That Brāhman, the Buddha
An essay written by Phiroz Mehta in 1954 for The Middle Way, extracted from Buddhahood
Monks, I am a Brāhmin, one to ask a favour of …
Ye are my own true sons, born of my mouth, born of Dhamma, my spiritual heirs.
(Itivuttaka, 4. 1. 1.)
In the Gospel of St Luke (3. 23-38), a line of ascent is traced from Jesus right up to Adam. If we turn to Genesis, we find that God creates Adam in his own likeness. Adam, at the age of 130, it is alleged, begets Seth in his own likeness; Seth at the age of 105, it is alleged, begets Enos in his own likeness. From the time of Enos, men begin to call upon the name of the Lord. Enos, at 90, begets Cainan, and so the line goes on to Noah, who is apparently a mature 500 before the arrival of Shem, Ham and Japheth. It comes to pass when men begin to multiply on earth, and daughters are born unto them, that the sons of God, seeing that the daughters of men are fair, take them as wives, as many as they choose. To them, children are born. These become mighty men of renown, true heroes. But God sees that great is the wickedness of man, that every thought of his heart is evil. Then comes the Flood. It is commonly regarded as a flood of destruction — or was it, in reality, a flood of purification? But since Noah walked with God, he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. So too, earlier, Enoch had walked with God. And it is said of Enoch that he was not, for God took him, whereas it is said of all the others that they lived so many years and then died. More than two thousand years later, Elijah is transported by a whirlwind to heaven in a chariot of fire. Almost another millennium swings past, and there takes place the resurrection of Jesus.
Just as there is a line of ascent traced from Jesus to God, so too in the Brihadaranyaka Upaniṣad, which is at least seven or eight centuries earlier than the time of St Luke, a line of ascent is traced from Pautimāshya to Brāhman Svayambhū, Self-existent God.
Adam and Eve are called the first parents. So too, in the Iranian tradition, Yima and his sister-spouse Yimak are called the parents of the first mortals. Like Adam, Yima too falls from grace. Just as Enoch and Elijah are credited with not dying, so too in the Iranian tradition, Kai-Kushro, one of the great king-sages, retires from the world and, immortal, awaits the day of return to rule over a world wherein righteousness shall have triumphed. Immortal, too, is the great priest, the Dastur Paishotan. Even as Jesus spells redemption from Adam’s sin, Zarathushtra heals the deadly wound of Yima’s self-pride.
But, in the Rig Vedic tradition, there is no fall from grace by Yama and his sister-spouse Yamī. Yama, it is said, chooses death and abandons his body, passes to the other world and is given lordship over the highest of the three heavens. He becomes the Lord of Death, that is the Master of Death, not to be confused with Mrityu or Māra the death-dealer. Yama is the first man to win immortality. Again, the great Rig Vedic rishis, those sacred singers of the song of eternal life, see the gods, communicate with them and are at home with them, even as Adam and his generations and all the prophets of Israel are at home with the Lord.
What does it all mean? To this day there are prophets, there are munis, there are those who are at home with God. But you will not find them among the haunts of men, or at least you will not easily find them unless you have the trained eye with which to see. Since the old days, centuries and millennia have flowed by. Theologians and philosophers of religion have piled system upon system, like bundle upon bundle of cut grass making a haystack. The heavy voice of orthodoxy is too much like the voice of one in a stupor, laden with the burden of mere learning. Those whose cold, black light of intellect is unredeemed by insight flounder about with their ideas like fish caught in a net. Whilst the voracious intellect, gorged on a surfeit of hard facts, spews out its mountains of verbiage, the Book of Life gets buried deeper and deeper under the gathering dust of knowledge. The eyes of God meanwhile moisten as the cloud of unknowing is thickened to an almost impenetrable fog.
