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The Mandala: An Image of the Invisible (3 of 6)
Part 3: Prayer, Faith, and the Afterlife State
12. What the West Can Learn From Mahayana Buddhism
There are numerous similarities and parallels in the stories of Buddhism and Christianity, along with some very marked differences.
The original organization founded by Gautama Buddha (~ 600 BC) emerged as an “austere school of metaphysical asceticism”, where a small community of highly devoted monks bound themselves together “in schools of study and self-imposed poverty”.
Devoting their days to the practice of disciplines of meditation and contemplation, this early sect of Buddhist philosophers formed themselves as a caste apart from normal public society.
Like the early mystic Christian sect of the Gnostics, the way of life of this group held little popular appeal. Consequently, the social impact of these austere devotees was relatively limited during this early phase.
In both cases - Christianity and Buddhism - the orientation and organization of the early philosophical school would evolve and progress over time, adding new features and dropping old ones.
For example, Manly P. Hall summarizes the shifts that Buddhism underwent during the early period of the new millennium (circa 300 AD): “Within the first two centuries of the Christian era, a marked change took place in the structure of Buddhistic philosophy. There was a powerful motion toward the formation of a positive theology. … The severity and austerity of the older Buddhist school was rapidly and skillfully modified. … A new symbolism arose which inevitably transformed Buddhism from a philosophy to a philosophic religion. Buddha had taught a salvation by merit alone, but within two centuries after the rise of Christianity, the doctrine of intercession was generally adopted.”
Hall also notes that similar changes to the structure of Christianity took place at an early point in its history, ones that had the same effect of transforming the early ascetic school, such as what the Gnostics personified, into something with more popular religious appeal.
Given that, at around the same period, these two different philosophical schools, located in two different cultural regions, simultaneously underwent a series of internal changes that closely parallel each other, one might perceive that a common archetype was driving the evolution of both traditions.
In terms of the symbolism they share in common, the most obvious is the fact that, in both traditions, the founding fathers of the school - Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha - were historical sages whose life has become symbolized and mythologized into a great personified symbol of the doctrine that these teachers taught.
Hall elaborates on further similarities these two traditions share: “The principal symbols of Buddhism are held in common with Christianity. This is true also of their hierarchies, organizations, sacraments, monastic orders, austerities, and moral code.” For example, “both faiths have their bishops, abbots, monks, nuns, and novices; and in the Tibetan system, the Dalai Lama is the Pope King. Like the pontiff at Rome, he is regarded as the regent of divinity upon Earth. He blesses, consecrates, and absolves.”
While both traditions were undergoing their internal changes and progressions, they each experienced similar patterns of division or polarization within their inner ranks. In the case of Christianity, this division came between the orthodox Christian Church and various small sects of mystic Christians such as the Gnostics and Essenes, which were persecuted for centuries by the Church.
In the case of Buddhism, this internal polarization was marked by its split into the “Northern” and “Southern” Schools, the former called the “Mahayana School” or “Great Vehicle” and the latter the “Hinayana School” or “Small Vehicle”.
The Southern or Hinayana School of Buddhism, taking root primarily in the East and Southeast regions of Asia, progressed in a direction that in many ways mimics the pattern of the orthodox Catholic Church. Notably, it deifies the historical founder of the school, Gautama Buddha, much like how orthodox Christianity deifies its hero god, Jesus Christ.
Also in alignment with their peers in orthodox Christianity, the Hinayana branch prioritizes the authority of the Church as the unique, divinely chosen bestower of spiritual salvation. Much like how the Church bestows its highest spiritual promises to its clergy, the Hinayana School “reserves the benefits of the Middle Path for those who have taken the obligations of the brotherhood and dedicated themselves completely to the austere religious life.”
In contrast to the orthodoxies of the Southern School, the Northern or “Mahayana” School emerged to take a stronghold in the northern regions of Asia, most notably in China, Tibet, and Japan.
Between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, an inner, esoteric core of Buddhist sages and mystics, originally established in secret by Gautama Buddha at the time of Buddhism’s original founding, shifted its center of operations from India to China. It is with this shift that the Mahayana sect was born.
It was the ultimate purpose of this new school or branch of Buddhist philosophy to provide an institutional body or vehicle through which the esoteric teachings of the mystical sect of Buddhism could be tethered to an outer, institutional structure which, unlike the original school, could grow in reach and influence.
Through this new vehicle, more and more people could be brought into the Mahayana system of teachings. And because this body of teachings extends from an outer, exoteric level to an inner, esoteric core, the system that these new converts are brought into is one that is deliberately patterned to replicate the inner structure of the Mystery Schools.
In this way, the Mahayana School transformed itself and the Buddhist doctrine as a whole so that it would emerge into a form that could replicate the old pattern of the ancient Mysteries. The timing of this is important, because, beginning around 300 AD, the “world age” shifted from Aries to Pisces.
With this transition, the pagan institutions of the previous era collapsed. This collapse destroyed the old home of the Mystery Schools. So with the birth of Mahayana Buddhism, a “Great Vehicle” was prepared for this institution to move into and perpetuate itself through during the forthcoming Piscean Age.
In the West, at the same time as the Mahayana sect was emerging, the small body of mystics associated with an early mystic interpretation of the Christian mystery (i.e. the Gnostics, Essenes, and Manicheans) became ostracized and separated from the public institutions dominated by the Church.
Unlike with Buddhism, the mystical core of Christianity was not given space to grow and mature its own autonomous cultural institutions. Instead of progressing in the same manner as their counterparts in Mahayana Buddhism, the early mystic sects of Christianity were relentlessly persecuted and extinguished by the orthodox Catholic Church.
The Church, unlike their Hinayana counterparts in the East, developed into a major imperial force in the world. Having become power hungry, the Church actively sought to stamp out any competing Christian sects, especially the mystical ones, who in any way posed a threat to its hegemony over Europe.
For this reason, Christianity did not develop a mature mystical tradition in the same way that Buddhism did. Instead, the esoteric tradition in the West had to remain “sub rosa” (i.e. it had to go underground through secret societies) given the persistent threat of persecution from orthodox religious and political interests.
By contrast, in Mahayana Buddhism, the esoteric branch of the religion exists much closer to the surface of its public facing institutions.
Unlike what emerged in the West, the public facing or “exoteric” institutions of Mahayana Buddhism provide the foundations and resources within which a thriving Esoteric School can be supported.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the mystical branch of the religion is explicitly located within the heart of its outer religious and cultural institutions. In Christianity, this is not the case, however: its inner mystical core has had to survive outside of the formal body of the Church.
Because of this explicit link between its exoteric and esoteric branches - a link that Christianity does not have - we can look to the symbolism in Mahayana Buddhism’s outer, public system of religious philosophy and find symbols and elements that, in its inner esoteric schools, are utilized explicitly in their meditation and visualization exercises.
Unlike the tangled theological knot that Christian scripture has gotten itself tangled in over the centuries, Buddhist symbolism lends itself to be easily “psychologized”, as the hierarchy of deities and spiritual powers discussed in its scriptures are intentionally designed to be easily integrated into mandala designs, ones that students of its esoteric schools can meditate upon to great effect.
Because the outer body of Buddhist symbolism is tightly keyed to the archetypal world of spiritual Cause, both the advanced students of its esoteric school and the common devotee of its outer religious body both receive benefits from it, each at their own level.
The archetypal elements and themes embedded within Buddhist symbolism have a constructive effect on all who encounter them, even when one is not meditating deeply upon them as an initiate of the esoteric school would.
