Buddhism Reestablished Regal Caste’s Primordial Knowledge

against Sacerdotal Caste born of Decadence

& Guénon Not Seeing “According to Truth”

(from "The Doctrine of Awakening")





It is not out of place to consider another point. The brahmana caste is habitually thought of in the West as a "sacerdotal" caste. This is true only up to a certain point. In the Vedic origins the type of Brahman or "sacrificer" bears little resemblance to that of the "priest" as our contemporaries think of him: he was, rather, a figure both virile and awful and, as we have said, a kind of visible incarnation in the human world of the superhuman (bhu-deva). Furthermore, we often find in the early texts a point where the distinction between the brahman—the "sacerdotal" caste—and the ksatram or rajam—the warrior or regal caste—did not exist; a feature that we see in the earliest stages of all traditional civilizations, including the Greek, Roman, and German. The two types only began to differ in a later period, this being another aspect of the process of regression that we have mentioned. Besides, there are many who maintain that in Aryan India the doctrine of the atma was originally confined almost exclusively to the warrior caste, and that the doctrine of brahman as an undifferentiated cosmic force was formulated mainly by the sacerdotal caste. There is probably some truth in this view. In any case, it is a fact that in many texts we see a king or a ksatriya (a member of the warrior nobility) vying in knowledge with and sometimes even instructing members of the Brahman caste; and that, according to tradition, primordial knowledge was handed down, starting from Iksvaku, in regal succession; the same "solar dynasty" (surya-varhsa) that we mentioned in connection with the Buddha's family, also figures here. We should have the following picture: in the Indo-Aryan post-Vedic world, while the warrior caste held a more realistic and virile view and put emphasis on the doctrine of the atma as the unchangeable and immortal principle of human personality, the Brahman caste was becoming little by little, "sacerdotal" and, instead of facing the reality, was moving among ritual and stereotyped exegeses and speculations. Simultaneously, in another way, the character of the first Vedic period was becoming overgrown with a tropical and chaotic vegetation of myths and popular religious images, even of semidevotional practices seeking the attainment of this, that, or the other divine "rebirth" on the basis of views on reincarnation and transmigration that, as we have said, had already infiltrated into the less illuminated Indo-Aryan mentalities. Leaving yoga apart, it is worth noting that it was the warrior nobility—the ksatram—that furnished the principal support not only of the Sarhkhya system, which is regarded as representing a clear reaction against speculative "idealism," but also of Jainism, the so-called doctrine of the conquerors (from jina, "conqueror"), which laid emphasis, though with a tendency to extremism, on necessity for ascetic action.


All this is necessary for our understanding of the historical place of Buddhism and of the reasons of its most characteristic views.


From the point of view of universal history, Buddhism arose in a period marked by a crisis running through a whole series of traditional civilizations. This crisis sometimes resolved itself positively thanks to opportune reforms and revisions, and sometimes negatively with the effect of inducing further phases of regression or spiritual decadence. This period, called by some the "climacteric" of civilization, falls approximately between the eighth and the fifth centuries b.c. It is in this period that the doctrines of Lao-tzu and Kung Fu-tzu (Confucius) were taking root in China, representing a renewal of elements of the most ancient tradition on the metaphysical plane on the one hand, and on the ethical-social on the other. In the same period it is said that "Zarathustra" appeared, through whom a similar return took place in the Persian tradition. And in India the same function was performed by Buddhism, also representing a reaction and, at the same time, a re-elevation. On the other hand, as we have often pointed out elsewhere, it seems that in the West processes of decadence mainly prevailed. The period of which we are now talking is, in fact, that in which the ancient aristocratic and hieratic Hellas declined; in which the religion of Isis along with other popular and spurious forms of mysticism superseded the solar and regal Egyptian civilization; it is that in which Israelite prophetism started the most dangerous ferments of corruption and subversion in the Mediterranean world. The only positive counterpart in the West seems in fact to have been Rome, which was born in that period and which for a certain cycle was a creation of universal importance, animated in high measure by an Olympian and heroic spirit.


