Going Home Again – To Tibet and Beyond





Prior to all Buddhas and sentient beings
When even their names do not exist
Is ancestral wholeness, mind-nature.

Know thyself advises the oracle at Delphi. I am a frustrated nomad. No matter where I happen to live at the moment, I do not feel completely at home alone, all-one, at-one with myself, in the womb, where everything was done for me. Cast out into the challenging world, between life and death, I am unable to be still, to settle down for good, as I am always in between something or the other, between the past and the future, in the present, where I am compelled against my will.

The one we ultimately want to know is within, the very god one would worship yet casts without lest his peers crucify him for arrogance. He does not have to seek far afoot for clues to what he might find within himself nowadays if a great library is nearby, and then there is always Google Books. There I discovered curious old books about a Hungarian traveler and philologist by the name of Alexander Csoma de Koros, a name I had encountered long ago in a hardcopy of Arthur Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea.

During his Asian studies, Schopenhauer came across a story in the Tibetan Buddhism canon, the Kangyur (“Translation of the Word”) about a conversation the dying Buddha had with Brahma, wherein Buddha asked him if he had made the world. Brahma denied he had done so, and then asked Buddha if he knew who created the world. Buddha said the world is unreal, an illusion, empty, nothing. “Brahma, being instructed in his doctrine, becomes his follower.” Wherefore it would seem from that revolutionary moment that we are not of this world, that we must seek our origin elsewhere.

We learn from our virtual exploration that Csoma, born on the 4th of April 1784 in the village of Koros in Transylvania, “belongs to the rank of those noble minds who devote their lives unselfishly to a worthy, though apparently thankless object, yet in the pursuit of which nothing but death will stop their efforts.” He took up liberal studies, his favorite subjects being philology, geography, and history. He began in 1799 at Bethlen College at Nagyenyed (Aiud) in Transylvania, Romania, well known at the time for those courses, and remained for fifteen years. Besides the regular curriculum, his courses included Latin, Roman Literature, Greek and Logic, and he earned English, German, Romanian, and French as well, and some Turkish.

From 1816 to 1818, he studied at the University of Gottingen in Hanover, renowned for its lectures in public law, history, and the sciences. Its famed students would eventually include the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck among others. Csoma loved, most of all, the enormous library at Gottingen. Nationalism was in vogue at the time, wherefore the international students were enthusiastic about their respective nations. Besides, German scholars were exceedingly curious about the history, religions, and languages of Asia. Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, Gottingen’s Professor of Oriental Languages, so-called founder of modern Old Testament criticism, whetted Csoma’s curiosity as to the origins of the Hungarian people, proposing they were from Western Turkey, beside the Caspian Sea, in what is now Turkmenistan.

Csoma found a goal at university. He could have had a comfortable ecclesiastical career in Hungary, but he determined to know the origin of his Szekler tribe of Hungarians settled in Transylvania. Many ethnic groups wanting an identity secured by their faraway roots were curious about their native origins with the rise of nationalism and the recent French Revolution, but Csoma’s curiosity was insatiable.

“As my parents were dead,” Csoma recounts, “and my only brother did not want my assistance, I resolved to leave my native country and to come towards the East, and by some means or other procuring subsistence, to devote my whole life to researches which may be afterwards useful to the learned world of Europe in general, and, in particular, may illustrate some obscure facts in our own history.”

He planned on traversing Persia and eventually going up the northern route of the old Silk Road to Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and on to Turkestan towards Mongolia. He set out from Bucharest, Romania, to Sofia, Bulgaria, and ventured to Constantinople, went down from there to Alexandria, Egypt, shipped up to Beirut, Lebanon, then headed to Aleppo and Mosul, Baghdad and Tehran, where he finally changed into Persian garb before proceeding to Baghdad and Kabul. He did not write much about his journey, as if it were a matter of course, except to mention his study of languages.