This means that the commoner may still derive psychological benefits from this system primarily through how its archetypal symbolism and themes works subtly upon their unconscious. Meanwhile, this same symbolism is engaged by the devoted mystic on a more advanced psychological level.
The Mahayana doctrine accommodates both, which is why it should be studied by thoughtful observers in the West as an invaluable resource of knowledge, inspiration, and wisdom.
This need for a constructive “dialogue between cultures” is particularly relevant when it comes to our current discussion of esoteric philosophy’s approach to the “psycho-anatomy” of prayer and meditation, .
In the West, religion and science have for a long time been dominated by orthodox influences which have deliberately undermined the culture’s connection to an esoteric and mystical doctrine.
Consequently, religious ritual and prayer have, in the West, been severed from their traditional connection with mysticism. Consequently, they, like most other aspects of Western religious life, have fallen into an impotent and uninspiring phase where most people don’t practice ritual or prayer or even believe in their value.
The mystical doctrine that we don’t have but desperately need has been preserved in exemplary form by the Mahayana sect of Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhism, in its highest form, represents an ideal model for how an exoteric religion can seamlessly contain within its organizational and doctrinal structure an inner esoteric body, whose advanced meditational practices are built around the same set of symbols, beliefs, and values as those revered and worshipped by outer laity and devotees.
In this model, the inner and outer bodies of the institution are seamlessly connected, as are the higher and lower aspects of its philosophical doctrine. This is an ideal we must strive to reproduce today as we look toward the emergence of a global civilization.
Ideally, the institutions that emerge to support a “one world government” will be ones patterned after the best of what mankind has to offer. In this effort, Mahayana Buddhism is one of the world’s great cultural traditions that we should look to today for guidance and inspiration, particularly as we seek to take on and overcome the various large-scale, world-shaping challenges and opportunities that collectively face us.
13. The Role of Mysticism in Buddhist Philosophy
In their respective evolutions, Christianity and Buddhism have both come to incorporate and emphasize a doctrine of salvation.
Of the changes to Buddhism's outer doctrine that the Mahayana sect implemented, of particular note is its newfound emphasis on the necessity of salvation - not only the personal salvation of one’s soul, but the ultimate salvation of all creatures.
This theme had not previously been emphasized in the earlier pagan religions, but now that the pagan order was collapsing all around (as it was during the early centuries of the Christian era), this new “innovation” (i.e. the doctrine of salvation) emerged simultaneously in both the East and West through Buddhism and Christianity.
But while Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism share in emphasizing spiritual salvation as the centerpiece of their systems of religious practice, each advocates a different method for attaining it.
In the West, Christianity has come to emphasize a doctrine of vicarious atonement, which basically states that only through fealty to the Church will one be granted salvation in the afterlife state. This earthly lifetime is meant to be one of penance, worship, and sacrifice, with the benefits of these virtues to be granted not in this life but in the afterlife state, which stretches into eternity.
By contrast, Mahayana Buddhism takes the opposite approach in its teaching about spiritual salvation. It emphasizes the doctrine of reincarnation and its teaching that divine grace will be granted only to those who earn it. Earning this grace means living a code of life that is in harmony with the “dharma” or philosophical teachings of the school.
By comparison, Christianity does not require one to actually live the teachings of Jesus in order to be “saved”. One merely has to pledge allegiance to both Jesus and the Church and confess one’s sins, at which point “vicarious atonement” kicks in and eternal salvation is magically granted to the individual.
Going deeper into the differences between two traditions, in the orthodox Christian approach, we find that no personal relationship or mystical experience of the divine is required or even desired. In Buddhism, once again the opposite value is emphasized.
In the Buddhist view, in order to experience a blessed afterlife state and be “saved” from experiencing a hellish purgatory, one must intentionally develop and release a relationship with the divine principle of Self within. This relationship can be gradually developed by practicing Mahayana Buddhism’s exoteric religious practices, but it can also be more rapidly stimulated by practicing the tradition’s esoteric disciplines.
In the esoteric approach, God becomes psychologized and is made available to be experienced in special mystical states. No such concept exists in Christianity, with God seen as a power and force “out there”, governing earthly affairs aloofly from afar.
A further difference between the two traditions is that, in the approach of Mahayana Buddhism, the Church and priesthood is de-emphasized, especially in relation to its counterpart in the West.
Rather than position themselves directly as the saviors of man, the priesthood of Mahayana Buddhism instead operates more like guides or mentors who seek to help facilitate an inner psychological process of death-and-rebirth to take place within their pupils.
This inner journey is the true source of man’s salvation. Mahayana Buddhism recognizes this and works constructively with this truth; orthodox Christianity does not and often works destructively against it.
The core feature that Mahayana Buddhism holds over its western counterpart is that it retains its connection with an esoteric philosophical center whose teachings and disciplines are premised upon its possession of a well-developed internal science of mysticism.
The body of mystical knowledge that Mahayana Buddhism contains within its inner core is rooted in an original body of esoteric teachings that Gautama Buddha is said to have secretly given to select circles of advanced disciples and initiates during the period of his original ministry.
This mystical foundation, retained by an inner esoteric core of the “sangha”, is the key feature that allows Mahayana Buddhism to liberate its followers from bondage to a power-hungry priesthood. In the Mahayana system, no intermediary agent is required for one to experience spiritual illumination. Ostensibly, anyone can study the doctrine on their own and reach the same ultimate realization that those who spend their life in a monastery seek to attain.
In the Buddhist view, “enlightened action motivated by self-discipline guarantees the ultimate attainment regardless of one’s sect or creed”. The most the priesthood can do is spread the teachings or “dharma” so that all who seek it can find it and so that those who desire aid and direction in their journey can be provided it.
In the Mahayana approach, man must ensure his own salvation, which he accomplishes by unlocking and releasing latent powers of consciousness and mind within himself. No one else can do this for him; each person must do it for themselves.
In the Buddhist view, “each living thing must bear the burden of the destiny it has marked for itself. It cannot escape the consequences of its own mistakes, nor can it require anything that it has not earned by its own conduct.” Thus, only by overcoming one’s mistakes and bringing one’s imbalances into equilibrium does one qualify oneself for attaining a mystical experience of God - an experience that leaves one “spiritually reborn”.
In the Buddhist view, “the end of religion is to transmute the confusion of living into invincible composure by a sequence of realizations of the immediate availability of total good.” Here it is implied that the end of religion is a mystical experience of God, which takes place as an illuminating experience of transcendent Self-realization.
It is from this belief in the validity and reality of the mystical experience that their teachings on spiritual salvation are ultimately derived.
In the view of Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha principle (or for Christianity, the Christ symbol) is understood as a transcendent divine being, the physical body of which is the terrestrial ecosystem of the Earth.
In the Buddhist view, this divine being - “Buddha” or “Christ" - is not to be worshipped but rather meditated upon, contacted, and surrendered to. As Manly Hall explains, “through a gentle kind of meditation it becomes possible to release the indwelling Christ Spirit from its mortal prison” in order that it may “redeem one’s thoughts and emotions and make them luminous with spiritual grace.”
As a result of this process of contacting the Self within, “the individual finds that his own inner life is the House of the Holy Spirit.” Consequently, religion takes on a new and vital meaning; it comes alive, becoming “a moral beauty unfolding from within the person, causing all his works and thoughts to be beautiful.”
