“But what has NIRVANA to do with the recollections of objective existences? That is a state still higher and in which all things objective are forgotten. It is a State of absolute Rest and assimilation with Parabrahm – it is Parabrahm itself. . . . [but] Nor is Nirvana itself comparable to Para Nirvana.”
In the 20th century the Sanskrit term “Nirvana” became very well known in the West, just as it had been known in the East for thousands of years. Many Westerners, regardless of their personal beliefs, are aware that “Nirvana” is more or less synonymous with the idea of “absolute bliss.” Beyond that, it is not understood by many.
The word signifies a core doctrine in three Indic religions which use this term: Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It first appears in Hindu scriptures, where it is synonymous with the other Sanskrit terms Moksha and Mukti, and is also to be found in Jainism and all forms of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism (often called “Southern Buddhism” by Westerners until more recent times) uses the Pali language, in which it is “Nibbana,” whilst Mahayana Buddhism (“Northern Buddhism”) generally calls it “Nirvana.” The word literally means “blown out,” as in a flame that is extinguished. But this should not be taken to mean that a concept of absolute annihilation of one’s spiritual being is implied.
A related term is “Parinirvana.” H. P. Blavatsky often spelt this as “Paranirvana” but occasionally pointed out that strictly it should be “Parinirvana,” which is the way it’s always spelt in Buddhism. In the publicly known forms of Buddhism, Nirvana is when one attains to a state of absolute enlightenment and divine Unity whilst physically alive and Parinirvana their full experience of Nirvana upon their physical death. This is not quite the way the distinction is made in Theosophy, as we will see.
Although the Esoteric Philosophy presented in Theosophy by H. P. Blavatsky is universal, unsectarian, and can be seen to have traces in all the world’s religions, it is nonetheless maintained that the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood of Adepts and Initiates who were directly behind HPB and her work are Buddhists, Esoteric Buddhists connected with a School and system that is not even publicly known of in today’s world but which nonetheless exists. More can be discovered about that in the article The REAL Esoteric Buddhism, in which it is shown that the Esoteric Yogacharya School of the original Aryasangha holds the key.
Incidentally, the term “Paranishpanna” or “Parinispanna” which HPB sometimes uses synonymously with “Parinirvana” is exclusively a Yogacharya term, as is “Alaya,” another important word which appears in the Theosophical literature. “Parinispanna-Svabhava” is another distinct Yogacharya term and will also mean something for serious students of the original Theosophical teachings.
Another Buddhist term “Mahaparinirvana” is not used at all in Theosophy, although it is in some later and very different versions of “Theosophy” dating from after the time of HPB, and in which feature absurd contradictions-in-terms such as the “Mahaparanirvanic Plane” being the highest plane of the manifested Universe! In Buddhism “Parinirvana” and “Mahaparinirvana” appear synonymous.
In Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and in Theosophy, Nirvana is the opposite to Samsara. Samsara is the wheel or circle or cycle of birth, death, rebirth, and actually means “the sea of suffering” or the ocean of conditioned existence. When one reaches, through lifetimes of effort and self-induced evolution, a state of complete spiritual liberty and emancipation, one has inwardly entered Nirvana, which, by contrast, is symbolised as the infinite ocean of absolute unconditioned EXISTENCE Itself, which to finite perceptions appears like absolute non-existence. In actuality it is a literal and total re-merging and re-absorption into the Infinite Divine Essence and Source which is the True Self of each and all.
Those three Indic religions all teach that once one has entered Nirvana, there is no possibility of ever being reincarnated again; in other words, one is “finally and eternally free.”
Mahayana Buddhism, unlike Theravada and Hinduism, Jainism, and in fact every other religion, maintains that it is also possible to reach to the threshold of the Nirvanic condition but to choose to renounce it, foregoing endless bliss in order to consciously reincarnate over and over again, as long as all life continues, to help and guide and teach others with the aid of the knowledge and powers one has acquired. This is called the Bodhisattva Ideal and the Nirmanakaya Path and it is constantly taught, promoted, and recommended in Theosophy as being the only truly compasionate and unselfish spiritual approach to take. Those who Theosophists speak of as “The Masters” are understood to be Bodhisattvas or Nirmanakayas of various grades, the inner beings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge too. (See Who are you, Madame Blavatsky? and Understanding The Importance of Mr. Judge for references.)
