of reeds in the west. It was taken over by the Greeks and became the Elysian Fields. This was the prototype for paradise and heaven. Perhaps we can see the Indian ‘happy hunting ground’ and the Norse Valhalla here too. But the original teaching about it has been used or abused over thousands of years by successive generations adding to it and adapting it to suit what they were teaching. Gradually people were told they had to conform to certain behaviours to reach it, or its polar opposite hell awaited them. Certainly that is the case with the afterlife although not for the reasons usually given. But the original pure land was a blissful field in the ‘west’ on an island seen in prophecy by certain adepts in our distant past. What they saw on that solstice day was for them a kind of perfection, just as cherry blossom day is. Some peace loving people displaying their extraordinary human talents in a field around a small pyramid in 1971. And for one reason or another this was a magnet for many cultures invited to see and experience it. There is however no doubt that but for people like Blavatski bringing to the west a fascination with the east and its religions and traditions that field would not have happened any more than the hippy trail to India that inspired many there that day. What we might learn from the hippy teaching prevailing at the time, the accent on something being free and natural and enjoyable, embracing all and the contributions of all, that is something else. The hippy innocence vanished as does the cherry blossom each year but left an impression. Subsequent festivals became commercial factories for the vast corporations that took over the music and entertainments industry and its artists. In the field there was a cross section of our world now even a boy guru called Maharaji, a priest celebrating mass among pagans and practitioners of many religions and a fair number of atheists all getting on well with each other. It was very influential on those ancients who witnessed it but we should not read more into it than what it really was. Even now one can see the essence of festivals and enjoy partaking but they have changed. And it is true with all these teachings. They have been corrupted but the essence can still be found and the essence is that we can open our eyes and live in a better world that respects and cares for nature and all its species.
Here again is a glimpse of the first pure land! It may not look blissful to you but if you were an adept living in 3500BC it would look very different to the world you knew. They described it quite simply but that description changed dramatically over the millennia and took on a life of its own. Good and bad of course.
You may well ask how so much came from such a small thing. The religions, the pyramids, cultures, clairvoyance, enlightenment and Ancient Egypt just to name some. But consider how we are all descended from a single tiny sperm of some distant ancestor. How the entire universe grew from a tiny point before time. How fields of sunflowers grew from one particular plant and seed. Truth is stranger than fiction and it is a fact that massive illusions were also spawned from small mistakes and deceptions.