In sum, in the view of Mahayana Buddhism - a view not shared by orthodox Christianity - “meditation must lead to the personal experience of the Christ (or Buddha) Mystery within the Self.” It is from this experience of the divine within that the soul’s true understanding of its own immortality within Christ is granted.
This realization is the source of man’s salvation; everything else before it is just a part of the path towards it. Whether we realize it or not, we are all on this path, and it promises to one day bring us all to the same ultimate destination - the Christ principle within.
14. Buddhism’s Revelation of the Spiritual Hierarchy
As we covered previously in our multi-part series on Mahayana Buddhism, in their system of spiritual cosmology, the aspect of God or Buddha that is made manifest within Creation is called “Vajrasattva”, meaning “the Divine Self.”
According to their system of thinking, this Self releases or makes available its consciousness for creative activity through an interceding mechanism which Manly Hall often terms “Hierarchy”.
This Hierarchy represents the Universal Mind in structure and function: it is comprised of a hierarchy of divine beings, who together serve as intermediary agents or “intercessors” between the Divine Self and the various kingdoms of life comprising material creation.
This hierarchy of intermediaries is based around three primary levels involving Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats. Together they form the living psychological anatomy of this Divine Self.
According to the teachings of this school’s esoteric sect, in seeking to contact one’s own inner principle of Self, one will inevitably, along their journey, also come into contact with various members of this spiritual hierarchy.
In the religious philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, this spiritual hierarchy becomes available as a “devotional resource” to the aspiring mystic. Here, the mystic finds he lives in a divine commonwealth populated with a vast citizenry of enlightened beings.
Together, these spiritual beings collectively exist as a “heavenly city” - Shamballah. It is to this heavenly city that the soul of man seeks to journey, either while living, during the mystical experience, or later, while in the afterlife state.
The Sattva or inner divine principle of Self that exists at the root of each human psyche resides permanently in this “heavenly city”. Here, enthroned in this heaven world, lifetime after lifetime it seeks the preparation of a soul-vehicle that it may use to successfully bring to actualization inner powers and potentials that it innately possesses and seeks objective expression of.
The doctrine of religious philosophy that Mahayana Buddhism teaches is designed to guide the soul toward not only the Self but toward a realization of this entire Hierarchy.
The Heavenly City, with its royal assemblage of divine powers, agencies, and agents, becomes a source of mystery, inspiration, and idealism for the Buddhist disciple. It incorporates an idealistic concept of heaven that one engages with not only during the afterlife state, but also while here on Earth during the mystical experience, where its glory is made immediately available to the devotee.
Therefore, in Buddhism, one does not merely pray to God to go to heaven. Instead, one strives to be disciplined, to do good works here on Earth, and to live a philosophic life. In other words, one has to earn one’s right to the mystical experience, with the payoff for this effort coming not only in terms of a more favorable afterlife state but also, potentially, as an experience of mystical illumination and Self-realization which can take place right here on Earth.
In Mahayana Buddhism, the key to unlocking the mysteries of heaven here on earth comes with the challenge of learning to contact the divine forces, powers, and persons that reside in the Heavenly City (which, again, represents the upper spiritual domain of the World Soul, with this Earth representing its lower material counterpart).
As the Mahayana doctrine emerged and began modifying the orientation of the original Buddhist system of teachings, a new emphasis was placed on the deification of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats. Together, these came to represent the internal anatomy of the Universal Self, serving as the hierarchy of powers and agencies through which the Divine Plan is carried out and fulfilled.
The keynote of this spiritual hierarchy is one of “universal service”: the various aspects of this divine hierarchy all unite in the shared effort of serving the Divine Self and its plan for Creation.
The Hierarchy, in all its various levels, embodies the archetype of the Divine Plan. It exists as a perfect embodiment of the Law.
Together, these divine powers comprising the Hierarchy constitute the archetypal world of “intelligible ideas” from which this material world of individualized forms is extended like a thought form projected out of a divine mind.
The Buddhist concept of heaven is intimately interwoven with the existence of this greater spiritual hierarchy and their “heavenly city”, of which the Sattva principle within ourselves is a permanent resident.
The Sattva or Self resides throughout all its various incarnations in this heavenly abode of the Spirit. In the process of evolution, it gradually learns to gain control over the lower material elements of the psyche and body. As it does so, it converts this mind-body system into an instrument of its own purposes.
At the point one gains full control of their lower mind-body system, one evolves to Bodhisattva-hood. By implication, one may only gain complete mastery over the soul’s spiritual powers once they have renounced all worldly ambitions and vowed to labor solely for the greater glory of the Divine Plan.
As Manly Hall explains, “the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Arhats are fulfilling vows they made before the beginning of mortal history. Their vows always include labors of salvation, for the Great Ones can never rest until the tiniest molecule floating in a sunbeam has attained the true enlightenment.”
It is toward the fulfillment of this Divine Plan for universal enlightenment that the spiritual hierarchy of Buddhism is collectively dedicated. In this idealistic vision, all human beings are citizens of a great communal system of life. The highest ideal we can strive for is to become active, Self-aware citizens of this “divine commonwealth” and offer ourselves and our lives toward the service and glory of this greater Life.
15. The Spiritual Hierarchy in Buddhist Symbolism
Manly P. Hall explains that, in its use of deific figures in its symbolism, “Buddhism is not a worshiping of idols; rather, it involves a series of psychological glyphs - pictures of ideas.”
In the philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, the various qualities and attributes of the Divine Self and the Universal Mind are “personalized as deities according to a strictly-controlled pantheon of figures” with each figure in its framework of symbolism personifying an aspect of the Universal Mind present within varying levels of Creation.
In Buddhist symbolism, this hierarchy is partitioned into three primary tiers: the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, and the Arhats.
The highest level of the Buddhist spiritual hierarchy is occupied by the category of “Buddhas”. There are various levels of Buddha-figures, each of whom personify a particular aspect and quality of Universal Consciousness working through Universal Mind.
The design framework around which Buddhism’s hierarchy of Buddhas is organized is based on the premise that a primary triad of Buddha principles (Adi-Buddha, Vajradhara, and Vajrasattva, representing the threefold power of Universal Consciousness) manifests through a septenary of soul powers or “Buddhas”.
Often given the more specific names “Dhyani Buddhas” or “Celestial Buddhas”, these seven soul powers form the spectrum of seven “Rays" emitted out of the mind of Vajrasattva (the Divine Self) at the beginning of its creative cycle.
A good analogy for how this process works comes from the simple observation of optics: the Divine Self is like a pure White Light, out from which a spectrum of seven primary colors can be distinguished and differentiated. These seven colors then combine and integrate in various patterns to form the rich, diverse tapestry of colors that comprise our world.
It is important to remember that the concept of “Buddha” ultimately represents a divine principle or quality of the Creator’s consciousness.
There is only one ultimate Buddha (Adi-Buddha), but within this Buddha is a hierarchy of lesser Buddhas, each existing as a lesser microcosm of the first.
As we discussed in our previous series on Mahayana Buddhism, this first Buddha (Adi-Buddha) manifests these other Buddhas within himself by first stepping his own consciousness down into the condition of becoming a Vajrasattva or Divine Self. It is from this Self that the first hierarchy of seven Dhyani Buddhas are emanated.
In the Bible, these seven Buddhas are referred to as the Elohim and in ancient Hindu philosophy they are called the Seven Rishis. Together they represent the seven qualities of consciousness inherent to the Divine Self.
