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.