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The Dhammapada & Liber AL vel Legis (pt. 1)


Before and during the reception of the Liber AL vel Legis, or the Book of the Law, Crowley was a devoted Buddhist of the Theravada tradition. He was surely familiar with the popular text, the Dhammapada. This article will begin to examine some parallels between these two texts, starting with the first few chapters. This will loosely be the basis for investigating the similarities between Thelema and Buddhism.

Chapter 1 - Twin Verses

"Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.

Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves." -lines 1-2

Liber Librae, lines 16-17: "To obtain Magical Power, learn to control thought; admit only those ideas that are in harmony with the end desired, and not every stray and contradictory Idea that presents itself. Fixed thought is a means to an end. Therefore pay attention to the power of silent thought and meditation. The material act is but the outward expression of thy thought, and therefore hath it been said that "the thought of foolishness is sin." Thought is the commencement of action, and if a chance thought can produce much effect, what cannot fixed thought do?"

These lines show the necessity of self-restraint in the sphere of thought.


"For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law." -lines 5-6

Liber AL I:41, "There is no bond that can unite the divided but love."
AL I:57, "Love is the law, love under will."

Both Buddha and Aiwass state clearly that only love can conquer hate. The nature of love should not be the romantic/sexualized love of Eros, but the unconditional Understanding of Agape. Crowley explains the nature of "love under will" in his commentary to AL II:59:

"We should indeed love all -- is not the Law "love under will"? By this I mean that we should make proper contact with all, for love means union; and the proper condition of union is determined by will. Consider the right attitude to adopt in the matter of cholera. One should love it, that is, study it intimately; not otherwise can one be sure of maintaining the right relation with it, which is, not to allow it to interfere with one's will to live. (And almost everything that is true of Cholera is true of Christians.)"


"As the strongest wind cannot shake a mountain, Mara [the Tempter] cannot shake those who are self-disciplined and full of faith." -line 8

Mara is the Tempter, similar to the Christian Devil; Mara is a personified form of the force within oneself which prevents you from doing your Will, or being in harmony with dharma. This shows a need to be self-disciplined in thought, speech, and action and to be "full of faith." This faith is of the Buddha within - the faith in the Self.


"Those who recite many scriptures but fail to practice their teachings are like a cowherd counting another's cows. They do not share in the joys of the spiritual life. But those who know few scriptures yet practice their teachings, overcoming all lust, hatred, and delusion, live with a pure mind in the highest wisdom. They stand without external supports and share in the joys of the spiritual life."

AL III:42, "Success is thy proof: argue not; convert not; talk not over much!"
AL III:46, "Success is your proof; courage is your armour; go on, go on, in my strength; & ye shall turn not back for any!"

Action speaks louder than words. Direct experience (gnosis) is needed, not just intellectual knowledge/comprehension. A foundation of theory is needed and quite helpful, but practice/action is what truly counts. Dwelling excessively on theory and arguing with the intellect is clearly admonished in AL III:42. In AL III:46, Aiwass seems anxious to get going and to stop talking, saying "go on" twice and telling us to "turn not back for any!'

Chapter 2 - Vigilance

""If you meditate earnestly, pure in mind and kind in deeds, leading a disciplined life in harmony with the dharma, you will grow in glory. If you meditate earnestly, through spiritual disciplines you can make an island for yourself that no flood can overwhelm." -lines 24-25

AL III:4-9, "Choose ye an island! Fortify it! Dung it about with enginery of war! I will give you a war-engine. With it ye shall smite the peoples; and none shall stand before you. Lurk! Withdraw! Upon them! this is the Law of the Battle of Conquest: thus shall my worship be about my secret house."

