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The Buddha as Spiritual Lawgiver

3,870 words

Sayings of the Buddha
Rupert Gethin, translator
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008

Anyone who wishes to promote certain values is faced with the challenge of how to maintain those values over time: throughout one’s life, from one generation to the next, and across the centuries. A people’s adherence to values is likely to wane over time, overcome by lower drives, such as the desires for material comfort and personal self-indulgence. We know this well in our own era: the collapse of traditional values has given way to a general slouching into consumerism and individualism. In good times especially, the inner child and the bottomless belly take charge of the soul. The maintenance of values in the face of decadence is no easy thing.

I believe we have much to learn in this respect from the sole ideological systems and spiritual communities which have survived for millennia: the religions. I have personally become convinced that piety, or the religious instinct, plays the critical role in maintaining adherence to values above other impulses. Piety is the only such impulse which can be rationally educated. Indeed, that is why I believe the religious instinct – if well-educated – is more valuable than the strictly ethnocentric one: an ethnocentric Frenchman may defend his people, but enter into petty conflicts with genetically very similar neighboring Europeans, whereas a pious European identitarian defends both the French nation and the great European family of nations of which it is a part.

The creed of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, has largely died out in his native India, and yet over five hundred million souls claim to follow his way of life today, mostly in East and Southeast Asia, but increasingly also in the West, where Buddhism has growing appeal to generations of Europeans lost in an increasingly materialist, relativist, and nihilistic age, looking for spiritual comfort and transcendence.

I am not here judging the content of Buddhist doctrine. What is perhaps the fundamental insight – that one must let go of senses, feelings, the world, all things, indeed the mind itself, for all is flux and vanity – may well be true. But one could also deem this nihilism, and indeed Gautama was accused of this during his own lifetime. What is clear is that Buddhism is evolutionarily maladaptive for its ascetics: the Buddhist monk rejects family life and goes childless. Furthermore, the Buddha explicitly rejected the caste divisions which the Hindus had established to preserve their Aryan blood.[1]

Savitri Devi classes Gautama among the “men above Time” who embody timeless values only by withdrawing from this fallen world, rather than the superior “men against Time” who seek to impose them in this world. Those who wish to see the perpetuation of their people are more likely to be touched by the spirit of the Hindus’ Bhagavad Gita, where in the face of the same cosmic oblivion, the Lord commands Prince Arjuna to embrace his duty as a warrior: “Therefore go to it, grasp fame! And having conquered your enemies, enjoy a thriving kingship.”[2]

What I examine here, and what I think is relevant to all who seek to make lasting cultural change, is the Buddha’s practice and advice for sustaining a spiritual community which can survive the ages. (By “the Buddha,” I mean the figure portrayed in the Pali Canon, which are our earliest records of Gautama’s teachings, as edited by Buddhist disciples generations later. As with other spiritual leaders who left no writings of their own, such as Socrates and Jesus, we are unsure to what extent the Buddha of the scriptures is faithful to the historical Gautama. I will not deal with that question here: I am interested in what the mythical “Buddha” of the scriptures, as established by Buddhist leaders, has to say on what has proved to be a very successful religion.)

I cannot read about Gautama without sensing a certain kinship with our own Western tradition. He was said to have blue eyes and dark hair. He spoke an Indo-European language, descended from the same Aryan conquerors who gave we Europeans most of our languages. Furthermore, though this might appear superficial, I see innumerable parallels between Buddhist insights and practices and those of the Greek philosophical tradition, which began at around the same time. Buddhism and Greek philosophy often wrestle with the very same issues. The early Buddhists debated and bickered about ideas, as one might in a philosophical school. But the parallel between Buddhism and Greek philosophy is most apparent if, like Pierre Hadot, we understand that philosophy not as simply a series of ideas or doctrines, but as a way of life cultivating the soul through spiritual exercises.

Like Socrates, the Buddha is more concerned with ethics than metaphysics, and both practiced prolonged meditation (which in Zen Buddhism becomes the central component) and trained themselves in self-control. Like Plato’s Socrates, a fundamental part of the Buddha’s meditation is the contemplation of death, and the Buddhist, like the philosopher, does not fear death.[3] Like Plato, the Buddha is concerned only with the eternal; he polices his own senses and withdraws from this world to the spiritual one. (A difference: Plato’s philosopher-king is reluctantly dragged back into the political world, whereas the Buddha’s seems to withdraw completely.[4]) Like Diogenes, the Buddhist ascetic lives as a homeless beggar, surviving on self-discipline and alms, teaching morals to the people by his example. But whereas Diogenes did so alone and only had isolated followers, the Buddha established not just a philosophical school but a monastic community: the Sangha. Plato’s praise for Pythagoras, the mathematician-mystic who also established a way of life as part of a kind of monastic community, could well be applied to Gautama:

Is there any evidence that, during his lifetime, [Homer] was a mentor to people, and that they used to value him for his teaching and handed down to their successors a particular Homeric way of life? This is what happened to Pythagoras: he wasn’t only held in extremely high regard for his teaching during his lifetime, but his successors even now call their way of life Pythagorean and somehow seem to stand out from all other people.[5]

For his part, Gautama became, according to the Pali Canon, “a perfect buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, happy, one who understands the world, an unsurpassed charioteer of men to be tamed, teacher of gods and men, a blessed buddha.”[6]

Like the Stoics, the Buddha preaches a studious indifference to that which is in flux, a reconciliation with the nature of existence. The philosophers wish to learn about nature, or the world, in order to align their ideas and lives with it. For Buddhists, “Dharma” means at once the teachings of the Buddha, the nature of existence, and the Buddhist way of life. Pierre Hadot writes that “despite my reticence against the use of comparativism in philosophy” he cannot resist highlighting the similarities between a Buddhist sutra’s description of the ideal sage and the sage of the Socratic tradition:

Overcoming all
knowing all,
wise.
With regard to all things:
unsmeared. Abandoning all,
in the ending of craving,
released:
The enlightened call him a sage. . . .

