Nirvanasara – Chapter 10


Radical Transcendentalism and the Introduction of Advaitayana Buddhism
Da Free John (Adi Da Samraj) – 1982

Table of Contents


Nirvana and Samsara Are Not the Same


The earliest literature of Buddhism describes a Way of Transcendental Liberation (or Nirvanic Realization) that is based on a “realistic” (or phenomenalistic) rather than an “idealistic” (or noumenalistic) analysis and evaluation of manifest existence. It describes the method of approach to Realization, but it does not directly describe Realization Itself (or That which is ultimately Realized). Therefore, that literature stands in contrast to the literatures of the first five stages of life, since such literatures base themselves either on idealistic and ego-based methods of absorptive meditation and mystical ascent to higher worlds (as is the case in the paths of the fourth and fifth stages of life) or on materialistic ideals of personal and collective human fulfillment in the context of embodiment in this world (as is the case in the paths of the first three stages of life). And the language of the earliest Buddhist literature also stands in contrast to that of the literatures of the seventh stage of life, since such seventh stage literatures are founded on and expressive of prior Enlightenment’ Transcendental Realization, or Inherent Freedom, rather than on the progressive search for such. All of this indicates that the earliest Buddhist tradition (or the Pali tradition commonly called the Hinayana or “lesser vehicle”) is a Transcendentalist tradition of the sixth stage type.

Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism (which are the traditions or “yanas” that appeared most immediately after the original or Hinayana tradition) generally represent syncretistic developments of the original tradition. In those later traditions there is an accommodation to the cultural orientations that precede the sixth stage of life, and there is also the development of descriptive considerations of Enlightenment, Reality, or Truth that represent the disposition of Enlightenment or Transcendental Realization Itself (rather than the consciousness that is only seeking such Enlightenment). Therefore, the later literatures of Buddhism contain direct representations of the seventh stage Realization Itself, but the later literatures also contain syncretistic and conventional representations of the points of view that characterize the stages of life earlier than the sixth. The later Buddhist literatures that communicate cultural and practical means of the type that characterize the first five stages of life represent at best the adaptation of religious and mystical or yogic means that may, at the beginning, serve the approach toward radical Awakening, but when those means are promoted as an end in themselves, or when they are otherwise permitted to become the very basis for the characterization of Enlightenment itself, then those literatures simply represent an abandonment of the radical Transcendentalist position of true Buddhism.

My own Teaching, or the Way of the Heart, may, for all the reasons I have already given, be rightly named “Advaitayana Buddhism,” since it may be seen to be a rigorous application of the seventh stage or ultimate point of view of Transcendentalism, and it may also be seen to be a critical epitome of the entire Great Tradition of the progressive stages of life, which is itself epitomized in the sixth to seventh stage points of view of traditional Buddhism and Advaitism.

As was the case with each of the previous “yanas” (or “vehicles” or “Ways”) of Buddhism, the fundamental or original culture of Advaitayana Buddhism has arisen on the basis of an original contact with the spiritual culture of India, after which it has gone on to develop in another geographic and cultural region (America) before the development of its final or ultimate phase, which is world-wide or universal expansion. Hinayana Buddhism arose in India and then passed on to develop in the broad cultural milieu of southern Asia. Mahayana Buddhism arose in India and then passed on to develop in China and Japan (or northern Asia in general). And Vajrayana (or Tantrayana) Buddhism arose in India and then went on to develop in regions north of India, primarily in Tibet.

Advaitayana Buddhism is now developing in the West. My life and Work are uniquely and originally Western or Occidental, rather than Eastern and Oriental. Therefore, this Advaitayana Buddhism is the true “Western Buddhism.” The Buddhisms of the three earlier yanas expanded successfully in the East in earlier centuries (during their creative phase), but they did not pass to the West via a process of real cultural transformation. The earlier yanas have only recently passed to the West, via books and airplanes rather than through Western Adepts. Therefore, the Buddhisms of the three earlier yanas have indeed been passed on to Westerners—by Orientals, and in the form of Oriental mind and culture.

Even so, Advaitayana Buddhism is an epitome of Buddhism as a whole, and it is, therefore, neither Occidental nor Oriental, but suited to the unified world-wide culture that is the inevitable future of collective mankind. And, like all previous forms or yanas of Buddhism, Advaitayana Buddhism also has its roots in India.

My own sadhana was a spontaneous process that involved spiritual transmission from Indian yogis, saints, and sages (as well as from Western-born sources). And the fulfillment of my sadhana was followed by the recognition of the separate languages of the Advaitic tradition and the Buddhist tradition as clear precedents for the description of what is also my own Realization. Therefore, Advaitayana Buddhism has its roots in India, and it has developed as a unique and new consideration because of its association with a cultural environment that is different from those which provided the base for the unique development of each of the previous yanas of Buddhism.

