Gautama the Buddha

By G. de Purucker

In all the ancient religions possessing an esoteric* or mystical side, there are teachings or suggestions centering on the one thought that somewhere in the world there exists a spiritual energy or intelligence, who is mankind's guardian and friend. He is often alluded to as the Chief of the adept-seers of the ages, who is intimately connected with the spiritual principles which guide and inspirit the universe. H.P.B. speaks of this mysterious individual as the Great Initiator.

[*Every Orientalist knows that after the passing of the Buddha there gradually arose a number of schools which after one or two centuries became grouped under two main heads of philosophical thought: the Hinayana and the Mahayana. The different Mahayana schools of northern Buddhism are all highly philosophic, but the mystical element predominates. In the Hinayana system of southern Asia, the technical philosophical element is dominant, but to those who know how to read its writings the rather closely veiled mystical thought and even esoteric wisdom in them become apparent enough. It has been stated by the greatest of the Mahayana teachers that the Hinayana represents the 'eye doctrine' of the Lord Buddha, whereas the Mahayana system and its writings comprise the esoteric teachings originally given by the Buddha to his arhats and later elaborated by them and their descendants, and hence these teachings are called his 'heart doctrine' -- mystically signifying the hid essence of the Buddha's inner thought.
Both these schools, however, have more or less crystallized into formalisms. Certain branches of the Mahayana school have become largely intermixed with tantrika ideas and symbols, and the followers of two or three of these sects actually teach to a certain extent the magic of the 'left hand.' Thus if we desire to gain a clear picture of the fullness of the Buddha's teaching, in so far as it has reached our own times, we should conjoin the mystical esotericism of the original Mahayana with the teaching of the Hinayana, the former elucidating the latter.
There were a number of really great men who initially built up the structure of the Mahayana system considered as a whole; they were high initiates who gave out as much of the genuinely esoteric Buddhism as they could in the times in which they taught, or as they were allowed to do by the Mahachohan whose representatives for this special work they were. Two such were Nagarjuna and Aryasangha, generally looked upon today by adherents of the Mahayana as having been bodhisattvas.
Nagarjuna was the founder of the Madhyamika school -- meaning the Middle Way; whereas Aryasangha, the one who was a direct disciple of Gautama the Buddha himself, was the founder of the original or primitive Yogachara school. Now both these schools as they now exist contain a large amount of tantrika teaching, and therefore have greatly degenerated. The student may be interested to read what H.P.B. says in her Theosophical Glossary under the head, "Aryasangha."
The Sanskrit terms Mahayana and Hinayana mean, respectively, great vehicle or path, and defective vehicle or path, yana having the double significance of vehicle, and way or manner of going. Maha means great; but the idea in the word hina, defective, is not that of error but of a partial explanation only. This is precisely what the Mahayanists say: that the Hinayana system is true as far as it goes, but that it is defective or imperfect because incomplete. In one way of looking at the matter, one may say that the Hinayana is the exoteric or incomplete teaching of the Buddha Gautama, while the inner or secret meaning of the Mahayana is the full or complete teaching that the Buddha gave to his arhats and chosen disciples.
So large a part of H.P.B.'s writings contains frequent allusions to them, especially to the Mahayana, that it has not been uncommon for many to imagine that theosophy is a kind of esoteric Buddhism only, instead of being the ancient cosmic wisdom of the gods, of which the teachings of Gautama the Buddha are but an interpretation. I might add that, while H.P.B. was a formal Buddhist herself for reasons of her own, she was not in her teachings a Buddhist in the sectarian sense of the word.]

Now, to refer to this individual as Gautama the Buddha would in a sense be quite correct, because the spiritual influence of the Great Initiator was there; and yet, to look upon this individual merely as a human being is to wander wide from the truth. His ray, a part of his intelligence, on certain occasions, rare and far between in a great root-race, appears as a buddha in a human body. But the buddha is not the mere physical man, who is only the outward garment and the channel through whom the light and the teaching come. The real buddha is an inner entity (though not exactly the spiritual entity within each man), which serves as a channel through which stream the influences, the will power, the intelligence, of some being still more sublime -- the Great Initiator.

