The Revolutionary (and Yet Conventional)
Effort of Classical Buddhism
By The Ruchira Avatar,
ADI DA SAMRAJ
Classical (Hinayana and, later, Theravada Buddhism) is broad enough in its implications to qualify as a tradition in the total context of the first six stages of life. However, it is, basically, a “realistic” tradition that seeks to release individuals from the common limits associated with the first five stages of life.
Classical Buddhism was originally a phenomenon that was designed in direct contradiction to the popular ritualism and the esoteric mysticism of its day, and it still functions as a counter (or a critic and a contrary) to the popular ritualistic and “idealistic” culture commonly associated with the first three stages of life and the esoteric culture traditionally associated with the fourth and the fifth stages of life. Then and now, popular (and then esoteric) religious culture seeks (by appealing to the “Creator-God”, or to cosmic powers in general) to grant “good karma” (or the common goods and fortunes of life, and then the uncommon goods, or mystical fortunes, of life, and of the afterlife) to the individual whose beliefs, social behavior, and ritual (or, otherwise, mystical) performances are “correct” (from the popular religious point of view associated with the first three stages of life, and then from the esoteric point of view associated with the fourth and the fifth stages of life). However, classical Buddhism is motivated exactly toward the opposite purpose. Thus, classical Buddhism seeks (by specifically not appealing to any “Creator-God”, or to any cosmic powers at all) to liberate the (relatively ascetical) practitioner from all karma (whether “good” or “bad”), or from all causes and effects within the human and cosmic domain. The classical Buddhist “method” is the opposite of the basic (popular, or exoteric) religious “method” associated with the first three stages of life and the basic (esoteric) “method” traditionally associated with the fourth and the fifth stages of life. That is to say, the classical Buddhist “method” avoids cosmic mythologies (or cosmically oriented and “God”-oriented mythologies) and the techniques of ritual, of magic, and of mysticism (including mystical ascent), because ritual, magic, and (both descending and ascending) mysticism are karmic acts that seek to cause good karmic effects.
Classical Buddhism does appear to retain an aspect of popular religious “method”. It is the technique of morally effective behavior. However, the classical Buddhist use of behavioral discipline is not (in principle) intended for the sake of making “good karma”, but it is intended (at least in its ultimate purpose) for the sake of not making any more karma. That is to say, the moral discipline of classical Buddhism is basically (but moderately) ascetical, rather than “creative”.
Classical Buddhism is basically a revolutionary (but moderate, or “Middle Way”) ascetical approach to the karmic realities of the first five stages of life, and its “realistic” concern is for release from suffering (rather than the popular, and the esoteric, “idealistic” concern for a “good” fate).
Classical Buddhism is a kind of semi-popular ascetical “realism”, specifically opposed to all forms of exoteric and esoteric religious “idealism”. However, the ultimate fulfillment of that “realistic” method is a kind of sixth stage Realization of the Ultimate Transcendental (or Nirvanic) Condition. Therefore, classical Buddhism may be viewed as a kind of sixth stage “realistic” philosophy and practice that (by observation and analysis of all the objects of attention, or all the constituents of observable experience and knowledge) Realizes (or would Realize) the same Truth Realized (or to be Realized) in all “idealistic” sixth stage traditions and schools, including the “idealistic” traditions and schools of Indian Advaitism, and those of Mahayana (and Tibetan, or Vajrayana) Buddhism.
The “idealistic” traditions and schools associated (ultimately) with the sixth stage of life are “idealistic” not only because they generally remain compatible with the basic methods, purposes, and language of popular religious culture (or the exoteric culture associated with the first three stages of life), and even of all progressively esoteric forms of culture (that develop beyond the context of the first three stages of life), but primarily because they directly affirm and describe “That”—or the Inherently Perfect, and Perfectly (Non-conditionally) Subjective,5 Reality—Which Is Ultimate Truth, whereas the “realistic” (or object-oriented) language of classical Buddhism generally (and rather rigorously) avoids Ultimate (and Non-objective, or Perfectly Subjective) descriptions and definitions. (Also, the Ultimate Truth of the “idealistic” sixth stage traditions and schools may, in some fundamental sense, be directly intuited even at the beginning, or in any progressive moment, of sixth stage practice, or even earlier—whereas the classical Buddhist Nirvana can
only be Realized at the “end”, or in the event of final and complete fulfillment of the rather ascetical, and, necessarily, conditional, process.)
Classical Buddhism was (and is) a revolutionary (and yet, in some sense, rather conventional) effort based on the everyday presumed (and perceptual) “realism” of human (conditional, and psycho-physical) life—whereas the “idealistic” traditions and schools of sixth stage practice have always represented a non-conventional and non-conditional (and not itself psycho-physical) comprehension of existence (that readily moves beyond, and inherently stands beyond, the common limits of the first three stages of life and, ultimately, beyond even all of the first five stages of life).
The basic source of (or historical precedent for) all later sixth stage “idealistic” traditions (in India, and even, to a very large degree, in the Orient generally) was (and is) the Upanishadic movement (which developed in the same general historical period in which the earliest forms of classical Buddhism, and also Jainism, developed). And, even though the Upanishadic era in India produced a wide variety of esoteric (and even exoteric) schools, each encompassing one or more of the first six stages of life, and each advanced beyond the common popular religious movements of the ancient (or Vedic) period, the principal school or tradition that characterized (or, at least eventually, epitomized) the Upanishadic movement was the (rigorously non-dualistic) sixth stage tradition of Advaitism (that, in the modern era, has appeared, in the Hindu tradition, in the form of the tradition of Advaita Vedanta).