In Just what is an arhat? I talked a little about the fifth initiation. Western occultism’s second initiation is said to be the same as the Buddhist stage of stream winner. I think it would be kind of interesting to explore this. So let’s do it.
A stream winner, or srotapanna in Sanskrit and sotapanna in Pali, is someone who has entered the stream, of the buddhist eightfold noble path that leads to the end of suffering. Such a being has tasted nirvana and thus knows the truth of buddha’s teaching. He has more than likely achieved this through meditation.
Importantly, because they have tasted nirvana, they have no more doubt. But this is also because meditation has enabled them to penetrate into form and see that there is no self there. This maybe requires some explanation. Traditionally a Buddhist sees the personality as composed of the five aggregates:-form, sensation, perception, mental formations, consciousness. But there is an approach nearer to our culture that does the job just as well.
In the neo-Darwin school, we are nothing more than a mechanism for the survival of our genes. Acquisition whether that’s of things, or personal characteristics is nothing than to ensure the survival of the genes. Richard Dawkins called them the selfish gene. In other words what you think of as your identity has nothing to do with you whatsoever, your identity is nothing other than a strategy by your genes to ensure that they will reproduce. Money, power, and social status are mechanisms through which your selfish genes compete. This gives rise to what you think, feel and experience. Almost all people find this very difficult to accept. But this denial too is nothing other than part of the strategy of the genes. To see evidence of this you need look no further than a breed of dog or cat. Why? Because whole breeds share personalities. Your personality is not in fact yours. It’s merely an expression of your genes.
There’s hope. Meditate enough and you will discover that your awareness lies as a substrate beneath thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, which are fluid. Your awareness lies beneath your personality even. And of course you see the impermanence of these thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. In a sense your genes have captured your awareness, but identifying with them will only lead to suffering for the simple reason that they vanish soon enough and your clinging to them lead to misery. So, it’s awareness that’s interesting and has interestingly enough been there all the time. It’s just that we’ve failed to pay due attention to it. Disidentify the awareness from its content and you will be free.
This view that all form is empty of self is only one part of the understanding. Another part is the interconnectedness of all things. This is not as new age as it might otherwise sound. It is in part an understanding that we have been making a huge mistake by reifying, i.e. creating things. Ask yourself this, when is a tree no longer a seed and then a tree? A tree is really one huge process. Moreover it doesn’t stand in isolation. It depends on the rain, the soil, the sun, the wind, other plants, animals, etc. etc. etc. Everything as much as there are things is interdependent. That we see things as separate is nothing other than a convenient fiction.
So our disciple gets the point and decides to move from identification with form and a separative view to identification with awareness and a holistic interdependent view, realizing that he his not the contents of the awareness, realizing that the contents of awareness are without any self, realizing that everything is interconnected and puts the truth into practice and renounces all separate and form identity.
So how does this match with the western occultism’s view? The alignment isn’t as complete as you might wish, but it’s revealing nevertheless. It centers around the purification of the emotional nature.
In the west this initiation is sometimes called the initiation of the Baptism. Christ was said to have taken the second initiation when John the Baptist submerged Jesus into the stream. At the second initiation the disciple has purified his emotional nature and is ready to be born again into the kingdom of heaven.
The normal human identity is rooted in the emotional nature. Few are the people with a true mental identification, which is why the second initiation is much more difficult than the other for most people. To give up identification with the emotional nature is to give up most of the sense of one’s self. It helps to know that emotions arise as a result of wrong view. That identification with thoughts is another wrong view, is to the western occultist a matter of the third initiation, and a mater for another post.
There is a slight mismatch between the Western occultist’s view point and a Buddhist’s. In one view the disciple has given up identity and doubt, to the other he has given up desire. But as we saw the root of identity for most is in the emotional nature.
At the second initiation the disciple has struck a major blow at the sense of I, such that all that’s left are some habits. Buddha was very clear about that.
Buddha then asked, “What do you think, Subhuti, does one who has entered the stream which flows to Enlightenment, say ‘I have entered the stream’?”
“No, Buddha”, Subhuti replied. “A true disciple entering the stream would not think of themselves as a separate person that could be entering anything. Only that disciple who does not differentiate themselves from others, who has no regard for name, shape, sound, odor, taste, touch or for any quality can truly be called a disciple who has entered the stream.”