Instead of continuing north to Bukhara, fearing Russian troops in the northern area, he took the southern route of the Silk Road, and travelled with two Frenchmen he had met in Kabul. They paused at Lahore, India, before going to Kashmir, and on to Leh, the capital of Ladak, from whence he would have continued to Yarkant County in Xinjiang (Sin Kiang), China, bordering Mongolia, but he intended instead to return to Lahore because he believed to go on to China was too expensive and fraught with danger for a Christian. Along the way he met an English explorer and prominent East India official by the name William Moorcroft, who ventured to Leh with him. Moorcroft, by the way, was the first Englishman qualified as a veterinarian; what he coveted in his exploration was the hardy Turcoman horses made famous by Marco Polo five centuries prior. He found none, and died 1825 in Turkestan of a fever.

It was in Leh that Csoma diverged fatally from his original goal of travelling to the geographic origin of his presumably Hun tribe somewhere in China, Siberia or Mongolia. He had picked up a few languages that he expected would help him achieve his original goal of knowing more about where he believed his folk had come from: Slavonic, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Mogul, and Tibetan. He did not think of himself, however, as a mere linguist, but as a cosmopolitan who could fit in anywhere.

“I beg leave to confess that I am not merely a linguist—I have learnt several languages to learn polite literature, to enter into the cabinet of curiosity of remote ages, to acquire useful knowledge, and to live in every age and with every celebrated nation, as I do now with the British.”

Moorcroft was impressed with Csoma’s linguistic skills, particularly with his knowledge of Tibetan. Great Britain was naturally interested in civilizing remote parts of the world for economic exploitation, and there was Tibet just north to India, and to that end a dictionary of Tibetan would be more than useful, for Tibetan was the lingua franca of the educated in Buddhist countries and therefore learning Tibetan was a means of “penetrating” them.

The Tibetan language, however, is not directly related to the Hungarian, which is controversially said to be a ‘Finno-Ugric’ member of the ‘Uralic’ family of languages, a linguistic theory that denies the traditional Hungarian history of a Sumerian via Carpathian-Central Asia origin, the controversy being over whether or not ethnic Hungarians are basically barbarians instead of civilized Europeans due to their origin. Sino-Tibetan, in any case, is a primary language in its own right. The written Tibetan alphabet is derived from Sanskrit.

There is no evidence suggesting that Csoma himself found a relationship between the Tibetan language and the Hungarian language other than a word or two. An ancient Greek historian, Theophylaktes Simocatta, claimed that the Turks conquered the Ugar nation in 597 AD. Hungarian authors naturally noticed a similarity between “Ugar” and “Hungary,” not to mention “Hun.” The word “Hun” became, as we know, a foul epithet for “German” in the mouths of Churchill and Roosevelt during war against the Nazis. German researchers at one time proposed the Nordic origin of Hungarians and Germans, while the Hungarians looked towards Turkey and beyond, and the word “Turk” was a word for a wild robber or barbarian warrior wearing a helmet reminiscent of their view of a high mound or mountain in their original country, presumably in Mongolia or Siberia if not the Tibetan plateau. Csoma, as we know, had in mind the ancient nation of Kiang, i.e. Sin Kiang or Xinjiang in far Western China north of Tibet.

Suffice it to say that different folk have different strokes and that peoples believe they will know themselves better in comparison to other peoples, especially if the others are enemies with whom combat is waged to improve the moral fiber. That is, the human being may not need a particular identity but wants one anyway. No less than Hitler confessed in his talks that he did not really believe in the Nordic superhuman race, but it was convenient to propagate for popular consumption for people to identify with. Sympathetic anthropologists who went along with the myth also admitted that human beings are mongrels; there is no such thing as a pure race. Humans probably came out of Africa; some of them went to Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, and China, and some came back. DNA analysis of Hungarians indicates a mixture of origins including Uralic and Turkic and others.