Coming to Buddhism, it was not conceived, as many who unilaterally take the Brahman point of view like to claim, as an antitraditional revolution, similar, in its own way, to what the Lutheran heresy was to Catholicism; (1) and still less as a "new" doctrine, the result of an isolated speculation that succeeded in taking root. It represented, rather, a particular adaptation of the original Indo-Aryan tradition, an adaptation that kept in mind the prevailing conditions and limited itself accordingly, while freshly and differently formulating preexistent teachings: at the same time Buddhism closely adhered to the ksatriya (in Pali, khattiya) spirit, the spirit of the warrior caste. We have already seen that the Buddha was born of the most ancient Aryan nobility; but this is not the end of the matter, as a text informs us of the particular aversion nourished by his people for the Brahman caste: "The Sakiya" (Skt: Sakya)—we read—"do not esteem the priests, they do not respect the priests, they do not honour the priests, they do not venerate the priests, they do not hold the priests of account." The same tendency is maintained by Prince Siddhattha, but with the aim of restoring, of reaffirming, the pure will for the unconditioned, to which in the most recent times the "regal" line had often been more faithful than the priestly caste that was already divided within itself.


  1. (1)    This is the point of view held by R. Guénon, Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta, with which we cannot—"according to truth"—agree. More correct are the views of A. K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism, although in this book is apparent the tendency to emphasize only what in Buddhism is valuable from the brahmana standpoint, with disregard of the specific functional meaning he possesses as compared to Hindu tradition.


There are, besides, many signs that the Buddhist doctrine laid no claim to originality but regarded itself as being, in a way, universal and having a traditional character in a superior sense. The Buddha himself says, for example: "Thus it is: those who, in times past, were saints, Perfect Awakened Ones, these sublime men also have rightly directed their disciples to such an end, as now disciples are rightly directly here by me; and those who in future times will be saints, Perfect Awakened Ones, also these sublime men will rightly direct their disciples, as now disciples are rightly directed here by me." The same is repeated in regard to purification of thought, word, and action; it is repeated about right knowledge of decay and death, of their origin, of their cessation and of the way that leads to their cessation; and it is repeated about the doctrine of the "void" or "emptiness," suffnata. The doctrine and the "divine life" proclaimed by Prince Siddhattha are repeatedly called "timeless," akaliko. "Ancient saints, Perfect Awakened Ones" are spoken of, and a traditional theme occurs in connection with a place (here called "the Gorge of the Seer") where a whole series of Paccekabuddhas are supposed to have vanished in the past, a series, that is, of beings who, by their own unaided and isolated efforts, have reached the superhuman state and the same perfect awakening as did Prince Siddhattha himself. Those who are "without faith, without devotion, without tradition" are reproached. A repeated saying is: "What for the world of the sages is not, of that I say: "It is not', and what for the world of sages is, of that I say: 'It is.'" An interesting point is the mention in a text of "extinction," the aim of the Buddhist ascesis, as something that "leads back to the origins." This is supported by the symbolism of a great forest where "an ancient path, a path of men of olden times" is discovered. Following it, the Buddha finds a royal city; and he asks that it should be restored. In another text the significance of this is explained by the Buddha in a most explicit way: "I have seen the ancient path, the path trodden by all the Perfected Awakened Ones of olden times. This is the path I follow." (2)


  1. (2)    It is interesting that according to the myth, Buddha attained the awakening under the Tree of Life placed in the navel of the earth where also all the previous Buddhas reached transcendent knowledge. This is a reference to the "Center of the World," which is to be considered, in its way, as a chrism of traditionality and initiatic of orthodoxy whenever a contact with the origins was restored.


It is quite clear, then, that in Buddhism we are not dealing with a negation of the principle of spiritual authority but rather with a revolt against a caste that claimed to monopolize this authority while its representatives no longer preserved its dignity and had lost their qualifications. [...]




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