The Doctrine of Awakening:
The Attainment of Self-Mastery According to the Earliest Buddhist Texts,
by Julius Evola, translated by H. E. Musson
Reviewed by Richard Smoley
Vol.23 No.4 (Nov 1998)
COPYRIGHT 1998 Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition
The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery According
to the Earliest Buddhist Texts By Julius Evola. Translated by H. E.
Musson. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1996.
THE ITALIAN BARON Julius Evola (1898-1974) is one of the most
difficult and ambiguous figures in modern esotericism. An able
expositor of such elusive traditions as Tantrism and alchemy, he had
connections among the, Fascists and the Nazis. After World War II he
served as mentor for a generation of postwar Europeans who combined
esotericism with extreme rightwing politics.
Thus we may be tempted to dismiss Evola as yet another in a long
line of mystical lunatics. We might also conclude that Evola has
nothing of interest to say about Buddhism, a topic he addresses in
The Doctrine of Awakening, which was first published in 1943. But we
would be wrong. In fact his exposition of the cognitive aspects of
the Buddhist path to awakening is lucid and profound.
In essence, the Buddhist "Doctrine of Awakening" is, tot Evola, the
cultivation of a pure, naked, transcendent consciousness, and his
book shines in describing the stages leading to this consciousness.
It is to attain this end that all meditation and ascetic practice
arc directed. To the extent that it is achieved, the practitioner
has succeeded; to the extent that it is not, he has failed. We
cannot make substitutions for it by worshipping deities or
practicing moral precepts.
Evola is right, I believe, in insisting that Buddhism in its
earliest forms was not a religion in the customary sense. It was
not--and even today generally is not--concerned with worship of an
exterior God; instead, by attaining enlightenment, one comes to
embody all that people usually worship externally. His exposition of
the progressive stages of this development is superb and in many
ways unsurpassed. His discussion of the Buddhist theory of
"conditioned genesis," usually translated as "dependent
origination," is particularly insightful.
Buddhism is an austere, rigorous path, as Evola does not weary of
telling us; and, he adds, the majority of humans are excluded from
it. The Doctrine of Awakening ultimately is directed not only to
males but to Aryans --a Sanskrit word that means "noble" but which
also has had racial connotations in ancient as well as in more
recent times. Evola uses this word often--and means it in both
senses. "Not for nothing have we insisted on the `Aryan' quality of
the teaching under discussion," he writes.
Even apart from its distasteful associations, I find it difficult to
agree with Evola's views of the term "Aryan." The early Buddhist
texts say the truly noble do not belong to a particular race or
caste but instead are those who practice the teaching with
integrity. "Not by lineage, not by birth, not by uncut hair does one
become a Brahmin," says the Dhammapada. "The one who has truth and
the Dharma, the pure one is a Brahmin." (Evola somewhat awkwardly
says such texts need to be taken "with a grain of salt.")
Evola's combination of mystical insight with exclusivism raises a
disturbing question: can one make contact with higher consciousness
and still have dubious political or moral views? Disturbingly,
perhaps, I believe the answer is yes. God sendeth rain on the just
and on the unjust, and the Absolute, being unconditioned, does not
necessarily dictate one's behavior in ordinary life. This issue is
far too intricate for me to address adequately here, but it
indicates why mystical traditions have often insisted on rigorous
moral and doctrinal training before opening oneself to illumination.
The Doctrine of Awakening is not a good introduction to Buddhism. It
is comparatively dense and will be best understood by those who have
already had some exposure to Buddhist thought. Yet its intricate and
lucid discussion of the development of higher consciousness suggests
that Evola's knowledge of these stales was not merely a matter of
theory. For this alone it is worth reading.
Richard Smoley is editor of Gnosis, a journal of the Western
spiritual traditions based in San Francisco.