A Study in
George Sidney Arundale
First published 1926
An Extract From
“The Wisdom Of The Aryas”
By Ananda M
A Buddhist Monk
Lastly, mention has been made, during this and other essays of this series, of Nirvana, that Goal of Life towards which the Buddhist aspires, and unto which, the Master taught us, all life is surely tending; and it will be fitting if the whole series should close with some attempt to set forth the meaning Buddhists attach to that term. The literal meaning of the word is simply blown out - extinguished as is the flame of a lamp when it has been blown out; but you who have so far followed what has been said concerning it will understand how great has been the error of those who have expounded it as simply tantamount to sheer annihilation. Annihilation it is indeed in one sense - the annihilation of Desire, of Passion, of Self-delusion. But when we come to try to expound its meaning in terms other than negative, we are met with an insurmountable difficulty; that, namely, all our positive definitions must necessarily be in terms of the life we know, in terms of human thought; and here we speak of
That which is Beyond all Life, the very Goal towards which all Life is tending.Perhaps the best physical analogy (it may, indeed, be something deeper than a mere analogy) to the Buddhist concept of the whole life-process may be drawn from that new science of this present century, which has so vividly illumined many another erstwhile darkened chamber of our human minds - the science of radio-activity. For. that science tells us how certain of the elementary atoms are steadily changing into other atoms; losing, in the act of it, some portion of their mass, which appears in the form of an immense -an incredibly vast - outpouring of energy.
Now the Buddhist view of the universe at large is exactly parallel; it teaches that life - using the term here in its restricted sense as the highest sort of life - consists of a vast number of entities; passing, indeed, from one state of life into another; but still, so far as what we may term spiritual descent is concerned, each the same bundle of life-forces in all these manifold manifestations. From time to time a given individual finds - whether by his own unaided effort, or, more frequently by far, as the result of following the Teaching of a Buddha - a spiritual Sun of this mental, conscious world - that inner, hidden mental Path which leads out of Life’s dreaming to the Truth which lies beyond. And, just as the radio-active atom, in disintegrating, ceases, so far at least as part of it is concerned, to be matter at all; becomes, as it were transmuted into force, thus adding to the heat or other form of energy in the material universe; so does a part, at least, of what had been a human being, pass into a different condition - or, to speak more correctly, pass beyond conditioning altogether, even as part of the physical atom passes into a non-material energy.
There are even closer parallelisms between the two concepts - when we come to examine these in detail - facts relating to the grouping of the transition; - of man to Arhatship or of atom to disintegration, - into very definite stages; and yet others relating to the time-law according to which the atomic disintegration occurs. These details, however, we must leave aside. Here it can
only be said that to the instructed Buddhist, Nirvana stands for the Ultimate, the Beyond and the Goal of Life - a State so utterly different from this conditioned, ever-changing being of the Self-dream that we know as to lie not only quite Beyond all naming and describing; but far past even Thought itself.And yet - and herein lies the wonder and the greatness of this Wisdom of the
Aryas, won by the Greatest of the Aryans for the enfranchisement of man from all his self-wrought bondages - this Glory utterly beyond all grasp of thought, this Peace that is the very purpose of all strife-involving being, lies nearer to us
than our nearest consciousness; even as, to him who rightly understands, it is dearer than the dearest hope that we can frame. Past all the glory of the moon and sun, still infinitely far above the starry heights of conscious being sublimated to its ultimate; beyond the infinite abysses of that all-embracing Æther wherein these universes have their bourneless home; - illimitably far remote above the utmost altitudes where Thought, with vainly-beating wings, falls like some lost bird that had aspired till the thin air no longer could support it; - still it dwells higher, higher than the very thought we now are thinking, higher than the consciousness that, for the transitory moment, is what truly can be termed ourselves.