And yet, not just there but here, not just yesterday or tomorrow but now is the incarnate truth. Not lost in the temporal movement of the space-time world but poised here-now in fulfilment in eternal existence; this is the meaning of it all, the activity which brings all manifestation to fruition in terms of eternal beauty, the supreme possibility of the realization of the consciousness of the kingdom of heaven, of Brahman-knowing, of Nirvana. And all this is for you here-now. It is yours. Take it. You are free. And if you can’t take it, it means that you are not free, and all your vaunted individuality and self-determination and democracy are a fantastic make-believe, hurtful to your neighbour and to yourself.
Come with me on a fascinating journey: Once upon a time, before Adam walked in his garden, there was a group of people whose sense of wonder deepened as they grew older. They were touched with the dissatisfaction engendered by the cycle of birth and death. They yearned for an indefinable fulfilment of their lives. And they considered the question of sorrow. How endless and meaningless seemed the round of uprising-proceeding-dying, uprising-proceeding-dying! How tormenting, how infuriatingly restrictive! Was there an escape from it? An escape which would spell immortality here-now, ineffable peace and the certitude that this-all was worthwhile? Or was immortality reserved for the gods alone, or maybe for some over-God, miserable autocrat over gods and men?
So these men brooded, seeking the significance of all experience, seeking the eternal creative fount of all existence. And when they died, as indeed each and every single body dies never to resurrect again, their disciples continued to seek. And they discovered that the more they discarded all their preconceptions and vain beliefs, the more they cultivated continual mindfulness, the more they understood themselves and tamed and trained themselves, the nearer they approached their goal. This goal could not be easily defined — to this day it cannot be clearly defined — but it could be fully experienced. These men discovered that in the effort to hold the mind still, guarded, deliberately abstracted from the impact of the world on the senses, a new awareness of existence began to emerge and a profounder understanding of certain matters was obtained through concentrated attention.
Now, as one enters profounder states of consciousness, if the next succeeding stage cannot be successfully reached the practitioner may return to ordinary consciousness. This is what most people do. If a person is already in one of the deeper states of consciousness and cannot deliberately go deeper, he may fall asleep, as did the disciples of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; or, if he loses control, but not seriously, he may ‘see’ visions and ‘hear’ messages; or, if he loses control to a serious extent, he may become obsessed — possessed of a devil, as happened in the New Testament — which is a very sorry condition; or, he may go off into a deep trance in which a partly healing, whole-making or integrative process goes on. He is unaware of the process, but enjoys the fruit of it — and not all of it is beneficial — on returning to ordinary consciousness.
Adam was the first (or one among the very earliest) of the human race to go off into such a deep trance. That is the so-called sleep that the Lord God causes to fall upon him. On waking up, he finds Eve, fully formed, which means that he becomes clearly conscious of his own psyche, and especially of the feminine aspect complementing his normal masculinity. But what is far more important than this is that Adam is convinced of unitary selfhood and of the unity of the universe. From this is born the conviction, and the consequent teaching, that there is only the one God: a conviction which scatters the host of many gods. Their ephemeral day is over; they disappear like moths devoured by a flame.
But Adam’s conviction is not a full and true realization. He has not sufficient self-knowledge and self-discipline to prevent his own fall. Unable to maintain the consequences in daily life of the consciousness of unitary God, his awareness sinks back to the level of the circle of mortality. This is the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, in the cool of the evening (classically the time for prayer or meditation: for restoring the deeper states of consciousness), the Lord God, as it is said in Genesis, asks, ‘Where art thou, Adam?’ meaning, to what level has your consciousness sunk?
Physically, Adam lives a normal human length of life, not 930 years as said in the Bible. About 130 years after Adam, Seth arises. He is developed enough to succeed to the mastership vacated by Adam. That is the meaning of Adam begetting Seth in his own likeness at the age of 130. Adam’s teaching flourishes for about a millennium. That is the meaning of all the days of Adam being 930 years. But when the seventh successor to Adam appears on the scene, the deepest depth of consciousness is touched, for Enoch realizes immortality here-now in full Superconsciousness. That is the meaning of the statement, ‘Enoch was not, for God took him.’ The body of Enoch unquestionably died, like any other body dies.