The overall results remind one of today’s popular DNA analysis advertisements where a woman wears a peculiar ethnic hat because the high percentage of her DNA was associated with a particular country in Africa. Yet she may think she cannot really know herself until she actually goes to the spot where her ancestors had their being, so she makes reservations, say, for Uganda, where she will venture to the so-called cradle of humankind, Lake Victoria. What will she find—mosquitoes and old bones? Why are we so fascinated with history that we have become gravediggers? Why are we discontented? What are we looking for?

That being said, what would induce Csoma to delay his search for his origins in Turkestan, Mongolia and Siberia, and devote nearly ten productive years to the study of Tibetan? For one thing, he was a linguist, and here was an opportunity to be paid at his profession. A thorough study of Tibetan was related to his quest, for he hoped to eventually travel to Lhasa, “Place of The Gods,” and peruse the Dalai Lama’s grand library to research the history of the Huns and Mongols to find what he suspected, that his tribe of Hungarians had come down through Tibet with Attila the Hun. And, as “exceedingly indifferent” or modest as he was described by his acquaintances, he might make a name for himself assisting the advance of Western civilization; indeed, he bragged a little on his death bed in Darjeeling about the recognition of his accomplishments.

“For the first time since I had seen him,” reported Campbell, Superintendent of Darjeeling, “he this day showed how sensitive he was to the applause of the world, as a reward to his labors and privations. He went over the whole of his travels in Tibet with fluent rapidity, and in noticing each stage of the result of his studies, he mentioned the distinguished notice that had been accorded in Europe and India to the facts and doctrines brought to light by him. He seemed especially gratified with an editorial article by Prof. Wilson, in the Supplement to the Government Gazette of 9th July, 1829, which he produced, and bid me read; it related to the extreme hardships he had undergone while at the monastery of Zanskar, where with the thermometer below zero for more than four months, he was precluded by the severity of the weather from stirring out of a room nine feet square; yet in this situation he read from morning till evening without a fire, the ground forming his bed, and the walls of the building his protection against the rigors of the climate, and still he collected and arranged forty thousand words of the language of Tibet, and nearly completed his Dictionary and Grammar. Passing from this subject, he said, in a playful mood, “I will show you something very curious,” and he produced another number of Wilson’s paper of September 10th, 1827, and pointing to an editorial paragraph, desired me to read it first, and then hear the explanation….” (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol, ii, 1844)

Previous to meeting Moorcroft, Csoma had been living on a pittance as a virtual mendicant monk. Why not, thought Moorcroft after they met, contract to send Csoma to Western Tibet to compile a dictionary? Moorcroft obtained an initial funding of 200 rupees and a stipend of 50 rupees per month from the Government, arranged for an introduction to Sangye Puntsog, the Lama of Ladak. Wherefore Csoma went off with the lama to Yangla in the Zanskar District of Ladak, a part of the ancient Kingdom of Guge within what was Western Tibet, now North India. It was in Yangla that he, with the help of the lama, studied Tibetan literature in a small room in sub-zero weather without the benefit of a fire.

We doubt that the lama, whose evolved DNA would enable him to withstand cold and deprivation of oxygen, instructed Csoma in tumo, a magical technique that allows a carefully trained person to go about naked in subzero weather. Csoma’s reticence to tell traveler’s tales is regretted by occultists who wish he had recounted the paranormal events of his visit to what was then Western Tibet. If his lama, however, had in fact levitated off the floor, or had transported him to Lhasa by magical means and back, surely he would have related that in his papers. All we hear about is the painstaking, page-by-page documentation of records by candlelight in bitter cold.

“I arrived at Yangla, and from 20th June 1823 to 22d October 1824 I sojourned in Zanskar, the most south-western province of Ladak, where I applied myself to the Tibetan literature, assisted by the Lama. During my residence in Zanskar, by the able assistance of that intelligent man, I learned grammatically the language, and became acquainted with many literary treasures shut up in 320 large printed volumes, which are the basis of all Tibetan learning and religion. These volumes, divided in two classes, and each class containing other subdivisions, are all taken from Indian Sanskrit, and were translated into Tibetan. I caused to be copied the contents of these immense works.”

