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We provide access to over 300 transcripts by Sangharakshita!
Colum, London, UK
Sheila Groonell, Aryaloka, USA
Ratnavyuha, Auckland, NZ
Candradasa, FBA Team
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
Viriyalila, FBA Team
... to the human, but it is certainly superhuman within the Western framework of
reference, because in the Western framework of reference there is much that is super in
regard to the human. That is a very ambiguous and unsatisfactory statement. The Buddha is
explicitly described as the highest being, the highest person, the best of bipeds etc.
All right, carry on then.
Text: “"He had no religious role, such as that of the chosen revealer of divine truth, nor was
he regarded by the early Buddhists as in any sense a superhuman saviour.”
S: That is all quite true, but the Buddha was much more than simply not that. Carry on.
Text: “As a modern Buddhist writer puts it, 'The Buddha exhorts his followers to depend on
themselves for their deliverance, since both defilement and purity depend on oneself. One
cannot directly purify or defile another. Clarifying his relationship with his followers and
emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual striving the Buddha plainly states:
You yourselves should make the exertion. The Tathagatas are only teachers (Dhammapada,
S: Well this is true. On the other hand it is not true, it leaves out altogether the element of
inspiration, doesn't it? That the Buddha inspires others by his presence, by his example, by
his mere being, as it were. It isn't just some anonymous voice speaking from behind the
blackboard, as it were. All right, on you go.
Text: "The Buddha, or Tathagata, does not direct the attention of his disciples away from
themselves to some higher, holier being; he directs their attention to human nature with
which he is concerned and with which they too must be concerned".
S: Well, again, there is an ambiguity. He directs their attention to human nature, yes, but not
only as it is but as it can be: that is to say to enlightened human nature, which does represent
a `higher, holier being', as it were.
Text: "His words are in the spirit of the philosopher, whose attention is upon the human
condition, and the right ordering of human affairs."
S: Again this is true and not true. It leaves out altogether the Transcendental dimension.
Text: “As the son of the leading citizen of Kapilavastu, Gotama had the equality of status
which enabled him throughout his long public life to meet with the kings of northern India on
equal terms, but he did so also as one whose philosophy was of particular interest to those
who dealt with the ordering of human affairs.”.
S: Do you think this is very correct?
Vessantara: Well it wasn't because he was the son of a leading citizen of Kapilavastu or
because he had a few good ideas that kings talked about
S: They didn't talk to him as kings, this is also quite clear.
: There is some element of truth in what he says, about it being in the kings' interest to
have Buddhism being a sort of passive doctrine, to put it crudely. There was some vested
interest in sort of spreading Buddhism throughout his kingdom. It would be particularly
amenable to him.
S: But the point is whether we do find that there were actually any kings adopting this
attitude, because we know that Pasenajit was connected with the Buddha; we know that
Bimbasara was; we know that Ajattasatru was, in a way, we know that one or two other kings
were, but they all seem, as far as we can tell from the records, to have genuinely respected the
Buddha as the Buddha, and in the case of Bimbasara and Pasenajit, to have been `upasakas'.
In fact Bimbasara was believed to have been a `stream entrant'.
So no doubt they did see the practical utility of the Buddha's teaching on the ordinary ethical
level for the ordinary citizen, for the ordinary subject, but also it seems, they did recognise its
purely spiritual value in terms of human development.
: I just thought it may have been heavily weighted towards administrative, uh, ......
S: Well this depends how strongly we think the Buddha himself emphasised that aspect of his
teaching, and we know that whenever the audience, or whenever the listener was receptive, at
least in the case of a lay audience, as soon as he had spoken about `dana' and `sila' and so on
he hastened, almost, to get on to the `Four Noble Truths' and the cessation of craving and the
attainment of `nirvana', going far beyond the purely social context; going far beyond anything
that might be of interest to the king as such.
So there was the social dimension, this is very true - the aspect of the ethical - and maybe the
kings did appreciate that quite strongly, but those who recognised the Buddha as `Buddha'
would also have appreciated the purely spiritual side of his teaching, and valued that for its
In all states, of course, you do get the attempt to harness religion, for want of a better term, to
purposes of social order, if you know what I mean. Sometimes quite legitimately, but
sometimes quite illegitimately. Sometimes, for instance, to help bolster up a quite unjust
: Yeah. I thought that Buddhism being `transcendental' would have vacated the field
entirely, and if some other religions wanted to sort of direct, and have some say in
government for their own ends.
S: Buddhism was concerned with the organisation of society in as much as Buddhism was
concerned with the ethical life of the individual, because it believed that the ethical was the
stepping-stone to the spiritual. So an ethical life is lived out in society. If a society is an
unethical society, an unjust society it becomes that more difficult for the individual to be
ethical, for the individual to be just. So even from the standpoint of individual development
one has, as it were, a vested interest in the maintenance of an ethical social order. So even
though the ultimate interest of Buddhism is `transcendental' it can't ignore the social, because
it can't ignore the ethical. All right let's go on.
Text:"The city with its royal court was the characteristic locus for his teaching activities".
S: Whether characteristic is not really very definite. It certainly was one of the loci for his
teaching activities. But whether it was the characteristic one I think is quite debatable.
Text:"When he died we are told that he was honoured and his mortal remains disposed of
after the manner of a king".
S: What do you think that meant? It seems to me to mean simply that they were to be
honoured in the best possible way that people could think of honouring them: or that they
were accustomed to honouring anybody's relics.
Lokamitra: Was it different than the way great sages were .... their remains were disposed of?
S: We don't know how great sages' remains were disposed of. According to Vedic tradition
the remains of sadhus were to be thrown into the river. [Pause] But don't forget there is also
the contemporary conception of a king as a `deva', a divine being. So people were
accustomed to honouring these divine beings during their lifetime, and also after their death,
by enshrining their remains and building stupas. So if the Buddha had wanted to indicate that
after his death his remains should be honoured on a grand scale, or a lavish scale, then the
only way in which he could convey that, or communicate that to his followers would be to
say, "Well, like the remains of a king". It doesn't mean that he was necessarily placing
himself, or placing his work as it were, on the same level as a king, or on the same level as
the work of a king.
: The meanings seems to be definitely slanting towards identifying the Buddha as being
the king in public ( ? )
S: You mustn't forget that, as I said, the king was also a divine or semi-divine being, not just a
purely secular figure, so if you do admit some degree of comparison between the Buddha and
the king, it isn't portraying the Buddha as a purely secular figure (Loud noise of jet aircraft
obscured words) ... it is between the Buddha and the king as already semi-divine as it were.
For instance the king wore sandals, and usually people didn't wear sandals. The king wore
particular kind of rather high sandals. Why was this? Later on other personages wore them.
It was to lift the king above the earth, and what did this symbolise? That the king was not
really of the earth, he was a divine being. We find in some primitive tribes, for instance ...