By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands
[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]
Two paths (Amrita Yâna and Pratyeka Yâna)
The first five Jewels answer the question about the meaning of life. You have to get the most out of it. You need to develop all the aspects that have been involuted, in order that you return as a self-conscious man to the purity of the spiritual-divine world. Those first five Jewels are however inconclusive about the
motive. Why would you do this? Well, there are two possibilities. You’re either doing it to experience the bliss of the retreat into the spirit, or you are doing it to encourage others to progress on this Path.
In other words, you’re performing it for yourself or for all that lives. This is the background of the difficult verses from the final, the eighteenth, chapter of the Bhagavad-Gîtâ.
There a distinction is made between Sannyâsa and Tyâga. It is very difficult to translate this Sanskrit-words. Sannyasa you could translate as ‘renunciation’, in the sense that someone detaches himself from all worldly chains. Such a person just focuses himself on his spiritual nature. Tyaga means self-denial or renunciation. That might seem at first sight the same as Sannyasa, but there is a subtle distinction.
An example of Sannyasa is the well-known hinduistic tradition, that an older man withdraws from his family and totally dedicates himself to the Atman, the Self. He withdraws from the world completely.
Tyaga on the other hand, means the opposite. Also now one renounces something, but this time not the world but one’s own reward. One offers himself for the benefit of the whole.
A wonderful example of the sacrifice of one’s own bliss can be found in the Mahâbhârata. The oldest brother of the Pandavas, Yudhishtira, has reached after much sacrifice and suffering the Summit of Mount Meru, the symbol of Moksha, the liberating bliss. He is accompanied by his faithful dog. He receives word that he may enter Heaven, but his four-legged friend may not. That is why Yudhishtira refuses the bliss.(27) He sacrifices his own bliss for a being that is much less developed than he is. That is true compassion.
This is the great paradox: by renouncing Moksha you reach the true Moksha. After all, the ignorant acts for the sake of the fruit, for the sake of the results. However, the Sage acts without attachment and with the desire to maintain the order of the worlds.(28)
Tyaga and Sannyasa correspond to two other Sanskrit words: Amrita and Pratyeka, which are used specially in \the Mahayana Buddhism. Pratyeka means ‘for one only’. Amrita means ‘immortal.’ How are we to conceive them? Well, if you apply the first five Jewels, this will undoubtedly lead to a result. You will find ‘the way back’ to the spirit, where you came from. But for whom do you do it? For yourself? Do you follow the Pratyeka path? That is a possibility. But you may also follow the Amrita path. Then it is not about yourself. It then concerns the wellbeing of all. That is the ultimate form of renunciation. Hence in the Buddhism of Tibet a Bodhisattva is even more honored than a Buddha. A Bodhisattva is only one step away from Nirvana, but he refuses to make that step, because he wants to stay behind in this earthly sphere, in order to serve his fellow man.
To say it in the words of The Voice of the Silence, the in Tibetan Buddhist tradition written formal prescriptions for students:
“Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?”(29)
The difference between the two Paths is so subtle that it hardly can be traced back in Christianity and Islam. Yet, in both religious systems people are constantly urged to behave unselfishly and to choose for the spirit. Numerous are the examples in the New and Old Testament showing that unselfishness is always to be preferred. But moving along the path to the spirit and subsequently giving up the reward, that is not easy to find. The suffering of Jesus at the crucifixion – at least in the literal conception of the cross story – is an example of sacrifice of one’s own welfare for others. Also, when Jesus says to his disciples:
“but many who are first will be last, and the last will be first,””(30) …
… this refers to the teachings of the two paths. This phrase is usually interpreted in social context. Those who are rich and powerful now, will later be less happy. But doesn’t it mean more likely that those who follow the Pratyeka path and so be among the first to be liberated from the limitations and suffering of a material life, eventually will still be subject to a certain amount of illusion? Because they do not have the grandeur of the vision of the Buddhas of Compassion, who, after all, realize that there is no substantial difference between them and the others. Therefore they sacrifice themselves and wait for the others
to get that far. In that sense, they are the rearguard, who eventually will be the first and the greatest, because of the great sacrifice that they bring: a sacrifice that actually is the keynote of all nature.
In the sjiitic Islam there is a curious story, which equally sketches such a big sacrifice. Salmaan al-Farisi overcomes the ‘Antagonist’, with the result that he is purified. He is positioned as someone who has the characteristics of the Archangel Michael and the Heavenly Man combined. But he refuses the divinity for himself, he gives it up. By this sacrifice he ends up in an in-between position: he is between the divine and humanity. He becomes an intermediary who transforms divine influences into the human. This doctrine should be, according to Henri Corbin, widespread in the second century of Islam, but
many sji’itic books have been lost.(31) This story has a strong resemblance with the teachings of Bodhisattvas who refuse Nirvana to stay behind for the benefit of mankind.
Knowing the Self (Âtma-Vidyâ)
The last Jewel of Wisdom is not only the perfection of the previous ones, but those previous ones become
only now really accessible. Although this Jewel is the most mystical, you will come across it abundantly in the different religions, although its true meaning often has been lost. If in the monotheistic religions there is talk of return to God, then it seems like a human being unites itself with something outside of him. However, that is not the case. This Jewel means that the individual man unites with himself, or better expressed: the Self. It is this Self that is the same in all beings. It is the Source, the unity, which during the manifestation becomes the multitude. In Hinduism is it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are dealing with an inner association. The word Atman (Self) denotes this already. Atma-Vidya means knowledge of Self. We need to discover the root of our existence. If we really know it, we know everything.