At this point let us turn to Yama of the Vedic tradition. Yama, it is said, chooses death; that is, he frees himself from all bondage to the sensuous life and worldly values. He clearly understands that the cycle of birth and death, saṃsāra, is really the stream of consciousness: of emotions and thoughts as they arise-proceed-die, arise-proceed-die, unbidden. He learns in meditation to enter profounder states of consciousness and to master the unbidden flow of discursive thought. At last he is able, in full self-possession, to die altogether to worldly consciousness; that is, to completely stop the flow of discursive thought. This is the meaning of Yama abandoning his body and passing to the inner world. The inner world is not the world of discursive thought, however profound, nor the world of trances, nor of the visions or ecstasies of the saints. All these belong to the sphere of the mortal, for they are all constituted of uprising-proceeding-dying. But when, fully conscious, the flow of discursive thought is completely stopped, deliberately, then there is no uprising-proceeding-dying. This is Superconsciousness, which functions in terms of ‘As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be’, in full simultaneity or wholeness; and this, wherein all discursive thought is completely stilled and all birth and death transcended, is the full experience and meaning of immortality. Immortality is the experience of a mode of functioning of consciousness: a mode distinguishing so remarkable a state of consciousness that we may well call it Superconsciousness. Time and space (the condition of bodily being), pain and pleasure (the touchstone of our psycho-physical life) and good and evil as we know them here are all transcended; and you eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life.
This attainment of Superconsciousness is the meaning of Yama being granted lordship over the highest of the three heavens and becoming the Lord of Death.
Whoever attains Superconsciousness is a true fount and source of religion. The attainment of Superconsciousness, which is the experience of the Silence, the Void, the Plenum, the Infinite, the Absolute, is the source-experience from which have emerged the teachings embodied in words like Brāhman, Ātman, Īśvara, Godhead, God, Eternity, Immortality, Nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven, etc.
The Atharva Veda (XI. 5. 5.) says:
The Brahmachārī, earlier born than Brahmā, sprang up through fervour, robed in hot libation; From him sprang heavenly lore, the highest Brahmā, and all the gods, with life that lasts for ever.
Therefore, whoever knoweth man, regardeth him as Brāhman’s self; For all the deities abide in him, as cattle in their pen.
(XI. 8. 32.)
Amongst that host of sacred singers of the song of eternal life, the great ṛṣis who composed the hymns of the Ṛgveda, must be numbered the true munis who realized the meaning of Silence and experienced immortality here-now. The Ṛgveda says (VIII. 48. 3.):
We have drunk Soma and become immortal; We have attained the light, the gods discovered.
Therefore, it is very sad when anyone, spiritually dulled by the weight of mere learning, misleads those who seek Truth, by declaring that the Vedas, or indeed any of the great scriptures of the ancient world, were mere guesses at truth or gropings after reality by a primitive people in their spiritual infancy. It is those who have not attained Superconsciousness, or who have no intuitive insight into the significance of the Silence, the Plenum, who spin out those doctrines and dogmas, often at variance amongst themselves, which bind man to the circle of mortality whilst paying lip-service to Immortal God, and which thereby confuse people with regard to the nature of the transcendent consummation towards which they are developing.
The realization of Superconsciousness cannot be spun out into philosophic systems. Only a few statements can be made, which may inspire others to seek or sustain those who are already searching. This realization of Superconsciousness is the full and true meaning of the Upaniṣadic phrases, ‘realizing the Ātman’, knowing ‘Brāhman’ and ‘having ascended aloft, he became immortal’. That yogeśvara, Yājñavalkya, prince of yogis, declared in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (III. 8. 10):
Verily, O Gārgī, he who departs from this world without knowing that Imperishable, is pitiable; But, O Gārgī, he who departs from this world knowing that Imperishable is a brāhman.
‘Departs from this world’ is usually understood as bodily death, but in this context there is a more profound meaning: entry into deeper states of consciousness. As explained earlier, if there is loss of control in the process, one may fall asleep or go off into a trance and so forth, in which case one ‘departs from this world’ without knowing the Deathless. But he who can successfully make the final grade and stop the flow of discursive thought, deliberately and in full conscious control of the situation, he indeed knows the Deathless on ‘departing from this world’.
