Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 4: Ceylon, Angkor Wat, Burma, Java

Ceylon, Angkor Wat, Burma, Java


There, in the extreme South, in the triangular peak of the Indian peninsula, I found great yogis. Ceylon is my Garden of Eden. I shall always love it and its happy people. It is unforgettably charming.

Flowers make this isle a paradise. Masses of begonias meet the eye, pink orchids provide borders for one's walk, wild rhododendrons display their blossoms.

Colombo: In the hotel, waiters wore white Eton jackets, white trousers, and coloured cummerbunds. The rooms were attractively clean and decked out with potted palm trees; the electric fans whirred coolness into the air.

The train moved through beautiful scenery. Steaming rice-fields alternated with multitudinous treetops, and native huts and houses nestled in the sides of grassy hills. Sometimes we would see a large bungalow prettily emerging from the masses of pink convolvuli which half covered it. Everything grows luxuriantly here in Ceylon.

The most noticeable thing about this island is its scented aroma, its breeze-blown perfume of cinnamon and frangipani and other delightful species. This scent is the very breath of Ceylon. The second thing is the constant rustle of palm fronds, whose number is literally countless in this island of groves and forests.

Angkor Wat

If they are to yield their real values, we must approach all old religious ruins with mind as well as with body. This demands time, stillness, and meditation.

The Secret Doctrine of the Khmers

I leave the thorny jungle and mount a frail bamboo ladder. The few wooden steps lead to a large grass-roofed hut. The latter is built on timber piles some six feet from the ground--a mode of domestic architecture which prevails throughout the interior villages of Cambodia. In the regions where a feeble effort to cultivate the land is made with the help of the River Mekong, both dwelling and dwellers would be overwhelmed by the great annual floods were it not for this elevated style of living. And in the large forest tracts it is equally efficacious against fierce tigers, which do not hesitate to claw their way into the lightly built huts.

This little clearing amidst thick trees and undergrowth was made by monks who have lately returned--after hundreds of years' absence--to settle near the shadow of the Wat, the great temple of Angkor. They have put up a tiny village and today, after waiting for the oppressive heat of the afternoon to abate, I enter as their guest.

The bonzes squat smilingly around the floor, their eyes narrow slits, their Mongoloid cheekbones set high, their slim short bodies wrapped tightly in cheerful yellow cloth. Some hold fans in their small hands, while others bend their shaven heads over palm-leaf books. Copper spittoons are placed here and there for their relief, because the moist hot climate creates asthmatic tendencies. A wild-looking man approaches me and mutters something unintelligible. Long ago he gave himself the title of "King of Angkor" and now everyone calls him by the name in good-humoured derision. His mind is half-unhinged, poor fellow, and he illustrates in its wreckage the serious dangers in incorrectly practised yoga.

On the ground outside, a boy heaps together a pile of dead branches and sets them alight. Another servant fills two round vessels at a pool close by, ties one to each end of a flexible pole which rests across his shoulders, and then bears them to the hut. The first boy pours some of the water into a black iron bowl and rests it over the fire. Before long he appears among us with tea. It is a fragrantly scented milkless infusion which we sip from tiny bowls. The life of these men is primitive indeed, for they have hardly any possessions. They are the historic descendants of the Khmers who had built Angkor, but my repeated questions reveal that they now keep but a pitiful remnant of their old culture. It consists of a few scraps of tradition mingled with an imperfect knowledge of the Hinayana form of Buddhism which was brought to the country from Ceylon not long before the Cambodian empire approached its final fall. The oldest of the bonzes tells me some more of their curious lore.