Among the canons he transcribed was an interesting biography of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha of the Shakya clan that is believed to have inhabited what is now Nepal, and an account of the rules followed by his male and female disciples regulating their attire, cleanliness, compassionate attitude, and the drugs they were allowed to carry and use. It is believed that Buddha himself was illiterate, so the religious canons were eventually developed by councils of learned monks after his death in memory of a charismatic man, who in reality was a rich prince sorely moved by the sight of suffering because it had been kept out of sight during his youth, resolved to find its causes to alleviate the effects, and did not intend to start a new religion, just as Luther in the West did not intend to found Protestantism.

Buddhists may protest that mundane view of Buddha, claiming that it amounts to a polite Western de-mystification by Christian missionaries of a divinely inspired being, depicting him as a humane hero in order place him beneath the divine Jesus. In any event, Europeans were keenly interested in Buddhism because its compassionate ideal and the notion that every human being has a potential savior or First-Buddha within reminded them of their Christian doctrines of love and the individual imitation of Jesus. Wherefore it was opined that Jesus visited India during the missing years of his biography, where he learned the Krishna lore and the heretical tenets of Buddhism, and that Buddhist monks had even influenced the Jews prior to the birth of Jesus the Christ, the world’s most famous Jew.

Csoma returned to Zanskar in 1826, stayed until 1831, and went on to Calcutta in 1832, where he reportedly delivered thirty volumes of Tibetan works he had collected. He settled in Calcutta for quite awhile, serving the Asiatic Society from 1837 to 1842 as librarian. Upon his death in 1842, his monetary effects included banknotes and government notes for 5,300 rupees, 224 rupees in coins, and 26 gold ducats.

Archibald Campbell, a surgeon with the Bengal Medical Service, attended to the dying Csoma. Campbell was the superintendent of Darjeeling, a sanitarium town for the British elite, at the time, and had been acquainted with him for several years. He is well known for the development of Darjeeling, including the gardens of a strain of tea he introduced, dubbed The Champagne of Teas. He had endeavored to assist Csoma with his mission before Csoma fell ill, and left within his Report of the death of Mr. Csoma de Koros, made to G. A. Bushby, Esq. Officiating Secretary, Political Department, from A. Campbell, Esq. Superintendent, Darjeeling, and communicated to the Society, an account of the virtual monk’s effects and intention.

Other than the money noted above, “His effects consisted of four boxes of books and papers, the suit of blue clothes which he always wore, and in which he died, a few shirts, and one cooking pot. His food was confined to tea, of which he was very fond, and plain boiled rice, of which he ate very little. 0n a mat on the floor, with a box of books on the four sides, he sat, ate, slept, and studied; never undressed at night, and rarely went out during the day. He never drank wine or spirits, or used tobacco or other stimulants.”

“All his hopes of attaining the object of the long and laborious search were centered in the discovery of the country of the ‘Yoogars.’ This land he believed to be to the east and north of Lassa and the province of Kham, and on the northern confines of China; to reach it was the goal of his most ardent wishes, and there he fully expected to find the tribes he had hitherto sought in vain.”

Csoma never set foot in the geographical origin of the Magyars, wherever that is, but he found some solace in life in the means or Journey to the goal of existence, the alpha and omega of things with innumerable names. Man is necessarily a goal-seeking animal. Some men are not satisfied with mundane goals. A nebulous, idealistic, unattainable goal has given many people hope for a better future if not immortality, and we witness numerous worldly achievements on the physical side roads, including several civilizations. It was either coincidence, or Jungian synchronicity, or divinely fated in the best of all possible worlds that Csoma was born a Hungarian and wound up sacrificing himself learning Tibetan culture from a lama in the vestiges of the ancient Kingdom of Guge, never making it to Lhasa, simply because in his youth he heard that Hungarians are Huns from back East.