This Advaitayana Buddhism does not stand in direct line wih the Buddhist traditions alone, but with all previous sixth and seventh stage traditions (which are primarily represented by the various schools of Buddhism and Advaitism). And it stands in critical relation (as well as rightly positive alignment) to all schools and points of view that represent the stages of life previous to the seventh. Therefore, it stands in right critical relation to the exclusively sixth stage conceptions of Buddhist “realism” and Advaitic “idealism,” and it also stands in right critical relation to the lesser orientations (representing the first five stages of life) that have been traditionally associated with the cultures of Buddhism and Advaitism.


In previous essays I have specifically and critically considered the sixth stage limitations of traditional Buddhism and Advaitism. And I have also criticized the conceptions and practices of the first five stages of life as they appear in the Advaitic tradition (or the Emanationist tradition as a whole). In this essay I want to address the specifically Buddhist conceptions and practices that represent the orientations of the first five stages of life, and also those that represent the seventh stage of life.

The literatures of Mahayana Buddhism (or the so-called “greater vehicle”) represent the first movement beyond the original written tradition of Buddhism. They also represent a tendency to make a transition from strictly “realistic” language to the generally “idealistic” language of metaphysical conception. (And, therefore, the later Buddhist tradition represented by the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools is always characterized by a synthesis of “realistic” and “idealistic” conceptions.)

The original Mahayana tradition represents a dynamic stimulus-response encounter between the “realistic” sixth stage tradition of early Buddhism and (1) the “idealistic” metaphysical and Emanationist traditions that represent the ancient exoteric and esoteric cultures of the first five stages of life as they are conceived in the traditions of Hinduism, (2) the sixth stage idealism of Upanishadic Advaitism, and (3) the cultures of the first six stages of life outside the domain of Hinduism (especially the Taoist and naturalistic traditions of China and Japan). In that dynamic encounter, Buddhism developed literatures of consideration that represent the seventh stage of life as well as the stages of life previous to the sixth.

The Mahayana tradition most especially added to Buddhism the dimensions of seventh stage consideration and the devotional and practical religious “idealism” of the fourth stage of life. The seventh stage consideration was at first developed by Nagarjuna, who conceved of phenomenal existence in terms of an inherent Nirvana, or “Shunyata,” in which each phenomenal event is seen to be completely dependent upon, or without the slightest independence from, all other phenomenal events, and thus Void or Empty of separateness, or of an invisible, independent, or permanent internal core, and of any Cause that is outside or independent of the phenomenal flow of causes and effects. After Nagarjuna (or the Madhyamika school), the seventh stage consideration of the Mahayana was further developed by the basically “idealistic” schools of the Lankavatara Sutra and of Yogacara (or Vijnanavada) Buddhism.

These philosophical schools of Mahayana Buddhism extended the original “realistic” logic of Buddhism into the framework of metaphysical “idealism” and the positive or direct description (and equally direct or unmediated Realization) of Ultimate Reality or Nirvanic Realization. Therefore, they represent an orientation to a conception of Buddhist Realization Itself, and to a conception of manifest existence in the Context of Ultimate Reality, or in the terms of inherence in (rather than separation from) the Nirvanic or Transcendental Condition. This orientation may be contrasted (argumentatively but not absolutely) with the original Buddhist orientation, which was based on conventional and problem-based conceptions of conditional existence as a non-Nirvanic or inherently un-Enlightened state, and which conceived of the Way as a necessarily progressive conventional effort to escape conditional existence and so finally achieve Nirvanic or Transcendental Realization as an alternatve to conditional existence. Because of their willingness to describe the Ultimate Condition in positive and thus necessarily ontological terms, and also because of their presumption of the point of view of inherence in rather than separation from the Transcendental Condition, the Mahayana philosophical schools represent an orientation that can be seen in terms of the seventh or Enlightened stage of life.

The original phenomenal realism of Gautama was centered around the proclamation that the ego is only phenomenal (or the conventionally inevitable product of unnecessary conditional causes) and thus capable of being uncaused (or transcended in the acausal disposition of Nirvana). The later or Mahayana schools proclaimed, in contrast to Gautama, that phenomena are inherently egoless. This attitude was expressed in the Madhyamika view that “Nirvana and samsara are the same.” The same view was later expressed (in the Lankavatara Sutra and in the Teachings of the Yogacara or Vijuanavada school) via the “idealistic” Buddhist view that “Consciousness,” or the Transcendental and Unconditional “Buddha-Mind,” is the Source and Condition and Truth of all conventional, conditional, and conceptual “dharmas” or apparent “realities.” And the persuasions associated with this original Mahayana tradition provided the basis for the Vajrayana conception of Enlightenment as “Coemergent Wisdom,” or the unconditional Samadhi that is inherent in the transcendence of the idea of a difference between Nirvana and samsara.