Each serves as a vehicle through which a divine quality of consciousness can be made available for creative expression. These Dhyani Buddhas therefore are identical with the hierarchy of “creator gods” that all ancient systems of mythology make reference to.
As discussed above, the seven Dhyani Buddhas represent the seven manifest qualities of the Vajrasattva or Divine Self. One might think of them as together serving as the seven Mind principles or Soul powers that the Divine Self emanates in order that the rest of its cycle of creative activity may proceed.
Together, these seven Buddhas exist as a spectrum of seven lights or “Rays” which together make available the inherent qualities of consciousness possessed by the Vajrasattva. This Divine Self is the “white light”, they are the seven colors of Mind that emerge out of it.
While the Dhyani Buddhas represent supreme qualities of divine consciousness made available for creative expression, they themselves do not actively “make” creation. Rather, they merely make available the resources of divine consciousness so that creative activity can take place among orders of life that emerge to exist in a descending hierarchy below their level.
This creative activity is actually enacted on a variety of scales by lower orders of creation. These lower orders are the ones doing the building; the resources that they use to do this building are ones derived from these seven primary Buddhas.
In between the Buddhas and the lower orders of life who are involved in building the Universal Form is the second category of the Buddhist Hierarchy: the Bodhisattvas.
Bodhisattvas exist as an order of enlightened beings who serve as intermediaries and intercessors between the world of Buddhas above and that of the lower forms of life enmeshed in material creation below.
They are evolved human beings who have attained enlightenment during a previous cycle or age of the solar system’s existence. It was during this previous cycle of existence that they initially attained illumination and Self-realization, after which point they worked to evolve themselves toward becoming fully-realized expressions of the archetypal design of their own being.
By attaining this accomplishment, they evolved their souls or Sattvas to the point where they become able to manifest, in perfect form, the particular quality of consciousness of one of the seven Dhyani Buddhas discussed above.
In this way, the bodhisattva exists as a vehicle or vessel for the expression of a Buddha principle within creation. Since there are seven primary Buddhas, there are also seven primary bodhisattvas; each is responsible for embodying and manifesting the dominant qualities of one the Seven Rays into the world of material creation below.
Without them offering themselves to do it, the divine Light could not be converted into a form that is usable for these lower forms of life. Therefore, in their work, the Bodhisattvas are performing an act of divine service.
In short: a Buddha is a creative expression of a quality of universal consciousness, while a Bodhisattva draws upon this divine quality or light and embodies its principles, bringing its spiritual radiance to the evolving souls of Creation’s lower realm.
As Manly Hall explains, “the Buddhas sow the seeds of infinite wisdom in space, and the Bodhisattvas reap the harvest - bringing it to perfection by guarding and guiding the unfoldment of living creatures.”
Elsewhere, Hall describes these Bodhisattvas as the “Sons of Wisdom” (the Buddhas personifying Wisdom itself) and notes that, through them, the “unconditioned reality (of the spiritual world) is manifested in varying degrees within the conditioned universe” of material form.
Consequently, the primary state of existence for these beings is metaphysical rather than physical. They stand at the threshold of Buddhahood (universal consciousness) but have renounced it in order to offer their already-evolved souls as a guiding light and spiritual resource for the evolving life forms below to draw upon in their own struggles to attain enlightenment.
In astronomical terms, Bodhisattvas exist within the “Solar Sphere”. This sphere represents the superior, spiritual universe. There, “seated upon their lotus thrones, they remain forever in contemplation, deep in the eternal state of the principle which they personify.”
This Solar Sphere, representing Heaven, exists as the positive pole of the Earth’s electromagnetic system (meaning, it is the source of its light and energy). In relation to this positive, spiritual pole, the physical body of the Earth functions as its negative, material counterpart. Its purpose is to receive the energy and light of the solar sphere (i.e. the heaven world) and convert them into action and form within a matrix of time and space.
In the astronomical scheme of esoteric philosophy, the Earth is treated as a developing embryo (a future Sun), who is growing and maturing within the body of a greater spiritual Sun, this Sun being not the visible Sun in the sky but rather an invisible Sun which resides at the circumference (and not the center) of the solar system.
The Earth, along with the other planets, is connected to this Sun via invisible “umbilical cords”, to and from which currents of etheric electromagnetic energy are exchanged.
The Buddhas reside within the sphere of the Sun and together represent the spectrum of seven colors that comprise its light.
The field of consciousness or aura of the Bodhisattva extends between the solar sphere (Heaven) and the Earth, and is responsible for bringing the spiritual life of the Sun to the evolving orders of life existing in our terrestrial sphere.
This terrestrial order of life that the waters of spirit are poured into is headed by the Arhats or Adepts, who together comprise the third level of the Buddhist spiritual hierarchy.
C. Arhat (Adept)
Arhats (or as they are more commonly called “Adepts”) are the third and lowest member of the spiritual hierarchy of Mahayana Buddhism. This level is comprised of enlightened humans from the present cohort of human life on Earth whose consciousness has been refined to the point where they become living embodiments of the Bodhisattva ideal.
Adepts are humans of the present life wave who have elevated themselves to become objective realizations of the Bodhisattva archetype. But rather than exist within the sphere of the Sun as the Celestial Bodhisattvas do, this order of enlightened beings resides here on Earth, where they serve as intermediaries between the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas above and the lower human, animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms below.
Thus, Arhats are defined as highly evolved persons who have developed their souls to become clear channels for the transmission of Light between the upper levels of the spiritual Hierarchy and the outer body of mankind still caught in the material matrix of the Earth sphere.
The consciousness of these “Terrestrial Bodhisattvas” extends from the material dimension of the Earth into the lowest levels of the solar world, where it interacts with the consciousness of the greater Celestial Bodhisattvas who permanently inhabit this heavenly domain.
These evolved “brothers in Christ” live as terrestrial embodiments of the Bodhisattva ideal: they serve to receive the light of God from the Celestial Bodhisattvas and bring it out into the outer life of man, which they do through their chosen institution, the Estoric Schools (i.e. the Mystery Schools, Philosophic Schools, or, as they are collectively termed in Buddhism, the “Sangha”).
An Adept is therefore a Buddhist saint, teacher, and missionary of the doctrine or “Dharma”, which represents the collective body of wisdom teachings that together reveal the “Divine Plan”.
This notion of the “Dharma” represents the revealed teachings of Divine Law. These revealed teachings begin with the Buddhas, move down to the Bodhisattvas, then to the Adepts, and finally to the Mystery Schools which the Adepts are hierophants of. Through the Mystery Schools, the teachings then move out to the initiates and their disciples, before eventually moving down into the lower grades of the school.
This body of revealed teachings or wisdom teachings reveals the contours of Divine Law. This means that its doctrine of philosophical teachings reveals, for those with eyes to see, the archetypal evolutionary program for mankind’s growth and development on Earth.
If learned and followed, this body of wisdom teachings - the Dharma - promises to shepherd mankind into the collective realization of a shared destiny: Universal Enlightenment.
Gautama Buddha personifies the Adept in Buddhism; Jesus Christ personifies this archetype in Christianity; and Pythagoras and Plato personify it in the Greek lineage of philosophy. In fact, the hero god of every ancient pagan religious myth also personifies this “World Hero”.
The life and message of these Universal Saviors lives on not only because of the outstanding example they set in their personal lives, but because of the legacy of teachings and the institutional body of the “sangha” or philosophical school that they left behind.