The wandering solitary sage,
uncomplacent, unshaken by praise or blame. . . .
Leader of others, by others unled:
The enlightened call him a sage.[7]

The ancient Greeks and Indians did not have the opportunity to interact much in our history. However, it is striking that when Alexander the Great conquered Persia and the two civilizations came into contact, Greco-Indian cultural cross-fertilization proved quite fruitful. The Greeks identified the Indian brahmans (and possibly the Buddhist ascetics) with their own philosophers, calling them “gymnosophists” or “naked sophists.” Evidently, the Greeks were impressed by the yogis’ physical-spiritual exercises. Greek kings ruled parts of India and Afghanistan for only about two centuries after Alexander’s death. And yet, during that time, many of these Greeks embraced Buddhism and created some of that tradition’s finest art with the brief and insufficiently known flowering of Greco-Buddhist culture.

All spiritual traditions are confronted with the problem of whether their followers should be householders or ascetics. When should a gifted man dedicate himself to the “distractions” of working and family life, and when should he dedicate himself completely to spiritual exercises? Different traditions give different answers.[8] The Buddha perfected a tradition of young men leaving their household and going childless in order to dedicate their lives as wandering mendicants to meditation. He says in favor of becoming a family-free monk: “It is not easy to practice the spiritual life in all its fullness and purity, like a polished shell, while living in a house.”[9] The monk learns to live with nothing but his ocher robe and his alms bowl, meditating by roots of trees or in deserted houses. That is enough. The monk has nothing he may lose, he is content, having “no desire for joy,” he “applies and directs his mind toward creating a body made of mind.”[10]  He is not a parasitic NEET however, for he is constantly training himself, and serves a useful social purpose: “[H]e brings together those who are divided and encourages those who are united . . . he speaks words that will bring about harmony.”[11]

Much of the appeal of Buddhism is that it requires almost nothing to practice and is far less dependent on speculative metaphysics and fanciful stories than other religions. Buddhism, unlike the long-dead philosophical schools of Antiquity, succeeded in institutionalizing its philosophy and spiritual practice as a religion which endures still today. (I pass over the fact that, obviously, Greco-Roman philosophy was preserved in other senses, e.g. being crystalized in certain Christian practices and doctrines, in inspiring much of the Enlightenment, etc.)

The Buddha created the spiritual community of monks, the Sangha. The state may provide for the Sangha (e.g. alms, donation of parks). However, the spiritual community is independent of the state, the monks ever cultivating their own inner purity. If anything, the state should be informed by the Sangha. The monks honor and revere the great sages who came before them and inspire themselves from their example. The Sangha then moralizes the people towards self-discipline and educates them towards higher truths. One can think of analogous institutions in other traditions.

The Buddha gives prescriptions not only on how the Sangha may be maintained, but also has advice for householders and statesmen. These precepts are generally conservative and sound. In one sutra, the Buddha describes “the householder’s discipline” in terms which would resonate in all traditional societies. He says there are “six ways of losing one’s belongings” which the householder should not pursue:

  1. being devoted to the recklessness of strong drink and spirits
  2. wandering in the streets at unseemly hours
  3. frequenting fairs [where one encounters music and spectacle]
  4. being devoted to the recklessness of gambling
  5. being devoted to bad friends
  6. being habitually idle[12]

The Buddha is then obviously, like all true spiritual leaders, hostile to the “spirit of ‘68.” Each way of losing one’s belongings is accompanied by six dangers, a typical Buddhist mnemonic device. The Buddha also advises against friendship with “one who is all talk.”[13]

The Buddha says that the householder’s piety is not expressed through adherence to sacrificial rituals – apparently an attack against Hindu practice – but through one’s way of life. Hindus symbolically sacrifice in six directions during their rituals, in contrast to the Buddhist householder:

These six directions should be seen as follows: the east should be seen as one’s mother and father, the south as one’s teachers, the west as one’s wife and children, the north as one’s friends and companions, the direction below as servants and workers, the direction above ascetics and brahmans.[14]

Furthermore, Buddhist householders are expected to be good family men with the usual adaptive traditional values: parents must educate their children morally, train them for a trade, find them a wife, and give them an inheritance. If one is good to one’s friends, they will “honor one’s descendants.”[15] Without kindness and justice “then neither mothers nor fathers / Win the respect and worship owed them by their sons.”[16]  If Buddhism is maladaptive for ascetics, its precepts for householders are quite healthy. Furthermore, to kill one’s father or mother is considered one of the supreme crimes in Buddhism, akin to wounding a buddha or dividing the Sangha, and ensures one will be reborn in a hell.[17] Even in Buddhism, as in so many traditional worldviews, one finds a pairing of blood and spirit in the supreme moral rules.

