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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Buddhasiha, Ipswich, UK
Suvarnagarbha, Cambridge, UK
Colum, London, UK
Viriyalila, FBA Team
Ratnaghosha, FBA Chairman
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
SANGHARAKSHITA IN SEMINAR
TREVOR LING'S THE BUDDHA”
(Published by Temple Smith, London 1973 - and in Penguin)
Date:September 1976 Those Present:The Venerable Sangharakshita, Manjuvajra, Vessantara, Nagabodhi,
Siddhiratna, Lokamitra, Ratnaguna, Vajrakumara, Durangama, Tim McNally, Dave McNally.
TAPE 1-SIDE ONE.
S: Let's start. Just a few introductory words : we are not going to try to do the whole of this
book. For one thing it would be rather a lot of material, and two, it's not really necessary. We
are going to concentrate on parts one, two and three. If we have time we can do the first
section of part four, which is on the Ashokan Buddhist State, though that isn't absolutely
necessary; but we certainly won't try to do more than that. The central section, the one we
will be most concerned with, is part three, Buddhist Civilisation in Principle. Part one is
entitled “Perspectives”- is general ; part 2 gives background. So what we're going to do is :
we are going to read through parts 1 and 2 rather more quickly, and spend the greater part of
our time with part 3. Try to discuss that in greater detail, in greater depth. So in the case of
these first two parts we will read them through fairly rapidly, pausing to discuss only those
points that really need clarification; and try not to get off the track. You'll probably find that
the very first section on Buddhism and Religion deserves a little more attention than the
others. But apart from that, we'll be getting on with part 1 and part 2 rather quickly; and
spending much more time with part 3.
All right, so let's do what we usually do : take it in turns to read round the circle . Let's read a
paragraph at a time. Each person read a paragraph at a time, and then we'll stop and make any
comments, or clarify any points that may be necessary in that particular paragraph.
Manjuvajra: This is working? Yes, maybe we could just check that you are O.K.
Do you want to check, Manjuvajra?
S: Just play back. All right, let's make a start then.
Text"SOME REASONS FOR WESTERN INTEREST IN BUDDHISM
To say that Gotama the Buddha founded a religion is to prejudice our understanding of his
far reaching influence. For in modern usage the word religion denotes merely one
department of human activity, now regarded as of less and less public importance, and
belonging almost entirely to the realm of men's private affairs. But whatever else Buddhism
is or is not, in Asia it is a great social and cultural tradition. Born of a revolution in Indian
thought it has found sponsors in many of the countries of Asia outside the land of its origin.
What is a particularly interesting fact about these sponsors is that very often they were men
concerned with public affairs, kings, emperors and governors. Yet it was not only to rulers
that Buddhism appealed. Through its own special bearers, representatives and guardians, the
orange-robed bhikkhus it has found its way into the common life of the towns and villages of
much of Asia. Especially in Ceylon and South-East Asia it has continued to the present day
to impart to the ordinary people its own characteristic values and attitudes, and has had a
profound influence on the life of the home, as well as of the nation."
S: Probably the opening sentence strikes the keynote - “To say that Gotama, the Buddha
founded a religion is to prejudice our understanding of its far-reaching influence”. Because
as the author goes on to point out : in modern usage the word 'religion' denotes one
department of human activity , now regarded as of less and less public importance. I think
that's quite clear. (Pause) All right let's go straight on.
Text"Buddhism has its own long and noble tradition of scholarship, and of education of the
young, with the result that some of the traditionally Buddhist countries of South-East Asia
have an unusually high rate of literacy for Asia. It has encouraged equality of social
opportunity but without frantic economic competition. Buddhist values have inculcated a
respect for the environment and a realistic attitude towards the importance of material things,
an attitude which sees the folly of plundering and extravagantly wasting what cannot be
replaced. For Buddhism has not encouraged ideas of dominance, in the sense that man
should, by some divine sanction, dominate either his environment, or his fellow men. Neither
exploitation nor colonialism have any place in Buddhist civilization; the key word is
cooperation, at every level of being. The values and attitudes implicit wherever Buddhist
culture survives have proved resistant to the campaigns and the blandishments directed from
the West towards Buddhist Asia. From the time of the first contacts with European culture
represented by the sixteenth-century Portuguese, hungry for spices and Christian converts, to
the more recent work of American, British and French missionaries, the people of Buddhist
Asia have not seen in either the doctrines or the fruits of Christianity anything sufficiently
compelling to cause them to abandon their own tradition and culture in any large numbers.
In Burma in 1931, the year in which the last decennial census under British rule was taken,
Christians were 2.3 per cent of the total population, and Buddhists were 84 per cent.
Christian missionary activity in Burma had begun in the early eighteenth century. In
Thailand, to take another example, according to the official report for 1965 issued by the
Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education, 0.53 per cent of the total
population were Christians and 93 per cent were Buddhists".
S: Any query on that , or is that quite clear? (Pause)
The gap in the figures by the way, presumably, are made up of a few Moslems and also what
the census reports describe as animists.
Vessantara: Although this section is headed 'Some reasons for Western interest in
Buddhism -it doesn't really seem to be going into the reasons.
S: Not yet, anyway. Let's see what happens. (Pause) Alright, go straight on then.
Text"IS BUDDHISM A RELIGION?
It is clear that in entering the world of the Buddha we are confronted by something more than
a religion, if by religion is meant a system of personal salvation. The question could also be
raised, and in fact often has been raised, as to whether Buddhism is a religion at all. It is
possible from the historical perspective to answer both 'yes' and 'no' to this question".
S: There is a certain ambiguity in Trevor Ling's use of the word `more'. “It is clear that in
entering the world of the Buddha we are confronted by something more than a religion, if by
religion is meant a system of personal salvation.” (Pause)
; What is a system of personal salvation?
S: Well, presumably, a teaching or a path, or a practice ,which ensures salvation for the
individual alone - or salvation for his soul.
: Personal in the sense of the soul.
S: Not necessarily that but the salvation of him, by himself rather than the salvation of
society - the individual as opposed to the collective.
What I'm saying is: Trevor Ling uses the word `more' - “something `more' than a religion”
that in a way, can there be anything more than a salvation , or enlightenment or whatever of
the individual? This is the point I'm raising: even supposing religion or whatever you call it,
does cater for the group, or the collectivity. Does that really constitute a `more' in the literal
sense, or does it constitute a qualitative `more'? Do you see this? (Pause)
S: In the fore-going discussion he has made it clear that .....go back to the beginning : “But
whatever else Buddhism is or is not, in Asia it is a great social and cultural tradition.” At
least that. He doesn't bring in the question of a spiritual tradition or anything of that sort. But
here... “It is clear in entering the world of Buddhism we are confronted by something more
than a religion , if by religion is meant a system of personal salvation”.
So the `more' seems to indicate this social and cultural tradition, well, in what sense is it
`more'? This is what I'm asking. There is ...