Crowley vs Buddha

Griffin, modified 2 Years ago.

Crowley vs Buddha

Posts: 145 Join Date: 4/7/18 Recent Posts
What would be the Dharma perspective on Aleister Crowley's philosophy?

Why I ask:
I have been reading some of Christopher Hyatt's articles, and I see that there is this "Crowleyan" occult philosophy (rebellious attitude, "Do what thou wilt" etc.), but it seems like they rarely state their philosophy in an open and simple way, there's a ton of innuendos, weird writing style etc.


My attempt to answer this: On the one hand, Christianity is blocking animal-like cravings (Freud's id) and becoming a servant of "civilized" cravings (shame, guilt, conscience - Freud's super-ego). On the other hand, Crowleyan "Satanism" is doing the opposite: they are overthrowing and rebelling against the super-ego, but they are becoming uncritically attached and subjected to the id. Both are unbalanced: Christianity wants to produce loving saints but ends up with neurotic inquisitors; Satanism wants to produce a radically free individual, but ends up with someone who's not really free from their own cravings (and with under-developed metta).
Buddhism transcends both positions by recognizing both super-ego's tanha (shame) and id's tanha (hedonism, sex, aggression).

This is of course, a gross generalization, but you get the idea.
Daniel M. Ingram, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Crowley vs Buddha (Answer)

Posts: 3183 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I am nothing resembling a Crowley expert, but have read probably 2000 pages of his stuff, hung out with some OTO and Thelemic types, and so at least have some perspective on him, and it is that he is all over the place.

I personally wouldn't call Crowley a "satanist", but certainly he had a Victorian version of shock-jock sensationalism to him, as well as an appreciation of the dark side of things, including spirituality and magick. That said, his philosophy swings to wide extremes, what might reasonably be called good and bad, though I don't think he really thought of them that way. To even say that he has a coherent philosophy might be stretching things, and he clearly was very multi-faceted, able to see things from a lot of angles, and portreying spiritual ideals in so many different lights as to make categorization difficult.

However, despite Crowley not fitting into neat boxes, the "gross generalization" that you come up with regarding Freud and the like is one that has been noted in various forms before among my friends who know Crowley and Buddhism, and so may have some very coarse and unsophisticated merit to it.

That said, Buddhism as it presents itself is also all over the place from a Freudian point of view, and one needs to really think about which strain of Buddhism one is talking about and in which interpretation before one can make points like that. Again, an oft-mentioned book on the subject is Lust for Enlightenment, by John Stevens, which goes into various reactions that various types of Buddhists have had to the question of the id and super-ego.
Griffin, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Crowley vs Buddha

Posts: 145 Join Date: 4/7/18 Recent Posts
Thank you for your answer Daniel! 
James, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Crowley vs Buddha

Post: 1 Join Date: 2/4/19 Recent Posts
Crowley was one of the first things that I read, as my entrance to spirituality came by way of spontaneous experiences that I would have described at the time as mystical. I dove deep into the mystery traditions and came across his name quickly as a contemporary.

At the time I thought he was looney, but over time I've come to understand where his inspiration came from, and I can see how inspirations and intuitive insights are filtered through each individual's own ego, their past experiences, and their culture and age in which they lived. Also how they have been in some ways limited by the world view at the time, and have grown more and more refined over the years.

The universe is NOT complicated - over the years I've developed a practice of trying to reduce my own insights and things I've studied to their essence. "Do what thou wilt" is not so crazy to me now, even in the context of buddhism. Many traditions - especially the mystery traditions - teach self-reliance, and the removal of conflict and doubt. These are the things that really hold us back. In my own world view, karma comes from inner conflict (and I see doubt as a special variety of inner conflict). You "get out" what you "put in." So you better make sure what you "put in" is clear, confident, and free of conflict that will get in your way! I think that in their own way, Buddhism and Crowley are preaching the same message.

In my world view, the reason that altrusism and doing thinsg for the sake of others works so well is not because the universe somehow understands your intent to help others. If you simplify things as much as possible, the universe can only "understand" what you put in. If you take yourself out of the equation and work to the benefit of others, you remove a whole set of possible inner conflict over why you are doing something. It is a really great "hack" to getting the universe to work /with/ you.

When we refer to Crowley's magick and spells, I would say that's just a form of meditation and concentration that focuses the mind, creates coherent and conflict-free thoughts and intentions.

This is why, IMO, it is a good thing that the ancient traditions have worked to develop balance and cultivate ethics in their initiates before moving on to the true nature of reality.

Hope that helps and makes sense. I really think they are expressing the same truths, but through different lenses and frames of reference.
magpie, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Crowley vs Buddha

Posts: 19 Join Date: 1/31/19 Recent Posts
I’m no expert on Crowley and don’t think that his system is right for me or an easy one to understand or practice, but I do think that there is a lot of value to be found in his work. His system is certainly not Satanism (which seems to me most easily defined as reactionary egotism to bastardized Christianity) though he certainly delighted in playing off of Christian mythology for laughs and outrage. As far as Crowley through the lens of dharma, I think that “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” and “Love is the law, love under will,” really says it all.

My understanding of this is that the first part refers to non-duality and the associated lack of free will that appears possible or likely from such a perspective. Everything is perfect, each part has its role, darkness and light and all other balancing opposites are valid and so what one finds oneself doing, whether it may feel or appear as enlightened and skillful or unwise and harmful, is perfect without question. The urge to work towards enlightenment and love and compassion is as perfect as wallowing in painful and negative emotions. Perhaps it is the wallowing that allows one to work towards enlightenment, or which inspires another to do so, or answers a question or makes an impact which assists in the creation of a system which leads to enlightened activity. There is no way to know what effect something may have in any direction and over any length of time and a restriction on what comes naturally and what is would be absurd at best and perhaps stifling at worst. From the perspective that free will is an illusion, it is not even worth entertaining.

As the saying goes, one is working to become a Buddha, not The Buddha. Siddhartha’s karma lead him to be this seemingly perfect embodiment of these principles but we do not all start in the same place nor have the same influences shaping us and it would be absurd to believe that he expected people to become like him in terms of personality and content. That his early life saw indulgence to such an extreme degree is telling in reference to the concept that it is alright and perhaps impossible to do anything else than “what thou wilt.” I think of the story of Buddha and Angulimala as well as a story (can’t remember where this is from, maybe Jack Kornfield) of a monk being upset that one of the less moral monks has been appointed as the successor to a monastery, and being told that this was decided not because of where he is, but because of where he is in relation to where he was.

The second part recognizes that the principle of love should be the guiding principle to orient oneself. By combining the law (love) with the will, one is accelerating their form to its unique end and thus playing their part in the purest form possible, while feeling right in themselves and with others. It seems to me that everyone is striving towards love in the way they think it is best striven for, though the mileage certainly varies. (A little anecdotal evidence of this in the form of a video: ) Now, by this theory, this would be happening at all times, no matter where one is along a path, but this being the stated goal is a righting mechanism of sorts, not to be taken nihilistically. I think this balancing act between a belief in fate as well as a belief that we can influence fate can be a very healthy one.

I think of Ramakrishna and the maintenance of dualistic and non-dualistic forms of seeing, though Ramakrishna (interestingly there are also the gender elements present for Crowley and Ramakrishna) is a cleaner version with less potential for misinterpretation. If you haven’t read Crowley’s autohagiography, I found it to make the most sense of him, as his sense of humor and his spiritual striving (as well as his inner conflicts and contradictions) are on full display and speak more clearly on his psychology, character, and striving than any modern followers or his cryptic, trickster teachings can.