The Buddha’s political advice is similarly traditional. Just prior to his death and his attainment of final nirvana, he is said to have given political and religious advice which may perhaps be taken to be his testament. He describes “seven principles for avoiding decline” which, if maintained, would allow a people (in this case, the Vajji Republic) to “be expected to prosper, not to decline.”[18] These seven principles are:

  1. to meet together frequently and regularly
  2. to sit down together in concord, to get up together in concord, and to conduct their business in concord
  3. not to make pronouncements that have not been agreed, not to revoke pronouncements that have been agreed, but to proceed in accordance with the ancient laws of the Vajjis that are agreed pronouncements
  4. to respect honor, revere, and worship those among them who are their elders, and to listen to what they say
  5. not to abduct and force women and girls of good family into sexual relations
  6. to respect, honor, revere, and worship their ancestral shrines, both those that are central those that are outlying, and not to neglect the appropriate offerings that were given and made in the past
  7. to provide holy men with proper care, protection, and guard, such that those who have not come to their realm are encouraged to come, and those that have come live easily

The Buddha then expresses advice which many would consider sensible: cultivate a spirit of concord and consensus, honor tradition and elders, and respect women and religion.

In this and other sutras, the Buddha and his disciples gives advice on how to have a happy and cohesive Sangha. Some of these are rather amusing, evoking as they do the typical bickering one finds among intellectuals and ideological disciples. The Buddha observes, “[S]ome ascetics and brahmans consume the food offered by the faithful while still addicted to quarrelsome talk.”[19]  Furthermore, the monks must not abuse their position as spiritual leaders by charging fees from superstitious laymen for magic tricks and other “childish arts.”

For a Buddhist monk, excessive talking is a sign of restlessness and of not living the way. One of the Buddha’s disciples calmed monks who were “agitated, uncontrolled, restless, talkative, conversing about this and that; with their minds astray, they were not fully aware, not concentrated; their thoughts wandered and their senses were uncontrolled.”[20]

There was also evidently conflict between monks who specialized in erudition and those who specialized in practice, as a certain Mahacunda said:

Monks who are specialists in the teachings disparage monks who are meditators: “Those meditators, they meditate and meditate, always saying, ‘We are the ones who meditate!’ But what do they meditate for? Why do they meditate? How exactly do they meditate?” . . .

On the other hand, monks who are meditators disparage monks who are specialists in the teachings: “Those specialists in the teachings, who are always saying, ‘We are the ones who are specialists in the teachings!’ – they are agitated, uncontrolled, restless, talkative, conversing about this and their; with their minds astray, they are not fully aware, not concentrated; their thoughts wander and their senses are uncontrolled. But what are they specialists in the teachings for? Why are they specialists in the teachings? How exactly are they specialists in the teaching?” . . .

So, friends, you should train yourselves to think: “As monks who are specialists in the teachings we will speaking in praise of monks who are meditators.” Why must you train yourselves this way? They are remarkable and difficult to find in this world, these people who live having experienced the deathless directly.

So, friends, you should train yourselves to think: “As monks who are meditators we will speak in praise of monks who are specialists in the teachings.” Why must you train yourselves in this way? They are remarkable and difficult to find in this world, these people who reach insight, having penetrated the deep significance of a term by their understanding.[21]

Any spiritual movement will then tend to be divided between scholars and practitioners, and the two must respect each other.

The Buddha also condemned those monks who learn only to better assert themselves in argument, rather than to live better. He likened such “learning” to grabbing a snake without knowing how to hold it properly, and so getting bitten:

Monks, some foolish men learn the teaching – the sayings, chants, analyses, verses, utterances, traditions, birth stories, marvels, and dialogues. Yet after they have learned the teaching they do not use wisdom to consider the purpose of those teachings. And when they do not use wisdom to consider their purpose the teachings don’t succeed in bearing deep reflection: the only benefit those people get from learning the teaching is the ability to argue and counter criticism; the point of their learning the teaching is missed by them.[22]

The Buddha’s most detailed advice for the Sangha, at least in this volume, is to be found in the sutra on his final nirvana, beside his political advice to the Vajjis. Again, the Buddha says that if the Sangha continuously follows these precepts, it can “be expected to prosper, not to decline.”[23] The first seven principles for avoiding decline are:

  1. meet together frequently and regularly
  2. sit down together in concord, to get up together in concord, and to conduct the business of the community in concord
  3. not to make pronouncements that have not been agreed, not to revoke pronouncements that have been agreed, but to proceed in accordance with the precepts that are agreed pronouncements
  4. respect, honor, revere, and worship those monks who are elders, possess the pearls of wisdom, went forth into the religious life long ago, are the fathers and leaders of the community, and to listen to what they say
  5. to not be overcome by the kind of craving that leads to rebirth
  6. to have regard for living in the forest”
  7. individually continue to establish mindfulness, such that well-behaved companions in the spiritual life who have not come are encouraged to come, and that have come live easily

There must then be frequent gatherings of the faithful, respect for consensus, respect for elders, and sticking to the practice (including pride in the austerity of “life in the forest”). This is similar in some respects to the Buddha’s political advice. He provides other advice for monks to preserve the Sangha; among these I highlight:  to not become enamored with pleasure, to avoid bad associates, to “not give up halfway with some inferior achievement,” to maintain the spiritual practices (e.g. mindfulness) and doctrines (e.g. notions of impermanence and illusion of the self), “to show friendliness to their companions in the spiritual life in their acts of body . . . in their acts of speech . . . in their acts of thoughts both in their presence and in private,” to only rightfully own possessions, and to maintain good conduct.[24]

The religious instinct’s power is pervasive in human affairs. This can be so consciously, as with organized religions and certain ideologies, or it can be unconsciously so, as with the hatred of liberal bigots against those who think differently. But that power cannot be denied. I believe more generally that the religious impulse has evolved among humans both as an emotional mechanism to give meaning to their individual lives and as a social mechanism to enforce group norms. Today, the cost of publishing and of spreading memes, at least on a Website, is almost reduced to zero by the wonders of technology. In past ages, the most ancient texts and memes that have survived are typically religious ones, precisely because the religious sentiment is such a powerful drive in ordering human societies and giving meaning to a human life. Only the religions have been able to maintain adherence to certain texts, doctrines, and symbols throughout the millennia.

