We often use such phrases as “the spiritual path” or “the path of spiritual progress.” Sometimes we say that we are “treading” or “following” the path.
But did you know that there are actually TWO PATHS?
They are both spiritual in their essence yet, as paradoxical as it may sound, one of these paths is in fact a form of spiritualised selfishness. This is an imperfect term to use but seems to be the most descriptive and applicable.
“How can a spiritual path be a form of selfishness?” you may ask.
It all depends on the aim, goal, and motive of the spiritual aspirant.
Some seek eternal divine bliss and complete liberation and emancipation from this world of suffering and its seemingly endless wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. Their aim is to become totally and literally remerged and reabsorbed in that infinite Source from which they came. Quite understandably, they wish to escape forever from conditioned and material existence. Some of them are actively striving and diligently working towards this great goal, whilst others merely keep it in mind and hope to somehow reach it someday.
Almost the whole of the Hindu religion is focussed in this direction, as is the system of Theravada Buddhism.
This path is called the Path of Liberation. It leads to Nirvana, to Moksha, to Mukti, to Brahman. It lifts one out of Samsara – the sea of suffering, the ocean of conditioned existence – and into Nirvana, the infinite ocean of unconditioned non-existence, which is Absolute Existence itself, “the vanishing point of differentiated matter.” One rebecomes the Divine Allness.
But then there is the other path, a path which seems unappealing and uninviting to the majority. The few who tread this path do so because they have come to realise the selfishness of the other.
How can they enter joyfully and triumphantly into Nirvana and leave the teeming masses of poor, suffering, ignorant humanity behind? How can they jump into the ocean of bliss when they know full well that their fellow souls are trapped and helplessly sinking in the swamp of pain and despair?
To do so would not be an act of compassion. It would not be an expression of love. It would not be a recognition of the Oneness and Unity of all life. To the perceptions of those who walk this path, the first path cannot appear otherwise than as a refined and sublimated form of selfishness. Those who tread this path also aspire towards the greatest heights of inner advancement, progress, and unfoldment, but not in any way for their own sake.
They wish only to be of the utmost possible help and service to humanity. They have already decided that when at last their efforts bring them to the very threshold of Nirvana, they will turn their back upon it and renounce the Great Prize. And for what reason? So that they may choose to be consciously reincarnated over and over again, as long as all life continues, in order to help and serve mankind.
This path is called the Path of Renunciation. It lifts one above Samsara but not beyond it. It is also known as the Bodhisattva Path and is one of the central and defining themes of Mahayana Buddhism, especially the Buddhism of Tibet.
The uttermost extent of self-sacrifice for the sake of all humankind…where is the man or woman who will attempt to deny that this is the noblest, loftiest, most selfless, most compassionate, and most truly spiritual ideal in existence?
Our friends who follow the Theravada Buddhist path do not have this same concept of the Bodhisattva ideal. They deny that the Lord Buddha ever taught such a thing and say that it is not a legitimate part of the Buddhist doctrine. But their stance on this matter seems to be an unwitting insult to the name of the one they so revere. How could the very embodiment of compassion, the living illustration of altruism and self-sacrifice, the fully awakened and enlightened one, not have accepted and taught (even if only to his closest disciples) this purest and most unselfish of all imaginable concepts?
The knowledge and practice of the Bodhisattva ideal is not confined to Buddhism alone. Although not specifically taught in any other exoteric religious tradition, there have nevertheless been individuals from all faiths and backgrounds who have adopted this path, the path of true unselfishness and genuine compassion.
It is this path which is upheld, endorsed, and recommended in the teachings of Theosophy.
A former Panchen Lama of Tibet described H.P. Blavatsky’s “The Voice of the Silence” as the only true and authentic exposition in the English language of the Heart Doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism. That was before any English translations were available of the standard Buddhist scriptures on the theme, such as Shantideva’s famous “Bodhicharyavatara” – “The Way of the Bodhisattva.”
The present 14th Dalai Lama has also praised and endorsed “The Voice of the Silence,” which is said to be translated from an esoteric Yogacharya text referred to as “The Book of the Golden Precepts.” What are some of the things it says?
The Self of Matter and the SELF of Spirit can never meet. One of the twain must disappear; there is no place for both.
Ere thy Soul’s mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out; the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection.
Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself.
Let thy Soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun.
Let not the fierce Sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye.
But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain; nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.
Alas! Shall SELVES be sacrificed to Self; mankind, unto the weal of Units?
Know, O beginner, this is the Open PATH, the way to selfish bliss, shunned by the Bodhisattvas of the “Secret Heart,” the Buddhas of Compassion.