Not through successive subtilisations of the false idea of Selfhood, then; not through those higher States of Being which we have spoken of as the successive Jhanas - the States of Ecstasy - lies the Ancient Way the Teacher found; but in
the very humblest, simplest, and most intimate of all directions that the heart of man can turn and travel in. Just as the Wisdom-Being turned His back on all the glories of the world; on all false Mara’s promise of world-grasping domination; on all the complex grandeurs of His court-life to become a beggar - humblest and lowliest of human creatures; living in the crudest; simplest, most immediate way - just as He wrought that Great Renunciation only that He might find the Way that all might follow to the Peace - so does the portal of the Path stand wide for all of us just only when - though it be but for a moment - we forget our Self; and live, aspire and work for Life at large. If we should draw, as on a chart, a diagram of Life in all its countless renderings, setting here but the dim germ-consciousness of the mineral; then the dawn of organised life in the world of flowers and plants; then the animal; then the human and self-conscious life we know; and yet beyond these those loftier altitudes of
Being attained through the High Ecstasies, the Jhanas; the worlds of the Angels and the Gods; and, yet beyond these, the highest, holiest State whereof the Saints and Sages of old time have told - the Bodiless, Formless Ones in their highest Heaven of Pure Ideation; then, nowhere in all that chart; and nowhere beyond it in its own plane, could we extend it even to infinity - would lie the place that might be assigned to the abode, the dwelling of Nirvana; and - so far as we can state in words at all that all-pervading intimacy of it - that direction lies, for our own conscious life, where there is no more Self; just as in our analogy its Abode would be where there is no more plane of that
And, indeed, we are told in our Teaching that it is just this very human life we now are living in which alone that high Path which leads to it may be entered; though it may be completed (where it takes more than one life, as is said to be most usual) in the higher Heavenly Realms. It is explained that in the states of life below the human - in the animal world, the world of ghosts, and so forth - there is ever too much of suffering, too much of haunting fear for Self, for the being to be able to take what we have seen is an essential step, namely, the Right Concentration of the mind. Otherwise put, there is too little mind, too dim a 6consciousness, in those lowly states of life for concentration to be possible. Whilst on the other hand, we learn, there in the Heavenly Realms beyond the human state, so vast is the extension of consciousness in both space and time that a being born into such a life cannot grasp the truth of Suffering;
his own life is so merged in ecstasy, whether of sense or of the Pure Intelligence, that he cannot understand how Suffering, how Transiency, can be true; and - because infinitely subtler - his own conception of the Self within him is so far more potent and more real-seeming that he cannot grasp that in that utter-real-seeming Selfhood naught but Delusion dwells.
So it is here and now - not in some imagined future or in some
state indefinitely higher than the human life-that, for the Buddhist, lies the
This little human life - so short, so empty-seeming of high hopefulness - is yet the Gate of Opportunity for all the myriad beings in all Life’s countless realms; the very portal of the Path to Liberation and to Peace! So taught the Greatest of the genius-gifted Aryan Race - He whom we love to term the Wisest, and, above all, the Most Compassionate of men. Can you wonder that we smile, then, when those who have not understood His Teaching speak of it as a gloomy pessimism? Can you wonder that we love and reverence Him,6adoring the very memory of that great Life as men of other creeds adore their holiest Gods?
Many there are, here in these western lands to-day, to whom this old-time Wisdom of the Aryas comes - despite all the insularity of their upbringing - with a strange stirring of the deeps of consciousness; - as if in answer to some but half-remembered Voice, echoing through the mind’s dim caverns out of the gulf of immemorial years. Such, we would say, have heard and have a little understood its Message in old lives foregone; have caught, through it, some vision of the Truth that reigns behind this darkling mystery of life; - even it may be, have drawn nigh, through it, to that high Portal of the Path that leads to Liberation.
That this is so we know from long experience; and, indeed, once one admits and understands the operation of the Law of Life, of Karma, it becomes clear that some such a condition must prevail. Forever the Wheel of Life in its unceasing movement brings each creature new conditionings; yet these are ever sequent in the ultimate; where the old life breaks off, there the new birth reintegrates its bygone state. So, since Aryan India in its great Buddhist phase stood in the forefront of the human progress then extant, we should expect that many who formed part of that great civilisation would at this time, when the centre of progress and of civilisation has shifted to the west, take birth in western lands.
For such these essays have been written - ever in the hope that, despite their imperfections, sufficient of the spirit of Buddhism may yet shine through them to stir the sleeping memories of life once more. Through eighty generations of mankind; through all the changing circumstances of time and racial development, that spirit, that essence of the Teaching of the Greatest of Humanity, has been passed on from heart to living heart, - all-conquering. And surely the western world, amidst this present darkness of its religious life, may well find in this ancient Truth some answer to its deepest problems; some solace for the sorrows and the nescience of life?
Selfless to live and selfless die - seeking for no reward, but only service of the greater life; hoping for not high heaven, for no aeonian bliss, but only to grow selfless every day - such is the lesson that pervades alike the Master’s life, the Master’s Teaching - thereby may Peace come to all life at last!
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