The central thrust of these philosophical trends in later Buddhism is in the direction of conceiving a path that is most basically about the transcendence of concepts, or the conditional mind. And the Mahayana method (epitomized in the techniques of Ch’an and Zen Buddhism) is based on direct appeal to Awareness beyond mind (or thought constructions). All of the Mahayana schools tend to be associated with the ideal of Enlightened or mind-transcending (and thus phenomena-transcending) Wisdom, or the transcendence of egoity and phenomenal limitation as if it were all an illusion or false idea within an ultimate Transcendental Condition. That condition was not conceived as an alternative Reality—or a Reality outside, merely inside, or in any sense independent of phenomena (and thus related to phenomena as a cause relates to an effect). Rather, that Condition was conceived to be the inherent Condition of conditions (or all causes and effects, great or small in the scale of Nature). Therefore, the Mahayana path is based on an “idealist” conception in which conditional or phenomenal existence (or samsara) is understood to inhere in (or not to be separate from or causally related to) the Transcendental Reality (or Nirvana). And that path stands in contrast to the original Buddhist path which was based on a purely “realistic” analysis of phenomena (or self and not-self), and which viewed Nirvana as an utterly independent and relationless Transcendental Realization (not related to phenomena via causation, not at all coincident with phenomena or phenomenal consciousness, and, therefore, attainable only in the event of the utter cessation of phenomenal arising).

As I have said, these ideas of the philosophers of the Mahayana school should not be presumed to stand in stark contrast to the ideas of the original or Hinayana school. Rather these ideas of the Mahayana should be understood to be truly Buddhist or Transcendentalist conceptions, rooted in the Realization and basic disposition of Gautama, but they consider the Way in terms of the Wisdom of inherent Transcendental Realization (or in the seventh stage mode) rather than in the terms of conventional mind, the inherent problem of phenomenal egoity, and the progressive tactics of transit from the reality of bondage to the “Alternative Reality” of acausal Bliss (all of which characterize considerations in the sixth stage mode).

In my own descriptions of the seventh stage of life, I have indicated that there are two primary and unique but equal modes of Transcendental Realization. “Sahaj Samadhi” is the “natural” mode of Realization, in which all phenomenal, conditional, contracted, or samsaric states are inherently and tacitly recognized (and thus transcended and even transformed but not eliminated) in and as the Transcendental Condition or Being. And “Bhava Samadhi” is the same Realization, but in that case recognition has achieved such a degree or quality of transcendence that all phenomenal, conditional, contracted, or samsaric states are inherently and motivelessly Outshined. And such is the Nirvanic Samadhi beyond all noticing.

Gautama’s original sixth stage consideration of the Way points toward seventh stage or Nirvanic Realization in the mode of Bhava Samadhi, whereas the Mahayana (and later Vajrayana) consideration of the Way points toward Nirvanic Realization in the mode of Sahaj Samadhi. If this is understood, then there is no need to see any conflict between the views of the original school and the later schools. And my own Teaching of the Way (or Advaitayana Buddhism) no longer considers the ultimate or seventh stage Realization exclusively in terms of one or the other of the two primary modes, but in terms of the equality of the two modes (as Realization) and of the inevitable progression from Sahaj Samadhi to Bhava Samadhi. Therefore, Bhava Nirvana may be Realized either as a terminal Event (at death), or as one of the two primary Poles of Nirvanic Realization (so that there appear to be cycles of transition from Sahaj Samadhi to Bhava Samadhi and back to Sahaj Samadhi, repeated again and again within the same lifetime or from lifetime to lifetime).

If we understand rightly, then all modes of human endeavor become obvious as expressions of one or another of seven stages in a natural progression of Wisdom. Advaitism and Buddhism represent a number of different considerations that belong to the sixth and seventh stages of life. And Advaitayana Buddhism comprehends, epitomizes, and inherently transcends the entire Great Tradition of human endeavor, which culminates in Transcendental Wisdom, Freedom, Love, and Bliss.


I must emphasize the fact that the conceptions of Enlightenment developed in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions are radical expressions of the Realized or seventh stage point of view. They are not to be considered as conventional propositions of the mind of the first six stages of life. However, there is a current trend to popularize Buddhism (as well as all Transcendentalist and esoteric traditions), and in the mode of “pop” Buddhism formulae such as “Nirvana and samsara are the same” are reduced to slogans that justify the conventions of egoity in the lesser stages of life.

The equation (or “sameness”) of “Nirvana” and “samsara” is not factually the case. It is not a conventional truth, nor is it in any sense obvious to the egoic mind. In the un-Enlightened condition, Nirvana and samsara are the ultimate opposites. The declaration (or Confession) that they are the same is truly made only by those who have transcended the limits of ego and phenomenal appearances. The Buddhist conception of the sameness of Nirvana and samsara is like the Hindu Advaitic conception of the sameness of the self-essence (or “atman”) and “Brahman” (or the Transcendental Reality, Condition, or Being). Each of these two great traditional formulae indicates a Transcendental Condition to be Realized. Therefore, neither formula represents a conventional truth, and neither one is a principle intended or suited for popular belief. Each one is a formula that Confesses the Truth in terms that transcend all differences and that recognizes the conditional world and self in Truth rather than apart from Truth (or apart from the Realization of Truth).

