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We provide transcribed talks by 35 different speakers
Jinamitra, Welwyn, UK
Suriyavamsa, Glasgow, UK
Viryaja, Toowoomba, Australia
Coleen, FBA Team
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Suvarnagarbha, Cambridge, UK
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Questions and Answers on
The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka
Chapter 9 continuation
13th August 1985
Devamitra : Today we consider the second half of the Chapter entitled; Total Reform and Unification of the Sangha. We have thirteen questions
altogether this evening. The first one however comes from Dharmapriya, and is a follow on question from one of the questions last night
concerning criteria for ordination.
Dharmapriya : Yesterday Bhante, you touched on the dangers of quantifying or trying to quantify any ordination yardstick with regards to the
Order, our Order. This morning I ran across a text describing four criteria, not quantifiable criteria, for determining whether someone had gone
for refuge. As it's quite short, I would like to read it, it is from Jeffery Hopkins introduction to Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. And it seems
it is quite traditional, but it is his language. He writes : "Whether a person has refuge or not is determined by four qualities. 1) Whether he
knows the attributes of the three jewels; 2) knows their differences; 3) accepts them as the pure source of refuge; 4) will not propound any other
source of refuge." This formula struck me because the last two qualities seem to me to clearly reject the idea that one can simultaneously go for
refuge somewhere else, presumably to sacred hills, groves, and springs in traditional societies, or to Christianity or materialism today. In other
words it upholds the exclusivity of going for refuge to the three jewels. So the first part of my question is : Would you agree with this
assessment of the passage I read?
S: Just give it again.
Dharmapriya : Whether a person has refuge or not, is determined by four qualities.
S: It is interesting that he uses the expression "has refuge" rather than "goes for refuge." Suggesting that the condition or state of having gone
for refuge is as it were something fixed, even something static, so perhaps one could go into that, but anyway we won't do it know.
Dharmapriya : (1) Whether he knows the attributes of the three jewels.
S: Yes, maybe I should say a few words about that. The attributes of the three jewels are at least from a Theravada point of view, representing a
sort of basic tradition of Buddhism inherited by the Mahayana and elaborated on. The characteristics or qualities of the three jewels are those
enumerated in the Iti pi so formula, iti pi so, svakkhato, bhagavata dhammo and supatipano bhagavato, sarvakasangho. Those formulae, whether
in that original simple state, or greatly elaborated give one the characteristics or qualities of the three jewels.
So one must be able to recognise those, you must be able to recognise that the Buddha is the one who is enlightened. Do you see what I mean?,
that the Buddha is.... well that it obviously involves an understanding of what is meant by enlightenment and so on. Otherwise you cannot truly
go for refuge to the Buddha unless you understand what the term Buddha actually means, what its characteristics and qualities are. And then ?
Dharmapriya : (2) knows their differences,
S: Ah, it's not clear here, and grammatically it is ambiguous I think, whether the differences between the qualities possessed by each of the three
jewels and the qualities possessed by one of the three jewels as compared with another. That is not clear grammatically, I don't know whether it's
ambiguous in the Tibetan, but it does seem to be ambiguous in the English. Perhaps it is more likely to mean a difference between the attributes
of the Buddha and the Dharma and the Buddha and the Sangha and the Dharma and the Sangha. I think it is probably to be taken in that sense.
Dharmapriya : (3) accepts them as the pure source of refuge.
S: I am not sure what 'pure' means in this connection. Perhaps refuge without any flaw, complete, perfect, possibly, one might have to look at
some commentary on that.
Dharmapriya : (4) will not propound any other source of refuge.
S: Again the term 'propound' perhaps cannot be taken too literally, perhaps affirm, it is something more like affirm, or not recognised, yes that is
pretty obvious isn't it? These four criteria seem to correspond more or less with what GamPoPa, has to say on taking refuge in that chapter in the
Jewel Ornament of Liberation. So I think probably no school or tradition of Buddhism would disagree with that, though no doubt there is a great
deal more that could be said under each of those headings and perhaps other headings also are required.
Dharmapriya: That really leads to the second part of my question. You have often demonstrated that the Pali Suttas show the fundamental
importance of going for refuge. Do you know if any other texts, or any texts other than these Suttas, the one I have quoted, and your own
writings which clearly show the importance and exclusivity of going for refuge?
S: Well there are texts like the Jewel Ornament of Liberation which has that particular chapter. I remember reading some years ago - in fact I
published it in the Mahabodhi Journal - an article, which appeared in response to something that Dr. Guenther had written perhaps also in the
Mahabodhi Journal. I think he said something to the effect that; it was only in Tibetan Buddhism that they had elaborated the nature of the Three
Jewels and the Three Refuges and the nature of the Going for Refuge. And a rather, or slightly indignant Sinhalese Buddhist wrote to reply that
these matters were well known in Sinhalese Buddhism, the Theravada of Ceylon, and were frequently discussed and gave a long list of Pali and
Sinhalese works which discussed these very questions, especially I think, Sinhalese works, which as far as I know have never been translated
into English. I had never heard of these Sinhalese works before and have never seen any reference to them since, but clearly they do exist. So I
think it is maybe not surprising that there is a sort of common tradition of understanding of what is meant by the going for refuge, what is meant
the three jewels, in all forms of Buddhism. But many of these forms of Buddhism, many of the different schools have allowed that to remain
rather a dead letter in the sense that; though such teachings are there in the book, they don't figure very prominently in popular expositions. I
think it is taken for granted that everybody in a Buddhist country has gone for refuge and that's that! No further comment, no explanation is
required, I think that tends to be the attitude; you say Buddham saranam gacchami and so on and you have gone for refuge, that's that!, there's
nothing more to be said, which obviously is far from being the case. But in the literature it does seem that in all forms of Buddhism as far as one
can tell, there are discussions of what the going for refuge means.
It is a question of resuscitating those discussions if one can.
Dharmapriya : I was struck because I hadn't run across any modern sources other than you before I read this, this morning. Do you know any
modern writers who talk about it with any real understanding or depth.
S: Well Nyanaponika did write that booklet on, what was it?, the Three Jewels or the Three Refuges? The Threefold Refuge. And he had some
understanding of the matter but it was rather surprising that we did find when we studied that work, definite limitations to his understanding.
Some of them surprising and others not so surprising in view of the fact that he belongs to the Theravada tradition. Who has gone through that
little work? Yes it is quite fundamental so people should try to go through it. I suspect that when they are translated, other Tibetan works dealing
with the Path, Lam Rim type works, the stages of the Path type works like GamPoPa's works, when these works are translated we shall suddenly
find discussions of taking refuge. I mean, TsongKhaPa's Lam Rim which is supposed to be the masterpiece of this type of literature, is in
process of publication and there is sure to be a discussion of the topic there, it will be quite interesting to see that when the book appears.
Suvajra : You have written an article entitled Ordination and initiation in the three Yanas. I have not actually read this article yet. Could this be
used as a basis for study in the FWBO or is it outdated?
S: I think within a certain context as it were because this is more of a just traditional study, the existing as it were state of affairs. I would have
to look at it carefully, because if it was included in a collective volume of my essays and articles which I think is the idea, I probably would ...