Gautama the Buddha was a man. He is at present a nirmanakaya. The higher ego of the entity which last manifested itself as Gautama the Buddha works through this nirmanakaya; and this higher ego is the Buddha, the transmitter of the spiritual intelligence of the Great Initiator.

It is to Gautama the Buddha, thus considered, and the power working through him, that the teachers of H.P.B. referred when they used phrases such as "He to whom we owe allegiance," "He whose word is our Law." As one of the two racial Buddhas of our fifth root-race -- the second Buddha being Maitreya, still to come millions of years hence -- he will continue to watch over and protect this root-race. He is the origin, the founder, of every great spiritual religious or philosophical movement begun at any time during our root-race. It is he who is the Chief of all the adepts, the Lord, the Chohan; and it is before him, and in his presence, that the seventh and greatest initiation of all takes place."*

[*Many of the greatest figures in ancient Hindu mythology and history are stated to have been 'born' in either the Surya-vansa or the Chandra-vansa, meaning respectively 'solar race' and 'lunar race.' Now these 'races' are two family lineages, the Surya-vansa being a line of kshattriyas originally springing from Ikshwaku, son of the Manu Vaivaswata, who was son of Vivaswat the sun; and the other line, the Chandra-vansa, originally claiming descent from the moon, itself descended from the Rishi Atri. The great epic figure Rama was born in the Surya-vansa; and Krishna as well as the Buddha Gautama were born in the Chandra-vansa.
The only point of importance in this somewhat sectarian mythological system is that these two 'races' really represent two different schools of archaic esotericism. The teaching which characterized the solar race was conservative, enfolding the wisdom of past ages and applying this without any noteworthy modifications to the conditions of the current period; whereas that of the Chandra-vansa was rather a carving out of 'newer' methods, in addition to the holding of the wisdom of ancient times. The moon in this connection is not the moon of sorcery and black magic, but is a reference to the mystical fact that every neophyte, in his progress along his path, must cultivate and raise the 'lunar element' in himself to become at one with the inner god; in other words, to evolve the human monad into becoming its own divine monad.]

On account of his connection with the avatara Jesus, the Buddha was closely associated with the founding of Christianity. Through infinite compassion, he lent himself to the work of the avatara Jesus, thereby linking himself inevitably and forever with the karma that flowed forth from it; but that does not mean that all the evil that has been wrought, and such good as has been done, by Christians and the Church since the passing of Jesus, fall with dead weight upon Gautama the Buddha. This would simply be voicing the old theological and utterly mistaken interpretation of the doctrine of vicarious atonement. The karmic law will call to account the evil workers themselves.

This is what is meant: Gautama the Buddha, the noblest sage who has lived within millions of years, even he, with his godlike wisdom, made minor mistakes in his life. In his spiritual yearning to give truth, light, love and peace to men, on several occasions he opened the doors a little too widely. Therein lies always a great psychical and spiritual danger. In order to correct what he had overdone, he became the intermediate part of the avatara Jesus (just as he had some hundreds of years earlier provided the intermediate part of the avatara Sankaracharya), thereby to a certain extent rectifying what he, Gautama the Buddha, in his boundless love for mankind, had done.

In Gautama Sakyamuni, as a man, there were several different elements functioning: (a) the ordinary individual who was a great and splendid man; (b) inspiring him was the incarnate bodhisattva, although the manasaputric essence, belonging to that grand human being as a monad per se, had not yet been fully awakened; (c) enlightening this bodhisattva within Gautama was the buddha; and (d) inspiring and enlightening that buddha -- a spiritual flame working through the bodhisattva in the man -- was the dhyani-buddha of our round, working of course through the dhyani-bodhisattva of this globe D.