We may differ with the Buddha’s apparent contempt for the blood and his withdrawal from the household and the world. Jeremy Turner tells me that with the technology and high standards of living of the modern era, one does not need to reject household life to be a good European activist. But the Buddha’s lessons for how to create and maintain a spiritual community, both within ourselves and as a group, strike me as having enduring relevance. For whatever happens politically, we will need something like a “European identitarian Sangha” independent of the state, training ourselves and perfecting our principles, enlightening the people, and ensuring the prince’s action is righteous. For we all hope for a new spiritual law among the European peoples.

 

Notes

1. In one story, two disciples report to the Buddha their encounter with high-caste Hindus:

“The Brahman class,” they say, “is the best; the other classes are inferior. The brahman class is fair, the other classes are dark. Only brahmans can be pure, not non-brahmans. Only brahmans are true sons of Brahma, born from his mouth, coming from Brahma, created by Brahma, heirs of Brahma. You have given up the best class and joined an inferior class, that of those pathetic, shaven-headed, extravagant ascetics, the dark descendants of our ancestor’s feet.” (Gethin, Sayings of the Buddha, Aggañña Sutta [The Origin of Things], pp. 117-8)

The Buddha then rebuts the Hindus.

2. W. J. Johnson (trans.), The Bhagavad Gita (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), Chapter 11, paragraph 33.

3. Nine of the fourteen stages of the Buddha’s meditation for “establishing mindfulness” in the Satipatṭhāna Sutta involve contemplating one’s own body as a corpse in various stages of putrefaction. This grisly embrace of death is something Western Buddhists (and popular yoga practitioners) tend to gloss over.

4. I am thinking of the ideal Buddhist king’s withdrawal from the world into the “Palace of Dharma” in the Mahāsudassana Sutta.

5. Plato (trans. Robin Waterfield), The Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 600b.

6. Gethin, Sayings, Bodhirajakumara Sutta (Dialogue with Prince Body), pp. 192-193.

7. English translation of the Muni Sutta by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Pierre Hadot, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie antique? (English: What is Ancient Philsophy?) (Paris: Gallimard, 1995), p. 351.

8. To name only a few: Socrates was a good soldier and a father, albeit a negligent one, ultimately choosing death and abandoning his family in the name of philosophy; the Emperor Julian argued that Cynicism was meant for true ascetics and the easier Stoicism was meant for householders; Catholic priests do not marry, whereas Protestant and Orthodox ones may; good National Socialists are with few exceptions (most notably Hitler himself) expected to beget children.

9. Gethin, Sayings, Samaññaphala Sutta (The Fruits of the Ascetic Life), p. 19.

10. Ibid., pp. 29-30.

11. Ibid., p. 20.

12. Ibid., Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta (The Buddha’s Final Nirvana), p. 131.

13. Ibid., p. 133.

14. Ibid., p. 135.

15. Ibid., p. 136.

16. Ibid., p. 138.

17. Ibid., p. 276.

18. Ibid., Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta (The Buddha’s Final Nirvana), pp. 39-40.

19. Ibid., Samaññaphala Sutta (The Fruits of the Ascetic Life),  p. 22.

20. Ibid., Moggallāna, p. 239.

21. Ibid., Mahācunda , pp. 260-1.

22. Ibid., Alagaddūpama Sutta (The Simile of the Snake), pp. 159-160.

23. Ibid., Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta (The Buddha’s Final Nirvana), p. 42.

24. Ibid., p. 44.

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19 Comments

  1. Ching
    Posted April 5, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    The Buddhist tradition in India has traditionally been viewed as left wing subversion. A cult of rebellion against the traditional order which idolized the slothful ascetic over the productive classes. A proto progressivism, with the same fetishising of peace and love.

    The later buddhisms of Tibet, China and Japan are an improvement over the early Buddhism of South East Asia, because they were transmitted from India several centuries after the latter. They evolved closer to the traditionalist reactionary views of Hinduism in this period.

    Buddhism’s final failure is seen in its inability to resist Islam – every single area of India, central Asia and the middle East where Buddhism flourished was destroyed by Islam. But Hindu culture with its reactionary ideals survived.

    I do agree with the importance of the Sangha, though. “European identitarian Sangha”? The Hindus absorbed this positive idea from the Buddhists a hundred years ago.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashtriya_Swayamsevak_Sangh

  2. Norman
    Posted March 26, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I read in this and in other blogs about religion, and nowhere do I find the subject actually treated in religious terms. Here, as in other articles, the writer holds up the perceived merits of a religious tradition in socio-political terms. Fine. “How to build a communty” is a worthy thing to think about, but does it actually define a religion? Does it define religion itself?

    I recall a rare, inadvertently funny moment of a T.V. stand-up routine where the comic likened a restaurant customer choosing a live lobster to a self-important Roman potentate: “Hmm, that one there. Yes. He amuses me.”

    I might ask the writer here to tell us something about Buddhism, like maybe its core concepts, which have (and require) no simple analog in western philosophy: avidya; dukkha; prajna; karuna; bodhi.

    Instead, we are asked to accept on faith the unexplained equation: piety is religious instinct.

    Piety is simply not an adequate cognate for religious instinct — and here the image of the imperious Roman seafood lover should be reiterated. If I were so naïve to ask: “What about religious experience?” I would I be expelled from the tent, since we are not really talking about religion, but rather (pompously, I maintain) chosing a social path forward, but calling it “religion” since we cite pereceived religious precedent.