The Tibetans themselves had a deep abiding interest in understanding the nature of human existence, why humans are born, where they come from and where they go. Csoma found some of their answers in Yangla. His room in the palace there is being restored and a solar school has been built for the children thanks to the endeavors of outside volunteers: Google Guge – The Lost Kingdom of Tibet, and Csoma’s Room Foundation, and related titles for fascinating YouTube videos.

Csoma, as mentioned, became familiar with the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism if not its tantric practices while compiling his Tibetan dictionary and living as a virtual monk with the assistance of Sangye Puntsog, whom he frequently referred to as “the lama.” The lama of Ladak was imminently qualified. He began his religious career at an early age as a novitiate in a monastery, and embarked on a six-year, 3,600 mile tour of monasteries in Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet. At the palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa he learned the official administrative dialect. Back in Ladak, where he attended court functions, he was its highly respected chief doctor. He married the widow of the Prince of Yangla. He had a great library, and, besides medicine, was well versed in astronomy, poetry, linguistics, and the canon of Lamaism. It was said that he was an unusual lama for his breadth of education and open mindedness or lack of religious bigotry.

Some of Csoma’s essays of what had learned of Tibetan Buddhism at the time were published in the journal of Bengal Asiatic Society. We find there in his ‘Notices on Different Systems of Buddhism Extracted from Tibetan Authorities’ that the objective of the novice is Sangye, “the generic name for expressing the Supreme Being or the Supreme Intelligence in the Buddhist system. This word signifies ‘the most perfect Being,’ that is, pure and clean and free from all imperfections and abounding in all good qualities.”

“Sangye” means fully-eliminated ignorance, wisdom, i.e. buddhi, born again Buddha. This state is achieved by a compassionate bodhisattva who desires Buddha-hood, an enlightened one who would, once liberated, stay behind to free others from suffering by showing them how to eliminate its cause in attachment to desires except, it seems, except the desire for enlightenment.

Csoma quotes a verse, purportedly from a letter sent by Buddha to Ratnavali, a princess of Ceylon who begged the Buddha for wisdom, that he said sums up the entire doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism:

No vice is to be committed;

Virtue must be perfectly practiced;
Subdue entirely your desires.
This is the doctrine of Buddha.

Also included in the letter of instruction was this sloka:

Arise, commence a new course of life,
Turn to the religion of Buddha;
Conquer the host of the lord of death, the passions,
As an elephant subdues everything under his feet in a muddy lake.
Whoever has lived a pure life,
According to the precept of this law,
Shall be free from transmigration,
And shall put an end to all his miseries.

“The ten commandments (precepts) of Buddha are these:—I. Not to kill. 2. Not to steal. 3. Not to commit adultery. 4. Not to tell falsehood. 5. Not to use abusive language. 6. Not to speak nonsense. 7. Not to slander. 8. Not to be covetous. 9. Not to bear malice.10. Not to be stubborn in a wrong principle.”

He extracts sixteen rules from a work entitled Subashlta Eatna Nidhinama Shastra composed in a Tibetan monastery by Sakya Pandita, who flourished during the time of Genghis Khan and his successors. He may have suffered badly for taking the advice of a woman during that time.

“These sixteen rules should be added to the ten commandments of Buddha. 1. Reverence God; this is the first. 2. Exercise true religion; this is the second.3. Respect the learned.4. Pay honor to your parents. 5. Show respect unto superiors and to the aged. 6. Show good-heartedness to a friend.7. Be useful to your fellow-countrymen. 8. Be equitable and impartial. 9. Imitate excellent men.10. Know how to enjoy rightly your worldly goods and wealth. 11. Return kindness for kindness.12. Avoid fraud in measures and weights. 13. Be always impartial and without envy. 14. Do not listen to the advice of woman. 15. Be affable in speaking, and be prudent in discourse. 16. Be of high principles and of a generous mind.”

Csoma essays the adherents to Buddhism according to three vehicles, the three degrees of intelligence found in people.