All this may seem very complicated, but it really is not. We have, first, a spiritually evolved human being in whom the native manasaputric essence was partially awakened, thus providing a field of consciousness for its individualization as the incarnate bodhisattva. Then the monadic essence working through this incarnate bodhisattva was individualized as the buddha, these elements forming the various monadic centers mainly active in Sakyamuni. In addition to this, and because the incarnate bodhisattva allowed the ray from the inner buddha to manifest itself, there was the reception even into the human consciousness of the still more spiritual ray from the fourth-round dhyani-buddha, in its turn traveling to the human buddha by means of the globe dhyani-bodhisattva.

This dhyani-buddha might be described as the 'outside' spiritual influence working through the human buddha; and the buddha and the bodhisattva and the partially awakened manasaputric essence form the triad in the constitution of Gautama Sakyamuni acting to produce the manushya-buddha.

When Gautama, whose personal name was Siddhartha, left his home, according to the beautiful story, and went out in search of light, in order to attain human buddhahood for the sake of the "salvation of gods and men," he brought first into relatively full activity the bodhisattva within himself. The ordinary man, grand as he was, nevertheless was utterly subordinated to the bodhisattva within him, which could then manifest and express its noble faculties, enlightened by the buddhic ray. Yet this becoming at one with his inner buddha was still not enough for the purpose in mind, because this particular human incarnation of the man called Siddhartha was to be the vehicle of the minor racial buddha, who would watch over our fifth root-race. In the exoteric literatures of Buddhism it is stated that every human or manushya-buddha, such as was Gautama, is the counterpart on earth of a celestial buddha, its spiritual-divine origin. It is the celestial buddha, the dhyani-buddha, who sends forth from himself the ray, the energy, the spirituality, the will, the intelligence, all of which, manifesting through the spiritual-human vehicle, produce the manushya-buddha.

It is also the Buddha who, during his entire administration which lasts from the beginning of the fifth root-race until the Maitreya-buddha succeeds him, helps to bring about the appearance of an avatara at certain cyclical periods. The reason for this is that a divinity requires a psychological apparatus as pure and strong as that of a buddha for its manifestation. In fact, the energy emanating from a divinity would probably wreck the psychological apparatus of an average mahatma, although he is far above the general run of mankind. There are great mysteries involved in this question of buddhahood.

Even in physical appearance, when the Lord Buddha manifested as Gautama, he was very different from other men. Not only did he radiate kindness, love, disciplined strength, peace, and brilliant intellectuality, but, it is said, he was almost unhumanly handsome and looked like a god; and yet his son, born before buddhahood was consciously attained, was but a fourth rounder, although a good and noble man. Rahula was his name.

The incarnation of a buddha is not a descent from devachan as is the case with ordinary men. Every human being is a compounded entity. There is a god in him, a spiritual ego, a human ego, an animal nature, and the physical body which expresses as best it can the bundle of energies surging through and from within the auric egg. Now each of these elements is itself a learning entity on its upward way. The self-consciousness, the sense of egoity, is there; but above that is the sense of cosmic unity, which is the atmosphere and consciousness of the inner god, a celestial buddha. Hence, as there are in a man a celestial buddha, a human buddha, a human soul working through an animal body, it is apparent that many strange things may take place if circumstances are right, and that the conditions of incarnation of a buddha must de facto be very different indeed from the reincarnation of an ordinary man. And so it was in the case of Sakyamuni.

The Prince Siddhartha of Kapilavastu, who later became the physical vehicle of a buddha, was a spiritually evolved human being, and therefore a fit vehicle to express the higher element in his nature, the manushya-buddha, itself the vehicle of the celestial buddha -- the loftiest part of such an exalted constitution. Hence the man was born, passed through all the usual phases, but because he was overshadowed by the buddhic splendor, he was a wonder-child. He married. Rahula was born. A little later came the first inner light of dazzling splendor. Understanding began to come to the human part of this compounded entity, and then the manushya-buddha took control. The human thereafter was subordinated to the spiritual; and Prince Siddhartha left his home and became a wanderer -- which merely means that he withdrew from the world, so that the human part of him might be trained to become a fully conscious channel for the manifestation of the manushya-buddha within.

