(Inner Traditions, 1996)
Much has been written and speculated about the controversial yet revered philosopher Julius Evola’s stance on themes such as fascism and racism. What remains known, are the facts that although he criticised Italian fascism, he did it from a right-wing point of view, and while he described himself a “critic of the racist worldview”, he has (apparently) written sometimes controversially when regarding this statement about some questions of race. In the light of this knowledge, when faced with Evola’s often used term of Aryanism, the readers can choose for themselves whether they perceive this term in Evola’s use as something regarding anthropology, a wider historical cultural milieu, something “racially elitist”, or something other than these. Putting these topics aside, we can find Evola as a man highly and deeply fascinated by the ancient Asian systems of so-called spiritual development.
The first part of the book deals in Evola’s views regarding many original terms and concepts found in the foundation of Buddhism. Describing this system as a “doctrine of awakening” rather than a philosophy, Evola makes a good case in demonstrating how the modern addition of attitudes such as compassion to the Buddhist doctrine may be false, as the system has been originally developed for the purpose of the individual’s rise above his or her weaknesses and perceptions regarding the so-called “I” or the “non-I”, “being” and “non-being”, or the white noise of our suspicions and weakening thoughts on different aspects of reality in general, and in this way Buddhism can be used in all areas of life, even warfare if needed (something found in the Bhagavad Gita and the history of Zen Buddhism as well). Also the concept of Ascesis refers more to “spiritual training” than renunciation or mortification in Evola’s eyes. (These are naturally my own conclusions upon reading the book.)
Evola breaks down the key Buddhist terms and concepts with such precision and expertise, one cannot but marvel his knowledge and understanding, yet at the same time wonder if such analysis is necessary for the key concepts of Buddhism, as it has been said often in Asia that the “awakening that can be explained is not awakening” (or similar). Also, as it is in the case of many schools of Buddhism (having been formed after the birth of the original Pāli Canon) debating on the meanings of the basic terminology themselves, it is also difficult to grasp whether or not Evola has truly understood the core of Buddhism, or are his interpretations influenced by his personal worldviews. Nevertheless his expertise is grand.
The second part of the book discusses the techniques of “Awakening” and ways of living (for example the precepts of the Noble Eightfold Path) honoured by the early Buddhist texts. Again it is hard to differentiate where Evola is decoding the Buddhist spiritual customs in his own “Aryan” way, and where he is actually at the core of the matter objectively and unbiasedly. Evola also gives descriptions of the traditional ways of meditation (for example techniques of “mindfulness”), more in an analytic way than in a clearly instructive way. Discussed in great detail are for example the different aspects, phases and practice of the Jhāna-meditation, the states of mind through which the practitioner advances towards greater awareness or awakening. At end of the book we find a great chapter on Zen Buddhism, describing it as an original form of Buddhism, where the fundamentals of the doctrine are still apparent – a system stripped of all unnecessities, aiming for the Awakening in the Void.
The academic and philosophical style of writing Evola uses may be too much to handle for readers looking for a quick guide or summary of the roots of Buddhism. Also, as said before, there is a possibility some of the views brought forth in this book may be completely Evola’s own opinions and interpretations of the Buddhist concepts. We just have to trust in Evola being as unbiased as possible in certain areas of his personal interest. This book is however highly recommended to all those who are interested in Asian philosophy, or have always suspected the system of Buddhism to be exactly what Evola suggests it to be: A system of self-perfection, beyond all morals.