“1. Men of a common capacity must believe that there is a God, that there is a future life, and that all will obtain, according to their deeds in this life, a reward hereafter. Those of common capacity are content with the observance of the Ten Commandments. Those of the first degree, seeing the miseries of those who, by virtue of the metempsychosis, suffer in the bad places of transmigration as beasts, &c, desire to be born again among men, or among angels, or among gods.

“2. Men of a middle degree of intellectual or moral capacity, in addition to the above doctrines, must understand that every compound thing is perishable; that there is no reality in things; that every imperfection causes suffering, and that deliverance from suffering, and eventually from bodily existence, is final beatitude. Those of the middle degree also endeavor to excel in morality, meditation, and wisdom. Those of the second class are not content with the lot of the former, and wish to be entirely delivered from all bodily existence.

3. Men of the highest capacities will know that between the body and the supreme soul nothing exists by itself, nor can we prove whether the supreme soul will continue forever, or absolutely cease; because everything exists by a casual concatenation. Those of the highest capacities practice, besides the above, the six transcendental virtues as well. The highest class, regarding existence, under whatever form, as suffering, crave for final emancipation, and by arriving at the supreme perfection, are enabled to assist others out of their miseries.”

Several devotional services are recommended:

“1. Take refuge only with Buddha. 2. Endeavor to arrive at the highest degree of perfection, and to be united with the Supreme Intelligence. 3. Adore Buddha. 4. Bring such offerings to Buddha’s image as are pleasing to any of the six senses. Such offerings are: flowers, garlands, incense, perfume, eatables and drinkables raw or prepared, cloths for garments or ornamentation, curtains, etc. 5. Practice music or singing, and to utter praises to Buddha, extolling his person, or his love and mercy towards all. 6. Confess one’s sins with a contrite heart, to ask forgiveness, and to repent sincerely. 7. Rejoice in the moral merits of all living beings. 8. Pray to those Buddhas who are now in the world, that they should teach religion, and not leave the earth but remain here for many ages, to come.”

Why does not Csoma dwell on the famous Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path? Well, numbered prescriptions for liberation were refined much later by the noble religious for popular consumption, mainly by the West, from literally hundreds of numbered truths and paths or theories and practices in Buddhist and Hindu literature, and these simple ones are enshrined in the West. The Truth is the theory, and the mundane path is the Practice or yoga of being Righteous.

Now, then, it appears that the end of existence is the end of suffering, and that “final emancipation” is a sort of virtual suicide or dissipation of egotism, yet we would like altruistic Buddhas to remain on the earth to liberate everyone else.

Of course the notion that human existence is unsatisfactory if not always suffering, and that we find its cause in our desires, not only desire for what we need to exist but the frivolities we crave and would even kill for, is nothing new, nor is the notion that the way to end the suffering is to somehow put an end to or transcend selfish desire by doing the right things or just knowing what the truth about suffering is, and maybe even becoming ascetic monks if that suits us. In sum, what we have in the Four Noble Truths is a logical formula or prescription:

We must know what the truth is, what can be done about it, and how that can be done. In other words, given the evidence that we suffer, we must to know what suffering is, what causes it, what will cure it, and what the exact remedy or process is.

To wit: 1. Suffering exists. 2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires. 3. Suffering ceases with the end of attachment to desires. 4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path of Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration.

Gautama Buddha aka Siddhartha Gautama, whom some pundits count as the 28th Buddha, was reportedly counseled when young by one Arada Kalama, a follower of the atheistic Sankhya (“number”) philosophy, so-called for its numbered lists. A form of that wisdom is described as already very old in the tale of the great war of the Bharata clan occurring around 1400 BCE. The dualistic Sankhya theory is naturally based on observations of sexual reproduction and reflections thereon, the female role, which in India is active, being troublesome and even terrifying for males, the principle there being passive yet somehow enormously influential. Reasonable males have the privilege by virtue of superior strength to watch the hysterical proceedings of the female; indeed, they cannot take their eyes off her because she is beautiful hence blamed. The abstract partners, material nature and personal nature, would rather detach themselves and return to their original homes, but they are, as it were, in love with one another, and what is love of another but love for oneself? Their selfish desire causes their suffering. How can we go home to our principle, the Beginning, our Origin; our communal Cause?