So it was that finally, after striving in self-imposed discipline and spiritual yearning and inner conquest, under the sacred Bodhi tree, the wisdom-tree, the full illumination came, as the legend runs, and the manushya-bodhisattva called Gautama Sakyamuni attained buddhahood. This incarnate bodhisattva became the willing and perfect psychospiritual instrument through which his inner buddha could express itself. When the buddha-state had been attained, we find the buddha working through the bodhisattva, which itself works through the awakened man; thus exemplifying the activity of the three higher monads in a human constitution: to wit, the spiritual, the bodhisattva or manasaputra, and the evolved human. And this is exactly what each one of us someday will have the lofty privilege and joy of becoming -- provided that we run the race successfully.

Until eighty years of age the Buddha lived and taught: initiated, helped, comforted, inspired. When the body which had served him so well became feeble with the passing of the years, the Buddha 'died' -- according to the exoteric teaching.*

[*Certain passages in the Maha-Paranirvana-Sutra briefly give a very important teaching regarding death, by applying the process by which it takes place to the passing on of the Buddha-Gautama himself, as a type-figure. They speak of this process as the 'ascent' of the Buddha's consciousness through several planes, and of its 'descent' again, and this three times in succession. Now physical death takes place in all human beings in exactly the same fashion, although in the case of the great sages this is modified by their high spiritual standing.
The higher portions of the human constitution do not break away from the physical body with one single wrench of the golden cord, but this is preceded by a rising of the consciousness into the higher planes of man's constitution, a momentary pause there, then a descent till the consciousness reanimates the physical brain for a few seconds, and at this instant the eyes may open for a moment or two. Then the consciousness ascends once more and, after another brief pause, is again drawn back into the entangling attractions of the astral and physical worlds, and again perhaps for a fleeting instant the physical brain becomes momentarily conscious. Then for a third time the consciousness ascends, but more strongly now, and after another short interval it descends again, but very weakly this time, the consciousness perhaps registering a feeble contact with the physical plane; and after a very brief span, unconsciousness, complete and utter, supervenes: the golden cord of vitality is snapped, and the inner man is free. The ante-mortem panorama immediately precedes the period of the first ascent.]

The truth of the matter is that at that time the buddha within Gautama Sakyamuni entered into the nirvanic condition, leaving the bodhisattva still active and working through the aged physical frame. Nirvana, in this case, really meant that the celestial buddha entered into its native cosmic realms, its work for the time being ended, and left behind the human illuminated by the manushya-buddha splendor, the inner buddha. The buddha-part of him had 'died' for the world, i.e. had done its work and had passed into the nirvana, therein to await its succeeding task at the end of this fifth root-race, when that same buddha-spirit will again enlighten a new bodhisattva-man.

For twenty years after the nirvana was attained, Gautama the Buddha lived among his initiates, and taught and initiated; and at the age of one hundred, his body finally died. The body was cast off, and the entire entity as a manushya-buddha remained as a nirmanakaya,* and so lives today, the channel, the vehicle, through which pour energies deriving from the spiritual center of our solar system. Hence he is the channel of the Great Initiator, the guardian and protector of every great world religion or world philosophy founded during our fifth root-race, and will continue so to be and to act until the Buddha-Maitreya comes in the course of the cycling ages.

[*A nirmanakaya can live in any vehicle that he may choose to form by his will and thought; and similarly he has the power and the wisdom to choose the inner plane or planes on which to live. In all cases, however, the 'body' of the nirmanakaya is formed from his own auric egg; that is, the process of forming such thought- and will-body amounts to a temporary thickening by kriyasakti of the outer layers of the adept's auric egg; such 'body' being formed to correspond in quality and attribute with the inner plane that is chosen as the 'world' in which the nirmanakaya dwells.
Every nirmanakaya is a mahatma, minus the lower triad; but not every mahatma is a nirmanakaya. There are mahatmas who are incarnated; and, obviously, because living in the physical-astral-vital vehicle, they are not nirmanakayas. Some of the mahatmas of the lower degrees have not yet reached the point in their evolution where they find it advantageous to their sublime work to drop the lower triad of their constitution and to live as nirmanakayas.]