Through this body of teachings (“the doctrine”), which lives on through life of the school (“the sangha”), the legacy of the teacher (“the adept”) survives for all to follow and imitate.
We are meant to become like Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ; not to worship them but to imitate them and bring out the same spiritual Light that they brought out and which made them great and worthy of veneration in the first place. It’s like the old saying goes, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
When we realize that the lives of these great teachers each embody the “Way" of the Bodhisattva, which is the way of the archetype - a way intended for all to follow - then we can appreciate the significance with what we participate in when we begin to engage in the symbolism of ancient philosophy and religion.
The lives of these great teachers - each personifying the archetypal life of an Adept - represent the way that God intends all humans to live. We are all to be like Adepts. And to be like an Adept is to be, as Manly Hall puts it, a “servant of the Veda”, meaning of the doctrine or Dharma. And in so doing, one becomes the “hands and feet of the Great Lord.”
Through the lives they live, the body of teachings they leave, and the cultural institutions they found, the Adepts of world history have risen to offer themselves as intermediaries between the higher levels of the spiritual hierarchy and the rest of mankind below.
As Manly Hall explains, “it is their duty to clothe the eternal truth in parables and fables or to restate the doctrine on the levels of available understanding.” But they must do so in a way that is initiatic and not paternalistic: “Adepts are required by the law of the Manu to guide the race without interfering with the right of the human being to learn through experience. The Adepts must keep the universal laws and are servants rather than masters of the Great Plan.”
16. The Symbolism of the Lotus
The initiatic approach of esoteric philosophy, whether practiced in Buddhism or another system, is grounded in the idea that the evolution of the soul must be self-driven: meaning, it must come from within the individual who is evolving.
The most that this hierarchy of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Adepts can do is to stimulate or catalyze this process of internal growth within the individual. They cannot demand self-growth of others and they will not bestow it without it first having been earned.
At root of the wisdom teachings that the great teachers of history have left us is the idea that life is an intentional process that moves from a starting point to an ending point. In between, things are meant to evolve from an initial state toward a final state.
The teachings of philosophy are about learning how this evolutionary process works, how one’s own life fits into this larger scheme, and how one can consciously co-participate in bringing this process to fulfillment to completion first within oneself and eventually within the world as a whole.
Here we come to the meaning of the symbolism of the Lotus that we find throughout Buddhist artwork in its depiction of the members of its spiritual hierarchy.
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are typically depicted as sitting on lotus blossoms. Here, the lotus represents evolution: these divine beings sit on lotuses because they themselves previously went through an evolutionary process to get to where they currently are. Furthermore, they are still evolving, moving ever toward higher levels of universal enlightenment.
The deities of Buddhism have “risen from ignorance and, like the lotus, grown up through the darkness of unreality to finally blossom in the light of perfect realization.” This means they attained their wisdom by successfully facing and overcoming the same sorts of trials and tests we are now collectively facing and seeking to overcome. They have themselves experienced the burdens and sorrows of material life, which gives them an intimate compassion for the needs of a slowly evolving mankind.
The divine hierarchy of Buddhism therefore takes on a special and highly personal form of symbolic significance: these god-like beings become like “role models” for us; they symbolize ideals that we are trying to discover and reproduce within our own lives.
The Buddhist hierarchy personifies principles and qualities of life that are beautiful and sacred; in honoring them with special veneration, we begin to embody them in the experience of our own lives.
Within each of us is the seed of an Arhat and Bodhisattva, one still trapped beneath the waters of material illusion, but rising steadily and, like the lotus, seeking its chance to blossom into the light of perfect realization.
We are gradually evolving to become Arhats, just as Arhats are evolving to become Bodhisattvas, just as they are gradually evolving to one day become Buddhas. The process of evolution is universal and spiritual in essence and it is only when we realize this that we truly become philosophers.
17. The Western Paradise: Buddhism’s Vision of the Afterlife State
Of the seven Celestial Buddhas or “Dhyani Buddhas” revered in the Buddhist spiritual hierarchy, one in particular is the subject of special veneration and adoration. This is “Amitabha” or “Amida” Buddha.
In the Mahayana teachings, Earth is regarded as currently being in the fifth of seven overall “world ages”, which together constitute one great spiritual cycle of life on Earth. This earth cycle is itself part of a greater cosmic pattern - also keyed to a pattern of seven - and the pattern repeats upward until finally the one great cycle of Universal Life is reached.
In each of Earth's ages, the light or Ray of a different Celestial Buddha is enthroned as a primary point of focus. In the Fourth Age (i.e. the Atlantean Age, the previous age of man in the seven-cycle arc of Earth existence), the particular “Ray” of divine wisdom (i.e. the quality of cosmic consciousness) that was released and made available for the consciousness of man to draw upon was that of Amida’s.
The task of the Fifth Age (our age; the age that we’ve been calling the Cycle of the Arya) is to draw upon and bring into full release this Ray of divine energy (Amida’s Ray), which is now available for all of mankind to receive. In so doing, we make ourselves available to receive and develop within ourselves the light of a further ray - the “Fifth Ray”, that of the Celestial Buddha “Amogasiddha”.
In esoteric Buddhism, this Fifth Ray is the one that the prophesied forthcoming human Buddha (or “Manushi Buddha”) named “Maitreya” is intended to embody. (More on Maitreya will be discussed in the sixth and concluding section of this chapter on mandalas. See also my previous chapter on Mahayana Buddhism).
Before the Fifth Ray or Fifth Celestial Buddha can have its consciousness actualized by the collective body of man, the light of the Fourth Ray must be first harnessed and released.
Mahayana Buddhism's teachings regarding Amitabha, his kingdom of the “Western Paradise” (also called “Sukhavati”), and the set of philosophical disciplines associated with the “Heart Doctrine" are all based around this pressing need for mankind to develop and release within itself the quality of consciousness symbolized by the Fourth Ray (Amitabha Buddha).
In the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, Amida’s quality of consciousness is currently enthroned in the spirit-world or “Solar Sphere".
It is to this solar sphere - “Amitabha’s kingdom” -that the Sattva or spiritual soul goes to upon departure of the body during the afterlife state. Thus, Buddhism’s teachings about reincarnation are associated with this heaven or “solar” sphere where Amida's Ray of consciousness is enthroned.
In the Buddhist teachings, it is also taught that each person's Sattva or Self principle exists permanently in this solar sphere as a “pupil” of Amida’s.
The ultimate purpose that each Self must attain is to bring the consciousness of Amida (and the other Celestial Buddhas) into a state of awakened realization within the person of a perfected human body and personality. This is the quest it pursues across hundreds of lifetimes. When it finally achieves it, the Sattva becomes crowned first as an Adept and later as a bodhisattva.
While on this great quest towards enlightenment, in between lifetimes, the Sattva’s life energy retracts back from the lower psychic functions where it has been extended and returns to its host and source: the Sattva or Self.
Because the Sattva is a permanent citizen of Amida’s kingdom, the consciousness of the lower bodily vehicle, as it is retracted back into the Sattva, interacts with and responds to the quality and vibration of divine consciousness existing there (which is Amida's).
Those who elevate their consciousness into an experience of Nirvana - a state that can be experienced either in the mystical experience or upon death - experience the divine life residing in this heavenly dimension as the “Western Paradise of Amitabha”, also known as “Sukhavati" or the “Pure Land”. It is, as Manly Hall describes it, "a heaven world of consciousness in which consciousness enjoys the jewels of its own blossoming.”