"Our traditions say that three races have mixed their blood in Kambaja [Cambodia]. The first dwellers were unlettered savages, whose tribes still live in parts where no white man's foot has trod. They are guarded by poisoned darts stuck all over the ground, let alone by the huge tigers, rhinoceros, and wild elephants which fill their forests. Our primitive religion survives among them in the form of ruined temples which are cherished as mascots. This religion, together with a government, was given us by the great sage ruler Svayambuva, who came across the western sea. He established the worship of BRA, the Supreme Being. The other races who settled here were the Indian and Chinese. Brahmin priests became powerful and taught our kings to add the worship of the gods Shiva and Vishnu and to make Sanskrit a second court language. Such was their power that even today, after our country has been purely Buddhist for many hundreds of years, their direct descendants conduct all important ceremonials for our king according to Hindu rituals. You have seen in the royal palace in Phnom Penh a sword made of dark steel inlaid with gold. It is guarded day and night by these Brahmins. We believe that if the slightest rust appears on the blade, disaster will come to the Khmer people. That sword belonged to our great king Jayavarman, who built the grand temple of Angkor, spread the limits of our empire far and wide, yet kept his mind in control like a sage. He knew the secrets of both Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism, which dwelled in friendship side by side in our country. Indeed, the Mahayana was spread among us even before it reached China."

The afternoon passes. The magic of the evening sun begins to work. A stream of reddening light pierces the grotesquely tiny windows and plays upon the uneven floor. It reveals the teeth of the smiling monks, some glittering but most betel-stained. We adjourn to a larger structure for the evening rites. While joss sticks burn freely before the gilded image of their faith and long litanies are softly chanted, I leave the assembly and settle down in the great Temple of Angkor to savour its sanctified darkness.

I hold to the modern attitude, which has proved so significant in science, that the era of mystery-mongering is past, that knowledge which is not verifiable cannot be received with certitude, and that overmuch profession of the possession of secrets opens the door of imposture and charlatanry. He who is unable to offer adequate evidence has no right to the public ear. I have generally followed this line of conduct in all my writing, even though it has compelled me in the past to leave undescribed that which I consider the most valuable of personal encounters and to record the minor mystics as though they were the highest sages. If therefore I now reluctantly break my own rule, it is for two reasons: that it would be a pity to withhold information which many might appreciate, and that political enmity has put my informant's head in danger. Let it suffice to say that somewhere in Southeast Asia I met a man who wears the High Lama's robe, who disclaims any special knowledge at first, but who breaks his reticence in the end. A part of what he tells me about Angkor is worth reconstructing here, but the statements are his, not mine.

"You are the first white man to prostrate himself before me for many years. I am deeply moved. . . . The key which unlocks understanding of Angkor's mystery needs to be turned thrice. There is first a secret tradition which has combined and united Hinduism, the religion of many Gods, and Buddhism, the religion without a God. There is next an unbroken line of sages who held and taught this doctrine as being the real and final truth about life. There is thirdly a connection between Angkor and, on one side, South India, on the other side, Tibet. In all three lands there was a time when both faiths even dwelled outwardly together in complete harmony, with interchangeable rites, symbols, and dogmas. The tradition itself was limited by the mental incapacity of the masses to the circle of a few sages and their immediate disciples. Vedanta and Mahayana are corruptions of this pure doctrine, but of all known systems they come closest to it.

"Its chief tenet was the demonstration to ripe seekers of the existence of a single universal Life-Principle which sages named the `First' or the `Origin'. In itself it has no shape, cannot be divided into parts, and is quite impersonal--like a man's mind when in a state of deep sleep. Yet it is the root of every shaped thing, creature, person, and substance which has appeared in the universe. Even mind has come out of it. There is no room or necessity for a personal God in the Khmer secret doctrine, but the popular religion accepted diverse gods as limited beings who were themselves as dependent on the First as the weakest man. Apart from these gods, the sages gave the people symbols suitable for worship. These symbols had to represent the First as faithfully as possible. They were three in number. The sun was chosen because everybody could easily understand that it created, sustained, and destroyed the life of this planet. From the tiny cell to the great star, everything is in a state of constant growth or decay thanks to the sun's power. Even substances like stone, wood, and metal come into existence through the working of the sun force. The sages knew also, however, that even the human mind gets its vitality from the same force, causing it to reincarnate again and again upon the earth. The people of Angkor worshipped Light as a very god, and the rite of sun-worship was carried on in vast stone-paved courts which were open to the sky and faced the temples.