Those who are not thus Enlightened or perfectly Awake must clearly understand (and take heed of the fact) that Nirvana and samsara are not the same. A conventionally worldy life, egoically attached to the merely apparent or perceptual “realities” of phenomenal existence, is not in any sense Nirvanic. Indeed, such a life is truly nihilistic (since it constantly reduces Transcendental Being to a cycle of limitation and death).

Even so, there is a trend, both modern and traditional, to use the great Mahayana equation of Nirvana and samsara (as well as the great Hindu or Advaitist equation of the atman and Brahman) as a basis for the promotion of popular techniques of living that substitute worldly, religious, and ego-based (or merely psycho-physical) yogic or mystical practices, consolations, and attainments for the Way and the Realization of Transcendental Enlightenment. And this same trend can be seen in the worldwide effort to reduce the Way of Transcendental Realization, epitomized by the Buddhist and Advaitist traditions, to egoic paths of mere materialistic worldliness, conventional social consciousness, exoteric religious consolation (or mere anxiety-reduction), and magical-mystical aspiration (which may bear the characteristics of the fourth and fifth stages of life, but which basically serve the childish or adolescent social ego of the first three stages of life). In the domains of “pop” Buddhism, the Enlightened Confession “Nirvana and samsara are the same” is reduced to the idea that discipline and transcendence are unnecessary, or the ideal of the ego with a quiet mind, or the benighted and merely consoled feeling that everything is OK as it seems—as if one could achieve a state of fear that is free of anxiety! The same tendencies are evident in “pop” Hinduism, where, according to the conventional belief in the sameness of atman and Brahman, the ego is regarded to be Divine, the Truth is reduced to the mortal patterns of psycho-physical inwardness, and the Spiritual Master is abandoned for the “Inner Guide” (or the ego as Master). These conventions of “street wisdom” are combined with bits and pieces of all traditions (such as the Confession of Jesus that “the Kingdom of God is within you”) to create the absurd movements of “pop” spirituality (or “pop” esotericism), and these popular movements constantly clash in the streets with the equally absurd “pop” religions (or the “pop” exotericism of all the righteous absolute State religions) and their cultic Idols made of arbitrary beliefs and conventional mythologies about Jesus, Krishna, and all the other half-imaginary Prophet-Gods of the past. And all of these street wars of religion against religion, dull idea against dull idea, are nothing but the muscle of stupidity, sheeplike ego clashes (socking macho hornheads as if competing for a rut), the separate junk piles of the past all hurled at one another for the angry sake of power, whizzing between minds that are mucked in self, hardened by fear, defined by the resident passions of birth, and utterly oblivious to the Truth and the Wide Wise significance of our bleeding worried lives.

In the popular un-Enlightened mind, the ego is eternal, good, Divine, and even very God. And mind is sufficient Heaven, or else this mortal Earth-life is the ultimate goal of conscious being. Such views are not only false, they are the very substance of un-Enlightenment, fear, cruelty, and madness. There are countless numbers of angry people and angry “religious” groups willing to do great harm to anyone or any organization that does not subscribe to the popular views of salvation. And, therefore, it is not only the message of worldly people but the message of ordinary and even extraordinary religious people that must be confronted by Wisdom. The righteous egoic “bite” of “pop” religion (and “pop” politics, “pop” science, and the “pop” mind cults of psychiatric vintage) must be tempered and transformed by unrighteous love, tolerance, and intelligent understanding.

The great ideas of the Adepts and philosophers who stand at the origin of all popular exoteric, esoteric, and Transcendentalist movements are, as I have been explaining, expressions of a different level or dimension of being than the popular usage of those ideas tends to suggest. Therefore, the popularization of such great ideas is in the direction of the falsification or false interpretation and misinterpretation of those ideas—and the primary error of the often well-intended popularization of the great ideas associated with the Way of Truth is that the great ideas are promoted as mere ideas (capable of being believed and asserted as Truth by the ordinary or un-Enlightened mind) rather than as ideational expressions of higher mind or a mindtranscending Enlightenment.

The central problem with conventional or popular religion and philosophy is the substitution of systems of affirmative belief about Truth for the self-transcending practice of devotion to the Realization of Truth. The usual man or woman tends to be less than human—human only in the gross technical sense, but reduced by the influences of this world to a robot of personal drives, conventional ideas, and social motives, all of which characterize the first three stages of life, and all of which are kept under control by the locally standard social propaganda and its closed system of stimulus-response educational techniques. The social influences that are generated to “educate” and control human beings in every part of the world are all basically of the kind that is now popularly declaimed as “brainwashing” whenever the educational propaganda of “others” is being criticized or mocked. People whose bodies, minds, and selves are under the control of the basic machinery of the State collective are not generally involved with the free pursuit of Truth in any ultimate sense. And popular religion is one of the primary instruments that is commonly used to organize their minds away from socially destructive self-indulgence and toward socially useful participation.

