For millenniums the Brahman community has dominated the religious and intellectual life of India. It may be added that, today, the Brahmans are working to preserve that domination by means of political agitation against the suzerainty of England; for while popular agitators speak eloquently of liberty for the people of India, the astute Brahmans who really direct the agitation have as their true goal the confirmation of the Brahman caste in its ancient despotism, with all the advantages, social and financial, which for many centuries have rewarded Brahman political skill. Opposing this Brahmanical plan are various forces. First, there is a nucleus of Englishmen, of whom Sir Walter Lawrence may stand as the type, who clearly recognize the reality of Brahmanical tyranny over the humbler classes and the less endowed races, and who as clearly see that impartial British justice has given these lowlier classes a genuine protection against Brahman Zemindars, or landlords, who are swollen with the sense of their privileges, but have little feeling of their obligations. In the Letters to Mr. Sinnett, the way in which the Zemindars gained their power over the cultivators is thus explicitly stated:
“Recall the past and this will help you to see more clearly into our intentions. When you took over Bengal from the native Rulers, there were a number of men who exercised the calling of Tax Collectors under their Government. These men received, as you are aware, a percentage for collecting the rents. The spirit of the letter of the tithe and tribute under the Mussulman Rulers was never understood by the East India Company; least of all the rights of the ryots (village cultivators) to oppose an arbitrary interchange of the Law of Wuzeeja and Mookassimah. Well, when the Zemindars found that the British did not exactly understand their position, they took advantage of it as the English had taken advantage of their force: they claimed to be Landlords. Weakly enough, you consented to recognize the claim, and admitting it notwithstanding the warning of the Mussulmans who understood the real situation and were not bribed as most of the (East India) Company were—you played into the hands of the few against the many, the result being the ‘perpetual settlement’ documents. It is this that led to every subsequent evil in Bengal” (page 389).
The character of these evils, in Bengal, and, to a degree, throughout India, is depicted in a slightly earlier letter: “The ‘Cradle Land of Arts and Creeds’ swarms with unhappy beings, precariously provided for, and vexed’ by demagogues who have everything to gain by chicane and impudence.” The attitude of the Landlords, many of them Brahmans, into whose hands the village cultivators were stupidly delivered by the “perpetual settlement” of Lord Cornwallis in 1793, is sufficiently characterized by the same observer in a single word: “The resistance to, and the intrigue set on foot by the Zemindars against the Bill are infamous . . .” It may be added in parenthesis that the Bill alluded to was duly passed, as the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885, and that it did in fact give to the hapless village cultivators of Bengal a certain measure of protection against their rapacious Landlords, many of whom were Brahmans.
If we go from Bengal to the other side of India, to Kashmir, we shall find Sir Walter Lawrence describing an almost identical situation in The India We Served (page 133):
“My object was to encourage the peasants to cultivate their fine land, and to restore the land revenues of Kashmir. The object of the [Brahman] pandits was simply to take the best of the land and to force the Moslem cultivators to work for nothing. The wicked system of forced labour had ruined the country, and as I settled in each division of the valley the revenue that the villagers were to pay, in cash, and not as heretofore in kind, not to middlemen [Brahman] pandits, but to the State, I set free the villagers from the crushing exactions which were enforced by the privileged classes under the tyrannous system known as Begar. No wonder that the city disapproved of me, and that the fermier [Brahman] pandits, who lost their power and perquisites, disliked me.” Sir Walter Lawrence adds, a little later: “Nowhere in the East have I met any body of men so clever and so courteous as the Kashmiri [Brahman] pandits.”
The tragedy is that these gifted men, with their high spiritual heritage, misuse their brilliant gifts to the ends of extortion and tyranny.
