Notes Pages: NOTE E — ORIGINS

This Companion Edition Modernised and Edited by Muriel Daw

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Basic Mahayana Thought

In early times there were two main streams of thought in the Mahayana. All modern Esoteric Schools of Buddhism are soundly based in both. They are not in essence contradictory: one gives the Principle and the other the Practice.

Mādhyamika School — ‘The Middle Way School.’

A school founded about 150 AD by Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva. It taught:  All that can be thought about and known is relative and ‘void,’ it cannot be relied on, it is not ‘Being–in–itself.’ Only when all thoughts, wordiness and relativity are cleared away, can the Dharma reveal itself. 

Although this School disappeared from India after 1000 AD, its leading ideas have survived up to the present day in the Vedanta system, into which they were incorporated by Gaudapada and Sankara, its founders.

Yogācāra School — ‘The Yoga School.’

A school founded about 400 A.D. by Asanga and Vasubandhu. It de­scribed the Absolute as ‘Buddha-Mind,’ or as ‘Mind,’ ‘Thought’ or ‘Consciousness.’ This might be called a metaphysical Idealism according to which consciousness creates its objects out of its own inner potentialities. Mind can, however, exist quite by itself without any object. This School also elaborated formulations of how Mind works, and some of these practical aids are well worth studying. [See ‘Consciousness,’ Note D on pages 52-53.]

Origin of Esoteric Schools

The original Esoteric School of Buddhism was founded in South India by Tantric Nāgārjuna of the ‘Ārya School’ [Yogācāra], probably around the middle of the 7th century. It was based on the MahāVairocana Sūtra, and became very famous as it steadily spread:

Northwards — overland to the great Buddhist University of Nālanda; later it reached primitive Nepal and Tibet, thereby becoming contaminated by the local Bön Shamanism.

Westwards — over the ocean to China, reaching it in 719 AD at the height of the Tang Dynasty civilisation. The Chinese were already familiar with other Buddhist Schools, and treated the new teaching with great respect. Two generations later this purer teaching of the Esoteric School passed to Japan. It is there known as ‘Shingon,’ and can be studied free of the sexual ‘yab-yum’ connotations and other ‘left-handed’ Tantra of Tibet.


THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE is undoubtedly a true teaching of the Esoteric School, as confirmed by the 9th Panchen [or Tashi] Lama and the present Dalai Lama.

However, the source is possibly older than Tibetan.

Madame Blavatsky wrote to her sister, Mme de Zhelihovsky, in February 1890:

“The Voice of the Silence, tiny book though it is, is simply becoming the Theosophists’ bible. They are grand aphorisms, indeed.

I may say so, because you know I did not invent them. I only translated them from Telugu, the oldest South-Indian dialect. There are 3 treatises, about morals and the moral principles of the Mongolian and Dravidian mysteries……”

About 250 miles from Adyar, Madras, in Southern India are the ancient ruins of Nāgārjunakonda, where the ancient Tantric School of Nāgārjuna was founded. Telugu, one of the five great Dravidian languages, is spoken in both of these areas.

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