The Doctrine of Avatāras – from The Secret Doctrine

Le terme avatāra (formé du préfixe ava, qui marque un mouvement de haut en bas, et de la racine tṛ « traverser »), en son sens originel et restreint, désigne une descente, c’est-à-dire une incarnation du dieu Viṣṇu, dans le dessein de rétablir l’ordre cosmique et moral troublé par des puissances démoniaques.

Cette notion s’est étendue par la suite à Lakṣmī, la parèdre du dieu, ainsi qu’à d’autres divinités brahmaniques, mais le mot est resté spécifiquement lié aux cultes vichnouites.

Viṣṇu, dieu de la stabilité, mainteneur des êtres et de l’univers, revêt des formes temporelles pour combattre les forces du mal.

Nirmāṇakāya (Sanskrit: निर्माणकाय, Chinese: 應身; pinyin: Yīng shēn) is the third aspect of the trikāya and the physical manifestation of a Buddha in time and space. In Vajrayāna it is described as “the dimension of ceaseless manifestation.” {Wikipedia}

I don’t think many scientists would be keen on the notion of Copernicus being a fast-track reincarnation of Cardinal de Cusa!!

These extracted from my Adyar Edition of the Secret Doctrine by H.P.Blavatsky which still smells a little of Watkins Books.


This from Wikipedia:

Tathāgata (Sanskrit: [tɐˈtʰaːɡɐtɐ]) is a Pali and Sanskrit word; Gautama Buddha uses it when referring to himself in the Pāli Canon. The term is often thought to mean either “one who has thus gone” (tathā-gata), “one who has thus come” (tathā-āgata), or sometimes “one who has thus not gone” (tathā-agata). This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathāgata is beyond all coming and going – beyond all transitory phenomena. There are, however, other interpretations and the precise original meaning of the word is not certain.

The Buddha is quoted on numerous occasions in the Pali Canon as referring to himself as the Tathāgata instead of using the pronouns me, I or myself. This may be meant to emphasize by implication that the teaching is uttered by one who has transcended the human condition, one beyond the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth and death, i.e. beyond dukkha.

The term Tathāgata has a number of possible meanings.

Etymology and interpretation

The word’s original significance is not known and there has been speculation about it since at least the time of Buddhaghosa, who gives eight interpretations of the word, each with different etymological support, in his commentary on the Digha Nikaya, the SUMAṄGALAVILĀSINĪ.

  1. He who has arrived in such fashion, i.e. who has worked his way upwards to perfection for the world’s good in the same fashion as all previous Buddhas.
  2. He who walked in such fashion, i.e. (a) he who at birth took the seven equal steps in the same fashion as all previous Buddhas or (b) he who in the same way as all previous Buddhas went his way to Buddhahood through the four Jhanas and the Paths.
  3. He who by the path of knowledge has come at the real essentials of things.
  4. He who has won Truth.
  5. He who has discerned Truth.
  6. He who declares Truth.
  7. He whose words and deeds accord.
  8. The great physician whose medicine is all-potent.

Monks, in the world with its devas, Mara and Brahma, in this generation with its ascetics and brahmins, devas and humans, whatever is seen, heard, sensed and cognized, attained, searched into, pondered over by the mind—all that is fully understood by the Tathagata. That is why he is called the Tathagata. (Anguttara Nikaya 4:23)

Modern scholarly opinion generally opines that Sanskrit grammar offers at least two possibilities for breaking up the compound word: either tathā and āgata (via a sandhi rule ā + ā → ā), or tathā and gata. Tathā means “thus” in Sanskrit and Pali, and Buddhist thought takes this to refer to what is called “reality as-it-is” (yathābhūta). This reality is also referred to as “thusness” or “suchness” (tathatā), indicating simply that it (reality) is what it is.

Tathāgata is defined as someone who “knows and sees reality as-it-is” (yathā bhūta ñāna dassana). Gata “gone” is the past passive participle of the verbal root gam “go, travel”. Āgata “come” is the past passive participle of the verb meaning “come, arrive”. In this interpretation, Tathāgata means literally either “the one who has gone to suchness” or “the one who has arrived at suchness”.

Another interpretation, proposed by the scholar Richard Gombrich, is based on the fact that, when used as a suffix in compounds, -gata will often lose its literal meaning and signifies instead “being”. Tathāgata would thus mean “one like that”, with no motion in either direction.