It will be noted that both Mr. Sinnett’s correspondent and Sir Walter Lawrence speak of the Mussulmans, the Moslems, as opposing Brahman tyranny. One may surmise that to this end the Karma of India brought across the North-West frontier successive hordes of Moslem invaders, often cruel and rapacious, but nevertheless to some degree breaking the power of the Brahman priestcraft both by armed force and by their militant monotheism. The Moslems of India, therefore, are the second of the three forces alluded to at the outset, as making headway against the despotism of Brahman priestcraft. A third power, well worthy of consideration, is rising in the India of today, namely the great organization, already reckoned at more than twenty-five million souls, explicitly opposed to the Brahmans, in Southern India, and especially in the Presidency of Madras. This anti-Brahmanical community, largely recruited from the “depressed” classes, who had been deprived of almost every privilege of manhood by the Brahmans, has been strongly fostered by Christian missions, as though the great Western Master had reached out to India, with the definite purpose of co-operating in this way in the effort which the Eastern Lodge is making, to break the grip of Brahman tyranny over India. We shall presently see how this special and profoundly interesting effort is related to the work which the Buddha inaugurated, along almost identical lines, twenty-five centuries ago.
For what has been written above is an introduction to the study which we have been making, of the attitude of the Buddha toward the Brahmans of his day, and his strong and long-continued efforts to redeem the Brahmans, who are and were among the most gifted races of mankind, from the dangerous degradation into which they had fallen through the abuse of their high spiritual heredity. One line of this effort is set forth in the Tevijja Sutta, a dialogue between the Buddha and two young Brahmans, Vasishtha and Bharadvaja, a part of which has already been translated. The Buddha was at that time dwelling with his disciples in a mango grove on the bank of the river Achiravati, to the north of the Brahman settlement of Manasâkata.
In this dialogue, which is sterner in tone than some of the other discourses on the same theme, the Buddha shows that he is familiar with the whole Brahmanical tradition and system, the Three Vedas (from which the Sutta takes its name), and the names of the great Rishis of old, to whom the composition of the hymns of the Rig Veda was attributed. He has asked Vasishtha whether the Brahmans and their disciples, or even the ancient Rishis themselves, had ever seen the Divinity, Brahma, the way to whom they claimed to know, and Vasishtha has replied that neither the Rishis nor the Brahmans had ever seen Brahma, though they professed to know and to teach the way to Brahma, the path leading to entry into the being of that Divinity.
The Buddha then makes his criticism more personal and pointed:
“Once more, Vasishtha, if this river Achiravati were so full of water that a crow, standing on the bank, could drink, and a man with business on the other side should come up, desiring to cross to the other bank; and he, standing on the brink of the river, were to call to the farther bank, ‘Come hither, farther bank! Come hither, farther bank!’ What thinkest thou, Vasishtha, would the farther bank of the river come over, by reason of that man’s invocations and prayers?”
“No, indeed, Sir Gotama!”
“In exactly the same way, Vasishtha, the Brahmans who know the Three Vedas, neglecting the conduct which makes men truly Brahmans, knowers of Brahma, and pursuing conduct which makes men cease to be Brahmans, make such invocation as: ‘We invoke Indra, we invoke Soma, we invoke Varuna!’ and so with the other Divinities; and they think that, because of these invocations, they will, departing from the body after death, enter into companionship with Brahma—but such a condition of things has no existence.
“Once more, Vasishtha, if this river Achiravati were so full of water that a crow, standing on the bank, could drink, and a man with business on the other side should come up, desiring to cross to the other bank; and if on this bank he were bound with a strong chain, his arms chained behind his back,—what thinkest thou, Vasishtha, would that man be able to cross over from this bank of the river Achiravati to the farther bank?”
“No, indeed, Sir Gotama!”
The Buddha proceeds to apply his parable. The Brahmans who put their trust in the Three Vedas are bound and tied by bonds, such as the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, like the traveller bound with chains on the hither bank of the river Achiravati. It is impossible for them, when they depart from the body after death, to cross over into companionship with Brahma, just as it is impossible for the traveller, while chained on the hither bank of the river Achiravati, to cross over to the farther bank and proceed to his desired destination. But there may be other hindrances besides bondage:
“Once more, Vasishtha, if this river Achiravati were so full of water that a crow, standing on the bank, could drink, and a man with business on the other side should come up, desiring to cross over to the other bank; and if he were to lie down, and, wrapping his head in his mantle, were to go to sleep,—what thinkest thou, Vasishtha, would that man cross over from this bank of the river Achiravati to the farther bank?”
“No, indeed, Sir Gotama!”