    This narrow conversational trend is prevalent among the more grandstanding strata of western Buddhists as well. Ad nauseam, if one cares to look into it. (Among the more egregious compassionistas, virtue signaling is their competitive struggle, forever posing as compassionater than thou. And there is also a strong undercurrent of materialist atheism, largely peroccupied with historicity [as is our writer here] and preceptual primacy — the law that came first is the one true law. Western Buddhism thus tends to reek of Cultural Marxism: smarmy, smug, self-referring, and exclusive, much of which has more relation to Protestantism than Buddhism. But no matter. It is its doctrinaire dishonesty that condemns it.)

    So grappling with some of the terminology I offer above is merely one recommended point of approach. Actual contact with Buddhist practice might be another.

    Given that white culture is likely doomed, and will require a restart, if we (think we can) simply choose a politically satisfying religious system out of history’s freezer section, then there would be no harm in assuming we can indemnify our descendents by looking more critically at what any religion is actually supposed to do for and to the individual adherent. And maybe ask the most practical question: Where does it start?

    Buddhism is an inward thing, it should be noted, but the human world, social order, etc., are no less important for it.

    These are not easy, or really even polemical questions. But better to confess ignorance, and set oneself to make sincere inquiries, than to project our favored Graeco-Roman executive notions as eternal verities.

    • Posted March 27, 2017 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      “ ‘How to build a communty’ is a worthy thing to think about, but does it actually define a religion? Does it define religion itself?”

      I had not understood Mr. Durocher to be committing this particular error. As you yourself have observed, he is looking at the matter from a strictly, and to my mind intentionally, socio-political perspective; but then the question of religion as religion is quite extraneous to his intent. I certainly did not take him to be recommending Buddhism as a way of life, nor to be offering a concentrated analysis of any of the fundamental Buddhist ideas. Mr. Durocher’s governing questions are quite openly pragmatic: can we identify some of the principles to which Buddhism owes its longevity, and can we apply these principles in our own struggle to establish a new sense of community amongst Occidental peoples?

      That such an inquiry will fail to delve the spiritual depths of the religion it analyzes, seems to me a given, particularly considering the limitations of space and time in a short essay like this one. But one does not need to understand Buddhism as a thoroughgoing Buddhist understands it, in order to extract political or social lessons from it. On the contrary: it might sometimes be preferable to view a given religion from the perspective of an outsider and nonbeliever, so that one does not risk confounding spiritual issues with socio-political ones. Toward that end I would even applaud a little shameless use of “Graeco-Roman executive notions.”

      • Norman
        Posted March 27, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Point taken, sir.

        Though it may have appeared sarcastic, I too applaud — and by no means disavow — our Graeco-Roman executive notions. I can fault neither the clear intent of this article, nor its approach or analysis per se, but the trend of excluding, avoiding, not treating the non-material aspect is apparent here and in other writers, in and around this site, as well as of course in academia. It is materialism, in a word, the underlying, core ideology of our age. It colors and limits our understanding of other times, those histories we examine, hope to understand and even emulate.

        But one cannot simply mill around near the sanctuary entrance without admitting there is an interest, even a need, to step inside. And that need — not the will to social organization — is what I would call the religious impulse.

        The integration of religious practice and social duty is characteristic, and in practical fact, what made the Ghandaran (Graeco-Indian) Buddhist explosion happen.

        (I realize the terms “integration” and “explosion” may seem at metaphorical odds, but I point to the history of Buddhism before and after Alexander’s conquests. Buddhism became a different thing entirely, and I think without the integrating effect of “Hellenization,” it may likely have never branched, blossomed, and moved back eastward, nor would it have become a religion of universal stature. As with the mystery traditions to the west, it imbued [I hate to say informed] society, politics, philosophical thought, etc., with a core of mystical practice and insight, for many centuries.)

        If I may amend the last line of my comment for clarity: These are not easy, or really even polemical questions. But better to confess ignorance (avidya), and set oneself to make sincere inquiries (viriya), than to exclusively project our favored Graeco-Roman executive notions as eternal verities. Our notions are limited abstractions, partial (for now we see through a glass darkly), but to those executives themselves — those generations whom we admire and seek to learn from — it must be admitted and accepted now that their achievements were the products of both mystical as well as intellectual inquiry.

        • Posted March 28, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          “But one cannot simply mill around near the sanctuary entrance without admitting there is an interest, even a need, to step inside.”

          It is well put indeed, Norman. Your wider observation as to the limitations of materialism seems to me indispensable. (I made a similar point in my independent response to this article, below.) And it is surely true that, to understand the religious impulse, one must have it in one’s breast, and one must be willing to some extent to cultivate it. The tension between philosophy and religion, between what you have called mystical and intellectual inquiry, seems to me a very fertile tension indeed in our Western heritage; and the will to altogether eliminate either the one or the other, seems to me a recipe for general aridity. I am reminded of Nietzsche’s judgement that atheism would be the one shackle to bind the liberty of the free spirit: atheism must be confronted in our day.

          I admit I own a peculiar and largely indefensible hostility toward the cultures of the East—or rather say, toward their importation into the West. It has long seemed to me that the West goes to the East principally in its moments of poverty and despair, when it can no longer bring novelty from its own bosom—but I recognize that this is sometimes shallow and inadequate as a judgement. Your comments on the metamorphosis of Buddhism after the intervention of Alexander, for instance, are most intriguing to me, and force me to confront my own unaccountable avoidance of these matters.

