Isis Unveiled Series ~ The True Meaning of Nirvana
The True Meaning of Nirvana
Gautama, no less than all other great reformers, had a doctrine for his "elect" and another for the outside masses, though the main object of his reform consisted in initiating all, so far as it was permissible and prudent to do, without distinction of castes or wealth, to the great truths hitherto kept so secret by the selfish Brahmanical class. Gautama-Buddha it was whom we see the first in the world's history, moved by that generous feeling which locks the whole humanity within one embrace, inviting the "poor," the "lame," and the "blind" to the King's festival table, from which he excluded those who had hitherto sat alone, in haughty seclusion. It was he, who, with a bold hand, first opened the door of the sanctuary to the pariah, the fallen one, and all those "afflicted by men" clothed in gold and purple, often far less worthy than the outcast to whom their finger was scornfully pointing. All this did Siddhartha six centuries before another reformer, as noble and as loving, though less favored by opportunity, in another land. If both, aware of the great danger of furnishing an uncultivated populace with the double-edged weapon of knowledge which gives power, left the innermost corner of the sanctuary in the profoundest shade, who, that is acquainted with human nature, can blame them for it? But while one was actuated by prudence, the other was forced into such a course. Gautama left the esoteric and most dangerous portion of the "secret knowledge" untouched, and lived to the ripe old age of eighty, with the certainty of having taught the essential truths, and having converted to them one-third of the world; Jesus promised his disciples the knowledge which confers upon man the power of producing far greater miracles than he ever did himself, and he died, leaving but a few faithful men, only half way to knowledge, to struggle with the world to which they could impart but what they half-knew themselves. Later, their followers disfigured truth still more than they themselves had done.
It is not true that Gautama never taught anything concerning a future life, or that he denied the immortality of the soul. Ask any intelligent Buddhist his ideas on Nirvana, and he will unquestionably express himself, as the well-known Wong-Chin-Fu, the Chinese orator, now travelling in this country, did in a recent conversation with us about Niepang (Nirvana). "This condition," he remarked, "we all understand to mean a final reunion with God, coincident with the perfection of the human spirit by its ultimate disembarrassment of matter. It is the very opposite of personal annihilation."
Nirvana means the certitude of personal immortality in Spirit, not in Soul, which, as a finite emanation, must certainly disintegrate its particles a compound of human sensations, passions, and yearning for some objective kind of existence, before the immortal spirit of the Ego is quite freed, and henceforth secure against further transmigration in any form. And how can man ever reach this state so long as the Upadāna, that state of longing for life, more life, does not disappear from the sentient being, from the Ahancara clothed, however, in a sublimated body? It is the "Upadāna" or the intense desire which produces WILL, and it is will which develops force, and the latter generates matter, or an object having form. Thus the disembodied Ego, through this sole undying desire in him, unconsciously furnishes the conditions of his successive self-procreations in various forms, which depend on his mental state and Karma, the good or bad deeds of his preceding existence, commonly called "merit and demerit." This is why the "Master" recommended to his mendicants the cultivation of the four degrees of Dhyana, the noble "Path of the Four Truths," i.e., that gradual acquirement of stoical indifference for either life or death; that state of spiritual self-contemplation during which man utterly loses sight of his physical and dual individuality, composed of soul and body; and uniting himself with his third and higher immortal self the real and heavenly man merges, so to say, into the divine Essence, whence his own spirit proceeded like a spark from the common hearth. Thus the Arhat, the holy mendicant, can reach Nirvana while yet on earth; and his spirit, totally freed from the trammels of the "psychical, terrestrial, devilish wisdom," as James calls it, and being in its own nature omniscient and omnipotent, can on earth, through the sole power of his thought, produce the greatest of phenomena.
"It is the missionaries in China and India, who first started this falsehood about Niepang, or Nïepana (Nirvana)," says Wong-Chin-Fu. Who can deny the truth of this accusation after reading the works of the Abbé Dubois, for instance? A missionary who passes forty years of his life in India, and then writes that the "Buddhists admit of no other God but the body of man, and have no other object but the satisfaction of their senses," utters an untruth which can be proved on the testimony of the laws of the Talapoins of Siam and Birmah; laws, which prevail unto this very day and which sentence a sahan, or punghi (a learned man; from the Sanscrit pundit), as well as a simple Talapoin, to death by decapitation, for the crime of unchastity. No foreigner can be admitted into their Kyums, or Viharas (monasteries); and yet there are French writers, otherwise impartial and fair, who, speaking of the great severity of the rules to which the Buddhist monks are subjected in these communities, and without possessing one single fact to corroborate their skepticism, bluntly say, that "notwithstanding the great laudations bestowed upon them (Talapoins) by certain travellers, merely on the strength of appearances, I do not believe at all in their chastity."1