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  The Way of the Thelema Sangha

General Thelema Posted by Karma Sonam Yeshe Gyamso on July 23, 2001 @ 05:12 PM
from the monka-monka-burnin'-love dept.

The variations of this newly harvested and developing tradition of Thelemic Buddhists has opened for us as magicians methods towards union with our Holy Guardian Angel that have been tried and true in the hands of a much older tradition.

It is this wonderful tradition known as Buddhism that can add a most stable form to the synthesis of a blossoming tradition of thelemic buddhist practitioners.

What is a Thelemic Sangha? That is a good question and one that will be looked at in the course of this article. First, let us look at the meaning of Sangha. Sangha is a Sanskrit word known as a community or assembly of practitioners who have taken refuge in a particular teacher, teaching and followers of that given teaching and teacher.

In this case, the teacher is the Buddha, the teaching is the Dharma (i.e. Universal Law) and the community is the Sangha – the community/assembly of Saints who have gone this way before us, and in which we have an active part, due to our refuge vows within this triple jewel of liberation.

So in this regard, the idea of Sangha has many levels of interpretation, ranging from the non-monastic followers of the Dharma to those within the monastic setting, known as lamas in Tibetan Buddhism (i.e., Vajrayana or Diamond Vehicle of Buddhism).

And there are grades to this concept of Sangha.

One manifestation of this is the laity (i.e. those of a non-monastic order – common folk, homeowners, a non-monastic persons). The laity is the mass of the body that makes up the Sangha, and therefore the relevant population to whom the teacher, teaching, and central core Sangha are devoted. The central core of the Sangha is that grade of Sangha known as the monastic or Noble Sangha who are made up of teachers, meditation masters, artisans, academics, and others, who through their service continue the propagation of teachings to those of the laity as well as their own religious caste.

The main function of the conventional Sangha is to expound and propagate the teachings of the Buddha, or the Dharma as it is called. This is done in such a way that the common people may understand and practice it, developing themselves in their progress along the path of enlightenment. Through the treading of the path of self-development and inner attainment the aspirant is not alone or helpless, but has the whole of the community to aid and support his or her progress through sharing and personal counsel.

In short, there are two kinds of Sangha which are mutually helpful and complementary in the realization of the Buddhist ideals. The first being those who have aspired to lead a life of practice and devotion and have sought to become members of the noble Sangha, such as teachers, masters of meditation, artisans, administrators, and travelling monks, and those that are called the Laity who are predominately homeowners and common folk. Both are self-harmonizing in that they are ultimately the same expressed in processes.

You see one starts on the path of the Sangha with first taking refuge, this refuge in turn generates compassion and the compassion in turn produces bodhicitta or enlightened mind. This state of bodhicitta causes one to 'act' thereby generating merit and wisdom, which continues in a self-perpetuating motion towards the goal of liberation and enlightenment. (At least, that is the Reader's Digest version in a nutshell.)

Now, let us look at what is Thelema?

The theology of Thelema postulates that all manifested existence arising from the interaction of two cosmic principles: the infinitely extended, all-pervading space-time continuum; and the atomic individually expressed principle of life and wisdom. The interplay of these principles gives rise to the principle of consciousness, which governs existence. In the Book of the Law (which is the supreme holy book of Thelemites), the divine principles are personified by a trinity of ancient Egyptian divinities: Nuit, the goddess of infinite space; Hadit, the winged serpent of Light; and Ra Hoor Kuit (Horus), the solar hawk-headed lord of the Cosmos.

The Thelemic theological system utilizes the divinities of various cultures and religions as personifications of specific divine, archetypal and cosmic forces. Thelemic doctrine holds that all the diverse religions of Humanity are grounded in universal truths; and the study of comparative religion is an important discipline for many Thelemites.

With respect to concepts of the individual soul, Thelema follows traditional Hermeticism in the doctrine that each person possesses a soul or “Body of Light,” which is arranged in “layers” or “sheaths” surrounding the physical body. Each individual is also considered to have his or her own personal “Augoeides” or “Holy Guardian Angel,” which can be considered both as the “higher self” and as a separate, sentient, divine being. With respect to concepts of the afterlife, life itself is considered as a continuum, with death an integral part of the whole.