We admit to the misogynist aspect from which equality is evolving. We would not return to two origins but to the One. Who is that One? It is the One to whom we trace back the evolution of humankind to the first being, namely Ma, or he who was drawn out of the womb. We call him Man. This philosophy is not really atheistic since Man is its unnamed god, and this original principle can be represented by totemic persons such as buddhas or enlightened ones and christs or anointed ones in whom it is incarnate, and, in fact, everyone has one within whether s/he knows it or not.

Wise men analyzed the situation, and proposed that the fact of existence is universal suffering, that emancipation would require cessation of the birthing process, which is perceived not as a transmigration of souls but as the reappearance on Earth of a fixed inventory of entities, and that, if an individual realizes the real nature of the difference between nature and persons, then interest in nature will be lost and the individual will be liberated. The ego or “I” must not stand in the way of the realization, wherefore it may be repeatedly said, “This ego is not me, it is not mine, I am not it,” until one is absolute one, or alone without qualities.

The Four Noble Truths are primary to the Theravada tradition, but secondary in the Mahayana strain of Buddhism from which the Vajray?na practices of Tibetan Buddhism is derived although not peculiar to Tibetan Buddhism. The so-called Hinayana school, purportedly a defunct element of the Theravada school, on the other hand, asserted that the self is non-existent or insubstantial hence the Truths do not apply for there is no real self to suffer. It was the so-called Voidism of the Hinayana school that caused it to fall into disrepute and even be disowned by Buddhists intent on saving a transcendent heaven as a place for immortal souls albeit indescribable because of the absurd merger of subject and object.

Yet common to Buddhism is a fundamental doctrine called pratityasamutpada i.e. dependent origination, a doctrine intimately related to the truths that all beings suffer. Everything is linked in a chain of twelve links that depend on hence suffer the rest; not one exists by itself so each is essentially nothing or empty without the others, and, besides, the chain itself is empty; break one link and the chain of suffering ends. Old age, disease and death follow birth, and birth is a becoming motivated by the will in which delusory passions abide, and wherefore covetousness and clinging to things touched because of desire, the outcome of feelings, which may be pleasant or unpleasant according to the intimacy of mind and body, and so on; wherefore to mitigate and eliminate suffering we may attend to, say, the pleasure link, to make sure we do not cling to pleasant things, nor would we shun unpleasant experiences, and so on. Furthermore, what we learn in this process we would not forget; forgetfulness is death and awareness is life.

Integral to the chain of suffering are the five skandhas, elemental bundles constituting the complex personality, which in itself is empty for the complex has no singular self or being; to wit: (1) physical form (2) feelings (3) perception (4) volitions (5) consciousness.

Priority in the Mahayana school is given to the notion of a blissful emptiness beyond description, attained by the Buddhist who becomes a compassionate Buddha, a bodhisattva who despite achieving nirvana, or liberation from suffering, self, birth and death, decides to stay around to save others from suffering because she or he is compassionate. That would be a spiritual leader, called a lama in Tibet, and we see that Tibet was a theocracy ruled by lamas with greater or less autonomy given Chinese influences until the Dalai Lama (big guru) fled and it became absolutely dominated by Communist China in 1959.

Again, the main philosophical doctrine of the Tibetan Buddhism that Csoma perused is that phenomena are inconceivably empty (sunya), that is, without substance or essence or independent existence because everything is interdependent. Just how empty or inconceivable emptiness is depends on your Tibetan school. That is, what seems to be empty of everything or nothing may not be absolute nothingness, but could be degrees of nothing made capital. Nonetheless, that the emptiness central to the religious aspects is indefinite and identifies Being with Nothing no matter how many different capitalized names are given to Nothing to glorify the emptiness, wherefore the associated rituals may appear to be apologia for nothingness, forms of nihilism or virtual suicide motivated by an instinct for death. Hopefully there “exists” an independent, transcendental realm for the salvation of immortal souls, and perhaps that realm may be populated according to imagination.