Listen again to Yājñavalkya (IV. 4. 14):
Verily, while we are here we may know this. If you have known it not, heavy is the loss. Those who know this become immortal, But others go only to sorrow.
So we see that a real brāhman is one who knows that Imperishable, knows Brāhman, and who can be at home in that silence which is the immortal Superconsciousness of eternal existence. The Muṇdaka Upaniṣad says (III. 2. 9):
He, verily, who knows that supreme Brāhman becomes very Brāhman … He crosses over sin, he crosses over sorrow … Liberated from the knots of the heart, he becomes immortal.
The true brāhman, then, is one who has become Brāhman. Answering the question, ‘Who indeed is a brāhman?’, the Vajrasūchi Upaniṣad tells us that whosoever a man may be,
He who has directly realized the Ātman, who is directly cognizant of the Ātman, … which cannot be reasoned about but is known only by direct cognition … he alone is a brāhman.
At its very heart, then, the teaching of the great ṛṣis and munis, of all the great spiritual teachers, as enshrined in Veda and Upaniṣad, Gītā and Gatha, Sutta and Bible, is the teaching about Superconsciousness, called Brāhman-Knowing or God-realization, and about the Path which leads to the realization of the immortal here-now. At its very heart, all true religion is concerned with bringing a man to full fruition, first in terms of character — the perfected man, the exemplar, and next in terms of the realization of Superconsciousness.
Now let us turn to Canto 26 of the Dhāmmapada…
(1) O brāhman, struggle hard; dam the torrent of craving and drive away sensual pleasures. When thou hast understood how to root out the elements of being, then, O brāhman, wilt thou realize the Uncreated.
(3) He for whom exist neither the six internal nor the six external states of consciousness, nor both; he who is free and fearless, him I call a brāhman.
‘Free and fearless’ — free to attain Superconsciousness by entering the deeper states of consciousness one by one, and finally stopping the flow of discursive thought; and fearless, because it requires unusual courage to take the plunge into the Void, for there is no knowing what may happen.
(29) Him I call a brāhman in whom there exists no craving; who has reached correct understanding; who is free from doubt and who has plumbed the depths of the Immortal.
‘Free from doubt’ — doubt that the silence is the fullness, is the Superconsciousness; the fearful mind of him who is confined within the sphere of mortality is inclined to believe that the stopping of the flow of discursive thought merely means emptiness, vacuity.
In Canto 10 we have this verse:
(6) If, like a shattered gong, thou hast learnt Silence, thou hast already reached Nirvana—there is no anger within thee.
Look through the pages of the Buddha’s discourses, and you will find again and again the Buddha’s statements concerning the entering into profounder states of consciousness, culminating in what he calls the stopping of feeling, knowing and perception, which I describe as the stopping at will of the flow of discursive thought. The Buddha himself achieved this Superconsciousness and could enter it as and when he pleased and remain in it as long as he pleased. This attainment, which is the same as the Upaniṣadic ‘knowing Brāhman’ or ‘realizing the Ātman’ or ‘ascending aloft and becoming immortal’, is precisely the very heart of the enlightenment of the Buddha. So on the way to Gayā, the Buddha says to Upaka:
The Arahant am I, teacher supreme, Utter Enlightenment is mine alone; Unfever’d calm is mine, Nirvana’s peace.
I seek the Kāśis’s city, there to start my Doctrine’s wheel, a purblind world to save, sounding the tocsin’s call to Deathlessness.
When he first addresses, in the deer park of Isipatana, the five who were to be his first disciples, he categorically assures them:
The Immortal is found. I instruct, I teach the Doctrine. Going along in accordance with what is enjoined, having soon realized here and now by your own superknowledge that supreme goal of the Brahmā-faring … you will abide in it.
