Nirvana: a Theosophical perspective

Discussion in 'Alternative' started by Nick the Pilot, Apr 19, 2009.

  1. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Hi everybody!

    I recently read a thread here on this Forum which mentioned Nirvana and enlightenment. I thought it would be good to share the Theosophical perspective on the two topics, particularly that of Nirvana. I have several quotes on Nirvana from Theosophical literature, and I will be posting them in this thread from time to time.

    One issue to consider is the difference between enlightenment and Nirvana. Many people confuse the two. Theosophists see the two as quite different. Enlightenment is the achieving of the final goal of human existence -- finally being released from the drudgery of mandatory reincarnations. (This is what some people say is the original meaning of "being saved," which is now used by Christians in a much different way.) An enlightened person is "saved" from the struggle and hardship of future forced reincarnations (which usually consist of the arduous task of burning off bad karma.) Enlightnement signifies that no more bad karma needs to be burned off, reincarnations are no longer required, and the person is now free to move on to doing more important tasks.

    Once enlightenment is achieved, the person may choose to remain on earth in future incarnations (as a person that is called by some people a Bodhisattva), or the person may choose to move up to a higher level of consciousness that is called Nirvana. (One of the main differences between Mahayana Buddhism and Theravadan Buddhism is that the former stresses the value of considering becoming a Bodhisattva, while the latter does not hold the model of becoming a Bodhisattva in quite as high a regard.)

    But what is Nirvana? Many Buddhists see it as perhaps a new way of thinking, a sudden clarity of purpose of being, or the having of some type of Aha! experience. Theosophists see it quite different. (At least some Theosophists do. Other Theosophists follow quite closely the Buddhist view of Nirvana.) Nirvana is seen as becoming able to be conscious on a plane of consciousness called the Nirvanic plane of consciousness. Here is a quote from a Theosophist on a description of Nirvana.

    “The entry into [Nirvana] is utterly bewildering, and it brings as its first sensation an intense vividness of life, surprising even to him who is familiar with the buddhic plane. The surprise has been his before, though in a lesser measure, whenever he mounted for the first time from one plane to another. Even when we rise first in full and clear consciousness from the physical plane to the astral, we find the new life to be so much wider than any that we have hitherto known that we exclaim: ‘I thought I knew what life was, but I have never known before!’ When we pass into the mental plane, we find the same feeling redoubled; the astral was wonderful, but it was nothing to the mental world. When we pass into the higher mental plane, again we have the same experience. At every step the same surprise comes over again, and no thought beforehand can prepare one for it, because it is always far more stupendous than anything that we can imagine, and life on all those higher planes is an intensity of bliss for which no words exist.

    “European Orientalists have translated Nirvana as annihilation, because the word means ‘blown out’, as the light of a candle is extinguished by a breath. Nothing could be a more complete antithesis to the truth, except in the sense that it is certainly the annihilation of all that down here we know as man, because there he is no longer man, but God in man, a God among other Gods, though less than they.

    “Try to imagine the whole universe filled with and consisting of an immense torrent of living light, and in it a vividness of life and an intensity of bliss beyond all description, a hundred thousand times beyond the greatest bliss of heaven. At first we feel nothing but bliss; we see nothing but the intensity of light; but gradually we begin to realize that even in this dazzling brightness there are brighter spots — nuclei, as it were — which are built of the light because there is nothing but the light, and yet through them somehow the light gleams out more brightly, and obtains a new quality which enables it to be perceptible upon other and lower planes, which without this would be altogether beneath the possibility of sensing its effulgence. And by degrees we begin to realize that these subsidiary suns are the great Ones, that these are Planetary Spirits, Great Angels, Karmic Deities, Buddhas ... and Masters, and that through Them the light and the life are flowing down to the lower planes.

    “Gradually, little by little, as we become more accustomed to the stupendous reality, we begin to see that, in a far lower sense, even we ourselves are a focus in that cosmic scheme, and that through us also, at our much lower level, the light and the life are flowing to those who are still further away-not from it, for we are all part of it and there is nothing else anywhere — but further from the realization of it, the comprehension of it, the experience of it.” (The Masters and the Path, pp. 197-199)
     
  2. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Here, one man describes the entry into Nirvana as a blinding experience, where objects and beings are described as "lightning-standing-still".

    [When one enters Nirvana for the first time,] “Light, of course, is the first discovery, for it is the primary, overwhelming experience. I have [previously] spoken of "lightning-standing-still" [in this book]. Entry into the Nirvanic world is as into lightning, blinding, penetrating, drenching. One plunges into a sea of vibrant, vocal lightning. One cannot sink, but one has to learn to swim. One does not sink, because the light within makes one buoyant. It is impossible to conceive entry into this kingdom without the warrant of the awakened light within....” (Nirvana — An Occult Experience, p. 58)
     
  3. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    What did Siddhartha Gautama have to say about Nirvana?

    When discussing a doctrinal concept, why wouldn't we want to start at the beginning, so to speak?
     
  4. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Netti-Netti,

    Theosophy has access to Buddha's ideas that are not available elsewhere. But please share your understandings of what Buddha said (which I imagine come from a 'contemporary Buddhist point of view'). Please feel free to 'start at the beginning.' This would be a good way to compare Theosophical and Buddhist teachings on Nirvana. The topic is much more complicated than most people realize, and I think everyone will benefit from reading (and joining in) such a discussion.
     