According to Fyodor Shcherbatskoy, the term has a non-Buddhist origin, and is best understood when compared to its usage in non-Buddhist works such as the Mahabharata. Shcherbatskoy gives the following example from the Mahabharata (Shantiparva, 181.22): “Just as the footprints of birds (flying) in the sky and fish (swimming) in water cannot be seen, Thus (tātha) is going (gati) of those who have realized the Truth.”

The French author René Guénon, in an essay distinguishing between Pratyēka-Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, writes that the former appear outwardly superior to the latter, simply because they are allowed to remain impassible, whereas the latter must in some sense appear to rediscover “a way” or at least recapitulate it, so that others, too, may “go that way,” hence tathā-gata

The nature of a Tathāgata

A number of passages affirm that a Tathāgata is “immeasurable”, “inscrutable”, “hard to fathom”, and “not apprehended”. A tathāgata has abandoned that clinging to the skandhas (personality factors) that render citta (the mind) a bounded, measurable entity, and is instead “freed from being reckoned by” all or any of them, even in life. The aggregates of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and cognizance that compose personal identity have been seen to be dukkha (a burden), and an enlightened individual is one with “burden dropped”. The Buddha explains “that for which a monk has a latent tendency, by that is he reckoned, what he does not have a latent tendency for, by that is he not reckoned. These tendencies are ways in which the mind becomes involved in and clings to conditioned phenomena. Without them, an enlightened person cannot be “reckoned” or “named”; he or she is beyond the range of other beings, and cannot be “found” by them, even by gods, or Mara. In one passage, Sariputta states that the mind of the Buddha cannot be “encompassed” even by him.

The Buddha and Sariputta, in similar passages, when confronted with speculation as to the status of an arahant after death, bring their interlocutors to admit that they cannot even apprehend an arahant that is alive. As Sariputta puts it, his questioner Yamaka “can’t pin down the Tathagata as a truth or reality even in the present life.” These passages imply that condition of the arahant, both before and after parinirvana, lies beyond the domain where the descriptive powers of ordinary language are at home; that is, the world of the skandhas and the greed, hatred, and delusion that are “blown out” with nirvana.

In the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta, an ascetic named Vaccha questions the Buddha on a variety of metaphysical issues. When Vaccha asks about the status of a tathagata after death, the Buddha asks him in which direction a fire goes when it has gone out. Vaccha replies that the question “does not fit the case … For the fire that depended on fuel … when that fuel has all gone, and it can get no other, being thus without nutriment, it is said to be extinct.” The Buddha then explains: “In exactly the same way …, all form by which one could predicate the existence of the saint, all that form has been abandoned, uprooted, pulled out of the ground like a palmyra-tree, and become non-existent and not liable to spring up again in the future. The saint … who has been released from what is styled form is deep, immeasurable, unfathomable, like the mighty ocean.” The same is then said of the other aggregates. A variety of similar passages make it clear that the metaphor “gone out, he cannot be defined” (atthangato so na pamanam eti) refers equally to liberation in life. In the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta itself, it is clear that the Buddha is the subject of the metaphor, and the Buddha has already “uprooted” or “annihilated” the five aggregates. In Sn 1074, it is stated that the sage cannot be “reckoned” because he is freed from the category “name” or, more generally, concepts. The absence of this precludes the possibility of reckoning or articulating a state of affairs; “name” here refers to the concepts or apperceptions that make propositions possible.

Nagarjuna expressed this understanding in the nirvana chapter of his Mulamadhyamakakarika: “It is not assumed that the Blessed One exists after death. Neither is it assumed that he does not exist, or both, or neither. It is not assumed that even a living Blessed One exists. Neither is it assumed that he does not exist, or both, or neither.”

Speaking within the context of Mahayana Buddhism (specifically the Perfection of Wisdom sutras), Edward Conze writes that the term ‘tathagata’ denotes inherent true selfhood within the human being:

Just as tathata designates true reality in general, so the word which developed into “Tathagata” designated the true self, the true reality within man.