But the Brahmans who put their trust in the Three Vedas are in like manner swathed about and covered up with veils of illusion and delusion. Therefore, it is impossible for them, when they depart from the body after death, to cross over into companionship with Brahma. Then the Buddha becomes still more definite and concrete:
“Then what thinkest thou, Vasishtha? Whether hast thou heard from Brahmans who are old and full of years, when teachers and pupils are talking together,—is Brahma possessed of wife and family, or no?”
“He is without wife and family, Sir Gotama!”
“Is Brahma of angry heart, or not of angry heart?”
“Not of angry heart, Sir Gotama!”
“Is Brahma of malevolent heart, or not of malevolent heart?”
“Not of malevolent heart, Sir Gotama!”
“Is Brahma prone to mental sloth and perturbation, or no?”
“He is not thus prone, Sir Gotama!”
“Is Brahma lord of himself, or not lord of himself?”
“He is lord of himself, Sir Gotama!”
“Then what thinkest thou, Vasishtha? Are the Brahmans of the Three Vedas possessed of wives and families, or no?”
“Possessed of wives and families, Sir Gotama!”
“Are they of angry heart, or not of angry heart?”
“Of angry heart, Sir Gotama!”
“Are they of malevolent heart, or not of malevolent heart?”
“Of malevolent heart, Sir Gotama!”
“Are they prone to mental sloth and perturbation, or no?”
“Prone to mental sloth and perturbation, Sir Gotama!”
“Are they lords of themselves, or not lords of themselves?”
“Not lords of themselves, Sir Gotama!”
“So then, Vasishtha, Brahma is without wife and family, not of angry heart, not of malevolent heart, not prone to sloth and perturbation, lord of himself; while the Brahmans who trust in the Three Vedas are possessed of wives and families, of angry heart, of malevolent heart, prone to sloth and perturbation, not lords of themselves. Therefore, it is impossible for them, when they depart from the body after death, to cross over to union with Brahma. Therefore, Vasishtha, these Brahmans who put their trust in the Three Vedas, who sit in fancied security, are in reality sinking in a quagmire; while they think that they are crossing to a happier world, are in reality falling into misery. Therefore, the Vedic knowledge of these Brahmans who trust in the Three Vedas should be called a Vedic desert, a Vedic jungle, a Vedic destruction!”
It is, therefore, clear that the Brahmans of the settlement of Manasâkata, by the river Achiravati, in the land of the Koshalas, instead of being true knowers of Brahma, knowers of the Eternal, were already in the Buddha’s day, twenty-five centuries ago, exactly like the Brahman landholders, as described by the writer of the Letters, exactly like the Brahman pandits of Kashmir, as described by Sir Walter Lawrence: greedy, worldly, ambitious, a tyrannous and despotic priesthood, using their great gifts for selfish and evil ends. It must be added that the Buddha’s efforts to save them, though successful in the case of some individuals, completely failed to alter for the better the communities of the Brahmans as a whole. They still rule despotically over the temporal fortunes of the lowlier Hindus; they still exercise a mental and psychical despotism over a great part of India. And, precisely because the rule of just Englishmen is a check on that despotic sway, these Brahmans are seeking to drive the English out of India, craftily alleging that “liberty” is their goal, while their true goal is an increase of their own despotic power.
But to return to the Buddha and his youthful interlocutor, the Brahman Vasishtha. The dialogue at the point which we have reached takes a new turn, which brings us to matters of immense interest and importance.
Thus addressed, we are told, the young man Vasishtha spoke as follows to the Master:
“It has been heard by me, Sir Gotama, that the ascetic Gotama knows the way to union with Brahma!”
“What thinkest thou, Vasishtha? Manasâkata is near by, Manasâkata is not far from here?”
“Even so, Sir Gotama! Manasâkata is near by, Manasâkata is not far from here!”
“Then what thinkest thou, Vasishtha? A man was born in Manasâkata and grew up there. Suppose that they should ask this dweller in Manasâkata the way thither. Would there be any doubt or hesitation in the mind of this man, born and brought up in Manasâkata, concerning the way to Manasâkata?”
“No, indeed, Sir Gotama! And for what cause? Because, Sir Gotama, since the man was born and brought up in Manasâkata, all the ways to Manasâkata would be well known to him!”