“Pop” religion and philosophy are basically tools of the gross social order. They consist primarily of systems of propagandized belief. And the practice associated with such popular belief systems is, at its worst, nothing more than the continuous affirmation of those beliefs and, at its best, the embodiment of those beliefs in the form of socially benign or materially productive behaviors. Thus, popular movements (of both a religious and a non-religious variety) tend to be associated with a conception of “salvation” by mere belief (or affirmation of concepts and the believer’s state of mind and emotion), and “practice” in all popular movements is generally associated with conservative (and even suppressive) disciplines relative to personal pleasure, taboos against exclusive commitments to the asocial subjective life, and intense demands for productive and enthusiastic social action. In this manner, the merely social ego (developed only in the terms of the first three stages of life) is mechanically reproduced in the form of millions of people in each generation, much in the same manner (and for the same basic purpose) as “worker” bees in a hive. Conventional or “pop” religion is tailored to serve such social functionaries, and the standard “gospel” is that social existence and salvation are the same. The basic purpose of such religion is to guarantee the social order through the development of altruism and the propagandizing of anxiety-reducing messages.

The Way that is expressive of profound commitment to the Realization of Truth is another order of existence than the common path of the ordinary social personality. That Way is not even very interesting to the usual individual, since the usual individual does not have (or represent) sufficient free energy and attention for the consideration and practice of ultimate self-transcendence. Therefore, the great Teachings of the Way generally develop outside the common marketplace (that is, in the meetings of those who are seeking beyond the popular context of human existence).

However, over time the great Teachings generally expand outward from their point of origin—as a result of the general increase in the numbers of individuals of the “beginner” type who somehow or other come into contact with those Teachings. At some point in this process of expansion, beginners (or lesser aspirants), rather than individuals of an already advanced type, become the focus of address. And once this occurs, it is inevitable that the world in general will soon become the focus of the “call” of the Teaching.

Once a Teaching movement enters the sphere of the common world, it begins to look for “converts” rather than true beginners (or those who would seek out the Teaching on their own). Therefore, the tendency of all such movements is to move toward a greater and greater accommodation of people who have no basic inclination or ability for the great discipline of the Way of Truth. And it is that accommodation that is the basic source of lesser and false representations of the Way.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the motive of communicating the Way to the general or immature gathering of humanity. Indeed, it is necessary for this to be done, or else the karmas of un-Enlightenment will rule the world. But it is necessary for the Way Itself, in all of its traditions, to be constantly purified of the limitations and false representations that are added to the Way in the process of its accommodation of all the kinds of individuals who are yet bound to the point of view of any of the first six stages of life.

In my own life of Teaching I have been moved to submit myself to ordinary people in a time of great confusion and doubt relative to life in general as well as to the Way of Truth. There have been no superior individuals for me to address. Therefore, I have often Taught in the “Crazy Wisdom” manner, exaggerating and satirizing the usual Man, mocking the conventions of social and religious behavior and belief, and in general taking on and transforming all of the tendencies of humankind that are abroad in my time and place. This Crazy Wisdom method of Teaching is one of the traditional options used by Adepts, and it does not involve a “fall” or an embrace of un-Enlightened views. Indeed, it is a means for expressing and maintaining the difference between the conventional point of view and the Enlightened or Transcendental “point” of view. Therefore, through all of the “theatre” of my Teaching Work, I have always maintained an absolute commitment to the Way Itself, and it is to this most profound and radical Way that I have brought all of those who have found me and held on to me in these Teaching years.

Just so, all of the traditions need to embrace the Way for its own sake if they are to retain the integrity of Truth. And this requires continuous self-purification in all institutions, as well as a periodic purification of all institutions through the Work of Great Adepts. Therefore, it is a part of my Work to criticize and purify the Great Tradition and realign all traditions to the Truth.

An aspect of my purification of the Great Tradition is my criticism of popular religious and philosophical movements of all kinds (exoteric, esoteric, and Transcendental). And, therefore, I must say again that the popular movements of salvation by the social and/or psychological affirmation of belief are nothing but expressions of the un-Enlightened social order of the first three stages of life. Such movements do not truly even demand or finally produce great positive and free social changes, but the best they do is control and ceaselessly modify personal and social behaviors. The practices involved in such movements do not require or produce ultimate change or ultimate transcendence, because they represent an accommodation to (or a compensation for) an already un-Enlightened and worldly (or ego-fulfilling rather than ego-transcending) habit of existence.

There is no sufficiency in mere belief—no matter Who or What is the Object of such belief. There is no sufficiency in mind (which is the domain of mere believing and knowing), just as there is no sufficiency in the experience of the body or of the world (since body and world are always encountered in the context of the believing and knowing mind). The mind, the body, the world, and the God-idea that supports them are all nothing but the environment and expression of the ego, Narcissus, who is the essence of un-Enlightenment. Unless there is a profound understanding of self, mind, body, world, and the usual God-idea, there is no movement that is self-transcending and oriented toward Enlightenment or God-Truth. The Way of Truth is just such self-transcendence, founded on profound understanding of every feature of conventional existence. And there is no sufficient substitute for the Way of utter self-transcendence. Popular movements are at best reflections of the Way within the domain of our collective and basically immature (or lower human) social order. But they have no proper claim to righteousness, nor do they possess any more Truth than the ego can entertain. Therefore, it is time for all traditions within the Great Tradition to be aligned again to the Realizable Truth that is the matter of value in all schools and all religions. And this realignment to Truth (and the self-transcending Way of practice in the Company of authentic practitioners and Adepts) must humble all traditions, all advocates, and all the separate institutions of this world.