The Fool, the Wise and the Venerable

Extracted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Dhammapada, by Unknown

Translator: F. Max Muller

Chapter V. The Fool

  1. Long is the night to him who is awake; long is a mile to him who is tired; long is life to the foolish who do not know the true law.
  2. If a traveller does not meet with one who is his better, or his equal, let him firmly keep to his solitary journey; there is no companionship with a fool.
  3. “These sons belong to me, and this wealth belongs to me,” with such thoughts a fool is tormented. He himself does not belong to himself; how much less sons and wealth?
  4. The fool who knows his foolishness, is wise at least so far. But a fool who thinks himself wise, he is called a fool indeed.
  5. If a fool be associated with a wise man even all his life, he will perceive the truth as little as a spoon perceives the taste of soup.
  6. If an intelligent man be associated for one minute only with a wise man, he will soon perceive the truth, as the tongue perceives the taste of soup.
  7. Fools of little understanding have themselves for their greatest enemies, for they do evil deeds which must bear bitter fruits.
  8. That deed is not well done of which a man must repent, and the reward of which he receives crying and with a tearful face.
  9. No, that deed is well done of which a man does not repent, and the reward of which he receives gladly and cheerfully.
  10. As long as the evil deed done does not bear fruit, the fool thinks it is like honey; but when it ripens, then the fool suffers grief.
  11. Let a fool month after month eat his food (like an ascetic) with the tip of a blade of Kusa grass, yet he is not worth the sixteenth particle of those who have well weighed the law.
  12. An evil deed, like newly-drawn milk, does not turn (suddenly); smouldering, like fire covered by ashes, it follows the fool.
  13. And when the evil deed, after it has become known, brings sorrow to the fool, then it destroys his bright lot, nay, it cleaves his head.
  14. Let the fool wish for a false reputation, for precedence among the Bhikshus, for lordship in the convents, for worship among other people!
  15. “May both the layman and he who has left the world think that this is done by me; may they be subject to me in everything which is to be done or is not to be done,” thus is the mind of the fool, and his desire and pride increase.
  16. “One is the road that leads to wealth, another the road that leads to Nirvana;” if the Bhikshu, the disciple of Buddha, has learnt this, he will not yearn for honour, he will strive after separation from the world.

Chapter VI. The Wise Man (Pandita)

  1. If you see an intelligent man who tells you where true treasures are to be found, who shows what is to be avoided, and administers reproofs, follow that wise man; it will be better, not worse, for those who follow him.
  2. Let him admonish, let him teach, let him forbid what is improper!—he will be beloved of the good, by the bad he will be hated.
  3. Do not have evil-doers for friends, do not have low people for friends: have virtuous people for friends, have for friends the best of men.
  4. He who drinks in the law lives happily with a serene mind: the sage rejoices always in the law, as preached by the elect (Ariyas).
  5. Well-makers lead the water (wherever they like); fletchers bend the arrow; carpenters bend a log of wood; wise people fashion themselves.
  6. As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, wise people falter not amidst blame and praise.
  7. Wise people, after they have listened to the laws, become serene, like a deep, smooth, and still lake.
  8. Good people walk on whatever befall, the good do not prattle, longing for pleasure; whether touched by happiness or sorrow wise people never appear elated or depressed.
  9. If, whether for his own sake, or for the sake of others, a man wishes neither for a son, nor for wealth, nor for lordship, and if he does not wish for his own success by unfair means, then he is good, wise, and virtuous.
  10. Few are there among men who arrive at the other shore (become Arhats); the other people here run up and down the shore.
  11. But those who, when the law has been well preached to them, follow the law, will pass across the dominion of death, however difficult to overcome.

87, 88. A wise man should leave the dark state (of ordinary life), and follow the bright state (of the Bhikshu). After going from his home to a homeless state, he should in his retirement look for enjoyment where there seemed to be no enjoyment. Leaving all pleasures behind, and calling nothing his own, the wise man should purge himself from all the troubles of the mind.

  1. Those whose mind is well grounded in the (seven) elements of knowledge, who without clinging to anything, rejoice in freedom from attachment, whose appetites have been conquered, and who are full of light, are free (even) in this world.

Chapter VII. The Venerable (Arhat).