The Maha Chohan, the venerable Tibetan chief of the Trans-Himalayan Brotherhood, says in “The Great Master’s Letter” that “It is not the individual and determined purpose of attaining Nirvana – the culmination of all knowledge and absolute wisdom, which is after all only an exalted and glorious selfishness – but the self-sacrificing pursuit of the best means to lead on the right path our neighbour, to cause to benefit by it as many of our fellow creatures as we possibly can, which constitutes the true Theosophist.”
Theosophy differs from other systems, however, in stating that although Nirvana is so extremely lengthy as to really seem to us like “eternity” it is not literally and truly so.
To illustrate, if someone who had inwardly reached the Nirvanic state were to die today and instead of taking the Bodhisattvic Way merge wholly into the Absoluteness they would remain in that condition for (a) the entire remainder of the life-cycle of this manifested Universe and (b) the additional period and in some mysterious way even higher state of Parinirvana, into which everything is absorbed at the Universal Pralaya, i.e. when the Universe reaches its end. The duration of the Universal Pralaya or Maha-Pralaya or Parinirvana is given as 311,040,000,000,000 years. That’s 311-trillion 40-billion years. Only after that comes to an end – and the Stanzas of Dzyan speak of it as “Seven Eternities” – will the one who entered Nirvana finally reassume their spiritual individuality or Ego and re-emerge back into manifestation, i.e. at the dawn of a brand new Universe, the Karmic product and resultant of the preceding one.
Let us now see exactly what H. P. Blavatsky, as initiated disciple and messenger of these Mahatmas, has to say on the subject.
“Nirvana (Sk.). According to the Orientalists, the entire “blowing out,” like the flame of a candle, the utter extinction of existence. But in the esoteric explanation it is the state of absolute existence and absolute consciousness, into which the Ego of a man who has reached the highest degree of perfection and holiness during life goes, after the body dies, and occasionally, as in the case of Gautama Buddha and others, during life.” (“Theosophical Glossary” p. 232)
“Nirvana, the glorious state of Absoluteness, the Bliss past human thought.” (“The Voice of the Silence” p. 41, original 1889 edition, translated by HPB from the Book of the Golden Precepts”)
“The intuitional Occultist, who has studied thoroughly the mysteries of Nirvana . . . knows it to be identical with Parabrahm, and hence unchangeable, eternal and no Thing but the Absolute All.” (“The Doctrine of Avataras” posthumously published article)
“While a Dharmakaya – a Nirvani “without remains,” as our Orientalists have translated it, being absorbed into that Nothingness, which is the one real, because Absolute, Consciousness – cannot be said to return to incarnation on Earth, the Nirvani being no longer a he, a she, or even an it, the Nirmanakaya – or he who has obtained Nirvana “with remains,” i.e., who is clothed in a subtle body, which makes him impervious to all outward impressions and to every mental feeling, and in whom the notion of his Ego has not entirely ceased – can do so. Again, every Eastern Occultist is aware of the fact that there are two kinds of Nirmanakayas – the natural and the assumed; that the former is the name or epithet given to the condition of a high ascetic, or Initiate, who has reached a stage of bliss second only to Nirvana; while the latter means the self-sacrifice of one who voluntarily gives up the absolute Nirvana, in order to help humanity and be still doing it good, or, in other words, to save his fellow-creatures by guiding them. . . . A general re-birth for every individual with interlude of Kama Loka and Devachan, and a cyclic conscious reincarnation with a grand and divine object for the few.” (“The Doctrine of Avataras”)
“. . . the Nirvana . . . took place at a time a little over 20 years before the physical death of Tathagata [i.e. Gautama Buddha]. . . . The mistake of the Southern Buddhists [i.e. the adherents of Theravada Buddhism] lies in dating the Nirvana of Sanggyas Pan-chhen from the actual day of his death, whereas, as above stated, He had reached it over twenty years previous to his disincarnation. Chronologically, the Southerners are right . . . in dating His death in 543 “B.C.” . . . But the Tibetan Chohans, who possess all the documents relating to the last twenty-four years of His external and internal life – of which no philologist knows anything – can show that there is no real discrepancy between the Tibetan and the Ceylonese chronologies . . . it was in 563 before the Christian chronology that Tathagata reached his full Nirvana, dying . . . in 543, . . . The Tibetans say that Tathagata became a full Buddha – i.e., reached absolute Nirvana – in 2544 of the Kali era (according to Souramana), and thus lived indeed but eighty years, as no Nirvanee of the seventh degree can be reckoned among the living (i.e., existing) men.” (HPB or one of the Adepts, “Sakya Muni’s Place in History,” “Five Years of Theosophy” p. 371, 374-375, 383)