An example of how popular usage transforms the original meaning of a great idea can be seen in the case of the Mahayana Enlightenment Equation (or the equation of Nirvana and samsara). The original idea expressed in the form “Nirvana and samsara are the same” is an expression of Enlightened freedom from egoic and phenomenal bondage. Therefore, in that formula, “samsara” simply means “phenomenal existence.” It does not mean “bondage.” (That is to say, the equation does not mean Nirvana, or Enlightenment, and bondage are the same.) It is only in the original or Hinayana concept of “samsara” that the term means both “phenomenal existence” and “bondage.” (Therefore, in the Hinayana view, Nirvana is absolutely not samsara.) The Mahayana formula views “samsara” (as a general term for phenomenal existence) from the Enlightened or seventh stage point of view, whereas the Hinayana formula criticizes “samsara” as a general term for the conventional, egoic, or pre-Enlightened point of view in the midst of phenomenal existence.

However, the popular or exoteric usage of the Mahayana Enlightenment Equation is itself inherently conventional, egoic, or un-Enlightened. It is an idea intended for the general use of ordinary people who are seeking the Truth. Therefore, for such people, “samsara” is in fact still “bondage” and not merely “phenomenal existence.” Clearly, they stand in the “Hinayana position,” in which it should be understood that Nirvana and samsara (or Enlightenment and bondage) are not at all the same. And the Mahayana Enlightenment Equation should be regarded as the expression of a point of view that will be possible for them only in the event of their spiritual maturity.

The justification of the popular usage of the Mahayana Enlightenment Equation has traditionally been related to the “Bodhisattva” ideal. The origin of the idea of the equation between Nirvana and samsara was in the ultimate or seventh stage consideration of Enlightenment (as Sahaj Samadhi), but that same equation has otherwise traditionally been used to justify the popular idea of “preventing” one’s Enlightenment in order to devote one’s present life (and all future lifetimes) to the Enlightenment of all other beings. This popular idea of the “Bodhisattva” is a conventional social and cultural ideal that belongs to the first four stages of life. It is an ideal offered up in the later and more popular phases of Buddhist cuture as a counter to the ancient Hinayana ideal of ascetical withdrawal from social and phenomenal relations for the sake of one’s own Enlightenment or release from bondage. And it is this more popular and conventional social and cultural motive that reduced both the great Mahayana Equation and the idea of the Bodhisattva (which was originally intended to describe an individual who is profoundly involved in the pursuit of Enlightenment for Its own sake rather than for the ego’s own sake) to the level of conventional beliefs and ideals in the lesser stages of life.

The true Bodhisattva is not one who in any sense prevents his or her own Enlightenment in order to first Enlighten others. How can an un-Enlightened being Enlighten anyone else? Rather, the true Bodhisattva is either pursuing ultimate Enlightenment (and perhaps doing so in the context of service, or positive social and cultural relations with others) or else he or she is already fully established in the Awakened Wisdom of true Enlightenment while still alive. The Enlightened Bodhisattva is a true Buddha or Transcendental Siddha. And such an individual may intentionally remain in the phenomenal worlds through countless rebirths in order to Awaken others—but this does not involve the prevention of his or her own Enlightenment. The Buddhas or Enlightened Bodhisattvas or Awakened Siddhas that constantly.or periodically reappear in the phenomenal worlds for the sake of Helping un-Enlightened beings always reassert their Enlightenment (as Sahaj Samadhi) in each lifetime. What they prevent (or have not yet permanently entered into) is not Enlightenment but the Hinayana form of Nirvana (which is the complete cessation of phenomenal existence, and which is basically equivalent to what I call “Bhava Samadhi,” in contrast to “Sahaj Samadhi,” or the Condition of Enlightenment while yet alive and active). And even such Enlightened Ones are at least periodically (during life and at death) entered into the Nirvanic Samadhi or ultimate Bhava of unqualified Transcendental Being, Consciousness, and Bliss (wherein all phenomenal conditions are perfectly Outshined).