The difference between this great sage and ordinary men is that in Sakyamuni the higher parts of his constitution were more or less fully working through the 'man,' at least as fully as is possible for any human being who is a sixth rounder. When he had undergone his sixth sublime initiation, from that moment as a 'man' he 'died,' but continued to live on. In other words, he taught after this episode for twenty years in and through the initiated and therefore glorified human part of his constitution; but no man can undergo the sixth initiation, which is the time of the Great Renunciation -- much less the seventh -- and 'return' to the world of men as he was before. (In order to understand the esoteric meaning of what the nirvana of Gautama the Buddha really was, we must remember that there are nirvanas of different kinds and of different grades of sublimity. In renouncing nirvana, the choice was made by the human part, the bodhisattva on its way to becoming a buddha in the future. But the highest part of the Buddha must enter nirvana, it cannot recede; it has gone beyond the point of spiritual existence where a choice to remain behind is possible. This explains the exoteric teaching that the Buddha enters nirvana from which there is no return for the highest part that does enter nirvana; whereas the real teaching is that the human soul of the Buddha, the bodhisattva, is the part which makes the great renunciation and turns back in the spirit of compassion to help all that lives.)

The meaning therefore is that the higher part of his constitution, to wit, the human ego within him, had now re-become a buddha and had entered a nirvana; but the lower part of his human or intermediate nature still functioned on earth as a glorious bodhisattva -- in this grand and beautiful fact we see the meaning of many exoteric Buddhist statements that a buddha leaves a bodhisattva behind in order to carry on the work. So then, to be a buddha means that one's highest part is in the nirvana, and that one's higher human part, which is buddhi-manasic, lives on as a teacher, as a bodhisattva-nirmanakaya. Then there is the physical body with its vital-astral apparatus which finally dies.

Now Sakyamuni, upon attaining buddhahood at and during his sixth initiation, re-entered a nirvana. This could be otherwise phrased by saying that the spiritual monad within him entered or became a dharmakaya, whose consciousness is nirvanic and too pure and loftily spiritual to permit any contact with our gross spheres of life and matter. All the remainder of the constitution of the Buddha then and there, after such initiation, chose to enter the nirmanakaya condition; while that part of Sakyamuni's constitution which was intermediate between the spiritual monad and the higher portions of the human ego, went into abeyance as the sambhogakaya, i.e. non-manifesting because not 'chosen.'

The important point of teaching here is that certain highly spiritual human beings who undergo successfully the sixth initiation choose the sambhogakaya instead of the nirmanakaya, as for instance the Pratyeka Buddhas, for in their case the highest part of their constitution becomes the dharmakaya, all the higher intermediate portions become the sambhogakaya; the nirmanakaya 'choice' is not made, and thus in their isolation these pure but spiritually selfish individuals lose all contact with the world and its forces, and all desire to help those less advanced.

After the Buddha's physical death at the ripe old age of one hundred years, the bodhisattva, who was really the now enlightened Siddhartha, remained, as said, in the earth's atmosphere as a nirmanakaya, that is to say, a complete but glorified man in the full possession of all faculties, characteristics and principles of his constitution, except the physical body, with the linga-sarira and grosser pranas.

The expression 'in the earth's atmosphere' is correct as far as it goes, but it is incomplete. One could state the situation with even greater accuracy by saying that the bodhisattva as a nirmanakaya withdrew from ordinary physical contact with men and the earth and its affairs, but maintained intimate and watchful and overseeing relations with them from inner planes -- the bodhisattva-nirmanakaya, formerly known on earth as Sakyamuni, being a resident of that extremely mysterious part of the earth's surface, protected and guarded against outer intrusion, wherein are found some of the greatest members of the occult Brotherhood, Sambhala.

World Spiritual Traditions Menu

Teachers Menu