“Yet even though the man born and brought up in Manasâkata might fall into doubt and hesitation concerning the way to Manasâkata, the thatâgata could not fall into doubt or hesitation concerning the world of Brahma or concerning the path which leads to the world of Brahma. For Brahma I know, Vasishtha, and the world of Brahma, and the path which leads to the world of Brahma. As one who has attained to the world of Brahma, as one who has entered the world of Brahma, that world I know!”
The young man Vasishtha logically pursues his enquiry, and asks the Buddha to reveal to him the path. The Buddha answers by setting forth in order the rules of discipleship, and the following of the path under the guidance of a Master: rules which have already been considered at length. We may for the present leave this part of the subject, in order to consider what the Buddha has already said to Vasishtha.
It will be remembered that, in the Buddha’s discourses, the Divinity, Brahma, has more than one meaning. There is, first, the gently ironical treatment of Great Brahma, to correct the too literal view of those who persist in representing Divinity as “a magnified and non-natural man.” This is finely exemplified in the Kevaddha Sutta, when the Buddha narrates to Kevaddha the story of an enquiring disciple who, inspired by a boundless desire for knowledge, made his way, by force of supreme asceticism, to the world of Brahma, and, when Great Brahma appeared, heralded by a radiance and a shining, put to the Great Lord a very difficult question concerning the constitution of the elements during the period of the dissolution of the universe. The Great Lord made answer:
“I am Brahma, mighty Brahma, Maker of all, Father of all . . .”
But the ascetic, naively relentless, replied:
“I did not ask whether you were Brahma, mighty Brahma, Maker of all, Father of all! I asked concerning the constitution of the elements during the dissolution of the universe!”
This was twice repeated. The Buddha thus continues his narrative:
“Then great Brahma, taking that ascetic by the arm, and leading him away to one side, said this: ‘Of a truth, ascetic, these Bright Ones here, attendants of Brahma, think that there is nothing whatever that Brahma does not know, nothing whatever that Brahma does not perceive. Therefore in their presence I did not answer. But the truth is, ascetic, that I do not know what the constitution of the elements is, during the period of the dissolution of the universe! . . .”
We shall see presently that, in addition to the gently ironical correction of the belief in a “magnified and non-natural man,” there is, in this answer a profound philosophical truth.
What is at first sight a different view of Brahma is given in a magnificent discourse, in which the Buddha describes, under the guise of a fairy tale, a Convention of the Immortals, ranged in order under the Four Maharajas, in the Realm of the Thirty-Three Divinities. To the Immortals, thus assembled in Convention, comes the manifestation of Great Brahma, again heralded by a radiance and a shining. And to each of the Immortals it appears that Great Brahma draws near directly to him, speaks directly to him.
Finally, we have the very remarkable declaration of the Buddha, in the discourse just translated:
“Brahma I know, and the world of Brahma, and the path which leads to the world of Brahma. As one who has attained to the world of Brahma, as one who has entered the world of Brahma, that world I know!”
There is, in the Secret Doctrine, a conception which at once illuminates and harmonizes these three apparently different expressions: namely, the conception of the Logos, the Divine Mind, as made up of the sum total of the spiritual consciousness of the cosmos; or, to use an alternative expression, as the collective Life of the Divine Host, the Host of the Dhyan Chohans, a collective spiritual consciousness which, so far as our cosmos is concerned, is omniscient and omnipotent. It is further taught in the Secret Doctrine that this Divine Consciousness of the Heavenly Host overshadows and inspires the Lodge of Masters; and we may suppose that this overshadowing is especially potent at certain times, on certain occasions; perhaps such an occasion as would correspond to the Convention of the Immortals, in the fairy-tale which the Buddha told.
If we take Great Brahma thus to mean the Logos conceived as active, then there would be the completest justification in the declaration of the Buddha: “Brahma I know; and the world of Brahma, as one who has entered the world of Brahma, that world I know!” For the attainment of Buddhahood is precisely such entry into the Life of the Logos, with a resulting knowledge of the Life of the Logos, as it were, from within. Further, this clear declaration, so unaccountably ignored by certain Western Orientalists, bent on seeing in the Buddha an agnostic, and sometimes even a philosophical Nihilist, once more demonstrates that his teaching is in all ways identical with that of the Great Upanishads, which hold as the ideal the completeness of identification of the individual consciousness with the Eternal, of Atma with Brahma; and, in those older Upanishads, the word Brahman means “one who knows Brahma, one who knows the Eternal,” the sublime significance which the Buddha constantly seeks to restore to a name which in his day had come to mean little more than a member of an hereditary priestly caste.