Parallel to Buddhist doctrine, the Body of Light is considered to be subject to metempsychosis, or reincarnation, after the death of the body. The Body of Light is generally considered to evolve in wisdom, consciousness and spiritual power through cycles of metempsychosis for those individuals who dedicate their lives to spiritual advancement; to the point that its fate after death may ultimately be determined by the Will of the individual.

Thelema incorporates the idea of the cyclic evolution of Cultural Consciousness as well as of Personal Consciousness. History is considered to be divided into a series of “Aeons,” each with its own dominant concept of divinity and its own “formula” of redemption and advancement.

The current Aeon is termed the Aeon of Horus.

The modern Aeon of Horus is considered to be dominated by the Principle of the Child, the sovereign individual; and its formula is that of growth, in consciousness and love, toward self-realization.

According to Thelemic doctrine, the expression of Divine Law in the Aeon of Horus is “Do what thou wilt.” This “Law of Thelema,” as it is called, is not to be interpreted as a license to indulge every passing whim, but rather as the divine mandate to discover one's True Will or true purpose in life, and to accomplish it; leaving others to do the same in their own unique ways.

The “acceptance” of the Law of Thelema is what defines a Thelemite, and the discovery and accomplishment of the True Will is the fundamental concern of all Thelemites.

Achieving the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” is considered an integral part of this process. The methods and practices to be employed in this process are numerous and varied; and are grouped together under the generalized term “Magick”.

Not every Thelemite utilizes all the practices available. There is considerable room for each individual practitioner to choose practices that are suitable to his or her individual needs.

However, some of our practices have been traditionally associated with what has generally been known as “occultism” – i.e., astrology, divination, numerology, yoga, tantric alchemy, and discourse with “angels” or “spirits” – are all taken by Thelemites as potentially effective means for obtaining spiritual insights into the nature of one's being and one's place in the universe; and for the fulfillment of such insights through harmonious, evolutionary works.“<sup>1</sup>

It is on that note that contingents of Thelemites, Pagans, and others of the Western Mystery Schools have endeavored towards the new synthesis of Buddhism and Thelema. The synthesis in this case is not a far stretch, as the objectives of both Thelema and Buddhism are the attainment of Liberation and the accomplishment of their True Wills, the Great Work of Enlightenment, the Summum Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.

And as stated above in the compilation of writings from Aleister Crowley on Thelema, the methods and practices to be employed are numerous and varied based upon the inclination and will of the practitioner and aspirant. This leaves a great degree of flexibility in the formulation of rituals, sadhanas, meditations, and Masses for the practice of this synthesis known as Thelema Sangha.

The variations of this newly harvested and developing tradition of Thelemic Buddhists has opened for us as magicians methods towards union with our Holy Guardian Angel that have been tried and true in the hands of a much older tradition. It is this wonderful tradition known as Buddhism that can add a most stable form to the continuous flow of Will (Intention) that is Thelema.

Currently there are two groups of Thelemites in the Bay Area that are working on the propagation of this Thelemic Buddhist ideal. One is called the Heru Ra Ha Sangha, which focuses its work on the development of the laity through the practices of two liturgical masses and various preparation rituals and readings.

One of these masses is called the Diamond Sapphire of Radiant Light and the other is called the Golden Topaz of Radiant Light. Both are perspectives on the synthesis of Buddhadharma and Thelema. All of this can be further explored via the Heru Ra Ha Sangha webpage.

The other Thelemic Sangha is currently in formation and will be focused on a more monastic model of the initiatory school. The name of this sangha is yet to be announced.

And of special note is the Pagan Dharma work of Sam Webster.

Sam Webster, M. Div., Mage, trained at Meadville/Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago and Starr King School for the Ministry at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

He is an Adept of the Golden Dawn and the Chthonic-Ouranian OTO, as well as an initiate of Wiccan, Buddhist and Hindu lines. He directs Academy Arkadia, a school of the Pagan Magickal arts, and serves the Pagan community principally as a priest of Hermes.