  1. There is no suffering for him who has finished his journey, and abandoned grief, who has freed himself on all sides, and thrown off all fetters.
  2. They depart with their thoughts well-collected, they are not happy in their abode; like swans who have left their lake, they leave their house and home.
  3. Men who have no riches, who live on recognised food, who have perceived void and unconditioned freedom (Nirvana), their path is difficult to understand, like that of birds in the air.
  4. He whose appetites are stilled, who is not absorbed in enjoyment, who has perceived void and unconditioned freedom (Nirvana), his path is difficult to understand, like that of birds in the air.
  5. The gods even envy him whose senses, like horses well broken in by the driver, have been subdued, who is free from pride, and free from appetites.
  6. Such a one who does his duty is tolerant like the earth, like Indra’s bolt; he is like a lake without mud; no new births are in store for him.
  7. His thought is quiet, quiet are his word and deed, when he has obtained freedom by true knowledge, when he has thus become a quiet man.
  8. The man who is free from credulity, but knows the uncreated, who has cut all ties, removed all temptations, renounced all desires, he is the greatest of men.
  9. In a hamlet or in a forest, in the deep water or on the dry land, wherever venerable persons (Arhanta) dwell, that place is delightful.
  10. Forests are delightful; where the world finds no delight, there the passionless will find delight, for they look not for pleasures.

The Four Stages of Attainment

Excerpted from Wikipedia

The four stages of attainment

The Sangha of the Tathagata’s disciples (Ariya Sangha) can be described as including four or eight kinds of individuals. There are four {groups of noble disciples} when path and fruit are taken as pairs, and eight groups of individuals, when each path and fruit are taken separately:


    (1) the path to stream-entry; (2) the fruition of stream-entry;

    (3) the path to once-returning; (4) the fruition of once-returning;

    (5) the path to non-returning; (6) the fruition of non-returning;

    (7) the path to arahantship; (8) the fruition of arahantship.



The first stage is that of Sotāpanna (Pali; Sanskrit: Srotāpanna), literally meaning “one who enters (āpadyate) the stream (sotas),” with the stream being the supermundane Noble Eightfold Path regarded as the highest Dharma. The stream-enterer is also said to have “opened the eye of the Dharma” (dhammacakkhu, Sanskrit: dharmacakṣus).

A stream-enterer reaches arahantship within seven rebirths upon opening the eye of the Dharma.

Because the stream-enterer has attained an intuitive grasp of Buddhist doctrine (samyagdṛṣṭi or sammādiṭṭhi, “right view”) and has complete confidence or Saddha in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and has removed the sankharas that force rebirth in lower planes, that individual will not be reborn in any plane lower than the human (animal, preta, or in hell).


The second stage is that of the Sakadāgāmī (Sanskrit: Sakṛdāgāmin), literally meaning “one who once (sakṛt) comes (āgacchati)”. The once-returner will at most return to the realm of the senses (the lowest being human and the highest being the devas wielding power over the creations of others) one more time. Both the stream-enterer and the once-returner have abandoned the first three fetters. The stream-enterer and once-returner are distinguished by the fact that the once-returner has weakened lust, hate, and delusion to a greater degree. The once-returner therefore has fewer than seven rebirths. Once-returners do not have only one more rebirth, as the name suggests, for that may not even be said with certainty about the non-returner who can take multiple rebirths in the five “Pure Abodes”. They do, however, only have one more rebirth in the realm of the senses, excluding, of course, the planes of hell, animals and hungry ghosts.


The third stage is that of the Anāgāmī (Sanskrit: Anāgāmin), literally meaning “one who does not (an-) come (āgacchati)”. The non-returner, having overcome sensuality, does not return to the human world, or any unfortunate world lower than that, after death. Instead, non-returners are reborn in one of the five special worlds in Rūpadhātu called the Śuddhāvāsa worlds, or “Pure Abodes”, and there attain Nirvāṇa; Pāli: Nibbana; some of them are reborn a second time in a higher world of the Pure Abodes.

An Anāgāmī has abandoned the five lower fetters, out of ten total fetters, that bind beings to the cycle of rebirth. An Anāgāmī is well-advanced.


The fourth stage is that of Arahant (Sanskrit: Arhat), a fully awakened person. They have abandoned all ten fetters and, upon death (Sanskrit: Parinirvāṇa, Pāli: Parinibbāna) will never be reborn in any plane or world, having wholly escaped saṃsāra. An Arahant has attained awakening by following the path given by the Buddha. In Theravada Buddhism the term Buddha is reserved for ones who “self-enlighten” such as Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, who discovered the path by himself.