Siddhatttha Gotama, in becoming the all-enlightened Buddha, had also become the true brāhman: one who had become Brāhman. The venerable bhikkhu, Kaccāna the Great, declared (M. I. 111.):
The Lord has become vision, become knowledge, become Dhamma, become Brahmā; he is the propounder, the expounder, the bringer to the goal, the giver of the Deathless, Dhamma-lord, Tathāgata.
In the Agganna Sutta, the Buddha himself declares (D. 3. 84):
Vāseṭṭha, these are names tantamount to Tathāgata; belonging to the Dhamma, and again belonging to Brahmā; and again, Dhamma-become, and again Brahma-become.
And it is significant that the Buddha declares this immediately after saying:
He, Vāseṭṭha, whose faith in the Tathāgata is settled, rooted, established and firm, not to be dragged down by anyone, well may he say, ‘I am a veritable son of the Exalted One.’
I leave it to you to think of the use of the word ‘son’ in this statement by the Buddha in relation to the use of the word ‘son’ in the genealogy in St Luke’s Gospel from Jesus to God.
That brāhman, the Buddha, was one of the supreme heirs and noblest representatives of the profoundest religious development the world has ever seen. As the young seeker of truth, he saw suffering around him, suffering as we ordinarily understand it. As the all-enlightened Brahmā-become Buddha of his maturity, he saw suffering, dukkha, everywhere and in everything, including what we commonly regard as good and worthwhile. But this dukkha, this ill-state, meant something infinitely profounder than sickness, old age, infirmity, heartbreak and all the ephemeral ills of this world. This dukkha meant absence of permanent Nirvana; absence of that upekkhā which is the dynamic poise that knows no shaking; absence of that absolute freedom of mind which is won through the perfecting of character and of clear-visioned insight; absence of the power to stop at will the flow of discursive thought and enter Superconsciousness. It was this dukkha from which the Buddha found and taught the way of deliverance. This suffering as taught by the Buddha is identical with the Upaniṣadic anguish of separation from the Tad-va-nam, the goal of love-longing, which is Brahman the Immortal Beloved. And in both cases, the transcending of this anguish, which is the realization of Brahman by a muni, or Nirvana by a Buddha, is the realization of Superconsciousness.
The master who experiences the immortal in Superconsciousness naturally and inevitably teaches his disciples that that is the true goal of the spiritual life. Equally naturally and inevitably, those who seek the immortal ask questions and await answers regarding the nature of this goal. But questions and answers, framed in words which express thoughts, all arise and are confined to the sense-mind sphere, which is the sphere of uprising-proceeding-dying, the sphere of mortality. The terms and criteria of the sphere of mortality and of separate entity or diversity do not properly apply to the sphere of immortality and eternal existence, which is that of unity. So, the inadequacy of the mortal inevitably distorts the as-it-really-is-ness of the immortal. Human beings, with minds confined to the sphere of mortality, easily conceive of a god in their own image, exalted to a superlative degree. But this god, as an entity, and with man-bestowed qualities, is a strange idol, a grey image of the unimaginable reality… unimaginable, that is, but fully realizable in Superconsciousness. When mortals say that their teacher is the Son of God, one with God, etc., they are talking devoutly; but there is a considerable measure of misconception in what they say. Again, those who spin out theologies which purport, sincerely enough, to make plain the eternal light, do in fact cast fantastic shadows whilst trying to utilize that light. You cannot use the light of truth for your own purposes. You can only become the light: be enlightened. And only he with a pure heart can clearly see that light. If and when he who has attained uses terms like Brahman, God, Eternity, Nirvana, etc., he knows what he is talking about, for the meaning of those terms is an actual blissful inward realization; whereas for him who has not realized the silence, the meaning of those terms is an externalized product of his imagination.
Fully understanding the difficulty, almost the impossibility, of containing the unconditioned Immortal within the strangely fashioned cup of restrictive speech-thought, the great munis and teachers, arahants and buddhas refused to be professional theologians. Instead, they demonstrated in their own everyday lives the consequence of their Brāhman-becoming. They taught the way of life which leads to the realization here-now of eternal life: the way which transforms a man into a true brāhman.