But she adds: “The Nirvana of the Buddhists is only the threshold of Paranirvana, according to the Esoteric Teaching: while with the Brahmans, it is the summum bonum, that final state from which there is no more return.” (“The Mystery of Buddha” posthumously published article)
“Paranirvana (Sk.). Absolute Non-Being, which is equivalent to absolute Being or “Be-ness,” the state reached by the human Monad at the end of the great cycle (See Secret Doctrine I, 135). The same as Paranishpanna.” (“Theosophical Glossary” p. 249-250)
“PARANISHPANNA (absolute perfection, Paranirvana, which is Yong-Grub) . . . is the absolute perfection to which all existences attain at the close of a great period of activity, or Maha-Manvantara, and in which they rest during the succeeding period of repose. In Tibetan it is called Yong-Grub. Up to the day of the Yogacharya school the true nature of Paranirvana was taught publicly, but since then it has become entirely esoteric; hence so many contradictory interpretations of it. It is only a true Idealist who can understand it. Everything has to be viewed as ideal, with the exception of Paranirvana, by him who would comprehend that state, and acquire a knowledge of how Non Ego, Voidness, and Darkness are Three in One and alone Self-existent and perfect. It is absolute, however, only in a relative sense, for it must give room to still further absolute perfection, according to a higher standard of excellence in the following period of activity . . .” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 42-43)
In an article titled “World-Improvement or World-Deliverance” HPB describes the known Buddhist definitions and explanations of the terms “Nirvana” and “Parinirvana” as “an exoteric and frequent mistake” and proceeds to explain, “Nirvana may be reached during man’s life, and after his death in the Manvantara or life-kalpa he belongs to. Paranirvana (“beyond” Nirvana) is reached only when the Manvantara has closed and during the “night” of the Universe or Pralaya. Such is the esoteric teaching.”
In a sequel article, “What Shall We Do For Our Fellow-Men?” she clarifies even more specifically:
“When saying that Para, or Parinirvana rather, is reached only at the Manvantaric close, I never meant to imply the “planetary” but the whole Cosmic Manvantara, i.e., at the end of “an age” of Brahmā, not one “Day.” For this is the only time when during the universal Pralaya mankind (i.e., not only the terrestrial mankind but that of every “man” or “manu-bearing” globe, star, sun or planet) will reach “solidarily” Parinirvana, and even then it will not be the whole mankind, but only those portions of the mankinds which will have made themselves ready for it.”
In that passage is the intriguing, if not concerning, insinuation that even Parinirvana will not be reached by all! Only those who “will have made themselves ready for it.” What about the rest? We are never told but one would expect that by the time the current Universe dies its death, in the extremely far distant future (we are currently still only halfway through this Universal Life Cycle, as said in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 368) the number of souls still not ready to enter Parinirvana – the Great Day “BE-WITH-US” of “The Secret Doctrine” – will be a bare minimum.
Regarding the eventual re-emergence from Parinirvana/Parinishpanna – note that the Adepts or Bodhisattvas never enter Nirvana but only Parinirvana, whereas others enter Nirvana first, which then at the close of the Universal Manvantara or Maha Kalpa merges into Parinirvana – we read the following:
“I maintain as an occultist, on the authority of the Secret Doctrine, that though merged entirely into Parabrahm, man’s spirit while not individual per se, yet preserves its distinct individuality in Paranirvana, owing to the accumulation in it of the aggregates, or skandhas that have survived after each death, from the highest faculties of the Manas. . . . after the death of each personality . . . the personality fades out, disappearing before the occurrence of the evolution of the new personality (rebirth) out of Devachan: but the individuality of the spirit-soul is preserved to the end of the great cycle (Maha-Manwantara) when each Ego enters Paranirvana, or is merged in Parabrahm. To our talpatic, or mole-like, comprehension the human spirit is then lost in the