In the context of the Dhammapada, the "island" of Liber AL, chapter 3 is the Self. The war-engine is the self. The fortifications are against contrary, divisive thoughts - "the peoples" that one must "conquer." Beth is the Magus, the Self, and means "House" - it's the "secret house" of AL III:9. When reading about "conquest" in Liber AL, one may wish to remember Buddha's words, ""One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times, a thousand men on the battlefield. Be victorious over yourself and not over others. When you attain victory over yourself, not even the gods can turn it into defeat." This quote comes later in the Dhammapda and is a very famous line. In light of this "conquering" meaning conquering the self, these lines of Liber AL should be examined:

Liber AL II:49, "I am unique & conqueror. I am not of the slaves that perish. Be they damned & dead! Amen. (This is of the 4: there is a fifth who is invisible, & therein am I as a babe in an egg.)"
Liber AL III:11, "I forbid argument. Conquer! That is enough."
Liber AL III:46, "I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the Eighties cower before me, & are abased. I will bring you to victory & joy: I will be at your arms in battle & ye shall delight to slay. Success is your proof; courage is your armour; go on, go on, in my strength; & ye shall turn not back for any!"

In Thelema, "living in harmony with the dharma" is done by doing your True Will. Liber AL explains it in AL I:42-45, "So with thy all; thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay. For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect. The Perfect and the Perfect are one Perfect and not two; nay, are none!" Crowley's commentary to AL I:44 states, "Recommends "non-attachment." Students will understand how in meditation the mind which attaches itself to hope of success is just as bound as if it were to attach itself to some base material idea. It is a bond and the aim is freedom...This verse is best interpreted by defining 'pure will' as the true expression of the Nature, the proper or inherent motion of the matter, concerned. It is unnatural to aim at any goal."


"Overcoming sloth through earnestness, the wise climb beyond suffering to the peaks of wisdom. They look upon the suffering multitude as one from a mountaintop looks on the plains below." -line 28

AL II:9. 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.
AL II:17. Hear me, ye people of sighing!
The sorrows of pain and regret
Are left to the dead and the dying,
The folk that not know me as yet.
AL II:18. These are dead, these fellows; they feel not. We are not for the poor and sad: the lords of the earth are our kinsfolk.
AL II:19. Is a God to live in a dog? No! but the highest are of us. They shall rejoice, our chosen: who sorroweth is not of us.

Buddha says that "the wise climb beyond suffering." In Thelema, sorrow, sadness, and suffering are abolished. Aiwass reminds us in AL II:9 that the nature of existence is "pure joy" like the Eastern ananda (bliss). Crowley writes in the commentary for this line, " 'All in this kind are but shadows' says Shakespeare, referring to actors. The Universe is a Puppet-Play for the amusement of Nuit and Hadit in their Nuptials; a very Midsummer Night's Dream. So then we laugh at the mock woes of Pyramus and Thisbe, the clumsy gambols of Bottom; for we understand the Truth of Things, how all is a Dance of Ecstasy. "Were the world understood, Ye would know it was good, a Dance to a lyrical measure!" The nature of events must be "pure joy;" for obviously, whatever occurs is the fulfilment of the Will of its master. Sorrow thus appears as the result of any unsuccessful -- therefore, ill-judged -- struggle. Acquiescence in the order of Nature is the ultimate Wisdom.
One must understand the Universe perfectly, and be utterly indifferent to its pressure. These are the virtues which constitute a Master of the Temple. Yet each man must act What he will; for he is energized by his own nature. So long as he works "without lust of result" and does his duty for its own sake, he will know that "the sorrows are but shadows." And he himself is "that which remains;" for he can no more be destroyed, or his true Will be thwarted, than Matter diminish or Energy disappear. He is a necessary Unit of the Universe, equal and opposite to the sum total of all the others; and his Will is similarly the final factor which completes the equilibrium of the dynamical equation. He cannot fail if he would; thus, his sorrows are but shadows - he could not see them if he kept his gaze fixed on his goal, the Sun."