          Perhaps you could be so kind as to direct me to a point of entry into a firmer understanding of Buddhism? Recognizing, of course, your right caveat: one does not get to the true heart of such matters, save as one is able and willing to be initiated. But even the uninitiated, I take it, can improve themselves as well as not.

          • Norman
            Posted March 28, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

            I think the East-West dichotomy is practical, but also can be a bit of millstone. As is the pairing of religious/philosophical tension, as you put it.

            What we know or assume we know about Plato, for example, is largely based upon what has been wholesaled and hawked by academic gatekeepers since the time of the Enlightenment. The summary judgment is that Plato is not mystical, but purely rational, is a rationalist standpoint.

            I do not say that in response one should consciously endeavor to become less materialistic and more spiritual.

            If the term materialism itself in a very general way can be taken to mean an implicit and underlying faith in the primacy of measurability, then it is possible to start to recognize a trend of thought engendering undetected assumptions and preconditions, which have pervaded religious and secular thinking in the West for several centuries. Whatever we declaim consciously, this attitude (see Sheldrake) is notably not an underlying component of past thought, as we can honestly glean from past cultures, East or West. So in large part the East-West dichotomy is superficial, based as it is on needless, inherited baggage. While there is plenty of difference between East and West, we have been trained to formulate and analyze through reading ourselves and our faith recognizably into the one (West), and not the other (East). There seems more profit if our approach assumes we are as alien to Plato as we are to Zoroaster, Shakyamuni and Lao Tze, because, empirically speaking, we are.

            That said, Jung warned vehemently against the shallow adoption of Eastern traditions by Western people, and for very good reason. Since even before his arrival, many in the West sought to shed their past, disavow their “creed outworn” and reinvent themselves via idealized, exotic affect. Jung pointed out that one is born and raised with and within archetypes appropriate to one’s native setting, and that taking on foreign or even new-fangled practices with unrealistic expectations is a dilettantish waste of time at best, and could be quite damaging at worst. For Jung, western traditions in posse if not in esse, held plenty for a westerner to look to, provided the limitation of the materialist, rationalist mentality is seen for what it is. (Jung, a rather strict empiricist and no intellectual slouch, held that the 19th century was, intellectually speaking, the real dark age. It should also be noted that his posthumously published Liber Novus is apocalyptic, gnostic and very nearly psychotic — in the best sense of the all three terms.)

            Book-wise, Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism comes to mind. As the title implies, it deals with the issues discussed, but in a practical context of individual inquiry. For further reading, if one wants to find a way into practice, I might only say follow your nose, and avoid what smells like self-improvement, self-help or ethics-mongering via “right thinking” i.e. signaling to oneself, constantly. That describes a huge portion of the spirituality industry’s output. The stated and unwavering telos of Buddhism is to awaken oneself from ignorance, not to improve the world or become a better person.

  3. Maximus
    Posted March 26, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Is it right to say that Buddha was an advocate of Natural Aristocracy and that his teaching was and is anti egalitarian?

    https://iamlegionnaire.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/an-examination-of-the-natural-aristocracy/

  4. Posted March 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    A very interesting article, main point of which mirrors what I have for some time believed: namely, that piety is the best vehicle for the long-term conservation of ideas.

    Yet there are many more difficulties with this than the few considered by Mr. Durocher here, and contemplating the problem of piety in our day leads one to a bramble of spiny questions. As: where will one find the “spirituality” that can be put to such use? Is one to invent a new piety, or employ an old? If the former, how does one intend to found it, particularly in our day of verging atheism? If the latter, which will one employ? Will one take it in original form, or alter it to suit one’s purposes—and if so, how? And how will one gain wide support for this single “spiritual law” amongst those who should affirm it, despite their probable diversity of heritage, upbringing, and extant beliefs? And perhaps the question most important of any: how select out a piety, which might result in favorable and edifying consequences to one’s cause, without introducing any number of unwonted principles which are hostile or detrimental to the same? In short, how ride this steed, without one day being ridden by it?

    These are complex questions, and I do not believe the world at present is prepared for even half of them. Religions are not made by fiat, they are born of the spirit of a time. It may be that before long we will see the conditions arising, which might make a new spiritual law possible. In the meantime, it would be wise to prepare the ground. Toward this end, it seems to me that three interrelated studies are needed: a critique of materialism; a deepened understanding of the role of religion in human psychology and human hierarchies; and comparative studies of various religions with an eye toward Occidental identity.

    Not the substance of a new spiritual law, but the space it is one day to fill, is the right work of those living here and now.

  5. AE
    Posted March 21, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    “Your article is very well written but it’s not factual and lacks a proper historical and religious knowledge of Buddhism.”

    I’m afraid that I have to agree.

    I’ll take issue specifically with the Buddha’s so-called “apparent contempt for the blood” and “explicit” rejection of the caste system. The sutra cited by the author in his footnote makes no negative judgment on the function or value of the caste system. In it the Buddha does allow that anyone could join the sangha, and that a lowcaste monk– more accurately, a lowcaste monk who has “reached the goal” of enlightenment– is to be considered higher than a brahmin; before this he decried the fact that not all “womb-born brahmins” acted like brahmins or “in ways befitting an Ariyan” while admitting the converse, that some lowcastes acted like highcastes. This shows as little “contempt for the blood” as Evola’s idea of spiritual racism, which it probably influenced. Elsewhere the Buddha advocated for blood purity going back seven generations, said of mixed marriages that even dogs only mate with other dogs, that a mare and an ass make a mule, and also that being reborn into a low caste was a form of karmic retribution. The Pali canon is so permeated with approval of the caste system, of social inequality and Aryan pride, that this image of the Buddha as an egalitarian reformer is hard to fathom.