One Spirit, as the drop of water thrown into the sea can no longer be traced out and recovered. But de faco it is not so in the world of immaterial thought. . . . That such Parabrahmic and Paranirvanic “spirits,” or units, have and must preserve their divine (not human) individualities, is shown in the fact that, however long the “night of Brahma” or even the Universal Pralaya (not the local Pralaya affecting some one group of worlds) yet, when it ends, the same individual Divine Monad resumes its majestic path of evolution, though on a higher, hundredfold perfected and more pure chain of earths than before, and brings with it all the essence of compound spiritualities from its previous countless rebirths. Spiral evolution, it must be remembered, is dual, and the path of spirituality turns, corkscrew-like, within and around physical, semi-physical, and supra-physical evolution.” (“Isis Unveiled and The Visishtadwaita” article)
“However limitless – from a human standpoint – the paranirvanic state, it has yet a limit in Eternity. Once reached, the same monad will re-emerge therefrom, as a still higher being, on a far higher plane, to recommence its cycle of perfected activity. The human mind cannot in its present stage of development transcend, scarcely reach this plane of thought. It totters here, on the brink of incomprehensible Absoluteness and Eternity.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 266)
“The human Ego is neither Atman nor Buddhi, but the higher Manas . . . The ancient works refer to it as Karana Sarira on the plane of Sutratma, which is the golden thread on which, like beads, the various personalities of this higher Ego are strung. If the reader were told, as in the semi-esoteric allegories, that these Beings [i.e. the human Egos, known as the Manasaputras/Kumaras/Agnishvattas etc.] were returning Nirvanees, from preceding Maha-Manvantaras – ages of incalculable duration which have rolled away in the Eternity, a still more incalculable time ago – he would hardly understand the text correctly; while some Vedantins might say: “This is not so; the Nirvanee can never return”; which is true during the Manvantara he belongs to, and erroneous where Eternity is concerned. For it is said in the Sacred Slokas:
““The thread of radiance which is imperishable and dissolves only in Nirvana, re-emerges from it in its integrity on the day when the Great Law calls all things back into action. . . .”” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 79-80)
The poetic illustration contained in that quote tells us that the Ego or the individual self-consciousness does indeed “dissolve” upon entrance into Nirvana or Parinirvana but that nonetheless it is not “destroyed” but is, as it were, rendered dormant and sealed away somewhere out of reach until the time comes for the Universe to be reborn, until which only a non-individual, non-egoic, universal absolute consciousness is experienced.
Stanza I from the Secret Book of Dzyan, translated by HPB in “Cosmogenesis,” the first volume of “The Secret Doctrine,” is given the title “THE NIGHT OF THE UNIVERSE” and is a description – to the extent that words allow, which is ultimately not very far – of that vast period of time in which there is no manifestation whatsoever, due to the entire Universe and all its seven planes having been literally reabsorbed into the Divine Principle, and thus in the state of Parinirvana. It can be found in Vol. 1, p. 27, and is commented upon verse by verse later in the book:
1. THE ETERNAL PARENT (Space) WRAPPED IN HER EVER INVISIBLE ROBES HAD SLUMBERED ONCE AGAIN FOR SEVEN ETERNITIES.
2. TIME WAS NOT, FOR IT LAY ASLEEP IN THE INFINITE BOSOM OF DURATION.
3. UNIVERSAL MIND WAS NOT, FOR THERE WERE NO AH-HI (celestial beings) TO CONTAIN (hence to manifest) IT.
4. THE SEVEN WAYS TO BLISS (Moksha or Nirvana) WERE NOT. THE GREAT CAUSES OF MISERY (Nidana and Maya) WERE NOT, FOR THERE WAS NO ONE TO PRODUCE AND GET ENSNARED BY THEM.
5. DARKNESS ALONE FILLED THE BOUNDLESS ALL, FOR FATHER, MOTHER AND SON WERE ONCE MORE ONE, AND THE SON HAD NOT AWAKENED YET FOR THE NEW WHEEL, AND HIS PILGRIMAGE THEREON.
6. THE SEVEN SUBLIME LORDS AND THE SEVEN TRUTHS HAD CEASED TO BE, AND THE UNIVERSE, THE SON OF NECESSITY, WAS IMMERSED IN PARANISHPANNA (absolute perfection, Paranirvana, which is Yong-Grub), TO BE OUTBREATHED BY THAT WHICH IS AND YET IS NOT. NAUGHT WAS.
7. THE CAUSES OF EXISTENCE HAD BEEN DONE AWAY WITH; THE VISIBLE THAT WAS, AND THE INVISIBLE THAT IS, RESTED IN ETERNAL NON-BEING – THE ONE BEING.
8. ALONE THE ONE FORM OF EXISTENCE STRETCHED BOUNDLESS, INFINITE, CAUSELESS, IN DREAMLESS SLEEP; AND LIFE PULSATED UNCONSCIOUS IN UNIVERSAL SPACE, THROUGHOUT THAT ALL-PRESENCE WHICH IS SENSED BY THE OPENED EYE OF THE DANGMA.