"The second symbol was the male organ of sex. It appeared as a cone-like tower on some temples and as a tapering single column set up in the centre of the building. To Western eyes it is a strange and unsuitable symbol. But the people were plainly taught to look upon it as a picture of the Source of Life. Orientals in general and primitive people everywhere feel less shame about natural organs and functions than Westerners. Anyway the temples of Angkor never linked this symbol with the worship of lust. Its existence never degraded them. The Khmer people were so pure-minded that Sulayman, an Arab merchant who wrote an account of a voyage in which he ventured as far as China in the year 851, wrote of his visit to Cambodia: `All fermented liquors and every kind of debauchery were forbidden there. In the cities and throughout the empire one would not be able to find a single person addicted to debauchery!'

"The third symbol is also thought of in the West as connected with evil, but the adepts of Angkor held a different view. They gave the previous symbol because hardly a man escapes seeing the miracle of sex, whereby a tiny seed slowly grows into a fully matured human being composed of different parts, thus teaching the possibility of the First becoming the Many. They also gave the serpent as an emblem of worship for three reasons. In the course of a single lifetime its skin periodically dies and is thrown off, permitting new skin to appear each time. The constant transformations, reincarnations, and reappearances of the First as Nature are thus represented. And when a snake lies in its hole, it usually coils itself into the shape of a circle. It is not possible to mark where and when a circle begins. In this point the reptile indicates the infinity and eternity of the First. Lastly, there is a strange mesmeric influence in the glittering eyes of the snake which is found in no other animal. During the operation of the mysteries, which have now been lost to the Western world, the adept initiated the seeker into the elementary stage by a mesmeric process which enables him to get a glimpse of his origin. Therefore, the carvings of every temple in Angkor showed the serpent, while on the lake Pra Reach Dak nearby there is an islet on which a small shrine stands entirely encircled by two great stone snakes.

"The line of sages which had penetrated into the secret of the First and gave these symbolic religions to the masses has shifted its headquarters from epoch to epoch. From the sixth to the thirteenth centuries it flourished in Angkor, but for seven hundred years before that period it flourished in South India. Reminders of this earlier centre exist in plenty in the architectural forms and sculptural details. Even the Sanskrit used by the Brahmin priests in Cambodia is of Pallava (South Indian) origin. But the wheel of karma turned, the Cambodian empire declined and disappeared with a rapidity which outran the fall of the Romans. The rulers were dazzled by wealth and conquest and failed to heed the advice of the sages. The latter withdrew and migrated to Tibet.

"You ask me if they are the same adepts as those spoken of by H.P. Blavatsky. When she was a girl and fled from her husband, she accidentally met a group of Russian Buddhist Kalmucks who were proceeding by a roundabout route on pilgrimage to the Dalai Lama of Tibet. She joined the caravan as a means of escape from her husband. One of them was an adept. He took care of her and protected her and brought her to Lhasa. She was initiated in due course into the secret tradition. She visited other parts of Tibet and also India. Before the existence of the Angkor ruins was known in the West, she was sent there to continue her studies and to receive a certain contact by meditation in the temples. H.P.B. went but experienced great difficulty in travelling through the uncleared jungle; however, she bravely suffered all discomforts. Later, she was introduced to a co-disciple, who eventually became a High Lama and a personal advisor to the Dalai Lama. He was the son of a Mongolian prince, but for public purposes took the name of `The Thunderbolt'--that is,`Dorje.' On account of his personal knowledge of and interest in Russia, he gradually altered it to `Dorjeff.' Before their guru died, he instructed Blavatsky to give a most elementary part of the secret tradition to the Western people, while he instructed Dorjeff to follow her further career with watchful interest. Dorjeff gave her certain advice; she went to America and founded the Theosophical Society. Her guru had forbidden her to give out his name. Moreover, she knew much more of the teachings than she revealed. But she was always fearful of saying too much, so she constantly created what she called `blinds' and wrapped her truthful secrets in imaginary clothes. I may say no more. However, the poor woman was unjustly maligned by her enemies. Her sole desire was to help humanity. They could never understand her peculiar character nor her Oriental methods. Her society did an enormous service to white people by opening their eyes to Eastern truths. But its real mission is over; hence its present weak condition. A new instrument will take up the work in 1939 and give a higher revelation to the world, which is now better prepared. But the beginning of this work will be as quiet and unnoticed as the planting of a seed. It is 108 years since H.P.B.'s birth. There are 108 steps on the path to Nirvana. Amongst all the yogis of the Himalaya, 108 is regarded as the most sacred number. It is also kabbalistically connected with the year 1939 in a most important way. Therefore, this year will witness the departure of the adepts from Tibet. Their location was always a secret; even most of the High Lamas never knew it. Tibet has lost its value for them; its isolation had begun to disappear rapidly and its rulers no longer respond faithfully to them. They leave Tibet seven hundred years after their arrival."