This experience is one in which the consciousness of the Self awakens to its own true spiritual nature and, in so doing, becomes aware of the full “psychic mechanism” of the Universal Self - one that incorporates simultaneously all of heaven and all of earth.
In short, Amida’s consciousness illumines the wholeness of the psychic mechanism of the Divine Being. Being an inherent aspect of the inner Mind of this Divine Being, the extent of Amida’s dominion stretches over the entire realm of creation. It is our job to bring this kingdom into realization here on Earth.
Within Amida's kingdom, which, again, personifies a heavenly plane state or quality of divine consciousness, the higher Self of each person resides as a pupil of a hierarchy of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who oversee and guide it.
The Ray or quality of consciousness that Amitabha personifies is ever present and ever available for one's Sattva to tap into and bring into realization within its lower bodies. The challenge is for this Sattva to develop control over its lower bodily vehicle in order that it may bring the light of Amida and the other Celestial Buddhas into active manifestation within the lower material sphere of Earth, thereby transforming the world into an image of heaven.
Because one's higher Self is intimately connected with the cycle of reincarnation, there is a close connection between the Western Paradise of Amitabha and the afterlife state.
Through the practice of esoteric disciplines of meditation, such as those practiced within the inner core of the Mahayana School, this heaven world is opened up to the consciousness of the initiate as an experience of Nirvana.
However, in the exoteric teachings of the sect, teachings about Amitabha and the heaven world he presides over are also emphasized because it is believed that allegiance to Amitabha and his specific doctrine of wisdom teachings (i.e. the “Heart Doctrine”) are necessary and valuable for preparing the average individual for a blessed afterlife experience and a more fortunate future re-incarnation opportunity.
As we will explore below, there are very sound philosophical reasons that support and justify this belief.
18. Meditation as Preparation for the Afterlife State
Mahayana Buddhism’s concept of the “Western Paradise” is their version of a common archetype we find throughout the religious myths of world history: that behind this material world of life and death is a paradisiacal, heavenly world comprised spiritual beings.
In the Mahayana system, we find this archetypal idea - that a spiritual hierarchy of god-like beings serve as the spiritual guardians over mankind’s destiny - integrated with a system of esoteric disciplines specially designed to awaken one's consciousness to the divine powers residing in the spirit world.
The most personal and intimate of these powers one attempts to awaken oneself to is one's own Sattva or “Self” principle, which permanently resides in this heaven world, where it extends, lifetime after lifetime, evolving individual human personalities that it enlivens and ensouls with its own psychic powers and potentials.
Through the lineage of evolving human personalities it extends, the Sattva expresses its own innate soul-powers and brings them into various degrees of active expression.
The Sattva, existing behind and between the lifespans of all these various personalities, becomes the receptacle or container of the cumulative evolution experienced by all of them.
Through the many personalities it extends, the Sattva pursues its own evolution as it attempts to grow and develop toward becoming the perfect expression of an ideal already established for it by a greater divine power. This ideal is that of the Bodhisattva.
It is to this Sattva principle that we meditate, it is to it that we dedicate our lives in service to, it is also to it that we return again to after death, and it is within it that we rest during the period between incarnations.
At death, the consciousness of the individual ascends back to its spiritual seed or “higher Self” that exists as the Super-Ego: the incarnating individuality whose existence extends over hundreds of terrestrial lifespans. As Manly Hall explains: “in the period between incarnations the entity does not go to a place but rather passes through a process of internal motion toward the source of Self.”
The consciousness of this Self or Sattva principle is enthroned in Amida’s Pure Land - i.e. in the spirit world. This is the plane where one's consciousness retracts back into upon death of the body.
According to the Sattva's own degree of evolution, it will, during this afterlife state, be awakened to the quality of divine quality of consciousness that Amida and the Western Paradise represent.
What is the nature or quality of the consciousness enthroned here? Manly Hall explains: “As the Buddha of Boundless Light, Amitabha signifies the light of reality itself which illumines - that is, makes knowable to the subjective powers of the human being - the very mystery of existence. This is not a physical but a spiritual radiance by which the substance of things beyond form and dimension are made knowable to the open eye of the seer.”
This heaven dimension therefore symbolizes a quality of consciousness that is ever-present and ever-available for the Sattva principle within each of us to awaken to and draw upon, but to do so it must first awaken from its “slumber” (meaning, its illusions and attachments to material life).
Each person's Sattva, depending upon its state of evolution, is responsive to Amida’s Wisdom-Ray within a spectrum of various degrees of receptivity.
The more receptive a soul has evolved to become in relation to the quality of consciousness that Amida personifies, the more it will blossom into a profound experience of these blessed qualities during the afterlife state.
Thus, in the Buddhist system, there is a close relationship between the relative state of evolution of one’s Sattva principle and the quality of experience that one will undergo in the afterlife state.
The Buddhists describe their heaven world, the Western Paradise, as a sphere of "karmic compensation” provided as an experiential reward to humans who have purified their souls to the point that they become receptive to its harmonic patterns and qualities of vibration.
As Manly Hall explains, “Sukhavati’s blessed realm is the transmuted subconscious of man himself. It is by his own merits or good karma that he creates the wondrous atmosphere of Amida’s heaven.”
For this reason, we must understand that the elevated quality of consciousness that Sukhavati personifies is one that is built “in the subtle substances of our own thoughts and emotions”. Meaning, its reality plays out within our own psyches, with one’s own merits and karma building this Sukhavati within the boundaries of one's own consciousness.
Souls develop receptivity to Amida’s refined quality of consciousness by dedicating themselves to the task of channeling and releasing, in their lifetimes, as much of its graces and attributes as possible.
The qualities that Amida embodies are simple and universal: those of love, compassion, faith, dedication, and service. These are ever-present and ever-available for humanity to awaken itself to and tap into.
The task of each individual is to find these equalities within themselves and learn to become receptive to their influence. When they do, the Western Paradise (i.e. the experience of Nirvana) is granted, for it comes only “to the regenerated soul brought back into harmony with the Divine Plan”.
Otherwise, if one has not learned to become receptive to the qualities of Amida’s Wisdom-Ray to some degree during embodiment, then, in the afterlife state, their soul will remain “asleep” and unresponsive to it.
Those who follow Amida’s doctrine of teachings (“The Heart Doctrine”) and embody its virtues are rewarded in the form of having souls that are better able to attune themselves to the qualities of his consciousness during the after-life state.
As Manly Hall explains, the consciousness of Amida “transcends the confused structure of the mental world and builds in the subtle substances of regenerated thought and emotion the splendid palace of the Western Paradise.”
Exoterically, the benefit that the religious practitioner receives from following Amida's rites and studying its symbolism is that they subtly prepare their own soul to become more receptive to the Ray of wisdom he embodies. The development of this receptivity has a definite payoff in the form of the quality of experience one obtains in the afterlife state.
Esoterically, however, these same symbols and rites dedicated to Amida Buddha can simultaneously be approached on a deeper level as the subject of an advanced system of meditation in which the mystic or initiate attempts to connect with their “higher Self” residing in Amitabha’a kingdom while still alive in the body.
In the effort to catalyze the development of the power of spiritual receptivity within the soul, the sages behind the Mahayana School devised a practice of religious observances and mandala meditations designed to make the individual more available to Amida’s Wisdom-Ray.
In esoteric philosophy, the act of attaining Nirvana in meditation involves engaging with the same process of ego-death as that which one experiences after the physical body dies, when the soul detaches from the body and the Sattva principle retracts its energies back into itself for the duration of an “afterlife” cycle.
