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Breaking Through Into Buddhahood

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 63: Breaking Through into Buddhahood

Mr Chairman and friends As I think most of you know by this time, there are quite a number of different ways of beginning a lecture. One can of course plunge straight into the subject, as it were head foremost, or one can alternatively approach it gradually, work ones way into it little by little, usually with the help of an introduction, sometimes in fact a very long introduction. Again one can begin ones lecture by asking a question. According to the books on the subject this always stimulates attention; and one can also start by telling a story or a little anecdote; or again one can even begin ones lecture by describing the different ways of beginning a lecture.

Now today I rather wanted to adopt the first method. Today I rather wanted to plunge straight into the subject. I wanted as it were to `break through* into Breaking Through into Buddhahood. And undoubtedly this is or this would have been the most appropriate way of beginning today. But this was not possible because today is a special occasion. As you*ve heard today we are celebrating the second anniversary of our movement including, or as well as, the first anniversary of the Order -- the Western Buddhist Order. And this lecture doesn*t stand by itself, doesn*t stand alone; it*s part and parcel of this celebration.

So it is perhaps only fitting, it is only proper that I should first of all say just a few words about our movement itself. There*s a great deal that could be said, there*s a great deal perhaps that will be said on other occasions, but this afternoon I want to say just one thing. And that one thing is this: That our movement itself represents on its own level a breakthrough. Not of course a breakthrough into Buddhahood -- this would be claiming far too much -- but certainly a breakthrough into Buddhism, real Buddhism, so far as this country is concerned.

There were of course before us other Buddhist organizations, some of which in fact still survive. You may be interested to hear that the oldest surviving Buddhist organization in this country is the Shropshire Buddhist Society, which was founded in 1923 - which is quite a long time ago, even before I was born. When I last heard of it, when I was in that part of the country, it had then dwindled down to one member, who was rather active -- not to say militant -- and was still keeping the flag flying at the age of seventy plus. There are of course in the country other Buddhist organizations too. All of these have played their part in the development of Buddhism in this country. They*ve all helped in one way and another to make Buddhism better known than it was before they started their activities.

But nevertheless, we may say that all of these different organizations suffered from certain limitations, suffered perhaps inevitably from certain limitations. They studied Buddhism, they read the scriptures, they tried to penetrate the philosophy, follow the course of the history of Buddhism, acquainted themselves with the different sects, they even to some extent tried to practice Buddhism, but the limitation consisted in this: That even though they tried to practice Buddhism, even though they tried to follow the Buddha*s teaching, they did so only to the extent that it did not interfere with the living of a respectable, usually rather middle class, conventional, English lifestyle. In other words in those days one, as it were prided oneself, even if one was a Buddhist, on being just like everybody else. One held the same kind of job, one lived in the same kind of house, ate the same kind of food, saw the same kind of films and more recently of course, one watched the same kind of television programme as everybody else. The only difference was that one was a Buddhist. That was the only difference, or rather the only difference was that instead of going to church on Sundays you went to a Buddhist meeting, if not on a Sunday then on some other day of the week. And very often in those days one tried to keep the fact that one was a Buddhist secret. It was a sort of skeleton in ones cupboard that one was a Buddhist, and even ones best friends did not know. I remember up in the midlands somewhere, one woman telling me with evident satisfaction that she*d worked in the same firm, with the same people for some twelve years, and she said, `not one of them knows I*m a Buddhist.* And she seemed quite proud of this fact, that not one of them had found out that she was a Buddhist.

But all this is now changing, we may say. In fact, this has already changed to a very great extent, and it is in this change, in the fact of this change, that our breakthrough consists. More and more people realize that in the words of William James, `A difference must make a difference.* A difference cannot be just theoretical. If there*s a real difference one sees it working itself out in actual life, in actual practice, concretely. So more and more people do realize, nowadays, that one cannot keep Buddhism in a compartment, in a compartment separate from the rest of ones life. More and more people now begin to see and to feel and to realize that it*s not enough just to understand Buddhism, not enough just to have a theoretical grasp of it, to know it intellectually, theoretically.

More and more people now understand that the Buddha*s teaching, little by little should transform ones whole existence, individual and collective. That if one is a Buddhist, if one understands Buddhism, if one is trying to put it into practice, then it should affect every aspect of ones life. It should affect the kind of work that one does, how one is employed, how one earns money, how one does one*s work, the way in which one does it. It should affect also the way in which one makes use of ones leisure time. If one is a Buddhist, if one accepts the principles of Buddhism, it should affect ones attitude towards such major aspects of human life as, for instance, marriage; the family; sex; social life and so on, and if one happens to be say a writer or an artist then it should deeply influence ones creative work, and ones creative output, not as it were from the outside, but deeply from within. One might even go so far as to say that the fact that one is a Buddhist, the fact that one accepts certain principles, certain spiritual ideals, should show itself even in the kind of food that one eats and the way in which one eats it, even in the kind of clothes that one wears. If one wanted to venture a little epigram, one might say that `Buddhism and beef steaks do not go together.* Above all we may say, Buddhism should influence our relationships with other human beings, with one another. Reference has been made already to the last retreat, the Easter retreat, and I think one might say that this was one of the most happy aspects of that very happy retreat, that people found that in the right sort of environment, in the right sort of atmosphere, with the right sort of basis, their human relationships did develop, did blossom in fact, in a very different way from that in which they usually do develop within a more conventional context.

So all this means, all this signifies the fact that Buddhism properly understood, deeply understood, thoroughly applied, applied amply, extensively, is in a word revolutionary It is revolutionary that is to say, within the context of the established order, and it*s in the realization of this fact that our breakthrough consists, in the realization of the fact that Buddhism has to transform every aspect of our lives. Not just be something that we theoretically understand, not be just a little hobby with which we occupy ourselves once or twice a week, or once or twice a month, but the transforming agent, the transforming influence, the catalyst if you like, of our lives. And therefore I thought it would be appropriate if today, on the occasion of our second anniversary, we examined the whole concept of breaking through; not just breaking through into Buddhism, into real Buddhism, but even going so far as to consider breaking through into Buddhahood itself.

Now we usually think of the spiritual life in terms of growth, in terms of progress, development, evolution - something slow, steady, proceeding by regular continuous steps.

And this is a perfectly valid, in fact a very good, a very helpful way of thinking and speaking of the spiritual life; this gradual development, this gradual evolution. But we can think of it also in another way; we can think of the spiritual life, of spiritual experience in terms of breaking through, and there are certain advantages of thinking, or certain advantages in thinking of the spiritual life, of spiritual experience in this way.

If we think in terms of breaking through, or if you like `bursting through*, it makes it clear that the spiritual life consists in part at least, or from one point of view at least, in an abrupt transition from one level or one dimension of experience or one mode of being if you like, to another. It draws attention to the fact that the spiritual life involves not just effort -- we*re all familiar with that idea -- but even we may say, `violence*. This isn*t a very popular idea, a very popular conception, that the spiritual life involves violence, but involve violence it does; not of course violence to others, but violence even to oneself, or to certain aspects of oneself, certain aspects of oneself which constitute obstacles which need to be overcome.

We all come up against these obstacles, these very difficult, obstinate aspects of ourselves which stand in the way of our own higher development and evolution, and sometimes they*re very very intractable indeed, and we find that they can*t be charmed away by any sort of `Sirens* song*, and it doesn*t seem possible to remove them, to dismantle them bit ...

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