Buddhism and the No-Soul Doctrine
An Esoteric Perspective – March 2014 (version 4)
Leoni Hodgson, PMAFA, MSE (Psych), PhD Esotericism
[This article first published in 2010, has been extensively rewritten. LH]
There are many who do not identify specifically with the Buddhist religion,but nonetheless hold Gautama Buddha and his world mission, in the highest regard. His teachings, specifically the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, his effect for good upon the human consciousness – all these elevate Gautama Buddha to the status of being one of the greatest spiritual Messengers the world has ever known.
Having said that, many people whose understandings are based on Deity and soul, are confused by the Buddhist “no-soul” and “no-God” doctrines. What is it that the great Teacher said exactly? Can these concepts be reconciled with the esoteric teachings promulgated by such writers as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB) and Alice Bailey? This investigation is the reason for this article, in which Buddhist and esoteric doctrine have been compared and an opinion added.
Gautama was born Hindu, and received esoteric training in the old Brahmanical secret Schools – whose roots are founded in pre-Vedic Wisdom. From these Indian Sages he learned the truths of emptiness, the impermanence of material life, and spiritual development techniques. All students of these schools vow not to reveal the Esoteric Doctrines imparted to them, but in his compassion for man and in order to help him, Buddha violated this.
“In His immense pity for the ignorance—and as its consequence the sufferings—of mankind, desirous though He was to keep inviolate His sacred vows, He failed to keep within the prescribed limits. While constructing His Exoteric Philosophy (the “Eye-Doctrine”) on the foundations of eternal Truth, He failed to conceal certain dogmas, and trespassing beyond the lawful lines, caused those dogmas to be misunderstood. In His anxiety to make away with the false Gods, He revealed in the Seven Paths to ‘Nirvana‘ some of the mysteries of the Seven Lights of the Arupa (formless) World”.
It appears that Gautama was so anxious to help man free himself from corrupt religious teachings; he gave out certain truths about the formless world of Monadic existence – a level of pure spiritual awareness (the first level down from God-consciousness or Brahman) that lies way above human existence. He released these truths to his disciples whose minds and hearts he had prepared to assimilate these great esoteric truths. In order to reach this level, all attachments and trappings pertaining to human life must be stripped away. Occurring naturally through the course of evolution, this stripping away or emptying is accelerated through certain spiritual practices. But they are way above the level of the average student in esoteric training who is being instructed in methods that raise consciousness from lower mind to higher soul wisdom – which is the half-way point to this lofty level.
Students were given a vision of the formless Monadic world, before they could build the equipment to reach it. The whole process of the Soul journey – the continuous expansion of consciousness across lives until enlightenment is reached, was omitted. This situation can be likened to an astronaut told he has to fly directly to the heart of the universe when the technology of his spaceship barely allows him to break free of the Earth’s atmosphere. The consequence is that Buddha’s teaching in this area, has been misunderstood and thus the no-soul, no-creator belief has arisen.
His new doctrine, which represented the outward dead body of the Esoteric Teaching without its vivifying Soul, had disastrous effects: it was never correctly understood… Immense philanthrophy, a boundless love and charity for all creatures, were at the bottom of His unintentional mistake… If the “Good Law,” as preached, resulted in the most sublime code of ethics and the unparalleled philosophy of things external in the visible Kosmos, it biassed and misguided immature minds into believing there was nothing more under the outward mantle of the system, and its dead-letter only was accepted.
The Brahmin’s jealously reserved occult knowledge as the right of their caste. To his credit, Buddha broke this rule, admitting all castes to the path of adeptship, based on merit. It earned him great hostility however, and he was driven out of India. On the positive side, when one looks at religious intolerance in the world today, caused through immature minds misinterpreting the scriptures, perhaps Buddha’s lack of emphasis upon God was one of his greatest gift to man. With one sweeping stroke, he stripped away the roots of religious superstition and taught students to commune directly with God rather than to go through intermediaries (priests) who were so often corrupt. The Renaissance period which broke the hold of religious superstition in the west occurred two thousand years later.
1. Buddhist Laws and their Esoteric Equivalents
Most of the principles upon which Buddhism is based are also fundamentals of Occult Lore. In the following list, five of the six principles are held as truths in both schools of thought.