To live to benefit mankind is the first step. To practise the six glorious virtues is the second.
To don Nirmanakaya’s humble robe is to forego eternal bliss for Self, to help on man’s salvation. To reach Nirvana’s bliss but to renounce it, is the supreme, the final step – the highest on Renunciation’s Path.
Know, O Disciple, this is the Secret PATH, selected by the Buddhas of Perfection, who sacrificed the SELF to weaker Selves.
Yet, if the “Doctrine of the Heart” is too high-winged for thee, if thou needest help thyself and fearest to offer help to others – then, thou of timid heart, be warned in time: remain content with the “Eye Doctrine” of the Law. Hope still. For if the “Secret Path” is unattainable this “day,” it is within thy reach “to-morrow” [Footnote: “ “To-morrow” means the following rebirth or reincarnation.”]. Learn that no efforts, not the smallest – whether in right or wrong direction – can vanish from the world of causes.
Know that the Bodhisattva who Liberation changes for Renunciation to don the miseries of “Secret Life,” [Footnote: “The “Secret Life” is life as a Nirmanakaya.”] is called “thrice Honoured,” O thou candidate for woe throughout the cycles.
The PATH is one, Disciple, yet in the end, two-fold. Marked are its stages by four and seven Portals. At one end – bliss immediate, and at the other – bliss deferred. Both are of merit the reward: the choice is thine.
The One becomes the two, the Open and the Secret. The first one leadeth to the goal, the second, to Self-Immolation.
When to the Permanent is sacrificed the Mutable, the prize is thine: the drop returneth whence it came. The Open PATH leads to the changeless change – Nirvana, the glorious state of Absoluteness, the Bliss past human thought.
Thus, the first Path is LIBERATION.
But Path the second is – RENUNCIATION, and therefore called the “Path of Woe.”
That Secret Path leads the Arhan to mental woe unspeakable; woe for the living Dead, [Footnote: “Men ignorant of the Esoteric truths and Wisdom are called “the living Dead”.”] and helpless pity for the men of karmic sorrow; the fruit of Karma Sages dare not still.
For it is written: “Teach to eschew all causes; the ripple of effect, as the great tidal wave, thou shalt let run its course.”
The “Open Way,” no sooner hast thou reached its goal, will lead thee to reject the Bodhisattvic body, and make thee enter the thrice glorious state of Dharmakaya which is oblivion of the World and men for ever.
The “Secret Way” 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.
But it is said: “The last shall be the greatest.” Samyak Sambuddha, the Teacher of Perfection, gave up his SELF for the salvation of the World, by stopping at the threshold of Nirvana – the pure state.
Thou hast the knowledge now concerning the two Ways. Thy time will come for choice, O thou of eager Soul, when thou hast reached the end and passed the seven Portals. Thy mind is clear. No more art thou entangled in delusive thoughts, for thou hast learned all. Unveiled stands Truth and looks thee sternly in the face. She says:
“Sweet are the fruits of Rest and Liberation for the sake of Self; but sweeter still the fruits of long and bitter duty. Aye, Renunciation for the sake of others, of suffering fellow men.”
He, who becomes Pratyeka-Buddha makes his obeisance but to his Self. The Bodhisattva who has won the battle, who holds the prize within his palm, yet says in his divine compassion:
“For others’ sake this great reward I yield” – accomplishes the greater Renunciation.
A SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD is he.
Behold! The goal of bliss and the long Path of Woe are at the furthest end. Thou canst choose either, O aspirant to Sorrow, throughout the coming cycles!
Self-doomed to live through future Kalpas, unthanked and unperceived by men; wedged as a stone with countless other stones which form the “Guardian Wall”, such is thy future if the seventh Gate thou passest. Built by the hands of many Masters of Compassion, raised by their tortures, by their blood cemented, it shields mankind, since man is man, protecting it from further and far greater misery and sorrow.
Withal man sees it not, will not perceive it, nor will he heed the word of Wisdom . . . for he knows it not.
But thou hast heard it, thou knowest all, O thou of eager, guileless Soul . . . and thou must choose.
HPB explains in a footnote that the “Guardian Wall” may also be called the “Wall of Protection.” She says, “It is taught that the accumulated efforts of long generations of Yogis, Saints and Adepts, especially of the Nirmanakayas, have created, so to say, a wall of protection around mankind, which wall shields mankind invisibly from still worse evils.”