Sadness, sorrow, pain, and regret are admonished in AL II:17 and are said to be the folk that do not know Hadit yet. Crowley comments, "...'The poor and the outcast' are the petty thoughts and the Qliphotic thoughts and the sad thoughts. These must be rooted out, or the ecstasy of Hadit is not in us. They are the weeds in the Garden that starve the Flower." Thoughts of the nature of sadness & sorrow must be rooted out - the truest Self knows it to be illusion.

The distinction made in AL II:17-18 between those doing their Will with joy and those not doing their Will with sorrow & sadness is like the distinction made by Buddha between the wise who climb beyond suffering and the multitudes "below". Although a useful idea for the intellect, this idea can lead to division. The ideas of being "above" or "better" lead to othering, prejudice, anger, division, etc. No matter, "There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt" - each person in society must do their duty (dharma), their Will and leave others to do their's.

Chapter 3 - Thought

Chapter 3 explains the necessity of self-discipline - specifically, the control of the mind.

"As an archer aims his arrow, the wise aim their restless thoughts, hard to aim, hard to restrain... Hard it is to train the mind, which goes where it likes and does what it wants. But a trained mind brings health and happiness. The wise can direct their thoughts, subtle and elusive, wherever tehy choose: a trained mind brings health and happiness." -lines 33, 35-36

Crowley advocates the control of thoughts in Liber III vel Jugorum. "Thus bind thyself, and thou shalt be for ever free," he repeats thrice for control of action, speech, and thought. The symbolism of the bow is also pertinent Qabalistically. The 3 paths connected to Malkuth add up to the same numeration for the Hebrew word for 'bow' (Qesheth, or Qoph-Shin-Tav). The path from Yesod (moon) to Tiphareth (sun) is Sagittarius, the archer. The 'archer,' our selves, must aim his arrow, our thoughts, to be perfectly focused on the 'Sun'.


"They are wise whose thoughts are steady and minds serene, unaffected by good and bad. They are awake and free from fear. Remember, this body is like a fragile clay pot. Make your mind a fortress and conquer Mara with the weapon of wisdom. Guard your conquest always. Remember that this body will soon lie in the earth without life, without value, useless as a burned log." -lines 38-41

AL II:49. I am unique & conqueror. I am not of the slaves that perish. Be they damned & dead! Amen. (This is of the 4: there is a fifth who is invisible, & therein am I as a babe in an egg. )
AL III:4-9, "Choose ye an island! Fortify it! Dung it about with enginery of war! I will give you a war-engine. With it ye shall smite the peoples; and none shall stand before you. Lurk! Withdraw! Upon them! this is the Law of the Battle of Conquest: thus shall my worship be about my secret house."
AL III:11. ...I forbid argument. Conquer! That is enough.
AL III:28. Also ye shall be strong in war.

The idea of the self being a fortress & of conquering comes up again. Hadit proclaims himself "unique & conquerer" in AL II:49, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit tells us to conquer in AL III:11 and explains "the Law of the Battle of Conquest" in AL III:9. This all pertains, on one level, to the war Buddha is explaining. This war is against "Mara" in the Buddhist tradition, the personification of those divisive qualities we are trying to stamp out. Buddha tells us make our minds a fortress and "conquer Mara" and to "guard the conquest always." Essentially, this continues the motif of conquest & war being metaphors for an internal process.

Buddha also throws in that the body is "without value" and "useless as a burned log" when there is no "life" in it. This reaffirms the Thelemic notion that death is just one experience among many (AL II:9,21).


Parallels between Buddhism & Thelema include that they both recognize:

*the power of the mind & the necessity for its complete control
*love is the power that can unite us
*the necessity of action over just words - that practice and experience are equally if not more important than theory.
*the idea of viewing the Self as a fortress or war-machine to guard against & conquer unwanted/divisive thoughts
*the necessity of abolishing thoughts of suffering, sorrow, etc. to attain to the joy of "enlightened" existence beyond suffering - attaining Hadit, entering nirvana, etc
*the idea of restraining & controlling thought to a one-pointed focus on the ideal or object of concentration
*the body is merely a vehicle for "that which remains" - the immutable Self tradition.

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