The monuments of the Angkor group are built up in stone, most of them without any cementing mortar (compare this with the Great Pyramid). Nine out of ten among the monuments are religious edifices. One should not visit too many monuments at a time; look at leisure, without fatigue or haste. One should let oneself be penetrated by the charm emanating little by little from these ruins, which are so enigmatical and disconcerting at first sight, so distant from us, so opposed to our ways and understanding. It is preferable to visit monuments in the tropics in the early morning, at the first light. After nine a.m., under the glaring sun, the charm of the visit is broken by the heat and fatigue is felt.

Sir Francis Younghusband crossed the Gobi Desert on foot and explored it again on a later occasion. Mongolia, where it is positioned, as a Lamaistic Buddhist country, owed spiritual fealty to the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Sir Francis told me one day of a mysterious Mongolian whom he had met and who without uttering a single word aloud, purely by telepathic contact, had powerfully influenced his mind and given it a greatly broader spiritual outlook. Many years later I met this same adept, then an exile in Cambodia from his native land which had fallen to the Communist-atheist regime. Through the services of an educated Chinese disciple who was with him, we were able to converse about Buddhism and other matters. He gave out a teaching which formed the basis of mentalism and which was occasionally so subtle that it went above my head, but which I understood sufficiently to revolutionize my outlook. Some of its tenets were incorporated in the mentalism explained in my books The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and The Wisdom of the Overself.

The inscription is engraved on the right door-pillar of the temple of Po-Nagar, to the left. It contains thirteen lines of writing. The language is Sanskrit. "Thou are in thy very essence at one with whatever is in the world of God during its creation as well as in its dissolution; thou are the primordial energy of the existent and the non-existent. He whose intelligence is matured by the discrimination between what is real and substantial and what is not; who is worthy of regard; who makes the law prevail in the world by means of many, inherently excellent, good qualities which have their origin in his own nature, in order to protect good persons, both born and unborn, in the Kali age when there is going on a struggle between the pious and the vicious."

Buddha: That which touches me most at Angkor comes to sight within a low cloister. A figure of the dying Buddha lies on the grass-grown paved floor. A stray chink of light caresses his brow. The silent Sage rests in his final meditation. I fold my coat and squat before him, amid troops of buzzing insects, for I cannot resist pondering over the paradox of this deserted fane. But a glance at the face reassures me and imparts its repose. There lingers over it yet an expression of absolute contentment; the eyes are far-seeing, clairvoyant. The black ants which run busily around him, preoccupied with their material welfare, carrying large seeds to their hole, laying by a store for the lean months, are not less thoughtful for themselves and their future than Buddha was for others. His cold denial of all desires is not attractive to the active West, but his sweet compassion for all living creatures is. Forty years of ceaseless travel and patient teaching are at an end. The seed has been thoroughly sown. It will grow steadily for hundreds of years and feed millions of human beings. He knows! The sparkling gems which lay in yonder treasury have long since been ravished, but the words of Gautama still remain. The Doctrine which he leaves behind will meet somewhere with reverence; its trained propounders will meet sometimes with love. Thus the race of fellow mortals, for whom he feels as a mother for her child, shall be truly served. To know the perversity of human nature in its present state; to know the glory of human nature in its future state; to receive both facts simultaneously into his consciousness and to hold the balance between them; this is what belongs to the Buddha and to all adepts!