  5. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    Hi Nick,

    Theosophy has a very unique history and is a complex combination of diverse ideas. Your OP is very connected to the Eastern philosophical ideas in theosophy.

    If my understanding is correct (please correct me if I am wrong here), theosophy has an interesting historical connection to ideas of racial significance. Could you explain your ideas of how theosophy and race are related ?

    By the way, are you really a pilot ?

    Thanks, Avi
     
  6. Avi

    Avi Interfaith Forums

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    In my reading I have come across an intersection with an area called Ariosophy. Are you familiar with this idea ? What does it mean ?
     
  7. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    Sorry I misled you. The beginnings of Nirvana doctrine would be pre-Buddhist.

    I'm tryingh to find the Sutta describing Siddhartha Gautama trying out ascetic methods. He fainted in the presence of the 5 Indian ascetics he had been hanging with. They thought he died and entered Nirvana. So their idea of Nirvana is that it was not of this world. It's some place you go after you die.
     
  8. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Avi,

    Your questions, although good, are off-topic. Please start a new thread, and we can discuss your questions there.
     
  9. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Here, George Arundale describes Nirvana as being nothing but light, yet having points of light within the light. (George was a Christian, and his Christian bias comes through loudly in this passage. But for us nontheists, just read around George's theistic language, and you will get a good feeling for what he is saying.)

    “Let me try to put my visions [into words]. I look upon the world, and I see our Lord the Sun expressed in myriad suns. Each monad I perceive to be a Sun in miniature. The Sun Divine throws off spark-suns charged with all His attributes. The process of evolution begins, and these sparks burst into color, or rather gradually. unfold in terms of color; rainbows with sun-hearts, or nuclei or centers. God's Light thus imprisoned in form begins its long pathway of transcending form, thus acquiring self-consciousness. Every atom of light is an atom of unconscious Divinity, slowly but surely fulfilling the will of the Sun that it shall become unfolded into self-conscious Divinity. Every atom is a Sun unconscious, and shall become a Sun self-conscious. And the Sun-Light, which is the Light that is free, shines upon the Sun-Light, which is the Light imprisoned; Light the wanderer in the darkness, until the Light within and the Light without blend into a perfect whole, earth-light kissing Heaven-Light and becoming Sun-Light. “Bathed in the Lightning-standing-still which is Nirvana, I perceive the imprisoned lightnings in all things. I perceive the Light which is dull — the savage; the Light which is bright — the man evolved; the Light which is glory — the Superman, the Master. I see color everywhere in process of transmutation, of glorification, of transcendence. There is no blackness anywhere in the sense of a negation of Light. God said: ‘Let there be Light.’ And there was and is light everywhere. His Light shineth even in our darkness.’ “And as before I might express my vision in terms of sound, of music, in terms of gloriously growing forms. For, as time passes, I begin to perceive that while my first impression found instant expression in the word ‘Light,’ and specially in the phrase ‘Lightning-standing-still,’ I now know that this Light conception is but a quality of Nirvana, an aspect, a facet of the diamond sphere. In truth, Nirvana is an essence of things and a flower of things.” (George Arundale, Nirvana — An Occult Experience, pages 16 - 18)
     
  10. seattlegal

    seattlegal Why do cows say mu?

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    Are you talking about parinirvana?

    I couldn't find the Sutta, either. The names of the five ascetics were Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. The name of the river was probably the Nerañjara River. I hope that helps with the search.
     
  11. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    seattlegal,

    Theosophy clearly distinguishes nirvana from parinirvana. How does Buddhism distinguish nirvana from parinirvana?
     
  12. seattlegal

    seattlegal Why do cows say mu?

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    It would probably be better for a Buddhist to explain that!
    My understanding is that parinirvana occurs at the death of a non-returner. (The Final or Total Unbinding.)
     
  13. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    seattlegal,

    If parinirvana occurs at the death of a non-returner, then it seems there is no need for an intermediate stage called nirvana.

    By the way, there is also a state beyond parinirvana called mahaparinirvana. All three "states of being" fit into Theosophy nicely. I am curious how they fit into Buddhism.
     
  14. seattlegal

    seattlegal Why do cows say mu?

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    There is a Mahayana sutra called the Mahaparinirvana Sutra that you can find here.
     
  15. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    seattlegal,

    Unfortunately, there are many of us here (myself included) who do not have time to read the link. Please feel free to explain the main ideas on that webpage.
     
  16. seattlegal

    seattlegal Why do cows say mu?

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    Like I said, it would probably be better for a Buddhist to explain it. (Or at least someone who knows the sutra better than I do!) :eek:

    I'm just presenting it for investigation, for anyone who might be interested.
     
  17. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the info. Yes, it would be nice to get a Buddhist's explanation of how the three concepts fit together.
     
  18. nativeastral

    nativeastral fluffy future

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    why not start at the Jains then?
     
  19. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    Go for it.
    :)
     
  20. seattlegal

    seattlegal Why do cows say mu?

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    Interestingly, some of the ascetic practices the Buddha engaged in prior to his enlightenment do seem to resemble some Jain practices.
    MN 12: Maha-sihanada Sutta
     

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