“Nirmanakaya” is in one sense a synonym for “Bodhisattva” but it is also more than this. It is the name applied to the glorious and permanent ethereal form or body which the individual treading the Bodhisattva Path develops and builds within himself as he proceeds along that Path. When the death of the physical body occurs, he simply continues to function – without any break in consciousness or awareness – “in that glorious body he has woven for himself, invisible to uninitiated mankind, to watch over and protect it.” Another name for it is the Bodhisattvic Body.
Canst thou destroy divine COMPASSION? Compassion is no attribute. It is the Law of LAWS – eternal Harmony, Alaya’s SELF; a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of Love eternal.
The more thou dost become at one with it, thy being melted in its BEING, the more thy Soul unites with that which IS, the more thou wilt become COMPASSION ABSOLUTE.
Such is the Arya Path, Path of the Buddhas of perfection.
Now bend thy head and listen well, O Bodhisattva – Compassion speaks and saith: “Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?”
Now thou hast heard that which was said.
Thou shalt attain the seventh step and cross the gate of final knowledge, but only to wed woe – if thou would’st be Tathagata, follow upon thy predecessor’s steps, remain unselfish till the endless end.
Thou art enlightened – choose thy way.
The individual who chooses the Path of Liberation is described as a Pratyeka Buddha, a Buddha of Selfishness. How can we say that it is anything other than the very epitome of selfishness? The one who selects the Path of Renunciation is described as a Bodhisattva, a Buddha of Compassion. The term literally means “one whose essence is wisdom” or “one of enlightened essence.”
The Buddhist sage Aryasangha refers to Gautama Buddha as “the Supreme Nirmanakaya.” HPB echoes his assertion, writing in a footnote that, “The Esoteric School teaches that Gautama Buddha, with several of his Arhats, is such a Nirmanakaya, higher than whom, on account of the great renunciation and sacrifice for mankind, there is none known.”
It has always been taught that the treading of the Bodhisattva Path consists of two things. First – Bodhichitta. Second – the perpetual practice of the Paramitas.
This is what “The Voice of the Silence” is referring to when it tells us that “To live to benefit mankind is the first step. To practice the six glorious virtues is the second.” Bodhichitta is the fixed inner and mental attitude or focus of compassion and altruism. This naturally leads to the putting into practice of the Paramitas, which are variously translated as “glorious virtues” or “transcendental perfections.”
Generally speaking, Mahayana Buddhism recognises six Paramitas only. In the esoteric system as represented by “The Voice of the Silence,” one more is added and placed fourth in the order. Its position as the fourth of the seven thus gives it the important significance of being the central Paramita.
We learn from “The Voice of the Silence” that they are:
1. Dana – charity and love immortal.
2. Shila – perfect harmony in word and act.
3. Kshanti – patience sweet, which nought can ruffle.
4. Vairagya – dispassion, detachment, desirelessness.
5. Virya – dauntless energy which keeps pressing on towards the goal.
6. Dhyana – perfect inner contemplation and meditation.
7. Prajna – highest perception, perfect consciousness, supreme wisdom.
We are implored to practice the six glorious virtues because those six lead us sooner or later, like gates or portals, to the seventh, which is the great goal of all.
In his “Way of the Bodhisattva” or “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life,” the 8th century Indian Buddhist Master Shantideva affirms, “All the joy the world contains has come through people wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come through people wanting pleasure for themselves.” The essence of the Buddhist message is that desire is the cause of all suffering and selfishness the great curse of humanity.
Shantideva also says:
For all those ailing in the world,
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.
And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.
Directly, then, or indirectly,
Do nothing that is not for others’ sake.
And solely for their welfare dedicate
Your every action to the gaining of enlightenment.
As for the Path of Liberation that leads to Nirvanic bliss, the reason it is viewed as selfishness is clarified in the Theosophical teachings with the explanation that “It refers to the refinement of selfishness in that a person is working by unselfish acts to obtain that which, in the end of all analysis, is selfish, because it is for the benefit of the person involved. But it never was taught that a man could obtain Nirvana by working for his own selfish advantage as his motive, and he does not gain it at the expense of any one; therefore his selfishness in obtaining Nirvana, being at no one’s expense, is of a very different quality from what we ordinarily call selfishness.” (William Quan Judge, “Forum Answers”)
Yet that same great Teacher – who H.P. Blavatsky recognised as being inwardly a Nirmanakaya himself – adds a little later, “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.”
The majority of human beings are not walking either of the two paths, for the spiritual path itself holds little appeal or interest for them. But almost everyone reading these words has at least some interest in the spiritual and higher things of life.
Do you truly love humanity as you love your own self? Do you really believe in the reality of Universal Brotherhood? Which path will you take?
~ Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK ~
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