It should be clear, then, that both the ultimate Mahayana idea (of Enlightenment as the equation of Nirvana and samsara) and the ultimate Mahayana ideal (of the Enlightened Bodhisattva) are conceptions born of the Transcendental Wisdom of the seventh stage of life. But both of these great conceptions have frequently been reduced to popular ideas or beliefs and conventional ideals of the beginner’s mind and the earlier stages of life. Indeed, the larger tradition of the Mahayana was specifically oriented toward this popular reductionism, because it intended to be a popular religion rather than a “hard school” reserved exclusively for those who were capable of the most mature and advanced kind of practice. It is this aspect of the Mahayana that represents a tendency to decline from the original attitude of the Buddhist tradition, and it is this will to popularize Buddhist institutions that is the seed of the false views or conventional reductionism I have just described. Indeed, the pressures created by the needs of a popular institutional system are what have created the greatest problems for all esoteric and Transcendentalist traditions. The will to “save” everyone (or to reduce the profound disciplines and intuitions of the Way of Truth to a path that is acceptable even to those who have neither the time nor the inclination to submit themselves to the Truth) is the cause of all the most devastating compromises in philosophy. Of course, the intention to serve and Help others also has undeniable merit, and so all Teachers and traditions must struggle to serve humanity and yet retain the authenticity of confinement to Truth. The Mahayana Buddhist tradition has, like all other traditions, suffered from compromises between Truth and the un-Enlightened demands of humankind. But it has also retained its original purity in the form of its great philosophical literatures and in the form of many schools that continue with an uncompromised devotion to Transcendental Awakening.


The third of the three traditional yanas of Buddhism was built upon the Mahayana tradition (and, therefore, at least some of the original seeds of the Hinayana tradition), and it added tantric and Taoist yogic and mystical techniques (as well as magical religious ceremonialism and devotional practices) to that basic Mahayana tradition. The Vajrayana tradition basically extended the list of “means” whereby Enlightenment could be pursued. The Mahayana schools also added ceremonial and devotional practices to their lists of means whenever they expanded their influence into the popular domain. Therefore, whereas the original Buddhist tradition generally limited its list of means to those that were compatible with the strictly sixth stage orientation, the Mahayana tradition extended those means in order to provide a framework for practice in the terms of the first four stages of life. And although there was some development of fifth stage yogic means in the Mahayana tradition, it was largely the Vajrayana tradition that grafted the mystical yogas of the fifth stage of life onto the traditional list of means associated with Buddhism. Therefore, it is with the Vajrayana tradition that we see the Buddhist tradition return full circle to the shamanistic, animistic, and Emanationist orientation from which Gautama originally recoiled. Even so, the Vajrayana Adepts were able, with the help of Mahayana conceptions, to make a rational synthesis of the fundamental “realism” of original Buddhism and the basic “idealism” of both the Mahayana religious philosophy and the mysticism of Indian tantrism and Chinese Taoism. And, at its best, the Vajrayana represents a true development of Buddhism, although, as was the case with the Mahayana, the popular institutionalization of the Vajrayana as well as its fifth stage mystical tendencies have also produced a range of limitations and false (or at least conventional) views.

The principal contribution of the Vajrayana tradition was to develop a more esoteric and complete conception of the Bodhisattva (or at least to propagate a view of the Bodhisattva that was emphasized more as a myth and less as a reality in the popular Mahayana tradition). The Mahayana tended to support a popular idea of the Bodhisattva as the bearer of an ideal attitude toward the world. Thus, the Mahayana Bodhisattva ideal tends to align itself toward the popular motives of the social ego rather than toward the radical Realization of Transcendental Enlightenment. The Vajrayana schools continued this line as part of their popular Teaching, but they otherwise promoted the idea of Bodhisattvas as Enlightened Siddhas who intentionally remain in the phenomenal planes of existence in order to Help un-Enlightened Beings.

The Vajrayana Bodhisattvas are already Enlightened beings who have spontaneously Realized the Transcendental Condition of phenomenal existence and have, either as a spontaneous result of that Realization or as an end-product of esoteric yogic practices, achieved various super-normal freedoms and powers that enable them to be uniquely effective in Helping others toward Enlightenment. Such Bodhisattvas are what I call seventh stage Adepts (or “Bodhisiddhas”).

The principal examples of such true Bodhisiddhas in the Vajrayana tradition are the Indian Mahasiddhas and the Crazy Wisdom Adepts of Tibet. (And their likeness may also be seen in the Awakened Adepts and “Avadhoots” of Advaitism—such as may be sometimes found in the “Devi” school, the Siva school, and the Dattatreya school—who, like the Buddhist Siddhas, have transcended both the subjective and the objective tendencies of mind). Such individuals behave in an unconventional fashion as an expression of the true understanding of Enlightenment. They are frequently non-ascetical and non-celibate masters of yogic tantrism, and they are also frequently associated with supernormal powers of the fifth stage yogic variety. However, the significance of the Crazy Wisdom demonstration of Enlightenment is not self-indulgence or attachment to subtle powers and states. Rather, its significance is the spontaneous communication of the attitude of transcendence (in the form of non-preference)

This expressed attitude of non-preference is, in the Vajrayana tradition, the equivalent to the acausal (or Nirvanic) disposition that is the basis of the original Teaching of Gautama. It is different in appearance from Gutama’s demonstration of acausalism, which was associated with what I call “Bhava Samadhi,” or the Realization of no-desire (or no-contraction) to the point of the cessation of phenomenal consciousness. The Vajrayana demonstration of the ultimate acausal disposition is, by contrast, associated with what I call “Sahaj Samadhi” (or Transcendental Awakening in the midst of phenomenal states). Therefore, the Vajrayana demonstration is expressed in the terms of phenomenal existence (rather than in the terms of the non-phenomenal or phenomena-transcending State). And the content of that demonstration is not the exclusion of any particular category of existence, nor the exclusive embrace of any particular category of existence, but no-preference for any particular category of existence—no-preference for any phenomenon or phenomenal state (pleasurable or painful, positive or negative, “yang” or “yin,” low or high, vulgar or saintly), no-preference for phenomenal existence itself, and no-preference for the cessation of phenomena or phenomenal existence.

