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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Vidyamala, Manchester, UK
Aileen, Shetland Islands
Kamalashila, Catalunya, Spain
Ratnavyuha, Auckland, NZ
... represents. So what does going forth from home represent? Take it first of all in
the most ordinary obvious sense.
Peter: Going from a sheltered existence.
S: Going from a sheltered existence - but just that? Any particular kind of sheltered
existence? What's wrong with a sheltered existence?
Peter: Leaving your parents' home.
S: It's leaving your parents. Don't forget going forth, leaving home for the ancient Indian as
for the modern Indian was probably a much bigger experience, a much more important step
than it is even for us, at least for some of us, nowadays. He went forth from his whole big
joint family. There was mother and father, maybe grandfather, grandmother, maybe aunts and
uncles with their wives and husbands, their children, all his cousins. He might have his own
wife or wives, his own children, servants, kinsfolk - a whole vast joint family, and all his life
so far he's been used to that shelter, that security, that companionship. It was a very well knit,
very warm sort of group. He was very much involved with it, and in it, but no doubt in the
course of years he'd come to feel very sort of enclosed and very confined. Always dealing
with this particular small group of people and dealing with them in a very limited, a very
narrow, a very confined sort of way and no doubt he'd come to feel the whole situation as
more and more enclosing, more and more stuffy, so maybe then he would feel almost so he
couldn't breathe. He just had to get out into the open air, just leave it all. He'd just get fed up
with that whole kind of way of life so he'd go forth. So no doubt there's quite a bit of this for
quite a few of us nowadays, but not quite to that extreme extent that the ancient Indian
experiences. Do you see this? But still quite enough to make us feel no doubt constricted and
confined and make us feel that we want to go forth. But can't we look at it in another way, not
just in this ordinary obvious literal way? What else does home represent?
Peter: Our own ideas.
S: Our own ideas. Our own conditioned ideas especially, our own conditioned mental state. It
represents that too.
___: It's like going forth almost into the unknown.
S: Yes, it represents the known. That in which we've settled down. It represents the old.  It
represents the past. It represents the familiar. So one has to go forth from all of this. Someone
made the point on the other study retreat that it's very difficult for you to be a new person in
an old situation so that, if you want to change, you have to go forth into a new situation. That
is to say unless the situation in which you are is like a, say, retreat situation deliberately
structured to assist change, but home situations aren't usually like that. In fact one might
define a sort of home situation or a home as an environment, a situation, which encourages
you to remain as you are, because you are treated as you were, you're not allowed to grow up,
you're not allowed to change, you're not allowed to develop, and this is why it is so restricting
and why you have to go forth. You probably notice this - those who have gone forth in this
literal sense - whenever you go home it may well be that your parents and brothers and sisters
and other friends and relations don't realize you've changed, a bit at least, they don't realize
it's a slightly new you that is coming home, and they try to treat you or to behave towards you
as though you hadn't changed at all, as though you were just like you used to be. In fact they'd
like you to be just like you used to be in many cases. Mother and father might like you to be
that nice little boy that you used to be - or even that naughty little boy - provided you don't
change, provided you stay just like that, just as you were. So sometimes it's very difficult to
change and develop remaining in that sort of situation where it's almost insisted that you
should be as you were and not change, not develop, not grow. So the going forth becomes
necessary from that sort of situation. It can be any sort of domestic situation. It can be a job
So home is any situation that does not permit you to grow, which in fact encourages you not
to grow. That's home. And once you have gone forth remember why you have gone forth.
With what purpose, with what ideals.
Then the Buddha speaks. 'These, monks, are the two quests: the ariyan quest and the unariyan
quest.' The word for quest is 'esana' which means something like 'will', 'desire' but in a very
strong and positive sense. Search, quest - it is again a bit archaic isn't it. So you feel that? It's
more like a search, a seeking. The ariyan and the unariyan. Here ariyan means 'noble', even
spiritual, and unariyan means ignoble, unspiritual, worldly. So what do you notice about the
talk that the Buddha proceeds to give? What do you notice about the way in which it opens
once the Buddha has commended the monks and reminded them that when they're gathered
together there are only two things to be done; either talk about Dharma or ariyan silence? He
plunges straight into the subject and how does he open his talk, in what sort of way?
___: It's direct.
S: It's direct.
Sagaramati: There are only two things you can do really.
S: Yes. It's uncompromising. It presents the two great radical alternatives. He confronts the
monks, as it were, with a choice. He doesn't say, 'Oh there's only one path and we're all on it.
It doesn't really matter what you do. It all comes out right in the end.' He says, no, 'These,
monks, are the two quests: the ariyan quest and the unariyan quest.' Uncompromising duality,
as it were, at the beginning. Here you are, as it were, standing and there are two paths before
you going in opposite directions. You can't follow both. You've got to follow either the one or
the other, so which one is it going to be? Are you going to embark on the ariyan quest or on
the unariyan quest? So this is a very sort of challenging approach. I think it's very important
to think in these terms at the beginning of one's spiritual life. You have to think in terms of
choice, you have to think in terms of decision. Do you see this?
___: Will you say it again?
S: Well unless there's any actual problem it seems as though nothing more needs to be said. It
seems very clear. It's as though you decide to evolve or you decide not to evolve.
Peter: Couldn't one say you've either left home or you haven't left home?
S: Yes you could.
Sagaramati: But surely you (must) decide to not (evolve) in a way.
S: In effect you do.
Sagaramati: If you're not even aware of evolution. It's like if you think about before you came
in contact with Buddhism or just the idea of growth you were looking for something but you'd
no idea what it was.
S: Yes, but in effect you're deciding not to evolve if you close your eyes to all the
opportunities that you have or even to the thoughts that pass through your own mind. You just
brush them aside. Even the sort of dissatisfaction that comes up sometimes, you just sort of
suppress it. So in that sense you decide you're not going to do anything about it. You're not
going to try, you're not going to evolve, and this happens as soon as you reach years of
discretion. By the time you're fifteen or sixteen you become aware that these alternatives in
some form or other are present. I think probably when you're very young you're very aware of
this - that you can go either in this direction or in that, but you smother that over or you're
persuaded by other people to smother it over, but you very often do know that there are these
alternatives, there is a choice before you. I think the important point that emerges here is that
the spiritual life has to be seen as something quite different from the worldly life at the
beginning. This is the important point here. You can't confuse the two. You can't try to say
that there isn't a difference or that it doesn't really matter very much one way or the other
which you follow, that it all comes to the same thing in the long run. It also means that you
have to take an active decision - you can't just let things go on happening. If you do that, if
you don't take that active decision and you don't take the decision to embark on the ariyan
quest,  it means you are in fact embarking on the unariyan quest. Drift is the unariyan
In the Dhammapada there's a verse where the Buddha says 'One path, O monks, leads to
worldly gain. Quite another path leads to nirvana.' Do you see this as something that very
often people don't realize or don't think? That there are very definitely two paths as it were
between which a choice has to be made?
___: People very often see it as not a choice of two paths, but you have this kind of choice of
maybe doing something different from everybody else. This choice of maybe doing
something a bit funny like evolving. Not a clear cut thing.
S: It is reasonably clear cut. It is different from what everybody else is doing. It's at least a
more individual thing.
Sagaramati: I can remember in a mitra study group somebody accused us of being spiritual
elitists because we didn't have (unclear). No we're not the same as people outside in the street
because they're not interested in the spiritual life. We are and (unclear).
S: Why do you think people are so sensitive to this question of what they regard as elitism or
spiritual elitism? I used to hear this sort of accusation when I was ...