In Mahayana Buddhism, ideas and symbols about the afterlife state are actively meditated upon so that one’s consciousness begins to resonate in tune with their themes and principles. In this way, the Western Paradise becomes the target of a prayer and meditation discipline, one that is geared exoterically toward the cultivation of a favorable afterlife state and esoterically toward the attainment of Self-realization.
To experience the state of Nirvana that the Western Paradise symbolizes in the afterlife state is desirable; but to experience it while still alive is better. And it is to this latter aim that the true intentions of the Heart Doctrine are directed.
The practices of the Heart Doctrine can therefore be understood to take place across two levels, one exoteric and one esoteric.
Exoterically, the Heart Doctrine is involved with the need to purify and refine one's soul and to open up one's heart center. This process is something that one experiences tangible rewards for in the afterlife state in terms of the quality of consciousness that your Sattva becomes able to become receptive to during the period between incarnations.
Esoterically, these same symbols and teachings about the Heart Doctrine become the subject of an elaborate meditation discipline in which one meditates upon the features and qualities of the Western Paradise such that the psychic image one is building within one's mind taps into this very-real archetype that exists within the collective unconscious.
The esoteric method of meditation based around the Heart Doctrine is rather simple: “one attempts the interior visualization of the nature and attributes of the Buddha Amitabha”. Here, the aim is for the intellect to “center itself upon the adoration of Deity, brotherly love, and the recognition of human dependencies upon a Divine Power.”
A pre-requisite for the more advanced and esoteric aspects of the Heart Doctrine is the need for the disciple to first cultivate the simple virtues of faith, compassion, service, and love within themselves. As Hall explains, the mandala “can be vitalized only by an individual who is utterly convinced that the Amitabha idea is the transcendent reality.”
Once the necessary preparations have been undertaken, one meditates upon the various symbolic elements of the Western Paradise mandala. The aim is to bring this mandala into visualization within one’s “third-eye”, while ensouling it with absolute faith and sincerity.
During one's contemplation, “the mandala is gradually impressed upon the Psyche .. and this radiant and beautiful design, made alive by psychic energy, moves out of the subjective part of the personality and confronts the believer as a blessed vision.”
Psychologically, what is happening is that the Amitabha archetype within our own unconscious - one connected to the Sattva principle that rules the entire psyche - itself connects to archetypal elements captured within the mandala. Through this process of mutual resonance, meaning is stimulated in the innermost aspect of one’s psychic structure.
The mandala, ensouled with the faith and dedication of the mystic, becomes the instrument through which a transmission of psychic energy takes place and an experience of illumination becomes catalyzed. Thus, "through a chemistry of faith and service, the power of God is released in the human psyche to work its wonders and renew the life of the flesh.”
19. The Bodhisattva’s Vow and the Mood of Compassion
As explored above, in Mahayana Buddhism’s system of religious philosophy, it is believed that those who have lived a life in harmony with Amida’s quality or Ray of consciousness can experience, at the moment of death, a vision and experience of the Western Paradise (i.e. the spirit realm).
According to the Mahayana teachings, “at the time of death, as the sensory perceptions dim, the Amitabha Triad (comprised of Amida Buddha and his two constituent bodhisattvas, Kwan Yin and Manjusri) seem to appear before the dedicated believer to lead his consciousness to the Pure Land.”
As a Celestial Buddha, Amida represents a quality of divine consciousness. The particular “Ray” of consciousness that Amida personifies is one that is associated with the mood of supreme spiritual Love. This Love is the quality of consciousness enthroned in Amida’s kingdom; it is what the devoted soul experiences in the afterlife period.
This divine experience of Love is available for all souls to experience, either during the mystical experience or the afterlife state. As Manly Hall describes it, Amida's Love is, “simply put, a pure emotion that symbolizes the longing of parts to return to union with the whole.”
The spiritual world where Amida's divine Love is enthroned is called as Amitabha’s kingdom or the "Western Paradise”. According to the Mahayana teachings, those who live by Amida’s code of life will, after death, become receptive to at least some measure of Amida’s consciousness and therefore will be blessed with an experience of this divine Love in the afterlife state.
The power of divine Love that Amitabha symbolizes is a universal one; the individual cannot experience it directly. Rather, for the human to experience it it must be bestowed through a third, intermediary source. Here’s where the concept of the bodhisattva comes in.
The bodhisattva is special category of spiritual being who exists to serve as a vessel or intermediary through which the pure light of the Celestial Buddhas can be brought down so that it can be comprehended and absorbed at the level of the developing human soul.
As Amitabha Buddha’s patron bodhisattva, Kwan Yin (i.e. Avalokita; Kannon) embodies the archetypal emotions of compassion and mercy. These are innate qualities of Amitabha Buddha and the mood of divine Love that he represents.
Kwan Yin’s purpose is to serve as a vehicle for the translation of the divine emotions and energies of Amitabha into the lower material sphere of the Earth.
Manly Hall teaches that compassion is the mood that permeates heaven and makes the existence of the Pure Land possible. “Compassion is the very plan by which all that exists is assured the fulfillment of its own divine destiny. It provides all beings with an infinite opportunity to unfold.”
Hall continues: “compassion is a giving of oneself to the service of all who need understanding, protection, sympathy, and generosity.” It is also an “acceptance with quiet understanding of the inevitable imperfections present within all human beings.”
Kwan Yin personifies this mood of compassion, serving as an ideal for how its virtues can be practiced and experienced at a level of supreme perfection.
Manly Hall explains that the name Avalokita (Kwan Yin) means “the one who looks down” or “he who hears the voice of the world.” This name is a reference to the idea that this bodhisattva is “specially mindful of the sorrows, burdens, and spiritual yearnings of human beings.”
While actually being an androgynous spiritual being, Kwan Yin is often associated with motherly or maternal qualities and attributes. “She abides in the Western Paradise of Amitabha, where she inclines her consciousness in perpetual attentiveness to all creatures that have not achieved internal security.”
The mechanism or medium by which this Bodhisattva is able to attune herself to the emotional suffering of humanity is through the field of her aura, which extends down from the solar or spiritual sphere to envelop the highest and most subtle planes of the planetary sphere.
According to the teachings of the Heart Doctrine, prayers addressed to this enlightened spiritual soul, herself an extension of a greater spiritual consciousness (Amida Buddha), “received special consideration,” with the all-encompassing aura of this great being serving as the mechanism through which this communication of prayer can be transmitted.
In terms of the divine qualities she personifies, Kwan Yin embodies the mood of the Mother for her young. She epitomizes a “maternal" archetype that is within each human soul.
Symbolically, Kwan Yin personifies an inherent aspect of the Sattva or spiritual soul of each person. This Sattva principle, as the spiritual source of each person’s soul, is the “mother of bodies”, with each incarnation of a personalty being under its maternal oversight.
By finding and connecting with the Kwan Yin archetype within themselves and becoming gradually receptive to its influence, the true believer prepares themselves for an experience of the “Soul Mother”.
Manly Hall explains that “Kwan Yin is experienced as what the Vedantists call the mystery of the Soul Mother.” Here, “the meditating mystic perceives Divine Love as everywhere present and radiating through all created things.”
The activation of this internal archetype within ourselves involves a transcendent experience of emotion in which one feels “not only compassion for this world, but also a sense of identity with all that lives.”