    • Guillaume Durocher
      Posted March 21, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting! Do you have an article on this? It is definitely not mentioned in my (admittedly mainstream) books on the subject.

      • AE
        Posted March 21, 2017 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

        I’ll try to track down some decent articles for you tomorrow. In the meantime I’ve half-reluctantly turned to Evola’s The Doctrine of Awakening to see if he had anything to say on the subject. I recommend the book if you haven’t read it already, but it’s rather eccentric. The following comes after a discussion of the decadence of the Buddha’s time, and I’ve omitted the many footnotes:

        Buddhism does not deny the concept of brahmana; on the contrary the texts use the word frequently and call the ascetic life brahmacariya, their intention being simply to indicate the fundamental qualities in virtue of which the dignity of the true brahmana can be confirmed.

        Here, with the aim being essentially one of reintegration, the qualities of the true brahmana and of the ascetic become identified. These notions had previously been distinct, particularly when the Asrama teaching of the Aryan code, according to which a man of Brahman caste of obliged to graduate to a completely detached life, vanaprashta or yati, had practically and with but few exceptions disappeared. By understanding this point we can also understand the Buddha’s true attitude to the problem of caste. Even in the preceding tradition ascetic achievement had been considered as above all caste and free from obligations to any of them. This is the Buddha’s point of view, expressed in a simile: as one who desires fire does not ask the type of wood that in fact produces it, so from any caste may arise an ascetic or Awakened One. The castes appeared to Prince Siddhattha, as they did to every traditional mind, as perfectly natural and furthermore, justified transcendentally, since in following the doctrine of the Upanisads he understood that birth in one caste or another and inequality in general were not accident but the effect of a particular preceding action. Thus he was never concerned with upsetting the caste system on the ethnic, political, or social plane; on the contrary, it is laid down that a man should not omit any of the obligations inherent in his station in life, and it is never said that a servant–sudda– or a vessa should not obey higher Aryan castes. The problem only concerns the spiritual apex of the Aryan hierarchy, where historical conditions required discrimination and revision of the matter: it was necessary that the “lists” should be reviewed and reconstructed, with the traditional dignities being considered real only on “the merits of the individual cases.” The decisive point was the identification of the true Brahman with the ascetic and, thence, the emphasis placed on what in fact is evidenced by action. Thus the principle was proclaimed: “Not by caste is one a pariah, not by caste is one a brahmana; by actions is one a pariah, by actions is one a brahmana.” In respect to the “flame that is sustained by virtue, and lighted by training,” as in respect of liberation, the four castes are equal. And again: as it is not to be expected in answer to a man’s invocations, prayers, and praises, so it is not to be expected that the brahmana who, although they are instructed in the triple Veda yet “omit the practise of those qualities that make a man a true brahmana can, by calling upon Indra, Soma, Varuna and other gods, acquire those qualities that really make a man a non-brahmana.” If they have not destroyed desire for the five stems of sense experience, they can as little expect to unite themselves after death with Brahma as a man, swimming, can expect to reach the other bank with his arms tied to his body. To unite himself with Brahma a man must develop in himself qualities similar to Brahma. This, however, in no way prevents the consideration in the texts of the ideal brahmana, in whom the purity of the Aryan lineage is joined with qualities which make him like a god or a divine being; and the texts even go so far as to reprove the contemporary Brahmans not only for their desertion of ancient customs and for their interest in gold and riches, but also for their betrayal of the laws of marriage within the caste, for they are accused of frequenting non-Brahman women at all times from the mere desire “like dogs.” The general principle of any right hierarchy is confirmed with these words: “In serving a man, if for this service one becomes worse, not better, this man, I say, one ought not to serve. In serving a man, on the other hand, if not this service one becomes better, not worse, this man, I say, one ought to serve.”

        This shows that there is no question here of equalitarian subversion under spiritual pretexts, but of rectification and epuration of the existing hierarchy. Prince Siddhattha has so little sympathy for the masses that in one of the oldest texts he speaks of the “common crowd” as a “heap of rubbish,” where there takes place the miraculous flowering of the Awakened One. Beyond the ancient division into castes, Buddhism affirms another that, deeper and more intimate, mutatis mutandis, is not unlike the one that originally existed between the Aryans, those “twice-born” (dvija) and other beings: on the one side stand the Ariya and the “noble sons moved by confidence,” to whom the Doctrine of Awakening is accessible; on the other, “the common men, without understanding for what is saintly, remote from the saintly doctrine, not accessible to the saintly doctrine of the noble ones, not accessible by the doctrine of the noble ones.” If, on the one hand, as rivers “when they reach the ocean lose their former names and are reckoned only as ocean, so the members of the four castes, when they take up the law of the Buddha, lose their former characteristics”–yet on the other they form a well-defined company, the “sons of the Sakiya’s son.” We can see that the effective aim of Buddhism was to discriminate between different natures, for which the touchstone was the Doctrine of Awakening itself: a discrimination that could not do other than the stimulate the spiritual bases that originally had themselves been the sole justification of the Aryan hierarchy. In confirmation of this is the fact that the establishment and diffusion of Buddhism never in later centuries caused dissolution of the caste system– even today in Ceylon this system continues undisturbed side by side with Buddhism; while, in Japan, Buddhism lives in harmony with hierarchical, traditional, national, and warrior concepts. Only in certain Western misconceptions is Buddhism– considered in later and corrupted forms– presented as a doctrine of universal compassion encouraging humanitarianism and democratic equality.