In conclusion, the paths of the Thelema Sangha are still defining themselves and developing the centers of their focus. Some will lean more to the Buddhists iconography and teachings while other will embrace the deities of the Thelemic pantheon and the teaching which are the Holy Books of Thelema. And still others will take from their own traditions and mate and meld with the body of Buddhist teachings to birth forth-another child of sovereign intention. The ways are innumerable yet the Work is One.

May each of you come to know the glorious radiance of your Holy Guardian Angel and attain, Life, Love, Light and Liberation which is the mark of the Buddha, whose voice is guiding and protecting you along the Path of Return.


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  1. Referenced from various sources works by Aleister Crowley as published on the O.T.O. homepage.

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The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

by Shasu Ma'akheru on Monday July 23, @11:53PM

I confess that, despite some superficial similarities, I cannot imagine two modes of thought more different than Thelema and Buddhism.

To the Buddha's First Noble Truth, “All is sorrow,” Liber AL gives us, “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy, that all the sorrows are but as shadows, they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.” (And aside from this, there is the fact that all is obviously not sorrow, leaving the purely doctrinal aspect of Buddhism rather tainted at the source.)

Buddhism urges the renunciation of desire. While Thelema insists on its subordination to Will, it also urges that desire be kept well-sated lest the starvation of one of the four faculties should come to injure the other three.

Then, of course, there is AL III:53-54, “With my claws I tear out the flesh of the Indian and the Buddhist, Mongol and Din. Bahlasti! Ompehda! I spit on your crapulous creeds!” Even taking Crowley's rather generous interpretation that this means that Buddhist doctrine is not wholly incompatible with Thelema but Buddhist practice is, it's hardly a ringing endorsement for the religion. Nor is the passage in The Vision and the Voice, 3rd Aethyr, which reads, “And Satan is worshipped by men under the name of Jesus; and Lucifer is worshipped by men under the name of Brahma; and Leviathan is worshipped by men under the name of Allah; and Belial is worshipped by men under the name of Buddha.”

Without seriously questioning the intentions of the author, I cannot help but feel that this article takes Buddhism and dresses it with the superficial trappings of Thelema in much the same way that so-called Messianic Judaism takes Christianity and dresses it with the superficial trappings of Judaism. In both case the core religion remains unchanged, and the unfortunate victim of the grafting process is disemboweled along the way.

Re: Huh?\\
by <Hypocrates> on Tuesday July 24, @03:25AM\\
We are divided for love's sake, for the chance of union.\\

by <Xnoubis> on Tuesday July 24, @12:32PM
While I'm not entirely in agreement with every aspect of this essay (Grades in the Sangha? Let's not and say we didn't.), a common context for Thelema and Buddhism makes sense to me. Not the Theraveda Buddhism with which Crowley was familiar, but certainly the Vajrayana of Tibet, particularly Dzogchen.\\
> the fact that all is obviously not sorrow\\
And yet, AC often referred to the “Trance of Universal Sorrow.” Buddhism just emphasizes it earlier than does Thelema. Similarly, there is great emphasis on joy in Tibetan Buddhism, again, in contrast to Theraveda.\\
> this article takes Buddhism and dresses it with\\
> the superficial trappings of Thelema\\
Buddhism and Thelema both have superficial trappings, some of which seem to be in conflict with one another. I find it helpful to consider whether there are deeper aspects of agreement between them. My take on it is that Buddhism got the Age of Pisces right, whereas the West bungled it completely, so there need be no great conflict between Thelema and Buddhism as there is between Thelema and Christianity.\\
Also, I've seen a lot of discussion about all of the things Buddhism has to teach the Western Tradition. I'd propose that there is something that the Western Tradition has worked out to a greater degree than has Buddhism: the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The Tibetans approach this with Guru Yoga, I believe, which is possibly a more secure way of going about it if you have a culture with reliable teachers. But the HGA is a concept more compatible with our heritage.\\