Angkor Wat is the most important and illustrious stronghold of this school and seat of learning for seekers after Truth from all lands. Our Anuttara Mahayana Adibuddha school was the dominant form of Buddhism in Indochina for centuries. Mahayana Buddhism and true Hinduism were thus inseparable there during many centuries, beginning with the reign of King Jayavarman II, the greatest Mahayanist at the close of the eighth century, to the reign of King Shrindrajayavarman in the first half of the fourteenth century a.d. Then, six hundred years ago, Angkor Wat was destroyed for the first time by the Siamese Hinayana invaders who committed a great number of acts of vandalism against Mahayana images in Indochina. Mahayana priests were massacred. Later, everything pertaining to Mahayana was destroyed by the Siamese.

The restoration and protection of Angkor ruins has brought great good karma to France. They were on the point of being defeated in the Great War, but they were saved; although they did not know it, it is Angkor karma which saved them. The French restored Angkor with the materialistic object of attracting travellers' money. Still it was a meritorious act and brought immense good karma.

"Greater masters than myself wish you to study in Angkor and used me to get you to do it. It is Angkor Wat where I recommend you to meditate, so that you can pick up again the invisible influence of our Anuttara school and thus be benefited by it. Such influence of sacred spots still exists in them, and we who have lived and studied there in former lives can be helped by revisiting there in this life. There are great masters still in Angkor, in spiritual bodies. When a great yogi is about to die and composes himself in meditation samadhi to prepare for passing out, he will continue in meditation for hundreds of years after death, linked to the same place. Hence visitors will find the atmosphere highly spiritual, and earnest and advanced seekers can gain great benefit by entering the aura of these masters at Angkor. Even tourists who are originally materialistic people will unconsciously derive spiritual benefit by visiting Angkor, even though this benefit may not shine forth till many years later."--the High Lama mentioned in para #

The Khmer race gave to the Thai invaders the ennobling religion of Our Lord Buddha Gautama. As members of the great Caucasian family of the so-called white peoples, the Khmer were highly civilized. They were devout Buddhists and left in Siam unforgettable monuments of their intense Buddhistic civilization and great religious achievements. This Khmer nation conceived and built the world-famous Angkor Wat, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Angkor Thom, Bayon, and many other marvels of exquisite Buddhist architecture.

The ascription in various books on Angkor of the four-faced towers there to Lokesvara (the same as Avalokesvara) is not correct. Lokesvara representations are very similar and hence the error of the Orientalists. The Angkor effigies represent the Chatur Maharajas (Four Kings, in Tibetan), your Sacred Four, and primarily Adi-Buddha, who is everywhere present, symbolized by facing in all four directions of the compass. In the wall are painted decorations representing the Ramayana. In the Grand Palace wall just inside the compound of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, you see painted a Lingam tower with the four faces on each side, definitely showing it is Adi-Buddha.

Avalobsiteswara of Cambodia and what is now Vietnam corresponds to Kwan-Yin in China--Goddess of Mercy.

I take leave when the rigorous heat reaches its apogee. When at last I descend from the blackness of this shrine and reach the fresh air of the sunlit terrace again, the feeling that I have returned from a journey to another world accompanies me.

Moonlight visit to Angkor: A sampan boat landed me on the forest's edge. I walked along a narrow trail under the giant palms until an open space was reached where the prodigious picture of lowering temples and palaces shone suddenly in moonlight appearing as by magic in the very midst of thick tropical forest. Deathly stillness reigned where once there had been so much action and life.