So it would seem that the essence of Buddhism, despite its cultural accretions, is atheistic, and that its relation to Hinduism, the catholic umbrella to many diverse sects, is revolutionary, notwithstanding the fact that Buddhism retains Hindu concepts and rhetoric, and that Hinduism is tolerant of personalist and impersonalists prejudices, for ‘god’ no matter its thousand names must be something or the other and not nothing at all. But perhaps this critique of the manner of dealing with the crisis of life is applicable to the theosophical world religions, that they are all, as Socrates said of philosophy as well, preparations for death, a return to our common Origin, the Home from whence we came.

The argument that we do not choose to be born into the world and then to die is denied by the doctrine of karma, which asserts that, once we are conscious of its workings, then a choice can be made to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death, and go to heaven for good unless we want to be nice and stay behind to help others meet their maker.

The idea that we have future lives to elevate ourselves excuses the miseries of the present life: hope springs eternal. Indeed, in the contemplation of death we detect the contrary to the fatal instinct, the erotic will to persist forever and ever without resistance, to be everything we can be within oneself, and, if immortality could be had without religions and gods, they would be dispensed with forthwith along with philosophies and their ethical tenets and moral codes. Tragically, no individual can exist as such without resistance to define it, so the baby would be tossed out with the bath water.

Now the Bhagavad Gita informs us that, even if this entity we call the soul is not imperishable, we should not grieve. If the “I” that seems to persevere is just a congeries, an incidental collection of habits or bundle of influences, why grieve for its disposition? Still, whatever it is, it is convenient for the time being to conceive of it as a singular entity, whatever name we use to that end in order that each one of us is responsible to our kind, and at the end of that time, or the time of times, so we shall go home again, relieved of whatever burden we may suffer. Of course there are those of us who find the very idea of the end insufferable, who love life so much they would rather be dragged out the door screaming and kicking than to go willingly into the darkness, and, if we are compassionate, we hope that in the end they will see the Light. Until then they too might heed the advice of buddhas not to cling too adamantly to what we shall lose in the final analysis.

As I said at the beginning, I am a frustrated nomad. No matter where I happen to live at the moment, I do not feel completely at home alone, all-one, at-one with myself, in the womb, where everything was done for me. Cast out into the challenging world, between life and death, I am unable to be still, to settle down for good, as I am always in between something or the other, between the past and the future, in the present, where I am compelled against my will. Yet, after making the preceding inquiry, I am not as frustrated. I no longer wonder, like Csoma, from whence my people came, for humanity is one, and what difference does it really make? I can look within myself for my home.

I wanted to go home again in and wound up in South Florida. The Dalai Lama visited South Florida in the wake of hurricanes to say that he did not know what existence is, and that he had showed up to smile and show his teeth to people who are miserable enough to want to go home again. In the wake of the destructive material whirlwinds, suffering was the Stick. Behind his smile was the Carrot.

If you find Tibetan has an exotic appeal, consider the awareness or rigpa of Dzogchen, the perfectly incorruptible, indivisible state of Being, the permanent essence without which nothing exists, in which you may lose your ephemeral personality and its delusory self-identity in relation to the objective world. That being or nothing made capital would be a version of nirvana, the Tibetan form being a griefless state. Do not be disappointed by the prevailing etymology of the word, that it means “blown out,” that your flame will be extinguished in nirvana. You may be pleased to know that nirvana may mean “not blown out,” that everything but the light itself shall be extinguished. Whether that light is singular or plural remains to be seen.

Contact the Dalai Lama or any bona fide spiritual master for more information about achieving that blissful state and what it would be like without your senses, perceptions and passions. Maybe there is no such heaven. Maybe you cannot go home again. Yet you may be happier on the road back to your beginning if you are god’s fool.


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