It is particularly significant that the last canto of the Dhammapada is called the ‘Canto of the Brāhman’, and the refrain, ‘Him I call a brāhman’ is used in no less than thirty-two verses to describe the person who has trod the steps of the Noble Eightfold Path and attained supreme Nirvana.
Some 5,000 years and more have passed since the days when Enoch walked with God, days which may perhaps coincide with the days when Yama chose death and abandoned his body, entered the inner world and was granted lordship over the highest of the three heavens. With the passing of the centuries, the great ṛṣis and munis of ancient India handed down their treasured wisdom of the way of deliverance and of the holy experience of immortality in Superconsciousness to their disciples, their ‘sons of proven worth’. That holy experience they termed Brāhman-knowing: crossing over sorrow, crossing over sin, liberation from the knots of the heart. In the course of a millennium or so, theologies and strange theories began to appear. Theologies and theories are the sport of the not fully enlightened servants of the intellect, the unenlightened monarchs of mere verbiage. And when the truth of the way of deliverance was in danger of submergence, Gotama the Buddha came to wrest immortality from the very jaws of Māra the death-dealer. The Buddha gave a fresh emphasis to the practical aspects of treading the perfect way; and he and his aryan bhikkhus did not cloister themselves in one place for their lifetime, but moved from town to town and village to village.
More than 2,400 years have gone by since the Buddha uttered his last words: ‘Strive on with diligence.’ The face of the world has undergone remarkable change. Great deeds and terrible deeds have been done. Knowledge has piled up mountainously. But the fevered heart of man is still restless, questing for the end of his anguish, questing for the goal of his love-longing.
Man professes disillusionment today, puts on the mask of obstinate incredulity and plays at being objective and scientific, matter-of-fact and rational. But life will sweep away all his professions and pretensions in her irresistible tide, for ultimately man must come to the light, even if the only path left to him is through the portals of death.
Buddhahood was published by Element Books in 1988 with an introduction and edited by the late John Snelling. It is out of print, but is available to download free in PDF format on our website.
The book consists of seventeen essays and interviews that Phiroz Mehta contributed to The Middle Way, many of them being originally lectures delivered at the Buddhist Society Summer School. The following is an extract from the introduction:
In this book, then, lies spiritual vision of the first order; inspired writing and impeccable scholarship too. Here also the reader will find sound advice from one who has actually striven to lead the holy life as a householder amidst the hurly-burly of modern urban life. For all of us struggling on the Path in the unpropitious circumstances of the contemporary world, falling by the wayside from time to time, exhausted, dispirited, it is inspiring to know, despite our blackest periodic fears to the contrary, that ‘It can still be done’!
Do you look, then, for some petty consolation? Do you await some futile message of hope? Let it be clearly realized that in the transcendent awareness of eternal existence there is no room and no meaning for either hope or despair, pessimism or optimism. Here-now is the ultimate, the supreme, for we continually exist in the very midst of the omnipresent, and there is not a secret of the heart which is hidden from the gaze of the eyes which never sleep.
So the question is, Adam, where do you want to be? At home in omniscience, bending every energy in harmony with omnipotence; or, buffeted between the extremes of the dualistic temporal, the miserable slave of savage folly?
In this century, here, now, it is the springtime of the spirit once again. And it is also the harvest-time of the spirit.
This simultaneity of spring-time and harvest is the sign and miracle for our day. And he who is ready or who will diligently prepare himself will be an active participator in this miracle and not a mere blind spectator.
Once again the portals are open through which have constantly passed the great religious heroes — the prophets of old, ṛṣis and munis, arahants and buddhas; a wonderful company of perfected men, the Brāhman-become, among whom shines the overtowering figure of that brāhman, the Buddha.
The last two paragraphs speak volumes of wisdom. It is in our interest to read, listen, reflect and require… “Attitude” as we walk on.
‘Kingfisher’, 13th March 2018