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17 million words and counting!
Eric, FBA Team
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Coleen, FBA Team
Sheila Groonell, Aryaloka, USA
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
... people are capable of misunderstanding anything. I think that the situation is that we do
have books say on the Dharma in circulation, we have books on meditation in circulation, books on the Vajrayana, on the Tantra in circulation,
we cannot reverse that trend ourselves. So in a sense we are compelled or obliged to publish books ourselves which can to the extent that books
by themselves able to do this, correct some of those misunderstandings, which I think they would be able to do if the books that we put out, the
literature' that we put out are written with sufficient clarity and force and conviction; and if of course they happen to be read by people who are
reasonably open-minded. So I think that is the situation and as i said, it applies not only to the subject of meditation, but to Buddhism generally,
the Dharma generally, and perhaps especially to things like the Tantric tradition. I think it's very regrettable that books say on the Vajrayana
especially are being published. It seems as though nothing is any longer sacred. It seems that Tibetan teachers, Tibetan Lamas, have decided
that they are going to propagate everything, and in a sense it can't be propagated in that sort of way.
Their argument seems to be that perhaps you scatter a few seeds, which seems to me a very very chancy business indeed. There might be a
chance of your scattering a few seeds in effect, if for instance you are scattering on the earth. But supposing you are scattering on an asphalted
car park, I think that in some cases would be a more appropriate comparison.
Nagabodhi : Taking what you say, what is the worst harm that can be done by that sort of thing, you express it quite strongly as being very
regrettable and that nothing is sacred. Is it that it depotentiates their value to people who will take them, or do you think that there is an even
more serious damage that can be done?
S: I think it perpetuates the totally unspiritual approach to spiritual things. I think it encourages people to think in terms of appropriation, and if
people think in terms of appropriation, then I think no spiritual life, no spiritual progress, is possible and if people at large who are as it were
interested in Buddhism or any other spiritual tradition think in these sort of terms, then the tradition of the spiritual life would be in danger of
coming to an end. Besides which it often flatters people's very complacent feelings about themselves. They feel that they have been initiated
into the highest this that or the other, and they feel that they were really ready for that; that only the highest teachings are good enough for them.
They feel they understand them already when in fact they don't, perhaps they don't even understand the basics of Buddhism, and it makes it
impossible really for them to make any further progress perhaps. Not unless they radically change their attitude which they are not likely to do if
they are almost in effect encouraged to persist in that sort of attitude. Their only hope is to come across some clearly written publication
possibly by the FWBO.
Devamitra : Another question concerning Arahants and the wider Theravada tradition, from Kamalasila.
Kamalasila : On page 222, we read that : "In the Sinhalese tradition the last Arahant died many years ago". Is this belief common to all
Theravada countries, and what about the Mahayana?
S: It seems to be more common amongst Sinhalese, certainly in comparatively recent times, Burmese Theravada Buddhists and Thai Theravada
Buddhists have believed that Arahants did live in their own country, so they seem not to have shared that particular Sinhalese belief. Whether
they were correct and whether the people they believed to be Arahants were in fact Arahants, that is quite another matter. But the fact is, that
they do not seem to have lost faith in the possibility of the attainment of Arahantship in the way that the Sinhalese clearly have done, at least
perhaps until very recent times.
Devamitra : A question from Dhammaloka on the psychological interpretations of insight.
Dhammaloka : On page 229, Carrithers emulises Vipassana meditation in psychological terms saying that the meditator trains himself to see his
psychological world and experience in terms of the categories. And somewhat later he says : The propositions of doctrine are transmuted into
immediate perception here and now, and the meditator (presumably in relation to samatha experience) is able to effect that change in his most
intimate mental habits. I appreciate this description in as much as it goes beyond the somewhat unsatisfactory statement of insight as seeing
reality as it really is, I find that quite unsatisfying. But I wonder whether Carrithers' view might still be misleading inasmuch as one could read it
as suggesting that the meditator manipulates his experience in order to make it fit with the categories. Could you please comment on the passage
and perhaps suggest improvements?
S: I must say to me the passage doesn't suggest that. Though it is possible that some people might interpret it in that sort of way, could you just
read the relevant bit again?
Dhammaloka: "The meditator trains' himself to see his psychological world of experience in terms of......."
S: Yes, let's take that bit. The meditator trains himself. Well, one could if one wasn't very sympathetic to spiritual life think of that training as a
sort of manipulation, but clearly a Buddhist wouldn't see it in that particular way, they would see the training as having a quite objective basis as
Dhammaloka: "He trains himself to see his psychological world of experience in terms of the categories".
S: Ah the doctrinal categories. Yes. So I think the important point here would be that one understood what the doctrinal categories referred to. If
one didn't speak of insight into reality or things as they really are, you would have to understand that those doctrinal categories represented a
more correct way of seeing things, and it was that more correct way of seeing things that you, through your meditative experience and training,
psychological training if you like, were trying to align yourself with. In other words, you would have to recognise that the doctrinal categories
reflected a level of insight, even a level of reality that you yourself had not yet attained, but which you could attain on the basis of your training,
with your concentrated mind, with the help of those doctrinal categories. I think if you were not willing to accept that, or at least not willing to
understand the passage in that sort of way, you might well develop all sorts of misunderstandings about Buddhism, about meditation, and about
Insight. The important thing is to understand what is meant by doctrinal categories.
Dhammaloka: So would you think you could use such a way of describing what is happening....
S: I think it's quite sound. I mean maybe yes, a little more explanation as to what is meant by doctrinal categories and what their function is.
Apart from that, I would say it represents in sort of fairly generally understandable terms what the Buddhist position really is.
Padmavajra: Would you have to be more specific about exactly what doctrinal categories you were using, because I do understand that you have
said lately that the Five Skandhas were perhaps something we could do away with. How important are those particular doctrinal categories when
it comes to insight meditation, things like the dhatus and that kind of thing?
S: Well they can all be used as basic schema. I mean for instance one of the most basic doctrinal categories is that of the Three Lakshanas,
perhaps that is one of the best to take up, whether for purposes of practice or explanation and illustration. You know that you review your own
personal experience, well what is the expression that Carrithers uses for that,in the quote? Well what is the term that he uses? "Your
psychological world of experience", that is to say your thoughts, your emotions as you actually experience them. You apply this particular
doctrinal category, that of the Three Lakshanas, Dukkha, Annica, Anatta, to those. You examine your mental states and your emotions and so on
in terms of those three lakshanas in a systematic manner. So those three Lakshanas represent the way things actually are, so you try to align your
perception with the perception that is represented by that particular doctrinal category. Then for instance if you found it difficult to develop
insight into Annica, well you could then take up a more detailed doctrinal category, you could take up that of the Five Skandhas and try to see
how yes you consisted of bodily form, you consisted ...