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17 million words and counting!
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Viriyalila, FBA Team
Ratnachuda, South London, UK
Colum, London, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Nagabodhi, London, UK
... is an ambiguity there in his use of the word more.
What more could there be than the individual gaining Enlightenment? You could have an
individual gaining Enlightenment, that would be a `more', in a sense. But he is clearly not
thinking of `more' in that sort of way. So in what sense can you say that Buddhism is
concerned with more than the individual salvation? Or more than individual enlightenment?
It's only in this quantitative, as it were collective,social sense. It isn't a `more' from the
Buddhist point of view at all. So, in a way, the whole discussion is a little bit slanted. You get
this again and again with Trevor Ling.
Nagabodhi: He seems to be a victim of the very blinkeredness that he goes on to talk about,
in fact in the next few pages.
S: Whether it's Christianity or whether it's Buddhism it's concerned with the individual. In
Christianity at it's best, it is concerned with the individual. It might put it in terms of the
salvation of the individual soul but it's the individual; it's not concerned with the group as
such, similarly, Buddhism is concerned with the Enlightenment of the individual. But if
either Christianity or Buddhism concern themselves, say, with society, with culture, this
cannot be described as representing an interest that is `more 'than their interest in the
individual unless you regard that as in a way more important and you can trace that emphasis
on the individual.
But from the point of view of Buddhism, there cannot be a `more' than the individual. This is
what I'm saying: society and culture do not constitute a `more' than the individual. Do not
constitute a `more' in relation to the individual. So there's a definite ambiguity here :"We're
confronted by something more than a religion, if by religion is meant a system of personal
salvation". What more could there be than a system of personal salvation, not taking that
idiom too literally. The question could also be raised, and in fact often has been raised, as to
whether Buddhism is a religion at all. That is another question.
: Presumably he means that the sense that he's just defined it.
S: Presumably, yes.
: So he's even throwing into doubt the question whether
Buddhism's got anything to do with personal salvation.
S: With the individual, yes. As we shall see later on he's very ambiguous about the status of
individuality. He hasn't quite made up his mind, I think , whether it's a good thing or a bad
: I don't think it's contrasting religion that teaches that one should save oneself
compared to one that teaches that one should save other people.
S: Yes. Well, he is more concerned with the Theravada, and in the Theravada the emphasis is
on: not saving oneself in the sense of not being concerned with others at all, but clearly the
emphasis is on working on yourself rather than trying to help others without sufficient
preparation on your own part. In the Mahayana, of course, the emphasis is altruistic, but it is
still a concern for other individuals. It is not a concern for society as such. It is not concern
for the group as such. So it's not one's own personal salvation necessarily, it's just personal
salvation whether for oneself or for others. And this is what the Mahayana is concerned with
as much as the Theravada. You can say the Theravada is concerned with one's own personal
salvation more than with that of others; but the Mahayana is still concerned with personal
salvation, but the personal salvation of other people, other individuals, both oneself and
others; and even the Theravada is not individualistic. Even the Theravada has its altruistic
dimension but its not stressed as powerfully or so dramatically as it is in the Mahayana. I'm
dwelling on this a bit because I think you have to be aware from the beginning that there's a
lot of semantic ambiguity in Trevor Ling and a lot of ambiguity therefore in his thought. We
have to be on our guard against that. Carry on then.
Text"Some attempts to deal with it appear to end inconclusively, in a circular argument. If
one asks, 'Is Buddhism a religion?' it is obvious that one needs to know what a religion is, in
order to say whether Buddhism is one or not. And when one asks, 'What is religion?' the
definition will frequently be found to include reference to a belief in a god or gods. If this is
to be regarded as an essential constituent of religion, and if the absence of such a belief
denotes something other than religion, then the objection is likely to be raised, 'But what
about Buddhism?' By this is usually meant early Buddhism, which does not appear to
require belief in a god or gods as an essential part of the belief system. Emile Durkheim ran
into this difficulty in his attempts to define religion. He pointed out that early Buddhism was
not covered by such a definition of religion as E.B. Taylor's: that religion consists of 'belief in
Spiritual Beings'. In his support he quoted Burnouf's description of Buddhism as 'a moral
system without a god', H. Oldenberg's, that it is a faith without a god', and others of a similar
kind. Durkheim's argument is that Buddhism is in essence a non-theistic religion, and that in
defining religion in general one should have this case in mind, and formulate a definition
which will cover both theistic and non-theistic systems".
S: This is fair enough if one wants to use the term religion at all. All right let's carry on then.
Text"The assumption that Durkheim appears to be making was that Buddhism must be
regarded as a religion, that is a particular example of a general category 'religion', a word
about whose meaning there is some common agreement, or he may simply be saying, I have a
feeling that Buddhism should be included in, rather than excluded from a survey of religions.
For if it is not a religion then what is it? It might in fact be more useful as ??? Theroux has
pointed out, to pursue the latter question if not a religion then what is it? For it may be that
no conclusive answer will be found in terms of any of the other possible conventional
categories. If early Buddhism was not a religion this does not necessarily mean that it was
therefore a philosophy or a general code of ethics or anything else for which a category
exists. The inability to find any satisfactory answer may have the effect of stimulating further
research not only into the nature of what is generally regarded as 'Buddhism', but into the
nature of what is regarded as 'Christianity', or as 'Islam', and so on. It might be found that
these titles merely serve to indicate large, complex structures whose constituent factors have
to be studied by the psychologist, philosopher, sociologist, the political scientist, the historian
and the economist. If this were found to be the case, then, since the entities concerned
('Buddhism',etc.) are so comprehensive and at the same time so diffuse that they are virtually
coextensive with human life itself, they should be known respectively as the Buddhist way of
life, the Islamic way of life, and so on. Another way of dealing with the matter would be to
speak, for example, of 'Buddhist civilization' or 'Islamic civilization'. In the next chapter it
will be suggested that this is what they once very largely were, and that 'religions' as we know
them are reduced civilizations."
S: You notice that so far Trevor Ling has spoken of Buddhism, which in a way prejudges the
issue or almost predetermines the issue, without apparently he being very aware of that. Do
you see that? What do you think he might have spoken of instead of Buddhism.
__________: The Dharma
S: The Dharma. Yes. So if he'd spoken of the Dharma instead of Buddhism do you think
that would have made some difference to his whole line of thought?
__________: Very much so.
S: Could you for instance have said that whatever else the Dharma is or is not, in any case
there's a great social and cultural tradition. It wouldn't have sounded quite so plausible,
would it. What would one therefore say the overall or general difference was between
Dharma - after all the Buddha taught Dharma - he didn't teach Buddhism - and Buddhism?
Nagabodhi: I think Buddhism is what happens when the Western mind tries to fit something
like the Dharma into its recognised pigeon holes. The Dharma seems ...