The huge, tortuously curved roofs of the temple came to a terminus in long tapering elegant horns; its gaily coloured walls shimmered vividly in the bright sun.

An Angkor Sanskrit inscription records the installation of a temple image of Bhadresvara by the guru Shivasoma, of King Indravarman. The date assigned is about 880 a.d. Verse 39 records that "Shivasoma read the shastra from Bhagavan Shankara whose lotus feet were rubbed by the heads of scholars like rows of bees" (my translation from French).

Angkor fell victim to the Siamese in the last years of the fourteenth century and its buildings were abandoned to the jungle. The monarchs who sat on its golden and garnet thrones disappeared, and their thrones with them. The sages who taught Hindu-Buddhist saffron-robed monks in the temple abbey and monastery vanished into the hills and jungles.

The full light of the moon in Indochina contains a yellowish-green phosphorescence which weirdly bathes all these ruins.

When the inhabitants fled from endangered Angkor, the city deserted by men began to be inhabited by Nature. White ants, dampness, and heat gradually destroyed the wooden homes which survived the invaders' fires. Finally, vegetation wrestled with stones and won. The leafy bo-tree, octopus-like, a yard in girth, creeps slowly to certain victory over most buildings in Ta Prohm, insinuating its ashen-white paper-thin roots between stones and around columns. They grow, extend, and thicken into masterly and handsome rulers who hold the structures in their grasp.

The inscription of Bat Gum, which belongs also to this reign, is not half-heartedly Buddhist. The first stanza of the second inscription is especially interesting, as the poet Ramabhagavata gives here a definition of Buddhism which he knows is something new and unorthodox: "Let the Buddha give you the Bodhi, by Whom has been taught well the philosophy denying the existence of the individual soul and teaching the cult of the universal soul though [the two teachings seem to be] contradictory." The thirtieth stanza refers to the fervent belief of the minister in Buddhism: "He who acquired the knowledge (attained only) by Yogis by realizing the identity of his own with the divine nature of Buddha."

The inscription of Bayang, in Cambodia, bearing two dates, 526 and 546 c.e. (604 and 624 a.d.), is the earliest dated one we possess. The artistic skill with which this inscription has been engraved shows a high standard of perfection compared with the earlier undated inscriptions. It begins like this: "He whom, by the constant practice of correct reflection and a peaceful frame of mind, the wise feel as being enthroned [in their hearts] . . . the inner light, whom they worship, desirous of attaining the Absolute."

It is engraved on the two faces of a pillar, each containing twenty-two lines of writing. The language is Cham. (a) "The Yuvaraja embellished and enriched Srisanabhadresvara; he increased the riches and the lands of the god; he acted with energy and resolution; the thought of the god Isvaradevata, otherwise known as Yogisvara, was always present in his mind. By the force of effort and concentration of mind, he at last saw Isvaradevata by a mental perception which went as far as Srisanabhadresvara. Then, without much effort on his part, Isvaradevata became entirely visible (pratyaksa) to him. Then, as he was a man of the world, devoted to Srisanabhadresvara . . . knowing that the man enjoys prosperity in this world and in the other." (b) "After that the Yuvaraja performed all kinds of good works and charitable acts. Then, knowing that the body and its pleasures are vain and transient, that it perishes and disappears, and that Srisanabhadresvara is the supreme god in this world, the Yuvaraja erected this statue."

Yasovarman the young king built the city of Angkor Thom, also the Bayon, the Western Mebou, and other temples. This empire then extended over Siam, Cambodia, Cochin China, and Laos. He died in 908 a.d. The great temple of Angkor Wat was not finished till the reign of Jayavarnab VII, who died in 1201. During his reign Cambodia reached its zenith. He possessed vast wealth and high territories. A few years before his death he renounced the throne, crowned his son, and went into monastic seclusion to meditate on the mysteries of Buddhism. He was the grandest of Angkorean kings. Angkor city was then famous for its immense treasures, gold and gems, temples and palaces.