The philosophical origins of the Vajrayana demonstration of Enlightenment are in the Mahayana Enlightenment Equation (or the Realization of samsara, or phenomenal existence, in the context of Nirvana, or the Transcendental Condition, rather than in the context of egoic bondage). Thus, the Vajrayana philosophy is basically that of the Mahayana schools of “Mind Dharma” (or the Transcendental Idealism expressed in the Mahayana equation of Nirvana and samsara). But the Vajrayana tradition of practice has its roots in the tantric tradition of India and the Taoist tradition of China, both of which traditions are basically oriented toward the psycho-physical yogism of the fifth stage of life. And it is this fifth stage connection (as well as the motives toward institutional popularization and social power) that are the source of the unique characteristics and the lesser or limited formulations of the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition.

The techniques of the Vajrayana schools are typically either fourth stage devotional and exoteric disciplines (intended to purify and concentrate the mind) or fifth stage yogic disciplines comparable to the psycho-physical yogas of India and China) intended to develop powers or “siddhis,” visionary and other forms of super-sensory contemplation, and, ultimately, a Nirvana-like samadhi that is virtually identical to the ascended “nirvikalpa samadhi” of all the ancient schools of shamanistic “sky-magic” or mystical ascent). Therefore, the Vajrayana system of means is generally mapped out along the lines of the contemplative phenomenal mysticism associated with the goals of the fifth stage of life. But these means are, in the best of the Vajrayana schools, considered to be secondary or “helping” yogas, preliminary to the ultimate or “Mahamudra” yoga of mind-transcendence (rather than mind-development).

The greatness of any Vajrayana school, as of any school, is to be measured in terms of the degree to which the motives and means of the first six stages of life are ultimately sacrificed into the seventh stage Realization of Truth. The interpretation (or conventional “picture”) of Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism that is popularly held (both by the Tibetan people and all non-Tibetans, including Westerners) is one that associates the Vajrayana with the magical-mystical romance of cosmic hierarchies and powers over Nature. The native Tibetan schools developed institutional organizations (both of the ascetical and the non-ascetical variety) that were designed to maintain ordinary social order and political power in the period before the recent grossly destructive Chinese invasion of the closed society of Tibet. Therefore, the “Bodhisiddhas” of the traditionally organized Tibetan culture came to be identified more or less exclusively with endlessly reincarnating magical “tulkus” and high Adepts who were said to be always embodied in the ecclesiastical authorities of the traditional Vajrayana organizations. This more or less exclusive identification of Enlightened Adepts with ecclesiastical hierarchies is an ordinary or popular device of social, cultural, and political power. Even though it may have made some kind of sense in the context of the pre-invasion culture of Tibet, it is not a necessary feature of the Vajrayana system. The Free Adepts, or those who are moved to Truth and Awaken by whatever trial of means, are the real heart of the Vajrayana tradition of Bodhisattvas (as well as all other traditions), and even though such beings may have also appeared in the form of authorities in the traditional Tibetan hierarchy, it is the tradition of spontaneously appearing Adepts that grants fundamental authenticity to the Vajrayana Way, just as it is the Transcendental philosophy (expressed in the “Mahamudra” version of the Mahayana philosophy of mind and Enlightenment), rather than the magical-mystical yogic philosophy, that is the reason why the Vajrayana is an authentic form of Buddhism rather than merely a species of fourth to fifth stage yogism.

Institutions are inevitable and necessary for the orderly transmission of philosophical Teachings, practices, and cultural structures for practice in the larger world of any generation, and from one generation to the next. Therefore, each of the three earlier yanas of Buddhism as well as the newly arising Advaitayana Buddhism are associated with unique institutions. But all such institutions must be regarded as creative processes rather than as fixed entities, and they must constantly be purified of the dross of accumulated limitations that temporarily develop through accommodation to the outer or popular domain, or that arise whenever the lesser (or exoteric and esoteric) conceptions (belonging to the first six stages of life) begin to dominate or obscure the greater or ultimate Teaching of the seventh stage of life. Therefore, the great institutions are self-purifying. And Adepts continually appear to purify, realign, or redirect their own institutional traditions. Likewise, from time to time, Great Adepts appear to purify, realign, and redirect all institutions and all traditions, and so also to produce a new tradition that is built upon the foundation of all that came before. My own Work is of this last kind.

Nirvanasara Table of Contents