9. BUT WHERE WAS THE DANGMA WHEN THE ALAYA OF THE UNIVERSE (Soul as the basis of all, Anima Mundi) WAS IN PARAMARTHA (Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness) AND THE GREAT WHEEL WAS ANUPADAKA?
One cannot be blamed for taking that to mean that no-one, no being or entity at all, is in any way self-conscious during Parinirvana. That is undeniably the picture it clearly and emphatically paints. No relativity, no individuality whatsoever; only an absolute, unconscious, all-absorbing, universal, infinite ONENESS.
Yet a paragraph on p. 53-54 of that first volume subtly suggests that this may not in actuality be the whole picture and that if one has attained Paramartha – which is absolute Knowledge of absolute Truth – Parinirvana may not really be an “unconscious” state but in some sense an individually conscious one; not an experience akin to “extinction” but rather one of true bliss. Each must make of this whatever they will and draw their own conclusions as to the meaning:
“Paranishpanna, remember, is the summum bonum, the Absolute, hence the same as Paranirvana. Besides being the final state it is that condition of subjectivity which has no relation to anything but the one absolute truth (Para-marthasatya) on its plane. It is that state which leads one to appreciate correctly the full meaning of Non-Being, which, as explained, is absolute Being. Sooner or later, all that now seemingly exists, will be in reality and actually in the state of Paranishpanna. But there is a great difference between conscious and unconscious “being.” The condition of Paranishpanna, without Paramartha, the Self-analysing consciousness (Svasamvedana), is no bliss, but simply extinction (for Seven Eternities).” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 53-54)
This is probably what “The Voice of the Silence” is speaking of on p. 42 of the original edition where it says:
“The “Secret Way” [i.e. the Bodhisattva Path] leads also to Paranirvanic bliss – but at the close of Kalpas without number; Nirvanas gained and lost from boundless pity and compassion for the world of deluded mortals.”
Those in Nirvana are entirely out of the reach of those still in manifestation and incarnation. They are, by their own choice, cut off “forever” from the whole of humanity and unable to help, teach, or support, the masses of suffering souls who have not as yet reached enlightenment.
It is said that of “the Two Paths” they have chosen the “Path of Liberation” and become thereby Pratyeka Buddhas (“Buddhas of Selfishness,” an admittedly paradoxical term, but which is elaborated upon in the article The Two Paths) whilst the Nirmanakayas have chosen the “Path of Renunciation” and become Bodhisattvas or “Buddhas of Compassion,” pledged to stay with humanity, on Earth or close to it, until the end of time. HPB says:
“The “devotees” are divided into two broad classes, those who reach Nirvana, and either accept or don’t accept it (because they have the option of remaining on earth, at least in the atmosphere of doing good, or they have the option of going selfishly to plunge themselves into Nirvana and not caring for the world), and those who do not do so and have not reached Nirvana.” . . . The adepts . . . have a perfect right to Nirvana, but they won’t go. They think it is selfish to do so, and they won’t go. They refuse the Nirvanic condition. . . . Nirvana . . . is selfish: you will benefit no one by it but yourselves, and this selfishness is to be avoided.” (“The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” p. 299-301, 601, 445)
Regarding the Pratyeka Buddhas, B. P. Wadia says on p. 11 of “Studies in The Voice of the Silence” that “The man who seeks and gains Mukti not only abandons humanity but leaves behind a particular set of his skandhas, which perforce must attract him back to incarnated existence, be it in another manvantara.”
William Judge reveals that even some type of Karmic penance is necessitated by the Pratyeka Buddha: “Nirvana comes to those who have risen up over all delusions and have realized the supreme unity of all; then it may be taken; but if it is then taken for oneself, leaving others in the mire of life unhelped, it becomes an enormous selfishness which later on must result in the being having to do penance in some other manvantara.” (“Forum Answers” p. 97)
Some might say, after reading this or other articles or books, that the teachings of Theosophy are far too theoretical, metaphysical, abstract, and complicated, and that it just isn’t necessary to know all these details. If their aim is simply to obtain and enter Nirvana and leave the world behind, then in one sense they are actually correct, for as B. P. Wadia expresses it:
“The knowledge necessary for spiritual Self-Realization is limited; but that necessary for the service of other souls is vast and complex. Esoteric Philosophy, advocating for its votaries the treading of the Path of Renunciation, requires that they obtain the latter knowledge.”
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~
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