Here is the very heart of the Wat. I stand, slightly awed before its most sacred shrine. Its gloom is fit for ghosts and such-like creatures of a twilight world. Strange squeaks and cries torment the air as gigantic grisly bats sweep agitatedly downwards and skim blindly over my head, to rejoin their companions, who hang suspended by their claws from the ceiling. Broken statues of the Buddha mingle with decrepit figures of the gods, but a finely gilt well-preserved Buddha occupies the chief place. The primitive faith of Cambodia was most reverenced here. How many multitudes of kneeling adorers have you seen, O shrine? Yet most saw you from afar, for the common herd were not permitted to penetrate to this point.

Outside the cloister I stroll down a flagstone path and stumble through a series of galleries, pass a labyrinth of passages and hundreds of monkish cells, and so back to the west gate, where the mysterious motif of the Four Faces adorns the canopy.

Those who first came to Cambodia from India were adventurers and merchants. Who then brought the Indian creeds and cultures? They were pundits and ascetics, ascetic sadhus.

When the first god of Angkor was cut, Shivaism had almost gone, Vishnuism had come, and Buddhism was strong.

From the third century b.c., the 1500-year-old Khmer empire endured.

At Angkor you will see, above certain temples, four giant stone heads, one set on each side of a square.

The night has surrendered herself to complete silence. No human voice, no animal cry, not a sound of any kind breaks the stillness. I gaze up at the silhouettes of the beautiful sugar palm trees of Cambodia. There is a peculiar power, an exalted strength, in these calm majestic faces.

Angkor Wat was plundered and emptied of its riches by the conquerors who drove the Khmers out of their capital.

The Naga is to be met everywhere in Angkor, at the ends of balustrades; it is intended to represent the Cobra Capello. The Naga is the several-headed snake and the spreading of the 5, 7, 9, and sometimes 11 heads under the shape of a fan offers a curve magnificent.

Another decorative element used in Cambodia is the lion, half seated on his hind legs at the different landings of the staircases leading up to the pyramidal storeys.

There is a Khmer museum in the Trocadero in Paris.

These remains are of an art unique in the world and the only witness of a glorious epoch now disappeared. Forest trees have entwined the ruined sanctuaries between their roots. Such is the might of the jungle vegetation, which seems to be waiting for the works of men to absorb and annihilate them.

The Khmer kingdom has gone, as all empires go, as all our brief human existence itself must go.

Angkor is incredibly grand. I climb the slippery old stairs of its temples. The trees which surround the Wat are of enormous height. Hawks fly over Angkor. The forest teems with growth and moved irresistibly on Angkor at the end of the thirteenth century. It was a great metropolis. At the end of the fifteenth it held the lairs of tigers. The silver mists of dawn etherealize the temples of Angkor. The ascent of its stairs is arduous. The somber passages are fetid with bats. I feel on the verge of making some astounding discovery here. The old bronze was an image come to life.

"Khmer" is the native name by which Cambodians call themselves.

The builders of Angkor temples came from India originally.

Cambodian civilization, religion, and literature are impregnated by India; but its trade, industry, and material life by China.

The downfall of the Khmer nation began in the fourteenth century and it sank under invasion by the Thais, from the north. (The Thais are the Siamese. Thai is a race, Siam a political boundary.)

When Angkor monuments were built, the creed in favour in Cambodian was Mahayana, also in Siam. Today only Hinayana is observed. Cambodia Mahayana united worship of Shiva and Bodhisattva, or Brahmanism and Buddhism.

Buddha-statue postures: (a) Hands crossed on lotus-folded legs is meditation pose. (b) One hand stretched before thigh touching ground is to make the earth testify to Gautama's right to the dignity of Buddha against the doubts of the Evil Spirit. (c) The Buddha's head is identifiable because it shows a protuberance (oushnisha) which in later Siamese figures becomes a flame-shaped point. The earlap is always long and hanging. (d) He is seated on a mouldered throne decorated with lotus petals. (e) When Gautama lowers his hand to the ground it is to take the goddess of earth as a witness of all the merits he has acquired by his interior good deeds, because Mara claims he alone has the right to the seat on the throne of wisdom. This happened under the fig tree just prior to Nirvana.