That is the central message of the Hinduistic Upanishads, the ancient esoteric writings belonging to the Vedic literature. These are mostly meditative writings, which should sharpen the learner’s intuition and focus his attention on the underlying unity. Concisely that is reflected in the popular saying Tat twam asi, meaning: you are tat, you are the boundless. We all are the boundless, we all are infinite life. We originate from the same top of the Hierarchy and are therefore one in our core. That One-ness has turned into the many in a process of emanation and evolution. So the Chhândogya Upanishad(32) says that initially there was only Being (Sat). There were no two. Subsequently Sat brought forth fire, fire brought forth water and that in its turn food. Further there came into being gods, names and forms. The imagery is different,
but here the same is described as the above-mentioned Aśwattha-tree, which grows with its roots in the air. The entire universe is that tree. We are all part of it. We all come from the same root.\
In the Brihadâranyaka Upanishad is said that in the beginning t ere was nothing in particular.(33) There was ot something. Everything was one and united. There was no differentiation yet. There was only Atman, the Self. But by continuous division, as with a fertilized egg, there is generation, and finally there is that diverse multitude of life.
This process of emanation has everything to do with Atma-Vidya. It does not only point out that everything originates from the same primordial point, but also that everything is rooted in the same.
The seventh Jewel teaches us that we can know that point. It is called Brahman (the deity of our hierarchy). And Brahman, so teach the Upanishads, is the same as Atman, the Self.
The Chhândogya Upanishad explains how a Guru teaches his apprentice about this unit. He lets him dissolve salt in water and then taste the water. The salt is everywhere. In the like manner life is everywhere. He explains that as the rivers have been resolved in the sea, it is not known any longer what seawater came from which river. So we do not know anymore where we come from. But the essence
of life is everywhere and, so the teacher says, you are that essence.
To explain that process of unification, Buddhism uses a magnificent expression: the dew drop flows back into the ocean. Each sentient being is like a drop and through the process of emanation and evolution, by descend into matter and by ascribing reality to this Loka-Tala, we tend to forget that we are in fact nothing else than just a ripple in the ocean of life. That sense of unity is called Nirvana. Nirvana is that state of consciousness, where a being is impressed with the fact that he is the Unity, that he is the Ocean of Life. Nirvana means ‘extinction’. All the elements in our consciousness that prevented us from realizing that state of unity, are extinguished. And most importantly, that we may realize this state by evolution. In Christianity this state of Unity is expressed by the term ‘the Kingdom of Heaven ‘or ‘the Kingdom of God.’ And, as in different places in the Gospels is stated: the Kingdom of Heaven is in you.(34) Does this saying not unambiguously deal with the thought that there is something outside of us which our salvation depends on? No, our salvation is in us. A statement like:
“I am the way, the truth and life. No one comes to the Father but by me.(35)” …
‘\... gets a completely different meaning in the light of Atma- Vidya. The Father is the Self, the state of unity. That can only be achieved by developing the Christos-spirit, the buddhic ability in man. We need to work, life after life, sowing causes and harvesting effects, climbing up the ladder of life, realizing more and more of ourselves, always trying to express universal compassion, so we eventually realize that the Kingdom of Heaven is in all beings. Whoever reads the Koran with an open mind will understand that the whole of Islam is nothing else but an attempt to get to know the Self. After all, the central idea in the Holy Book of the Muslims is Tauba, often translated as ‘conversion’, but it can with as much right be translated as ‘repentance.’ Go inside yourself. Lose yourself in your Self. To Him everything returns. To Allah – the all-pervading divine essence life will return, having been enriched by the experiences in this material existence. The Sufi’s above all have elaborated this idea. Mystical writings, such as The Conference of the Birds by the poet Farid ud-Din Attar describe the journey of the soul
through different stages to be eventually … destroyed. We are being destroyed … and yet we continue to live. Fanaa’bi-llah and bakaa’bi-llah, destruction by God and to live on in God. The doctrine is clear.
Our life is destroyed with regard to the illusion that we are separate from others, and thereby we live on in Allah, in the realization of unity. We realize that the deity is Ourselves, and we ourselves are the deity. Ibn Mansur al- Hallaadj could therefore say: Ana l-hakk, I am the truth. I am God. Although that was conceived by orthodox Muslims as blasphemy, it is nothing but the deep awareness that every being is rooted in the divine, is brought forth by the divine and therefore in essence is that divine. He just needs to realize that this he is. Nowhere this thought is more beautifully expressed than in a poem by Rumi:
“There came one and knocked at the door of the Beloved.
And a voice answered and said, “Who is there?”
The lover replied, “It is I.”
“Go hence, returned the voice “there is no room within for thee and me.”
Then came the lover a second time and knocked and again
the voice demanded,
“Who is there?”
He answered, “It is thou.”
‘Enter,” said the voice, “for I am within.”(36)
- See: www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m17/m17003.h
- Bhagavad-Gîtâ, ch. 3, verse 25.
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence. The Seven Portals’. www.theosociety.org/pasadena/voice/voice3.htm (after note 34).
- Mark 10:31.
- Henry Corbin, Histoire de la philosophie islamique. Gallimard, 1964, p. 111-112.
- Chhândogya Upanishad. Book 6, ch. 2. ‘The thirteen principal Upanishads.’ Oxford University Press, 1934. In this article we used the English translation of R.E. Hume, p. 241.
- Brihadâranyaka Upanishad. Resp. book 1, ch. 2, verse 1; and book 1, ch. 4, verse 1 and verse 10. Furthermore: G. de Purucker, Esoteric Instructions, part 3 ‘Space and the doctrine of Maya.’ Point Loma Publications, San Diego 1987, p. 74, 81, 83.
- E.g. Luke 17:21.
- John 14:6.
- See e.g.: www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/sufi