The Human Bodhisattva

The interior life is for all, the one thing necessary. It ought to be constantly developing in our souls; more so than what we call our intellectual life, more so than our scientific, artistic, or literary life. The interior life is lived in the depths of the soul; it is the life of the whole man, not merely of one or other of his faculties. And our intellectual life would gain immeasurably by appreciating this; it would receive an inestimable advantage if, instead of attempting to supplant the spiritual life, it recognized its necessity and importance, and welcomed its beneficial influence—the influence of the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. How deeply important our subject is may be seen in the very words we have used: Intellectuality and Spirituality. ~ Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life

The process of induction (which “ascends from earth to heaven”) and that of deduction (which “descends to earth”), the process of prayer (which “ascends from earth to heaven”) and that of revelation (which “descends to earth”) — i.e. human endeavour and the action of grace from above — unite and become a complete circle which contracts and concentrates to become a point where the ascent and descent are simultaneous and coincide. And this point is the “philosopher’s stone”— the principle of the identity of the human and divine, of humanism and prophetism, of intelligence and revelation, of intellectuality and spirituality. ~ from Letter XXI, The Fool

Meeting notes for 16 January 2017

Introduction

Ekzy’l led a discussion on Frithjof Schuon’s essay Mystery of the Bodhisattva. Since we focused on pages 76 through 79, I’ll start with some points from the first pages of the essay in order to provide some context. Schuon agrees with Valentin Tomberg that Buddhism starts from the human point of view and rises up. Moreover, Schuon points out that this starting point makes it akin to Christianity.

This starting point for Buddha is the insight that all life is suffering. This is not merely verbal, but existential, so much so that the Buddha would not be satisfied until he found a solution. Similarly, the Christian sees that life is toil, suffering, and death. Although Buddha does not provide an explanation for suffering, the Christian traces its origin back to the effects of original sin.

The solution must likewise be existential. Hence, neither Advaita Vedanta nor Neo-Platonism—the highest metaphysical teaching of the East and West respectively—are sufficient, no matter how useful they are to the jnana path. The corollary is that there is no definable process or technique that will lead to an awakening. Rather, “skillful means” are necessary, which may be adapted to different personalities and situations.

Discussion

These are the main points discussed; for clarity, the order of the topics is different.

  • Schuon distinguishes between the personal, or human, Bodhisattva and the celestial. The latter is more like an avatar, so we focused on the human Bodhisattva to be consistent with Tomberg’s description.
  • Apocatastasis means the restoration to the primordial state. In Buddhist terms, that involves the reintegration into Nirvana while, in Christian terms, it is the return to the state of Adam before the Fall.
  • Starting from “below”, i.e., the human state, means to begin in samsara. Normally, our attention is caught in the web of samsara, a state of ignorance. Unaware that samsara is a dimension of Nirvana. The beginning of awakening comes with the recognition of the impermanence of things, which is just their relativity in respect to Nirvana.
  • The obvious question then is what motivates this awakening. First of all, in experience, although not ontologically, a degree of perfection, i.e., a purification, is necessary.
  • The jnana must contemplate the Absolute both in the Heart and in the World. Tomberg calls this the “identity of the human and the divine.”
  • With that preparation, “the Logos descends upon him and dwells in him, just as light automatically dwells on a clear and smooth surface.”
  • Hence, the “original initiative comes from Heaven and that the support has been brought forth in the realm of the cosmic play solely in view of the manifestation of the Logos and by the Logos itself.”
  • A Buddha has three sheaths, or bodies, corresponding to Heaven, an Archangel, and humans. Christian Hermetism accepts that, but includes some finer states. The Angelic sheath has nine levels, corresponding to the celestial hierarchies. Ultimately, the highest states relate to the Trinity, not simply the Absolute. Buddhism admits this to a degree by recognizing Being and Beyond-Being as transcendent states.

We concluded with an interesting point about the meaning of the Buddhist teaching about the extinction of the self and the elimination of desire. It was suggested that this means the elimination of the “grasping self”. Of course, that brings to mind the “five wounds”:

the desire for personal greatness, to take, to keep, to advance and to hold on to at the expense of others

This thought opens up the idea of the three vows, purification of the will, and celestial hierarchy, all relevant to the Bodhisattva discussion. But that will be for another meeting.

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