        The only point we must take with a grain of salt in the texts is the affirmation that in individuals of all castes all possible potentialities, both positive and negative, exist in equal measure. But the Buddhist theory of sankhara, that is, of prenatal dispositions, is enough to rectify this point. The exclusiveness of caste, race, and tradition in a hierarchical system results in the individual possessing hereditary predispositions for his development in a particular direction; this ensures an organic and harmonious character in his development, as opposed to cases in which an attempt is made to reach the same point with a kind of violence, by starting from a naturally unfavorable base. Four ways are considered in some Buddhist texts, in three of which either the road or the achievement of knowledge is difficult, or both are difficult; the fourth way offers an easy road and easy attainment of knowledge; this way is called the “path of the elect,” and it is reserved for those who enjoy the advantages bestowed by a good birth. At least it would have been so had circumstances been normal. But, let us repeat, Buddhism appeared in abnormal conditions in a particular traditional civilization: it is for this reason that Buddhism placed emphasis on the aspect of action and of individual achievement; and it is also for this reason that the support offered by tradition, in its most restricted sense, was held of little account.” (pages 32-35)

      • AE
        Posted March 22, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I couldn’t find many articles that address the caste issue in early Buddhism directly, but on a related anti-egalitarian note, there’s quite a lot about early Buddhism and women. Anyway, here are two essays that I found on the caste system:

        http://web.uni-frankfurt.de/irenik/relkultur50.pdf
        http://www.jstor.org/stable/29757366

  6. Tim
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Buddhism develops when the white man is surrounded by foreignness and accepts the loss of his people.

    youtube.com/watch?v=ZeDDwAYkreA

  7. Justin
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny that this article comes up… I have been reading the Phaedo and have been struck by the parallels between Socrates and the Buddha. It does get one to ponder about a common, lost heritage between the West and the East.

    A few things; anyone who critiques Buddhism as “nihilistic” or the monk’s life as “maladaptive from an evolutionary standpoint” clearly has not gone into depth. Buddhism may be nihilistic in the sense that all karma is bound to the wheel of Samsara, endless flux, so acting, whether for good or evil, is held as inferior to going beyond karma, to the deathless; nirvana. But in going beyond karma, Buddhism is the opposite of nihilistic; life for the Buddhist monk (at least one who has not taken the Bodhisattva vows) is dedicated towards a single, transcendent aim. Based on this, to critique Buddhism from an “evolutionary” standpoint would sound to an authentic Buddhist as praising the merits of a used car when there is the possibility of getting a Porsche; the human state is held to be of utmost importance for its possibilities, but is above all ontologically inferior; it is dukkha.

    The Buddha also did not condemn the caste system, as many Westerners are ever so eager to believe. He disregarded the caste system, along with ritual, because these more formal considerations are irrelevant to Buddhist ascesis. The Buddha did indeed criticize Brahmins, but in the sense that the Brahmins at the top of the hierarchy of his day were false. Throughout the Buddhist canon, the Buddha makes clear distinctions between wise ones and fools, inferior and superior beings, and above all the enlightened Ariya and unenlightened worldlings. There is hierarchy in Buddhism but it is of an authentic, spiritual kind.

    Nevertheless, good article.

  8. BroncoColorado
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    The globalist enterprise is pushing for the forced marriage of Christianity with Islam; a union if ‘consummated’ that is sure to end in a catastrophic divorce. A synthesis of Christianity and Buddhism is possible but would such a union achieve anything of value? The quickest way to defeat the reigning faith of liberal-leftism is to supplant it with a religion more in tune with the coming age of civilizational and racial consciousness. Will this new faith have its own prophet or will its foundational texts be hammered and honed via internet discussion?

    • Justin
      Posted March 21, 2017 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Christianity and Buddhism have already been synthesized in the West; read Meister Eckhart!

  9. Posted March 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Well done Mr. Durocher!

    While Buddha of the Pali Canon had certainly declared the caste system of his time to be deficient, we must not forget that by no means is Buddha’s doctrine, a doctrine for people without gift or quality. We must always remember the contempt with which the Buddhist doctrine refers to the “fool” who burns in desire and is of weak mind to understand the teaching, which is absolutely not for the laymen.

    “The fool, struck by force, perishes; the wise man, when struck, does not tremble,” as if it was told by an ancient Greek

    Spiritual posture of an ascetic, Evola has correctly assessed, according to Buddhist doctrine, is that of an upright and noble man

  10. Ea
    Posted March 20, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    “Much of the appeal of Buddhism is that it requires almost nothing to practice and is far less dependent on speculative metaphysics and fanciful stories than other religions. ”
    Buddhism is the anti metaphysics per Ser, the #1 non dual tradition but still has a plethora of fanciful stories.
    Your article is very well written but it’s not factual and lacks a proper historical and religious knowledge of Buddhism.
    Please, please, do not take this as an attack. It’s really common in the non Buddhist world to fail in grasping the depth and diversity of what is Buddhism. After all, we’re not used to non dual traditions.
    I strongly recommend Walpola Rahula’s what’s Buddhism? And anything from Thanissaro Bhikku, if you’re really interested in Pali/Theravada.
    If you are interested in Chan / Zen I recommend any major work on the mahayana traditions and with emphasis on the madyamaka school.

    Sorry I’m on my cellphone, if you want to talk to me, ask Greg for my email.

    Thank you for your interest in Dharma.

    • Guillaume Durocher
      Posted March 21, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the comments. Very informative. I am by no means an expert but I found the topic too stimulating to not write about!

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