  • |Re: Mu! TOO!\\
    by Karma Sonam Yeshe Gyamso on Tuesday July 24, @06:19PM

    While I'm not entirely in agreement with every aspect of this essay (Grades in the Sangha? Let's not and say we didn't.)\\
    AMEN! I personally feel that a graded “thelemic” sangha, even if under the pretext of a 'noble sangha' takes away from the inherent beauty of these complimentary systems of Vajrayana and Thelema. After all, this is a cult whose statement is do thy will…and not another's.\\
    And it is up to each of us to find the vehicle that best exemplifies this Law. And perhaps a “graded” sangha works for some.\\
    The Tibetans approach this with Guru Yoga, I believe, which is possibly a more secure way of going about it if you have a culture with reliable teachers. But the HGA is a concept more compatible with our heritage.\\
    Yes, I think you have the right idea here. The objective is to utilize the technology of both systems in a complimentary fashion that is in keeping with your objectives as a Thelemite and a Buddhist. The balance lies in synthesis and your personal understanding as you “work” the system.\\
    Again it is one thing to debate this synthesis based on book-knowledge and experience as a thelemite and quite a different beast to objectively practice it as both a buddhist and a thelemite. Again, the synthesis is open to interpretation based on one's own work. Mine has shown me that both thelema and vajrayana are brother and sister whose offspring is yet another vehicle for the Great Work.\\
    Do what thou wilt.\\
    Tashi Delek!\\
    Karma Sonam Yeshe Gyamtso\\

  • |Re: Mu!\\
    by Shasu Ma'akheru on Wednesday July 25, @01:04PM

    My take on it is that Buddhism got the Age of Pisces right, whereas the West bungled it completely, so there need be no great conflict between Thelema and Buddhism as there is between Thelema and Christianity.\\

    I have no disagreement with that, except to note that it is no longer the Age of Pisces. And I do understand that there are many flavors of Buddhism – I was deeply involved with its Zen offshoot before I encountered Thelema – and my remarks do not apply equally to all schools of Buddhist thought. Certainly I do not regard Buddhists as a threat to my life and freedom the way I do Christians.\\

    However, looking at the societies that Christianity and Buddhism have produced, much of the Buddhist world is socially in a state not far removed from that of the Christian middle ages as far as individual freedom and the rights of women are concerned. Not all of that can be blamed on the dominant religion in either case, but not all of it can be excused, either. Buddhist literature is in many instances as hostile to women as sources of corruption as Christian literature.\\

    I've seen a lot of discussion about all of the things Buddhism has to teach the Western Tradition.\\

    That is undoubtedly so. We owe the Buddhists and their Hindu predecessors a great deal for their advanced technology in the area of meditation, and perhaps at least as much just for the terminology to be able to talk about it. Even Liber AL's rejection of Buddhism is a partial rejection as opposed to the complete rejection of Christianity. I'm certainly not espousing a stance of hostility against Buddhism; I just want to make sure that the deep philosophical differences between Thelema and Buddhism are not forgotten to the detriment of both in a rush to identify commonalities.\\

Re: Huh?\\
by <Mordecai> on Tuesday July 24, @07:11PM
I also believe that there is some basic “disagreement” between Buddhism and Thelema. I don't see that disagreement, however, between Hinduism and Thelema. “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy”, for instance, is a restatement of the Hindu formula Satchitananda, except that it recognizes that, in human experience, consciousness precedes being, thus is arranged Chit(“Remember all ye”)-Sat(“that existence is”)-Ananda(“pure joy”).\\

**Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha**
by Fra THA;M on Wednesday July 25, @11:24AM

I am unsure on the exact wording, but I know that Crowley goes into a comparative explanation of the differences between Buddhism and Thelemic traditions in his essays on the Three Schools of Magick. While he expresses respect for Buddhism, he unequivocabley states that they are diametrically opposite in regards to their respective philosophies and cosmologies. I think it is a stretch to attempt and make Thelema a blanket ideology that is inclusive to any spiritual disciplines that have the slightest affinity with it. Though an intelligent religion like Buddhism deserves far more favour than many Thelemic manifestations of such strange hybrids as HP Lovecraft and Crowley.

Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha\\
by <Xnoubis> on Wednesday July 25, @11:38AM
I'll assert again: it's unfortunate that Crowley was only familiar with that variety of Buddhism least compatible with Thelema. Theraveda does indeed correspond to Crowley's Yellow School. Mahayana is, in my opinion, a transition between Yellow and White. Vajrayana is every bit as White as Thelema.\\

Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha\\
by <Mordecai> on Wednesday July 25, @03:39PM
Actually Crowley equates Buddhism with the Black School. The “highest classic” of the Yellow School is the Tao Teh Ching. Personally I prefer the Tan School, it looks Black to the White and White to the Black and Black or White to the Yellow.\\

Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha\\
by Karma Sonam Yeshe Gyamso on Wednesday July 25, @06:42PM
Yes, I believe that Fra. Xnoubis is marking a clear distinction as to the relationship between vajrayana and thelema. They are as white (based on Crowley's distinction) as burning magnesium.\\
And I think that we also need to look at where Crowley's understanding (and a very limited understanding at that, not to mention all the recent developments and technologies that have been brought to the West from East in the last 20 years.) is drawn from.\\
He gleaned what is the Lesser Vehicle of Buddhism which is was the lowest common denominator. He apparently was never introduced to what Buddhism is at its pinnacle.\\
I think we need to stop looking to Crowley for our understanding of what Buddhism is and to more authentic teachers of the Dharma…and there are many. Just a thought.\\
In the Light of 93 Buddhas,\\
Rey De Lupos\\

Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha\\
by Fra THA;M on Friday July 27, @12:45PM
I'm not anthropocentric, but I beleive that the Western mind is unsuited for a general acceptance of many of the eastern disciplines. Our perceptions, world-veiw and philosophy are quite divergent. Not better or worse, just subtlely altered. Hence historical attempts to fuse these two threads have failed, most evident are the schisms of Theosophy. There are, naturally, equivalents between both systems, east and west, but greatest success in the west has been gained by applying the occidental symbol sets that are so ingrained in our collective cultures.\\

  • |Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha\\
    by <Mordecai> on Friday July 27, @07:34PM

    The Dalai Lama would probably agree with you. He generally recommends that Westerners try to reconnect with their own traditions before they adopt Tibetan Buddhism. As Fra. T points out there are many cultural differences; I've met Tibetans who were immensely puzzled by our concept of “low self-esteem”. They found it bizarre that anyone, even evil people, would devalue themselves in this way. As for the use that Asian people have made of European religion, one need only look at the Unification Church for a typical example. Still, I would hate to see any artifical barriers imposed between “Western” and “Eastern” religious thought; even the many misunderstandings have had a cross-fertilizing effect.\\

**Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha**
by <woof> on Tuesday August 07, @12:27PM

With Buddhism being centuries old and so heavily documented, a person could read tons of books on it without it getting repetitive. Crowley kept trying to teach Yoga, check out the list for Section III in Gems from the Equinox - and it doesn't stop there - thats a sample. So someone may prefer learning some of these things from an alive Dzogchen vajra master whose very presense feels like a blessing. Thelema doesn't fade out of the memory of many of those who've chosen Buddhism, it gets integrated. Peace.

**Re: The Way of the Thelema Sangha**
by Aion 131 on Tuesday November 06, @11:40PM

My dearest Karma Sonam Yeshe Gyamso

Om & 93!

Im happy to see the comments you have received to this worthy essay. There are lots of us types and I may post my article on Buddha and the HGA just to roil stuff up some more.
For those who have trouble holding Buddhism & Thelema in one open palm: watch out, your are ossifying….!

Thelema = Will
One Mind = Will
Agape = Love
Compassion = Love

So…what is the problem? :)

Io Pan & Om Ah Hum


The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

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