Angkor--petrified melancholy mystery!

If the rule of Cambodia resembled that of most Oriental countries in being an absolute monarchy, it differed in being paternally benevolent.

The bluish-black night sky was now dotted with the patterns of constellations. But dampness descended upon the slumbering earth. With the Indochinese night both mosquitoes and damp combine to spread fatal fevers.

"The Siamese are imitators. The Khmer was the real spiritual race. The Siamese have copied from them. Like the Japanese they are not creators. It was the Siamese who destroyed Angkor. Their present Buddhism is feeble, uninspired. A disaster will overtake them."--a Cambodian adept

The Khmer have bequeathed great relics of their artistic culture to places all over Thailand: Bimai ruins, Lopburi, and Bangkok.

The Khmer civilization at Angkor did build their now ruined buildings about the period which archaeologists assign, but their culture was far older. They were spread out over Cambodia and parts of China, Siam, Malaya, and Java into one large community at one time. The Siamese are a different race, the Thai race.

My rambles come to an end at its starting-point. Now I penetrate the interior of the Wat. A vestibule leads to open courtyards, alleys, and shrines. In one sanctuary an assemblage of many statues lies scattered: it is the Shrine of the Thousand Buddhas. The place is torpid, environed by vague silence and undefined sadness. Under a covered gallery I find a flight of steps which lead to an upper floor. Here the light is poorer still, as befits the monastic chambers which lie around. The monks who lived here chose their habitation well. Once again I ascend an old stairway. It is set at an angle so close to vertical that the climb is dangerous and difficult. Moreover it is double the height of the last one. The old Khmers must have used ropes or wooden handrails to assist their exertions. By the light of barred windows I see the sign of the sacred serpent, symbol of eternity and mystic wisdom, again repeated on the walls; I discover that I have reached the highest storey.

The Wat is the best preserved and the least ruined of all the Khmer fanes. The Cambodian sculptors clearly worked on these walls after the blocks were already in position. They cut delicately and shallowly into the fine sandstone to make these polished low reliefs, and they worked so hard that hardly any available surface was left untouched. The long magnificently executed friezes of the ground floor, the rich columns, with hardly a stone left uncarved, of the other storeys now disappear, as though the sculptors had almost been forbidden to touch the highest sanctuary. Did the architects wish that worshippers should here have no attention diverted by the attractions of form, should put their whole mind into contemplation of that intangible Spirit which is without form?

I brought back from my Eastern researches a small bronze head about nine hundred years old. Before leaving, I somewhere found a native woodcarver who made a lotus-petaled rosewood base and fitted it neatly on. The bronze was given to me as a parting remembrance by a man I met while studying the Angkor antiquities. We had prolonged talks far into several nights. He taught me much about the mysteries of Asiatic occultism and also gave a second key to the higher wisdom of Asiatic philosophy, without which the books are mere alphabets. With these two keys--the first from an Indian and the second from a Chinese-Mongolian source--I could proceed to unlock some of the baffling paradoxes of the world's existence. "We shall not meet again," he said finally, "so take this and keep it. It represents the bodhisattva with whom I am linked."


The Burmese kept their Buddhism purer than that of any other country when it was driven out of India by the Brahmins and later, more brutally, by the invading Muhammedans. Yet those who seek teachers mostly run to India alone; those who seek teaching run to expatriated Tibetans and Zen Japanese alone.

Burmese Buddhism believes a man's soul can pass back into an animal's if it degenerates. A Buddhist may not eat animal food (meat) but he may eat fish. Thus they are semi-vegetarian. They are clean and neat.


Indonesia had a strong occult centre in the middle of the island of Java. Most of its leaders have held an interest or belief in the subject, consulting their gurus on occasion, and even where they had neither they pretended to possess occult power.

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.