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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Candradasa, FBA Team
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Coleen, FBA Team
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Vicki, Seattle, USA
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Kamalashila, Catalunya, Spain
Final Preordination Retreat: Questions and Answers
Held at Padmaloka in July 1982
Present: the Venerable Sangharakshita, Upasakas and Mitras
S: Who are the three question-masters?
Voice: Well there's Robin and (?)
S: Which Robin?
Voice: That one. We don't actually have a question-master from our group, there will be four
people who will be putting questions.
Voice: My group's the same.
S: So these are questions that you felt you hadn't fully sorted out yourselves, unresolved
Voice: Yes (laughter) - the ones we thought might provoke you (laughter).
S: (unclear) so who is going to start? I'm not feeling easily provokable this morning
(laughter), you can try if you wish (laughter) (pause) Get rid of the background first, if you
like, the ground covered under which the question arises.
Voice: I think most of these questions arise out of discussions of precepts. There are one or
two sections which some of us - Robin had a sort of number of questions.
Robin: I was listening to your tape on the spiritual importance of confession and you said that
on full moon days and new moon days that traditionally the Sangha used to get together in
pairs before the usual gathering came close together. I was wondering since that as it seems to
be so important in the spiritual life, the part of confession, was there not a case for that sort of
thing to happen in the Order?
S: Yes, there was this tradition, there still is this tradition in many parts of the Buddhist world
that the monks, because within the context of the Vinaya, or bhikkhus or monks, gathered
together every full moon and every new moon day. The purpose for which they originally
gathered is the subject of some discussion. They've gone into the question, I think it was in
the unpublished work on Buddhist literature I think, that this question of the (?) in the
twice-monthly observance. It seems that originally in the Buddha's day, or at least earlier in
the Buddha's day, it was sort of what we would call order meeting. The bhikkhus, the
full-time followers, gathered together, they meditated and they seemed to discuss or recite the
verses of the Dharma.
Perhaps it's in the "Three Jewels" I've dealt with this, does anyone remember the section on
the Sangha? But anyway this seems to have been the original practice, that the bhikkhus
gathered together and recited those verses in which the Buddha's teaching had been codified,
almost for the purposes of recitation and memorization and also meditate together. I mean
there are a number of occasions in which we find the bhikkhus gathered together and simply
meditating on full moon days. We came across this a little while ago, the other weekend,
when we started the Sammalaphala Sutta.
It's a full moon day, or full moon night, and the King of (?) wanted to go and visit a teacher
and eventually decided to go visit the Buddha on the full moon night. And he finds the
Buddha and all his disciples, of whom there are quite a large number, meditating in the forest.
So this seems to have been the practice in those early days that the monks gathered together,
the bhikkhus gathered together, recited the verses embodying the Dharma and meditated
together. It would seem that the practice of confession was introduced into this monthly or
bimonthly meeting only somewhat later because the question of confession doesn't arise
unless you've got something to confess. In the very early days, it seems the bhikkhus had
nothing to confess for obvious reasons, for they were virtually Enlightened in most cases. But
things did change, people joined the order who weren't quite so spiritually advanced and there
were little things they had  to confess. So in the case of more serious offences that had to
be confessed at the meeting itself and the order as a whole then took any necessary action to
deal with the matter. But less serious matters could be dealt with as between two bhikkhus
that were members of the Sangha. One, who was conscious of an offence, could confess to
the other and, so to speak, purify himself - it was in fact called (?) - before the actual meeting
and this is still very much the practice except that in some parts of the Buddhist world there is
in fact no public confessions. No confession within the context of the actual order meeting,
it's all sorted out, as it were, in private beforehand so that the order when it meets is in
harmony and in, so to speak, purity.
So this is really important and the question is whether - I mean this sort of practice, this sort
of confession, could not be introduced within the order, the Western Buddhist Order. I think
in a way it is because what it means is that when you meet together as an order you meet
together as individuals, you meet together as committed persons. So if prior to the meeting
you've done anything which detracts from your status, so to speak, as an individual which
detracts from your going for refuge, clearly you must put that right before you can
authentically participate in a meeting of the order, which means, of course, a meeting of
committed individuals. Do you see what I mean?
Take for instance and extreme example. Supposing before the meeting you committed an
offence with regard to another order member, supposing for instance, you hit him in anger,
intending to hurt him. Well clearly there's been a breach between you and that other order
member. So you cannot really, generally, both of you, go along and attend that order meeting
because you're not in harmony with each other. You must put that right before you go along,
before you can validly or even generally join in the order meeting. But this sort of thing does
happen, maybe in some cases it doesn't always happen but it should happen so that when you
meet as an order, you really do meet as an order. You meet as an order of individuals who are
in harmony with one another.
Sometimes, of course, it may happen that differences are thrashed out at an order meeting, it
may not always be possible to thrash them out beforehand especially if they involve a number
of people. But so far as possible, especially personal breaches and maybe conflicts just
between a couple of order members should be thrashed out, should be put right before they go
and actually participate in a meeting otherwise there can't be a genuine meeting. You've either
got to sort things out beforehand or you've got to sort things out in the context of the meeting
itself. Otherwise you've only got a pretence of an order, a pretence of a Sangha to that extent.
Do you see what I mean?
Voice: Does once a month constitute a really frequently enough practice?
S: That's difficult to say, it depends; some people, some order members might be living
together in a community. They might see one another every day or they meet every day. So
life becomes, as it were, one continuous order meeting, which is the ideal. You know
sometimes you're working together and sometimes you're meditating together. But if one
normally isn't in contact with other order members I would say once a month is the absolute
minimum. But perhaps one could consider meeting, as it were, formally even more frequently
The principle of course being - rather that laying down a rule - the principle being, meet
together as often as you can, as genuinely as you can, as effectively as you can. If possible be
in continuous contact at least with some other order members. Perhaps it should be a question
of how often in the month it would be permissible for you not to be together.
Voice: The second question is relating to order weekends, development of the order (unclear)
Voice: That's right, sorry, you certainly in the introduction in the 'case of dysentery' that you
felt the development of men's order weekends was an important innovation in the Movement.
Vessantara said that another important point that you said you felt that the order was
becoming unified in vision but not necessarily united in activity. Could you sort of elaborate
S: Well the second point ... does anyone remember when or where I said that and in what
Voice: No it's something I've heard, the version I heard was that the order we were a unified
order but not united, you were talking in terms of development more of single sex
development within the order.
S: Yes there is a difference of being sort of 'unity in spirit' in as much as everybody has the
same spiritual commitment and 'unification', as it were, organizationally. One doesn't
necessarily have everybody doing everything together especially in the case of men order
members and women order members. This is a united order inasmuch, of course, as all are
equally going for refuge but it is not a unified order in the sense that men and women order
members live together, work together et cetera (in the system?).
Voice: Do you see that trend developing in any particular direction?
S: You say in any particular direction what do you mean because that trend itself is a
Voice: Oh yes, ah well, would you consider yourself any sort of a greater, ah - shouldn't use
the word switch, ah - divergence in activities between male and female members?
S: Yes I wondered about this. I was talking about this with some of the women order
members on the last women's study retreat. It does seem that there are some things that
women as such ...