To come back to the gentle irony of the Kevaddha Sutta; we have found good reason for holding that by Brahma the Buddha means the Logos of our cosmos, the sum of the spiritual consciousness of our system of worlds. It is evident, however, that in this definition there is already a suggestion of something which falls short of absolute Omniscience, the Omniscience of the Absolute, if such an expression may be permitted. For our cosmos is one of many within the inconceivable immensity of the Universal Kosmos; and, if one may speak without presumption concerning matters which are wholly beyond any form of perception which we can conceive, it would seem logical to hold that there are certain things which of necessity remain unknown even to the supreme spiritual consciousness of the Logos of our cosmos. There is, to begin with, the eternally unanswerable question: Why is there a Kosmos? So it would seem that, under the guise of gentle irony, the Buddha was in reality conveying a profound philosophical truth, a fundamental truth of the Secret Doctrine.
It has been shown previously that, in several remarkable instances, the Buddha quotes the identical words of certain of the Great Upanishads. It would appear that he is thus quoting, in the vitally important declaration which has been translated: “Brahma I know, and the world of Brahma; as one who has entered the world of Brahma, that world I know!” For this phrase, Brahma-loka, has, in the Great Upanishads, a quite definite meaning. It is found, as indicating the supreme spiritual attainment, in the story of the King-Initiate Pravâhana, son of Jivala, which occurs with deeply interesting variants in the two greatest Upanishads.
In the version of the story which is given in the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad, the King-Initiate, instructing his Brahman disciple concerning the consummation of the way of Liberation, the path of Divinity, says that, to those who go forward along this path, there appears “a Spirit, of the nature of Mind (mânasa), who leads them to the Brahma-worlds. . . . For them, there is no return.”
The parallel version in the Chhandogya Upanishad reads: “A Spirit not of the sons of Manu (a-mânava) leads them to Brahma. This is the path of Divinity.”
It would seem, then, first, that the Buddha is affirming of himself exactly that Liberation which the King-Initiate taught, in these two greatest of the Upanishads; and, second, that the Spirit, which is at once “of the nature of Mind” and “not of the sons of Manu,” is the Divine Host already considered.
In that treasure-house of knowledge, Isis Unveiled, there are certain passages which confirm this view of the Buddha’s teaching, as identical with that of the Great Upanishads. Speaking of “pre-Vedic Buddhists,” Isis goes on to say: “When we use the term Buddhists, we do not mean to imply by it either the exoteric Buddhism instituted by the followers of Gautama Buddha, nor the modern Buddhistic religion, but the secret philosophy of Sakyamuni, which in its essence is certainly identical with the ancient wisdom-religion of the sanctuary, the pre-Vedic Brahmanism” (ii, 142). It should be added that “Brahmanism” here means, not the priestly system of the Brahman caste, but the ancient teaching of the knowledge of Brahma,—precisely the teaching revealed to the Brahman disciple by the King-Initiate Pravâhana, who, in revealing it, added the significant declaration: “This Wisdom has never dwelt in any Brahman before thee, but has been handed down among the Kshatriyas alone!” It will be remembered that, like King Pravahana, the Buddha was also a Kshatriya. It would seem clear, then, that by “pre-Vedic Buddhism” or “pre-Vedic Brahmanism,” Isis means precisely the secret teaching which, handed down from time immemorial among the Kshatriya-Rajputs, King Pravâhana revealed for the first time to the Brahmans.
Yet another passage from Isis: “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 of 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 favoured by opportunity, in another land . . .” (ii, 319).
It may be noted that these passages from Isis Unveiled are identical in import with what has been said concerning the relation of Buddha to the Brahman caste; and that the second passage suggests, toward its close, that identity of purpose which makes readily intelligible the co-operation of the Western Master with the Eastern Masters in their purpose to break the grip of Brahmanical tyranny in India. When in this long and difficult conflict, victory is finally won, then the high name, Brahman, will no longer mean a member of a selfish hereditary caste, but, what it originally meant, a “knower of Brahma,” a knower of the Eternal.