1. Buddhist Principle: The Law of Change or Impermanence. All that exists, lives and dies. Infinite numbers of universes, emerge, endure, and die, only to be reborn.
Esoteric Principle: The Law of Periodicity. For every period of activity, there is a consequent interval of rest, observable in nature as day and night, the flow and ebb of tides, waking and sleeping, birth and death. This law applies to all life on earth as well to the birth and death of universes.
2. Buddhist Principle: The Law of Dependent Origination. All phenomena depend upon a number of causal and connected factors. Nothing can exist by itself and be its own cause. This is the natural law of nature. Life alone is continuous, and he who clings to any form, will suffer by resisting the flow.
Esoteric Principle: The Law of Periodicity. The Secret Doctrine teaches the progressive development of everything, worlds as well as atoms; this stupendous development has neither conceivable beginning nor imaginable end. Our “Universe” is only one of an infinite number of Universes [all] links in the great cosmic chain of universes, each one standing in the relation of an effect as regards its predecessor, and being a cause as regards its successor.
3. Buddhist Principle: The Doctrine of Emptiness. All forms and Reality itself are empty – void, but this state holds within itself, emptiness (or unknown potential. Hodgson).
Esoteric Principle: Absolute Consciousness. Blavatsky said that in the rest period between universes (pralaya), there are no bodies or forms available to give Absolute Consciousness form, so it is described as being empty. There seems to be a relation between this Absolute Consciousness and Buddhist’s Buddha-Mind or Dharmakaya (Mahayana) the “original clear light of mind” wisdom and emptiness.
“.. during Pralaya.. there is nothing to receive and reflect the ideation of the Absolute Mind (Consciousness); therefore, it is not.. destroy the vessel, and—to our perceptions.. nothing exists.” 
4. Buddhist Principle: Ultimate Reality is Absolute Truth or Nirvana. When the mind is freed from material world defilements it “becomes free, radiant and joyful and at death one is no longer subject to rebirth. Nirvana is the ultimate happiness”. Simplistically, little mind merges with parent-mind or Dharmakaya.
Esoteric Principle: The Law of Essential Unity. A direct parallel is made between Nirvana and Monadic consciousness in occultism – see this quote from the Occult Glossary, Dr. de Purucker.
The nirvanic state or condition may be attained by great.. sages, such as Gautama the Buddha .. all the lower personal part of him is become thoroughly impersonalized, the personal has put on the garment of impersonality, and such a man thereafter lives in the nirvanic condition of the spiritual monad. 
All earthly attributes have been cut away and such a one (a Buddha), resides in this higher state.
5. Buddhist Principle: The Law of Karma. It governs rebirth. According to one’s thoughts and actions, people are reborn in one of six different realms.
Esoteric Principle: The Law of Cause and Effect or Karma. This is a fundamental aspect of Divine Law. If universal harmony is disturbed, then the “disturber” is required to restore harmony.
6. Buddhist Principle: The no-God, no-Soul, Doctrine. Mainstream Buddhism repudiates the God and Soul concepts. These are the major differences between Esoteric and Buddhist thought. Buddhists do not believe in “God”, but they do believe that the universe is governed by the laws of nature. Buddhists view the God concept as introducing an arbitrary element into an otherwise orderly universe, as an interference or aberration in nature.
Esoteric Principle: “Divine Breath” or “God”. The Buddhist repudiation is related moreso to God as presented by fundamentalist religions, whose perceptions of God are based on the Bible’s Old Testament “Jehovah” – an interfering and angry deity. But please note, this is not the esoteric view of “God”, an example of which follows:
The Divine Breath has many names. The most common is “God”… Here is an esoteric description of this force. That sumtotal of manifestation which can be called Nature, or God, and which is the aggregate of all the states of consciousness… This interpretation does not look upon it as the result of an outside Deity pouring His energy and wisdom upon a waiting world, but rather as something which is latent within that world itself, that lies hidden at the heart of the atom, within the heart of man himself, within the planet, and within the solar system. It is that something which drives all on toward the goal, and is the force which is gradually bringing order out of chaos; ultimate perfection out of temporary imperfection; good out of seeming evil. 
In Section 3, the no-soul, no-God theories are examined. Read more …