But “only those who have attained perfect compassion can experience Avalokita in the fullness of her immeasurable benevolence. For Kwan Yin, there is only the eternal compassion which desires perfection for all creatures. Those who would experience the presence of this divinity must know the mystery of unselfish love” within their own soul.
Beyond being merely a representative or symbol of an archetype within ourselves, in the Mahayana system Avalokita is also understood as a real spiritual being that one can pray to and call upon. She is an actual conscious being - a fully evolved human soul from a previous cycle of life, one who has pledged her existence to stimulating and bringing out Amitabha's archetype of divine Love within the developing body of mankind.
In Buddhist mysticism, Kwan Yin becomes an important aspect of the religious and meditational rites dedicated toward connecting oneself with the consciousness of the transcendent being, Amitabha.
The Sattva or spiritual soul of each human encounters Amitabha and the Pure Land through the interceding presence of Avalokita. This interaction takes place as a profound and enlightening mystical experience, one in which the blessed Avalokita appears to guide you into the glorious afterlife state, where your Sattva will await a future incarnation in a state of spiritual bliss or Nirvana.
In the thinking of the Mahayana school, this experience of Avalokita and the consciousness of the Western Paradise can be had either exoterically at the moment of death or esoterically during the mystical experience.
20. Meditation and the Science of Salvation
In the devotional and mystical practices of the Mahayana School, Avalokita is incorporated as an essential point of focus, one through which "increasing awareness of the divine nature and the divine plan” can be catalyzed within the devotee.
As Manly Hall describes: “Avalokita … became the focal point for a discipline of meditation. This divinity was visualized in its several forms and with its numerous attributes. Each of these in turn was examined by the internal resources of the meditating mystic.”
For example, “Kwan Yin is usually represented in graceful, flowing garments that are highly stylized, but with extreme purity of line. The graceful design suggests to the receptive consciousness perfect harmonious motion.”
While ensouling one’s visualization of her image with the mood of compassion, love, and mercy, the gracefulness of the motions suggested in mandalic images of her become catalysts for “an inward experience of the inspiration to graceful and gracious conduct. Here, the feeling of ordered beauty unfolds moral and ethical implications.”
As the devotee continues to establish an identity within themselves with the consciousness of Kwan Yin, the archetypal qualities within their own soul that Kwan Yin personifies begin to come out more and more. One’s inner life then becomes ennobled by these visualizations and aligns further with the Kwan Yin archetype.
This self-reinforcing process is also reflected in one’s conduct, as one “attains merit through performing the works of Kwan Yin with the same state of consciousness that the deity personifies.”
In this way, through the intermingling of faith, sincerity, meditation, and service, a spiraling process of archetype-alignment intensifies, one that culminates ultimately in a mystical experience of the Kwan Yin archetype.
To begin this process of tapping into the archetypal soul power that Avalokita embodies and that we each possess, the mystic must first visualize, “as an act of personal consciousness, the state of universal good to which they aspire, with special emphasis upon the service which they plan to perform for the salvation of mankind.”
This means that they must put themselves in the mood of a bodhisattva, in this case using Kwan Yin as the archetypal bodhisattva they are seeking to resonate with.
By identifying with Kwan Yin, the Sattva principle within the psyche recognizes an archetypal potential within itself that the symbol of the bodhisattva is capturing. It then begins to resonate with it. This resonance serves as a catalyst for the activation of this internal archetype within the Self.
Here, Hall explains that “when the transitory or ‘lower’ self beholds the imperishable Higher Self (what Kwan Yin symbolizes), it becomes in this instant aware of its own eternity and its true identity as a dedicated disciple of this Overself.”
This is the noble realization that leads to “spiritual emancipation”. And when this emancipation comes, it does so as a blessing bestowed “from the heart of Kwan Yin.”
The power of divine Love and compassion that Kwan Yin bestows possesses an innate power to redeem the karma of those who encounter its energetic resonance.
As MPH explains, negative karma can be transmuted by the power of Love, making Love a force of divine salvation in the world. “Many Buddhists believe that the experience of identity with the compassionate bodhisattva Kwan Yin breaks the bonds of karma, or, more correctly, replaces the old indebtedness with so luminous a conviction that the believers are freed from the wheel of rebirth. This does not mean that their sins have been forgiven, but rather that the intensity of enlightened consciousness has equaled the time-dimension” and overcome it.
In other words, the energetic impact of encountering the numinous archetype of the “Soul Mother” shatters the false patterns that would otherwise bound one to the shackles of the "wheel of karma”.
In this way, as Manly Hall explains, “man is not redeemed by a compassionate being who forgives sin, but by a universal principle of compassion which neutralizes or transmutes those propensities to excess which cause negative karma.”
The great alchemical work that Avalokita catalyses within us is the “transmutation of will-power until it becomes the will to peace.” As this shift happens, “the human soul releases itself from the ever-turning wheel of karma.”
It's rather simple: the process of spiritual salvation - of “saving one’s soul” - really represents the act of bringing one’s own wayward soul “back into harmony with the Divine Plan.”
Find the Law, learn the Law, obey the Law. This is the simple teaching that lies behind all great philosophical traditions and it is one that this bodhisattva embodies to perfection.
We have it within ourselves to follow this simple code of life that Avalokita embodies. When we do, the bodhisattva archetype becomes activated within ourselves and begins to take over the guidance of the lower psychic mechanism.
The Heart Doctrine is the principle body of teachings in the Mahayana system designed for the philosopher and mystic to use in order to awaken and enliven the Kwan Yin archetype within themselves.
The Heart Doctrine is designed to put one’s psychic factors in order and to bring mental and emotional extremes back to a middle equilibrium point.
At the same time, it emphasizes the simple idealism of the Bodhisattva: to serve, to awaken, to enlighten. These are ideals that one must accomplish within oneself and for oneself; no one else - not a Church institution or guru - can freely below them upon you.
While Kwan Yin possesses the power to bestow compassion and mercy and thus to save and redeem, it requires effort and a sincere faith from the believer unlock the spiritual graces of this archetypal deity.
As Manly Hall explains, “this Bodhisattva can only inspire the wary and sorrowful to transcend the illusion of worldliness within themselves. … She can help, but she cannot save.”
In this way she’s like a physician: “a dedicated doctor knows in his heart that he cannot save the sick from their own mistakes. He cannot decree health for anyone or forgive even the smallest child for the mistakes that have brought it suffering. … (Thus,) Kwan Yin cannot overcome the orderly processes of Universal Law.”
In the method of the Heart Doctrine, as the individual contemplates upon the life and works of this bodhisattva, “a noble desire increases within them” and one becomes inspired “naturally and without effort to cease performing such actions as are inconsistent with the grace of spirit.”
When the unnatural desire to do wrong is quieted, then the soul’s natural desire to do right is able to take control and express itself within the life of the person. This natural desire to do right takes form as a compassionate, merciful, and loving attitude toward one's fellow human beings.
Here we come again to the essentially Christian lesson that lies at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism: “No one can claim to be truly religious simply because he loves God. He must reach that degree of understanding, which only God’s love in him can bring out, where he has forgiven all others for their shortcomings, as he hopes to be forgiven.” Meaning: one must practice what they preach and be the force of change they wish to see in the world.
The moral of Kwan Yin is to “regard all creatures with an infinite tenderness and a wise and loving solicitude.” This is an ideal we can all share and rejoice in. And, through the practice of the Heart Doctrine, it is also one that we, both individually and collectively, have the power to awaken and release within ourselves.
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